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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.

Chapter Text

Victoria sat on her bed, her hands tightly gripping the edge. She glanced at the clock besides her – it was 2 am and she was tired, but she couldn't sleep.

Her chat with Kate had not gone particularly well. Kate had been wary at first; suspicious of her motives in knocking on her door at that time of night.

And who could blame her? It's not like I have done anything to warrant any trust. Fuck.

Victoria rubbed her face with her hands. She had tried to apologise, tried to – in her own way at least - to make things better. To make up for the shitty thing she knew she had done. Shitty in hindsight – how was she supposed to have known about what she suspected had really happened?

I thought she had dropped her act, finally. Becoming normal like the rest of us, instead of all that preachy god bothering abstinence shit. How was I supposed to know? The thought that maybe she shouldn't have done it in the first place did not occur to her, not yet. Kate had welcomed her into her room, and listened to her halting efforts at an apology – or maybe more like self justification - on her part. She had just politely smiled and said that she forgave her. And that was it.

Forgiveness. What good is that?

Victoria had left feeling more guilty than she had arrived, guilt which she tried to turn around and blame on something else.

Nathan.. what did you do, Nathan? Why have you destroyed what we had going?

Before today they had ruled Blackwell between them, the unofficial King and Queen. No-one had dared cross them, and she imagined everyone wanted to be them (well, apart Max and her fellow geeks of course). And now all that was for naught, his actions tarring everyone else by association. But more than that, Victoria felt like she had lost her only friend here. Someone who understood the pressure she faced, the position she had to uphold. Someone a little like her.

Even if he had been acting strange of late, but that wasn't his fault. His fucking Dad, all that pressure, living up to whatever legacy he had dreamt up on that particular day. Her eyes wandered over to a framed photograph of her own family – a formal portrait of them all; her seated and her parents standing stiffly behind – all smart and serious and perfectly presented – and devoid of familial love. Pressure. Live up to your name. Be the best. Step on anything that gets in your way. Show no weakness. Show.. show no emotion. Most of all, Vic, show no emotion.

She picked up the photo and looked at it, tracing the outline of her parents with a sad finger.

Maybe I don't want... She put it back, face down on the dresser. Weakness... and emotion. She had shown that tonight, with Max. Why on earth had she done that? What had possessed her?

If Max talks to anyone about it then I am ruined. Who would respect me then? Knowing I had been confiding in Max Caulfield, of all people. Max.. and worse, if she finds out that... Her fingers trembled slightly as she picked up her phone to check for any messages – there was nothing new, apart from the one she had received earlier from Taylor asking if she was OK. She hadn't replied, yet.

She got up and walked over to her desk, picking up a small orange bottle and shaking out two small pills of Venlafaxine. She picked up a glass of water, put a little ice into it then downed it in a single gulp, before sitting down at her desk and opening a small draw. She pulled out a small ornate metal box with a combination lock and entered in 2195. It quietly sprung open and she rooted through the contents – a few precious keepsakes she kept hidden: stubs from shows she remembered; a picture of her with her family when she was much younger, smiling happily at the camera in a snowy landscape; a letter telling her she had won 1st prize in a competition; a stolen Polaroid of Max doing a selfie; a woven bracelet Nathan had given her a few years ago, and finally a small silver pill case. She eagerly opened it and then with a groan dropped it. It was empty.

Shit. I need to visit Frank again. I need it otherwise I can't.. I just can't. She closed the box, her eyes briefly lingering on the two photos, before stowing it away again. She slowly undressed before laying down on her bed, her thoughts consumed by the face of Max, and the words she had said.

How did she know?



She moved in a circle around the room, grinning wolfishly. His arm dangled uselessly down by his side, his mouth a broken smear as he tried to get an answer from her. She ignored his pleas; this test on what she had taken to calling a time-slip was turning out more successful then she had hoped. Small micro-jumps in time made her impossible to hit; she was able to use people's momentum against them despite her small size and then amplify the resultant leverage she could get to devastating results. Coupled with some techniques she had learned – after all, she had all the time in the world – and Max was now finally a dangerous foe. Jefferson tried to rush her again, and let out strangled gurgle of frustration and pain as she suddenly wasn't there, appearing behind him and striking down hard with her foot on the back of his knee. Something snapped and he collapsed to the floor. She paced around in front of him and grabbed his ruined jaw, staring into his eyes. ''Always take the shot,' she said softly, and backhanded him across the face. He fell down again, grovelling at her feet. She kicked him viciously. 'Up. I'm not done with you yet.' She absent-mindedly wiped the blood from her hand, and moved in again..

Max sat bolt upright. The sunlight was streaming through the window, bathing her room in a warm glow.

Number 3,704. Amongst many.

She glanced at her cell - it was 9:30 am, and she had 8 missed calls and 11 messages. She put the cell back down - that could be dealt with later. She felt like she should already be on her way to the Two Whales, or heading off to Joyce's. The two main thrusts of a typical week.

But not this time.

She lay back in her bed, staring at the ceiling. She felt hungry, hungrier than she had been in a long time.

When was the last time I ate? I should get something. But first I need a shower. I stink.

She grabbed her washbag and left her room. The corridor was eerily quiet, with only a quiet hum from some far off plant breaking the silence. Max stood there undecided, trying to remember what to do. Her glance fell on a door – Kate.

Kate. Kate Marsh. I need to save her.. don't I? Through every timeline Kate's fate had seemed to be the most consistent. More often than not she had killed herself, despite Max's best efforts.

More failure.

Max knocked on the door and waited for an answer.

“Who is it?”

“Er.. Kate, it's me, um.. Max.”

“Come in, it's unlocked.” Max took a breath and opened the door, ready to rewind at the slightest opportunity. Thankfully it was no Number 923; if anything the room looked slightly brighter than it usually did. The blinds were only half drawn, the mirror was uncovered. The room was still relatively messy, but not as bad as it had been – could be - in the past. Kate herself was dressed and at her desk, writing something on her laptop. She gave Max a small smile as she came in.

Another change by Victoria. I think might be sick.

“Hey Max. Thanks for coming by. I didn't see you much yesterday after.. after what happened. Are you OK? You didn't answer my message.”

“I'm fine Kate – sorry for not replying, I.. I just fell asleep. But I'm more worried about you. How are you? I heard what had happened.. I'm.. I'm sorry for not coming by earlier. I'm sorry for not checking up on you more in the wee-”

“Max, stop, please. It's fine, you're my friend and you are here now, aren't you? Please, sit.” Max made some room on the bed, pushing aside some of the books and clothes piled on it. She was worried she was doing too much, pushing too hard to try and change things.

I can't just keep rewinding everything all the time. How can I escape this fucking loop if every-time I do something I go back on it? Why can't I just accept my mistakes?

Because you always end up failing, killing them, letting them all die. Letting her die. You know this. Max buried the thought deep down and looked around the room.

“Are you sure you're OK, Kate? Don't you want to talk to me about it?” Kate placed her hands together in her lap and looked thoughtful.

“Max, first can you tell me the truth? Did you make Victoria come in here last night?”

Shit.

“No, I don't know what you mean. I guess she decided to finally stop being such a cold-hearted bitch. And about fucking time.” Kate looked at her with a mixture shock and disappointment.

“Max! That's very unkind words, and I know you did tell her. I saw you last night, remember? Why would you lie to me about -”

Oh fuck.

“- in here last night?”

“Yes, it was me. Victoria was upset about.. about what she had did. I thought that.. maybe she could try, at least.. to..” Max looked at Kate, trying to gauge her reaction. She smiled slightly.

“Thank you, Max, I thought as much. I know you tried to help, and I am grateful. It's just after everything that has happened, I.. I don't know what to believe any more..” She fell silent again, looking at the floor. Max got up and awkwardly put her arm around her shoulders, forcing herself yet again to have some human contact.

“Hey Kate, it's OK. You can tell me what happened that night.” Kate gave her a quizzical look but Max didn't see it, as she was suddenly struck with an idea. “Actually I have a better idea – let's go get breakfast somewhere and talk it over – somewhere.. else, somewhere warm and cosy. Maybe have a cup of tea?” Kate looked around her room and then back at Max.

“OK,” she said with a smile, “it would be good to get out. But you can't go out like that.” Max looked down, forgetting she had changed into her pyjamas.

“No, it's not particularly apropos is it. Well, I'll go take a quick shower – I won't be long, then we can get going.” Kate stood up and opened her blinds, blinking as the sun came in and flooded the room with daylight.

That's.. good?

“You know," said Kate looking out if the window, "I think I might take a walk first. I'd like to see the sun while it lasts, take some time to think on things. I'll meet you there in 40 minutes?” Max nodded slightly too enthusiastically.

”Sure Kate, but where is 'there'?”

“Erm.. how about the Two Whales? That's quite nice.”

“No!” Max said quickly, “Not there. Let's try something different – how about that new place on the waterfront? Teawitched, I think it is. I heard they do a decent cup of tea, and maybe some good waffles too.”

Kate gave Max the first genuine smile she had seen in a long time.

“Waffles? Of course, I'll see you there. Text me what you want and I'll order it. And.. thanks Max. For everything.”

Max walked Kate out of her room and waved goodbye as she left.

Good. Out of her room and away from this fucking place. No fucking way am I going to the Two Whales today.

Joyce.

I need to speak to her.

Not yet.

She doesn't even know I'm here. How do I explain to her I ignored her daughter, my supposed best friend.

No, you haven't ignored her, you've let her die.

Max closed her eyes, trying to ignore the urge to go back again to the classroom.

Stick with this, Max.



She pushed open the bathroom door to take her shower. The room was cool as if someone had left a window open, and it was empty apart from the lone figure of Victoria standing at one of the washbasins. To Max’s surprise Victoria was dressed in only some small shorts and a faded t-shirt, and looked thoroughly, well, normal. Her face was particularly melancholy, and she appeared to be carefully inspecting her appearance. Max watched with curiosity as Victoria turned her head to the left and right, as if searching for something, her green eyes intensely scrutinising her face. Victoria heard the door close and looked at Max via the mirror’s reflection.

“Max.”

“Victoria.” There was a silence; Max continued to eye her with curiosity.

“What do you want, Max?” Max leaned back against the wall, clutching her towel and wash bag against her chest. She shrugged.

“Nothing, I was just coming for a shower. How are you? Everything OK?”

“What do you care, Max? When have you ever cared about me?”

Number 4,901. But that didn't last long.

“I’m worried about Kate, and by extension, what you have done to her.” Victoria sighed and bowed her head, still facing the mirror.

“I tried Max, I tried to say sorry. What else can I do?”

“You could have not taken the video in the first place.”

“How was I supposed to know, Max? I told you, I thought she was just drunk, letting go..” Max waited to see how this went, her power bubbling away under the surface. “How was I supposed to know…” she carried on quietly to herself. Max decided to push a little.

“Victoria, you shouldn’t have been such a bitch in the first place. Why bully her? What has she ever done to you?” Victoria didn’t answer, but just stared into the bowel.

Max stood there a while longer, debating whether to go over to her. She shivered, the air feeling cold on her skin.

That warm shower seems very inviting now. Victoria turned around, folding her arms across her chest.

“We can’t all be like you Max, always so fucking nice and perfect to everyone, not caring what people think. The pressure..” Her voice trailed off again, and she stared at the floor. Max had never seen her this vulnerable before, not across any timeline.

Maybe this is it. The change. Is this all linked to Victoria?

God I hope not, this is just the worst.

Is it?

She's a bitch. Always has been.

She isn’t right now. And when have you ever bothered to get to know her?

Leopards don’t change their spots.

Says the psycho time travelling hipster murderer.

That’s not fair.. is it?

Max cleared her throat, catching Victoria's attention.

Eh, we're all in.. might as well go all the way.

“You don’t have to act for me, Victoria, I’d rather see you, not the thing you want others to see.” Victoria stared at Max, searching her face to see if she was lying, if there was some trick or angle. Max held her gaze, and the two of them looked at each other across the bathroom. Max thought she saw a slight pink blush begin to rise up Victoria's cheek. What is that about, she wondered.

The door slammed open and Courtney walked in. Victoria quickly broke her gaze, turning back to the sink.

“Vic, there you are. I’ve been looking all over for you.” She walked over to her, studiously ignoring Max still leaning against the wall. “I’ve been trying to call you for ages, I was so worried about you.” Victoria straightened up and waved her off, her face slipping back into its familiar cold mask.

“Thanks C, but I'm fine. If you and Taylor had been quicker yesterday maybe none of this would have happened.”

“Vic, we were too busy watching you deal with the selfie-ho over there.” Courtney jerked her head in Max’s direction. “What was that all about?”

“Nothing, just photography stuff. We do have the same class you know. Have you heard anything from Nathan?” Courtney looked askance at Victoria.

“Just photography stuff? I hope you aren’t going all soft on her now; especially after I saw that you’ve taken down that video of Kate. That Jesus freak deserved it, why did you do that?”

Max suddenly appeared right next to Courtney, gripping her by the throat. Victoria looked on in horror as Max slammed her head into the mirror, blood streaking down it as Courtney screamed, clutching at –

“- why did you do that?”

“Nathan drugged her, Courtney,” interrupted Max, her voice cold and calm. Courtney turned and pointed a finger.

“I wasn’t talking to you, lamefield.” She turned back to Victoria, a smug smile on her face. Victoria didn't return it.

“Courtney, Nathan did drug her. I think.” Courtney looked at Victoria with scepticism written over face.

“Really? You believe her? Why would Nathan do that? He isn’t interested in some freakish virgin, you know that.” Max clenched her fists, but remained silent.

“Courtney.. just stop it for a moment. I have to go to the police station today, they want a statement from me about Nathan. Would you come with me?” Courtney’s demeanour suddenly changed, and she laid a concerned hand on Victoria's arm.

“Shit, Vic, I didn’t know. Of course I’ll come – what time is it?”

“11:30. I was just thinking about it before you came in, that’s all. Max had just come in, so.. it's nothing.” Courtney snorted.

“I should think so. Come on, let's go pick out a suitable outfit and get you fixed up, leave this loser to herself.”

The girls left Max alone and she thoughtfully got into the shower, letting the hot water ease the tension in her shoulders.



Max managed to finish her shower without further incident and returned to her room. She pulled out her white doe t-shirt, grey hoodie and jeans – the Tuesday Max uniform, as she had grown used to calling it. She took a quick look in the mirror to make sure she looked at least reasonably alive before grabbing her cell. There had been another missed call since she had been in the shower. Sighing she sat down on her bed and scrolled through the messages.

The first was from Kate.

3:45 pm Kate Marsh: Hey Max, where are you? Are you OK? Call me.

Max felt a little guilty at not responding to her earlier. Just as well I actually bothered to see her today.

The next two, along with the missed calls, were from her mother.

6:30 pm Mom: Maxine, we saw on the news what had, happened are you alright? Why haven't you called? Are you safe? Call us please

7:40 pm Mom: Maxine? Are you there? Is your cell off? Call us, please, we are worried.

Shit. I'd better call them in a minute. No point messing around with this just in case I do run this timeline for longer.

The remaining 8 texts were from Warren.

10:00 am W Graham: Max. want to meet for a coffee? No pressure just thought it would be nice

2:00 pm W Graham: max, are you safe? Are you ok? Text me

2:05 pm W Graham: Max, are you ok? Crazy shit is goingon

2:06 pm W Graham: MAX? Ansewr pls

5:16 pm W Graham: Stella says she saw you. Where are you can I come see yo? They've arested jefferson, whats going on? Lets catch up!

8:30 pm W Graham: Earth to max, com ein max

10:28 pm W Graham: maximus! Call me

02:30 am W Graham: hellooooo

Warren. There's a problem I need to sort. But first, I'll call mum while I'm on my way to meet Kate.

She stood up to leave, but felt she was forgetting something. She looked around her room, trying to think what it could be when her eyes settled on her messenger bag and camera.

Hmm. Better take that if I want to be convincing. Not that I'm going to use it. Not anymore.

Satisfied she now had everything, she left and dialled her mother. The conversation was short and painless – a few rewinds were all it took to convince her that she was alive, not in mortal danger and definitely didn't need to come home right away. She didn't tell her that the girl who was killed was Chloe - that was a conversation for a different time. Hopefully before she found out by herself.

The courtyard was quiet, no students were out and about like they usually were. The school had suspended lessons for the rest of the week after the events of yesterday, and some had already taken the opportunity to go home. She saw Samuel tending to some of the plants near his storeroom, seemingly unconcerned by the recent drama. Across all the timelines Max had found Samuel the most consistent, and thus the most interesting. It was if he lived aside from whatever was happening, seemingly aware of the strange happenings that were going on – even if his speech was so cryptic it hardly ever made sense – at least in that particularly reality.

There's always time to chat to Sam.

“Hey Samuel, how's it going today? The squirrels tell you anything interesting?” Samuel stood up from his labour and eyed her warily.

“Good morning Max. The squirrels tell me not to anger this particular one. They seem afraid.” Max creased her brow a bit; he had never said anything like this before, so direct.

Something new. Again.

“What do you mean, Samuel? You know I would never harm your squirrels.”

“Samuel doesn't know, he just says what they say. They say this one is a great danger, but there is hope. Ice melts and spring follows.” Max gave him a confused look.

“Pardon?” Samuel just smiled enigmatically and returned to his plants, as if nothing had happened.

OK, that was.. weird. Well, weirder than normal. Max turned around and saw four squirrels standing in a row by the treeline, upright on their haunches watching her. She gave them a cheery wave, and one by one they ran up into the trees. She acutely had the feeling that they were still watching her as she walked away.

The encounter with Samuel had brightened her mood for some reason; in fact on the whole she felt a little lighter of step and heart.

Yeah, a step up from rock bottom is at least above rock bottom. And at least I don't feel the urge to kill anyone right now.

She rounded the corner of the dorm building and nearly bumped into Warren.

Although, speaking of which..

“Max! You're here! I had begun to think you'd left me!” Warren face was split by a broad smile, and he shifted nervously from foot to foot, looking as if he wanted to move a bit closer to her, but didn't have the nerve.

“Oh. Hey Warren. What are you doing here? Not spying on people, I hope. Ha. Ha.” Max's face was smiling, but her laugh fell like granite. Warren frowned slightly as his brain picked up on the disconnect, but he swiftly dismissed it.

“I was just hanging, you know. Speaking of which, I was wondering if you -” Max waved her hand dismissively.

“Warren, I'm busy. Sorry.”

“But.. I haven't..”

“Still busy. Tell you what, take Brooke or Stella or whoever it is.” Warrens face was a picture of surprise and despondency. Max began to feel a twinge of her old sympathy, before another part of her brain kicked in.

Remember number 521.

“Oh, and you do know I don't like boys, right?” Warren look confused.

“Boys? But I'm like nearly 17..” Max gave him a look as if she seriously suspected he was brain dead.

“And you are not a girl. Well, I don't think so, anyway. Look, I've got to go meet Kate, I'll catch you later.” She walked off, feeling a little bit cruel leaving him like that, but she had found that being direct was for the best.

Especially after number 521. She shuddered at the memory. Ugh, what was I thinking?



Max took the bus down town, enjoying the solace of the ride. Everything seemed to be slightly new and different, and the sheer novelty of it raised her spirits, making her feel a little like her old self. It seemed like even the sunlight was new, even though she had lived this Tuesday more times than she had wanted too. Not knowing what was going to happen next was having an extraordinary effect on her, even making her forget the nagging thought of having abandoned Chloe to her fate, the fate she had spent so long trying to avoid.

Teawitched had only been open a few months but already had a lively trade. They had styled themselves on what they thought was an English tearoom, and not knowing any better the residents of Arcadia Bay had flocked to it as an alternative to the normal chains that made up the other options. Max admired the sign outside, showing a witch brewing tea over a large cauldron.

I hope Kate isn't offended by this, Max thought suddenly. It's not exactly Christian, is it. Should I go back..

No. Keep going.

She entered the busy tearoom and looked around. Sat at one of the tables she could see Kate bent over what appeared to be a book, deep in study. A pot of tea and two cups were already waiting, and Max walked over.

“Hey Kate, hope I'm not too late. What are you reading?” Kate looked up and gave her a smile. Her eyes still had dark circles around them, but she seemed slightly less fragile than she had been. She showed Max the cover – 'Forgiveness through God – a practical guide'.

“I'm trying to forgive people, you know. It's harder than I thought; I thought this would help.”

“Is it?” Kate sighed and shook her head.

“It's difficult. I know I should forgive them, it is the Christian thing to do, but..”

“But some people don't deserve forgiveness. Some people deserve to burn. Slowly.” Max's voice was hard, and there was a look in her eyes as if she was reliving some past memory. Kate looked at her with a slightly worried expression.

“Er.. yes. Well no, we have to forgive people otherwise.. well, are we better than them? I don't know.” Max looked up as the waitress came over, thankfully making for a break in the conversation, and they both ordered some breakfast – Max going for the waffles.

Some things aren't new.

“Kate, I'm sorry I have to ask, but.. what happened to you? You never told me in this.. I mean told me yet.” Kate put her heads in her hands, as if gathering her thoughts. When she looked up her eyes were slightly shiny, as if holding back tears.

“Basically, I went to one Vortex Club party and ended up making out with a bunch of people and I have no memory of it. I swear to God I had one sip of red wine and then I drank water.” Max knew this conversation off by heart, having heard it so many times, but didn't want to interrupt her.

“I remember...I remember getting sick and dizzy, and then Nathan Prescott said he would take me to the hospital. Which he clearly didn't. I recall driving for a long time then I woke up in a room. Somebody was talking to me in a soft voice and I thought it was a doctor, until I heard Nathan and felt a sharp sting in my neck and...and... that's all I remember! I don't know what happened. I woke up outside my dorm room the next day. I didn't have any marks or bruises, but I felt gross.” Max reached over and gently took her hand.

“Kate, it sounds to me like you were drugged. You know there have been rumours about Nathan, and after yesterday all this will come out, I promise. We all know this is not you, or who you are. Look at Victoria, even she, deep down, knows this. I know that it's been a horrible week, but trust me, please – it will get better. People do care about you, and all we want is for you to realise you are the victim here. It wasn't your fault.” Kate looked at her in wonder, and smiled gratefully at her words.

“Thank you Max, that's.. that's the most hopeful thing I've heard all week. You're such a good friend.”

Bravo Max, straight through first time. She didn't know whether to be proud of the fact she had managed to be a normal human being without relying on manipulating others, or if it was just because she had done this so often the words came far too easily.

The waitress arrived with their food and set it down in front of them. Max poured some syrup over her waffles - they smelled delicious. Kate had ordered some toast and raspberry jam, and started to spread it over the bread with her knife, the blade making a rasping noise as it moved back and forth.

- she stepped back and kicked hard against the door, the cheap lock giving way. She was late, far too late, despite all her efforts. 'Oh God, Kate, no' she sobbed, looking at the figure on the bed. She ran over and desperately tried to stop the flow of blood from her wrists, which had already soaked the sheets a dark red. The blood kept coming, even as she tried to staunch it, running through her fingers as Kate's life ebbed away. 'Kate, no, please, don't die, not like this.. not like this..'

Max jerked her head back up from the table, stifling a scream. She felt like she could still smell the blood in her nostrils. 923. Fucking 923.

“Max, are you OK? You've gone as white a sheet. Do you want some water?”

“I'm.. I'm fine. Really. Sorry, I just need to go to the bathroom. I'll be right back. Need to blow my nose.” She hurriedly got up, nearly knocking her chair over, and looked for the sign to the bathroom. The waitress noticed her confusion and pointed her in the right direction.

Max ran to the bathroom and went straight to the sink, turning on the tap and splashing water on her face. She gripped the edge of it and stared at her reflection. To her horror it started to change, cycling through various images of herself from different timelines – laughing, covered in blood, covered in dirt, vengeful, wet from the rain, eyes red from crying, screaming in terror – endlessly cycling. A pressure began to build in her head and the images slowly stopped, settling on a Max she recognised all too well. One staring at her with a grim expression, face haunted and empty, dead-eyed, devoid of emotion. Me.

She felt something running down from her nose and held up her hand.

Her fingers were wet with blood.

Chapter Text

Victoria idly leafed through the magazine in the waiting area. It was some trash about country homes in Oregon, selling a glamorous lifestyle for those who could afford it. Victoria recognised a few of the homes featured, she'd stayed in one or two of them. She'd been here for four hours already; Courtney had left after three, apologising that she had to go – she was due to meet her parents back at Blackwell to take her back home for a few days early ahead of a family reunion. Victoria had thanked her for the company, genuinely touched that she had stayed that long as it was.

She stretched out her legs in an attempt to ease the cramp that was setting in. She was wearing a smart mid-length black skirt, skin coloured tights, a loose white shirt and black jacket, finished off with some mid-height black heels. Courtney had called it her 'power bitch' outfit, designed to show the world how grown up and serious she was. Victoria secretly felt a little ridiculous – it was a provincial town police station after all – but it's not like Victoria Chase could turn up in tracksuit bottoms and a Motoko Kusanagi t-shirt, no matter how much she wanted to.

And the worst thing was that the coffee here was shit. She'd complained loudly at the front desk that there was nothing good to drink, and had been met merely with a shrug. She had tried what they called coffee from the vending machine, and it tasted like it should have been used in her car instead. No wonder the police are always so pissed, she had thought, pouring it in the bin.

She was seriously considering getting a taxi to bring her a coffee from Starbucks when someone called her name, and a police officer beckoned her over.

“Ms Chase? Please come this way, the Detectives are ready for you now.” She was led through a maze of corridors to a small interview room. Sitting down behind a table were two plained-clothed policeman; a third was standing at the back, watching proceedings. As she entered one of them stood up to greet her, reaching out his hand.

“Good afternoon, Ms Chase. Apologies for the wait – I am Detective Daniels, these are Detectives Richards and Baker.” She shook the proffered hand and sat down, suddenly feeling a little young and naive, despite her outward appearance. She could already feel her anxiety levels rising, and she fought to get them under control.

“Thank you for coming in today, it is most appreciated. Just to let you know this interview is being recorded by the cameras up there – and should you have any questions, please feel free to ask.” Victoria looked at them all.

“Do I need a lawyer?” Daniels raised his eyebrow in surprise.

“No, why would you think that? This is just an initial interview - you are not under any suspicion, Ms Chase. Of course, if you want one present..” Victoria shook her head.

“Sorry, it's just that whenever my parents are doing anything they always have a lawyer present. Family habit, I guess.” The Detectives exchanged a glance between them, one trying to hide a smile.

“That's fine, just please relax and answer what you can. Now, for the record, if you could just confirm your name, date of birth, and your reasons for being here in Arcadia Bay..”

The next twenty minutes or so were spent with Victoria recounting her last few years at Blackwell, and her relationship with Nathan. After she had finished, Richards consulted his notes.

“To summarise then, how would you describe you relationship with Nathan Prescott?”

“I would say pretty good. We were.. are.. close friends. We've known each other for a long time, we've always helped each other out. He helped me reform the Vortex Club, for example, it's pretty big deal you know.” The policemen exchanged bemused glances.

“Vortex Club? What's that?” Victoria leaned eagerly forward.

“It's the beating heart of Blackwell's social scene. Only the select few, those deemed worthy, are admitted to its inner circle. Deemed worthy by me, naturally.”

“I see. Getting back to Nathan, have you ever known him to act in such a manner? Would you say this type of behaviour is common?” Victoria hesitated for a moment.

“No, he's done nothing.. like this... before.” Daniels nodded and wrote something down.

“How well do you know Chloe Price?” he asked. Victoria blinked in surprise.

“Chloe? The girl who got.. got.. killed?” The Detective nodded, but offered no further explanation.

“Erm.. not very well, to be honest. We were only at school together for less than a year before she got expelled. We weren't exactly friends.. different social classes, you know? The person who really knew her I guess was Rachel Amber.”

“Rachel Amber, the missing girl. Tell me, in your opinion, do you think Chloe could have been involved in her disappearance?” Victoria stared at the Detective.

“I.. I have no idea. I don't think so.. what does this have -” Daniels put a photograph onto the table in front of her.

“Were you aware that Chloe Price sold drugs? Would you have had any idea where she would have got them from, who her dealer was, who she supplied?”

Oh shit, Vic, where is this going? Frank. It has to be. Victoria shook her head, and laid on the haughtiest voice she could.

“No.. I have no idea. I don't do that sort of thing, or mix with those sorts of people.” Daniels looked at her for a moment, before continuing.

“Is there any reason why you think Nathan would know Chloe? Why he would have been involved with her? Did she owe money, was she pushing drugs on school..?” Victoria looked at him, wondering where this was going.

I thought I was here to answer questions about Nathan, not Chloe Price. And what about..

“I don't know.. what has happened to Mark Jefferson? Is he still under arrest?” Detective Baker, who had remained silent for most of the interview, spoke up from the back.

“I'm afraid we can't tell you that. Ongoing enquiries, you understand.” Victoria nodded dumbly. She could feel her levels of anxiety and panic rising again, and all she wanted to do was get out of the room as soon as possible. Detective Richards leaned forward, clasping his hands together and smiling warmly at her.

“Ms Chase, you've been most helpful today, and we thank you. We just have one one final question if that is OK - would you consider being a character witness for Nathan Prescott?” Victoria just stared at him in confusion, and didn't answer.



It was heading towards sunset by the time she left the station. She stood outside in the car park, trying to calm herself down. Her hands were shaking as she tried to light a cigarette, but her lighter didn't seem to work and she dropped the cigarette, where it shattered on the floor.

“Fuckkkk,” she groaned, looking up at the sky.

Keep it together Vic. It was only an interview, nothing to be worried about. She walked towards her car – it was easy to spot; a bright red 911 Carrera 4S, an 18th birthday present from her family. It was fast, loud and most importantly expensive – and entirely what she didn't need. She threw her bag onto the back seat – there was hardly enough room for the photography equipment she used, let alone for anyone to sit there – and got into the drivers seat.

I need to see Frank. I need to get some more.. She gripped the wheel tightly in her hands, trying to stay calm. No, we promised ourselves no more.. No more.

She pressed the starter and the engine roared to life, the three-litre six-cylinder quickly settling down to a quiet burble. She drew some admiring looks as she made her way out of the station car park – that was, after all, part of the reason she had been given it - and drove carefully back down towards Blackwell.

The road curved down towards the seafront, and as she rounded the bend she saw in the distance a lone figure sitting on a fence on beach, staring out to sea. Her heart skipped a beat as she recognised who it was.

That's Max. What is she doing there, on her own? She slowed slightly as she went past, trying to make a decision. On a sudden impulse she spun the car around, causing an angry beep from behind her to which she raised the time honoured single-finger salute, before turning off towards the beach.



Max had known she couldn't put it off forever, but it didn't make it any easier. After leaving Kate (and recovering from the shock of her nose bleed – (that hadn't happened for like fucking forever – what the hell was going on?) - she had slowly made her way to Chloe's house. The half-painted sight of it had made her feel sick, and every step towards it had felt heavier and heavier. It took her an age to summon up the courage to knock on the door, and when she finally did so the sight of a grieving Joyce brought memories flooding back, causing her to go weak at the knees.

Somehow she had made it inside, and they had sat around the table sharing coffee. Max had given her condolences to Joyce, saying how sorry she was, how she wished she had come sooner, how she had missed Chloe all this time.

Once she had started it all came out, in great gulping sobs. How she has tried to keep her promise, the endless experiments, the constant failures, day after day after day watching Chloe die, her friends die, until she felt there was nothing left but to keep pointlessly going on. She knew it was selfish, to pour out this grief on Joyce, who was still grieving her own loss, but she didn't care. It felt good to unload all of this pent up pain and hurt, to let everything just go. Joyce had got up and put an arm around Max, confused at this strange young woman breaking down in terrible grief in front of her, with strange tales of time travel, death and murder.

“It doesn't matter,” Max had said, in-between sobs, “you won't remember a thing in a minute.” Once she had composed herself she rewound back, back to them sitting politely around the table, Joyce holding a photo of a young Chloe in her hands.

David had sat there saying nothing, looking everywhere and nowhere. His head had been slightly bowed, and Max got the distinct impression he was one loud noise away from a complete breakdown.

I guess its not everyday you hold your step daughters body in your arms, after she was killed metres away from you. That's got to fuck anyone up.

- David looked down at the table, his eyes unfocused. 'I was on point. I hadn't slept for 2 days, Max. We were sure we'd been fired on from the house. Sure of it. I'd gone in, found them huddled together. I still see their faces, Max. Still see them. One of them was no older than Chloe.' He swallowed hard, and looked up at her. 'Someone moved.. I think.. I don't know, it all happened so fast.. Next thing I remember is they are dead. All of them.' He stared back down at the table. 'So you still get flashbacks to it?' David nodded. 'That, amongst other things I.. I did. We all did. I dream of them all, too. It never leaves you, you know? I've promised Joyce I'd try therapy.. she has spent too many nights with me..' Max looked at David, broken by his actions, his experiences. And whither thou, Max? What is going to happen to you..?

Number 3,812. Learning the mind of David Madsen. PTSD. The thousand mile stare.

It's more like a million for me.

Max had left the house feeling even worse than normal, the release of so much pent up emotion leaving her feeling empty, devoid of purpose. She didn't know why she had gone there now, and was sorely tempted to rewind the whole sorry episode.

And then what? Avoid Joyce forever? Better to get it out of the way. There's nothing else you could do.

Apart from going back, again.

6,354?

No.

Not yet.

Max wandered aimlessly for a while, until she found herself on the beach. The sun was beginning its slow descent down, and she perched herself on a fence, staring out across the bay.



The sound of a car drawing up snapped Max out of her reverie. Glancing behind her she saw an expensive looking red Porsche slow to a halt, and a familiar blonde haired figure get out.

What's Victoria doing here? She watched her carefully walk over, high heels wobbling in the sand as she struggled her way across the beach. She stopped a metre or so away.

“Hi, Max. I was just passing, and...” She gestured aimlessly around her, as if that was enough explanation. Max looked at her for a moment, as if deciding what to do.

“Want to come up here and join me for a bit?” Victoria looked aghast at the gnarly old wooden fence Max was perched on.

“This skirt cost more than your tuition, I don't think so.”

“I'm on a scholarship, so that doesn't really say much.” Victoria looked at her, then suddenly laughed, her usually stern face completely transforming. Hitching it up slightly she clambered up and perched next to Max, joining her in looking out over the bay. The sun was slowly setting, bathing everything in a golden light.

“The golden hour,” Victoria said. Max merely nodded in reply. At least there's no eclipse. Or rains of blood. Now that one was really fucked up.

“You know, I've often thought that this was an over-rated tool. Makes things too easy. Almost any dumb fuck with a camera can make a photo look good in this light.”

“Even using a Polaroid, hey?” Victoria rolled her eyes.

“Max, I'm not here to fight. I.. I just want to talk.” She turned her green eyes on Max. “There's a lot going on right now.” Max gazed back at her.

Is she being literal? Or is there a whole load of subtext going on which I am being oblivious too?

Jesus Max, you can be as brain dead as Warren sometimes.

What?

She's clearly trying to build bridges with you for some reason. Can't you pull that stick out of your ass and stop being so, well, like her?

Ouch. That hurts.

“I guess, what with the whole murder in the bathroom thing.” Victoria winced at how casually Max said it.

“Yeah. That too.” She fell silent for a moment, before speaking again. “He was my friend, you know. He had his issues but.. he used to be a good person. You must believe that.”

“He's a fucking psycho who has murdered the only person I loved countless times, Chase. Why the fuck would I have any-”

“Good? The only time he is good is when he's dead - “

“Fuck him and fuck you and everyone else in this fucking-”

Max, get a grip. Breathe.

She doesn't know what he's done.

So.. tell her?

Max took a deep breath.

“Chloe Price is.. was.. my best friend. From a long time ago. Before I moved to Seattle. We'd lost touch and.. and I had meant to call her before.. before..” A tear threatened to again fall from Max's eye but she quickly banished it. Victoria put her hand to mouth before, wide eyed, she began speaking in a rush.

“Fuck Max, I didn't realise, why didn't you say? No wonder you've been acting odd.. Jesus, why haven't you told anyone? Look, I'm so sorry, I didn't know... I just didn't..” She mentally kicked herself for not knowing about Max and Chloe.

There's a lot of things you don't know, Vic. Maybe you need to take a interest in others before yourself? Jesus, what if she finds out how I treated Chloe..

“I haven't told anyone. I've just come back from Joyce's.. Mrs Price's house. I needed some time alone to think.” Victoria shifted uncomfortably, feeling like she was suddenly intruding where she wasn't wanted. A cool gust of wind fluttered her white shirt.

“I'm sorry, I'm disturbing you. I should go.” Max held out her hand, motioning her to stay.

“No. No, please, stay. It's OK. It's nice to talk about stuff with you, even if.. if we haven't seen eye to eye much, before these last few days.”

“My fault, entirely. I.. I've been a complete bitch to you, to be honest for no good reason. I.. was just jealous of all the attention you were getting from Mr Jefferson.. he really thought a lot of you and your talent. Not that, in hindsight, it appears that was a good thing.”

You've got no idea, Victoria.

“Yeah. Finding Rachel Amber was the final nail in that fuckers coffin.” Victoria frowned.

“They found Rachel Amber? Is she alive? When was this?”

Oh shit. They haven't found Rachel Amber yet?

“Her body.. they found it.. in the junk yard..? Nathan killed her..? No?” Victoria's face grew worried.

“Max, what are you on about? When did this happen? No-one has mentioned anything to me - who told you? The police didn't mention it a few hours ago when I was -” She stopped mid-sentence. Max stared at her frozen image, her mouth half open, green eyes wide, blond hair carefully swept across her forehead above those perfectly manicured eyebrows..

OK Max, you are noticing waayyyy too many details of her here.

Rachel Amber. They haven't found her. That's normally a Monday evening thing in this branch. So Jefferson and Nathan haven't confessed? Or what? Something is going on.

Another change.

Another difference.

She looked back at Victoria, noticing as if for the first time how tight her shirt was across her chest.

And all because of her.

“ - it appears that was a good thing.”

“I don't blame you, Victoria, we were all fooled by him. Even me. But.. can we not talk about him? It still feels.. too raw. Tell me how you got on with the police.” Victoria snorted.

“It was fine. They want me to be a character reference for Nathan.” Max's eyes widened.

“Seriously? Why.. I mean I don't mean why, you were his friend, but what for?” Victoria looked pensively out across the bay.

“I don't know. They didn't say. I got the feeling that it was meant for a defence of him. But.. why would the police be doing that..?”

Do it. The Prescott's own the pigs here.

Shit.

“I don't know Victoria. I'm sure it will work out in the end, some way. Somehow.” Max watched the sun slowly set, her mind trying to make sense of everything. She turned to look at Victoria.

“Can I ask you something?” Victoria inclined her head, her eyes wary.

“Sure.”

“Why are you such an ice-cold bitch to everyone all the time?” Victoria started and nearly fell off the fence; Max quickly grabbed her arm to steady her, pulling her back to balance.

“Jeez Victoria, do you want to borrow my hoodie? I didn't realise it was that cold,” Max said, with concern in her eyes.

Victoria pulled away from Max's touch, hurriedly shaking her head.

“No, Max, thanks. I'm fine. It's just the wind off the bay, that's all – I'll be OK when it stops. I stupidly left my jacket in the car.” Max shrugged, and waited for Victoria to answer her question. Victoria divided her attention between the ground and the sunset, as if trying to make up her mind whether to answer.

“Do you see your parents much, Max?” she said suddenly. Max looked at her, slightly surprised at the question.

“I guess. I try to speak to them when I can. I also go home for the holidays and all, they tend to be a bit smothering though. They treat me like I'm some sort of fragile object.”

Now that's a joke, isn't it. Which raises an interesting question, Max – how do you return home after all of this? Can you pull it off? Can you?

I have to.

Victoria was quiet for a moment, before turning to look at Max, her gaze a little sad.

“What's it like? I mean, to have a close family. To feel smothered by them. Have them call you all the time. Ask what you are doing. How you are.” Max quickly looked around to see that there was no unusual phenomenon occurring, no tearing of the fabric of reality or rains of frogs.

Not even an asteroid to end the world? How strange.

See, I told you. Get to know her. Incidentally, have you noticed how nicely cut that shirt is? Really follows things, doesn't it.

Fuck off, mind. Or I'll rewind everything.

“I don't know, I guess it just feels normal? I've never really thought about it, to be honest.”

Ask about her family, you idiot.

“I am guessing yours is not like that?” Victoria laughed bitterly.

“You could say that. I am the heir – the sole heir, mind - to the Chase fortune, and everything that comes with that. Last time I checked – no, last time my father reminded me – we had a net worth of $15 billion, only counting primary assets and not even considering the value of the company. Do you have any idea how much money that is? Of course you don't. Why would you. I've had everything I could ever want, cars, holidays, clothes, bags.. the most expensive tutors, nannies; even fucking tennis lessons.” She turned to look at Max, her green eyes gleaming with tears.

“I fucking hate tennis.” She fell silent. Max, for the third time in twenty-four hours, reached out to touch someone in a gesture of comfort, gently placing her hand on top of Victoria's. It felt really cold, so she wrapped her fingers around Victoria's to try and warm them.

“If it helps, I hate tennis too.” Victoria laughed through her tears, and looked gratefully at Max.

“You're such a fucking dork, Max.” Max smiled back at her, and it was, to her complete and utter shock, genuine.

“One: I thought I was hipster trash. Two: You're fucking freezing, take my hoodie before you catch your death. Three: Can you give me a lift back to Blackwell?”



The trip back to Blackwell had been fun, the two of them talking shop about photography. Victoria felt really comfortable in Max's presence as they talked, finding common ground between them and even the odd laugh. She had stolen the occasional look at Max; once she had caught her eye and swiftly looked away, blushing. It was over quicker than she had wanted it to be and when they arrived Max had made her excuses and left, saying she had some research to do on something. Victoria was momentarily crestfallen, but Max had turned back and said they should meet up tomorrow for a coffee – if Victoria wanted to, of course. She couldn't have said yes quickly enough.

Victoria sat in her room, mulling over the days events. It had been a strange day – she hadn't spoken to Max so much in a single day, ever. The thought made her feel warm inside – she recounted some of the conversations in her head, a small smile playing across her lips.

It's been a good day, all in all. Except for that weirdness with the police, but that doesn't matter now. And coffee tomorrow.. with Max. Max! I should think about what to wear. She puckered her lip, trying to work out what outfit would be the best thing to impress Max. Something not too showy. Maybe I could wear something a bit more relaxed, or maybe.. show a bit off..

She looked up at the picture of herself on the wall. She liked the photo – she thought she looked good in it, but her critical eye still swarmed over her body, finding its flaws. She fantasised about Max doing the same thing, running her eyes over..

Don't be a fool, Vic. Why would she possibly be interested in you. What have you ever done for her? You've been nothing but an utter, utter bitch.

I.. that's.. not true, not now. I'm trying.

You say you like her, but you have a funny way of showing it, don't you.

I gave her a lift back today! We chatted, it was nice.. special.

Whoop de whoo. Well done, bravo. Besides, how do you know she even likes girls? Doesn't she like that weirdo Warren? He's always pestering her over something.

I can talk to her.. find out.. maybe she..

Remember the last time you tried it?

The memory was all too real for her. She'd been 17, at a party thrown by some family she'd never heard of before, but who were trying to ingratiate themselves with the Chase's. Veronica had been there, scion of a family considerably less rich than hers – a fact she had thought massively important at the time – and they'd been flirting all night. It had ended up in an upstairs room, a drunken fumble and a kiss. Victoria was starting to open up about herself when Veronica had laughed it all off as silly experimentation – after all, she wasn't one of those fucking dykes – who the fuck would want to be one of them?

Who indeed, Victoria Chase. She sat on her chair, head in her hands. No-one knew that she was gay at Blackwell – she had kept it hidden, buried deep along with her other secrets, afraid of what people would think. Everyone presumed she had something with Nathan – a rumour she had been happy to allow to spread.

Max is different, not like that. She would never -

How do you know? You know nothing, nothing, about her.

Victoria felt tears well in her eyes as the crippling self-doubt over her worth continued to eat away at her.

She doesn't care about you, no-one does. Why would she want to end up in your fucked up family?

Tears fell from her eyes like hailstones, her throat hurting as her breath raggedly came through her throat.

When was the last time they called you? When was the last time anyone did?

Victoria clenched her fists and threw her head back.

“Enough!” she shouted, half to herself and half to the demons that plagued her. She knew she had to get it under control, knew she had to do something. She scrambled for the orange bottle, unscrewing the top. It was empty.

She stared at it in horror.

“Oh god, no.. no...” Her hands began to tremble, as the prospect of having to cope without medication dawned.

“Frank,” she muttered. “I need Frank.” She closed her eyes, taking deep breaths, trying to get it under control so she wouldn't break her cell like she had done previously. After a few minutes of fighting herself she felt a little better, and swiftly sent him a message.

6:59 pm VC: I need some more. Now.

She stared at the screen, willing it to reply. Eventually it came.

7:10 pm F: Midnight. Be on time. Cash.

Victoria curled up on her bed, closing her eyes. It was going to be a long evening.



The alarm on her phone woke her up. She hadn't realised she'd fallen asleep – it was just as well she had set a reminder. She had half an hour to get to Frank's – it should be easy if she put her foot down. She swiftly got changed into some dark, casual clothes – her attempt at looking inconspicuous when she visited Frank.

She grabbed some cash from a drawer and quietly left her room, checking to see no-one had seen her. Exiting campus was easy – she knew the patrols of the security, and half of them never did their job anyway. The only one who did – that uptight wannabe soldier Madsen – was off. She reached her car without incident, and sank gratefully behind the wheel. The car roared to life and she accelerated quickly away from the school, the headlights lighting up the surrounding trees, catching the odd wild animal who looked at her with ghostly gleaming eyes. Victoria concentrated on the road ahead, doubts still plaguing her.

“I swore I'd never do this again. Never again. I can't keep going on like this. Not if.. not if.. I want to be..” She felt tears threatening to come again, something she knew from experience could be exceptionally dangerous when driving, and she fumbled blindly with her hand until she found a USB stick. Plugging it into the console, the music she only dared to listen to when she was alone began playing. Victoria sung softly along, the music helping to relax her.

.. And oh, my dreams it's never quite as it seems, never quite as it seems. I know I felt like this before, but now I'm feeling it even more because it came from you. Then I open up and see the person falling here is me, a different way to be ..” The car screamed along through the night, the needle pushing 90.



Victoria pulled up at the beach front, killing the engine – there was complete silence apart from the gentle plink of the engine cooling and the waves from the ocean beyond. Franks RV was ahead, a single light shining dimly through a window. She got out and walked towards it, locking the car behind her. She paused, confused, and looked back. She tried again, but it didn't work. She walked around the car inspecting it closely and noticed the passenger door was partly open.

Strange, she thought as she closed it, how did that happen? The lights flashed once as the car locked and alarmed itself; satisfied she walked on and knocked on the door of the RV.

It opened and she saw the familiar figure of Frank Bowers waiting for her. He looked as if he had been drinking a little, as evidenced by the beer bottle in his hand and the slight slurring of his speech.

“Arcadia Bay's resident Evil Queen here, for some of her magic pills,” he said with a grin plastered on his face. Victoria felt repulsed but tried to humour him.

“Hi Frank. Have you got the stuff?” Frank beckoned her in with a bow.

“This way, your Majesty,” he said mockingly. She followed him into his RV – it was still as unkempt and messy as she remembered, and she shuddered with disgust as she moved some detritus from a chair and primly sat down on the edge of it, trying to minimise her contact with the surroundings.

“So what'll it be, Chase? The usual?” Victoria took a breath.

“Yes. But this is the last time. No more.” Frank laughed.

“You all say that, but you keep coming back. Got the cash?” Victoria nodded. Frank bent down and started to rummage in some boxes, when the sound of a car pulling up made him hesitate. Headlights briefly shone through the window - the engine sound cut off, followed by the sound of doors slamming.

Frank sprang to the window, pulling aside a greasy blind. He looked back at her, pointing an accusing finger, his face livid.

“You expecting someone, Chase?” Victoria looked at him, frightened by the sudden change in his demeanour.

“No-one, I came alone, I swear.” Frank didn't answer, but picked up a baseball bat that had been leaning against the wall. Victoria started to feel sick in her stomach, her fear rising.

What have I got myself involved in? What the fuck is going on? Oh god, someone help me, please.

Frank turned to face the door, as if deciding whether to get out and confront the visitors. The decision was quickly made for him as the door opened, and two heavy set men came in.

“Who the hell are you?” Frank demanded, brandishing his bat. One of the men checked outside before closing the door. Victoria felt like she was about to vomit.

“Are you Frank Bowers?” one of them asked.

“Yeah, who the fuck is asking?” They didn't reply, but each pulled out a gun and aimed it squarely at Frank. Victoria broke out in a cold sweat, a scream beginning to form in her throat. She could feel it rising up inside of her despite her efforts to control it.

Maybe – maybe now I -

They both fired in quick succession and Frank fell down, blood pouring from a gaping hole in the back of his head. Victoria was showered in blood and screamed and screamed, the blood starting to instantly thicken around her, green eyes appearing to blaze with light. She looked up at the men in horror and started to desperately raise her hand as if too ward them off; they turned towards her and fired.



Max knew she wouldn't die, she had learnt this the hard way – but a gunshot wound still hurt like fuck, and it would take a while for her to bleed out until the hard reset kicked in, dragging her back to that fucking class. She crawled around a wrecked car, the moonlight casting eerie shadows around the junk yard. Chloe was still out there in the dark; their planned ambush of Jefferson had gone horribly wrong. The constant rewinds of the past few minutes had taken their toll, there wasn't even a dim flicker when she raised her hand. She could hear Chloe shouting her name - 'Max, where are you? Max!' Shut up Chloe, he'll find you too. Shut up shut up shut up! She tried applying pressure to her stomach but it was no good, every movement felt like a knife wrenching her guts apart. 'Max! Max!' the voice screamed, but it was no longer Chloe's voice, but Victoria's.

Max opened her eyes - the pain in her head was unbearable.

Number 83, but.. She clutched at her head as a fresh wave of pain swept through it. She jerked away from where she had fallen asleep at her laptop and rolled off the chair onto the floor, agonising bolts lancing through her brain.

What the fuck.. is wrong with me.. what is going on? She managed to crawl onto her knees.

Why Victoria? Why her voice?

Victoria.

Something is wrong.

She crawled across the floor, each movement bringing fresh agony. She pulled herself upright and staggered to her door, pulling it open and falling into the hallway. It was pitch black, and there was not a sound to be heard. Victoria's door was closed tight, with no light shining underneath, and Max collapsed against it. She weakly thumped on the door, calling her name, but there was no answer. She tried the handle but the door was locked.

Dammit. Only one thing for it.

Ignoring the blood beginning to pour from her nose, Max froze time. The act in of itself nearly made her black out, but she managed to regain herself in time. She took off her top and wrapped it around her fist, before drawing it back and then ramming it forward, whilst simultaneously slowly accelerating time. By the time her fist hit the door, the force was multiplied; Max knew that this also exposed herself to the same force – reducing her arm to shattered rags as she screamed in agony had been a swift teacher.

The door gave way under the impact, and she made sure she carried on driving her first forward to prevent any sudden de-acceleration – another hard lesson. The pain in her hand distracted a little from the pain in head, and she stumbled through the door, sagging against the wall, weakly surveying her surroundings.

Victoria's room was empty, her bed un-slept in.

Fuck fuck fuck!

Where is she?

Chapter Text

Max started to slowly rewind time, falling onto her knees with the effort. As the universe spun backwards, the pain lessened until suddenly it was gone completely.

Huh. Well there's a thing.

Max did a quick test – her powers were back to normal, with no pain reoccurring. She left Victoria's room and looked up and down the hallway.

Still no sign of her. Where is she? She continued to slowly rewind time, until eventually the figure of Victoria appeared through the door at the far end. Max froze time again and walked up to her, trying to work out what she was doing.

Fully dressed, but nothing fancy. She's got her bag and her car key in her hand. She looks worried, too. Where are you going, Victoria? What secrets are you hiding?

Max went back to her room and got dressed, putting on some dark but warm clothing, just in case she needed to hide somewhere outside. She also took her phone and debit card, as she had no idea where she would end up. She slung them in her messenger bag, which still had her camera in it.

Maybe leave that behind.

Max followed Victoria out to the car park, running the world at a quarter speed, ensuring Victoria didn't see the elusive shadow following her. Victoria reached her car, and as she unlocked it Max froze time and hid in the rear passenger seats, out of sight.

The car accelerated hard and Max was thrown around in the footwell - wherever Victoria was going, she was in a hurry. Max could hear Victoria talking to herself but couldn't make out the words over the sound of the engine, but before long she put on some music and sang along in what Max thought was quite a pleasant tone.

Bitch has talent. Who knew? I would never have thought she'd like this type of music. We've got something else in common, then.

Dammit.

Her musings were cut short by Victoria slowing down and pulling over. She turned off the engine and opened the door, getting out. Max again froze time and got out the passenger side, looking around – they were at the beach, and she could see Frank's RV parked a short way away.

Interesting. What are you doing here at this time and all alone, Ms Victoria?

Max decided to observe things first of all from a vantage point and scurried up the dunes, hiding in the tall grass where she had a clear view of the RV and Victoria's car. She got comfortable and restarted the world. Victoria started to walk away from her car, then looked back as if something was amiss. She went to the passenger side and appeared to slam the door shut, before the lights flashed as the alarm turned on.

Oops.

Victoria walked to the RV and knocked on the door, and after a few moments she saw Frank open the door and then invite her inside. Max could occasionally could see the figure of Frank moving back and forward past one of the windows, but nothing out of the ordinary seemed to be happening. She had just made up her mind to rewind and get closer, when a car pulled onto the track.

Hold up, what's this?

The car rolled up slowly and parked next to Victoria's car. Max saw two men get out; she couldn't see their faces in the darkness. They appeared to look at the car before heading to the RV, and pushed their way straight inside, one taking a brief look around before closing the door behind them. Max waited with bated breath – was this Frank's suppliers? What's going on?

Max saw the gunshots before she heard them. Two flashes in quick succession, followed by two more - the pain Max had felt before came roaring back.

Max fell down into the sand clutching her head, the pain running through her like red hot knives.



When she regained her senses, the world had stopped by itself. She knew what to do now, however, and slowly rewound time again, the pain easing. She carried on rewinding until Victoria's car was just turning in and then froze the world again.

Right, OK, that was unpleasant. Let's just think about this, shall we? Clearly the universe doesn't want Victoria to die. That's been made just a bit clear.

Why the fuck her and not Chloe? Why does Chloe have to die, and yet she lives? What's so special about her?

Nevermind, that's a question for later. Basic fact is - she can't die here, as it is clear we have some fucking cosmic fucking bond which I am beginning to hate. What, exactly, have I done to deserve this?

She is hot thought, isn't she.

I told you to fuck off. Right, let's think this through.

Jump to her car? No, she'll freak out and probably crash it – and also raise a whole load of awkward questions.

Back to the dorm? Why would she believe you, and you won't find out what is going on here – why she had to die.

Take out those guys before they get her? But then we wouldn't find out what they want.

You could always let it play out then rewind to just before, you know.

No, that wouldn't work, because...

Because?

Because.. it just wouldn't.

You want Victoria to see you save her, don't you! You want to be her big fucking shining knight in armour.

No, that's not true, I just want.. want..

.. to save her and make sure that she knows it. Right, Caulfield, fine, whatever. But you need to do this so she doesn't find out what you are.

Max cracked her knuckles, and stood up, smiling to herself.

Oh, this is going to be fun.



“Arcadia Bay's resident Evil Queen here, for some of her magic pills,” he said with a grin plastered on his face. Victoria felt repulsed but tried to humour him.

“Hi Frank. Have you got the stuff?” Frank beckoned her in with a bow.

“This way, your Majesty,” he said mockingly. She followed him into his RV – it was still as unkempt and messy as she remembered, and she shuddered with disgust as she moved some detritus from a chair and primly sat down on the edge of it, trying to minimise her contact with the surroundings.

“So what'll it be, Chase? The usual?” Victoria took a breath.

“Yes. But this is the last time. No more.” Frank laughed.

“You all say that, but you keep coming back. Got the cash?” Victoria nodded. Frank bent down and started to rummage in some boxes, when the sound of a car pulling up made him hesitate. Headlights briefly shone through the window - the engine sound cut off, followed by the sound of doors slamming.

Frank sprang to the window, pulling aside a greasy blind. He looked back at her, pointing an accusing finger, his face livid.

“You expecting someone, Chase?” Victoria looked at him, frightened by the sudden change in his demeanour.

“No, no-one, I came alone, I swear.” Frank didn't answer, but picked up a baseball bat that had been leaning against the wall. Victoria started to feel sick in her stomach, her fear rising.

What have I got myself involved in? What the fuck is going on? Oh god, someone help me, please.

Frank turned to face the door, as if deciding whether to get out and confront the visitors. The decision was quickly made for him as the door opened, and two heavy set men came in.

“Who the hell are you?” Frank demanded, brandishing his bat. One of the men checked outside before closing the door. Victoria felt like she was about to vomit.

“Are you Frank Bowers?” one of them asked.

“Yeah, who the fuck is asking?” They didn't reply, but each pulled out a gun and aimed it squarely at Frank. Victoria broke out in a cold sweat, a scream beginning to form in her throat. She could feel it rising up inside of her despite her efforts to control it.

Maybe – maybe now I-

The door of the RV burst open, causing everyone to turn in surprise. Victoria stared in shock at the figure standing there.

Max, little fucking hipster adorable Max. Max looked laughably small compared to the men opposite her, but she appeared to have a slight smile on her face.

“Hey fuck face,” she said calmly, looking at the nearest man. “Come get some.”

Victoria wasn't quite sure what happened next – Max just seemed to move, being everywhere people weren't. Both of her assailants seemed to manage to kneecap each other – in both legs – and, somehow, Frank hit his head on a cupboard, knocking himself out.

Before Victoria could process it all Max was right next to her, face radiating urgency.

“Come on, let's move!” Victoria sat there open mouthed staring at the scene around her, before looking up at Max and those fierce blue eyes. Her ears were ringing from the sound of the gunshots from so close to her, and she struggled to make out what Max said.

“How did.. why..” she managed. Max impatiently grabbed hold of her, involuntarily letting out a yelp as the touch almost seem to burn her skin.

“Jesus, what's wrong with you? You're frozen solid.” To Max's eye it seemed that there was a faint mist around her, some strange trick of the light caused by the crappy lighting in the RV and the residual gun-smoke. “Can you walk? Let's go. Come on, move!”

“It's just bad circulation,” Victoria mumbled. “Nothing to worry about.” She looked around the RV, her face going a strange colour, trying to ignore the groans and choice language coming from the incapacitated men on the floor. “I think I'm going to be sick.”

“No, you are not. Get your ass in gear, NOW!” Max's tone seemed to finally get through to Victoria, allowing Max to drag her out of the RV.

They were halfway to the car when it caught up to her and she began to slowly collapse. Max struggled with the effort to stop her falling as her legs gave way. She looked at her with concern – Victoria seemed slightly out of it, her eyes glassy as the delayed shock set in.

“Victoria, I need you to stand for me, OK? You're ass is fine and all but too big for me to carry there by myself. And give me your keys, you're in no state to drive.” Victoria leant heavily on Max and managed to reach the car, where she leaned against the passenger door.

“Max.. what did you do?” she asked weakly, warily eyeing the small woman in front of her who seemingly out of nowhere seemed to exude confidence and purpose.

“I stopped you from dying, Victoria Chase. You can say thank you later, but for now let's get out of here.” Victoria nodded dumbly, opened the car and threw the fob over to Max.



Max sat there, looking at the controls.

OK, this is a bit different to Chloe's truck. Where's the key.. She fumbled around the steering column until Victoria rolled her eyes and pointed at the starter button. Max blushed slightly and pressed it and the engine came to life. The feeling sent a thrill through her – she could get used to this.

Why haven't I stolen a car like this before, just for the hell of it? Even Jefferson's car is a load of American crap compared to this thing.

Max looked down to put the car into drive, and just stared where the lever should be. She looked at Victoria, who despite her state of distress had a look of amusement on her face.

“How.. do you drive this thing?” Victoria leaned over towards her, Max suddenly becoming very conscious of the proximity of her body, causing unwelcome (are they?) thoughts to intrude into her mind. Victoria's hand – still freezingly cold – gently moved Max's up to the paddles on the steering wheel.

“Use these to change gear – towards you to go faster, away for when you are slowing down. There's no clutch, it's semi-auto transmission - you do know where the brake and accelerator are, yes?” Max rolled her eyes back at her.

“You know, given I just saved your ass, you could be a little less condescending. I've never driven a car like this before.” Max put it into gear, floored the throttle and span the car around in a shower of dirt. She expertly controlled the slide, the car sashaying up the track onto the main road, drifting sideways as Max balanced the throttle. Once it was as straight as she wanted it to be, she rammed her foot back to the floor. Victoria gripped the door handle as she was flung sideways. She didn't feel scared; she was strangely exhilarated by the confidence shown by Max in handling her car. Suddenly they lurched forward as it bounced off the rev limiter.

“Change gear!” she shouted, “don't let it go over 9,000!” Max slammed it into second, grinning to herself as the car obeyed her commands and leapt forward once again.



Max slowed down as they approached Blackwell, thoroughly enjoying herself as she worked the gearbox.

I want to do this again. Almost sedately in comparison she parked up, giving one last rev before turning the engine off.

That was epic.

They sat there a moment in silence, listening to the sounds of cooling metal.

“Where did you learn to drive like that?” Victoria asked, her eyes trying to bore into Max's skull. Max shrugged nonchalantly.

“I've had a lot of practice. Come on, let's get you inside and warmed up.”



They successfully managed to sneak back into the dorm without anyone seeing – if Victoria had noticed Max occasionally seeming to stumble to hold her back for a few vitals seconds she didn't say anything. Max levered Victoria into her room, and she sat shakily down on the bed, clearly still in shock. Max stood up, as if undecided what to do.

“Well,” she said, “er.. I guess that..” Victoria looked up at her, her eyes wide with.. something.

“Max, would you stay with me? Please? Just for tonight. I.. don't want to be alone.. I..” Max gaped at her in horror, reflexively freezing time.

Oh fuck. She closed her eyes as the familiar words rang out.

Photobomb!

Photohog!

Those same phrases always seemed to crop up, no matter the decisions she made. A constant theme, whether in a bed – her bed – or a bench or.. or..

Again that urge to go back

Start all over again.

But.. its not as strong this time is it? Or you would have done it already.

Open your eyes, Max Caulfield, what do you see?

Max opened her eyes and looked, really looked, for the first time at Victoria. Her face was looking up at her, expectant, hoping, and to Max's shock, utterly, utterly entrancing.

Oh shit.

Oh yes.

Oh fuck no! No.

What's the worst that could happen? It's not like you are going to let THIS one die, is it? You can't, tonight proved that little one.

Jesus, for my own mind you can't half be a real bitch sometimes.

Maybe Victoria is rubbing off on you. Maybe this is what you need. Why do you keep going back anyway? For what?

Max didn't have an answer to that. She didn't know why, not any more, she just did it. Max closed her eyes again and breathed out slowly through her nostrils, her hand flexing subconsciously.

Fine. But just to help her. That's all.

“Yes, Victoria, of course. Let me just sit up on the bed and you can.. lay your head on my lap. Legs. Wherever.”

They lay there in silence for a while, Max aware of Victoria's soft breathing. Victoria at least felt a normal temperature now, which eased her worries a little. The last thing I need is trying to rewind hypothermia.

“We should call the police,” Victoria said suddenly, her voice slightly muffled.

“And say what, exactly? 'Hi, some people have all been shot and we had nothing to do with it, k, thanks bye!'” Max waved her hand in irritation, before looking back down at her. “And what exactly were you doing there, Victoria?”

“I'd.. rather not say. Yet. But.. what were you doing there?”

“Taking photos.”

“In the dark?”

“Yes.”

“A few miles away from Blackwell?”

“Yes.”

“On your own.”

“Yes.”

There was silence, and Max looked down. Victoria's eyes were closed and she appeared to be drifting off to sleep. She looked strangely vulnerable again, and Max suddenly felt very protective.

“'Hey fuck face? Come get some?' You're such a dork, Max..” she murmured as she drifted off. Max cringed internally.

I thought it sounded cool. It was better than all the others ones I had come up with. And at least it ended with them all in one piece that time.

Max sat there quite content, hearing the soft breathing of Victoria as she slept.



He pushed her roughly down onto her knees, gripping her jaw to force her to look forwards. The grave was shallow, barely a few feet deep, and she could see clearly the lifeless body at the bottom of it. 'Well now,' Jefferson said, 'isn't this just perfect? The two of you, apart in life and reunited in death. The shy hipster and the popular social butterfly, together at last. I wish I had brought my camera, such a shot..” He trailed off in thought. Max sobbed behind the gag, unable to take her eyes off the body lying in the grave. 'I suppose it's not to far to go get it. Don't you go anywhere, Max, I won't be long.' She felt a foot push her in the back and she fell helplessly forward, down alongside the dead body of Victoria. Max screamed uncontrollably as she stared into the dead lifeless eyes of Victoria, inches away from her face.



“Max! Max! Wake up! Max!” Max opened her eyes and nearly screamed again. Victoria's face was bending over her, her eyes radiating concern for her as her hand brushed her face.

4 . But.. She's alive.

“Max, are you OK? Tell me you're OK - you were shouting in your sleep. Max, say something..” Max smiled weakly at her.

“I'm fine.. just.. a nightmare. That's all. I.. get them, sometimes.” She's alive. She reflexively reached out to touch her face, as if to convince herself that Victoria was actually alive.

And lying on top of you.

Max suddenly became aware that she must have fallen asleep, and at some point ended up lying down on the bed. Vic was lying on her chest, face still close to hers, eyes scanning her features. Max began to feel very hot; she could feel the way Victoria's breasts were pleasantly squished up against hers, the weight of her body pressing her down into the bed.

A slight pinkish blush on Victoria's cheeks told Max that she was thinking the same thing, and she watched as Victoria's eyes seemed to glow as they flicked from her eyes to her lips and back again.

She wants to kiss me.

I can't.

I won't.

It's.

Not.

Time.

There was a loud bang on the door and Victoria sprang away like a scalded cat.

“Vic! Are you in there? I know you are - get your lazy ass out of bed!” Victoria's face radiated alarm.

“Taylor! Shit, Max, hide!” Max looked at her in confusion.

“Hide? Where, exactly? And why?”

“Just hide, will you? Under my bed. Quickly.” She started to drag Max off the bed, who suddenly found the situation very amusing and went limp.

“Just a sec!” Victoria shouted. She bent down to Max's ear and whispered furiously. “If you don't move your bony ass right now I'm going to fucking do something I might regret.” Her grip was suddenly cold and hard, and Max held her arms up in mock surrender, and rolled underneath the bed.

Lucky I do have a bony ass or I wouldn't fit under here. Wait, when did she realise I had a bony ass?

Such reflections were cut short as Victoria opened the door and let Taylor in.

“There you are! I was worried sick, you haven't answered your phone in like ages.” She stopped and looked Victoria up and down. “Like, where have you been, exactly? Did you sleep in those clothes?” She sniffed and wrinkled her nose in disgust. Victoria decided honesty was the best policy – well, at least in part.

“I went to see Frank last night. Chickened out in the end, you know what with all the links to.. Nathan and all. Drove around for a bit, then I guess sort of crashed.” Taylor lay her hand on Victoria, looking at her carefully.

“You OK? I thought we were done with getting pot from Frank, until at least this whole thing blows over..” Weed? thought Max from under the bed, why would she not tell me about buying that?

“Yeah, that's what I realised. Still, what's up? What's so urgent you've been making my phone explode?” Taylor's face grew excited.

“Well, given the recent events and all, and the cancelled party thanks to that drone Wells, Hayden and a few of the others decided that we should have our own party on Saturday – you know, like a proper session. Actually have some fun, rather than all this depressing shit that's been happening.”

“Oh. I see.. yeah, that sounds.. fun. Who is organising this?”

Fun.. but not exactly.. sensitive? Victoria was surprised by the thought. When did I start really caring about this sort of thing?

“Well, Hayden and Logan at first, and then they tried to rope me in and I thought, well, we need you for this, so..” Victoria glanced back to her bed.

“Right decision. Wait a sec, I need a shower and get clean. Let me grab some stuff and we can chat about it on the way..”

Max waited for the sound of their footsteps to recede before rolling out from under the bed, and escaping back to her own room.

I may be a master of time and space, but that's nothing compared to navigating high school politics.

 

Max still felt a little shaken after the juxtaposition of an alive and dead Victoria, so she texted Kate to see if she was still around.

It had taken him an hour to fucking be finished. An hour of staring at her, just waiting for it to end.

Kate eagerly responded to Max's offer of breakfast and just hanging out, so she spent a pleasant morning in her company. They both seemed to improve each others moods somehow, and Max briefly fantasised about a life where they had been able to just continue to hang out like this, without all of the shit that had gone on before.

Just be an ordinary high schooler. Like I used to be.

Kate had made her excuses and left; she had some work to catch up on – some project she was working on with Brooke. Max didn't relish the prospect of lessons starting again, with which grim certainty they were going to do on Monday. Unless..

No. You are not going back just to avoid Chemistry.

Max found herself sitting outside the main entrance, under a tree near the fountain. The midday sun dappled through the slowly turning leaves above her, an effect she found a little soothing. She closed her eyes, listening to the general hubbub around her. A few of the students who had stayed were out and about, making the most of some unexpected freetime, even if the reason for it was a little sombre. She could even hear the familiar clack of a skateboard running up and down the path.

Let's see, it's Wednesday. Ordinarily I'd be -

No.

You are here.

Right now.

Just... stop, for a moment.

Max felt something tickling her hand and she cracked her eyes open. There, sitting on her hand without a care in the world, was a blue butterfly. Max found herself smiling at the sight.

“Hey little buddy, not seen you in a while.” It fluttered its wings in answer, but didn't fly away. Out of the corner of her eye Max saw something else fluttering down, and to her wonder it was joined by an identical butterfly - except its wings were emerald green, shot through with tinges of orange. The two butterflies seemed to stay side by side, and Max felt extraordinarily calm.

“At least you've got someone,” she whispered softly, getting another flutter in response.

“Max!” She turned her head to see who had shouted, and saw Victoria making her way towards her with a strange expression on her face. Max glanced back to her hand, but the two butterflies were gone - she felt inexplicably sad that they had.

“Max,” Victoria said quietly, standing in front of her. “We need to talk.” Max shifted aside so she could sit down next to her, and patted the ground. There was an awkward moment of silence between them, Victoria seemingly suddenly very interested in making sure there was no grass on her black trousers. Max noticed how long her legs were in comparison to her relatively short torso, which was fitted out in what she presumed was an expensive, but classy, loose light-yellow top.

You know, if you sort of look this way a bit you can see her bra strap. Look, it's red and all lacy.

Fuck off.

Seriously.

Stop it.

Victoria suddenly turned to Max, her look searching.

“There's a party this Saturday, nothing big - just an informal get together with a few people. Few drinks, couple of -”

“Yes.” Victoria blinked.

“Sorry.. yes?”

“Yes, I'll come.” Victoria's expression was priceless in that moment. Her mind seemed to be trying to readjust to this new Max.

“Oh, I thought it would be much harder to ask. You've never seemed to be interested in one before, I thought that..”

“What's the worse that can happen, Vic? The end of the world? I'm sure it'll be lot's of fun.” If Victoria noticed the 'Vic' she didn't let on. She smiled slightly, playing with the grass. There was another awkward moment, before she looked at Max again. They both spoke at the same time.

“About last night -

“About this morning -” They both shyly laughed, and Max motioned for her to go first.

“Last night. What happened exactly? To be honest I'm still shaken up from it. Those men.. just shot like that..” She looked at Max, biting her lip. “You didn't do that, did you?” Max shook her head.

“They shot themselves in the confusion, couldn't you tell? Anyway, how would skinny old me be able to do anything to those guys? You saw the size of them.” Victoria's eyes seemed to briefly run over skinny old Max's body, before she continued.

“But.. why were you there? I know you said were taking photographs, but come on, I'm a lot of things but one of them is not stupid. Did you follow me?” Max looked awkwardly away; for some reason she was not tempted to use her rewind to get out of this.

“Maybe,” she muttered.

“Why? I mean, I'm grateful you did, but why were you there in the first place?” Shit, Max, think fast.

“I.. heard you leave and was worried about you, what with all the.. recent things happening. So I guessed where you might be going.. and.. ordered a taxi. To drop me off. Near you. Out of sight. Just in time.”

Fuck me, that's weak. Let's-

Victoria nodded, seemingly content with the explanation so far. Max decided to change the focus away from her.

“Why were you at Frank's? I don't believe for one second it was about weed.” Victoria smiled a little.

“You heard that, huh. No, it wasn't weed. Promise me you won't tell anyone, but I.. I have.. some issues. Anxiety. That sort of thing. Medical problem. The stuff I get from the Doctor isn't sometimes enough.. so I get something a little stronger from Frank.” She turned to face Max directly, her eyes wide with earnestness. “But it was going to be the last time, I swear.” Max smiled sympathetically.

“I believe you. But, is this why you are so cold all the time, this medical issue? You don't have to tell me if you don't want to.” Victoria had a slightly panicked look in her eyes.

“Yes. Yes, that's it entirely. The medicine affects... my... circulation. Makes me get really cold, but you know.. I can live with it, considering the alternative.”

“Do you know what those guys wanted?” Victoria shuddered, her voice breaking a little as the events of last night came back to her again.

“I.. I don't know. They just asked if they had found Frank, and then.. then.. you came through the door.”

Odd. Doesn't sounds like a drug deal gone wrong. And why shoot Victoria too?

Something strange is going on.

Speaking of which, are you going to bring it up?

Max looked out across the grass, watching a few people wander by, before looking at her shoes. She felt strangely nervous, an unusual feeling that took a bit of time for her to recognise.

“Victoria, about this morning -”

“Max! Hey Max, I've been looking for you.” Max glanced up and saw Warren coming over, an eager expression on his face. It wavered slightly when he saw Victoria sitting next to Max, and the look she was giving him.

Max stood up, irritated that their conversation had been interrupted.

“For fuck's sake Warren, how many times do I have to tell you? FUCK. OFF.” She pushed him hard to the ground, staring down at him -

“- looking for you.”

Max didn't reply, but just looked at Victoria and rolled her eyes.

“What do you want, Warren? We're busy here, isn't there someone else to stalk?” Her words, Victoria's voice. She glanced sideways in surprise; Victoria mouthed 'what?' at her with an innocent expression. Warren grinned nervously.

“Er.. Victoria. I didn't know you were going to be here with Max, can I just chat to her for a second?” Victoria gave him a stare that appeared to be trying to melt him on the spot, but eventually sighed and gestured for him to proceed. Warren scratched his arm, suddenly a bag of nerves.

“Max, it's just that.. I was wondering after.. after our, er, last conversation..” Max cut him short.

“Warren, I'm sorry but I don't want to go – I like you as a friend” liar “but I'm just not interested in you like that. It's not you” liar “you just have the wrong, well, bits.” Victoria stole a quick glance at Max and held her breath, fearing her heart might literally explode. Warren frantically waved his hands.

“No, no, not that. I know, I've looked at enough things on the internet to know about that sort of thing, so I know what you mean.” Victoria started making gagging noises, and Max surreptitiously elbowed her. Warren looked at them in confusion, before continuing.

“I thought about inviting Brooke, but I was hoping you could, you know, give some advice on how to ask her? I don't want to be a pest again.” Warren looked rather forlorn, and a bit of Max she thought had long gone came to the rescue.

“Why don't you take her out for lunch or something and just drop it into the conversation, casual like? Just make sure you are not too, you know, pushy. Accept no, for, well, no. I bet she would appreciate the gesture, though, even if it was that.” Warren smiled a little.

“Yeah, I know I can be a little too much sometimes.” He looked down at the floor scratching the back of his head. “So what are you two guys doing here? Never expected you, Max, to be hanging about with.. her.” Ooh, Warren showing some spine again.

“Me and Max were having a private conversation, which is none of your business - so run along, little boy,” said Victoria, giving him a look that should have turned him into a block of ice. Max was irritated too at the interruption, but knew she had to pretend somewhat that things were, well, normal.

“It's OK, Warren – me and Victoria just had some photography things to run through. For when we have a new teacher, I mean.”

When am I going to pick up a camera again? I'm not sure I'm going to be able too.

Not now.

Not... ever?

“Speaking of photography, I almost forgot. Have you heard the news? Mr Jefferson is dead.” Max looked at him, mind derailed from her train of thought.

What?

Chapter Text

Victoria looked up at Warren, squinting at the sun.

“How do you know that, Waldo?” Warren looked down at Max as he replied.

“It was all over the interwebs this morning. Hung himself in his cell, with like bedsheets or something, everyone is going crazy! From all accounts Jefferson was a straight up psycho, so I'm not surprised he did that, but you know, there are some crazy conspiracy theories going on..” Max didn't acknowledge Warren's words; she just silently stared across the lawn at nothing in particular, a frown on her face. Victoria stole a quick glance at her before returning her gaze back to Warren.

“I'm over here, Walter – I'm asking the questions, not Max. Where did this happen?” Warren reluctantly dragged his gaze away from Max, choosing to not look at Victoria but rather at some interesting piece of grass next to her.

“Down at the police station. Apparently they were due to transfer him up to county, like... er.. the other.. one...” Warren trailed off as he realised he was mentioning Victoria's previous best friend and co-ruler of Blackwell, and he imagined he could literally feel Victoria's vengeance building up to strike him down.

He was saved by Max suddenly giving Victoria's hand a quick squeeze, before standing up and looking off towards the bay in the distance.

“Sorry, Vic, Warren, but I just remembered I have to be somewhere.” Victoria looked at her in surprise and disappointment.

“Max, you are leaving? But we -”

“Mmm, yeah. Sorry, I have somewhere I need to go. But, I'll catch you later, OK?” She absent-mindedly waved her hand and walked off towards the bus stop, deep in thought. Victoria wanted to run after her and check she was OK, not mad at her for, for.. something, anything, but was conscious of Warren and the others being present.

For now, Vic, keep it under wraps. You know you have to.

For now? You think there will be a later? Victoria smiled to herself at the memory of Max giving her hand a quick squeeze, completely unexpectedly.

Yeah, I think so.

She was aware that Warren was looking at her with an odd look on his face, which seemed to imply his brain was thinking of something. He opened his mouth to speak.

“Not one word, Warren, or Brooke will end up wondering how you actually manage to piss. Do you understand?” Warren meekly nodded his head his understanding, before sauntering away with the occasional thoughtful glance back at Victoria. Victoria didn't seem to notice or care, she suddenly felt rather giddy and light hearted – entirely unusual feelings for her of late. She hadn't felt like this since.. since... well, forever. Moreover she had forgotten that she had not taken any more of medication, nor replaced it; her current mood meant such thoughts were far away.

So Saturday is a go. I can't believe it, she actually said yes! ... but.. what will Taylor and Courtney and Hayden.. and everyone.. think? Fuck Vic, are you crazy? What if they think.. you are..

She was deep in thought as she rounded the corner of the building, nearly causing her to bump into Samuel. Startled out of her day dreaming, she instinctively let out a waspish response.

“Watch where you are going, freak.” Samuel just gave her a gentle knowing smile, before pointing towards where she had come from.

“Samuel is ever so sorry, Ms Victoria, Samuel was only going to talk to the butterflies.” Victoria gave him a shrugged whatever as he slowly strolled off. Annoyed, she marched across the quad before stopping in her tracks, looking back the way Samuel had gone.

Butterflies?



Max stared at the outside of Arcadia Bay's police station, a grim, modern, squat concrete building out of place amongst its more rustic neighbours, fixing the image in her mind. In her imagination each timeline was represented by a photo album, with the first picture always being the selfie she had taken in the class. Each subsequent image became a fixture in the book, giving her bookmarks to jump back to as she desired. Every jump back removed the pages beyond, and every new timeline created a new book. In this timeline, she realised to her surprise that this was not the second picture, but the third - the second was an image of Victoria looking up at her from the night before. Somehow she had saved that in her mind.

Satisfied that she had a point to jump back to, she walked up the steps and into the lobby. It was a large square room, occupied by a low, curved wooden desk in the centre. Proudly displayed on the wall behind was a large American flag, with the words 'Arcadia Bay Police Department' in thick gold letters below. A familiar looking Officer looked up as she entered, and smiled warmly.

“Good morning Miss, how can we be of assistance?” Max ignored his friendly greeting and carried on walking towards a door at the rear; the door to the offices and the cells, the door to answers. The Officer stood up as she carried on walking, moving to gently intercept her.

“Miss, hey Miss, I'm afraid you can't -” Max slammed time to a crawl, pushing out with her hand and speeding time up to push the him backwards and into the wall, where he fell awkwardly and lay still. Max didn't even bother to look but carried on her course, opening the door into a long corridor with doors either side, each with various names on them. At the far end was another Officer, this time in plain-clothes, looking at something on a cell and smiling to himself. He looked up as he heard the door opening and his smile became one of confusion.

“Er.. can I help you Ma'am?” Max didn't answer but continued to walk slowly towards him, a small smile on her face. The man put his cell away and faced her properly, holding out his hand in warning.

“I'm going to have to ask you to stop right there, or I'll be forced to draw my weapon, Ma'am.” To his consternation Max closed the distance in an instance, appearing right in front of him. She read the name badge and looked up at him.

“So.. Detective Richards, what happened to Jefferson?” she asked in a calm, gentle voice. Alarmed, he quickly reached for his weapon; but to his horror saw she had it in her hand, pulling out the magazine, a goofy smile on her face as it dropped to the floor.

“Oops!” Her smile disappeared as she looked at him again. “Wrong answer. Let's try this one more time, OK? What happened to Jefferson?” He looked at her; this slight, waifish girl dressed in a ridiculous t-shirt, and jeans that had seen better days.

“Young lady, you are under arrest for -”

“Wrong answer again,” she said, grabbing his hair and smashing his head against the wall. He reflexively clutched at his head in pain, letting out a loud cry.

“What happened to Jefferson?” she demanded. He looked at her wild eyes, as he struggled to comprehend what was happening to him.

“The fuck -” She grabbed his head again and rammed it over and over into the wall, demanding answers about Jefferson until the blood made her lose her grip, and his body hit the wall like a wet sack. Frustrated she gave it a last kick, as doors began opening along the length of the corridor and curious faces began looking out.

Max turned to face them all, t-shirt spattered with blood, eyes wild, fists clenched.

“FUCKING COME GET SOME!” she shouted, anger and frustration welling in her, advancing towards them, slowing time as she saw people reaching for their weapons. I'm going to fucking kill them all one by one until they tell me what I need to know.

And then she saw it: sitting on a radiator without a care for the world were the two butterflies, watching her. She stood there, confused, trying to work out what they were doing here, now. It almost felt like they were judging her.

The emerald butterfly fluttered its wings twice, then slowly flew away and out of sight.

“Wait.. no..” Max said, reaching out after it, suddenly feeling as if a part of her was leaving. She turned to look back at the blue butterfly; it had shifted position to face her directly, its wings closed, waiting. Max looked at it, then at the frozen people in various states of alarm, and finally the body she had created moments earlier. She turned back to her accuser.

They deserved it! They wouldn't answer my questions! I have to know what happened!

The butterfly didn't move; it just sat there, watching, waiting.

I was going to rewind it all back! It would never have happened!

The butterfly shifted slightly, and there was a small flutter of wings. Unbidden into her mind came a voice - to her shock it was David's.

It never leaves you, Max. I still see their faces.. all of them.. all of those I..

Max sat down heavily on the floor, staring at the butterfly. In that moment, for some reason she was reminded of her garden at home in Seattle, as if it was an odd echo of some other time - a moment where she seemed to be looking for, or trying to do, something. It was strange and unsettling but she shook it off, trying to concentrate on what she was doing in the here and now rather than what could have been - her actions over all those previous realities she had created and then destroyed.

It never happened.

It never happened.. except to me.

The nightmares.

The dreams.

The memories.

I create them.

I see their faces.

It's my fault.

She drew her knees up against her chest and hugged them with her arms, rocking herself as she began to weep.

I'll never forget their faces.

It happens to me.

She didn't know how long she sat there in that hallway alone, crying until she felt she could cry no more. She felt a tingle on her hand and looked through blurred vision at the blaze of blue sitting on it again. She felt as if her heart was being wrenched out as it calmly sat there, watching her.

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry.

I'm a monster.

She began to cry again, her body shaking with the exertion, knowing that no matter what she did, no matter what she changed, she had condemned herself.

I'll try to do better.

I promise.

I will try.

The butterfly opened its wings to their full extent and fluttered them once, the blue seeming to pulse with energy. Max felt herself calm down a little, although she still felt a hollowness inside, eating away at her. She wiped away some tears with her free hand, causing a smear of bright green to appear across her vision; the other butterfly had returned. She suddenly felt a strange sense of calm and purpose flow through her; things were not forgotten, but she had a chance to make amends.

I will do better.

She permitted herself a thin smile as the the pair flew off, spiralling around each other until they were lost from her sight. She stood up and surveyed the scene around her, wiping her nose on her sleeve.

I can do better than this.

I used to better than this.

Max reached into her mind and found the image she had saved, and left.



Officer Berry looked up from his desk and smiled warmly at the young lady approaching him with a friendly smile. She looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

“Good morning, how can we be of service, Ms..?” She shyly held out a hand.

“Caulfield, er.. Max Caulfield. I used to live not to far from here..” Berry raised his eyes in surprise, and looked her up and down.

“Ah, of course – the Caulfields. Yes, I remember you, you had that place down on 11th. Helped your Dad out of a snow drift once a few winters back. Young Max - my, how you've grown.” Max smiled back at him.

“Yeah, I remember that – Dad said you told him off for being unprepared for such conditions.” Berry nodded his head.

“It's always important to be prepared, especially in winter. Now, what can I help you with today?” Max bit her lip and looked down with a sad expression.

“My best friend.. Chloe Price.. we grew up together here.” She paused, looking at Berry with tears in her big blue eyes. Berry nodded sympathetically as she continued.

“I saw Joyce and David and.. and said I would drop by to see if.. if... there..” She trailed off. Berry pulled up a seat and motioned for her to sit down.

“Can I get you a coffee or anything?” Max nodded gratefully, and Berry disappeared for a short while before returning with two mugs with 'ABPD: Protecting the Bay' written on them.

“It's been a tough time for them,” Berry said, sitting back down at his desk. “We are trying our best, but it's clearly difficult for them, as it would be for any folk. It's good they have people like you looking out for them.” Max nodded, and kept her voice soft and sad.

“David told me Nathan had been taken to County, away from Mark Jefferson.” Berry nodded.

“That's true, and no secret; but Nathan being able to be moved is down to David acting with commendable constraint, considering the circumstances, we owe him that. We may not have seen eye to eye on some matters, but there he showed the best. Acted like a true soldier.”

“Joyce said to me that you were at the Two Whales when Jefferson killed himself. That must have been an awful shock for you.” Berry snorted.

“The whole damn Department is talking about it, Max. I'm lucky I was there with my partner, otherwise I would be involved too. Turned out to be the best bacon I have ever had.” Max smiled with him.

“Joyce's cooking is the best, isn't it. I saw on a show, one of those reality things, that people like that are watched all the time to prevent them from doing.. things like that?” Berry shook his head in annoyance.

“Yes, and damn sloppy that is, he should have been watched 24-7. Basic procedure, not leaving hours between watches as they did. I was not in charge, if I had been maybe it would have been different. But I shouldn't worry you with these things.”

“I bet you would have made sure everything would be OK, like you did for my Dad. I was so sad Jefferson was arrested – he was my teacher, the reason I.. I came back. Apart from Chloe I mean. Do you know why he was arrested? I heard it was something with Nathan.. and Chloe.” Berry looked at her with pity.

“I'm afraid I can't tell you the details, Max, but yes, it was connected to Nathan. Unfortunately now, of course, any case is weaker as we have to do without his testimony, but you and I don't need to worry about things like that. The important thing is justice for the Prices.” His radio burbled and he looked at his watch.

“Now, young Max, I'm afraid duty calls – unless there is anything else I can help you with?” Max looked at him with earnest eyes.

“Maybe you can, Officer Berry. Sometimes I see an old RV parked near my school, and I'm worried that the man in there..” She looked dramatically around and lowered her voice. “I think he may be selling drugs.” Berry smiled benevolently.

“Now don't you worry yourself there Max, we know of him – Frank Bowers, you may have heard some of your class mates talking about him?” Max shook her head, eyes radiating innocence.

“Well that's good then, and may you and them stay out of trouble. Anyway, he is currently here – he assaulted some police officers last night in a drunken rage after a traffic stop, so his drug dealing days are over for good.” Max looked shocked.

“I hope they are OK!? It would be terrible if anything happened to such good officers...”

“Yes Max, it would. Now, unfortunately I have to get back to work, but it was nice talking to you. Please feel free to drop by again, and give my regards to Mr Caulfield.”



Max left the police station and yawned. What had appeared to the world as a ten minute conversation had taken her over 4 hours of constant rewinds, jumps, and even at one point moving around the station with time frozen, rifling through documents where she could. Seeing Frank Bowers in a cell, looking far worse for wear than she had left him, had caused a new part of the conversation.

Still, compared to her first attempt she was satisfied; what information she could get was enough to at least steer her in the right direction.

Something is going on.

Something involving the Police, Frank, Nathan and Jefferson.

I don't think Jefferson did commit suicide. He was murdered. And those were cops coming to kill Frank.

Someone is attempting a clean up. But why? And for who?

Max knew there were two places she could look for further proof; one more likely to be easier than the other. She yawned again – the last 24 hours had taken their toll on her.

I need to get some rest. I'm no good if I am tired; I might need all my energy for the fight to come.

She walked to the bus stop and headed back to Blackwell.



Victoria looked up and down the hallway, checking the coast was clear. A dim light came from under Dana's door, but apart from that there was nothing else to be seen. Satisfied she wouldn't end up having to answer awkward questions, she knocked gently on Max's door.

“Max? Are you in there?” she whispered quietly. There was no answer, so she knocked again, a little louder.

“Max?” There was the sound of something heavy falling, followed by a few muffled words until the door opened. A dishevelled and bleary-eyed Max looked out at her.

“Whhhassts dou wanfppfff?” Victoria covered her mouth, trying not to laugh at the sight of Max half asleep, hair askew and dressed in pale blue pyjamas with cute rabbits all over them.

“Sorry, Max, I didn't realise you were asleep. It's only 9.. I just wanted a chat, that's all. I can come back..” Victoria turned away as slowly as she could, hoping Max would call her back.

“No, wait,” Max yawned, “it's OK. I'm hungry anyway. You can come in, but you have to order pizza.” Victoria eagerly accepted the deal and stepped into Max's room. It was the first time she had been (officially) in there, and she quickly glanced around, trying to take in as much detail as possible. The main thing that caught her eye was the selfie wall, and she found herself moving over to inspect it.

“Victoria? Pizza first before chit-chat!”

“Oh, sorry, yes. What would you like?”

“Double pepperoni,” was the immediate reply. Victoria crinkled her nose in disgust.

“How do you stay so thin eating that crap?” she asked. Max shrugged tiredly, and sat down on her bed, yawning. While Victoria dialled up their order, Max fished out some blue slippers, which had the end made to look like bunny ears.

“What.. are those?” asked Victoria, pointing an accusing finger.

“Bunny slippers,” said Max, wiggling her toes. “They keep my feet all snugly.” Victoria tried not to smile, but was clearly struggling. She pointed at the photo wall.

“And what's that all about, Caulfield?” she asked, although her voice was curious and not with its customary malice. Max looked up.

“It's my Max Caulfield Memorial Photo Wall, Victoria. What else?” Victoria gave her a look, silently accusing her of being achingly, disgustingly, hipster, but shook her head.

“No, I mean.. what's the meaning? The theme, the linking vision between the photos.” She moved a little closer and pointed to a picture. “What about that one? Where does that fit in?” Max craned her neck to see, and then decided to kneel on the bed, motioning Victoria to join her.

“Well, that one I took..”



They spent an absorbing twenty minutes running through the photos, with Victoria providing a running commentary on what she thought of each shot from a technical perspective, giving fair criticism in a manner which surprised Max. They were both sufficiently in their element and relaxed not to notice the occasional bump, or accidental touch. Whatever issues Victoria had been having with her circulation seemed to have cleared up, as whenever Max touched her she felt pleasingly warm. Max found herself stealing the odd glance at her, wondering at this turn of events. She was finding Victoria to be surprisingly pleasant company, as if it was an entirely different girl next to her – which was just as well considering the hand fate seemed to be dealing her – and she was becoming increasingly aware of certain features of Victoria she'd rather not dwell on.

Like the way her eyes crinkle when she smiles.

Or how green those eyes are.

Or the curve of her neck when she tilts her head back.

Oh good lord, stop it, Max.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Victoria's phone ringing. She answered it and then looked at Max.

“Pizza is here – I'll go get it, given you are dressed like a giant Bunny.” She disappeared from the room and Max flopped down on her bed, feeling oddly happy and relaxed. The dark thoughts from the police station were still there, but for some reason they seemed further away and more manageable tonight.

Victoria returned with two steaming boxes and Max eagerly snatched hers, sitting cross legged on the bed with Victoria enthroned on a chair opposite. She hadn't eaten since breakfast and was famished; Victoria looked on in shock as Max practically tore the pizza to pieces.

“Max, steady on there, I think it's already dead.” Max gave her a strange look which passed as quickly as it appeared, and she smiled.

“I haven't eaten for a while, that's all. This is really good though, thank you.” Victoria graciously waved in acceptance of her thanks.

“Got to keep the peasants fed.” Max rolled her eyes but didn't deign to give her an answer. Victoria was nibbling thoughtfully, casting the occasional glance at Max. Max caught one of them and raised an eyebrow, causing her to look down and blush. She put aside her pizza and looked at Max, as if formulating a question in her mind. Max waited for her to come to her point, polishing of the last pieces of pizza and feeling pleasantly full.

“Max..” Victoria began, and then stopped. Max looked at her, whilst trying to make sure she had wiped all the tomato sauce of her chin.

“Ugh, that was good. What's on your mind, Vic?” Victoria played with the hem of her shirt a little, as if deciding how to broach the subject.

“Um.. today.. when you were talking to Warren. You.. er.. mentioned.. that you.. well, that you didn't want.. him.. because, you, er..” She trailed off, looking ever so adorably awkward in Max's eyes.

“You mean because I'm gay?” she said bluntly, then regretted it as Victoria stiffened slightly at the phrase, a slightly pained expression in her eyes.

“Yes.. because you.. are.. gay.” The words seemed to struggle out of Victoria's mouth. Max waved her hand, nonplussed.

“Yeah, what of it?” Victoria's face looked troubled, as if she was fighting something within herself.

“How.. how did you know.. that you were?” Max's face grew serious, as she contemplated a response.

“I think I always knew, deep down, but it wasn't until I met.. a certain girl that I really, really realised. I mean I had a crush at High School on someone and had told my parents I thought I was a few months ago, but with her.. she was just so.. beautiful, and sexy, and made me feel like.. like I was the most special person in the world.” Max fell silent and lay back, staring at the ceiling.

“What happened?” Max sighed, and there was further silence as she closed her eyes, thinking.

“She.. she died..”

- 'You promised you would never do it again! You promised Max! You swore to me!' Chloe's face was wild with anger and tears, her voice ragged from despair. 'Chloe, I'm sorry, I only did it to make things better, you -' 'That's what you say now, but how do I know? How do I know what I really think?' She turned away and started to walk back to the truck. 'Chloe, no, please don't go, I just didn't want to fight any more.. Chloe!' Chloe turned back, pointing a finger at Max. 'You promised Max. How do I know you are not doing it now? How do I know you.. you haven't manipulated everything? Even now?' Max sank to her knees, begging for Chloe to come back. Chloe reached her truck door and yanked it open. In a fit of desperation Max ran over to her, clutching at her jacket; Chloe shook her off. 'Get away from me Max! I wish you had let me die.' 'Chloe!' Max screamed brokenly, as the truck drove off into the dark, leaving her behind. The State Trooper would later tell her that it looked like the truck had hit the tree by accident, but Max knew differently..

“17,” Max muttered.

17. I couldn't keep us going without rewinds, it was just too much. I was coping, until she noticed – it just got too hard to keep up. And I had promised her.. another failure.

“Pardon?” Max coughed, Victoria's voice snapping her back to the present. Keep it together, Max.

“We were 17, I mean. When she died. Car accident.” Max fell silent again.

“That's.. that's terrible, Max. I'm sorry. I don't know what to say.” Victoria fidgeted nervously, feeling awkward at such a personal revelation. Max sat up again, and shook her head.

“It's fine, honestly. I'm over it now, I've.. moved on. I've had to, you know, it's not like I can change it.”

It's not like you haven't tried to.

"But why do you ask, anyway?” Victoria went bright red.

“Oh. I was just asking.. for a friend. Your.. confidence in just saying it, right there and then, not caring, was not something I've seen before, that's all. It was.. inspiring.” Max looked confused.

“Come on Vic, you must've known lesbians before?” Victoria shook her head, oblivious to Max's subtle probing.

“No, it's not something which is generally discussed in.. in the circles I keep. Sometimes it's quite traditional, the expectations to confirm, to.. to.. fit in. Be the person the family expects you to be.” She looked sad for a moment, then suddenly looked up at Max, speaking quickly. “I mean for people who are gay, that is. Must be hard for them.” Max didn't say anything as her eyes widened suddenly in realisation; she looked at Victoria as kindly as she could manage. Victoria looked so lost, so miserable, that Max felt her heart leap for her.

She can't bring herself to be honest with herself about things, even when she clearly feels the desire. Hell, I know, how she feels, it took me long enough. Explains a few things though. I can't push her.. no matter how much I may want this.. if I do.

Do I?

She patted the side of her bed, inviting Victoria to sit next to her. After a moment of indecision she did so, the extra weight on the mattress causing them to fall together, shoulders lightly touching. Neither of them moved to change it.

“I'm.. I'm sure that, in time, even those who are.. constrained by expectations.. find the bravery to be themselves, and get others to accept it too,” Max said. “Especially when they meet the right person. Then it just feels the most natural thing in the world, and you would have the support around you to be who you want to be. Regardless of what.. your family think.” There was silence, yet the atmosphere in her room felt heavy and thick with expectancy.

Max heard a slight sniffle next to her and turned to look at Victoria; a small tear was running down her cheek and she was staring down at the floor. Max put her arm around her and drew her close, noticing that she was beginning to feel cold to the touch again.

“Hey.. hey,” she said soothingly. “It's going to be OK. Everything will be OK.” Victoria smiled weakly back at Max.

“I'm such a mess, such a.. stupid, stupid mess,” she sniffled. “I'm sorry, I woke you up just for all this bullshit.” Max squeezed her gently.

“That's not true, you brought pizza as well.” Victoria gave her a small, grateful laugh, and leant a little bit more into Max, wishing that she could stay like this forever.



They did stay like that for a little while, until Max suddenly started yawning again.

“Oh god, I'm sorry,” Max said, embarrassed, “I didn't mean to do that.” Victoria quickly stood up and stretched a little, a brief glimpse of her midriff causing funny things to happen in Max's stomach.

“No, it's fine Max, I woke you. But thank you for this evening it.. it meant a lot to me.”

“It was my pleasure, Victoria. Genuinely.” She gave her a smile, which caused Victoria to blush and look down at the carpet again.

“Vic's fine,” she said quietly, before looking back up at Max. “I'll guess I'll see you tomorrow at some point?” she asked, trying not to sound too hopeful, too needy, too.. interested.

Max smacked her forehead with her hand.

“Oh crap, I forgot, I'm such an idiot. Yes, actually, I was going to ask you a favour if that's OK? Can you take me somewhere tomorrow? There's a place I need to visit out of town, to get some answers on something.. important.” Victoria folded her arms and raised her eyebrows in mock distrust.

“Oh? I'm going to need more than that, Max. This all sounds very secretive; I hope you are not running some hipster smuggling operation.” Max leapt up and enveloped her in a hug.

“Please please please pleassseeeeee,” she said, suddenly becoming awkwardly conscious of where her face was in relation to a part of Victoria's anatomy – who herself, was very aware of it. Victoria felt her face going redder and redder, and she was thankful that Max couldn't see it.

“OK, OK! Just remove your.. face.. from there, please,” she said, trying to lever Max away from her in an embarrassed fashion. “I swear it's like you do this hipster cutesy stuff on purpose.” Max put on an innocent face.

“Me? I have no idea what you mean. Tomorrow morning then, yes?” Victoria sighed dramatically, putting one hand to her forehead.

“Fine, tomorrow. Good night, Max.”

“Good night, Victo - Vic.” Victoria shut the door behind her and leant her forehead against it, closing her eyes and letting out a long, sad sigh. She could have sworn she heard the exact same thing from the other side.



Max stared down at her victim. She knew she shouldn't do it; she had promised that she would try to do better, try to be a good person. Who knew what changes could result from this action? Who knew what damage she could do to the timeline? But Max knew, deep down in her heart, that she had no choice. It had to be done, there was no other option. Max leant forward until her mouth was close to her victim, who was breathing heavily in a deep sleep, oblivious to her presence.

“Mewosamasu, Victoria-chan!”

“Hai, Senpai..” came the sleepy reply. Victoria's eyes snapped open and she sat bolt upright, staring accusingly at Max.

“Max! What the hell are you doing in here!” she shouted, face turning a bright crimson.

“Shouldn't leave your door open, Vic. Rookie error. You need to study the blade more.” Victoria launched a cushion at Max's head with all the fury she could muster.

“Come on Vic, we need to get going – can't have you dreaming away all – ow!” Victoria hit Max square in the face with another cushion.

“Get out Max, before I run out of cushions,” Victoria threatened, “and give me five minutes to wake up at least.”

Dodging more missiles hurled her way, Max went to her door and unlocked it, stepping into the corridor.

“OK – breakfast downstairs, and wear something you don't mind getting dirty - if you even own anything like that.” She closed the door just in time as something heavy thumped against it.



The ride out had started well, Max cheerfully regaling her with tales of her childhood as they drove through and out of Arcadia Bay. As the houses thinned and the trees thickened, she grew quieter, until her face was dark and brooding, as if consumed by some terrible thoughts. Victoria had tried to cheer her up, but she had never been good at that sort of small talk at the best of times, and eventually fell silent too.

“Here,” Max said suddenly, pointing. Victoria looked at the sign: American Rust.

A junk yard?

Victoria parked up at the entrance, trying to avoid getting a puncture from the random detritus spread around the place. She wrinkled her nose in disgust at the surroundings; Max seemed to have a strange expression on her face – half grim, half a whimsical smile.

I 'll never understand that girl.

Victoria pushed some rubbish away with the toe of her boot, looking up to see Max walking off towards the centre of the junk yard.

“Max, what are we doing here? Are you finally going to tell me? Wait, where are you going? Max, answer me!”

Max didn't answer her, but just grabbed her hand and pulled her along with her through the confusing piles of junk. Victoria tripped a little over some abandoned green bottles.

Ugh, who the fuck drinks in this sort of place? And.. Max is holding my hand..

“Here!” Max suddenly said, letting go off her hand, running off ahead. Max ran to the spot where she knew the body would be and skidded to a halt. She fell to her knees, letting out a long cry.

“No.. No no no! This is all wrong! It's all wrong!” Victoria ran up behind her, slightly out of breath.

“Max.. what are you doing.. it's just a hole in the ground. Max, stop it, it's filthy..” Max was on her hands and knees, frantically scrabbling away at the dirt, desperately digging down.

“No! She's not here.. she's gone. I.. she's...” She rocked back and forth on her haunches, clutching handfuls of dirt in her hand. Suddenly she stood up and confronted Victoria, pointing an accusing finger.

“This is all your fault! You... you've broken everything!” Victoria looked at Max, her face a picture of confusion and fear.

“Max.. what do you mean.. you're scaring me a little, Max.” Max began to pace around in circles, clutching at her hair, Victoria watching with increasing concern.

“Everything was fine until you came along. I knew what I was doing every day, what was going to happen.. you've broken it all!” She turned again to look at Victoria, her blue eyes blazing.

“Max.. I don't know what you are on about! Please, believe me.. I don't.. I thought we..” Victoria began to slowly back away, holding up her hands as if in apology – or a warning. Max stalked towards her, deliberately closing the distance. The air felt chill, as if the first tendrils of winter were coming.

“You. You've fucked everything up! Everything! I was OK until you came.. with your fucking face and eyes and body and hair and these.. these fucking feelings!” Max had pushed Victoria up against an abandoned refrigerator, trapping her with nowhere to go. Victoria moved her hands to push Max away, when she finally realised what Max was saying. She looked at her; Max's face was a confusing mess of despair, anger and desire. The air suddenly felt as if it was supercharged; not a noise was to be heard.

“What.. do you mean.. feelings?” she asked hesitantly. Max didn't answer but roughly grasped her face and pulled her towards her, her lips frantically trying to find Victoria's. Victoria found herself eagerly responding; both of them exploring each other with a desperate hunger. Max let one hand wander behind Victoria's head, pulling her closer with the other cradling her waist. Victoria responded in kind, and Max felt an indescribable feeling of joy and release as they kissed, a feeling that built up and welled through her, feeling a surge of power arising within. She felt herself losing control, her power coming through unchecked, wild; she felt as if she was observing herself from somewhere else in time, this strange feeling mixing with something else rushing in to meet it, causing the world to shift and spin and.. stop.

She looked into Victoria's eyes, which were suddenly blazing a brilliant green; full of energy and light and strange fractal patterns. Victoria smiled back at her, her face full of joy and happiness and hope.

“Max..” she said, breaking their lips apart, resting their foreheads together, “that..”



They both suddenly pulled their heads away in shock.



The two of them stood there, in each other's arms.



The world was still, birds frozen mid-flight.



Suspended in the air around them were millions upon millions of perfectly formed crystals of ice.

Chapter Text

Max pushed Victoria away from her, regaining control of time and herself. As the world turned once more, the crystals fell to the floor and shattered.

They stood there, staring at each other, trying to work out what they had both seen and felt. Max slowly circled around Victoria, as if trying to see her from every angle. Victoria carefully watched her every move, her emotions playing out across her face. Max suddenly stopped and looked at her, hands on her hips, head cocked to one side.

“You -” they both said, in unison.

They both tried to glare at each other; Victoria cracked first, having to look down at her feet to try and hide the smile that was creeping across her face. Max crossed her arms.

“What's so funny?” Victoria looked up at Max, giggling despite the situation..

“My first proper, serious kiss, and we both go and spoil it. And it's hardly the most romantic place, is it?” Max looks at Victoria in surprise.

“That was your first kiss?” Victoria rolled her eyes.

“That's what you are focusing on right now? And no, I said.. the first that.. means something to me.” Despite herself, Max found herself blushing and kicked the floor with her toe a little.

“It meant something? You mean..”

“Max, can we focus a little here. We have, perhaps, just a few more important things to discuss, don't we?” Max blinked a little, as if resetting her mind.

“Oh..” She looked at the ground, where the ice was slowly melting away. “Yes, we do.” She walked off, beckoning Victoria to follow. Max made her way across the junk yard to where a boat was stacked high amongst the debris, working her way up alongside and using a plank to bridge the gap. Victoria watched dubiously as Max made her way onto the boat.

“Is.. that safe?”Max held out her hand towards her.

“Take my hand, I'll catch you if you fall.” Victoria hesitantly at first edged out, reaching for Max's hand. The touch when it came sent a pleasant shiver through her; Max's hand felt soft and warm, and she briefly imagined them running down her back.

Focus, Vic, you don't want to fall off.

She joined Max on the boat and looked around. The could see the whole of the junk yard from up here, and she framed a few shots in her mind's eye whilst Max dragged some old chairs over and put them side by side in the bow. Max sat down and patted the seat next to her. They both sat there in silence for a while, both most deliberately not looking at each other, until Max suddenly turned to Victoria.

“So.. you actually are an ice cold bitch.” Hurt, Victoria looked at Max and was about to retort before she saw the glint in Max's eye and the slight smile on her face.

“You're not funny, you know.” Max playfully tapped her on the arm.

“Oh I am. I have to say, it's very ice to see you like this, I just hope you don't give me the cold shoulder any more.”

“Max..”

“Sorry, it's just that I'm just enjoying us both chilling up – OW!” Max rubbed her ribs where Victoria had suddenly poked her. “OK, OK, no more puns. Let's talk – tell me about.. about what that was. How long have you been able to do that?” Victoria sighed and looked down at her hands, twisting her fingers in and out as she tried to think where to start.

“That was new – I've never done that before. Nothing so.. visible. And spectacular. But.. let me start at the beginning – I would say that this is going to sound unbelievable, but.. I guess I'm in good company for it?” Max gave her a little reassuring smile and touched her on the shoulder.

“Hey, if you are crazy then I'm crazy too. At least we can be crazy together.” Victoria looked up at Max as she said the word 'together', giving her a hopeful, if sad, smile. “Start at the beginning, Vic: when did you first, well, come out? I mean, power-wise. We can talk about.. the.. other thing later.. if you want to?” Victoria nodded, and went back to twisting her fingers.

“Well, it was last year, about early December. I'd been to a party the night before and.. things had not gone well with.. someone. Mixed wires. Expectations on my part. I was.. not in a good place. My parents had been giving me shit – a rare time they were actually around – saying how I shouldn't be going to Blackwell, there were plenty of other, better, more suitable places for a Chase to go. But I wanted to, you know? It was supposed to be my choice for once. Do what I wanted. They'd threatened me with all sorts of things, saying I was letting the family down, how I had to learn to run the business, be a Chase, the legacy, get a.. a man.. to be with. I was fucking 17! 17.. and I hadn't.. I couldn't.. tell them that a man was the last thing I wanted. So I was in my room. I felt trapped, no way out, I just felt so.. powerless. I wanted to end it all then, you know?” She looked up at Max, tears in her eyes. “Like.. just make it all go away. She had called me a fucking dyke.. how was I supposed to live with that inside me. How could I be myself? How could I face another fucking Christmas with my parents trying to buy me off.. rather than.. than..”

Max reached out and put an arm around her, dragging her chair closer in the process. She didn't say anything but just held her tight, letting Victoria talk. Victoria leaned into Max, burying her head against Max's shoulder.

“I had thought about it before but never had the nerve to do anything, it wasn't a serious thought. But this time.. I felt like I could really do it. Felt like I should. So I'd prepared; got some pills and vodka; whether it was enough, I don't know – I probably would have just turned myself into a vegetable, knowing me, I can't do anything right – and I thought I'd sit out in the garden. The whole place was covered in this beautiful blanket of snow. It was beautiful, so peaceful.” She paused, looking out across the junk yard, marshalling her thoughts.

“I'd sat there for a while, trying to get the courage. And finally, I thought, lets do this. So I got the vodka bottle – I can still remember the smell of it - and was about to pop some pills when.. when I saw it.” Max stirred and looked down at her.

“A green butterfly,” she whispered. Victoria looked up at Max, eyes wide and searching.

“How.. how did you know?”

“I've seen it. I have one too; except mine is blue.” Max smiled, as if the memory of it alone made her happy. Victoria's mouth worked silently, as if she suddenly had a whole load of questions, but decided they could wait and continued.

“So, yes, this.. this butterfly just comes out of nowhere, as calm as you please, and sits right on my hand that is gripping the bottle. A butterfly - in the middle of December. In the snow. And I stare at it, and I see its wings, and they seem to .. to pulse. I can't describe it. It just seemed to glow, like it was too real for this world. And at that moment, I just felt so... calm. So simple. So.. pure. If you understand me. I remember talking to it – Jesus, this does sound crazy, doesn't it – and it seemed to understand what I said. Eventually, it flew off and.. and I just didn't want to do it any more. I wanted to live. I remember going back to the house and suddenly feeling really tired, drained, and I ended up falling asleep. I woke in the night needing a pee and some water, and that's when it all started going to shit again.”

“You froze your piss?” Victoria rolled her eyes.

“Don't be gross. No. It was the glass of water. Just froze right up on me. I freaked out, and it only started to get worse – everything I touched started to have ice forming on it. I felt like I was in some really crappy nightmare.”

“That must have been.. frightening.” Victoria nodded.

“It was. I didn't know what the fuck was happening to me. I began to panic, and that made it worse and worse. Have you ever tried to chip ice of your bed in the morning? It's not fun.”

“So what did you do? I mean, it's not like you showed much of this in Blackwell. I never knew.” Victoria stood up and walked to the edge of the boat, looking out. Max looked at her; hair glowing golden in the sun, hands down by her side in clenched fists, this beautiful girl hiding so many secrets, like herself; broken, like herself.

After what felt like an age, Victoria turned around to face her, face stricken with misery and regret.

“What could I do? I.. buried it. Deep down. Everything. Everything. What I feel, who I am.. what.. I have. The drugs helped, kept it under control, but after a while even they weren't enough. I needed more, stronger.. which is why I was at Frank's that night. But it was getting harder and harder, the more I tried to bury it, the worse it got. The more I lashed out at people.” Max got up and stood in front of her, putting her arms around her.

“You could have talked to me, you know.” Victoria laughed bitterly.

“And said what? You'd have thought I was insane, some stupid excuse to excuse my behaviour. But there is no excuse, I hit out at everyone to try and hide who I was. I am a fucking awful excuse for a human being.” She looked at Max, her expression brittle, teetering on the edge of losing it. Max could feel it now, the cold rising through her as she lost control of her emotions. She concentrated and it felt like she could sense the power within; it seemed so obvious now.

“Vic, I'm not going to lie. You were fucking awful to everyone, and I could never work out why. It made no sense.” Victoria began to cry, her body racking with sobs as it all came out; her tears freezing down her cheeks.

“Shhh,” Max said, trying to comfort her, rubbing her back with her hand. “I know now, I understand. It makes sense, I just wish.. I wish things could have been different for you.” But they are not. We have to deal with the shit we are given as best we can. Both of us.

Max just held Victoria while she cried, just trying to be there for her, as the years of pent up anger, guilt, self loathing and neglect came pouring out. Max started to feel a chill in her legs, and she looked down to see ice spreading out and up around them both, covering them. Max's teeth began to chatter.

“Er.. Vic.. can.. you.. maybe.. stop.. please?” Vic looked at Max, green eyes wide with momentary confusion and hurt. She pulled away, wiping her eyes and nose, trying to pull herself together. She looked down and saw what was happening.

“Oh, fuck, sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so fucking useless, sorry..” she stuttered, helping Max break the ice forming around them. Max found herself laughing in spite of herself and Victoria looked at her in puzzlement.

“What's so funny?”

“Remind me never to watch Titanic with you.” Victoria smiled despite herself.

“I hate that film. Although the bit with Kate Winslet where she.. she.. is..” Suddenly embarrassed, she looked away. Max raised her eyebrows.

“Eye opening revelation, was it?” Victoria waved her hand in dismissal, pointedly ignoring Max.

“We're not touching that, yet. I don't want to talk about it anymore - now it's your turn. What's with all the.. stopping time..?” Max looked at her, carefully studying her face.

“Are you sure you're OK? I don't want to be turned into a popsicle suddenly.” Victoria didn't answer, but just playfully pushed her, grinning shyly. She wasn't cured, far from it; but she was... better.

Max motioned for them to sit down again.

“Are you ready for this? It's not going to be.. nice.”



Max sat and calmly told her the story of that first fateful week, the first run; her voice dead of emotion. Her butterfly, Nathan shooting Chloe, Kate jumping from the roof; Jefferson, the dark room, Rachel; Victoria being a victim, reality breaking apart.. and then that fateful choice.

Victoria had been silent for most of it, her stomach knotting and twisting as she got an insight into what her actions had done, what she could have done. The self loathing was trying to rise again, but she reminded herself that she hadn't caused this, not now, not here.

“I.. didn't.. I never knew, thought, what could happen. I just wanted to make her see what a hypocrite she was, with her fucking religion and abstinence and.. and.. what if she found out what I was? Her judging.. I.. I'm sorry Max, I really am. I..”

“Kate is in a better place now. And that is partly down to you, because of that night when you made a decision. Made the first step. Reaching out. That shows to me you are not a complete bitch, only a slight one.” Victoria allowed herself a small smile.

“So what did you choose, Max? It was an impossible choice..” Max sighed and closed her eyes, for the first time since she started her tale showing some genuine emotion.

“I let her die. And I wished I had kept it at that.” Victoria looked at her, Max with her eyes closed, breathing shallow. She's battling things just like I am, Victoria realised. What has she gone through?

“I tried living with it, I really tried. I still had my.. powers, my.. gift,” - she almost spat the word - “and I couldn't live with what I had done. Why have it, if it meant that I couldn't change things for the better? What was the point? So after a few weeks of.. of fucking torturing myself.. I went back. Back to the class room. Back to fix things.” She fell silent again. Victoria grasped her hand, but Max didn't appear to notice.

“What happened? Did.. it work? Wait, it can't have, Chloe is still dead..” Max shook her head.

“No. It didn't. So I tried again. And again.” Max looked at Victoria, her blue eyes filled with rage and despair. “And again. Countless fucking times, trying to change things. Make things better. Back into the past, back years, each time trying to fix it. Make it work. And every time.. I.. failed. I fucked it up.”

“So that's why.. you have been so different this week.” Victoria pursed her lips. “How many times, Max? How many times have you done this?”

“Six thousand, three hundred and fifty two. Well, until now. This is fifty three.” Victoria looked at her in shock.

“Max.. I...” She trailed off as Max just stared in to the distance, her mind racing, putting things together.

“Just now you said it was all my fault, I had ruined everything. What did you mean?” Max snapped out of her reverie and gave her the first smile in a while.

“You've changed things, somehow. When you came out of the classroom to be a complete bitch to me, that was the first time.. you'd done that. Not be a bitch, obviously -” Victoria gave her a pained expression - “I mean come out after me. The first thing I hadn't changed. I wasn't in the bathroom, I was not involved. The effects are still rippling out. For example, Rachel Amber is supposed to be buried over there.” Max nodded out across the junk yard, causing Victoria to shudder. “Someone has removed her body.” The thought of someone digging up Rachel's corpse made Victoria feel queasy, so she changed the subject.

“The other night at Frank's, you turned up just at the right time. That was no accident, was it? What happened before you.. arrived.”

“You died,” Max said flatly. Victoria's eyes opened wide, and she blinked a few times.

“What..? How..” Max explained what had occurred that night, how she had felt her die and then saved her; how she thought they were inexplicably linked somehow. Victoria didn't say anything for a while, just stared at her hand which was still holding Max's. Suddenly she looked up at Max, her eyes glimmering. With her free hand she slowly brought it up to Max's face; with trembling fingers she traced the line of her jaw. Hesitantly at first she leaned forward, eyes desperately searching Max's face for any hint of rejection, until her lips were touching Max's, quivering with anticipation.

Max reached out and gently touched her hand as it caressed her face, leaning forward to meet Victoria. Their second kiss was different from the first, slower, gentler, exploratory; reaching out to each other, confirming that, yes, this is real, this might work, this is.. something. Max looked into Victoria's eyes, seeing that familiar, strange light in them. She heard what sounded like breaking glass, and out of the corner of her eye she could see those crystals appearing around them again, falling to the ground and shattering. After a few moments they broke off, and Max giggled.

“OK we really have to sort that shit out, Vic, otherwise it just might be a bit obvious to everyone.” Victoria blushed and just nodded, her eyes still alive with emotion; biting her lip as she looked at Max, wanting to stay in the moment.

“Let me finish telling you what else I have found out, and then we can decide what to do.” Swiftly Max explained what she had learnt at the police station (leaving out her first, murderous rampage) and explained exactly why she had brought them here, to this place.

“Someone is trying to cover things up; Jefferson, Rachel and maybe Frank. The question is who is behind it, why.. and who is their next target? And what can we do about it?” Victoria shivered slightly, the bright sun suddenly seemed deceptive to her. She looked up at it, and a thought struck her.

“One thing I don't understand. If saving Chloe caused all that... crazy stuff to happen, then what about saving me? I haven't noticed any dead whales, yet.” Max shrugged.

“I don't know, there has been nothing as far as I can see. Maybe it's because of your butterfly - that must mean something. I mean, you travelled through time with me, that has never happened before. I tried it, once, with Chloe...” Max trailed off, her stare becoming distant again.

“What happened? Did it not work?”

“The part I was holding came with me. The rest.. didn't.” Max didn't elaborate further, and Victoria's imagination gleefully filled in the blanks.

“Jesus Christ, Max, that must have been..”

“Unforgettable, yes,” said Max, voice flat again. She involuntarily shuddered. “Anyway, that says to me that you, at least, are bound to me by fate. Chloe... wasn't.”

There was a silence as they both considered a potential future bound together, willing or no.

“Just as well I am drop dead gorgeous, then, isn't,” said Victoria, trying to lighten the mood.

“Meh,” said Max, “you'll do.” She took Victoria's hands in hers, gently rubbing the thumb across the back of her palms. “But that does raise an issue, if – if – we are going to be together, in what ever capacity that may be, you need to get some control over yourself.”

“What do you have in mind?” asked Victoria, mesmerised by Max holding her hands. Max looked up, squinting at the sun as if working out the time.

“Practice.” Victoria groaned.

“Ugh, I thought that might be coming.” Max stood up, pulling Victoria with her.

“Come, young padawan, your training away from the dark side begins now.”

“You literally are the biggest nerd, Max.”

 

“Come on Vic, focus will you?”

“It's alright for you, you've had all the fucking time in the world. I just can't seem to do.. anything.”

They had been at it an hour already, and Victoria had singularly failed to produce any evidence of powers whatsoever. She just couldn't seem to make it work, and she began to feel frustrated. Why was it that right now, just when she needed it, she was utterly useless?

“I just don't see how you can go from being able to do it, to just.. well, nothing.” Victoria kicked the ground in frustration at Max's words.

“Max, just.. stop, will you? I'm trying.” Max suddenly appeared right next to her.

“See? I can do it. Why can't you? What's wrong with you, Vic? Am I wasting my time?” Victoria looked at Max, feeling her annoyance rising.

“Max, fuck off will you? I don't need you having a go at me as well.”

“As well? Like your parents you mean? This is just another thing to disappoint them with?”

“Max.. don't..”

“Why, Vic, what are you going to do about it, eh? Nothing. You're useless. Like always, without your so-called friends here to do your dirty work. I'm not some weak person like Kate you can push around, am I? What are you going to do Victoria Chase? What are you going to do?” She was right in Victoria's face, staring her down, relentlessly attacking her.

“Just FUCK OFF MAX!” Victoria screamed, holding out her hands to push her away – there was a flash and Max was thrown backwards, knocked away by a blast of ice. Victoria stood there breathing hard, eyes ablaze, hands still held out. Around her swirled wisps of ice, circulating in strange patterns, slowly evaporating in the sun. Max blinked a little then propped herself up on an elbow, smiling ruefully.

“There you go. That's what we need Vic, that's what you can do.” Victoria looked at her before turning away and walking off, head in her hands.

“Shit,” muttered Max, and quickly scrambled up after her.

“Vic, hey, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it, I just wanted to try and get you to react. I'm sorry, it was stupid of me..” She caught up with her, cautiously wrapping her arms around her from behind, drawing her in against her. “I'm sorry.”

Way to go Max. Way to go.

Victoria stood there stiffly for a moment, before she suddenly seemed to sag down, as if defeated. She grasped Max's hands, holding them for a moment before turning around to face her. Her eyes were sightly glassy, as if holding back tears; Max looked up at her face, trying to read her emotions.

“Max. It's fine, you are right. I need to.. do this. Let's try again?” She put on a brave smile and tried to look purposeful. Max shook her head.

“I'm sorry Vic, I had to try something. I can't just.. kiss you.. if we are in mortal danger, can I? As much as that would be a nice way to go.” Victoria opened her mouth to speak, but Max held up her finger.

“I'm serious. You need to capture that feeling you had, find where its coming from – it needs to be automatic, without emotion, something that feels natural. Once you have it, then we can see about how you control it under.. other circumstances.” Victoria looked at Max, her mind suddenly consumed with the 'other circumstances'. Like a kiss, or running my fingers down Max's spine, or maybe letting her run her hands down to my hip; maybe a little lower..

“Er Vic? You're kind of.. showing what you are thinking, there..” Victoria shook herself out of her daze, and saw that her hands were surrounded by a mist as small particles of ice formed and evaporated.

“If it's easier.. try and capture that feeling instead?” Max said, turning and thrusting her ass out towards Vic and winking. Vic swallowed, before flipping her the finger.



They spent another two hours at it, although it was probably a lot longer. In-between Victoria taking a break to recover some energy – she found it increasingly taxing the more she practised and got used to letting herself go – Max held her close and went back in time, exploring the amount and distance she could do with them together. The feeling of them moving together through time felt magical, their own special experience; Victoria found she could add her own embellishments of fractal light as they did so. In those moments Max felt utterly at peace, as if everything was right with the world. She wished they could stay like that forever.

The sun was beginning to head towards late afternoon when Max finally called a halt. Victoria sank down on her haunches, exhausted from the day. It had been tough; draining both emotionally and physically on her, but she felt she had made a lot of progress. She could control things a bit better now, knew what to feel for to summon up the power when needed, and could control it to some extent when under stress. More practice is what I need, she thought, but I am getting somewhere, thanks to Max. I can do this.

“Are you hungry?” Max asked. “I don't know about you, but I'm starving.” Victoria brushed herself off and looked around the deserted junk yard.

“Yes, I am too. And I think I'd let to get away from this place. There's something.. off about it.”

“The ghosts of the past,” Max muttered, her mood suddenly changing. “Yes, let's get out of here. We've done enough for today. I've had enough of this place as well.” They walked back to the car side by side, occasionally bumping into each other, their hands occasionally touching; their fingers gently, cautiously entwining. Victoria looked down at the floor, a strange feeling surging through her. Is this what it is like? Is this how it is for.. for normal people? Is this what Max is feeling too?

Whatever it was, Victoria was resolved not to let it go, not now, not ever, come what may. But that means facing up to reality; Blackwell, the Vortex Club, my parents, my social standing. It's a shame I can't just freeze all their fucking heads off.

Can't I?

“So, where are we going? I need something greasy,” said Max, cutting through her thoughts. Victoria wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“Again? Wasn't that pizza enough? I can't eat that sort of crap.” Her stomach rumbling betrayed her; defeated, she hung her head. “Fine, but I'm guessing no Two Whales?”

“No. Let's head up the coast until we find somewhere.”



Somewhere turned out to be a small diner called Big Joe's, a little ways up the coast. Their car stuck out like a sore thumb amid the jalopys and long distance trucks, and Victoria had to practically be dragged through the door by Max. Max had given the waitress a winning smile as they were seated in a booth next to the window over looking the coastal road. They sat opposite each other, Max happily thumbing through the menu whilst Victoria sat there with a horrified expression on her face.

“My pants are sticking to the seat,” Victoria hissed through her teeth. “Max, I can't do this. I'm going to die.”

“I'm thinking I'll get the double cheese burger with fries and a chocolate milkshake. What about you?”

“Ugh, they don't even do a Caesar salad. Max, why do you hate me so? Why?” Max waved the waitress over.

“Better think quick, Vic, here she comes!” Victoria put her head in her hands, elbows on the table, staring at the menu in despair. She was hungry though, maybe she did need the calories. Her stomach growled as if in confirmation.

“Good afternoon ladies, what can I get you two today?”

“I'll have the double cheese burger and fries, with a chocolate milkshake please,” said Max, handing in her menu. The waitress smiled and looked at Victoria.

“And what about you, hun?”

“Um.. can I have the Big Joe's Big Buster Truckin' Grill with extra bacon, extra fries, two extra eggs sunny side up, extra mushrooms and a side of pancakes with syrup, and a strawberry shake with Malt. And a macchiato.” Victoria handed the menu back with a smile before catching Max's look.

“What? I'm hungry. It took a lot out of me today. Don't you dare tell anyone, Max.” Max leaned back in the seat, half smiling as she observed Victoria.

“So. Let's talk.” Victoria looked at her fingers, twisting them around each other.

“About.. what?” she asked nervously. “We are in a public place, we need -” Max waved her hand dismissively.

“Not about that. About you and your.. particular orientation.”

“That's what I meant,” said Victoria miserably, her fingers suddenly a source of fascination. Max studied her with interest, waiting to see what she said. Their milkshakes arrived, and Victoria took a sip, pulling her face. She held her hand against the glass momentarily, took another sip and then was satisfied.

“You know, if the photography thing doesn't work out you can just sell ice cream,” Max remarked. Her eyes suddenly opened wide, as if remembering something. “Wait.. there's.. hang on, where's my phone. That film.. coming out.”

“Max..” Victoria said, her voice sounding dangerous, as Max fumbled with her phone.

“Wait.. wait.. what's it called.. that new Disney film..”

“Max.. don't you dare..”

“Wait.. wait.. hang on, here I think..” Victoria let out an exasperated sigh.

“Fine, yes, I'm gay and I hate that I am and it hurts so much that I can't be who I want to be and all I want to do is kiss you.”

“Well, thanks hun, but I just serve the customers what they order,” said their waitress, putting down their food and smiling at Victoria. “I'll go get your pancakes.” Victoria's face turned bright red as the embarrassment went all the way to the tips of her ears.

“See, coming out is easy,” Max smirked. Victoria just groaned and headbutted the table, nearly ending up with a face full of egg. Max pointed a fork.

“Eat and talk.”

Victoria slowly at first picked at her food, before attacking it with gusto. She was famished, and the food was hitting just the right spot.

“Tell me, Max,” she said in-between bites, “this girlfriend who.. died in a car accident. It was Chloe, wasn't it? Is.. was.. she your first?” Max chewed on her food for a moment before answering.

“Yes, she was. The first woman I ever loved. My first kiss, my first love, my first.. everything. Being honest with you, as I can now, the car accident wasn't when I was 17, it was the 17th.. attempt. She just made me feel so special.. each time.”

“So keep being honest with me. You say each time? Is this why you keep going back? To.. be with her?”

“Yes. At first. I would be lying if I said that wasn't why. To be with her, feel that emotion, try and keep it going for as long as possible. But after a few hundred runs, it became.. wrote. Starting the same thing over and over, nothing new.” She looked calmly at Victoria, face betraying no emotion. “I've had a long time to grieve.”

Victoria thought things over and started to demolish her pancakes, daintily wiping the corner of her mouth with a napkin when she noticed some syrup had escaped. She stretched her feet out, accidentally gently brushing up against Max's legs. She froze at the touch, but then felt Max's foot cradle her ankle and she smiled a little.

“You said you thought we had a connection. Do you.. did you.. not feel that with Chloe? Am I just a replacement for her?” she asked. Max put her fork down and leaned forward, looking Victoria in the eye.

“Don't ever say that, Vic,” she said softly. “I am only here because of you – these past few days have been the best moments I can remember for a long, long time.” Victoria didn't look convinced.

“You spent years of your life trying to save her, how can I ever compare with that? She was your.. everything..” Max spread her arms wide, looking around.

“And yet here I am, with you, here, now, in this diner watching you eat a meal for three. I could go back in an instant, but I don't want to. I want to be here, with you, living this reality. I think we have a connection which goes beyond your infuriatingly flawless skin and endless legs. The butterflies prove it; like it or not we are bonded on a cosmic level, and I don't think I could leave you even if I wanted to. Which I don't.” Victoria looked at her, half smiling, half fearful, as if the moment wasn't real and would be lost.

“Max.. I want this too. But promise me something, will you? Promise me that if you do go back you will tell me first. And come find me. Don't let this... let this all end in this.. reality.” Max looked at her and nodded. Her phone rang, and she went to look at it when Victoria grabbed her hand.

“Max.. please, promise me. Say it.” Max reached out and turned her phone to silent, before leaning over the table, cradling Victoria's face with her hands. She looked deeply into those beautiful green eyes, and drew their lips together. The kiss was long and slow, and when she finished she brought her forehead against Victoria's.

“I promise,” she whispered. Her phone vibrated on the table, but she ignored it.

Victoria looked at Max, her eyes glimmering. Her mind was a torrent of emotion, everything was happening so fast and so publicly. After years of burying everything deep down within herself she was still afraid of letting herself go, but it just felt so good and right to do so. It felt as if a heavy weight was off her shoulders. For now, at least. We still have to go to Blackwell. What do I do then? I can't hide forever, if it try to do that again then.. who knows what will happen. I could reveal something worse. And what do I say to my parents..?

The old doubts began to flicker in her mind again, and she tried to gain control over them.

You're Victoria Fucking Chase.

You're talented.

You're beautiful.

You have an amazing.. girl.. friend.. who can literally control time.

You can create ice and freeze things with your mind.

Who gives a shit what people think?

You're Victoria Fucking Chase.

She looked back at Max, who was sucking her milkshake with gusto. Her macchiato arrived and she sipped it appreciatively.

“Max.. this party on Saturday. Will you go.. as my.. date?” she asked, even now feeling nervous at the possible slightest prospect of rejection. Max looked at her, eyebrows raised as she gorged herself on the milkshake. Victoria's phone starting ringing, and she cancelled the call with annoyance.

“Hell yes, who wouldn't want to be Victoria Chase's date? Ohh, I have an idea. Invite Warren and Brooke too.” Victoria looked aghast at Max.

“Are you out of your mind? Why would I do that? Why would I want to invite that freak?” Again Victoria's phone rang, joining Max's phone as it tried to vibrate itself free off the table.

“Well it might help out in the long term, unless you want Warren accidentally coming around all the time. He will, you know, trust me – I've seen it. I beat him to death once,” said Max, matter of factly. Victoria looked at her to see if she was joking, but Max didn't smile. Again her phone rang. She sighed.

“Ugh, let me see who this is – someone is trying to call you, too.” Max waved her hand as if she didn't care, and surreptitiously tried to steal some of Vic's milkshake. Vic waved her hand and froze it solid, causing Max to squeak in frustration.

“Hey Taylor, what's up? No, I'm out.. with.. someone.. what? No...” Max started to caress her hand, an evil look coming on her features. Victoria shook it away with irritation.

“Slow down.. hospital? Where.. how? No, I'm on my way. I'm bringing Max. Yes, that Max. No, Taylor, now is not the time.” She hung up and looked at Max, her face worried.

“It's Kate. Hit and run, an hour ago. She's in hospital.. Max.. we have to go. Now.”

Chapter Text

Victoria downed the dregs of her coffee and quickly stood up, all thoughts of milkshake forgotten.

“Come on Max, let's go.” She left a $50 bill for the waitress and hurried out of the diner, Max running after.

“Give me your keys,” Max said, “I'll drive.” Victoria looked at her, questioningly.

“Why?” Max held out her hand impatiently.

“We're in a hurry and you drive like my Grandma. And she's dead. Come on, give.” Victoria reluctantly handed them over.

“Just don't scratch it, will you? It'll take a few days to get something else comparable if it has to go into the shop.” Max gave her a look and was about to say something, before she just nodded. Max drove as fast as she dared back down the coast to Arcadia Bay, her mind blank, focused entirely on the road ahead. Victoria sat there in silence, staring glumly out of the window at the rapidly passing scenery. The knowledge that in other timelines she had been the one to, knowingly or not, cause Kate's death sat heavily with her; a reminder of the person she was.

No, the person I used to be. This can't just be a change to be with Max and make her - me - happy, it has to be a change for myself. A chance to be someone better.

Doesn't mean you are a doormat, though, Victoria Chase. You are a Chase, after all. You have a legacy to uphold.

Fuck that particular legacy. But yes, it means I can try, at least.

After around half an hour or so the hospital came into view; squat four-storey buildings that disappeared into gloomy woods. Max slewed the car to a halt near the main entrance; she figured Victoria could easily pay for any parking fines. Taking the steps two at a time they ran up into the hospital, Victoria searching for the main reception which turned out to be directly across from them. The receptionist was a bored looking middle aged woman, who eyed Victoria with a distinct lack of enthusiasm as she approached.

“Hello there, I am looking for a patient called Kate Marsh? I believe she just came in?”

“And you are..?”

“I'm Victoria Chase, I'm a.. a friend of hers. I am just worried about if she is OK? What exactly happened to her? Can we see her?”

“I'm sorry, er, Ms.. Chase, but I can't tell you that information unless you are a close relative, at this moment in time – I'm sure you understand. In the meantime, if you would like to wait over there, I'll let you know when friends are allowed to visit.” She smiled brightly and motioned her hand towards a row of uncomfortable looking seats. Victoria cocked her head to one side, hand on her hip.

“I'm sorry, did you not hear? I'm Victoria Chase, I demand that you tell me where she is. Don't you know what my family does for this place?” The receptionist raised her eyebrows, looking nonplussed.

“Do you make sure the seats over there are warm? Because that's what you are going to be doing now, Ms, unless you wish to be escorted out.” Victoria leaned over the desk, winding up for a full on assault on the woman when Max appeared to flicker next to her and then grabbed her arm, pulling her away.

“Room 11, 3rd floor, G-wing. Come on, stop picking a fight and lets get out of here,” she whispered in her ear. Victoria looked at Max, framing a question before her brain kicked into gear. Time travel.

Trying to appear as casual as possible they walked away from the desk and through a door into a corridor, before looking around to try and find the way.

“Did you just do the whole 'do you know who I am' thing?” asked Max, studying the hospital map. Victoria smacked her forehead with a groan, mortified.

“Oh god, I did, didn't I.” Max patted her on the shoulder in mock sympathy.

“There, there, I'm sure she just was not up-to-date with the Blackwell social scene. It was kind of cute how you thought it would work, though. Ah - it's this way, come on.”



They had managed to get to the fourth floor without any further incident and walked down towards where they believed Kate to be. Room 11 turned out to be behind some locked doors, but there was a small waiting room to the side of it. Dana, Alyssa and Warren were already there in various states of nervous agitation.

Dana heard them coming and looked up, smiling warmly at the appearance of Max and standing up to envelope her in a warm hug.

“Max! You made it.. wait, what is she doing here?” Dana pointed an accusing finger as Victoria emerged from behind Max.

“She brought me here, Dana. What happened to Kate? Is she OK?” Dana stared hard at Victoria, not letting her eyes away from her.

“Alyssa was out with Kate, down on Main. A car came out of nowhere and just.. hit her. Left her for dead. Alyssa called 911, and me and Warren were able to get there and help out.” She turned to look at Max, her expression softening.

“Max, she's in a bad way. The doctors think that.. well. They didn't want to say, but you could just tell, you know? They say it could be a good few hours before we know just how bad it is.” Victoria stood to one side, looking pale.

“Has someone spoken to her father?” asked Max, face troubled. Warren raised his hand.

“Er.. I did. I left them a few messages and then spoke to him. They should be here in an hour or so.”

“Well done, Warren, thank you for doing that,” said Max. Warren rubbed the back of his neck and smiled a little, basking in the praise. Victoria couldn't help but roll her eyes behind Max's back.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked. Dana quickly turned to confront her again.

“I think you've done enough already, Victoria. Why are you even here? What do you care about Kate?” Victoria bristled and clenched her fists.

“I do care, Dana, I do. I know I haven't been the best to her before, but I am trying now. I just want to know what little I can do to..”

“The best you can do is leave, Victoria. Max, why did you bring her here, where she is not welcome? Is she going to film this, too?”

“That's.. not fair, Dana,” Victoria said quietly. Max quickly moved in-between them and looked up at Dana with imploring eyes..

“Dana please, don't do this, not here. Victoria knows she has done wrong and is trying to make amends. Can you at least cut her some slack, for me?” Dana looked at her and then across at Alyssa, who was morosely staring down at the floor.

“Max, I don't trust her and neither should you. I don't know what she has said to you, or what you've been up to to make her look like that, or what lies she has spun you - but she's a snake and always will be. She has even been trying to make me and Juliet hate each other! Why would someone even do that? What is your problem?” These last words were directed at Victoria, who stared defiantly back at Dana, itching for a fight.

“It's certainly not whoring myself around the football team, is it Dana? Who was it last night? Can you even remember their face?” Dana opened her mouth in shock and moved forward, raising her hand to slap Victoria. Max put out her hand to her chest, gently pushing her back.

“Stop it, both of you. Victoria, sit there; Dana, sit there. I'm NOT having you both fight while Kate's life is in the balance. Is that understood?” Max's tone was hard and brooked no discussion; both girls meekly sat down but continued to glare daggers at each other. She pointed a finger in warning at them both before walking over to Alyssa and putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. She looked up at Max, her eyes raw from where she had been weeping.

“Hey Alyssa. Are you OK? Do you want to talk to me about it? Can you tell me about what happened to poor Kate?” Alyssa buried her face in her hands, and Max rubbed her back trying to soothe her.

“Shh it's OK, it's OK – it's not your fault. There's nothing you could have done.” Alyssa shook her head.

“That's not true, Max - I shouted at her to watch out but it wasn't enough - but I swear the car drove at her, Max. Like aimed at her. Why Kate? What has she done.. why would anyone want too..” She burst into tears, and Max knelt down, placing her hand on her arm.

“I know it's hard, but can you tell me where and when it happened?”

“About an hour or so ago,” Alyssa sniffed, “we were leaving the thrift store down on Main, you know the one where we got those stupid scarves from.. we had been looking for some ideas for a party we were thinking of having in a few weeks. You know, like a postponed Halloween thing. I'd stopped to look in the window, and Kate had walked on to cross the road. We were going to get some doughnuts..” Alyssa burst into tears again, and Max put her arm around her trying to console her. Her face was in stark contrast to the comfort she was giving: it was hard, her jaw muscles tense; she appeared to be looking at something which was not in the room.

Warren had been carefully watching her from a safe distance, before apparently making up his mind and nonchalantly walking over.

“Er hi, Max, you seem a little distracted right now, but I was thinking that maybe I could get you a drink or something? You know if it's no bother? Or I could walk you there maybe?”

Max stood up and looked at him, her face expressionless. She stood there for an uncomfortable minute looking through him as if deciding on a course of action, before she looked up at him and spoke softly.

“Thank you Warren, but no. You're a good friend and I need you to keep an eye on Alyssa here and make sure she that she will be OK. She needs your support.” Warren deflated like a sad balloon as Max walked over to Victoria, who was sitting in her chair glowering at Dana.

“Vic, you really need to sort this shit out with Dana afterwards. She's my friend and I'm not having you two fighting when we are around together.” Victoria looked at Max like a puppy who was being told off.

“What do you mean 'being together',” interjected Dana, “what the hell is going on between you two?”

“We are still working things out, Dana” said Max, before giving Victoria a kiss on the forehead. Dana's intake of breath was audible as Victoria put her hand out and touched Max's lips with her finger.

“Max.. I'm not sure we should be doing this here in front of..”

“Victoria, it doesn't matter. This timeline is a bust, I'm not letting this happen to Kate – I'm going back. I need to fix this, I'm not letting Kate die again.” Victoria quickly stood up, grabbing hold of Max's hands.

“No, not alone. Never again. Take me with you, please. I don't want us – me – to lose this time we have had. I don't want to go back to having to do it all again. What if it doesn't work out the same? What if..” She trailed off, looking down at the floor, biting her lip. Max stood there a little undecided. Dana got up from where she had been watching the pair and walked over, arms folded, staring at the two of them.

“Can someone please tell me what the hell is going on? Max, what are you doing with this.. this thing? What is she blackmailing you -” Dana's voice stopped as her head suddenly started to become encased in ice, her eyes wide with terror, her hands clutching at her face. Max rolled her eyes and just looked at Victoria, who had the decency to look vaguely guilty.

“- Max, what are you doing with this.. this thing? What is she blackmailing you with? Tell me so I can beat it out of her.” Max wagged her finger in warning at Victoria – I know what you are thinking of doing - before turning to face Dana.

“Dana, it's fine, honestly. Trust me. We are working things out, but right now.. it's good. Look, I promise we'll tell you more once we have had another go at this - somewhere happier than here. Won't we, Victoria?” Victoria sighed and looked up at Dana, who glared back.

“Fine, Max, fine. I'll be on my best behaviour,” said Victoria. Max nodded, and took Dana's hands.

“Good, I know you will. Dana, look after them here, please - me and Victoria are just going to have a quick chat outside.” She dragged Victoria out into the corridor, leaving Dana watching them with her mouth open, as if trying to process what she just saw; while Warren kicked his heels miserably in the corner.



“OK, Max, what's the plan? What are we going to do? How do we fix this? And how did you know I wanted to freeze her – actually, never mind.” Max began to pace up and down anxiously.

“We have to go back and stop this from happening. You heard what Alyssa said - the car deliberately aimed at Kate; this was no accident. Someone tried to murder Kate. This is another incident with someone connected to Nathan, no coincidence. No matter what, we can't let this happen to Kate. Victoria, I can't let it happen. I can't.” Victoria blanched a little at the mention of Nathan, a reminder of her part in what had happened to Kate, and who knows what else in whatever timeline max had seen. Max continued to pace, voicing her thoughts.

“We have to go back at least an hour according to Alyssa, if not longer, to make sure we have enough time. Let's say an hour and a half, two to be on the safe side.”

“We would be just turning up to the diner around then, I think,” said Victoria, “Max - I don't want to lose those moments. Even if they technically never happen.” Max didn't appear to acknowledge what Victoria was saying; her entire focus was on her goal of saving Kate.

“Yes, and the problem is that we can't just rewind here - that would leave your car at the diner and we would just disappear right from the table in front of everyone, and appear here instead.” Victoria's head hurt a little trying to keep up to speed with how Max's time travel worked, but she quickly worked it out.

“So, we need to go back to the diner and then go back in time and then come back here?” Max tapped her finger lightly on her nose.

“Got it in one, Chase – beauty and brains, I see. Come on, lets get moving – at least there is no need to rush this time.” Victoria got out her keys and clutched them to her chest, grateful that Max had acceded to the idea of taking her back with her.

“I'll drive then – I think my car might cry if you touch it again.” Max playfully pushed her, but her face was serious.



Victoria drove them back to the diner at what most people would consider a brisk pace but was practically glacial compared to the speed of their arrival at the hospital. She spent the time desperately trying to think of a topic of conversation that might lighten Max's mood. Max had grown increasingly serious and distant ever since they had left the hospital, as if some weight was pressing down on her.

Eventually she couldn't bear it any longer and summoned the courage to ask.

“What's wrong, Max? You've been acting really strange since.. since we found out what happened to Kate? Why can't you tell me what is wrong? Is it something I have done, something I did? Was I too forward before..?” Max stared vacantly out of the car window, her mind elsewhere.

1

.. the rain teems down, Kate pushes her away and steps off the roof..

15

.. the sunlight through the blind shines on the hanging body, swinging gently from the light fitting..

46

.. the stench of vomit assails her senses, but no matter how much she shakes her she just won't wake up..

105, 243, 801, 923, 1,056, 1,327, 3,512.. over and over and over..

“Max? Talk to me, please? Don't do this to me..” Max closed her eyes and beat her fist on her thigh, before turning to look at Victoria with a stare that seemed older than death.

“Kate will not die this time, Victoria. Do you understand me? I don't care what it takes, nothing else matters right now. She will not die. I have seen that happen too many times.. to many times..” Her voice trailed off, and she stared out of the window again. Victoria didn't know what to say – she was secretly glad that she wasn't the source of the problem, but equally she could not even begin to comprehend what Max had gone through, what nightmares she had from it – and how this might affect their relationship. She knotted her brow in frustration at not being able to formulate the words she thought she needed.

“Max, I.. I..” she began, feeling wholly inadequate. “I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like to -”

“No, you can't,” Max said, cutting her off. She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I'm sorry, it's already been a long day and it's only going to get worse. Time travel is tiring, and even more so when it's the two of us I am doing it for. Look, later we can talk about this – if we get there – but for now.. can you just.. be there and put up with me? Just for now?”

Victoria felt hurt that Max wouldn't talk more about things, but then she reminded her that despite everything, this relationship was only a few days old. We hardly know each other. It's not surprising we are both guarded about things. Am I being far to needy just because someone, for once, seems to show genuine interest in me - just for being, well me?

The rest of the drive to the diner was undertaken in an uncomfortable silence, full of unspoken words. Victoria kept stealing glances at Max, but she was either wrapped up in her own thoughts or just ignoring her – Victoria wasn't sure which. She began to feel a creeping doubt gnaw at her; the happiness she had felt just a few hours before long forgotten.



Victoria parked up in approximately the same place they had been previously, and they both entered the diner. Luckily for them their table was still vacant, and they sat down opposite each other again. Max held out her hands to Victoria and she took them, hesitantly rubbing the back of Max's hands with her thumbs. Max looked at her with a pensive smile.

“Are you ready? It's quite a jump, and I'm not sure how rough the arrival will be – I'm feeling pretty tired already.” Victoria just nodded, and on impulse leant over and gave her a peck on the cheek. Max smiled at her, but to Victoria it seemed slightly forced. Or are you are just imagining things now? Wanting it to fail just to prove yourself right?

Come on Vic, don't do this to yourself.

Not again.

Max spun the world backwards, and Victoria watched as the sun rose up again from the horizon, ghostly figures spinning around them until eventually she saw the dim outlines of themselves in the seats. Max kept going until the waitress who had taken their order disappeared before stopping. As she did so she bent her head a little in pain, and a small droplet of blood fell onto the diner table.

“Max,” Victoria said, her face creased with concern, “are you alright? What's happening – are you pushing yourself too much?” Max took a deep breath before wiping her nose on a napkin.

“I'm fine, it's just.. so much harder with two, and I've already done a lot of it today.” She took a breath, composing herself. “I'm fine. Come, let's get a move on, we don't have much time.” Victoria looked at her, face still concerned.

“Are you sure you are able to go now? And also.. you did not just say that.” Max looked at her, as if stirred by some memory, but then gave a brittle smile.

“Yes, I'm fine. Do you mind driving again?” Victoria shook her head and they got up to leave. Victoria paused momentarily before digging in her purse and leaving another $50 note, like she had done before. They might not have eaten here yet, but she was still full. I wonder if Max has ever done that? It's not stealing.. but.. it feels like it. She looked at the retreating figure of the small woman who looked so innocuous yet concealed an incredible power. She could literally rule the world. What's stopping her? She looked at her own hands, conscious that she too was something extraordinary, even if she didn't feel like it.

What do we do once this is over?

Max beckoned her to follow, snapping her out of her thoughts and she gave the bemused waitress a friendly wave as they left. I hope she keeps it all. She felt strangely proud of herself for leaving the money again.

Victoria drove as quickly as she dared back to Arcadia Bay, to try and give them as much time as possible without making Max use her powers again. Max spent most of the journey with her eyes closed as if asleep; Victoria's anxiety was beginning to show as she slipped back into her old hateful habits, subconsciously lowering the temperature in the car. Max opened one eye as she felt the air change and gently placed her hand on her thigh, before closing her eyes again. Victoria bit her lip a little at the touch, but it seemed to quell her for the remainder of the journey.



Max leaned forward, scanning for a good place to observe.

“There – let's sit in that café and have a drink and something sweet while we wait. Can you park us up somewhere near? We should have a good view of the entire street if we need it.”

A few minutes later they were both seated at a table outside, Victoria nursing another macchiato while Max devoured a turmeric latte. They shared a large cinnamon bun between them, Max half heartedly picking at it. They both kept glancing down the street towards the thrift shop they were expecting Kate to leave.

“Do we know how long we have to wait?” asked Victoria, her voice tense. Max shook her head.

“I think around another 5 minutes or so – once I have gone through this the first time I'll have the timing down better.” Victoria nodded and drummed her fingers on the table; to her the waiting was unbearable, like waiting for some terrible doom to unfold over which she had no control. Max looked at her and laughed suddenly. Victoria raised a questioning eyebrow.

“You've changed, you know,” she said, and fell silent again, an impish grin on her face. Victoria impatiently gestured for her to continue, as Max was clearly enjoying dragging this out.

“I mean, you know how beautiful and perfect you are..” - Victoria preened a little despite herself - “.. but you've clearly stopped checking yourself in the mirror quite as much.” Victoria gaped at her in confusion before quickly rummaging in her handbag for a compact. It took less than a second for her to let out a loud groan as she looked at the smudged makeup and a face covered in filthy streaks from a mixture of sweat, dirt and tears; her hair was not fairing much better either.

“Jesus Max, I look like, well, you. Why didn't you say something at any point.. like, at all, ever?” Max shrugged.

“Doesn't bother me, Vic, it's still you. I kinda like it. You're really rocking the '8a.m. walk of shame' look there.” Victoria shot her a glare before grabbing for some wipes to try and repair the damage a little.

“It may not matter to you, Max, but it does to me.” She spent a few moments with various wipes, carefully inspecting herself in the mirror before, with a satisfied smile, she pulled out an entire battery of expensive looking makeup that had somehow managed to fit in her bag. Victoria was conscious of Max watching her as she carefully applied a little foundation and mascara, before running a her comb through her hair and applying a little gel to try and manage it into something resembling the style she wanted. She turned her head back and forth, pretending to inspect the results but knowing Max's eyes were all over her.

“Like what you see, Max?” she purred. Max waved her hand a little with a grin and a small bite of her lip.

“Meh. It'll do, I suppose.” Victoria smiled to herself, pleased that Max had seemingly cheered up a little and seemed to at least be acknowledging her a little more. She put away her bag and sipped her coffee, before her eyes suddenly widened.

“Look – there,” Victoria said, gripping Max's arm and pointing. Max turned to look and saw Kate and Alyssa leave the shop, talking animatedly. Kate seemed to point across the street and Alyssa appeared to nod, turning back towards the shop to gaze in the window. At the same time they heard an engine rumble to life, and a grey sedan that had been parked a little away from them pulled out and began to quickly pick up speed.

Victoria watched in horror as it drove straight at the oblivious form of Kate, who was stepping out into the road.

“Max!” Victoria cried, her voice full of anguish. “Stop it, please! Stop.. I don't want to see..” Max merely watched with a grim expression on her face as the car accelerated hard at Kate, who too late turned to see it heading straight for her.

Victoria heard someone scream as the car hit Kate with a sickening crunch, sending her rolling up the hood and into the windshield, her head smashing the glass before she fell limply onto the road. The scream kept coming and Victoria realised it was herself.

“Max, stop this, please.. oh god, Kate..” she sobbed, as she began to desperately run, sprinting as fast as she could to reach the small body lying in the street. Alyssa had already rushed down to Kate's side and was trying to cradle her head before a man rushed out of the shop to try and pull her away, while shouting at someone, anyone, to call 911.

Victoria ran up to the girl she had once mercilessly bullied and covered her mouth in horror. Kate's eyes were wide open, blood trickling out of her mouth and pooling around the back of her head, matting her blonde hair. Her back seemed to be twisted in an odd manner, and one of her legs seemed to be hanging on by a mere scrap of skin. She reeled backwards as her stomach gave way and she threw up in the street, sobbing for Max to stop it, end it, take it all back.

Max stood a few meters away from her, watching where the car had gone before looking down at Kate, her face expressionless. Victoria noticed her and stood up, her face streaked with tears and her voice hoarse from screaming - the air around her appeared to be warping as it cooled, rushing in around her; the ground beginning to turn white below her feet.

“Why, Max? Why!” she screamed, “why have you let this happen? Why have you made me see it? Why have you not stopped this!” Max didn't answer her, but just turned to look again at Kate, as if trying to fix the image of her broken body in her mind.

Victoria walked over to Max and began to beat her fists against her chest, sobbing violently. The air was cold, as if winter was already here, and Max could feel the wind whipping up as the temperature dropped further. Victoria stepped back, her eyes on fire as she stared at Max with anger. She held her hands by her side, trying to control herself as the air started to swirl around her into a vicious vortex. Particles of ice formed and spattered into Max; flurries of ice and snow whipped into her, causing her to lose her footing.

“Max, you have to go back, make this right..” Victoria said, her voice strained, closing her eyes as she felt the power surging through her, spiralling out of control; shards of ice spiralling out from her as she opened her mouth and screamed up at the sky at the death of Kate, her green eyes glowing with fury.

Max got to her knees, head bowed against the wind and stopped time.

Chapter Text

Max sat there looking at the frozen image of Victoria. Like what you see, she had said. Max had to admit that she did, and that was the problem. It had been much easier when she was just her adversary - someone she could just dismiss as a stereotypical high school bitch, before she had started to know the girl behind the façade.

She knew that she couldn't let her remember Kate dying – Victoria had practically begged her to go back and change it. Max hoped that if she ever found out she would understand her decision; but more worrying to Max was the extent of latent power revealed within Victoria – it had been raw and uncontrolled, but Max could feel the hidden potential within. It was truly terrifying, and Max briefly wondered just how far she could go if pushed – and what that meant if Victoria ever turned on her.

Regardless, Max had to deal with the here and now, and that meant getting as much information as she could while preventing Kate from being potentially murdered. Max got up from the table with a sigh – she was tired, feeling both emotionally and physically drained, and there was still a lot to do. She looked once more at Victoria, feeling a sense of unease at her actions.

She doesn't need to see this.

I wish I didn't have to see it.

But it's the only way.

Isn't it?

She walked through the frozen streets and over to the grey sedan, eyeing it with curiosity. It was so unremarkable as to be remarkable, a deliberately inconspicuous car. Two men were sat in the front and she recognised one of them straight away – it was the officer from the police station.

I knew it! I should have left him for dead at the time.

No, you didn't Max. No excuses for what you did.

Max peered through the window, noting that both men had a gun strapped to their chest; they were looking intently down the street and seemed as if they were preparing to set off on their murderous mission. Max stood there for a moment in thought, weighing her options.

I can't just take them out. It would be to easy, and it wouldn't resolve anything. I need information, and one of them at least needs to live in this timeline.

She picked up a rock from the floor and threw it, accelerating time to break the passenger window before quickly freezing time again as the glass started to shatter. Carefully pushing the shattered glass aside, she reached in and grabbed the gun from the man she didn't recognise. Taking careful aim from an awkward angle she fired once at each shoulder, leaving the bullets suspended in mid-air as they left the barrel.

OK, so I don't have much time before they hit him. I should have broken the windshield and done this from the hood. But that should keep him quiet while I deal with the other guy.

She walked around the front of the car to take care of the driver, when she suddenly saw the familiar flash of blue on the roof - sitting there again; watching her, judging her. Max stopped and pointed an angry finger.

“No. NO. No, not this time – they deserve everything they get. You saw what they did – will do – to her. They don't deserve anything better. You know this, I have to do it.” The butterfly flapped its wings once, and carried on watching her as if in disapproval. Max looked up at the sky and let out an anguished cry at the frustration building inside of her, before addressing it again.

“Fine. Sit there and judge me. But I need to incapacitate them, don't I? I need answers, and I can't exactly be nice about it and ask them to join me for a cup of tea. I – we – need to get to the bottom of what is going on, don't we?” She paused, looking around at the still street before addressing the butterfly again, her voice growing weary.

“Look, I'm fucking trying my best, OK? I didn't ask for any of this, you gave it to me without even asking if I wanted it! I'm supposed to be a fucking 18yr old girl, just wanting to go to college and take fucking photographs. So you'll just have to deal with me making my own mistakes. But I'm trying, OK? I'm trying..” The butterfly appeared to consider this before slowly flying over to Max, perching on her arm briefly and then flying away. Max seemed to feel slightly better, and it seemed as if she had been given temporary consent to do what she had to do - but on the understanding that she minimised the future cost to herself.

If it's not already too late for that.

She walked over to the driver's side and this time decided that the windshield was the best way to go. She carefully repeated the same trick, conscious that the bullets she had left suspended in mid-air were inching ever closer to their target every time she manipulated time for the brief moments she needed. With some difficulty she pulled the broken windshield out of the frame, grunting with the effort, until she was afforded a clear view of the driver. She relieved him of his firearm before sitting crossed-legged on the hood, gun casually pointing at him. She puffed out her cheeks then exhaled slowly.

Right Max.

Here we go.

She hesitated for a moment: it felt again like she was being watched; but not as it felt before by the butterflies, but by herself, as if she was an observer judging her own actions - a part of her becoming horrified at what she had become.

I had no choice.

No choice.

She restarted time.



Detective Bryan Richards looked at the picture taped to the dash and scanned the street. His partner yawned and stretched besides him – stakeout was generally hours of boredom punctuated by a few seconds of action, and this one was no different even if the target was.

“Look alive, will you? She could show up at any time – we want to make sure we do this without any problem.” A disgusted grunt came from the seat next to him.

“Yeah. You know what, Bryan? What a fucking mess we have got ourselves into here, and this is a new low – if that was possible. I wish I had never ever taken his money now. After this I'm out. Going somewhere else, out of here. I'm done.” Richards glanced in the mirror, checking the view behind.

“Let me know how it goes. I might join you,” he murmured. He looked ahead again, scanning the street.

“There,” he said, pointing, and then his life went to hell. His partner jerked violently in his seat as the two rounds slammed through him, smashing his body to pieces and showering the inside of the car with blood and matter. The windshield had disappeared, and sitting on the hood without a care in the world was a teenage girl, who was pointing a gun at him.

He sat there in shock, unable to process what he was seeing. The girl blinked a few times and wiped some blood off her face.

“Oops, I had forgot about that,” she said to herself. Richards instinctively reached for his own gun to try and defend himself – but he found his holster was empty.

“Looking for this?” she said, waving his gun at him. Richards cast a swift glance to his right then quickly wished he hadn't, finding himself dry heaving at the sight. A tutting sounf from infront of him made him look up, eyes watering.

“Focus, will you? I don't have time for this,” she said in an irritated tone.

“Who are you?” he gasped in-between breaths, “you've killed a fucking cop! You're under arrest! You're in so much trouble!”

“Shut up, Richards, I don't want to keep doing this – I'm so fucking tired.” She pointed the gun at his head, and he felt himself pushing back into the seat, trying to get as far away as possible from her – his hand scrabbled for the door handle.

“Don't do that, or I'll blow it off again. I'd rather not have too. I know it's the four of you in on this – now if you would be so kind and tell me this time, who hired you to kill Kate?” Richards gawped at her, his mind working in overdrive.

“How do you know - I don't know what you are on about! You must put down that -” She looked at him in disbelief and shot him in the arm. Richards screamed in agony, clutching at his arm, restrained by his seatbelt. He could hear shouts from passers-by alerted by the report of the gun, looking around and trying to see what was happening. I just need to hold on and people will come.

“You crazy bitch! You shot me!” She shifted her position slightly, as if getting cramp in her legs.

“You've got about 30 seconds to tell me what I want to know, or I'll blow your fucking head off and then we'll do this again.” Richards groaned, clutching his arm, feeling the blood spilling between his fingers. He gritted his teeth and hissed an answer back at her.

“You know who owns this town, and you're as good as fucking dead.” Her face didn't show any surprise at what he said; she just looked at him with contempt.

“Your time's nearly up. Why did you hide the Dark Room? Why did you move Rachel?” He groaned and shook his head, his face going white from the pain and his breathing becoming shallow and rapid.

“I don't know what you are on about, what's a dark room? I didn't move anyone..” The gun fired again, smashing his kneecap. Max watched impassively as the man writhed in pain, feeling no pity, no remorse.

“Don't lie to me.”

“I'm not... please. I beg you.. stop.. it was just... supposed to be the girl.. and the dealer.. and Jefferson. That's it! Please..” he gasped out. She tapped her teeth with the gun, pondering the situation as she watched him writhe in agony.

“Why did you all do it?” He looked at her, his face twisted in pain but a spark of hope at her change in line of questioning.

“Money! At first. Then.. he threatened my family.. my kids.. what could I do?” She looked at him without pity.

“You could have not been a fucking murdering corrupt cop.” She pointed the gun at his head, and he started to beg her for mercy, pleading for his life. She looked down at him, her eyes cold.

“You know what the worst thing is? You won''t remember this, but I will.”



“Like what you see, Max?” Max reached out and grabbed Victoria's hand, stopping the world. Victoria looked at her in shock then gestured with her free hand, her face puzzled.

“Max what.. why are you suddenly covered in blood? What did you do, Max? What the fuck's been going on?”

Shit.

Max let go of her, letting her return to the frozen world, before grabbing some of the wipes from Victoria's bag and trying to clean herself up as best she could. She inspected her handiwork in Victoria's mirror.

Ugh. That's most of it. It's not coming out of these clothes though, no matter how much I rub. Still, at least I don't look like Lara did in that death cave thing. Man I need to play that again. Stupid quick time events. She rubbed her temples, trying to ease some of the built up tension.

Fuck my head hurts. I haven't pushed myself like this for a long time. I could do with being Lara right now.

OK.

One more time, Max.

One more time.



“Like what you see, Max?” Max reached out and grabbed Victoria's hand again, stopping the world once more. Victoria looked at her and raised an eyebrow.

“OK Max, what's going on... what happened?” Max pointed with her hand over the road.

“There's two bent cops in there, under the pay I think of Prescott. They are going to hit Kate with the car.. it's not particularly pleasant, I'd rather not see that again. As we thought, they are tying up loose ends presumably to try and help Nathan – although why he would want to do that I don't know, it's not like he has shown much compassion for his son previously. It's why they want you as a witness, I suspect. Stack the odds in his favour. I don't think anyone else knows about the.. the Dark Room, and they also didn't appear to know about Rachel - which raises interesting questions. We are not seeing all of the puzzle here.” She trailed off in thought, and Victoria looked at her, visibly upset.

“Max, you promised we would do this together. Why have you done all this on your own, without me? Why don't you trust me?” She looked closely at Max, and her eyes narrowed. “Max.. is that blood on your t-shirt?” Max sighed and closed her eyes.

“Yes. I'm really sorry, Victoria, but I don't want to talk about it yet. Please. We need to think of a way of stopping these guys from attacking Kate. Preferably in a way that doesn't reveal us, either. And also without any more death. I've had enough of that today.”

“More?” asked Victoria, her face a mixture of concern and frustration. “What have you been doing Max? Please don't shut me out. Not after everything that has happened today, everything we have.. done.”

“Disabling the car is out,” said Max, ignoring her pleas. “That won't stop them from trying again. We can't just shoot them or something, as that would likely lead to our arrest for murder. And you wouldn't look good in orange. We need to do something though.” Victoria looked at Max, her face sad at the change in her, but she dropped her questions of what Max had been doing to focus on the problem at hand – but she hadn't forgotten. She thought for a moment before her eyes suddenly lit up with an idea.



“Are you sure about this, Vic? Can you do it?” Victoria nodded, peering out from the alleyway.

“Fourth time lucky. You ready?” Max shrugged, motioning her to proceed. Victoria looked at the road, concentrating, hands held out in front of her. She watched Kate and Alyssa leave the thrift store chatting and laughing, and counted under her breath.

“Four.. three.. two... one..” She closed her eyes and focussed, feeling the power build within her; in her mind's eye she pictured the result she wanted, trying to bend the elements to her will. It was getting easier for her, although she still found the effort both mentally and physically taxing.

To Max it seemed as if a blue haze appeared around her hands, and a nearly invisible light seemed to stream from them towards the road. She could hear the sound of a car approaching at high speed, and watched Victoria's brow furrow in concentration. If only she knew what she was truly capable of. But not yet.

Imperceptibly at first Max could see a thin layer of ice forming in small patches on the road, quickly spreading, joining together and thickening. Within moments the stretch of road was covered and Max saw tiny snowflakes swirling down above it.

The car hit the ice at speed, the sudden loss of traction causing the driver to lose control. They could see him desperately saw at the wheel, his actions proving ineffective as the car gaily pirouetted around before hitting a large tree. There was a silence, broken by a sudden commotion as people ran over to see what assistance they could provide to the stricken men. Max saw Kate and Alyssa standing by the thrift store, watching with morbid curiosity at the unfolding events. Max permitted herself a small smile, relief flowing through her.

I did it.

We did it.

She looked at Victoria, who was watching the scene with fascination; face flushed with the emotions of successfully saving Kate. Max felt a little guilty about shutting her out, not involving her with what had happened to get them to this point. But I can't do this to her. It's too much - she has enough to deal with, without the shit I cause on her too.

Eventually the sound of an ambulance approaching could be heard, and Max deemed it time to leave.

“Grab your stuff, Vic; let's get out of here before anyone notices us.” Victoria nodded and grabbed her handbag, quietly looking very pleased with herself, and swung it over her shoulder with a grunt. They both made their way back to the car and Max leaned against it, weak with exhaustion. Her face looked immeasurably sad, and Victoria stood there undecided, as if uncertain as to what to do.

“Are you OK, Max? Talk to me. Please. We should both be happy, we saved Kate! We did it! You and me.. we changed it..” she said with wonder in her tone, as if not quite believing it. Max just wrapped her arms around herself, staring down at the floor. They stayed like that for a few moments, the distance between them seemingly insurmountable for some reason, before Max looked up at Victoria, her eyes red.

“Let's head back to Blackwell - can you drive us? I'm exhausted. We can talk when we get there about.. things. Is that OK? Please, can you do it for me?” Victoria looked at Max and making a decision, walked slowly over and gave her a gentle a kiss - which to her comfort Max returned, albeit with not as much enthusiasm as she had hoped. Releasing Max, Victoria opened her bag for her keys and her eyes suddenly widened.

“What's this, Max?” she said, gingerly pulling out two automatics from her handbag. “Why do I suddenly have these? I thought my bag was heavier when I picked it up..” She trailed off, looking accusingly at Max. Max squeezed her eyes, suddenly feeling nauseous and unsure of herself.

“I.. I thought it was a good idea for them not to have them. Unfortunately, I had to.. undo their seatbelts before they crashed, to get them.” Victoria looked at Max, her mouth open - but Max studiously studied the red paint of the car.

“Max.. what have you done..?”

“Victoria, it was the best solution. If they had got out unhurt with their guns, what do you think might have happened? Couldn't take that risk. Look, can we go, please? I think I might collapse here.” Victoria angrily turned away from Max, clenching her fists by her side and stepping away; before turning back to her, eyes furious.

“Max, I am so fucking furious with you right now. I'm tempted to leave you here and tell you to fucking leave me alone. I can't believe you have done this - putting fucking guns in my bag without asking – and who knows what else you've been up to without telling me. Have you any idea what an invasion of me this is, how mistrustful it makes me feel? I can't believe you let me kiss you just then, without telling me first what you had done. What is wrong with you today?” Max just looked at her miserably, her eyes wet, scuffing her foot against the floor. Victoria looked at the pathetic image in front of her and relented slightly.

“Come on get in, Max,” she sighed, “I'm not going to leave you here, I'm not that evil. But we are having a serious talk when we get back; I want some answers.”

Victoria carefully put her bag in the back of the car – treating it like it was a bomb that could go off at any moment - and drove them back in silence, stoney-faced and ignoring Max.



Blackwell was deserted when they got there. It was a Thursday evening, and most of the remaining students were probably out and about trying to find some entertainment in the small town. Max opened the door to her room and looked back at Victoria, who stood there hesitating on the threshold, her face conflicted.

“Aren't you going to come in? I won't tell anyone, if that is what you are worried about.”

“I don't know, Max. What are you going to do? How can I trust you that right now? How can I trust anything that has happened?” She folded her arms and stared accusingly at Max, her eyes narrowing, seemingly very much to Max like the old Victoria Chase – cold and defensive.

Max looked and felt her stomach twist. Oh fuck. Not this again, not with her as well.. I can't..

“Victoria, I'm really sorry I didn't ask you first. I just didn't want to burden you with anything, I thought I was making the best decision for you-”

“Max, you do not get to decide things for me! I am my own person, I can't have you treating me as.. as your personal puppet! Don't you see that? I need to be able to make my own decisions and not be tricked into everything!” They stood there for a moment, Victoria watching Max as her face began to crumble.

“Vic, please, it's not like -” Victoria shook her head, and pointed an angry finger, her eyes threatening to come to life.

“How do I even know that you haven't manipulated this conversation so far? How can I trust you with anything Max? You could have been playing with my.. emotions.. all this.. time..” Tears threatened to spring from her eyes as the implication that Max could have manipulated the entire situation for her own benefit set in.

“No no no, I would never do that, Victoria. Please, believe me, I haven't-”

“How do I know, Max?” she said angrily. “How do I know?” Max closed her eyes, and sank down to the floor, feeling the waves of cold emanate from the girl opposite.

“Because.. I promised.. not to after.. after..” Victoria pushed the rising tide of pity for the forlorn figure down inside herself, not letting Max get off easy.

“After what, Max? Why can't you just be honest with me? Don't I deserve this?” Max put her head in her hands and started to sob.

“Because.. I promised this before.. and.. and..” Max voice came out as a thin wail, her body shaking as the memories of previous deceits cut through her. “And she found out and she killed herself over it, rather than.. I couldn't save her; she hated me so much that she would rather die than be with me..” Max looked up at Victoria, tears streaking down her face. “Do you not see why now? I can't go through that again. I can't. Not with.. you.. I don't want..” Victoria watched her fall to pieces, her heart breaking – but she knew she had to be strong and stand her ground for her own sake – she had to be sure of this, before she got hurt again - despite desperately wanting to comfort Max. She had to know that Max was willing to trust her as well, and not have everything built on a web of lies and manipulation.

“So tell me, Max, what happened today? You want me to trust you, so tell me.” Max looked down at the floor, hands folded on her lap, and slowly, hesitantly began to speak. She told her about the first run, how they had both seen Kate die and Victoria's reaction, how she had begged her to change it back; how Max got the information from the police and the encounter with the butterfly, and the finally how before the car crashed she had frozen time to get the guns from the men, knowing that doing so likely consigned them to serious injury. When she had finished she looked up at Victoria again, her face miserable and her stomach hollow.

“I'm sorry Victoria, I am so sorry for not telling you this before. I just wanted to protect you, I don't want you to end up like.. like me. It's too much, and.. and I understand if you want to.. want to have nothing to do with me any more.” She started to cry again, the sight of Victoria blurring through her tears. “Just tell me and I will go back, take this all away again, start another timeline.. I'm sorry, I failed you and everyone.. I'm so, so sorry..”

Victoria crouched down and placed her arms gently around her, as if she was the most precious thing in the world.

“Max.. I don't want you to change anything. You are not a failure, you are amazing and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now.” Max sobbed again, wrapping her arms around Victoria and holding on as if her life depended on it.

Victoria drew back a bit and looked Max in the face, eyes subconsciously darting from her lips to her eyes.

“You need to trust me, Max. You need to tell me these things and not keep them inside of you. I will not lie to you - I am.. scared of some of the things you say you have done – it frightens me, but after today and making that car crash to save Kate.. I can see a little of why you do it.” Max wiped the snot from her nose with a free hand.

“I' will try, Vic, I really like you and I'm so afraid of fucking things up, but I know we need to get to the bottom of whatever is going on. It's all just so much for me to deal with...”

“Then share the load. Let me help you, and you help me. Together. Yes?” Max sniffled and looked at her.

“Yes,” she said in a quiet voice. Victoria pulled her to her feet and suddenly laughed, the sound making Max's heart explode with a happiness she wasn't expecting.

“Christ, what a pair we are. Why am I not surprised I can't just have a normal fucked up relationship – trust me to have a relationship with a fucked up supernatural lesbian. My parents are going to go nuts.”

“Fucked up supernatural hipster lesbian, I'll think you'll find,” said Max with a small smile. Victoria returned the smile and stepped back, looking at her, head tilted to one side, her face serious again.

“All joking aside.. I just don't know sometimes what's going on in your head. I'm getting so many mixed messages that.. I don't..” Max wiped her eyes with her arm then grabbed Victoria's hands and pulled her closer, raising herself up to give her a quick peck on the lips.

“I'm sorry, I will try and do better. Please believe me Vic, I want this to work. I really do - you are the best thing that has happened to me for a long time.. Tell you what, how about we try and make a shitty day have a better evening? I really need a shower, but after that we can get a take out and watch some crap on the laptop and just chill? Forget all of this, at least for now?” Victoria looked at her, seeing the hope and desire to make amends in her eyes and thought for a second before nodding.

“OK, but I need a shower too after all this. You go first and I'll order some food and get rid of these.. presents, you have given me - then you can sort out the movie when I'm showering. And Max.. I want this to work, too. But you have to meet me halfway.”



Max stood in the shower, letting the hot water run over her shoulders and trying to reach a moment of calm. The water ran pink as blood ran out of her hair and down the drain. She stared at it, her mind flashing back to the car and the blood and the sounds and the horror -

Stop it Max.

Just.. breathe. It's over. You did it to save Kate.

She leaned her head against the wall, trying to think of something else to distract her. The image of Victoria came unbidden into her mind, and she found herself smiling slightly at the thought.

I do like her. She makes me feel.. well, alive. Special.

And she is seriously hot. Man, those legs..

Ugh, not the point. She feels like a different person from what I used to know. If only I had tried to get to know her sooner..

Yeah, she would have told you to fuck off.

Maybe. But.. I guess I had Chloe to think about.

Oh. You do remember her then. Shame it took you over 5 years the first time.

But I can never forget her, how could I? But this is..

Better? More equal? Unless you fuck this up as well?

Perhaps.

“Max, are you drowning in there?” shouted Victoria through the door. “I've ordered the food, I'm just going to go get my stuff and have a shower as well. I hope you haven't used all the hot water up, you've been in there ages.”

“Sorry!” Max shouted out over the sound of the water, “I just needed a long soak. I'm nearly done.”

She finished up and headed back to her room, putting on her blue rabbit pyjamas again. She popped open her laptop and searched the internet for something to watch – a big grin spread over her face when she found exactly the show they should watch together.

By the time Victoria had finished, the take out had arrived – the distinctive aroma of Thai wafted up from the packages, and Max busied herself digging out some cheap plates and cutlery she had never used from a box. She had just arranged everything in a neat circle when a knock on the door heralded the arrival of Victoria.

Max looked up and her breath momentarily caught in her throat – Victoria was dressed in red silk pyjamas, without makeup and her hair all mussed up from just towel drying it. To Max's eye she had never looked so beautiful; stripped away down to the bare essence of Victoria Chase. Victoria looked at her with an amused expression, until Max realised her mouth was wide open.

“Um.. hi, Vic. Got the food spread out.” Victoria glided gracefully over and sat down next to her.

“Being with you is making me really hungry, you know – I can't seem to stop eating,” Victoria said, “I'm going to lose my figure unless we keep doing all this exercise, or do something additional to make up the gap.” Max glanced at her, as if trying to work out what additional exercise she could possibly have in mind. Victoria focussed on serving up, the only betrayal being a slight pink tinge to her cheeks.

They both settled down to eat and watch what Max had selected – as the opening titles came up Victoria just gave Max a look, which said nothing and everything.



By episode 4 of Girls und Panzer, Max had eaten her fill and was happily resting her head on Victoria's shoulder. Victoria idly played with Max's fingers, entirely focused on the unfolding drama on the screen. Max felt content and relaxed, for the first time since this morning. Victoria seemed happy too, engrossed in watching whatever the hell was happening.

“I'm sorry,” Max said suddenly.

“Hmm?” said Victoria, eyes glued to the screen. “Ooh, they got the Stug.”

“I'm sorry for being so distant with you, after the diner. The thought of Kate dying again.. after everything.. I just couldn't let it happen. I couldn't.” Max clenched her fists, accidentally crushing Victoria's fingers, which had the benefit of dragging her gaze away from the screen. She looked down at Max, and shuffled herself down closer to her, draping her arm casually around her shoulders and squeezing her tight. Max closed her eyes and leaned into her more.

“I didn't want to fail again, you know? I'm so tired of failing, of redoing everything. I couldn't let her die again. I needed her to live, and I didn't want to risk anything more with you in case I.. in case I had to do it all over again. I can't keep giving away little pieces of myself over and over until there is nothing left.” Max buried her head into Victoria's shoulder. “I still am worried, I feel like such a mess all the time.”

“I understand, Max,” Victoria said. “But you told me why you did things about a million times, but thank you for apologising again but can you stop now – I'm trying to watch this.” Max looked up at her, annoyed, until she saw the slight grin on Victoria's face.

“You're such a bitch sometimes, you know?” she said with false anger.

“Hey, got to keep some part of the old me, don't I.” Max smiled to herself and snuggled down. After a few minutes Victoria herself broached a question.

“The dream you had the other night. Was that a nightmare over.. some of the things you've experienced?” asked Victoria quietly. Max slowly nodded her head, and Victoria could feel her tensing up a little, avoiding her eye.

“Max, – it's OK, you can tell me when you are ready to - I just want you to know I'm here for you. I don't think you are turning into a monster, though - you're far to much of a drippy hipster for that. I mean look at me today – causing a car accident to get rid of those fuckers. And you know what? It feels good that I did so. It's like I actually used my powers for a purpose, and a good one at that. Saving Kate. Being able to give her a second chance.” Max pressed her cheek into Victoria's chest, listening to the heart beat.

A second chance for Kate.

A new life for Victoria.

How many has it been for me?

How many more do I get?

How many more do I want?



The stayed together on the floor for a while longer, Max clutching at Victoria for comfort and stealing the occasional kiss.

“What do you think about what's going on?” asked Max suddenly. Victoria chewed her lip pensively.

“Well, the whole setup where they don't get hurt is a real hand-wave, and the plot is really predictable but I do like the team dynamics, and Darjeeling from the British team is hot -” Max playfully hit her.

“Yes, and she looks like you. But no, I mean.. what's going on with Nathan and.. everything.” Victoria sighed.

“Max, can we not talk about that now? I don't want to spoil my mood.”

“Sorry. But we need to do something about it tomorrow, once I have got some energy back. I want us to go to the Dark Room and see what's been happening.” Victoria looked at her with disquiet.

“Really? Why... from what you've said that place sounds fucking terrible. I'm not sure it's a good idea.. for you to go. Or me.” Max entwined her fingers with Victoria's, and pulled her hand onto her lap.

“I know.. but we need to look into this. I know it won't be pleasant but.. what choice do I – we – have? Why be able to do super things if we don't use it for good?”

“Well the choice to do something fun and relax, perhaps?” said Victoria, looking at her with a serious expression. “We need to have some fun, Max. I can't play superhero everyday.”

“OK,” Max agreed, “we can do something in the day that's fun and then go there. I know, you can chat to Dana for a start...” Victoria groaned.

“Oh my god Max, I said fun.. not having to deal with that..”

“Vic, you promised, remember?” Victoria snorted.

“Why couldn't you have rewound that, eh? Fine, let's go see her; but I want to do something else too. We've got the party on Saturday as well – I need to plan that, and get something to wear maybe..” She looked at Max with a critical eye, as if scheming. Max got a panicked look on her face and pushed her away.

“Oh no. Fuck no, you are so not taking me clothes shopping.” Victoria cackled and had an evil gleam in her eye.

“Oh yes I am. Let's go to Portland, there's fuck all around here, and get you some proper clothes rather than your dime store specials.”

“Hey I like my clothes, thank you very much. But first, we meet Dana for breakfast – and Kate too – and you make friends with them both. Properly.” Victoria held up her hands, mouth open in annoyance.

“No fucking way, Caulfield.”

“No deal then, Chase.”

“Hipster Trash!”

“Rich Bitch!”

“Gaylord!” Max looked at Victoria as if she was 12.

“Er.. who says that any more, and how does that work, exactly, as an insult.. given..” Victoria pouted.

“You literally ruin everything. Fine. But I reserve the right too-”

“No freezing heads either.” Victoria threw up her hands in mock surrender.

“Jesus, you are no fun at all, Caulfield.”

“It's why you like me, Chase.” Max grinned, and Victoria huffed and turned her head. Max ran her fingers up Victoria's arm and to her shoulder, then gently along her neck, making her squirm. Victoria turned her head to tell her to stop but was met by Max's mouth, which she gladly melted into.



Eventually Max felt she couldn't keep her eyes open much longer, and she knew she had to go to bed.

“Victoria, will you stay the night with me?” asked Max, her eyes pleading to not be left alone. Victoria blushed and looked undecided.

“I mean, Max, I'd love too, but we've only really been together practically no time at all really if you think about it, and it's not exactly been the best day today -” Max waved her hands frantically.

“No no no noooo, not like that, I mean I want to Vic with you, I really do, you're so fucking hot especially tonight and I've always thought so, I mean like before, and it's not like you don't do that for me because you do but I mean not like that tonight just kind of stay with me and be there without any pressure?” Victoria looked at her with a mixture of amusement and desire.

“You're babbling, Max. Don't worry, I trust you not to ravage me just yet.”

Nervously they both got into Max's small bed - an underlying, but welcome, tension between them that they both refused to acknowledge. They both lay there and faced each other in the dark, Max tentatively brushing some of Victoria's hair out of her eyes.

“You know,” she said quietly, “if you had told me three weeks ago that I would be lying here with you like this, with everything that has gone on.. and these.. these..”

“Feelings?” finished Victoria, with a slight smile. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” She put an arm under Max's waist, pulling her close. Max smiled and closed her eyes, sleep swiftly overtaking her.

“S'good feelings, though,” she murmured. Victoria's smile was wide as she lay on her back, Max's head on her chest, their arms around each other.

“Yeah, it is,” she said to the dark.

 

Blood swirled down the drain in the shower, but she could never seem to get it out of her hair. The sound of bones breaking, bodies falling around her. Her fists were streaked with blood. The smell of sweat, rancid in her nostrils. Screams tearing at her soul. Their faces, bloodied, fearful. They clawed at her, fingers cutting through her flesh, more blood flowing.

Why are you doing this to us?

You are a monster.

You can never forget.

We will always be here.

 

Max's eyes opened. It was still dark, and she could hear the soft breathing of Victoria next to her. Her head still lay against Victoria's chest, and she felt it rise and fall as she slept.

 

She lay there silently in the dark, clutching at the sleeping girl, waiting for the dawn to come.

Chapter Text

Morning sunlight streamed through the window and onto Victoria's face, causing her to wake up. She momentarily forgot where she was, confused by the unfamiliar morning light and ceiling; before the weight of Max's softly sleeping head reminded her. The memories of the night before came flooding back and she smiled happily to herself, looking down at the sleeping form of Max.

What had she said? 'If I had been told three weeks ago we would be doing this I wouldn't believe it'? I know exactly what she means, I never expected this beyond even my wildest imagination.

You saying you are happy, Ms Chase?

Yes, I think I am.

She lay there contentedly for a while, listening to Max's soft breathing which was interspersed with the occasional twitch and whimper.

She's dreaming again. She told me she gets bad dreams, but that is twice now we have slept over night together and she has had them both times.

We've slept over twice! Twice! OK the first time wasn't exactly planned, but this.. this was special.

Victoria was lying on the outside of the bed away from the wall, and she reached down with a free hand to the floor to grab her cell where she had discarded it the night before, carefully trying to not wake the sleeping form of Max. She saw that she had a whole host of messages and missed calls from yesterday.

I guess I did kinda go AWOL a bit. Time to reconnect with society, I guess.

First up was a few messages from Courtney, who was stuck at home with her family and seemingly hating every minute of it. Victoria left an answer to her for later – at present she didn't need anything from Courtney. Bit annoying she is not here, she could have run a few errands for me for this party.

Next was a series of messages on the Vortex Party group chat. Victoria had settled on the location of the party, a small lodge in the hills beyond Arcadia Bay. Renting it out at such short notice had not been an issue – with Nathan gone, Victoria had no qualms about using her family's considerable wealth to fund this party. She had previously been content in letting Nathan, whose family was more local to the area, undertake that role. The fact that the Chase's had, at a bare minimum, twenty times the wealth and power of the Prescott's was something Victoria had not let known to anyone. She had had enough issues with people only wanting to be with her for her family's wealth before, without it becoming an issue at a place she had actively chosen to be at.

Victoria fired off a few orders to people to get them organising food and drink for the night. There was enough space for them all to stay over if people chose to, and Victoria had made sure she had bagged a room for herself. She remembered what Max had said about inviting Warren and Brooke, and took a moment to think about it.

Do I want to invite them? This is supposed to be a Vortex only thing. But Max is coming, and she is not in the Vortex. If I just take her, that might raise more questions about why I am. I'm not sure I'm ready for this all to be known yet. Am I?

Although Victoria had very much come out to Max, she was still petrified what others would think. She did not have much confidence that her position at the top of the hierarchy would not be under threat – perhaps with an unknown challenger rising from the ranks. Who that would be she did not know – yet – but it preyed on her mind. Why her position should matter was something that did not occur to her.

So – I need some cover. Invite Warren – ugh, Brooke – maybe Kate for Max – that might assuage Dana too - then I guess Alyssa and Stella as well. Hmm. That should be enough, and they probably won't come anyway but then that's their problem. I can sell it as Blackwell spirit building after the tragic events.

Pleased with her cunning she sent several imperious messages out explaining the slight change in plans; overnight accommodation would still be sufficient although people might have to sleep in the lounge.

Depending if anyone bunks up together, of course.

Next on the list: Taylor. Taylor had blown up her phone as she increasingly had become worried about her.

11:00 am Sweet T: Vic where you at

11:01 am Sweet T: I'm bored, let's hang

11:10 am Sweet T: hello?

11:35 am Sweet T: Vic?

14:12 pm Sweet T: Logan is being a dick can you come sort him out like srsly

15:01 pm Sweet T: where are youuuuuu?

17:10 pm Sweet T: babe? I'm getting worried

21:30 pm Sweet T: ok you are not in your room where are you nooe has seen you

22:15 am Sweet T: i'm worried pls call xx

02:05 am Sweet T: I'm going to clal the police if I dont here form you by 12 pls let me no ur ok

06:10 am Sweet T: ?

Victoria smiled guiltily to herself. Luckily it had not occurred to Taylor to knock on the door opposite hers to check if she was in Max's room. Taylor was the closest thing Victoria had to a best friend in Blackwell, even more so than Nathan had been – especially of late with his erratic, and now criminal, behaviour. She was cleverer than she let on, hiding her brains behind the whole ditzy blonde act – hiding their true selves was something they unconsciously had in common. Victoria had even confided private things to Taylor and no-one else – but even then there had been limits, parts of her fenced off from the world that only Max had managed to discover. And for her part, she had been there when Taylor had needed her – late nights ferrying her to the hospital to see her ill mother just one of the things Victoria had not allowed to be public knowledge. She looked at the sleeping head of Max who was drooling slightly on Victoria's top and felt oddly safe.

She is making me feel better about myself. And I need to be better with myself, treat those close to me how they deserve to be treated. They do worry about me; well Taylor at least. And Courtney..

She paused to collect her thoughts about Courtney. Was she actually her friend, or did Victoria just use her for her own ends? Is this someone she still wanted to be - what would Max think if she found out? Victoria moved her hand gently up Max's back and across her shoulders, holding her close. Max whimpered a little and clutched at Victoria, her mouth moving as if she was talking in her sleep. Victoria gently rubbed her back and Max settled down again into a slumber, snoring slightly.

I'm worried about her. I must ask her what she dreams about, see if I can be of any help. Her thought of offering help made her make up her mind: she sent a message to Courtney asking how she was and hoping she was having a good time with her family.

The reply was immediate.

08:02 am Courtney: Hi victoria, thanks for asking. Things could better, missing you guys already. Have fun at the party tomorrow, let me know the goss!

Victoria smiled to herself – Courtney was always desperate for any gossip she could get. Finally she sent a message to Taylor apologising for not replying sooner and saying she was OK, and that there was no need to worry.

Her phone immediately starting to vibrate; Victoria saw that it was Taylor calling.

Shit. I'd better answer this or she'll come looking for me, and that could be even worse...

“Oh hey Taylor, sorry for missing all your messages.. and calls.. and not responding. No, I'm fine, I've just been busy that's all.” Victoria was trying her best to answer in as quiet a voice as possible so as not to wake Max.

“No, no, nothing serious at all, I just had to meet someone.. no, not Frank, god no. But how are you..? How was your day?” Victoria absent-mindedly stroked the back of Max's head, causing her to snuggle in closer to Victoria, still to all intents and purposes fast asleep.

“What? No, I’m not whispering,” she whispered. “Look I need to just jump in the shower and get ready, then I’ll come find you and we can chat, OK?” Max stirred beneath her, one eye cracking open.

“Whooshs thatsh?” she mumbled sleepily. Victoria cupped her hand around her phone and turned her head away.

“What? No, it was the radio.. yes, the radio. Of course I have one, I listen to it all the time..” Max was fully awake now, and had realised that Victoria was on the phone to someone. With an evil glint in her eye she snuck a hand underneath Victoria's top, gently caressing her stomach before slowly inching upwards. Victoria could feel the wandering fingers slowly creep ever upwards, inch by inch, and she shivered at the touch.

“No.. you.. must have just… not noticed.. ah.. it.. I’ll be.. ugh.. JESUS!” That last exhalation came as Max's fingers brushed up against her breast and causing her to leap out of the bed, Max cackling to herself.

“No, I.. just.. stubbed my toe. No, Taylor, nothing is going on, it’s all good.” Victoria gave Max a look, before continuing. “Let me get ready and I’ll call you back.” She hung up and then wagged a finger at an amused Max, who was observing her from the safety of the bed.

“I see you are feeling better now. Right, if you want me to have breakfast with your fan club then I want Taylor there too, to back me up. Besides, you need to make friends with my friends too.” Max shrugged.

“That’s fine. I like Taylor, she’s nice once you get past her public attempts at keeping up with you. Pretty hot, too.” Victoria looked at her, puzzled, whilst choosing to ignore the observation about how hot she was.

“When have you.. wait, different timelines? Fuck me, this is going to be a real head fuck, isn’t it.”

“Yup. You try being me and remembering what I am supposed to know and who I am supposed to be friends with.” Max stretched a little and then settled back contentedly. “I do feel more refreshed though. So what's the plan – we all schlep off somewhere to have breakfast?” Victoria shook her head.

“Slow down, Max. We can't just all meet up like that by chance, it won't work - plus we'd have to explain to everyone why we were suddenly.. you know.. doing stuff together. No, we need to come up with a plausible explanation..”

“I'm guessing us being lesbian superheroes connected via some cosmic force won't work?”

“Probably not, no. And about that.. I'm not sure I'm ready to.. you know.. let people know about it. Not yet. Please?” Victoria looked at Max pleadingly, and Max smiled gently back.

“Of course, Vic. Whenever you are ready, we do have all the time in the world. But.. I don't want to be standoffish with each other, either.”

“I know – and neither do I. We'll make it work somehow. Just for today let's see how it goes, then we can see clearer what to do.”

They eventually decided that the best course of action was for Max to invite Dana and Kate out for breakfast, and then for Victoria to arrange to meet them wherever it was with Taylor, allowing Max to prepare the ground in advance. Given Victoria's intention to invite Kate to the party on Saturday, it would also serve to pave the way to her possibly accepting that as well. With a lingering kiss Victoria dragged herself away, leaving Max to busy herself with getting ready so she could get her part of the plan in action.



Max knocked gently on Kate's door, glancing down the corridor to check if Dana was in – her door was open wide and she could hear some music playing. Kate opened the door and greeted Max with a wide smile – her room was brightly lit by the morning sunshine, and there appeared little trace of the darkness that had plagued her thoughts earlier in the week; but Max thought she could sense a little sadness behind her eyes.

Better. But not quite there.

Not yet.

“Hi Max, how are you this morning? It's good to see you,” said Kate cheerily. She wasn't dressed yet, still wearing her pyjamas and Max surmised she hadn't had breakfast.

“Hey Kate, its good to see you looking so happy. I was just thinking whether you wanted to come with me and get some breakfast? We could ask Dana too?” Kate visibly brightened at Max's words, and clasped her hand.

“That would be really nice, Max. Just let me get ready -”

“Actually Kate, can we go ask Dana together? There's something else I want to ask you both too.” Kate looked intrigued but didn't ask what, and followed Max down to Dana's room. Dana was sitting on her bed painting her toenails, intently scrutinising her handiwork to ensure that it was perfect. Max knocked politely on the door and she looked up with a smile when she saw her visitors.

“Max! Kate! My two favourite girls!” Kate blushed at the compliment, and Max briefly had a memory of another time flash through her mind which she swiftly suppressed, keeping her face as neutral as she could at the memory.

“Hi Dana – sorry to disturb you, but I was just asking Kate if she wanted to go out for breakfast and was wondering if you would like to come as well?” Dana sent a megawatt smile at them both.

“Of course, I would love too – I had nothing else to do this morning. Where shall we go?” Max held up her hand, indicating she had more to say. OK, here goes.

“The only thing is was that I was planning on inviting Victoria and Taylor too – don't say anything just yet Dana let me finish – as I think it's about time we all, well, basically grew up a little and stopped all this high school bullshit. Especially after the weeks we've all had.” Kate blanched at Max's words, and looked down at her feet.

“Besides,” Max continued, “you know Victoria is planning on inviting us all to the party tomorrow, so why not start now? And Kate – I know Victoria has apologised for what she did but I do think she wants to try and make things better. I do understand if you don't want her to come, though.” Kate gave Max a surprised look.

“Max, you seem to know an awful lot of what Victoria is planning and thinking of late,” remarked Dana, looking at Max shrewdly, “is there something you want to tell us?” Max had the decency to look vaguely embarrassed before replying.

“No, no, well - yes, I have been speaking to her a bit of late – she was upset over this whole Nathan thing and I, er.. helped her with a few things. She is genuinely trying to change, Dana – this Vortex evening thing is a first, small step for her. Plus I know she feels terrible for what she did to Kate.” Dana looked at her, unconvinced.

“I know you aren't telling me everything, Max – I know you well enough to see that and you always were a terrible liar. But whatever, it's up to Kate – if Kate is happy with it, then so am I.” Max looked at Kate, who seemed undecided at first before giving a small nod.

“Max, it's OK. I need to try and forgive her for what she has done, and I trust you in what you say. You are my best friend here, Max, and I know you would not say this if you didn't think it was true.” Max grabbed Kate's hands and smiled warmly at her, ignoring the nagging feeling that if Kate knew everything about what she had done in the past, she would not come within a million miles of her.

You hide things just as much as Victoria does, but what you hide is far, far worse.

“Thank you Kate, your words mean a lot to me. Are you sure you are happy with this, Dana?” Dana shrugged.

“I guess. But if Victoria says one thing out of place to Kate then it won't be pretty.”

“Understood, I'm sure she will be on best behaviour – but you have to meet her halfway too.” Even if I have to rewind a million times, you both will be on best behaviour. Dana didn't say anything but just looked at Max as if trying to read her thoughts, tapping her chin whilst she did so.

“Where shall we go?” asked Kate, “how about the Two Whales? I really fancy something stodgy this morning.” Max looked at her, her heart sinking.

Well..

Shit.



Max sat in the booth at the Two Whales, trying to control her breathing. She had spent the last hour getting increasingly anxious at the prospect of returning, something she had been avoiding for a while due to the confluence of memories that were bound about the place.

Dana and Kate sat there happily chatting away with each other, Dana occasionally bumping her shoulder against Kate's when she thought she had said something particularly witty. Max watched them with a small, sad smile on her face.

They are such good friends. You wouldn't think it would work, given them being polar opposites, but it does. And even in one reality it worked a little bit more. Now that was an interesting one – they were so happy together. For the time I let it last, at least.

How many other relationships have I broken because I couldn't let go?

What gives me the right to do this?

Max played with her glass, occasionally glancing out of the window, waiting for Victoria to arrive. The glass reflected the morning light, casting little flickers of sunlight across the table.

.. the flames flickered across the floor of the diner, and Max crawled underneath the shattered tables trying to reach the still figure of Warren. Her left leg dragged uselessly along; she wasn't sure if she would be able to stand if she had to. A shower of sparks from a broken light fitting briefly spattered across the floor, and she could feel the heat coming from the far end of the burning diner where she thought Joyce and Frank had been. Alyssa was gone, so was Stella – cut in half by some flying debris. Max bitterly regretted trying to get everyone to take shelter; the diner had been ripped apart by the storm, the interior turning into a charnel house. She managed to haul herself alongside Warren, and with her last strength tried to pull him free – but he came far too easily, his lower half missing. His head rolled loosely back, dead eyes staring accusingly at her...

“Max? Max? You OK? You sort of spaced out there..” Dana's concerned voice brought her back to the present, and she blinked momentarily – rather than the beautiful, alive girl in front of her, she saw the wrecked corpse from her memory. 23. When I still tried. I still cared.

“Sorry,” she muttered, “just lost a little in thought.” She shook her head, as if trying to free herself from her thoughts. “Have you all made up your minds what you are having?”

“I'm having the bacon omelette,” said Kate happily. She looked up at Dana, who was still looking across at Max. “What about you, Dana? Or should we wait until Victoria and Taylor get here?”

“Speak of the devil,” said Dana, pointing out of the window. Max could see the now familiar car pulling into the car park, and she couldn't help but feel her heart lift a little.

Here's hoping this goes well. High school drama seems to be a million times worse than time travel.



“You're still not telling me everything, V, are you?” Taylor looked at her friend with her eyes narrowed accusingly. “Just what exactly have you been up to? I know you were not just busy studying, or whatever you said this morning. I mean come on.” Victoria pretended to concentrate on the road ahead, ignoring Taylor's pointed questions. She did love her friend, but she was far to clever for her own good at times. Victoria knew that if she could tell anyone something – and trust it to be kept a secret if it really mattered – it was her, but she was still afraid of what Taylor might think, and of losing her as a friend, an ally. She had precious few of them as it was.

“I was.. out? Just you know.. photography stuff. All day. On my own. And the evening, too.”

“Uh-huh. Must have got some great shots then,” remarked Taylor. Victoria merely nodded, changing down a gear to overtake a car.

“..and given your equipment is still on the back seat, I guess you wouldn't mind if I just took a look through some of them now? Give you some feedback?” Victoria shot a quick glance at Taylor, who was looking at her with a grin on her face and a twinkle in her eye.

She knows I'm bullshitting her. Why can't I just think of a convincing explanation for once? Why is this so hard?

Because you want to change, and not lie any more about the things that are important to you.

Fuck it.

Victoria let out a deep sigh, before steeling herself to tell at least part of the truth.

“I was out with.. someone. OK? Is that enough? Can we drop it?”

“Not a chance, Victoria Chase!” Taylor crowed. “I knew it was someone. Come on, who is it? What's her name?”

“Her?” asked Victoria in confusion, “what makes you think it's a her..?” Taylor rolled her eyes.

“Oh please, V. You couldn't be more in the closet if you tried. I am your friend, remember, and I know a thing or to about this sort of stuff. I'm not adverse to a dabble on the other side, so to speak, myself. Have you never wondered what people think about the most eligible woman in the whole of Blackwell steadfastly remaining single and not even showing the merest interest in any guys?” Victoria opened her mouth as if to say something, then shut it, her mind whirring.

It can't be.. that obvious, can it?

“It's not.. like.. I mean.. I'm not.. you know..” Taylor laid her hand on her arm, noting that for once Victoria didn't flinch away from the touch.

“Honestly Victoria, most people don't give two shits nowadays whatever you choose to be. It's cool with me, and only a few Neanderthal shit heads have an issue with it around here, but fuck 'em.” Victoria didn't say anything, but permitted herself to send a brief smile Taylor's way. There was a comfortable moment of silence as Taylor let Victoria adjust her mind to the fact that she didn't need to be afraid of telling her who she was, before she started a new line of attack.

“So I'm thinking it has to be someone we both know, or you wouldn't mind mentioning a name. Has to be someone local, as you haven't left town of late; so the most likely subjects are people at Blackwell. I can rule out most of them – they are a straight as a ruler, and even you aren't pretty enough to change that.” Victoria rolled her eyes at her friend, her stomach feeling a little queasy as Taylor forensically narrowed the field down.

“No way Dana is interested and there is no way you are in her; Kate is out – although Courtney did tell me about how you chewed her out the other day about her.. Brooke? Nah, she is obsessed with Warren..” Taylor's eyes widened as the list of possible subjects narrowed.

“Wait a fucking minute.. I know who it is..”

“Who?” asked Victoria with a small voice, suddenly fascinated by the rear numberplate of the car ahead.

“Max. Explains everything. Your teasing of her – how high school cliché V, very disappointing – breakfast today and the fact that you have your rack out - don't think I didn't notice, you never do that - invites to the party at the weekend.. I'm right, aren't I?” Victoria suddenly looked very miserable, and gripped the steering wheel. She gave a barley imperceptible nod, and looked as if the world was about to end. Taylor sat back in her seat, satisfied with her work.

“Good choice,” was all she said. Victoria looked at her in surprise – she had been expected to be, at the minimum, soundly mocked by Taylor – or much worse.

“Is that it?” she asked quietly. Taylor looked at her with surprise and then smiled.

“What else were you expecting? You are my friend, V, and I think Max could be good for you. Help smooth out some of those rough edges. I like her. Sure, she can be a complete geek with no fashion sense whatsoever, and she really needs a haircut; but her heart is sound.” Victoria smiled gratefully at Taylor's words, her heart beating ten to the dozen with relief.

“Taylor, you're such a good friend I don't fucking deserve you. You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say this.” Taylor leaned over and carefully gave her a hug, doing her best not to make them crash.

“Hey, it's what friends are for. Now, spill the beans you – I want to hear everything.”

It took the rest of the journey for Victoria to give a (very heavily edited) summary of events so far, which by the time they arrived at the Two Whales had Taylor squealing with delight.

“Oh my god, this is just going to be the best, like, for everyone. I'm so fucking happy for you. Now don't you go messing this up, Victoria Chase. Any issues or doubts you come straight to me, you hear?”

“Thanks T. Oh, and if you tell anyone I will personally ram my cell so far up your ass you'll have to pull it out of your mouth, you get me?” Victoria tried to look menacing but couldn't hold it together, and they both dissolved into giggles.

Feeling a whole lot happier with life Victoria parked up by the diner, noting a few long distance trucks parked nearby and the light blue Ford Expedition belonging to Dana. They both got out of their car and made there way to the diner, Victoria feeling slightly nervous despite the reassuring presence of Taylor.

Suddenly Max was there, holding her by her arms, the world still; looking very, very pissed off and with what Victoria thought was a small smear of dried blood under her nose.

“Listen to me, Victoria Chase,” Max growled before she could react, “I am extremely fucking tired of trying to make this meeting work. I can not just keep going back to make this thing fucking happen in the right way, so this is your last chance, OK?” Victoria looked at her, mouth agape as she struggled to find any words to reply.

“I.. sorry.. I don't know...” she stuttered.

“Things you will not do,” Max said, cutting across her. “Use the words whore, bitch, slut, cock tease or frigid religious cuntbag. You will not use your powers just so I am forced to rewind. You will also not throw any food, including any milkshakes or other drinks you have to hand. And for fuck's sake, Victoria, try not to rise to every single fucking bit of bait that is thrown your way. I don't know what history there is between you and Dana but it fucking ends today, you understand me? Or you're on your own.”

Victoria just stood there in stunned silence, her mind trying to process everything she was being instructed not to do but being over ruled by the terrifying presence of Max in full anger. Max sighed and touched her forehead against Victoria's chin, the tension dropping from her body.

“Look – just try, for me, please? I know you can do it. You said I had to trust you, now it is your turn to trust me. I know you think and have been told all your life by your fucking parents – who I am really, really pissed at by the way, which will make Christmas a barrel of laughs - that you have to uphold an image, be 'the Victoria Chase' – but you really don't. When people see the real you – that girl who likes sitting in her pyjamas watching Japanese trash on the TV whilst pigging out on takeaways and snuggling up to me; or the girl who put her own life on the line to save Kate in an attempt to try and make things better - then you will command even more respect and power than you do by being like, like this. You just don't need to attack everyone all the time. Not then, not now, not ever. You're special in so many ways, and special to me.” Victoria gazed deep into Max's blue eyes, seeing nothing but the desire for things to get better for her – and for them. Max's words seem to bury themselves deep down inside of her, making her feel like she could do better; that she should do better.

“OK, Max. I will try.. just don't rewind any more, please? You already look exhausted. How many times has it been so far?”

“About 45.” Victoria suppressed a laugh and ended up snorting instead, making Max smile a little.

“Really? That's.. quite impressive. Or obsessive. Also.. are you looking down my top?”

“Maybe; consider it payment for you trying my patience so much.” Max bent her head upwards, letting her lips softly touch Victoria's, who responded willingly.

“Thanks, Max, for the warning,” she breathed, “I will try to do better. For you.”

“I know you will,” said Max. “And.. I didn't really mean that you would be on your own, I'm just really pissed right now. At both of you.” Victoria gave her a squeeze, then looked at her.

“Milkshakes? Really?” Max rolled her eyes.

“Yes. And just so you know for future reference, Dana has one hell of a left hook.”



Victoria hesitated at the door of the diner, until Taylor barged past her and strode in. Well that solves that little bit of indecision.

Since when did I became indecisive?

Since you realised you were not alone any more. Not alone in having a power, and not alone in.. other ways.

Taylor's head reappeared from around the door.

“Victoria, you coming? I want to go perv at your girlfriend.”

“God dammit Taylor, she's not my -” Taylor disappeared with a wicked grin, and Victoria groaned, thinking how to try and limit any damage. Shit, I should have prewarned Max that Taylor knows. Oh well. Maybe she already knows from the future.. past.. reality.. thing. OK, so be nice.. no bitchiness.. but what if...? Her mind wandered back to what she had watched the other night and she had a flash of inspiration. She adjusted her top just so using her reflection in the door and smiled to herself.

Show time.



Victoria entered the diner like Darjeeling commanding St Gloriana's finest: imperious, calm, resolved, perfect, powerful and dominating. And not spilling a single drop of tea.

She spotted the girls seated at the far end of the diner and swept down the aisle, holding herself up to her full height, posture perfect, deliberately swinging her hips and ignoring the looks she received from the truckers as she swept past them in her glory. Max saw her coming and bit her lip, eyes travelling up and down as she bore down on them. Kate turned her head to gaze; whatever she was thinking Victoria didn't know, but she swore she noticed a slight pinkish tinge to her cheeks as Kate looked at her with wide eyes.

Be nice, Max said. Well I can try and do that – she didn't say anything about not being absolutely fucking gorgeous.

She pulled up besides the table, heels clicking against the tiled floor with an audible clank. She leaned over the table and looked at the assembled girls; Taylor standing in echelon with a look on her face that was mixture between desire and awe, and gave them all a full-beam smile with her perfectly proportioned red lips

“Good morning, girls,” she purred with a voice that made funny things happen to Max's stomach, “it's nice to be here this morning to have breakfast with you all.” She acknowledged each of them in turn with a look that seemed to undress each of them in turn; Kate blushed and looked at the table, Dana's mouth was half open as she stared at the apparition that was suddenly in front of her practically oozing sensuality all over the place; only Max held her gaze, returning one which was fierce in its intensity of desire.

“Max do you mind budging up so me and Taylor could sit down?” Max scooted over to make space for them.

“Jesus Christ Victoria, you are going to turn me fully gay at this rate,” Taylor whispered as she sat down, “and I think Kate is experiencing the second coming.” Victoria subtlety elbowed her in the ribs as she rested her chin in her hand, looking at Kate and Dana with unsubtle curiosity.

“So, how are you both? Thank you for inviting me here Kate, it was very nice of you.”

“I er.. I didn't. Er.. I mean..” Kate stammered, blushing to her roots.

“Dana. You look stunning as always.”

“Um, thanks, Victoria. You look.. good.. too,” Dana said, clearly caught off guard by this unusual behaviour from Victoria.

“Great,” said Victoria. “I'm starving - what are we all having?”



Halfway through the meal the conversation was flowing surprisingly easily. Dana still cast a few mistrustful glances Victoria's way, but the sight of Max and Victoria seemingly getting on well, along with Victoria's obviously gentle handling of Kate, seemed to assuage her fears that this was an elaborate trap to make Kate suffer. Taylor chipped in too, playing her part in ensuring that things ran smoothly. Max largely kept quiet, but Dana couldn't help but notice the occasional glance between Victoria and Max, along with accidental bumping of elbows and hands caused by them sitting just a little bit too close.

“So Max,” said Taylor, “how are things with you? Anything interesting happen to you of late?” Max chewed on her waffles - which whilst not as good as Joyce used to make them, were still pretty damn good – and gazed at Taylor suspiciously.

“Things are.. fine, thank you,” she said guardedly. “Nothing really out of the ordinary, apart from, you know.. the thing.. which happened earlier this week.” Max's words cast a sombre tone over the meal, which she immediately regretted. “But let's not talk about that, let's look to the future instead,” she quickly followed up.

“Do you know when the funeral is?” asked Kate quietly. “I'd like to go and pay some respects to the poor girl and her family. Joyce always treated me well here, it's the least I can do.”

“I'll come with you,” chimed in Dana, “I knew Chloe as well, when she used to come to Blackwell and hang out with Rachel.” Max smiled appreciatively at them both.

“Thank you, I think it's the Tuesday. I'll have to check with Joyce, but I'm sure it's no problem. They would be happy for people to attend.”

“I'd like to come too,” said Victoria to Max quietly, “you shouldn't have to face that alone.” She squeezed her hand underneath the table, and Max looked at her appreciatively. Dana looked at them, then caught Taylor's eye who winked at her conspiratorially. Dana raised her eyebrows, to which Taylor gave a quick nod. Dana looked slightly shocked, but Taylor gave her a small grin and a thumbs up. Dana looked doubtful but then gave her a quick nod in return.

Kate, who remained completely oblivious to the urgent communications across the table, looked at Victoria with a strange expression on her face.

“That's very kind of you, Victoria, to support Max like that. And.. thank you for.. for trying to make amends for.. well..”

“Being a complete bitch to everyone?” said Victoria brusquely. Dana raised her eyebrows and Taylor laughed at Kate's shocked expression. Victoria waved her hand irritably at Taylor. “It's true, and there's no excuse. But someone has shown me that it doesn't have to be like that. And so I am trying.” She drew a breath, and looked at Kate. “I meant it when I said I was sorry for how I behaved towards you, and there was no excuse. I want to try and make it up to you. To everyone. So that is why I have arranged for a little get together – nothing big, just a few of us from Blackwell – a mix across both groups, if you will – tomorrow. A chance for us to all to get to know each other better, make this a better place for everyone before the term starts again. And I would be honoured if you would attend, Kate.”

Kate's face was a perfect picture of shock and wonderment, as if she could not believe the words that were coming out of Victoria's mouth. She cast a quick look at Max who was studiously focused on drinking her milkshake, pretending not to notice what was going on.

“Victoria, I don't know what to say..” she said, “it's very nice of you, but..” Max stirred and looked up at her.

“I'll be going, Kate, Victoria did ask me as well. We are also inviting Warren, Brooke, Stella and Alyssa, if they'll come, so it should be a nice night.” Dana raised her eyebrows at the use of 'we', and leaned forward a little, as if unconsciously protecting Kate.

“I'll be going too Kate, so you will be surrounded by friends and I'll be there to make sure nothing happens that you don't want to.” She turned her gaze on Victoria, as if appraising the girl in front of her. “Victoria, you said someone had shown you something. Who was that, just out of interest?” Victoria went bright red and stammered an answer.

“Oh.. just.. just a friend. You don't know them. At all. So don't ask.” Dana looked at Max who appeared to find the car park suddenly very fascinating indeed.

“It's good to know you are going as well, Max. And that you are here too, to support her and help her along her journey to a better place.” Max looked at her in a mild panic.

“You mean Kate?”

“Of course, who else would I be on about?” Dana said sweetly, conscious of Taylor grinning like a Cheshire cat opposite her.

“Well,” said Taylor, “I for one can't wait to meet this person who seems to be bringing out the best in Victoria here. I bet she really is someone sweet, ever so cute and kind-hearted. Is that true, V?” Victoria remained tight lipped and just focused on the remainder of her breakfast.

“So Kate, it would be lovely for you to come as well,” said Max, riding to Victoria's rescue. Kate looked at Max and then at Dana, who smiled encouragingly and placed her hand on top of Kate's. Kate stared at it for a moment, as if lost for words, and then looked at the surrounding group and put on a brave smile.

“OK,” she said, “I'll come.”



The rest of the meal passed without serious incident; Dana seemed to pay Kate more attention than anyone else, but still sent occasional glances at Max and Victoria, who seemed to be in their own little world. Taylor looked on benevolently, pleased at this change in her friend – that everyone was slowly starting to see the person she knew existed deep down. She was also becoming aware of Kate becoming increasingly flustered at Dana's attention, something she put to the back of her mind for further analysis.

It's like the whole of Blackwell is one giant Pride party. Why Victoria is so afraid of people knowing about her is beyond me, but I need to support her – as Max seems to be doing too, in a different way.

All in all, in Taylor's estimation, things were looking up for the year ahead if things continued on their present course. Still, I wouldn't want to get on Victoria's wrong side, even with her being more comfortable with herself.

The group left the diner together feeling comfortably full and pleasantly surprised at how well it had all gone, all things considering. To Dana at least it had seemed beforehand that the whole thing was going to be a complete disaster.

It's almost like there has been some divine intervention. Maybe Kate's prayers do work, she thought, looking aside at the girl happily chatting away with Max as they walked over towards the cars. Dana had been feeling strange things at the thought of Kate of late; thoughts she didn't want to entertain at this point in time given the current complications she had with Logan and Trevor. It wasn't that she was adverse to dating girls, it just had never happened before – she'd never found someone she was attracted to. She wasn't exactly attracted to Kate either, but she found herself drawn to the earnestness and gentle nature of her charachter.

Besides, it's not like Kate is even..

Such thoughts were rudely interrupted as she realised someone had asked her a question.

“Sorry? I was miles away..” Taylor had dropped back next to her and was looking at her with a knowing smile.

“I said, can you give me a lift back to Blackwell?”

“Sure – but I thought you came here with Victoria?”

“I did,” said Taylor with a sly grin, “but my seat has been taken by a certain someone. Apparently there's a clothes shopping trip to Portland on the cards..” Dana looked at Taylor, then ahead at the other girls, her brow furrowed. She thought for a moment before replying.

“They've got it bad, haven't they.”

“Yes, and it's delicious, isn't it?” Dana shook her head and laughed.

“I don't know about that - the whole world is going crazy. Of course I'll give you a lift, hop in.”



“Well, I thought that went rather well in the end,” said Victoria, eyes watching the departing car. Max slapped her hand against her forehead.

“Honestly, give me fighting bad guys anytime of the week. That was like torture.” They both looked at each other and dissolved into giggles. Max reached out and cupped Victoria's chin, her thumb pressing against her lips. Victoria gently bit it, her green eyes looking at Max with happiness. She leaned over and kissed her slowly, enjoying the sensation as Max brought her other hand up to frame her face. Eventually they broke apart, smiling at each other.

“So – Portland?” asked Victoria, starting the car.

“Portland. And then.. “

“And then?” Max sighed, dreading the task ahead.

“The Dark Room.”

Chapter Text

“So, I've been doing some googling on this whole thing..”

“Mmm?” said Max distractedly, gazing out of the window at the passing trees. She was still mildly miffed Victoria hadn't let her drive – or breaking the damn gearbox as well or god know's what else, as Victoria had put it – but it was quite a pleasant experience being driven along like this. They had maybe a half hour to go before they hit Portland proper, and Max was just enjoying looking at the passing scenery.

“So the thing is,” said Victoria, “I didn't really know that much about it, but after doing some research on wiki and what have you, there's no way it's realistic. The speeds are too fast, some of the things they can do is blatantly made up – but they do seem to have a real eye for detail in some areas.” Max's brain was slowly catching up with her ears, and she turned to look at Victoria.

“What on earth are you on about?”

“The show we watched. I mean it's surprising just how realistic some of it is, but they do seem to take liberties with like the gun on the Panzer Four, for example -” Max tried to hide a grin and failed miserably.

“Oh my god, Victoria. You're such a dork!” Victoria went red.

“Hey – fuck you, Caulfield, I was just.. doing it.. to make you happy.. I didn't.. don't.. like that. Sort of thing.” Victoria cringed at hearing her own words.

“You're such a weeb,” laughed Max, “I'm so going to buy you a model tank now. Maybe Warren can help me find one for you. Oooh, maybe you could go shopping together. Wait, I'll call him now..” Max pretended to fumble in her pocket for her cell.

“It's a long way to walk back you hipster piece of trash. If I even see that thing in your hands..” Max pulled it out.

“Dear Warren..” she began, in a falsetto voice.

“Fuck you, lamefield.” Max waggled her eyebrows mischievously.

“Maybe later, Chase. Now, where was I. Oh yes - Dear sexy Warren..” Victoria started to make gagging noises, and Max burst into giggles.

“Seriously, it's really cute, Vic. Thank you for sharing that with me. You know, you should be more confident in just saying what you really think. I mean for good things, you already say what you think about people you hate.” Victoria drummed her fingers on the steering wheel.

“Actually, there is one thing I wanted to tell you..” Max's phone dinged, interrupting her, and Max read the message with a slight look of puzzlement.

“Why is Dana checking that I am actually still me and not some weird replacement doppelgänger who is being mind controlled?” Max looked at Victoria, who was again going a slight shade of pink. “What did you tell her, exactly?”

“Me? Nothing! Not spoken to her. But, um, ah, Taylor might have. She knows about.. well, us.” Max raised her eyebrows.

“Oh? That happened quickly. I haven't breathed a word to anyone.” Victoria groaned.

“Yeah. She isn't as stupid as she likes to make out. She guessed, and I couldn't exactly lie to her given the circumstances, and the fact she is pretty much my only real friend. I guess her and Dana have been gossiping.”

“I assume she was perfectly fine with it all.” Victoria puffed out her cheeks at the memory of the conversation.

“Yeah, she was. Actually, she was really supportive. She thinks you'll be good for me..” Max grinned.

“She has taste, I'll give her that. You should have more faith in your friends, Vic, they are there to support you, you know. Well, the real ones at any rate.”

“I know, but.. you don't understand what it's like to be, well, me. I have so much to keep going, so much to uphold..” Max gently laid her hand on her arm.

“You'll be fine at Blackwell, at least. An island for you to be what you want to be – no-one cares about whether you are gay or not; there are more of us than you realise.” Vic looked sideways at her curiosity peaked,

“Oh?” Max laughed.

“You're just as bad a gossip as everyone else. Taylor is bi, I can tell you that for certain. Dana too, although I'm not sure if she realises it in this, erm, timeline. And of course there is..” She trailed off, suddenly uncertain.

“There is....?” prompted Victoria. Max sighed.

“Kate. She's gay, but is struggling with it big time, what with her religion and all, and that family of hers. The whole abstinence thing I think was a way of her denying it to herself.” Victoria suddenly went pale, looking upset.

“And.. I bullied her for it, teased her when, when I was just such a miserable coward myself over it. Fucking hell, Max, I'm such a piece of shit, aren't I.” Max nodded slowly.

“Then? Yes, you were. Emphasis on were though. But I expect you to be making it up to her, Victoria. You do have more in common than you think.” Victoria didn't say anything and just stared ahead at the road. The mood had become slightly uncomfortable, and Max attempted to lighten it a little.

“I note that you told me about your Darjeeling fetish before, oh I don't know, the fact that you are no longer in the closet with your friends. You are a real nerd, Vic.” Max thought she saw a slight smile appear on Victoria's face, and she leaned over so her mouth was close to her ear.

“One of us...” she whispered in her ear.



By the time Max had cleared all the ice off her, the seat and the roof of the car they were approaching their destination – Pioneer Place, four city blocks of shopping hell for Max to endure. Victoria parked up in one of the nearby car parks, deliberately taking up two spaces to stop her car being scratched – something which annoyed Max no end, but which Victoria refused to budge about. That was a future battle Max could see reoccurring, and she made a note to come with more ammunition the next time.

Max thought that a change seemed to have come over Victoria - she surveyed the store list and the levels of the centre with an imperious eye, mentally calculating an itinerary and plan of attack on the place.

“Right Max, as you are coming to this party tomorrow night I want you to actually look like you haven't been raiding bins for your clothes.” She stepped back, scanning her critically from head to toe, calculating what she thought was needed. Satisfied, she ticked off a list of stores with names Max had never heard of that they were due to visit, before grabbing her arm and whisking her off.

“The first thing you need is a decent evening outfit – nothing too sophisticated, as it is just a party – we can sort that sort of outfit out at another time,” she said, Max struggling to keep up with her brisk stride. How the hell does she move so fast on those heels? Max wondered. More to the point, how the hell does she even drive in them? Another mystery to solve.

“Max, pay attention please. We are also going to get you some decent nightwear - I'm not having you showing me up in the morning by appearing in rabbit pyjamas. You're eighteen, not eight.”

“You suck, Victoria,” bristled Max, “I love those. I've had them since I was like fourteen -”

“Exactly.” Max sunk her head moodily into her shoulders, feeling very much like a teenager being dragged around by their mom.



The first store was called Scotch and Soda, which Max suddenly decided she needed a lot of. A sales assistant appeared out of nowhere wearing what Max thought was quite trendy clothing and politely enquired if she could be of help. Victoria scanned the store, analysing the available collection, and sighed.

“I guess we'll just have to make do with what's here.” She pointed a finger at the bemused assistant, looking her up and down and wrinkling her nose in disapproval. “You can stay there, I'll summon you if you are needed.” She strode off into the interior, Max bobbing along in her wake. She gave the assistant an apologetic half smile as the Dreadnought Chase ploughed its way through the store, head swivelling from side to side as it assessed the clothing racks for potential targets.

Suddenly she saw what she wanted and steamed in, dragging a collection of casual shirts off the racks. They were a mixture of colours, and after a bit of consideration she thrust out a cream one for Max to try on.

“Here,” she said imperiously, “try this one on. I'm going to try and find some decent pants to go with it. You there, come here.” The assistant scurried over, looking slightly scared of the tall blonde woman commandeering her store. Max wandered over to the fitting rooms to try the outfit on, trying to work out how she had ended up doing this of all things.

I mean, what's wrong with the clothes I have? OK, I have technically been wearing the same ones for years, but they are new every time I do put them on. I'm comfortable with them, they are.. familiar. Like family.

More change.

Max put the shirt on and looked at herself in the mirror. To her surprise it fitted her well; she felt like she looked more grown up, and well, sophisticated. The material between her fingers felt like it was like liquid, and it clung to her small frame. She struck a pose, hand on her hip.

“Oh no, I am here all alone, Madame Bouvier. Why yes, I would love to come to your Château, Madame.”

“Max? Who are you talking too?” Max went bright red, her instinct to rewind flaring up strong.

“No-one,” she stammered. “I'll be out in a second.” A hand appeared from behind the curtain, thrusting through a pair of black jeans.

“And these, too.” Max shrugged and slipped into them, noticing how the skinny cut seemed to hug just all the right places.

How did Victoria know these would fit me? Wait, just how long has she been staring at me?

She stepped out of the room and did a twirl for Victoria.

“How do I look?” Victoria eyes flared slightly, her cheeks a little flushed, but she hid it well and looked aside.

“It'll do for now, Max. It's better than your usual hobo look, isn't it.” Max did another twirl, liking the movement of the cloth against her.

I've never had clothes that fit this well, or feel this nice. She read the label on the side of the shirt, and her eyes widened.

“Vic, it's like $300?! For a shirt!” Victoria sighed in disappointment.

“Yeah, I know, sorry. It is what it is, we just have to work with what we've got.” Victoria puckered her lip, looking at Max. “It's an improvement, but it is kind of difficult without getting something purposefully made, I guess..” She trailed off in thought.

“No, I mean it's like three hundred fucking dollars! For a shirt! That's insane!” Victoria looked at her, puzzled.

“Why? How else are you supposed to get something good?” Max looked at her as if she was from another planet, which given the way she was casually throwing prices around she might as well have been.

“That's like.. my food budget for two months! And you'd spend it on a shirt for just one evening.. I just can't.. wait, how much are these jeans.. $285?! Are you crazy? I can't afford..”

“What? Oh. No, you dummy, I am getting this for you.” Max shook her head, and reluctantly started to pull her arm through the sleeve.

“No, I can't let you.. this is too much..” Victoria clicked her tongue impatiently.

“Max, stop being ridiculous. This is my treat for you, let me at least spend my money how I want to. And I want to do this – besides, I am dragging you to a party of my own making, and I want you to look good.”

“Look good? Who for? Me, or you.. or your image?” Victoria rolled her eyes in annoyance and stepped up to Max, catching her arms. She pulled her close, wrapping her arms around her, hands moving up through her hair whilst she stared into her blue eyes.

“Me,” she whispered softly into her ear, before drawing slowly away. Max felt her heart pounding in her chest, overcome with a desire to do all sorts of things to Victoria right here and now on the store floor, thoughts interrupted by a gentle cough.

“Uh, Ms, I have found the shoes you were asking about, I'm afraid we only have them in black -” Victoria whipped around, staring at the assistant as if she was about to give her a full broadside, until she felt some fingers slowly entwining with her own. The fire seemed to dampen down, and she found herself slightly smiling her thanks.

What the fuck is this girl doing to me?



Despite herself Max enjoyed the next few hours, even though she was being dragged from store to store which, to her eye, all looked the same. Victoria seemed in her element, and it was obvious to Max that she deeply cared about fashion and was using this to work out how to get the best for Max – the thought of which caused a warm feeling inside of her. Max felt completely lost as Victoria discussed names she had never heard of at prices she didn't even want to know about with various identical women, until she began to feel exhausted.

During a particular animated discussion about shoes Max suddenly sat down on the floor; her feet ached and she frankly had had enough. Victoria was by her side immediately, face radiating concern.

“Max, are you OK? Let me see – no nosebleeds? What's happened? Talk to me.” Max laughed guiltily.

“Sorry, no – nothing like that. I'm just not used to doing this for this long. My feet hurt,” she ended lamely.

“Oh, I'm sorry Max; I got so carried away I didn't think. I think we have enough now, let me get one of these people to pack everything and sent on to us. Then we'll get some lunch.”

Max took off her sneakers and rubbed her feet, ignoring the odd glances she got from one of the other patrons of the store. Victoria appeared from nowhere and held out her hand, pulling to her feet.

“So, what do you fancy? There's plenty of choice, although I am thinking of some form of salad. I'm not that hungry today.”

“That's because you stuffed your face at breakfast, Vic. Sounds good, I could do with a salmon and avocado salad myself, I think.”



Victoria was halfway through her salad when her cell beeped. She frowned slightly when she saw it was an email from her family's personal law firm; they rarely contacted her unless it was something her parents deemed important. She opened it and read the contents, her face becoming increasingly angry. Max watched as a storm of emotions played across her face, Victoria's eyes becoming as hard as diamonds. Her fingers trembled as she dialled a number and waited for it to answer; Max could feel the temperature dropping around her.

Oh no.

“Hello, mother dear,” Victoria spat down the cell, “you didn't think to call me, but rather use the lawyers? It would have been the bare minimum of nice of you to check if I'm.. Monaco? No, I'm sure that's lovely. No, I don't need anything. No. Look, I just.. No! Yes... Yes... No, of course not. Look, Mother, please listen.. no, but.. OK. Yes. But when..? Yes. Goodbye.” Victoria stared at her cell, gripping it tightly. Max could see the haze appearing around it before it suddenly shattered into pieces.

“Oh fuck it,” Victoria said, putting her head in her hands, shoulders shaking slightly. Max quickly got up from her seat and went around to her, putting her arms around her shoulders and holding her tight.

“Hey, shh, none of that. Don't let it get to you..” Victoria looked up at her, her eyes glistening.

“It's.. they.. just don't care..” she whispered, “I mean, they must, somewhere, but..” Max just held her for awhile until she appeared to stop shaking, just letting out a few sniffles. Victoria sadly poked the fragments of her cell with a finger.

“I always seem to end up doing this when I speak to them. Luckily we can get a new one here..” Max gave her a quick squeeze.

“No need for that, hold on..”

Max carefully rewound until just after her call to her mother, thinking she had no right to take away those actions unless Victoria asked her too. As time flowed once more Victoria marvelled at the unbroken cell in her hands.

“It's like magic, isn't it. But then, I guess, so is this.” She closed her hand and concentrated – Max could feel the tension in her body as she channelled her power, trying to focus and control it. After a moment she opened her hand, and showed Max. In the palm of her hand was a lump of ice which had the vague outline of a heart.

“It's for you,” she said, embarrassed, “it's not very good I know but I am working on it. Practising, trying to -” Her words were cut off by Max's lips pressing up against hers.

Max withdrew quicker than Victoria wanted, Max letting her fingers trace her jawline before sitting back in her seat. They looked at each other for a time, smiling shyly, fingers entangling on the table top.

“So, said Max finally, “what have they done now?” Victoria handed Max her cell.

“Ugh. Read this.” On the screen was an email addressed to Victoria.

Dear Ms Chase, Max read, We trust that this letter finds you in good health. Matthew and Veronica Chase send their greetings and heartfelt relief that you are reported safe, and are happy with the knowledge that you have not been involved in the recent events at Blackwell Academy. However, they do express concern that such an environment is not safe for someone of your importance to the Chase Family. Therefore they have requested that Strange-Brown-Voickov have a meeting with Principal Wells at 9:00a.m the 14th October 2013, to discuss security arrangements at Blackwell Academy. This has already been arranged with the Principal, and Mr Bartholemew Strange will be attending from this office. Your parents expect you to attend as a representative of the Chase Family at that meeting. Mr Chase has made it clear that given the recent occurrences he sees no alternative except to immediately take over the security of Blackwell Academy to ensure a safe environment for his daughter and her continued attendance. He expects that you will find this arrangement agreeable. Kind regards, Simon Brown Esq, Strange-Brown-Voickov Attorneys at Law.

Max looked up at Victoria, slightly uncomfortable at this insight into Victoria's family personal life.

“Wowsa, that's.. that's a little cold isn't it?”

“To put it mildly, yes. It's always been like that though. Never any time for me, always on business. Always expecting me to be involved with it though, to uphold what they see as important. Not what I think is important.”

“Still though, with all the personal lawyers and money and everything. Why have you come to Blackwell? You could be anywhere you wanted; like literally anywhere.”

“Because I chose it Max, and I wanted to be something for myself. Make my own way. Not just be part of the Chase family, living off that.” She fell silent again, leaning back in her seat with her arms folded.

“You've never really told me about your family – I mean you don't have to if you don't want to, but from what I can see you don't seem to be particularly enamoured with them.”

“Understatement of the year there,” interrupted Victoria. Max smiled, but gestured for her to continue. Victoria sighed.

“Fine. Short history, which I always had drummed into me – cos you know, it's important. My great-great whatever came over from France in the War of Independence – Philippe de Chasseur, his name was, a military adviser. He decided to stay after it was over - he had become enamoured with the spirit of the place apparently – although allegedly he had got someone knocked up, which was another story I heard. Anyway, over time through the connections he had made he built up a successful business – mainly in munitions, that sort of thing. Since then we've branched out into defence, security, bio-chemcials – you name it, there's a Chase finger in the pie.” She made a face. “We weren't exactly above playing for both sides for profit either, let's not even touch on World War Two. Around 1850 we made the name less, well foreign, and here we are. And here I am, last of the line.” She laughed bitterly. “What a disappointment I must be – not even being a man to carry the name further. Fuck knows what they are going to make of, well, you. And that's to say nothing of me just wanting to be a photographer, rather than taking over the whole fucking shitty enterprise.” She picked up a glass of orange juice and saluted Max. “Welcome to the fucking family.” Max returned the salute, a wry smile on her face.

“But what about the gallery?” asked Max. “The Chase Space in Seattle. That doesn't seem to fit with what you are describing.”

“My parents – well, Chase Industries to be exact – bought it as a place to try and appease me. Don't get me wrong, it's a successful venture - everything we do is – but its main purpose was to keep me happy. A place to show my work, my hobby, before taking up the reins under the fun tutelage of my Father and the Board.” Max looked at her, eyes wide.

“Your parents bought you a fucking gallery just to show your work off? Are you cereal?” Victoria couldn't help but snort at Max's language.

“Cereal? Jesus, where did that come from. But yes, they did. And that's the problem, Max, don't you see? Just.. buying me things. Thinking that is what I need. What's the point of having my own gallery to put stuff in? Where's the challenge, the.. acceptance for what I can do?”

“And that's why you wanted to come to Blackwell.. why you live in the dorm too..” said Max softly, as if understanding a little more.

“Yeah.. trying to make my own way, you know? Don't get me wrong – I am well aware that even this is an indulgence, as if I fuck up – so what? It's not like I'm destitute. The latest buy out attempt – I'm now equal one third shareholder with my parents after turning 18 – was valued at $326.4 billion. That would be on top of the stupid personal wealth we already have. It's not like I'm going to have to work in Walmart if it fails.”

“Nothing wrong with working in Walmart,” said Max drily. “So now they want to take over security at Blackwell? You know, that might not be the worst thing in the world. At least you would be let off breaking curfew.” Victoria threw up her hands.

“You are not getting it Max, I want to be caught and punished. I am fed up with all this special treatment because of the fact I'm fucking loaded. If I've been bad then I should be punished, you know?” Despite herself Max giggled.

“You want to be punished, do you? I never would have thought you'd be into that.” Victoria blushed a deep red.

“Fucks sake, Max, get your mind out of the gutter. I was trying to be serious here..”

“Sorry, please don't punish me Victoria-chan,” said Max, her eyes wide and pleading.

“You're impossible.”

“It's why you love me, Vic.” Victoria just rolled her eyes and didn't answer, but her look seemed slightly more intense and thoughtful than usual as she looked at Max.

“So.. how about your family? You always seem to speak fondly of them.” Max shrugged.

“Nowhere near as interesting or storied as yours. We're just your average family, I guess. Mom's family are from around Michigan, Dad's have been around Oregon for as long as they can remember. Mom works as a Teacher at the local Elementary, and my Dad is a middle-manager at some conglomerate selling farming equipment, as much as I can remember – it was that job that prompted the move from Arcadia, a real step up for him he said. We only have a boring house out there in Seattle – nothing amazing to what you are used to, I suspect. It's always so cluttered and full of junk, it drives my Mom mad but I like it like that. Feels homely. My Dad is trying to build his own man cave in the garden – Mom keeps trying to get him to finish so he's not cluttering up the house as well.” Max smiled at the memory. I know it's only be a few weeks of real time since I last saw them, but it feels like an eternity. When this is over, maybe I should go and visit. Try and reconnect with them. With me.

“It sounds.. nice,” said Victoria, a little wistfully.

“Well, it's just what we do, you know? What we have. We are practically paupers compared to you, but we manage.” Victoria started to protest but Max held up her hand.

“Sorry, I didn't mean it to come out that way. Look, Victoria, I don't give a flying fuck how rich you are. What I do care about is what you do with that money, and how you treat people because of it. You can be rich and not be an asshole. I think.”

“So, I'm an asshole, huh.”

“Yeah, you can be. But then so can everyone. It's not letting that be all you are, that is the trick.”

“Thank you o-wise one, for the wisdom,” Victoria replied, but with a glint in her eye. Max gave her a small bow.

“I am older than I look, young padawan. You have much to learn. Although, I do wonder what I would have done if it wasn't for photography, I'm not exactly the best academically. I think my parents were secretly glad I showed some talent at something.”

“I'm sure they would have supported you whatever you chose.” Victoria fell silent for a moment. “But thinking on, does that matter now? You are literally a... a superhero. Goddess. Whatever. Who cares about GPA?”

“Perhaps. But what if it goes away? What if this power goes as suddenly as it appeared? And do I want to be defined by it? You wanted to strike your own path away from your destiny, but is it not the same for me and this? Do I want this as a destiny?” Victoria shook her head.

“Fuck knows. But I do know this is some heavy shit for a Friday afternoon in a mall.”

“Agreed. And we have other, more immediate priorities than dreaming about a future together.” Victoria smiled at her choice of words.



“What we need,” said Max as they left the centre, “is a car.”

“We have one.”

“Yeah, and it screams 'here is Victoria Chase' in letters you can see from space. No, we need a junker, something untraceable we can use if we are going to go to the Dark Room tonight, and whatever else we have to do. I'd rather not announce to the world where we are going, and I'd like to avoid rewinding if possible.”

“OK, I guess that make sense, although I am still not liking the idea of going there. Do we have to? But let me have a look to see what options we have.. there's a used car place on the outskirts of town – Big Bill's Bargain Bonanza.” Max laughed.

“Sounds absolutely classy. I think we should pay in cash, if that's OK – I mean this is your money, and you did -” Victoria put her finger to Max's lips, quietening her.

“I agree – and this is definitely something worthwhile to spend money on, isn't it. Come on then, let's get going.”



Big Bill's Bargain Bonanza turned out to be a slightly sketchy lot in a less than salubrious area of Portland. Victoria left her car securely locked and out of sight around the corner and they walked up to the front of the business. There was a wide variety of what Victoria charitably considered wrecks out the front, with a few that looked vaguely more roadworthy further in towards the office.

“Max, there is no way I am driving one of these. I don't actually want to die any more, and I'm only 18 with a full life ahead of me.”

“Stop being dramatic. Besides, I'll drive – even in one of these I'll still be faster than you.” Victoria punched her lightly on the arm.

“Good afternoon Ladies, and how may I be of service for you today?” A large, rotund man with slacks held up by braces over a grubby white and a ridiculous cowboy hat on his head stood there, smiling benevolently at them.

“You must be Big Bill,” said Max, holding out her hand to shake.

“Indeed I am, Missy, welcome to Big Bill's Bargain Bonanza, purveyor of the finest vehicles in the State.” Victoria opened her mouth to say something, but a nudge from Max swiftly made her close it.

“Hello,” said Max brightly. “I'm looking for my first car, something just to drive around in without getting too worried about damaging it. Do you have anything like that?” The man bent down a little, lowering himself to her eye level and smiled widely.

“Well of course little lady, I've got just the thing for you over here.” He guided Max over to a blue car, which to Max already seemed ideal. “This little baby will see you just right, it's got everything you'll need – a sweet one hundred-seventy cubic inch V6 giving you one hundred and thirty five horse powers – that's more than you'll ever need, my dear – and it has an easy 3 speed automatic to get you to see all your friends in double quick time with no trouble.”

“That sounds good,” said Max, impressed. ”How much is it?” The man leaned back and pulled on his braces, pondering.

“Well now, the ticket price is $5,000, but for a sweet little thing like yourself I'm willing to drop that down to $4,500.” Max turned to Victoria, seemingly happy with the offer.

“What do you think, Victoria? Seems pretty good to me.” Victoria took one look at Max and then walked over to the owner.

“Who do you think you are trying to fool, huh? Do you really think we are two stupid girls who would fall for a fat tub of lard like you trying to sell us a piece of crap like a 1985 Chevrolet Citation? This heap of shit will probably kill us the first time we brake; it's probably fallen to bits already given the build quality of these things and it is so woefully underpowered we'd be better off walking. And that's before we even touch on the torque steer. I'd give you $500, no more, and even that would be me being charitable.” Max blinked and looked at Victoria, who was suddenly in full flow and showed no sign of not stopping.

“I'll tell you what is going to happen,” she said stepping forward, her eyes blazing at the man who suddenly seemed a lot shorter, “you are going to give us that '93 Camaro Z28 instead, and given the way that rear end looks you're gonna knock at least two grand off the price. $3,800 cash now, or we walk.” The man looked as if he was going to say something, then just grinned and held out his hand for her to shake.

“You drive a hard bargain, but I can see you know your cars. It's a deal - now if you come to the office I'll get some paper work sorted. I assume you have the money on you now?” Victoria folded her arms and nodded.

“Of course. But it is for my friend here, I'll just wait outside here for when you're done.” Max followed the owner to his office, glancing back at a highly pleased looking Victoria, who was inspecting her nails as if without a care in the world.



Max walked around her new vehicle, casting an inexpert eye upon it. Rust was showing through the green paint here and there, and a layer of green grime was around the windows, but she felt like she was in love with it already.

“Look at it!” she burbled happily, “it's so.. so..”

“A complete heap of junk? I bet someone was murdered in it,” said Victoria, kicking the tyres gently then cursing as she scuffed her heels.

“Whatever, it's got a real vibe to it,” enthused Max. “But.. I do have to ask, what was the whole 'ooooh that one has 6 wheels but that one has a big exhaust thingy'?” Victoria laughed.

“Ha. We got lucky. We are quite large shareholders in GM, going back to some interesting investments in the '30s. When you spend as many a boring time in shareholder meetings as I was dragged to, you literally end up with nothing better to do than read their brochures.” Max looked at her.

“Really? That all seemed just a little bit too knowledgeable to me for just reading brochures..” Victoria stuck her tongue out.

“Oh stop being nosey, a girl has gotta keep some mystery. Anyway, I thought this car was supposed to be untraceable back to us? How did that work with you buying the thing in your name?” Max eyes twinkled and she waggled her fingers.

“Magic. This car is now registered to Aki Ross of Old New York.”

“Aki Ross?” Victoria frowned, she knew the name but could not quite place it. Max smiled smugly and opened the car door. Victoria was surprised a body didn't fall out.

“Let's head back to Blackwell; you lead and I'll follow.” Max closed the door and started the engine, disappearing in a thick cloud of black smoke. Victoria coughed and wiped her face with her hand.

Yeah, as long as you don't explode first.



“I'm not joking, I swear there is blood on this seat.”

“Victoria, you're being histrionic. There's nothing wrong with this that a little bit of soap and water -”

“And a little bit of fire, and maybe a car crusher.. OW!”

“As I said, a bit of a clean up and it's fine. I'll admit, that when you go over 50 it gets a bit leery..”

“A bit? You nearly ended up in a hedge when you tried to overtake me!”

“I didn't though, and anyway it's all part of the charm. Let me concentrate will you? We need to be careful, these roads aren't exactly the best.” They were on the way to the Dark Room, having had a sombre meal back at the dorm. The thought of the task ahead had weighed heavily on them – especially Max.

“Still should have taken my Porsche,” Victoria muttered. She wiped her hand on her black trousers, and sniffed.

“It smells of piss,” she hissed.

“Victoria, stop insulting little Cammy here. There, there,” she said soothingly to the car, “don't listen to the mean girl.”

“You've given a name to this shit heap?” said Victoria, incredulous. “I might have to rethink this whole liking you thing, you know. I have to have some standards.” Max blew her a kiss, and then gave her a thoughtful look.

“I do actually have a question for you, though – Rachel Amber. You knew her, what was she like?”

“A complete duplicitous bitch. I hated her,” was the instant response. Max smacked her gently on the hand, causing the car to swerve slightly.

“Not helpful. Let me tell you what I know. Chloe loved Rachel. Like properly loved her. I don't think that.. that I ever matched up to that.” She fell silent for a moment, before continuing. “But Rachel also had an affair with Frank, and with Jefferson, before she was murdered. Both of which she kept secret.”

“Jefferson? Shit. That's.. ”

“Yeah. It is. Jefferson seemed obsessed with her – why? Regardless, what I don't know is what she was like, and whether it has something to do with why they bothered to move her body. No-one knew about it, apart from Nathan, once Jefferson was dead, so.. why do it?” She carefully navigated the car along a dirt track, making sure to not slide into the undergrowth on an incline. “So what I want to know is, who was she? You said you hated her, why? Chloe called her 'her Angel'. What's the other side to this story?” Victoria stared out of the window into the darkness, the dim headlights of the car hardly penetrating the thick forest.

This is as creepy as shit. And to think I was taken here and.. She shivered slightly, and focussed on the reassuring presence of Max.

“Rachel was..” She paused, then proceeded slowly, choosing her words with care. “She was.. popular with everyone. Like, everyone loved her. It was if a fire burned within her, a warmth that seemed to encompass you and made her impossible to resist. She was quick to anger, flaring up at the slightest thing but then the next moment she was as nice as anything. And I hated her for it. It was as if everything she did was just so fucking perfect no matter what, and it just made me feel, well, inadequate. She just seemed so effortlessly superior to me, and it really fucked me off. Ridiculous, I know.” Victoria fiddled with the sleeve of her black jumper, trying to work out whether it was right to speak like that of someone who had met such an end.

But I need to be honest with myself, I did hate her, and I don't really know why. Not really. I doubt she cared at all.

“But it all seemed to go weird last year. She started skipping class more, and hanging out more and more with that fucking – I mean, with Chloe. There were so many rumours floating around, which I of course did nothing to dissuade – it helped me rise to the top, you know? With her gone, there was nothing to stop me from..”

“You sound like some mad mafia boss,” remarked Max. “Crushing your enemies on your way to the top. It never ends well, you know. Haven't you seen the Godfather?”

“My way of creating my own mini Chase Empire. Dad would be so proud,” she said bitterly. “Anyway, when she just disappeared like that we all thought she'd just upped and gone to LA, like she always said she would. Leaving Chloe behind made complete sense to me – no offence, Max.”

“None taken. But look – we're here.”



The night was getting colder as they parked up in the trees, just out of sight of the barn. Max had wrapped her self in a thick, black coat to keep warm, whilst Victoria made do with just a thin jumper. Victoria looked at the old barn and felt slightly sick, knowing what had happened here.

“This place is under surveillance, so once we are done here we have to jump back together so there is no trace of us. Let's be quick so it's not too far for me,” said Max, and she strode confidently around the barn to where she knew she could get in, Victoria trailing reluctantly behind.

“Just squeeze though here – bet you are glad you actually listened to me and are wearing sensible shoes now, eh?”

- Chloe, I've found the front door – come on!

1

Not now, please.

“Whatever, Maxine,” Victoria said, squeezing her frame through the gap.

“Max, never Maxine,” Max said distractedly, walking carefully across the floor, the only light provided by their cells. “Look, the entrance is still closed.. Fuck, there is a new padlock on it.” Victoria looked to where Max was pointing - a large metal hatch in the floor was closed by a serious, heavy looking padlock.

“This is new, and not good,” said Max worriedly. “I don't know how we are going to get through this. Last time I..” She looked around the barn, trying to see whether the same trick could work again.

“Do we have to go down there?” asked Victoria in a quiet voice. “I.. I don't think I want to.”

“Yes,” said Max, simply. “It's the last place we need to see, and clearly with that new padlock there is something else they want to hide down there. I just need to find a way to get through this fucking thing.” She kicked the lock in annoyance and started pacing around, the light from her cell casting eerie shadows around.

Victoria looked at the lock and thought for a moment, then knelt down and placed a hand on it. She closed her eyes and concentrated, feeling the metal grow colder beneath her fingers before suddenly the lock shattered. Max turned around in surprise at the noise, then wrapped her arms around Victoria in a big hug.

“You're amazing, you know that?” she said, and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. Victoria smiled thinly, not feeling particularly affectionate given the location. She did feel a little tired from the effort, but shook it off.

“You know what, Max, given how tired we both get doing this I'm thinking we need to do some form of proper training. You know, real fitness stuff as well as practising the abilities. Get some stamina and strength up.”

“Ugh, really? I hate doing that.. fine, fine. It makes sense. Let's start next week. Year. Decade.”

“I'm serious. And can we get a move on? I'm really freaking out here, it feels like I'm visiting my grave.” Max face suddenly turned grim, as if she was reminded of something.

“Of course. Yes. You are right, lets go. Help me with this, will you?” The hatch fell back with a clang, and Max walked down the stairs.

- hands rough on her wrists as she was dragged back up the steps, her legs uselessly trailing behind her. 'I told you not to try to escape' he shouted at her, 'now look what you made me do!'

121

Keep it together, Max.

Max walked down to a huge steel door at the end of the corridor and went to a keypad, confidently entering in a code. The door lock beeped but stayed red. Max frowned and tried again. Another failure. She frowned and looked closer.

“Oh fuck me,” she groaned.

“What is it?” asked Victoria nervously, looking around at the concrete walls as if they were closing in. Max gestured at the lock.

“They've changed this, as well. It's much more complicated. Looks.. like 6 digits? That is a fuck load of combinations to go through. It's all changing. I can't.. I don't know..” Max sank to the floor, head in her hands.

- 'Victoria, come with me – if we are quick we can – Victoria? Wake up! Please wake, up, why aren't you..'

34

“Max? Are you OK? Are you still with me? Max!” Max looked up at her, eyes going straight through her. Victoria shook her slightly, but Max just mumbled something and looked at the floor again.

“Max!” Victoria said as loud as she dared, shaking her more violently this time. Max felt something shift, and she blinked and was suddenly in Victoria's room, sitting on her bed while Victoria was looking at her with a concerned look on her face.

"What the hell?" Max said in confusion, "what the fuck is going on? This isn't the Dark Room, why am I.." Victoria reached out a hand to touch her, eyes full of horror. 

"Max, come back to me.. Max!" As she touched her Max felt something shift again and she was right back there in the barn, and another memory came crashing back.

- That's right, burn you mother fucker, she thought, as the flames roared through the bunker. She hoped that it would be a very slow death for him. If it wasn't she could always come back and try again..

4,981

Victoria stood up and ran her hands through her hair, panicking. Max was clearly no use at the moment, and she needed to do something. She had to help, somehow, move this on, get Max out of whatever fugue she was in. They had come this far only to be stopped by this fucking metal door – she turned to look at it, eyes gleaming with an idea. Max was starting to cry, her sobs echoing down the dark passage.

- 'still a little fight in you, I see' he leered. 'Maybe this will quiet you down a little.' Max bent over coughing, wind taken out of her. She knew she was dying, she could feel the blood coming from the wounds in her back, but she wasn't going to give up. 'Jefferson, I'm going to make you suffer over and over'..

951

Victoria placed her hands on the door and concentrated, feeling her power rise through her and into a point of focus, channelling the raw energy outwards, bending the elements to her will. She could feel the metal starting to fracture and splinter, but it wasn't enough, she needed more. She closed her eyes and pushed within herself as hard as she could, feeling herself rapidly cooling as she made herself go further than she ever had.

- the click of the shutter..

No.

Stop this.

I can't let it control me, not now.

I can't..

Help me.

Someone..

Please

Victoria let out a small cry and crashed to her knees; in the same instance the door finally gave way under its own weight and fell to the floor, shattering into a thousand pieces, revealing the dark interior beyond.

There was a silence, broken only by Victoria's heavy breathing. After a few moments she staggered over to Max, putting her hands on her shoulders.

“Max, it's me. Max, we're through, I've done it. Max, please..” Max looked up at her through watery eyes.

“Victoria..” she said in a voice that held a small note of wonder, “you're alive.. they said..”.

Victoria shook her gently, trying to rouse her to action.

“Max, please, it's me.. look at me. I'm here with you – we've done it, we can find out the answers..”

Max turned her head, looking at the broken door and then back at Victoria. She blinked a few times then slowly nodded. Victoria helped her to her feet, nearly collapsing herself with the effort.

“Fucking hell, Victoria,” Max said weakly, “what did you do?” Victoria dragged them both over the threshold, Max stumbling slightly.

“Doing what I can, Max, not just being fucking useless for once. Isn't there a light switch somewhere?” Max fumbled on the wall and found the switch, causing harsh neon light to flicker on.

“There,” she said, and shivered. “You're still kinda cold, Vic – even through this coat.”

“Oh, sorry,” she mumbled, moving away awkwardly. Max smiled gently.

“No, but for real Victoria, I don't know what I would have done without you here. I'm sorry, I kind of freaked out a bit there, it all came back..” Victoria looked at her, worried.

“You need to tell me Max, you can't keep all this bottled up inside of you. It's too much for you to bear on your own.”

“I will,” lied Max. She took a deep breath and shook out her arms. “I'm OK, I promise. Let's just catch our breaths a little then press on, we need to find what we are looking for. Are you OK?” Victoria leaned against the wall for some support.

“Yes. Although I feel a little drained. I'm afraid you are going to have to do without my super help again for a bit, Max.” Max stepped over to her, and despite the cold, hugged her tight.



Victoria followed Max deeper into the bunker, looking around in horror at the place where in another timeline - how many? - she had been taken and died. Her skin crawled when she saw the camera equipment, knowing that her passion, the one thing she truly enjoyed doing had been perverted so. She cast a worried glance at Max, but she appeared to have composed herself once more and was back to the business like self she seemed to be at times like this, so different to the adorkable girl she was when it was just the two of them hanging out. She wondered whether she would change too; even now she had felt a thrill in using her power, bending the world to her own desire.

Max scanned the room, trying to work out where she could find some answers. There was one obvious place – the computer. Previously she had only looked at the images of Kate on there, and it struck her that it had never occurred to her to look for anything else.

She sat down in the chair and began her search, conscious of Victoria slowly moving around the room investigating, like she had done so many times before. In the back of her mind she was still processing the exhibition of power Victoria had shown, and she wandered how far it could go – that was two such shows of power now, and it appeared to be getting easier for her.

Banishing such thoughts she delved into the computer, quickly finding image folders of all the girls that had been taken – the raw image files, thousands of them taken over many different occasions. She felt slightly sick at the thought of so many girls having gone through their hands, but knew she couldn't do anything for them, not now. Not yet.

How many more died? Was it just Rachel, or were there more? Who were these girls? Did anyone miss them? Did anyone care?

She found the folder for Rachel and opened it.

“I've found all of the pictures they took of Rachel, not just their fucking highlights,” she said to Victoria. “I've never had the desire to do so before, but then again Rachel has never gone missing like this in any timeline.” Victoria made a face and carried on distastefully walking around the bunker, her brain delighting in imagining her posed just so here, or lying on the couch here.

Max clicked slowly through images on the screen, repulsed at what she saw, and then suddenly swore under her breath.

“Victoria, come and look at this.”

“Max, I don't want to. You know how bad I feel about this whole thing -”

“Just come. Look. I've never seen these shots in colour before, I didn't know they were taken in them. Look, here's Rachel unconscious on the floor, and another -” Victoria looked away, her face pale.

“Max, why -”

“Here. This is the one. Similar to the one which had Nathan in it. Look, what can you see?”

Victoria reluctantly turned to look at the screen again, feeling slightly sick as she looked at the picture of the body of Rachel. At first she couldn't take her eyes off the dead girl, conflicting emotions of pity, horror and remorse running through her, until she eventually forced herself to focus on the wider screen. She started suddenly, and pointed with her finger.

“Wait, isn't that..?”

“It's a butterfly, Vic. A fucking orange butterfly..”

Chapter Text

Victoria looked nervously around the room, as if expecting someone to leap out suddenly and grab them.

“This must be a coincidence. It must be!” She started to feel slightly panicked, as if the walls of the Dark Room were closing in on her. Max shifted her position on the chair slightly, as if uncomfortable.

“Wait, let me check the other photos.” Victoria turned away, not wanting to look any more at the images.

“Look. There. This shot – it's in here too, in the corner.” Max pointed at the screen, and Victoria reluctantly turned to look and saw a small blur of orange in the photo.

“Uff, maybe. It could be. It's hard to tell though.. it's not a great shot.” Max tapped her fingers on the keyboard in thought.

“But.. what if it is, Vic? What does that mean? What does it mean for.. for all these girls? You were next, as was I. Is this just a massive coincidence, or..”

“Or.. are they hunting us? Because of what we can do?” Max nodded.

“Exactly. It would make sense, I guess..” Victoria looked around the room and shivered.

“But.. that doesn't make any sense, Max. Did Jefferson ever give any indication he knew? Like, at all?” Max shook her head.

“No, he didn't mention it, not in any timeline; nor when I was.. interrogating him on a few occasions.”

“Don't you think that they would be more prepared then, than just having that sick fuck and.. Nathan to try and capture you, though? Or.. even capture me?” Max tapped her teeth with her finger.

“Yeah, it does seem a bit amateurish for that. But there doesn't seem to be anything else here apart from these images. We need to get to the source to find out the answer.”

“Sean Prescott?”

“Exactly. Get to the head of it all and cut it off,” said Max. Victoria looked at Max, who quickly smiled reassuringly. “Metaphorically, obviously.”

At least by the time I've finally finished with him.

“Max, if there is nothing else then can we get the fuck out of here? I hate this place. Hate it.”

“Yes of course – but first let me take some pictures and a video of this place on my cell, and if you can find a USB drive we can save as many of these photos as we can.” Victoria looked at her questioningly.

“Evidence, Vic. Just in case they do destroy it all, we still have something to show what went on here.”



They spent a few moments gathering what they needed, Max trying to be as methodical as possible as Victoria became increasingly agitated. Max could feel the temperature in the bunker begin to drop as the emotions Victoria felt began to show through, unable to control them any longer.

“Victoria go wait outside, I can finish up here,” Max said, copying files from the computer.

“No,” said Victoria quickly, “I'm not splitting up with you. That's what always happens in these cases in the movies and I don't want to die here this time either.” Max reached out and grabbed Victoria's hand, holding it tight as she finished up. Victoria seemed to calm down at her touch, but she kept glancing nervously at the door. Max pushed the chair away and stood up.

“Right, we're done. Let's get going and never come back here again.”

They hurriedly left the bunker without further incident and made their way back to the car. Victoria had never been so relieved to see such rubbish, although she didn't tell Max that. Max grabbed her and held her tight.

“Ready?” Victoria nodded, and Max moved them back through time until the ghostly images of themselves reappeared by the car. The effort was slightly easier than the last time she had done this, but Max still felt the strain of it and checked her nose to make sure there was no blood. Victoria noticed and touched her arm gently.

“Hey, you OK? That wasn't too much?” Max shook her head and put her hand out to the car to steady herself.

“No, I'm fine. Honestly. Let's just check the data came with us before we leave.” Max quickly scrolled through her cell, satisfied that she still had the video and the USB stick was still in her pocket.

“Taking things through time can get a bit screwy,” she explained to Victoria. “I still haven't quite worked out how it works. Sometimes I think it's not down to me or any rules, but something else entirely.”

“So what's next then? Have we learnt anything new, apart from maybe Rachel being like us?” Max shrugged.

“Maybe. But that in itself is new. We need to try and see if there was anything about her that stood out, any reports or rumours. Can you think of anything?” Victoria looked around at the surrounding forest, which stretched out endlessly into the darkness.

“Not now, not here. Can we go back? Let's talk about this tomorrow and plan what to do. I just want to go back. Please, Max.”

“OK. But tomorrow we must look into Rachel and work out what her connection is, and plan how to get to Sean Prescott.”



They arrived back at Blackwell around 10:30, the car park was empty apart from a few cars belonging to some of the students. Max killed the car's engine and they sat there for a moment in silence, listening to the gentle plink of cooling metal. Victoria yawned and then held up her hand in apology.

“Oh, sorry, it’s just been a really long day what with going to Portland and.. and everything.”

“You can spend the night in here if you want? I can stretch out the seat, maybe turn the heater on..” The car rocked as Victoria slammed the door, Max chuckling to herself as she followed.

“Max, you go on ahead – I just need to get something from my car.” Victoria disappeared into the gloom, and Max made her way to the dorm.

As she entered the building she bumped into a figure she recognised – Trevor, who seemed to be loitering around at the bottom of the stairwell. His face was lit by his cell and he looked up sheepishly as Max entered.

“Oh Max, it’s just you,” he said in relief.

“Hey Trevor.” There was an awkward silence as they both looked at each other, aware that they were both breaking curfew for their own secret reasons.

“So,” began Trevor, “it’s, uh, quite dark.”

“Well, it is night time,” said Max, awkwardly starting to sidle towards the stairs. “I assume you are coming up?” Trevor shuffled his feet a little, looking slightly embarrassed.

“Er.. yeah. Was just waiting for you-know-who to say the coast was clear. We don’t need any more drama, especially from certain people.” Max looked at him and cocked an eyebrow.

“Certain people?”

“Yeah, the Queen Bitch herself. Although Dana tells me you two seem a bit close, what’s up with that? I thought you were cooler than that.” Max laughed a little.

“Me? Cool? Well, thanks.. I guess?”

“Yeah. Dana always goes on about how nice you are, you know. So, what's up with you and the bitch then?”

“None of your business, fuck toy,” came a voice from behind them. Trevor froze a little then turned around. Despite the size difference between the two, Max thought he seemed to cower a little in front of a very angry looking Victoria. She walked straight up to him and stared him the face, as if daring him to say another word. Trevor cast a beseeching look sideways at Max who came flying to his rescue, putting an arm around Victoria's waist.

“Please excuse Victoria, Trevor, she’s just a little grouchy as she hasn’t shouted at anyone today. You go on up and I’ll have a little chat with the, uh, bitch here.” Victoria watched Trevor like a hawk as he bounded up the stairs three at a time, before turning back to Max with a wicked smile on her face.

“Oh that was fun.” She looked at Max’s expression. “What? Oh come on, he did call me a bitch.” Max considered this for a second.

“True, I guess. But you probably did deserve it for something.” She held onto her tightly. “It was also kinda hot seeing you come in like that, angry and all.” Victoria looked at her and raised her eyebrows.

“Really, Max? You liked me being a bad girl, did you?” Max put her hand up to Victoria's face and drew her down for a kiss.

“Perhaps.” She went back in again, running her hands down Victoria's body as she flicked her tongue into her mouth, leaving Victoria red-faced and breathless. Max put a finger on Victoria's lips which she bit gently.

“Shall we go on up?”



Without further interruption they arrived back at their respective rooms, and paused awkwardly outside. Max looked at Victoria, as if trying to take a decision on something.

“Max, if you want to sleep alone that’s fine,” said Victoria, noting her hesitancy. Max blinked then shook her head with a smile.

“Oh no, it was the opposite. I was going to ask if you wanted to.. you know, come over.” Victoria gave her a soft smile and swift peck on the lips.

“Of course I'd love to, but mine this time. My bed is bigger than yours.”

“Yeah, and your room is too. How exactly did you mange that? Wait, silly question.” Victoria smiled regally at her and opened the door.

“I need a shower. Get rid of tonight from my skin.” She shuddered slightly at the memory.

“OK,” said Max looking at her strangely, “I might join you on that.”



Victoria turned the shower to full blast, letting the water cascade over her shoulders. She rested her head against the wall, trying to make herself relax and make some sense of today, or even some sense of the last few days.

What a crazy week. So much has happened, I can scarcely believe it. Things are moving along so fast, it’s unreal. First all the stuff with Nathan and Jefferson, and then finding out about Max and her about me, and all the other crazy shit.

And Max. Finding out Max likes me.

The thought of that made her smile - it still seemed unreal that Max actually genuinely, one hundred percent liked her - and that her closest friend seemed entirely onboard with the idea of the two of them being together. All of her insecurities and fears around it just seemed to have crumbled away in an instant, and she felt herself regretting that she had let herself be consumed by them for so long.

If only I had done something sooner. But.. would Max have liked me then? Would the Max before she went through all of this have even give me the time of day?

Would I have been different to her?

What if?

Victoria imagined in her mind an alternate reality where the two of them had been best friends from the start - maybe even going to Vortex parties together as a couple, her free of any hang ups over who she was. Just being herself.

Now you are just day dreaming, Vic.

The sound of the shower curtain being pulled aside made her gasp and spin around, instinctively covering herself with her hands; the water turning to slush at her feet.

“Budge over, will you?” said Max, as she pushed an open mouthed Victoria out of the way - before yelping and leaping out of the shower, becoming half entangled in the curtain.

“Jesus Victoria, that’s freezing! What the hell is wrong with you, you weirdo!?” Victoria looked at her blankly for a second, before laughing at the sight of Max entangled in the curtain despite her shock at Max's sudden entrance.

“Max, you are a clumsy disaster! But, um, it’s how I like them now, it doesn't feel cold to me...” She shook her head in disbelief at what she was saying. “But seriously, what the actual fuck, Max! Just what the fuck exactly do you think you are doing coming in here like this, without asking? You do know we are both completely naked, right? Yes? What’s gotten into you!?” Max untangled herself and stood boldly in front of her, one hand on her hip as she took her time to look Victoria up and down, noting how she was unsuccessfully trying to hide all of herself beneath her hands.

“Oh I'm sorry - My dear Victoria, may I please come in and get clean? It’s the environmentally sustainable thing to do, after all.” Victoria gave her a look, trying her hard to keep her eyes focussed on her face rather than the delicate curve of her waist and the small but perfectly –

“Seriously? That’s your reasoning?” she stammered, “I’m not sure if..”

“Relax, Victoria, it’s not like I haven’t seen you naked before…” said Max nonchalantly, flicking her hair from her blue eyes which seemed to be drinking her in. Victoria looked at her still in shock, still refusing to drop her eyes lower and see how interestingly parts of her moved as she raised her arm-.

“What? When did you…” she trailed off as Max looked at her mischievously. “You complete fucker. I don’t know whether to believe you now or not.” Max shivered slightly, noticing the slush building up on the floor and how the air was decidedly colder than usual.

“Seriously though, please can you budge over and turn the heat up? Unlike you, the super ice queen, I am getting fucking freezing.” Reluctantly Victoria gave a small nod, and feeling deeply embarrassed she shyly turned around, keeping her back to Max whilst turning the heat up to what normal people thought was an acceptable temperature. Max sighed gratefully as she felt the hot water run over her. There was a moment of silence, broken only by the sound of running water.

“Sorry,” said Max suddenly, “I've fucked this up, haven't I? I didn't intend to put you on the spot like this. I thought it would be kinda romantic if..” Victoria moved a hand backwards, reaching out to Max but still keeping her back turned. Max clasped her hand and Victoria drew her close, feeling Max's chest press up against her back, and it felt good. Max wrapped her other arm around her, hand tenderly resting against her stomach. Victoria tensed slightly at the touch.

“Look, I'm not saying I am happy about you doing this...” Max relaxed her grip on hearing her words, suddenly feeling very guilty and ashamed.

“Do you want me to rewind..?” she asked quietly, voice tense. Victoria closed her eyes, pushing back into Max slightly. It was a few moments before she answered.

“No, it's OK. I’m sorry, Max, I’ve never really done anything like this before. It’s all new to me. I don't know what to do or expect but.. you know, boundaries? Or at least maybe ask me first?” Max remained silent for a moment, trying her best to keep her hand safely wrapped around Victoria's waist rather than on some more interesting places.

“Sorry Victoria. I really am. I really have kinda fucked this up, haven't I? I forget sometimes.. I mean, this Max is not as experienced as.. er.. me.. I have been.. in other.. ugh, you know what I mean.” Victoria nodded; it said a lot about her current life that having someone explain that their sexual experiences came from alternate versions of reality seemed perfectly normal.

Although I can't believe I'm in the shower naked- naked! - with Max.

I can feel her up against me.

I like this.

She is so beautiful. And so nice.

Don't fuck this up, Vic. You won't get anything better. You know this.

But is this going to quick?

And do I want this?

I want this?

I want this.

“Max, can you, um, close your eyes for a second?”

“Yes, of course – but there's nothing to be ashamed of, Vic, I -”

“Shush. Eyes closed? Good.” Victoria took a deep breath to compose herself, then gently untangling Max's arms turned around, and then drew her close again.

“OK, you can open them again.” Max looked up at Victoria, her blue eyes radiating love and desire. She watched the water run down through Victoria's hair and across her cheeks, pooling down in-between them where their bodies touched.

“Hey..” she said softly, running a hand up Victoria's back to the nape of her neck. Victoria smiled nervously at her, her eyes aflame as she lost herself in Max's eyes. Max let her other hand slowly drift down from Victoria's waist, feeling Victoria's muscles stiffen at the touch. Victoria's hands hesitantly matched Max's on their exploration downwards, pulling them both closer than they thought possible. Hesitantly at first Victoria bent her head forwards to kiss Max, slowly exploring the thrilling feelings running through her as Max responded in kind.

“Max..” she whispered, feeling Max pushing up against her. Max broke away from the kiss and began to kiss her on her neck, slowly working her way down while Victoria ran a hand up across Max's back and to her side, feeling a giddy rush as her hand brushed across Max's chest for the first time.

The bathroom door creaked open and they both froze, clutching at each other.

“Hello? Sorry, but I need to use the shower and sinks too, so I'm sorry if it makes it run cold!” called a familiar voice.

Kate.

Shit.

Max looked at Victoria and giggled quietly.

“We are so going to hell for doing this..” Victoria tried to keep a straight face, despite the absurdity of their situation, so as not to alert Kate.

“What do we do? We can't stay here for the entire time Kate will take..”

“Er.. hello? Anyone in there?” Kate called. Victoria gave Max a panicked look.

“Er.. Hi Kate. Ittts.... just me..! Vic.. TOR.... I.. Aaaaaaaa!” Victoria put her hand over Max's mouth to stop what she was doing, and tried to look threateningly at her.

“Oh! Um, sorry Victoria. I, um, will try and be quick to not disturb you..” Max froze time, and Victoria marvelled at the streams of water caught in mid air, both of the surrounded by the frozen haze of steam.

“Victoria Chase, you are fucking incredible. But I could not bear with polluting Kate's mind and soul and then having to take it all back – besides, we have all the time in the world to do this.” She waggled her fingers at Victoria. “Literally.” Victoria's mind suddenly didn't seem to be working properly, and she just nodded numbly.

“I'm going to go wait for you in bed, OK? See you in a bit.” Max drew Victoria's head close and kissed her slowly; just before releasing her grip she let a hand run down across the front of Victoria's body. Max stepped away, looking at the frozen image of Victoria in shock at the sensations she had just suddenly felt.

Max, you are such a perv. Stop looking at her.

At what? Those amazing -

Stop it.

..and those legs that go all the way -

Stop.

.. and do you notice that she definitely wa-

STOP. It's not right. You don't need to. She wants you, and you want her. That's enough. Don't ruin this.

Max carefully stepped out of the shower and walked naked past the frozen image of Kate who was standing at the sink with a toothbrush in hand, towel and pyjamas neatly folded on the floor. Max quickly walked back to Victoria's room and got in her bed, her mind filled with the sight and taste of Victoria Chase.

She settled down into the comfortable bed and restarted time.



“Oh! Um, sorry Victoria. I, um, will try and be quick to not disturb you..” Kate turned on the tap to brush her teeth, when there was a loud crash and piles of ice came flooding out from the showers.

“Oh darn!” she exclaimed, swiftly turning off the tap. “Victoria I am so sorry, I didn't mean to make it got so cold...!” She guilty grabbed her towel and scrambled over the ice to the shower cubicle. “So very, very cold! Lord forgive me!” There was no answer from the cubicle and Kate began to worry that she had hurt Victoria somehow.

“Victoria, are you OK? I'm so sorry, please take my towel.. I forgot about the water.. Victoria? Are you OK?”

“I'm.. fine..” said a voice, that sounded so unlike Victoria's that Kate began to doubt it was her until a familiar set of manicured nails came thrusting out past the curtain to grab the towel. A red faced Victoria followed out of the cubicle, and Kate saw that the interior was completely plastered with ice.

“Shitty Blackwell plumbing,” Victoria said offhandedly as if that explained everything, while staring towards the bathroom door with a wistful look on her face. With a shiver she looked down at the scared looking Kate, who was scrabbling about picking up pieces of ice from the floor.

Be nice to her.

“Here, let me help Kate. And.. thank you for the towel. You can use my towel after, if you want.”

“Thank you, Victoria, that's very nice of you considering this was all my fault, gosh I am so sorry..” Victoria looked sideways at Kate's earnest face, wondering how she had ever thought it was OK to bully someone like her, especially given her struggles with her identity which Victoria knew all too well about.

And here she is just trying to be nice to me. What have I done to deserve someone like her being nice to me now, after everything I have done?

What have I done to deserve Max?



Victoria softly shut her dorm room and padded over to her bed. Max was fast asleep, curled up in the corner of the bed. Victoria found herself smiling at the sight.

She is so cute. Look at her sleeping, like a little brown haired hipster baby nerd. She felt a twinge of regret that their initial explorations in the shower – the thought brought a rush of heat to her face – weren't going to continue.

We have all the time in the world, she said. No rush. There's always tomorrow.. at the party.

She hung Kate's towel up somewhere where it would dry, and got into bed next to Max. The sensation of their bare skin touching each other sent shivers through her, and she wondered briefly in other timelines if this had happened.

Max said it had never, but what does it matter? This is the one I am in, the one that is real to me.

And to her.

She carefully wrapped an arm around Max and settled down to sleep, feeling utterly at peace for the first time in a long while.



Max walked down the dimly lit corridor which seemed to stretch endlessly on in front of her. It seemed strangely familiar, as if an echo of somewhere she had been before. She could hear the sound of someone crying, a distressing, incessant noise that she couldn’t see the source of. Max looked to her left and saw Kate was walking beside her. ‘You can’t save me, Max,’ she said, turning her head to look at her. Max recoiled as she saw Kate's eyes were milky white, a trickle of blood running from them. ‘You can’t save me,’ she hissed again, and reached out to clutch at Max’s throat. Max pushed out to fend her off, but the corridor was empty again. The crying seemed louder now, and Max tried to quicken her pace but it felt as if her legs were made of lead, each step proving harder than the last. She looked down and saw that the floor was made of thick blood, lapping around her ankles and trying to suck her down. Ahead she saw a light shining down on a figure huddled over something on the floor- the source of the crying. Suddenly she was right next to it in an empty room, surrounded by blackness. She saw that it was Victoria, sobbing as she cradled her own body, lifeless and cold. Max reached out a hand to comfort her and touched Chloe on the shoulder. Chloe stood up and smiled at her, blood flowing from the wounds to her head and stomach. ‘Why don’t you love me any more, Max?’ she whined. ‘Why don’t you love me?’ Max stumbled and fell backwards, landing into a web of clutching hands and faces, faces disfigured and mutilated; but faces she dimly recognised. The hands clutched at her, pinning her down as the ghastly image of Chloe approached. ‘Why don’t you love me?’ she screeched, her mouth opening impossibly wide as if to devour Max..



Max sat bolt upright, covered in sweat. She didn’t immediately recognise her surroundings until she felt a hand reach out to touch her.

“Are you alright?” asked a sleepy voice. “Bad dream?” Max rubbed her face with both hands before answering.

“Yeah.” Max wrapped her hands around herself and gently rocked, as if trying to comfort herself. Victoria sat up at the motion and wrapped an arm around her. Max could feel her body against hers, slightly cool to the touch despite their proximity.

“Want to tell me about it?” asked Victoria quietly, sleep forgotten. Max shook her head slightly.

“It’s.. nothing. Just a dream.” Victoria was silent for a moment, before resting her head against Max's.

“This isn’t the first time, Max. Tell me what you dream about, so I can at least try to understand.” Max felt herself slightly relax into her, letting Victoria pull her closer. She sighed, uncertain as to whether to tell her everything.

“I dream about.. people,” she started hesitantly, “people I have lost or.. or.. done things too. I see their faces, feel their anger..” She trailed off and looked back into the darkness. Victoria didn't say anything in response - she didn't know what she could say to Max. She just wanted to make Max feel happier, better about things; but didn't know how.

“Max.. I'm here for you, you know? Whatever you need..” she finished, knowing that it wasn't enough.

“I know,” said Max, taking hold of one Victoria's hands, “I know. And thank you. I think I just want to be held a little right now, if that’s OK? Just.. hold me.” Victoria kissed the side of her head and gently pulled her down, wrapping herself around Max. Max snuggled down into her, letting herself be enveloped by Victoria's body. After a few moments she could hear Victoria's soft breathing again. Max lay there, looking into the darkness.



Don’t you love me any more, Max?



Max woke early; the time on her cell told her it was just after 7:15. She didn't feel tired - it was if spending the night next to Victoria had left her feeling more refreshed, somehow, despite her nightmares. Victoria was asleep on her back, mouth half open as she snored away. Max spent a few moments looking at her; feeling a warm, fuzzy feeling inside of her at the sight of a very naked Victoria Chase asleep next to her.

I am so lucky that she did something different. Creating this new reality. I owe her so much..

I'll surprise her with something for breakfast – maybe some bagels with bacon. Or cream cheese and cranberries. Or..

As quietly and carefully as she could got dressed and left the room, pausing a moment to look again at the sleeping Victoria. She let herself have a happy little smile before she gently closed the door. The dorm corridor was quiet and empty at this early hour, and Max slipped out without anyone seeing.

The air was fresh with a slight crisp edge as Max walked across the deserted quad, the only sign of life being the solitary figure of Samuel who was sitting quietly on a bench. She wandered over to him, noticing he was feeding peanuts to four squirrels from a bag at his side. He looked up at her approach and gave her a warm smile.

“Good morning Max, it's good to see you about so early this morning.”

“And you, Samuel.” Max pointed to the squirrels. “How are your friends today? I don't normally see you around here on a Saturday.”

“They are good, Max. It is a Saturday, but it's a beautiful morning for a stroll, or maybe getting breakfast for two.” His eyes twinkled as he looked at her. He motioned towards the squirrels at his feet. “They are happy that two have met. It bodes great things, for another time.”

“Is that what they think? That's.. nice, I guess?”

“They do tell me that looking narrowly frames too small a picture, Max.” Max frowned at Samuel - he seemed to be unusually cryptic today.

“What does that mean?” Samuel shrugged, and threw some peanuts down to the waiting squirrels, who picked them up and nibbled away, watching Max with big eyes.

“They talk, and I listen, Max. The squirrels are wiser than I, but even I know that six together is stronger than two.” Max tried not to let her frustration show – she had the feeling that this was important, but it made no sense to her at all.

“Six what? I don't understand.” Samuel looked at her and shrugged again, before turning back to feed the squirrels. Max watched for a little while longer and was about to make her excuses to leave when Samuel spoke again.

“The squirrels are good creatures, Max. They know,” he said. Max shifted her position slightly, wondering where this was going.

“What do they know, Samuel?” she asked gently.

“They know that when all seems hopeless, return to the moment and begin a renewal.” Max stared at him, trying to work out the meaning of what he had said. He glanced up at her and gave her a shy smile again.

“I listen and they talk, Max. Both of you have a good day.” He stood up and wandered off across the lawn, leaving the squirrels regarding Max solemnly for a moment before they too disappeared, away into the trees.

Well that was the weirdest time yet. And that's saying something. Hang on..

“Wait, how did you know I was getting breakfast for..” she shouted after him, but he was gone.

Pondering on what the cryptic messages could mean, Max slowly walked over to where she had left Cammy the night before. Giving it an affectionate pat she opened the door, clambered in and left the campus in a cloud of black smoke.



Victoria woke to find her bed empty and cold. She quickly sat up but saw no sign of Max. Panicking, she leapt out of the bed, looking around for any sign of where she could have gone - starting to doubt herself before she found a post-it note stuck to the sheets.

Hey beautiful. Gone for breakfast. Max xoxo

Victoria spent an inordinately long time looking at the note, holding it in her hands as if it was a precious object. It was the first time someone had ever given her something like that, and she felt a lump form in her throat as she looked at it.

Come on Vic, it's just a silly note.

From your girlfriend.

She scooted off her bed and went to her desk, pulled out her little box of keepsakes and put the note inside, closing it again with a small smile. She pulled a robe off her chair and sat back down on the bed with her laptop.

She quickly logged onto Facebook to catch up on whatever was happening there – nothing too much of importance, but she made sure to comment on a few posts to make sure that people knew she was still there and watching. Without thinking she found herself on Max's profile page, checking up on what she had been up to.

Wait, why are you still stalking her? She was literally in the same bed as you a few minutes ago!

Her finger hovered over the add friend button. It felt like a momentous decision just to add her as a friend, let alone the minefield of setting a relationship status.

Am I ready for this? What if she doesn't accept it..

Stop it. Just add her.

She took a breath then clicked it, then closed the window so as not to see the result. She knew it was ridiculous given everything that had happened so far but she just couldn't help herself. She felt like she had to do something to prove her worth to Max, to try and give herself some confidence that Max wanted her to be around.

But what can I do? What can I do to help? Max is driving herself on to such extremes to try and solve all of this, and I am doing nothing to help. What can I do? What use am I apart from being best friends with the person who murdered her Chloe?

Nathan.

Sean Prescott.

A kernel of an idea began to form in her head - a way to find out where Sean Prescott was and to meet him. She spent five minutes composing and rapidly firing off an email before leaning back with a smile on her face.

There. That should help. Now what else? Rachel Amber. Who was she apart from the bitch of all bitches to bitch-

Stop it. She's dead, dying alone in that fucking bunker. Like you did. Could. Should.

Victoria pinched herself to try and get away from that line of thought, the pain distracting her enough to focus on the task at hand.

So Rachel Amber.. with the amber butterfly.. Ha. What could you do? Could you do anything? How did you end up dying like that if you could?

How did I?

She thought back to what she had told Max, how Rachel seemed to have a fire inside of her, a burning intensity.

Fire? Isn't that too obvious? But what does that remind me of?

She drummed her fingers on the laptop, trying to think back on what had jogged her memory. Fire. Rachel. A fire.. Into her mind came the image of a cup of tea and inspiration struck her, along with a memory that made her cringe with shame.

Oh fuck, I really did try to do that, didn't I.. and I called her a bitch. And fucking Chloe was there as well..

Victoria read as much as she could about the forest fire that had engulfed the area for a few days. As far as she could tell the source of it was never fully determined, but arson was suspected. Victoria spent awhile searching for other cases of mysterious fires in the past few years in Arcadia Bay, finding a few isolated examples where things had mysteriously caught fire without any real explanation.

Nothing certain.. there must be something else. Something obvious. But I am damned if I know what.

Victoria lost herself in a web of Wikipedia articles about pyromania, following links until she ended up in a series of subreddits about government programmes where people were taken and experimented on and given crazy powers. She smiled slightly as she read the posts; on a whim signing up and joining in the debate. If only they knew.



She was halfway through egging on someone about how she knew that the government were mind controlling people when her door opened and Max came bounding in, carrying two bags.

“Breakfast!” she said with a lopsided grin, proffering the bags towards Victoria. She bounced over to the bed, planting a swift kiss on Victoria's cheek before looking at her laptop. “Wotcha doing, Vic?” Victoria showed Max her screen, a wicked grin on her face.

“Baiting the weirdos.” Max read a few lines before sniggering and elbowing her.

“You are a terrible person. So terrible I might eat the bagels I got you.”

“Don't you dare, Caulfield. Show me what you got.”

Max laid out her breakfast haul, and soon the two were happily munching away on a selection of bagels that could've charitably been described as the most hipster selection possible. Victoria refrained from pointing this out, not wanting to even tease Max when she had gone through this effort just for her. She secretly watched Max happily devour her bagels, listening to her oohing over how good the avocado and salmon was.

Victoria chewed on her hard boiled egg, arugula and dijon mustard bagel, wondering who on earth came up with that combination as Max sucked down a peanut butter milkshake, looking at her.

“I'm sorry about last night,” she said, playing with the straw nervously. “I mean the whole shower thing. I was out of order, I should have asked first. Or done something else. Anything really.” Victoria stopped chewing and looked at her.

“Honestly Max, as I said it's OK. I was like really shocked at first? I mean I didn't expect you to do that, and I certainly didn't expect things to be moving so fast. I've no experience of this sort of thing, so.. but you know, I've thought about it, and really? It was kinda hot. And I do want to do that sort of thing with you. Maybe next time we can see where it goes a little more..?”

“But with no Kate around?” said Max with a grin.

“With no Kate.” Max hummed happily and checked her cell. She looked up at Victoria.

“A friend request eh? And you talk about things moving fast...” Max concentrated on her cell for a second then put it down with an innocent look. “There you go, all done. No need to worry about my rejection.” Victoria opened her mouth to object before narrowing her eyes in suspicion.

“Wait a second, what you done..?” Her cell suddenly chimed with a notification.. then another.. and another. She gave Max a panicked look and scrolled through the messages.

“It's complicated? Really? Max..! Why did you..?!” She fell back on the bed and covered her face with her hands. “Oh god.” Max ran her fingers up her thigh, making Victoria shiver slightly.

“Oh come on Vic, it'll make tonight at the party less awkward, no? And if Taylor and Dana know, then the whole of Oregon does..” Victoria answered with a groan.

“Ugh.. there goes my social status, stuck with the dweeb hipster. My life is ruined.”

Hot dweeb hipster, thank you very much.” Max contemplated her for a moment. “Look, I'm just trying to show you that this is all, well, normal. Besides, I can always take it back if you don't like it.” Victoria sat up and regarded her with curiosity.

“That's the second time you've said that to me. Is this how life is for you now? If it doesn't work just undo it until something does?” Max shrugged guiltily.

“A little. At first it really helped overcome me feeling so shy, you know? Gave me some confidence, because I knew if I came across badly or whatever it didn't matter. And now I've sort of learnt not to give a fuck what people think. But with you I'm trying not to do that, I want this to be whatever it is first time. It's why I am asking you what you want to do. I feel like I have no right to take it back without asking. Especially as I can take you with me, it's different than it has been with others. You can know my mistakes, but not have to live with them.” Victoria folded her hands in her lap and looked at them, in thought for a moment.

“It's OK, leave it as it is. But promise me again that you won't leave me behind? I need to know what is happening, especially if I am to trust you with this. Or at least tell me when things have gone wrong. You will do that, won't you?” Max reached out and took her hands.

“Yes, I will. But you must understand that there may be sometimes I have to rewind, to save you.. or someone. That's just the way it is.” Victoria nodded.

“Yes, I get that.. but it's the small things, these small moments. That is what matters. I don't want to lose them.. like the diner, or our first kiss.. you understand?” Victoria smiled thinly at her. “And I definitely don't want to end up dead.” Max raised her eyebrows.

“Wow, that's a mood killer right there.” Victoria pursed her lips and motioned towards her laptop.

“I was trying to look into Rachel. See if I could find out anything that might be useful. Her fate has been playing on my mind a little. Let's say she was just like us - she had a power or whatever. She still ended up dead. I still ended up dead.”

“I won't let that happen to you,” said Max earnestly.

“I know, you will bring me back.. but somewhere there is a dead Victoria. Isn't there? Some other timeline.. I am dead already.” Max shook her head.

“Don't think like that. This is your life, you are not dead. You can't be, can you? You are talking to me right now.” There was a silence for a moment, before Victoria sighed and changed tack.

“Anyway, I've been looking around for anything that might help explain things, and there might be a tenuous link between Rachel and fire. It's not much, but..” Max looked thoughtful for a second.

“Fire and Ice. Opposites,” she murmured. Victoria looked at her curiously.

“What do you mean?”

“You said you both hated each other on sight. No matter what, you just rubbed each other the wrong way. I was just saying – fire and ice, incompatible..” She laughed suddenly. “Silly, I know. But then who knows what to think? It's all incredible.” Victoria nodded in agreement.

“It's insane, but we can't deny the evidence in front of us. But maybe she did have it, we just don't know - we are just guessing.” Max looked around her room and then out of the window.

“Maybe it's all connected to Arcadia Bay? It's where I got my power, right here.” Victoria thought for a moment before shaking her head.

“No, Rachel was from LA and we don't know when she got them, assuming she did. And I got mine in Seattle, not here. But there must be a common theme between us all.” Max lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling, idly playing with the hem of Victoria's robe.

“You know, I had a really weird conversation with Samuel today, he -”

“Max – look!” Victoria whispered suddenly, interrupting her and pointing. Max sat up and looked where she was pointing. At her window, sitting as if without a care in the world, was a green butterfly.

“You see it?” Victoria whispered. Max nodded, wondering what it meant. They both watched as a blue one fluttered down to join it, and Max felt Victoria's hand creep into hers. Max looked at her and smiled, leaning in to give her a kiss.

She returned to look at the butterflies, who seemed to be watching them both closely.

“What do you want?” asked Max quietly, “what are you trying to tell us?” Victoria squeezed her hand, feeling that something important was going to happen.

“Can you help us? Show us what to do? Can you help us understand us, what we are? Help us with Rachel?” she asked, her voice quavering slightly. The butterflies didn't move except to briefly flutter their wings, and as the girls watched they saw a blur of colour, then another, and another.

Max and Victoria sat there looking on in wonder as on the windowsill, without fuss, were more of them: Blue, Green, Orange, White, Brown and Black; their colours appearing to shimmer together in the morning light.

 

“Six,” said Max, eyes wide, “There are six.”

Chapter Text

“No, you should have paid more attention then. No, I don’t hate you, but I do want you to apologise..”

Max lay on the grass staring up at the blue sky, stretching her legs out and hardly listening to the sounds around her. It was a nice sunny morning, and the students who were still at the Academy were out enjoying the sunshine.

“.. when you come back on Sunday, Courtney. Of course you are still in the club.. for now, yes..”

She watched the clouds as they drifted lazily past, her mind occupied elsewhere, mulling over what they had seen this morning.

“.. look I’ve got to go, I’ve another call. Bye Courtney – and I hope you had fun with your family. Thank you.… T, what’s up? No, I’m out front..”

She realised Samuel had been hinting at something, and clearly he had something to do with those damn butterflies – otherwise how else would he know about them?

“.. yes, of course she is here with me. No – she did that, the little cow. I know! Why can’t she just be normal..”

So there are six. Victoria and I are two. But who were the other four? And are there actually four more around now? Could they be here at Blackwell?

“Oh my God, you have no idea how much of a shit storm. Yeah. Oh, OK, we will wait here then. Hayden? No, why… oh for fuck’s sake, OK..”

Max turned her head, taking in the silhouette of Victoria sitting next to her and watching the sunlight playing across her face as she held a hand to her forehead. Max noted the elegant gold and emerald bracelet around her wrist, perfectly matching her eyes and hair.

She’s so clever. And beautiful. Just perfect. And she's got a real heart, even though she hides it. I’m so lucky.

For once the universe seems to not be taking a giant shit on me.

“Hayden, what the hell is going on? No, it was the easiest task, you idiot. What the fuck are we going to do with ten pounds of cabbages?”

But Rachel is dead, and she was, maybe, one of us. But thinking about it, there was an orange butterfly with the others. So has she been replaced? Would I be replaced if I died?

“No, don’t change the subject to her, were you fucking high or something? Jesus Christ you are useless. What about the catering..”

Is it possible that they are somewhere around here? Maybe they are hidden like we are. But who could it be?

“Hayden, I love you but you are so dense sometimes. No, let me fucking sort it, as always. Yes, you owe me big time. Tonight, of course. Bye.”

Max idly placed her hand on the small of Victoria’s back, rubbing it gently. Victoria glanced down at Max, a smile breaking through the frown creasing her forehead.

Surely we would have noticed. But no-one noticed Rachel – and no-one noticed Victoria either. Until I did. What if Rachel and Victoria had realised the truth about each other?

“Mr Jones? Victoria Chase. You were supposed to deliver tonight – we contracted you for this and you agreed..”

Max thoughts dwelled briefly on the possible universe that might have existed in that event, trying to imagine an unfettered Rachel and Victoria ruling the world. She smiled to herself.

Does raise a point though, what is the point of these powers? What’s the purpose? What if I cause another storm, or break reality again? What if that is multiplied by whatever the other’s powers are? Will we end the world?

Or save it?

“No, let me explain to you, Mr Jones. This is important to me on a personal level, so you will deliver, understand? I don’t care..”

I wonder what Victoria would be like ruling the world. Old mean Vic or shiny new real Vic? That’s two very different end states, there..

What if I ruled the world? I’d ban smoking for a start. And cruelty to rabbits. And cruelty to Kate.

“No, let me be clear – if you do not do this, I will personally ensure we buy your shitty little company and only you will be fired, and after that I will make it my life's mission to make your life a misery, understand?” Max was fully paying attention to Victoria’s conversation now, noting the change in tone of her girlfriend’s voice. She sat up, looking at Victoria and noticing how her face was set in a hard, cruel edge. She shivered slightly, seeing how fierce Victoria could still be.

Damn, you can be scary Vic. But you do look hot when you do things like this, though.

That's not a good thing, Max.

Whatever.

“Good. Do not fail me, Mr Jones.” Victoria hung up and stared moodily off into the distance.

“OK, Victoria, in that last bit you sounded just a little like a Bond villain. What’s going on?” Victoria gestured in disgust.

“Catering for tonight. I want it to be perfect for you – us – everyone,” she quickly corrected. “So I wanted to make it clear that he knew what was at stake, and the consequences of failure.” Max looked at her curiously.

“Heiress to the Chase Empire, huh?” Victoria inspected her fingernails, a little sad.

“Yeah. We are still the product of our parents. Despite our best efforts.” She paused, squinting up at the sun. “Still, it should all be sorted for tonight.” Max snaked an arm around her waist, resting her head on her shoulder.

“What’s the plan then? Shall I drive us there in Cammy?” Victoria snorted.

“Fuck no, Caulfield. There is no fucking way I’m getting in that murder car. No, we’ll take mine. I’ll drive us there, just the two of us.”

“I'm assuming we’ll be arriving after everyone else does, just to make an entrance?”

“Of course.” Max squeezed her gently.

“You’re such an attention seeker.” Victoria laid her hand on Max's thigh, gently squeezing her back.

“How else will people know I'm the Queen of this place?”



“There you are, V!” shouted a cheery voice. The girls turned to see Taylor bouncing over the grass, a broad grin on her face. “How are Mrs and Mrs Chase today?” Victoria rolled her eyes, while Max grinned at her.

“I didn’t know we were taking your name, Vic? What’s wrong with Caulfield?” Victoria poked her in the chest.

“Don’t encourage her, Lamefield. Besides, you would totally be a Chase - that's not even an argument.” She looked up at Taylor, who was watching them with sparkling eyes. “What’s up, T?”

“I thought I’d just see how my favourite ‘it’s complicated’ couple are? All ready for tonight?” Max nodded, while Victoria scowled at her.

“It’s complicated is an understatement. Have you any idea how much crap I've waded through this morning because of that? Honestly..” Max beamed at her and kissed the end of her nose.

“Yeah, but you didn't change it did you.. you luurrvvveeee me, Victoria Chase.” Victoria blushed deep red and mumbled something, which was drowned out by the sound of Taylor gushing away.

“Oh my god just look at the two of you. I’d be vomiting up my breakfast right now if it wasn’t so cute and if I wasn't so happy for you, V.” Victoria looked at Taylor gratefully, whilst pushing Max away from her. Max took that as a cue to lay her head in her lap, looking extremely content. Victoria put her hand on Max's stomach, allowing a small smile to creep across her face. Taylor sat down next to her, looking at her friend with an amused expression.

“You know, I would never have thought that old retro time girl Max here would melt your cold heart so effectively, Victoria,” she said, laughing to herself. Victoria eyes widened slightly at her choice of words, and she looked at Max who was also suddenly looking very serious.

“Er.. what do you mean, Taylor?” asked Victoria, trying her best to keep her voice neutral.

“Well,” Taylor replied, warming to her theme, “Max is always seemingly stuck in a different time what with her old camera and her hipsterish attitude, and let's be honest you can be generally pretty cold to everyone – I mean not me, obvs – but people do call you the Ice Queen, don't they? Because you are so cold. Like an Ice Queen...” She trailed off under Victoria's expression, which had suddenly grown very hard and searching. The world went still and Max sat up, holding tightly onto Victoria.

“What do you think? Does she...?” she said, nodding her head towards Taylor. Victoria looked at her friend, and shrugged.

“Taylor is Taylor.. I think I would've noticed if she knew anything.”

“No, I mean do you think she is one of us? I know it's unlikely that this is all connected to Arcadia Bay, or God forbid Blackwell, but...” Max looked around at the surrounding students. “But we don't know anything. Not really. We have a chance now to at least rule them all out, no?” Victoria pondered her words for a second, before nodding slowly.

“Yeah, I guess so. Any ideas on how?” Max flexed her fingers.

“Well, given I can just take it all back anyway, how about you do a more practical demonstration and we see what she says?” Victoria looked at her own hands, before back at Taylor.

“You just be ready with that rewind, OK?” Max smiled.

“Always. Now, let's just make sure we are in the same position as before.. ready?”



“Because you are so cold. Like an Ice Queen...” Taylor trailed off, noting Victoria's expression. Victoria smiled at her; a smile that seemed slightly predatory to Taylor.

“You are correct, Taylor. I am an Ice Queen. But tell me, is there anything you are hiding from me?” Taylor looked suddenly worried.

“No.. not at all.. what do you mean? I swear I'll return that -” Victoria shook her head.

“I don't care about that jacket, there will always be another. No, I mean something.. like this.” Victoria held out of her hand, and from it came a swirling pattern of snow and ice that seemed to hover for a moment in the air, before crashing to the ground. Taylor sat there looking at Victoria, dumbstruck.

“What the actual fuck..” she said hoarsely, her face full of fear, looking from Victoria to the melting ice and back again. “What the fuck is this? Is this some sort of trick..?” Victoria looked at her, eyes beginning to glow with an inner light. Her voice seemed to resonate as she held up both hands, the wind beginning to whip up around them.

“Are you one of us, Taylor Christensen?” Her voice sounded fell and dangerous, as ice and snow began to form and swirl around them. Taylor looked around herself in fear, trying to scramble backwards away from her -

“That's enough I think,” said Max, laying a hand on Victoria and stopping her. She looked at the frozen image of Taylor, eyes wide with terror as she tried to get away. “I said ask her, not scare the crap out of her.” Victoria gave her a bashful look.

“Sorry,” she muttered, “got a bit carried away.”

“Yeah,” said Max, looking at her with a slightly concerned expression.

Like when Kate died. There's something buried within her trying to get out. Trying to get her to unleash her full power. Like I do sometimes. But she can't go that way..

Not like me.

“Anyway, we know Taylor isn't one of us. Or, and this is unlikely, she is too afraid to say - otherwise you'd have thought she would have done something herself in return. OK, let's go back again – but I'm thinking we should try this with everyone - what do you think?” Victoria murmured in agreement, rubbing her hands together.

“Oh yes. That could be fun.”



Kate looked up to see Max approaching, the bright smile she gave her tempered somewhat by seeing the looming presence of Victoria walking behind her. Kate noticed that Max was leading her by the hand, and wondered what that could mean.

They do seem to be spending a lot of time together this week. I hope Victoria is being nice to her, although I must say she does seem a little.. different. They do say God moves in mysterious ways. Maybe it is His hand at work, here? It all seems a bit miraculous..

Is Max.. a messenger from God?

An.. angel?

Kate shook her head at such blasphemous thoughts.

Just being a good person does not make them divine, Kate. It's just the right thing to do.

“Hi Max. Hi Victoria.” She stood up from the bench from where she had been reading, laying her book down on the seat.

“Hi Kate, how are you this morning? Do you fancy getting something to eat at lunch time?” said Max cheerfully, giving Kate a quick embrace. Kate returned it warmly.

“That would be lovely, Max, as long as you don't have other plans?” She cast a quick look at Victoria, who seemed to be intently studying a tree.

“No, I'm free until we need to get ready for the party. You are coming, aren't you? I would really like you too. And so would Victoria,” said Max, elbowing the tall girl.

“Yes. Of course Kate. I'd love you too,” Victoria said, still not looking directly at her. Kate looked at her before whispering to Max.

Is she alright? She's acting very odd.” Max looked at Victoria, before whispering back to Kate.

She's just a got a lot on her mind right now. You know, re-evaluating her life choices, that sort of thing.” Kate giggled.

“Well, that can only be a good thing. But yes, of course I'll come – Dana has offered me a lift with her, Juliet and Trevor, so that should be alright..” She trailed off a little, looking slightly sad, but then brightened up again. “What about you Max? Are you going with Warren?” Victoria snorted.

“Of course she isn't. She's -”

“I'll get there, Kate, but not with Warren, no.” She looked at Victoria and nodded slightly, before turning back to Kate. “Actually, there is one thing we just wanted to ask you..?” Kate looked between them, curious.

“What? Is there something wrong?” she asked nervously, sitting back down again. Victoria stood in front of her and smiled, although to Kate the smiled seemed more sinister than friendly. She felt herself trying to lean backwards away from her as far as she could.

“Kate, I have to ask you – can you do anything like... this?” Victoria waved her hand, and a small pillar of ice began to form in the ground between them. Kate watched horrified as Victoria added more and more, until a veritable thicket was forming an impenetrable barrier between them.

“You're... you're.. a devil..” Kate said hoarsely, her eyes wide. “It's all true! All of it! They do walk amongst us.. and you are ONE OF THEM!” She ended up screaming, pointing a finger; before scrambling away in fear. She turned to Max who was holding onto Victoria's arm. “Get away from her! She has bewitched you! Satan has entered into her soul and..”



“Well, that was a big fat no, then..” said Max, waving goodbye to a cheerful Kate who had returned to reading her book. Victoria sighed and looked back at her.

“I feel kind of sorry for her. That must have been an awful thing to experience, even if.. well even if it hasn't happened. But I know it did..” She fell silent, before looking down at Max. “This is what it's like for you, isn't it?” Max didn't answer, but just slid her fingers in-between Victoria's and squeezed. Victoria gave her a gentle squeeze back, before looking around the school grounds.

“OK. Who is next?”



“Honestly, I never thought I would actually see someone shit their pants. I thought that kind of thing only happened in the movies.”

“You were really mean to him, though, Vic. You didn't have to go on and do all that 'I'm going to rend your flesh from your body' stuff.”

“Oh come on, he had been asking whether you wanted to go with him to the party, despite already asking Brooke as his date, and despite the fact I was standing right there. With my arm around your waist. For all his supposed cleverness he can't half be thick.”

“Warren is nice. He's just young, and...”

“Needs to get laid. Quickly. Right, that rules him out – we are running out of people here, aren't we?”



“Hold still will you? I can't hold it against your cheek if you move.”

“It really hurts, Max. I hope this won't bruise tonight.” Victoria sighed in frustration. “Why can't going back in time remove injures too?”

“You told me to take you with me, rather than leave you behind. It's your own fault.” Max stepped back and squeezed some water from the wad of tissues she was using as a compress. “Besides, I did warn you about her left hook, didn't I?” Max looked critically at Victoria's cheek, who raised her hand to touch it then winced.

“Who thought cheerleading meant you got so strong. Maybe I should take it up.” Max gently ran her finger over the slight swelling, wiping away a bit of water before reapplying the compress.

“Oh good lord, could you imagine you two trying to get on doing that? Although... the thought of you in a cheerleading outfit..”

“Max, don't even think about it. Ugh, let me make some more ice, hang on..”

 

They sat together by the statue at the front entrance, ignoring the curious looks from passer-bys. Victoria was fiddling with her phone, coordinating party plans whilst simultaneously deflecting the worst of the speculation and gossip caused by Max's status change.

“OK, so that's all of them who are around at the moment,” said Max, looking up into the tree canopy and the way the sunlight played through the leaves. She hadn't taken a photo in what felt like forever – she felt she had lost any passion or desire to ever do it again – but right now, watching the way light played on the leaves and filtered down onto her girlfriends face, she felt that she could at least think about it once more. “And I don't think we found anyone. Unless they are all hiding it still, but.. why would you if you knew you were no longer alone?” Victoria finished writing a message before replying.

“I know I didn't want to be. I mean, holding this secret within me. It feels really good to be able to share it with someone who understands, you know? To know I'm not a.. not a freak, or completely insane.”

“You're my little freak though,” said Max, looking at her with big doe eyes, before punching her to stop Victoria pretending to gag. “Seriously though, it does mean that whoever the other four are – and I think they are out there, otherwise why would all six visit us? - they are not anyone here. Samuel said something to me about six being stronger than two. I think we are supposed to find them.” Victoria shook her head.

“And how exactly are we supposed to do that? And why? We're just 18, two high-schoolers trying to be photographers.. what are we supposed to do about it?” Max shrugged.

“I don't know. For now I guess all we can do is focus on the current task at hand.” Victoria started to count them off on her fingers.

“Which one? Organise the party? Discover the truth behind the Dark Room? Find out what Sean Prescott is up too? Work out what our powers are for? Find the other four, if they even exist? Try and have a normal date with each other? Mitigate the absolute social apocalypse you have caused? Actually graduate? Meet your parents and not make it a complete disaster? Finally come out to my parents?”

“You want to meet my parents?” asked Max. “That's so cool, they'll love you I'm sure. They've always been pretty open with me about things, so..” Victoria smacked her on the hand.

“Way to focus on the important things, Caulfield. But yes, I'd like to. Anyway, I've got shit to do before tonight, and you are supposed to be going for lunch with Kate.” Max checked the time on her cell.

“Oh crap, yes. I've only got a few minutes.” She stood up and stretched, before turning back to give Victoria a long, slow kiss. Victoria looked back at her with happy eyes, shyly touching her lips where Max had just been.

“Actually, I was planning on going to the beach this afternoon to take a few shots. Want to come with me and do the same, then we can come back and get ready? I'll even let you use a proper camera, rather than that bargain store retro trash you usually use.” Max felt a coldness run through her at the prospect of taking photographs again, but she suppressed it and smiled back at her.

“Of course, I'll meet you there after I've finished with Kate.”



Max met Kate at the bus stop, and they took the bus into town together. Max listened happily as Kate regaled her with ideas for her latest creation – an illustrated comic featuring Alice as the leader of a band of rabbits who went on all sorts of adventures.

“Of course there will be one called Max,” she said, “Max the Brave. The only thing I'm stuck on is the name of their nemesis. I was thinking of..” She looked out of the window, slightly embarrassed. Max looked at her, amused.

“You were going to say Victoria, weren't you?” Kate blushed an even deeper shade of red.

“No..! Of course not. OK, well, maybe. It was silly of me, I know, but she was just so horrible to me..” She turned to look at Max, somewhat thoughtful. “But she does really seemed to have changed over this last week. It's remarkable, almost miraculous. I assume you have something to do with this, though? You do seem to be spending a lot of time together, considering how she used to treat you.” Max avoided her gaze by looking out at the passing bay, relieved to see not a sign of a dead whale anywhere.

There hasn't been anything crazy happen at all, despite both of us using our powers. Were all the other things I tried to do wrong then? Was I always supposed to meet Victoria?

What if I saved Chloe and met Victoria?

What if..?

Would I still have Victoria though? Would I want to lose this just as it is beginning?

Would I be allowed to?

“Yeah, I guess.. but let's talk about this a bit more over some food. I'm hungry.”



They ended up back at Teawitched; Kate having heard they were serving some new teas since their last visit earlier in the week and wanted to check out the new menu. To Max it seemed a lifetime ago since she had last been here, so much having changed since then. They both ordered breakfast, Max going for some more pancakes while they shared a pot of English Breakfast tea. They chatted about some inconsequentialities before Kate addressed the elephant in the room.

“So,” she said, eyeing Max over the rim of her cup. “Victoria.” Max was still chewing on the remnant of her pancakes and didn't answer straight away; instead she found herself reflexively freezing time to try and work out how she wanted this conversation to go. She knew this was a bad habit to still be into, removing any risk and spontaneity from her life; but she found that it helped her appear to be more confident and outgoing than she thought she was.

Kate is going to be pissed when I tell her that I'm dating the girl who.. who..

No, she didn't. Not in this timeline.

Things are different this time.

I'm different.

Aren't I?

“What about her?” replied Max, feigning ignorance. Kate's eyes watched Max closely.

“Ever since the horrible thing which happened on Monday, and Nathan being taken away – it's like she is a changed person. Completely changed. I would never have thought it could happen, given how she was before. The terrible things she did to everyone, and to me. And yet, there she was apologising to me that night, and then again in front of everyone at the diner. And you seem to be a big part of that.” She took a sip of her tea and smiled at Max. “I am eternally grateful for whatever you have done, Max. Having a nice Victoria around – assuming she stays like that – will make life for everyone at Blackwell much better.” Max nodded, and took a sip of her own tea.

“Yes, it will. She does have a heart, Kate – but she just hides it. She can be incredibly sweet and generous, and she really cares for the people close to her.” Kate smiled.

“Yes, I expect she does.” She looked at Max again; Max blushed and quickly looked away, cursing herself as she did so.

Oh come on, you can't even stand up to scrutiny from Kate?

Let's rewind then, until you can.

No, I can't keep avoiding this stuff. Especially not with those close to me. Otherwise I'm just a fake.

Isn't it a bit late for that? 6,353 remember?

Yes, and it won't be 6354.

We'll see, Maxine Caulfield, we'll see.

“Tell me, Max,” said Kate suddenly, her voice quiet and sad. “What is it like to love someone and have that love returned?” Max paused, cup halfway to her mouth.

“Why do you ask me that, Kate?” It was Kate's turn to blush slightly and hide behind her cup.

“Well, I might be a little inexperienced when it comes to matters like this but I'm not stupid, Max. I can see now that you and Victoria like each other.. a lot. And there was the small matter of your Facebook update today. I'm not saying I approve.. yet; I still don't trust her. But the way you two look at each other.. well, what's it like?” Max went bright red, and reflexively raised her hand before putting it on the table and placing her other hand on top.

No, Max. Bad girl.

“It's... well.. erm, first I want to apologise for not telling you sooner, Kate. This is all really new and I don't know how far it'll go, but please believe me when I said Victoria wants to change and be a better person. She really does, but she is still strong willed, and defiant, and so clever, and she does this thing where she flicks her hair up with her fingers when she is worried about something, and she does this funny little snort without realising it when she laughs.. What?” Max looked at Kate's gently smiling face.

“I'm happy for you, Max. You seem to be bringing the best out of her, I just hope she doesn't rub off on you too much.” Max smiled back at her.

“Thank you, Kate, it's such a relief to me that you are not upset about this. You are my best friend here and I want you to stay that. So you have to tell me if I am turning too Chase-like.”

“Deal.” They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes, feeling thoroughly at ease in each other's company.

“Tell me about your shopping trip,” Kate asked Max suddenly. “What was it like being dragged around by the Queen herself?” Max smiled to herself at the memory.

“Well – how can I best describe it? Imagine you are a small rowing boat when suddenly a battleship goes steaming past, guns blazing..” Kate listened as Max told her tale, noticing how her eyes seemed to shine with happiness every time she talked about Victoria.

I'm so happy for you, Max.

At least you have someone.

I hope I will too, someday.



Max walked down the sea front looking at some of the dilapidated business that lined the streets. Arcadia Bay was a strange mix of old, run down industries that were in slow decline along with a few new modern independent shops, businesses and eateries, trying to capture the nascent tourist and artistic community that was beginning to arrive - in large part due to Blackwell’s restructuring of its academic programme. The school had inadvertently drawn more attention to this quiet corner of Oregon, and its dramatic coastline and brooding forests provided ideal locations for leisure activities in a still relatively unspoilt and quiet part of the state.

All that would’ve been wiped out by the storm. At least people can still build on what is here already.

As long as they get out from under the Prescott shadow.

After a good 15 minute walk she reached the turning near where she had met Victoria earlier in the week. She saw the familiar red Porsche parked up and set out across the sand, looking for Victoria. She eventually saw her crouching by the shoreline, camera in hand. She waved and Victoria waved back, before holding her camera up to her face.

“What do you think?” asked Victoria as Max approached, showing her the photo she had taken. It showed Max in the distance, hair blown slightly astray by the breeze; a lone figure walking across the sand.

“Not bad,” said Max. “Seems a bit whimsical for you, though?” Victoria shrugged.

“Got to try something new on occasion. I used to like the style of.. off.. well, him, but now.. I can sort of see it for what it was. Technically brilliant, yes, but utterly repulsive.”

“It is obvious when you stepped back and looked,” said Max quietly. “But I don’t blame you for not seeing it, no-one did until..” She fell silent, and looked out across the sea. Victoria put her hand on her arm.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring all that up. It was stupid of me.” Max smiled thinly.

“It’s fine. It’s over. Done with. He’s dead, Nathan is in jail and we are going to sort out Prescott one way or another.” She walked a little away from Victoria, heading towards the surf and stood there, looking out at some boats in the distance.

After a minute or two she felt Victoria come up behind her and put her arms around her waist, the hard bulk of the camera between them. They stood like that for a while, saying nothing but enjoying the feeling of just being there together. The mood was interrupted by the ringing of Victoria’s cell, and she reluctantly pulled away and looked at the caller.

“I’ve got to take this, Max – here, have a look at this shot I took. See what you think.” Max took the camera that was thrust into her hands while Victoria walked away, talking animatedly into her cell. The camera felt heavy in Max's hands, and she felt reluctant to touch it. The image on the screen momentarily distracted her – a picture of Max from slightly behind and to the side, looking out to the boats in the distance. Victoria had managed to catch the mood of the setting, the bright sunshine seeming to contrast with the seriousness of the subject at the centre.

This is really good. She is really talented.

As are you Max. You have..

..a..

..gift..

Her fingers tightened on the camera, her breathing becoming shallow and rapid. She closed her eyes, feeling the tightness of the bonds around her wrist, the harsh lighting in her face..

-‘..why are you wasting such talent? You could have come to San Francisco with me, except here you are..’

No.

You won’t control me. Not any more.

- Max had experimented with just how far someone’s arm could bend before the bone broke, and she used it to good effect now. He was tied to the tree, arms held outstretched, right at that threshold of breaking. She lifted the short iron bar in her hand and appraised her handiwork. ‘Leg or arm?' she asked him..

You are stronger than him.

Stronger than all of them.

You can make them all bow.

She opened her eyes and saw the bright sunlight scattering across the waves, the wind blowing her hair away from her face. She looked at the camera in her hands.

It’s just an object. A tool. And one owned by someone special.

She looked over at Victoria, who was pacing up and down, cell in her hand. Max raised the camera to her eye, feeling her hands tremble slightly as she waited for the right moment. She breathed slowly outwards as she took the picture, feeling a strange sense of release as she looked at the image on the screen – Victoria Chase, her Victoria, framed against the sky, one hand deftly flicking her hair from her eyes as she talked, her eyes catching the sunlight just so.

Perfect.

Feeling a little emboldened Max started to take more pictures with increasing confidence, finding that with each one the memory of the joy she used to have in taking them slowly returning.

“Having fun, Max?” asked Victoria, a slight smile on her face. Max was crouched down, focusing the camera on some driftwood that had washed ashore. She took the shot then stood up, smiling.

“Actually, yes, I am. I haven’t really done this for so long, the memory… it wasn’t the best association in my mind. But now, with you .. it just seems normal. Fun.”

“I’m glad, that was the whole point of doing this – to have fun. But - I have news.” Max looked at her, eyebrow raised.

“That was my lawyer – well, one of them – the guy who is coming down on Monday to speak to Wells with me. I asked them this morning to arrange a meeting with Sean Prescott, ostensibly about being Nathan’s character witness – that meant finding out where he is and what time he can do. Short answer – he’s back in town tomorrow night, and we have a meeting with him Monday afternoon.” Max clapped her hands together. 

“So we can pay him a visit tomorrow night, then work out what to do properly for the Monday.” Max wrapped her arms around Victoria and kissed her. “You’re brilliant, you know that? This makes things so much easier – we can get the answers we need, then we can confront him with a lawyer there for a witness.” Victoria looked at her happily.

“I'm not just a super ice bitch, am I.”

“No, you're my clever super ice bitch.” Victoria preened a little, basking in the simple adoration shown to her by Max.

“We have an hour or two before we have to go back and get ready, shall we take a few more photos?”

“Sure. Um, by the way, Victoria, about tonight..” began Max. Victoria looked at her a little nervously, butterflies appearing in her stomach as irrational thoughts started to creep into her brain..

Oh no.

What now..

She's going to tell me she doesn't want to be with me tonight.

It's over. You know it.

It was too good for you.

She closed her eyes, exhaling through her nostrils.

“What?”

“Um, if it is alright.. I was just wondering.. if..” Max started, fidgeting a little, “I know we talked about it before, but.. if we can take Cammy? I think it would be nice to drive up there in her, give her a little -” Victoria's eyes widened, her fears vanishing instantly, relief flooding through her.

“I'm sorry, but what? No. No! Fuck no! I said so before. No fucking way.”

“Why not?” whined Max, pouting. “It's roomy, fast, has a trunk and we can go along unnoticed..” Victoria drew herself up to her full height, hands resting on her hips.

“That car is going nowhere except to the junk yard. If you expect me to get all dressed up and then get in that rat infested overdose wagon then I'd rather go with Warren.”

“You wouldn't,” said Max, covering her mouth in mock horror.

“Try me, hipster.” Max held up her hands in surrender.

“Fine, we'll take your fancy-ass thing. But I'm driving you to the ball, Cinderella.”

Chapter Text

Warren pressed his foot down hard to the floor, watching the needle slowly drag its way up to 20. The last mile or so had been quite hard on the car, the road being fairly steep and the extra weight of the two passengers and luggage proving to be too much for the feeble engine. He cast a sideways glance at Brooke who was focused on her cell, giving directions. Alyssa had been fairly quiet the whole journey, half engrossed in a novel she had brought with her. Warren wondered how she could read without being travel sick.

“It should be about a half mile more, up on the left,” Brooke said, pointing ahead of them. “I think we might be the last ones there.” Warren nodded.

“OK, well let's hope all the rooms aren't taken then.” He wondered how Max had got there - she hadn't answered the last five texts he had sent her offering her a lift.

Maybe she isn't coming after-all, then. Brooke had said she didn't think she was going with Dana like Kate was, and there is no-one else who could take her..

He resisted the urge to check his cell again, dimly aware that he would annoy Brooke even more than he had been, if he continually looked to see if Max had read his messages.

Anyway, I've got Brooke here with me now. When Max finds out she came with me she'll be so jealous..

Warren smiled to himself, playing out a scenario in his head where he and Brooke arrived back at Blackwell, walking arm-in-arm past a seethingly jealous Max.

Why yes Brooke, let's go to the Two Whales again. What's that, your TV is broken? Of course you can watch it at mine. Max? What? You want her to come and watch the film with us as well? Well, it would be rude not to..

Brooke's voice cut through his daydreaming.

“Warren, it's this turning here.” Warren turned slowly into a wide gravel car park which was already occupied by several cars parked outside a large wooden building, seemingly inspired by Scandinavian architecture. Warren stopped the car and got out, marvelling at the size of the place. It was 3 storeys high but set back into the hillside, so the uppermost storey was at ground level. Wide, floor to ceiling windows afforded views out across the valley, with large verandas encircling the building at each level. Warm lights strung out along the façade were already casting a glow out into the gathering dusk.

“It's freaking huge,” breathed Brooke. “This place must've cost a fortune to rent.” Brooke and Alyssa both grabbed their things from the car, excitedly chattering about exploring the place and finding a nice room to stay in.

“Oh, I wonder if they have a sauna? Or even a pool – did you bring a costume?” asked Alyssa, looking around the grounds.

“Didn't you get the message?” Brooke replied. “There's a hot tub too. More importantly, it has wireless internet all through the place. Although I wish I'd brought my drone to fly off the hills, now I think of it.” She walked off towards the building, before looking back. “Hey Warren, are you coming? We'll see you in there if not.” Warren waved a hand, motioning them to proceed without him as he stood up and stretched, stiff from all of the driving and feeling a little lost. He grabbed his things and locked his car, before taking one last look down the road as if hoping to see Max walking up it.

She's not coming.

As he turned away in disappointment he thought he could hear the sound of an engine in the distance, shattering the quiet, and he wondered who could be arriving after them.

Whoever it is is moving pretty fast by the sounds of it. I wonder why they are in such a hurry?

Before long he could see lights flickering through the trees, the engine sounding raw and powerful. Suddenly it was there, and he watched in amazement as a red Porsche came sliding sideways through the gateway, drifting around the car park in a shower of gravel before skidding to a stop just past him, covering him in dust. The engine revved once before turning off; the sudden silence broken only by the sound of the car door opening. His stomach sank as out of it stepped his Nemesis: Victoria Chase, resplendent in her glory, dressed to kill in a sheer black dress. He couldn't help but notice that as she crunched over the gravel in her black heels, the slit at the side rode tantalisingly up her thigh. He swallowed nervously as she turned her gaze on him, her face framed by her immaculately coiffured hair, lips cherry red.

“Do you want to take a photograph?” she asked in a voice that held both menace and the order for him to drop to his knees and worship at her feet, like the worthless being he was.

“Urgh ark umm..” he managed in a strangled garble, arms flailing. He watched helplessly, rooted to the spot as Victoria stopped by the driver's door and opened it. Out of it stepped something he had only ever imagined in his dreams – Max, who was scarcely recognisable from the figure she usually cut, her hair styled, dressed in expensive clothes that seemed to hug her every curve and a hint of makeup accentuating her lips and eyes. Warren felt his stomach lurch through his feet as she noticed him and gave him a little wave.

“Oh, hey Warren. I'm so glad you came,” she said in a happy voice.

“He looks like he has come already,” Victoria muttered, looking downwards in disgust. Max didn't seem to hear her and wandered over to him, smiling widely. Warren felt as if he had been struck dumb as she looked up at him with her deep blue eyes. His palms felt sweaty and his stomach hollow as she casually brushed a loose hair from her face.

“Did you come with Brooke and Alyssa? Have they gone in already?” He managed to squeak out a 'yes' and pointed idiotically in the direction they had gone.

“Oh, cool. I'm so happy you brought Brooke, you two are made for each other,” Max said, smiling at him. Warren saw Victoria impatiently grab Max by the hand and start to pull her towards the house. Max resisted for a moment, her look becoming one of concern.

“Warren, are you OK? You are acting a bit odd – was the journey a bit much for you?” Warren prayed to all the Gods he didn't believe in to be granted the power of speech, and somewhere his pleas were answered.

“No, sorry,” he stuttered, “I'm OK... it's just.. I've.. never.. you look.. like..”

Say it you fool!

Say she's pretty!

Say it!

Say it now!

“Come on Max, let's go,” Victoria said, wrapping her arm around her waist and pulling her away. Max didn't resist this time, but shouted over her shoulder at him as she was firmly guided away by Victoria.

“Have a good time, Warren! I'll catch you later!”

“Pretty,” Warren muttered sadly to himself at her retreating back, noting with a dull feeling how she rested her head against Victoria. “You looked pretty.”

He stood there for a moment alone in the gathering dark, before grabbing his bag and heading off to find Brooke and the others.



Max sat in the large lounge area looking around at the assembled guests. Victoria had asked everyone to assemble and she could see there were around 30 people there, around half of whom she didn't recognise. She caught the eye of Taylor across from her on another couch, who waved and smiled at her, and she gave a little wave back. Kate was sitting besides her, dressed in jeans and a simple top and had let her hair down for the night. Max thought that she looked completely different here away from Blackwell, as she looked around smiling nervously.

“You OK?” Max whispered, to which Kate gave her a happy nod.

“I'm looking forward to the food,” she whispered back. “I saw them preparing it a few minutes ago. I'm going to eat until it hurts, I think. Do you know why Victoria has asked us all to sit here?” she enquired of Max.

“She wants to give a speech. Total drama Queen, I know.” Max waved her hand dramatically, trying to make herself look self-important and putting on a falsetto voice. “'Max, it is important to maintain standards, given the current situation, and I intend to keep up the high standards of the Vortex Club in a manner which befits the Chase name.' Or something like that, anyway.” Kate giggled and then covered her mouth.

“It doesn't seem real that we can laugh about her like this. She won't kill us, will she?” Max looked serious for a moment.

“Probably not. But promise me you will avenge my death, will you?” Kate looked at her wide eyed, before realising Max was joking, and gave her a little push. Max pushed her back, smiling widely before putting a finger to her lips and pointing forwards.



Victoria stood in the middle of the room, ensuring that every eye was on her. Max couldn't help but stare at how perfect she looked tonight, and got a warm feeling in her stomach from the knowledge that it was largely done for her benefit.

“Everyone, quiet please,” Victoria shouted, “I would just like to say a few words.” There were groans from a few of them, which were quickly silenced by the death glare she shot at them.

“Thank you everyone for coming tonight; those who typically would not attend such a Vortex event, and especially those who may not have traditionally been made to feel welcome here.” She paused, and Max thought she cast a glance her way. “I know it has been a difficult time this week for everyone after the incident involving the former co-president of this club. Most of you know that I considered him as a friend – and he was - but I cannot deny the fact that I was blind to his deteriorating mental health and should have acted sooner.” There was an uncomfortable silence as those assembled watched a suddenly uncertain Victoria, so different to the harsh, waspish figure they were used too. A few of them also knew, deep down, that Victoria was not the only one who may have been guilty of enabling the actions of Nathan in exchange for the financial support he gave to the club.

“However, there is no excuse for things continuing as they are. This should serve as a wake up call for us. This club, this Vortex Club, has become everything which has been wrong at Blackwell this last year and has enabled some terrible things to happen. It is no secret that the events we arranged, that we supported and that we attended have not been safe, enjoyable places for everyone, for quite a while. And I acknowledge my part in some of that.” Max looked at Kate, who was sitting forward attentively listening to Victoria. Victoria subconsciously placed a hand on her forehead and closed her eyes for a moment, as if reliving some memory. When she opened her eyes they had a hard edge to them, as if gleaming with a green fire.

“But this is not happening any more. Not under me, not while I am here. From now on this place, this group, is going to be somewhere people can feel welcome - even those who may be a little different. Or those who feel like they don't fit in.” She looked from person to person as she continued to speak, and few could meet her gaze – except one, who watched her with a happy, encouraging expression that seemed to give her confidence. “The Vortex Club used to be a place for everyone, no matter how rich or poor or different; somewhere where we could all mix and learn from each other. And it will be like that again. This weekend is the first step along that road, and as part of it, representation in the committee will be extended and opened to those who have not previously been included on it. I want some input on how this is going to work, so please give me your ideas.” She paused again, looking around the room. “And if you don't like this new direction, well – you can fuck off.” Max nearly choked on her laughter, and was pleased to see Kate doing the same. There was a general murmur of approval around the room, which Victoria basked in for a moment before holding up her hand again for silence.

“Going forward, if anyone has an issue with someone, or feels they are being excluded on any grounds, then bring it to me. I will listen, and if it is against these new principles I want to install then I will find the person responsible. And I will kill them.” There was a silence followed by a smattering of nervous laughter, but Victoria was not smiling. Kate cast a questioning look at Max who merely shrugged, leaving Kate wide eyed.

“Finally, before we go eat – the food should be ready now, along with an open bar downstairs; although just to let you know the staff are under orders not to serve you if you can't actually ask clearly for a drink – yes I'm looking at you, Hayden – there have been rumours floating around about me and a certain person.” Victoria's gaze swept the room, lingering briefly on Max who suddenly felt herself going bright red. “Firstly, it's none of your fucking business; secondly, if I catch anyone speaking shit about her then I will gut you like a fish, and thirdly -” she paused, and looked at all the people hanging expectantly on her words with rapt attention, as she commandeered the room. “I need a fucking drink.” There was a general laughter at her words, along with confused looks from a few people who were not entirely up to speed with the latest gossip. Victoria nodded to herself, satisfied.

“Right, you can all go on and eat, drink and most importantly - enjoy yourself.” There was a general chorus of 'thanks' and 'you too, Victoria' as people got up and dispersed, the general hum of conversation starting up as people either digested her words, or continued their previous conversations.

Kate sat back next to Max and was silent for a moment.

“Well,” she said, “I don't know what you are doing to her, Max, but please don't stop.”



Max stood there, plate in hand and staring at the food in front of her. She didn't think she had seen such a varied and expensive buffet in her life, not even at her cousin Alan's 3rd wedding – the one that was going to work, this time, just you wait and see. She hovered indecisively, trying to make her mind up.

That 4 th wedding though, that was something.

Do I get another serving of the salmon vol-au-vents, or should I branch out into some of that rather good looking sushi? Isn't there some Ramen soup over there? Oh, is that Paella? I've never had that before, that's what it looks like.. and what are those things over there?

“You could just have one of everything, Max,” said a voice behind her. Disturbed from her musings she turned to see Brooke looking at her, smartly dressed in a black t-shirt with some interesting design on it Max had not seen before, hanging loose over a pair of tight mid-length trousers.

“Oh hey Brooke, you look nice tonight,” said Max, and gestured to the food. “I'm kinda spoilt for choice here, what do you recommend?” Brooke came and stood next to her, surveying the endless tables arrayed in front of them, staff hovering expectantly.

“There is a lot, isn't there. Victoria has really pulled out all the stops here. And have you seen the cocktail bar in the other room? I could literally sit there all night.” Max shook her head and smiled at her – this was one of the most normal conversations she'd had with Brooke.

“Yes, she has certainly made an impressive effort.”

“God knows what this cost,” said Brooke, helping herself to a large helping of seasoned wedges before dolloping some apple Sauerkraut on top, a combination which made Max's stomach queasy. “Although from what I've found out it's not like she couldn't afford it. Still, I'm not going to complain, and if she follows through on what she said before then I could really get used to this sort of thing.” Max reached over and started helping herself to some Katsu curry.

“So, how are you and Warren getting on tonight?” she asked, and watched as Brooke's food-laden fork stopped halfway to her mouth.

“Why do you ask, Max?” she said suspiciously, “are you planning on doing anything? I wondered why you were looking so.. so.. made up.” Max eyes widened.

“What? Oh no! Oh God no, Brooke – in fact, I had been trying -”

“There you are,” said a voice in her ear, and she felt an arm come around her stomach from behind. “Stuffing your face as usual, I see.” Brooke watched in astonishment as Victoria kissed Max on her cheek while Max leaned into the embrace, moving her hand up to touch Victoria's cheek. Victoria suddenly seemed to acknowledge Brookes presence.

“Hello Brooke. Are you enjoying yourself? Where's your limpet?” Brooke looked from Max to Victoria and back again, as if her brain was suddenly recalibrating her entire world view.

“Er, over there,” she said, pointing with her finger, still not taking her eyes off the pair. Victoria nodded, whispered something in Max's ear that made her blush before waltzing off to another group. Max returned to eat her curry as if nothing had happened, leaving Brooke standing there in silence gesturing with her free hand, at a loss for words.

“Wait, so.. you.. and.. but.. why... how..?” Max looked at her and smiled, then laid a gentle hand on Brooke's arm.

“I've tried to tell him, you know, that he was on the wrong track. But he can be a bit dense sometimes, like he is lost in his own world.” She paused, and cocked her head to one side, appraising Brooke. “You are both well suited for each other – just go and enjoy yourself, you don't need to be worried about me stealing him or anything silly like that.” Brooke suddenly laughed at the situation, her face suddenly a little clearer and less worried.

“Thanks Max. You are right, I was paranoid you were out to steal him. I think he does have a crush on you, god knows why. I do really like him though, I hope he feels the same way about me.” Max nodded.

“He does and will realise it soon enough. With me he liked an idea he had created in his head I think, along with the fact I was prepared to give him the time of day as a friend. But that's all it ever was. And don't worry – Victoria will literally cut his balls off if she sees him even cast a glance my way.” Brooke walked off hurriedly, casting fearful glances in the direction of Victoria who smiled wolfishly at her as she went past, causing her to quicken her pace.



Kate swirled the wine around her glass, watching the red liquid cling to the sides. She was momentarily on her own, and took her time to sit back and enjoy the moment of solitude. She felt slightly fuzzy headed, but not in the way she had felt at the last party. Here she knew it was down to the glass - two? three? - of wine she had already drunk that evening. She caught Dana looking at her, checking if she was OK and she gave her a small thumbs up.

I actually feel quite happy here. I feel I am among friends, and safe. Maybe this is how it is supposed to be all the time. Even drinking this wine, which is very tasty I must say, is not as bad as I thought it would be. Or was told it should be.

She was shaken out of her thoughts by someone sitting down next to her – to her surprise she saw it was Victoria, who had a glass of what looked like white wine in her hand. Victoria still looked absolutely perfect, and Kate wondered how she did it.

I must look a right state by now, I'm sure my hair is all mussed up. How does she manage it? She looks so perfect. Like really beautiful, with those green eyes and the way her hair is cut to show off those cheek bones..

Kate suddenly blushed, realising that she was eyeing up her best friend's girlfriend, then blushed even further when she saw that Victoria appeared to have noticed. Victoria's eyes twinkled with amusement and she took a sip of her wine, before placing the glass down and turning to face Kate properly.

“How are you Kate? Are you enjoying yourself?” Kate looked around at the small groups of people seemingly happily engaged in conversation, a few moving off to dance in an adjacent room where some music was playing.

“Yes, yes I am actually, Victoria. Thank you for inviting me, it was not.. what I expected.”

“After the last time?” said Victoria quietly, to which Kate nodded slightly. Victoria sighed a little, before continuing.

“I know I keep saying this, but I am really sorry you know. About all of it. I wish.. I wish I had not done any of it now. I wish I could go back in time like.. I mean, it's just life is so much more.. better for me being, well..”

“Like Max?” said Kate with a smile. Victoria laughed.

“No, actually, I was going to say more like you.” Kate pursed her lips and raised her glass to Victoria.

“Thank you, that's very nice of you to say. And I accept your apology – it doesn't make it right, but I can see that you are at least trying. I hope you manage to stick to your word, Victoria.” Victoria looked at Kate meaning to reply, but saw that she wanted to speak again.

“I also want you to treat Max right. I don't want to find out that you are using her for your own ends, whatever they may be. Max deserves someone who will treat her right and love her for who she is.” Victoria didn't say anything but just nodded at Kate's words, picking up her wine glass and playing with the stem. Eventually she looked back at Kate.

“It took a lot for me to realise that Max was what I wanted, Kate. It was a huge step for me, I had such a fear of.. of rejection, of hurt. I used to hate who I was.. I mean, who I felt I was attracted too. That sort of thing can really eat away at you.” Kate turned to look at her, her eyes narrowing slightly as she listened to her words.

“And the worst thing was that I used to bully those who were different, or those who may be the same way inclined as.. me.” Victoria paused, leaving the words hanging in the air between them. Kate looked deep into her glass, wondering how much more she could drink tonight.

“And that was a real shit thing to do, because it is hard enough realising who you want to be without the fear of being attacked and shamed for it.” Kate began to feel a little prick around her eyes, as she realised that Victoria was trying to apologise for something entirely different.

She knows. I don't know how, but she knows. And she wants me to know that I should be OK with myself, to be brave like her. That she understands what it is like.

But she is so strong and beautiful and proud. How can I be brave like her?

Or like Max?

“Max has made me realise that it's perfectly normal and there is nothing, nothing to be ashamed of. If it wasn't for her, and her making me realise this, then.. well, we wouldn't be sitting her now, Kate. And I would be the same useless shit I was before.” Victoria laid her hand gently on Kate's arm, who looked back at her with sightly red eyes.

“I know it's hard, especially if you have a family who won't accept it, like.. like mine – but honestly, it's the best decision I have ever made in my life.”

“Where has the real Victoria Chase gone?” asked Kate through a small sob, even though she was smiling. “Who is this person next to me?” Victoria gave her a small smile before drawing her into a hug, which Kate gratefully returned.

“Come on,” said Victoria, pulling her up by the hand. “Let's go and see if Max has finally left the buffet alone.”



"I don't know, man, I'm not sure about all of this." Logan took another swig from his bottle, then belched. “Uff, that's better. I mean, what was wrong with the old stuff we did? That was fun.” Hayden took a deep draw on his joint before answering, passing it sideways to Trevor. Zachary was opposite him, the four of them sitting outside on a veranda while the party carried on inside.

"It'll be cool,” Hayden said. “She's OK if you just play by her rules. Once you get past that whole thing she does she's good enough. It'll be cool. Trust me." Zachary opened another bottle, before pointing an unsteady finger towards Logan.

"Well more people means more girls, more girls means more chances to score. That's gotta be good." Hayden sat up a little bleary eyed and looked at him.

"Aren't you with Juliet, bro? I thought that was your thing." Zachary shrugged, settling back in his chair.

"It's just a thing. She's hot and all, but.. you know.” He pointed at Trevor. “Not like you and Dana. She's hot. That rack.."

"That's my girlfriend, dude. Not cool. And it was supposed to be a secret. Sorry Logan." Logan shrugged, he knew that he had been chasing a lost cause.

“I had my chance and blew it. But Zack's right, she does have a great rack.”

“Whatever,” muttered Trevor. It was all rather new with Dana and he didn't want to fuck it up, but she had seemed a bit distracted over the past few days - which was why he was on the veranda getting stoned rather than inside with her. Logan continued, gesturing with his bottle.

"OK, OK – since we have all this incoming new blood - top five hot girls here tonight. Girlfriends or fuck buddies or whatever they are don't count – so no Juliet or Dana." There was a general shrugging of agreement; Logan seemed obsessed with identifying and ranking the 'hotness' of the women in the school. Hayden suspected he was trying to compensate for something but didn't quite know what.

“Sure, you go first then as it's your idea which you seem obsessed with.”

“Right – so if it is just people here tonight - then Kate Marsh.” Zachary spat his drink out laughing.

“Dude, really? You're fucked already, put down that beer.”

“What?” continued Logan, “have you seen how she looks tonight? I bet you underneath all that Christian shit she goes like a train. Remember how she was at the last party she came too? I tell you, she's up for it.” There was an uncomfortable silence, and Logan suddenly shifted as if in discomfort. “Anyone else cold out here? This seat is freezing my balls off." Trevor rolled his eyes.

"It's just you. And don't be such an asshole, she was drugged. That whole thing was fucked up." There was a general murmur of agreement from Zachary and Hayden, but Logan wasn't willing to let it go.

"I'm just saying that you know it's the quiet ones. I'd love to get my hands on.. ouch, fuck! This really fucking hurts!" He jumped up, rubbing away at his crotch. Hayden looked at him curiously.

“Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you? Sit down. Anyway, if we are still doing this - Zack, your turn.” Zachary pondered for a moment, looking through one of the large glass doors behind them for inspiration.

“Sarah,” he said. There was a chorus of nods and agreements followed by a chink of bottles.

“Of course Sarah,” said Logan. “That's obvious. Come on, think of something original in this brave new world we are having to face thanks to her. Trevor?” Trevor passed the joint back to Hayden, who took a massive draw from it and closed his eyes, much to Trevor's annoyance.

“Don't use it all, save some for me. Mine is Taylor. She's hot.” Hayden nodded.

“She's cool as well. Especially when she is away from her.” Hayden looked at his joint in puzzlement; it appeared to have gone out on its own. Zachary hummed in agreement.

“Yeah, I'll give you Taylor. I definitely would,” he said, as if that was a final seal of approval.

“You'd literally do anything if only they'd let you,” said Logan, too much amusement from the other two. “Hayden?” Hayden waved his hand lazily, distracted by trying to relight his joint.

“Max,” he said straight away.

“Max?” said Logan incredulously. “That weird freak? I'm surprised you even – Jesus Christ!” he shouted, leaping up and clutching at himself. Zachary and Trevor burst out laughing as he leapt around, clawing at his trousers before pulling out some ice from his pants.

“Jesus, dude – keep your fetishes to yourself will you?” laughed Trevor. “Anyway, Max looks really hot tonight, have you seen her? She's dressed up for someone.” Zachary nudged Hayden.

“Could be you, bro. Could be your lucky night.”

“Nah, I'm good,” he replied. “Besides, isn't that Warren guy all over her? Proper stalker, him. Someone should keep an eye out for her.”

“Volunteering, are you?” said Zachary with a leer. Hayden shrugged.

“It's what we all should have done before, isn't it. And you know it.” Logan finally sat down again.

“OK, that's one each – who is the fifth?” They all looked at each other, each unwilling to say the name on their minds.

“She is a bitch, though.” There was a general bout of nodding. They had all been on the end of a tongue lashing from her; it hadn't been a pleasant experience..

"I heard she fucked someone off the team, the lucky bastard, but they won't say who," said Zachary. Trevor shook his head.

"Nah that's complete shit. It's not like that at all.” Hayden looked at him with interest.

"How do you know?" Trevor took a swig of his drink before replying.

"Dana told me. It's not anyone from the football team, that's the wrong thing entirely for her." Logan creased his forehead in thought.

"Wait, you're saying she is one of them dykes? One of those.. Ow, ow ow! Fuck me that hurts!" He leapt up again, clutching his privates. “It's like I've been stabbed! Fucking hell..” He sank to his knees, his face white. Zachary pushed him a little.

"Dude, you're tripping. You've drunk too much. Anyway, you shouldn't say shit like that. My cousin is gay and she's cool. I met her partner over the summer, they are coming for Christmas. So enough of that sort of shit talk." Logan didn't respond but just lay curled up on the floor. Hayden looked at him then turned to Trevor.

"Who is it then?"

Trevor looked smug.

"I'm sworn to secrecy, but it's one of the top 5." Hayden and Zachary exchanged looks, trying to work out which of the candidates it could be.

"Hope you are all enjoying yourselves,” said a voice. Victoria strode into the middle of them, looking less than amused. She prodded Logan with her foot.

“What's wrong with him?” Hayden shrugged.

“He seems to be having issues down below.” Hayden proffered his joint to Victoria. “Want some?" Victoria wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“No, not tonight. Which reminds me, thank you for at least trying to help with organising tonight. I do appreciate it.” Hayden looked at her, shocked.

“Oh. OK. No worries.” Zachary and Trevor exchanged bemused glances, before Trevor ventured a question.

“Are you enjoying yourself, Victoria?” Victoria looked at him, nonplussed.

“Yes, I am. As a first test of my new regime it's going quite well. Even if there are some shits who just don't seem to get it.” She prodded Logan again, before looking at the three of them. “I don't want you guys getting completely trashed tonight, OK? It's not that sort of party.” Hayden mock saluted her, gaining a glare.

“We get you,” said Trevor. He looked through the window and jerked his head. “I think someone wants you to go back inside..” Victoria looked and her face seemed to brighten instantly, a smile creeping across it, and she walked off without a word. Zachary watched her go, trying to see who she was walking to. His eyes widened in shock.

“Wait, is that -”



Max wasn't sure what time it was but it was getting late. She felt a little unsteady on her feet – she had been drinking cocktails with a very inquisitive Juliet who seemed to be trying to pump her for information. Max had had to rewind on occasion to make sure she hadn't given away more than she should know. She found that she had lost a little bit of finesse over her timing, something which was good to know about.

Don't get drunk and time travel.

Gotcha.

She made her way up through the house, exchanging nods and hellos with various people she couldn't remember the name of. She entered the lounge and looked around; she could see Kate sitting next to Dana, both of them smiling and engaged in deep conversation – the sight made her smile, and she took a moment to watch them. Kate said something that made Dana laugh and pat her on the leg, causing Kate to blush and look at her longingly.

In another chair were Brooke and Warren; Brooke sitting forward looking at something on her cell while Warren sat back looking content, with his arm hovering around the back of Brooke. Max shook her head, smiling to herself.

This won't do.

She restarted time – Warren now had his arm around Brooke who was sitting back against him - they both seemed to look at each other in surprise, before Brook grinned and snuggled down, reaching out to hold Warren's hand. Max caught Warren's eye and gave him a thumbs up matched with a goofy grin, and he smiled happily back at her.



The music was heavy and loud, some classic European dance music; Max had no clue who it was by. She suspected it was Victoria's choice, and knew she was out there somewhere among the throng, dancing. Kate was standing next to her swaying sightly to the beat and smiling. Max nudged her.

“You seem happy?” Kate nodded.

“I like the music. Makes me want to move. Like this.” She waved her hands vaguely in the air, making Max laugh.

“Kate Marsh, are you a little drunk?” Kate looked at her with a contemplative face.

“Mayyybeee a little,” she said. “But I'm having a lot of fun. Being with my friends and so many good people who seem to care means a lot to me.” Alyssa emerged from the crowds and stood next to them, and started to engage Kate in a conversation which Max didn't bother listening to – she had just seen Victoria on the dance floor, arms raised aloft as she moved to the beat with Taylor. Max stood there transfixed, drinking in the sight of the woman who seemed to want her above anything else in the world.

Victoria suddenly noticed her and stopped dancing, walking out of the crowd and up to Max. Without saying a word she took her by the hand and led her out on to the dance floor.



The dance floor was crowded, forcing them to be close together. Max was conscious of the proximity of Victoria's body as they moved together, dancing to the music. Victoria moved slowly closer, staring intently at Max. She raised her hands and draped them around her neck, moving her face close. She was singing along to the music, her eyes half closed. Max found her hands gripping Victoria's waist, slowly drawing her in towards her. She felt as if the world was shrinking to just the two of them, alone together on the dance floor, their bodies touching now and again as they moved, their faces close. She stared into Victoria's eyes, feeling lost in their green depths. She watched Victoria's eyes flick down to her mouth and back up again, as if searching for something.

She's been quite open tonight about us. Is she ready for this? In front of everyone?

She hasn't said anything to me about it.

She looks so pretty right now.

I really like her. I'm so happy.

I wonder

if I

should

Victoria moved in closer, making the decision for her; lips slowly and tentatively pressing against Max's, who responded with a sudden hunger that surprised both of them. They kissed not caring who saw them do it, or caring what people would think, or what rumours would swirl around the small world of Blackwell; both of them were lost in that moment on the dance floor, the two of them in their own little world.

 

Together.



Max looked around the lounge but couldn't see Victoria anywhere. She was feeling a little hot and decided to go outside for some air. She stepped out onto the veranda, closing the slide door behind her and looked out across the valley, breathing in the cool night air. It was a clear night and Max could see the endless stars shining away in the sky. She found herself gazing up at them, wondering about the vast expanse of the universe and the part she played in it.

Am I the only one who can do this? Are there other planets out there where a Max looks out to the sky like me?

What is my purpose? Why have I been given these powers?

Why have I been cursed with them?

She closed her eyes, listening to the sounds of the night. For once there was no distractions about her, and she felt a little at ease. The voices of the dead that plagued her dreams seemed far away; their faces momentarily forgotten.

When will I find rest? When will I be at peace?

“Hey,” said a soft voice behind her, and she turned to see Victoria stepping out to join her. Max leaned against the railing, watching the tall figure of her girlfriend lean against it and look up into the sky with her.

“Beautiful, isn't it,” she said. Max wrapped an arm around her and put her head against her chest, listening to the soft sound of her breathing.

“This evening has been amazing. You have been amazing. That speech you gave.. how you have managed to bring everyone together.. you are so special, Victoria Chase. Don't you ever forget that.” Victoria laughed softly.

“That makes two of us then, doesn't it. I wouldn't be here without you.”

“And I don't want to be anywhere else.”

They stood there in each others arms, staring at the sky before Max started to shiver. Victoria looked at her with concern.

“Are you cold? You are cold. Let's go inside.” Max held out her hand, holding her back.

“I was thinking..” she said slowly, looking up into Victoria's eyes and running a finger across her cheek, “that maybe.. you would like too.. warm me up somewhere else..?” Victoria looked at her momentarily, before without saying a word grabbing her hand and dragging her away upstairs.



Victoria had reserved the largest room available in the house for herself. It was right at the top on the third floor, with a commanding view out over the valley. In the centre of the room was a large double bed, which Max felt herself being pushed down onto. She relaxed down into the soft mattress, and looked up as Victoria straddled her, the light from the lamps casting a soft glow on her face. The air felt tense, as if something was about to happen between them that would change the dynamic forever.

Victoria leant forward and kissed Max, her hands placed either side of her head. Max ran her hands up her arms and over her back, letting her fingers trace down her back over the smooth material of her dress. Victoria drew away slightly from Max and smiled, her eyes giving unspoken consent for her to continue. Max’s fingers found the zip at the side and dragged it downwards, exposing her soft skin to Max's touch. Victoria sat up impatiently and shrugged her top out of the dress, whilst Max feverishly took off her shirt. Victoria plunged down again, attacking Max's mouth and neck as Max's hands ran up her stomach and across her chest. Max felt the air starting to cool rapidly, with Victoria becoming ever colder to the touch.

“Victoria.. wait.. stop..” Max said, struggling to speak under Victoria's attention. Victoria froze and sat up quickly, her hands covering her naked chest as she looked at Max in fear.

“Max.. I thought you..” Max pushed herself up one her elbows to give her a reassuring kiss.

“I do. So much. But I don’t want you to freeze me to death, or enable people to store food long term in this room.” Victoria looked crestfallen, and got off Max and sat on the edge of the bed.

“I can’t even have sex with my girlfriend right..” she said miserably. Max sat up and scooted next to her.

“Sshh you, none of that, that’s not true. We just need to work out how to make this work. I think that the best thing to do is take this slow, and see how we get on. There’s no rush.” Victoria looked at her gratefully and let her eyes wander down Max's body, unconsciously biting her lip.

“OK. But you lead me, I’m not as.. as experienced in all of this as you. Despite what I like to show.”



They spent a few minutes grabbing some towels from the bathroom, and also making sure some warm blankets were ready. Victoria joked about creating an emergency quickie bag if they were ever outside of the bedroom, to which Max seemed to give some serious thought until Victoria hit her with a pillow.

Preparations done, they faced each other once more, half naked.

“So…” said Victoria, reaching out to touch Max's face.

“So,” she replied, placing her hands on Victoria's shoulders. “Let's take this slow, shall we? Let's see what.. sets you off.” She drew Victoria's head down to hers and started to kiss her, letting Victoria relax into her. They slowly took their time in finishing undressing each other, lingering on each item of clothing until they were both naked. Victoria still felt comfortable to the touch and was looking at Max with overwhelming desire, her eyes aflame. Max took her by the hand and led her to the bed.

They both lay these side by side on the bed slowly exploring each other's bodies. Max was doing her best to try and be calm and not push Victoria along too quickly, gently telling her what she was doing and what Victoria should do in return; but despite her best efforts she could feel a distinct difference in temperature in Victoria than from her normal body heat; Max herself was starting to find it increasingly hard to concentrate as Victoria matched her actions.

Maybe this is just the way it is going to be? But there is no sign of ice yet, at least.

On her part, Victoria was trying to not succumb to the new sensations flooding through her body, wanting Max to enjoy this as much as she was. She found that by concentrating on her partner she was able to rein in her fluctuating emotions, staving off the inevitable climax.

Max could feel her excitement building, and with it she found she began to lose control of herself. She could feel her power triggering, causing time to fluctuate; Max again had the feeling that she was sharing the moment with someone else, an outside observer who could feel the pleasure as she did, and they both gasped as they felt the intensity of their pleasure follow laing with Max losing control. Victoria could feel her power being affected too; she knew that she would no longer be able to control it given the pleasure surging through her, caused by Max's questing fingers and tongue.

Max came to a shuddering climax, losing it completely – as she did so she felt Victoria come a few seconds later. Both of them lay there together, out of breath and out of speech, limbs entangled, looking at each other.

“Wowsa,” muttered Max eventually. Victoria tried to raise enough energy to hit her but just managed a lazy hand against her breast.

“I think I might be in love with you, Maxine Caulfield,” Victoria said, laying a hand gently on the side of her face. Max held her hand and kissed her on the nose.

“I think I might be with you, Victoria Chase.” They both smiled at each other, Max biting her lip as she looked into her green eyes. There was a silence, which Max suddenly realised wasn't natural and she tore her gaze reluctantly away from Victoria and looked about them, sitting up.

She realised that time had stopped again; at the same time Victoria appeared to have created thousands of little crystals, vaguely heart shaped, that were suspended in the air around them, reflecting the light. The effect was startling beautiful, and Max gazed in wonder, joined by Victoria.

“It's beautiful,” Max said, “like you.” Victoria sat up with Max and wrapped her arms around her, not daring to let go, legs still entwined.

“Like you, as well. It's incredible, isn't it. Everything is just so..” She sighed happily, nuzzling her head against Max's, before frowning. “Wait, this isn't hurting you is it? Holding time like this?” Max shook her head.

“No, it feels so... effortless right now, with you here. It feels... right.” Victoria didn't say anything, but seemed to radiate happiness.



It took a short while to clear up, before they both returned to the bed and fell happily into each other's arms again. Victoria just lay there looking adoringly at Max, who despite herself started to fall asleep.

“Good night, Max,” Victoria whispered as Max drifted off, giving her a gentle kiss; before lying back herself and quickly following suit.



Max slept through the night content in Victoria's arms – and if she dreamed at all, she didn't remember it.

Chapter Text

The sound of the rain drumming down outside woke Victoria from her slumber. She cracked her eyes open and saw the softly sleeping face of Max, who was snoring slightly but looked at peace. Victoria carefully extracted her arm and sat up, stretching out with a satisfied sigh whilst trying to not wake Max. She looked out of the large windows in front of her - the weather had changed from the clear, warm skies of yesterday; now thick, grey clouds had rolled in obscuring the valley beyond, and with it a heavy, incessant rain that hammered down. Victoria amused herself for a moment trying to freeze the splashes, but got increasingly frustrated as she found she couldn't yet master the timing required.

I need more practice. But for now, I'm hungry.

She checked the time on her cell and saw it was a little after nine; she also had innumerable messages awaiting her review.

Those can wait. Food. She looked down at the sleeping form of Max, smiling to herself at the memory of the night before.

That was so.. perfect. I never thought that it could be like this.. I wish we could stay like this forever. Her stomach growled as if reminding her of her primary mission and she left the warm bed, throwing on a silk dressing gown before venturing out.

The house was quiet; most people seemed to be still in bed. Victoria moved down the hall towards the staircase to the next floor; their bedroom was adjoined by another which had its door closed, but she thought she could hear snoring. The rest of the floor was taken up with an outdoor area for a hot tub, along with various storerooms for equipment.

Victoria descended the staircase to the second floor where the majority of the sleeping quarters were, with five rooms and three bathrooms between them. Victoria's room was the only one with an en-suite, and she hadn't even thought about letting anyone else take it. The floor was still and she was careful not to make any noise, her bare feet pattering on the wooden flooring.

She heard the click of a door opening, and some sixth sense made her pause and move back behind an alcove. Peering around she saw a pyjama clad Kate leaving a bathroom with a big yawn on her face. She sleepily walked past Victoria and entered a bedroom nearby; Victoria swore she heard a sleepy voice greet her in return but couldn't quite remember who it reminded her of.

So - a little mystery of your own there, Ms Marsh.

Pondering this fresh puzzle, Victoria made her way downstairs and into the large lounge area where she had assembled everyone the night before. Most of the detritus had been cleared up by the small army of staff she had hired especially for the purpose, apart from the sleeping figures of Logan, Trevor and Hayden sprawled out on a sofa apiece, snoring loudly. She stopped for a moment to look at them.

They aren't bad guys at heart, I guess. Just typical immature high schoolers. I bet Logan is probably going to end up running an orphanage or something ridiculous like that.

The smell of cooking breakfast wafted through the air to Victoria, and she passed through a few rooms to the kitchen, where some of the catering staff had returned to prepare breakfast. She nodded at their team leader and pretended to be inspecting their preparations with knowledge, before requesting some breakfast be prepared especially for her. After watching them like a hawk to ensure it was being made to her exact specifications, she started to browse her cell, looking at some of the images people had already uploaded of the party. She was tagged in quite a few, and one in particular caught her eye – her and Max on the dance floor, arms wrapped around each other as they gazed at one another.

Not a bad shot, considering. The way the light is catching my hair is good enough, but the flash was far too bright. They've also cut off the bottom part of us.

She spent a few more minutes flicking through the other photos before returning to the one of the two of them. It suddenly struck her that the secret was out for all to see, and there was no point even trying to deny or hide it any more. She felt a little queasy at the thought, but quickly pushed it away.

I pretty much admitted it in front of everyone last night. So what's a few more? It'll happen eventually, and school doesn't return until tomorrow. Plenty of time for the rumour mill to pass over onto the next juicy target by then.

She looked up to see a sleep dishevelled Taylor come stumbling through the door.

“Water.. water..” she croaked. “I'm dying, Victoria.. need.. water...” She collapsed theatrically against the counter, before casting a bleary eye at her. “Don't let me die here, Vic. Help me.. I think my head is going to fall off...” Victoria looked at her with wry amusement.

“Just how many Jägerbombs did you have?” Taylor rested her head on the counter.

“Before or after the Sambuca? And why aren't you giving me water?” she whined plaintively. Victoria rolled her eyes.

“There's water over there, you lazy ass.” She watched Taylor move like a zombie to the jug of water and pour herself a large glass which she downed in one large gulp, before pouring another and repeating the feat. She belched and then turned to face Victoria.

“Ah, that's better. Well, that was a fun night, wasn't it?” A crash of pans behind her made her wince, and Victoria found herself giggling at her friends sorry state.

“Yes, and it looks like some of us had more fun than others.”

“Oh? I don't know about that.. you and Max disappeared early enough...?” Victoria suddenly blushed deep red.

“That's.. none of.. oh whatever, Taylor.” Taylor grinned maniacally.

“Ah-ha!” she crowed, then held her head. “Dammit!” She groaned a little and rested her head on the cool surface of the kitchen counter, while Victoria affectionately mussed with her hair to the amusement of the kitchen staff.

After a few minutes Victoria's breakfast was ready and placed on a large tray, and leaving Taylor to her quest of finding both food and a cure for a crippling hangover she made her way back up to the bedroom.



Max was sitting up in bed browsing her cell when Victoria entered, and she smiled widely at the sight of Victoria manhandling a large, food laden tray whilst simultaneously trying to close the door with her foot.

“Here, let me help,” said Max, leaping out of bed and grabbing the tray from her. “Mmm, this smells delicious. What do we have – omelettes, waffles, pancakes, fruit, yoghurt, bacon! Wow, you need to go get breakfast everyday!”

“I could get a chef for Blackwell I suppose,” Victoria mused. “I had thought about it before, but I just thought that it would be a bit, well pretentious. I'll arrange something.” Max blinked at her.

“I was joking.. I mean you wouldn't really do it.. would you? You would, wouldn't you.” Victoria waved her hand in dismissal.

“Last time I was on holiday we had one, so why not everyday here? Got to lord it over the peasants somehow. I've been far to generous to the hoi polloi, I think. They need to learn their place, and this is a good way of showing them who is still the top bitch.” Max looked at her in disbelief, then tapped her on the arm.

“You're messing with me, aren't you.”

“Clever girl,” said Victoria, bonking her on the nose. They both settled happily down to their breakfast, Max looking out of the window at the rain.

“Good weather for the ducks, I suppose,” she said. “It really changed over night though, didn't it. I guess winter is not that far off.”

“No, it'll be getting colder. I need to get a new winter coat actually, and some new boots. My skis need refurbishing too. Remind me to get that done.”

“Anything else, m'lady? I only live to serve your every whim, after all.” Victoria paused half chew.

“Actually, yes there is. Come here and kiss me.”

“That, I can do.”



It was gone eleven by the time the two of them finally reappeared downstairs, their presence having been delayed a little by having to clear up more ice from the bathroom floor. Most of the other party guests were lounging around waiting for the rain to stop, before either heading back to Blackwell or exploring the surrounding woodlands. Max saw Brooke and Warren heavily kitted out for walking, Brooke hoisting a small rucksack on her back with an audible clank. Max left Victoria to her own devices and wandered over to the pair of them, greeting them with a little wave.

“Hi guys, how are you both? Off exploring?” Brooke nodded at the bag on her back.

“Yup. Got everything we need packed in right here – axe, matches, compass, pans, torch, rope – you name it. Warren is bringing the food and water. And I already printed off some maps before we came.” She looked at Warren with a happy expression.

“Oh, well have fun and don't get lost!” said Max, looking between the pair.

“Thanks Max, we will,” said Warren grabbing hold of Brooke's hand. “Oh small favour, could you make sure Alyssa gets a lift back? We might be a while and don't want her to wait for us.”

“No worry, I will – you two go have some fun!” She waved them off as they trudged down the hall, Warren half skipping to keep pace with Brooke's marching tempo. Max watched them disappear out into the rain with a smile on her face.

Well, that all resolved itself rather well. And I didn't have to kill him this time, either.

Max wandered back through the lounge trying to find Alyssa, but she was nowhere to be seen. Victoria was in conversation with Taylor who seemed to Max to be slightly worse for wear, having put on a large pair of sunglasses and drinking what looked like a bright orange vitamin drink.

Max sat down on a sofa and looked happily around at the various people assembled. She didn't feel the need to socialise, content just to sit back and observe the people as they went about their morning. She saw Juliet talking to Zachary in the corner, both of them laughing about something as she played with the front of his shirt, smiling up at him.

They seem to have got over the whole Victoria sexting thing.. wait.. did that actually happen this time? What did Victoria do? Or hasn't she.. I should speak to her about that.

Max saw Dana enter the lounge and gave her a little wave, which she returned with a smile before heading over to Trevor and giving him a peck on the cheek. She walked off towards the kitchen, Trevor in tow and appearing to try and engage her in conversation. Max furrowed her brow.

Huh. He was here when I got down, wasn't he? So.. where..

Her thoughts were interrupted by the figure of Kate sitting down beside her.

“Good morning Max,” she said quietly. “How are you today?” Max smiled happily at Kate.

“I'm great thank you – despite the rain! Did you have a good night? It was so much fun, wasn't it?”

“Yeah,” Kate replied, looking across the lounge at something. Max turned to follow her gaze but couldn't see what had got her attention. Kate sat there in silence for a moment, before turning to face Max.

“Can I ask you a favour? Well, ask Victoria really. Can you give me a lift back to Blackwell? If it's no trouble? I mean, if you two have plans then..” Max shook her head.

“No, of course we can – we didn't plan anything, and I'm sure we can squeeze you in the back. Vic won't mind at all.” Kate smiled at her.

“Thanks, Max. That would be amazing.”

“No problem – but I thought you came with Dana? Do you not want to go back with her?” Kate slowly shook her head.

“No, I think that.. I would prefer to come back with you two. Just for a change.” Max shrugged.

“Cool. That resolves one issue – Alyssa needs a lift back as well, so she can take your place.” Kate raised an eyebrow.

“Oh? What happened to her lift with Warren?” Max waggled her eyebrows conspiratorially.

“Rumour has it that Warren has finally seen the light. Him and Brooke seemed to have worked things out between them.”

“Wow. Well, good for them – and you,” said Kate. “It's good to see some people working things out...” She trailed off, her face slightly troubled. “I mean, there's you two lovebirds as well,” she continued with a smile. “How is it going?”

“It's fucking amazing,” Max said, before covering her mouth guiltily. Kate laughed.

“Max, I don't think a few swear words will upset me, though of course that does mean you are damned to hell. Obviously.”

“Obviously,” said Max, suddenly feeling a little uncomfortable about notions of being dammed for all eternity based on her actions.

And just like that, my mood is killed.

Fuck.

Do I take this back?

Kate smiled beatifically at her.

“I doubt you have anything to worry about when it comes to heavenly credentials, Max,” Kate continued, “you've worked miracles with Victoria - that's a guaranteed entry.” Max did her best to smile at Kate's joke.

“That's a bit mean, Kate, she's not that bad..” Kate held up her hands.

“I know, I know, I'm just teasing you,” she said, her voice sounding somewhat lighter than a few minutes ago. “So, what is the plan for today?” Max shrugged, glad for the change in topic.

“Don't know, I think we were planning on going for a walk or something but given the weather.. I guess a leisurely drive back, maybe stop somewhere for a late lunch?” Kate cast another swift look back across the lounge and appeared to be disappointed in what she saw, but it passed and she turned back to face Max.

“Sounds good to me, Max. Let me know when you want to get going.”



They were among the last to leave the house, as Victoria had to sort out the clean up crews and get a handle on any damage that had been done to the place. Max had seen the hard edged business side of Victoria re-emerge in her dealings with a few of the staff, cutting a few people down to size who had underestimated the attractive blonde woman in front of them. She again found herself attracted to this more dominating aspect of Victoria, and found herself idly daydreaming as she watched her in action.

Finally Victoria was satisfied, and she walked out of the house to meet the two girls who were waiting for her. The rain had eased off, leaving sullen grey clouds overhead which threatened yet more rain to come. Max greeted her with a hug and a kiss which Kate studiously ignored, pretending to inspect her fingernails. Max gestured at the Porsche.

“I was thinking, can I drive again...?” Victoria looked at her, then at Kate.

“Kate, do you get travel sick at all?” Kate looked at her in surprise.

“Er.. yeah, I do a little, why?” Victoria nodded to herself.

“Right, I'm driving. You two ready? We can stop off for lunch somewhere.” A somewhat crestfallen Max held the door open for Kate, taking one last look at the house before sitting in besides Victoria. For some reason Max had an uneasy feeling about leaving the place, as if things were never going to be the same again.



The sun was still hot on her legs and she held her hand up to shade her eyes from it, watching it glint off the sea in the distance as the sun slowly set. She waggled her toes in the soft sand, feeling the hot grains run between them. 'How long have we got?' asked Victoria, lying down next to her, her hand entwined with Max's. Max looked at the watch on her wrist. 'About ten minutes, I think. The note said it was going to be around 11- that would be LA time though, so..' Her voice trailed off, a slight nervousness to it. Victoria sat up and kissed her on the cheek. 'Hey, hey you - no matter what I'm here, OK? We'll get through this..' Max looked at her gratefully. 'I know, but.. what if she's wrong?'...

Max woke with a jolt, a bump in the road banging her head against the window.

Number... wait.. what number was that? I don't... remember that at all..

“You awake, sleepy head?” Max yawned and stretched. That seemed so real..

“Sorry, how long was I out for? Car journey's always make me sleepy.. especially when I'm not allowed to drive.” Victoria snorted.

“No-one would sleep if you drove. Only about 20 minutes, me and Kate were just trying to decide where to stop to eat.” Kate leaned forward between the seats.

“I think there's a Wendy's up ahead,” she said, “we could eat there?” Max nodded in agreement while Victoria made retching noises. Kate wrinkled her nose.

“What's wrong with Wendy's? I quite like their barbecue chicken sandwich.”

“Kate, it's poverty food. The Two Whales is bad enough - OK, Max, calm down, it's good enough – but frankly given the choice I'd rather have something a bit more edible. There must be something a little better somewhere.” Kate sighed and returned to her cell, looking for something local.

“Italian?” she eventually ventured. “We should be coming up on Vernonia soon, and there's an Itlaian restaurant there. Look's a little pricey though..”

“Italian it is,” declared Victoria. “Give me the directions when we get there. My treat.” Max caught Kate's eyes in the rear view mirror and answered her unspoken question with a shrug.

“Thank you, Victoria,” said Kate, “that's very nice of you.” Max swore she saw a small smile on Victoria's lips as she focussed on the road ahead.



Il viaggiatore del Tempo turned out to be a small but well kept family run restaurant, with a cheerful proprietor who proudly displayed the photographs of his ancestors arrival from Sicily in bygone years on the walls. Max found herself studying the photographs, taking an interest in the portrayals of an era long gone, although the framing was slightly awkward and stilted. The owner bustled over, beaming with pride.

“Welcome, welcome!” he said, “how may I be of service to you all today?”

“Hi! Um, I was just looking at some of these photographs,” said Max, “they are all beautiful, such an evocative portrait of the olden days.” The owner smiled and pointed at one of them.

“Ah, my grand pappy – he was a great man, he founded this very restaurant. We have been here since 1924, this restaurant handed down from him to my father and now to me. And I will, in turn, hand it over to my son.”

“No daughters, then?” asked Victoria with a sight hint of acid to her voice. The man frowned at her tone.

“No, sadly not.” He fell silent for a moment, but Max thought his eyes strayed to a photograph on the wall of a young girl, with what seemed like a younger version of himself. “Now, what can I get you people to eat? Please, sit.”

Interesting.

“- I will, in turn, hand it over to my son.”

“That's really nice,” said Max, cutting across Victoria who looked at her with annoyance. “But I must say - these photographs are very interesting – like this one, for example, who are these people?” The owner looked where she was pointing and his face became slightly melancholy.

“That is – was - my daughter, Isabella. She was my everything.. but.. she.. is no longer with us.” He fell silent again, before clapping his hands together. “Now, what can I do for you -”

“- I will, in turn, hand it over to my son.”

“Keeping things in the family is a great tradition,” said Max with a smile. “But you only mention your son – I assure this is your daughter? She is very pretty, and her smile is wonderful. You must have cared for her deeply.” Victoria frowned slightly at Max's words, noting the slip of the tongue.

“Ah, you have a keen eye young lady – are you a photographer yourself?” He sighed a little. “Yes, that was my daughter, my lovely Isabella. It has been ten years since she was taken from us, and they do weigh heavily on me. But thank you for asking, it is nice to hear such words, even from a passing visitor. It means much to me. She was a good child. But I should not burden you with all of this! Please, sit down here and let me get you some drinks. Our specials today are on the board there; but for you, I can recommend the chicken and asparagus pasta – it's my own secret recipe.” He bustled off to the kitchen, leaving them to sit down at the table. Max winced slightly as Victoria kicked her in the shin to get her attention.

“Do you have the time, Max? The time is going so quickly I can't remember what time the time is.” Max looked slightly abashed and looked at the table, then tried a shy smile of apology. Victoria gave her a look which seemed to say stop fucking about with time or I will make you suffer.

“Just after two,” said Kate.

“What?” said the other two girls, confused.

“The time. It's just after two. So, what are we all having?”



The food when it arrived was delicious. Max and Victoria were soon busily occupied in stuffing their faces, Victoria especially enjoying some Pasat all Norma, who's smell made Max's mouth water. Soon enough the two of them were feeding each other their respective meals, seemingly oblivious to the presence of Kate at the table.

Kate watched the pair with a happiness that was tinged with her own sadness. Although she, on the whole, felt a lot better having finally come to terms with her own sexuality and that she was surrounded by people who would willingly accept her for it without question; this in of itself raised another problem – seeing two openly gay people freely expressing their love for each other just served to highlight the lack of anything meaningful in her own life.

Her cell buzzed with a message and she read it with a slight frown, pausing from eating her food to type out a hurried reply, before returning to her meal. She couldn't help but keep glancing at her cell waiting for a reply, and when it came she eagerly read the message, a range of conflicting emotions moving across her face.

“Everything OK, Kate?” asked Max, who seemed to have taken a break from feeding Victoria to check on her friend. “You seem a little preoccupied.” Kate sighed.

“It's nothing, really. Just.. you know.. things get complicated, don't they?” Max laid down her fork and looked at her.

“Anything you want to talk about?” she asked quietly. Victoria had noticed something was wrong and was looking at Kate too, whilst still enthusiastically shovelling food into her mouth. Kate shook her head slowly.

“No... no. It's fine. I'm just being.. silly, I guess. Not everything can go how you want it to, it's up to God to decide whether things will happen or not.” Victoria mentally rolled her eyes but kept her thoughts to herself; whatever her thoughts on the existence of a higher power this was not the time or place for them.

Besides, there is something out there, isn't there? Something has given us these powers.. maybe that is a God? Who knows? Don't be so quick to judge, Vic.

Kate's cell buzzed again and she eagerly read the message, allowing herself a small smile at whatever the contents were. Victoria watched her curiously, thinking back to what she had seen in the morning.

“Did you have a good time last night, Kate?” she asked innocently. Kate looked up at her and this time her smile was happy.

“Yes! Yes I did, I never thought that a party could be so much fun. Even the drinking part.. I mean, I've always been told that it was sinful to get drunk, but yesterday.. I just was really happy. And I didn't do anyone any harm or anything, so how can it be sinful?” She paused in thought, as if thinking about other things she had been told were wrong in the past. Max and Victoria both waited for her to continue, which she did with words that seemed to be very carefully chosen.

“I mean sometimes you just have to try. And sometimes it's not what you want to happen, but if you don't try then.. you'll never know.” She looked up at them. “I guess you don't always get a happy ending. Life is really quite.. messy, isn't it?” Max smiled and reached out across the table, clasping her hand.

“Yes, I'm afraid it is. But that's what makes it so.. exciting. You never know what will happen one day to the next, or who you will meet who will change your life.” She looked at Victoria and smiled, and Kate watched them with a sad expression.

“Yes, I suppose you are right Max,” she said. “Anyway. What are you guys up to tonight? Do you fancy watching a film or something together when we get back?” Max nodded eagerly.

“That sounds great, Kate, I have just the film-”

“We can't,” said Victoria, cutting across her. “Unfortunately we have plans already tonight, don't we Max?” Max looked at her uncomprehendingly, before suddenly her face twisted as she remembered.

“Oh. Yes. I had forgotten..” The happy expression on her face was gone; instead she looked withdrawn and distant, as if the thought of what was to be done had unpleasantly resurfaced. She looked up at Kate, her voice suddenly flat and monotone. “Can we take a rain check on that? If our plans change we'll let you know?”

“Sure,” said Kate, trying to hide the disappointment she felt. “Besides, I guess an early night won't do any harm. School is back tomorrow, after all.”



Arcadia Bay was shrouded in a heavy driving rain when they arrived back, and the night was beginning to draw in. The drive back had been largely silent, with Victoria and Kate hesitantly trying to make conversation whilst Max stared out of the window, only giving monosyllabic answers to their questions. For Max it seemed that the last 24 hours had been a mirage, a glimpse of a happiness that wasn't real, distracting her from the real task at hand.

Just get to the bottom of it all, Max – and then we can finally let go. Maybe then I can be at peace.

Just one more time.

One more.

Blackwell was busier than it had been, full of students returning for the resumption of lessons. The three girls walked through the campus, Victoria exchanging the occasional nod with other students. The dorm was fairly quiet in comparison; it was still relatively early and it seemed most of the girls were out making the most of the last part of the evening despite the weather.

Max disappeared straight into her room, leaving Victoria to give an awkward goodbye to Kate before following after her. Victoria knocked on Max's door but there was no reply, so she cautiously opened the door to check on Max.

Max was lying on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. Victoria closed the door behind her and sat on the edge of the bed, looking down at her. There was a silence that Victoria began to feel unbearably uncomfortable with.

“What's going on, Max? You've been acting strange ever since we left the restaurant. Was it something I said? Something I did?” Her voice was creased with worry. Max didn't answer at first, and Victoria's anxiety began to grow. She could feel her old habits begin to surface and desperately fought to keep herself under control.

“No, it's not you,” Max sighed, “it's this whole.. situation. Everything I've.. done, everything that has happened. It's all so much and yet tonight.. tonight I might finally be at the end of it all. The end of everything.” Victoria reached out to grab her hand.

“That's a good thing then, isn't it? We can finally move on with our lives.” Max shifted onto her side, and looked at Victoria's hand which was cradling hers.

“I guess. I just want this all to be over, you know. I'm tired. I'm so tired..” She closed her eyes and rested her head on the bed. Victoria ran her fingers gently through her hair.

“Well let's end this, then. We go to Prescott's house and find out the answer to it all – the Dark Room, Rachel, the cops, the butterflies – everything.” Max smiled a little at the sensation of Victoria's fingers, before turning serious again.

“OK, but where do we go? Have you been there before?” Victoria nodded.

“A few times. I went there with Nathan on occasion, we used to go pick up some stuff he needed. It's a big neo-Georgian place; it's like someone spent too much time looking at English stately homes and then mashed them all together. Really tasteless. I met his Dad once or twice too – he came across as really weird and creepy now I think about it. Kept looking at me in a strange way. He really put a lot of pressure on Nathan though – all this shit about him being the Prescott heir, master of the future.”

“Yeah, I found some of that from his Dad in the Dark Room. But all this latest stuff seems way, way more intense than that.” Victoria shivered involuntary.

“I never thought he'd be capable of this sort of thing. I mean Jefferson and the creepy photos? That I can understand, twisted as it was, but not all this attempted murder.” Max face went deathly pale.

“Not just photos,” she whispered.

“What do you mean?” asked Victoria, her voice concerned. “Max, what haven't you told me?” Max seemed to stare past her, looking into a past that she wished she could forget.

- the bindings were beginning to cut into her wrists, but she knew she had to keep trying to get free. The harsh lights were blurred by her tears, and the pain in her body was unbearable but she knew she had to – must! get free before he came back and did it again. Punishing her, he had called it, stripping her of her last innocence. The thought of his hot breath on her neck made her retch, and with a desperate cry one hand came loose, blood pouring from the cuts the binding had made. Free !I'm free! You are going to suffer like I have you, motherfucker..

1,419. I couldn't make him suffer enough. I never could.

Nothing can take that away from me.

Nothing.

She clenched her fists until she felt her nails digging into her palm.

“It wasn't just the photos,” she said softly, screwing her eyes shut. “One time I was careless and he caught me, tied me up and.. and..” She opened eyes that were wet with tears and looked at Victoria. “I cut it off and fed it to him in the end; watched him suffer over and over. But it was not enough; it was never enough. So don't you ever tell me it was just photos. Who knows what else he - they – did? And what they could do if they found us all? Could you imagine the power..” She fell silent again.

Victoria was at a loss for words and she reached out to touch Max, who flinched away from her touch.

“Max, I'm.. sorry. I didn't know, I'm so sorry, I...” Max sat up, wiping her eyes.

“I'm sorry I snapped. It's not your fault, Victoria. I've done a lot of.. I've had my revenge, such as it is. But I'm not sure that I can ever.. forget. Anything.” There was an awkward silence as Victoria tried to wrestle with what Max had told her. She had never felt so out of her depth, so inadequate, as she did in that moment. Max stood up and looked around her room before her eyes stopped again on Victoria, who looked like she was going to burst into tears at any moment. The room was becoming noticeably cooler.

“Let's just get this over with. Where do we have to go? What's the layout like? Do we know what time he will be there?”

“Around 9,” said Victoria, her voice thick with emotion. “Are you sure you want to do this tonight? We can just watch a movie, just relax and...” Max shook her head, her face falling into what Victoria had privately started calling the 'fuck shit up' face.

“No. We go tonight. End it all.” Victoria nodded dumbly, her throat feeling tight.

“Besides,” Max continued, trying to lighten the mood, “we get to go in my car for a change.” Victoria looked at her and burst into tears.



Sean Prescott stood at the bottom of the grand staircase that formed the centrepiece of the entrance hall, and looked up at the large oil painting of his grandfather that peered down at him; a stern looking man with his hand on top of a model globe, painted in the style of a 17th century explorer. He dimly remembered him from his childhood, a figure holed up in a large study, shouting orders down a telephone while he peered between his father legs, watching.

And here I am, doing the same – building upon the foundations left to me. Making us strong. Making us proud.

A loud crash caused him to stiffen and look up towards where his office was. He took a step onto the first step then paused, listening.

Nothing. Maybe it was the wind. Did I leave a window open?

He walked as quietly as he could up the stairs and along the plushly decorated corridor, stopping at an ornately carved oak door. He put his ear to it and listened; but there was no sound. He gave himself a little shrug and opened the door, stepping into his large office which was dominated by a large desk situated by the window and his familiar leather chair. He flicked the lights on and his eye was drawn to a smashed vase in the corner.

“What the hell?” he muttered, crouching down and looking at the fragments. “That cost me a fortune from that auction.”

“It was probably a fake, you know” said a voice. “They knock them out by the dozen over in China.” Startled, he jerked upright and watched as his chair slowly swivelled round, revealing a tall blonde girl sitting in it, hands steepled together. He gaped at her before recognition dawned.

“Victoria Chase? What are you doing here? We were not supposed to meet until tomorrow.. how did you get in my house? Why are you in my house?” The office door slammed behind him, and he spun around to see a smaller, brown haired girl leaning against it, eyeing him with dispassion.

“And who might you be?” The girl didn't answer; but her stare was beginning to unnerve him for some reason.

“We have a few questions for you, Mister Sean Prescott,” said Victoria, her voice dripping with scorn. He bristled at her tone, and confronted her angrily.

“Look here, young lady, don't you take that tone of voice with me. You have both broken into my home, and I'm giving you one chance to leave before I call the police.” He stared at them, but they seemed to be unconcerned by his threats.

Who do these little sluts think they are?

“And furthermore, Ms Chase, I will not press charges only on the proviso that you testify on behalf of my son, as agreed.” To his consternation she burst out laughing.

“Oh, that is so not happening. I don't think you realise how much trouble you're in, Sean.” She looked at him with an amused gaze, slightly spinning the chair from side to side. He angrily took another step forward and pointed his finger.

“That's enough of that. You're family may be richer than mine, Ms Chase – for now, at least - but I have you exactly where I want you, now. You are so naive, just look at you – so..”

Young. Innocent. Fresh.

Not now.

Later maybe.. yes.

Later.

He shook his head a little, trying to ignore the stirring of impatience within himself at what he wanted to do.

“You leave me no choice but to call the police - you do know I run them? I click my fingers and you will be taken. You have no power here, Ms Chase. You are mine.” He reached into his pocket for his cell, and then quickly checked the other.

Where is it? I'm sure I had it a second ago.. He looked on the floor to see if he had dropped it, when the other girl spoke.

“Looking for this?” she said calmly, waving his cell at him.

“What? How.. give that to me. Now!” He turned to walk towards her before Victoria's voice stopped him in his tracks.

“You want this?” she said, holding his cell up. He looked between them, suddenly feeling a little uncertain.

Get it together, Sean. You've dealt with girls like this before.

“Give it to me, now. I order you to give me that cell!” Victoria looked at him and laughed, the sound making him go a dark red in the face. She held up the cell in her hand, and to his astonishment it suddenly broke into little pieces, scattering across the floor. He was too stunned to move, his mind not believing what his eyes had seen.

What the hell is going on? Is this some sort of trick?

The other girl suddenly appeared next to him, staring up at him with piecing blue eyes. He looked wildly from her to Victoria, who had a grin on her face, clearly enjoying herself.

“What.. who are you people? Is this some form of trick?” The shorter girl put out her hand to push him, and to his surprise he fell backwards, a sharp stab in his chest matched by the jolt in his spine as he fell heavily to the floor. The girl stalked over to him.

“You are not the one asking questions here, Prescott,” she spat, looming over him. He found his breath slightly painful as his chest rose in ragged breaths.

“You broke my fucking rib,” he wheezed. “You are both in so much trouble, you hear?”

I just need to get out of here, get hold of some of them and get them into the bunker. Come on, Sean – these are just two pathetic girls, you can take them.

Just wait for your moment.

How is she so strong? Look at her..

No. You can do this.

He saw Victoria languidly get out of her chair and sit on his desk, crossing her legs as she watched him. The shorter girl stood back, letting her take control.

So Victoria is in charge. I can work with this. I know her type, what she is like.

“Why are you hunting us? What do you want?” she said, her voice level and calm. Sean looked between the two girls, before directing his answer at Victoria.

“Hunting you? What do you mean? I only agreed to meet with you tomorrow when your lawyer called. I don't want anything with you..” Yet. Just you wait.

There was the sound of an impatient sigh from the girl next to him, and he cast a glance at her, unnerved by her expressionless face. Victoria spoke again.

“Sean – you don't mind me calling you Sean do you? Well, even if you did, it wouldn't matter – don't lie to me or my friend here. We know more about you than we wish to.” She laughed without humour. “Now, once again – why are you hunting us? Do you want to control us? What about the others?” Sean's mind raced as he tried to fit the pieces together in his head.

The others? Do they know about the other girls? But how? Do they know about Jefferson and.. my son? Do they know about the group..?

“I don't know what you are talking about? Why would I want to control you? You are just a pair of.. young.. girls.” The one near him turned to look at Victoria, as if they were having an unspoken conversation.

Now. Now is your chance!

He leapt up, wincing at the stabbing pains in his chest and ran for the door, arms out to push her out of the way.

Through the door and to the telephone in the basement, along with the other tools.. and then!

And then!

He staggered backwards as the girl's fist met his nose, and he felt the hot blood spurt across his cheeks. He put a hand up to gingerly touch it.

“My nose! You broke my fucking nose! What the fuck is wrong with you! You're dead, you hear me? You're fucking dead! First I'll have my fun and then you are fucking dead!” The girl didn't say anything but just pushed him down once again, planting a swift kick to his already damaged ribs. He lay there on the floor, holding his nose and side, trying to get his breath, trying to make sense of what was happening to him. He saw a pair of high heels enter his vision and he looked up to see Victoria standing over him.

“Once again, what do you want from us?” Her voice was harder this time, and her fist was clenched. “Who are the other girls? Where are they?” He opened his mouth to speak but his mouth went dry as he saw a vague blue haze around her fist, and felt the temperature dropping.

“What.. is this..” he croaked. She gave him a cold smile.

“You know what this is,” she said, and formed a long spike of ice in her hand, resting the point on his chest and putting a little of her weight on it. His eye were wide with terror as she looked down at him, her green eyes aglow.

“Who are the other butterflies? What do you want with us? Why did you kill Jefferson? Why did you try to kill Kate?” He felt a thrill of terror run through him.

They know. They know about the bunker. They know about the girls, about Kate, about Nathan, everything.

But what are they? What the fuck have I got myself involved in?

What the fuck is going on?

For the first time in his life Sean Prescott feared for his own life, and he began to speak quickly as if trying to save his own skin..

“You already know what we did! You know we took the girls - there is a demand for it! We just satisfied our – that - demand.. those young, innocent girls. Before they are corrupted. Tainted.” He paused, and then continued with a strange, hungry tone. “Jefferson was a master at capturing that moment, and then, if there was a request for a certain one - we would capture more of – the corruption, the fall from grace.” He subconsciously licked his lips. “They pretended not to enjoy it, but they do really. How could they not..” He fell silent, as if lost in his memories.

Victoria turned away in disgust, throwing the ice spike to the floor. Sean looked up hopefully at the other girl who still stood there, expressionless.

“What have you done with Rachel?” she asked, her voice flat. Sean shrugged.

“She had to die, she was too corrupted. We couldn't get that much material from her, so... she had to go. I doubt anyone really misses her.” He smiled slightly at the memory.

“Jefferson?”

“He fucked up and got himself caught, and my son too. Stupid bastard. Of course he had to die. He can be replaced, though. The important thing is Nathan.” He looked at Victoria. “Which is why you must testify.” I can turn them around, bring them in. Maybe they can help expand.. they would be excellent recruiters.

“Nathan? Why are you doing all of this for him?”

“He's my son,” he said simply. The girl looked at him, her eyes trying to bore through his head.

“Unacceptable,” she said, shaking her head. “This can't be everything. This isn't everything. What are you hiding?” She reached down and grabbed his jaw in a vice like grip. “What are you hiding?” she growled. Sean felt a sweat break out on his forehead as her fingers squeezed with a frightening strength.

“Nothing.. I've told you everything..” She drew back her other hand and slapped him hard against the side of his head, causing his vision to blur.

“I don't believe you.” She stood up and stretched out her fingers, before rolling her shoulders. “And I'm going to make you talk.” Victoria looked over at her, her eyes wide.

“Max,” she said, “I really don't think he knows anything more than his.. his revolting thing he's been doing. Look - he's a coward, he talked at the merest threat! Nothing but a bully.” She looked at him in disgust. “You're even worse than I thought. I can't believe I came into your house..” She looked around the room and shuddered. Sean's eyes widened slightly as he looked at the other girl.

Max. The girl Jefferson wanted. I can see why. She will make a great addition...

“I have a proposition for you,” he said. “Join me – I could use you both, and the pay would be more than you will ever earn – you would no longer need a scholarship.” That last part was aimed at Max, who spat in his face.

“You just don't get it, do you. You are not in control here, Prescott, you never were. But I've had enough of this. Victoria, can you please leave the room?” Victoria shook her head.

“Max, no – I can't let you do this – I don't want to go anywhere without you. You know this. You promised...” Max held her hands.

“Victoria, please, don't make me make you go. I don't want to force you.. just leave so I know that no version of you will see this. Please.”

“Max, I can't,” she replied, her eyes beginning to well. “You told me that you couldn't keep doing this..”

“One more time, Vic. It's just one more time. The end of it.” Max closed her eyes and put her hand to her forehead, as if trying to quell the thoughts inside it. “Victoria, I won't ask again – if you love me you'll leave. Please, I beg you. Go.” Victoria took one look at Max and ran from the room, openly sobbing as she did so.

Sean had watched the exchange in fascination, wondering if he had got the whole dynamic wrong.

Maybe Max is the one to focus on? Maybe she is the key to bringing them both in.

Max waited for the door to close, before turning to face Sean. She was smiling as she crouched down until her face was level with his. The pain from his broken nose and (he suspected) ribs were a constant nagging, stabbing, pain; but he retained enough composure to try and stare her down.

“Now then, Prescott, this can take as long as I want, but I will get my answers from you. I do not think you will enjoy this, but I suspect I will.”



“Let's start from the beginning again, shall we? How many girls have there been?” Sean cradled his smashed fingers, curled up on the floor as if he was an infant.

“I told you!” he shouted, “I told you before.. why won't you believe me?”

“You expect me to believe you've done all this just to satisfy your fucking perversions? To protect that piece of shit of a son of yours? Impossible!” He screamed again as she stamped on his fingers once more, before grabbing his hair and hauling his head upright. In her free hand she held an ornate letter opener.

“Recognise this? I must say that it's quite fancy in a very tacky way, but it looks pretty blunt. Tell me - which eye don't you want?”



“How many others have you found with powers? Answer me!” she shrieked, ramming his head into the wall. He went limp and fell backwards, falling awkwardly across a low table down onto his neck, which gave way with an audible snap. Max grunted in frustration.

Keep it together Max – take it slower. You know he knows something. You know he is the key to it all, the answer to why this is happening. You just have to get it out of him.

And then another thought, a strange intrusive one that was her but not yet her.

What are you doing? What have you become? I don't want to be like you. I won't!

And then the sensation of a touch from Victoria, but she wasn't there but she was there at the same time; it felt like time was twisting and turning and ripping, until suddenly the feeling was gone as soon as it had appeared and she was back, vengeful and fey.



“Oh no, you are not fucking dying on me yet! Tell me!” He clutched at his throat, blood filtering through his fingers. She hit him in frustration, making him lose his grip and opening the ugly rent in his neck. “I have not suffered through countless lifetimes of death and misery for you to not tell me what I want to know!” He flailed about as the blood gushed from his neck, Max watching him dispassionately as he collapsed, his eyes growing dim. Max knelt down and looked into them.

“You will tell me, Prescott. I haven't even begun to make you suffer.”



“Please, my wife.. I have a daughter..” Sean coughed up blood, some loose teeth falling to the floor. “My son.. I...” A knee caught him in the chest, sending him sprawling. Max stood over him, her eyes wild.

“Who is the black butterfly?” she screamed. “Who is it?”

“I.. don't... know.. what..” Max stamped down hard on his chest, feeling the bones give way. His screams cut off suddenly as she repeatedly smashed her foot down, each stamp drawing a fresh howl of rage.



Max sat cradling her legs, her sobs wracking her body. Sean was somewhere, slowly bleeding out; but she didn't care. Max's hands were red raw, blood trickling from her nose and spattering into the bloody mess that was her shirt. She knew she had to rewind, make one last effort and get back to Victoria, to carry on with the plan, with life.

Her head hurt and she felt so, so tired. It was if here, at the end of it all – all the endless loops, the quest for answers, the endless violence and suffering and misery, there was...

Nothing.

No answers.

No redemption.

No excuse.



Nothing.

Chapter Text

Max closed her eyes, gritted her teeth and rewound time once more.



“- you're even worse than I thought. I can't believe I came into your.. Max, what the fuck? What the hell happened to you?”

Max stood in front of Victoria, covered in blood and eyes red from crying. She collapsed into Victoria's arms, sobbing uncontrollably.

“Vic.. I can't.. I...” Victoria looked her over, panicking.

“Max, you aren't hurt are you? You're not bleeding? Max! What have you done.. what have you done?” Max sagged against her, clutching onto her jacket. “Max, what have you done!

“I'm sorry.. I'm so sorry.. I tried to make everything better..” Victoria held her tight, and tried to calm the distraught girl.

“What the fuck is going on?” said an angry voice, as Sean staggered to his feet. Victoria turned in annoyance and flung out her hand, an icy blast catching him and throwing him hard against the wall. Victoria turned away, not bothering to see how he was.

“Max.. we need to get you out of here. Max, can you walk? We have to go.. Max.. talk to me, please.” Max nodded weakly and Victoria put her arm around her shoulders, half carrying her out of the room.



It took most of Max's remaining strength to take them back in time to just before they had entered the house, and Victoria grew increasingly worried about her. Blood was pouring freely from her nose despite her best efforts to stop it; Max seemed delirious, saying things that made little sense to her.

“Max please, calm down. Talk to me. What happened in there? What did you do? Why are you covered in so much..” Max fell to her knees, leaning against her car for support.

“I've killed so many people, Victoria. So many. Even.. even if they are alive, I still killed them. And for what? Nothing. It all means nothing..”

“Max, what are you saying? We have found out that Sean Prescott is behind everything, that he has been running all of this -”

“No, you don't get it! I could have worked that out anyway! I could have called the police at any time, done something, anything. But instead I.. I tried to make things perfect for me. Do what I wanted, what was best for me. And then.. I.. I.. just wanted revenge; revenge on the world; revenge for giving me.. me.. this.” She held up her hand and looked at it in disgust, as if removing it would solve all of her problems.

Victoria reached out and took that hand, cradling it in both of hers.

“Max, given everything you have been through I can't blame you for feeling this way, but things have changed, haven't they? Things are different now – and we've found each other. Isn't that enough? Max? Isn't it?” Max didn't answer but just leaned forward to bury her head in Victoria's shoulder. Victoria held her like that for a while, until Max suddenly raised her head and looked at her, eyes red and glassy.

“I don't want to do this any more,” she whispered. “I hate it. I hate myself. I just can't..” Victoria waited for Max to finish but she just stayed there silent, staring off towards the Prescott mansion.

“You don't want to do..?” Victoria queried carefully, as if afraid of what the answer might be. Max looked at her irritably.

“Fuck around with time. I just make everything worse, and I can't.. I can't forget them.” She withdrew from Victoria and looked down at her bloodied hands.

“David was right,” she murmured softly, “you can't forget them..” She fell silent and closed her eyes, leaning back against her car. Victoria thought that in that instant she suddenly looked incredibly old, despite her youth; as if she had lived through countless lifetimes and seen things that she couldn't even begin to comprehend.

“Max, let's just get you away from this and to bed. You'll feel better after a wash and some food, I promise. I'll get us some pizza, how about that? Maybe some waffles too? Max?” Max didn't say anything in reply but just nodded her head slightly. Victoria put her arms around her and gently lifted her up, holding her close as she did so. She put her hand carefully behind Max's head and rocked her gently from side to side.

“We can make everything better,” she said eventually. “We can take him down, we have enough evidence to do so.” She waited for Max to say something, but Max just buried her head back into Victoria. “I have an idea on how to do this, too. Leave it to me, OK? Leave it all to me.” She held Max for a moment longer before letting her go. She felt a little daunted about what her next task would have to be, but there was no getting away from it.

But first we need to get away from this damn place.

“Max - give me your keys, I'll drive.”



Simon Brown stifled a yawn and rubbed his eyes. It was starting to get late and he had an early start tomorrow – the drive down to Arcadia Bay was going to take a good few hours from Seattle, but he still had much to do before the meeting. The bright screen from the laptop illuminated his study as he revised the legal agreement to be presented to the Principal in the morning. There was a gentle tap at the door.

“Are you coming to bed? It's getting late.” He sighed and shook his head.

“I would love to Maria, but you know how it is. I need to get this done for tomorrow, or he'll have my head.” Maria walked in and curled an arm around his neck, looking at the screen.

“What's this? Security for a school? Has he got you babysitting her again? You do know you have your own daughters, don't you?” He squeezed her arm.

“I know, I know. But unfortunately this comes with the job, so I just have to do it no matter how annoying she is. But I'll be finished early tomorrow - I can be back in time for them finishing. Promise.” She kissed him on the cheek and ruffled his hair, before looking at him with doubtful eyes.

“You always say that. Don't stay up too late.” She paused and looked thoughtful. “Do you remember when we both dreamed of changing the world? How hopeful we were? Yet I'm stuck hiding money away for corrupt regimes and you are here looking after some guy's spoilt brat of a daughter. Where did we go wrong, huh?”

“When we got a mortgage,” he replied, causing her to chuckle. She kissed him and left him too his work, closing the door quietly behind her. He returned to his reading, scanning over the sub clauses of the agreement for Blackwell. He yawned again, his mind drifting.

Not quite what I was expecting to be doing this weekend. At least it's not dealing with another acquisition. A trip to the coast might be a nice change though; and if it's a nice place maybe we can do a little trip next time we are both free.

An alert on the screen dragged him out of his daydream – someone was trying to Skype him. He checked to see who the caller was and frowned, not recognising the ID. VC? Who is that? I can't think of.. oh good lord, no. Not her. What does she want? Another rant about how her parents are ruining her life? I thought she had grown up by now.

I really don't get paid enough for this.

The call kept ringing, and he stared at it.

Oh for god's sake. Think of the mortgage.

He quickly straightened his shirt and smoothed his hair, composed his face into a welcoming rictus and accepted the call. He eyes widened in surprise as the call connected – a very serious and tired looking Victoria stared back at him, sitting at her desk in her dorm - face unmade, hair slightly askew but her green eyes piercing with an intelligence he had never seemed to notice before. He cleared his throat.

“Ah, Ms Chase – this is an unexpected call. How may I be of service to you tonight?” To his mild surprise she gave him a polite smile and apologised.

“Mr Brown, I'm sorry for calling you so late and on the weekend, but this could not wait. I hope I am not disturbing you at all?” He shook his head and gave her a professional smile.

“No, not at all Ms Chase. I was just preparing the contract documents for tomorrow, inline with your Father's instructions. I assume this is the matter you wished to discuss? What can I help you with about it? It should be fairly -”

“No, it's not that – it's something else. Something important. Much more important.” She looked slightly worried, and he found himself becoming slightly curious despite himself. Probably got herself knocked up by some kid and needs bailing out. I should have listened to Maria and gone for that DA job last year.

“Whatever it is I am sure I can be of assistance. Can you give me a brief précis of the issue?” She turned her head to speak to someone off camera. Aha! I knew it!

“Are you alone, Mr Brown? There is no-one who can over hear you right now?” OK, that's a little odd.

“Yes, I am, Ms Chase. Whatever you have to say to me is in strictest confidence.” She nodded at his words, and then appeared to compose herself. Here it comes..

“I need your help in exposing a sex trafficking ring being run out of Arcadia Bay. I know who runs it. I know where the evidence proving this can be found. I know the police here have been bribed. I know of at least two murders that have happened because of it, and I really, really need your help.” She sat back and waited expectantly, looking at his dumbfounded expression. He blinked a few times, his mouth working as his brain seemed to slam in reverse and run down some new tracks. What the hell?

“Er.. um.. Ms.. Ms Chase, that's – that's..” Insane?

“Call me Victoria, please.”

“Uh, apologies, Victoria, that is quite.. a tale.. you have there.” Is she on some form of drugs? “I don't quite know what to make of it. I..” Victoria looked at him impatiently, and he felt like he could feel her eyes boring through his skull. When did she learn to look at people like that? She's changed.

“Listen to me, will you? This is real, so fucking real, and I need you to listen to me right now. And then you can tell me what you think.” Just for a second he could see a familiar look on her face; a look that reminded him of many an uncomfortable meeting held in a far too large boardroom, where those foolish enough to come unprepared were eviscerated.

“I'm sorry Ms – Victoria. Please excuse me, I can see you are serious about this. Tell me everything you can.” And I hope to god this is not a joke.

He listened while she explained everything to him - Jefferson, the involvement of the police, Nathan, the Dark Room, Kate – and Sean Prescott. He didn't say much apart from make some notes and ask for a few clarifications. During her tale she would occasionally ask the same person off screen for help, and he could hear a quiet female voice answer - although he couldn't make out the words. Once she had finished she sat back expectantly again, waiting for his response.

He looked down at the notes he had made and rubbed his face, and then looked back at the watchful face of Victoria. He felt both excited and queasy; either he was about to make his name in a big way or be sued into oblivion.

Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. What the hell do I do with this? She seems so certain, everything she says makes a twisted logical sense but these sort of things just don't happen, do they? Where do I even start with this?

“Well?” came her voice; a note of hardness filtering through her impatience.

Do you remember when we used to want to change the world?

Fuck it.

“I.. honestly don't know. This is all a lot to take in at once. It sounds very plausible, yet.. where is the proof? As much as I believe what you are telling me, we can't just go in making baseless accusations -”

“I can get the proof, I told you this. That is what I need your help with at first. Secondly, we have the meeting with Sean Prescott tomorrow, and I want you there as another witness when we expose him.”

“Another witness? Who will the other person be?”

“My gir – my friend, Max. She knows about this as well, she is listening into this call right now.” Simon noticed this slight slip but was professional enough to not let it show. So definitely no fear of pregnancy, then.

No. This is serious, Simon. Give her the benefit of the doubt.

But..

“I see.” He rubbed his eyes again; he had been staring at the screen for far too long tonight. “I am still not sure what you expect here, Ms Ch – Victoria. Even if what you say is true, why not take this to the police? I'm just your family lawyer -” Victoria cut him off with an impatient gesture, exhaling in irritation, and he found himself slightly taken aback by her forthrightness.

“I'm not stupid, I know we need to get the police involved - just not the ones here. There are four of them already in hospital who I know are definitely on Prescott's payroll – you can check the admissions yourself if you want. I don't know about the others. Either way we can't trust them.” He found himself yet again at a loss as to what to say.

“Perhaps you should call the State police then? Or maybe the FBI? If you are so certain of..” She rolled her eyes at him, as if he was the idiot. I'm not sure if she is more like her mother right now, actually.

What a family.

“Because they would treat me the same way you are, like an idiotic little girl. I know you think I'm some sort of stupid rich girl who you are made to put up with by my parents – and I admit you may have been correct in the past – but listen to me now. I'm not making this up – peoples lives are at stake here. People are dead because of this. I have to stop it.” He looked at the intense girl on screen and found himself believing her more and more, despite himself. There's something in her manner, her tone. She believes this – and everything she has said ties together – even the death of Jefferson makes sense in this context. If this is her idea of a fantasy then it's a strangely detailed one.

And a Chase is never a fantasist.

Besides, she's your employer. If I don't play along.. then there goes the girl's college education.

“OK, Ms – Victoria. Let's assume you are correct. We accuse Mr Prescott of these things – what stops him from just suing us? If the police are in his pay as you suggest, what stops him from using them against us?” Victoria appeared to look at him carefully, as if judging whether he was onboard with this.

“I agree with that. Therefore we need to secure the main piece of evidence first – the Dark Room. Given I can't trust anyone yet, it's time to take it into my own hands. I was thinking that we can transfer some personnel from -” she looked down as if reading from some notes - “the weapons research facility we have in Tonopah. I believe there are some ex-military on the team there. Let's bring them in.” Simon looked at her in slight amazement, before shaking his head.

“Victoria, you can't just -”

“Yes, I can. I own one third of this company, don't forget that. In time it will all be mine. I don't care what it takes – double, triple over time – whatever – they need to be there now. I think at least 30 of them. Full kit or whatever it is they take, I don't know – but they will. Cordon off the whole pace, don't let anyone in or out. But they have to move now, I don't know how much longer it will be there for.” Simon scribbled a note down, still not quite believing what he was hearing. How does she know all of this? And this is not even remotely legal..

“I can make a call I think – let me find out who to speak to, but -”

“Helen Worthing, she's HR manager out there. I'm dropping you her contact details now, including her personal cell. She should be awake.” Simon looked at her opened mouthed, before reading the details on his chat screen

“Er.. OK, thank you. I'll get right on it. But I think you'll need someone out there to oversee this? Someone you can trust with this to keep it under control. This is all highly legally dubious and..” She smiled wolfishly at him and he suddenly had a sinking feeling in his stomach.

“You want me too...?”

“Just think of it as enabling you to put your children through an even better college, Simon. Now, you don't have much time so let's just run through a few further things..”

He groaned internally as he realised his night was suddenly going to be very, very long indeed.



Victoria closed the call, and sat back, smiling to herself.

That went perfectly. I couldn't have expected it to go better.

She looked over at Max who was laying down on the bed, her eyes closed. It had been a rough two hours for her, the constant rewinds to get more information as they needed it, guiding the conversation in the direction Victoria needed whilst taking Victoria back with her - along with her heavy exertions already in the evening – had been the final straw that had broken her.

“Max?” Victoria whispered softly, and was answered with a snore. Victoria looked at her face – she looked utterly exhausted, her eyes ringed with black and her mouth set in a grimace, even whilst asleep.

The poor thing. She was so exhausted when we got back, but she was determined to help get through this despite my pleading. But I couldn't have done it without her. Everything should be in place now, all we have to do is wait.

Victoria sat next to her, holding her hand whilst she slept. She thought back through everything that had happened today, and was worried. Max had seemed more withdrawn ever since they had left the Prescott place, and no matter what Victoria did hadn't seemed to change anything.

She was so upset. I've never seen her like this before. The things she said.. what can I do to make it all OK again?

How do I fix this?

She brushed a stray hair from Max's face then got up and switched off the lights, before laying down beside her, listening to her sleep.



Kate eye's snapped open as the screams echoed through the dorm. In her groggy state she couldn't at first work out where they came from, until she realised the sound was coming from Victoria's room.

It doesn't sound like Victoria though.

She hurriedly leapt out of bed and ran out of her room. She could hear other doors opening as the screams raggedly died off. Kate stood uncertainly outside Victoria's door, unsure as what to do. She felt the presence of someone behind her, and despite the situation her stomach dropped at the sight of Dana looking at her, a worried expression on her face. She didn't say anything but gestured to Kate, as if encouraging her to knock. She raised her hand and gently rapped on the door.

“Um.. Victoria? Is everything.. OK? Do you.. need some help?” There was no answer but Kate thought she hear could hear muffled sobs from behind the door, so screwing up her courage she opened it and cautiously looked in.

The room was dimly lit by a single lamp and she could see Victoria sitting upright on her bed cradling Max, who had her head in her lap. Victoria looked up at them and put her finger to her lips. Kate quietly walked over, leaving Dana and a few other girls peering inquisitively in.

“Is everything OK?” she asked quietly. Victoria looked at her and gave her a sad smile. Kate thought she looked tired; there were dark shadows around her eyes and her face looked drawn.

“She just had a bad dream,” Victoria whispered. “She'll be OK in the morning after a good sleep. It was just a dream.” She gently stroked Max's hair, who whimpered a little in her sleep.

“Do you want me to stay?” asked Kate. Victoria shook her head; to Kate it looked like she was on the verge of tears.

“No; thank you, though. We'll be fine.. she just needs some rest. Everything will be OK after some rest. It will. It has to be..” Kate bit her lip at Victoria's words; she felt like there was something else going on that she was excluded from. The sight of Victoria hunched over Max tore at her heart, and she hesitantly reached out to touch Victoria on the shoulder. Victoria looked at Kate and smiled weakly.

“Thank you for checking on us, Kate. You are too good for us. If we need you I'll shout for you, I promise.” Kate nodded and slowly backed away to the door.

“Take care of her, Victoria.”

“I will. You have my word.” Kate closed the door behind her and looked at the assembled girls.

“Just a nightmare,” she said, not believing her own words. “Just a nightmare.”



Victoria was woken by the alarm on her cell. Max was still asleep, curled up in a little ball. She checked the time – it was 8:00 – and she had just over an hour to get ready before the meeting with Wells. She saw she had a series of missed calls and voice messages which had been left in the middle of the night, and she hurriedly listened to them. A smile grew on her face as she did so, and she hurriedly returned a call.

“Hello? Yes, that's excellent news. Yes, I am just getting ready – shall I meet you outside in say 45 minutes? We can have a quick chat before then.. yes, of course. See you in a bit, bye!”

Mood immeasurably improved she left a sleeping Max and showered, before returning and carefully choosing her clothing for the meeting. She wanted to make an impression on Wells; as she was representing in part her company she felt that a more business like attire would be suitable.

Max was still fast asleep, and although Victoria knew that lessons were due to start in half an hour or so she felt that Max would benefit more from sleeping than she would sitting through a geography lesson.

Victoria quietly closed the door and left the dorm. The day was still overcast and the school was getting busier as students were out and about on their way before the first lessons of the day. She herself would normally have been shooting the breeze with Taylor or Courtney before going to class. But that felt like an entire lifetime ago – now she was setting off to meet her lawyer, to establish control of Blackwell and begin to exert herself as an independent woman, creating her own destiny.

Victoria arrived outside the main entrance and saw a middle aged man sitting down by the statue. He was talking animatedly on his cell and looked exhausted. Victoria felt a slight twinge of pity about forcing him to work so hard but was certain that the ends would justify a little hardship for him. She composed herself for a moment, trying to project herself as a confident and capable woman; a force to be reckoned with.

Ha. Stop trying to be something you are not. You are more powerful than any businesswoman, than any lawyer. Remember this.

Mr Brown - Simon? Hi.” She stuck out a hand and he turned in surprise, then shook her hand. He held up a finger to her to allow him to finish his conversation.

“No, that's fine – we will still be here. The meeting is at four, so if you came to meet us before then..? Excellent, that's perfect. No, thank you for being so prompt. It's a pleasure. No, of course. Good bye.” He ended the call and looked thoroughly pleased with himself, before turning to look at Victoria.

“Good morning, Ms Chase, Victoria. I was just speaking to Special Agent Fielding of the ECAP division of the FBI, believe it or not. I got in touch with them after our call last night through an old friend I have working out in Washington – after running through everything we had, they did a few bits of verification themselves – which means they will be here in force this afternoon. Some are going to help secure the 'dark room' and Fielding herself is wanting to sit in on our little chat with Mr Prescott this afternoon. Apparently she is looking forward to it.” Victoria smiled widely at him.

“That's.. amazing. I can see why we hired you.” He waved her off modestly, but she continued. “No, I mean it – you've taken an incredible risk believing me, and have done more than I could have ever hoped. I got your voice messages but they were a little garbled – where are we exactly with everything? Also, do you want a coffee before we go meet Wells? You look exhausted.” He nodded.

“I am. I haven't slept since yesterday, and I seem to be running on caffeine and doughnuts. But I think I can make it through to tonight – it's just like being back at law school, except I've got another 24 years on the clock.” He stifled a yawn that seemed to have come just for the comedy timing. “So last night. First: we got the team in from Tonopah, they arrived by helicopter and were in place by 4 a.m. I met them there – they are led by a former Ranger apparently – real serious guy with no sense of humour, especially at that time in the morning.” He grinned at Victoria, and she smiled back at him.

“You are enjoying this, aren't you Simon.” He shrugged, then nodded.

“Actually, yes I am. This is big. Really big. Once in a lifetime career makingly big – no offence to working for Chase Industries, but I feel like I am doing the right thing. And I have you to thank for it, Ms Chase.” She blinked a little at his words – it hadn't really occurred to her what the effect her actions would have on other people, good or bad.

“Oh, well.. that's good? So what happened at the Dark Room?” Simon stretched his neck a little, as if easing out a crick.

“We had a little poke around – we got the hatch open and found the security door as you described it. They drilled a hole through and they put in this little remote camera – remarkable stuff - it all seemed intact as far as they could see. So they set up a cordon around the area with orders to not let anyone near. How legal this is...” he shrugged. “Ends justifies the means. And by that I mean also looking into Jefferson – his suspicious death in police custody for example, and the rumours around Nathan's involvement. This morning the FBI told me about some payments from the Prescott foundation to the Arcadia Bay Police Department – and what appears to be a few under the counter ones too. Tie this into the disappearance of Rachel Amber, along with other girls up and down the coast - which according to them seem to track with Jefferson and Prescott business interests – then we have a compelling case, if somewhat still circumstantial until we go through that door.” Victoria folded her arms, looking with respect at the lawyer.

“Wow. You have been busy, I am really impressed.” He leaned back on his hands and looked at her calculatingly.

“Yes, but I have my connections and the weight of Chase Industries behind me, who have some serious political clout. However; I am merely following up on what you told me. Which raises the interesting question – how did you know?”

“Women's intuition?” she offered. He looked at her then laughed, before regarding her again.

“I wonder. Anyway, I feel I must apologise to you, Victoria. I think I may have sorely underestimated you – jumped to too quick a conclusion. I trust you will not take offence at that?” She shook her head.

“No, and I won't get you fired yet, either,” she said seriously, although he could see a twinkle in her eye that let him know she wasn't being serious. Simon was beginning to feel at ease in her company; she appeared to be a bit more human than her parents.

Let's hope it stays that way.

“In any event, what you have told me seems to be entirely correct – correct enough that the FBI are coming down straight away. As I alluded to, it seems we may have supplied the missing piece in a larger puzzle, so that also set me at ease somewhat over the highly legally dubious thing we did this morning at this 'dark room'.” He looked at her again, as if once more wondering at the change since he had least seen her. Victoria checked the time on her cell.

“It's nearly time to meet with Wells – I assume we are still just proposing we take over Security? I haven't had time to read over everything that you sent through.” Simon shook his head.

“Not quite. There are a few, er, other clauses involved which I think you may find interesting – a proposal from Mr Chase himself.”

“Oh?” inquired Victoria. “And what are they, exactly?”

“Can't tell you - Client confidentiality,” Simon smirked; Victoria went to say something but then laughed with him. He reached into his briefcase and fished out a piece of paper.

“Here's a quick summary,” he said, handing it to her. She took the paper and quickly scanned through it.

“Holy fuck,” she whispered to herself, smiling.

Chapter Text

Principal Wells sat behind his large, ornate desk and waited. This appointment had been an unwelcome surprise which he didn't want to have to deal with – the resumption of schooling was enough to deal with, let alone the additional matter of the police investigation, the press, dealing with donors – and now he had to talk to the Chase family. He had been dimly aware that Victoria had come from a wealthy background, but it had been somewhat of a shock when he had discovered just how wealthy she was, and just how much soft power they wielded in the State and further afield - and he worried about the true purpose of this meeting.

He doodled idly on a piece of paper in front of him, resisting the temptation to reach down into the lower drawer and take a quick sip of concentration. It had been an increasingly stressful few weeks, what with trying to keep the Prescott's onside due to their financial contributions; something which had been getting increasingly difficult given Nathan's erratic behaviour.

Did I do the right thing? Did I do the best for the school as a whole? Without their money there would have been no Blackwell, but will there be one in the future?

Did I do the right thing?

What do I do now?

“But first I need to get this meeting out of the way, and then maybe start the look for replacement donors. I'll have to schedule a meeting with the Governors too,” he muttered to himself, rubbing his face. He felt tired already, and it was only the start of the week. The phone on his desk rang, and he picked it up.

“Hello? They are here? No, send them in.” He stood up, straightening his jacket and tie and fixed a welcoming smile onto his face as the door opened.

“Victoria, Mr Brown – welcome. Please, sit.” He gestured to the two seats set out in front of him. “Can I get you both anything to drink?”

“I'll have a strong black coffee, please,” said Brown to him. He nodded, then looked over at Victoria, who seemed to be weighing him up in a slightly disconcerting manner.

“Of course. And you Victoria?” She shook her head, and he relayed the order through to his secretary. Pleasantries out of the way he sat back in his chair, swivelling slightly and looked at the pair as if encouraging them to start. Brown cleared his throat.

“Thank you for seeing us today, Principal Wells. I know you must be busy at this time, and we appreciate the gesture.” Wells graciously nodded his head at him. Looks like the lawyer is in charge here; Victoria is just along for the ride. He looks exhausted though – not surprising having to deal with her.

“As Principal of Blackwell it is my duty to look after the welfare of its students. This is a hallowed place of knowledge, a place where people can come and learn and grow in the best Blackwell tradition.” Wells sat back a little, pleased with still being able to trot out the tired lines and make it sound convincing. He glanced at Victoria, slightly unnerved by the unrelenting stare she was giving him.

What's got into her today?

“I understand that you received the initial proposal to oversee the Security here at Blackwell, with the objective of ensuring that Ms Chase here is sufficiently protected to the standard required and expected of by my Client.”

“That I have, Mr Brown, and an intriguing proposal it was. However, in response to this I would like to state that the security here at Blackwell is exceedingly professional and competent; in fact we are currently planning on installing a comprehensive CCTV -”

“Nathan Prescott shot Chloe Price in the girls bathroom last week, Wells,” said Victoria, cutting across him with some venom. “And this was after you had weeks of warning of his behaviour, and this security of yours did nothing. Nothing. And that's before we even begin to talk about the actions of -” Brown held his hand up slightly, cutting her off much to Well's relief, which surprised him. She sighed in annoyance and looked away, folding her arms.

“A most regrettable incident,” said Wells smoothly, as he tried to steer the conversation away from that particular topic. “However security were promptly on the scene to apprehend the alleged perpetrator. I hardly see that such a drastic change as Mr Chase is proposing is required. I am not sure that the board of Governors would also be interested in such a radical change.” He flashed a smile at the lawyer in front of him, gauging his reaction. The man smiled thinly and reached into a briefcase he had set on the floor and pulled out a thick looking document, heavily bound with the logo of Chase Industries on the front which he laid on the table.

“It's an understandable position, Mr Wells. However Mr Chase - and it must be acknowledged for the record that Ms Chase here is an equal party in Chase Industries and will have authority to also progress this deal on behalf of Chase Industries -” Well's eyes widened slightly at his words, but he did his best to hide it - “is not just proposing to manage security here at Blackwell. As you are no doubt aware, a large part of Blackwell's future funding is likely to be removed, which would also cause considerable problems with regards to the continued operation of the school, and by extension Ms Chase's education.” He paused for a breath, and Wells leaned back in his chair a little. He watched Victoria look at Brown, who appeared to nod at her.

“It's quite simple, Wells,” she said, causing him to raise his eyebrows. “Not only are we taking over the security here, but we are also going to be taking a controlling interest in the school. Blackwell is going to come under the auspices of Chase Industries – under my auspices. We are not content to just be a donor for this place; we also expect a return for our money. Not only will it remain the premier place for the arts in Oregon, but we will also be reviving and enhancing the existing science, maths and business elements of this place. This will entail expansion of the existing teaching facilities including construction of a new teaching block and expanded dormitories; as well as an extended scholarship programme and so on. As part of this it will be partnered with Chase Industries, who will be offering internships to those bright enough to potentially serve the company.” Wells looked at her, feeling the ground starting to shift beneath his feet.

“With all due respect, Victoria, this has to have the agreement with the board of Governors who will look to me for guidance as to what is best for this school. Now, it may be that in the future a more collaborative approach with -”

Victoria rounded on him, her eyes flashing with fire. Wells felt a cold draught blow against his neck.

“No, you listen to me. I am going to let you see this transition period through - a year, maybe two – then you can fuck off to whatever backwater job you want with a glowing reference. But that means you don't obstruct this and you do your utmost best to ensure this goes through smoothly. Then you can have your nice fat pay-off and never darken this place again. If you don't – then make no mistake but I will bury you. I will make sure that the full complicity of your aiding and abetting of the Prescott's – not to mention Jefferson - and your abandonment of the students here will be made clear and you will never work again – assuming you are not in jail. You understand me, Wells? I own you now.”

Wells looked at her aghast, his mind working. He knew he was in trouble; with the backing of the Prescott's likely gone and the huge funding hole it left – along with any investigations into whatever Nathan had been up to that he had inadvertently been covering for – his very future looked bleak indeed.

However, if Wells was anything he was a survivor, and he could see which way the wind was blowing. He held out his hands placatingly.

“Thank you for stating your position so clearly, Ms Chase. I of course only ever want what is best for Blackwell.” He turned to look at Brown, his face broadening into a very insincere smile. “I can see that there is a lot more to this proposal, which was so eloquently outlined by Ms Chase here. Would you be so kind as to run through it in a more detailed manner so I can communicate this onwards? Of course I will thoroughly read it myself later..”



“Well, that went better than I thought it would.” Victoria was secretly very pleased with herself. She felt very grown up all of a sudden; it seemed that despite her best efforts at denying it there was indeed a legacy that she wanted to live up to – but she was going to do it in her own way.

“I thought you handled yourself very well there,” said Simon musingly. “I think I saw a little bit of your parents in you.” Victoria grimaced at his words, but didn't mention it – he had seemed to mean it as a compliment. They stopped outside by the statue again and she looked at him.

“You look absolutely exhausted. How are you feeling?”

“I feel like I could sleep all day if I'm honest, but I'll keep going. There's still a lot to do, and you have entrusted me in delivering -” Victoria shook her head, and held up her hand.

“No, I need you to be at least semi-conscious or you are less than useful. It's only just gone ten – we have a few hours before this Agent Fielding turns up. Do you have somewhere you can go get some rest?” He shrugged.

“No, I came straight here by car. I could go and have quick rest there, I guess.” Victoria shook her head again.

“No, that won't be a proper rest for you. Wait - why don't you have a quick nap in my room?” Simon looked slightly horrified at the prospect.

“No offence, but isn't it a female only dorm..? And also it's your personal room, I'd feel a little.. intrusive staying there. I'm not sure it's a great idea, Victoria.”

“Nonsense,” she said firmly. “I insist. Everyone will be at class, and besides – you were at school once, do you think we really stick to the rules?” Simon laughed.

“That's a good point.” He stood there for a moment undecided then yawned widely, feeling slightly sick. “OK, OK - lead the way – but only an hour or so mind, I still have a lot to do.”



The dorm was indeed deserted when they arrived, but Simon felt increasingly nervous – it was if he was wandering into enemy territory, about to be attacked at anytime. Victoria led him confidently up to her floor and towards her room, whilst trying her best to placate him.

“Look, it's fine – everyone is out and no-one will come into my room. When you are awake just let me know and I'll come fetch you. Just don't leave the room and go wandering around on your own. You might get eaten alive.” Victoria opened her door and then quickly shut it again.

“Change of plan. You can sleep in this room instead.” She opened Max's door and gestured him inside. He looked around the room, noting the posters and pictures on the wall.

“This.. isn't your room, is it. What's going on? I'm really not sure this is a good idea..” Victoria closed the door behind them.

“It's fine, trust me. This room will remain empty until after you've gone, I promise.” Simon looked up at the photo collage and various accoutrements scattered around. His keen eye picked out a photo of Victoria and what appeared to be the room's owner together at the beach, smiling happily at the camera with their arms around each other.

“Good friend, is she?” he remarked. Victoria went to reply and then paused, before sighing.

“Yes, she is my.. partner. Girlfriend. Whatever. She is still asleep in my bed, which is why you can't stay there. Look - don't you dare tell my parents, OK? This is.. my life, none of their business. You will be fine here, I'll just grab some clothes for her.” Simon watched her rummage through some drawers, noting her cheeks turning slightly pink.

“Ms Chase, your private life is your own, believe me. I have daughters as well, so I know how you value your privacy and how important it is to you.. And besides - as I said before – Client confidentiality.” She turned and looked at him gratefully.

“Thank you. Um, try and make yourself comfortable – if you haven't called me before it's time I'll come wake you.” She closed the door behind her and Simon took off his shoes, lying down on the bed, and staring up at the ceiling.

Well. This has been a surprising day all round. Maria will never believe me. Speaking of which..

“Hi Maria. You'll never guess where I am..”



Victoria quietly closed her door and sat down by the bed. Max was still fast asleep, curled up in the corner and still snoring gently. Victoria spent a few moments watching her sleep, before leaning over and kissing her gently on the cheek. Max stirred at the touch, slowly uncurling and stretching out. One of her eyes cracked open and she eyed Victoria pitifully.

“Why are you waking me up? I'm tired,” she moaned plaintively. “What time is it?”

“It's gone ten, you lazy ass. You've already missed one lesson – and you are currently supposed to be in English.” Max groaned and buried herself back into the pillow.

“Wait, why are you here then?” came her muffled voice. “You are slacking off as well.” Victoria grabbed a spare cushion and hit her over the head with it.

“I'm here because unlike you, I've been busy. I had that meeting with Wells today, remember? And it's just as well I came back now otherwise you'd sleep until tonight.” Max rolled over onto her front, eyeing Victoria sulkily.

“Give me a break will you? I'm not feeling the best right now.” Victoria withdrew slightly from her.

“Sorry, I was just trying to.. well, I don't know. It's been a good morning, you know? Things are finally coming together.” Max grabbed a glass of water from the bedside table and drank it greedily.

“No, I'm sorry. I just had a rough night.” She paused, her face looking sad, before looking back at Victoria and managing a small smile. “So tell me what you've been up to, then.”

Victoria relayed the events of the morning, taking particular delight in relaying her confrontation with Wells. By the end of it Max was fully awake and listening intently.

“Wait a second, there's a man sleeping in my bed?” she said, as Victoria finished.

“That's your takeaway from all of that?” asked Victoria, incredulously. Max smiled and grabbed her hand.

“Sorry, you are right – it's incredible what you have done. I can't believe how.. how easy this has all been. All it took was a few phone calls.. there was no need for all of this..” She trailed off, her face clouding again. Victoria shook her head.

“No Max, never say that - it's all down to you. Without you doing all the investigating, finding out what has been going on and helping me so, so much, then none of this would have been possible.” Max was silent for a moment before looking at Victoria and smiling, although there was the hint of tears in her eyes.

“You are right as always, Vic. I just wish.. I just wish I could have got there straight away you know? Without having too.. too..” Victoria drew her into her arms as she started to weep again, holding Max's head to her chest and running her hand through her hair.

“Shhh, it's OK. We are nearly done. We just have one more thing this afternoon to do, then that's it. Everything is done, finished.” Max gave her a frightened look.

“I can't. I can't do it. I can't go there again and.. see him. I can't do this, Victoria. I can't.” Victoria held her close again and sighed.

“It's OK, Max. I understand how you feel - I can go on my own and deal with it. You just stay here and -”

“No!” Max's voice was loud and urgent. “Don't leave me, Vic, please. Not today. Stay with me. They can do whatever they need to do on their own. Just.. stay with me.” Victoria looked into Max's eyes, which seemed to be pleading with her - reaching down into the depths of her soul and begging her not to leave her alone.

“OK,” she said softly. “OK.”



It took Max a good while to summon the energy to go take a shower, however once she had done so she felt refreshed and ready to at least try to face the day. She didn't feel ready yet to go to her lessons like she should - she wasn't sure if she would be ready at all for the rest of the week; but for now at least she was up and dressed in the clothes Victoria had rescued for her.

Small victories. One step at a time, Max.

Ha. Time.

She suddenly realised that she was famished, having not eaten since last night. She tapped Victoria on her shoulder.

“Hey, how about we go out and get some food? I'm kinda hungry after stopping you look like an idiot with that lawyer last night.” Victoria gave her a hurt look, before responding.

“Oh I see, sneaking off campus during lesson time, huh?” said Victoria. “I didn't know you were such a rebel. You are leading me astray – I see you don't care about my GPA anymore?” Max pouted at her.

“Come on, Vic, be nice - I'm feeling really shitty right now. Can we just go? Please?” Victoria looked at her, surprised.

“Max - I was just joking. Of course we can go. Come on, as a special treat I'll even let you drive a proper car.”



They ended up having breakfast in a small café on the waterfront. As Max ate a sizeable amount of food Victoria did her best to try and lighten Max's mood. Max herself was largely silent, managing the occasional smile at Victoria's conversation but seemingly brooding over something that was troubling her. Victoria was trying her best to hide her concern, but was on the verge of saying something when her cell rang. She answered it quickly, secretly glad of the distraction.

“Oh, hello Simon – you are awake? Oh sorry, we were just out having breakfast – no, no, we'll be right there. See you in a bit.” She hung up and looked at Max.

“That was your guest – he's up and about and wants rescuing from a dorm full of horny teenagers. I think he may have barricaded the door.” Max laughed, and Victoria felt her heart leap.

She still there.

It's hiding a little, but she is still there.



They managed to rescue Simon just in time from Max's room, successfully smuggling him back outside without anyone noticing. Max had found the whole escapade thoroughly entertaining, trying and failing to not giggle continuously throughout the extraction. When they were safely outside Victoria had introduced her to him and explained that he would have to meet with Prescott without them – Max had been feeling unwell and she wanted to make sure she was OK. Simon looked a little dubious at her explanation, given Max's behaviour since he had met her, but decided to accept it at face value.

“It's very nice to meet you Ms Caulfield – Victoria has already explained to me that you've been a big help with all of this. I said it before to her but I want to say it to you as well – what you have both managed to uncover is truly remarkable. You both should be very proud of yourselves.” Max smiled a little weakly at his words.

“Thank you. I.. did just what I could. It's Victoria who has set all of this in motion. I just helped by managing her time, that's all.” As if prompted he looked at his watch.

“Regardless, you have both been of immense help. Unfortunately I have to go – the FBI will be here soon, and I need to take them up to the 'dark room' before we go and finally bring in Sean Prescott. Victoria, can you make sure you keep your cell on just in case we need anything? I don't think we will, but just in case?” Victoria nodded, and she reached out with a hand that he readily shook.

“Thank you for all your help, Simon. I can see why we hired you now. I mean, not that I had any doubts before, but I mean, you have been so professional and just, well, nice -” His laugh cut her short.

“Thanks, Victoria – that's very nice of you. But I am just doing my job – well, not quite my usual day job, I admit – but I have to thank you – it's made me feel briefly like a young lawyer starting out again, righting the wrongs of the world. It's good to be a part of this. It really is.” The girls waved him off as he headed for his car, a spring in his step.

“He seemed very nice,” Max remarked. “I always thought lawyers weren't allowed out in sunlight.”



Victoria and Max spent the rest of the afternoon holed up in Victoria's room, and at Victoria's insistence watched the remainder of the Girls und Panzer episodes she had not had time to finish. Max was content to just curl up in her lap, letting Victoria's arms envelope her. She did her best to focus on her feelings in the here and now, doing her best to ignore the dark thoughts that seemed to be creeping up on her with an ever increasing urgency.

Victoria was sitting there, utterly transfixed as the girls broke out from the Pravda siege, when there was a gentle knock at the door. It opened and Kate stuck her head around, looking slightly abashed.

“Er.. sorry to intrude – I was just wanting to check if Max was OK? She wasn't in her room, so..” Victoria smiled at her and waved her in.

“Hi Kate – come in and take a seat, it's just starting to get really good.” Kate sat down next to them, looking carefully at Max.

“Are you OK?” she asked quietly. Max looked at her and smiled gently.

“Yeah, I think so Kate. Thanks for coming to see me – I just had a bad night, that's all.” Kate nodded in sympathy.

“Yes, I've had a few of those myself.” She fell silent, as if remembering how she felt a few weeks ago when her entire world seemed to be falling apart.

Until Victoria and Max came to my rescue. I owe them everything. Without them who knows what could have happened. Everything just seems to be going so well now. Especially if I manage to sort out everything with.. her.

The noise coming from the laptop made her look up and she wrinkled her brow, watching the screen silently for a few minutes.

“Um, Victoria – what exactly is this?” Victoria didn't remove her eyes from the screen while she answered.

“Well it's quite simple really – it's all about the ancient art of sensha-dō – currently it's the semi finals where Ōarai are fighting against Pravda. So her – that's Miho, she is the one who is leading the Anglerfish Team in her Panzer Four – transferred in from Kuromorimine and ended up leading the entire team as she is some sort of prodigy when it comes to panzerkraft. She comes from a famous school run by her mother called the Nishizumi school, and her sister Maho..”

Kate cast a sideways glance at Max who grinned widely, before looking up at Victoria with eyes filled with adoration.



They were nearing the end of the last episode when Victoria's cell rang. She glanced at the number before putting the DVD on pause to a surprised cry of annoyance from Kate, who quickly covered her mouth, embarrassed.

“Hello? Hi – yes – how did it go? What? I see.. OK.. No, that's.. Channel 10? OK, and thank you – yes, I'll speak to you later.” Victoria hung up and grabbed her laptop, searching for the live feed of the local news channel. Kate and Max looked at her curiously.

“What's going on, Victoria?” asked Kate, still secretly feeling aggrieved at the curtailment of the final match.

“Look,” was all Victoria said, and both girls leaned in to watch what was happening. On the screen was a live broadcast, showing a large house with cars parked outside and heavily armed FBI agents swarming over the grounds. They watched as a man was bundled out of the house, firmly held in the grip of two agents and face clearly visible before someone threw a blanket over his head.

.. yes, this is the scene from a few minutes ago, Jim, of the arrest of the well known Oregon businessman Sean Prescott. Sources within the FBI have told me that he is suspected of being involved in a wide spread sex trafficking ring, with which the recent events in the small town of Arcadia Bay are said to be linked to. This is also believed to be related to the earlier arrest and suicide of the famous photographer Mark Jefferson, which occurred early last week; as well as ongoing investigations into corruption within the Arcadia Bay Police Department itself. A spokesman for the Prescott foundation had this to say when we contacted them earlier...

The three of them sat there for a while listening to the reports and speculation from the anchors. As the news started to cycle through again Kate was the first to break the spell.

“Oh my goodness, what on earth is going on?”said Kate, words gushing out of her mouth. “This is amazing – is this all linked to what Nathan did, and Mr Jefferson? I don't know what to think. I feel so giddy! Wait – I have to go tell everyone else to watch this too! Be back later!” Kate got up and ran out of the room – they could hear her voice excitedly shouting for Dana as she ran down the corridor to her room.

Victoria and Max sat there watching the looping footage as the anchors desperately padded with what little information they knew. Victoria moved her hand down to Max's and squeezed it gently.

“This is it, then,” said Victoria softly. “The end of it all.” Max didn't answer, but just stared at the screen. She didn't seem to feel any pleasure at the events unfolding; just a hollow emptiness that the thing which she thought had been driving her ever forwards was over.

It's over.

It's all gone - what do I have to live for now?

What is the point?

Victoria hugged her tight, smiling at the scenes on the screen, oblivious to the inner turmoil raging within Max.

“It's amazing, Max, isn't it. We did it. It's over, it's finally over. We can move on with everything without it hanging over us. I mean we have the funeral tomorrow, but after that – we can do anything, can't we? We're free.”

Max sat there silently as Victoria talked excitedly about the future: graduation, university – the hunt for the other butterflies; forging a new destiny. Max just felt like screaming in frustration, and she closed her eyes - but she could still see them: the faces of the dead, taunting her, haunting her every waking hour.

You will never forget us.

There is no escape.

You will never have peace, Max Caulfield.

Never.



Chapter Text

I don't have a problem



“Are you going to knock then?”

“I will. In a minute. Just let me..” Max stood there uncertain, hand raised.

“Do you want me to knock instead?” Victoria folded her arms, looking at her impatiently.

“No, no – it's fine. Its.. this is just the first time I've seen them since that week, and I'm bringing you along.. I'm nervous. It's stupid I know, they are my parents, but.. ugh.” Max sighed, rubbing the back of her neck.

“Well, shall I do it then?” asked Victoria, taking a step forward and eyeing up the door. Max laid her hand on her arm, making her pause.

“No no no – let me, you are the guest here, it should be me. Plus I want to introduce you properly to them.” Max fidgeted from foot to foot, before squaring her shoulders and raising her hand again.

“I wish one of you would knock, I've been waiting here for about five minutes!” boomed a muffled voice from behind the door. Max giggled and reached to open the door, revealing a large bearded man who opened his arms and scooped her up in bear hug.

“My little mighty Max!” he said, crushing her and lifting her up. She smiled happily within his embrace, despite feeling like her bones were being crushed. He set her down after ruffling her head and looked across at Victoria. She looked back at him, noting the same piercing blue eyes peeking out from behind bushy eyebrows. She confidently stepped forward and held out her hand.

“Hello Mr Caulfield, I'm Victoria Chase.” He eyed her hand with an amused expression, before enveloping her hand with his and giving it a surprisingly gentle shake.

“Ah, the famous Victoria. I've heard a lot about you from Max here; she wouldn't shut up about you when she called to ask if you could come for Thanksgiving.” Max's ears went a little pink and she playfully punched her father.

“Daaaaad!” she pouted. She looked at Victoria. “Excuse him, he is always like this.” He shook his head in denial.

“Don't listen to her, it's not true – she has never brought a girlfriend home before, so this will all be fresh, brand new material for me to try out.” Victoria looked between him and Max, feeling slightly unsure of what to make of the pair.

Wait, he said girlfriend..

“It's very kind of you to allow me to come for Thanksgiving,” she said. “I don't want to be intruding on your family time.”

“Nonsense, you are more than welcome here, even if you weren't already Max's life partner.” He looked past her towards the bottom of the drive. “Is that your car?” Victoria nodded, slightly embarrassed.

“Yeah it is.. I wanted to get rid of it actually, but Max likes trying to wreck it, so..” Max elbowed her playfully.

“Quiet you. Anyway, Dad this is The Victoria Chase. Vic, this is my Dad, Ryan, why don't..” Her voice faltered as she saw he had dragged Victoria off to go look around her car, having a good kick of the tyres as he did so. She watched slightly opened mouth as Victoria then got back in the car, opening the passenger door for him. With a slightly sheepish wave she started the engine and backed down the drive, Max's Dad next to her with a big grin on his face. Max watched them disappear up the road, then turned back towards the house.

Well. I guess I'll go and find Mom then.



It's just a little to get me through the day



“Well I thought it was really good.” Victoria sucked her breath through her teeth, undecided.

“I guess. I mean.. it could've been worse.” Max looked at her, stroking her chin.

“You could grow your hair out a bit you know, you do look a bit like her..” Victoria rolled her eyes, and looked up at the sky which was threatening with snow.

“Max..”

“Although I'm not sure you could make a dress like that, but we could buy you one..” Victoria quickened her pace, studiously ignoring the grinning buffoon next to her. Max did a little hop to catch up.

“Although, if you could build us an ice palace as well, that would be pretty cool..” Victoria gestured in annoyance, and Max seemed to flicker slightly, rubbing her arm.

“OK, first that was mean; second that really hurt my elbow. You didn't have to freeze the floor..” Victoria turned to face her.

“I only agreed to watch this because you promised you wouldn't start making loads of Elsa gags. You just can't help it, can you?” Max looked at her, eyes wide with innocence.

“I'm sorry, I didn't realise it would upset you so much. Look, I'll let it go.. OW!” She rubbed the top of her arm and stuck out her lip sulkily. “You're no fun, meanie Vickie.” Victoria put her hands on her hips.

“No, I am – you're just being annoying. Although it looks like it might actually snow – and nothing to do with me, either - so shall we go get something to eat?” Max nodded, and linked her arms with Victoria's. Victoria looked at her with a smile, and they slowly walked off, bumping into each other.

“And afterwards,” Victoria said, a slight grin playing on her lips, “do you want to build a snowman?”



It helps me sleep



The music was loud and throbbing, and Victoria pushed her way through the crowd. She spotted Kate dancing amidst the throng, and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hey Kate! Have you seen Max?” she shouted into her ear. Kate smiled at her while waving her hands in the air, and pointed towards the far side of the gym. Victoria craned her neck, trying to look past the dancing crowd in the direction she had pointed. She thought she could make her out in the far corner, leaning against the wall.

“Thanks!” she shouted, and gave Dana opposite her a quick smile which was returned with interest. She checked the time on her watch – there was only a few minutes to midnight, and she wanted to make sure she saw the New Year in with Max.

She found her leaning up against the wall and staring out across the crowd, taking a sip from a cup. Victoria reached out to touch her, managing to get her attention. Max turned and smiled lazily up at her, before suddenly throwing her arms around her neck, spilling her drink slightly.

“Hey you,” she said, “where you been? I want my Vic.” Her speech was slightly slurred, as if she had been drinking.

“Are you drunk?” asked Victoria, slightly amused. Max shook her head vigorously.

“No way! Not yet!” She kissed Victoria fiercely, drawing her in close. “Don't ever leave me, Vic, will you? Stay with me.” Victoria held her tight, kissing her on the forehead.

“Of course - I'm right here, silly. Come on, the countdown will be starting soon.”



Drives them away



Victoria sighed and closed her book, rubbing her eyes. She was tired from studying – no matter how much she tried she could never get her head around Chemistry. The whole thing just seemed an inexplicable mystery to her – most of her practical experiments ended up with her freezing the apparatus out of frustration, something which had gained her a few puzzled looks from Ms Grant; especially on one occasion when she had actually managed to do that with a particularly vigorous exothermic reaction.

Spring was in the air and the evenings were getting lighter – the golden rays of sunset were still filtering through her window and she was suddenly struck with the urge to go take some photos while the light lasted. She grabbed her camera bag and cell and left her room, crossing the corridor to knock on the door opposite, before opening it without waiting for a reply.

The room was a little dim – the shade was half pulled, and she saw Max lying on her bed, staring listlessly up at the celling. She hadn't appeared to notice Victoria enter, so she quietly walked over and bent down, pecking her on the cheek. Max started in surprise, and looked at her in momentary confusion. Victoria noted the dark rings under her eyes.

“Hey, you OK? I'm sorry I wasn't over earlier, I was trying to get my head around this stupid Chemistry assignment.” Max relaxed and smiled at her, before shrugging.

“Not really, no. But I'll get through it. Always do, hey?” She sat up and stretched, and Victoria noticed the abandoned books on the floor.

“How's studying going? Making any headway on that English paper?” Max snorted.

“Probably as much as you have been with Chemistry. It's just..” She sighed. “I just can't be bothered, you know? Nothing seems worth it at the moment.” Victoria sat down on the bed next to her.

“You remember what we talked about last week? Both of us going to Uni, moving in together – a fresh start? That's our goal, remember? Something worth both of us fighting for.” Max looked down at her hands.

“Yeah, I know.” She looked at the bag on Victoria's shoulder, trying to change the subject. “What you got there?” Victoria smiled at her.

“I thought we could go take some pictures – the light looks perfect right now. What do you think?” Max nodded, and smiled at her.

“Sounds great. I haven't done that for ages. I'll get my stuff together, it'll be more fun than pretending to study.”

“I'll help you – let me get your camera from the cupboard.” Victoria bounced up and went over to it, but Max jumped up after her and laid her hand on her arm.

“No! No – it's OK, let me get it. I'll meet you downstairs in a few – I need to go to the toilet anyway.” She smiled disarmingly at Victoria, who smiled back at her.

“OK,” said Victoria, kissing her on the nose. “Don't be too long.”



I need more



“This lasagne is really nice, Courtney. Where did you get the recipe?” Courtney beamed at her with pride.

“Thanks, Taylor. I would lie and say it's an old family thing, but I got it from this recipe website. It's got all sorts of things on there; I'm just experimenting with things.”

“It's really good though,” chimed in Victoria. “Max here certainly can't seem to get enough of it.”

“Anyway, which ones have you gone for?” asked Taylor. “I've gone for MIT – it's a real long shot, but you never know – and also Monmouth and St Cloud so far. It's hard trying to find something that I can then link to medical school, but...” She shrugged. “It'll work out. What about you, V?” Victoria put down her glass and started ticking off her fingers.

“Chicago, Rochester, Yale and CalArts. I was looking at UCLA but.. turns out we are donors there, so that's right out.” She looked slightly annoyed. “I know it's stupid as it's a good place, but I sort of get the feeling I would get in regardless, so..” Taylor nodded and raised her glass in acknowledgement, before looking at Max

“Max? What about you?” Max stopped chewing for a moment, and reached for the wine bottle.

“Anyone want a top up? No? OK.” She refilled her glass and took a sip, before answering Taylor.

“Er, I haven't really looked yet. But I was thinking similar to Vic.. we kind of want to go somewhere together.” She glanced at Victoria, playing with the stem of her glass. “I just need to get it all together,” she said as if to herself, staring at her glass. Victoria poked her gently in the ribs.

“You need to,” she admonished playfully, “there's not much time left to get them in.” Max waved her hand irritably.

“I know, I know – don't nag me, I will get on it,” she snapped, “I just haven't felt like doing it yet, OK?” Victoria looked hurt and resumed picking at her food. Taylor and Courtney exchanged a glance, before Courtney filled the ensuing silence.

“I'm looking at UCLA, actually,” she volunteered. “They've got a good design course there I was looking into, it seems pretty good. Maybe you could put a good word in for me, Vic?” Victoria looked at her and smiled brittlely, as if grateful for her attempts to break the awkwardness.



It's never enough



It was dark when Victoria woke. The bed felt cold next to her, and she waved out an arm and patted the empty space next to her. She rolled over, rubbing her eyes and saw the dim shape of Max sitting by the window; lit by the moonlight and looking out into the night.

“Hey, you awake? Everything good? Are you coming back to bed?” Max sighed softly.

“Yeah. I guess. I was just.. thinking..” Victoria yawned, her eyes trying to force themselves back together.

“About what? I'm hoping it's about where we are going to go on holiday after graduation.” Max turned her head to look at the dim shape of Victoria, half sitting up on the bed.

“Ha, no.. it's just..” She sighed again, and fell silent.

“What is it?” asked Victoria, trying to stifle another yawn.

“Just that.. I don't know. Have you ever wondered if you could have done something different? Made better choices, I mean. I know I have done this - made them I mean - but good ones? The right ones? What if.. I had never gone back. What if.. I could do it all again, but correctly this time.” She stopped again, twisting her hands together. “I still see them, Vic. I hear their voices, see their faces. I can't deal with it, I've started too.. too try and cope. In other ways. I'm worried – no, I'm scared..”

There was no reply apart from Victoria's gentle snoring. Max sat there for a moment, feeling lonelier than ever, before quietly getting up and walking back to her room.

Twenty minutes later she had returned and collapsed onto the bed, tentatively laying a hand on Victoria's arm. She felt a little dizzy but somewhat calmer, and soon fell into another troubled sleep.



I don't think it ever will be



“Max! Come on, get out of bed!” Victoria pulled the curtains open, letting the sunshine pour into the room. A groan came from the bed.

“I don't want to. Leave me alone!” Victoria pulled the duvet off from Max.

“Max, come on! Our final exam is in like in an hour – I've been up for an hour already, didn't you feel me get up? Have you been asleep all this time? Just get out of bed now – what's got into you?” Max tried to grab the duvet back off her, but settled for hiding her face in the pillow.

“What's the point?” she mumbled. “I mean what's the point of it all. It won't change anything, will it?”

“Of course it will. Look, we do this last exam then I think we are both going to be getting into CalArts – it's what we wanted, remember? The hipsterness, the sun – everything?” She put one hand on her hip and wagged the other finger at her in mock severity. “Don't make me freeze your ass off. I'll do it.” Max groaned and rolled out of the bed, clutching her head. Victoria's brow wrinkled a little in concern.

“What's up with you? Headache?” Max nodded, and reached for a glass of water.

“I feel really rough,” she croaked. Victoria sat down next to her and gently held her jaw, looking into her bloodshot eyes.

“You don't look the best – are you coming down with something?” Max looked at her, and hesitated slightly.

“Sure,” she responded, “probably a cold or something. I sometimes get them in the summer.”

“Well, let's just get through this day and I'll make you some chicken soup to make you feel better, how about that?” Max smiled at her, her eyes lighting up.

“That sounds lovely.”



But what choice do I have



There were several marquees set up on the front lawn of Blackwell, and a band was playing some innocuous jazz funk. A large banner proclaiming 'Class of 2013-2014 – Congratulations!' stretched out across the front entrance; the keen of eye could have spotted the discrete Chase Industries logo in the corner. The takeover hadn't fully got into swing yet, but there were signs for those who knew what to look for that it was underway.

One obvious change was the new uniform for the security on campus – a uniform proudly worn by the retained head of security David Madsen. He surveyed the activity in front of him with pride; everything had so far gone off without a hitch and people seemed to be enjoying themselves (although not too much). He felt better within himself – as part of his continued employment he had been enrolled on a counselling session organised in-conjunction with Veteran Affairs – much to his surprise his new employer had also requested that he aimed to recruit other veterans to the team and help them through the issues they may have. He mused on this new role – it hadn't healed the gaping hole in his life caused by the murder of Chloe, nor had it completely chased away the nightmares: but it had helped.

If only I had got to the bathroom sooner. If only I had acted on my hunches sooner. If only..

His destructive train of thought was interrupted by him spying a figure walking towards him, and he resisted the urge to stand to attention. It was a strange change in relationship from just eight months prior, but here she was - his new employer – his new boss – and one which had turned out to be better than he could have hoped.

“Good afternoon, Ms Chase,” he said, keeping his tone professional. She smiled back at him.

“Hello David. I thought I'd just come and say, well – good bye. For now, at least. And really just to thank you for the work you've done since.. since the changes.” She looked at him carefully, watching for his reaction. He seemed to straighten up a little at her words, as if filled with a little bit of pride.

“Thank you, Ma'am. It's going well – I have learnt a lot from the new staff who have come in from Chase Industries, and the integration has gone better than I expected. It's something to be proud of, we are a close knit team. I am proud of it, what I have done, and.. Joyce is too.” Victoria stood next to him and watched the bustling crowd, letting a comfortable silence settle between them.

“Tell me,” she said quietly, “how is the counselling going? And the outreach to the other veterans?” David's face tightened a little, and he seemed to be looking beyond the crowds.

“It's.. it's helping. And thank you for getting this all set up and organised, without it I.. I don't know what I would have done. Losing Chloe was..” He fell silent and just stood there, eyes slightly narrowed, fists clenched. Victoria reached out and gently patted him on the shoulder, but didn't say anything. He took a breath and composed himself; another minor battle won.

“I don't think I'll ever be able to forget it. I often think.. what if.. what if I had been a bit quicker? What if I had walked in a different direction? I could have saved her, but..” He turned to look at Victoria, and she could see the pain behind his eyes.

“Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and change it all for the better. It's stupid I know, but.. I can't help but dream. The Counsellor says that it is normal to think like that at times, but I need to not blame myself for things out of my control. But.. what if..” Victoria looked at him with pity, and she wished she could tell him that what he wished for wouldn't have made things better.

“It's understandable,” she said, “I can't imagine what you have gone through.” She looked at him, suddenly struck with a thought. “Can I ask you something? Do you think that you will ever be, well, better? I mean fixed.. sorry, wrong choice of words. I mean..”

“Cured?” he said, and laughed without humour. “No, I don't think so. Not after everything that had happened before, and now this. All I can do is manage it. I'm sleeping better, and things with Joyce seem to be getting better. So for that I have to thank you, Ms Chase. And also on behalf of the other two who have joined the programme – they are good men, they just needed someone to give them a a chance. A real chance, I mean. We are hoping to transfer Jim – he used to be an E5, did Iraq twice, Afghanistan – off down to the place you have in Nevada, rather than working here. It's like he is a new man, like how he used to be before.. before his last tour. So there is a lot to thank you for.” Victoria shook her head.

“It's what should have been done a long time ago, David.” And how can I ever thank you enough for saving Max like you did from Jefferson, even though you don't know that you did it.

Victoria exchanged a few more pleasantries with him before making her excuses and rejoining the fray, trying to find Max and her parents. She hadn't been able to spend any time talking to them as of yet, and she wanted to continue the good impression she thought she had made with them already.

She found them standing around one of the buffet stalls; Max with her parents, and Kate with what looked like her father. Victoria caught their eye and waved as she approached.

“Hi everyone! Good to see Max has brought you all to the food.” Max rolled her eyes while her Dad grinned back at her.

“Hello again Victoria. Actually, this is my fault – I'm never one to turn down free food, especially when it is this good.” Victoria shook his hand, and gave reciprocated a hug from Max's Mom.

“Hi Vanessa, hi Ryan. Did you have any trouble getting down here at all?” They both shook their heads and started to regale her with a bit too much detail about their journey to Arcadia Bay. Victoria caught Kate's eye who smiled, and seizing an opportunity in a lull in Max's parents overly detailed description Kate spoke up.

“Hi Victoria, this is my father, Richard. Dad, this is Victoria Chase.” Richard Marsh was a tall, serious man who appraised Victoria gravely from behind his spectacles. She felt like he was judging her, an impression immediately dispelled as he smiled and held out his hand.

“Ah, Victoria – Kate has told me a lot about you and how, supportive, you have been to her this last year. It's a pleasure to meet you at last.” Victoria cast a glance at Kate who had the decency to blush.

“Oh, er, thank you,” said Victoria, trying to extricate her hand as he kept pumping it. “Kate is such a good friend, I am lucky to have her.” Richard smiled at her, and turned to talk to Ryan and Vanessa, seemingly continuing a conversation they had been having before she arrived. Victoria sidled over to Max, who was looking a little bored.

“And how is my little Maxine?” Max gave her a look.

“It's Max, never Maxine. And I think I need a drink,” she said, looking fed up. Victoria raised her eyebrows.

“Oh? Spending time with your parents is that bad, is it? At least yours had the decency to come.” Max smiled at her pityingly.

“Yeah, I know I shouldn't grumble, I'm just feeling on edge.” Kate joined the pair, escaping from the adult conversation behind her.

“Wow they like to talk, don't they. They are still discussing the changes at Blackwell – I'm not sure they've made the connection between Chase Industries and you yet, Victoria, so I thought I'd escape before they grilled me too much. I'm a terrible liar.” Max laughed.

“You're too good for this world, that's your problem. It's funny though, all these changes and we won't be around to see them. Are you all set for Chicago?” Kate waved her hand, and pulled a face.

“I guess so. I've got the summer to properly plan everything, but it should be OK I think. Besides, it turns out that I may actually know someone who is going after all, so that should make it easier when I start. How about you two – all set for sunny California?” Victoria nodded in excitement.

“Yup – we are going to get an apartment and everything, I've already looked at a few places up in the hills – we should be able to get something pretty decent and be able to cycle to college or something. I've found one which has a decent sized pool and parking, and a guest bedroom..” She trailed off as she saw Kate's expression. “Sorry, I didn't mean to sound like I was boasting. I just wanted a nice -”

“Love nest?” cut in Kate, grinning.

“Well, yeah,” said Victoria. “It's got to be better than these dorms, right? Have you worked out your plans for the summer? After me and Max come back from our vacation we could meet up somewhere?”

“That sounds awesome. Have to say, I'm quite jealous of you Max – I've always wanted to go to Rome, see the Vatican and everything. It's supposed to be a very romantic city, too,” Kate added thoughtfully. Victoria swore she saw her eyes flicker elsewhere for a brief moment, but resisted the urge to look. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw Max shift ever so subtly; something you would never notice unless you had seen it before.

“So who is your friend in Chicago, Kate?” asked Max innocently. “I don't recall anyone else having that as first choice, although if I remember correctly didn't Dana have it down as her second potential option?” Kate coughed suddenly, as if something she had ate had gone down the wrong hole.

“Yeah.. that's true,” she stuttered, “how did you know? But yes, she might be going there. Entirely coincidentally, you understand.”

“Oh of course, entirely,” answered Max grinning like an idiot. “You'll be able to carry on helping her to get over her break up with Trevor, even though that was like 3 months ago..” Victoria dug Max in her ribs with her elbow, shutting her up.

“That's really good, Kate. I am sure both of you will be of great support to each other – speaking of which, isn't she waving at you over there?” Kate turned to look, and then quickly made her excuses and scurried off.

“We'll see you both at the party tonight?” yelled Max as she left, still grinning. Victoria folded her arms and looked at her.

“Maxine Caulfield, that was very mean of you.” She glanced at Mr Marsh and lowered her voice. “You know how difficult these things are for her. Don't make it worse. And don't think I don't know you used your power.” Max looked down guiltily at the floor, scuffing her shoes.

“Sorry,” she muttered. “I just want those two to get together, you know? I've seen how good they can be together, given the opportunity.” Victoria put her arms around her.

“Then you let them work it out by themselves, OK? You can't go around fixing everything, can you? You know that.” Max winced at her words, but just nodded in reply. Victoria kissed her on the forehead.

“Anyway, let me go schmooze your parents some more – I'm not sure they love me sufficiently enough yet. Coming?” Max looked around at the crowds of people celebrating the end of the year, and the start of something new.

“Yeah, I guess. It's all a bit.. melancholy, isn't it. Will we ever come back here, do you think?”

“I hope not,” said Victoria, dragging her along by the hand and fixing Vanessa with a megawatt smile.



I have made so many mistakes. So many



“I was thinking tomorrow, we could go and have a look at the Castel Sant'Angelo. That's just a short walk away, and then we could cross over into the Vatican and have a look around. We could take some pictures to send to Kate - what do you think?” Max gestured with her fork, mouth chewing away on some pasta.

“That sounds good. Could probably get some nice shots there. Don't forget though I still want to head out to this Ostia place.” She put down her fork and took a gulp of her wine. “The Colosseum was cool though, wasn't it. Apart from that guy who was on the phone all the time ordering plane parts or whatever it was.” Victoria wrinkled her nose.

“Oh, I know – it was so embarrassing wasn't it? He was just so - so – American. I mean he's in a 2,000 year old archaeological wonder and he's ordering fucking plane parts. Ugh. It felt like guilt by association – I just wanted to shout 'We appreciate it! We are not all like this!'” Max laughed, then signalled the waiter.

“Hi – could I get another bottle of this please? Grazie.” She shovelled some more pasta into her mouth. “This food is just amazing though, isn't it? It just taste so fresh and authentic.” Victoria nodded.

“It is alright, yes. I guess if all you are used to is Olive Garden then anything will seem great.” She paused, and looked at Max carefully. “Another bottle though? We've already got through one..”

“So?” challenged Max, “it's perfectly legal here, and we are on holiday, remember? I just want to relax – what's wrong with having a little wine? We are in Rome, for fuck's sake – it's practically the law to drink wine.” Victoria looked at her doubtfully.

“I know, I know.. it's just... oh never mind.” Victoria picked at the pasta on the plate.

It is delicious though. And this city is so romantic, and Max looks.. happy. Maybe I am worrying over nothing.

Victoria had tiramisu for dessert, Max opting for some vanilla ice cream with a big dollop of chocolate on it. Max ordered them both a mojito, and by the time they had finished it was getting close to one in the morning. The streets were quiet as they left the restaurant, and they headed slowly back to the hotel. Max was a little unsteady on her feet, and suddenly pushed Victoria up against a wall.

“Fuck me Vic. I want you to fuck me so I forget.” she whispered into Victoria's ear. Victoria pulled back from her, looking at her warily.

“I'm sorry? Max, what's got into you?” Max's hands tugged at the Victoria's top, while she desperately kissed at her face.

“I said fuck me. I need to feel something, Vic. Please.” Victoria grabbed Max's hands, trying to fend her off.

“Max, I am not having sex with you in the street. This is ridiculous, stop it. Let's get back to the room and I'll do whatever you want then, OK?” Max didn't seem to hear and jammed her hand down the front of Victoria's skirt, pushing Victoria back up against the wall.

“Max.. no..” said Victoria, more forcibly this time. “I said stop, you're drunk.”

“Come on Vic, just..”

“Max, NO!” Victoria shouted, pushing her away with a blast that caused Max to fall to the ground in a shattering of ice. Victoria stood there, breathing heavily, looking down at her. Max's face was a picture of shock and guilt, before it suddenly creased into a look of utter despair.

Before Victoria could move Max ran up of the street, head in her hands.



None of them the right ones



The sun was shining brightly as they left the lecture hall, the students around them talking excitedly about the start of the new semester. Max and Victoria had fallen in with a group of three other students, all of them sharing this media course as part of their various degrees. Simon, who had come from a small town in the mid-west and who was doing a graphic design course; Emma who had a southern Californian drawl and was doing media and cultural studies, and Abby, a brash New Yorker who was doing a mixed photography and design course similar to Victoria and Max.

They had ended up all sitting together on the same row before the start of their first lecture, and Victoria had swiftly introduced her and Max in her usual confident and forthright manner – subconsciously drawing everyone in around her. Max had been a little more shy, letting Victoria lead the way in the conversation and contributing only when directly addressed.

Victoria was excited about already having gotten to know people within their first week of starting; it seemed like the fresh new start they had both wanted, free from the baggage of Blackwell. Here Victoria could truly just be herself again right from the start, just an anonymous student amongst hundreds of others.

They had all slowly made their way outside, talking about their plans for the weekend and had halted outside of the main building. Victoria turned to look at them, as they all stood a little awkwardly around.

“So, do you guys want to go for coffee somewhere?” asked Victoria, looking at the other three. Max was standing slightly to one side, looking away from everyone.

“Sure, that sounds great,” said Simon, Emma and Abby chorusing in agreement.

“Yeah, I think there's a cool place just off campus,” Abby said, looking at Victoria. “I hear they do a mean macchiato there.”

“I hope they do soya milk then,” Emma said. “I'm lactose intolerant, so I'd rather not be blowing up like a balloon today.”

“I'm sure that can be arranged,” said Simon, “it is California after all. I''d be surprised if they actually had milk.” He looked at Max, who was fiddling with the drawstring on her hoody. “Max, you in?” Max looked up, startled, then slowly shook her head.

“No, I think I'll head back if that's OK?” Victoria reached out to touch her, her voice concerned.

“Max, you sure you won't come? It's our first week here, and..” Max took her hand and squeezed it, before dropping it.

“No, Victoria – I just want to be alone for a bit, if that's OK? I'll see you later. Go have fun.” Victoria watched Max walk off with a sinking heart, wondering if she should chase after her. Abby sidled up to her, and watched the small figure of Max disappear around the corner.

“Is she OK?” she asked. “Are you going to go with her? I mean it would be cool if you came with us, but I understand if...” Victoria turned to look at the tall, auburn headed girl next to her, noting the piercing in her nose and dark eyeliner that framed her pale grey eyes.

“No, it's OK,” she sighed. “I'll catch up with her later. She's probably just a little overwhelmed by it all.”



All wrong



Victoria closed the door of the apartment and placed her keys on the side. She was tired; it had been a long day of lectures and she had an assignment to do before the end of the week. She had planned on going to an exhibition that evening, but her exhaustion coupled with wanting to check on Max had changed her plans.

“Hey Max?” she called, looking through some mail left on the side in the kitchen.

Just bills and a few bits of junk mail. Nothing interesting.

“Max?” she called again, looking into the lounge which was oddly empty.

“I'm in the bedroom,” she heard Max shout, and she pulled of her shoes and padded over to it. Max lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling with the room dimly lit by a lamp. Victoria went over and stood by the bed, looking down at her.

“Hey you. Abby told me you weren't at lab today. Are you feeling OK? You're not sick, are you?” Max lay there, still staring up at the ceiling.

“No,” she answered eventually. “I just felt like having a lie down. I feel really tired, that's all.” Victoria crossed her arms, and shifted slightly.

“Abby said you hadn't been to it yesterday, either – she said you had not been there a few times before that as well. She knows I don't share every class with you, Max - why didn't you tell me you weren't going? Surely you would know that Abby would say something, given she's our friend.” Max sat up and looked at her, bright blue eyes narrowed.

“Oh fuck Abby!” Max snarled. “Who cares what she thinks? In fact, given you value her opinion so much why don't you go fuck her? You clearly want to.”

“Max!” gasped Victoria in shock, causing the temperature to drop noticeably. “Don't say such a thing! What the hell has got into you?” Max put her hands to her head and groaned.

“Sorry, sorry – I didn't mean that. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lashed out like that. Sorry.” Victoria sat down next to her, and then sniffed.

“Max, have you been drinking again?” Max shook her head vigorously.

“No, of course I haven't. Why do you say that?” Victoria cocked her head to one side.

“I can smell it, Max. Don't lie to me.” Max sighed, and hung her head.

“Fine, I have. But I only had one. Just a small gin and tonic – nothing big, I promise. I just came back early today, I wasn't feeling in the mood to see anyone. I just wanted some time to myself to think. It helped me relax a little, that's all.” Victoria folded her hands in her lap.

“Max, I'm worried about you. You've been acting a little distance of late, even when I try to get close to you. And I think you need to stop this drinking – I think that it's not helping things. You never used to do it, so what's changed? Is it something I've done?”

“I'm not drinking that much!” Max protested. “I said I just had the one. I'm fine, Victoria – there's no need to make such a big deal out of things. I'm just trying to adjust to this new life here, it's so different to Blackwell. So many new people. I'll be fine, I promise. Look – how about I cook for us tonight? We can have a nice meal and watch a film together. Just you and me?” Victoria smiled at her.

“You're a terrible cook! But I'll make the sacrifice, just because it's you.”

Max was busy in the kitchen, whistling to herself as she prepared them some food for the evening. Victoria watched her for a moment, a small amount of doubt incessantly gnawing away at her that there was something else amiss that she was missing.

But Max told me she was OK – she wouldn't lie to me, would she? I know she has been drinking more than usual, but we are at university – it's what students do, isn't it? Hell, even you have had a few heavy nights this term already. It's probably nothing. There's no harm in just having the occasional one, is there?

“I'll just take the garbage out,” she said to Max, who gave her a wave and a smile before retuning back to her chopping. Victoria grabbed the bag from the bin and tied it up, hauling it out of the apartment to the communal bins. As she set the bag down to open one of them, she heard an audible clink of glass as it hit the floor, making her heart drop. Her fingers trembled slightly as she hesitantly opened the bag to see what it was, as if she feared what she was going to find and the thought crossed her mind that she shouldn't look – but she couldn't stop herself.

There in the bottom of the bag were two large, empty bottles of vodka; bottles which she had never seen before; bottles she didn't know that they had had. Victoria stood there looking at them, the air beginning to condense around her, and began to cry.



All selfish



“According to this article there are rumours about some sort of miracle healer in this village in Ghana. Well, reports until a few months ago; then they all just suddenly stop as if it is not talked about again. Like, properly strange tales of people being cured of cancer, all that sort of thing. All in this one place – even talks of witchcraft and voodoo.”

“So what?” Max was sitting on the sofa, leafing through a magazine.

“Don't you think we should go and at least look into this?” Victoria continued to pour through random articles on the internet, occasionally using google translate when needed. “It's hard to be sure, but they seem to think it's a woman at the centre of it. I could do what I did last time, see about posting something on Reddit, or a local forum or chat group, about butterflies or something. See who takes the bait.”

“Vic, it's just a random thing on the internet. Who cares. It could be absolutely anything.”

“But don't you think we should be at least trying to find the others? We've done nothing towards it so far, every time I have suggested doing something you just shut me down – like the one in Poland, or the girl in Japan. I don't get it, why aren't you interested? You know how important this could be.” Max got up from the sofa and went to the fridge, where she made herself a drink.

“You want one?” she asked. Victoria shook her head, watching her prepare it with a frown on her face.

“I thought you were going to cut down on that sort of thing?” Max gave her a hurt look.

“I have. This is my first one this evening. It's not like I am drinking all the time, is it? I told you, it just helps me relax a bit. I told you how nervous I have been over all this change and starting here. I'm not as confident as you, Victoria.” Victoria held up her hands in apology.

“I'm sorry, it's just.. I worry about you, you know? Especially after our argument last month. You've been a bit..” She bit her lip, cutting herself short. “Never mind, we can talk about this some other time. But back to what I was saying, we should be looking for the others, shouldn't we?” Max sat down and took a sip before answering.

“I.. just don't feel ready for it. I've not really used my powers much since.. since we were in Arcadia. I can't face it. Not yet. But we will, soon – I promise.” Victoria drummed her fingers on her laptop.

“OK, it's just that it feels like we should be, you know? Being part of something greater, not just... this. Otherwise why else do we have them? What is the point?” Max shrugged.

“Who knows. Maybe there isn't one. Maybe we are just cursed. Is there anything good on the TV tonight?” Victoria slowly closed her laptop and got up, checking the time.

“Aren't you going to come out to this gig tonight? Abby and everyone will be there.” Max shook her head.

“Nah, I'm good to just stay in by myself. You go have fun with everyone – say hi to them for me.” Victoria hesitated for a moment, before walking off towards the bathroom to get ready.

“Fine, but you have to come next time, OK? Promise me.”

“I promise.”



I'm no better than them



Victoria checked the mailbox for any post. The wind had picked up again and it was a cool evening – nowhere near as cold as it would be up in Oregon, but still there was a slight chill in the air. There were a few bills, and a couple of official looking letters stamped with the Chase Industries logo. Ever since her intervention in the affairs of Arcadia Bay, she had found herself being drawn increasingly more into the running of the company, if only at present on an information and approval role. She felt slightly aggrieved by this, as she had originally intended to have nothing to do with it – but realised she had made a rod for her own back by using her companies resources for her own ends.

I can't exactly complain, can I? Besides, it may be a chance to turn it into something useful, something for the greater good in time.

The door to the apartment was locked and she wondered if Max had gone out for the evening – it was still relatively early, and she was only back now because the photography exhibition had been cancelled at the last minute.

I hope she has. She's been so shut in of late, unless I drag her out she just wants to stay in and mope. It can't be healthy.

“Max? I'm home? You here?” There was no answer, and Victoria gave a small sigh of relief. She dumped down her portfolio bag in the hall before easing her shoes off her aching feet.

I've got to stop wearing these heels all day, they just make my feet hurt. Or at least bring some sneakers with me for walking. Oh, and I need a new jacket for the winter - to at least pretend I'm cold.

She opened a few of the letters as she strolled into the kitchen, quickly scanning the contents to see that Chase Industries had taken over yet another company, this time some European company seemingly specialising in cyber warfare.

Why on earth would we be buying that? What else are we getting into that I don't know about?

Pondering on the sheer scale of the company she was supposed to part own, she set everything down and rummaged through the fridge for a snack, choosing some hummus spread on some wholemeal Ryvita, with some tomatoes on top. Dumping it all on a plate along with a glass of cranberry juice, she went into the lounge to watch some trash on TV and just relax.

She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Max lying face down on the sofa, hair strewn all over the place and an empty glass by her side. Her snoring was audible and Victoria stood there, uncertain as to whether to laugh or cry. She bent down to check on her, and immediately smelt the strong smell of alcohol.

Oh Max, what have you done?

She reached out to shake her awake, thinking to get her undressed and into bed where she could sleep it off, and let them have another talk about it in the morning, but Max didn't stir – she was completely out of it.

How much has she drunk this time? This can't go on like this. She has a problem and I need to help her get over it somehow. But how has this happened? She seemed fine a few weeks ago. Is it something I have done? Why won't she talk to me about it?

Victoria sat sadly down and watched the sleeping form Max, and slowly ate her food. She racked her brains trying to think if this was just a one off event, or whether she had missed other signs of it before.

I can think of a few times I've thought she'd drunk too much, and I found those bottles the other week I guess.. but there hasn't been anything like this before, has there?

Hasn't there?

What if she has been using her power?

Victoria felt a hollow feeling in her stomach at the thought.

No. She promised me she would never do that. She promised me she would always take me with her, we would treasure these moments together.

She also promised you that she was not drinking much, and look at her.

Victoria ran her hands through her hair, trying to quell the rising panic within her. She could the feel the unwelcome sensation of her power building up again, something she had managed to keep under control since they had got properly together at Blackwell; now she felt that familiar feeling once more, and it frightened her. Max seemed to sense her in her sleep, and twitched fitfully, her mouth working. Victoria leant forward.

“Max? Are you awake? Speak to me..” Max eyes remained closed, but her hands twitched.

“No.. no..” she said in an odd tone. “Let her be.. take me instead.. I'm sorry.. I'm so sorry..” Max gave one last jerk before settling back down with a whimper. Victoria felt her heart break as she watched her, as if finally, perhaps, gaining an inkling of what was going on.

She is still having nightmares. Is she is drinking to forget them? But she hasn't mentioned this at all. But drinking because of a few bad dreams? That's not the answer, it can't be. She has to talk to me. I can help her. I know I can. I know it.

Victoria gently ran her fingers through Max's hair, trying to somehow soothe Max's anguish. Whether Max felt it or not she didn't know, but she seemed to settle a little and breathe easier. Victoria watched her sleep, a lump in her throat as she tried to hold herself together.

Tomorrow we will talk about this, whether she is willing or no.

We have to sort this out, we have to.



I'm not the one to do this



Victoria had come over the night before; she had spent a few days in her own house meeting her parents for this first time in over six months. She had told Max that they had seemed to be surprisingly more interested in her than usual, actually listening to what she had to say about what she was doing and even being mildly supportive.

“I suspect it is because I am taking a bit more of an interest in the company now,” she had said, as if trying to find a rationale for it. “I mean they still just gave me the usual thoughtless gifts like they normally do, hence the ridiculous Ferrari out the front that your Dad was drooling over. Honestly, sometimes I think he would rather you were dating the car than me.” Max had laughed at that, a genuine laugh Victoria had not heard in a long time. Victoria had quietly asked her that night whether she had managed to keep it up, and Max had told her that it had been three weeks so far. Victoria had kissed her long and hard, and told her how proud she was of her.

When they had woken the following morning, to Victoria's delight there was a deep blanket of snow on the ground, and she had wanted to run outside straight away and throw snowballs at Max.

“No, let's do our presents first,” Max said, taking her by the hand to the living room where a large tree had been set up. “We can just do each others before my parents, if that's OK? I'd like this to be special, just between us.”

Victoria had spent ages agonising over a gift for Max, as she wanted to get her something that was personal and yet not ridiculously expensive as Max still felt a little uncomfortable about the immeasurable wealth disparity between them. In the end she had settled on a custom made watch that looked reassuringly expensive (because it was) with the words 'Max – My partner through time' engraved on the dial. Max had expressed her utter joy at the gift, treasuring it as if it was the most precious thing anyone had ever given her.

“Now it's my turn – I hope you like it, I tried to think of something to get you – it's hard when you literally could have anything you know, so I do actually have some sympathy for your parents but.. well. Here you are.”

Max nervously gave Victoria her present, her eyes betraying her anxiety as Victoria started to unwrap the small package. Inside was a small box containing a heart-shaped gold locket with the image of a green butterfly lightly etched into the surface. Inside was the photo they had taken on the beach together in Arcadia Bay, both of them smiling into the camera.

“Max..” Victoria breathed, “this is.. incredible. I can't believe you have got me this. It's..” She looked at her wordlessly, before throwing herself on top of Max and giving her a huge hug, which quickly developed into Victoria devouring her with a passionate kiss.

“Steady on, girls,” came a quiet voice behind them as Vanessa walked in. “I've only just had my breakfast.” They quickly broke apart, Victoria flushing red whilst Max grinned goofily at her.

“Mom, I'm like 19 now you know – this is perfectly normal behaviour.” Vanessa gave her her best 'Mom look', and wagged a finger.

“Maybe you are, but you are still my little girl and I worry about you being seduced under my roof by a girl who – ah, I can't keep a straight face, can I. Still, at least try not to put me and your father off our lunch as well, will you?” She left the room with a smile, and Victoria turned to look at Max.

“Have your parents always been like this?” Max groaned and placed her hand on her forehead.

“Yes, and they've only got worse since they've met you. I swear they do it on purpose.” Victoria laughed.

“So – about this snowball fight?”

They were joined outside by Ryan; him and Max being heavily wrapped up with gloves, scarves and hats, while Victoria made do with just a thin jacket. Ryan looked at her with some concern.

“Are you not cold, Victoria? It's like 35 degrees. Shall I get you a thicker jacket and some gloves? I think Vanessa has a spare one you can use.”

“No, no – I'm fine,” said Victoria cheerily, scooping up the snow with her bare hands. “I don't feel the cold really – so you'd better watch out!”

Victoria seemed to build herself a snow-fort with surprising swiftness, and kept up a constant barrage of snowballs that even with Max and Ryan teaming up against her they were hard pressed against. Eventually after landing several well aimed shots of incredibly large snowballs on Ryan he held up his arms in surrender.

“OK, OK – you win – the Chase's can have this fight. We'll get you in the rematch though.” As they went back inside Max dug her subtly in the ribs.

“Cheater,” she whispered with a smile, causing Victoria to grin and flex her fingers.

Christmas lunch was how Victoria had always imagined it should be – the food was was wholesome and tasty, and the Caulfield's seem to delight in a low key amount of ribbing, which Victoria willingly partook in. Max seemed to be her old self for a while, her demeanour only slightly starting to fade when Ryan offered her a beer with the meal. She had politely refused, and her hand had sought out Victoria's under the table and gripped it tightly. She hadn't let go until they had finished and decanted to the lounge to open their remaining presents.

That night Victoria had fallen asleep quickly with a contented smile on her face; the day had been better than she had ever hoped it would be. She actually felt part of the family now, the welcome she had received in stark contrast to the coolness and loneliness she still experienced at home. She knew that her parents loved her in their own way, and that they did care – they just struggled to show it in any manner that had any real meaning to her.

Max had lain there listening to Victoria sleep, dreading the onset of night and the return of her dreams. She had managed to not have single drink since the awful confrontation she had had with Victoria a few weeks back, but with it had come the return of her nightmares in the day. During the night, it was even worse. She lay there as long as she could, fighting to not fall asleep until she eventually drifted off.

- 'She told us to send her a message when we got close, and then she'll come and find us. She's a little paranoid, I think. Which is understandable.' Max held Victoria's hand tightly as they walked down the busy city streets, marvelling at the number of bright lights and signs that she could not understand. Victoria laughed. 'I would be as well, wouldn't you? Still, here we are – I'm actually really nervous, are you?' Max nodded, and rested her head on Victoria's shoulder. 'I am, but at least I am here with you. Look, I think this is the place.' They stopped by a brightly lit restaurant, clearly recognisable by the bright pink sign lit with a smiling face. 'Sushi Kanesaka', Victoria said. 'This is it.' Max looked impressed. 'Your Japanese has come on a lot, Vic,' she said, giving her a little squeeze. 'You're such a weeb.' Victoria snorted. 'It says the name in English there,' she said, pointing at the window. 'Anyway – I guess we just wait?' They spent a few minutes standing around and trying to not look suspicious, and were beginning to give up hope when a woman stepped out of the crowd and approached them. 'Max? Victoria?' she said in accent-less English. 'I am Hikari. Show me, please.' Victoria quickly held out her hand and formed a tiny crystal of ice within it, while Max smiled slightly and suddenly appeared next to her, then returned instantaneously back next to Victoria. Hikari nodded, and held out her hand - a tiny flicker of flame quickly appeared before disappearing. Hikari looked with relief at the two girls, before pointing with her hand away down the street. 'Come, we have much to talk about.'

And then suddenly everything seemed to cascade down around her, leaving nothing but blackness. She felt cold and alone, and she could hear them whispering in the darkness. She could never make out the words at first, hundreds of voices overlapping with each other, as always she found herself screaming at them to go away, to leave her alone until her voice was hoarse. And then They appeared, the faces of the dead, disfigured, mutilated, burnt by her own hand, and now their hands clutched at her, tore at her, burying into her flesh and tearing her apart..

Max jerked upright, feeling waves of sweat roll over her. Another dream, similar to some of the others she had had before.

It's like it's a future I've never had. And the past I do have. What does it mean? When will it ever stop? That Max just seems so.. happy.

She looked down at the sleeping form of Victoria, who had one arm above her head and was breathing heavily through her mouth.

I love her so much. She means everything to me, but..

“I will never let anything happen to you,” she whispered. “Never.” Victoria stirred in her sleep, opening one eye.

“Mmmm?” she said sleepily. Max snuggled down onto her chest, resting her head and wrapping an arm around her.

“Nothing,” she said. She lay there feeling the soft skin of Victoria against her cheek, listening to the beat of her heart. On a whim she propped her self up on her elbow, letting one hand idly caress Victoria's body. “I love you, you know. I want you to know that. I always will, no matter what happens.” Victoria looked at her, slightly puzzled.

“I love you too, Max. Not to sound weird but it's an odd time for declarations of love, isn't it?” Max let her hand start to wander further down.

“Hmm, yes, true. I do have another idea though...”



I've failed



The club was crowded and full of people who strictly speaking should not have been allowed in – but the students had long realised that their fake ID's were accepted with a knowing nod and wink, on the understanding that things did not get out of hand. Max and Victoria were out on the dance floor working up a sweat with Abby and Emma – their girls night out was well underway.

Victoria bent her mouth down to speak in Max's ear, who could vaguely make out that she was going to the bathroom. Max watched her walk off and then continued to dance, moving herself closer to the other two girls. Abby gave her a smile as she came closer, which Max returned.

I misjudged her. She's a good friend to me and Victoria. She is always there for us.

Max was feeling better than she had for a while; it had been a few weeks since they had returned to university and things felt like they were getting back on track. Her nightmares seemed a little less vivid, and she had managed to keep her promise to Victoria although with great difficulty. Max watched the lights flicker through her hands as she danced around, and then closed her eyes, savouring the sound of the music.

When she opened them, she was alone. The dance floor was empty; the room silent. She stood there, dumbfounded, wondering what was happening but fearing the worst. She rubbed her eyes as if to try and shake herself out of what she was seeing, but to no avail - she remained alone.

“Hello?” she asked, hesitantly. “Hello? Vic? Abby? Emma? Anyone?” The lights flickered briefly and she was suddenly surrounded by the figures from her dreams – except this time they seemed horrifically real, not just figments of her imagination. They did not say anything, but slowly closed in on her. She wanted to scream in frustration and terror but her throat felt too tight, and no sound came out. She felt rooted to the spot as they inched closer and closer. The nearest figure, a horribly disfigured Kate, with broken neck and missing arm reached out to clutch at her, and Max threw out her hand to push her off.

The lights were back, the music deafening and Abby was dancing in front of her.

Max felt weak at the knees and staggered slightly, putting her hand to her forehead. She felt sick to the stomach; her dreams seemed to be back and worse than ever, invading her waking life – or she was beginning to have a complete mental breakdown. She wasn't sure what was worse.

She stumbled away from the dance floor, pushing through the crowds until she reached the bar, using it as a prop to lean against.

What the fuck is happening to me. Why are you doing this to me. What have I done? Why can't I just be left alone to live my life?

Her eye caught the row of bottles behind the bar, and the thought of drowning it all out in the oblivion of alcohol gnawed at her.

I can't. I promised Victoria. I promised her.

I promised her.

A tap on her shoulder caused her to start and turn around, and she looked up at the smiling face of Abby.

“Hey Max, you just up and disappeared. You OK? You look like you've seen a ghost.” Max smiled weakly at her.

“Yeah, I'm fine thanks. Just.. needed a break.” Abby nodded, and gestured towards the bar.

“Want a drink?” Max looked around, searching for Victoria but she was nowhere to be seen.

Where are you, Vic?

She felt like she was on the edge of an abyss, looking down into the depths – all it would take would be the slightest movement to fall.

But just one wouldn't hurt, would it? Not after what you've just been through.

Just one.

“Max?” queried Abby, “can I get you something?” Max closed her eyes and nodded slowly.

“Yeah. Thanks.”



I hate myself



Kate appeared on the screen and waved at Victoria, her blonde hair tied up behind her in a loose pony tail. It appeared to have grown longer since Victoria had last seen her, and she thought it suited the girl more.

“Hi Victoria,” she said cheerfully. “How's things? Is Max there?” Victoria waved at the camera.

“Hi Kate – how are you? Max is just back in the kitchen making some food, she'll try and pop in if she can. Sorry to call you so late, I just wanted to check how you are? It's been ages since we've seen you.” Kate nodded.

“Yeah, I know – it's hard though when you are 2,000 miles apart. Not exactly easy to meet for afternoon tea. But I'm good, the course is hard but rewarding, although it's freezing right now. It's supposed to be spring, but you wouldn't think it. How's it over there?”

“It's 68 right now,” said Victoria smugly. “You should have come to civilisation rather than those frozen wastelands.” Kate rolled her eyes.

“Not all of us can afford the west coast, Victoria. Besides, there's a really good vibe about the place – as long as you stay away from certain areas. But then I bet there's parts of LA you don't go to as well. How's the course going?” Victoria ran through the highlights of what she had been doing, the friends she had made and how her photography had improved and started to allow her to begin to find her own style.

“I've even had a few enquires for internships over the summer – I honestly couldn't ask for more, to be honest.” Kate beamed with pride at her.

“That's awesome. Is Max doing well too?” Victoria's face grew slightly troubled.

“She's.. she's.. doing OK. I guess. We had a nice Christmas together at her parents, and the New Year in New York was amazing. But.. I don't know. I'm a little worried about her. She seems.. I don't now. Distant? Not with me, but from.. everything else. Uh, I'm babbling, it's hard to explain. It's just a feeling..” She stopped and chewed her lip, Kate looking at her thoughtfully.

“You seem worried about it though. I guess you've tried talking to her? Has she said what is troubling her? Do you want me to talk to her?” Victoria sucked her breath through her teeth before shaking her head.

“No, I don't think so. At least not yet. We've talked about it, I think, and she says she fine. But..”

“But you can't help but worry about her?” finished Kate with some sympathy.

“Yeah,” replied Victoria. “I don't know what it is – we had some trouble before Christmas but we talked about it and worked through it. It wasn't about us, but.. something else.” Kate frowned.

“Something else? That being..” Victoria sighed.

“I can't say, sorry. But we are OK, I think it's.. just everything else.” She paused and rubbed her eyes. “Anyway, sorry for the depressing tone. Tell me – how are things with you? How are you and..?”

“Dana?” finished Kate again, with a smile. “We are.. good, I think. It's going slow. We are not dating, but neither would I say we are just friends. It's complicated. Far more complicated than I would ever have thought it would be.” Victoria thought that Kate looked happier than her words implied.

“How are you feeling about it, though? This whole.. being out.” Kate scrunched up her face.

“Well, I'm not 100% out.. not to my family anyway. Here I am – and the church I got to has been very supportive, far different to what I expected. So that's helped a lot. And I think we might go to a Pride event.. maybe. If I can summon the courage.” Victoria beamed at her.

“That's so awesome, Kate. Max and I went to the San Diego Pride last year, it was amazing. We are going to the LA one this year, if you want to join us? You can crash here and we can go together, we have plenty of room.” Kate tilted her head to one side, considering the offer.

“That does sound appealing. Let me discuss it with Dana – I guess it might depend on where we are at on this whole thing, but I think I will come at any rate.”

They carried on talking for a little longer, before Kate had to make her excuses and leave, but promising to catch up with her (and Max, next time) again, along with some vague plans to meet up before the summer if it was possible.

Victoria closed the laptop and got up, wandering from the bedroom into the lounge. Max looked up guiltily as she approached, and appeared to try and hide something.

“What are you doing?” asked Victoria curiously.

“Nothing,” Max replied, a little too quickly. Victoria walked over and saw the glass on the floor.

“What's this, Max?” she said quietly, picking up the glass and sniffing it. Her face twisted, and her shoulders dropped. “Max...”

“It's just one! I swear! It's OK, I promise – I just wanted a drink. It's nothing more than that!” Max looked at her pleadingly. Victoria folded her arms angrily.

“You promised me, Max. How long have you been doing this? And.. where the hell did you get it? I made sure there was none in the apartment..” Max stood up, trying to reach out to touch Victoria, who reflexively stepped away.

“I swear it was just one – and I've been so good for ages. Please Vic, look at me. It's not what it looks like. I just wanted to relax tonight, it's been a busy day and.. and..” Victoria turned and walked a few steps away, before turning back once more, an angry look on her face.

“No Max, I don't believe you. And it hurts me to say that, oh my god does it hurt. You've lied to me again, how can I ever trust you to -”

Max settled herself back on the sofa, glass of water in her hand. She hated herself, hated what she was doing, hated the lies, the deception, the secrecy.

But I have no choice. Not if I want her to be happy. Not if I want to keep this.

“Hey Vic, how was Kate?” Max asked as Victoria walked into the room. “Did you suggest that we all meet up?” Victoria looked at her and gave her a small smile, before sitting down on the sofa.

“Well, I actually asked her if she wanted to..”



She deserves better than me



Victoria banged loudly on the bathroom door.

“Max? What are you doing in there? Come on, we have to go and I still need to do my makeup!”

Max stood there, gripping the sides of the washbasin, staring at her reflection. Her pale face stared back at her, the concealer she had applied barely hiding the dark circles around her eyes. Her reflection seemed to flicker, momentarily replaced by her face locked in a grinning rictus, blood pouring down from her scalp. She closed her eyes and bowed her head, trying to breath deeply.

“I won't be a minute,” she called back to Victoria, “I'm just going to the toilet.”

“OK, don't be long. We are already going to be really late.” Max looked back up at her reflection, relieved to see that it was back to normal.

I can't do this. Not tonight. I can't face anyone.

But you promised her you would go.

She bent down and opened a floor cabinet, rooting around in the back before pulling out an old perfume bottle. She unscrewed the cap and took a deep draught, before quickly putting the cap back on and hiding the bottle at the back of the cabinet. She shivered slightly as the alcohol hit her – she found she was having to use stronger stuff and more of it for it to have the same effect – but for now it was enough, barely. She quickly sprayed on some perfume that had been a gift for her birthday and reached for her toothbrush, to try and fully hide the smell.

She avoided her gaze in the mirror as she finished up, flushing an empty toilet before opening the door. Victoria was waiting for her, looking absolutely stunning in a pale green top and a short black skirt; but her face was torn with a worry that she was hiding badly.

“You OK Max? Are you ready to go?” Max gave her a brave smile.

“Yes, I am. I just need some shoes, I was thinking those black flats.” Victoria cocked her head to one side.

“Yeah, I think so. It might be a long night.” She walked past her into the bathroom, briefly regretting not getting an apartment with two of them – something she should get built over the summer. Max disappeared into the bedroom and started to rummage through the wardrobe for her shoes. Victoria was carefully applying some eyeliner when Max returned, ready. Victoria eyes darted to her in the mirror.

“Did you manage to submit the paper yesterday? I saw you were working at it over the week.”

“Yeah,” Max nodded. “It was OK in the end. Well, I think it was pretty good, anyway.” Victoria was silent for a moment, inspecting her reflection, whilst keeping an eye on Max.

“I saw the letter about your attendance, Max. Less than 60%?” Max looked like she had been stung, her eyes widening slightly.

“How did..” Victoria didn't show any emotion and just kept applying her makeup, keeping her voice even.

“What I don't get, Max, is why you haven't said anything? I mean I can see you are doing the work, but why are you not going? Abby told me you had been going missing again, but I didn't believe her. But she was right.” Max didn't say anything, but just looked miserably down at the floor. Victoria sighed, checking the time.

“We don't have time for this right now, but Max we can't keep having this conversation. I can't keep finding out things that you are hiding from me. It makes me wonder what else you are hiding.” She looked at herself in the mirror, satisfied, before turning to face Max, her face tired.

“Come on, let's go. We can pretend everything is OK for another night, can't we.”



I can't do this any more



Victoria angrily slammed the bottle on the table, causing the plates to jump.

“Don't fucking lie to me Max. I found it in the trash. Again. You thought you could hide it, didn't you? Didn't you?!” She swiftly leapt over and grabbed her by the arm. Max winced at her grip.

“Ow, what are you doing, Vic? That hurts.” Victoria's eyes were flashing with fire, and Max noticed the dramatic drop in temperature as Victoria glared at her.

“You are not rewinding this away. You have to hear this, understand? I can't fucking trust you not to do that, can I?” Max burst into tears at Victoria's words, and begged her to stop,

“Vic, please.. it's not like that.. I love you Vic, please.. I..” Victoria abruptly let go and walked away, head in her hands. She leant on the counter, trying to compose herself. Max sank slowly down to her knees on the carpet, looking at her in a state of shock. Victoria was trying to not cry, her breath coming in sobs as she fought to keep herself under control. She turned and looked at Max, her heart breaking with pity and anger, but determined to say what she had to say.

“You promised me Max, you promised. But it was all lies, wasn't it. Wasn't it? You haven't stopped at all. What else have you been lying to me about? How can I trust you Max? How do I know you haven't been.. rewinding on me? How many times have we had this fucking conversation?” The words seem to shock Max out of her fugue, and she looked up at Victoria with her eyes red with tears.

“I haven't! I promise you, I haven't! I swore I would never.. I admit the drinking, I can't help it Vic – I need it, don't you understand? I need it – but I have never.. I would never... not any more..”

Victoria put her hand to her forehead, blinking rapidly to try and stop the tears from falling but to no avail; she could feel them freeze as they fell to the ground, frost beginning to form where she was gripping the counter. Max just stared back down at the floor, her eyes suddenly blank as if her entire world was beginning to crash down around her. Victoria took a breath which caught in her throat.

“I love you Max, but this - this isn't you. Not the Max I know. Not the Max I love.” Victoria stepped forward and crouched down in front of her, trying to look into her eyes, her hands reaching out towards Max but not touching her.

“Max, are you even listening to me? We can't go on like this. You - we - need help. Like serious help. If we don't, then -” She left the words unspoken.

Max sat there looking at the floor, unresponsive.



I can't go on



Max sat in the dark apartment, and it felt oddly cold and empty without Victoria there. She felt like she could feel them around her, watching, waiting.

“Why won't you leave me alone,” she whispered. “Please, I just want to live. Please..” She could see them now, standing on the edge of the shadows, their voices whispering in her head. Max clutched at herself, as if trying to get out of her own body, to get away.

“Vic,” she muttered, “where are you? Why did you leave me tonight..” She picked up her cell and dialled her number again, and watched in despair as it went to voicemail once more.

Max. I'm here. Of course I am.

Max looked up in sudden hope, only to be confronted by the Victoria from her nightmares, the Victoria from the shallow grave Jefferson had dug for them both. She stood there now in front of her, reaching out with her dead hands to embrace Max.

“You're not real,” Max shouted, closing her eyes. “You're not real!” Max dug her fingernails into her palms until she felt it bleed, the pain dragging her back to the empty apartment.

She's gone. Gone and left you. Gone to find someone to make her happy, where you can't.

Gone to find someone less fucked up than you.

The murderer.

The monster.

You know what you have to do.

She picked up her cell and with shaking fingers sent one last message, the screen blurring through her tears. She waited for an answer, but none came and she gave a little sob in anguish. She looked at the carefully arranged line of pill bottles, before putting her cell down and picking up the bottle of vodka and unscrewing the cap.



I can't



Victoria had left the apartment in anger, slamming the door behind her. The taxi ride had served to calm her down enough so that by the time she arrived she wasn't in any danger of freezing to death the first person who pissed her off. The arguments with Max had become more and more frequent, and tonight's had been one of the worst. In a fit of spiteful rage she had agreed to meet Abby for a drink, knowing it would annoy Max.

No matter what I do, or try, she just retreats into herself.

And I know she is drinking, but she denies it. She never used to be like this.

Why won't she tell me what is happening? Why do I feel like I am stumbling around in the dark?

What is happening to us?

Abby was waiting for her at the bar, and she waved at Victoria to get her attention.

“You OK?” she asked, as Victoria sat down with a groan. She put her head in her hands.

“No, not really. It's just.. another shitty day. I need a drink.” Abby smiled at her and laid her hand gently on her arm.

“Well, luckily you've come to the right place to be cheered up. What are you having?”

They spent the next half hour chatting over various things, including the latest drama between Emma and Simon, who seemed to be doing their best to emulate Ross and Rachel, much to their mutual annoyance.

“Honestly, they should just get a room and fuck it out,” said Abby, making Victoria snort with laughter. Abby laughed along with her, her eyes watching her carefully.

“It's good to see you happy, Vic. You've been a bit too sad of late.” Victoria looked at her questioningly.

“Oh?” Abby shifted a little closer on her seat.

“Yeah. I don't know what's been going on between you and Max – and you don't have to tell me, but I can tell you are not happy. I mean it's not like you are out with her now, are you? You looked pretty pissed when you came in.” Victoria looked at her for a second, before half collapsing in on herself with a sigh.

“No, you are right. It's not been good lately. We just seem to fight and..” She trailed off, looking glumly at the bar in front of her. “And I'm not sure how much more of it I can take, you know? Without something giving.” Abby reached out and grasped Victoria's hand, causing her to flinch and then look up.

“You don't have to be unhappy, you know. I'm sure there are lots of others out there who would love to make you happy.” She paused, gauging Victoria's reaction. Victoria seemed to be looking at her with an odd expression, and Abby noticed how her eyes seemed to have an inner glow to them which she found incredibly attractive. “I mean, you are intelligent, beautiful, kind – so much fun to be with. Lots of people would give anything to be with you.” She took a deep breath. “People like me.”

Victoria sat there, butterflies in her stomach as she looked at the girl in front of her, someone she had been getting increasingly close to over the year – someone who she admittedly did find physically attractive, who was good company, who was there for her; someone who didn't seem to lie and hide and make her unhappy.

“You?” she said, her voice uncertain. “You like me.. like that?” Abby smiled at her, caressing her hand and leaning slightly in.

“Of course I do, you dimwit. How have you not noticed? Do you not like me, Victoria?” Her eyes darted to Victoria's mouth, and back to her eyes, as she slowly closed the distance between them.

“Do you not like me?” she breathed.

Victoria looked into her eyes and felt herself moving closer, as if drawn by some outer force, or a longing to just forget and have some happiness again. She could feel the heat from Abby as they inched closer, the smell of her perfume; she imagined their lips touching, hands running through her hair, her touch on her neck. Her hand subconsciously went to her throat and touched the chain of the locket Max had given her.

Max.

No.

I can't do this.

She drew abruptly apart from Abby, whose eyes widened with disappointment.

“I'm sorry, Abby, I really am. I really like you, I do – but not like that. Maybe in some other time and place.. but not now. Please don't hate me, I do still want to be your friend.” Abby gave her a sad look, and then smiled tightly.

“Hey, it's OK. Honestly. I understand.. but if things change, then..” She looked at Victoria hopefully, who suddenly felt very uncomfortable and drew out her cell as a means of distraction. She looked at the screen and it felt as if she had been stabbed.

17 missed calls. All from Max.

Shit.

She immediately tried to call her back but there was no reception, and she sat there for a second at a loss, before suddenly standing up.

“I have to go Abby, there's something wrong at home. I'll speak to you later, I promise. Let me know you get back OK.” She rushed out of the bar without waiting for an answer, her mind solely consumed with thoughts of Max alone, at home.

Why did I leave her? Why did I get so angry? I'm so fucking stupid.

As she left the building her cell pinged with a message and she quickly read it, bringing her hand to her mouth in horror as she did so.



I'll always love you.

Chapter Text

Jack McArthur surreptitiously watched his passenger in the rear view mirror. Ordinarily he didn't take much interest in them but this one seemed a little unusual to him. For a start she was a stunningly beautiful, tall blond – something which ticked all the mental boxes in his head – but not in that typical, trashy LA way that he usually saw. He didn't think that she'd had any work done, for a start, and those eyes – man, those eyes! He watched her intently, as she seemed to be distracted by something - repeatedly dialling a number on her cell, her hand gripping it tightly – before dropping it in frustration.

Probably an argument with her boyfriend. Explains why I'm taking her home so early considering it's Saturday night. Normally I'm taking them all in the other direction.

He briefly day dreamed about his younger, wilder days where he would go for something like this - before he had met his wife and ended up with three kids, and driving taxis at night to supplement his day job.

Heh, those were the days all right. Couldn't do half the stuff now we could do then, not with all this PC brigade bullshit. Different times, better times. Although I'd not let my little Sophie out looking like they do, no Sir - you just can't trust men these days.

He found himself fiddling with the air-con in the car; it seemed to be stuck on full blast although he was sure it was switched off. No matter which setting he chose it just seemed to be getting colder and colder.

I'll have to take it to the shop to get it looked at. I'm sure it was working earlier. Another expense I don't need, what with all these taxes and those damn welfare programmes we have to pay for. There's never enough money for the working man. And we need to get little Stan some new shoes as well. It's annoying how quickly they grow.

He banged the console again in an attempt to fix it, shivering slightly at the temperature in the car. He looked up quickly to check where he was going and suddenly jammed the brakes on causing the car to slow to a halt, cursing under his breath. He saw his passenger look out of the window before turning to catch his eye in the mirror.

“What is it?” she asked him, her voice sounding (what he thought) was a little emotional.

Ha. I knew it. Dumped by her boyfriend. These kids these days, can't stick at anything.

“Just a bit of traffic,” he replied over his shoulder. “Won't be too long.” He pointed at the glare of red lights ahead. “Looks like someone has broken down in our lane, that's all. I'll get you back as soon as, ma'am.”

“We have to go now,” she said, her voice rising in tone. “I need to get home right now! It's urgent!” He looked at her with a bored expression he did his best to hide.

Oh how many times have I heard this one. It's always something urgent, isn't it. These rich kids are so entitled - never done a hard days work between them. And here I am, working two jobs..

“I'm sorry lady, but we are just going to have to wait.. we'll get there eventually, don't you worry yourself. I'll do my best, but.. there's not much I can do.” He gestured forwards. “It will probably only be ten minutes or so.”

He heard her undo her belt and found her leaning forward, her face furious. She gripped the back of his seat with her hand, thrusting her face at him. He looked at her, a word of objection dying in his throat as he saw her green eyes suddenly aflame; where her hand was gripping the headrest he swore he could see tendrils of ice forming under her fingertips.

“What the..” he stammered, seeing his breath appear in front of him - his teeth began to chatter as he felt the temperature dropping even further.

“You have one chance to listen to me, do you understand?” she growled at him, as the car seemed to rock from a wind that was forming inside of the car. He nodded in mute terror, his hands beginning to turn blue from the cold and he felt himself beginning to shake – whether from the cold or through fear he didn't know, or care. “You will drive this fucking car as fast as you can to where I need to go. If you do not, I will drive your fucking corpse there, understand?” He tried to speak but found he couldn't form the words, his throat was locked and his teeth chattering; instead he tried to make do with a nod. He must've been successful as she leaned back slightly, her eyes dimming a little.

“Good. Now get on with it,” she ordered imperiously. With shaking hands he turned the wheel, pulling out into the opposite lane and flooring the car past the queueing traffic, to a barrage of angry horns.

Oh fuck oh fuck I'm going to die oh fuck I love you Sarah oh fuck oh lord save me

He found himself warming slightly as he drove, but he didn't dare look any more at the woman behind him, his eyes focused on the road ahead. He could sense something, something lurking behind him, something which would return to haunt him in his darkest dreams in the middle of the night.

With a screech of tyres he pulled up on the street when she told him to, and the car rocked as the door slammed as she got out. As soon as he could he accelerated away, driving wildly through the night like a man possessed and only stopping when he was a couple of miles away, and he was sure she was not following him. He pulled over and got out, pacing up and down outside of his car, refusing to believe what he had just seen.

It was impossible. I was dreaming. It can't have happened.

He glanced at the rear of the car and saw that the interior was frosted up, and a sheen of ice seemed to be coating the paintwork on the outside. He tried to open the door but found it had frozen solid, but with a bit of effort he managed it only to be met with a mixture of ice and water flooding out onto the floor.

His eye caught something that had been left on the back seat, and he swallowed hard as he gingerly picked it up.

That's like five hundred dollars!

He sank disbelievingly down to the floor amid the slush, and put his head in his hands.



Victoria yanked her shoes off and sprinted up the road towards the apartment building. Her bare feet left behind icy footprints on the pavement as she sprinted towards the door, cursing her choice of dress as she did so. She focused her mind as she approached the door, not stopping her run and sent out a blast from her hands that ripped the door off its hinges. Spikes of ice were left embedded in the shattered door as she vaulted through the empty frame.

“Max!” she screamed as she entered the dark apartment, desperately running from room to room to try and find her, to save her. She skidded into the lounge and saw a dark shape sitting huddled against the wall.

“Max. No no no nonoooo! Max!” she sobbed as she ran to the figure, reaching to get hold of her, to touch her, to make sure she was still alive. She crouched down next to Max, noticing the bottles of pills and bottle of alcohol a few paces away. She grabbed Max's arms, trying to make out her face in the darkness to see if there was any sign of life. She felt warm to the touch, and Victoria gently put her hand under Max's face, raising it to try and look at her clearly. Max's eyes were open but unseeing, her mouth moving wordlessly.

“Max.. you're alive.. oh Max, Max.. you're alive..” she sobbed in relief, tears streaming from her eyes. Max seemed to blink at the sound of her voice and her eyes seemed to gain focus, looking at Victoria's face which was half hidden in the shadows. She didn't move at first and Victoria began to fear the worst until she suddenly gripped Victoria's arms tightly, squeezing them with all of her might.

“Victoria.. is it really you? They told me you were dead..” Max's voice sounded broken and fragile. “They told me you were dead..” Victoria wrapped her arms around her, drawing her close, resting her head in her hair.

“It's me, it's really me. Max, are you OK? Tell me you are OK. Max.. I'm here Max, shh..” Max clung to Victoria, desperately grasping at her clothes; as if trying to confirm to herself that Victoria was actually there for real.

“Oh Vic.. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.. I couldn't.. after you left.. I..” Max broke down again, her voice dying off into a little whimper. Victoria rocked her gently back and forth, mixed feelings of relief and despair flowing through her.

“Max.. shh, I'm here, just hold me. Shh. It's OK. It's all going to be OK.” She closed her eyes, trying to control her breathing, feeling Max shuddering beneath her as she silently weeped. Victoria felt that familiar feeling again, knowing that she was losing control of herself but unable to stop it. She could sense the floor around her beginning to freeze, along with the familiar pop of air condensing around her.

I'm going to kill her myself if I don't get control. I need to move no matter how much it hurts her.

“Max, I'm going to get up and turn the light on, OK? I'm not going anywhere, alright?” Max clung to her, whimpering.

“No.. don't leave me Vic.. don't leave..” Victoria grasped her by the wrists and pulled her up, wrapping her arm tighly around the girls waist.

“Come on Max, we'll do it together.” She slowly dragged Max over to the wall, flipping all the switches on and causing them to blink. Victoria looked back at where she had found Max, seeing clearly now the bottles of pills laid out in a neat row, along with a large bottle of opened vodka.

“Max, I know it's hard for you right now but you must tell me. Did you take anything? Anything at all? Do I need to call an ambulance?”

“No..” Max's voice was fairly audible. “No.. nothing.. but.. please, can you..” Victoria nodded, and somehow found strength she didn't know she had and lifted Max easily into her arms and carried her over to the sofa, laying her down gently.

“Max, just stay there and rest a while. I'm going to just get rid of all this stuff, OK? Just.. don't move.”

And for the love of god don't mess with time, Max. Please just stay there. Please.

Victoria moved swiftly, as if worried that Max could change her mind at any moment – hoping that if she did it quickly enough Max would lose the temptation to rewind it all back again and go through with it. She collected up all the bottles and went to the bathroom, methodically flushing all the pills down the toilet and emptying the vodka down the drain. The stench of it made her wretch and she swore to herself that she would never touch it ever again.

Or any alcohol for that matter. I've been so stupid, if only I had not put so much temptation in front of her. I have to quit for her sake. For our sake.

She went back into the lounge to check Max was still there and found her fast asleep, curled up in on herself. Whatever she had gone through this night appeared to have utterly exhausted her. Victoria stood there watching her for a few minutes – she looked strangely at peace, as if she had faced a test and passed it – though what that meant Victoria could not guess.

Satisfied that nothing untoward was going to happen for now, Victoria went into the kitchen and leaned against the counter, trying to compose herself.

Jesus Christ what a mess. What a fucking mess. If I had got here a moment later.. but I should never have left her in the first place.

With shaking hands she prepared herself a strong cup of coffee, continuously checking on Max as it prepared itself. She cradled the drink in her hands and leaned against the doorway again, watching her sleep.

Where on earth did she even get hold of.. The thought trailed off as her eyes darted around the lounge. She put down her cup and began to quietly look through cupboards, under tables, around the back of anywhere she could think of. After an hour or so she felt she had exhausted all the possible hiding options that there could be – and to her utter despair she had found a few small bottles hidden away here and there in places she would never have thought to look. The worst had been an old perfume bottle she had found in the bathroom, a gift she had given Max eight months earlier but Victoria could never remember her ever using - but it was unboxed and looked regularly used, although the contents weren't perfume.

It was one of your birthday presents, Max.

I bought it for you especially. I thought you'd like it.

How could you do this?

She swept it all up in a fit of rage into a bag and stalked down to the trash, throwing it in as hard as she could, filled with anger, with fear, with a hollowness inside of her that seemed to tell her that this, this was the end for them. No matter what happened next, nothing would ever be the same. It couldn't be, not after tonight.

Victoria walked back inside and realised how tired she was, the emotional strain of the night had finally caught up with her. She went back in to the lounge and looked at the sleeping figure of Max, and her heart broke to see how small and fragile she seemed.

I still love her. I do. But is that enough any more? Can I go on with this?

Is there another way out?

Not a thought for now, Vic. Let's just get some sleep.

And tomorrow I'll have to get someone to fix the damn door.

She carried Max through to the bedroom, laying her gently down without disturbing her slumber. She took a quick shower, letting the cold water run over her, easing the tension from her shoulders. She leaned against the shower wall bunching her fists against it, and wept; the pent up emotion flowing from her, freezing the water around her and flowing outwards into intricate patterns and spires that began to fill the room.

The shower eventually stopped flowing, and with it she seemed to bring herself back together – composed and ready to face what had to be done - although groaning slightly at the state of the bathroom that she would have to clean up.

Later. And I need to let Abby know everything is OK.

And that's another mess to sort out. But it can wait as well.

She threw on a nightdress and went back to the bedroom, switching off the light and lying down next to Max. She lay there for a while, thinking over the nights events, running things over and over before she suddenly sat up, a thought striking her. She carefully got out of bed and left the room, returning after a few minutes with some duct tape. Tearing off a long strip she gently lifted Max's wrist and bound hers together with it. Max stirred in her sleep, moaning fitfully, but didn't wake. Feeling guilty at having to take such a measure, Victoria lay down again passing into an uneasy sleep.

At least she can't go back without me. Not this time.



- 'Do you think she is there now?' asked Victoria, fiddling with the flowers in her hand. Max swatted at her. 'Stop it, you'll muss them up. But - I don't know. Probably. She said time worked differently there, so.. I do hope we meet again. Without her...' Max trailed off and looked back at Victoria, face filled with joy. 'We wouldn't be doing this, would we?' Victoria smiled and leaned forward, carefully kissing her so as not to smudge her makeup. 'Who knows. It's been seven years, a lot could have happened in that time. Speaking of time – everyone is waiting for us, although I guess since we are both technically brides we can be twice as late. Come on then, Ms Chase, let's go.' Max rolled her eyes. 'Ms Chase? Not for a few minutes yet. Besides, I thought we had agreed on Chase-Caulfield.' Victoria paused at the entrance, looking back at Max with a perfect smile across her face. 'We have. Just don't tell my parents that.'



Max woke with a start, her eyes snapping open. The morning light was filtering through the blinds, and she could see dots of sunlight playing across the celling. She felt calm and vaguely at peace, but there was a lingering sadness that the dream had ended.

That dream. Another one, like all of the others.. it felt real, like I was there. But was it the future - is it my future? What does it mean?

The events of last night momentarily dispelled, she went to sit up and felt her hand drag behind her – she looked and saw that Victoria was besides her, fast asleep, her face looking worn and tired - and her wrist taped to Max's. She looked at it, puzzled until realisation dawned and the memories came crashing back.

She thought I would go back in time without her. She thought I would try again. Has it really come to this?

Yes, Max, it has. You are a piece of shit, right now. And you know it.

But she cared enough to not let you do it. She still cares.

You don't deserve her to, but she does.

With a hollow feeling in her stomach she hesitantly reached out to touch Victoria. Her fingers hovered above her, as if she was reluctant to wake her and face what was to come – or was it a reluctance to touch her? The choice was taken from her as Victoria stirred and opened one eye, which after a few blinks regarded Max balefully.

“Max,” she said simply, as if all that was needed. Max smiled weakly at her, trying to find the right words.

“Hey,” was all she said for a moment, trying to manage a smile. “Erm.. thank you. For this.” She raised their wrists. “I understand why you did it, and I'm not angry or upset.. you did the right thing. And I'm sorry you thought you had to do it.” Victoria turned her head away, and sniffed.

“Yeah, well.” She sniffed again, before turning back to face Max. “I didn't really have a choice, did I? But.. I'm so glad you are alive. When I got your message I.. I feared the worst.” Max bit her lip, trying not to burst into tears at her words. She didn't know what to say in response, and ended up sitting there glumly in silence, staring at their bound wrists.

“You need a shower and some food, Max – you'll feel better after it. And then we can talk.” Victoria sat up and gripped the tape, gently pulling it off their wrists. Max rubbed where it had been, but didn't complain. Victoria sighed, and touched her hand.

“Hey. How are you feeling right now? Be honest with me. I'm worried sick, and I'm scared shitless about what is going to happen next. I feel like everything we have had, everything we have done together is just falling apart. And I don't know whether it is my fault, what I have done, or..”

“No, Victoria, no. Don't say that,” said Max quickly, grabbing Victoria's hand in return. “Please don't. It's not you, it's not your fault, it never was. You've been nothing but the best to me, more than I could have ever have wished for.” Victoria looked at her with tears in her eyes, before blinking them away.

“Come on. Let's go have a shower and get some breakfast.”



Max sat at the kitchen table, idly poking at some muesli. She knew she should eat something, but her stomach seemed to rebel at the thought of having anything in it. Nevertheless she forced her self to mechanically shovel it inside of her, whilst staring blankly at nothing. Victoria walked into the room towelling her hair dry, and paused to look at Max. She seemed pleased to see her eat, giving herself a little nod.

“Coffee?” she asked Max. Max pushed the bowel away from her.

“Yes, please. I don't think I can eat any more of this at the moment.” She watched Victoria prepare the coffee, her mind trying to work out how best to start a difficult conversation.

How do I even begin this?

“Um.. what happened to the front door?”

“I broke it last night,” said Victoria, her back still to Max. “I thought you were fucking dead, Max, I wasn't in the mood to hang around and knock politely. Have you any idea how I must have felt...” She paused, and turned to look at her briefly. “Sorry,” she continued, “that was uncalled for.” Max glumly looked at the table, twisting her fingers together.

“Last night,” she began hesitantly, causing Victoria to freeze in place, her back to Max again. “I.. I sat there in the dark, and I could see them from my dreams. Everyone who I had.. done things to, or let down, or.. didn't save. They were all there, all of them. And.. they wanted me to end it all, to pay for what I had done. They said that no-one would miss me, that I was worthless, that everything was my fault. And I believed them, because it's true,” Victoria didn't move, and Max fought an overwhelming desire to stand up and touch her, to get a reaction, any reaction to her words.

“I sat there, I tried to call you, I just wanted to hear your voice for the last time. I just wanted to hear you say everything would be OK, that you would be back,” Max continued, her voice breaking a little. Victoria seemed to tense at her words, and she put her hand out to steady herself. “But you didn't pick up, and I.. I didn't know what else to do. So I got the bottle, and..”

“And?” asked Victoria, her voice quiet. She turned to face Max, face composed but eyes betraying her emotional turmoil. “Why didn't you?” Max buried her face in her hands and didn't answer for a few minutes. Victoria stepped closer, looking at her; then sat down opposite, leaning back in her chair slightly as if to try and keep some distance between them.

“So?” Max breathed out in a long sigh, as if reluctant to answer.

“Because.. because if I die, then I'll just end back in that fucking classroom repeating the same fucking week like I always have.” She paused, and then managed to look Victoria in the eye. “Except this time with the memory of you, of us, and of how I've fucked it up. And it's selfish, I know, but.. I can't do it. I just can't. I don't want to live any more, not with the memory of what I've done, but.. I can't die either. I'm in a nightmare I can't escape from.” Victoria ran her fingers through her hair.

“Why didn't you tell me, Max. Why have you kept all of this bottled up? Why the lies, the secrecy, the deception? I could have helped you Max. We could've got through this together.”

“I just wanted you to be happy, Vic. That's all I wanted. To see you smile, to laugh.. to be yourself. That's all I wanted..” Max looked down at the table, blinking back tears. “But it's all gone wrong and I can't fix it any more. David was right. It never leaves you.” Victoria looked at her in surprise, as if reminded of her conversation with David. She suddenly saw the parallels between them, and it was as if a veil had been dropped and she was looking at things clearly for the first time.

“But you made me happy,” Victoria said, grabbing her hands and running her thumbs over the back of them. “You did, you changed so much for me. And.. to see you – us – like this..” Max smiled a little at her.

“I know. It's shit, isn't it?” Victoria nodded.

“Yes. It is really fucking shit. The worst. And I don't want it to be like this. I can't have it like this, not any more – it's just too much for me to deal with.”

“What do you mean?” Max asked nervously. Victoria sighed, letting go of Max's hands and standing up.

“Let me make this coffee. But as I do – tell me, you cannot promise me that this won't happen again, can you? Would therapy help? Can we fix this between us? Will anything work?” Max remained silent while Victoria made them both strong cups of coffee, placing them down on the table. Max cradled the hot cup in her hands, blowing on it, thinking on her words.

“Want me to cool it for you?” asked Victoria. Max pushed the cup over, and Victoria held it briefly before passing it back.

“Thanks,” said Max with a soft smile, taking a sip. “No, I can't promise it. And if I did it would be a lie. Right now I can say it won't, but in six months? A year? I can't even promise you I'll stop with the alcohol. I tried before, didn't I, until we were all out with Abby and everyone and.. Well, I know I have a problem, but.. I can't control it. I can't fix it. I mean think about me doing therapy - how do I even start with that? I'd be committed to an asylum within an hour.” Victoria nodded slowly to herself, a far away look in her eyes. If she was upset by what Max had said she didn't show it.

“You said you don't think you can die. Tell me what happens – when you go back, you are still you? As in this Max here, in front of me.” Max nodded.

“Yeah. It's like, I don't know, a save reload, except I retain the memories of everything. There's a weird line between when I am just in danger – and I sort of freeze time instinctively allowing me to go back – and actually dying, where it's a complete reset. I've never managed to work out how the difference works, though. I suspect that bloody butterfly knows why though, but it's never told me.”

“So if someone shot you in the back of the head, it's back to the classroom?” said Victoria matter of factly. Max winced.

“Yes.”

592. Thanks for the reminder, Vic.

“What about those photo jumps? What happens then?” Max looked at her, wondering where this was going.

“I go back for a few minutes, but then come back to when I jumped – still me, but in whatever fucked up future I created – another version of me seems to fill in the intervening time until I come back and replace her. That's why I stopped doing it. Instead I've worked out how to create a mental snapshot I can jump back to and stay in. Sort of like a controlled death, except with a time and place of my choosing.” Victoria got up and began pacing around.

“What if.. you could leave yourself a message? Tell yourself to do something different? Have you ever done that?” Max shook her head.

“No, I haven't. Why would I? I told you, when I come back through a photo it is still me. It was hard enough to know what impact it would have as it is making a small change. I told you how much I fucked up trying to do it with Chloe.”

Among other times. But you don't need to know about those. No-one does.

“But you could do it, though, yes? Tell yourself what to do.” Max shrugged.

“I guess. It's possible. But how does it help? This.. broken version of me will still be around, waiting to fuck it all up again. Besides, what photo would I use? The one from the classroom is long gone, along with the others. I didn't want the temptation to make the same mistakes again. It was too risky, too tempting.” Victoria paced up and down anxiously for a minute, as if deep in thought. Suddenly, she turned and left the room. Max craned her neck to try and see where she had gone.

“Vic? You OK? What are you doing?” After a few moments Victoria reappeared with a small ornate metal box, which was slightly battered and worn through use. She put it down on the table between them.

“What's this?” asked Max, curious. Victoria ran her fingers over it, caressing the metal.

“It's my secrets box. Where I keep things that are precious to me. Silly, I know, you think you should grow out of these sort of things, but..” She entered the combination - “I used your birthday, that's how sappy I am,” she remarked – and then opened it, revealing the contents. Max moved around to her side to get a better look.

“What's that?” she asked, pointing to a photo. Victoria picked it up and studied it for a moment, before putting down with a sigh.

“Holiday. I was 14. We had gone to the Alps for a skiing holiday – I remember it because for once we were all together as a family. We couldn't get cell reception there, I think one of the towers had gone down or something – so we were actually forced to spend the time together. It was a happy time. One of the few.” She rummaged through the contents, with Max noticing ticket stubs from things they'd been to together, and a few silly trinkets she had brought Victoria over the years. Her heart felt like it would explode at the sight of it all - she had not realised until now that Victoria had held these things so dear, that they had meant so much to her.

“Aha,” said Victoria, plucking out a photo and placing it down on the table. “I, er.. took this from your journal before you threw it away. It was the last photo you'd taken in it, so I thought.. you might want to keep it.” Max saw that it was the photo she'd taken what seemed like years ago in the classroom – a little crumpled, but still useable.

“You saved it?” asked Max incredulously. “That's.. amazing. I mean you could have just asked for it and I'd have given it to you, but even so.. with this..”

“.. with this, you can go back and tell yourself everything. Everything, so we can change the future. Our future,” finished Victoria. Max shook her head.

“But I told you, if I do then I will just takeover in the future. That Max will just be overwritten – I've met one of them I think, in a nightmare – they are just like me, with their own dreams and hopes and lives. How can I destroy that Max, who would have to live for 18 months with the threat of being erased hanging over her head? It's not fair. And besides, what about what we have here? Would you give all this up? What if it doesn't work out. What if I make everything worse again?” Victoria sat there for a moment, defeated, before banging her hand on the table.

“No. We can do this. I – we – have to do this, Max. Time wants to fuck with us? Then we fuck with it.”

“What do you mean?” Victoria picked up the photo.

“Listen – you go back in time, you write yourself a fucking essay about what you have gone through and how to fix it – I mean everything, Jefferson, Prescott, the butterflies, us - especially us – you tell yourself not to leave that classroom no matter what – hell, stop me as well – then once everything is sorted, a week, a month later, whatever – the photo is destroyed. Ripped up. Burnt. Whatever it takes.” Max frowned.

“But what would that do? Destroying the photo means we couldn't go back in the first place.. but then we wouldn't be able to tell ourselves to destroy it.. but then we would be able to go back and tell ourselves to destroy it so would destroy it but then we couldn't go back.....” Max slowly tried to work it out in her head. “Victoria, you're a genius. Talk about a paradox.” Victoria smiled at her, and Max began to feel the faintest sliver of hope within her.

“See – not just a pretty face am I. But yes, exactly, Max – it creates an impossible situation. And frankly, that fucking butterfly of yours can sort it out – do something for us for a change. What, exactly do we have to lose by this? Things are falling apart for us here, we both know we can't carry on as it is. It tears me to the soul to say it, but what choice do we have but to try?”

“When all seems hopeless, return to the moment and begin a renewal,” Max murmured to herself.

“What?” said Victoria. Max sadly smiled at her.

“It was something Samuel said to me, before at Blackwell. The day we found out about the other butterflies, after the first time we took a shower together. Remember that? It sort of stuck in my head as to how odd it was – it made no sense at the time, but now? Maybe.. maybe there is hope.”

“Samuel was a bit weird, wasn't he. It's like he seemed to know stuff without knowing he knew it.” Victoria played with Max's fingers, entwining hers into them.

“Is there hope?” she asked softly, almost pleadingly. “Am I just being a fool here?” Max continued watching Victoria's hands playing with hers, before looking up into her eyes.

“I've been having.. other dreams, ever since we left that first party you held when we came out together,” Max said quietly. “Dreams of another Max, I think. One where she is happy – no, we are happy. Little snippets here and there, always in the future – as if I was being shown what could have been. Or so I thought - maybe it was showing me what will be.” Victoria's face was torn by conflicting emotions.

“We were happy?” she said, her voice quavering a little. “What did you see, Max? Please, tell me.” Max shrugged.

“I can't remember most of them, they seem to be more like giving me.. a feeling, you know? But I had one this morning, it's stuck in my mind. I think it was supposed to be our wedding or something. You know what dreams are normally like? Like absurd things happen, impossible things? My nightmares are like that..” She closed her eyes for a moment. “But these.. aren't like that. It's like watching a scene from a play, or a film. As if I'm watching a little piece of reality. Before it's gone, taken away from me, and I'm left with only a vague memory of it.”

Victoria sat there in silence for a moment.

“Did I look good? At this wedding I mean.” Max rolled her eyes and laughed a little.

“You looked perfect. As always.” She stopped, and drew a deep breath. “So is there hope? Maybe. Whatever we do has to be better than this, doesn't it?”

Chapter Text

Victoria had the idea of taking a photo there and then, with Max going back through it to see how long she had in each photo jump - and to experiment with how her powers worked while she was there.

“This will give us a baseline from which to work with,” she had said, warming to her idea. “Once we know how much time you have, and what the limits on your powers there are, we can work out and practice the message you can write in the time you have available.”

“This sounds just like exam revision,” groaned Max, “this sucks.” Victoria pushed her playfully, a hesitant reminder of the good times they had shared.

“I know. But it's for our own good, isn't it.” She paused, then sighed. “It's really weird to think I won't exist any more. I mean I will, but.. just not me..” Max picked up her hand and caressed it.

“We don't have to do this if you don't want to. But at any rate let's make sure to tell me to be extra nice to you if we do go through with the then, hey? And tell you to be nice to me as well, so they can make the most of the time we are giving them.” Victoria smiled a little and hastily wiped her eye.

“Skip all the drama, eh? Come on, let's get on with it then – there's no point in delaying any further.”



They spent the next hour or so practising, Max jumping back through the photo over and over again. Max first of all timed how long she had within the jump; then experimented to see if there was a way she could hold being there for longer.

“Fuck me this is exhausting,” she gasped after one particularly hard jump. “I can feel it, like a physical barrier dragging me back – it's like I can hold it in my mind, pushing against it to resist but fucking hell is it hard. And the longer I do it for the worse it becomes. I can freeze time though, but it doesn't seem to affect the overall time I can be there.” Victoria handed her a bar of chocolate in an attempt to keep her energy levels up.

“So you can't just stop time and stay there forever. Interesting. How long did you stay in that jump?” Max tore off the wrapper and wolfed it down.

“Eleven minutes, give or take. I don't think I can do much more than that. I think my head is going to explode if I try.” Victoria nodded.

“OK, let's take a break. Do you want to have a little nap or something? I can use the time to draft up this message we are going to leave. How quickly can you write, do you think?” Max shrugged her shoulders.

“No idea. I've not handwritten anything for ages, certainly not anything in a hurry.” Victoria rubbed her hands together slightly gleefully.

“Another thing to practice then.” Max groaned again.

“Oh my god. I'm definitely taking a quick nap then in that case. Wake me in an hour, will you?”

“Sure.” Max went and laid down on the sofa, staring up at the ceiling. Victoria picked up a notebook and began to write, chewing the end of her pen as she tried to think of the correct words to say. She worked quietly for a few minutes, writing and rewriting until she was beginning to be happy with what was taking shape.

“How do you feel about this, Vic? I mean really,” asked Max, still staring at the ceiling. “I mean it will destroy everything we've done together. All those little moments we've had together. Gone.” Victoria looked up from her writing.

“We'll still have done them,” she said slowly, “that will never change. I mean I won't be here to miss them, will I – don't get me wrong, the thought of suddenly not existing is.. well, hard to believe. If that makes sense. But then I remember all those other ones who have existed, or had their life cut short or.. never been with you. So I guess I am just another one of those.” She tapped her teeth thoughtfully. “Doesn't make it feel any better, though. I think I may just be putting off thinking about it until I have too. I need to concentrate on what we are doing, and I can't do that if I am an emotional mess.” Max didn't answer for a few moments, as if thinking things over in her head.

“I guess if it doesn't work out, at least the memories will still be in my head at least. Something for me to cherish, to keep alive.” She rolled onto her side, looking at Victoria.

“We've had some good times though, haven't we?” she said, looking searchingly at Victoria. Victoria looked at her for a second, then put down her pen and walked over. She looked thoughtfully at Max, then bent down and softly kissed her.

“The best,” she murmured, stroking Max's hair. “Now you'd better get this nap in so we are good to go.” Max reached up and put her hand behind Victoria's neck, bringing her down close and letting out a shiver as their lips met again.

“Thank you, Vic. For everything.”



“Honestly, I've got cramp in my elbow. I didn't even know you could get cramp in your elbow.”

“Stop complaining. We have to get this done, we might only get one shot at it so you need to make damn sure you can get all this down in the time you have.”

“And my wrist is so sore. It's alright for you, you are not the one who is having to practice this.” Victoria took hold of Max's wrist.

“No, but I am having to listen to you whinge about it. Here,” she said, “that should help a little.” Max felt Victoria's hand go cold, easing the ache in her wrist a little. Max had been refining and rewriting the script Victoria had prepared for the last hour, and then at Victoria's instance had begun a series of timed writings, designed to ensure that she had sufficient time to get their message across.

“We can't fail, Max,” she said with intensity. “One shot, one try – everything is going to hinge on this. I don't want to throw my existence away for something which we half-ass.” Max looked abashed, and she apologised.

“Sorry, I know I have too. I'm trying my best, I'm just sorry that it has come to this. It's all my fault, if I hadn't..” Victoria put her finger to Max's lips.

“Shhh. None of that. You've laid the groundwork for something better, if your dreams are anything to go buy. I just wish that... I was that Victoria.” She stopped for a moment, looking away from Max. “But I'm not, and I need to make sure that she gets the best shot at it.” Max didn't say anything but just stroked Victoria's thigh gently, as if trying to comfort her. Victoria looked at the hand on her leg and the smiled back at Max.

“Come on, where are we then with this? Does it cover everything we need it to?” she asked. Max nodded.

“I.. I think so. Yes. Given the time we've got, it's the best we can do. I've tried to think what I would be thinking of as soon as I would read it, to try and explain what is going on without making myself freak out. I'm assuming I will not know about my powers, so that's one thing.” She paused for a second, rubbing the back of her neck. “I also put something in about the butterfly. I don't know why, but I get the idea it's going to be around when I leave. It's.. hard to explain, but I get a feeling that.. it is going to be there. Like a guide.” She shrugged. “Eh, even if its not, it'll give me something to look out for.”

“Makes sense I guess. Besides, it has to know we are planning on fucking with time, so..” Victoria stretched a little then looked at Max, a look of longing passing across her face. “I know I keep saying it but I just wish that.. it was me. I know it is me, but.. you know what I mean?” Max squeezed her thigh gently.

“Yes, I do. And if it works as we plan, then I wish it was me as well. But you are correct, this is for the best. We had a good run, the best; but it's time to finally let go I think. And create something new.”

6,354.

Hopefully the last time I have to count.

Which gives me an idea..

“When are we going to do this?” asked Victoria. “I think it should be today, as soon as possible. While you are still... OK. I mean, not had any more dreams or.. tried to.. to..”

“Kill myself again?” finished Max, drily. “Yes, I agree. As much as I want to spend more time with you – I really don't want this to end, Vic, I really don't – we can't put it off forever. I've pretty much memorised what I'm going to write, and I think I can do it in the time I have. So..”

“So there's nothing left to do,” said Victoria quietly, her face sad. She looked at the time on her watch. “It's 10 now, so let's say we do this at 11? Give ourselves a last hour together?” Max smiled at her, tears already beginning to stream down her face.

“OK. One more hour.”



“Max, it's time.”

“I don't want to, I want to just stay like this forever. I don't want to go.” Victoria hugged Max tightly, kissing her on the forehead.

“I know, I know. So do I. But we can't, we have to do this. Come on.” Max reluctantly let her go and sat up, stretching herself out a little as if loosening up. Victoria sat next to her quietly, hands clasped together in her lap. The mood suddenly felt very sombre, as if finally they had come to the end of everything they had had together.

Max reached out and picked up the photograph Victoria had rescued, looking at it. She could already feel the faint pull of it, the feeling of it pulsating in her hands, along with the distant echoes of the past.

This is it.

Time to change everything,

For the better.

“Max,” came a quiet voice next to her, and she turned to see Victoria looking with wide, sorrowful eyes that nevertheless held a light within them. Victoria reached out and drew Max's face towards her and they kissed slowly, as if savouring their last moments together. Max could feel the sensation of her power being triggered at the same time as Victoria's, something which had not happened for quite a while of late and she closed her eyes, becoming lost in the moment.

Soon, too soon, they drew apart, noses touching as Victoria smiled sadly.

“Look what you've done,” she said, half sobbing, looking around them – in the frozen air around them were millions of pieces of ice, suspended in the air – pieces which Max could see were perfectly formed hearts, scattering the light through them.

“Oh Vic, I love you so much,” said Max, tears falling freely down her face. “I wish we didn't have to do this.” Victoria wiped Max's cheeks delicately with her fingers.

“Just make it all right, Max. Make it all right again.” She pulled away from Max, and time resumed. The hearts fell to the ground, smashing on the floor.

“Go, now, before we change our minds.” Max looked at her one last time, fixing the image of her face in her mind for eternity, before turning to look at the photo.

 

As soon as she saw the flash she froze the world, gazing around the classroom in a mixture of disgust and hope. She knew where everything was down to the last detail; knew that just over there was the woman she had spent the last 18 months of her life with, the woman she was coming back to try and make everything right for.

No time to daydream Max. You have a job to do.

She swiftly opened her journal to a blank page and began to write as quickly as she could, conscious of the time ebbing away against her. She had not told Victoria the entire truth about how long she had in this state, she knew she could force it out by a good few more minutes at an ever increasing difficulty – but it was long enough to do what she wanted to do.

The words flew from under her pen as she wrote the message to herself, trying to tell herself everything she needed to know and about what had happened, and what could happen – but leaving enough out for her to forge her own destiny.

You've got 18 months Max at a minimum. I hope you have forever.

Just as Max felt her hand starting to cramp to where she could no longer hold the pen, she finished. She tore a strip out of the journal and wrote in large letters 'MAX! READ ME!' and put it on top of the journal.

I hope I'm not too freaked out by this. But it's done.

Max carefully got up and walked across the frozen room, studiously ignoring the man at the front of the classroom – now was not the time to think about that. She was starting to feel the effects of holding time still within the past for so long, a creeping vice-like grip beginning to exert itself on her head.

Come on Max, not much longer.

There in front of her sat Victoria, head in her hands and gazing towards the front, not having yet noticed the flash from Max's camera. Max looked at her for a moment, noticing how much younger she seemed, before hesitantly reaching a hand out towards her, feeling a strange tension in the air as her hand got nearer. As she touched her she felt a small jot of electricity that made her jump, and caused Victoria to start and turn to look at her.

“Max! What the..” The words died on her lips as she saw the world was frozen around them, everything held in place except for the two of them, and she looked at Max with a mixture of fear and wonder.

“Vic,” Max said, “I don't have much time. Please don't freak out, but I need to tell you some important things. So listen -” Victoria eyes were wide in shock and she didn't seem to be listening.

“Max, what.. you are.. how..” Max shook her head impatiently.

“Vic, listen to me. I'm not Max, well I am Max, just not the Max you know from this reality. I'm from the future. A future. And I need to tell you about what is going to happen -”

“Is this some joke? Max, I don't know -” Max winced as she could feel the drag of time starting to increase on her, trying to pull her back.

“Victoria, just shut up and listen. I'm from a future we had together. I know about your ice powers, the green butterfly – I have my own one, but it's blue. I've come back to try and put us on a better course. The right course.”

“You know about..” Victoria creased her brow, as another thought came crashing to the fore. “Together? That's..”

“Incredible, I know. And it is. Look, I know about Mr fluffy, your bunny hidden under your bed. I know about how your parents threw him out when you were six and you snuck out in the middle of the night to rescue him from the trash. I know your favourite food is Kaeng Phet. I know you are scared of snakes for some reason, and I know you have a little mole underneath your left breast. Please believe me about what I am talking to you about right now. I don't have much time.” Victoria gawped at her, before slightly shaking her head in resignation.

“OK,” she said simply. “I believe you – how could I not? You've literally seemed to have stopped time and know things that no-one else could possibly know. Wait - you say you don't have much time, where are you going back to?”

“Hopefully nowhere,” Max said sadly. “We are trying to break time to try and make things better, which probably means the end for me. I've written your Max – me, from this reality – a note explaining everything, as she doesn't even realise she has this power yet, and you need to read it too. And you must do what it tells you – don't leave this classroom, stay the fuck away from Jefferson and, most importantly, do what it says regarding the photo. I can't stress this enough.” Max winced again, she knew she didn't have long.

Just a bit longer. Please.

“OK, I will read it, I promise – I guess it will make more sense than you are now?” Victoria paused, looking around in wonder at the frozen world again. “But.. this is all you? That's.. incredible.” She looked at Max's hand on her arm, then up at her serious face, eyes hard and cold but with a hint of something behind them. “Tell me. Are we happy in the future?” she asked quietly. Max smiled a little, looking down at the girl who was her girl, but not her girl.

“You will be. But yes, it was just the best while it lasted. But look, I am going to have to go and sit back down before I slip away again – but there is one thing I want you to do. Please listen carefully, I can only say this once..”



Max sat back down in her seat, composing herself. The sensation of having to go back was screaming inside of her head; she could feel the walls of reality closing in on her, and she felt suddenly nauseas with worry that it would not work, that it was all in vain. As it came rushing up towards her and everything went white she swore she saw the faintest blur of blue.



Please let this work.



Please.



Max blinked as the flash went off, the sound of the camera sounding strangely slow and laboured. The sound around her seemed to be as if it was in a bubble, strangely muted. Her attention was grabbed by a brilliant flash of blue and she looked down at her arm and saw a butterfly nonchalantly sitting there, as if watching her.

What the..

Before she could react it flapped its wings and flew off, and with it time seemed to resume its leisurely course. Max could hear Mr Jefferson at the front of the class, calling her out for taking a selfie.

Way to go Max, nice job to annoy Mr Jefferson. What did you think would happen? She put the camera down on her desk and saw a large, hand written note on it. She looked at it in puzzlement.

Wait.. that wasn't there a moment ago. Who wrote that? It looks like my writing. But..

She picked up the paper and turned it over in her hands – it definitely looked like her hand writing.

'Max read me' – read what? She then saw that her journal was open, and the page was filled with endless lines of her writing, looking as if they were written in haste. She felt a slight tingling sensation in the back of her head as she looked at it in puzzlement, and bent forward to read what it said.

'Hello Max ,' she read, 'You must be a little confused right now, but don't be. I – we – have written this in what little time I have, and you must read it all. Don't freak out – it'll all make sense, trust me (well, trust you). I'm not sure when, but you should see at some point a little blue butterfly. Say hi to it if you do while reading this – it's kind of important.' Max blinked a little, slightly stunned by what she was reading.

What the hell is this? Who wrote this? How did it know about the butterfly – and where did it go? What is going on? Max was aware that Jefferson was still talking about something, but she was too distracted to care at the moment, and continued to read. 'Basically I'm you from a different reality. Crazy I know, right? But it'll all become clear in a moment. Oh, a little tip – the answer is The Daguerreian Process invented by Louis Daguerre around 1830.' As soon as she read this Max seemed to snap out of her focus, tuning into Jefferson's voice.

“...can you please tell us the name of the process that gave birth to the first self-portraits?” She saw that he was looking directly at her, waiting for an answer.

Oh shit. What did it say?

“The Daguerreian Process invented by Louis Daguerre around 1830.” Mr Jefferson smiled at Max's response, sending a thrill through Max.

“Somebody has been reading, as well as posing. Nice work, Max.” Max beamed back at him.

Wowsers, it was actually correct! That's... magic! She unconsciously glanced over at Victoria and was startled to find her staring directly at her, a strange expression on her face. Their eyes met and Victoria held her gaze, not looking away until Max blushed slightly and looked away.

Now why did you blush, Max? That just makes you look like you are hiding something. She looked back down at the message she had been left. 'That should keep Jefferson away from you for a moment. I bet you looked at Vic, didn't you – spoiler alert, but she is important to you. And is the best thing that will ever happen to you.' Max started as she read this, and couldn't resist sneaking a quick peek at Victoria. Victoria was still glancing at her, as if trying to catch her attention, and Max quickly looked down again, feeling the heat rising in her cheeks. It felt like there was an itch inside of her head, an itch that she need to scratch.

Oh my god she caught me again. What does she want with me? What have I done wrong now? And what did it mean by the best thing that will ever happen to me? She hates me, doesn't she? I mean she is pretty and intelligent and always wears the nicest clothes, but how can she be the best thing for me? Am I dreaming? She pinched her arm and yelped a little at the pain – she certainly wasn't dreaming like she had been a few minutes ago. 'It's really important that you don't leave the classroom until you have read all of this – and no zoning out like you normally do. Whatever you do, don't go to the bathroom – and don't let Vic leave, or talk to Mr Jefferson either. I'm going to try and tell her this too, but just in case do whatever you can to stop her – tell her you know about her secret, anything – and then get her to read this, she'll understand.'

She snuck another quick peep at Victoria, aware of Jefferson droning away still at the front. Again she caught her eye and she mentally kicked herself for looking at her again. She's going to think you are some sort of stalker.. Max deliberately looked back down at her journal – and the next section made her catch her breath.

'I don't know when it is going to happen – probably when the butterfly turns up – but when it does, that's when you'll get it. Your power – the most amazing thing in the world - the ability to manipulate time. It's how I wrote this to you, and how you will change the world. You'll know when it is there - it's like a tingling sensation in the back of your brain – hard to describe but you'll know it when you have it. And then you can feel it in your mind, sense it around you, the tendrils of time – like thick strands to grab and pull on and do as you will.' Max felt like she stared at the words for hours, though it could not have been longer than a few seconds. She was aware that the time to the end of the lesson was approaching, and she still had a lot to read.

I need more time to finish reading this.

Then she suddenly realised that she could feel it, like the words had said – the sense of time travelling around her, twisting and turning on its course, and all she had to do was pull on it. She instinctively reached out with her hand and pulled; feeling a sense of power, of energy, build up within her.

The world seemed to slow, then slowly started to go backwards.

“Fuck me!” she exclaimed, letting go of her grip on time, causing it to continue its march onwards.

“Max Caulfield, I do not appreciate outbursts like that in my classroom,” came the voice of Mr Jefferson along with a few sniggers from those around her. “You will see me after class, Max.” Max went bright red and sunk down into her chair.

It's real.

Oh my god it's real.

I'm not going crazy, am I? I can travel through time?

Max tried again, knowing what to expect this time and slowly rewound time as far as she could until suddenly she seemed to hit a limit, signified by a searing pain in her head. She let go and time resumed, from shortly after she had answered Jefferson's question. She looked in wonder at her hand, turning it around to look at it from all sides as if expecting to see some magic glow..

Wowsa.

I'm a mother fucking time traveller.

She looked around the classroom to see if anyone had noticed, but everyone seemed to be studiously ignoring Mr Jefferson instead. Everyone, except one person – Victoria, who was still maintaining her vigil of covertly watching Max. This time Max gave her a cheeky little wave with her hand, emboldened by the fact she hoped she could take it back if she chose to. To her surprise, Victoria merely nodded at her, then looked forwards again, as if satisfied. Pondering this unexpected interaction Max returned to her journal.

'When you will get this power, I am not sure, but it will be within the next ten to fifteen minutes of me writing this. It's amazing to believe, I know, but you will able to do so much with it in time. There are a few things you need to know about it which I will tell you about, but the most important thing to remember right now is this: never travel through a photo - the one on your desk in particular.' Max frowned at the words..

Travel through a photo? What does that mean? It must be important for me to tell me right now though. That is so confusing to think.

'I'm going to as briefly as possible tell you what happened to me, and what will happen in the future – you need to find a way to stop this from happening - make everything work out the way I hope it can. And more importantly, you need to make sure you bring Vic with you. She has a power as well, although she tries to keep it hidden. We are connected, and there are others out there who are similar to us. But the bond with Victoria is.. well, I'll let you both hopefully find out for yourselves. However, in the next few minutes, Nathan Prescott will..'

Max sat there reading the tale written down for her by an alternative version of herself, a Max that suffered through countless realities to end up writing this final message she was leaving behind. Max read about Nathan, Chloe, the Prescotts; the disappearance of Rachel Amber and the involvement of Mark Jefferson; of Victoria and their eventual bond – and the broken future it resulted in. She found herself having to rewind time on numerous occasions to ensure she finished it before the end of the lesson, finding each time that the rewind was already becoming easier for her to manage.

As she read she felt a tear roll down her cheek, as she realised how much this Max had suffered, how much she had sacrificed to give her a chance at a better future. The ending, when it came, was short and to the point.

'It's up to you now, Max. I don't even know if I am going to exist any more after this. I left Victoria on the 17th May, 2015 at 11 o'clock in the morning. Remember this time. I don't know what will happen then; I hope life will continue as normal and you will remain to live out the rest of your life. I have seen your future, I think, and it looks so happy that I wish I could have experienced it. I guess I will, in a way.

Look after yourself, Max. Do better than I did.

Max

P.S DO NOT FORGET TO DESTORY THAT PHOTO AFTER A WEEK!

P.P.S Look after Kate, she's an angel and needs your support

P.P.P.S Vic is the biggest dork on the planet when it comes to anime'



The bell rang dismissing the class and Max sat there stunned, trying to work out what was happening to her in this world. In the space of around ten minutes she had discovered that she had the power to manipulate time, had read a message from an alternative version of herself warning her about the future, and to top it all off.. apparently her and Victoria Chase were meant to be together.

As if summoned by her thoughts she saw Victoria get up out of her seat and turn towards her. She seemed to hesitate slightly, as if waiting for the coast to be clear before walking slowly over to Max. She stood there awkwardly for a moment, as if uncertain as to what to say. Max looked at her shyly, trying to get the courage up to say something.

“Er.. hi Victoria,” she stammered slightly, “um.. I think.. I have something for you..” She held up the page of her journal as a shield, as if protecting herself from Victoria's wrath. Victoria looked at her, eyes widening sightly.

“It's real, then” she said quietly. Max bit her lip and nodded nervously.

“I think so. You can really.. do those things?” Victoria winced slightly, but nodded imperceptibly.

“After a fashion,” she said quietly. “It's not something I try to think about.” She reached out and took the journal from Max's hands and started to read the page, chewing on her finger as she did so. After a short while she stopped reading and looked at Max, her face inscrutable.

“I guess all we can do is wait and see if what is supposed to happen, happens?” she said, glancing over her shoulder at Jefferson. “It seems incredible doesn't it, yet..”

“.. yet here we are,” finished Max, looking past Victoria at Mr Jefferson, conscious of Kate still sitting quietly by the window. Victoria pulled up a chair and sat down opposite Max, folding her arms and looking at her with a mixture of curiosity and detachment, as if afraid to get too close to her. Max on her part fiddled nervously with her hoodie, her mind struggling to comprehend everything that she had been told. She had always had a secret crush on Victoria, admiring the girl from afar – her quick wit, her skill at photography, her effortless style. Even when she had been mean to Max she had deluded herself into thinking that she had seen something else behind it, some ulterior motive given away by subtle hints and signs that only Max thought she could see.

Us two were together!

We kissed!

We had se-

“You OK, Max?” asked Victoria, already seeming to behave unusually towards Max, much to her consternation. “You're going a little red. I need to finish reading this.. message. Let me do so then we can talk somewhere private, OK?”

Victoria continued to read the journal in silence whilst Max sat there nervously, desperately trying to flush her mind free of the overriding thought of Victoria Chase being naked. There was no other sound apart from the ticking of a clock and the sound of Mr Jefferson shuffling papers at his desk.

Suddenly the sound of a shot in the distance made them both jump, and they looked at each other in nervous confirmation.

It's happening. Just as it said it would.

Max watched as Mr Jefferson's head jerked upright and he looked towards the door. After what seemed like a lifetime he quickly stood up and ran over to it.

“Max, Victoria, Kate – you girls stay right here, OK? I'm going to see what that was - wait until we tell you it's safe to leave!” He ran through the door, slamming it closed behind him.

Max knew in a detached way that somewhere her best friend Chloe, the girl she had been planning on reconnecting with but had been too cowardly to actually do so, was dying on the floor of the bathroom. The thought made her feel slightly sick, but it was fighting with a giddy rush that everything she had read was true, everything.

Victoria sat forwards, making her chair scrape across the floor, catching Max's attention as she put the journal back down on the table.

“So, Max,” she said, her voice falteringly slightly, “now what?” Max picked up the journal almost reverently, looking at the writing that laid out an alternative future, a future that suddenly seemed to promise so much.

“I don't know, Victoria. But we've got eighteen months to figure it out.”