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The Problem with Destiny

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“Will you just fuck off and leave me alone!” The door slammed shut in Max's face, leaving her standing there in the corridor. She didn't know what to do - she felt like everything she was trying to say was just making things worse. She thought she could hear an inquisitive door or two open as those who were still here tried to see what the commotion was about – everyone was still a little on edge after the events of yesterday, and sudden shouts and slamming doors were bound to cause interest.

Max looked anxiously at the closed door, trying to screw up the courage to knock. She knew she had to try, to try and rescue something at least from all of this, but she felt scared of the reaction she would get. She felt like she was already messing everything up, despite having been given an extraordinary gift to prevent her from doing exactly that. She hesitantly raised her hand and tapped again.

“Victoria?” she asked in a small voice.

“I said FUCK OFF!” came the screamed reply, muffled slightly through the door but holding no less venom. Max quailed slightly at the tone, and felt her heart sink even further. She rested her palm on the door, as if hoping beyond hope that Victoria was doing the same and would somehow feel her through the door and open it, but the wood was cold to the touch. She stood there for a moment with her eyes closed, before slowly stumbling backwards into her own room, shutting the door behind her and leaning weakly on it.

She didn't know what else to do. She felt like she had tried everything she could and it still hadn't been enough. Her eye caught her Journal lying on the bed, the Journal that had turned her life upside down over the past twenty-four hours.



Things had started promisingly enough – after leaving the classroom following the arrest of Jefferson they had worked well together. Between them they had managed to find the number of the FBI Agent who they had been told to get in contact with, and coupled with Max using her newly obtained rewind power and a lot of false starts they had convinced the Agent about the truth of what they were telling her – it was then an anxious few hours spent holed up in Max's room while they awaited for events to unfold; hours spent studiously avoiding each other's gaze as they both refused to countenance what they had discovered about each other.

They had watched it happen on the local and then national news, seeing the footage of the arrests of Sean Prescott and various members of the Arcadia Bay Police department. They had both watched with conflicting emotions, pleased that they had managed to set in motion the events of the day, but conscious that every moment further confirmed the validity of what had been written in the Journal.

And that to Max meant confirming other things, which she was not in any shape whatsoever ready to confront, not in the slightest.

Eventually when it was clear that there was no more news that was going to occur that night, and that everything they had hoped would happen had indeed occurred, Victoria had made her excuses and quickly left, shutting the door behind her before Max had even a chance to say goodnight. Max had lain awake on her bed trying to work out what it had all meant, and trying to work out the complicated feelings she had knowing it all stemmed from her old best friend dying – had to die? - before exhaustion meant sleep overtook her.



The following day had started even worse – Max had found herself loitering around the dorm trying to catch Victoria so she could at least try to talk to her – after a fruitless hour of knocking and waiting she had dropped by to see Kate, who she hadn't seen since the morning before.

Kate was still in her pyjamas and had been sitting crosslegged on her bed, reading passages from the Bible when Max had knocked and entered. The room was dark, with the curtains closed and little light seeping in and Max found it strangely oppressive. Max stood there a little awkwardly, unsure as to what to do until Kate shuffled her feet aside and patted the bed. Max sat down gingerly on the edge and looked around the room. The Journal had warned her about this, but in that timeline Victoria's actions had helped move Kate onto a slightly better course, which had only improved over time. Now Max suddenly realised that that seemingly crucial intervention had not occurred due to what they had done, and Kate was still on the brink.

“Um.. how are you feeling, Kate?” Max asked timidly. Kate placed her Bible down on her legs, a finger marking a passage she was reading and looked at Max. Her eyes were a little red and deeply shadowed, and to Max she looked deathly pale.

“I'm.. OK,” she replied. “I mean all the commotion yesterday was certainly something, wasn't it. I can't believe what the news has been saying, but.. I wonder if.. if...” She fell silent and looked down at the book in her lap. Max waited for a moment for her to continue, but she just sat there staring at her Bible.

“You wonder if?” Max prompted. Kate sighed and looked back up at her.

“I wonder if what happened to me is connected somehow. I mean.. I don't know, but..” She looked down again, falling silent once more. Max knew what had happened to Kate thanks to the Journal, but Kate did not know that, and Max knew she had to keep probing.

“What happened to you, Kate?” Max asked, reflexively flexing her hand as she felt that now familiar feeling at the back of her head that told her time was under her control, ready to remedy any mistakes. Kate looked at her with eyes brimming with tears that threatened to spill over.

“Max... I.. 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 what was coming, but having to hear it like this from her friend nearly broke her heart.

“One glass of wine isn't much, Kate. I can't believe it was only just that. But.. what happened then?”

“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 out and touched her arm.

“I believe you Kate – with everything that has happened how could I – or anyone else – not?” Kate began to weep a little.

“You don't understand Max, it's just my word. My.. my family won't believe anything I say.. to them I'm just a.. just..” Max reached out and hugged her gently, trying to offer what comfort she could.

“I'm sure once the police have done their investigation it will all come out, Kate. And then no-one can't not believe you, that you are the victim.” Kate was silent for a while, wrapping her arms around her knees and hugging herself tight.

“Do.. do you really think so?” she asked, with a little hope creeping into her voice. “Would people believe me then?”

“Yes, yes of course,” said Max quickly. “Of course they would. As soon as the court case is over then it'll all be out in the open. You have to trust me, Kate.” Kate looked at her.

“Court case? How long would that take..?”

“About two years, I would guess,” said Max, waving her hand a little. “Maybe a little more.”

“Two years?” said Kate, aghast. “I can't wait two years! My life is a living nightmare Max, everyone talks about me and hates me. Take Victoria with that video..”

“She regrets it,” said Max, cutting her off a little too defensively. “Believe me, she regrets every second she took that.” Kate rolled her eyes.

“Yes, Max, which is why she hasn't even shown her face to apologise. Not even one word. I know you want to see the best in people Max, but.. I'm not sure there is any in Victoria.” Max sat there in silence, trying to work out if she should rewind the conversation and try again.

To get what, exactly? Kate to speak to Victoria? Why?

Victoria needs to do this, not Kate. She needs to show she cares, help Kate -

Her thoughts were interrupted by a gentle knock at the door.

“Who is it?” Kate called, giving Max a puzzled look.

“It's Dana,” came the reply, and Max was sure she saw a tiny flicker of a change in expression on Kate's face. “There's some people here who want to talk to you. They say they are from the police. Principal Wells is here, too.” Kate looked at Max wide eyed, before standing up and walking over to the door, forgetting she was just dressed in her pyjamas. She opened the door and was immediately hugged by Dana, who whispered in her ear asking if she was OK. Kate nodded with a small smile then tried to peer past her at the people behind in the corridor.

Max craned her neck and saw a man and a woman, both dressed in serious suits and wearing jackets with the word 'FBI' emblazoned across it in yellow. Principal Wells was lurking uncomfortably in the background, with a slightly pained expression on his face.

“Kate Marsh?” said the woman, extending a hand. “I'm Special Agent Jane Glowacki, and this is my colleague Special Agent Sam Barnes. I'm sorry for the intrusion, but we would really like to speak to you about certain events that happened to you on October 4th, in connection with another investigation we are currently pursuing. We would like to ask you if you would be able to accompany us to the station to answer a few questions, and maybe give a statement?”

“October 4th ?” said Kate, her voice faltering. “You mean.. the night.. the...” Agent Barnes nodded.

“Yes, ma'am,” he said gently. “We would like you to come and tell us everything you can recall of that night, if you are prepared to do so? It would be of great assistance in our ongoing enquires.” Kate looked at Dana and then at Max, and Max saw in her face a sudden realisation that here, finally, were people who not only believed that something had happened to her, but wanted to help and could actually do something about it – to give her the power to get a resolution.

“Yes, of course I will,” she said, her voice already sounding stronger. “I just need to get dressed first - I'm sorry I'm just in my pyjamas, I didn't expect any one to come see me today.” Both Agents nodded and said they would wait for her in the corridor, moving to speak to Principal Wells, while both Max and Dana went to Kate to offer their support.

“Kate, this is amazing!” exclaimed Dana. “The FBI! This must be to do with that video Victoria took, it must be linked to Nathan and everything. Do you want me to come with you?” Kate nodded gratefully, and Dana rushed off to make herself look more presentable.

“Do you want me to come as well, Kate?” asked Max. Kate grasped Max's hand with both of hers and smiled at her.

“No, Max, but thank you. Could you keep an eye on Alice for me? I don't know how long I will be.” She paused, then looked at Max with a hopeful expression, something Max had not seen from her for what felt like a long time. “They are going to help me, aren't they? They believe something did happen to me.”

The photos in the dark room. They must have found them. No wonder they came here so quickly.

"Yes, Kate, they do,” said Max, smiling at her. “Of course I'll keep an eye on Alice, you just call me if you need anything.”



Kate had left with Dana and the two Agents twenty minutes later, leaving Max on her own again. She suddenly felt very alone, as if there was no-one left for her at the dorm – and the one person she thought she must talk to was nowhere to be seen. Max decided to go outside and get some air, it might help her try and think things through – she still had not fully processed the fact that Chloe was dead, nor that she was now a time traveller – nor the fact that apparently she was supposed to be with Victoria in some future.

That last part seemed right now to just be a sick joke to top off the unbelievable other things, a mockery of what her life was right now. Just as she was closing her door, as if summoned she saw Victoria appear at the end of the corridor. Her heart leapt whilst her stomach dropped, and she felt an increasing anxiety as Victoria came marching towards her.

“Victoria, hi,” said Max, smiling weakly at her. Victoria stopped and just stared at her, and Max could feel the air cool around them – something she knew from the Journal – that damned Journal! - was a sign that Victoria was feeling either very anxious, or very, very angry. She didn't know what was worse.

“Max,” said Victoria coldly. “What do you want?” Max quailed a little under her gaze, noting how her eyes seemed to be more green than normal, as if lit by an inner light.

“Um, I was thinking.. maybe we should.. talk?” she said, her voice faltering.

“Leave me alone, Max. I don't want to talk to you right now, OK?” said Victoria, turning to her door. Max put out her hand to stop her, her fingers touching her arm which felt icy cold. Victoria flinched at the touch, and Max hastily withdrew her hand.

“Victoria, please, we need to talk about things,” sad Max. “This is all too much for me right now, I need -” Victoria rounded on her, pointing a finger in her face.

“I said, I don't want to talk about it. Not now, not ever? Do you understand me? Are you hearing me correctly? Are the words getting through into your brain?” Victoria seemed to tower over Max, who found herself wilting under her, as if afraid of the tall blonde girl.

You are strong Max, stronger than ever now - don't forget that.

Somewhere within Max a spark seemed to ignite, and she found courage from somewhere deep within that she didn't know she had.

“No,” she said, trying to stand up straight and show she was not intimidated. “We have to talk, Victoria – we need to work out what to do about.. well, us, the.. things we can do. The future.” At the sound of the word 'future' Victoria seemed to wince, and Max shivered involuntarily from the sudden onset of cold that blasted through her.

“Will you just fuck off and leave me alone!”



Victoria Chase lay on her bed staring at the ceiling, feeling like her entire world had ended. Only little more than twenty-fours ago – only one day! - her life had been as perfect as she could make it. Staring down at the other students of Blackwell from atop her perch, safe in the knowledge that the carefully maintained façade she had built up over the last few years was intact and impenetrable. No-one knew the truth, no-one would ever dare ask her – feared rather than respected, she knew she had few real friends but accepted it as the price she had to pay to keep her secrets buried.

And now?

And now in the space of one day my life is fucking ruined thanks to Max fucking Caulfield.

Victoria wasn't sure what was worse – the fact that Max knew she had powers, the fact that Max knew she was a.. a.. one of them; or the fact that she had been shown a glimpse of a future where she could be herself, where she could be happy in just being the person she secretly wished she was.

She replayed for what felt like the hundredth time the conversation she had had with the other Max, the Max who had appeared from nowhere and upended her life.

Are we happy in the future, I had asked. And we are supposed to be. But how can that even be possible? She hates me for everything I have done, and I can't admit to her - to anyone – what I am.

I just can't.

Victoria groaned and rolled over, burying her face in the pillow. She could feel her anxiety rising within her, and she knew what that meant – another thing to be ashamed of, and another thing Max fucking Caulfield knew about. She hated that she was so weak and couldn't control it, she hated the fact that she was different from other people rather than the normal girl her parents wanted, and most of all she hated the fact that she secretly wished she could have a happy future with Max.

But that's never going to happen, is it Vic. Face reality. It's just a mirage, a cruel dream fate has shown to torment you.

The thought made her tear up in anguish and she found herself crying silently into the pillow, her tears freezing into icy droplets, despairing at how unfair she felt life was being to her right now, seemingly oblivious as to how much of this was of her own making. After a few minutes she tried to pull herself back together, to try and slip on the Chase persona once more. She smiled bitterly to herself.

Who am I kidding. Max knows it's all fake, she knows everything. And if she can really travel through time what the hell am I going to be able to do about it?

If she can go through time. I mean, I saw what she did but.. wait, what if she does that in every conversation we have? What about just now – what else happened that I don't know about? What did she find out or do?

How can I ever trust her?

Victoria remembered something she had read in the Journal – that she could travel through time with Max if they were touching each other. The thought sent a brief thrill through her, but also the sickening realisation that to do so meant she had to be with her, and to be with her meant facing up to what Max knew about her. And that meant facing up to who she really was and what was supposed to happen between them in the future.

Yeah, supposed to. Looks like you've done a good job of fucking that up already. You haven't even said a word to Kate since Sunday, let alone after everything that has come out. I don't even know where she is right now – would she even speak to me? Maybe Max could help?

That's right, get everyone to do the dirty work for you. How very Victoria Chase. No wonder Max can't stand the sight of you.

Victoria's thoughts went around and around in this viscous circle of self loathing, until she felt that she couldn't take it any more. She knew she had to take some more of her medication, but thought that it alone might not be enough - she needed something stronger, despite her efforts to give it up. She got up and walked over to her desk, picking up a small orange bottle and shaking out two small pills of Venlafaxine. Picking up a glass of water she 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, which she looked at longingly for a moment despite herself; a woven bracelet Nathan had given her a few years ago which she picked up and examined, before throwing into the trash with some force, and finally a small silver pill case. She eagerly opened it and then with a groan dropped it. It was empty.

Oh shit. I forgot I had run out. I need to go to Frank.. but I can't, can I? Not after what happened – didn't happen – the last time. I mean that won't happen again, but the police will be all over him... it's too risky.

And I really don't want Max coming to save me.

She dropped the pill case in frustration, running her hands which were trembling slightly through her hair. She knew she was losing control again – every slight setback seemed to trigger her at the moment. She closed her eyes and tried to control her breathing, silently counting in her head between each breath, her hands gripping the side of her desk. When she felt a little better she opened her eyes and saw to her dismay that she had still frozen part of the desk.

For fuck's sake Vic. You are going to destroy your room at this rate. How do you exactly plan on explaining that one away?

She looked around her room, at the posters on the wall, the bed where she slept alone every night, and made a decision.

Maybe I don't need to.

I'm fucking done with this place.

She grabbed her keys and hand bag and left the room.



Max picked up the Journal and flicked through the pages. The first couple were familiar, her naïve musings on her first week in Blackwell. And then.. then came the pages of swiftly written text, full of spelling mistakes and errors that she recognised as her own whenever she wrote in haste, and her own, normally neat handwriting taking on a slightly spidery form as if the writer was desperately trying to write as much as possible, as quickly as they could. She traced her finger along the text almost reverently, reading for what felt like the hundredth time the story of the Max who had gone before her, and had sacrificed herself to make this all happen.

She seems so brave, so confident, so sure of herself. And what exactly have you done with it so far? Yeah, the Prescotts and Jefferson are behind bars, but that was the easy part. You knew everything you had to do.

You didn't help Kate, Victoria can't even stand to be in the same building as you, let alone speak to you.

And to say nothing of you not even getting in touch with Joyce. Chloe is dead, and you just don't seem to care.

Max tried to dismiss that thought from her mind, not ready to think about that – she had not been in touch with Chloe for five years, and for some reason even when she was back in the same town as her she had still failed to get in touch – and now it was all too late, she was dead and she had willingly let that happen – and all for what?

Max closed the Journal and noticed that a picture had fallen out – it was the picture she had taken in the class, the one she was supposed to destroy next week.

Why do I have to destroy it? It's just a picture..

She stared at it – it was quite a good shot all things considered, although she looked a little pale, probably due to the flash going off too close to her. She leaned forward a little, as if drawn to it for some reason –

- the photo flickered

- voices echoing in her head

- being drawn slowly through the photo

Max jerked her head back, sweating slightly. She threw the photo away from her, screwing her eyes shut, hearing the pounding of her heart.

Jesus Christ. What the fuck was that! What the fuck was going on?

As if in an echo of a past lecture, she heard her voice reciting: But the most important thing to remember right now is this: never travel through a photo - the one on your desk in particular.

Max smacked her palm against her forehead.

You're such an idiot Max. That was exactly what you told yourself not to do. Can you literally not do anything right?

Trying her best to not look at the photo, she gingerly picked it up and tucked it back safely between the Journal's pages, before hiding it in a drawer in her desk. She looked at the time on her cell – it was a little after midday, and she was at a loss for what to do. Kate and Dana, what seemed like her only real friends in the dorm -

- now you let the only other one die -

- were gone with the FBI and as Kate seemed to have a ready amount of support from Dana, Max felt she was largely superfluous. The person she had been told she should be with was currently locked in her room telling her, no, screaming at her, in no uncertain terms that she didn't even want to see her. With no classes scheduled until Monday Max suddenly felt very abandoned and alone, as if she was realising how precarious her enjoyment of Blackwell really was.

This was not helped by her continued studious avoidance of confronting the death of Chloe – Max knew she would have to seriously think about it at some point but the thought of it made her feel even less like staying around the place where it had happened. Almost unconsciously she unlocked her cell and scrolled through her contacts.

“Hey Dad. No I'm fine, nothing to worry about. Are you at work? Oh no, I was just wondering if you could come and pick me up? No, nothing has happened, I'm OK. It's just there's no classes until Monday and.. and I feel like just coming home to see you. Dad no, of course I'm not dropping out, don't be... no, I said I'm fine, I just want to see you and Mom for a few days. Yes, of course. Thanks Dad, you're the best.”

Given the distance her Dad would be here around four – she felt slightly guilty about ringing him while he was at work, but she knew he would drop everything to come and pick her up. With a few hours to kill she spent her time packing her bag (including the Journal – she didn't want to leave that around for all and sundry to read) before practising a few songs on her guitar, snacking on some granola bars in lieu of a proper lunch while she did so. The dorm was still quiet and the time dragged ever so slowly towards four, and she tried to while away a bit more time watching videos on YouTube.

I wish I could fast forward time. This waiting is killing me with boredom.

She thought for a second and tried to see if she could – all that happened is she added a few more minutes on her waiting time, along with a slight headache. By quarter to four she had had enough and grabbed her bag, making sure to take her Journal with her, before leaving her dorm to go wait outside. As she did so she bumped into Taylor who was standing outside Victoria's room, and whom to her surprise greeted her with genuine friendliness.

“Hi Max, how are you?” Max blinked in surprise at her friendly tone – she couldn't recall Taylor ever being this nice to her. Mind you, she was usually in the company of Victoria, so she didn't have that many differing situations to draw from.

“Oh.. er.. Hi Taylor. I'm.. um, fine.. I think. You?” Taylor looked at her with a small smirk on her face.

“I'm fine, Max, all things considering. Are you going somewhere?” Max looked at her blankly until Taylor sighed and pointed to her bag.

“Oh, yes. Just going home..” Taylor looked a little puzzled, but didn't pursue the line of questioning. She cast a glance towards Victoria's door, before giving her a little wave and beginning to walk off.

Huh. Something going on between her and Victoria? I wonder what it is?

Earth to Max, superpowers, remember?

“- things considering. Are you going somewhere?” Max nodded back at her, holding her bag up.

“Yes, I'm just going home for a few days – my Dad is coming to collect me. Are you here to see Victoria?” Taylor sighed and rolled her eyes.

“I was. She's not answering her cell, nor is she in her room. I don't suppose you know where she is?”

“Me? Why would I know where she is..?” Taylor tilted her head to one side, as if calculating something in her head.

“Oh, never mind, I'll see you later -”

“- don't suppose you know where she is?” Max shook her head.

“No, I saw her this morning when we had a little.. um, disagreement, but not since then.” Taylor folded her arms and leaned against the wall, coolly looking at Max with some undisguised interest.

“You and Victoria having a disagreement? I'm shocked.” Max laughed a little.

“Yeah, I guess it's not that surprising. But I was actually just trying to speak to her, after everything that had happened yesterday. I just wanted to see if she was OK.” Taylor nodded thoughtfully.

“Yes, yesterday certainly was a day of surprises. Who would have thought all that had been going on just in this school? Did you suspect Jefferson, Max? Victoria always said you were his favourite, he didn't try to.. you know...”

“Not in this reality,” said Max, a little darkly. Taylor gave her a strange look as if she thought she had misheard, and frowned at the tone of voice Max used.

“I mean, not at all, no,” continued Max. “I guess I was lucky, or he just wasn't interested like that. Thank God, I mean what if he had.. I'm glad they've arrested that fucker.”

“Yeah,” Taylor agreed. She looked at Max for a moment, then gave her a warm smile. “You're OK, Max, you know? Let me know if you see V, will you? Here's my number, just in case.” She gave her another quick smile and walked away, leaving Max watching her go with a happy expression.

Wowsa. That went better than I ever thought it would. And all it took was a little use of the timey-wimey power.

This might not be so bad after all.

Feeing pleased with the outcome of her manipulations Max went outside to wait for her Dad, passing through the quiet quad to sit on the wall of the empty car park, idly dangling her legs off the wall. The day was warm and she watched the sun slowly riding down towards the horizon. On an impulse she fished out her camera and took a picture of the empty car park as the sun rays filtered down through the trees, habitually shaking the resultant photo before looking at the results.

Not bad. The empty car park is most melancholy, as if echoing with the sound of students who have left, never to return.

God you are such a Drama Queen, Max.

The sound of a car made her look up and she saw the welcome sight of her Dad's Honda Civic as it turned in. He gave a little toot on the horn and as he pulled up and wound down the window.

“Maximus!” he bellowed, “your chariot is here!” Max was glad there was no-one else around to see this – her Dad had seemed to specialise in trying to embarrass her as much as possible at every moment – something she was secretly happy about, but would never admit it.

“Daaaad!” she complained, hiding a grin. She opened the door and threw in her bag, before giving him a quick hug. “Thanks for coming to get me, Dad. Sorry if I dragged you away from work.” He looked at her with a smile, but his eye were serious.

“It's OK, I was owed some time anyway – but Max, why do you want to come home? Has something else happened? Are you OK, kiddo?” Max shook her head.

“No, nothing is wrong. It's just.. after everything that has happened, and with no classes, I just wanted to be at home. That's all. Just come home and see you both.”

And get as far away from this mess with Victoria as I can.

He looked at her for a moment, as if trying to see if there was more to it, before putting the car in gear and taking Max far away from Blackwell.

Chapter Text

Max moved across the dance floor towards the commotion. She seemed to be floating; effortlessly gliding through the crowds which parted in front of her. The sound of the music became muted, and ahead of her she saw two figures: one shining with a brilliant white light, the other looming dark and threatening. She knew she had to end the threat to protect the white figure, and she felt herself grow and surge in power, moving forwards to place herself in-between them as a symbol of defiance. The threat seemed to grow in stature and menace, starting to get impossibly large until Max thrust out her hand, causing it to collapse in on itself. She felt giddy with power and struck again and again, each time making the shadow shrink further until it was nothing but a shrunken blob on the floor. She stood over it, feeling impossibly strong and raised her fist as if to strike the final blow, when suddenly everything disappeared and she was left alone - except for a single blue butterfly. It didn't speak, but just raised its wings and began to flap them, causing a wind to surge through Max, breaking her down piece by piece..

Max woke with a start, sweating slightly. She was relieved to see she was safely back in her old room in Seattle, and lay back slowly down on her bed. She felt slightly disturbed; it was the first time that she could recall that she had ever dreamt of a blue butterfly, and she couldn't work out whether that was just some coincidence, or... a warning.

But a warning of what? Why am I suddenly dreaming like this? I am not sure I like this at all, it was all rather frightening.

I came home to get a break from all of this, not have it follow me.

When she had gone to sleep in her old room it had felt like she had never left Seattle for Blackwell. On the walls of her bedroom were the same posters and pictures she had left behind when she had moved a couple of months prior, save the photographs she had taken with her to put on the wall of her dorm. A lot of her old stuffed animals were here, as well as clothes and various knick-knacks – all in all she could easily just stay here and not miss too much. It was cosy and familiar, and reminded her of how often this room had been her sanctuary from the world.

But I'm going back, aren't I? They must replace Jefferson and continue the course, which was the whole point of going. And I still need to graduate, I can't just run away and hide here in Seattle.

Can't I?

Running away from any challenges, how very Max Caulfield. You couldn't have left Blackwell quicker as soon as things got tough.

I just wanted to avoid conflict..

You're a superhero! Act like it!

“But it's so hard..” she said out loud to herself, catching her reflection in the mirror as she did so. “Look at me – I'm no hero, I'm just.. boring old Max.”

Who can travel through time.

Max held up her hand and concentrated, feeling the power build up inside of her as she grasped on to the tendrils of time and pulled. It only lasted a moment, but it already started to feel like second nature to her.

“I need to do a training montage,” she said to herself, doing a series of movements like a Power Ranger. She stopped and looked at herself again. “I also need to stop talking to myself.”

Max showered and changed, before wandering down stairs into the kitchen. Both of her parents had left for work, but on the kitchen table were left some orange juice, cereals and fruit, which were neatly cut and placed in a large ceramic bowl. A note accompanied it, telling her that there was lunch in the fridge and that dinner would be at 6:30, so to make sure she was back in time. Max smiled to herself - it felt good to be at home and to be looked after.

As she munched her way through breakfast she made a plan for the day. She would take the bus down town, browse through some of her favourite stores before taking some shots in the local park and grabbing some lunch. Then she would head back and do some practice, before her parents returned and they had dinner together.

Satisfied with her plan she finished up and washed the dishes, before grabbing her things and heading out.



Victoria had slept in late, having had a troubled night sleep. She woke in her bedroom – if you could still call it that. The room was tastefully furnished, full of austere and expensive furniture, but with little of her own personal touch on it. Most of her things had been transferred to Blackwell over the past year, and this room had largely been left alone until her parents had helpfully 'renovated it' to make it in their words a room suitable for someone of her age and standing. In practice it meant erasing what little of her childhood had been left in this place, and she often felt like she was just staying in an expensive hotel rather than her old home.

The house had been empty when she got there, of course – her parents hadn't told her where they were, they tended to move between their bases in Europe and North America as the need arose. Victoria had however always liked the house in Seattle, a relic of the older family fortunes before they had expanded across the globe. She found it a quieter, more secluded house than say the place in New York or the apartment crammed into the streets of Monaco - less pressure to fit in with the social circles her family had demanded she be present in.

The house itself was located in a secluded area on Mercer Island, with the original house having been updated and extended since it was built in the 1890's with two additional wings, multi car garage and a separate pool and gym building within the extensively landscaped grounds. Victoria had showered in the large en-suite (which was bigger than her dorm room at Blackwell) before wandering down through the deserted building to the main staircase and towards the kitchen area. The house might have been empty but was kept by visiting caretakers and groundsmen who made sure the house was always prepared for a visit, with the larder well provisioned on a daily basis just in case. The sheer waste of it all was not something Victoria had ever really considered, so used was she to it as just a normal part of her upbringing – it was only since she had attended Blackwell and started associating herself with those less fortunate that she began to realise what sort of secluded and exclusive bubble she had actually lived in.

I wonder what sort of house Max lives in, she mused idly as she surveyed the kitchen for ideas of what to eat. What would she think of all of this?

She'd probably have a go at you about the waste and damage you were doing to the environment, knowing her . And critique all the furniture and art.

But it would be nice for her at least to see it, not that that will ever happen.

She prepared herself a simple breakfast of smoked salmon, bread and cheese topped off with a large black coffee, and placing it all on a tray wandered through into a large reception and lounge area, where there were some expensive but not particularity comfortable settees to sit on. There was a large plasma screen on one wall which was usually showing nothing but business news which she quickly turned to MTV, enjoying the complete trashiness of it without anyone else around to notice.

She was halfway through the second episode of Teen Mom 2 before her mind began to wander, breakfast long finished and her coffee empty. The empty house felt a little oppressive compared to the hustle and bustle of Blackwell, and she found that far from getting away from it all it only served to focus her mind on everything she wanted to forget.

Max knows about my.. my power. That fucking Journal described some incredible things I could do, really amazing things. And yet all I have done is break my cell and accidentally freeze things when I get pissed off. How is that possible? Is it even true that I can do those things?

She got up and walked to the kitchen, placing her dishes on the side.

You know it's true, Vic. Everything the Journal told us to do was true, and it knew about how you like.. like.. different things. And about your power.

And she told you, remember?

She poured herself a glass of water and took a sip, before holding the glass up in front of her and inspecting it.

I wonder..

She took a breath and concentrated, a feeling of energy building up through her. She knew she could form pieces of ice in the water if she concentrated hard enough, but wondered if she could freeze it all in one go. She focussed her mind as much as she could on the glass, feeling the power well up through her and through her hand, extending through her fingers. She saw the ice beginning to form in the glass, imperceptibly at first and then quicker and quicker; until suddenly it exploded in a shower of ice and glass, spattering onto the floor.

“Oh fuck it!” Victoria exclaimed, raising her hand to forehead in annoyance. “I can't even do this simple thing right.” She carefully poked the debris away from her with a stockinged foot.

“Hello?” she called. “Can someone come clean this up?” She waited for an answer, for one of the maids to come scurrying and clear up the mess, before she realised that there was no-one else here.

Shit. I guess I have to do this myself, then.

It took her a good ten minutes of searching through various cupboards and drawers before she managed to find a brush and dustpan, and she gingerly started to sweep everything up together – the melting ice meant that she couldn't make out what was glass and what wasn't, and she managed to cut her finger badly on a piece that was hidden. She watched the blood flowing down her finger towards her wrist and grunted in frustration.

Dammit, this hurts now as well. What the fuck is wrong with me today?

After another frantic search for a first aid kit and a taped up finger, she finally managed to clean up all of the glass, water and blood from the kitchen. She felt frustrated and annoyed with herself, and felt more on edge than ever. Her finger was throbbing slightly, and she was just generally feeling shit about herself and the world.

What I need is a swim. That always helps.

She quickly left the house and headed for the pool which was kept within a large stone building mocked up to look like a half-timbered barn, albeit one with copious amounts of glass and lighting. She turned on all of the interior lights and knelt down besides the full size pool, letting her fingers trail in the water, testing the temperature.

Good. Still heated. Better put a waterproof plaster on this fucking cut though.

There was a changing area at the far end which held towels and spare costumes, and she swiftly changed into a red one-piece that she used when she was swimming properly, rather than just posing. She took a long dive into the water, feeling the water flow around her body before setting off into a steady freestyle rhythm, her mind pleasingly blank as it focused on the task, with each length she completed easing some of the tension from her body.

Eventually she stopped to draw breath, folding her arms across the pool edge as she floated easily in the water.

I needed that. I've still got it, too. I need to practice more at Blackwell.

Blackwell. I'm going back, right?

She swished her legs through the water a little, feeling it play across her tired muscles.

What's the alternative? Go somewhere my parents want me to go? Some god awful college surrounded by sycophants and idiots?

Blackwell it is. But going back means facing everything that has happened because of Nathan. I'm so fucked off with him, I can't believe..

No, you can believe it, you just ignored it because it suited you to. And you enabled his behaviour, and look what happened to..

The thought of her actions towards a girl who was entirely innocent and undeserving of it made her close her eyes and take a breath, to try and still the return of the disgust and shame she increasingly felt towards herself.

Go on, say her name.

Kate.

Yes, Kate, who you know would've killed herself if Max hadn't intervened. All because of you. And you know what that is like, don't you? Remember when you nearly did it for a much more selfish reason?

The thought of her attempted suicide a year ago, when she was first granted her powers, did nothing to improve her mood. The relaxation she had got from swimming seemed to have gone completely, and she felt tenser than ever as she clung miserably to the side of the pool.

And you have done fuck all to rectify the situation. It's Max's best friend, for fuck sake. How do you expect to.. to..

She stopped that train of thought to try and work out what exactly she did think of Max. In her mind came the image of her face, looking coyly at her and biting her lip, and she felt her stomach twist slightly at the the thought of it.

She is so pretty, and the way she chews her hair when she thinks no-one is noticing, and just how much she doesn't care about what people think, and how kind she is to everyone even if they don't deserve it, and those blue eyes and how fucking talented she is with her camera, how she handles it..

Victoria briefly got sidetracked by the thought of what Max could do with her fingers, feeling a mixture of desire and shame at having such thoughts, before the reality of the situation came crashing back to her.

Yeah, and she hates you. She hates you for how you treated Kate, she hates you for being a complete bitch to her since she arrived, she hates you for telling her to fuck off when she tried to reach out to you.

She let got of the pool with a groan and slowly sank down through the water until she reached the bottom. She found trying to hold her breath as long as possible gave her something else to focus on momentarily, but she was eventually forced to resurface.

You're fucked, Vic.

You were shown a better future and you've fucked it up.

You've done nothing good for anyone, it's all about you. Always has been. And even that is fake.

You can't even admit that you.. like.. different people..

See, you can't even say the word to yourself.

You're worthless, a disappointment, just like Mom said when you left for Blackwell.

And you told the person you like, and who in an alternate reality apparently loved you just for being you, to fuck off right when she was there trying to reach out to you.

Victoria found herself crying once more, sobbing brokenly as she clung to the side of the pool, feeling her emotions fluctuate out of control; tendrils of ice spreading out through the warm water, slowly freezing it around her.



Max was in the garden of her house, sitting on a little swing her Dad had made for when she was younger. She enjoyed the shade and solitude of this little spot at the rear, her own piece of the garden that her parents seem to let her have. As she sat there she had the strangest feeling that she should be doing something else, that she should be exploring a police station looking for something. It nagged at the back of her head, like a pressure that was beginning to grow until it became unbearable. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe slowly, concentrating on just being in the here and now - but she seemed to see flickering images of a corridor, of what looked like people lying dead on the floor as someone (her? she couldn't tell) walked angrily down it. Eventually it seemed to subisde, but she was left with the nagging feeling that she was wearing someone else's skin, of not being in the right place. The unsettling images of what she had seen began to fade from her memory, but she made a mental note to try and think some more about it - especially given the strange dream that had woken her this morning.

For now, though, she was in the garden to practice. She had a few hours before her parents were back from work, and she wanted to put the time to good use. The morning had been a success with a few good purchases of some photography books coupled with a glass window hanger in the shape of a blue butterfly, which she had felt was quite apropos for her new situation and would look good hanging in her dorm window.

She took out her cell to check the time and realised she had missed a whole series of text messages that now warranted her attention – her instinct to ignore them until a later time (usually never) was something she was trying to overcome, and now felt like a good a time as any to put that into practice.

The first couple were from Kate and had been sent the evening before, along with a missed call this morning.

8:06 pm Kate Marsh: Hi Max, I'm back from the police station! It all went great!

8:06 pm Kate Marsh: Are you in your dorm? Lets have a chat!

8:22 pm Kate Marsh: Max are you there? Everything OK? Call me!

9:02 am Kate Marsh: Hi max are you around? I knocked on your door but you didnt answer?

Max felt a slight twinge of guilt that she hadn't at least messaged Kate to let her know where she was, and realised she had completely forgotten that she was supposed to have been looking after Alice. She hastily sent a reply to Kate telling her she was at home and fine, and that she would call her later. The next set of messages were a little more troubling to Max, but for a different reason.

4:11 pm W Graham: Max can we meet so I can get my flashdrive?

4:12 pm W Graham: And if you havent seen it all maybe we can watch it togetehr? Movie night!

5:01 pm W Graham: no pressure, justa thought

5:06 pm W Graham: maybe some other time

10:15 am W Graham: max, I didnt see you at all today so far, where are you?

10:16 am W Graham: we could do lunch?

12:11 am W Graham: its ok I went with stella, she asked me

2:11 pm W Graham: max are you there?

2:12 pm W Graham: max, pls reply

Max sighed to herself. Warren was a nice guy - she was sure of it - and he was a good friend.

He means well I'm sure, and I do like him as a friend. I just wish he was a little less insistent and would give me more space. It's nice to hang out with him, just.. not all the time.

She thought for a moment before composing a reply.

3:02 pm M@x: Hey Warren I'm just at home, be back later! I'll catch up with you then! :-)

The reply was instant:

3:02 pm W Graham: You'd better! I'm gonna take you to the Two Whales for dinner!

Max decided not to reply to that message, filing it away as something to deal with later. Instead she wanted to focus on more important things, which at present involved testing out her new power in as safe a way as she could think of.

OK. Let's start with something simple.

Max picked up a tennis ball and threw it away from her. She concentrated and rewound time, resisting the urge to raise her hand as she did so. She watched the ball fly backwards through the air to where her hand used to be, and when she restarted time it fell to the ground.

Hmm. Interesting. So I would need to keep my hand exactly where it was to catch it again – even more reason to practice doing it without raising my hand. I have no idea why I get the urge to do that, either.

Max decided to see how many times she could rewind time until it hurt – by the 23rd attempt she was feeling the pain in the back of her head, and she touched a finger to her nose and noticed a small spot of blood on it.

Twenty three. That's a pretty good start, and it didn't hurt as much as it did last time. I wonder if it is like a muscle that needs to be exercised?

She felt a little hungry and went into the house to grab a snack; she had noticed that even just during the last few days the more she used her power, the hungrier she got.

Well, at least it means I can eat all the waffles I want in the future. Maybe I could eat them, rewind and then eat them again? Would the food stay in my stomach, or would I get hungry again?

She decided to experiment to see if that worked and rewound time to just before she had eaten, and then ate again. She found that she was less hungry each time, which amused her no end.

I can get free food! I could just order something small then keep eating it! That's amazing!

She wrinkled her brow a little as she thought a little bit more about the ethics of it.

But.. is it stealing? I would not be ordering enough to be full, but getting full anyway.. but I am actually buying something, so it's not like it's free.. unless I rewound before I'd even ordered it..

No Max, bad Max. No stealing via time travel, even if you technically aren't.

She cleaned up after herself and went back in to the garden to try her next experiment – freezing time to a standstill. She knew that she could also jump back in time somehow – well, the other Max who had written in the Journal could anyway – but she wanted to leave that for another day.

Baby steps, Max. Now, how do I do this?

She closed her eyes and concentrated, trying to feel for the power she needed to stop the world from spinning. She knew how it felt to rewind time normally, visualising grasping at the thick cords of time and yanking on them; she knew which part of her brain seemed to fire when she did it and she tried to visualise drawing on the same feeling but instead of pulling it all the way, just holding it still.

After a few minutes she had seemingly got nowhere; all she could manage was to just rewind time as normal, and she was getting a little frustrated with herself.

OK Max. Take a deep breath and try again, you can do this.

She closed her eyes again, imagining in her mind once more time flowing around her. She reached and grasped at a tendril and tugged, but this time tried to hold it still, to hold it in place. Max thought she felt slightly different as she did so, as if a different part of her brain was being used. She opened her eyes and looked around, suddenly noting with wonder how still and quiet everything was. She looked up and saw that the clouds and birds were not moving, everything was frozen – she had managed to stop time completely.

I’ve done it! I’ve managed to actually stop time! This is-

The pain came crashing down like a wave and she blacked out.



By the time Victoria had calmed herself down, and the heated water had thawed the ice sufficiently to free her, she had been stuck in the pool for half an hour. Her mood was not improved in the slightest, but she knew she had to try and stay calm.

Bury it down deep as always, Vic. You've had enough practice after all.

She got changed and slowly made her way back to the big, deserted house, wondering why she had come here in the first place when it felt like there was nothing in Seattle for her any more.

Was there ever? What did you have really, apart from those endless parties with other rich kids who were slowly going off the rails. And you remember how that last party ended.

The reminder of the feeling of shame, of rejection and disgust from someone she had thought she could trust was not a pleasant memory, and she quickly banished the thought from her mind to stop her from going through another cycle of self loathing. It was already passing through late afternoon and she realised that she had not looked at her cell once since she had come home, something which was entirely out of character for her. She spent a few minutes walking back up through the house to her bedroom, where she had left her cell on charge, and turned it on. As soon as it found a signal it went crazy with notifications for missed calls, messages and status updates. She puffed her cheeks out before exhaling loudly, and quickly began to sort through what was important and what she could ignore.

She spent a good while skimming through all the Facebook messages and updates that she had received, leaving a few sardonic comments on a few of them with her usual caustic wit. It took her longer than normal as her heart wasn't really in it, but she felt she had to do so just to let everyone know she was still here, still watching. Out of habit she clicked on Max's profile, checking to see what she had been up to – but it hadn't been updated since the weekend, with her last post being a selfie of herself standing outside the front of Blackwell, looking adorkably cute as she seemed to gaze right at Victoria. She had spent an embarrassingly long amount of time looking at the photo in secret over the past few days, her fingering hovering over the like button but never having the courage to press it.

That would have opened up a whole shit storm if I'd done that. I guess I could have passed it off as being ironic.

Pretending to hate her again.

The main barrage of missed calls and messages were from Taylor, asking where she was and why she wasn't answering her calls, and could she please get in touch right now or she won't be responsible for her actions so help her God. Victoria smiled to herself; despite everything she had done Taylor was still her best, and perhaps only, friend. She didn't seem to care how rich or connected she was, never asked for anything material from her and seemed to understand some of the inner demons she faced, even if she never said so. For her part Victoria did what she could for her friend, showing a softer side that would have surprised many observers. She didn't bother to waste time sending a message, and just called her.

'V! Where have you been? I've been calling you for ages! I thought something had happened to you.' Taylor's voice was loud down the speaker, as if she was shouting, and Victoria held the cell a little away from her ear.

“Hey T, I'm sorry. I left for home yesterday, and my cell died and I've only just remembered to charge it now.”

'Home? You mean Seattle? What are you doing there? Are you OK? Do you want me to come out?'

“Nah, it's OK. I just needed to get away from everything there. You know, all the things that have been happening..” Victoria closed her eyes, trying not to think of Chloe Price bleeding out on the bathroom floor thanks to her friend Nathan, while her and Max sat in a classroom, deliberately not doing anything to stop it.

'Yeah, I understand. It's kinda shitty I know. But as I said at the time, we couldn't have known he was going to do that.. I mean, you can't blame yourself V, there's nothing you could have done is there?'

Ha,” Victoria snorted. She played with the blanket on her bed, deliberately distracting herself away from any more invasive thoughts.

'I'm serious, you know it's not healthy to do this, I told you that before. Look, are you sure you don't want me to come over?' Victoria seriously contemplated it for a moment; having Taylor over for a night of just getting wasted and bitching about the world would be a lot of fun – maybe it was just what she needed right now.

'Wouldn't take me too long either – although if I'd known sooner, I could have maybe got a lift from Max.' Victoria was still thinking about a boozy night with Taylor and it took a moment for her words to register.

“Max what?” she asked coolly, trying to sound as disinterested as possible.

'Max. I bumped into her yesterday, she was on the way home as well. She said you two had had a fight – anything you want to tell me about?' Victoria wasn't sure but she thought she could hear a slightly mischievous tone in Taylor's voice.

Max is here in Seattle? Right now? Why did she come back – did she want to get away from everything as well, like me?

I wonder if..

'Hey, you still there?' Victoria shook her head, as if trying to clear her thoughts.

“Yeah, sorry,” she said in a slightly lighter tone, “it was nothing much, just the usual shit we fight about. Nothing to worry about.”

Max is here.

'You don't usually fight with her at all, V, do you – you just bitch about her. You know I'll find out eventually V, I know you too well. Anyway, on a different note I was thinking that since the party was cancelled on Friday we should look to plan another one..' Victoria half listened as Taylor outlined a plan for the next few weeks, before they drifted into some more idle gossip and speculation about other students – both studiously avoiding any mention of the recent events at Blackwell, for which Victoria was glad – her mind was suddenly consumed by the thought of a pair of blue eyes staring up at her from behind a messy mop of brown hair.

Max is here..

 

Max came too lying on the lawn, staring up at the sky. Her mind felt groggy, and it seemed to be initially preoccupied in checking that she still had all her arms and legs and that her basic functions were still working. Eventually she seemed to have enough control to sit up, clutching her head as she did so.

Oh God, my head feels like it's going to burst.

She reached a finger up to her touch her nose and it came back dry, but then she looked down and saw that her t-shirt was covered in blood stains.

Shit.

But at least I did it. I managed to freeze time! Now I just need to do it without the whole blacking out and bleeding to death part.

Max was a little worried about how much blood she had lost, but figured that it would improve with time as she got better – still, it was something to be aware of. From what she understood, she couldn’t technically die from such a thing - or at all, for that matter - nut she had no desire to find out. The Journal had make it clear that if she did 'die', she would end up back in the classroom – something she had no desire to experience again.

So – no dying, Max. Instead, let’s get you cleaned up before Mom and Dad come back and start asking questions.

Max went back inside and changer her top before looking at the blood-soaked one, pondering what to do - before getting inspiration and searching the Net for the best method to clean out blood from clothing. Apparently she needed to get some baking soda and rub it in, which she ransacked the cupboards for before attempting to clean her top in the kitchen sink. After an anxious half hour or so she inspected her handiwork, pleased to see that the worst of it had come out.

Ha! A useful life tip I never thought I’d need.

Suddenly she heard the sound of a key being turned in a lock, and she quickly bundled the top into the washer before straightening up and putting on her best innocent face.

“Maxine! Are you here?”

“Hi Mom! I’m in the kitchen, and it’s Max, never Maxine!” Vanessa walked in and gave her a quick hug, standing back slightly to look her over.

“I know, but you will always be Maxine to me, Maxi- Max. How are you feeling?” Max shrugged and looked at her Mother.

“I’m OK. Why does everyone keep asking how I am? I’m fine.” Vanessa placed her bag down on the counter and faced Max, folding her arms as she did so.

“Because we worry about you. We are your parents, Max, it’s our job to worry about you. You haven't said a word to us since Monday about anything that happened, and we don’t want you to suffer in silence.”

“I’m not, honestly – I’m fine Mom. I am.” Vanessa pursed her lips, as if eager to get to the root of the problem straight away.

“Then why have you come back from Blackwell all of a sudden? Are you being bullied there? Is that it? You can tell me, Max, you know that you can.”

“No, Mom, I came back because I just wanted to see you guys as I -”

“ - came back because I wanted a break from -”

“ – came back because I needed -”

“ – came back because I have super powers that mean I can time travel and I’m shit scared about it and I don’t know what I’m doing and I think I fancy a girl who I have been told by a future version of myself I am supposed to be happily in love with - oh yeah, in case you had forgot, I’m also super gay." Her Mom looked at her open mouthed in shock.

Yeah, that one isn’t sticking either.

“To be honest Mom, I came back because I just wanted to get away from Blackwell because of everything that had happened. I just needed some fresh air, you know? A change of scenery.” Vanessa pulled her into a hug.

“It's OK, I understand. It must have been very hard for you to deal with, I'm sorry for pushing so much. We do worry about you.” She held her for a few moments, before drawing away and holding both her arms lightly. “Now, since you are here you can earn you keep and help me prepare dinner before your Father gets home.”

Max ended up happily chopping vegetables for the chicken pasta dish they were making, the repetitive task making her mind wander pleasantly. Vanessa left some chicken to sizzle gently and came and stood next to her, watching her for a moment.

“I spoke to Joyce yesterday,” she said, causing Max to freeze mid chop. “She was pretty devastated about what had happened. Understandable really, poor woman.” Max refocused on the vegetables in front of her, dreading the next sentence that was going to come. “She didn't even know you were at Blackwell, Chloe had never mentioned it to her.” Vanessa stopped, waiting for Max to fill the ever lengthening silence that developed.

“Max?” her mother prompted. Max sighed and turned to face her.

“No, I never got in touch. I kept meaning too but I never did, and now.. it is too late. She died not even knowing I was so close to her. I.. just..” She trailed off, her voice sad and small. For the second time that evening she was enveloped by her Mom, and buried her face against her so as to hide the tears that threatened.

“Shh,” said Vanessa, “Shh. It's OK, there's nothing you could have done to stop it from happening. I know she was your best friend but it had been a long time, so you can't blame yourself. We should have told Joyce you were coming ourselves; we know how difficult it is for you to make those sort of social connections. It's not your fault Max, it's not.” Max clung to her mother, taking succour in her embrace, knowing that no matter what her parents would be there for her.

“Thanks Mom,” she whispered, giving her a squeeze which was returned. “I'll be OK, though. I've got you guys and my friends, what else do I need?”

Maybe a friend who is now dead because of you?

Shut up.

How about a girl who told you to fuck off?

I said shut up.

They finished preparing the food just as her Dad came through the door, and what followed was as happy a meal time as she could remember, with her Dad telling amusing stories of his working day, mixed with puns that she did her best to remember for future use. After they had all finished she helped them clear up, before excusing herself to go give Kate a call. Her Mom gave her an encouraging smile at the mention of her friend's name and Max left her parents to it, knowing they would be discussing her in earnest.

At least they care about me. But now I need to show I care about Kate.



Max lay on her bed while she spoke to Kate, explaining how sorry she was for not getting in touch before and how she had left to go to Seattle. Kate had been her usual adorable self, seemingly more concerned with how Max was than anything to do with herself.

“I'm fine Kate, honestly – but what I really want to know is how you got on with the FBI? What happened there?”

'It was amazing,' said Kate, her voice almost glowing down the line, 'they took me down to the police station and listened to everything I had to say. They told me afterwards that everything I said backed up what they had discovered, and explained what they believe happened to me.' She fell silent for a moment, before continuing in a bit more of a reflective tone. 'I mean from what they say it sounded horrendous; I'm glad I can't remember it and the thought of what they did makes me.. think not very Christian thoughts. But I think I can deal with that, knowing that, God willing, justice is going to catch up with them. And that I have you guys around me to support me.' Max smiled to herself, happy that things seemed to be working out for her.

“So do you have to do anything else?” she asked.

'Not yet, no. I think I will have to do more statement things, like officially, but I might not have to take the witness stand they said. Which is something I am glad about.'

“Mmm, yes. That would be great if so. So what did you do today? Are there many people still there?”

'Oh, I went out for lunch with Dana – I had promised her it after she had accompanied me to the police station. It was really nice, although she had to leave in the afternoon to go meet Trevor..'

Max spent the next twenty minutes talking to Kate about various things, before promising to speak to her again tomorrow. Once she had hung up she lay back on her bed, pleased with how things had gone and that Kate seemed to be in a better place overall. Her bed was comfortable and she began to feel a little sleepy – a full stomach coupled with her exertions in the day were beginning to catch up with her.

Her cell suddenly burst to life, her cheery ringtone making her jump. She picked it up and looked at the screen, and her stomach sank through the floor with nerves when she saw the caller ID.

Victoria Chase.

Do I answer it? What does she want? Why am I feeling so nervous?

Oh come on Max, what's the worse that can happen? You can always go back and not answer it..

“Er.. Hi Victoria.. what's up?” she stammered, her stomach fluttering.

'Max. We need to talk.' Victoria's voice was precise and clipped, and Max felt like she was being ordered around.

“Um.. we are.. right now?” Max thought she could hear Victoria's eye-roll.

'No. Face to face. Tomorrow. '

“Um, I can't, I went home yesterday and wasn't planning on coming back to -”

'Max, I know you are in Seattle. So am I. I want you to come to my house tomorrow morning, OK? 10 o'clock.'

“Oh, you are in Seattle too? I.. yes, of course.. I don't know where you live though..”

'I'll send you the address.' There was a long pause before Victoria spoke again in a rush, as if trying to get the words out before she stopped herself.

'Thank you, Max. I'm.. looking forward to seeing you. Don't be late.'

She hung up, leaving Max staring at her cell with a small smile slowly creeping across her face.

Chapter Text

“So you’ve never mentioned this friend before either, Max.” Max stared listlessly out of the window at the passing traffic, her mind elsewhere.

“Hmm?” she said, turning to look at her Dad. “I’ve not what now?” Ryan checked a side mirror before pulling out into some traffic.

“This friend you are going to see. I don’t think you’ve mentioned her before? Where did you meet her? Is she someone you know from school here?”

“Oh,” Max said, her mind racing to come up with a convincing explanation as to why she had made her Dad drive her halfway across Seattle (when he should have been at work) to see someone she technically hardly knew, and who could reasonably (by some people, at any rate) be called her actual, proper High School bully. “Oh. Yes, I know her from Blackwell, we share the same class. She’s a.. good friend. I’ve known her for quite a while now. We’ve got a lot in common.”

There you go, that’s almost all true. Almost.

If not, you can always.. wait, what happens if I do it in a moving vehicle?

Let’s not find out just yet, shall we?

“Oh, well that’s good then. So you have your other friend.. Kate?” Ryan glanced at her questioningly, and she gave him a quick nod. “And this friend too. Well, that’s good, I’m glad you are making friends there.”

Jeez Dad, I’m not a complete social outcast.

Not completely.

“I have made some friends you know, Dad. There's Warren too, and Dana. You make it sound like I am completely unlikeable.” Ryan sighed heavily, keeping his eyes on the road.

“I’m sorry Max, I didn’t mean it like that. We just worry about you, we want you to be happy – and knowing you are making new friends stops us worrying so much, especially with you being so far away.”

“Dad, I am 18 you know. I’m not a child any more, I’ll be going to University soon hopefully and then get a job and.. you know, do grown up stuff.” Ryan laughed.

“Yes, I know. Just don’t wish the time away, Max. It’ll come around soon enough, sooner than you think.” He paused and frowned a little, looking at the SatNav. “Are you sure these direction are correct?” Max craned her neck to look at the screen.

“Yes, it’s the address Victoria sent me. Why?”

“It’s just that it's on Mercer Island, and that isn’t exactly a cheap place to live. Far beyond the reach of the likes of us, I mean we looked years ago at living there before we moved and even then it was crazy amounts of money for a house, even with the resettlement I got transferring from Arcadia.” Max chuckled.

“Oh, well she is quite rich I think, so I guess it makes sense.”

“Hmmm,” was all he replied with. They sat there in silence until they had turned onto the I90 which would take them direct onto the Island, her Dad clearly thinking about something judging by the frown she could see on his face. Max kept looking at him, waiting for him to speak and eventually couldn’t stand it any longer.

“What? You look like you want to say something, so just say it,” she said, trying to keep her tone jovial.

“It’s just.. what did you say her family did? I just want to make sure that you are not.. well..” He trailed off into silence again, without finishing his thought.

“What? You think because she is rich she wouldn’t be friends with me?” Max said with a tone of incredulity in her voice. “Why wouldn’t she be?” Ryan sighed again as they took the off ramp.

“No, Max – it's not that, not about you. But they live in different worlds, these people. I just don’t want you to be excluded or.. feel that we can’t help you to keep up with the things they want to do. Like ski trips abroad, or.. whatever it is rich kids do for fun nowadays.”

“Oh.” Max sat back in her seat and thought for a moment. “Well to be honest I don’t quite know what the Chase’s do in that sense, but I don’t think it will be an issue.”

It's not like she even invites me to a Vortex Club party is it, let alone a skiing trip.

“Chase?” Ryan queried, glancing at her.

“Yeah. Victoria Chase.” There was a silence in the car for a moment, as they wound their way through a heavily wooded road, down towards the south of the island.

“As in Chase Industries, Victoria Chase?” Max shrugged.

“Um, I guess so? I don’t know. But probably.” Her Dad whistled softly between his teeth.

“That explains a lot, then,” he said, half to himself. “But look – we’re here, I think.”

'Here' turned out to be an imposing set of heavy iron gates, with a wide driveway disappearing off beyond into some trees. Just outside the gate was a small cabin with a bored looking security guard inside, reading a newspaper. He glanced up as he saw the car pull up and calmly walked over to them. Max noted to her consternation the firearm at his side, along with a discrete logo spelling the words ‘CHASE IND.’ in silver letters on his bulky vest. He stopped by the driver's side and tapped on the window.

“Can I help you at all, sir? This is a private residence,” he said in a polite tone.

“Er yes, hello, my daughter is supposed to be visiting her friend today?” Max leaned forward and gave the man a cheery wave, as if trying to demonstrate that she was the daughter in question.

“Hi – I’m Max, I’m here to see Victoria? She invited me to be here at 10?” she said, trying to sound confident and friendly. The man did not show a flicker of emotion but just consulted his cell, as if looking at a list.

“Do you have some ID, sir?” he asked. Ryan looked a little dumbfounded, but reached into his wallet and pulled out a driving licence.

“Here – excuse the photo, it’s a bit old..” The guard took it and examined it, before reconsulting the list. Satisfied, he handed it back and spoke into a walkie talkie attached to his shoulder.

“Thank you, sir. Ma’am, if you could step out and walk up the drive to the house? Apologies, sir, but we don’t allow unauthorised vehicles up to the house without prior approval.”

“You’d think that this is a top secret base rather than a house, have you got UFO's stored here or something?” Ryan said with a chuckle, which died uncomfortably on the stony silence. He cleared his throat, before turning to Max. “You OK to walk up? Give me a call when you want me to come pick you up. Have fun, OK?” Max leaned over and gave him a quick hug.

“I’ll be fine, Dad - thanks for the lift!”



Max got out of the car and walked up to the large iron gates, which opened silently in front of her as she approached. She turned back and gave her Dad a little wave and then tried to confidently walk forward up the gravel drive, conscious of the guard's eyes on her. The gates closed with a loud clang that made her jump, and gave her the impression that she was being locked in and trapped. The driveway curved up and away from her, lined with trees on either side, and the overall effect served to make it seem a little gloomy, despite the bright sunshine of the day. She walked for a couple of minutes before the drive opened out into a wide space, revealing the house.

“Wowsa,” Max muttered under her breath, taking in the sheer size of it. In front of her was what she thought must be the main portion of the house, a three storey stone building with a pitched slate roof, with (to Max) innumerable windows all staring out at her. On each side of the main part were wings that looked newer, but were built in the same style – and each of those appeared to be twice the size of her own house alone. Max had never seen a house this big before, and couldn’t begin to imagine someone living in a place like this – let alone her knowing someone who did. She saw some wide, marble steps leading up to a big, wooden door which had its own mini roof hanging over it.

That’ll be the front door then. I wonder if they have a doorbell, or if I have to ring for a servant or something. I just can’t believe how big this place is.

I bet you could stay here for ages and never even see anyone else. I wonder what it was like growing up here.

She started to walk towards the door, eyes scanning for any sign of a doorbell, when suddenly it creaked open and standing on the threshold, looking at her nervously, was Victoria.

“Max, you came,” she said, waving at her. “I hope you had no trouble getting in? I did tell them to expect you.” Max smiled back at her as she approached.

“No, no trouble. I’m not used to being interrogated by security guards before being allowed to see my friends, though.” She swore she saw a brief change in Victoria's expression at the use of the word ‘friend’, but it vanished as quickly as it had arrived.

“Yeah, sorry about that. It’s a bit of paranoia on my parents part, they seem to think we could be targets or something.” Max stopped and looked around her, as if expecting bandits to suddenly burst out of the surrounding trees.

“Really? Targets for what?”

“Oh you know, kidnapping, that sort of thing,” said Victoria airily, as if that was an entirely normal occurrence. “Anyway, come in, please, and I’ll give you the tour.”



“This is the third guest suite in this wing of the house,” declared Victoria, throwing open another set of heavy oak doors. “I'm not sure if this has been used recently, but it is kept ready just in case I.. we ever have a few guests.” Max poked her head through and saw what looked like a bedroom identical to all of the others she had seen.

“Er.. nice?” she said, nonplussed. Victoria gazed around the room briefly, as if some memory was stirring, before whisking Max along again. This time she opened it onto a small room lined wall to ceiling with dusty tomes, the air feeling very musty as if it had not been disturbed in quite a while.

“What's this?” asked Max, interested despite herself. She was immediately enamoured with the room and its feeling of elegant decay; so different from the modern, sterile decor she had seen so far.

“This is one of the old libraries. From the 1930's I think, my great-grandfather's. It has kind of just been left as it is for some reason, unlike most of the other rooms. The main library is in the west wing on the ground floor, we can go there if you like as well.” Max went and sat down in an old leather chair – it felt soft and comfy, and she looked around at the leather bound books that lined the shelves with interest, seeing them full of esoteric names and titles.

“I like this room. It has a nice feeling to it.” Victoria hesitantly came and walked over and stood a careful distance away from her, as if trying to gauge how close she should get.

“Yes. I used to come and sneak in here sometimes when I was younger, and leaf through the books that were here. A real eclectic mix, everything from old romance novels to weird books on mysticism. My father thought I was wasting my time and should have been practising the piano or whatever.” Max looked at her in surprise.

“You can play the piano?” Victoria huffed.

“Yeah, I guess. I was supposed to sit grade 8, but.. I didn't in the end. Childhood rebellion, I guess. I still have a play now and again, but not whenever I am at Blackwell.”

“Why not?” asked Max curiously. “There's a decent enough music department, I'm sure they would welcome you there.” Victoria didn't reply, but just looked around the room at the tall book cases and old furniture, a slightly sad expression on her face.

“Come on,” she said, “let me show you somewhere else.”



“This is the main lounge area where I hang out when I'm not entertaining or anything. A less formal place than the others, you could say. Just through there is the kitchen for this area, again it's not the main one we use for entertaining, but..”

“Victoria,” said Max gently, cutting across her. “Did you invite me here just to show me how rich you are? I mean this is all very impressive, but.. I don't really care that much if you are or not.” Victoria looked at her with a shocked expression, before blushing a deep red. It took her a moment to regain some composure before stammering a reply.

“No-no, no, of course not! I just wanted to show you where I grew up, sorry.. I've never really had someone who.. I mean, I thought that.. you... well, I mean..” Max raised her eyebrows at her into a frown.

“You mean you thought that just because I don't come from a particularly wealthy background I'd want to see how big a house you grew up in? Be all impressed and what have you?” Victoria shook her head rapidly, holding up her hands imploringly.

“No! No, not like, no.. I mean.. I thought that if you saw it, it might help you.. like me a bit.. somehow?” Max looked at her incredulously.

“You thought that me knowing about your big house and money would make me like you more? Really? Why would you think that?” Victoria sat down on a chair with a groan and buried her head in her hands.

“I thought.. oh Jesus I don't know what I was thinking,” she muttered. She sat there for a moment, hiding her face before looking up at Max with a vulnerable expression. “It's just that..” She hesitated, then stopped. Max sat down on a chair opposite her, a small table between them and looked at her with a slight amount of sympathy.

“You thought..?” Victoria sighed softly.

“I thought that.. Well, after reading that Journal of yours. If.. if it was true, what it said, about the future. It was a future I thought was.. nice. One I thought I wanted. So..” She finished awkwardly, twisting her fingers together and avoiding Max's gaze. Max looked at her and was struck by how small and exposed she seemed in that moment, how unlike the girl she thought she was.

You know that at least in one reality she is different, better. Good enough for you to be with.

But that is not this reality, is it? In this one..

In this one she is still the person who bullied you, who nearly drove Kate to suicide. What, exactly, has she done to change any of that? Why should you like her? It's one thing to try and work with her, but to actually like her..?

No.

At least.. not yet. She needs to show you that she is more than this.

“Just because you have been shown a shiny future doesn't mean it will happen just like that, Victoria. It doesn't erase everything you have done, to me or to anyone else – especially Kate.” Victoria looked at Max, her face a perfect picture of despair. Max was sure she felt the temperature around them slowly dropping as she continued.

“Now, the way I see it is that this whole thing can go two ways – either you try to have some humility and acknowledge what you have done and how you have behaved, and we work together to build this future – with no guarantee whatsoever that it will happen the way we have been shown, or that I will even end up.. liking you like that.” Max paused, gauging Victoria's reaction.

She's hurt, I can see that - why am I lashing out like this? Do you want to hurt her? Make her know what it feels like for a change?

But admit it - you do think she is hot though, Max, like, way out of your league hot.

I don't care, that's not important. She's a bitch to me and everyone else.

Yeah, just like you are being right now to her.

“Or,” she continued, ignoring her internal monologue, “you don't and we end it here and I walk away. It won't be any loss to me -” She paused again, and realised with a shock that that wasn't true. She did actually want to spend more time with her, work out what made her tick and maybe see what the other Max had seen in her.

“So you need to decide which future you want, Victoria. Because right now I'm not really feeling anything that shows me that shiny future you want is going to happen.” Victoria tilted her head to one side, her face angry.

“I invited you here to try and at least make peace with you, Max, but all you have done is throw it all right back in my face. Why did I even bother? I should have known you would be just like all the others. For all I know you could have written that stuff in your Journal yourself, some form of sick fantasy that you have about me.” Max's face grew hot as she looked at Victoria, aghast.

“Don't you dare say that! How could I have known all of those things about you? And what about these powers of ours? It's not my fault you can't accept the fact you have been a complete bitch to me and everyone else, is it?”

“Go fuck yourself, Caulfield – I knew it was a mistake to invite you over, I think it's time -” Victoria stopped suddenly, her eyes wide and face pale, as if all of the anger within her had suddenly been drained. Max squinted and suddenly felt it too – a feeling of calm and peace coming over here, mixed with guilt and shame about how she was acting, and how she should be doing better, could be doing better. A sudden flash of colour caught her eye and her breath caught in her throat.

There, sitting quietly on the table between them, were two butterflies – one a deep, electric blue; the other a brilliant emerald green with flashes of orange. They were sat side by side, and seemed to be staring accusingly at the two girls. Max felt a deep feeling of disappointment seemingly emanating from them, as if she was being told off for her current antagonistic attitude. She cast a quick glance at Victoria, who met it with embarrassment and looked away to one side, before returning to look at the butterflies with a look of wonder on her face.

After what felt like forever, they both flapped their wings and lazily flew off in a spiral around each other, before vanishing from view.



Victoria broke the silence first with a soft laugh, that sent a small thrill through Max.

“What's so funny?” she asked, trying to be nonchalant whilst her mind was screaming internally at her.

What the actual fuck was that all about? That was your butterfly, and... hers – did she see them both as well? What does it mean? Why did it feel like I was being told off?

“Nothing, it was just.. well, it felt like I was being, er, told off by them,” replied Victoria, laughing a little as she said the words. “Getting told off by a butterfly.. that's a first.”

“You saw them too, then,” said Max. “Yeah. I felt the same. Like they were disappointed in me.. us. That we should be doing better, and not being such.. bitches to each other.” Victoria looked steadily at Max, resting her chin on her fist as she appraised the girl.

“Let's start again,” she said finally, and extended her hand for Max to shake. “Hi, I'm Victoria Chase, super-rich Ice Queen Bitch who clearly needs to grow up a little.” Max reached over and took Victoria's hand, which was cold to the touch.

“Max Caulfield, time travelling wallflower with crippling social anxiety issues. Nice to meet you.” They both laughed in unison, which seemed to clear the air between them a little. Victoria stood up suddenly.

“I'm a useless hostess. Would you like a drink?” Max nodded.

“Yes please, have you any tea? A bit of camomile would be wonderful, if it's no trouble.” Victoria smiled at her, a genuine smile Max didn't think she had ever seen before on the girl's face – it seemed to transform it, making her look exactly what she was - a troubled, 18 year old girl who was just as lost as she was.

Who is fucking beautiful, isn't she. Look at that.

OK, I'll give you that this time, she is. But it's not enough, is it.

Who cares, drink it in while you can.

“I'll see what I can find, I don't really know what's in the kitchen.”

“Normally the servants do it?” said Max, then cringed a little as she realised how it sounded. “Sorry, I didn't mean...” Victoria paused to look at her, then nodded.

“Yes, actually, they do. But I think it's something else I need to learn about as well; so no offence taken.” Max watched her go, feeling a little befuddled.

Wait, did Victoria Chase just not bite your head off? What on earth is going on?



Victoria rummaged through the cupboards in the kitchen, humming happily to herself. Ever since the butterflies had shown up and confirmed to her that, without a shadow of a doubt, everything she had read was true – even if there had been no reason (apart from the sheer absurdity of it all) to doubt it before – and that Max had seen them and felt their disappointment like she had, it seemed to make her feel that at last she was not alone in feeling like she did, and that there was someone she could talk to and confide in – and that maybe they could get along after all, as there appeared to be some higher power wanting to make sure that they did.

And maybe..

Maybe..

But don't you go thinking too far ahead, Victoria Chase. First of all you need to find this damn tea.

It took her a good few minutes of rummaging around to find the right tea, and she read the back of the packet to find instructions on how to make it.

OK, I just need to add some boiling water to it. Easy. But first I need a cup..

“Do you need any help?” came a shout from the other room.

“No, no it's fine – I've got this,” she called back.

And then I need to work out where to get the boiling water from..

Whilst the tea stewed she worked the coffee machine – something she was familiar with, making herself a strong black coffee. As the machine whirred, grinding the beans, she removed the teabag and gave the tea a surreptitious sip, twisting her face as she did so.

Ugh, how can people drink this stuff.. there's not even any caffeine in it.

Happy with everything she had prepared she took the two cups through to Max, who was sitting in her chair looking at her cell. She looked up and gave Victoria a quick flash of a smile, as if still a little wary of her.

“Here you go,” said Victoria, “I hope it's strong enough. I don't really know how you like it.” Max took the cup gratefully, and cupped her hands around the mug.

“Thank you, Victoria,” she said, then laughed. “Victoria Chase, making me a cup of tea in her own home. I wish I could let a week ago me know this was going to happen.” Victoria smiled with her.

“Yeah, I know how you feel. It doesn't seem like I'm here, somehow.” They both sat there and sipped their drinks a little pensively, thinking on their mutually odd situation. Victoria eyed Max over the rim of her cup, trying to work out how to start the conversation again.

“So,” she said, then stopped.

“So,” said Max in return, her blue eyes twinkling with amusement at the sudden awkwardness of Victoria.

Come on Vic, it's only Max.

You know, annoying hipster talented Max Caulfield with those fucking gorgeous blue eyes staring right at you.

You know, the girl you've got a crush on, the one you know for definite now likes girls, the one who you have got together with in another reality.

You know, that one.

Nothing to be nervous about.

Shit.

“So, let's talk about our powers then, given those butterflies decided to show up today and be mean to us. You said you can reverse time.. can you show me? Like, so I really know you can. I mean I don't doubt you, but.. just to see it would be nice.” Max shrugged.

“Sure. Although I'm not sure I am ready to take you with me like it said I could, I'm still trying to work out what I can actually do at the moment. I mean, I tried to stop time yesterday and nearly killed myself, so.. maybe I can show you in a simpler way.” Victoria felt slightly disappointed that Max didn't think she could travel through time with her yet; whether that was disappointment at not going through time or in not touching Max, she didn't want to think about.

“OK, what shall I do? Like say something and you then tell me what I said?” Max pursed her lip, then shook her head.

“Nah, I've got a much better way. When I reverse time, I stay in the same place regardless, so if for example -” Victoria swore she didn't see anything happen, but suddenly Max was standing a few metres away on the other side of the lounge.

“- I rewind time after walking away, I end up here.” Max sniggered at Victoria's expression, and Victoria realised she had her mouth wide open, gawping in amazement.

“Holy shit..” she muttered. “That was fucking awesome. It's like you can teleport, isn't it? I didn't even notice a thing, it's like magic. How long can you go back in time for?”

“I've only managed a few minutes so far,” said Max, suddenly appearing back next to her chair, making Victoria jump a little. “If you remember, when we spoke to the FBI I had to keep rewinding back all the time to make it sounded like I knew what we were talking about, and head off all of their questions which we didn't know the answer to.”

“Yeah, I guess,” said Victoria, scratching her head, “but for me I didn't see any of that really, you just seemed to know everything all at once. If I hadn't known what you were doing, then.. I would have just thought you were really clever.” Max put a hand on her hip and pouted.

“Are you saying I'm not?”

“Hey, who has the 3.9GPA around here,” said Victoria smugly. “Anyway, with that sort of power you could do anything, redo any mistake, make yourself seem to be the best person in the world...” She trailed off and suddenly looked thoughtful, then turned her gaze on Max, her green eyes fixing her with a piercing stare.

“Have you ever used it on me, Max? Rewound time, I mean. In this reality, that is, I don't mean what the Journal said.. I mean that was you, but not really you..” Max shook her head.

“No, never. I haven't needed to, although.. it is tempting. I could say and do all sorts of things and you'd never know,” she said, with a mischievous look. Victoria wagged a finger at her.

“No, Max, no. We've got to set some ground rules here – no rewinding without me, unless my life is in danger or you have some other really good reason, OK? I need to trust you, and you have to tell me if you do.” Max gestured with her hands, looking relaxed about it.

“Sure, that's fine,” she said casually. Victoria wasn't convinced and folded her arms.

“No, Max, I'm serious. You must promise me – imagine if our positions were reversed, would you like it? Would you like not knowing if I was manipulating you all the time to get what I want? How would you know if I.. liked you.. for all the right reasons?” Victoria knitted her brow, worried about the implications of it all and looked down at the floor in thought.

What if she just says what she knows I want to hear, having endlessly tried to work out what would work? What if she only persuades me to stay with her after a fight because she knows exactly what I will think or do about everything?

Doesn't that mean it's all a lie then? Does it matter if I don't know if it is or not?

Yes, it does. It would all be false, a cruel lie..

Victoria was so consumed by her thoughts that she hadn't notice Max get up and walk over to her, and she flinched with surprise when she felt Max's hand touch her. She looked up and found Max crouching down, staring up at her. Victoria found herself looking into those deep blue eyes, her stomach fluttering as she felt the close proximity of Max to her. Max hesitantly reached out and took Victoria's hand and laced their fingers together, and they both found that their hands were shaking as she did so. Victoria tried to smile reassuringly at Max but found her lips parting instead of their own accord, and she nervously licked them.

Oh fuck, what am I feeling.

This can't be good.

I don't want her to let go of my hand.

“Victoria,” said Max softly, in a voice that sent a shiver down Victoria's spine - which was not helped by Max giving her hand a quick squeeze, “I promise to you that I will not do that, and if I have to rewind time on you for some reason, I promise I will tell you why. I swear to you, scout's honour.” Victoria looked at the girl in front of her, and felt a warm rush flood through her body which seemed to reach the tips of her ears. If Max noticed, she didn't say anything.

“Thank you,” Victoria said in a strangled gurgle, “that means a lot. And since when were you a scout?” Max smiled and looked sheepishly down, before inspecting Victoria's hand and then holding it up.

“What did you do here?” she asked, looking with curiosity at the plaster on her finger.

“Oh,” said Victoria, “I cut it yesterday on some glass. It's nothing big, it'll get better.” Max absentmindedly stroked the plaster with a finger, as they both stared at each other for slightly too long before Max broke her gaze, flushing a deep crimson as she did so. Max stood up and moved away slightly, and Victoria found herself missing her touch already.

Jesus Vic, she's only been around for an hour. Get a hold of yourself, Max said that she doesn't see you that way.

I know, I know, but..

But..

..I can hope.

“Your turn, then,” said Max, “show me what you can do with your power. I haven't seen anything from you yet, I'm curious what it looks like.” Victoria shifted uncomfortably, suddenly feeling a little inadequate.

“It's nothing special, nothing like you can do. I mean, I've been doing my best to.. not do anything. Not to use it. Keep it hidden. You have to understand Max that I have had this thing for nearly a year. I thought I was a freak; well, another reason why I was, to go with.. with.. everything else.” Max gave her a reassuring smile.

“Hey, it's fine – just do what you can do, this is all new to me as well. And you know you are not a freak – well, if you are, so am I - so we have that in common.” Victoria laughed, a little bitterness creeping in.

“Yeah, but it's easier for you, without all this.. pressure.” She closed her eyes and pressed a hand against her forehead, then sighed. “OK. OK. Um, pass me that bottle of water, will you?” Max got up and handed her the plastic bottle, eagerly watching to see what would happen.

OK, Vic, showtime. Let's try and do this without fucking it all up, shall we? At least you can't cut yourself this time.

Victoria stood up and took a deep breath, and concentrated. She felt the power begin to unfold within her, but this time with Max watching, it felt slightly different – a little more controllable, a little more tamed. She felt the power extend out through her hand and into the water, feeling it slowly freezing, but this time she felt she could control the rate and extent a little more.

“That's amazing,” she heard Max murmur, “you can really do it.” The words seemed to act like a jolt of confidence to Victoria, and she gave a final burst of effort which caused the bottle to split as the rest of the water rapidly froze. Victoria held it up in triumph, feeling ecstatic that she had finally managed to control her power and use it in a manageable way.

“There,” she said happily, “something like that. For now. I think I can do more – no, I know I can, the Journal told me that I can. I just need to.. find a way.” She looked at the bottle, then at Max who was looking at her with shining eyes and a bright smile. “Will you help me find it, Max?”

“Yes. Yes, of course I will.” Victoria felt her heart leap at her words, and decided that she needed to sit down rather than stand there grinning like a buffoon. Max took it as a cue to sit down herself, and it was her turn to appraise Victoria.

“How did you get them? These powers, I mean. You know how I got mine, I mean you were there – but what about you? You said you've had them for a year – what happened? And how did you keep it all so hidden?” Victoria heart sank at Max's questions, her good mood suddenly dissipating. She knew it was a subject she didn't really want to address – not so soon, not when whatever this was with Max was all so new and raw.

But I can't lie, can I? You just made a big speech about trusting Max, and here you are at the first test immediately thinking of doing exactly that.

So, no lying. But..

.. maybe not too much detail.

“Yes, nearly a year ago,” Victoria began quietly. “I was.. not in a good place. I had had a bad experience at a party – not what you are probably thinking, not drugs or anything, more of a.. personal thing. Someone rejected me, someone I thought I could trust and who I thought wanted the same as me. And they did it in the most hurtful way they could have chosen, and that was followed by my parents deciding that now was the time they thought they should control my life. Who I am, what I was doing, who I wanted to be, who I should like. Everything. Become the proper heir to the Chase business, as they saw it.” She paused, her eyes slightly unfocused as she relived the memories. She felt herself becoming anxious, and she knew what that meant – despite herself she could feel her power beginning to manifest itself as her emotions got the better of her. She closed her eyes, trying to bury it all back down again as she had so often in the past, and failing just as she had so often before.

Not now, please. Not now.

She felt a sudden warmth on her arm, and opened her eyes to see Max sitting next to her, face full of concern and her hand gently gripping her arm. Max didn't say anything, but just rubbed her back with her other hand, the action serving to quell Victoria's rising panic and damping down slightly the cold that threatened to engulf them both. Victoria smiled gratefully at her, swallowing hard before continuing.

“It was cold that day, it really sticks in my mind just how cold it was. Ironic, really, now I think about it. I thought I'd sit out in the garden here as the whole place was covered in this deep blanket of snow. It was beautiful, so peaceful that day. I'd sat there for a while, trying to get the courage to go through with it. And finally, I thought, let's do this. So I picked up a bottle of vodka – I can still remember the smell of it, it makes me heave to think about it - and was about to pop some pills I had bought when..” She broke off, sniffling, and Max rubbed her back once more, trying to calm her. Victoria could sense that she was radiating her power outwards without regard, and Max's hand on her back was beginning to shake, but she didn't remove it.

“.. when that butterfly turned up. And like just now, it seemed to speak to me without saying a word. Made me understand that now was not my time, that I was supposed to do something else. And that made me realise that I wanted to live, to not end it all then.” She started to cry openly then, pent up hurt releasing from her. “So when I read that I had made Kate do the exact same fucking thing in another timeline, it made me feel like the worst fucking person in the world. What sort of worthless shit was I, that would make someone do that sort of thing? And there would've been no butterfly to save her, like there was for me, and I would've been responsible for her death. Me.” She looked at Max through tearful eyes. “And that's why I told you to fuck off, I didn't think you would want to speak to me again once you found out the truth. You seemed so amazed by it all, without knowing.. thinking about what I had done.”

“I'm.. I'm here.. now,” said Max through chattering teeth, “I.. don't h-h-hate y-you.. but but I th-th-think I need t-t-t-to let-t-t-t-t go..” Despite herself, Victoria had enough presence of mind to push Max away from her, before leaping up and walking quickly away.

“Stay away!” she shouted, “please just stay away for now. Let me.. calm down. I'm sorry, Max, I'm really sorry, but please.. just stay there. Drink your tea, it'll help warm you up.” Victoria dashed out of the lounge and into the kitchen, where she sank slowly down to the floor against a cupboard, holding her head in her hands as she wept and tried to control herself, not knowing why she was crying any more but unable to stop it, unaware that the floor around her was beginning to freeze.

After what must've been about ten minutes, but had felt like an age, she lifted her head and leaned it back against the cupboard, staring up at the ceiling. She heard a gentle cough and looked around to see Max peering around the corner, wrapped in a blanket she had found.

“Hey Victoria, is it safe to come in?” she asked, looking worriedly at her. “Are you feeling OK? I found this, I hope you don't mind me using it? I got a bit cold..” Despite the situation she was in Victoria laughed.

“Max, I should be the one apologising, not you. I could've.. could've.. hurt you back then. I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to, it just all came out..” Max beckoned her over to a part of the kitchen which wasn't frozen and then sat her down next to her, throwing the blanket over them both.

“I know,” was all she said, “I know.”



It took a little while longer for Victoria to fully compose herself, but eventually she began to feel better – it was if releasing it all had helped, made her feel a little bit better about herself and about life in general. Having Max sitting quietly next to her, with both of them snuggled under a blanket together certainly seemed to have helped with that. She turned to look at Max, regarding the girl next to her in a slightly new way, as if seeing something more than she had before.

“So, after all of that - what do you want to do now? Apart from mopping up all that water, I mean, but you don't need to help me with that. It's getting close to lunch, we could have that and then see what you want to do?”

Max suddenly blinked and shook her head slightly, and her eyes seemed to glaze over and she appeared to look through Victoria.

“We have.. to go..” she said, her words coming out in a flat monotone. Victoria frowned.

“Go? Go where?”

“We need to... go.. to the junk yard..” Max's speech was starting to slur slightly, and her hand began to shake; she gripped tightly to Victoria's arm as if to try to steady herself.

“I'm sorry, I don't understand Max. What do you mean? What junk yard? You are beginning to sound very strange, are you feeling OK? It's nothing I have done, is it? I'm not making you cold again, am I?” Victoria looked at her with concern, suddenly feeling a little perturbed at this strange turn of events but increasingly worried about what was happening to Max.

“Rachel.. Amber.. find her.. body.. see if..” Max gasped out, then seemed to waver a little, blinking rapidly.

“Max, you are really worrying me now – but they found Rachel's body, remember? The FBI went to that junk yard like we had told them to.. what are you saying..? Why do we have to go? Speak to me!”

“We.. have to.. go..” Max's eyes rolled up within themselves and she fell slowly sideways, blood running from her nose.

Chapter Text

“Max!” Victoria screamed, looking at her in horror before she quickly caught Max's head before it hit the floor. She carefully cradled it, pushing Max's hair out of her eyes and trying to stem the flow of blood from her nose with her fingers.

“Max! What's happening to you, Max? Max! Can you hear me? Max, don't die, please don't die..!” Victoria felt a lump in her throat and a sudden ache inside of her as the realisation that something she had never expected to actually be within her grasp (no matter how ephemeral) seemed to be slipping out of it. She knew, right there and then, that Max mattered to her, regardless of what potential future she had been told of, or what fears she had of what that might hold.

She suddenly realised that Max was breathing; it was shallow and rapid, but she was still breathing. With a wave of relief rushing through her, her fingers touched Max's nose and the blood froze solid – Victoria suddenly realised to her horror that she was, yet again, losing control and beginning to affect Max badly. That very realisation made matters worse, as she began to panic and lose control even more.

Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck

Every fibre of her being wanted to help Max, but she knew that by trying to help her she was probably going to kill her. Victoria couldn't recall a moment where she had felt so absolutely fucking useless and shit, but had enough presence of mind to quickly lay Max on the floor and spring away from her. She stood there for a moment, hyperventilating as she looked at the sad, small figure lying crumpled on the floor, while the air began to crystallize around her.

Shit shit what can I do I need to move her but I can't oh God Vic why are you so fucking use-

And then.. then she felt it, a subtle shift in the air, a change in the way the world seemed to move, and she knew now what that meant – there, on her arm, was her butterfly, the source of her (curse?) power. Everything else was momentarily forgotten as she stared at it, wondering why it was here.

“Hello again,” she whispered, “why are you here? Have you come to check up on me?” As before, she felt like it was looking at her, but this time rather than disappointment she just felt extraordinarily calm, as if being told that everything was going to be OK, that she could do this. And she realised, to her surprise, that she did feel calmer, almost like.. normal – gone was the anxiety and fear and doubt she had had – instead it was just her, standing in a semi-frozen kitchen with a girl who really, really needed her help.

Victoria moved quickly, doing her best to not think about anything at all to try and keep hold of this moment of calm, for as long as it lasted. Thanking whichever deity was looking over her that she still kept herself in shape she scoped Max up in her arms, noting how pale she looked and how thin she felt, before carrying her through back into the lounge. Max seemed to twitch in her arms as if having a fitful dream, and Victoria wondered what exactly was happening to her.

She walked over to a sofa and sat down, stretching Max's legs out and cradling Max in her arms, her head resting on her chest. Victoria sat there looking at her face, watching and waiting, hoping for some sign that Max was going to be OK, whilst trying to ignore and calm the rising fear she was feeling.



Max slowly opened her eyes and and blinked at how bright the light seemed. She felt like she was being grounded in this reality, as if her being was getting tied down and anchored to this timeline. Suddenly her vision was filled by a pair of green eyes that seemed as if backlit, followed swiftly by a proud nose and delicate mouth and..

“Oh, Victoria,” Max breathed smiling up at her. She felt some strange, lingering emotions which she wasn't quite sure were but she knew deep down inside of her that, right now, Victoria was the best thing she could possibly be seeing.

“Max, you're OK?” said Victoria quietly, her face framed with worry and fear. Max thought for a second, as if testing her out that each part of her body was still functioning.

“Yes, I think so,” she said slowly, feeling an odd taste in her mouth which she recognised was blood. She went to sit up but found she was being held by Victoria, close against her chest, and some other part of Max's brain decided that she was more than comfortable where she was and didn't need to move in the slightest.

“Thank you for.. holding me.” Victoria's upside down face became a little flustered, but she didn't move either.

“You freaked me out Max, you started babbling and saying all sorts of strange things, then you just.. collapsed.” She paused, swallowing hard, as if trying to get it from her mind. “I managed to pick you up and make you a little comfortable, but.. honest to God, Max, you really worried me for a moment. What happened? This isn't normal for you, is it?” Max found herself oddly comforted by the fact that Victoria seemed to actually care about her welfare, and then chided herself for even having the thought.

Oh come on Max, you know she's not a monster, she's just..

A bitch? Literally a cold hearted bitch?

.. a bit broken.

“No, it's not.” She closed her eyes again briefly, before continuing. “I had a dream. A vision maybe, I'm not sure.” She stopped, thinking on what it was she had seen.

It seemed so real. Like yesterday, when I thought about that police station. Like.. I was there..

But what am I seeing? A future, or..?

“Um, Max? You still here?”

“Mhmm? Oh, sorry,” Max said, realising she had spaced out thinking about things. “I was just thinking about it. I saw.. no, I experienced something – we were in a junk yard, it seemed really familiar. I was looking for something but couldn't find it, and you were there too. And.. and..” She stopped suddenly, blushing at the memory and suddenly feeling very reticent about continuing.

“And what?” asked Victoria, curious. “You're blushing. Why are you blushing? What are you hiding, Caulfield?” Max squirmed slightly in her arms, but didn't leave them.

“Erm..well I think we might have kissed or something.” Victoria seemed to go very still, and Max turned her head slightly to try to see her.

“Oh,” came the reply in a very quiet voice. “Oh.” Max felt as if the air was suddenly becoming very thick and heavy, and she realised that the position she was lying in wasn't helping in that regard. She quickly sat up, and thought she heard a small sigh from Victoria as she did so.

“Yeah. Crazy dream, hey,” said Max lightly, trying to make light of it. “It's not like that will happen is it, ha ha.” Max fake laugh died in her throat in the face of Victoria's glare.

“Max, you don't normally collapse bleeding when you dream. Well, I hope you don't, that could get very annoying for me very quickly. And I'd go see a doctor if you do actually do that.” Max tilted her head to one side, as if considering.

“I don't think my medical insurance covers time travel related issues,” she said slowly, “I might have to just check the clauses though. I bet it doesn't specifically exclude it.” Victoria folded her arms, looking at her.

“Does it cover injuries caused by avoiding the question?” Max waved her hand.

“Maybe. I mean I'd have to ask my Dad what - OW!” Max rubbed her arm where Victoria had flicked it. “That hurt, Chase. OK, OK. No, it's not normal. The dreams, I mean. I had another one yesterday, which seemed just as real. I nearly passed out then, too. I thought it was just a one off, but..” Victoria looked worried.

“What is it, then? Are you going to have this all the time, or..?” she said, her voice dripping with concern. Max shrugged.

“I don't know. I feel fine, right now. I mean there are a few lingering.. emotions left -” she avoided Victoria's gaze, but seemed to feel it drilling into the side of her face - “but it just seemed so real - like I was actually there. Experiencing it as it happened.”

“You said something about going to find Rachel Amber in the junk yard. That's where they found her body, remember?” Victoria paused, feeling a twinge in her heart about the thought of them digging up the corpse of her old foe from High School - all those moments of bitchy comments and whispers behind each others back; it all seemed so petty and pointless now.

And I could have stopped it maybe, somehow.

If I wasn't so scared all the time.

“You sounded like we had to go there right now. I wonder..” She paused, looking at Max with a thoughtful expression.

“What?” asked Max, not trusting her brain to do too much deep thinking at the moment – the sensation of kissing Victoria Chase was still playing on her mind far too much for her to trust it not to make her do something stupid. Victoria scratched her forehead as she formulated an answer that seemed to make some sort of sense.

“I wonder if.. if this is what she did. Max, I mean, not you, but other Max. At the same time we are doing this here. I mean it's so different, but..” She looked at Max, her eyes suddenly clear. “We need to check your Journal, Max. That will help us – I can't remember what she said happened on each day, but that would tell us one way or another.” Max frowned.

“You mean I am seeing another reality? That... that's not that crazy, is it? What she wrote about breaking time.. is time trying to reassert itself? What if we get erased, what if all this -” Victoria laid her hand on Max's arm.

“Stop it Max, freak outs are my domain, remember?” Max laughed at her words a little, but looked gratefully at her. Victoria stood up and stretched.

“I don't know about you, but I am famished. We were going to have lunch, weren't we – let me see what I can find in this godforsaken kitchen.” She started to walk away then paused, looking back at Max with a questioning look.

“What is it?” asked Max, “what's up now?”

“Could you help me mop up some water?”

 

Max had stared in amazement at the spread Victoria had seemingly produced out of nowhere – a selection of cold meats including some Jamón (from this little shop in Barcelona, Max, you have to try it) and Saucisson (there's this little village near our Chalet, they do the best red wine as well); smoked salmon sliced in thick wedges, and cheese from all over the place that was so good that Max had never realised just how bad the cheese she was used to was (that one is some English Cheddar, Max, and that is one Brie – it's French). On the side was some freshly baked sourdough bread that Max helped herself to in large quantities, slathering some salted butter all over it. Victoria watched Max with slight amusement as she dug in with gusto, peering at her over the rim of her coffee cup.

“You like it then, Max?” Max nodded, her mouth full of thick slices of meat and cheese.

“Mmpf,” she said, chewing away with her mouth crammed full. “This is so, so good - next time I come here I'll have to eat you out again!” Victoria nearly choked on her coffee, coughing loudly before wiping her mouth and turning bright crimson. Max watched her in bemusement as she carried on eating.

“You OK, Victoria? Something go down the wrong hole?”

“Um, Pardon?” Victoria spluttered, once she had finished trying not to die. “What did you just say?”

“I said I would love to come out to eat with you again,” Max said. “This is seriously good – I could get used to it.” Victoria eyed her with suspicion, but there was an innocent obliviousness about Max as she happily munched away.

“Good,” Victoria said finally, “you can't just live on granola bars and cereal all your life, can you.” Max put down her self-made sandwich and picked up her coffee.

“And how did you know that's what I eat at Blackwell, hmmm?” she said. “Stalker, much?” Victoria opened her mouth and blushed, then shook her head in denial.

“No, don't be silly,” she stammered, “I may have just seen them in your room one time that's all.” It was Max's turn to observe her over the rim of her cup, blue eyes twinkling away as she hid her smile.

“And when exactly have you been in my room, Ms Chase? I can't recall ever inviting you..?” Victoria held up a finger as if about to make a point before she stopped, suddenly realising that she didn't have a leg to stand on.

“I.. it was.. I only went in..” she floundered, before looking up hopefully at Max. “Can you rewind and forget this?”

“Oh no no noooo,” Max chortled, “you are not abusing my powers to erase your guilt, Ms Victoria Chase. What was it you said I had to promise? No rewinding on you? So spill the beans, Chase.”

“You're the absolute worst, Caulfield. Why did it have to be you to have these stupid powers eh? Literally anyone else in the universe would have been preferable.” Max didn't say anything but just reached for some more cheese, chewing on what she thought was some rather tasty Edam. Victoria couldn't help but look askance at her; in her opinion Edam was the blandest of bland cheese, although admittedly a huge step up from the processed crap Max was probably used to.

Focus, Vic. Max's abysmal taste in cheese is the least of your worries right now, although she clearly needs educating. A project for later.

“Fine. Yes, I went in there once. Like in the first week. Or two. That you were here. I just wanted..” She paused, searching for the right words. “I just wanted to try and work out who you were and what your angle was, you were so fucking annoyingly oblivious to everything. Including me.”

“You could have just asked, you know.” Victoria rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, and destroy my social standing completely? No way.” Max gave her a look, which Victoria was beginning to recognise – it was her 'don't be an ass, Victoria' look. She sighed. “Sorry, but you know what I mean, it's complicated for me. Anyway, I really liked your photos and things. I still do, by the way.” Max allowed her a smile, before suddenly she frowned as she thought of something.

“Wait wait wait, YOU are the cookie thief? I wondered where those went!” She pointed a finger at Victoria, who couldn't meet her accusing stare and suddenly found the need to closely inspect her immaculate fingernails.

“Don't lie to me, Chase,” said Max, “admit to your crimes and I will go easy on you with the punishment.”

“Punishment?” said Victoria warily. “What are we talking here? 12 hours confinement in my room?” Max shook her head solemnly.

“No, for such a crime there is only one suitable punishment – you have to watch a film with me.” Victoria blinked in surprise.

“Oh, well in that case it was -”

“Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.”

“ - definitely not me.” They both looked at each other for a moment then giggled, Max looking at Victoria as if she was an entirely different person to the one she knew back at Blackwell.

I guess she is. Here she is just.. her, stripped down without any of the bullshit that she thinks she needs. She knows she can't hide some things from me, like her powers, or that she likes.. girls. I like this version. I hope she stays like it.

Speaking of which..

“So why are you here, anyway? I mean I left because I was feeling miserable and alone and basically just ran away from it all rather than deal with it like I always do, but what's your excuse?” Victoria shrugged casually, before picking up a piece of salmon.

“Pretty much the same as you. I just sort of.. had enough of being there. It hasn't been the best few days, has it.” Max murmured in agreement, and joined her in attacking the salmon.

“God I know I keep saying it but this is good,” she said, closing her eyes as she chewed. “When were you thinking of going back? I mean it's Thursday already, and we are back in class Monday. I haven't discussed it with my parents yet, but I get the feeling they are going to be asking soon. Probably annoyed that they thought they'd finally got me out of the house to leave them alone so they could enjoy themselves.” Max's feeble joke seemed to die in the face of Victoria's frown, and she briefly considered rewinding until she remembered the promise she had made.

What is she frowning at? She has that pissed off cold look I recognise so well.

Why don't you just be normal and ask her? What's the worst she can do?

Freeze me to death.

It's a rhetorical question Max, you're not supposed to actually answer it.

“Sorry, bad joke,” Max said quickly, “I didn't mean to annoy you about something?” Victoria looked at her in surprise.

“Huh? Annoy me? What do you mean?”

“Erm.. you had your.. your.. bitch face on..” Max said carefully, awaiting her wrath. “It's normally what I see when someone says something stupid and then you tend to.. eviscerate them.” Max cringed slightly as Victoria gave her that exact look again, before her expression softened slightly.

“Sorry, I didn't mean it. It's just.. mentioning parents is not the best topic for me at the moment.” She paused, before tilting her head and looking at Max with a curious expression. “Do I really do that look all the time? It's just my normal face, isn't it?” Max looked anywhere but at Victoria, and mumbled something. Victoria crossed her arms, and huffed out loud.

“Max, come on, you can tell me,” she said, her tone being a little bit sharper despite herself. Max squirmed under her gaze, before summoning the courage to answer her.

“Yes,” she squeaked, “and you are doing it right now, too.” Victoria threw her hands up in annoyance.

“Oh come on Max, it's just how my face sits. It's not that bad, don't be mean to me.” Max blinked in surprise, then looked at her with a thoughtful expression.

“Mean to you? I wasn't.. I mean, I didn't think it would..” Victoria scoffed.

“What, you thought I don't have feelings? I don't get hurt by what people say? Wow, how heartless do you think I am? Wait – don't answer that, actually.” Victoria leaned back in her chair and stared moodily down at the table, looking very morose. Max felt the air cool slightly, and she knew that she was upset – Max was suddenly very grateful for this obvious physical cue, given how often she seemed to have missed the subtle signs on how people had felt in the past.

“Hey, don't be sad. It's OK, I know you are not being mean to me, it's just.. well, given our history it sort of just reminded me, you know? It is kinda hard to forget. But I think I know you a little better now, it's been really good to see you. I mean the real you, here away from everything. I like this Victoria.” Victoria looked up at her words, and her face broke out into a smile that seemed to short-circuit Max's heart.

Oh come on, she's just smiling at you.

I know. Isn't it wonderful!

“Thanks, Max. I know we got off to a bad start but.. I hope we can carry on as we have been today, even when we get to Blackwell. I hope so, but.. ugh, let's see, I would like it to be like this a lot too but it's not going to be easy for me. Today has been good, I mean apart from all the freezing and nose bleeds and breaking apart the fabric of reality.” They both looked at each other with a smile then suddenly blushed, before Victoria coughed and motioned at the food in front of them.

“Have you had enough? What do you want to do this afternoon - do you have a time to be back, or some other plans with anyone?” Max rubbed her stomach while blowing out her cheeks.

“Yes, I'm stuffed – that was wonderful though, thank you. I guess I need to be back in time for dinner? I didn't tell my Dad a time or anything, but he will be expecting me to call.” Victoria nodded her head, having made a decision.

“Fine, that's easy then – I'll drop you back home. We can also check your Journal as well, if that's OK with you? See if there is any clue as to what happened today. Did you bring it from Blackwell?” Max nodded.

“Yes, I've decided to not leave it where it can be found by anyone. I trust my parents not to root through my stuff looking for cookies, so it should be safe. A lift back sounds wonderful.” She paused, having a thought of her own which she tried out in her head first. “You could stay for dinner if you want? Unless you have any plans?” Victoria blanched a little, as if the thought of meeting Max's parents was going to be some terrible ordeal she would have to suffer through.

“No, no plans. Um.. your parents? Isn't that a bit..”

“What, why? We are just friends, aren't we? It's better than you just rattling around here on your own. It'll be fun, my parents will like you I'm sure.”

“Of course we are just friends, yes. You are right. OK, I will. Thank you. Now, let's clear up and we can go for a walk in the grounds – if we sit still I might just fall asleep.” Victoria hid her disappointment at Max's words as best she could, and busied herself trying to find where the dishwasher was hiding.



Max had rung her Dad to let her know of the change in plans, and they had gone for a stroll in the grounds. To Max's amazement they seemed to stretch forever, full of carefully landscaped lawns and flower beds, with an ornamental lake at the far end with a fountain in the middle, shaped like a porpoise.

“That fountain is.. is.. delightful,” she said politely. Victoria rolled her eyes.

“It's a pile of kitsch crap, and you know it.”

“I didn't want to say, but yes. It is.” Max looked around the landscape – it all looked quite sterile, perfectly kept but with no character. “So did you play here when you were younger? You must've had an awesome tree house.”

“Pfsh,” Victoria said, picking up a pebble and skimming it over the lake with practised ease. “A tree-house? Hardly. My days were spent doing horse-riding, tennis lessons, piano, skiing – you know, the usual things. Besides, the gardener wouldn't allow a tree-house here, there's nowhere for it to fit in with the aesthetic.”

“I don't think that what you said qualifies as 'usual' for most,” said Max drily. “I would've given my right arm to have had horse-riding lessons when I was younger.” Victoria playfully shoved her with her shoulder.

“Not my fault you're a peasant, is it. But no, you are correct – it was full of activity, but all very carefully structured to mould me. Looking back I'm not sure how much 'fun' it actually was. But you had a tree-house? That sounds awesome.” Max nodded, smiling at the memory.

“Oh yes - I mean not here in Seattle, but back when I lived in Arcadia I had an awesome tree-house, up in the woods behind the lighthouse,” Max enthused, “it had a rope ladder you had to pull down, a crow's nest, buried treasure.. we pretended it was our pirate fort. Chloe..” Max trailed off, suddenly stung by the memory.

Chloe.

She's gone, and is never coming back. You'll never speak to her again.

“Chloe,” said Victoria quietly, as if feeling she was treading on dangerous ground. “You haven't really said much about her to me. I understand if you don't want to, but..”

“What is there to say, hey?” lashed out Max, before immediately regretting it. “Sorry, sorry. Not your fault. It's all mine. I was so chicken shit about getting in touch with her when I left, and the more I left it the worse it got. And when I finally got back to Blackwell and Arcadia, I meant to but.. just never seemed to do anything about it. And I don't know why. And now it's too late. I should have saved her..” Victoria gently lay her hand on Max shoulder.

“Don't say that, you know where that leads. She told you not to.. it wouldn't have ended well, she tried enough times. This is the only way for things to work, to not have it all go to shit. It's not your fault, sometimes life is just.. not what we want.” Max shrugged her off and stepped away from her, staring out across the lake at the hideous porpoise.

“No, but not getting in touch with her for five years. Five years..” she muttered, “she was supposed to be my best friend. What is wrong with me?”

She even messaged you, and you still didn't do anything. And at Blackwell – it was tomorrow, always tomorrow, until there is no more tomorrow.

Max sighed and rubbed her eyes. She felt oddly disconnected from it – not having reconnected with Chloe for five years, not reigniting that bond they had or even seeing the aftermath of her death had meant that it was still an abstract concept to her. She had no doubt that the reality would kick in at some point, but for now – what else was there, but regret and blaming herself for her own inadequacies?

“No, you are right Victoria. I can't go back and fix it, that's clear enough. But that doesn't stop me regretting my actions, or blaming myself for her death in some way. What if I had spoken to her, how different could things have been for her? How different for me? I could have got my best friend back, started some new life with her. Who knows what I could be doing.” Victoria looked at her for a moment before taking her by the hand and and pulling her away from the lake.

“Come with me, Max. Let me show you something.” Max unwillingly let her be dragged along by Victoria, not even registering that they were now holding hands.

“Where are we going, Victoria?” she asked plaintively. “I'm not in the mood to look at another stupid fountain.” Victoria didn't say anything but just kept walking, until after a few minutes they came to the brow of a small hill which had an ornate stone bench on it under a few trees, looking out over the grounds as they fell back away towards the house. She let go of Max's hand and stood there for a moment looking at it, her arms folded protectively across her chest. Max looked around them but couldn't seem to see anything of note.

“What is it? Why have you dragged me here?” she said in a slightly annoyed tone, feeling irritated at having been dragged along against her will.

“This is it,” said Victoria, her voice slow and thick with emotion. “This is the spot I chose last year. That bench. I was sitting here less than a year ago, Max. Less than a year.” She looked at her, green eyes gleaming with emotion, a slight wind whipping up. Max shivered slightly, and looked nervously at Victoria who suddenly had seemed to grow in stature.

“You say to me how different things could have been? In how many other realities did I die here, Max, on this very spot? How many?” She turned away and looked at the house, the wind blowing a little harder now, a slight mist forming around her. “And yet I'm not dead, I'm here with you and all you can say to me is that you wish things were different. Do you wish that this had been different Max? That I had died here?”

“N-no, V-victoria,” stuttered Max, her teeth beginning to chatter, “of-f-f course not-t, I-I-I only meant -” Victoria clenched her fists and her arms stuck out stiffly from her sides, and her voice seemed to echo in the wind.

“I have been given a chance to live, and yet everyone around seems to just want to use me, or just try to control or change me, or don't even care if I live or -” From somewhere deep within her Max had the presence of mind to hurl herself forward into Victoria, dragging her down to the floor and ending up on top of her, face to face, breathing hard. Max could feel the power flowing through Victoria, as if it was building up and spilling out into the world uncontrollably, but it seemed her mere physical proximity seemed to tame it, damping it down until it became merely a background murmur.

Whether that was down to some innate ability of Max, or down to the look of shock and surprise on Victoria's face, Max didn't know. She did know that right now she was straddling her, holding her arms down against the ground as she angrily shouted at Victoria.

“Don't you ever dare say anything like that again, Victoria Chase, do you hear me? Ever. I was just wallowing in some self pity, making myself feel shit for the choices I had made. Of course I want you here, of course I don't want you dead. Don't be so fucking ridiculous, and just for once accept the fact that this person right here cares for you, and right now doesn't want to be anywhere else no matter what stupid shit she comes out with because she is a little idiot.” Max looked into Victoria's eyes as they stared at each other, noses nearly touching, and felt something stir inside of her, a feeling that made her feel excited and hot and strange and..

Oh fuck no. Not now. No.

Do something, say something, quickly!

“...even if you do steal my cookies. I haven't forgotten that.” Victoria blinked and laughed a little, and the moment was broken. Victoria shoved Max off her and sat up, shaking her head ruefully.

“I'm sorry Max, I'm such a mess. This day has been such a roller-coaster for me, I don't know whether to laugh or cry or.. what. I can't seem to control myself at the moment, it all just keeps surging out of me. Blackwell is going to be really difficult if I let myself get like this again. It's why I have pushed everyone away; not let anyone get close. I couldn't risk it. I still can't.” Max lay on the grass, ignoring the hot, tight feeling in her chest.

“Luckily for you I can rewind away anything overtly ridiculous you do. Not that I am giving you an open invitation to do so, though, before you think of anything clever. Assuming when we go back you still actually want to be seen with me, you know given your social standing.” She mentally kicked herself for making the jibe and looked up at Victoria, whose head was backlit by the sinking afternoon sun. “Sorry, I didn't really mean that. But yes, you are right – you do need to get a hold on it. I think the only way to do so is practice. Practice practice practice.” Victoria groaned.

“Oh God, it's just going to be like piano again, isn't it.”

“Yes,” said Max gleefully, “and I still want to hear you play that.” Victoria ignored her and checked the time on her cell.

“Later. Look, I'm sorry about all this.. stuff. I know it must exhausting and confusing for you. I didn't invite you over today to burden you with so much, I just wanted us to... ugh. It's just shit.” Max sat up next to her and placed an arm around her, giving her a quick squeeze.

“Hey, who was the one who passed out, remember? We are about even I think, so no need to apologise. Is it getting late though? They are expecting me home at around five or so for dinner.” Victoria hummed to herself, calculating.

“Yeah, it's getting on for half three. Probably enough time to head back to the house and get changed, then drive back to yours.”

“Get changed? What's wrong with what you have on?” Victoria looked at her like she was crazy.

“You expect me to go out in this? Jesus, Max, we really do need to sort out your fashion sense.”



Max hovered uncertainly in Victoria's room, feeling like an interloper in her private space – even if she actually had been invited into it. The room seemed oddly bare, as if it wasn't lived in much – there didn't seem to be much of her personal stamp on the place, as opposed to the glimpses she had had of her room in Blackwell.

“Do you come here much, Victoria?” Max asked out of curiosity.

“No, not really,” came the reply from behind a door – Victoria was lost somewhere in one of the walk in wardrobes, looking for an outfit. “Most of my things are at Blackwell, I only come here on the odd occasion. Why?”

“Oh, it just seemed a bit.. not like you. I mean, it feels a bit like a.. a..”

“Spare room?” Victoria interjected. “Yeah. It is. My life is in Blackwell really, it's a space I've managed to make my own. This place just has a load of clothes and other things I might need if I come here.” There was the sound of hangars being dragged to one side before suddenly Victoria emerged, wearing what looked like to Max a smart navy trouser suit, which made Victoria look like a high powered lawyer.

She could sue the shit out of my -

“It's not a business meeting, Victoria. We are just having dinner with my parents.” Victoria inspected herself in a mirror, brushing the jacket down.

“I know, but it's important to me that I make a good first impression.” She paused suddenly, then continued at slightly more hesitant pace. “I mean, just in case.. I meet them again in the future, if..” Max frowned at her words, trying to work out what she meant. Victoria clicked her tongue, then walked back to the wardrobes.

“You're right, it is a bit to formal. Let me see what else there is..” Max watched her casually shrug off the jacket as she disappeared, revealing a brief glimpse of a naked back with a bra strap and -

Oh God Max, stop staring. But what did she mean by making a good impression? That only matters if she thinks my parents will see her often, like a good friend.. who is a girl. A girl. Friend.

Crap.

But wait, you know that happened in the other reality, but for her to think that must mean that she is thinking of it too. But it's not like you've even thought about even going on a date, like where you are doing stuff together and having dinner and spending time with each other and learning about each other.

Like you did today.

Oh crap.

But that wasn't a date! And it's not like you asked her out for dinner either.. apart from.. when you just did, and to meet your parents too..

OH CRAP, have you just asked Victoria on a weird double date with your parents?

Oh my God Max, you are literally the worst.

“I wouldn't worry too much, Victoria,” Max said a little bit too loudly and quickly, “my parents are pretty relaxed and it's just in my house.. it's not like it's a date is it ha ha ahahahaaaaa..” Max nearly collapsed from cringing so hard, and Victoria's head appeared from around the corner, looking at her with a curious expression.

“Who mentioned a date, Max? It's just as friends, remember?” Victoria seemed to look at her just a little bit too long, and Max swore she saw a slight smile on her lips before she disappeared again.

Wait, was she reading my mind? No.. she can't do that.. can she?

Max spent the next few minutes having a quiet panic about just exactly what she was getting herself into, when a small cough from Victoria dragged her out of her reverie.

“Spacing out again? Glad to see that hasn't changed with your power. What do you think of this?” Victoria had put on a pair of tight, form fitting black trousers that seemed to have been painted on to her, matched with a dark green halter top with some fine gold thread woven in an intricate pattern around a slit in the top, which opened slightly revealing bare skin as Victoria did a slow pirouette. Max's mouth felt dry as she watched her, her underarms and palms were feeling sweaty, and she realised that she seemed to have lost her voice. Victoria stopped and frowned.

“Too much? Too little?” she asked, looking a little disappointed at the lack of reaction.

“No,” Max croaked, “it's perfect. Just.. perfect.”

I'm so gay.

I'm so screwed.

I'm so gay and screwed.

Victoria's face transformed into a beaming smile, not helping Max's speech issues at all, before wandering over to a dresser.

“Let me just get some earrings to match, and we are good to go.” Victoria searched though a white, leather clad box before clipping on some gold and emerald earrings, which seemed to match her eyes perfectly. Max didn't have the courage to ask how much they cost, but idly wondered if she could sell them to pay for her tuition.

Or a new car.

Or both.

“Ready now?” she whispered, before swallowing hard to try and get her voice working again. “Are you ready now, Victoria?” Victoria took one last look in the mirror, brushing her fingers through her hair to rearrange it slightly, before giving herself a quick nod.

“Yes. We'll take the Porsche, I think.”



“You OK? We've been sitting here for five minutes already, my parents are going to wonder what we are doing.” Max shifted in her seat, watching Victoria who was just staring straight ahead at her house.

“Yeah,” Victoria said, “it's just.. I'm just thinking about what to say and how to act. You know, so I leave a good enough impression, don't embarrass myself or the family. First impressions count, Max, and I need to leave the best one I can. It's what we do, it's what I've always done, it's how we need to operate in the world. First impressions can be the difference between closing the deal, or failure. And we can't have failure.” Max looked at her in disbelief, mouth wide open, realising that Victoria seemed to be reciting something that she had been told over and over, before coming to her senses and closing it whilst shaking her head.

“Victoria. It's just dinner with me and my parents! That's all! Can you just.. relax and be yourself?” Victoria looked at her with a slight frown on her face.

“What do you mean? This is me, right here.” Max tapped her hand on the dash in irritation.

“No, it's not. I invited Victoria, not Ms Victoria Chase, Heiress to the Chase Empire and Queen of Blackwell. Please don't weird my parents out. Please.” Before Victoria had a chance to reply the front door opened, and Max's Dad appeared from inside of the house.

“Maximus!” came his booming voice. “Did you steal that car? Are the police chasing you? Are you out on the lam?” Max found herself slinking down the seat, trying to hide as her face went bright red from embarrassment.

“Oh my God,” she said. “I've changed my mind. Let's go – now! I can't do this.” Victoria looked at her then back at her swiftly approaching parent, before giving her an evil smile.

“Oh no, this is going to be so much more fun than I thought.” Without giving Max a chance to reply, she smoothly leapt out of the car and confidently walked towards Max's Dad, holding out her hand in greeting.

“Mr Caulfield? I'm Victoria, it's nice to meet you. Thanks you for inviting me over for dinner.” Her hand was dwarfed by his, as he pumped it energetically by yanking her arm up and down.

“It's nice to meet you, Victoria. Please, call me Ryan. Thank you for inviting Max over this morning – I trust she was well behaved? I assume that's her hiding in the front seat? I must say that's a very nice car you have – is it a Carrera 4s?”

“Yes it is,” said Victoria, visibly impressed. “I'm sorry we are late, the traffic was murder on the way. And Max's directions were..” She stopped, realising that being rude about his daughter perhaps wasn't the best idea.

“Terrible? Yes, it's why I have a SatNav,” Ryan replied. “After we've eaten you'll have to show me around your car, I've always wanted something like this – but you know, children, mortgage, Polaroid film..”

“I have told her to use a digital camera, it would be much cheaper,” Victoria half lied, before mentally kicking herself again.

Stop trying to suck up, just be yourself.

Further thoughts were interrupted by Max emerging from the car and walking over to the pair.

“When you two have quite finished discussing me, can we go in? And Victoria – I apologise for my Dad.” Victoria looked at her, puzzled.

“For what?”

“Oh nothing, just in general. Come on, let me give you the guided tour.”



“Would you like some more water, Victoria?” asked Vanessa, holding a jug aloft. Victoria covered her glass with her hand, shaking her head.

“No thank you, Mrs Caulfield. I'll have some more of that delicious chicken casserole though, if that's alright?”

“Please, help yourself – and as I said, do call me Vanessa.” There was a brief lull in the conversation, broken by a quiet chink as Victoria helped herself to a large spoonful of the steaming food. Max watched her with a quiet happiness; her parents had taken to Victoria like a duck to water, and she had seamlessly blended in but without any of the fake pretence Max had worried she would put on. Victoria was just being, well, a normal person having dinner with her parents. Max rolled that phrase around her head, testing it to see how absurd it sounded compared to a week earlier.

But it doesn't, does it? It just feels..

… right.

“So Victoria,” Vanessa continued, “Max hasn't told us much about you. How did you two meet?”

“Meet?” Max said quickly, “we aren't tog-”

“Our dorm rooms are opposite each others,” said Victoria smoothly, “and we have the same photography class. I'm a keen photographer, like Max. I'd like to get my work published someday, if it is good enough.” Vanessa frowned a little.

“Photography class? Does that mean that you also had that man as a teacher? He didn't do -”

“Can we not talk about this right now, please?” Max interjected, looking down at her plate, before raising her head slightly to look at her mother. Victoria noted a slightly harsher tone to her voice, and it might have been Victoria's imagination but she thought she saw a slight glow in Max's eyes. Vanessa also seemed to notice something, as she cast a quick glance at her husband opposite, before apologising.

“I'm sorry, you are entirely correct Max. This is not a topic for the dinner table, please accept my apologies, Victoria.” Victoria waved a hand to show it was nothing, her attention still fixated on Max who seemed to be sullenly looking at the table, as if lost in thought.

“So Victoria,” said Ryan, pouring himself a small beer. “How long have you lived in Seattle? Did you go to school around here?” Max shot him a grateful glance as he changed the subject on to safer ground.

Dad is just fishing to see if she is 'the' Victoria Chase. That's quite funny, surely the house and car are a complete giveaway?

Max picked idly at the food on her plate, eyes flitting from that to Victoria and back subconsciously, as her Dad and Victoria chatted away. Victoria suddenly cast a quick glance her way, catching her staring at her. Max blushed furiously and looked down again.

Max you idiot, she caught -

- Kate rolled up the hood of the car and into the windshield, her head smashing the glass before she fell limply onto the road. Max could hear Victoria screaming as she ran to the body, while Max walked slowly behind, feeling nothing at the horror unfolding in front of her -

Max jerked her head upright, breathing deeply through her nose, heart pounding, ears still full of the sickening crunch of body hitting metal. Victoria and Ryan were still chatting away, Victoria laughing at some pun her Dad had made whilst her mother smiled ruefully at them both. Max had a brief feeling that she was being dragged between two places at once, and she gripped the edge of the table before it subsided.

What the fuck was that? Another timeline shift?

Max looked at Victoria to see if she had noticed anything amiss, but Victoria was still sitting there, laughing as -

- 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 -

Max banged her hand down on the table, making the cutlery jump, feeling a trickle of blood come down her nose which she hastily wiped away. She was suddenly aware of all three of them looking at her with curiosity, Victoria's expression showing traces of concern.

“Maxine, are you OK?” asked Vanessa, reaching out to gently touch her arm.

“Y-yes,” said Max shakily, drawing a breath. “Sorry. I just need to go to the bathroom, that's all. Need to pee. Excuse me. And it's Max, never Maxine.” She quickly got up and stumbled away from the table and out of the room, closing the door behind her. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, trying to calm herself down, telling herself that she was in Seattle, in her house, just having dinner. Max counted to ten, breathing deeply, and feeling slightly better opened her eyes -

- the blood spattered through the windshield up at her as she restarted time, feeling slightly annoyed that she had forgotten what damage the bullets could do. 'Oops, I had forgot about that,' she said to herself, before looking at the man in front of her who was staring in abject terror at her. The man next to him was already dead, his shattered body slumped in the seat besides him, and yet she felt nothing - merely seeing him as an obstacle to be overcome to her greater objective -

Max groped her way up the stairs towards the bathroom and stumbling on the steps, feeling as if she was blind. She could still hear the gunshot, smell the blood, feel the complete lack of pity or remorse in her as she held the gun in her hands. She fumbled at the bathroom door and fell inside, slumping down against the wall as blood ran freely from her nose.

- 'You could have not been a fucking murdering corrupt cop.' She pointed the gun at his head, and watched him with a feeling of amusement as he begged for his life, looking at her with terror in his eyes, and it felt good. She looked down at him, the gun in her hand as her finger slowly pulled the trigger. 'You know what the worst thing is? You won''t remember this, but I will.'

Max clutched her head as the gun fired, searing pain roaring through her head as she crashed to the floor.

 

Chapter Text

Victoria looked at the void created at the table where Max had been before her sudden departure, and subconsciously bit her lip with worry.

It's been at least five minutes now. What is she up to? Is she OK? It looked like she was having another vision, but.. why would she not ask for help from me?

“So Victoria,” came Ryan's voice, momentarily distracting Victoria from her increasing worry over Max, “exactly what nefarious designs do you have on my daughter?” She looked at him in surprise, dumbfounded by the question. His face had a smile on it, and his tone sounded amused; but Victoria thought she could see the same hard look in his eyes that she had occasionally seen in Max.

“I.. erm, I.. I don't have any-” she started to stammer, beginning to feel a little uncomfortable for the first time that evening.

“Ryan!” Vanessa's tone was sharp as she looked at her husband with annoyance, before turning to Victoria. “I'm ever so sorry, Victoria, please excuse him. Ever since Max told us before she left for Blackwell, Ryan has been in a mood because he thinks, like the great big man-child he is, that he has lost the chance to challenge any potential future boyfriends to a duel in the garden for the honour of Max. Honestly, Ryan, think before you speak.” Ryan held up his hands in apology.

“Sorry, sorry, I was just joking Victoria – but just so you know, I was runner up in the inter-state Judo championship when I was 7. Probably still got it.” Victoria felt herself going bright red, the cool façade she had been building up completely forgotten – while her mind raced with a distracting thought that further unbalanced her.

Max has come out to her parents. And her parents seem to think I am here because of that..

“I'm.. we are.. I don't like.. I mean I do.. I'm just not.. into.. I mean..” Vanessa shot her an understanding glance that seemed to drill right through her, as if suddenly realising the inner turmoil she was going through, and her face broke into a sympathetic smile.

“Ryan, stop teasing the poor girl, we have only just met her. At least give her a few more times to get used to you and your silliness.” She smiled reassuringly at Victoria, before continuing. “He only means well in his own strange way, just ignore him – it's what I do, it's why we are still married. I know it takes time to get used to being in a new situation, especially if you have not been in that kind of one before.” Victoria gave a small smile back at Vanessa, and thought she had read the meaning behind her words correctly.

She.. likes me? And wants me to come again to visit. Or at least expects me to come again.

And I don't know how, but she knows things about me.. How?

For fuck's sake, do I have massive sign over my head or something? Who else has figured this out?

Apart from Max, that is. But that was different..

“It's OK, honestly – Max did warn me a little!” she said brightly, doing her best to keep her voice even. She turned to look at Ryan, and gave him what she hoped was a confident smile. “I've been taking self defence classes, so you'd better watch out!” Ryan winked at her with a smile, before looking back at his wife and the smile dying under the full heat of her stare. Victoria looked quickly between the two, then cleared her throat to break the tension.

“Um, I might just go check on Max if that's OK? Check she is fine with.. going to the toilet..” Victoria blushed again as she realised what she had said, and stood up awkwardly to leave the room, feeling her face flushing redder and redder as they watched her in bemusement and she suddenly felt very hot. Without a further word she closed the door behind her, leaning against it.

Jesus Vic, could you have been any more awkward?

She could hear muffled voices from behind the door, and thought she heard Vanessa having angry words with Ryan about his attitude to Victoria.

.. she finally brings someone home and you have to go say stupid things like that? You know how hard this is for Max, and Victoria seems like such a nice girl! What on earth are you playing at?”

I want to make sure she is not going to hurt Max, you remember the last time she was interested in...”

Max.

Shit.

Fear rose up and clawed at her throat, and the hot feeling she had quickly died as a wave of cold blasted through her, spurring her into action. She sprinted up the stairs two at a time, looking wildly around for the bathroom – she took a chance on a half open door across from her and to her relief she saw the huddled shape of Max sitting on the floor, hugging her legs with her head bowed. Victoria rushed to her side, kneeling down on the floor besides her and grasping onto her hands.

“Max! Are you OK? I got worried and came to find you, I thought.. I thought something bad had happened to you.” Max didn't stir, and kept her head bowed. Victoria did her best to keep her emotions under control as she knew that right now, Max needed her to be as calm as possible. The last thing Victoria wanted to do was create any more suffering from her losing control, as she had done already that day. She shuffled alongside Max and carefully wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and drew her in.

She held Max close, feeling her shake slightly as she did so, but gradually it subsided. Victoria herself felt oddly comforted by the presence of Max, as if she was exerting a calming influence on her.

The same as back in my house. It's like she just anchors me, makes me feel like everything is in control, everything will be OK. Like my butterfly does.

It's like I need her to help me cope with all of this.

Victoria was struck with a sudden clarity of her situation, as if her eyes had been opened to how the world should be.

I need to be with her.

If I can. If she will let me.

But why would she want to be anywhere near me if I carry on behaving as I have been?

I have to do better.

I need to do better.

I must do better.

“Max.. Talk to me Max. What happened?” Max sniffled and slowly raised her head, looking at Victoria. Victoria nearly recoiled in shock - Max's face was deathly pale, streaked with dried blood and the tracks of tears tracing jaggedly down her cheeks. Her eyes seemed dead and lifeless, missing that inner spark of joy that Victoria had come to recognise even in this short time of getting to know her properly.

“Max..” she whispered, brushing a piece of hair out of her eyes. Max mouthed moved slightly, as if she was finding the words to say.

“Victoria.. I.. I... I've killed so many people.. so many..” A solitary tear ran down from her eye as she spoke, and Victoria quickly wiped it away.

“Max.. what are you saying? You haven't done anything.. why are you saying that..”

“I saw it,” Max continued brokenly, “I saw it all. What I.. she.. did. We killed them, over and over again.” She shivered, her hands shaking slightly. “It was so easy.. the power.. I could do anything.. anything, you understand? I was unstoppable.. so much power.. They were nothing to me, insignificant..” Victoria pulled her in close, trying to break her out of her fugue.

“Shh, Max, it wasn't you. You didn't do those things, it's not you. It didn't happen. You're here, with me, in your bathroom, getting a little cramp.” Max pulled away from her a little, shaking her head.

“No, I was there, it was me.. I did it.. I.. killed, tortured them.. so easy..” Max began to shake again, and Victoria pulled her in close to her, holding her tight until she gradually stopped. There was a silence as they sat there, Victoria trying not to breathe too much less she disturbed what ever fragile recovery Max was going through as she processed everything she had experienced.

“I'm sorry,” Max muttered eventually. “This is not how I wanted tonight to go.” Victoria tried to lighten the mood a little, not wanting to probe any further on what Max had been going through just yet.

“Hey, it's fine – it got me out of being interrogated by your parents, at least.” Max slowly raised her head, looking at her in confusion.

“They did what?” she said, in a voice that seemed more recognisably her, much to Victoria's relief.

“Your Dad was threatening to fight me in the garden I think, for the sake of your honour.” Her words seem to bring Max back to the present, and she gave an exasperated sigh before trying to stand up. Victoria quickly rose with her, holding on tight just in case she felt unsteady on her feet.

“Are you OK to get up and leave? Is.. is it over?” she asked, searching Max's face to see if there was any residual effects left on her. Max smiled at her and squeezed her arm gently.

“Yes, I actually feel fine. Honestly. Nothing to worry about. All good.” Victoria stared at her, and Max averted her gaze.

“Max..” Max turned away slightly and her shoulders sagged a little. She walked over to the bathroom mirror and stared at her reflection, before looking at Victoria who had appeared behind her, reflected in the mirror.

“I feel -”

Max! Everything OK up there? Your dinner is getting cold!” Max stiffened slightly at the sound of her Mom's voice, as if remembering where she was.

“Yes Mom! I'm OK, just felt a little bit funny that's all! We'll be down in a sec!” Victoria moved up close behind her, and picked up a sponge.

“Let me help clean your face at least, and we'll need to change your top. Explaining why there is blood all over it may be a bit difficult, and I really don't want to fight your Dad. Here, hold you hair and I'll see to the damage.” With practised ease Victoria gently wiped the blood and grime from Max's face, conscious of Max watching her every move in the mirror. Victoria worked silently but quickly, and Max found her touch to be surprisingly gentle, the occasional graze of her fingertips feeling like electric across her skin.

“There,” said Victoria, stepping back and looking critically over her. “All done. It's good that you don't need to wear much makeup, made it much easier.” She paused, listening to what she had just said. “I mean that you didn't wear makeup today.” Max inspected her face in the mirror, and smiled.

“Thank you,” she said, giving Victoria's hand a quick squeeze. “You know what? You definitely don't need make up to look good.” She walked out of the bathroom, turning back with a querying look at Victoria, who was standing still as if lost in thought. “Come on, Victoria, I need a new top and then we need to get back downstairs. Let's chat about this after dinner, so my parents don't get too suspicious and only suspect we are up to something naughty, as opposed to breaking apart the fabric of reality.”

Victoria followed Max out of the bathroom, her mind occupied by the feeling of Max's skin under her fingers, her blue eyes watching her, the squeeze of her hand. She was troubled by how easily Max was throwing her off balance like this, and also how desperately she wanted it to happen again.

She waited patiently outside Max's room for a minute while Max quickly threw on a new top, before they both went back downstairs to rejoin Max's parents at the dinner table. Vanessa greeted them with a smile, whilst Ryan steadfastly concentrated on the remains of his meal and his beer, looking for all the world like a naughty child who had been told off.

“Are you feeling OK, Maxi - Max?” asked Vanessa. “Do you have an upset stomach? Do you want some Ex-lax?” Victoria sniggered as Max looked at her mother, scandalised.

“Mom! Don't be disgusting. No, I just had a little nosebleed, that's all. Victoria helped me clear it up.”

“Nosebleed?” queried Vanessa. “how did that happen?” Max shrugged non-committally, whilst sitting down and finishing off her meal. Victoria gave Vanessa a wide smile as she continued eating as well, commenting on how tasty it all was and how did she make it, to try and distract from any further questioning.



The rest of the meal passed without incident, with some pleasant conversation developing around various places they had all been on holiday – Victoria had to remind herself to not show off about all the places she had been, and instead to enquire politely about what the Caulfield's had done. She found that although what they had done was relatively humble by her standards, they had all done it together as a family and all had several amusing anecdotes to tell. It was during one particularly hilarious story that Max's Dad was retelling with suitable embellishment, involving Max at a funfair eating so much ice cream she was sick all over herself after getting on a ride (with Max protesting at every stage of the story whilst getting redder and redder), that it struck Victoria that this is how family life should be.

I wish I could have a story like that. Who cares if I have been skiing in Courchevel with a bunch of interchangeable rich kids who I can't even remember now?

Who cares if I got so drunk on champagne when I was 15 that I vomited into a fountain and couldn't even remember who took me home? They don't here. I don't have any such story to tell.

Victoria found her mood cooled somewhat, and was glad when Max started to help clear the table, eagerly joining her in doing so - much to Max's surprise.

“I thought the great Victoria Chase had staff for this sort of thing,” Max whispered to her with a sly wink, earning a prod in the ribs.

“I do, Caulfield, but I need to show you how to do it properly - otherwise you won't get paid at the end of the month.” Victoria got a return dig in the ribs for her trouble, but any further escalation in hostilities was ended by Vanessa coming into the kitchen to ask if they wanted any dessert.

“No thank you,” said Max swiftly, to Victoria's immense disappointment, “We were just going to run through some photography stuff before Victoria has to go home.”

“Oh, OK – well if I don't see you before you go, Victoria, then it has been a pleasure to meet you. I am sure we will meet again, won't we, Max?” Victoria blushed slightly but managed to thank her in return, before Max grabbed her by the hand and took her upstairs, conscious of them being under the watchful eye of her parents.



Max's room was exactly how Victoria had imagined it would be – a strange mixture of the adult Max mixed with relics of her childhood scattered all about, including a few drawings Max had done of various manga characters on the wall that Victoria pretended she didn't recognise.

Max herself felt a little nervous; it was the first time she had had someone like Victoria in her room in Seattle – although what the phrase 'someone like Victoria' actually meant to her at this moment in time was ignored for later thought. She motioned Victoria to sit on the bed while she quickly moved around, trying to tidy up a little and kicking some dirty clothes out of sight.

“Um.. sorry about the mess,” she said, “and don't look at the posters too much.. or anything else for that matter. I've been here since I was 13, so..” She scratched the back of her neck as she looked at Victoria, who suddenly seemed to take a keen interest in all of the posters on her wall.

“Hmm.. The Avengers - that's a bit mainstream for you, isn't it? Green Day? Passable. Wait - Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Really? I'll give you a pass for Motoko Kusanagi though.” Max folded her arms defensively.

“Nothing wrong with Buffy. You should watch it, you might actually like it.” Victoria rolled her eyes.

“Max, what sort of big giant Warren style nerd do you think I am?” she said, looking askance at Max who seemed a little hurt at her reaction. “Besides, it went downhill when Cordelia left.” Victoria ignored Max's expression and started inspecting some of the photos on the wall - some of Max's earlier work while she was still experimenting with finding her style. Max watched her former mortal enemy sit on her bed in her old room in Seattle, looking absolutely fabulous still as she surveyed the artefacts left from Max slowly growing up.

Victoria is sitting there on my bed. This is so surreal. I can't believe this is actually happening.

But then again I can't believe any of this is. I wonder when I am going to wake up from it all.

Victoria sighing drew her attention back to the here and now, and she saw that she was looking at her, chin resting on her fist as her green eyes held a slightly sad expression. She didn't say anything, and Max felt a desperate need to fill the silence.

“What is it? Do you want to go?”

“No,” said Victoria, a little dejected. “No, not that. It's just.. looking at these photos, you have so much talent from such a young age it's really fucking annoying. I've worked my ass off to get to where I am, and you just.. ugh. It's so frustrating. It has been since the day you arrived at Blackwell, you just seemed to do it all so effortlessly.” Max looked at her in surprise - hearing such praise from Victoria was something else she was adding to the ever growing pile of surrealness.

“I'm not that good Victoria, I just take some silly Polaroids. Your photos have a real technical quality to them, you can see how the lighting and composition all line up so perfectly – it's something I can never do. You should be proud of yourself, you have some serious talent as well.” Max held up her finger, as if she had suddenly just had an idea. Victoria cocked her head to look at her, her mind still thinking on Max's words.

“Um, I was just thinking actually – how about a photo of us together? Like to commemorate the new start for us both. And.. and a reminder of the day we've had. It's been really special to me, and I'd like to just have a memento of it.” Victoria didn't say anything but just looked at her with raised eyebrows, which made Max blush and begin to stammer. “I mean.. only if you want to, it was just a thought. I had hoped you had enjoyed yourself, but if you don't want to then I under-”

“Stop babbling Caulfield, and get your ass over here. Of course we can take a photo together. It would be good to see you at work, actually.” Max smiled shyly at her and went and rummaged in her bag, before triumphantly holding up her camera.

“We’ll use this, it’s better than our cells and I guess you didn’t bring your expensive technical marvel?” Victoria shook her head.

“No, I left it back at Blackwell. I left in a bit of a hurry really. Bit stupid of me, I could have spent some time getting some practice shots in, instead of moping about.”

“Ah, but then you wouldn’t have invited me over, so it worked out in the end. Shift over then, let me sit down.” Victoria shuffled along the bed and Max plonked herself down next to her, causing her to fall in against her.

“Sorry..” Victoria said, trying to lean away a little. Max ignored her and held up the camera in front of them, at an angle so they had to look up into the lens.

“OK, lean in and look up,” she ordered Victoria, “and no duck face please.”

“I don’t do duck face,” Victoria said, pouting like a duck, “I do have some class.”

“You are literally doing it right now. Stop it, just look normal. OK, are you ready? On the count of three..” Max counted down slowly, and as she reached three she snaked her free arm around Victoria's waist, pulling her in. Victoria turned her head to look at Max in surprise, just as Max pressed the shutter.

“Max! Why did you do that, you ruined my..”

“Shh you, wait and see,” said Max, as the picture rolled out of the camera. Victoria watched it slowly develop, hyper-conscious of the fact that Max hadn’t yet removed her arm and not daring to move an inch lest she disturb her. Max put the camera down on the bed and picked up the Polaroid, waving it between her fingers as it developed. Victoria resisted the urge to tell her it was pointless, as she surely knew it was.

It’s just an affectation she has, Victoria thought.

It’s kinda cu-

Endearing.

Max inspected the photograph between her fingers, admiring the photo she had taken. As per her plan, she was looking up at the camera with a smile on her face, eyes wide and clear, with Victoria looking at her with an unguarded expression of surprise and – if she wasn’t reading too much into it – affection. She thought that she looked acceptable enough; but to her, the real star was Victoria. The unguarded expression seemed to soften her harsh face a little, making it look even more beautiful than she had thought was possible; her eyes bright as she gazed at Max. The whole effect made her catch her breath a little, and to cover it she passed the photo over to Victoria to look at.

“Here, what do you think?” Max felt her fingers brush against Victoria's and she swallowed hard, trying to ignore the close proximity of her. She realised she could smell her perfume, feel the warmth of her body, how soft she was against her and under her hand which still grasped her –

Oh my god I’ve left my hand there.

I’m literally hugging Victoria Chase.

Oh my god, what do I do.

I need to get my hand back, but will she notice? But she must know it's there!

And yet she hasn't complained.

But I can't keep hugging her like this, it’s not.. not..

Not what?

I don’t know! Stop asking questions!

Victoria was doing her best to ignore the quietly panicking Max, concentrating on the photo in her hands instead. She hated to admit it to herself, but the shot was really, really good. She tried not to get pissed off at the fact that Max had literally just quickly posed them and pointed her crappy old out-of-date camera and still managed to produce such a good shot, something she thought would take her numerous attempts to even come close to.

Envy is a sin, Vic.

Just because she can take a good selfie doesn't mean you don't have talent, does it.

But she doesn't just take good selfies..

Dammit.

“That's a really great photo, Max. Like really good. Could you give me a copy? Just so I can study it further, I mean. Get some tips from it. That's all.” Max smiled without looking at her and shifted slightly, making Victoria uncomfortably aware once again of her hand gripping her waist.

“Sure. I'll. Scan. It for you. Later. Then email it? That OK?” Max seemed to be having trouble speaking clearly, as if she was thinking of something else.

Victoria turned to look at Max, who was coyly playing with her hair as she concentrated on the photo she had taken. She felt a weird fuzzy feeling inside of her that she knew she wanted to keep on feeling; but she also knew that she had to ask a question which had been forming in her mind for some time.

“So, Max,” she said carefully, “earlier at the table - what happened? Did you have another flashback type thing? What made you feel so.. certain about what you had done?” She felt Max stiffen against her as she asked the question, and immediately thought she had made a mistake - but Max just sighed after a moment and seemed to deflate, removing her hand from around Victoria's waist (who immediately felt a sense of disappointment, that quickly passed) and rubbing her face with both hands, before looking down at the floor.

“I owe you an explanation, don't I – especially as you came to look after me. Thank you for that, by the way – it really meant a lot to me. It.. surprised me that you did, but I am grateful.”

“Surprised you?” asked Victoria. “Why would it surprise you?” Max laughed a little to herself, but it was a laugh without humour.

“Because.. because I still keep expecting you to act mean to me, that's why. So every time you don't I am.. pleasantly surprised. And it's good.” She looked at Victoria, whose face wore a pained expression. “I'm sorry, but that's just how I feel – it's going to take some time to get used to this, I mean you can't really blame me, can you?” Victoria looked at her for a moment, and Max thought she saw the flicker of the return of her 'bitch face' but it quickly passed, and Victoria shook her head sadly.

“No, I guess not,” she sad, “I wish it wasn't the case but I can sort of understand it. But I'm trying, Max, I really am. I really want to do better. I do.” Max squeezed her leg.

“I know you do. I appreciate it, I do, and.. and I want you to as well. I like what I have seen so far, I can understand I think why she.. why she.. you know.” Victoria nodded, but didn't say anything. Max gave her leg another reassuring squeeze.

“Just give it time, Victoria, please. Let's not rush anything. OK? If it's our destiny then it'll all work out without us forcing it, won't it.” Victoria nodded again, but this time trusted herself to speak.

“Time. I know. I just wish..” she paused, then smiled ruefully. “I was going to say I wish we could shortcut it, but life doesn't work like that does it? And if we did, would it last? Or mean anything? I don't know. I just feel..” She paused again, then just looked glumly at the floor.

“You feel what?” said Max, bending her head to try and look in her eyes. Victoria pushed her away gently, with a little laugh.

“Don't you go looking at me with those puppy dog eyes of yours, Max. Ugh. You just make me feel.. calm. Whole. Better. I don't know how to describe it.” Max looked at her thoughtfully, before slowly wrapping an arm around her shoulder and giving her a genuine hug this time. Victoria reached up and clasped her hand and closed her eyes, just savouring the moment.

“Thank you,” she whispered eventually, letting go of Max's hand. “I mean it, genuinely. But you have successfully yet again managed to completely avoid answering my question. What happened?” Max bit her lip, and folded her hands back in her lap.

“I saw.. I saw Kate die,” she said eventually, making Victoria gasp and hold her hand to her mouth, and Max could immediately feel a sharp drop in temperature.

“No, not that way,” Max said quickly, “Not.. because of you. No, I didn't mean.. that's the wrong words. I mean, not how it apparently happened before. This was not suicide. She was murdered, run over. It was.. horrendous.” She shuddered as she remembered the sound of the car hitting Kate, and then Victoria going crazy with power.

Do I tell her that?

No secrets Max, it will only come out in the end, and be much worse when it does.

“You were there, and you kind of lost control. It was.. spectacular, but I seemed to find it troubling for some reason. Like it was untamed, wild, dangerous.” She stopped for a moment, her throat already feeling like it had a lump in it which she tried to swallow past.

“Spectacular?”

“Yeah. Like you had generated this vortex, with wind and everything. You know how like Storm in X-Men does that thing with the lightning? Sort of like that.”

“Again, I have no idea what you are talking about, Max. I don’t watch that sort of low culture thing, so I don’t know who Storm or Rogue or Wolverine are.” Max could see the slight smile on her lips this time, and pushed her gently with her shoulder.

“I’m trying to be serious here, and you are not helping.”

“I know you are,“ said Victoria, “I’m just trying to not let this get to heavy. It’s been one hell of a fucking day already, and I don’t want to go home feeling even more depressed than I need too.”

“That’s fair,” Max conceded. “But you want to know what I saw, so.. it is not going to be all great. Just warning you.” Victoria shrugged.

“I know. I wouldn’t have asked otherwise, but.. we need to discuss these things. They affect both of us, you – and me – are not alone in this.” Max thought on her words, finding them oddly comforting.

It’s good that I can talk to someone about this, otherwise.. I would go crazy. It’s not healthy to keep things bottled in Max, remember what your counsellor said.

Yeah, and a fat lot of good she did helping me adjust to all that change.

“So that happened at the dinner table. And then when I got to the bathroom it all came back again, except it wasn’t the same – I.. She was sitting on the hood of a car, and there were the two policeman. I.. She.. she had already shot one of them, and she was.. was.. torturing the other one for information. I watched myself rewind and do it over and over, the feeling of such power and strength and holding their fate in the palm of my hand, and I.. she.. felt nothing, like it was just completely normal. I did such terrible things, Victoria, such terrible things..” Max stopped speaking, staring vacantly at the wall as the images played through her mind once more, making her shiver. She felt a hand slowly creep into hers, fingers slowly entwining.

“But it wasn’t you, was it. It didn’t happen, it never happened.. it’s all different now.” Victoria voice was soft and low, stripped of the occasional cold edge it could have. “Look – let's check in the Journal and see if it ties up with anything, then we can know for sure what’s going on. It'll prove it wasn't you.” Max nodded slowly then got up, walking over to her desk and picking it up from where she had put it for safe keeping. She sat back down next to Victoria and opened it in her lap, and began to leaf through the pages.

“Wait a second,” said Victoria, putting a manicured finger on the page to stop her from turning the pages, “what did you write about me there?”

“N-nothing,” said Max, trying to quickly turn the page, “let’s just get to the important part and ignore those – hey, give it back!” Victoria leapt up, holding the journal triumphantly up in her hand.

“Aha! I should have done this when I had the chance before, now what have you written about me, Maxine Caulfield?” Max jumped up, trying to get the journal back from Victoria who held it aloft, just out of her reach.

“Nothing you aren’t disproving right now, you big meanie!” said Max, desperately trying to get it back. She leapt up to grab it out of Victoria's hand, who moved away at the last second causing Max to fall against her, knocking them both to the floor with Max ending up pinned underneath Victoria. Max could feel herself getting hotter and hotter as Victoria rested across her, leaning on her elbows while leafing through the journal.

“Let's see.. wait.. here we are.. 'And how could I forget Victoria Chase? Rich, stylish, entitled. I could feel INSTANT JUDGMENT when she looked at my raggedy ass clothes. As if I'm at Blackwell to strike fashion poses... Maybe I'm being extra crispy sensitive, but I think Victoria wants life here to be like her own reality show. Ugh.'” Victoria's voice became slower and slower as she read, until she got to the last bit. She lay there looking at the words, her face a picture of sadness. Max lay underneath her, conscious of her smell and the heavy but very soft part of her chest that was pressing down against her -

“Um, Victoria, can you -” Victoria didn't seem to hear but was just staring at the words on the page.

“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck,” she muttered, before turning a few more pages. “You did profiles on people? That's.. never mind. When did you take this photo of me, Max? Wait, never mind again - 'Then there's Victoria Chase, the elite of Blackwell Academy, and a total bitch. And I hate saying that. I just don't know why somebody who's so rich and beautiful needs to be so fucking mean..'” Victoria read the rest in silence before closing the journal and pushing it away from her.

There was an uncomfortable silence in the room, until suddenly Victoria remembered where she was and stood up quickly, straightening her top and looking anywhere but at Max.

“I'm.. sorry,” she said eventually. “I shouldn't have read that, but I guess I got what I deserved in doing so.” She raised her hand to her forehead, and her eyes appeared to glisten slightly. “I'm.. sorry. Sorry for everything. I.. I think I should go.” She turned away from Max and stumbled blindly away from her towards the door, Max watching her in shock from the floor. She could feel the telltale signs of Victoria being upset, and a mist seemed to be forming around her as the temperature dropped markedly.

Max you idiot, don't just lie there, say something!

“Victoria!” she shouted, causing her to pause with her hand on the door handle, back turned to her. “Wait, please. Don't go.” Max got up quickly and stood awkwardly behind her staring at her back, noticing the tense way she held her shoulders with her fists clenched at her side. Max tried to find the right words to say to her, feeling as if this was an important moment between them.

And no rewinding if I get it wrong, OK? A promise is a promise.

“Look,” she sighed, “I wrote that ages ago, when I first met you. You didn't exactly leave a great impression on me, did you? How was I supposed to know.. I mean, this is the first time that we have actually talked like proper human beings – and we've managed it for the whole day! It's felt so.. warm and nice to make a connection with you, and I meant what I said before when I said that I could see how other me ended up so in love with you. I mean it, it's been a revelation. It shouldn't have been, and that's partly my fault for not bothering to look closer, or even to ask.” She reached out and placed a hand gently onto the small of her back, feeling Victoria shift and then slightly relax into it, Max noting the noticeable rise in temperature as she did so.

Again I can feel it – her power flowing through her, and like I am somehow making it subside within her.

Weird. Something to think about later.

Now though..

“And.. I don't know why, but having you around just feels.. right, somehow. I can't explain it.” Victoria turned slowly around and looked at her, green eyes wide.

“You feel it too?” she said quietly. “Like.. it is just supposed to.. be? Like it is.. destined somehow, like you said.” Max looked down and loosely grasped Victoria's fingers, thinking for a moment.

“Yes. I do. And I really can't explain it, and it makes no sense to me given.. given..”

“Given I am a total bitch?” said Victoria, her face serious. Max blushed at her words, knowing that Victoria was throwing back at her exactly what she had written.

“Well yes.. basically. But as I said, today has been really good. Really good. And I want to find out more about the mysterious Victoria Chase, something I would not have said last week, believe me.”

“I know, I read it plainly enough.” Victoria sighed and loosely played with Max's fingers, before suddenly looking back up at her. “But you also wrote I am beautiful, so clearly you have been spending far to long staring at me, Caulfield.” Max went a little red and turned away, bending down to pick up her journal.

“Yeah well, I do have some taste, Chase,” she muttered. “Come on, let's at least read this thing since we've got it open.”



They both sat down on the bed again, this time feeling slightly less self-conscious of each others proximity. It felt like something important had been said between them, that they both felt like they weren't completely groping in the dark over the feelings they were experiencing even after such a short amount of time together. Max sneaked a quick look at Victoria as she laid the Journal out between them, balancing a page on each of their knees.

I told her it will take time, and it will. You can't just conjure feelings out of thin air, but I have seen a side to her I would never have expected. She really does seem to care for me, and I would never have thought she could be so selfless - which is kind of really judgemental when I think about it. She just seems so vulnerable at times, and I can see how she struggles with who she is and what she is expected to be. I can't blame her for that, can I? Plus, you must admit that tonight she looks really -

“Er Max? You're daydreaming again.”

“Oh, sorry,” said Max, going red again as her thoughts were interrupted by the very person she was thinking about. “I tend to zone out sometimes, thinking about stuff.”

“I know,” said Victoria with a tender smile, “I've noticed. I mean, not that I have been staring or anything, you understand.”

“And I haven't been looking at you or taking photos, either,” said Max, with a sly grin. “Anyway, back to business – stop wandering off topic.” Victoria blew a raspberry at her, then covered her mouth in shame at her childishness.

“Oh my god, what are you doing to me? My social status is just going to go right through the floor if I hang out with you.”

“Just wait until people find out you have watched Spirit's Within with me, that'll be the complete end. You'll be one of us then.” Victoria went to protest then realised Max just might have invited her to watch a movie together, so swiftly shut it.

“Right, here we are,” said Max, pouring over the densely written text. “It's exactly as I said - the attempt on Kate, finding out about the police – although she left out a lot of the detail I see. It happened on the same day, too, and at the same time.”

“Like a parallel universe, bleeding into ours,” said Victoria. “It's like you are experiencing what she did while you are trying to get on with your life here. It must be down to her trying to reset the timeline and get everything to work how she wants it.” Max tapped the page with her finger.

“But she doesn't mention that sort of thing happening before to her, so what's the difference this time?” Victoria absently mindedly smoothed out the duvet, thinking.

“Maybe,” she said slowly, “maybe it's down to that photo. The fact we have to destroy it – maybe in the future we did do that, but it's causing ripples across time which is causing things to become unstable now because we haven't done it yet. And this is what we are getting.” Max looked at her, impressed.

“You're not just a pretty face are you. Then we have to make sure we destroy that photo on Sunday - after a week like we were asked to. It's the only way, isn't it – if we don't then..”

“What do you think will happen?” Max shrugged.

“Your guess is as good as mine. It's all new to me, as well.” Victoria yawned suddenly, covering her mouth as she did so in apology.

“Oh, sorry – it's been a long day, and I'm feeling pretty tired.” Max looked at her with sympathy.

“Well I don't want you falling asleep and crashing your car on the way home, so you'd better go.” Max paused, looking at her. “I mean I don't want you to go right now, but it's better to be safe than sorry.”

“Yes Mom,” said Victoria, reluctantly standing up to go. “Thank you for inviting me over tonight though, it's been.. nice.”

“And eventful,” chuckled Max, “looks like we are stuck having drama follow us for now, at least.”

“Yeah,” Victoria smiled, “but it's nice to be able to share it with you. Even if I am a total bitch.”

“Hey,” Max pouted, “I told you that I had written that weeks ago. You're not going to keep bringing it up are you? That would make you a total bitch.”

“Depends on how well you behave, Maximus.” Max rolled her eyes.

“Only my Dad calls me that - and don't even think about saying Maxine either, Vicky.”

“Vicky? Oh, I don't think so, Maxine.” Max wagged her finger at her.

“You'd better behave yourself then, Vicky.” They looked at each other then broke out in grins, before leaving the room.



Max stuck her head into the kitchen to tell her parents that Victoria was leaving, and they both came out into the hallway to say goodbye.

“Thank you for having me,” Victoria said, holding out her hand for them to shake. Ryan looked at her with an amused grin then shook it energetically.

“It's been a pleasure to have you, Victoria. Are you staying in Seattle long or when can we expect you again? You are more than welcome here at any time.”

“Thank you, Mr Caulfield, that's very kind. Oh!” said Victoria, putting her hand to her forehead. “I'd forgotten to ask you, Max – I was going to head back tomorrow, do you want a lift with me? Or are you going to stay here longer?” Victoria looked at Max with a hopeful expression, which she swore was mirrored in Ryan and Vanessa's faces. Max looked at her than glanced back at her parents, who nodded eagerly at her. Max stuck her tongue out at them before turning back to Victoria.

“I'd love to – we could go down the coast and take some shots of the Ocean if you'd like? What time did you have in mind?” Max said, slowly ushering Victoria towards the door and away from her parents, who seemed to be loitering with intent – or nosiness. With the door safely closed, they both stood there awkwardly on the porch.

“So,” said Max, trying to work out what to do with her hands.

“So,” said Victoria, who folded her arms slightly defensively across herself. They both looked at each other, feeling a slight tension in the air.

“So what time will you pick me up tomorrow?” said Max finally, striking out into safe conversational territory.

“Around 12? Means we should get to Blackwell early evening, and it's not too early to get up. I feel like I need a lie in.” Max nodded.

“Sounds good. Gives me time for breakfast and all.” There was another awkward silence as they both didn't meet each others gaze.

“Um..” said Max, trying to work out how to get out of a situation that she was increasingly becoming aware of was becoming really, really awkward. There seemed, to her, to be an unspoken expectation in the air, as if the universe was expecting them to do something. She braved a glance at Victoria, and it looked like she was experiencing exactly the same emotions.

This is ridiculous, you can travel through time and she can conjure ice out of thin air. You are pretty much the most powerful person on the planet, as far as you are aware -

Oh my god now there's a thought I didn't want to just have.

- and you are acting like you are 13.

She stepped forward towards Victoria and held out her arms. Victoria looked at her in surprise, then a ghost of a smile appeared and she stepped gratefully into the hug. Max rested her head on Victoria's shoulder, breathing in her perfume and enjoying the sensation of Victoria's arms holding her tight, hands resting just above her hips. Max closed her eyes and absent-mindedly rubbed her hand along Victoria's side, feeling her tense then seemingly shift to hold Max tighter.

Max eventually brought her head up to look at Victoria, so close to her face that their noses were nearly touching. She looked into her eyes and thought she saw an inner light within them, and her gaze flicked down to the cherry red lips and back up again, as she felt she could feel something stir within Victoria.

“Max,” breathed Victoria softly, and the world seemed to hold its breath – Max could feel that all she had to do was lean a little bit in, and her lips would be against Victoria's, something that part of her was screaming at her to do, while another part of her brain was desperately trying to get her attention to more urgent matters.

The sound of something smashing to the floor jerked her head away, and she looked around in confusion as it was followed two or three times more. Max looked down and saw the tell-tale signs of ice slowly melting on the floor, as if there had been a very localised hailstorm.

“Oh shit,” said Victoria in frustration and disappointment, letting go of Max and clenching her fists in frustration. “Why can't I -” Max quickly grabbed her hand again, before she could start working herself up into another state of agitation.

“It's fine, Victoria, honestly. Thank you, for everything. I'll see you tomorrow,” she said, planting a swift peck on Victoria's cheek before fleeing back into her house before she could react, or Max could regret it.

 

Max re-entered the house humming happily to herself, only to be greeted by her parents looking at her with big grins on their faces.

“Not. A. Single. Word,” said Max threateningly, before escaping up the stairs to her room. She lay down on her bed and folded her arms behind her head, looking up at the ceiling with a feeling of immense happiness.

Today was just.. awesome, on the whole. It felt like we really connected, more than I could have ever thought was possible. And she can be so nice and sweet, even if I can still see how she has been at Blackwell.

Maybe that will never go away, but maybe it can be.. softened. That would be nice to see.

Plus, god did she look hot tonight, the feeling of her on top of me that time was..

Max felt herself flushing hot, and rolled onto her front to try and think of something else. She picked up her cell and browsed idly on the internet for a while, before deciding to give Kate a call – she hadn't spoken to her today, and felt like just randomly chatting to her – a bit of normality to end the insane day she had had.

Kate answered after a few rings and greeted her warmly down the line, both exchanging pleasantries with each other.

'So what have you been up to today? Are you bored of being home yet?' Kate sounded in good cheer, as if she had had a good day herself.

“You will never believe this,” Max gushed, “but guess who I spent the day with?”

'Erm.. Warren? Did he come up to see you in his new car, unannounced?' Max pulled a face.

“Oh, no, no way not that. Eugh. But only Victoria Chase! Can you believe it?” There was a silence from the other end, before Kate replied in a quieter voice.

'Victoria?'

“Yes,” gushed Max excitedly, “and it was freaking amazing! I went to her massive house, we had lunch, she showed me the huge garden; then I invited her back to meet my parents and we had dinner and everything! It's unbelievable isn't it?!”

'You spent the day with Victoria? Max, how could you after everything she did? And everything she has done to you? I really can't believe it Max, tell me you are joking. Please.' Max felt a sudden sinking feeling in her stomach as she realised what she had just said to Kate.

Oh shit. What have I done? How could I have not thought about this?

Max you are so stupid sometimes, of course Kate would react like this! Now you've really gone and upset her with your big mouth.

Unless..

'- home yet?'

“Oh, not much,” said Max with a crushing feeling of guilt inside of her, “I just sort of hung out. I'm probably coming back tomorrow though. Anyway, what has got you so excited?” Max listened to Kate tell her about her day with a hollow feeling inside of her.

How do I make this work? And if I can't, do I have to choose?



Victoria lay on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. She had been back an hour or two and had taken a long hot shower before getting ready for bed, all the while turning the events of the day over and over in her head, endlessly analysing each interaction for how she could have done something better or said something different.

Me and Max really connected today.

Max kissed me on the cheek.

Well, it was more of a peck, but I'll take it as a kiss!

Max's parents seemed to really like me.

Max kissed me on the cheek.

Max thinks I'm beautiful.

Max kissed me on the cheek!

She rolled over onto her side and picked up her cell, looking at the picture of the two of them Max had sent her earlier. She didn't dare set it as her wallpaper, not least in case someone else saw it and started asking awkward questions, but she had made sure that there was a backup safely stored somewhere else.

She stared at the photo, remembering what it had been like to be so close to Max, and also the shock of finding out what she had written in the Journal about her. She knew that it had been completely deserved, but to see it written down so plainly like that had hit her hard. The old doubts about Max wanting to even speak to her again started to creep back, and she tried to focus on what she actually knew, rather than what she thought she knew.

Max kissed me on the cheek.

The image of her quickly running back in to her house like an embarrassed school girl lingered in her mind, along with the warm after glow she had felt as she slowly drove home, her mind half on the road and half on that image.

And tomorrow.. we drive back to Blackwell.

Blackwell. Taylor. Courtney. The Vortex Club. Kate.

She groaned a little at the thought of trying to navigate the web of alliances and favours and secrets and sheer arrogance she had built up at Blackwell, something which engaged her time enough as it was without the complication of Max being thrown into the mix, along with everything that had happened with Jefferson and Nathan.

What do I do about it all? How do I come out on top?

How do I keep Max with me through it?

What can I do to make things better for me.. and everyone else?

Such thoughts were interrupted by a notification of a new message, and she grabbed her cell to check, eyes widening with surprise and pleasure when she read it.

11:01 pm Lamefield: hey

11:01 pm Lamefield: see you tomorrow

11:01 pm Lamefield: Sleep well :)

Victoria cringed slightly, before quickly changing a setting and then reading the messages again, heart seeming to pound in her chest as she quickly composed a reply.

11:02 pm VC: And you x

She waited with baited breath for any reply, feeling nervous at what it could be – putting far to much weight on a single message, as if it was of uttermost importance.

11:03 pm Max: xoxo

She stared at the message before clutching the cell to herself, smiling and feeling slightly giddy.

I will make this work.

Chapter Text

The dance floor was crowded and Max struggled to cross it. She knew that she had to reach her, to try and do everything she could to save her; but it seemed as if no matter which way she turned there was always someone blocking her path. 'Get out of my way,' she shouted, trying to push people away from her, but there just seemed to be more and more of them. She felt herself getting angry and frustrated; She was in trouble but Max was powerless to help her. Suddenly the way was clear and she lunged forward - there again was the figure in white, who seemed increasingly familiar to her, with the same looming figure of darkness beyond. Max knew she had to help, to stop what was happening, and she threw herself in-between them. She could feel the anger welling through her, the hatred and contempt for the person who was hurting the person she should protect. She rammed her fist forward, making the shape shrink and diminish, before it collapsed to the ground. Max stood over it, shielding the figure in white from harm, knowing she had the power to end everything, to cleanse, to rid the world of evil. All she had to do was strike; she raised her fist feeling the power flow through her: strong, indomitable, above everyone else..

Max woke in a cold sweat; her palms felt clammy and a feeling of nausea was swilling through her.

That wasn't a vision like the others, it was that dream again. The same as I had before. It feels like a warning... but a warning of what?

She shuddered slightly, the feeling of strength and power that she had felt - tinged with the sense that she could do anything – still lingered, and reminded her uncomfortably of the vision she had of Max in the alternate timeline.

Am I destined to become her? Or is it a warning to not become like her?

But what does the vision mean? Is the white figure supposed to be Victoria? It certainly felt like her..

She lay there for a while longer, trying to puzzle out what it all meant before she gave up and checked the time - it was just after 9, and she had around 3 hours before Victoria was due to pick her up. She also had a message awaiting her, which she eagerly opened to see who it was from.

To her surprising disappointment, it turned out to be a message from Warren.

8:15 am W Graham: hey max check out my new wheels! <attachment.jpg>

8:16 am W Graham: we should go on a trip

8:16 am W Graham: a road trip

8:16 am W Graham: the two of us I mean

8:18 am W Graham: if you want to

8:29 am W Graham: no pressure tho

8:34 am W Graham: ? Max?

Max let out a small sigh. Warren was.. nice. A good friend, and someone who always seemed to have time for her. To much time, sometimes. Max wasn't always the most self aware when it came to matters of the heart, and had been known to be completely oblivious about someone's interest (Exhibit A: Jason in 9th grade) or read someone's interest the wrong way (Exhibit B: Emma in 11th grade; that one was still raw to her - she could still feel the embarrassment when she had realised how wrong she had been, something which had only served to make her even more socially reserved and awkward), but even she was aware of Warren's interest in her as potentially more than a friend.

He's a nice guy, clever and I guess he is handsome, if you like that sort of thing - I can see why someone might like him like that. It's just not going to be me.

A brief image of Victoria's face came into her mind, and she smiled to herself.

Besides, it's not really a competition is it.

She'd eat him alive if she found out she WAS in some sort of competition with him, though. It wouldn't even be a contest.

Max lay there daydreaming about a fight between Victoria and Warren outside the front of Blackwell, while she sat on a throne overseeing the proceedings.

Warren would be dressed in his usual t-shirt with a stupid logo on it and some jeans, and Victoria would have to be wearing something that allowed her to move freely, but doesn't like, you know, cover too much. Just in case she got hot. Like one of those chain mail bikini things from that mod I downloaded for Skyrim.

And then after a tough fight with lots of lunging and litheness she'd vanquish him and stand in front of me, all sweaty and proud and heaving and I'd be like 'Oh, Lady Victoria, you have bravely slain my foe! Now as is customary, it is time for you to come claim your reward!' And then she would come over and..

Without her conscious effort Max's hand began to slowly creep downwards as she imagined ever more complex details of her fantasy, and began to work herself up into a most delightful feeling of pleasure, when suddenly her cell beeped again.

9:13 am W Graham: I mean it would be cool. When u back? Wanna go 2 whales?

Max groaned as her increasingly elaborate fantasy disappeared in a puff.

Probably for the better, I can't be having those sort of thoughts right now.

Although it's not like you haven't had them before, is it.

Maybe, but then it was just a fantasy based on her looks. Now though, with the chance it could actually be something.. anyway I actually need to be productive this morning – I don't have that much time, and certainly not enough time to do this justice.

I'll file it away for the future though, when I do.

Max knew she needed to reply to Warren, if only to stem the inevitable spam of messages she would receive otherwise.

9:24 am M@x: nice wheels, very old skool. I'm back tonight, catch up then :-)

She put her cell down, braced for the instant reply. When it came she rolled her eyes, but still had the courtesy to read it.

9:26 am Victoria Chase: max you big nerd do you play games

Max grinned broadly at the message, being pleasantly surprised at the sender and suddenly feeling very engaged with wanting to text after all. She rolled onto her front, and stared happily at the screen as she replied.

9:26 am M@x: your one to talk! And yes I do why? I was just thinking about Skyrim actually, have you played that?

Max saw another notification pop up, but saw it was from Warren this time and impatiently swiped it away.

That can wait, it won't be important.

9:27 am VCx: you're

Max rolled her eyes, and waited for another message, but that was it. Max debated with herself whether to reply but thought she'd try and play it cool and appear to be not bothered about it.

Don't want to appear to be too keen. Hmm, a mystery to be solved though - what is she planning? I'll grill her later, but for now I need to get on with sorting out my stuff.

Max rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom.



Victoria parked up and looked at the front of the store. It had taken some research and the use of her company's legal team (something she had felt nervous about doing, but had found them surprisingly helpful – something she made note of for future use) to find exactly what she wanted, but she was sure that this was the right place – the owner had a reputation for being very knowledgable and honest, if a little odd. Out of habit she checked her appearance in the mirror - she had put on slightly less makeup than she was used to, but she thought that the overall effect was slightly better than her full on warpaint.

Maybe Max was right about that, then. Well I can always experiment, nothing wrong with trying a new style.

Although it's not like I'm doing it because she said I'd look better. I'd never do something like that, it's just a coincidence.

Right, I don't have that much time so let's do this.

Victoria strode confidently in through the front of the shop – it turned out to be smaller than she expected, with the walls covered with various items of electronics and a few promotional posters and some cardboard cutouts of famous characters dotted around on the floor. There were only two customers in the store at this early hour, and they were both at the front desk talking to someone who she presumed was the owner. The store smelled slightly musty, with the lingering odour of stale sweat laced through it in a concoction that made her instinctively want to turn around and leave.

Come on Vic, it's just a shop. Just imagine it's a camera shop.

A particularly low end camera shop, but one all the same.

She felt three pairs of eyes on her as she walked across the floor, feeling a slight flicker of amusement as she realised that she must appear a complete fish out of water to them – which annoyed her as well, when she gave it some thought.

Why shouldn't I enjoy these things too? It's not solely the preserve of boys, is it.

She arrived at the desk and stood there for a moment, eyeing the owner up and down, her face slipping without her realising into what Max had called her 'bitch face'. The owner, a mid height lanky fellow with slightly greasy hair, a shabby black t-shirt and black framed glasses exchanged an amused glance with the two other patrons before leaning forward a little and smiling at her.

“Can I help you, m'lady? Are you lost?” Victoria rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh.

Did he really just call me m'lady? I thought that sort of thing was just a joke.

“Yes, you can actually. There's a game I want to play with someone, and my current laptop is not up to spec – well actually, it's a Macbook Pro, so it's completely the wrong thing. I need a PC.”

“Are you sure, you would not be better off with a console?” asked one of the other customers, who Victoria presumed wasn't actually a customer but just someone who liked to hang out here. “They are much simpler to use than a PC, and..” He trailed off into silence after receiving a look that chilled him to the marrow.

“No,” Victoria said, “I want a PC. And I want it delivered by tomorrow, with everything I need already loaded onto it and ready to go.” The owner stood up a bit straighter, a vague amount of business sense beginning to override whatever initial prejudices he may have had.

“Well,” he said, “that may be possible, but I guess it depends on what you want. Now, for something like Farmville you won't need -” Victoria banged her hand down on the counter loudly, making them all jump. She leaned forward over it, her face hard as she exhausted the limit of whatever patience she had managed to build up. A piece of paper fluttered in a sudden breeze, and it began to feel a little chilly in the room.

“Listen, you - it's going to have at least a NVIDIA GTX 780 Ti with an Intel i7 running on a ASUS Z87 motherboard. I also want at least 16gb of DDR3 RAM, and if you even think of skimping by not using SSD's I'm going to be right back here, asking you why the fuck not. Understand?” There was a dangerous silence as she stared at the owner, just daring him to say something; but he just gawped back at her in surprise before suddenly turning very officious, straightening up slightly and moving towards his computer, pushing his glasses back up his nose.

“Did your boyfriend help you with..” began the other customer, before suddenly turning and running from the shop as Victoria turned on him. What he saw in her face at that moment he kept to his dying day, but he often saw it again at 3 o'clock in the morning as he woke covered in sweat during the darker winter months. The other man wisely kept his counsel, and just quietly observed the proceedings.

“That should be easy enough – won't be cheap though, we are looking at..” The owner started typing away on his computer, creating a list to work from.

“The cost is immaterial,” Victoria said. “I want it all setup and running and to be delivered by tomorrow. You will achieve this.” The owner tilted his head in contemplation for a moment, before answering with a wave of his hand.

“Maybe,” he said, “I've got a few other jobs to do and also I won't be able to get started before this afternoon when my assistant arrives to take the afternoon shift on the desk.” Victoria shook her head, and tapped the counter impatiently.

“No, it will be done by tomorrow,” she said. “Furthermore, you will provide me with technical support for upgrades for the foreseeable future until I no longer need you, understand?” The owner looked at her with a confused frown.

“I don't usually enter into that -”

“My lawyers will draw up the contract. You will be well remunerated for your time, but there will of course be NDA's within it as part of the deal. As for the job right now, would $10,000 upfront ensure that it will be done in time and to my specification?” The owner blinked and nervously pushed his glasses back onto his nose again, Victoria observing that is was obviously some form of nervous tic.

“Ten grand? I'd do a lot for ten grand.” The other guy sniggered, but this time stopped after receiving a glare from both of them. “How would you propose paying for this, Ms.. Ms..?”

“Chase. Victoria Chase.” The owner's eyebrows shot up – clearly he had heard of the surname, at least – and someone throwing around that sort of money as if it was nothing was probably connected to it.

“Oh,” he said, extending his hand, “Oh. I'm..”

“Dylan Thompson. I know exactly who you are,” Victoria said, in a tone that seemed to imply that she could crush him without a second thought, whilst not deigning to shake his hand. “So, do you agree to my terms? As I said, I will get this all drawn up in a formal legal agreement.” Dylan looked at her, as if weighing up his chances of surviving if he chose to say no, before nodding.

“Good,” said Victoria, “Now let's sort out some of the details of what exactly I want – I don't have much time, so just listen and only interrupt if you think you have a better suggestion. And it had better be a better suggestion.” She turned to look at the other man, who had been watching proceedings slack jawed. “And you – you just stand there and be quiet, understand?”



Victoria had left the shop after a further ten minutes, which for Dylan would rank as one of the most stressful experiences of his life so far. Not only had he rather foolishly tried to be clever in front of his friends to the point of nearly pissing off a woman who was part owner of one of the richest and most powerful companies on the planet (how was he supposed to know! She was just a pretty woman who he thought had got lost!), he also seemed to be on the verge of signing his life away in servitude to this.. women? Force of nature? Demon from hell?

I really need a lawyer, he thought as he watched her get in her car and drive away. For some reason I feel like this is not going to be just computer support. There is something.. strange about her. Something I can't put my finger on. Something dangerous.

“Man, she had you whipped there, didn't she?” came a smug chortle from next to him, followed by the impression of a whip. “Fit though; man what I wouldn't give to spend a few hours alone with her, eh? Did you get a good look at those ti-”

“Dave, for once in your life just listen to what someone has told you and just shut up, will you? If you are going to hang around and not buy anything, you can make yourself useful – I've got a lot of work to do, and I really, really don't want to let her down.”



Max was experiencing another moment where she wished she could make time go forwards, rather than backwards. The clock seemed to get slower and slower the closer it came to twelve, and once she had packed everything she needed there was nothing much else to do but wait – she couldn't even refresh her memory of the bikini mod, much to her disappointment, as she had left her laptop at Blackwell. Both of her parents had left for work by the time she had finally got out of bed, but breakfast had been left for her on the table as before.

She had eventually found herself just loitering in her bedroom window, staring down the street and watching people move around the quiet close on their everyday activities, while waiting for the telltale rumble of Victoria's car.

You can hear that thing from miles around, especially when she drives off in a hurry. It's certainly something I would never have experienced without her, my horizons are already expanding. In lot's of ways.

But why does it feel like I've done it already? Why does that sensation feel so.. familiar?

Max watched someone walking their dog, struggling with it on the leash a sit half dragged them down the sidewalk. She carefully wedged herself in the window frame and raised her camera – it seemed a perfect slice of life shot. She leaned out as far as she could to try and get a better angle; suddenly she felt herself starting to slip and she reached out to grab the window frame, a cold sweat breaking out on her forehead as she steadied herself.

Max you idiot, that would have been the dumbest thing ever! You could have fallen and probably killed yourself!

But.. what would have happened then? She said I can't die..

Do you REALLY want to find out? Really?

No.

At least.. I don't think so.

Max shuffled herself inside a little more, then took her shot. She inspected the results – it wasn't as good as she had hoped but there seemed little point in dying for her art, especially before she had made a name for herself.

Still a long way to go before you get there, Max. Besides, it's not like you even ever enter anything, is it – can't make a name for yourself if no-one ever sees what you take.

Max jumped down from the window and put the photo into her Journal, being careful to place it away from that photo, and alongside the one she had taken of her and Victoria the night before.

I haven't written in this since that day. It just feels.. too risky. Maybe I should get a new one, to start afresh in?

Maybe that could be the record of my life from this point. I mean my new life, it's not like I am the same person any more – I can't be. Not with these powers.

Max's ears pricked at the sound of a car coming down the road, a familiar rasping tone she was beginning to recognise. She rushed back to the window and saw the bright red car coming down the street – she waved from the window before running down the stairs two at a time to the door, before stopping to compose herself before opening it.

Come on Max, you are acting like you are 13 again. You are only just beginning to be friends, remember?

She took a breath and opened the door, just as Victoria pulled up outside the house. Max leant against the door-frame and watched as Victoria turned off the engine and got out of the car, leaning against it and watching her watch her with an amused grin.

“Hi Victoria,” Max waved eventually, once she had realised they were both just staring at each other, with Victoria seemingly refusing to make the first move. Victoria waved back and began to walk towards her. “Do you want a drink or something? Do you need the bathroom?”

Victoria walked up to Max and stood in front of her, smiling. Max noted that she seemed to be wearing something that seemed a little more casual (if probably not just as expensive) than Max had usually seen her in; simple cream mid length trousers with a loose green top that was a little more low cut than Max could remember ever seeing on her (not, she thought quickly, that she had spent a lot of time looking at what Victoria wore, no siree). Victoria looked over Max's shoulder into the house.

“Is your Dad in at all?” she asked, a little nervously. Max shook her head, nonplussed.

“No, he's at work, like my Mom.”

“Oh,” said Victoria with a small look of relief, “In that case I'll quickly pop to the bathroom. I always make a point of going whenever I have the chance, you never know when you will get the next opportunity.” Max followed her inside and headed to her bedroom to collect her things. By the time she had got everything together, Victoria had finished and was waiting downstairs, staring at some family portraits on the wall.

“Oh, don't look at those,” said Max, trying to pull her away. “I'm like really young in most of them, and they are all really embarrassing.” Victoria resisted Max and carried on looking at them with a strange, wistful expression on her face.

“They're nice,” she said. “You should treasure them, Max. Those memories are precious.” Max snorted.

“Being dragged for like the 25th time to the Space Needle isn't what I would call a precious memory. I mean we could've at least have ventured outside of Seattle a bit more, I've hardly left the State.”

“But at least you were doing stuff as a family together. That's more than I had,” Victoria replied, a little bitterly. She took another quick look at the photos before turning to leave the house. “Come on, let's get going - it's going to be a long drive and if we are still planning on stopping off along the coast, the sooner we get moving the better. I don't want to arrive at Blackwell in the middle of the night.”



Max had stood there awkwardly with her bags in her hand, much to Victoria's amusement - she had been slightly confused, as where the trunk should be the engine was, until Victoria pointed out that the space was at the front under the hood.

"But stick them on the back seat, it's not exactly a car designed for long trips away." Max had carefully placed her bags on the cream leather seats, trying not to scuff them.

"It's a lovely car, Victoria. I've never been in anything like it, I am very lucky to be allowed in it." Victoria held the passenger door open for her, ushering her in.

"Pfft. It's not what I wanted, it was given to me because I wasn't allowed to have anything that wasn't expensive and impressive. Can't be seen driving around in something that doesn't scream 'we're rich and successful'." She closed the door and got in next to Max, and stared at the badge on the steering wheel for a moment. "Although, I am 18 now, and I think that means I have gained control of my third of the company. Maybe I could buy what I want, for once." Max looked at her with some wry sympathy.

"Honestly Victoria? It's a good problem to have, worrying about what expensive car you want to have. If you want to give me this one, I wouldn't exactly complain." Victoria furrowed her brow at Max's words, before gently headbutting the steering wheel.

"Jesus, you must think I'm really spoilt. Here I am complaining about being given a hundred and ten grand car, when most people have to make do with a shitty blue 1980's Nissan they probably rescued from the junk yard."

"That's an oddly specific reference, Victoria. And a hundred grand? Jeez.." Max shifted a little, as if fearing she would damage the seats and be presented with a bill.

"I saw your stalker's new car, if you can call it that. Ugh, let's drop this shall we? I don't want to talk about it." Max reached out and touched Victoria's arm, as if trying to reassure her.

"Hey, it's fine. I get that you have had a privileged upbringing; it must be hard to adjust to living with us mere mortals." Victoria eyed her warily to see if she was being mocked, but all she could see in Max's blue eyes was some genuine concern. She sighed heavily.

"It's hard to remember sometimes when you can literally have anything.. material.. that you want. I see something I like? I get it. It's that simple. But it just ends up feeling so empty after a while.. it's just stuff. Pointless stuff." She stared out of the windscreen for a moment, as if thinking things through. "But if you asked me would I give it all up? Fuck no. Living with money makes life so much easier than it could be, removes so much stress and worry. I guess I just need to be more grounded and realise how lucky I am. Well lucky in that respect, anyway." Max looked around the car, before looking at the girl clutching to the steering wheel.

"No, I agree with you there - not having to stress over maintaining a scholarship would make my life easier, although if I knew I didn't have to work, would I even bother to try as hard?" Max laughed suddenly. "Bit of a heavy start to our trip, isn't it - we need to stop making this a recurring theme." Victoria nodded and pushed a button on the console, making the car roar to life.

"Yeah, maybe. But it is really good to talk to you about this sort of thing, I never really have talked with anyone." Victoria slowly drove away from the house, making sure to respect the speed limit.

"What about Taylor or Courtney? You seem to be pretty close to them." Victoria pulled a face.

"Courtney just wants to impress me – she acts almost like a PA sometimes rather than a friend. Half the time I wonder why she hangs around with me, I don't exactly treat her well. I think it's because it gets her more social status - more than she would have without me, anyway. "

"Maybe you should treat her better then," Max said simply. Victoria didn't answer for a moment, but seemed to be thinking things through.

"And Taylor is a good friend, yes, probably my only one after.. after Nathan has gone. And looking back I wonder how good a friend he was, given everything he did and how little I did to help him. Not enough help, anyway." Victoria bit her lip, and Max was beginning to learn the telltale signs of when she began to embark on a session of self-loathing. She summoned up her courage and placed her hand on Victoria's thigh, feeling her breath hitch in her throat as she did so - but it appeared to work, as Victoria looked at her and gave her a gentle smile, as if acknowledging what she was trying to do.

"You are not responsible for Nathan's actions, Victoria. And besides - we - you and me, together - managed to end it all and get them in jail where they belong. You have already done more than anyone else has, don't forget that."

"You always know what to say, Max," Victoria said. "At least I know you haven't rewound on me a million times to find the right words." Max inclined her head a little, and gave her a half smile.

"No, and I haven't got into the habit of that. Yet." She looked out of the window at the passing scenery. "Besides, I don't know what would happen if I did it in a moving vehicle. I'm not sure I want to find out, either." There was silence as they both pondered the implications, before it was Victoria's turn to laugh.

"Our conversations really aren't normal, are they. Right enough of this shit - put on some music, I need it to drive anywhere otherwise I get stressed with all the traffic and stupid drivers. Just press the button on that touch screen there." Max inspected the screen for a moment before finding the play button.

DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK I'VE BEEN HERE FOR YEARS ROCKING MY PEERS AND PUTTING SUCKAS IN FEAR MAKING THE TEARS RAIN DOWN LIKE A MONSOON LISTEN TO THE BASS GO BOOM EXPLOSIONS OVERPOWERING -

Victoria fumbled across to hit the pause button, making the car swerve slightly.

“Sorry,” she said, “that was a little loud.” Max raised her eyebrows and pointed a finger at the screen.

“That.. wasn't what I was expecting.” Victoria gave her a rueful grin.

“Well, my taste is probably more varied than your hipsterish guitar twing twanging. Honestly, they all the sound the same, those bands you listen to.”

“You suck – they don't sound the same at all! You just don't appreciate their artistry, that's all. If you only listened to a few of them, then you'd see -” Victoria aggressively changed gear as she pulled out onto the main road, accelerating hard to get in front of a car and momentarily silencing Max as she was pushed back into the seat.

“I hear enough through your door as it is, Caulfield,” Victoria said as she checked her mirrors. “Tell you what – let's make a bargain. We'll rotate five songs each – five of mine, five of yours – that way we won't have to suffer each other's music for too long. And you might actually get some taste in music from it.”

“Deal,” Max said, and pressed play on the console.



Victoria had headed out down Interstate 5 before turning off onto State Highway 8, which would take them down onto the 101 and along the coast. Max had fallen asleep after around 40 minutes of driving, her head resting up against the window as Victoria's car rapidly ate up the miles. Victoria had left Max's music selection playing, doing her best to try and appreciate the music that Max liked – it was hard going for her, but she tried to make an effort.

Victoria cast the occasional glance at Max, smiling to herself as she noticed Max had her tongue sticking out and a little bit of drool was dripping onto her white shirt. Max stirred, as if aware that she was being looked at. She blinked blearily and looked around at the dense forests, then frowned.

“This.. this isn't the way to Portland,” she said, before putting a hand to her brow and squeezing. “I thought..” Victoria looked at her frowning, before concentrating on the road.

“Portland? We are not going to Portland - trip down the coast, remember?” Max groaned a little and rubbed her temples.

“No.. we are supposed to be clothes shopping.. aren't we?” Victoria spoke slowly, failing to hide the concern in her voice.

“Max, I'd love to take you shopping but that wasn't the plan for today. Are you feeling OK?” Max bent forward, holding her head and let out a low moan.

“No.. we need.. clothes for the party.. I.. I can't..” Victoria stamped violently on the brakes and the car slewed to a halt, half off the carriageway. Victoria quickly released her belt and leaned over, wrapping an arm around Max's shoulder – herself finding comfort from the touch of Max which helped her manage her own rising panic. She knew what was happening – Max was again seeing into the other reality, and it seemed to be getting stronger and causing her more pain each time. Knowing what was happening was all well and good, but it didn't help her in the slightest from not freaking the absolute fuck out every time it happened.

It's like she slipping further into it each time. Like it's trying to merge her into it.

I'm not going to let that happen.

Max began to shake violently, and Victoria could see a trickle of blood start to come from her nose. Victoria undid Max's belt and pulled her across into her lap, staring down at her face and watching in horror as Max's eyes grew cloudy, her mouth muttering words she struggled to hear.

“No.. it's too expensive.. thank you.. more shops? Vic, I..”

“No no no..” moaned Victoria. “Max, stay with me, Max! I'm not losing you. This is not going to happen!” Victoria clutched Max to her, rocking backwards and forwards slightly as Max's eyes grew sightless and her face deathly pale. She didn't know what to do, and she knew that if it carried on for much longer then she was going to lose it, with potentially terrible consequences for them both.

No, I can't let that happen; I have to think of something. I can't hurt Max, but I can't lose her either.

I can't lose her.

Help me, someone, please.

Help me.

Victoria felt something shift in the world, and she jerked her head up to see, sitting quietly on the dash as if there was no concerns in the world at all, her butterfly; the light from outside reflecting off its wings and casting little green streaks around the interior. Victoria felt a feeling of rage rise up through her, and she glared daggers at the butterfly.

“I'm not losing her, you hear me? This is not going to happen. This is not going to FUCKING HAPPEN!” The butterfly seemed unperturbed by her outburst, and fluttered its wings. Victoria's anger was unabated, and she clutched Max close to her.

“No. NO. You fix this, you hear? YOU FUCKING FIX THIS!” Those last words came out in a scream, and the car rocked as if struck by a strong wind. She felt Max move slightly in her lap, and she desperately peered at her face, trying to see if Max was coming around.

“Max.. Max? You there? Come back to me, Max! Come back..!” Whether it was Victoria's voice or some other power at work, Max blinked and her eyes seemed to clear a little. She stretched out her arms a little then looked up at Victoria with a strange smile on her face, before reaching up with a hand to gently touch Victoria's chin. Victoria grabbed her hand and held it tight, which caused Max to spasm and then blink rapidly, before sitting up.

“Where.. where are we?” she asked, her voice a little groggy. “This isn't..” She rubbed her eyes hard with her hands, before looking around again. “Wait. No – we are heading to the coast.. aren't we?” She looked at Victoria, her eyes wide with confusion. Victoria took hold of her hand again, as if thinking it would help try to keep her in this reality.

“Yes, Max, we are – you wanted to go down the coast, remember? We left your parents house a few hours ago, yes? Do you remember?” Max slowly nodded.

“Yes.. yes, I remember now. Of course.” She looked at Victoria and gave her a smile. “Silly me, that is what we are doing isn't it.” She looked at Victoria for a moment before smiling to herself, then looking thoughtfully out of the window at the surrounding trees.

Victoria was curious – her reaction to previous times she had experienced this had been much more traumatic, and she wondered why she seemed so calm and almost happy at what she had experienced. She stared at the girl sitting next to her, who seemed lost in thought as she watched the trees of the forests stretching out away from them gently wave in the breeze. A large truck blasted past them, making the car rock from side to side. Victoria put on her hazard lights and rolled the car further off the road, making sure she was far enough away from any bends. Satisfied, she turned back to look at Max, who was still deep in thought.

“Max.. I don't get it, you seem oddly calm compared to what happened to you the other times, before. What did you see? Was it her? You mentioned something about Portland?” Max turned to look at her, and her face was almost serene. She opened her mouth to speak, but then hesitated. Victoria frowned a little – clearly she wanted to say something but...

Why is she hesitating? She doesn't look angry or sad, in fact if I didn't know better she almost looked happy earlier. If it wasn't bad then.. why not tell me?

“Max.. don't shut me out, what happened?” Max gave a small smile and reached out to squeeze Victoria's hand.

“Yes, we were in Portland. Shopping. Clothes shopping, I mean, for a party we were going to.” Victoria pursed her lips in surprise.

“I took you clothes shopping? Really? Wow. That's..”

“Yeah, I know,” grinned Max, “and we seemed to be having fun. It was.. really nice. I felt like I was really enjoying it, and your company.” She paused and looked down at her lap, before looking up at Victoria with shining eyes. “No, not just enjoying it - I was happy to be there with you. It felt.. good. Certainly much better than anything else I have seen so far from then, I – we – seemed happy.” Victoria was at a loss what to say – the fact that Max was seeing visions of them being happy seemed in stark contrast to the fledgling - friendship? - they were building at the present time. It was all very confusing to her, so she grasped at something she thought she definitely knew.

“It didn't mention this in the journal, nor any party we went to. I wonder why.” Max shrugged.

“Maybe she didn't think it was relevant. She only told us everything we needed to know about Jefferson and the Prescotts – so I know that tonight she went to the Dark Room with you. I'm.. I'm not looking forward to that, it seems that whatever is doing this to time is wanting me to experience as much trauma as possible. This was the first time I was happy. The others..” Max frowned suddenly as if she was working something out. Her mouth worked silently for a second, before she grasped both of Victoria's hands.

“So, I have a theory – not as good as yours from before, probably, but hear me out.” Victoria looked down at where Max was holding her hands, and then up at her eager face, looking into those blue eyes and feeling her heart flutter again, but she didn't say anything – she just squeezed Max's hands, which seemed to be enough.

“Everything I have seen seems to be an emotional event – it's not like I have been watching myself sleep, or eat or whatever. It's like the emotions of the situation are what is causing it. Before it's only been bad emotions - well, apart from what I saw in the junk yard, but that was a weird mix of things going on. This was the first real good thing. So..”

“So if we look in the Journal we can try and predict at least when bad things will happen, which is something. And if it's an unknown positive emotion, then you seem to be able to cope well enough with it if it happens.” Max nodded.

“Yeah, looks like it. So the next thing will probably be the Dark Room tonight. I think.. I think I might need you around for that, just in case.” Victoria looked at Max, her mind spiralling off into possible ways the night could go.

No, Vic. It's not like that. You are just there to comfort her.

“Sure. I can do that. Although..” She paused, and her face was conflicted. “Although I think we need to keep it a secret for now. I'm not sure if I am ready to face everyone yet, even just as friends. Which we are, I mean. I hope.” Max smiled shyly at her.

“Yeah. Of course we are.” Max looked thoughtful too, before speaking her own thoughts slowly. “I think it might be for best, at least for tonight. And maybe until we destroy the photo, then we can see where things are. What do you think?”

And besides, given Kate's reaction to what I told her I don't know how I am going to explain it all to her, or even to Dana. Or Warren.

And I don't know what it is I need to explain, any more. It's like I am being given insights into Victoria that would take weeks to find out normally – like something is eager to show me the person she could be. And not just shown, but feeling it as well.

It's like we really are being pushed towards each other – and I'm not sure how happy I am about it.

Although I am not exactly unhappy, either. She was so.. different in what I saw, and I felt so happy to be around her. It was -

“Um Max? Hello?” Max started and looked at Victoria.

“Hmm?” Victoria rolled her eyes.

“I thought you were spacing out again. I said I agree with you, and that I am worried about it.” Max massaged the back of her neck, and shifted in her seat to get more comfortable.

“Worried? About what?” Victoria massaged her temples with her fingers, as if easing some tension.

“Each time this happens, it seems that you are falling further and further away from, well, here. This reality. Like you are slipping into the other one. And it fucking scares the shit out of me. And there's nothing I can do about it.” Max didn't reply but just slowly closed the distance between them, staring deep into Victoria's eyes, getting closer and closer until their noses were nearly touching. The tension they had both felt yesterday seemed to surround them in the confines of the car, it suddenly seemed to be too small and hot for them both. Max's eyes seemed to flicker from Victoria's eyes to her mouth and back again, before she spoke softly.

“Then let's make sure we make this one worthwhile staying in then, hmm?” Victoria could feel the closeness of Max, the heat coming from her body, the smell of her shampoo, the sensation of her being so close. She closed her eyes and shuddered slightly, feeling that something as going to happen, something new and dangerous and exciting - then the moment was gone, and Max was sitting back in her seat, doing up her belt.

Victoria just stared at her for a moment, before turning away and silently putting the car into gear.

With one more quick glance at Max, who seemed to be smiling to herself, they sped off down the road, off into the unknown to forge a new destiny.

Together.

Chapter Text

Victoria sat on a smooth, weather worn rock watching Max as she eagerly flit about the beach, taking the occasional photo as something caught her eye. They had spent a good half an hour just walking and talking, treading the thin line that existed between the surf and the beach, giggling as the occasional wave threatened to engulf their feet. Eventually Max had wanted to take some shots, and Victoria was happy to sit and watch her, letting her mind just wander. She looked out into the ocean - in the far distance she thought she could make out banks of dark clouds building up, layer upon layer, on the horizon.

Looks like a storm is coming, probably get here over the weekend. The weather is changing, it's no longer summer. Change is in the air, I won-

The sound of a shutter followed by the familiar whirr of a camera made her spin round in surprise - Max was there in a crouch with a big grin on her face.

"How did you - wait, you rewound time, didn't you." Victoria put her hand to her forehead in annoyance. "Maxxx..." Max gave her an impish grin, wagging the photo between her fingers.

"Sorry, you just looked so.. thoughtful, and the pose was just perfect - I had to capture it." She inspected the photo, before handing it to Victoria. "Here, look. What do you think?" Victoria reluctantly took it from her, feeling the slight touch of her fingers as she did so. She looked at the photo and had to grudgingly admit to herself that it was really good; Max had caught Victoria unguarded, looking out the side of the frame into the distance; her thoughtful, almost peaceful face lit gently by the sun which had also made her hair glow slightly giving her an ethereal, almost angelic, look. Victoria was lost for words; she didn't know that she could look like that - Max just seemed to have a talent for capturing a side of Victoria that she had spent most of her life trying to hide.

And yet within five minutes of us spending time with each other she manages to expose it all, to reduce the façade down to nothing. I can't hide from her, can I. No matter how I try.

"Well?" asked Max nervously, as Victoria realised she had been staring at the photograph for a couple of minutes. Max's face was expectant, with a tiny hint of doubt behind her eyes as she sort approval from Victoria.

"It's.." Victoria sighed. "It's amazing, Max. You really have some serious talent. Although, you do have an unfair advantage what with being able to freeze time and all." Max plucked the photo from Victoria fingers and looked at it once more.

"Thank you, Victoria. That means a lot." She paused and looked at Victoria, a thought occurring to her. “You know, maybe you could do the same with yours, involve it in your photography somehow. It might help you be able to control it better." She shrugged. "Just a thought." Victoria frowned; she had never thought about doing something like that.

"That's -" she began, and was interrupted by her cell chiming away. She glanced at the screen and saw she had a couple of notifications that she knew she needed to read. "Hang on, let me just check this – it might be important."

"Sure," said Max happily, and sauntered off to look in some rock pools, camera held at the ready. Victoria watched her go with a small smile on her lips before, with a frown, looking at her cell. There were two emails waiting for her, both with the title 'PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL' in the subject line. She recognised them as being from the family lawyers and had a fair idea what the first one would be about.

'Dear Ms Chase', she read, 'We trust that this finds you in good health. As per your instructions, we have completed our initial background investigations into Dylan Thompson. The break down of resources used are in the attached file marked 'Resource'. A brief biography of known public details follows, which are collated in the attached file marked 'Biography'.'

Victoria scanned the details, her eyes picking out details she thought were important.

College education, dropped out of MIT for unknown reasons, started his own business in that skanky shop. Hmm, so he has brains and wastes it doing that instead. I wonder why. It doesn't seem to make that much money, barely enough to cover the building rent and bills. No wonder he was so eager to do that work for me.

She scanned the rest of the email, finding details of further financials, known friends (there weren't many) and some interesting details of his web activity.

So, Dylan seems to think he is some form of hacker, does he. What the hell is a white hat? Sounds like some sort of geeky thing Warren would know about. Maybe I'll get Max to ask him.

Under close supervision, of course. I still don't trust that guy.

Anyway, that may prove useful in the future, if everything works out.

The rest of the email contained a commentary on the legal agreement that was also attached, a long explanation of notes and clauses that made her eyes glaze over. She made a mental note to try and read it more thoroughly later, as they were asking if she had any questions on it. Suddenly she felt very grown up all of a sudden – here were her parents – and hers! - lawyers asking her for approval to do something.

Am I going to be sucked into all of that sort of shit? I don't want to have anything to do with it.

But you like the money, don't you. Where do you think it all comes from? Out of thin air?

What do you want to be exactly, a spoilt trust fund kid? Like all of the others you secretly despised?

She could feel herself getting annoyed with herself, and decided to read the other email as a distraction. Her lips worked for a few minutes as she absorbed the words, her eyes becoming wider and wider before she let out a loud scream of annoyance.

“FUCKKK!!!” Her head was tilted back as she screamed at the sky, before she threw her cell violently away from her where it crashed against some rocks, smashing into pieces. Victoria looked at it for a moment before burying her head in her hands.

“Oh fuckkkkkk...” she moaned, creating a light frosting on the rock she was sitting on. Max heard her shout and bounded quickly up from the beach, looking concerned.

“What is it? What has happened? Are you OK?” Victoria groaned in anger again then shook her head, gesturing to her broken cell. Max frowned.

“Why did you break that? I mean if you want a new one you could just buy it, rather than claiming on the insurance..” Victoria rolled her eyes, looking pissed despite Max's attempt at comedy.

“Max, the cell is not the issue here, OK? Well it might be now I've broken it. Stupid, stupid of me..” She broke off muttering to herself, flinging out a hand in annoyance, and to her surprise sending a little chunk of ice flying off into the sand as she did so. She stared at it, mouth open.

“Max.. did you see that?” she gasped eventually, her current woes temporarily forgotten. “Did you see what I did? Did you see?! I did it!”

“Yes, and all it took was you smashing your cell,” Max said drily. “Look - do you want me to get it back for you and then you can tell me what has upset you on it? I'm assuming the two are related.” Victoria stared at her hand as if it was about to explode, before looking distractedly at Max.

“Er.. yes, if you could. Please. Thank you. And tell me what I just did, too.” Max chuckled, and looked at her with kind eyes.

“Sure thing.” Max concentrated and rewound time, watching as the cell slowly came together then whizzed backwards through the air into Victoria's hand - no matter how often she did it, she still marvelled at how she could manipulate the very fabric of reality, bending it to her will.

It still amazes me, the power I have. I'm a literal human time machine. The things I could do..

Further thoughts were interrupted by a shout from Victoria, who was looking at her in surprise.

"Max! Where did you come.. wait.." She looked at her cell, which she was holding in a hand raised behind her head, before looking sheepishly at Max. "I.. broke it, didn't I? Did I ask you to rewind back?" Max nodded.

"Yup, you threw it against those rocks over there after screaming 'fuck' really loudly. I offered to get it back and.. here we are." Max gave her an encouraging smile, but Victoria just buried her head in her hands.

"Oh god, this is so embarrassing. Did I tell you anything, or..?" Max walked over to her and sat down on the rock next to her, which was now slightly damp.

"No, although you did do something you wanted me to tell you about." Victoria looked at Max, her face visibly annoyed with whatever news she had received, but her curiosity was piqued.

"Oh? What was that? Did I do something really stupid?" Max frowned at her words.

"Why do you always assume that? No, not at all – in the fact the opposite. You actually managed to use your power in, I assume, a new way for you. Like a proper funky magic type thing." Max explained to Victoria what she had managed to do, and how amazed she had been at accomplishing it. "You wanted to know as I can't bring you back with me. Yet." Victoria briefly looked at Max before inspecting thoroughly her hand.

"I did that? That's.." She turned her hand around, scanning each side, as if trying to see some secret that managed to make it work.

"Yeah. I'm no expert, but I think you were really pissed off, and that's what made it happen." Max paused, choosing her words carefully. "It seems to always happen when you get.. erm.. emotional." Victoria snorted derisively.

"Tell me something I don't know, Max - I'm the Ice Queen with the Bitch Face, remember." Max rolled her eyes.

"Victoria, I said I -" Victoria waved her off.

"It's fine, no need to apologise. It's true, but that's exactly why I needed to be like that. Can you imagine if.. if I had done something like that at Blackwell? Or in front of my parents? I'd be taken away by some secret Government department for tests and experiments, treated like a freak show. Never let out of some secret laboratory again."

“I'd come rescue you,” Max said, nudging her with her shoulder. “I mean, who else would I be able to compete with at photography? I need my rival.”

“Ha,” Victoria replied, but there was a ghost of a smile. She stared out at the ocean, fiddling with her cell. Max watched her for a moment, waiting for her to speak again.

“It's really shit that it happens like this, Max. I mean what's the fucking point of it if it only happens in this way? I don't think I could cope with that. I'm so fucking useless – granted amazing powers that only work when I'm fucked off or feeling like shit.” Victoria went back to staring moodily out to the wide expanse of the ocean, while Max racked her brains to try and cheer her up.

“Maybe.. maybe that's not how it works though, and only how it works now. I mean, I don't need to do anything like that, so why should you? We both just have a butterfly, so.. it should be the same. Have you ever really tried just.. doing it? Like seeing if it works without you being a complete mess.” Victoria slowly shook her head.

“No.. I haven't. I mean not before, I had a try the other day. It's how I cut my hand: I broke the glass I was trying it with, which just frustrated me even more. I've sort of always avoided trying to do it, burying it deep down. Can you blame me? I am.. was shit scared. I thought I was a freak.” Max reached out and squeezed her hand, pulling it into her lap.

“Well, at least you know you are not the only freak around any more. So – we should try it, see if we can get it to work. If you can, then we know that it's not related to how you are feeling, or is at least controllable.” Victoria sighed, then nodded her head in agreement.

“Fine. That makes some sense, I guess. Look at you being all sensible about it all.” She played with the cell in her free hand. “But not right now, I'm not in the mood.” Max subconsciously ran her thumb over the back of Victoria's hand, joining her in looking out to the ocean.

“So, related to that then, are you going to tell me what upset you so much? You were rather upset.” Victoria made a disgusted noise, and handed her the cell.

“Just.. read this.” She let go of Max's hand and stood up, beginning to pace anxiously up and down in front of her. Max watched her for a moment before looking at what Victoria had given her.

'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 we contact you to discuss your continued presence at Blackwell Academy. As the sole heir, and current one-third owner of Chase Industries, your safety and security is of the utmost priority to them. Therefore, unless assurances can be given as to the existing security arrangements of Blackwell Academy and your continued protection, they are mindful that you should transfer to a better institution where your safety can be more guaranteed. We have been requested to work with you on this matter, and look forward to discussing this further at your earliest convenience. Your parents would like to pass on their fondest wishes. Kind regards, Simon Brown Esq, Strange-Brown-Voickov Attorneys at Law.' Max re-read the email again, not quite believing that this is how Victoria communicated with her parents.

It's all so.. cold and distant. She's their fucking daughter, not an employee. Max looked up at the pacing figure, who suddenly looked very isolated and alone as she was silhouetted by the slowly sinking sun.

It's no wonder she behaves like she does. Having parents like that, having powers thrust on her that must have really messed with her head, and on top of that not being able to admit to anyone that you are gay? That was hard enough for me, but for her..?

I mean it doesn't excuse her behaviour before, especially towards Kate, but it may explain it.

Oh yeah Max, you're forgetting the whole attempted suicide thing here as well, aren't you. It's a surprise she is still functioning as well as she does.

For fuck's sake get up and give her a hug.

Max quickly scrambled to her feet and grabbed Victoria from behind, wrapping her arms tightly around her. Victoria felt a little cool to the touch and Max did her best to try and warm her up – even while knowing that this wouldn't really help do that.

But I can try as if it was the normal thing to do to help. It's the least I can do for her.

Victoria stopped her pacing, and placed her hands on top of Max's as they folded around her stomach. They stood there for a few minutes, silent except for the sound of the waves breaking in the distance.

"Is it always like this?" asked Max quietly, after a while. Victoria exhaled loudly.

"Yes. Well no, that's not true. It never used to be. When I was younger, things were.. better. I mean we have never been close, but back then we still used to do things as a family. The last time I can really remember was a ski trip we all went on, that was.. so much fun. Reminded me a little of those photos in your house, Max. It was a good time." Max released Victoria and led her by the hand back to the rock, sitting down next to her.

"So what changed?" Victoria inspected her fingernails, as if trying not to think about things too much.

"I did," she said eventually. "I guess I just turned into a typical teenager - wanting to do my own thing, assert my own independence, thinking I knew better – the usual thing. I told them to stuff their tennis lessons up their ass one day in a fit of anger. That was I think one of the first full blown arguments I had with them - I was only like nearly 13, and just behaving, well, normal for that age? It only got worse from then on - they wanted to direct my life still, I resisted - we are all quite stubborn. I guess I wasn't the easiest to deal with but I was just a teenager, you know? You must know what it's like." Max hummed in agreement.

"Yeah, I guess. I once refused to help wash up or clean my room and got grounded for a weekend." Victoria snorted with laughter.

"You're such a goody two shoes. I deliberately wrecked one of my Dad's cars by putting paint remover on it."

"OK, you win," Max laughed, before turning serious again. "But communicating via a lawyer? That's.. I don't know, I just don't have the words. I could never imagine doing that."

"It's not just via lawyer, Max, it's not that bad. I do speak to them on occasion, like every few months on the phone. And I saw them at Christmas and briefly over the summer." Victoria moodily rolled her cell around in her hand, staring at it. "But every time one of us will say something, and then it all gets dragged up again - how I am letting the family down, how they don't care about me or my interests - the family fucking legacy, god I hate that word - and we end up screaming at each other. Literally. And since these powers have come along, it's only got worse as I have been deliberately trying to not get worked up about it or them, and thus avoiding them when I can. Which has driven them away even more."

"Hence letters from lawyers."

"Exactly. But it's not just that, it's the fact they think they know what is best for me. That I should want to be involved with the whole thing, take my place with them - learn everything I need to know to succeed them in time. I'm only eighteen!" She looked sadly out to the distant ocean once more, watching the light play off the waves.

"I'm fucking eighteen," she whispered. "I want to have a life first. Do my own thing." Max looked at her, heart breaking as she thought about how lucky she was to have such a good home environment to go back to - and how Victoria must feel having visited and experienced such a contrast to her own.

We are so different, her and me. Such different lives, yet.. here we are - thrust together by fate. And I need to help her, as she can help me.

Together we can be stronger.

Together we can be..

Be..

Together?

Maybe, yes, but..

Max rested her head onto Victoria's shoulder, feeling Victoria turn her head to look at her before she in turn rested her against Max's.

"Well, I'm sure it's nothing that can't be fixed," Max said. "I mean, they are still you parents - maybe they just need to see that you are your own person and have your own needs, but are also grown up now and ready to help where you can?" Victoria didn't answer, and Max found herself trying to fill the silence.

"I mean, look at this email. It's cold, yes, but they seem to be worried about you and want to make sure you're safe, don't they?" Victoria laughed bitterly.

"No, they just want to make sure that their project continues on for another generation." Max tutted.

"That's just a little harsh, Victoria. Look, I don't know them like you do, but have you at least tried meeting them halfway? You know, compromise a little."

"Compromise?" Victoria said, as if it was a dirty word. "Why should I? They never listen to me, to what I want - it's always about them, the company."

"And yet here you are at Blackwell as you wanted, with it all being paid for along with a fancy car and clothes, and your parents worried about your safety." Max sighed and lifted her head off from Victoria's shoulder and looked at her. "Look, I'm not saying that what you said isn't true. It probably is, but I also think you are maybe just seeing it from your own narrow perspective." Victoria furrowed her brow as she looked back at Max who had an earnest expression on her face, blue eyes looking at her with compassion.

"But why do you care? I mean, it's my problem, not yours."

"Er.. who just changed reality to fix your cell? Of course it's my problem as well, I want you to be happy. I like happy Victoria - and happy Victoria would make life for everyone at Blackwell better, as she might actually behave like a human being for once.” Victoria looked hurt, but knew Max was just trying to help her. Max looked down at her hands, before looking up nervously at Victoria.

“And.. I really don't want you to leave there.. and me." Victoria looked at Max, trying not to smile too much. She settled on sighing dramatically.

“Fine, whatever. I'll think about it.” She playfully pushed Max. “Why are you always so fucking nice about everyone and everything. You're beginning to rub off on me; you're a bad influence.” Max pushed her back.

“A good bad influence, you mean. But we need to come up with a plan though - your parents clearly need to be made to feel better about you being there, and I am guessing saying you and your friend are both super heroes won't work.”

“Probably not. Although, I guess it's kind of true, isn't it?"

“That we are friends?” asked Max, raising her eyebrows and looking a little hurt.

“No, dummy, that we are super heroes. Well, beginning to be. Maybe this is our origin story - you know, the first film in a series.” Max's eyes lit up at the thought.

“Yeah - like Batman Begins! Or that Heroes series.”

“Again Max - I'm not a nerd like you so I have no idea what you are on about.” Victoria paused for dramatic effect, although she suspected Max was beginning to expect the punch line. “Although I wouldn't have minded saving the cheerleader either, if you know what I mean.” Victoria looked shocked then quickly put her hand over her mouth and blushed, as she realised she had just admitted openly to Max to having a crush on a girl. Max winked at her.

“I know what you mean, she was hot. And come on, Victoria - no need to get embarrassed about it with me. I have read about the future too, remember? And seen the reality.” Victoria turned away from her, and shifted uncomfortably.

“I know,” she muttered, “don't remind me. Look, it's still hard for me, OK? I need time as well, not just you - at least to be open about things. This is all a lot to deal with at once.” There was an uncomfortable silence, until Victoria started speaking again.

“Anyway, I don't know what I can say about convincing my parents. Of course Blackwell has security - that uptight drill sergeant Madsen and his goon squad - but given what happened when they were about I doubt it would be enough to satisfy them. I mean you saw the state of my house, and that was when I wasn't even expected to be there.”

“It's a shame you can't just install them at Blackwell, isn't it,” remarked Max. “That would.. would..” She trailed off, as if suddenly struck by an idea. Victoria looked at her with curiosity.

“What is it? You look like you've had an idea.” Max stood up and stretched, then turned to look at Victoria, tapping her chin with a finger.

“OK, hear me out,” she said. “What if.. what if you did put your own security in. Like take over Blackwell's. You could do that, couldn't you? I mean you have people at your house, so surely you can get more for the school? And that way your parents would be happy and you wouldn't have to go.” Victoria opened her mouth to dismiss the idea out of hand, before stopping and tilting her head to one side, looking at Max thoughtfully.

“That's... that's not the worst idea in the world, Max. I know we do have security contractors with the company; there are a few defence facilities or something we run and we have to keep them secure. Huh.” She snapped her fingers and pointed at Max. “Although, I can't see Wells going for it.” Max snorted.

“Wells is easy to sort out. Didn't the Prescott's practically fund the school with donations and what have you?”

“Sure,” said Victoria. “It's partly why Nathan was allowed so much leeway. Which was really bad for him, now I think about it. At the time..” Her face grew sad as she remembered her old friend and what he had turned into, and Max spoke quickly to derail her train of thought.

“Exactly, so how would the newly sponsored Chase Dormitory sound? Give Wells some cash and he'll probably put a statue of you out front if you asked.” Victoria appeared to seriously consider the idea.

“A 50ft gold statue of me outside the front door does sound appealing. You could all wallow in my shadow, worshipping my greatness.”

“Or just hang toilet paper off it - although I'm sure the head will be about the right size for your ego if you did it. But I'm being serious, I think the way to that man is through money.” Victoria sat there and regarded Max keenly, who was looking expectantly at her. She gave it a few moments thought before breaking out into a smile.

“You're not just a pretty face, are you Max. That sounds like a great idea.” Max preened.

“It's the company I keep, clearly. Do you think your parents would go along with it?” Victoria shrugged.

“They wouldn't notice the money, that's for sure. And if I can work up a plan and put it to them.. then I think they would. They would see it as me starting to take an interest in running the company, putting a business head on.”

“Two birds with one donation, then.” Victoria rolled her eyes at the terrible pun and didn't deign to acknowledge it.

“Although I'm not sure how happy I'll be about it being made clear who owns the school now. I don't want special treatment like Nathan got,” Victoria mused. “Having my name emblazoned everywhere would just make people suck up even more than they do already.”

"Maybe, but surely it depends what you are planning on doing, though. With great power.."

"... comes great responsibility. Yeah yeah, we all know that one Max. But -" Victoria looked at Max, her green eyes expressing a little worry. "Same applies to you. I mean compared to sponsoring a school, the things you can do..." Max smiled reassuringly back at her.

"I know, but as long as I have you around to remind me, it'll be OK. I'm sure of it." Victoria blew her cheeks out and held out her hands.

"Yeah, and look at me - I'm not exactly the best example of that am I? What I did.. have done.." She stopped, then shook her head. "What's done is done, and unlike you I can't change it. Time to move forward. Be better." As if prompted Max checked the time.

"It's nearly three - how much longer do we have to go until we get back to Arcadia?" Victoria thought for a moment, calculating in her head.

"About two hours or so. Why, are you in a rush? Got a date tonight?" Max gave Victoria a look, as if knowing exactly who she was referring to.

"Of course not - only with you, remember? No, I was thinking we could stop off for food on the way back. Are you hungry?" Victoria held her hands up in apology.

"Shit, sorry, I had forgotten about tonight. It's hardly a date though, is it.”

Although I wish it was.

Ugh, don't try to rush things Vic, you don't want to spoil it like you have so many other things.

“But hungry?” she continued. “A little, I mean it's not like I've done much apart from drive and moan about my parents." Max clapped her hands together like a teacher gathering her pupils.

"Right, well in that case we can spend an hour here working one up." Victoria got up off the rock and stood next to Max, looking down at her with one hand on her hip and a slight smile hovering around her lips.

“Oh, what did you have in mind?” Max grinned wickedly.

“Practice!”



“This is pointless. I can't do it, Max. I just can't.” They had moved down onto the wide beach, and had spent a frustrating twenty minutes as Victoria failed to do more than make Max feel a little cold. Max chewed her lip as she watched Victoria grow increasingly frustrated, trying to think of a way to help Victoria unlock her potential that they both knew was buried somewhere deep inside of her.

It can't be reliant on her getting angry or sad, it just can't be. I think that is just how it manifests itself when she loses control. Maybe that can't be avoided, but if she realised she could just do it whenever, then it may help her control it better. She thought about how she felt when she used her power.

“Tell me what it feels like when you do it,” Max said, moving closer to Victoria as she stood there, hands clenched down by her sides and looking angrily at the sand. Victoria scuffed her expensive shoes in the sand, looking the picture of frustration. She put her hand to her forehead and closed her eyes, while Max waited patiently for Victoria to compose herself.

“It's.. it's like I can feel something inside of me. Like.. a.. surge welling up inside of me. I can feel it coming up through my body and out into my arms.” She stopped, looking at Max a little wild eyed. “I'm not crazy, Max. I'm not.” Max put her hand out and touched her gently on the arm.

“You are not crazy. I know exactly what you mean. For me, it's like I can feel it inside of me as well, and then I can sort of visualise time moving, like.. like thick cords that I can just grab and pull and manipulate.” She stopped and laughed. “Now I sound crazy.” They both looked at each other and dissolved into giggles.

“This is ridiculous, isn't it. I can't believe I'm on a beach in the middle of fucking nowhere trying to fling ice from my hands with you, of all people. Someone who can fucking travel through time. Absolutely fucking ridiculous.” Max shoved her playfully with her hand.

“Whatever, Chase - I can't believe I'm stuck here with you of all people. But it beats sitting about moping about how crap life is, doesn't it; at least you are trying to do something positive.” Victoria shrugged while Max watched the way the light breeze fluttered Victoria's hair, a loose strand flitting across her green eyes.

“That's true, I guess. But at least I wouldn't have to put up with your face gurning away at me.” Max stuck her tongue out at her.

“Stop stalling, you. We need to keep practising.” Victoria looked to one side in a pretend sulk, trying to hide a smile.

“Fine, whatever. You're so bossy. Bossy Max McBossy Caulfield, that's what I'm going to call you now. I feel like I'm at at work.” Max put her hands on her hips and looked at her in disbelief.

“Since when have you ever had a job?” Victoria waved her hand dismissively.

“I've seen films and TV shows. I know what it's like.” Max just gawped at her before shaking her head.

“That's just.. just. Ugh, so you . Anyway, you are trying to distract me again, and it's not going to work. Right – time to concentrate. Close you eyes and try and feel it within yourself like you described.” Victoria did as she was told, closing her eyes and trying to create that sensation of power within herself.

OK, keep calm and focus. Block everything out – it's just you, the beach, the waves.. and Max.

Victoria waited and waited, and eventually thought she could feel something; some tiny spark that felt a little bit different – more controllable, less raw - within her that she desperately tried to grasp hold off, but even as she tried to grasp it it began to feel like it was slipping away from her.

No no no! I nearly had it..

And then that more familiar feeling; the wild, untamed sensation, began to bubble up and overwhelm it all, and Victoria began to feel that coming up and through her instead, beginning to cause her to -

“Just try to focus,” came a voice softly besides her, and she felt an arm link through her own. Victoria didn't dare open her eyes to look, but the presence of Max seemed to calm everything , quelling the torment within her and bringing that more elusive feeling back to the surface.

I can feel it. It's there, like Max said. Waiting for me to take hold of it, to use it, to tame it. All I have to do is..

She flung out her arm and felt something happen, and Max's hand gripped her arm tightly as she gave a little gasp. Victoria dared herself to crack open an eye and saw, on the sand a few meters away, a pile of ice spattered across the surface.

“You did it,” Max whispered, “and you feel normal, not cold at all. You did it, Victoria.”

“I did it,” echoed Victoria, opening her eyes wide and looking at her hand. “I fucking did it.”

“Try again,” said Max. Victoria nodded, and focused; searching within herself for that sensation once more, still with the reassuring presence of Max holding on to her. She flung her arm out again, and felt it come up through her and out through her fingers; a lump of ice, oddly misshapen and lumpen, materialised in the air and went speeding off to crash against the ground.

“Fuck me!” she yelled excitedly. “Look at that! Look the fuck at that Max! Look at me! I fucking did it!” Max laughed at her excitement, looking at her with a happy expression.

“Yes, yes you did. See, I knew you could.” Victoria looked at her hand, then at the sand, then back at Max's happy face.

“I'm so fucking happy right now, Max, I could just k-” She stopped, embarrassed, before going bright red in the face. Max too went slightly pink, and hesitantly raised a finger to touch Victoria's lips to try and cover her own embarrassment. Victoria's eyes were blazing green, as if lit by an inner fire, and Max found them strangely enticing; as if she could be lost in their depths forever.

She's so beautiful and amazing. I really want to kiss her.

But I can't, not yet.

Not until I know for sure.

Not until I know everything will work out.

Not until I know I'm not turning into.. her.

“Victoria,” Max breathed, tracing the line of her lips with a finger. “I..” She closed her eyes, then wrapped her arms around Victoria and pulled her into a tight hug, resting her face against her chest, feeling Victoria chest rise and fall rapidly, heart thumping away. Victoria wrapped her arms tightly around Max, not wanting to let go – Victoria felt both ecstatic and frustrated, but had none of the usual reactions she had when she felt like emotions were spiralling away from her.

After what was, at most, a few minutes, but to both of them had felt like an eternity, Max withdrew her head and looked up at Victoria's flushed face.

“Come on,” she said softly, “let's keep trying.”



They spent another forty minutes or so on the beach, Victoria becoming increasingly more confident in her ability to control what she was doing – to the point where she could reliably send a chunk of ice whizzing across the beach up to nearly 20 metres away, even without the reassuring presence of Max next to her. Max, for her part, watched on like a proud parent at a schools sports day as their child won the egg and spoon race for the first time. Victoria's exultant shouts of triumph, coupled with her openly happy expression and the way her eyes lit up when she used her powers, made Max reconsider her earlier choice, but she knew she had to stick with it for now.

Besides, hopefully it won't be for that long. We destroy the photo on Sunday, and that will anchor me here.

I hope.

And then we have eighteen months to work on things until we reach the time she jumped.

And then... hopefully forever.

“How are you feeling?” Max called, as Victoria sent one particularly large chunk blasting down the beach. Victoria watched in satisfaction as it crashed into the ground with a satisfying crunch.

“Like a god damn superhero,” she laughed. “Like, for real. But also hungry. This really takes some effort, doesn't it.” Max nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, I noticed that too when I use mine a lot. It really makes me hungry as well – shall we call it a day and start heading back? We can always do some more practice another time.” Victoria sent one more satisfying blast down the beach before walking back to Max, her face positively radiating happiness and delight.

“Sure, that would be awesome. We can stop off somewhere on the way for some food if you like?”

“Yeah, I would like that. Come on let's get a move on – it's gone four and it'll be dark by the time we get back.”

They made their way back to the car, Victoria humming happily to herself as Max walked besides her; both of them occasionally bumping into each other deliberately – not that either one of them would have admitted it.



They drove for an hour in comfortable silence listening to music, Max watching the passing scenery as the car effortlessly ate up the miles. They both stole the occasional glance at each other, exchanging a shy smile whenever they caught each other's eye. Max found herself relaxing into the leather seat, the car gliding effortlessly along with a low rumble that seemed to lull her back into a half-asleep state.

What a strange couple of days. My life feels so different now, compared to last week. It's like I've been supercharged, I just feel so much more confident about things knowing that I have this power to back me up.

Ha - all it took was superpowers to make you stop being such a shy geek. Who'd have thought it.

And the sacrifice of another you. Her suffering to make everything better for you.. and Victoria. Max looked listlessly out of the window as she remembered the brief glimpses she had been given into the alternate reality, each time having felt like she was there in person.

I can feel her suffering, her pain. But also her joy, her happiness. What could be.

All those moments she has had, soon to be lost to time.. but somehow living on within me.

A passing sign jerked her out of her day dreaming.

"Wait - let's stop there for something to eat!" She exclaimed loudly. Victoria looked at her in surprise.

"What? Why? It's a diner, Max. I don't do diners. Besides, who the hell names a diner 'Big Joe's'?" Max tapped her on the arm.

"I want to go there. It feels.. familiar somehow. Like I've been there before. We've been there before." Victoria shook her head.

"Ugh, I don't care. I hate them, they are just so.. so... basic. I mean for example that one in Arcadia is just fucking awful, especially the waitress. She banned me when I rightly complained about the quality of the food. Can you believe that? The nerve of the woman, banning me!" Victoria angrily changed down a gear, making the car lurch. She looked across at Max who had a troubled look on her face.

"What? What's got into you? You really want to go to this place that much?" Max spoke to her through gritted teeth.

"That waitress was Chloe's Mom, Victoria. I used to hang out at the Two Whales with Chloe. Her Mom made the best waffles." Victoria looked at Max as if she was joking, then stared ahead through the windscreen, hands gripping the wheel tight.

"Shit," she muttered.

"Yeah." The mood in the car changed, as Victoria realised that yet again her past actions were catching up with her.

For fuck's sake, am I going to be haunted by everything I have done? Is this some form of shitty karma I'm getting?

Every time I think we are making progress my own actions come back to fuck everything up.

But maybe I can start making amends, like I promised.

"You know what? A diner sounds fun. We'll stop off there." Max didn't respond, having returned to staring out of the window.



Big Joe's turned out to be a fairly large diner, serving the coastal traffic which seemed to primarily consist of logging trucks dotted with a few smaller vehicles. Victoria's red Porsche stuck out like a sore thumb amongst them as she parked up, and she did her best to hide her inner revulsion about entering a place she deemed beneath her. It wasn't that she thought she was better than the people who went there; she was just used to eating at more expensive places where a certain standard was expected and delivered.

Why would I eat badly if I didn't have to? Good food is good food, it's not my fault it's expensive.

And the seats are usually cleaner.

Max lead the way into the diner, looking around it with interest as if she was trying to look for something that she had seen before, a memory of something. Victoria hurried up next to her, not wanting to be left alone in the car park.

“Have you really been here before?” she asked Max in a low voice as a waitress noticed them and came walking over.

“I.. think so.?” said Max uncertainly. She looked around at the half empty booths and the line of solitary truckers eating along the bar, one of which eyed them with disinterest. “It.. just feels.. I don't know.” Further introspection was cut short by the waitress, who seated them in a window seat next to a family – two weary looking parents trying to control their two young girls.

“Can I get the two of you a drink while you look to order?” Victoria scanned the menu, trying to work out what was safe to eat and wouldn't put her in the hospital. Max looked at the waitress with a bright smile, seemingly happily at home in the environment.

“I'll have the chocolate milkshake, and she'll have a macciatio.” The waitress nodded and walked off, while Victoria looked at Max slightly opened mouthed.

“Erm.. Max? One, I can order for myself, and two – how did you know that was what I wanted? Did you do some time shit on me? I thought we had agreed -” Max shook her head vigorously.

“No, I didn't, I promise. Sorry – I just suddenly thought that was what you wanted – it was like I was certain. Like you had ordered it before..” She trailed off, her brow furrowed. “It's hard to explain, I just seemed to know.” Victoria looked at her for a moment, before scanning the menu.

“Ugh they don't even do a Caesar salad. It all looks so.. so..”

“Tasty?” smirked Max. Victoria looked at her before sighing, as if giving in a little.

“Yeah, I guess. What are you having?”

“Double cheeseburger with fries,” Max replied immediately. Victoria hummed and looked at the menu.

I have to admit, I am hungry after all the practice. And it does look good – it must be the hunger lowering my standards, that's the only explanation.

“I think I'm going to have..” she said slowly, as if trying to decide as she read.

“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,” said Max, as if reciting from a script. Max blinked and then put her hand to her mouth. “Shit, sorry. I really don't know where that came from.”

“OK Max, now you are freaking me out a little,” said Victoria. “That's exactly what I was thinking about ordering. You promise you haven't been rewinding time?” Max put her hand on her heart.

“I swear. Pinkie promise.” Victoria leaned back against her seat and studied Max for a while, her green eyes taking in Max's face which looked back at her from across the table.

“OK,” she said eventually. “Let's just chalk this up to echoes of freaky timelines, shall we?” At that moment the waitress reappeared with their drinks and Max relayed the order for both of them, having a real feeling of deja vu as she did so. Mission accomplished, Max looked at Victoria, trying to think of a conversation starter. Victoria was pulling an odd face, as if she was blowing out her cheeks. Max watched as she went cross-eyed, before sticking her tongue out at her.

“Er, Victoria -” Max was interrupted by a giggle besides her, and she looked down to see a small face peering around from the adjacent booth.

“Hello,” said Victoria, smiling at the little girl. “What's you name?”

“Mya.” Mya jumped down and clambered up beside Victoria, looking around their table with great interest. Max watched in bemusement as Victoria turned and bent down close to the girl to speak to her more at her level.

“And how old are you, Mya?”

“I'm three! Four in November. What are those?” she said pointing on to the table.

“Those are my car keys,” said Victoria. “I think your parents want you to go down again and back to them.” Mya ignored Victoria and pointed at the keys again.

“Can I have them?” Mya grabbed them off the table and looked at them, before putting one in her mouth and biting it. Max sniggered as Victoria tried to get them out of her hand, finally succeeding upon which Mya clambered onto Victoria's lap and looked out of the window.

“Is that your car?” she said, pointing at a truck. Victoria tried to shift the girl to a more comfortable position while trying to catch the eye of her parents, who suddenly seemed to be entirely focused on their older daughter.

“No, that's a truck. Mine is the red one over there.”

“That one?”

“No, that's another truck. Mine is the small red one, there.”

“Ooh. I like blue ones. And brown.” Victoria looked at Max for help, who folded her arms and looked at Victoria with a big grin on her face before shaking her head.

“Are you two sisters?” Mya continued. “I like your hair. You smell of peaches.”

“No, we are just friends. Er.. Mya I think your sister wants to tell you something. You'd better go back to her and ask her.”

“My sister is a poo head,” Mya said matter of factly. “Where is your food? I'm hungry.”

“Mya! Come back here now! Sit down, leave the poor girls alone.” Her mother materialised and apologised profusely to them both, Victoria waving her away with a smile telling her how delightful her daughter was.

“You can have her if you want? We've got another.” They both laughed, the Mom slightly more hysterically than Victoria. Victoria watched her drag her complaining daughter back to their table, an odd expression on her face. She turned back to look at Max, who was grinning at her inanely with a knowing look.

“What?”

“Oh nothing, you're just a natural at it. If this whole superhero thing doesn't work out, you can open a kindergarten.” Victoria narrowed her eyes and flicked her wrist, sending a tiny speck of ice at Max.



Victoria sipped her coffee and looked at Max opposite her, who was devouring her double cheeseburger as if she would never eat again. A question had been preying on her mind the entire drive here, and she knew she had to ask it even if she wouldn't like the answer.

“Max,” she began hesitantly, “back there on the beach - did you want to kiss me?” Max paused, a fully laden fork halfway to her mouth as her blue eyes watched Victoria warily.

“Yes, I did,” she said eventually, before putting her fork in her mouth and resuming chewing. Victoria played with the cup in her hands.

“So why didn't you? You must know that I would have liked it if you did.” Max finished chewing and looked thoughtful as she composed an answer. Victoria felt a sinking feeling in her stomach the longer Max took to think things through, and despite herself and all the practice she had done she could feel herself chilling her coffee.

Stop it Vic, you fucking hate iced coffee.

“Because,” Max began, speaking slowly. “It's not just about me. I mean, it is in a way – I'm worried about what is happening to me in the short term, with all these time shifts and stuff. But it's not just that. For it to work in the magic way we both hope it will – and have been told happens - you need to be accepted by everyone as you really are. That means my parents, my friends – and most importantly, Kate. They are all part of my life and I want you to be part of that too. As I would hope you would me with those parts of your life. So you need to show me that it can work for us.” She paused, marshalling her thoughts a little. “Now you have already shown it to me and I think you are fucking amazing and beautiful and intelligent – which is why I wanted to kiss you. But, for example, if you bully Kate again then..” She stopped, looking at Victoria with an expression that was serious and to Victoria's surprise seemed to have a dark edge to it, as if there was something monstrous and dangerous hidden behind that beautiful face and gentle blue eyes.

“I won't though!” she exclaimed quickly and with a slight hint of desperation. “I promise, the thought of how I behaved before makes me feel sick. You must believe me when I say that, I mean I have tried already..” Max smiled gently at her, and reached across the table to take her hand.

“Victoria, it has only been less than a week that we've really started to get to know each other, and all this began. I know it feels right and good and.. all of that. But think about it - we've got 18 months until we know whether this jump has worked, and I want that to be a good time, the best time we can manage. We need to work on a future together, and that means me accepting you for you - all your flaws and faults, but at the same time you need to understand that you can't behave towards people like you have before and still expect me to be with you. I don't find that attractive. I abhor bullies, Victoria, you must realise that.” Max looked at Victoria's face, and her heart relented a little. “But you have convinced me that you do want to change and not be like that any more, and I do believe you, I really do. The side of you I have seen – the real you - convinces me of that. So you need to show them that as well, and not just me.” Victoria looked up at Max, and then down at where she was holding tightly to her hand.

“How can I possibly start? I mean people hate me for what I have done, and I probably deserve it. I don't want to lose you Max, these few days together have been.. the best.” Max smiled at her and Victoria's heart seemed to burst inside of her at the sight.

“Yes, they have been, for me too. But this will take time - I'm not going anywhere, I'm right here with you now, aren't I?” Victoria smiled gratefully at her words and put her other hand on top of Max's.

“I know you are, and I couldn't be happier. I won't let you down Max, I promise.” They both looked at each other, feeling a return of the tension from before that seemed to turn the air electric between them. Max blushed first and looked away, out of the window into the diner's car park. She could see the family heading towards their car, and she smiled to herself as she watched the young girl play chase with her sister.

That's so cute, she thought, as they chased each other around their increasingly exasperated parents. I wish I'd have had a sister sometimes. Someone to always rely on, to share the quiet times with and to confide in. The younger of the two escaped her sister's grasp and ran off laughing, straight out into the road and in front of an oncoming truck.

“NO!” screamed Max as too late, far too late, the driver hit the brakes and with the horn wailing the truck slid down the road, smashing into the girl and flinging her body like a rag doll through the air. Without a conscious thought Max tried to slam the universe into reverse, desperately trying to rewind time but found the universe seeming to resist – like a rusted gear that was stuck, it felt like time was refusing to obey her whim. Max grimaced and gritted her teeth as she exerted all of her will to undo what had happened, to try and save the girl.

Max could feel the blood pouring from her nose as she found the strength to drag time unwillingly backwards, her head reeling from the effort. She couldn't work out why now, of all times, it was so hard, but she knew she had to try. Feeling like she wanted to vomit and with her vision blurring, whether through tears or pain she didn't know, she watched as the girl returned back to safety before the pain became unbearable and time resumed. She knew she had to get out there to try and stop her from dying, no matter the cost. She staggered up from the table, ignoring the shouts from Victoria who seemed to be trying to tell her something and get up to follow her.

All that mattered to Max was getting outside and stopping it from happening. Max made it a few steps down through the diner before she heard the blaring of the horn and knew she had to rewind – it was oddly easier this time, but her previous efforts seemed to have sapped her strength and she could only buy a few precious seconds at a time, before the pain crashed through her head and the blood ran.

It has to be enough. It has to be. I have to keep trying.

I have to save her.

Max eventually staggered out of the diner, clutching at the door for support as she watched the girl run laughing once more into the road. Max, growing ever weaker, desperately reached out once more and rewound, dragging time back as she struggled to reach her.



“You can't catch me!” Mya shouted with glee, spinning away from her sister and running off laughing as her sister gave chase.

“Mya! Look out!” someone suddenly screamed, causing Mya to freeze and look startled at the truck bearing down on her. Mya opened her mouth to scream in terror until suddenly she was grabbed and thrown to one side, crashing to the ground as she felt a rush of air as the truck thundered past, horn blaring angrily. Mya looked up at her rescuer, seeing the blue eyes aglow and a face that was smeared with blood and screamed again.

Seconds later her sister arrived, followed by her parents who were wailing in their relief and fear.

“Mya! How many times have we told you not to run off like that! And you, Jade, you should know better to play by the road!”

In a daze Max felt the girl being lifted off her, followed by an unfamiliar face bending down to look at her.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, oh lord thank you! You saved my daughter, thank you..” A woman's voice, on the edge of hysteria. The face of a man, his voice sounding strangely foggy came into Max's vision as she struggled to make sense of where she was.

“Hey, thank you miss - are you OK? You're not hurt are you? Your face.. it's bleeding...”

“I'm fine,” muttered Max quietly, feeling as if her head was about to explode and that she wasn't quite all there. “Just a nose bleed.”

“Are you sure? Let me look -” And then – and then arms wrapped around her, a familiar sensation of comfort and love, and a voice she recognised that seemed to cut through everything.

“It's OK, I've got her, she'll be OK. Max are you there? Max, speak to me. It's me, Victoria.”

“Victoria,” said Max, groaning as the pain returned. “Help me, I think my head is going to break apart.” She blinked and her vision seemed to clear, her head pounding less as Victoria held her tight in her arms. She could hear the family in the background, fussing over their -

Alive!

- daughter, the elder child seemingly trying to tell them something in her defence.

“But Daddy, she just appeared from nowhere! She's magic, Daddy!”

“Jade, stop being silly and making things up – if it wasn't for her your sister would be hurt. Now go say sorry to her, she's hurt herself due to your silliness.”

“But Daaad! I -” A pair of familiar green eyes came into her view, blocking out everything else.

“Max, you OK?” Victoria said quietly. “Your face looks a mess, I'll have to clean it up. How's your head? What you did was incredible, I'm so proud of you. So proud.” Max looked over at the little girl, safely wrapped up in her mother's arms and crying, but very much alive..

You did it Max. You saved her life.

“Victoria – she - she ran into the road, I saw her get -” Victoria placed her finger gently onto Max's bloodied lips, cutting her off. Her eyes seemed strangely alive, as if she had something important to say.

“I know, Max, I know. I saw it. It was terrible, I can't get the image out of my head. I'm so happy you saved her, she didn't deserve that. No-one does.” Max furrowed her brow, her head still aching from her exertions and making her not think clearly.

“What? How? I rewound time, how did you see it? How do you know? That's impossible..”

“You did it, Max,” Victoria said in a hushed voice, which was filled with wonder despite what she had witnessed. “You took me with you.”

Chapter Text

Victoria had looped her arm around Max and half carried her back to the diner, waving off the thanks from the parents who were torn between thanking Max and telling off their daughters. Max still seemed a little out of it as if the effort of rewinding time and taking Victoria with her, along with the subsequent rewinds to save the girl, had pushed her to the limit. Victoria's mind was still reeling from having been taken back in time with her - the imprint of seeing the girl being struck by the truck, before the whole world going in reverse was serving to banish any other thoughts.

I can't believe I saw that happen. It was.. amazing. Horrifying. Unbelievable. I mean I knew Max was supposed to have powers but there was always a little bit of me that doubted, was never completely convinced but that..

She looked down at Max who was leaning against her with eyes closed as Victoria half carried her to the bathroom.

She's a real superhero. She's my hero. She didn't even think about it, she just acted as if it was the only thing that she could do, no matter the cost to her.

How can I ever live up to that? She's so good in her heart, too good for me.

No Vic, stop saying that. She told you she is here for you, try and believe it a little.

By the time Victoria had finished cleaning Max up she seemed a little better, a small spark returning to her eyes.

“Thank you,” she whispered as Victoria patted her face dry with some paper towels. Victoria gave her a happy smile in return.

“Hey, cleaning people up is something I'm good at. I mean I get lots of practice from removing all the stuff I stick on my face, for example.” Max was clearly feeling better as she rolled her eyes, refusing to rise to the bait.

“Mhmmm, maybe. You do make yourself look good though when you do it, you should teach me.” Victoria beamed at her.

“Sure, you could do with some help with that stuff. I mean, not that what you do is bad or anything, but..”

“Yeah I know, you don't need to feel guilty about mentioning it. It's just never bothered me really, as I have never thought I needed to do it for any reason.” Max looked at herself in the mirror, checking her appearance before turning to leave. “Besides, maybe now I might have someone worth doing it for.” The door swung shut in Victoria's face as she stood there slightly stunned, before hurrying after Max with her stomach churning with welcome butterflies.



They sat back down at their table to try and continue to eat and finish their meal. Despite all of the drama that had just happened, it had only been a few minutes since Max had first rewound time. Max after her efforts was suddenly famished, and quickly polished off her burger and began eyeing Victoria's plate, which still had a few pieces of bacon and pancakes on it. Victoria covered her food with her hands, shooing her away.

“Get away from my food, you. Shoo! Get your own.”

“But Victoria,” Max whined, “I'm hungry. I did just save that girl and I took you back through time, I deserve something as a reward, I've earned it.”

“Fine,” Victoria said magnanimously, “you can have some of it.” She watched as Max gleefully shovelled some food onto her plate. “Not that much! Seriously though, we need to talk about what just happened. I mean not only did you save her life, which was fucking amazing, but you also took me back with you through time. Like the other you said that you could. That means that.. Well. From now on you don't need to bear it alone if you don't want to. Like just now, with that poor girl..” Victoria shuddered at the memory of seeing her being hit by the truck, flying through the air..

But it never happened, did it? Thanks to Max.

“What was it like for you?” asked Max curiously. “I mean coming with me, not witnessing that... thing. How did it feel? For me it felt like I was trying to push something which was stuck, like it was being resisted before I finally managed to make it happen. It's why it hit me so hard I think, like double the usual effort after trying to get it started. Hopefully it will get easier the more I practice.” She smiled at Victoria. “See, we both to practice more.”

At that moment the waitress bustled over, a wide smile on her face.

“Hello there, how are you both? How is the food? I just wanted to say that we all saw what you did and the boys up there -” she jerked her head towards the line of truckers - “want to cover the cost of your meals as a thank you. They – and me - think you are a real hero for what you did, Ms – Ms -?”

“Max,” Max said shyly, not used to the praise and not meeting her eye. “And really, it was nothing- it's what anyone else would have done, I don't need any reward or something.”

“Now now, don't you go being all modest on me. You saved that little girl from a nasty accident, you should be proud of yourself. That took some real bravery and quick thinking, how quickly you managed to get out there and help that poor family.” She turned to look at Victoria and gave her a conspiratorial wink. “You're a very lucky lady to have her.” Victoria blushed a deep crimson and before she could stammer a reply, Max had got up from her seat and approached the line of truckers, wanting to thank them in person.

“Um.. hi,” she said nervously, looking at the craggy face of the nearest fellow who was watching her from beneath bushy brows. “Thank you very much for the offer, but you don't need to do this, I didn't do anything special - just what anyone else would have done in my place.” There was a chorus of disagreeing grunts from the line, before one of them spoke.

“No ma'am, you were the only one who did anything. We've all had close calls like that, and some calls not ending as well as that one. So please accept it on behalf of the driver. He'd want to thank you himself, if he could.” Max saw them all nodding in agreement, and began profusely thanking them in a manner that even she realised was becoming awkward, before escaping back to her seat before she lost her nerve completely.

“Well,” she said, looking at Victoria who had recovered a little from her embarrassment and was now eyeing her with some amusement. “This was unexpected. I've never been bought dinner by so many men before.”

“Have you ever been bought dinner by a man before?” Max tilted her head to one side, considering.

“Um.. Warren got me lunch once.”

“I said a man.” Max sucked in her breath through her teeth.

“Ouch, that's just nasty, Victoria. Warren is.. nice,” Max said, with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.

“Yes, but no matter how many times you say it, it won't change the fact he's basically your personal stalker. I bet he has a shrine dedicated to you somewhere.” Victoria's tone held no little amount of jealousy to it.

“No I mean it, he's a good friend. And someone you are going to have to get along with, too.” Victoria muttered something under her breath, before looking at her cell.

“It's getting on a bit; we should eat up and get moving. It's going to be dark soon and driving at night is not the funnest thing in that car. I always end up going to fast and think I'm going to hit a deer or something.” Max nodded and grabbed her milkshake, sucking noisily through the straw.



It took them another hour or so to get back to Arcadia, and it was nearing seven by the time the bay hove into view. The sun was barley visible over the horizon, and the sweeping eye of the lighthouse acted as a beacon as if letting them know that they were nearly back. Max had dozed as Victoria drove, the gentle motion of the car lulling her back to sleep. Victoria had been content to drive and be alone with her thoughts, processing everything that had happened in the diner - including the not inconsiderable matter of travelling back through time for the first time in her life.

I still can't believe that happened. It was.. incredible. How Max doesn't do it all the time I don't know.

Maybe she does and she just doesn't tell you?

Victoria looked at the sleeping Max, as if considering the possibility that she did actually do that.

No, she would tell you, she wouldn't be able to help herself – and besides, if she does it when you are not around, how would you ever know? You'll just drive yourself mad trying to think about it.

But at least you know there is no doubt now. I mean you always had a little bit of uncertainty in the back of your mind, didn't you? I mean how could it possibly be true? But it is all true, everything.

Everything.

Victoria saw the lighthouse passing them by, the light sweeping the landscape ahead of them as if searching for their return, and she reached out and gently poked Max.

“Hey you, wake up,” she said. “We're here.” Max stirred and stretched, yawning as she looked out of the window at the lighthouse.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. “That was very rude of me. There's something about travelling in a car that always makes me sleepy.” She yawned once more, covering her mouth with her hand. “Still at least your driving doesn't make me sick, so that's something.” Victoria knitted her brows.

“You get car sick? If I had known I would have brought some towels - I don't want you dumping your dinner all over my seats, Caulfield. These are real leather, you know.” Max playfully poked Victoria in the arm.

“I told you, your driving is not that bad. If it was, you'd soon know about it.” Max smiled to herself as she looked out of the window. Arcadia Bay was lighting up as the evening drew in, lending it a somewhat folksy charm. It took her back to when she was younger when she used to stay out as late as the light allowed, exploring the beach with -

“Victoria,” Max said suddenly, “could you turn off up here please? That turning, there.” Victoria looked at her in surprise, but did as she requested.

“What's up?” she asked as she made the turn. “I thought we were going straight back to Blackwell?” Max was busy looking out of the window, scanning the streets as if looking for something.

“Yeah, that's was my original idea. But.. can you drop me off just here? There's something I need to do first.” Victoria checked her mirror before indicating and pulling over outside a house that, apart from being half painted, seemed like any other in the street. She pulled on the handbrake and turned to look at Max, who seemed to have turned a little nervous.

“What is it? What do you have to do? Whose place is this? It's not Warren's is it, you are not asking him for a free dinner..” Max ignored her attempt at a feeble joke, and just looked out of the window at the house for a moment, without answering. Victoria waited, her curiosity overriding her impatience.

“That's.. that's.. Chloe's house,” Max said eventually in a quiet voice. “I thought I should.. I don't know. Go speak to Joyce or something. See how she is. I should have done it earlier rather than running away, but..” She fell silent, biting her lip with uncertainty. Victoria laid a hand on her arm and looked at her with concern.

“Max, are you sure? It's been a tough day for you, and if we are correct it might be a rough night tonight, as well. Why don't you put it off until tomorrow when you are a bit more rested?” Max shook her head.

“No, because then I'll put it off and put it off like I always do. I'm here now, I have to do this. I must do it.” Victoria looked at her, unsure as to how good an idea this was, but Max seemed like she had made up her mind and wouldn't be persuaded.

“OK,” she said reluctantly. “Do you want me to wait or..?” Max opened the car door and stepped out into the night before looking back in, her face lit by the interior light.

“No, it's OK – I'll get the bus back. See you later, OK?”

“Fine – but I'll keep my phone on in just in case you do need me. You.. you just take care of yourself, OK?” Max gave her a brave smile before she slammed the car door shut. Victoria watched her slowly walk towards the house before putting the car in gear and driving off slowly, repeatedly checking in the rear view mirror as she did so.



Max stood there in the dark as the sound of Victoria's car faded slowly into the distance, looking up at the house which held so many memories for her; memories that seemed a life time ago.

Why did I leave it so long to come here? Why did I never stay in touch?

How different would my life be if I had? Would Chloe still be alive?

Would even Rachel Amber? Could I go back and..

Max shook herself, before trying to give herself a stern talking to.

Max, come on – you know the answers to that. You told yourself it was impossible, one of you is even sacrificing themselves because they tried to do it and fucked everything up.

No, this is what you have to deal with. Like most people do.

Max squared her shoulders and tried to march confidently up towards the front door, finding each step harder than the last. Eventually she reached it and raised a fist to knock, which just stayed there and stayed there until the muscles in her shoulder began to hurt.

Just do it Max. Stop stalling.

The first knock felt like a sledgehammer crashing against the door, and Max was afraid it would break under her onslaught. She waited until she realised that she had actually hardly made a noise; annoyed by her own foolishness she rapped harder on the door and waited.

I must have hardly hit the door, even though it felt like I had. Like time slowed down as I hit making it just sound like I did hit it harder.

Was that just my own perception, or did I really do that? Can I slow time down as well as go backwards through it?

Isn't it the same thing?

She frowned as her brain went into overdrive, as long forgotten physics lessons tried to claw their way to the surface.

Wait, isn't how hard you hit something related to how heavy it is and how fast it is going? And how fast is the distance you go over in time, so if I can control time, that means..

She rubbed her temples - physics wasn't her strong point but she suddenly realised that she really needed to study it harder.

Time is a thing, what do you call it in an equation – a constant, that's it - in so many things. I need to talk this through with Warren. As much as I can, anyway.

The sound of a latch being turned snapped her back to attention, and she watched the door slowly open to reveal a woman; older than she remembered with more lines on her face, and eyes that were deeply shrouded as if she had not slept for an age – but recognisable as Joyce, the mother of her old best friend. Max did her best to give her a small smile as the woman looked at her; then her eyes widened as recognition dawned.

“Max Caulfield! Well I would never have believed it if I wasn't seeing it with my own eyes! What brings you to my door at this hour? Let me just call..” She faltered as the reality of her situation came back to her, and her eyes welled with tears. “No, I can't, I..” Max automatically reached out to try and comfort Joyce.

“Joyce, I'm so sorry, I wish I had come sooner. I had meant to, but..” Joyce tried to stand a bit straighter and put a brave face on things in front of her unexpected guest.

“Max, it's fine, thank you. I can't have expected you to come all the way down from Seattle right away, especially given how long it has been. The fact you have come here now at all means a lot.” Max felt herself internally dying of shame and regret, as she realised she had to explain the fact she had been in Arcadia for over a month without making contact to someone who had basically helped bring her up.

“Erm.. I didn't come down today, I've been at Blackwell. The Academy I mean. Studying. You know, photography. Since September, so only a few weeks. Not long, but..” Max faltered as Joyce looked at her; the more she seemed to speak the weaker any excuse she had seemed to become.

“I see,” said Joyce finally. “Well, I guess you might as well come on in. It would be good to catch up and talk, share some memories given that's all I have now. You will probably already know David, if you've gone to Blackwell this past month.” She turned and walked into the house, leaving Max on the doorstep feeling guiltier than ever.

Was this a mistake, coming here? Should I rewind?

No, it's too late now. No more running away from things.

And who is David? A David at Blackwell? Does she mean Mr Madsen?

Max walked in through the hallway which was slightly different, yet strangely familiar, noting the photographs on the wall which she stopped to look at. It was of a Chloe she remembered before she had left, which struck her as strange – no new photographs had been put up, as if life had ended at that moment in time. Max decided that it probably wasn't for the best to dawdle looking at the photographs and quickly walked after Joyce into the living room, noting again how little had changed in the last five years, as far as she could remember. One big change was the presence of a familiar looking figure sat at the kitchen table, head in hands and a half empty bottle of beer in front of him.

“David, this is Chloe's old friend Max who has come to see us. Max, this is my husband David.” Max gave a weak smile and wave at the Blackwell Security guard, who looked up at her with a brief flicker of recognition.

“Max.. Caulfield?” he said quietly, his eyes expressionless. Max nodded, trying and failing to think of something to say.

“I didn't know you were Chloe's old friend. If I had..” He stopped talking and looked back down at the table, hands clasped tightly in front of him. An uncomfortable silence descended, as Max realised she was intruding on a scene of intense, personal grief for both Joyce and David.

“Won't you sit down, Max? Would you like a drink? I was just putting on some coffee,” Joyce said, moving slowly into the kitchen.

“That would be lovely, thank you – but let me help, please.” Max followed her into the kitchen, having no desire to sit opposite David as he stared into the distance at nothing in particular. Max tried to busy herself getting cups and spoons together – everything seemed to be in the same places she remembered.

“How are you doing, Joyce?” she said quietly, as she watched her spoon coffee grounds into the cafetière. Joyce seemed to tense at the question, before letting out a sigh.

“I'm not going to lie to you, Max. I'm not good, it's been the worst week of my life. Worse than when William..” She pulled herself up short, leaning on the counter, her back to Max. “I can't believe I've lost both of them, both of them gone..” Max went over and rubbed the woman's back gently, trying to offer what comfort she could.

“I'm so sorry, Joyce - if I could have made things different for you I would have..” she began, before biting off her words.

You could have. You know that.

Joyce sniffled a little, before slowly turning to face Max with red eyes that looked sore.

“I know, Max. you've always been a good kid. Chloe.. Chloe just made the wrong choices, and I should have been there for her more than I was. If only I'd.. But what with her losing William, then you, then Rachel.. poor girl.” She stopped, looking down at the floor for a moment. “But we can't change the past, can we? We have to live with our actions, Max. I just wish..” She sighed, leaving the thought unspoken, before resuming making the coffee.

Max watched her work consumed by a sudden feeling of intense remorse and loathing, knowing that she had willfully sat by while her best friend was having her life taken away from her in a grubby bathroom. Her inaction had caused this, and for the sake of what? Becoming friends with Victoria Chase, someone who had in another reality bullied one of her friends so much she tried to commit suicide? Max felt a hollow feeling in her stomach as she watched the result of the actions of another version of her play out.

You didn't do this though, Max. You didn't shoot Chloe, you didn't put the gun in Nathan's hands. You didn't make her go into that bathroom that day to die.

But I could have messaged her when I got here, or at any point over five years. Who knows what could have happened if I had done that?

Would I even have these powers?

Max too a deep breath and tried to calm herself, feeling a lump rise in her throat as everything began to hit home – the death of the friend she had neglected and the impossible situation she had been put into.

“I'm sure.. I'm sure she knows that, wherever she is looking down on us,” she managed. Joyce smiled thinly at her, acknowledging what she was trying to do.

“Come on Max, let's go sit down and talk about happier times for a while. I think David would like to hear about that as well. I've also got a box of Chloe's things that you might like - I was putting it together to send to you after everything was sorted. Just let me quickly go get it.” Joyce left the room, leaving Max to try and make awkward small talk with David, who hadn't appeared to move a muscle.



Victoria had driven slowly back to Blackwell, the car feeling oddly empty without Max in it. She was worried about her; she knew that Max speaking to Chloe's Mom would most likely upset her again as the old memories were dragged up - Victoria found that she was a little jealous at the relationship Chloe and Max had seemed to have had, which she realised was entirely irrational.

Although other Max had spent years trying to save Chloe and presumably would have had something with her, so how can I not be jealous?

Yeah, but she's dead Victoria. How can your emotion be jealousy as opposed to pity for her loss?

Although it's not like you liked her, was it. You hated her and Rachel, and now they are both gone.

It's like you are cursed, everything around you just withers and dies. Name one relationship you have had that -

Stop it! Stop it stop stop it!

Without realising it Victoria has sped up and the car was blasting through the quiet town - if she wasn't careful she'd get a ticket. She took a deep breath and tried to calm down, the last thing she needed was trying to explain to an officer why her car was full of ice as she did 70 down the road.

Max still has to face the dark room tonight. I hope she is OK after leaving there. I really hope it's not too much after everything she has done today. Everything we have done.

In a somewhat pensive mood Victoria had parked up at Blackwell, getting her and Max's bags out to take with her into the dorm. Blackwell was quite quiet, considering it was after 7 pm on a Friday - normally it would be bustling with students getting ready to go out for the night or planning a weekend elsewhere, but it seemed that most students had still not returned for the restart of lessons. The few that were about Victoria exchanged the occasional nod of recognition to, although that was not many - the others seemingly hadn't been important enough to get onto her social radar.

To her surprise, as she came to the gate to the quad she bumped into Samuel - who she thought that if she didn't know better was loitering in the dark, waiting for her. She shuddered at the thought and snapped angrily out at him.

“Watch where you are going, freak!” Samuel just smiled in return, which only served to infuriate her even more.

What is his problem? He's so weird! The way he looks at me..

“I'm sorry Ms, I didn't mean to scare you. I was just out checking on the squirrels. They tell me they are not so afraid any more.” Victoria looked at him as if he was crazy, and felt a little perturbed by his manner of speaking. She decided that discretion was the better part of valour and to get away as quickly as possible.

If anyone is a crazy axe murderer around here, it's him.

“Er.. squirrels. Right. Well, I'll just be going..” She made to walk past him as he gave her the same lopsided smile he had done before.

“They tell me that you need to keep an eye on her, keep her anchored to here.” Victoria paused in her step and opened her mouth to say something, but her brain seemed to freeze.

“They say just wait a few more days, Victoria Chase. Have a good night together,” said Samuel, before giving her another lopsided grin and disappearing around the corner of the building. Victoria stood there for a moment, her mind trying to catch up with events before she shouted and ran after him.

“Hey, wait! How did -” She skidded around the corner but he was nowhere to be seen.

“What the hell,” she muttered. “How did he know everything? What the fuck is going on in this place?” She went back to fetch her bags from where she had dropped them, her mind thinking on all her past reactions with Samuel – which could be summed up mainly with her hurling insults in his direction while he just smiled at her.

Did he know? Did he always know and just humoured me?

Who else knows that I don't know about?

“Hey, there you are!” Victoria looked up and saw Taylor sitting on the steps to the dorm, cell in her hand and looking slightly miffed. “Why aren't you answering your phone? I've been ringing you for ages, I thought something had happened to you!” Victoria looked blankly at her as if she had completely forgotten about her. Taylor stood up, her face looking concerned.

“You OK, V? You are looking kinda spooked. I didn't scare you did I?” Victoria gave a short laugh and dropped the bags, before giving Taylor a quick hug. Taylor seemed to freeze in surprise, as if it was the last thing she had expected.

“No, of course you didn't frighten me. Sorry, I was just lost in thought, I had something on my mind.” Taylor extracted herself and stepped back, eyeing her carefully.

“Oh? Must be serious if I am getting hugs from you.” Victoria put her hand to her forehead and closed her eyes.

“It's just been one hell of a fucking day. Sorry for missing your calls, I haven't checked my phone in a while. I've been driving down from Seattle.” Taylor nodded sympathetically.

“How was it? Were your parents there?” Victoria laughed bitterly.

“What do you think? Look, let's get inside, I don't want to have this conversation where just about anyone can eavesdrop.” Taylor went to help her with her bags, picking up Max's before she could stop her. Taylor hoisted it in the air, inspecting it with interest.

“I didn't expect you to own a bag this cheap, V..” she said with curiosity, a mischievous tone in her voice. Victoria tried to grab it off her, but Taylor jumped back out of reach.

“It's just an old bag I had, T. Give it back!” Victoria snapped, desperately reaching for it.

“An 'I love Seattle' badge? 'Save the Whales'? Interesting, very interesting..” Victoria made a quick lunge and grabbed it off her, glowering as she did so.

“Not one fucking word more, understand?” she growled menacingly, causing Taylor to widen her eyes in surprise.

“Jesus, Victoria, I was only messing. I didn't realise it was such a secret..” Victoria pointed a finger.

“You. In. Now,” she ordered, causing Taylor to scurry inside as Victoria stalked in behind her. They didn't exchange another word until they were in Victoria's room, having walked through the dorm and passed the open door of Dana's room from which light and laughter spilled from. Victoria shut her door and threw herself face down onto her bed with a groan, leaving Taylor standing there watching with an amused expression.

“So,” she said, folding her arms across her chest and looking down at her friend, “what's got into you? Who is it this time?” Victoria groaned and rolled onto her front, shielding her eyes with arms from the subtle glow of her bedside lamps.

“Why do you assume it's a someone? Why can't I just have had a shitty day?” Taylor sat down on the edge of the bed which gave a slight creak under her weight.

“Well, you already told me your parents weren't home, so it wasn't a fight with them. And you left in a hurry without even saying goodbye to anyone, so I'm assuming someone pissed you off enough to make you do that. So who was it?” Victoria cursed that her friend was not the ditzy blonde she liked to portray herself as; behind that disarmingly pretty and smiling face was a mind as sharp as a knife.

“I left because of the whole situation in this fucking place, with Nathan and Jefferson and all of that fucked up shit, which I was part of.”

“You weren't part of anything, V, were you. Apart from sucking up to Jefferson like an idiot I mean. You know that you were supposed to be next, according to that file the police had found. How could you possibly have been involved?” Victoria reflexively shuddered, that little titbit she had already known thanks to the Journal, but the thought still made her skin crawl.

“Don't mention him, please don't. But you know what I mean. I was friends with Nathan. I saw him going off the rails and did nothing. I took that fucking video of Kate and spread it all around the place.” Taylor played with the edge of the duvet, not looking at Victoria.

“Can I ask you something?” she said hesitantly. Victoria waved her hand, giving permission.

“Why did you take that video?” Victoria seemed to stiffen on the bed, and Taylor began to apologise.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to -” Victoria shook her head and slowly pushed herself upright, leaning against the wall and looking at Taylor. She didn't answer for a while, as if composing her thoughts and when she spoke her voice was quiet and sad.

“Because I thought I was finally taking her down a fucking peg or two. I thought the whole preaching and just being so fucking nice to everyone was just an act; I mean no-one is like that, are they? Everyone has an angle, everyone wants something from me. I thought that finally we were seeing the true person behind it all, and it felt so fucking satisfying that I was finally right.” She paused, squeezing her eyes with her fingers and taking a breath, as if composing herself. Taylor found herself shivering slightly, and looked to see if Victoria had left the window open.

“But it turns out that she is just that nice person, and I'm just a fucking monster who can't handle the fact that there are people who are just fucking nice because that's who they are,” Victoria continued, her voice quavering slightly. “I mean, what does that say about me, why would she want to be..” Victoria stopped herself, realising she was in danger of saying too much. She cleared her throat, before looking at Taylor with a look that seemed, in the soft light of the room, to be harsh – but it could have been a trick of the light. “But let me ask you something, T – why didn't you stop me, or say something? You went along with it all and you are my friend. If you had thought it was horrible why didn't you say anything?” Taylor got off the bed and walked to the window checking it was actually shut, and pausing to stare out of it. Victoria waited for an answer, thinking that the longer Taylor took the less she was going to like it.

“Honestly?” Taylor finally said, turning back to look at her with a sad expression. “Because I was fucking scared.” Victoria creased her brow, puzzled – this wasn't the answer she had expected.

“Scared? Of what?”

“You,” said Taylor simply. Victoria's mouth dropped, as she sat there looking at her friend in sudden shock.

“Scared? Of me? Why? You know I would never hurt you. You're my friend, Taylor, I would never..” Taylor laughed, but it was without humour.

“Yeah, I know we are friends, and I hope we are best friends at that.” Victoria nodded vigorously, making Taylor smile slightly before she continued. “But fuck me if you don't scare the shit out of me at times with how you behave, how single mindedly you can take someone apart when you set your mind to it. I was afraid that you would do that to me if I said anything, or didn't go along with it all.” She sat back down on the bed, looking at her hands. “What can I say, I'm a fucking coward. I can't believe I wrote that fucking note and threw it at her. What was I thinking? Why did I do that?” There was a heavy silence as both girls sat there, minds occupied with their previous actions - which awful as they had been at the time, seemed even worse in retrospect given everything that had happened subsequently.

Victoria's mind was plagued by sudden doubts over her friendship with Taylor – something she had always thought was something she could rely on, the only definite thing she had. Taylor's admission that she scared her had come as a shock, especially as it was something she was not even conscious of doing to her. She pulled up her knees and wrapped her arms around them, looking at the the girl perched on the end of the bed.

“Am I really that bad?” she said quietly, squeezing her arms tight around her knees. Taylor gave her a sideways look and flashed her a smile that was so quick Victoria thought she might have imagined it.

“To the people you care about? No, of course not. The problem is that I don't think you care enough – no, that's not what I mean. I mean you don't have enough people to care about, and you build so many walls against people who want to get close to you. And then you lash out.” Victoria rested her chin on her arms, thinking on Taylor's words.

“I promised her I would make things up with Kate. I haven't even asked how she has been since it all happened. How pathetic is that?” Taylor gave her a look full of scrutiny, as if analysing what she had said and wondering what it meant.

“Well, she seems a little bit better,” she said finally, shuffling across the bed and leaning against the wall, turning her head to look at Victoria. “I bumped into her and Dana yesterday when you were doing whatever it was you were doing, and she seemed quite happy then. I think Dana has taken her under her wing a little. Did you hear them laughing together when we came in?” Victoria shook her head, and looked glum.

“Shit, has she? Well that's going to make it harder then. Dana positively hates me.” Taylor rolled her eyes.

“Yup, and you can't exactly blame her, can you. Remember that whole stupid plan you concocted about texting Zachary? Whatever possessed you to do that? You do know she is a good person, V.” Victoria lifted her head and glared at Taylor; in the soft lighting Victoria eyes seemed to gleam at her – like a cat's caught in headlights.

“She's a whore who sleeps around with anything that has a dick and breathes,” Victoria said viciously. “That fucking cheery cutesy cheerleader act she does -” Taylor smacked her on the leg.

“See you just can't help it, can you.” There was a silence as Victoria sulked. Taylor sighed heavily.

“You know you can't go on like this, don't you? Eventually you'll just end up hurting everyone who cares for you.”

“Well maybe that's what I fucking deserve!” snapped Victoria, before burying her head. She didn't move for a while, and when she eventually looked up Taylor swore that her eyes seemed a little bit red.

“I know, T, I know. I know I have to change, there's just so much going on in my fucking life at the moment. It just.. it just seemed so much easier to promise it to her when I was away from here, and now I'm back..” Taylor gave her another sharp look; she knew her ears weren't deceiving her.

OK, there is a mystery here to solve. The bag, this 'her', the sudden resolve to be better.

A mystery to solve about the one and only Victoria Chase!

Oh, this is going to be good. Someone who can do this to her is a very interesting person indeed.

Tread carefully though, Taylor. Tread carefully..

“What do you mean, V? What was easier and to whom?” she said innocently. Victoria now looked at her like a startled deer, before stammering a reply.

“Um, I promised it to myself to change. While I was in Seattle, all on my own before I came back. To try and do better. I mean.” Taylor did her best to distract Victoria from noticing the smile that spread across her face by dragging her legs down and over her lap, forcing Victoria to literally open herself up from her defensive posture.

You're such a bad liar, V. I know you too well, remember?

“I see. Well, that is a good thing - I like it when you are not that complete bitch to people. I mean I admire your directness and how you just get shit done. I like the one who sits around watching crappy movies with me, or the one who takes me to see my Mom or who looks after me when I get wasted. Or the one who sits up with me in the middle of the night when I have one of those fucking anxiety attacks.” Victoria allowed herself a little chuckle.

“Yeah, I think we both need each other for that. Looking out for each other.” She paused, before her expression softened. “How is she?” Taylor gave her a brave smile in return.

“She's better, thanks. She should be in the clear in a week or two the doctors say and be back home.” The resulting silence was more comfortable than previously, and Taylor decided to press her luck.

“So, is that her bag?” said Taylor, motioning her head. Victoria's legs tensed up and she folded her arms defensively again.

“I don't have the slightest fucking clue what you are on about, Taylor Christiansen,” Victoria said frostily, her voice seemingly making Taylor shiver. Taylor held her hands up in surrender, and decided to change tack – she knew she was on the right track and would get her answers eventually.

“You remember I told you about maybe arranging a party?” she said, throwing Victoria a lifeline. “I was thinking about maybe making it a Halloween party, you know at the end of the month. Dress up as zombies and all that sort of shit.” Victoria looked at her with sudden interest, and tapped her chin with a finger.

“That.. could be fun, couldn't it?” she said, suddenly looking thoughtful.

Maybe I could arrange it so that it would be the sort of party everyone could come to. Like a peace offering from me, but not really from me. Me in the background pulling the strings..

Wait, if my security takes over as I think they are going to have to, then it will be obvious it's me, as they will be securing the event.

Then I definitely need to make this work, don't I?

I could invite Max. Maybe we could go together. Like, as vampires or something.

Max as a sexy vampire..

“V? Are you OK? You seem to be spacing out a little there? Also, is your heating broken or something? I keep going hot and cold all the time. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, have you not got it fixed yet?” Victoria blinked, then smiled apologetically.

“Sorry, I was just thinking about your idea. It sounds great, T – what were you planning exactly?”



They spent the next hour or so just chatting like the two friends they were - Taylor running through her party ideas and beginning to write a list of things to do, before their talked turned to the latest gossip running around Blackwell that Taylor always took a particular delight in discussing. Victoria did her best to try and minimise the amount of bitchy observations she made, but she just couldn't help herself - although Taylor noted that they were slowly turning from 'cruel' to just 'bitchy', which she judged an improvement.

I guess she will never stop doing that, that's just how she is. But a bitchy Victoria is better than one filled with outright malice.

During a lull in the conversation Victoria had got up to get Taylor a drink from her fridge, pouring her a class of coke while she made do with a plain cranberry juice – for once not mixed with vodka – when her cell began to buzz, the screen lighting up the wall. Without thinking Taylor reached out and picked it up to hand it to her, glancing at the screen as she did so.

“Victoria Chase,” she said slowly, staring at the screen as she suddenly seemed reluctant to pass the cell over, “why is Max Caulfield calling you?” Victoria instantly dropped her glass to the ground as she flung herself across the room, snatching the cell out of Taylor's hand. Giving her a look that flayed the flesh from her bones, Victoria connected the call.

“Max? Where.. wait, I can't tell what you are saying. No, shh it's OK. No, stay there! I'm coming right away OK? I'll be 5 minutes, just stay there. Promise you won't move or.. do anything. Max? Promise me. Right, don't move.” The call ended and Victoria stared at the dark screen for a moment, her face a picture of agitation and panic. Without a word to Taylor she began dragging on some boots, looking around for her keys. Taylor got up and walked over to Victoria, crouching down to try and get her attention.

“V, what's going on? Why are -”

“Taylor, if you value our friendship and your life find my fucking keys for me, right now!” Taylor looked at Victoria and paled; by some trick of the light her bright eyes seemed to pierce right through her, as if her inner rage was making them glow. Taylor leapt up and rifled through the detritus on Victoria's desk, before a reassuring metallic clink made her triumphantly hold them up. Victoria grabbed them and quickly turned, and Taylor reached out and grabbed her arm to stop her, fingers closing on a wrist that was icy cold.

“Jesus V – what's happening? What's wrong? Are you in trouble? I can't let you just go like this without telling me -” Victoria stared at Taylor, her face a mixture of concern and fear.

“Max needs my help. Please just wait here, I won't be long.” The door slammed and Victoria was gone, leaving Taylor staring at the back of it. She slowly sat back down on the bed, her mind whirling with a million questions to which she had no answers. Her eyes fell on the bag on the floor.

Victoria was in Seattle.

Max went home to Seattle.

That bag is just the sort of thing Max would have.

They obviously came back together.

Victoria apparently has Max's number, and has gone to pick her up from somewhere and is clearly worried about her just at the same time she is resolving to change for the good.

Despite the worry she felt for Victoria disappearing so suddenly, Taylor found herself beginning to grin at the prospect that this mysterious new woman in Victoria's life was no-one else but Blackwell's resident hipster, and Victoria's oblivious arch enemy, Max Caulfield.

This is just so fucking perfect! she thought, and burst out laughing with sudden happiness.

Chapter Text

For the first time in her life Victoria was truly grateful that her parents had given her such a ridiculous car. Blackwell was a few miles away from the centre of Arcadia Bay, and Victoria had never covered the distance as quickly as she did now. Hyper-focused on her task, the car positively screamed its way through the quiet streets, the powerful headlights picking out every little detail. She was approaching 90 as she hit the shorefront, her eyes scanning for the turning she had taken before. She was going so fast she nearly missed it, slamming the brakes on in a cloud of smoke and turning across the road, causing another car to swerve and beep its horn angrily. She knew she was being reckless but right now it didn't seem to matter - her mind was consumed by the sound of Max's voice, broken and sobbing.

The headlights picked out a forlorn figure standing by the side of the road, cradling a box in her arms.

Max!

Victoria carefully pulled up alongside her and jumped out of the car, not bothering to turn the engine off.

“Max! What happened? Are you hurt or..?” she said as she cautiously approached her, unsure as to what to expect. Max looked at her, eyes red from weeping with and she mouthed wordlessly at her. Without a seconds thought Victoria wrapped her arms around her, burying Max's head into her chest - a gesture which surprised her, in how she did it without even thinking.

I would never have done this a week ago, she thought. And I don't even care how she is snotting all over my top.

Although I'll have to get it dry cleaned..

“Shh Max, it's OK. Whatever it is, it's OK. Don't cry.” Max mumbled incoherently into her chest, still awkwardly clutching the box to her - Victoria could see it just seemed to contain some random junk but guessed it contained some deeper meaning to Max. Victoria didn't know quite what to say and just resorted to rubbing her back whilst making soothing noises. She was doing her best to keep herself in check, finding that despite Max's emotional state holding her seemed to help as it had done before.

“Max I know you're upset right now but we really should get in the car, we can't stand here all night. You'll get cold and you need to at least sit down.” Max nodded silently and Victoria moved her awkwardly towards the car, as Max didn't seem to want to break the contact. Victoria managed to lever her into the car, having to work around the box to strap her in.

She closed the passenger door and paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts.

I knew I should have stopped her, I knew it. I'm so stupid. She's a mess right now, and I must pick up the pieces - and god knows what is going to happen tonight as well.

What a fucking mess this all is. I should have waited.

I knew I should have waited.

She rubbed her face with her hands, then cursed as she realised she would've smudged her makeup.

Focus Vic, that's the least of your worries right now.

She got into the driver's seat and turned to look at Max, who was just staring into space. She reached out and touched her gently on the leg, to try and get her attention.

“Hey..” Max turned her head and looked at Victoria, her face distraught, the tracks of dried tears down her cheeks.

“I ignored her and let her die..” she whispered hoarsely. “I just let her die like she was nothing.. nothing. I could save some random girl but not her..” Her lip wobbled again and she clutched tightly onto the box. By the interior light Victoria could now see that the box appeared to contain photographs, a few drawings, sketchbooks, and some other odds and ends.

Mementos, she surmised with a frown, a reminder of what she has lost. No wonder she is upset.

“Max, it's not your fault. You couldn't have done anything else, you know that.” Even as she said it Victoria knew her words would do no good; Max's face just creased again and she burst into further tears. Wordlessly Victoria pulled away – she had a horrible feeling it was going to be a long, exhausting night.



Dana glanced at the girl giggling next to her and felt a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. It had come as something as a shock to her that she was enjoying Kate's company so much – what had started as her protective side coming out – wanting to help Kate after the terrible events of earlier in the week, and feeling that she should support Kate in her involvements with the authorities - had progressed from 'hey, just thought I'd check up to see if you are OK' to going for lunch, and now this – spending a Friday evening sat in her room watching terrible romcoms on the TV, while chatting about every topic under the sun.

To her initial surprise they had more in common than they had first thought, with Kate revealing hidden depths that underlay the outward appearance she gave to everyone. Dana could see now how Max had become firm friends with her – even Kate's Christianity had been an interesting topic of discussion between them, with a lively debate between that and Dana's pagan beliefs being fruitful, with no animosity on either side. Dana wasn't stupid; no-one who attended Blackwell was. Despite being heavily involved in the cheerleading side of Blackwell society, her grades were still good and she had aims to go to university. Like Kate, there was more to her than at first met the eye.

And so here she was, on a Friday evening having told Trevor she wasn't in the mood to see him and instead watching Love Actually with a big bowel of shared popcorn. Kate giggled again as she watched the screen.

“Honestly, this film is ridiculous isn't it? I mean it's enjoyable but even I can see it is not exactly realistic.” Dana laughed along with her, a handful of popcorn in her hand.

“I know! But it's good cheese, isn't it! I'm surprised you haven't seen it before.” Kate's face momentarily clouded.

“I.. I didn't get the chance to watch many films when I was younger. I mean certainly not anything like this, everything I did watch was generally some Christian film with a worthy message and bad acting, or something really anodyne and pre-approved by my mother.”

“So no sex or violence, huh?” Dana asked, half-jokingly. Kate went a slight tinge of pink, as if embarrassed.

“Oh no, nothing like that. It was all very wholesome.” Kate looked a little pensive, as she watched the screen. “But there is nothing wrong with watching this, is there?” she said quietly to herself, folding her hands in her lap. Dana watched her carefully, covertly searching her face to see how she was taking it all.

“Well, then there's lots of films to catch up on then, isn't there,” she declared, rubbing her hands together. “We should make this a regular date - there's loads of things yet for you to see.”

“A date?” Kate squeaked, definitely going a bright red this time, much to Dana's confusion. “Yes, that would be nice.. I mean as long as it is OK, I don't want to intrude on anything or take you away from..” Kate left the name unspoken, steadfastly watching the screen and not daring to look at Dana.

“Oh, Trevor? Eh,” Dana replied, waving her hand dismissively. “He can just go hang around with Justin and his mates, god knows he can't wait to go back to them whenever he is actually here. Sometimes I wonder who exactly he wants a relationship with.” Dana laughed, shaking her head a little. Kate watched her a little confused, as if trying to work out what she meant.

Further thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door at the end of the corridor opening, followed by the sound of hushed voices. Kate pricked her ears; one of them clearly sounded like Max, although she could not make out who the other was. Dana appeared to have heard it too, as she turned her head to look out of her customary open door. They didn't have to wait long, as slowly into view came a very upset looking Max, with Victoria standing next to her seemingly speaking into her ear.

Dana leapt straight into action before Kate could even process what she was seeing, leaping across the room with an angry shout to confront Victoria.

“What the fuck are you doing?” she yelled, forgetting Kate was in her room. Victoria looked up in shock as the vengeful cheerleader came barrelling out of her room, putting herself squarely in-between Max and her, arms folded and chest out. Dana's face was livid, full of fury and contempt for Victoria.

“You just couldn't help yourself, could you? We all hoped you'd changed, but no - same old you - it wasn't enough to bully Kate was it, that you now have to start on Max?” Victoria stared at her, stunned, while Max looked tearfully at Dana.

“Dana, no, it..” she said weakly, but no-one appeared to be listening.

“What is your fucking problem, Victoria?” shouted Dana, jabbing her finger into Victoria's chest. Victoria's eyes narrowed, hackles rising in the face of Dana's onslaught.

Kate could see that there was a major fight about to happen, and summing up her courage she quickly got up and went into the corridor, grabbing hold of Max and shivering as she did so as she encountered the sudden coolness outside of Dana's room.

“Max, come on - come with me away from these two before they get nasty. Are you OK? Here, let me hold that box for you. What did she do to you?” Max tried to resist, looking up at Victoria and reaching out to touch her arm but found Kate's grip on her surprisingly strong, and she was dragged away down the corridor. The sounds of the ensuing argument echoed down towards them.

“Fuck you, Dana, I was trying to fucking help her. You have no fucking clue what is going on here. Keep your big nose out of where it isn't wanted before I break it.”

“Like to see you try, bitch. I'm sick of you picking on those smaller than you - well I'm not, why don't you..” Max broke free from Kate and halted, turning to look back down towards the argument. Victoria and Dana were standing face to face, staring at each other with anger written across both their faces, contorting them. Max could see Victoria's clenching her hands tightly by her side, before she suddenly raised a hand and violently threw a chunk of ice against Dana, causing her to sprawl backwards through the door. Victoria stalked forward after her, eyes glowing as wisps of mists began to rise up and around her; the sound of Kate beginning to scream echoed down the corridor.

“No!” shouted Max, holding up her hand and throwing the world into reverse, watching as Victoria, Dana and Kate swiftly went backwards until the corridor was empty and she was alone, save for the sound of gentle laughter wafting from Dana's room. A wave of pain hit her and she clutched her head, dropping the box to the floor and sagging against the wall. It took her a minute or so to compose herself, and she shook her head clear before looking up and seeing Victoria burst into the corridor and pausing, before looking at her in a confused manner. She held open her hands in a questioning manner; Max just shook her head and slunk down to the floor. She was exhausted, emotionally and physically - the last thing she had needed was to rewind a stupid fight just because Victoria couldn't control herself.

I can't do this. I can't do this!

I just want to sleep. I'm so tired.

So tired.

I need a break from it all.

I can't do this.

As Victoria approached she quickly got up, grabbing her box and disappearing into her room, just as Taylor emerged from Victoria's room.

“Max -” she said, but Max ignored her and closed the door, leaning against it with her eyes closed. She waited for a moment and then heard some murmured conversation before a gentle tapping on the door, followed by Victoria's voice.

“Max? Are you OK? Can you let me in? We need to talk.” Max shook her head, even though no-one could see it, and didn't answer.

“Max? Please..” came her voice again through the door, and this time Max could hear the concern behind it, but she just wanted to curl up and cry the tears she had put off for far, far too long. She staggered over to the bed and dropped onto it, curling up into a ball and sobbing.



Max woke in compete darkness; she didn't know how long she had lain there - at some point she must have drifted off into an uneasy sleep, as when she opened her eyes everything was quiet and still. Her throat hurt a little, and she greedily drunk from a bottle of water by the side of her bed. Picking up her cell she saw that it was just after 9:30, and she had several missed calls and messages - all of them from Victoria. She dropped her phone on the bed and rolled onto her back, staring up at the dark ceiling, alone with her thoughts. She did feel a little bit better, not so hollow inside - she knew that she would have to live with the decisions she had made, not that knowing it made it any easier.

I abandoned her all those years ago, and then I abandoned her again.

She clenched her fists again, digging her fingernails into her palm as she tried to stop the thoughts from coming back. And then, another treacherous voice seemed to appear, insidiously whispering into her ear.

Like you just abandoned Victoria in the hallway tonight.

No! That's different. She would understand..

Would she? Understand what? You just disappeared having clearly rewound time on her - then ignored all her messages?

No, it's not like that!

Yes it is - in fact it's worse, as you pretend to like her and be understanding then you run away at the first opportunity you get.

Max got up from her bed and stood in the centre of her room, head bowed. She knew that these kind of thoughts were not good for her, but she just couldn't help it sometimes - her crippling social anxiety, that fear of forming new relationships with people, which she kept thinking she had managed to overcome just would not leave her alone, coming to remind her of her past mistakes and making her fall into new ones - a vicious cycle she was desperate to get out of.

She rubbed away the tears that threatened to spill over and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself.

Come on Max, you can do this. You're different now, you don't need to keep falling backwards. Move forwards, into that shiny future you have been told will happen.

You can do this, you know you can.

Yes you made a mistake with Chloe, but that's done - grieve and move on. You know you have to.

But it's just so hard, I can't do this on my own.

Don't be on your own then.

Max glanced at the door, and chewed her lip in indecision. She realised that she had most likely upset Victoria, and given how much she knew now about how Victoria felt about trust and relationships, it would be pretty bad. She herself was still not feeling in the right frame of mind to have such a conversation, the emotions that had occurred from her now seemingly ill-advised visit to Chloe's house were still raw. Max walked over to the wall and flicked the switch, making the lights above her photo wall light up. She looked at them, a record of her life as it had been - moments captured in time that she thought were precious to her.

I need to add some more to here. Create some new memories – or maybe I should start anew given I have these powers? Like a dividing line between then and now? A comparison between different lives?

She stood there in contemplation, the inner artist awakened within and serving to distract her mind with the ideas that were forming from her current woes. She tapped her teeth thoughtfully, wondering what she could do to start out in a fresh direction.

Maybe a fusion between the new and old, perhaps? I could -

- 'Let's be quick so it's not too far for me'. She walked off around the edge of the barn, looking for where she knew the loose plank was at the side -

Max shuddered - she could feel the gravelly ground beneath her feet, the biting cold of the night. She blinked and she was back in her room, staring at her photographs.

Oh no. No.

Please, not now. I can't cope with this – I can't...

No, please..

- 'Just squeeze through here – bet you are glad you actually listened to me and are wearing sensible shoes now, eh?' -

Max fell to her knees as she felt time trying to drag her across dimensions; it felt like she was really slipping away from this reality and into the other one – like the universe was trying to correct its course and bring them both together. She tried to resist its pull as much as she could - not knowing how or why, but she did it; gradually it didn't quite feel as strong but the effort exhausted her.

It's not enough.

She stumbled to her knees, her vision growing foggy as it seemed her room was bleeding into images of a barn that she had never seen before.

It's getting stronger.

I don't I have the strength to fight this.

I can't do this alone.

Someone help me, please!

Someone..?

Unbidden, into her mind came the image of someone, and along with it a flicker of hope.



Victoria sat at her desk, which was lit by a solitary lamp, staring vacantly at the screen of her laptop. Taylor had left an hour ago with more questions than answers – she hadn't wanted to leave Victoria alone when she was clearly upset about something, and it had taken all of her persuasion to get her to leave with the promise of meeting up tomorrow morning with thorough explanations. The last thing she had wanted was Taylor hanging around if Max turned up babbling about alternate realities whilst having a massive nosebleed – assuming she did turn up. Instead she had tried to focus on building up her case for staying at Blackwell – trying to work out something to justify the takeover of the security, and how she would sell it to both her parents and Principal Wells. Try as she might, though, her thoughts kept flitting back to Max.

What happened when we got here? We were just entering the dorm when she disappeared – what happened in that corridor? Why wouldn't she tell me? Why did she run away?

What did I do?

What did I fuck up this time?

She glanced at her cell, turning on the screen in the vain hope that somehow the notification light had stopped working, or that maybe somehow she had missed the ringer. It stubbornly stayed devoid of anything; her wallpaper screen a photo she had taken of the Arcadia shoreline a few weeks back when she had crept out on her own just to take some photographs, away from the prying eyes of everyone. She sighed and rubbed her eyes – she was tired; the drive coupled with just the entire experience of the day had left her exhausted. In truth she was glad that Taylor had left, even if there had been no problems with Max to deal with.

I really need a good sleep, but how can I sleep not knowing what has happened with Max?

She turned to look at her door, trying to decide if she should get up and go and check on her – but it had seemed pretty clear to her that Max had wanted to be left alone.

But she was convinced that she would get another shift in time tonight, but why would she want to be alone for -

Her thoughts were interrupted by a loud thump as something heavy hit her door. She jumped out of her seat, startled; reflexively feeling a welling up of power within herself – as if primed and ready to fight whatever was on the other side of the door. She cautiously approached it, trying to listen to see if she could hear anything on the other side of it, but she couldn't make out anything. There was another loud thump and then the door opened and Max fell through, crashing heavily onto the floor. Victoria gawped at her prone figure, momentarily stunned before she realised what was happening

Another time shift. And this looks like a bad one.

She swiftly bent down, all fears and doubts forgotten as she focused on the task at hand, hauling Max upright into a sitting position as best she could, trying to peer into her face. Max's face was pallid, and her eyes seemed to roll around in their sockets. Victoria could see the tell-tale streaks of blood descending down from Max's nose and began to seriously worry - things appeared to be getting worse the more often this happened.

"Max, are you there? Can you hear me?" Max didn't answer and her body seemed to become floppy and lifeless, hanging limply from Victoria's arms.

Shit shit shit, what do I do? Think Victoria, think!

Do I call for help?

No, that's a fucking terrible idea – how the fuck would you explain a half unconscious Max in your room?

But what if she di-

No! Think!

She looked desperately around trying to work out what to do – on an impulse she dragged her across to her bed, using all her strength to lift her on to it. Max seemed to stir slightly, and she bent her head close to her lips.

“Max? What is it? Can you hear me?” Max eyes seemed to focus slightly, and her lips parted as if trying to whisper something important to her.

“You are right, let's go. Help me with this will you?” Max shuddered violently before her eyes seemed to glaze over once more. Victoria could feel her panic rising; out of the corner of her eye she could see small wisps of air beginning to crystallize around her and she desperately fought with herself to try and keep it under control. And then, out of nowhere, she heard a voice echoing in her head.

You need to keep an eye on her, keep her anchored to here.

She looked down at the pale form of Max and resolve seemed to stiffen within her – she would not let Max down like this, not again – she would be the rock that anchored her to this reality, no matter the cost. Shifting Max slightly she pulled off her duvet, then gently lifted her up and got onto the bed, pulling Max up into her and wrapping her arms around her, before pulling the duvet back over them.

There. Even if I lose it completely, this will keep her warm. I hope.

Like before, the feeling of Max against her seemed to quell her emotions a little, and Max herself seemed to settle somewhat, with a little colour coming back into her cheeks. Victoria shifted position slightly until Max was sitting between her legs, head resting back against Victoria chest. Max's breathing was rapid and shallow, and she started to mumble again. This time Victoria couldn't make out her words, but a trickle of blood began to pour from one nostril and Victoria tried to stem it unsuccessfully with her fingers. Max spasmed violently and then suddenly broke free from her, sitting upright and turning to look at Victoria.

Victoria recoiled in horror, for the Max in front of her was Max but not her Max; the face seemed harsher, colder; the eyes without a spark of life or joy, as if they hinted at some unknowable trauma they had experienced over many lifetimes.

"What the hell, Vic?" Max said in confusion, her voice sounding oddly echoey, "what the fuck is going on? This isn't the Dark Room, why am I.." Victoria stared at her, feeling a creeping dread come over her.

This isn't Max.. this is... what the fuck do I do? I don't want her!

Go away! Leave us alone!

Victoria reached out to grab hold of Max's arm, to try and draw her back towards her.

"Max, please I beg you, come back to me.. Max!" As her fingers closed on Max's wrist the girl gave a shudder that seemed to run through her entire body, and then fell back against Victoria with a whimper, before becoming enveloped by her once more.

“Max, please stay with me, Max. Don't go, don't leave me,” Victoria whispered, half to herself. The sight of the change in Max's face, that glimpse of the other, had terrified her and she knew that no matter what Max was not leaving her side again tonight, not while this lasted.



To Victoria it seemed like it would never end; Max kept on seeming to flicker between lucidness where she was gripped with fear, and a comatose state where she stared listlessly at nothing. However, it couldn't have been more than half an hour before Max seemed to tense up and then relax, like a balloon suddenly deflating. Her breathing seemed to return to something like normal and she stirred, stretching her legs out a little. Victoria still had her arms wrapped around her from behind, and she rested her chin on Max's shoulder.

“Hey,” she said softly, her lips ticking Max's ear. Max jumped a little, as if startled by her voice and then seemed to relax back against her, hands moving up to touch Victoria's arms as if checking they were real.

“Hey,” she said softly in return, angling her head a little to touch it against Victoria's. To Victoria it seemed that Max was recovering quicker after each event; whether that was down to her becoming stronger and more used to it, or because of some other more worrying reason, she didn't know. There was a silence as they both became aware of how close they were too each other, and how good it felt to be like that. Victoria threw the duvet off them as she could feel herself getting hot with Max against her, and Max made a little complaint as she did so.

“Sorry, did you want it on?” Victoria asked. Max shook her head.

“No, it's fine. But I was all quite snugly, it felt like a cocoon. I was getting a bit sweaty though.” There was another silence that threatened to stretch on, until Victoria couldn't bear it any more.

“What the fuck happened, Max? You scared the living shit out of me tonight, and not only with just now – and we will get to that in a bit, don't worry. What happened when we arrived? You just disappeared – I know you rewound time, but why?” Max ran her hands down Victoria's arms until she could feel her hands, and held onto them tight. Victoria felt a giddy rush of pleasure at the sensation, but knew Max was doing it to just try and keep her from being angry.

“Promise me you won't get angry if I do tell you,” Max said, as if reading her mind. Victoria squeezed her tight, making Max gasp a little.

“Of course I won't, not after what you have gone through tonight. I just want to know so there is no secrets between us, that's all. I don't want to worry about it, thinking the worst about what I could have done.”

“That's fair,” Max conceded. She squirmed a little, making herself a bit more comfortable against Victoria – it seemed as if Max was trying to make a pillow of her, which she was not entirely adverse to. “Going to see Chloe's mom was.. hard. Really hard. It just sort of made me realise how useless a friend I had been, you know? Ignoring Chloe for all those years, some friend I was. I mean I guess you could say being in Seattle was some excuse – not much of one, but something – but when I returned here, to still ignore her?” Max stopped, swallowing hard. “That's just being a really shit friend, if you can even call myself a friend any more.”

Victoria didn't say anything in return, allowing Max to speak uninterrupted. For her part she had never seen eye to eye with Chloe; before she had got together with Rachel they had had a mildly antagonistic relationship – nothing out of the ordinary for her, something she realised with a sinking feeling (had she ever had a normal relationship with anyone?). But when she had got together with Rachel it had really gotten bad between them. The exact nature of that relationship had always been a slight unknown to her, she suspected part of her animosity towards Rachel had been the confidence that girl had exhibited in seemingly being openly in a relationship with a women, something she felt she could never have done; this had naturally extended to Chloe. After a moment to settle herself Max continued.

“So yeah, I was feeling really bad about myself, just wallowing in my misery. And I just wanted to be left alone in it, you know? Which wasn't fair on you, especially when you went out of your way to pick me up and try to comfort me and I just ignored you. And I'm sorry about that.” Max tilted her head to try and look at Victoria, and Victoria gave her a reassuring squeeze.

“It's fine, I can sort of understand it. I mean she was your friend and you know that Max.. you.. tried to save her before and also seemed to get to know her again. It was an understandable thing to want.” She paused, as if debating whether to say something that was on her mind but then seemed to decide to just go with it. “Although not speaking to her for that long was kinda shitty, yes.” Max let out a long sigh.

“Yeah, I know. It's something I am just going to have to deal with, isn't it. Not like I should change it, even though I know I could..” She closed her eyes for a moment, before looking back up at Victoria with the faintest of smiles. “Anyway, when we got to Blackwell and I rewound time – it was for a good reason. Basically, I am not sure who is more protective of me – you or Dana. It's kinda nice, actually.”

“Oh god, what happened? Do I even want to know?” Max explained what had occurred when they arrived onto the dorm, including why she had left without any explanation.

“Honestly, I just couldn't deal with trying to make the peace between you two after everything – especially as you had lost it and decided to fling Dana halfway across the room with your magic powers. Really subtle their, Victoria – it's not like I even had a choice to not rewind, was it?” Victoria groaned a little.

“I'm sorry I did that – but she just winds me up so much, she always assumes the worst of me. I have no idea why.” Victoria could feel Max raising her eyebrows, even though she wasn't looking at her. “Fine, she might have one or two reasons. But even so, I'm trying to do better - there was no need for her to fly off the handle like that, but then she's always been a bitch really, no matter what.” Max gently smacked Victoria on the thigh, as if admonishing her.

“That's my friend you are talking about, Victoria. She's a good person, which is why she thought she was coming to my rescue. You can't blame her for assuming the worst, can you? And as she is my friend you are going to have to make peace with her. Maybe not be friends, but at the very least you can be civil.”

“Warren and Dana?” Victoria groaned. “What do I get out of this, exactly?” Max sat up a little and turned her head, looking at Victoria with a smile that was mischievously inviting, and her blue eyes seemed to sparkle in the dim light.

“Me.”

Victoria coughed to hide the sudden onset of nerves which were flitting through her.

“Don't promise what you can't deliver, Caulfield,” she croaked, causing Max to smile smugly before nestling back down into her, again to no complaints from Victoria. Victoria liked the feeling of Max nestled between her legs, leaning back against her while she had her arms around her. It was how she had always imagined having someone you lo– liked around and spent time with, even if things between them were still uncertain, with nothing concrete actually happening or being promised – still, Victoria had the feeling that they were closer (and their current seating arrangement seemed to suggest that at least) and that maybe, just maybe, things were going to work out. As long as she didn't say or do anything stupid.

“So what happened afterwards? I mean when you came in, did you have another flashback or whatever we are calling it? It scared the shit out of me.”

Annnnnd there we have it, way to kill the mood Vic, bravo.

Max was quiet for a while, and Victoria began to worry that she really had upset her with her question. Eventually Max began to talk, her voice low and measured, as if trying to keep control of herself. As she spoke she kept her eyes closed, as if watching images being played out in her mind.

“We were in a car, I didn't recognise whose it was but it most definitely wasn't your red one. It was all battered and old, but I seemed to have some affection towards it for some reason. We had arrived at this barn surrounded by some trees. It was dark, and the whole place seemed really gloomy, like a horror film. I guess it was where the Dark Room was. I was strangely excited, as if expecting to find something, but you were all nervous as if you wanted to get away from there. We managed to get into the barn around the side, and then I remember we were trying to open a trap door which had a really big lock on it, and you just broke it as if it was nothing.”

“Wow, how did I do that?” interrupted Victoria, despite herself. “I didn't suddenly get super strength or something did I? That would be cool. Did I look like I had got any muscles or anything?” Max cracked one eye open and looked at her.

“Yes, because that's the thing to be focussing on. Can I finish? You are the one who asked me to tell you.” Victoria shut her mouth tight and waited for Max to continue.

Anyway, you broke the lock by freezing the metal I think, which I didn't know you could do, and we went down into this creepy underground bunker. We came to this door, like a vault door or something, and then.. I don't know, I just felt this feeling of despair come over me and then.. and then..” Max grabbed hold of Victoria's hand and began to squeeze it tight, making Victoria wince but she didn't complain. Max took a breath and continued. “And then it came, in short rushes, little glimpses here and there – I sort of felt it rather than saw most of it, but I knew what it was – past timelines where she had fought for her life, died, killed, been tortured.. failed at what she was trying to do over and over, but learning each time from it. I could feel her despair, how alone she was, and her.. anger.” Max stopped; her throat felt like it had a lump in it as she remembered the utter horror she had seen, but also the memory of the strength of will that had driven her onwards through each life time.

“I saw her,” said Victoria suddenly. “She was here, she spoke to me.” Max looked at her, wide eyed in surprise before looking around Victoria's room, as if expecting to see another version of her loom out of the darkness.

“What? What do you mean? Where was she?” It was Victoria's turn to search her memories, to try and describe exactly what she had experienced.

“You were lying here, head in my lap when suddenly you sat up and looked at me, and your face was... different. I mean, it was still your face, but it looked fucking scary, like you could kill me at any moment without blinking. And you looked at me confused and said in this really weird sounding voice 'What the fuck, this isn't the dark room, where am I?' and I nearly shit myself.” Max giggled despite herself, putting her hand over her mouth to try and stifle them.

“What did you do?”

“Well, I only knew that I didn't want that Max, I wanted my Max, so I asked you to come back to me. I went to pull you back close and as I touched her, she sort of shuddered and collapsed back against me. And then.. then you were back.” Max felt a sudden hot feeling rush through her as she realised that Victoria had been scared of losing her; to the point where she had confronted the other Max to try and push her from this reality somehow. Max was slowly beginning to realise how much Victoria may just care for her, and she was shocked to discover that the feeling was not one way in the slightest.

But we still don't know what is going to happen. If she is starting to intrude into this reality, then what does that mean for the future? I can't commit to this until I know it's all going to work out, can I?

But what if it doesn't work out and I missed my chance? Would I even be around to know?

Max entwined her fingers between Victoria's, the lingering memory of what she had seen from the other timelines beginning to fade a little.

Fuck it.

“Thank you,” she said simply, sitting up and giving Victoria a quick kiss on her cheek before she lost her nerve. Victoria gasped and held her hand to her cheek, as if she had been burnt by the very touch of Max's lips. Her face went bright red, which was offset by the fire that was kindled in her eyes, causing them to gleam in the shadowy light.

“What.. what was that for?” she stammered, so unlike the cool and sophisticated Victoria that Max remembered previously stalking the corridors of Blackwell. Max's simple action seemed to have reduced her to a nervous wreck, and Max felt oddly happy by it – the terrible hurts she had suffered this evening seemingly being healed a little.

“For saving me. Bringing me back.” Victoria mouthed wordlessly, before looking down and blushing even more.

“It's nothing,” she muttered, feeling very hot and useless. “I mean, you'd have done the same.”

“Oh I don't know,” said Max airily, “that would have depended on you making friends with everyone, and yes that includes Warren.” Victoria rolled her eyes, still bright red while her thoughts slid away from her, uselessly.

She kissed you!

On the cheek, but she kissed you!

OhmyfuckinggodMaxkissedyouandthankedyouohmygodIwantitagainohgodhelpme!

“Max, you don't just 'make friends' with people,” she said, ignoring her inner thoughts which were screaming at her with gay abandon, “and it's a two way thing as well. People don't just like you because you are nice to them.”

“No, but it certainly helps. Anyway, once they see how wonderful you are, how could they resist your wit and charm and bitchy remarks?” Victoria managed to gain enough control of her limbs to bop Max on the nose with a finger.

“You're not funny, Caulfield. But I'm glad you seem to be feeling better, at any rate judging by your cheek – tonight was rough for me, I can't even imagine what it was like for you.” Max nodded and then yawned loudly.

“Oh, sorry. I'm exhausted, and I don't know even know how you are still awake especially after all that driving.” Victoria looked at her sympathetically, swishing their hands back and forth gently.

“I can imagine. I mean I couldn't sleep until I knew you were going to be OK tonight, but I do feel like I'm about to collapse. Although it is getting on for 11, so it's not exactly early.” To her disappointment Max got off the bed and stretched, yawning again as she did so. She looked at Victoria thoughtfully.

“You know, I can still feel some of the things she could do in my mind. I mean, like her powers, what she described in the Journal. It's like some knowledge was dumped in there, like a suggestion of what I can do. Whether I can do it or not is a different matter. Still, it means -” She yawned again, cutting off any further introspection.

“Max, you should go to bed, as should I,” said Victoria, standing up as well. They both looked at each other a little awkwardly, as if both being uncertain as what to do next. Victoria didn't want Max to leave, the memory of her lips was still dominating her mind to an unhealthy degree. She tried to telepathically transmit her thought to Max, not having the courage to say what she wanted out loud.

Don't go, Max. Please stay. Please.

Max looked down at the floor before looking up at Victoria, biting her lip.

“Um, actually.. I was just thinking that maybe if it was OK with you and I don't mean anything you know weird by it but maybe it might be safer for both of us if we sort of like didn't go apart until we know tomorrow is clear and that..”

“Max, you're babbling,” Victoria said, as she internally screamed with joy while trying to not let her face crack into the biggest smile she had ever had, “but yes I agree it may be for the best. You know, just in case..” They both looked at each other and smiled, before blushing and looking away.

“I'll.. I'll go get a shower then,” Max said quickly, backing out of the room, “see you in a bit?”

“I'll join you I think,” Victoria said, then put her hand to her mouth. “I mean, in having a shower, not actually get in with you, I didn't mean that, that would be..”

“Interesting,” Max said as she left the room, quickly closing the door before Victoria could reply.



Max had closed the door with her heart pounding wildly in her chest.

I can't believe I did that! I can't believe I said that! What has gotten in to me?

Is it too late to go back and undo it all?

No Max, you promised – and anyway, why would you want to? Victoria clearly liked it..

And you have sort of already kissed her, even if it was in an alternate reality.

Max found herself blushing at the memory of what she – her - she? had experienced at the junk yard. She hadn't been entirely honest with Victoria about her lapses into the other reality; part of the reasons they were so hard was that it was like she was there in person, inhabiting that body as a silent passenger, experiencing every emotion and sensation - both good and terrible.

So yes, I haven't kissed Victoria, or gone shopping with her or anything else.

But I sort of have.

And I liked it.

She realised that she was almost getting a shortcut on what it was like to be dating Victoria, ahead of actually experiencing it for herself – like a try before you buy. It was almost incredibly unfair on Victoria, as she was bumbling away in the dark while Max found out more and more without having to make the effort herself.

But I need to remember this Victoria is my Victoria, not hers – and she is not the same. Our relationship can't – won't – be the same, that's the whole point of this, isn't it? To make it better, to make it work?

So take it as an outline guide, as opposed to a detailed description.

Fine.

She realised she had been standing in the corridor thinking things through right outside Victoria's door, which might raise a few questions if someone saw her, so she quickly darted into her room to grab some things for the shower. Her eyes fell onto the box of mementos she had left on the bed and she felt a wave of melancholy pass through her, but it was not the soul ripping angst she had experienced earlier – more an acceptance of loss; loss that would hurt for a long time until it healed, but was just something she had to live with now.

No going back to change it. Learn and move on, but don't forget.

Never forget.

She grabbed her washbag and a towel and headed to the bathroom, mind occupied with getting ready as soon as possible so she could get some rest, and more importantly she realised, get back to Victoria. To her surprise when she entered the bathroom, Kate was there brushing her teeth at the sinks. She turned her head as Max entered and gave her a little wave in greeting, before swilling her mouth out and then greeting her properly.

“Max! You're here – when did you get back? How are you?” Max walked over and gave her a little hug, returning her smile.

“Hey Kate, it's really happy to see you. I.. I got back about half an hour ago, I thought you were asleep which is why I didn't come say hi.”

Lying comes so easily when you know you can just erase it if no-one believes you.

Max briefly wondered what that was doing to her soul, a thought reinforced as Kate gave her a happily innocent smile.

“I was up with Dana, we were watching a movie together. It was really good fun! We are going to do it again in a few nights, I can't wait.” Kate smiled happily, a sight which gladdened Max's heart given how she had left her earlier in the week.

“Oh, I guess you could come too if you want, I mean if you don't have anything else to do,” Kate continued, with a look that Max swore was slightly guilty, if she wasn't one hundred percent convinced of the purity of Kate. “I mean don't feel you have too, it's fine. I just thought you might want to, I'm sure Dana wouldn't mind, but I'd have to ask her..” Max wasn't the most aware of social clues but she was getting better, and she realised that Kate's offer was just Kate being Kate, and that she shouldn't take her up on it.

Besides, I might have something else to do myself. And I couldn't exactly bring Victoria with me. Well, not yet anyway.

“Thanks Kate, but I don't want to intrude. It's cool that you and Dana seem to becoming such good.. friends.” Max wasn't sure why she hesitated on the last word, it felt like something tickled the back of her brain – an echo of something. Kate beamed at her.

“Yes, she has been so good to me this week, ever since.. well, you know. I had always liked her but only really from afar, and I had never really spoken to her for such a length of time until this week,” she said, her voice becoming softer and quieter, as if she was speaking to herself rather than Max. “It's been quite a thing to get to know her. I really think that -” What Kate thought about Dana at that moment Max didn't find out, as she was interrupted by the sound of the bathroom door opening. Kate looked past Max and her face set in a slightly harder expression, her smile quickly disappearing. Max felt a waft of cold air and turned around as well, seeing Victoria standing there in the doorway, looking at the pair uncertainly.

All three of them seemed to freeze in place; Kate staring at Victoria with a mixture of fear and anxiety, Max looking between the two girls as if trying to gauge the situation; while Victoria's face was conflicted on how to handle it all. To Max's disappointment, Victoria's face seemed to slip its bitch face on without her even realising it, raising an eyebrow as she tilted her head in acknowledgement of the two girls.

“Max. Kate,” was all she said, before quickly walking to a shower stall and closing the curtain. Kate didn't move a muscle until they heard the sound of the water cascading to the floor, before turning to look at the occupied shower cubicle.

“Well,” she said, her face a little surprised. “I guess that's progress – she at least wasn't mean.”

“I think she is trying to be better to everyone,” Max offered gamely, thinking that it would be best to try and smooth the way for Victoria to eventually build bridges with Kate. Kate turned to look at her, and Max was taken aback by the look of anger on her face that flashed across it.

“She was so mean to me, Max. So mean. I know I should forgive her, but.. I'm not sure I can.” Kate reached out and spitefully turned the tap on, waiting for the inevitable shout to happen.

“Kate!” admonished Max, “What's got into you, this isn't like you..” Kate folded her arms, trying to look confident and sure of herself to Max.

“Maybe I'm fed up with being pushed around all the time, Max. Just because I'm a Christian and believe in God, doesn't mean I should be walked over by everyone.. and besides, it looks like they fixed the hot water problem so it doesn't matter, does it.” She turned the tap off and gripped the sides of the bowel, staring down into it, breathing deeply. Max looked at her with concern – she had always thought Kate as being the sweetest, kindest person alive, someone who would never hurt anyone no matter what – which she suddenly realised was grossly unfair: Kate was human just like her; not a robot programme to only feel one way and never change.

I just assume she is going to be nice all the time. Like she assumes Victoria is going to be mean. Like we can't ever expect people to be different to our assumptions of who they are.

Wow Max, that's deep. Remember this one for future use.

Max reached out and rubbed the small of Kate's back a little, earning a small smile as she did so.

“It's fine to be angry, Kate,” she said, “it's perfectly normal. But being spiteful like that isn't you, is it?” Kate shook her head slowly, looking sad.

“I'm sorry, it's just been a really hard week for me. The only good thing of late has been you and Dana, and you weren't here this week, so..” Max felt guilt build up in her stomach as she realised that she had abandoned Kate -

- like Chloe -

No, don't even go there -

- while she was busy exploring this new thing with Victoria.

“I'm sorry, I shouldn't have gone home and left you like that, I just thought that Dana was here and you didn't need me any more..” she ended lamely, realising how stupid it sounded as she said it. “Let's go for breakfast or something tomorrow, how does that sound? My treat.” Kate looked up at her gratefully.

“That sounds wonderful, Max. Let's do that.” They exchanged pleasantries for a few more minutes, Max conscious of the sound of the running shower in the background, before she made her excuses and got into the shower herself, Kate wishing her a good night and leaving.

The shower was hot and relaxing, and Max stood under it for a few minutes just letting the hot water ease over her. At some point she heard the one next to her stop and guessed Victoria had finished already – she thought she would give her a few minutes to get prepared before she went back to her room, and also reduce the chances of them being seen going into the same room together. She was not yet ready for answering that sort of question, and would prefer not having to use her power until she had at least slept.

Max stood there thinking of the day's events, trying to work through everything in her mind – it had been an incredibly busy and stressful day, full of such highs and lows that she could scarcely credit that it had all indeed happened.

I've even forgotten that I saved that girls life, I hope she is still OK. I don't want everyday to be like this, I don't think I could keep up with it all.

Such musings were rudely interrupted by the shower suddenly turning icy cold, as someone had obviously come in and turned on the tap.

“Hey! Hot water!” Max shouted, springing out of the way of the stream.

“Sorry, I forgot!” came a shouted reply from a vaguely familiar voice. Max waited until it ran hot again and warmed herself up, before turning it off and towelling herself dry, wrapping the towel around her before leaving the cubicle. She saw that the hot water bandit had been Taylor, who was wearing some elegant looking rose pyjamas and inspecting her face in the mirror. She looked up when she saw it was Max and gave her a bright smile, which also seemed to have a little mischievousness behind it.

“Hello Max,” she said, “you're back then? How are you feeling?”

“How am I feeling?” said Max carefully, a little surprised at the question. “Apart from the sudden cold shower, I'm OK – but thank you for asking?”

“Well, Victoria was really worried about you earlier, that was all. It's good that you are OK, though.” Taylor watched Max carefully, noting the small smile that crept across Max's lips when she mentioned Victoria.

Aha.. interesting. You are on the right track after all.

Time to cast some bait.

“You and Victoria seem to be getting on pretty well of late,” she remarked casually, as if it was a perfectly normal thing to say about the pair. Max took the bait without even realising it.

“Yeah,” said Max with a shrug, “she is pretty cool once you get to know her; it was really nice of her to drive me back for example.” Max began to clean her teeth, using a spare hand to brush her hair out of her eyes as she inspected her complexion in the mirror. Taylor watched her with interest, before silently handing her a hairbrush to use.

Since when did Max care so much what she looked like? I've never seen her do this before, she usually just ups and leaves..

“Thanks Taylor,” said Max, having finished with her teeth she began brushing out her damp hair a little.

“You probably want to get a dryer on that,” Taylor observed, “don't want to go to sleep with wet hair, it'll be all messed up in the morning. Do you have one?” Max nodded, still inspecting her features as if looking for every imperfection to worry about.

“Yeah, only a crappy little travel one though. It takes ages so I usually don't bother, but I guess you are right. I should dry it before I.. I go to sleep. In my room. Alone.” Max eventually stammered her way out of that sentence, and Taylor decided that she was not going to push things too far just yet – she had already gathered valuable intelligence for analysis.

However..

“Victoria has a really good one, you could always ask to borrow hers, I guess?”

“Mhhmm yeah good idea, she should be ready by now,” said Max in agreement, nodding without really listening to her. She took a final look at herself before apparently satisfied, she turned to leave, smiling at Taylor as she did so. “Anyway, I had better go – have a good night, Taylor. It was nice to speak to you again.”

“Bye Max, I hope you sleep well..” said Taylor, watching Max leave the bathroom with a very thoughtful expression on her face.

Well, well, well..



Max made her way quickly back to her own room, throwing on her pale blue bunny pyjamas before, after checking the coast was clear, knocking quietly on Victoria's door.

“Come in!” Max felt her heart race as she pushed the door open, feeling as if a line was being crossed as she did so – one from which there was no turning back. Her decision to spend the night with Victoria – even under the guise of the flimsy excuse she had made up – was an escalation of their relationship into uncharted territory. Victoria's room was still only lit by the single lamp which shone on Victoria, who was sitting on her sofa waiting for Max, dressed in what looked like ridiculously expensive red silk pyjamas. Max suddenly felt very pyjama conscious, as if she should have actually updated her wardrobe from when she was fourteen.

“What,” Victoria said, pointing her finger in disgust, “are those?” Max looked down at her pyjamas with the cute bunnies frolicking over them.

“Er.. my pyjamas?” she said, trying to not sound embarrassed and that she had complete confidence in her own sense of unique style.

“What, when you were like twelve? Have you actually got anything that a normal eighteen year old would wear?” Max pouted at her.

“There's nothing wrong with these, they are nice and snugly. Better than those things you are wearing that look like they have just been painted on you..” Max's brain eventually caught up with her mouth and she shut it quickly, but not before Victoria preened sightly and shifted her legs a little, watching as Max looked at the shifting material as if mesmerised.

“Er.. Max? Up here?” she said, languidly stretching out her arm so that the material became just a little tighter across the chest, leaving Max in no doubt that Victoria didn't wear anything else underneath it to bed. Max swallowed almost comically loudly, before looking up at a point near the ceiling.

“Um, Taylor said that you had a hair dryer I could borrow? My hair is still a little damp.”

“Sure,” said Victoria, “it's just in the closet there.” She watched Max open the door and obtain the precious item, and a thought occurred to her.

“When did you talk to Taylor about that?” Max roamed the room looking for an available socket, until Victoria rolled her eyes and pointed next to the table.

“Oh just now in the bathroom,” said Max, inspecting the controls of the dryer like she was at the helm of the space shuttle. “She said that you could lend me it as mine wasn't good enough, and that I shouldn't go to sleep with wet hair.” Victoria leaned across and pointed out to her the on switch, Max breathing deeply in the scent of peach shampoo as she did so.

“Right, so Taylor knows we are on good enough terms to be lending out hairdryers now, does she?” Max gave the dryer a test blast, before answering Victoria.

“Er, I guess so. I mean she knows you drove me back here, so..” Victoria put her hand to her forehead and groaned.

“And how, exactly, did she know that?” Max avoided her gaze and concentrated on drying her hair, the noise covering any further questions Victoria may have had. When she deemed it safe again, she turned it off from her now very hot hair and looked at Victoria, whose green eyes were patient and waiting.

“Well?” Max shifted away slightly, out of range of anything she might do.

“Er.. I might have told her..? By accident, I swear. She said she knew you were worried about me, so.. I just presumed...”

“Caulfield..” growled Victoria, looking annoyed. Max skirted around the room until she felt the bed against the back of her legs. Victoria stood up in one fluid motion and advanced slowly towards her, Max holding up her hands as if warding her off.

“Wait wait wait – it's not all my fault, she seemed to know that you care about me and that we are getting on! How did she find out about that, eh, Chase?” Victoria paused, considering.

“OK,” she conceded, “she may have known that I went to pick you up tonight, and that I wanted to check you are OK. But you've made things worse!” She took another step towards Max, the distance between them shrinking. Max leaned away from her, feeling her balance start to give way as she did so.

“But she only knows we are friends, yes? Nothing wrong with that! We are just doing things that friends do!” Max lost her balance and fell backwards, just as Victoria reached out to grab her, ending up pulling her down with her onto the bed. They fell against each other, giggling, while staring into each others eyes.

“See,” said Max softly, brushing some hair away from Victoria's cheek, “just what friends do.”

“Sure,” said Victoria huskily, cautiously laying a hand on Max's hip, which sent a delightful tingle up Max's spine. “Just being friendly.” They lay there for a few moments, contentedly staring into each other's eyes, as if that was enough to say everything that had to be said. Suddenly Max sat up, dislodging Victoria's hand.

“Seriously though, you are not mad are you? I mean Taylor is nice, isn't she? She's your friend?” Victoria sighed and rolled onto her back, staring up at the ceiling.

“Yeah, she is. She's always been there for me, the only person who has really since I got here.” Max looked down at her, admiring the line of her jaw and the way her top fell down onto the curve of her hip and the green of her -

Focus, Max. Focus.

“Well, then it's OK if she knows we are talking isn't it? I mean what's the worst that can happen?”

“Only the complete destruction of my social life, social standing and any credibility I had as a person.” Max smacked her arm, trying to look annoyed but failing.

“Don't be mean. You know what I mean, but it'll come out eventually won't it?” Victoria propped herself up on an elbow, looking at Max, face serious.

“I guess. But I would rather there be something to come out about first, if you understand?” Max couldn't help but snigger.

“You need to come out about coming out about coming out?” Victoria raised an eyebrow, not deigning to even give an inch towards finding her funny.

“You know what I mean. Besides, you are one to talk. How was your chat with Kate?” Max's smile vanished instantly, replaced with a pained expression. Victoria nodded to herself.

“Thought so. So: one step at a time, eh?” Max didn't reply, but just looked morosely away across the room. Victoria patted her on the thigh.

“Come on, let's get some sleep. It's been an emotional day for both of us, and to be honest I'm fucking tired.” Max nodded and got up to turn off the lamp, plunging the room into darkness. Victoria scooted herself under the covers, pulling them aside for Max to get in next to her. Victoria felt really nervous; this was the first time she had ever shared a bed with someone else like this, even if it was just as a 'friend' – Victoria could even hear the quote marks in her head.

I don't know what to do! Where do I put my hands? What if I roll into her? What if I snore? Does my breath smell? Do I smell?

“Ow!” Max cursed, having stubbed her toe on something. There was the sound of hopping until Max suddenly fell onto the bed face first, banging her knee as she did so.

“It's not funny,” Max said, rubbing various extremities as Victoria snorted with laughter. Max eventually snuggled down under the duvet, rolling on to her side to face Victoria in the dark. Victoria could feel her breath on her face and could just about make out the dim outline of her face.

“Are you not tired?” she said thickly, trying to ignore the occasional brush of Max's feet against hers. Max yawned in response, but still seemed to want to talk.

“So I agreed to meet Kate tomorrow, and I also need to check in on Warren before he fills my phone up with messages.” Victoria made a disgusted noise, and felt a movement before Max tried to bop her on the nose, accidentally touching her lips instead. Victoria suppressed a desire to grab her hand and drag Max onto her, blowing a raspberry instead.

“Very mature, Victoria. And you mock my pyjama choice. Anyway, I'm busy tomorrow, but I think I may be free in the evening if you want to do something?” Victoria suddenly remembered the plan she had put in place for tomorrow and nodded, before remembering it was completely dark.

“Yes! I mean, sure, that could be fun. I do have an idea of something we can do.”

“Oh?” Max's voice was sleepily curious. “What's that, then? Will it be exciting?”

“I'm not telling you, but I think you'll like it.” There was as a comfortable silence as Max lay down on her back, and Victoria felt a finger hesitantly creep around hers. She reciprocated, and they held hands while lying side by side, conscious of each other's breathing.

“Victoria, there was something else,” Max said, her voice breaking a little. “On Tuesday, it's.. it's Chloe's funeral. I want to go, and I would like you to accompany me if that's OK? I think it would make it easier. But I understand if you don't want to.” Victoria squeezed her hand.

“Of course,” she said, “of course I will.” Max squeezed her hand back.

“Thank you,” she said drowsily, and soon Victoria could hear her breathing settle down into a shallow rhythm with a slight nasally whistle.

Victoria lay there in the dark with her mind churning over everything that had happened to her, and trying to work out how she had managed to end up in a situation she had never thought would ever happen.

I'm actually in a bed next to her!

I'm in a bed.

With Max Caulfield.

Holding hands.

I must be dreaming.

She listened to her breathing for a little longer, finding the sound oddly comforting.

I hope that stuff arrives tomorrow, she is going to be so excited when I show her. I need to chase him down tomorrow. Ha, Chase.

And I need to meet Taylor first thing as well, head her off before she starts any rumours or gets ahead of herself.

And Chloe's funeral, I wonder if.. yes, I should do that. So that's another thing.

And shit, I also need to sort out that thing with the security and Wells. And I need to get that shit done, or it doesn't matter what happens between me and Max as I'll be gone.

Dammit, it's going to be a busy day tomorrow.

Max stirred in her sleep, muttering something to herself. Victoria froze as Max rolled over, her arm wrapping itself around Victoria's chest while her head nestled into her shoulder. Max let out a small sigh and shifted a little, her grip on Victoria tightening.

Victoria's arm was now trapped under Max, and she started to panic over what to do about it. She tried to shift around a little but Max whimpered and clutched at her, so instead she gently tried easing it out from under her. Having achieved her aim, she found her arm was now flailing round in mid-air until she took a breath to steady herself, and placed it loosely around Max's back, holding her in place. It felt like her heart was about to jump out of her chest, and her stomach was churning so much she nearly felt sick with nerves; but she also felt like she was home.

No, she thought as sleep eventually took her, if this is a dream then I really don't want to ever wake up.

Chapter Text

The world turned..

Somewhere in the void there is a plain, stretching out endlessly in every direction, like a dark sand but one that no-one has ever walked upon. It is both here and not here, existing in the blurred lines between realities. And on that plain is an obelisk, dark and foreboding; made of some material that seems to suck in all the light from around it. At first glance it appears plain and unadorned, but the keen eyed observer could, if they were able too, see faint markings on it which seem to form a rough spiral. To that same observer the stone would if they ran their fingers over it feel smooth to the touch, with the etchings deep grooves in the surface as if made by some incredibly sharp but delicate tool. Standing back, they would now see the start of the lines begin to glow with a faint silvery light, which would shimmer in the darkness.

Imperceptibly at first, but gradually gaining pace, the light would move, flowing through the lines like a liquid, which at periodic points would twist and slither into new shapes, slowly forming the shape of a butterfly before leaping onwards. As the flow moves further on into the centre of the spiral, each butterfly would begin to glow – faintly at first, then with ever increasing intensity -

- White -

The morning sun glinted off the Spree as she started on her twelfth kilometre, easily keeping pace with the passing traffic on the nearby carriageway. She checked her watch – she was twenty minutes in and taking it easy, not wanting to exert herself too much before she headed back home. Besides, she was meeting up at lunch time for a Saturday charity run with her work colleagues, and she didn't want to make her gear all sweaty before doing that.

Although it's so hard to pretend to be sweaty when we do all run together. It's just as well I take water with me so I can accidentally splash myself with it to at least make it look like I am making an effort.

She slowed down as she passed someone just to be on the safe side, before accelerating again and stirring up the leaves on the ground into little vortices that dance din the air behind her.

Although I'd better let Werner win this time, he got really sulky when I sprinted past him that time just before the finish. I was careless.

I should never be careless.

She turned off into the Waldspielplatz and carefully looked around her, making sure she was alone – luckily it was still relatively early, and there was no-one else about. She concentrated, feeling a brief surge within her and then the world seemed to blur and streak past her as she cleared the entire park effortlessly in a few seconds, breathing slightly as she slowed herself down to a more normal pace.

Ah, that is so much fun. I wish I could do that all the time.

She glanced over her shoulder and saw the damage she had done to the grass and tracks and felt a slight twinge of guilt.

But probably for the best if I don't.

She turned and headed back west, taking care to run at an inconspicuous pace through the streets.

- Brown -

“I keep telling you, hold your guard up more. You are too careless – you leave yourself exposed to too many cheap shots. One of these days you will fight someone who will hit you when you are not expecting it and bam! you will end up on your backside, and you will lie there thinking to yourself 'Damn, Krzysztof was right all along, I should have listened'.” He wagged a finger in her sweating, grinning face, but she didn't seem to care or listen.

“I am invincible, I tell you, invincible! No-one can harm me.” She held her arms up in mock celebration, making pretend crowd noises. He shook his head, smiling ruefully – he hated to admit it, but she was right – no matter what opponent she fought, not only did she never have a mark on her (and not even a bruise! How was it possible?) but the sheer power she could unleash was devastating – far beyond what he would expect from her (admittedly) stout build. He half suspected that she was still holding back from what she could do – he swore he had caught her lifting over 300kg in one easy motion the other week, when she probably thought the gym was empty - but that was just impossible, there was no way she could do that.

It's impossible. And yet right now it feels almost cruel for her to fight the other girls, it's getting embarrassing for them. People are beginning to talk, wonder if she is taking something. Well.. time to tell her.

“I want you in here tomorrow again right after you finish work at the supermarket. We have a lot of work to do, I have managed to arrange a fight for you in two weeks time. It's a proper step up, so we need to work on your defence, offence, footwork – everything.” She cocked her head, curious.

“Oh? Who is that then, I have already beaten everyone in the district. Wait, are we going to Warsaw? It's not that Elsbieta is it, the one with the big forehead? She's like an ox, slow and lumbering around. She has these brown eyes that look at you as if she is chewing grass and wondering when she will be milked next.” He shook his head, trying to hide is smile.

“No, something closer to home. It's Waldemar.” She furrowed her brow; the name meant nothing to her.

“Łokuciewski. Waldemar Łokuciewski.” Recognition dawned on her, and she smiled wildly.

“Wait, the middleweight? How did you arrange that? That would be a proper challenge. I like it.” Krzysztof tapped his nose and winked.

“I have been in this business for a long time, and have favours to pull in. It's strictly off the record and unofficial, obviously – but he has agreed to do it after watching you fight. He thinks it will be a curious challenge, and has promised not to hurt you too much, what with you being a girl and all.” Her face grew red with annoyance and she smacked her gloved hands together.

“Hurt me? Just a girl? Pah! He could never hurt me. I will show him what this girl can do, I will destroy him!” She turned away and walked over to the heavy training bag, which soon shuddered under her massive blows. Krzysztof watched her approvingly as she worked the bag, a final angry punch splitting it open.

I think she may be right.

- Orange -

With a small flick of her wrist she lit the gas, before placing the pan of water on it and bringing it up to the boil. She knew she should have gone out with the others after work, but the thought of another damn karaoke bar where she would pretend to enjoy herself, pretend to have fun, pretend to like the attentions of Yoshio, pretend to like her boring job in an non de-script office, pretend to like having to work on a Saturday just to help out and be a good employee.

No, better to be safe at home in her small apartment, where she knew she could not make any mistakes, not reveal who she was or even worse get too close to anyone.

Too many people have got burnt , she thought, then smiled at her little pun. She dumped in some noodles and a little salt, then turned on her laptop to begin the nightly ritual. First: check her email for the regular messages from her mother with the list of potential marriage candidates she wanted her to look at and maybe get around to interview, because it was just so wrong that someone like her had not settled down yet, how could she not have found the last one attractive and so on and so on until she wanted to scream and burn their entire fucking house down.

She deleted the message without even looking at it.

Picking up her laptop she wondered back into the kitchen, pouring herself a small, low alcohol beer while she absent-mindedly stirred the pan.

Another few minutes yet.

She put her laptop down on the cheap, small table that occupied the corner of the kitchen and raided the fridge for something to go with her noodles - she really needed to go shopping, although it was much easier now to just be cooking for herself. She grabbed some chicken and vegetables and prepared them before dumping them into a large pan to cook. She stirred the pan while scrolling through her hope list, as she called it - a list of sites, some Japanese, mostly in English, where people congregated to talk about weird and unusual things, experiences or people they had encountered – her eternal search for answers, a search for some inclination of what she was.

A search so she wouldn't be so alone any more.

She finished cooking and then sat down, eating and drinking as she lost herself in the web of message boards, rumours and ultimately..

.. nothing. Again, nothing. There never is, and yet I keep trying.

Hoping.

She angrily closed her laptop, feeling the rage build up inside of her at just how unfair it all was, how she couldn't just lead a fucking ordinary life and enjoy doing what every other girl seemed to do.

Shit.

She quickly grabbed her laptop and beer and put them on the floor, then quickly filled a jug with water and emptied it, before opening a window to let the smoke out. Sighing to herself she picked up her beer and sadly took a sip, looking at her handiwork.

I guess I need to get another table.

- Green -

Victoria slept fitfully; repeatedly shifting position in the bed and causing Max next to her to roll away and grumble. Her dreams were plagued by reminders of how she had behaved in the past, as if her subconscious was delighting in tormenting her by pointing out just how bad a person she had been, and how she hadn't really changed and it was only a matter of time before she fucked up and it all came to the surface again.

Scenes from her past seemed to flit through her mind; but instead she was now on the receiving end of the comments and cruel treatment – she faced herself; a twisted version of herself but undeniably her, and was powerless to stop the barbs cutting through her over and over again. She tried to scream back at this ghastly visage of herself but no sound came; instead her doppelgänger's face grew harsher and filled her vision, green eyes cold and cruel, mouth a thin red slash as she remorselessly tore into herself again and again..

..and then..

.. and then the scene changed, and she was standing outside in the rain surrounded by everyone, all seemingly transfixed on something. She looked at the cell in her hands, trying to work out where she was and what she was supposed to be doing, and then it felt as if a strong hand had gripped her head and forces it to look upwards to see Kate standing on the roof as the rain continued to lash down -

- and I know what is going to happen and it is all my fault and there is nothing I can do and even worse I am going to film it like I had filmed the reason she was up there in the first place and oh my god she's going to jump and her death is all my fault, I'm a murderer oh oh someone do something please wake up please I don't want to see this -

Victoria jerked upright, opening her eyes in panic before realising that she was safely in her bed with a sleeping Max next to her. She felt a wave of relief wash through her to find out she there; whatever she had been shown in her dream had seemed so real that she ended up running her fingers through her hair just to make sure it wasn't wet, and felt foolish when her fingers came back dry.

It was just a dream, Vic. Your imagination is just running wild. It's all thanks to that damn Journal and Max talking about alternate realities.

It was just a dream.

It never happened.

She settled back down, plumping up her pillow and nestling her head into it, the duvet pushed away. She lay there for a while, staring up at the ceiling while she tried to get the image of Kate standing there, sodden through in the rain with wet hair that clung to her face, taking a step forward and -

No.

She rolled onto her side and looked at Max, who was sleeping soundly with her mouth half open, dribbling on to the bed. The sight made her feel a little better, and she reached out and gently ran her fingers through her hair which caused Max to smile in her sleep.

I'm glad you are here with me, Max. Please help me better.

Victoria lay there for a while longer before sleep eventually came over her, and she fell into a deep, forgetful slumber.

- Black, an absence in the void -

The sun was shining weakly and casting small shadows across the gravel courtyard as she walked calmly to the corner of the house. She looked up and saw a balcony two storeys up, and figured that was probably her best point of entry. She grabbed the rainwater pipe, testing it for solidity before hitching the long, flowing blue skirt up around her thighs and steadily hauling herself up towards the balcony. She was glad of the extra conditioning training she had been put through, as even with that the climb was hard, while her choice of shoe was not aiding her in the slightest.

She paused to take her breath on the balcony, carefully listening for any sounds that might alert her to the presence of anyone, but the was no sound of any life. She opened the balcony doors and found herself in what looked like a large bedroom, tastefully furnished but empty of any occupant. She mentally mapped where she was from the rough floor plan she had been given and committed to memory, and realised that she was on the wrong side of the house from where she thought she needed to be.

She carefully checked her appearance in a mirror before slipping through the door and into a wide, ornately decorated ante chamber that overlooked a winding staircase, which led down to a lower internal courtyard. Peering over the balustrade she could see at least two bored looking guards.

Best to avoid them, I don't want to make this any more complicated than I have too. Be quick now.

She walked swiftly and quietly along, marvelling at hidden the alcoves dotted with statues and other works of art, and at just the sheer wealth on display. Turning a corner she came into a long, panelled corridor and saw an ornately painted door at the far end, from which the faint sounds of opera could be heard. She stole down towards it, glancing over her shoulder to make she she was not being observed.

She paused before opening the door, setting her face into a welcoming smile before quietly opening the door, taking a moment to observe her surroundings. The room was an expensively and lavishly furnished study, lined with shelves of dusty tomes and expensive looking plantings; the centre dominated by a large wooden desk at which an old man was busy at work, absorbed with writing on a thick wedge of documents. She closed the door with an audible click, catching his attention.

He looked a little startled at first, but when he saw who his visitor was, his thin face slowly broke into a sly grin. She walked towards him, her every move graceful and full of implied intent, and her voice was soft and welcoming.

“Signore Inzerillo?” she said in flawless Italian but with an unmistakeable accent to it that identified her as educated but clearly coming from elsewhere. He stood up and approached her; he clearly had been taller when he was younger but old age was beginning to catch up to him and his frame was now a little bowed, but he still held himself proudly.

“Yes, and who may you be, my dear? Welcome to my humble house.” She approached him, smiling disarmingly, holding her hands out to her side so as to appear as unthreatening as possible.

“I have been sent to you with a gift,” she said, standing before him and looking at him with her brown eyes that seemed to pierce his soul. He felt a sudden thrill in the presence of this woman, and he flexed his hands in anticipation at what was about to occur.

“So.. you are a gift for me, hmm? I do appreciate these sort of gifts, and I am always grateful to those who give them afterwards. Come..” He reached out to touch her hair, but she abruptly knocked his hand away, a smile still fixed on her face.

“Did no-one ever tell you to ask before you touch?” she said, her voice suddenly harder and lower. He looked startled, but before he could react she grabbed his head in her hands and dragged him towards her, staring down into his eyes as she reached into the well of power within her, deciding to make this one as slow and as painful as possible. She had read all of the file, after all.

“Who.. but why.. why.. I... no...” he gasped, vainly grabbing at her wrists as he felt his life slipping away from him, gasping for breath as his body began to slowly shut down and the world go dark.

“Why? I have no idea,” she said simply, watching with curiosity as he gasped horribly one last time and the light went from his eyes. She looked at him for a moment, a slight smile on her lips, before she dropped the dead weight to the floor. Stepping distastefully over him she walked over to one of the walls and inspected one of the paintings on the wall that had caught her eye.

That's nice, she thought, I guess it's an original? I wonder if I can find a print of it somewhere.

She made a note of the name before reaching into her pocket and pulling out a small card; on it was printed a stylised image of a black butterfly, with wings outstretched. Bending down she placed it into her victims gaping mouth, before quietly leaving the room and slipping out of the house.

- Blue, brightest and largest of them all -

Max dreamed..

- Of a crowded dance floor which she couldn't get across; no matter where she turned the crowd grew thicker and thicker, like a forest of trees that got denser not matter what path she took. She knew that She was in trouble and needed her help, and she could feel the rising anger within her at the thought of someone hurting Her. And then suddenly everyone disappeared apart from the two ahead, again one shining brightly, white against the looming darkness. This time there was no hesitation and she leapt across in one motion to hit and kick and stab and maim and to destroy, to remove everything, to cleanse the darkness from existence..

Max stirred in her sleep, whimpering slightly; a slight sweat formed on her brow and she muttered to herself before settling down as the dream changed once more..

- a series of images flittering through her mind, one after another with the speed of a camera shutter; confusing, incoherent: Max in her room in Seattle, staring out of the window; Kate crying alone in her dorm; a fire raging through a barn as Max watched with grim glee the flickering flames; dancing with Victoria on a moonlit terrace; running through some woods bleeding and terrified; watching the sunset with Chloe as they ate hot dogs; washing blood from her hands as she avoided her gaze in the mirror; sitting alone in an apartment staring at a bottle; Victoria turning on a sunlit path to look back at her, face radiating happiness as she held out her hand; the cord tight around her bound hands as she was thrown into a hastily dug grave to die, alone and far from help; using a hammer to break one finger at a time, enjoying the agonising screams and slowness of it all; entering the Blackwell bathroom over and over and over..

- Suddenly it all disappeared, as if a black veil had been drawn over it all, and she found herself floating in blackness above a plain that seemed to stretch to infinity. She floated there, feeling strangely at peace until she saw a dim light gradually approach. She watched it curiously, and realised that it was not one light but six, of varying colours that seemed very familiar. Suddenly they were there, impossibly huge and bright and now she saw that each one was shaped like a butterfly. She reached out in wonder to touch them – but they shimmered and flickered and moved out of reach, before slowly settling into a spiral, with the brightest one in the centre blazing a brilliant blue..

Max opened her eyes, feeling strangely at peace and rested. She could hear the gentle sounds of Victoria snoring next to her, and she pulled the duvet up around them both, snuggling up against her and feeling warm and safe. She reached out and gently took Victoria's hand, entwining her fingers before closing her eyes and drifting off once more.



To the observer it would seem as if the six butterflies would suddenly glow with an incandescent, blinding light, before fading away. All except for two; the blue and green still aglow but their light dimmed, diminished.

The obelisk grew dark and foreboding again, but it was still there, expectant and waiting.

The world turned..

Chapter Text

Victoria slowly opened her eyes; the room was bright from the morning sun and she stretched out lazily. She felt refreshed, as if the night's sleep had done her the world of good. She smiled at the memory of the night before and rolled over to look at the girl who she had embarked on this new and exciting journey with – but the bed was empty, and Victoria felt a hollow feeling at the pit of her stomach.

She's gone. She's left you, like everyone does. You're such an idiot! You always do this, you think that someone -

The bedroom door opened and Max came creeping quietly in, then straightened up and smiled at her when she saw that Victoria was awake.

“Hey you, good morning,” she said with a gentle smile, as Victoria's fears collapsed like melting ice, only to be replaced with a feeling of extreme giddiness.

She's back! She hadn't left you, silly.

You need more faith in yourself, this isn't healthy is it.

“Morning Max,” she replied as nonchalantly as she could, as if all of this was perfectly normal for them. She kept silent as Max walked over to the edge of the bed and sat down, not trusting herself to speak any further without saying something stupid.

“How did you sleep?” Max asked. “I slept wonderfully, I haven't felt this good for a while. How about you?” Victoria thought for a moment.

“Well, I had a bit of a bad dream, but after that I slept like a log. I'm surprised actually, I've never shared a bed before. I could get used to it.”

“A bad dream? What was it about?” asked Max curiously, tilting her head to one side and looking at Victoria with a searching look. Victoria shook her head.

“Eh, it was nothing interesting. Just something silly.” She sat up scratched the top of her head, noting Max trying not to watch her, while her face turned slightly red.

“What?” she asked, “have I got something on my face? I'm sure I took off all my make-up..” Max blushed properly this time and looked completely away.

“No no no, it's just... Your top. It's a bit.. open. Only a bit.” Victoria glanced down and saw that her top had indeed fallen open; she had inadvertently been giving Max a really, really good view of her cleavage.

“Oh,” she said, not bothering to do anything about it. She thought for a moment, and then looked at Max with a slight smile on her face.

“I don't mind if you help me adjust it a little, you know,” she said, her voice quavering a little despite her attempts to sound confident. She knew was pushing her own boundaries, let alone Max's; but she was never going to admit that to Max or even give the slightest indication that she wasn't in complete control of herself. Her words caused Max to turn to look back at her, face clearly conflicted with desire and nervousness.

“Um, I -” she began, only to be cut off by Victoria's cell ringing. They both sat there, frozen momentarily before Max laughed a little and motioned towards the bedside table.

“You'd better answer that, it might be important,” she said slightly wistfully as she watched Victoria lean over to get it, again giving Max a complete eyeful that made her mouth go dry and her palms clammy. She stared for a moment before catching herself and looking anywhere but at Victoria.

“Oh, it's Taylor,” said Victoria, oblivious to the effect she was having on Max. “Hey T, what's up? Why are you calling when you are like literally.. what? Yes, I'm in my room. No, in bed – what do you mean 'coast is clear'? What do you -”

“I meant I wanted to make sure the coast was clear,” said Taylor walking into the room, a massive grin on her face when she saw Max sitting on the bed next to Victoria. “Morning, Max.”

Max's face went through various shades of white and red, settling on something like scarlet as she looked at Taylor.

“Um.. hi?” she stammered, looking to Victoria for support. Victoria in-turn looked furious, as if she was ready to explode.

“Taylor Christiansen, you are supposed to fucking knock before coming in here! I could have been doing anything!” she shouted, before realising what she had said and covering her mouth. “Not that we were doing anything! And if we were, who cares!” she finished defiantly. She looked at Taylor's grinning face before waving her hand at her in exasperation. “Oh fuck off with that shit eating grin, will you?” Taylor cackled and waggled her eyebrows, drinking in the scene in front of her with evident delight.

Max felt like she was dying inside, mortified that she had been caught in Victoria's room without good reason or excuse, and that there was now no denying that something was going on.

“Er.. I'll be going..” she said, backing out of the door, while looking at the floor. She paused to look up at Victoria. “Um, I'll see you later?” Victoria gave her a vigorous nod and smile which only made Taylor snort and Max fled, closing the door quickly behind her. Victoria flopped down onto the bed dramatically, hand across her brow.

“Oh my god, what have you done?” Taylor folded her arms, looking at the prostrate Victoria.

“What have I done? More like what have you been up to. And cover yourself up a bit, will you?” Victoria cracked open an eye and saw that she was still nearly hanging out, and hastily rearranged herself.

“Sorry.” She paused, looking at Taylor with a wary eye. “It's not what it looks like, you know.” Taylor tapped her teeth with a finger, pretending to look thoughtful.

“Hmm, well it depends what I think it looks like, doesn't it?” Victoria sat up again, and this time her face was worried.

“Taylor, please,” she said, her voice sounding like she was on the verge of panic. “It's really not, me and Max are just.. just..” She paused, trying to find the right word. “Acquaintances,” she finished lamely, looking down at her fingers which were twisting themselves into a knot. Despite the circumstances she was in, to her surprise she didn't feel any rise in her usually panicky emotion, nor even a hint of her power rising up through her as it usually did.

Maybe I'm getting better at controlling it, she thought. Or maybe I just trust Taylor more than most?

Taylor for her part looked at her for a moment, before walking over and sitting down next to her friend. She didn't say anything but just put an arm gently around Victoria's shoulders. Victoria looked at her a little surprised, before leaning into her and resting her head on Taylor's shoulder. There was a comfortable silence as they sat there, Victoria just taking comfort from Taylor's presence.

“So,” Taylor said eventually. “Acquaintances eh?” Victoria didn't answer for a while, and her voice held a note of self deprecating humour when she did so.

“I'm guessing you don't believe me? Was it not very convincing?” Taylor rubbed her shoulder gently, before pulling her into a semi-hug.

“Victoria Chase, you are the the most obvious lesbian in the world,” she said with a reassuring smile. Victoria stiffened at the word, and turned her head to look at her in protest.

“I'm not...” she began, before closing her mouth and looking beseechingly at Taylor. Taylor thought she looked exceptionally vulnerable; stripped of all the barriers and pretences she put up to try to prevent people from getting too close to her – instead she was, right at that moment, just a scared and confused 18 year old girl trying to work out what she felt and what her place in the world was.

And yet Max has succeeded in a few days where pretty much everyone else has failed. I've never really seen her like this before; I need to coax this out of her and make her know it is completely normal.

I need to start making a positive change in this place, and this is a good place as any to start.

“You know,” she began slowly, thinking carefully on her words, “before I came to Blackwell I was at school over in Portland, I'm sure I've told you before. It was nothing particularly special, just a run of the mill high school before I transferred over to here. Anyway, there was this girl there – she was called Amelia, and she was just the most pretty and funny and clever girl I had ever known. We used to do everything together, after school club, homework, parties. I liked her. Like really liked her. And I thought she did me, but I was never sure.”

“I didn't know you liked girls,” said Victoria quietly. Taylor shrugged.

“And boys. I'll take either of them. But I do, I think, have a preference for girls. I don't think I have ever kept it a secret either.”

“So what happened?” asked Victoria, curious but not missing the point of her tale either. Taylor didn't respond for a moment and just seemed to stare off into the distance, as if reminiscing.

“Well, I was like 15 or 16, and still unsure of what I was or who or what I liked. I had such a crush on this boy called Tommy – proper big meathead, did a lot of football, you know the type – and I thought that was the normal thing, you know? The one I was supposed to like. And Amelia was just a friend, although one who used to make my heart flutter whenever I saw her.” She shook her head regretfully, and her tone was a little bitter. “Anyway, we both knew I was going to transfer here and in the weeks up to it we seemed to be closer than ever, and on that final night I just wanted to tell her everything but.. I just chickened out. I was too scared, of rejection or.. I don't know. Something. And by the time I realised what it all was, it was too late.” She laughed suddenly. “I had always wondered what became of her – and the other week I was doing some Facebook stalking, as you do, and saw her with her girlfriend. And I felt such an idiot for not just being open and honest about it all at the time, and wasting the chance I had. But that's hindsight for you. Anyway, so now I have resolved to just fucking tell someone if I fancy them, regardless of whether I think they like me or if they are a girl or boy or whatever.”

Victoria was silent for a moment, turning this new information over in her mind. She knew Taylor was trying to tell her to not make the same mistake that she had, but to her it just wasn't that easy.

“You're so lucky. I wish.. I wish I could be like that.” Taylor furrowed her brow; Victoria had always been so confident and assured about everything, that to hear this was a little unsettling.

“Why can't you?”

“Because.. because..” Victoria said, trying to find the words. “Because..” She stopped, trying to think of a good reason.

I mean there's my parents, but I have never even talked to them about it but I know what they think. And if Taylor is open about it at Blackwell and no-one seems to care, what about me? Would people care? Would people bully me about it?

Is that what I am afraid of? Being the victim for once? Would I deserve it?

No, no-one deserves it.

Not even you.

Plus, superpowers, remember?

“Honestly, I don't know any more,” she said. “I mean Max just doesn't give a shit what people think. I wish I could be like her as well, you know? Not have to hide this and just be.. me. My parents would probably flip their shit if they knew, but they do that no matter what I do so..”

“Well, you know you've got me at your back if anyone tries to fuck with you – although I know you can handle yourself.” Victoria smiled at her, and rested her head back on her shoulder.

Taylor ruffled her hand through Victoria's hair, still surprised at how relaxed Victoria was being about their proximity and generally about just being touched.

Max is definitely a good influence on her then, although I am feeling slightly jealous that she has managed all of this in such a short span of time. Speaking of which..

“So, what exactly is going on between you two? A week ago you couldn't stop bitching about her to me; about how she dressed, how she looked, whatever she did... wait a second, you've totally been crushing on her haven't you? How the fuck did I not notice that before?” Victoria groaned and put her head in her hands.

“Ugh, I know, I know. Just don't remind me of it. I didn't know what to do, Taylor. I mean why would she ever had been interested in me? She didn't care about what I wore, or how I looked or what influence I had or how much money I have – I could have made or broken her with a word, but she just didn't care. I just wanted her to notice me, was is too much to ask?” Taylor burst out laughing.

“Girl, you've got it bad, haven't you? Oh, this is brilliant.”

“Taylor,” Victoria whined, a voice that Taylor would have never thought possible to come out of Victoria's mouth, “please don't be like that, it's -” Taylor held up a finger, cutting her off.

“No, I mean it – it's brilliant that you've finally found someone you like, I am so happy for you. It's been so obvious to me that you were gay and hiding it, I wish I had said something sooner – my gaydar is never wrong. Have you any idea what it's been like having you moan for the last year about how everyone is having more fun than you, and all the waspish comments you've made about the others? I bet that's half the reason you fight with Dana, because she actually has the confidence to go get what she wants.”

“That's not -” Victoria objected, before elbowing Taylor. “Oh shut up. When did you become so perceptive? I'm not sure I'm liking this new found side of you.”

“Oh, it's always been there,” said Taylor airily, “you've just never noticed. Anyway, tell me – what happened this week? How did she end up staying the night where nothing actually happened, honest?”

“Nothing did happen!” Victoria protested, “not that I wanted it to be like that. I think. Ugh, what is she doing to me..” She rubbed her temples in annoyance, before wagging a finger in front of Taylor's face. “Right, what I am going to tell you doesn't leave this room, right? Not even for a stupid gossip with Courtney. If I find out you've told anyone I will kill you, Taylor. This is too important to me.” Something in Victoria's tone made her sit up and take notice.

She's not joking.. about any of it. This really does sound like the real thing.

“Of course, you have my word,” she said, and gently took hold of Victoria's hand. “I mean it when I said I am happy for you. You know I've got your back, no matter what.” Victoria looked at her and had to conceal a sniffle, blinking to try and hide the tears that threatened.

“Thanks,” she whispered, her throat suddenly feeling a little tight. She swallowed and licked her lips which were now dry and reached for a bottle of water from the side, taking a gulp. “Right, well – it all started on Tuesday when I left to go home..”



Victoria went through her account of the week, leaving out any mention of superpowers, butterflies and trying to break the fabric of reality. It left her story a little disjointed, and Taylor suspected she wasn't getting the whole truth, but it was close enough to be believable.

“So yeah – as I said, nothing happened,” she finished lamely, looking at Taylor as if ashamed her story wasn't more exciting. Taylor was having none of it.

“Oh my god, you two are just the cutest and also just the worst! How have you not fucked already!” Victoria went bright red and put her hand over her mouth, scandalised.

“Taylor! Don't say such things. That's just.. crude. Not appropriate.” Taylor looked at her with scepticism written all over her face.

“I'm sorry, since when did Victoria Chase suddenly turn into a prude? Is this still actually you? Are you seriously telling me you haven't been tempted? You must have copped a feel at least.”

“T, stop it. And no, I haven't. I mean, I've thought about it but.. you know.. I...”

“Know what?” asked Taylor, puzzled. Victoria twisted her fingers together, going red with embarrassment.

“I've never.. you know.. never... like.. well, never..” Taylor looked at her, stunned.

“You've never..? Like.. ever? You? Really? Why?” Victoria rolled her eyes and stood up, suddenly angry and annoyed with herself. She couldn't help it, but Taylor was touching on a sore subject and despite herself she could feel the cold radiating from her.

“Jesus Taylor, why do you think? I can't even admit I fucking like girls, let alone touch one! Of course I have never done anything like that! Christ.. just.. leave it, will you? It's hard enough as it is, especially when I have to read all that fucking graffiti about how much of a whore I apparently am.” There was an awkward silence as Victoria stood with her back to Taylor, fists clenched. Taylor had known Victoria long enough to recognise the signs of when to back off and leave her be – for all this sudden openness she was still Victoria.

Taylor awkwardly go up and hesitantly reached out to touch her on the arm, recoiling suddenly as her fingers came into contact.

“Ow!” She sucked on a finger as if it was burnt. “V, you're freezing - are you OK? Let me get you a blanket, do you need to go to the ER? What's wrong?” Victoria sprang away from her like a scalded cat, quickly wrapping her arms around herself in a defensive posture.

“No! No. I'm fine. Honestly. I just get cold sometimes, you know how I do. It's nothing, just leave me be. I just need to move around a bit.” She walked over to her window and made a show of closing it, as if that was the explanation for her feeling cold. “Anyway, can we not talk about that? I've got lots of shit to do today and I don't have time for it.” She turned and began rooting through drawers for some clothes, clearly trying to indicate that the topic was closed. Taylor watched her with pity, realising that for all her friendly mockery this was actually not going to be as easy as she had hoped.

And I need to help her with it, despite her being so infuriating at times. I guess this is my punishment for helping her bully Kate.

Jesus, what was I thinking? I need to make it up to Kate as well. We all do.

But this is what friends do for each other.. and maybe I should speak to Max again at some point, if Victoria still needs some reassurance.

She sat back down on the bed and watched Victoria aimlessly look through her wardrobe, mind clearly elsewhere. Taylor was happy at the obvious change in Victoria; the person she knew existed underneath her public persona was being shown more openly on the surface, even if there was still that undercurrent of danger about her – something she realised made Victoria, well, Victoria.

“V, that's the fourth time you've picked up that top. Talk to me.” Victoria sighed, hand held to her forehead before smiling ruefully.

“Sorry. I feel a bit of a mess at the moment, I need to get a grip on things. I've got shit to do T, I've got a lot to organise and get done, and I need to work through this stuff with.. her, and I also have to make sure people know I'm back and in no mood to be fucked with, and it's all just so much..” She breathed out heavily, shoulders slumping slightly, before giving a little shake of her head and trying to stand a bit more upright, giving Taylor a defiant look.

“I can do it though, it's what I do, isn't it. What I've always done.” Taylor looked at her, standing tall and proud, trying to convince herself that she could carry everything alone.

No, she definitely needs me to help.

And, it seems, she needs Max.. for other things I can't provide.

“Well, let me help. I've got nothing else planned today, so let me at least try to do something.” Victoria smiled gratefully at her, but Taylor held up a finger. “I'm not doing your homework though, and you really have to stop doing that shit with Courtney.” Victoria opened her mouth to protest, but then hung her head in shame.

“Fine,” she mumbled. “I am really hating this new Taylor Christiansen. What have you done with her, and can I have the old one back?” Taylor stuck out her tongue and patted the bed next to her.

“Right, sit down and tell me what's up – the sooner you get it done, the sooner you can get back to pretending to not being interested in Max.” Victoria punched her lightly as she sat down, but refrained from rising to the bait.

“Well, first of all there's the small matter of me not being made to leave this place..”



Max had left the room in a hurry, feeling flustered at the sudden arrival of Taylor and the unravelling of her schemes to keep whatever was happening with Victoria secret. She briefly wondered whether to rewind time and erase the encounter, and began to raise her hand before she remembered what she had promised.

No rewinding on Victoria without her knowing. It's not fair, she could be having all sorts of conversations with Taylor now that would never happen.

And besides.. do you really think it's right to erase what little flirting Victoria tried to do? That's definitely not the correct choice, is it.

She smiled at the memory of Victoria on the bed, suddenly feeling a little flustered when she recalled the glimpse of the plunging cavity between Victoria's breasts, and the way they nearly swung into view as she reached out for the cell; the thought of what else lay underneath that top loomed large in her imagination.

And she wanted me to come over and help adjust her clothing.. would I have done it if Taylor hadn't rung? Would I have had the courage?

I guess I'll never know, but I couldn't have rewound that either if it had gone wrong..

Feeling a little defeated and frustrated that she couldn't use her powers to get herself out of her self-inflicted predicament, she wandered down the corridor to see if Kate was still in her room – they had agreed to go for breakfast last night and Max was feeling hungry. She knocked on Kate's door and waited for an answer, idly wondering what time it was.

Kate answered the door fully dressed in a simple white blouse and black skirt, hair immaculately tied up in a loose bun. She looked as if she had been awake for quite a while, and looked at Max in surprise.

“Max? I had wondered where you had gone. I thought you had left and forgotten about breakfast – I did message you about it, did you not get it?” Max gawped a little, her hand patting her pyjamas.

Oh crap. Where's my phone? Did I leave it in Victoria's room?

“Oh, um no, I didn't.. It's.. charging. Sorry. Do you still want to do breakfast? I haven't eaten at all.” Kate looked at her, a gentle smile on her face.

“Max, it's half ten and I had breakfast ages ago. You really slept in, didn't you. But I could go for an early lunch if you want?”

“Oh, I didn't realise it was that late. I'm sorry, but yes – if that's OK? I need to go get a shower and what have you, but I'll be as quick as I can. What do you fancy? I'm up for anything, as long as it's not the cafeteria.”

“No, I agree – the food has not been good this week, I think the regular cook was given the week off. We could go to the Bean Hip, but we've been there a lot of late – or there is that new place that serves lots of different teas?”

“That sounds very you, Kate – let's go there. I won't be long.”



Max spent the next twenty minutes soaking under the shower, running through her night time experiences and then trying to work out how to get her cell back without Taylor noticing she had left it in Victoria's room.

By the time she was back in her room getting dressed, she still hadn't managed to come up with a plan that didn't either involve getting herself in more awkward situations, or abusing her time powers in some way to allow her to slip in without being seen and extract the precious object.

Such musing were cut short by a gentle tapping at the door. Max's heart leapt involuntarily at the sound, a warm feeling running through her.

That must be Victoria! She's found it.

Max hopped around, trying to finish shrugging on some skin tight jeans before falling against her door with a thump.

“Just a minute!” she called, pulling up the leg which seemed determined to be a sock instead. Finally dressed she opened the door with a beaming smile, only to be faced by a fidgeting Taylor, who was awkwardly standing there with a cell in her hand.

“Oh! Hi Taylor!”

“Hi Max.” They both avoided each other's gaze, before Taylor eventually held out her hand and Max now saw it was her cell she had.

“Here,” Taylor said, “I found it in Victoria's room. She's in the shower, so I thought you might want it back.” Max quickly took the cell, clutching it to her chest.

“Um, thanks.. I.. I.. left it.. when..” Max left the rest of her sentence unfinished, hoping Taylor didn't pry into too many details. Fortunately for her, Taylor didn't need too.

“Look, Max,” she said, “Victoria is my friend. I know she doesn't have the best reputation, and I know I probably don't either -” she waved off Max's protestations - “No, Max, I'm not so up myself that I don't realise it. But anyway, Victoria is good underneath it all, and she really needs someone special. Someone to look after her and not fuck her around. I won't see her get hurt, OK? Don't you be doing this unless your really mean it.” Taylor finished by staring at her directly, her face unexpectedly fierce. Max felt herself quail slightly, until from deep within her she seemed to gain some resolve and confidence and looked her directly back, as if challenging her.

“I won't,” was all she said, but her voice was strong and full of conviction, with a slightly hard edge to it. Taylor looked at her in surprise, as if not expecting this side of Max to exist.

“OK, good. Then we are cool, yes?” She looked at Max expectantly, and Max nodded, holding out her hand to shake.

“Yes, we're cool. And thank you Taylor, I hope we get to know each better.” Taylor smiled at her, her face lighting up.

“Definitely. I better let you get on with whatever you're doing, but I guess I'll see you later? Just.. don't occupy all of Victoria's time, save some for me.” Max gave a shy laugh, before giving her a little wave and returning to her room, closing the door and collapsing with relief.

That.. went better than I would have ever expected. And it looks like the secret is out with her. I just hope she doesn't spread it all around, I don't want Kate or anyone else finding out until we are ready. Until we are sure we know what this is.

And until we know we haven't fucked reality up completely.

Max checked her cell and saw the missed message from Kate, feeling slightly guilty she had not checked it earlier. She also had the usual barrage of messages from Warren that she skimmed through, before hastily sending a reply that she was meeting Kate but would catch up with him later.

His replies were instantaneous and Max wondered if he had just been staring at his cell waiting for her to reply.

No, he wouldn't be like that.. would he? He's just a friend..

She ignored his new messages and finished getting ready, grabbing her messenger bag and camera before heading out to meet Kate. Kate was waiting in the corridor for her, a light jacket thrown over her shoulders and she looked positively relaxed compared to her demeanour from earlier in the week. They made their way out towards the bus stop talking about nothing of import; Max was glad to be spending such time with Kate, having been in Victoria's orbit for most of the week.

To Max it felt like the old Kate was back, albeit one who seemed slightly more world weary and less eternally optimistic about everything – which, all things considered, wasn't that surprising. Max desperately wanted to ask her about what was going on with the FBI and the investigation into Jefferson, but Kate was in a good mood and Max didn't want to spoil it so soon. After what she had seen last night (or technically not seen), she also wanted to ask about her friendship with Dana. The Journal had been coy about things to do with Kate, but there were enough hints within it that Kate probably had a lot more in common with Victoria (and herself) than she realised. Certainly in that timeline Victoria and her seemed to be friends at least – or at least tolerated each other.

But then remember how she reacted when I told her I had just met up with Victoria? If they managed to get on in the other timeline, why not here? Why is it so different?

Max became aware that she was spacing out again as Kate nudged her to get her attention.

“Sorry, what? I was just thinking about something..” Max said apologetically.

“I was just saying that after we've eaten we could go clothes shopping, what do you think? I feel like I need some new clothes, I don't have much variety. I was looking through them all this morning and they are all just a bit.. dull.” Max looked at her in surprise, she had never thought that Kate really cared about what she wore. Max, for all her pretence, did actually care what she wore – it just happened that it all came down to one particular style of hipsterishness, but it was a carefully cultivated style (in her mind) at least.

“Oh, sure! That sounds fun. I could probably do with some new things too.”

“More t-shirts and jeans? Don't you have enough?” Kate said playfully, and Max grinned ruefully.

“Yeah. Good point. Maybe I should branch out – actually it's a shame Victoria is not here, she could probably give us a few pointers. You should see how many clothes she has back in Seattle, like an entire walk in dressing room! It was incredible.” Kate went quiet, the smile wiped from her face.

“Max, when.. and why did you go to Victoria's house, exactly?”

Oh shit. Oh no no.

“- you have enough?”

“Yes, you are right. Maybe you can help me find something else, and I'll do the same for you?”

“Deal,” said Kate happily, and craned her neck to see if the bus was coming. Max stood next to her, angry at herself for making such a mistake and frustrated that such a new, unavoidable and important element in her life was going to potentially destroy what existing friendships she had.



“I like this place, it has such a nice atmosphere,” Max remarked, looking around at the décor on the wall. “How's the tea?”

“Lovely.” Kate stirred her pot before pouring herself another cup. “They just have so many choices – I'd have never thought that something like this would ever open in Arcadia Bay. It's like they opened it just for me.”

The waitress arrived with their food order, Kate settling for a small salad to pick at while Max devoured a heap of waffles, bacon and syrup; to go along with the large coffee she had ordered over Kate's protestations that they were in a tea shop and she should have, well, tea. Kate watched her with amusement, wondering whether Max would ever stop to take a breath in-between mouthfuls.

“You do know I'm not going to take them off you, don't you? Your pancakes are safe from me.” Max grinned from around a forkful, swallowing before replying.

“Sorry, I didn't realise how hungry I was. And these are good, we should come here again.”

“Definitely.” Kate appraised her over the rim of her cup. “So, I bumped into Warren earlier. He was looking for you.” Max sliced another wedge of pancake off, fork paused in the air as she replied.

“I can imagine. He has already spammed me with messages this morning. I don't know why he does that when one would suffice, it's not like it's the end of the world if I don't see him straight away, is it.”

“Well, it might be for him,” Kate observed. “He does seem to like you a lot.”

“He's a good friend.” Max didn't elaborate further, seemingly happy with just that being enough explanation. Kate raised an eyebrow a little.

“Just that? I don't mean to pry, but I thought that you two.. well, you know, you.. and him?” Max spluttered, spitting chunks of pancake out onto the table.

“Ugh, sorry – wait, pass me that napkin. There. Me and Warren? No way, where on earth did you get that idea?” Kate carefully wiped some pancake off her side of the table before answering,

“Well, I just thought that you did. You do spend time quite a lot of time together, and he is always hanging around waiting for you, and he seems so nice to you all the time, so..”

“He's just a friend, Kate,” Max replied with a little humour in her voice. She looked at Kate thoughtfully, as if debating whether to bring up the subject, before breezily continuing. “Besides, I don't like that sort of thing.” Kate ears pricked at her words, and she bit her lip a little while she considered a reply.

“You mean.. that sort of nerdy guy thing he's got going on?” she said with little conviction, as if she knew that wasn't the answer but wanted Max to tell her.

“What? No, I mean I guess some girls like that sort of thing? I just like girls, that's all.” She shrugged and carried on eating while Kate hid her expression behind her cup; but Max could see the range of emotions that ran across her face.

“I mean I'm sure I've tried to hint often enough about it to him,” she continued, “and I'm sure I haven't led him on or anything, as that would be cruel, but.. ” She pursed her lips and returned to her pancakes, watching Kate out of the corner of her eye and allowing her time to work out what she wanted to say.

“I.. I didn't know that you were.. you know..” she eventually said, her voice low as if she was saying something secret. “I mean I guess I just never asked, I just assumed..”

“You mean that I'm gay? Oh, don't worry about it,” Max said cheerfully. “It's no secret – well, not for me anyway. There's never been anyone around I liked before, so I guess it just didn't come up. And I didn't mention it to you because of the whole church thing, I didn't want to put you on the spot with that sort of topic in case it made you uncomfortable.”

“Oh,” Kate said, and looked down at her half eaten salad. Max could see that she seemed to have a million different questions to ask, and decided to help her out a little.

“I guess I've always had an idea that I was, but it's only probably in the last year or so I've really been open about it.”

“Do your family know? How did they react?”

“Yeah I told them a few months ago. They are cool with it, but then they are relaxed about everything I think. I sometimes think they'd have been disappointed if I wasn't gay, they always like to think of themselves as being all progressive and what have you. Having an arty, gay daughter must be perfect for them.” She laughed and Kate pretended to join in, but Max could see her eyes were troubled.

That's probably enough for now, Max. You don't want to upset her. I've put it out there for her, so if she is gay then she knows she's not alone, at least. And if she isn't then, she can work out what she thinks of it all in her own time.

But if she is, it'll really blow her mind when she finds out Victoria is as well!

Oh fuck, how on earth do I tell her about that?

“Anyway, enough about my really boring love life,” she said, “how have you been this week? I'm really sorry I just disappeared when I did, but I guess Dana was here looking after you?” At the mention of their mutual friend Kate looked up and smiled, face completely transformed from the pensive mood she had been in.

“Oh, yes – she's been.. wonderful. I didn't realise how nice she was, Max. I mean I've always liked her from afar if you understand me, but this is the first time I've really got to know her so intimately.” She blushed slightly as she replayed the words in her head. “I mean as a friend. She's been so supportive.”

“So tell me what happened with the FBI,” said Max, throwing Kate a lifeline that she gratefully grasped. “They all looked really serious with their suits and the 'I'm Agent Smith, FBI!' thing they did.”

Kate spent the next twenty minutes or so filling Max in on everything that had happened to date, before the conversation meandered away from the topic onto safer and more cheerful grounds. Eventually they left, hitting the few clothing shops that were in Arcadia Bay – both thoroughly entertained by the other's attempts at selecting items for each other.

 

Victoria looked with disappointment at the limp sandwich on her plate. The Blackwell cafeteria was still open, but the sudden closure had meant that the usual staff had disappeared for the week, leaving an interim caterer who clearly had been chosen due to their competitive pricing rather than culinary skill.

If my plan works out then that is definitely something that will change. I'm not even sure they'd give this to the homeless.

She lifted the corner up with a fork, hissing with annoyance at the limp lettuce and what was trying to pass for ham underneath it. Taylor sat down opposite her, tray laden with a variety of goods that made Victoria's arteries scream.

“Not hungry?” Taylor said, picking up a bunch of fries and popping them in her mouth. Victoria looked at what she had chosen and despite herself ended up with a little bit of food envy, especially in comparison to the industrial by-product she had on her plate.

Oh my god, what is happening to me.

Max, it must be Max. She's lowering my standards.

“No, I am. It's just this isn't exactly edible. I think I might go have a word with them.” She began to get up out of her seat, despite Taylor's protestations.

“Oh don't, V, don't make a scene. Tell me you won't make a scene.”

“I won't. But this is unacceptable, I can't stand for it. And I won't.”

“You're going to make a scene, aren't you?” Taylor found herself cringing down into her seat, trying to make herself as small as possible as she heard the opening salvos from Victoria as she marched across the cafeteria.

She really does have a voice designed for shouting at people.

Taylor slunk further down into her seat as phrases such as 'unacceptable', 'demand something better', 'where's your supervisor' echoed around the near empty room. Eventually a very smug Victoria sat down opposite her, arms folded and looking very pleased with herself. Taylor peeked up at her from her half-prone position.

“Is it safe? Are you satisfied? Is my food going to be spat in tomorrow?” Victoria rolled her eyes at her mockery.

“You can't possibly think this stuff is good. Look at it. It's unacceptable.”

“V, it's a school cafeteria. It's supposed to be like this.” Victoria shook her head and folded her arms, leaning back to watch Taylor inhale some more fries.

“Nope, not any more - now you've helped me finish that proposal to Wells, I think it gives me great leverage to change this as well. And that's a benefit to everyone. Just think of what we could have! Proper meals, like Confit de Canard, or Cassoulet or Ribollita or Käsespätzle or..”

“I have no idea what any of that means,” said Taylor, taking a bite out of a greasy hamburger filled with the sort of processed cheese that made Victoria queasy and Max delighted. “But this all sound suspiciously like you taking over this school, V. Is that really want you want? You graduate in like a year anyway, so what's the point?” Victoria sat there for a moment, thinking about it.

“I think.. I think I want to try and give something back to this place. I've taken enough out of it, caused enough.. damage.”

“So this is like some form of atonement? Doing your penance?”

“Maybe. But of course it would also be beneficial to the Company, it has to be to get it past my parents. So.. not entirely altruistic I admit. But it keeps me here to graduate, would make it safer for everyone and gives a better school for those less.. fortunate than me.”

“And plus you get to stay with Max,” said Taylor, grinning. Victoria went a little red, before muttering something under her breath. There was a silence as Taylor continued to eat, which was eventually broken by one of the cafeteria staff walking over with a tray.

“Ms Chase? Here's your lunch as you ordered,” they said, placing it down in front of her. Victoria inspected the steaming plate of chicken and asparagus pasta with a cream sauce, before giving them a bright smile that seemed positively wolfish.

“Thank you, this looks.. acceptable.” The employee walked stiffly away, shaking their head as Victoria's eyes bored into their back. A slight cough from Taylor drew her attention.

“What?” said Victoria innocently, picking up a fork and tasting her dish.

“You know this whole thing about treating people better? Remember that talk we had?” Victoria didn't meet Taylor's eye, but just concentrated on her pasta. It was Taylor's turn to watch Victoria eat; suddenly her collection of fried goods didn't seem so appetising – she wouldn't admit it to Victoria, but a change in menu wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

Victoria's cell chimed and she looked at who the caller was before answering, whilst continuing to eat.

“Yes – where are you? That's about fifteen minutes away – I'll meet you in the car park. Did you read the contract? Hmm. No, that's fine. OK.” She hung up and carried on eating, ignoring Taylor's querying look. Eventually Taylor couldn't contain herself.

“Well? You gonna tell me who that was?” Victoria waved it away, mouth full of pasta.

“Oh, just a new computer I ordered. Should be arriving in.. ten minutes, so we'll go meet him and get it put up in my dorm. I mean, if you want to help me, that is. I didn't mean to presume.”

“More like order me. But it's fine, I'll come with. Why are you getting a new computer anyway? What's wrong with your fancy Mac?”

“Oh,” Victoria stammered slightly, “I.. I needed a new computer to.. to do some photo editing. Photoshop, that sort of thing. Needed the extra power and a big screen.” Victoria flashed a smile before finishing off her meal, letting out a satisfied belch when she did so, before remembering to cover her mouth.

Manners maketh man, Victoria, she thought, in her parents voice.

Ugh.



They arrived at the car park slightly late, although Victoria hadn't seemed to be in any particular hurry. She scanned the car park before seeing a white van with 'Thompson Electronics' stencilled across the side. A man was standing nervously by the driver's door, looking very uncomfortably around at his surroundings. Victoria wandered over, feeling strangely like she was taking steps to become more of an adult; taking charge of her own life.

“Mr Thompson,” she said, extending her hand for him to shake. “You managed to deliver on time, I'm impressed. This is my friend Taylor.” Taylor gave him a quick, friendly wave, and he weakly smiled at her before turning to look at Victoria, not quite meeting her eye.

“Hi, Ms Chase. I.. I er.. I've got what you ordered in the back, it was to your exact specification and I have tested it thoroughly.” Victoria nodded, pleased.

“Good. Can you bring it up to my dorm, please? The invoice should be paid Monday, assuming there is no issues. You can email my lawyers the signed contract, assuming you have no issues with it?”

“Um,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck nervously, “there was just one thing – there was a part about 'future work' or something...” Victoria tilted her head with impatience, her voice already becoming sharper than she realised.

“And? We clearly set out a schedule of rates for you to do it, what's the issue?” He looked at the floor for a second, before (definitely, this time) trying to meet her eye.

“No, it wasn't the rates, they are very attractive. It was more the part about 'unspecified future activities', and that there was a whole series of clauses about confidentially, being sued, my parents being sued, my dead relatives being sued..” Taylor sniggered at his attempt at humour, but stopped when Victoria cast her a glance that cut her to the bone like the first blast of winter.

“Mr Thompson, as I am sure you are aware we deal in a lot of different areas – some of which are of a classified nature. It's a standard procedure; of course if you are not willing I can easily take the work elsewhere.” She watched as his face became conflicted; clearly the temptation of the money was fighting with the uncertainty as to what he was getting involved in.

“If it helps,” she continued, not bothering to make her voice any softer despite what she was saying, “I am, after all just a simple High Schooler at a prestigious college, what could I possibly want from you that would be difficult or dangerous?” He looked at her, clearly noticing that her words did not match her tone or expression, but kept his own counsel.

“That's.. true,” he conceded. “I just have to ask as it is my name on the contract after all. I'll have another read and get back to you by Tuesday, OK? Let me just unload the things from the van, it won't take a minute.”



He loaded the parts onto a trolley and began to wheel it across the car park towards the main building; Taylor grabbed Victoria's arm before she could follow, and she looked at her friend with some concern.

“What's got into you today, Victoria? You are really laying it on thick with everyone. What did he do to you?” Victoria closed her eyes for a moment, before looking at Taylor with an expression she had never seen before - part regretful, part determined; but there was a glint in her eye that showed the inner steel within.

“It's just business, T. It's how the world works, trust me. I've seen it often enough.” She walked off after him, leaving Taylor to watch her with a slightly worried expression before jogging after her.



Warren jigged nervously from foot to foot as he waited in the quad outside of the girls dorm. He checked his cell again to make sure there was no new messages or missed calls, and then ran through the mental check list in his head for the fourth time.

Hair? Decent.

Breath… minty.

Armpits.. good enough.

Right, so Max is going to come out, and then we’ll do some small talk and I’ll be like ‘hey, I’ve got something to show you’, then I’ll take her to the car park and show her the new wheels and she’ll be like ‘Oh my god Warren that’s so cool you’re amazing where did you get them’, and I’ll be all modest and like ‘it’s nothing, but hey, if you like we can go test it out at the drive-in Saturday’ and she’ll say ‘oh yes that sounds amazing we can go for dinner as well’ and then we’ll be watching the film and it’ll be scary and I’ll put my arm around her to stop her being scared and then she’ll wriggle into me and I’ll move my hand so it is..

“Hey Warren!” A familiar voice intruded into his daydream, and he looked around to see Max waving at him as she walked across from the dorm entrance. His stomach fluttered when he saw her; she looked as gorgeous as ever, and seemed to be standing just a little bit straighter than he remembered; as if she had gotten some confidence from somewhere.

Remember Warren.. play it cool. You got this.

“Sorry I’m a little late, me and Kate got distracted looking at dresses – I know, me in a dress, who would think it?” Max laughed and the sound was like music to Warren’s ears.

“Yeah, I can imagine. But I bet you would look good in a dress though. Was there any reason you were looking at them?”

“Oh you know.. maybe a change would do me good? I might need to wear a dress at some point, so it makes sense to have at least an idea of what suits me. Anyway, how are you? Sorry I’ve been absent; it’s been a really busy week.”

A dress? For what..? A party? Oh no.. has she met someone? No, that’s impossible.. So.. is it for me?

“Oh I’m good, just been chillin’, you know. Found some more films for you to watch, although I’m still waiting for you to finish the last ones I sent you?”

“Films?” Max looked puzzled, and Warren noted how her nose seem to scrunch up a little as she frowned.

“Yeah. That flash drive I gave you? I mean if you haven't then no worry, I don’t mind if you want to watch it on my laptop or something. If you have the time that is, I mean. No pressure.”

Keep it cool, Warren. Don’t over play it.

“Oh yes, sorry. I’d forgotten about that; I think I leant it to Dana actually. I’ll ask for it next time I see her, sorry.”

“It’s no problem,” Warren said magnanimously. “I can always pop over and pick it up from you at some point. Although, speaking of which, I’ve got something to show you.” Max looked at him curiously.

“Oh? What’s that?” Warren hovered his hand around her back to try and usher her towards the car park.

“It’s this way, in the car park – come on, let me show you.” He walked along quickly, checking to see that Max was following. Luckily the grass in front of the main entrance was pretty empty; he knew how much Max liked to stop and talk to people about various things (which, of course, was one of the things he loved about her and didn’t mind her sharing her time like that when she was with him, it didn’t bother him at all) and thus they quickly made their way across while Max probed him with questions about what he wanted to show her. He couldn't help but grin, knowing the surprise he had in store and how delighted she would be.

“Here we are - look at my new wheels! What do you think, Max? Huh? Great isn't it!” Warren proudly pointed at his new car, resplendent in all its glory and patted the hood affectionately. He watched as Max looked at it, and he swore he saw her smile and his heart beat just that little bit faster.

She likes it! Yes! Success!

“It's.. certainly very retro, Warren. Did you get it checked out at the garage?” Warren leaned against the hood, patting the metal besides him as an invitation to Max to join him. She looked at it dubiously before sitting down next to him, and he felt a small thrill run through him as she accidentally brushed up against him.

“Yes, I will do. But it's in great condition, look at it! And it only cost me $500..”

“Where did you get $500 from, Warren? And you really should get it looked over..” She picked at a piece of rust on the hood, and Warren began to feel a little bit panicky about the cars condition.

I knew I should have got it checked first! That was stupid, stupid of me – of course she'd want to know it was safe. But wait, time to impress her..

“I won it in a competition I entered, it was about writing a paper on the implications of resonance frequencies on the perception of reality. It was really interesting, actually, because I did some reading and was able to show that if there is a certain frequency, one that is commonly associated with say the orbital rotation of a quasar, this could potentially have the same frequency as the rotation within sub-atomic particles..” Warren enthused on the subject for the next few minutes, until he became aware that the conversation was one-sided and Max was staring off into the distance. He looked at her then turned to try and see what she was looking at, but all he could see was a white van and what looked like Victoria Chase and her friend talking to someone by it.

“Anyway, that's where I got the money from,” he finished, “I was quite proud of it to be honest.”

“Mmhhhmm,” said Max distractedly, before turning her gaze on Warren and giving him a smile that ran through him like liquid fire. “Actually, I do have a question for you. You know time is like really important in physics and things?” Warren laughed a little, if he had felt brave enough he would have ruffled Max's hair for being so, well, cute.

“Max, of course – it's one of the most important things there is. I mean you only need to look at something like relativity to..”

“So,” she said, cutting him off before he could get into full flow, “if you could alter it then you could do all sorts of things? Like.. I don't know..” Warren leaned back a bit, folding his arms in contemplation. It wasn't quite where he had planned the conversation would go, but he was still with Max and she was asking him questions that he knew he could answer, so it was all good.

“I guess; I mean if you could play with time as a constant then there would literally be nothing you couldn't do in some respects, I think. Like, for example, this car's acceleration is distance over time, so if you could do the same distance in less time then you would be going faster to your destination, like a drive-in for example. Why do you ask anyway?” Max was silent for a moment, and her attention seemed to be occupied still by something on the other side of the car park. Warren still couldn't see what could possibly be of interest over there, so he assumed she was just thinking about things.

“And correct me if I'm wrong, Warren, but force is weight times by the acceleration isn't it?”

“Mass,” Warren corrected, “but yes. So to use my previous example, if you were to play with time the same way, assuming the mass remains constant, the force on the object would increase. Like.. the muscles on Hulk when he transforms adds more acceleration onto his fist so he hits harder.”

“Huh. Interesting.” Max was silent again, looking thoughtful. Warren decided that now was his chance to change the tack of the conversation.

“So, I was thinking, that now I've got this car,” he began, his stomach churning as he suddenly felt nervous; he could feel the sweat under his arms as Max half looked at him, whilst keeping her attention on the van that was now driving away. “I was thinking that maybe you might want to go somewhere together? I know there's a film showing at the drive-in at Newburg you might like and I was wondering if you wanted to go there maybe?”

“What? Film?” said Max distractedly, “sounds great. Yeah.” Warren couldn't stop grinning like an idiot at Max's words, and he felt an urge to give her a big hug.

Yes! She said yes! Warren you are the man!

“Awesome, it's this Saturday and I got the tickets already, maybe we could go get some food as well maybe? I mean, haha, it's not like it would be a d-” Max looked at him in confusion.

“Saturday? What about Saturday?” Warren looked at her, a slight tightness in his chest.

“Er.. the drive-in? You said you'd come with me? In the car?” Max gawped at him a little and held up a hand as if acknowledging him, then lowered it again suddenly.

“Oh, did I? Sorry. Who else is coming?”

“Who else?” Warren stuttered, “I thought it was only -”

“Max!” a voice shouted, and he turned his head and felt his stomach sink even more when he saw Victoria Chase walking briskly over towards them, face set in a scowl.

Oh no, what does she want? Why can't she just leave Max and me alone?

“Victoria,” said Max. Warren was impressed by how even her tone was, and he took some heart from it.

If she can stand up to her, then so can I. I need to show I can protect her from this sort of thing, be the white knight she needs.

Victoria stopped in front of them, one hand on her hip and she pointed a finger at Warren.

“You. Fuck off, now.” Her voice was cold and hard, and he found his legs betraying him as they started to move of their own violation.

Max seemed to move, quicker than he could see, and she was suddenly holding Victoria's arm, swaying slightly. Her breath hissed through her teeth and she clutched at her head, before sitting unsteadily back next to Warren. Warren looked at her in confusion, hand hovering around her.

“Max! Are you OK? What did she do, Max? What did you do, Victoria?” He gave an accusing stare at Victoria, who to his surprise was looking slightly upset.

“I'm fine, I'm fine,” muttered Max. She took a deep breath before looking up at Victoria, her voice low and dangerous, which sent a thrill through Warren's spine. “Victoria is going to try that again, aren't you Victoria?” Victoria coughed a little, looking abashed.

“Warren. Can.. can I have a moment to speak to Max? Please?” Warren looked at her, then back at Max, who was still staring at her with narrowed eyes.

What's going on? Is Victoria afraid of Max? Did she found out one of her secrets?

“Um, Victoria, I don't think.. I don't trust you not to hurt her,” Warren said bravely, and then quailed as Victoria looked at him with cold eyes and thin lips; a small, chilly gust of wind seeming to wrap up and around him as she did so.

“I think, Victoria Chase, that whatever you have to say to me you can say in front of Warren too,” Max said quietly, still looking very pissed off at the whole situation, which Warren found completely unfathomable.

“That's.. I.. Max..” pleaded Victoria, furthering Warren's confusion. Max shook her head and waited with folded arms. Victoria looked as if she was about to walk away before she closed her eyes, and with clenched fists, spoke.

“Max, I was wondering if you wanted to do something tonight,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper.

“Of course, Victoria,” said Max, “I would love too. When and where?”

“My room, say at about 6?”

“Perfect, I'll see you then.” Victoria nodded stiffly and quickly walked away without another glance, her heels clacking across the tarmac. Warren watched her go, all thoughts of the drive-in momentarily forgotten.

“What was that all about? Why does she want to see you? You are not in trouble are you? Do you want me to come with you?”

“Oh no, it's just some girl things we have to do, you know how it is,” said Max, her eyes following Victoria's every move. She turned to look at him and her mood seemed back to its normal self.

“So,” she asked, “how are you and Stella getting on? Kate told me you two were hanging out the other day..”

Warren blushed a little as he realised Max had found out about his interest in Stella, and did his best to assuage her that despite what it looked like she was the only girl for him.

“Oh, Stella? She's just a friend, you know? Like Brooke.. It's not like I'm interested in her like that or anything..” He looked at Max hopefully, but she just waggled her eyebrows conspiratorially back at him.

“Come on,” she said, jumping off the hood, “let's go grab a drink and you can tell me all about it.”



Victoria ushered Max into her room in a state of nervous anticipation. Max looked at her with a smile, wondering what she had planned for the evening. She sat down on the bed and watched as Victoria walked over to her desk, bending down to switch something on. Max watched her and then realised there was something new in the room

“Victoria, is that a new screen on your desk? And a computer? That wasn’t there this morning, was it?” Victoria straightened up as the screen switched on and shook her head with a slight grin on her face.

“No, I had it delivered today. I thought that... well, I thought we could play a game together. If you want too, of course, I mean.” Max looked at her incredulously.

“You bought a brand a new PC just to play a game with me? Victoria…” Max was dumbfounded and felt a little lost for words. “That... that’s... it must have cost you a fortune.” Victoria shrugged, leaning back against her desk.

“It wasn’t much, and if you enjoy it then it’s money well spent. Better than just another pair of shoes I don't need.” Max stood up and walked over to her, giving her a hug that left them both a little flustered.

“Thank you, that’s very... sweet of you to think of me like that. That’s why you asked if I liked playing games, wasn’t it?”

“Guilty as charged. So, my plan was we can start tonight, and I think it’s quite a long game so we can carry on again some other time if you like? I’d like that if you wanted too. And we can order in some pizza for food as well.”

“Games and pizza? You know the way to my heart, Victoria,” Max replied casually, trying to keep her voice cool and confident, hoping it wouldn’t betray the happiness she was feeling over the fact that Victoria had gone this far out of her way to arrange something for them both to do together.

“Yeah well, just don’t go around telling anyone I’m playing video games, will you? Otherwise I’ll never be able to get rid of Warren, let alone rescue you from him.” Max tapped her on the arm and reminded her of her unacceptable behaviour earlier in the day.

“Vic, I did ask you to stop being so mean about him. He means well, he’s a good boy at heart. And I really wasn't impressed with your behaviour this afternoon, it really hurt my head taking you back with me. You had no right to do what you did to him, you need to control your temper. It's almost like you are jealous..”

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean too go that far. And I'm not jealous, why would I be jealous of him spending time with you all the time. He really is your creepy stalker,” she muttered, before raising an eyebrow as she looked at Max accusingly. “And Vic? Really?”

“Well, better than Victoria isn’t it? How about Vicky? Vickster? Vivi?”

“Ugh, stop it Maxine. Vic will… do, for now,” she said seriously, as if giving it some real consideration. “But only when it’s the two of us, OK? Otherwise, it’s Her Majesty Victoria Chase when we are around others, you do need to know your place.” A slight twinge of her lips betrayed her to Max, who decided to humour her and bow low.

“Of course, your Majesty, as you wish. Right, come on then, let me see what terrible choice in gaming you have made.” Victoria stuck her tongue out and sat down, dragging a spare chair next to her and patting the seat for Max.

“Right, so this game has had a lot of good reviews, and I’ve read up on it and it looks like being fun.” Max sat down and waited for Victoria to begin, but she seemed too busy trying to justify her choice to Max.

“And you can also play as a woman, which is good too..”

“Um, OK, well just start it and we can -”

“And also you can like talk to people, and have relationships and -”

“Vivi Chase, just start it will you? I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Victoria took a quick breath and flashed Max a worried grin.

“OK, ready?”



“No, she’s having blonde hair.”

“Why, so she looks like you? You’ve already given her green eyes.”

“It’s my computer Max, and I say she has blonde hair.”

“Oh, pulling that one already are you? Don’t make me tickle you to death to get the mouse back.”

“Don’t you dare.. no, stop it.., stop it.!. I’ll freeze your ass off if.. you… don’t.. Maxxxxx! OK, OK – blue eyes, blonde hair?”

“Fine.”



“I can’t believe you punched him!”

“It said it would shut him up, and it did.”

“You don’t have to be a bitch in game and in life you, know. Here, gimme the controls.”

“No! It’s your turn when we do the next quest, remember. You’ll just have to suck it up, Caulfield.”

 

“OK, your turn – I’ll go order us some pizza, I’m hungry.”

“My turn.. wait a second, is this just because we need to drive that tank thing again? I hate doing that! That’s not fair.”

“As I said, suck it up! Pepperoni good with you?”

“Yeah, sure. As long as it is double. Oh my god I’m stuck on the rocks again. This sucks.”

“I’ll get some wedges too.”



“So, it’s either her or Mr Bland McBland of Bland town – what's his name again?”

“Warren?”

“Stop it! But look, she’s hot. For a computer game character, I mean.”

“You're such a nerd. She’s blue. And has tentacles.”

“Still hot, Vic. Admit it, you like the girls.”

“Whatever, Max, I’m not admitting to anything. Fine, she’s attractive enough - although this whole innocent fainting thing is a bit annoying isn’t it? You can tell a man wrote it. Apparently, though, we can carry this romance on through the next two games as well.”

“Ooh, definitely her then.”

 

Victoria half watched the screen and half watched Max, who was completely engrossed in what she was she was doing, and yawned suddenly.

“Oh sorry,” she said, slightly embarrassed, “it’s just getting late. And staring at this screen so much is making my eyes go funny.” Max leaned back from the keyboard where she had trying to navigate their character through an underground base on some frozen world.

“It’s nearly midnight, so not surprising.” She stretched out her arms, before letting one hand fall onto Victoria’s thigh where she gave it a quick squeeze. “Thank you though. This has been really good fun. Nice.”

“Do you like the game?” asked Victoria nervously, taking control and saving it.

“Of course, you dummy, I told you it’s great fun. It's better though that I’m sharing it with you. Makes it feel more.. special. Although I wish you’d stop being such a dick to everyone when it’s your go.” Victoria grinned evilly.

“Oh come on, you know it’s funny. They wouldn't have put it in the game if you weren't supposed to use it.” She paused, looking at Max with a soft expression before clasping the hand that was on her thigh. “Thank you for spending the time with me. It was really nice.” Max smiled and they both leaned against each other, heads touching as they were illuminated by the title screen.

“So, there’s two more games? We’ll be spending a lot of time together then,” Max said happily, “how on earth will you stop the truth about you being a complete and utter nerd from getting out?”

“Easy, I’ll just tell everyone you are blackmailing me. Or using your feminine charms to trick me into it.”

“Hmmm, my feminine charms, hey?” Max said thoughtfully. “That almost sounds like a compliment.”

“It was.”



Max helped Victoria tidy up the room before leaving to say good night. She had thought about offering to stay the night, but left it up to Victoria to suggest it, not wanting to appear to be too forward. Victoria, for her part, had wanted Max to stay the night, but left it up to Max to suggest it.

After a lingering hug in the doorway, along with a few nervous looks before Max again leaned in to peck her on the cheek, Victoria closed her door and sat down on her bed with a certain element of regret. She knew she had to try and be bolder, to test the waters with Max further, but she was so afraid of rejection that she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Taylor’s words rang in her head; she was beginning to get worried that if she didn’t do something soon, it might all pass her by completely.



Max woke suddenly; she didn’t know what time it was, but it was still dark. She felt like she had only just fallen asleep, yet in that moment she felt completely wide awake. She lay there trying to work out what had woken her, and then she felt it – that familiar feeling of sliding through reality, merging with the alternative timeline that just seemed so easy, so effortless now. She had a vague notion that this was a dangerous thing; that at some point that line might be blurred so much that there would be no going back.

She braced herself for whatever was about to happen; there had been no mention of this in the Journal otherwise she would have definitely asked Victoria to be around – her only certain anchor to this reality, but it was too late now. She waited nervously, but nothing seemed to happen – until she blinked and then suddenly she was in a room that she had never seen before; but that was not the object that got her attention – in front of her was a very, very naked Victoria, looking up at her with an uncertain smile.

“So, let's take this slow, shall we? Let's see what.. sets you off” Max said and reached out to caress Victoria. What followed for Max as she lay there in her bed was a never-ending sensation of touch and smell and taste and pleasure as she watched herself explore Victoria’s body, as Victoria explored hers. At some point Max found herself mimicking what Victoria was doing to herself, a strange combination of her and Victoria’s fingers that were there and not there, until suddenly she found herself climaxing simultaneously over two realities, biting hard on her arm to try and stifle her cries as best she could.

Eventually she lay there, sweaty and exhausted, back once again completely in her own room. Her whole body seemed to tingle, and it felt as if she was encompassed in a warm glow of pleasure; a feeling that she wanted to hold onto forever. She felt her eyes becoming drowsy as her disturbed rest caught up to her, and as she slipped into a blissful sleep her thoughts were entirely occupied by the sight of Victoria looking at her with love in her eyes; exposed, vulnerable and full of desire, something she had never seen before.



Something she wanted.

Chapter Text

Max woke up in a tangle of sheets and duvet, as if the remainder of her night had been restless; yet she couldn't remember any reason as to why it should have been. The memory of her sex-not-sex with Victoria did still linger; like a hot knife searing through her consciousness whenever she thought about it. She lay there and tried not to think about it; but the image of Victoria's eyes looking into hers, the sensation of her lips, the touch of her -

Max desperately tried to dispel that train of thought as she was quickly working herself up into a sense of excitement that she knew would ultimately not match what she had experienced last night; it seemed better to let that raw feeling fade a little from memory, before trying to recreate it by herself.

But still.. do I tell Victoria? How would she react knowing that I sort of had sex with her last night?

How do I feel about this?

A fleeting image of Victoria's naked body flickered through her mind.

Pretty good, actually.

Max shuffled herself comfortable on her pillow, pulling her duvet back up around her as she stared up at the ceiling.

It's so nice to just have a lie in like this, with no pressure or demand to do anything.

Max scrabbled for the remote to her stereo and turned it on, letting some innocuous guitar music from some obscure band waft around the room. She didn't recognise it at first, suddenly panicking that Victoria's accusation that it all sounded the same was true, before she remembered the name.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra. That's it.

See, completely different.

She lay there for a few minutes listening to the music, trying to plan her day before the realisation that it was Sunday hit her – which meant two things. One – at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, she would be sitting in a World History class, and two – today was the day they destroyed the photo.

So if the world ends, I won't have to go to World History. That's not the worst thing in the world, is it?

She smiled to herself but felt her stomach sink at the thought – whether it was because of having to restart lessons or the end of the world, she wasn't sure. She grabbed her cell to check if there were any messages and saw that it was already 10 – she had really gotten used to sleeping in of late, something she knew she'd have to shake if she didn't want to be late tomorrow.

Wait. I can rewind time, so surely I should never be late for anything? Does that mean I could just sleep in as long as I want then just go back in time?

Something to think about, but only in an emergency, Max. And missing class is not an emergency.

And anyway, right now you can only do it for a few minutes, so..

So I need to practice more so I can have a lie in. What's the point of having this power if I can’t even do that?

She paused her train of thought, before embarking on a new one – what exactly was the point of her having this power? The Journal had made it clear that she had to find the other five butterflies for some reason (with the added bonus of having Victoria in her life – now there was a thought she would never have thought she'd have) – but then what?

Max didn't have the answer to that, but she knew it was one she would have to work out sooner or later – assuming that they didn't destroy the world tonight, or that she got erased from existence in eighteen months’ time.

That's some pretty shitty things to have hanging over me, really, now I think about it.

Max saw that she had a few unread messages on her cell, with the first being a series of messages from Warren checking she was OK after her meet up with Victoria. Max noticed that they had been sent at several points over the evening and was touched that he seemed to worry that she had been OK while with Victoria.

10:04 am M@x: Hey Warren I'm fine, just woke up! :) hope you had a good night!

The next message was from her Mom; as she opened it her cell beeped with incoming message notifications that she swiped away to read later, if she had the time.

8:01 am Mom: Hello Max it's your Mother. Just checking everything is OK before school starts tomorrow. I know Thanksgiving is a month away but can you let me know if you are coming. Say hello to your friend Victoria, me and your father both liked meeting her. Mom. XX

Max smiled to herself. Her Mom always seemed to send messages composed in full sentences with correct spelling – and in a strangely formal style, as if she was writing a letter. She sent her Mom a swift thanks, saying she was going to work hard but would call her later in the week to tell how she was getting on. She paused about letting her know about what she would do for Thanksgiving; the mention of Victoria had raised the glimmer of an idea to her – maybe she should invite Victoria to come with her?

Or would she be with her parents? Or would she just be rattling around alone in that massive house of hers. I'll check with Mom and then maybe ask her to come.

The last message was from Victoria, and it was short and to the point.

7:34 am Vcx: Hey, you awake?

Max clutched her cell to her chest, as unbidden into her mind came the image of Victoria bending over her, naked body glistening in the -

Max squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head quickly, to try and dispel the image.

Focus, Max.

10:08 am M@x: hey just woke up :) how are you? Wht ru doin? :)

Max realised then that she had no plans for the day and wondered whether Victoria would like to do something with her today – at least before the pressing issue of tonight came around.

Or am I badgering her too much? What if she doesn't want to spend time with me? She has her own friends to spend time with, like Taylor.

But Taylor seemed cool about things, so maybe everyone else will be too?

Max's stereo continued to play a range of not-identical-at-all tunes and Max got out of bed and picked up her guitar, thinking to get some practice in while she had nothing much else to do – a shower and breakfast could wait until she had a firm plan on what to do, or she got too hungry (and smelly) to ignore it.

She quickly become lost in trying to follow the tune, frowning in concentration as her fingers danced across the strings as she sought to improve on something she thought she could possibly become passable at. Her cell chiming interrupted a particularly ferocious bout of concentration and she frowned in annoyance, which quickly dissipated when she read the message, her face breaking out into a grin.

10:32 am Vcx: Keep practising and you might become good x

10:32 am Vcx: Lunch at 1? Meet me in the car park?

Max fingers positively flew across her screen, and she found she couldn't stop smiling as they did so.

10:33 am M@x: Didn't no u were spying o me :) yes cu then xoxo

10:33 am Vcx: … you are the worst.

10:34 am M@x: You no u love meeeeeee

10:34 am Vcx: Literally the worst.

Max laughed happily to herself, before picking up her guitar and resuming her practice – her resolve to improve her skill suddenly bolstered by her unseen audience.



Victoria Chase had a problem; and that problem was currently sitting opposite her on her sofa loudly proclaiming her woes to the world. Courtney had arrived back at Blackwell late last night, and had wasted no time the next morning in coming over to see Victoria to bemoan the positively terrible experience she had endured with her family, and how fucking glad she was to be back here with Victoria even though Blackwell was a social desert and how much she couldn't wait to fuck off out of here just like Victoria was going to.

However, Courtney's complaints weren't the biggest problem facing her at the moment; more pressing was the fact that Victoria suddenly realised that Courtney – one of the only other people Victoria could at this moment tentatively call a friend, even though she knew there was a hideous power imbalance in their relationship – would not take any revelation about either her sexuality, or the fact of who might be romantically involved with her, at all well.

Sure she might hide it and wish her well, but Victoria knew that Courtney had an idealised image of Victoria in her mind: a popular, successful, confident, straight, high society girl who could have her pick of the men at Blackwell – and by extension, by orbiting her star so could Courtney. As far as Victoria was aware – and she realised that she hadn't actually ever bothered to ask Courtney if it was true – Courtney had never had a successful liaison so far at Blackwell, despite the constant stream of admirers Victoria had coldly pushed aside and away from her.

No, their friendship definitely seemed more transactional than based on anything else; something she now recognised from the so-called friends she had had previously before coming to Blackwell, and who were long discarded and forgotten. This was something she had always wanted to change, yet here she was falling back into her old ways with Courtney.

“What do you fancy doing today, Courtney?” Victoria asked suddenly, causing Courtney to stop mid rant and look at her in surprise.

“What..?” Victoria looked at her, arms folded and raised an eyebrow,

“I said, what do you want to do today? I mean I'm meeting someone for lunch, but we've got a couple of hours before then. What do you want to do?” Courtney looked at Victoria as if she had grown a second head.

“Oh, I..” she stuttered, looking around the room as if at a loss. “I don't know. Um, just.. hang out maybe? Is there anything you need doing? Should I give Taylor a call?” Victoria shook her head, trying to hide a pained expression.

“No, Courtney, there isn't – just us two can hang out here and watch something if you like? Or listen to music, or..”

“OK,” said Courtney with visible excitement. “That would be... nice.”

“Great,” Victoria said. “Come and sit next to me and tell me how your family really are, while I have a look for something.”



Warren mooched along, hands in his pockets as he entered the quad outside the dorm. The day felt fresh and inviting; it had rained heavily in the night but the skies were clear and bright. He glanced up briefly to where he knew Max's room was, wondering why she hadn't replied to any of his texts, some of which he was sure were absolutely hilarious. There was no sign of her that he could see, despite standing on his tiptoes, so he checked the screen of his cell once more just to be sure, but it was disappointingly free of notifications.

I mean it's less than a week until we go to the movies together, I need to keep her completely interested in me so it's absolutely perfect when we go.

Warren was tired, having had a sleepless night; he had been worried about Max and what exactly Victoria had been doing to her – although in one of his more fevered and imaginative moments, what Victoria might have been doing to her had made him reach for the tissues, after he had inserted himself into the fantasy, of course. All in all, Warren was feeling a little despondent, and the resumption of lessons tomorrow had done little to cheer him up despite his stellar academic performance.

He saw Kate sitting on a bench on the far side, and she looked up at that moment from the book she was reading and waved at him. With little else to occupy him he wandered over, noting that Kate seemed to have her hair slightly looser than normal – not, of course, that he spent a lot of time staring at how the various girls in the school dressed and styled themselves, not at all.

And anyway, it was only a little amount of time, and he thought that observing such things were important for him to better understand them.

“Hi Kate,” he said, sitting down next to her. “What are you reading?” Kate looked at the book cover before answering, hiding the title from Warren.

“Oh.. it's just a Christian thing, I don't think you would find it interesting really.” Warren frowned at her, looking a little put out.

“That's...not true, Kate. I find all religions interesting in their own way. I mean there is a moral case for religions in some sense, although I don't see why you'd need a god for what is pretty much just a moral code of ethics to live by, even if some of those ethics do belong in the stone age.” He looked sideways at Kate. “No offence, I mean.” Kate smiled gently at him.

“None taken.” There was an awkward silence while Warren fished around for something to restart the conversation.

“So, what is it you're reading, then?” Kate sighed, and showed him the title.

“God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships,” Warren read. He whistled, and then gave a little laugh. “Heavy stuff, Kate. Never thought you'd read that sort of topic, I thought you were all about promoting abstinence and Jesus and what have you.” He stopped again, going slightly red. “No offence, I mean, I guess if that's an important thing to read for you then that's good.”

“None taken - again,” Kate said. She paused, looking out across the grass as if thinking over things. “You know how when you do science you have a theory, and you test that theory to see if it works or not? Well.. this is a little like that, seeing how certain things can be answered - or not - through Scripture.”

“And can it?” asked Warren with genuine interest. Kate looked back at the book, twisting it slightly in her hands as if anxious.

“I don't know, to be honest. And it seems that people struggle with this topic in particular.” She placed the book down beside her and turned away from it slightly, folding her hands on her lap as she looked at Warren. “Anyway, let's change that rather depressing subject – what are you up to? Just out for a walk?” Warren glanced back at the stubbornly still Max-free dorm before answering.

“Yeah, pretty much. Was hoping to bump into Max actually, see if she is OK after last night. She only briefly answered me this morning and I’ve had nothing since.”

“Why, what happened last night?” asked Kate curiously. Warren briefly related yesterday’s interaction with Victoria, ever so slightly embellishing his role as protector of Max.

“So, she said she was fine this morning, but then didn't tell me what she was up to today. So, I thought she might be out here with you or something.” Kate shook her head slowly.

“No, I've not seen her – and I wonder what Victoria wanted with her? That's.. strange.” She fell silent for a moment, as if thinking about what it could have been. Something Max had told her yesterday came to the surface, and she looked back at Warren. “You really do care for Max, don't you?” Warren blushed a little.

“I mean.. yeah, I do, I mean she's a great friend and I like spending time with her and she's really pretty and..” Kate touched his arm to stop him, before speaking gently.

“Yes, I understand. I like Max too; she is very special. But -” She looked at him, checking his reaction and feeling very much like she was about to tell a puppy off for misbehaving. “But I think that you need to be realistic about things, Warren. I think Max really does like you as a friend, but she may not be the best person to pin so much of your attention onto.” Warren's face grew a little annoyed at her words.

“Why not? What's wrong with me doing that? I'm a nice guy, I do -”

“No, Warren, it's not you – I just think that sometimes people's affection can be directed elsewhere through no fault of your own.” She paused again, trying to see how that had sunk in.

“You mean she likes someone else? Who is it? Do I know him?”

“No, Warren she doesn't like another.. guy; but I mean that I think you should focus on someone else if you are really interested in dating someone. Someone else you maybe hang around with.” Warren looked at Kate, and then suddenly understanding seemed to dawn.

“Oh. Oh. Well, I mean, I do think you are quite hot and all Kate considering, but I don't think that we would work what with -” Kate smacked him on the arm, with an amused grin on her face.

“No, silly, I mean someone like Stella or Brooke – I think they both really like you - for some reason.”

“Really?” Kate nodded encouragingly at him, thinking that she might actually be getting good at this sort of matchmaking thing.

“Oh,” replied Warren again. He looked down at the floor for a second, before looking back at the dorm. “But Max also likes me, doesn't she?” Kate nearly facepalmed in frustration.

Honestly, what is with him? He's obsessed. Why can't Max just tell him she's gay?

Hold on a second there Kate, you are not in any position to be telling people when they can say that, are you?

She glanced back down at the book, which had been some comfort to read – it didn't have all the answers, but it was a start at least. Further such thoughts were interrupted by a shout from towards the gates, and she looked up to see the exceedingly welcome figure of Dana jogging over, dressed as if she had been out for a run in tight leggings, and an even tighter sports top.

“Hey Kate! How are you?” she said in-between heaving breaths, as if she had indeed been out running hard. “Hey Warren. What are you two up to?” Warren didn't reply as he seemed to be transfixed by something on her top - she looked down but couldn't see anything untoward, as her chest rose and fell with her breathing. Kate also seemed a little distracted by it, and as Dana caught her eye she blushed and looked away.

“OK, you two – what is it? Have I got something on my top? Or is it split or something?” Warren also went red and muttered something under his breath, while Kate seemed to regain her senses a little and quickly shook her head.

“No, not at all – sorry, just not used to see you out running so.. so hard. How was it?”

“It was good,” said Dana suspiciously. “You should come with me one day.” She looked at Kate and then her glance fell on the book on the bench, her eyes widening slightly as she read the title. Kate noticed and hastily put it behind her.

“Thanks, maybe I will,” she said in an attempt to head off whatever questions Dana had, which she really, really wasn't prepared to answer her. “I could do with getting fitter, the gym lessons only go so far.”

“Well I think you're in good shape, Kate,” remarked Dana cheerfully, oblivious to the effect her words were having on Kate's stomach. “I need to run and get a shower as I'm all sweaty and icky, but we could do lunch or something later if you want? I think Juliet is back later, so I want to catch up with her too, if you feel like hanging around with me?”

“Max!” interjected Warren loudly, leaping up and waving his hand. “Over here, Max?!” Dana turned and saw Max emerging from the dorm – she froze at the sound of her name and seemed to hesitate, before slowly walking over to the group.

 

“Hey everyone, what’s going on?” Kate gave Max a little wave while Dana smiled widely. Max stopped next to Dana, noting her outfit. “Been out for a run?”

“Yup – and I’ve been trying to get Kate to join me. Do you fancy it as well?”

“Oh no, no,” Max said, laughing. “I run like a headless chicken. But Kate, you should definitely join Dana, it might even guilt me into doing some more exercise.” Kate huffed and pretended to look annoyed at Max’s suggestion.

“OK, fine, I’ll give it a go. But not too early, Dana – no 5a.m. runs.” She looked at Max, who had her camera bag slung over her shoulder, aware of Warren fidgeting next to her. “Are you off somewhere?”

“Oh,” Max stammered, “just off to.. go take some photographs. I'm heading off to the bus stop now.”

“Oh, I can drive you somewhere?” Warren said hopefully. “We can test the car out before Saturday.”

“What’s happening Saturday?” asked Dana. “Is there something going on?”

“Me and Max are going to the drive-in together,” Warren said proudly, looking at Max with shining eyes. Max gawped back at him in confusion.

“Are we? Wait.. I thought it was an open invitation, not just the two of us..?” Warren shook his head.

“No, I just invited you.. do you not remember? It was just before Victoria came over and talked to you.”

“Victoria? What did she want?” Dana said, trying and failing to hide her disparaging tone. Max looked between her and Warren, trying to keep up.

“Just to talk.. but Warren.. I mean -”

“Talk about what?” queried Dana. “She’s not bullying you, is she? You can tell me Max, I’m not afraid of her.”

“I thought she asked you to meet up later, that’s what Warren told me,” Kate said quietly, looking up at Max and casting a glance at Dana, who furrowed her brow a little.

“Warren..” Max said weakly, realising that the conversation was beginning to get out of her control despite her best efforts.

“Sorry, but she did ask you, I didn’t realise it was a secret,” Warren replied apologetically. “You should have said.”

“Why is it a secret, Max?” Dana had her arms folded and was looking at her carefully, face a mixture of curiosity and concern. “Are you -”



Max dabbed at her nose to stop the little trickle of blood that was creeping slowly down from it, her head had a dull ache (although, she realised, not as bad as it had been) and she felt slightly dizzy. She eventually had to give up trying to rewind the fucking awful conversation she had ended up in; no matter what she had said it seemed to always end up with too many uncomfortable questions either around the incident with Warren yesterday, or who she was meeting today.

So, she did the only thing she thought she could do – rewind back to just before leaving the dorm and avoid the whole sorry mess. She knew she was avoiding a difficult situation – like you always do, Max – but right now she didn’t feel that she could cope with the fallout. She knew that with every day that passed, and as her bond with Victoria grew stronger (which it was – there was no denying that, especially not after what she had experienced last night), the complete clusterfuck of the situation would be an even bigger thing to deal with – but that was something to avoid in the future, not now.

No, better to get things right with Victoria, and hope she changes for the better in how she deals with people - as she promised. Then it might be easier.

But how the hell did I end up agreeing to go with Warren on Saturday? Victoria is going to go crazy jealous when she finds out.

Which might not be the worst thing..

Max leaned against the wall inside the dorm, waiting for her head to stop aching as much while she planned what to do. She had to get to the car park without anyone noticing, and the only way she could think of was further rewinds as she crossed the quad – and getting to a point where she suddenly didn’t appear in front of someone, but was safely outside of the view of those three.

I really need to work on this whole stopping time thing, that would make things much easier.

You mean making avoiding awkward conversations easier.



It took Max a good few rewinds to cover the distance; luckily for her as she rounded the corner there was no-one there and she was able to appear back into normal time without any issues, although her head felt worse and she had to wipe further blood away from her nose. She knew she was pushing what she could do in such a short amount of time – it reminded her of when she tried to save that girl, although that had only been a few rewinds – having had to rewind that conversation multiple times, and then do it all again to get to here, was the most intensive thing she had done – bar taking Victoria back in time with her, something she realised she had accomplished twice now.

But that felt like a different type of thing, a different pain. Maybe it’s a different part of my power.

I wish I knew more about this.

She made her way over to the car park, exchanging a nod of acknowledgement with Brooke as she did so – Brooke was out practicing flying her drone; Max briefly wondered if Brooke would ever let her have a try, but sadly there wasn't any time for her to do that right now.

Ha. Any time.



Victoria was waiting by her car, so engrossed in something on her cell that she didn't see Max approach. Max looked at her as she walked quickly over the tarmac, noting how as always she was immaculately dressed – this time in tight blue jeans that seemed to hug her curves, with a comfy (and Max suspected expensive) looking cream woollen sweater that rolled up around her neck and under her strong chin. Max could just see a gold bangle around her wrist as her delicate hand tapped away at the screen, and the way the afternoon sun was shining on her hair making it appear almost golden -

Oh my god Max, stop staring and just say hello.

“Hey, Vic,” she said, her stomach fluttering as Victoria looked up at the sound of her words and her face broke into a smile.

“Hey Max.” They both stood there awkwardly, unsure as to whether to embrace or shake hands, or do something else. They settled on an awkward half embrace, with the top of Max's head bumping into Victoria's chin causing them to both break away feeling even more awkward. Max stood there shyly, holding her elbow as she looked up at Victoria.

“So.. what's the plan?” Victoria unlocked the car, gesturing to her to get in.

“First, let's get out of her before someone notices and Blackwell explodes with scandal.”

“Agreed,” Max said, quickly hopping in. Victoria's car was quickly becoming familiar territory to Max; she was becoming used to how comfortable the seats were, and just how reassuringly well engineered and expensive it all was. She wasn't sure that she'd even want to set foot in Warren's car now, even if she had been interested in him.

I could get used to all of this. It's just all so nice.

Oh my god, I'm turning into Victoria.

All it took was a posh car and suddenly I'm no longer true to being alternative? No, that can't be right, it's only a car; it’s not like I am getting involved in some popular trend or something. And it's not actually mine, so maybe -

“Er, Max? Are you listening to me?” Max blinked and looked at Victoria guiltily.

“Sorry, was just having an existential crisis. What did you say?” Victoria looked at her like she was insane, before starting the engine of the car.

“I said, I was wondering if you wanted to go to the Two Whales? I mean it's not really my scene, obviously -”

“Obviously,” interjected Max drily, causing Victoria to flip her the finger.

“But anyway, because I am so lovely I am willing to suffer it with you. And after that, I thought we could wander down the beach towards the lighthouse, maybe take a few shots and also get some practice in.”

“Practice? My, you are taking this seriously.” Victoria looked out of the windscreen at the school building, watching a few students pass back and forth.

“I have too,” she said quietly. “I can't keep going on like I have, and the only way for me to get over this is to learn to control it – so I can get angry or upset or whatever like a normal person, without me turning everything into a winter wonderland.”

“You know,” Max said slowly, face deadly serious as she laid her hand gently on Victoria's arm, “if your business empire suddenly collapses, you could always open an ice rink or Santa's Grotto. So you do have – OWWWW!” Max rubbed her cheek where a small chunk of ice had smacked into it.

“I was trying to be serious with you, Max. Have I told you that you are the worst?”

“Yup.”

“Good, cos it's true. You are literally the worst.” Victoria continued to stare out of the window, until Max took her hand in hers and gently squeezed.

“Hey. Hey you. I know what you mean. And I'm here for you, OK? Despite being the worst.” Victoria glanced down at her, eyes glimmering slightly as she gave her a small smile. They looked at each other for a moment, saying nothing and everything, before Victoria gave her a gentle squeeze back and released her hand.

“Come on, let's get a move on. I'm hungry.”



Max felt a little uneasy as she walked towards the diner; she had not been to the Two Whales since she had been back to Arcadia Bay; whether that was some subconscious avoidance strategy to make sure she didn't accidentally bump into Chloe - or Joyce - she didn't know. She was again hit by that hollow feeling that she would never see Chloe again - never have the chance to make things up to her, never have the chance to correct the mistakes she had made through her own failings. She had all the power in the world, yet she couldn't redo her past mistakes.

So it's time to make sure that I don't keep making them, then, isn't it.

Max opened the door with trepidation, and then saw with relief that Joyce wasn't working today. Max wasn't sure if she would be up for meeting her again so soon, but then she realised that the reason Joyce probably wasn't working was because she was preparing for the funeral of her only child.

Well, that makes me feel like shit, she thought as they walked towards a booth. Talk about being only worried about how I feel, when poor Joyce..

Max sat down at the table, and looked at the menu without really reading it, lost in her thoughts.

“Um, earth to Max again? You OK?” Max looked at Victoria who was sitting opposite her and gave her a wan smile.

“Yeah, sorry. Was just thinking about Joyce. Chloe's mum. She's like the main waitress here, practically runs the place. Me and Chloe used to come here all the time, so.. brings back a lot of memories.”

“Oh shit. Sorry. I didn't realise that was her.. do you want to go somewhere else?” Max shook her head, picking at the corner of the menu.

“No, it's fine, I can't keep running away from difficult situations or things that make me feel uncomfortable.” She paused, before looking back up at Victoria. “I mean, take for example today - just before I met you I avoided exactly just that.” Max quickly gave her a brief synopsis of the meeting with Kate and the others, including the fact that ultimately she made it so it didn't happen.

“In some ways this power is just the worst thing for me. I no longer even have to suffer anything bad if I don't want to, or just keep trying until I change things so I don't. But then what does that make me? A coward, that's what. Just means I'll have learnt nothing from avoiding Chloe for five years until it was too late to not regret it.”

“Well stop doing it then,” said Victoria simply. “I can't avoid it, and I have to try and deal with all of these things. Admittedly, not always in the best way, but I still have too do it.” Max waved her hand in dismissal.

“Yeah, thanks for that sage advice. I'm being serious though - what is the point of me having them if I don't use them like that? I mean I saved that girls life, and that felt... good. Really good. But I can't save everyone, can I? I couldn't save Chloe, and there are people dying all over the world right now. I'm not saving them. So what do I do? Avoiding me feeling uncomfortable about telling people the fact that we are sort of not dating just feels.. petty.”

“Sort of not dating? How romantic. And when do I get a say in whether we are dating, Caulfield, hmm?” Victoria's face had lit up at Max's words, and she was trying to hide the biggest smile that was forming across her face and doing a terrible job about it.

“Ugh, yes. You know what I mean. Try and take this seriously, will you? You get my point, yes? Look at you – why do you have yours and what are you going to do with them?” Victoria held out her hand and let a subtle little mist form around it.

“Well, to smite my enemies, of course. And, of course, anyone who mocks your hipster styling, because that's my job to do.” Max's retort was cut off by the approach of the waitress, and they spent a few minutes ordering their food – Max settling for her usual waffles with a milkshake while Victoria reluctantly chose a cheeseburger and black coffee.

It only took a few minutes for their drinks to arrive, and Max slurped on her milkshake before letting out a little happy burp.

“Anyway, enough of that - how was your morning? What did you end up doing, when you weren't critiquing my genius guitar playing?” Victoria took a sip of coffee and made a face, before answering.

“Actually.. a little bit similar to you. Panicking over how to tell my friends that I am talking to the girl I used to pretend to hate. It's not as easy as I thought it would be. Courtney is back, and she wanted to catch up – no, that's not true. She came over seeing if she could do anything for me, to try and make sure she was not on my shit list.”

“That.. doesn't really sound like she's your friend, Vic. Nor that you have been treating her like one.” Victoria face twisted in annoyance.

“I fucking know that, Max,” she said with some venom, “I'm not fucking stupid, I know. You don't need to remind me.” Max, stung, returned to her milkshake and didn't say anything more. Victoria glowered into her cup, annoyed at herself but too proud to apologise.

“Anyway,” she said eventually, “I would have wanted to talk to her about things as she is part of the Vortex and that whole social mess that is just waiting to fucking go mental when they find out, but.. you are right in that she isn’t what you would call a close friend. Or even a real friend, I think – well, no again that's not true - there must be something there. But she is important to me, so I tried to make her feel like I just wanted her there just to hang out. It's a small step, but it's a start. I just need to build on it.” There was more silence as Max just watched her over the rim of her glass - Victoria wasn't sure if she was angry or upset; all she could see were her cautious blue eyes watching her.

Their food arrived, forestalling any further conversation, but it had the added benefit of easing the slight tension that had built up between them. Victoria hesitantly asked for a taste of Max’s waffles, and that seemed to further ease the air between them as Max eagerly gave her a piece to try.

“Not bad,” said Victoria in between chews, “I can see why you like them.”

“They’re not as good as when Joyce does them, though,” Max said, inspecting the morsel on the end of her fork. “She somehow seems to do the best.”

“Wait,” Victoria said, looking slightly confused, “isn’t there a chef behind there cooking this stuff?” Max laughed and shook her head.

“No, silly, I mean the one’s she used to cook at home. Along with her pancakes, me and..” Max fell silent, looking at the waffles on her plate. Victoria looked at her for a moment, before slowly reaching out to grasp the end of her fingers. She didn’t say anything, but it seemed to be enough to make Max look up at her again and put on a brave face.

“Are you still OK to come with me on Tuesday?” asked Max suddenly. “I mean, I understand if you don’t want too..”

“Of course I’ll come. And not just for you, I mean definitely for you, but also because… because I think I have a responsibility too. As do a lot of others, who shouldn’t have needed reminding.” Max smiled gratefully and played with Victoria’s fingers a little.

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean the school could have done more for her, I could have done more about Nathan, other Blackwell students who knew her.. I mean she was partly responsible for her own actions, and she was really pig headed sometimes – especially when she got involved with Rachel, but..” Victoria looked out of the window into the car park, watching a truck slowly pull away, as if using the distraction to think on her words. “But she didn’t deserve how it ended. And... neither did Rachel. I still can’t believe that she was one of us; it blows my mind to just think how different things could have been if we’d have known about each other..”

“Yeah, crazy to think. Life would be so different. I wonder if we’d have met, in that case? Or even if Rachel would have met Chloe, or.. or anything.”

They both sat there in silence thinking over the various futures that could have been, before Victoria laughed suddenly.

“Chloe would’ve been pissed if me and Rachel had ended up friends. Man would she have been jealous; they spent enough time with each other as it was.”

“Were Chloe and Rachel together then?” Victoria tilted her head in contemplation.

“Everyone thought so, although as Chloe didn’t really go to Blackwell by then, and we didn’t exactly see eye to eye.. but I’d say Chloe loved Rachel. Whether Rachel loved her back in the same way.. is a different question.”

“Hmm,” said Max, at the thought of her old best friend loving another girl. “I always thought she liked me as a friend when we were younger, but.. I didn’t know how I felt about girls back then to pick up on anything. Looking back, it’s a bit obvious that she did like me more than just as a friend, I think. But she was also young as well, so.. who knows.”

“Well she wasn’t shy about it, let’s put it that way. I admired her confidence, whilst hating her for it at the same time.”

“So just you being you, then.” Victoria pouted, but Max had a point.

“Pretty much, yeah.” Max looked at her and this time her blue eyes seemed to have a little more of a sparkle to them.

“Let’s eat up before it gets cold, and then go for this wander on the beach, shall we?”



After they had finished at the diner they spent an hour or so walking down the beach, Max taking out her camera and taking a few shots while Victoria looked on. Eventually Max managed to persuade her to do some modelling for her, which Victoria begrudgingly assented too, as if it was a huge favour Max was asking. Despite her protestations she seemed to be a natural at it, something which Max pointed out to her during a break while she reviewed her photos.

“I like this one,” Max said, pointing to one where Victoria was walking along with the sinking sun backlighting her, causing her to be outlined by a golden fiery light which gave her an ethereal appearance. “You look really beautiful, I think you'd make a success in front of the camera as well as behind it, you know.” Victoria basked in the praise and tried to be modest.

“No, it's a good shot, Max,” said Victoria. “You make me look better than I am, compared to you I’m nothing special. I hate to admit it, but you are pretty good at this photography thing. Have you ever thought of doing it as a career?” Max looked at her thoughtfully.

“I guess – I mean if the whole superhero thing falls flat, I can give it a go – it would at least support us while your frozen food business gets going.”

“Frozen food? Why would I -” Victoria pushed Max with her hand. “Shut it you, or you can walk back.”

“Nah,” said Max, pushing her back. “I'd just steal your keys then rewind time, then go steal your car and drive back. Wait, I'd be here on my own, wouldn't I? I know, I'd wait for you to get to your car, then steal your keys, then rewind time – but that means you'd have to walk back with me. Hmm, what if -”

“How about,” said Victoria, bopping her on the nose, “we actually go and practice like I said? If you were such a master of time, you'd have noticed that it is getting late and the sun will be down soon. I think we should be back at Blackwell in good time tonight, as we don’t know what time anything will happen – and we have to make sure we destroy the photo, too.” Max's humour suddenly abated, reminded as she was of what was to come later.

“Yes, you are correct. Come on then, let's get it over with.”



They found an isolated spot near the bottom of the cliffs below the lighthouse, near where waves were crashing against some rocks. Max shivered slightly, the wind from the sea was cutting through her top and she wished she had brought a warmer jacket. Victoria stood there looking out to sea, the wind blowing through her short hair and seemingly not noticing the cold.

I guess I should stop being surprised by that, thought Max as she looked at her, standing tall and strong, like a statue hewn from some unearthly material and deposited on the shore. Max could sense something buried within her, some hidden power that seemingly only she could notice – waiting like a coiled spring to burst forth.

She stood next to Victoria, waiting for her to say something, but she seemed transfixed by the distant waves, her eyes glinting with reflected light.

“So, how do you want to do this?” asked Max eventually, raising her voice to be heard above the surf. “I was thinking of maybe trying a few rewinds – but you won’t notice that – and then I thought it a good idea to try and practice taking you back in time a little. Just to try and get used to it, as I think it’s a valuable thing to get right as soon as possible.” Victoria nodded slowly, as if half listening while she was lost in her own thoughts.

“Yeah. I think so. I’m just going to try and see.. what I can do. What I should be able to do.”

Max stepped a little away from her, and watched as Victoria flung out a hand, sending a chunk of ice out towards the sea. Max rewound it, trying to vary the speed of her rewind and managed to slow time a little, before releasing it and letting Victoria continue.

Huh. So it looks like I can fine tune the speed of rewind. So maybe that’s what freezing time is.. just the same thing but permanent. And if I can slow it down, then I can probably speed it back up to normal time. Maybe that’s how I can use time to make myself hit things harder, acceleration and all that like Warren said.

But why would I want to do that? For what purpose?

I know other Max could and the terrible things she used it for, but do I want to do that?

She practised a little more, trying to keep her rewind to short bursts so as not to over-reach herself like she had done this morning. She eventually found how it felt to manipulate the speed of the rewinds, finding she could fine tune the speed, almost like tuning in an old style of radio to find a tricky radio station.

Pleased, she rested a little and watched Victoria, who was starting to keep up a slow, steady rhythm of ice launching. At first she flung a hand out each time, but then seemed to realise that all she had to do was hold her hands out and it still worked. Max watched as Victoria stopped, taking a breath before standing with her legs slightly apart, as if bracing herself. She held out her hands, and this time the ice came rapidly and thickly, alternatively from each hand – a strange crackling sound occurring as the air condensed around her and the ice whined away to smack into the sea.

Max carefully walked closer and noticed the grim determination on Victoria's face, along with what she swore was a trickle of blood from Victoria’s nose – she was pushing herself, like Max had done.

“Vic..” she called, trying to get her attention, “Don’t push it so hard. Your nose..” Victoria gave out a load shout as she flung an extra strong blast out, before pausing, breathing heavily. She looked wild-eyed at Max, eyes practically glowing as her face showed a whole range of emotions.

“I can do this, Max. I have to do this.” Max stepped up to her and gently wiped away a trickle of blood.

“No, you’re doing great, Victoria. Just.. don’t overdo it. Look, your nose is still bleeding a little. Come here.” Victoria shook her head, stepping a pace away from Max and looking at her hands, as if trying to see where her power was coming from.

“No, Max – you don’t understand. I have to be good at this, I have to be better. No, I have to be the best. It’s what we do. It’s what I have to do.” She stood bold upright, holding her arms out stiffly away from her, fingers pointing at the ground. Max looked at her in slight alarm; she could feel the power build up within her, the air rapidly cooling and whipping around them. Victoria looked at Max, her face cold and hard, cheeks edged as if in granite, eyes a brilliant flash of green fire.

“I can do more, Max. I have to do more.” The wind began to spiral up around her, as particles of ice formed and swirled into dangerous chunks that screamed past and shattered into the floor. Max could feel herself being buffered back by the wind, shielding her face from the cold and shards of ice that were whipping viciously around the vortex.

The force of the wind drove Max down to her knees, and she shielded her eyes as she looked up at Victoria.

This.. this is just like I saw in the other reality.. the power she has hidden within her, waiting to be unleashed..

Max watched, fascinated; all thoughts of controlling time forgotten as Victoria slowly raised her arms, becoming the centre of her own personal storm. Max wasn't sure but she thought she saw small crackles of electricity sparking amidst the swirling clouds of ice and vapour, until suddenly Victoria turned and threw it out towards the sea, where it hit the water with a roar, momentarily freezing the waves in place before the ice broke and they crashed back down.

The air seemed momentarily quiet and still, and Victoria collapsed to her knees, head bowed.



Max leapt up and ran quickly over to her, full of fear and concern. Victoria was slowly pitching forwards, as if she was going limp and Max quickly caught her before wrapping her arms around her, ignoring the freezing cold emanating from her and squeezing her tight.

“I told you not to overdo it, I told you..” she murmured into her hair, rocking her gently backwards and forwards. Victoria didn't respond for a few minutes, but Max could feel her breathing heavily against her, so she figured that she just needed a little time, and she gradually started to turn a more normal temperature.

“Hey,” Max said, kissing the side of her head. Victoria whimpered a little, and Max leaned away from her and gently took her head in her hands, tilting her chin so she could look at her clearly. Victoria's face was streaked with blood, and it had cascaded down onto her white jumper, leaving ugly brown blotches across it. Max felt a wave of pity run through her, before realising that their roles had been reversed: it was her time to look after Victoria, after Victoria had done it for her so many other times.

Time to step up, Max.

She leaned in close to Victoria, her nose gently bumping against hers as she licked her thumb and tried to wipe away some of the blood. Victoria's eyes were glistening, as if she was on the verge of tears.

“I had to try,” she whispered hoarsely. “I have to be the best at this. It's what I have to do, Max. It's what I have to be.” Max looked at her closely, searching her face, then reached for her bag and pulled out a pack of wet-wipes; she had started to take them with her as a matter of course for just such a thing, and she knelt down in front of Victoria and began to dab carefully at her face.

“Victoria Chase, you have to do no such thing,” she said as she delicately wiped away the blood stains from her nose and mouth. “You do not need to prove anything to me, nor to anyone else. You are amazing just as you are.” Victoria hung her head slightly, eyes focused on the ground - only to feel Max's fingers touch her jaw and raise her head again, so she could continue to clean her. Victoria silently let Max work, watching her bite her lip in concentration as she tended to her.

“Now I know you think you need to prove something – god knows what you were told when you were younger, and I am really looking forward to meeting your parents, I can tell you – but they are not here, no-one else is here but me. And you do not need to prove anything to me, you do not need to compete with me – you know I have no interest in that.” She leaned back and inspected her handiwork, giving a small nod of satisfaction. Victoria looked a little sorrowful as Max spoke to her, as if knowing that she wasn't behaving as she should – but sometimes things are slow to change; she had spent her entire life being told that she had to be on top, be the best, that failure was never an option – no matter what it was, she had to be first.

“And your jumper needs a wash - I think I can get blood out of wool, I tried -” At her words Victoria perked up and snorted.

“Wool? It's Cashmere, Max. Cashmere. Can't you tell the difference?”

“And you're back. Good. How do you feel?” Victoria put a finger to her nose as if it still hurt, then slowly got to her feet, a little unsteady.

“I'm.. OK. Thank you, Max., for.. well, just being here with me. Despite everything, despite how I behave. I know I don't need to feel the way I do, but it's just -” A finger on her lips quieted her, and Max went in for a hug, holding her tight – both of them feeling warmth and contentment spread through them, more than words could manage. The darkening sky made Max break off quicker than she would have liked.

“It's getting dark – are you feeling alright to walk? It's quite a trek to get back to the car.” Victoria nodded, trying to look resolute.

“Yes, I'm fine - a little tired, it all rather took it out of me. Serves me right for over doing it, doesn't it.”

“Yup.”



They walked back along the beach, this time holding hands as if it was the most natural thing in the world for them to be doing. They didn't say much; Max was content to spend her time looking between the sunset and the girl next to her. Victoria for her part was finding walking difficult; she hadn't been entirely honest with how tired she was with Max – her stubborn refusal to show any weakness was still there. She actually felt exhausted, each step feeling as if her feet were made of lead, feet beginning to drag in the sand.

Suddenly she stumbled and nearly fell, but Max caught her, holding her up.

“Vic, what's up? Are you OK?” Victoria took a breath and straightened up, avoiding Max's gaze.

“Yes, I am. Just tripped. Let's keep going.” She took another step and stumbled once more but grit her teeth and carried on. Max walked after her, trying to stop her.

“Vic, stop, just stop, will you? Stop being so stubborn! Listen to me!” Max grabbed her arm, pulling her back, and Victoria sagged weakly against her. Max put Victoria's arm around her shoulders and hoisted her up, taking her weight.

“What.. what are you doing?” asked Victoria, tiredly.

“Getting you home, you silly, stubborn thing. Now come on, walk with me.”



It took them over an hour to get back to the car, and it was pitch black when they did so. Max was now just as tired as Victoria, having half carried the taller girl most of the way back. In exhausted silence they got into the car, sitting there for a few minutes until Victoria started it and carefully drove them both back, driving so much under the speed limit that they risked being pulled over, if there had been any highway patrol out on the prowl.

The car park at Blackwell was half full of vehicles, but there was no-one about to see them arrive, for which they were both grateful. Max did not particularly feel like rewinding time; she was more physically tired than mentally and felt like she just needed a good sit down and rest. Victoria seemed half asleep already, yawning and looking at Max with hooded eyes. Max patted her on the shoulder, trying to encourage her to get moving,

“Come on, let's get back to the dorm rather than sit here. You can crash on my bed while I watch a film or something – it's only just after 6, after all.”

“It feels like it is 3 a.m. and I've been on a Vortex bender,” complained Victoria. “Except without all the fun.”

“Remind me not to go on a Vortex bender with you, then,” said Max.

“There's less vomit now, though,” said Victoria thoughtfully, making Max pretend to gag. Victoria glanced at her.

“You should come to one Max; they aren't all like that. Although maybe they shouldn't be like that at all going forward, not after.. after everything. I don't know. Something for me to think about, but not now. Now I just want to curl up somewhere.”

“Well, it's not really my thing but we'll see. Anyway, let's get inside – unlike you I actually feel the cold.”



They both made their way back to the dorm – to avoid any awkward encounters Max went a minute ahead, but there was no-one they both knew around. When Max finally arrived onto her floor there was some noise from the TV room, but she quickly walked past and onto her room, breathing a sigh of relief that she had made it back without issue. She quickly eased off her trainers and rubbed her feet, before her jacket followed to be replaced by an old hoodie rescued from her sofa.

Not long after there was a knock at the door and she opened it to let Victoria in, who seemed to have an amused grin on her face.

“What's so funny?” Max asked, a note of suspicion in her voice.

“Oh nothing,” Victoria giggled, “it's just that we are sneaking around like naughty teenagers afraid we'll get caught by our parents.” Max laughed along with her.

“Yeah, it's a bit silly isn't it. But it's for the best, for a little while at least.” Victoria walked across to Max's bed and sat down, easing off her own shoes.

“Yes, you are right, but we can't go on like this if.. if you know.” Max nodded in agreement and then turned to her closet, rummaging through it and pulling out another faded hoodie, which she threw at Victoria.

“Here you go.” Victoria looked at it in horror.

“What is this? And what do you expect me to do with it? And why?” Max rolled her eyes.

“Vic, your woollen -”

“Cashmere.”

Woollen jumper is a mess, so put this on for now. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.” Grumbling, Victoria looked at it before pulling her jumper off, making Max's breath hitch in her throat – Victoria only had a decidedly very delicate and lacy bra on underneath, which seemed to be designed to clearly accentuate everything that Max had only briefly glimpsed before. Victoria saw her staring open mouthed and paused, a sly grin on her face.

“You know, as I don't feel the cold I could just not wear the hoodie, I mean if -” Max turned away, face bright red.

“Justputitonrightnowsohelpmegod.” Victoria's laughter rang in her ears, until she told her it was safe to turn around again. Max cautiously looked and saw with relief that Victoria was wearing the hoodie – not that it helped much, because she still looked stunning, and had deliberately left the zip half undone.

“Better?” she purred, lying down on the bed. Max shook her head, hiding her own grin.

You are just the worst. And shift over, I'm going to grab my laptop and we can watch something.” Victoria made some space before curling herself around Max like a giant cat.

“What exceptionally obscure and achingly hipster piece of trash are you planning on watching?” yawned Victoria, resting her head on a pillow. Max hummed thoughtfully, scrolling through a list of films.

“How about.. Leon The Professional - have you seen it?”

“No, but it sounds obscure enough for something you'd like.” Max excitedly queued up the film.

“You are going to love it.”



It was just after 9 and Victoria was sleeping softly, curled up against Max as she watched Bladerunner with the sound down low. Victoria had fallen asleep after only twenty minutes of them beginning to watch Leon and Max had just let her sleep, enjoying the feeling of Victoria curled up around her. She had thought that this is what it must be like to be in a relationship with someone, spending time doing simple things like this – it was something she was looking forward to exploring in the future, assuming everything worked out as she hoped.

Max looked up from the laptop to her desk, seeing the Journal waiting for them; the photograph they had to destroy tonight buried securely within its pages. Max had started to experience a creeping feeling of dread the longer the night wore on; she was convinced that she was going to experience another glimpse into the other reality, and the more time that passed the more likely that it could occur at any time.

Max looked down at the sleeping form of Victoria, glad that she was there tonight in case anything did happen, and glad that she was just there in general.

“Victoria, I won't ask again – if you love me you'll leave. Please, I beg you. Go,” she said, her voice sounding tired and sad. Max blinked in surprise, and then she was no longer in her room but in a large study, watching Victoria flee in tears. She turned to look at a man she had never seen before; a man who looked like he had been beaten badly by someone; face bloodied and clutching his side. Max wondered who had done this to him, until suddenly she spoke again.

“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.”



Victoria was woken from her pleasant slumber by Max falling heavily across her. She grumbled and tried to push her off, annoyed that Max had seemingly fallen asleep in such a manner but Max seemed extremely floppy, like a dead weight that she had trouble moving. Victoria sudden realised that right now was the time that reality had decided to fuck with them, and the thought sent a jolt through her that galvanised her into action. She wiggled out from underneath Max, letting her roll onto the bed facing upwards. Max's face was pale, her eyes clouded – Victoria recognised by now the signs that Max was experiencing the other reality, but this time it looked worse than ever. Max seemed to be slightly see-through, as if she was not altogether here.

Victoria bent down close to Max face, her fingers caressing a cheek that was cold to the touch.

“Max,” she whispered, “can you hear me? Max?” Max's lips moved but she couldn't hear what she was saying, it was if Max was having an internal debate with herself. Victoria felt certain that Max was drifting away from her, that Max's grasp on this reality was slowly weakening and slipping through her fingers right in front of her, and there was nothing she could do about it.

“Max,” she whispered once more, and on an impulse kissed her gently on the forehead. Max seemed to stir a little, a slight colour returning to her cheeks and Victoria felt a brief burst of encouragement. She bent down close, once more trying to hear what Max was saying, to see if she was trying to tell her something, to tell her what to do.

“What are you doing?” she thought she heard Max whisper. “What have you become? I don't want to be like you. I won't!”

“Who are you talking to, Max? Tell me? Max? Can you hear me? Max!” Max face grew pale once more, and to Victoria's horror it seemed that her face started to subtly shift; whilst it was still Max it no longer seemed to be her Max; the face seemed harsher, colder, somehow with no pity within it; her fair face distorted as if through experiencing things that no-one should have to.

“No no no,” moaned Victoria, “no! I can’t lose you Max; I don't want to lose all of this. Max, fight it, please! Max, don’t go! Max, please.. don’t leave me. Don’t leave me.” Victoria felt a tear roll down her cheek as Max didn't respond, and Victoria knew with certainty that time was running out, and she was powerless to stop it, unable to do anything to halt the inevitable. She let out a cry of anguish, feeling that she had failed at the last, failed when it mattered the most – everything she had done had been in vain, not good enough, never good enough.

And then out of the corner of her eye, like a beacon in breaking through her darkness she saw a brilliant flash of green, and she turned to see something that made her heart leap within her; her butterfly sat there on the bed calmly watching her.

“Help me, please,” she begged, her voice broken. “Show me what I need to do. Please, I don't want to lose her.. not now. Please.” It seemed to look at her as if considering, then fluttered its wings and lazily flew across the room to land on the desk, besides the Journal.

The photo.

Of course, the photo! Stupid, stupid of me!

Quick Vic, like lightning - destroy it before it is too late!

She leapt across the room in one motion, quickly rifling through the Journal until she found the page she needed. There, sitting on the page was the photo – and yet it was different to what she remembered was there before; it seemed to be pulsing as if alive, and Victoria was sure she could hear distant voices emanating from it. She quickly picked it up off the page, surprised at how heavy it felt, and with one quick motion went to rip it – but she found that it proved impossible to tear, as if it was made out of some unbreakable material. She tried once more, grunting with effort and making her fingers hurt but the photo refused to even bend slightly. She dropped it in frustration, running her fingers through her hair and desperately trying to think of what to do, of how she could stop this from happening – she had been show what, and now she needed to make it happen. To do her best.

Think Victoria, think! You have to do something; everything depends on you now. Everything.

You have to save Max.

You have to save.. us.

Out of shear desperation she picked it up once more and focused her power on it, not knowing what effect it could have. She felt something shift somewhere as she did so and hope sprung eternal inside of her; with renewed effort she delved deep within herself, putting as much effort as she could into it, feeling the photograph cool and crystallize under her fingertips.

But it wasn't enough - she needed more, more than she had thought she could achieve. She could feel a trickle run down from her nose as she tried once again, a dull ache forming in front of her eyes as her vision began to blur. A glow began to appear around her fingers as she poured more and more of herself into it, the last scraps of her strength being summoned as her ears began to bleed.

With a final burst of effort she threw the photo away from her and against the wall where it shattered into millions of fragments, and an invisible shockwave flew out across the room, catching her and throwing her heavily against the door; whereupon she slumped down, face bloodied, and lost consciousness.



Max slowly woke up and stretched herself out lazily on the bed. She felt lighter, as if a heavy burden had been taken off her; no longer did she feel like she was being stretched between two different realities or between two different versions of herself. The memory of what she had seen, the sensation of brutally torturing someone over and over lingered but was already beginning to fade from immediate memory, but she knew that those scars would remain buried within - a reminder of the person she could become, of the capacity within her to be a monster. At the edge of her vision she thought she saw a smear of brilliant blue appear and then disappear just as quickly; and a feeling of calm was suddenly within her, easing the horror of her visions further. She had no idea why, but suddenly anything and everything seemed possible.

She rolled onto her side, wondering where Victoria had got to; the sight of her slumped against the door made fear rise like bile into her throat, clutching at her and dashing all of the optimism she had woken up with.

“Victoria!” she called, scrambling down off the bed and moving towards the prone figure. “What happened? Are you OK? Why are you covered in blood?” Victoria didn't appear to respond, and Max carefully lifted up her head, noting the stains of blood from her nose and ears running down her neck. Victoria's eyes were closed, but Max could hear her breathing shallowly. Max was full of worry for her, knowing that something had happened; but also relieved that whatever it was seemed recoverable from.

She carefully eased her down and into the recovery position, thanking that her time spent in the Scouts hadn't been a complete waste. There didn't seem to be anything obviously wrong with her, and Max reached for her bag and pulled out her bag of wet wipes, gently dabbing at Victoria while she lay there. After a few seconds Victoria blinked and stirred, eyes opening.

“Why.. why am I on the floor? What are you doing?”

“Shh, I am trying to see if you are OK and clean you up a bit. Are you OK? What happened? I found you against the door, not moving..” Victoria slowly sat up rubbing the back of her head. She looked a frightful mess but Max didn't care, so overjoyed she was to see her awake and sit up by herself. Victoria looked at Max, shying away from her a little, much to Max’s consternation.

“Max.. is.. is it you?” she said carefully, eyes fearfully searching Max's face for any tell-tale signs that something was wrong, that it hadn’t worked, that she had failed once more.

“Of course it's me, who else did you expect? What happened? All I can remember is.. is.. what I saw, and then I woke up to find you here against the door.” Victoria looked at her, not quite trusting what she was seeing, afraid that everything was about to go wrong once more.

“Who are we romancing,” she said suddenly, her voice flat and distrutful. Max looked at her, nonplussed.

“What?”

“In that game, who are we romancing.”

“Er.. Liara, of course,” Max said slowly. “We decided that she was the only option.. wait, why are you asking me this?” Victoria sighed in relief, then her face broke into a happy smile mixed with a tear that rolled down a cheek.

“It is you, it really is.. I was so.. so worried that I..” She broke off, biting her lip to stop her choking over her words as a lump rose in her throat. Max grabbed her hands while looking with concern at her as another tear rolled down her cheek.

“Vic, of course it’s me! I’m here with you, please don’t cry - I’m not going anywhere. Tell me – what happened? What did you do?”

After taking a moment to compose herself, Victoria slowly relayed her story to Max – her voice still breaking as she told how she had tried to wake her and saw that she was slipping away, before the butterfly turned up and helped her destroy the photo.

“Something happened when I did it, some sort of explosion that only seemed to affect me – and threw me against the door. I must have bumped my head, and lost consciousness.” Max looked at her with concern, trying to see if there was any injury she had missed.

“How are you feeling now? Are you OK? You’re not hurt, are you?” Victoria shook her head slowly, wincing a little as she did so.

“The back of my head is a bit sore, I’ve got one hell of a fucking headache, I look a mess, I feel so upset about everything but so fucking happy it’s really you here; but apart from all that – and feeling absolutely fucking tired and hungry - I'm fine.” Max was at loss for words, slowly realising that Victoria had saved her from being dragged into the other timeline permanently; that if it wasn't for her being there at that moment then she could have ceased to exist. Victoria had put herself at risk to save her, to keep her in this timeline, to keep them together. She looked at Victoria's face, and then made a decision.

If not now, when?

She let go of Victoria's hands and instead gently reached out to touch her face, brushing a stray hair aside from Victoria's forehead before pulling her slowly towards her. Victoria realised what she was doing and her eyes widened, before following Max's guidance and closing the distance between them. Slowly, hesitantly at first their lips touched; that initial meeting sending a shiver through both of them that shook them to the core. Victoria reached up and wrapped her arms around Max's shoulders, pulling her in closer as they both began to hungrily explore each other’s mouths, eyes closed as they fell into the moment of the touch and feel and taste and smell of each other.

Victoria let out a soft moan as Max's fingers entwined themselves through her hair; she had never thought that something like this could feel so good and real and perfect; and even better there was not even a hint of her power manifesting itself – she felt entirely in control, in the moment, kissing the girl she would give everything for and who would give everything back.

Eventually they parted, panting a little as they caught their breath, both smiling with happiness and relief. Max rested her forehead against Victoria's, staring into her eyes that seemed to glow a little, unaware that hers were doing the same.

“Thank you,” was all she said, and that seemed to be enough.



For the second time that day Max tried to clean Victoria up, but this time every touch seemed to hold a different meaning, a new level of intimacy - as if a barrier between the two had been broken. Victoria kept looking at Max shyly, as if she could not believe what had happened and was trying to reassure herself that it had, and that they were indeed there together. Eventually they up ended sitting side by side on the bed together, holding hands and gently bumping against each other. The silence between them was comfortable, more comfortable than it had ever been. Victoria turned to look at Max, eyes flickering down to her lips as she plucked up the courage to speak.

“Um can I.. can I kiss you again?” asked Victoria nervously, her voice not holding its usual strong edge. Max beamed at her, feeling a rush of warmth run through at Victoria's words.

“Of course, you don't have to ask you, know.” Victoria blushed, looking adorably awkward.

“I know, but.. I've never done this sort of thing before; I don't know how it supposed to work.”

“Well, neither have I, but I'm definitely sure that you don't have to ask permission each time.” Victoria needed no further bidding and dived in once more, hand held up against Max's face as if reassuring herself that she wouldn't suddenly disappear. This second time seemed better than the first, both of them more confident in what they were doing, sharing a moment that they both knew that there would be many more of.

“So,” Max said, in between quick kisses, as if she didn’t want to waste a precious moment not kissing her, “I guess that means you are going to be stuck with me now.”

“Mhmm, I guess,” said Victoria, running a line of kisses along Max’s jawline, making her arch her head back a little. “I think I could cope with that, though.” Max giggled a little as Victoria bit her neck, and brought her hands up to either side of Victoria's head, holding it still so she could look at her properly.

“Good. Because I’m not letting you go, not in this reality, nor in any other.” Victoria bit her lip with happiness, not daring to breathe as if just doing it would spoil the moment.

“But,” Max continued, kissing her on the lips, “that doesn’t give you a pass to not sort your shit out, OK? I told you that before, and I meant it then and I mean it now.” Victoria nodded in agreement, feeling that right now she would have agreed to anything, even a double date with Warren. She slowly lay down on the bed, dragging Max down with her.

“So what happens now?” she asked slowly. “I mean with this whole time thing. I guess destroying the photo has meant something has changed? I wonder if you will have any more visions or see any more of her.” Max snaked her hand over Victoria's waist, letting it rest on her hip as she lay alongside her. Victoria placed her arm under Max’s neck, wrapping her in an embrace and feeling unbearably happy.

“I don't think so,” Max said, breathing in the faint scent of wet wipe from where she had cleaned Victoria – a smell that would often fondly remind her of this moment. “For some reason I feel as if a part of me has gone. I mean, something that had always been hanging around in the background, like a presence. I really think that we have stabilised this timeline – the only thing to come is that point of departure in 18 moths time, when she went back – that date she warned us off. Until then, I think we just need to live our lives. You and me.” Victoria smiled at her words, then frowned.

“That's easier said than done though, isn't it – I stupidly feel like this has been the easy part. For some reason I think coming out about us to everyone will be much harder.” She laughed, and her voice sounded clear and happy. “I can't believe that coming out to everyone will be harder than preventing reality breaking apart.”

“It's as hard as we make it, I guess – but at least we can do it together. But first we have to get through restarting school tomorrow, and then there's the funeral on Tuesday. And after that..” She paused and rested her head against Victoria's. “After that, we need to find the other four butterflies that were mentioned, and also graduate, and maybe meet your parents and.. and everything. Life.”

“So, easy then.”

“Yeah.” They lay there for a moment before Victoria's stomach rumbled loudly.

“You know what? I don't care if it is like ten p.m. and we have school tomorrow, I'm fucking starving and I want to sit up late into the night eating greasy pizza with my new, hipster trash, annoying, nerdy, talented, gorgeous, fucking amazing girlfriend.” Max looked at her with shining eyes and, leaning up on an elbow, kissed her gently.

“And I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be right now than here with you – my new stuck up, stubborn, rich-bitch, wonderful, beautiful, girlfriend.”



Although Jesse had been in the Oldest House for a good year or so now, being the Director of the Federal Bureau of Control was still something she was uneasy with – it sat heavily on her; the title alone a weight of responsibility she had never looked for or wanted, but had somehow ended up with whether she had wanted it or not. She felt by and large completely out of her depth, but somehow seemed to be managing despite the mad situation she was in – even if she would readily admit that she didn't have the faintest idea what she doing to anyone and everyone, but still they trusted and believed in her. Having the confidence of the Board helped, of course, as without that she wouldn't probably wouldn’t have survived – but they were pretty short on advice / information / umbrella.

She smiled to herself at the pun she had made and looked at the doodle she was doing – a stylised drawing of herself flying through the air, weapon at the ready to rescue a certain someone.

A knock on the door made her look up; before she could answer the door opened wide and through it came the smiling - beautiful, clever, gentle, funny, cuddly, blanket stealing, certain someone her Head of Research, Emily Pope, who was clutching a customary clipboard to her chest as she strode confidently over to the oversized desk.

“Hey Jesse, have you got a minute?” Jesse quickly covered up the paper on her desk and gave her a smile.

“Hi Emily. Of course, what's up?”

“You remember those reports of unusual activity I gave you yesterday,” Emily began, her enthusiastic tone heralding something new and exciting she wanted to get her teeth into. Jesse gave a guilty sideways glance at the giant pile of paperwork next to her.

“Let’s assume I did, but could do with a reminder,” she said, knowing that Emily would not miss any chance to expound on a topic. Emily sat down opposite her, her infectious grin causing Jesse to smile along with her, as it always did.

“Well, as I did already write in that memo – which now I can see just on that pile there. I mean really, Jesse, I put some real work into that.” Emily sounded a little hurt, but she knew that Jesse preferred to be told things rather than wade through paperwork; but reports had to be written. “Anyway, if you’d read it you’d know we have been receiving information from the SCaN, GOES and TDRS systems that are currently in orbit and that this data is normally nothing interesting, unless we have an AWE which is usually picked up on the SCaN as an unusual burst of activity in the Electromagnetic Spectrum, typically in the 1019Hz range and usually isolated, one off events. In the old days of the Bureau of course we’d rely on witness sightings, folk tales and the reports we cross-reference from things sent to Dead Letters, but this collaboration has opened up a whole new range of functionality and visibility which we didn’t have before, and I’ve already tabulated several new areas of research we can do into these as it should allow us to -” Jesse held up her hand.

“Emily, slow down.” Emily took a breath and paused for a moment.

“Sorry. So, it had picked up a brief burst of unusual readings over Seattle in Oregon early in the week, which automatically triggered the alert system to send us the data.”

“We have an alert system? Wow.”

“Yes, Jesse, I also wrote that in the memo. Anyway, it can usually be just a weather anomaly which are not that uncommon, but it occurred again before shifting and then occurring at regular intervals over a small town on the coast; culminating around 12 hours ago in the sort of readings we’d probably expect to see for an AWE, or more specifically for something like.. well, Ordinary.” Jesse sat back at the mention of the name and looked thoughtful for a moment.

“I see. And what are you thinking?”

“Well, I think we should go there and investigate, see what is happening – do some tests, research - we can bring the whole -” Jesse shook her head slowly.

“No, no teams, no presence. No. Let’s just us go – you and me. Take a break, we haven’t had a proper one since the lockdown ended and it would.. would be good to just spend some time together. You, and me.” Emily crossed her arms and hugged the clipboard tight to her chest, a small flush creeping across her face. Their relationship was one of the worst kept secrets of the Bureau, but it was nowhere near what anyone would have described as ‘normal’ – and the thought of doing what a normal couple would do sounded very enticing to her.

“Yes Ma'am, Director Faden Ma'am, as you order.” Jesse scowled at her, making Emily laugh – she knew how much being called the Director annoyed her. Emily was one of the few people who had called her Jesse from the start without needing to be prompted, and Jesse had liked her straight away - a feeling which had only grown over time between them.

“Anyway, that sounds.. perfect, Jesse. We can fly to Seattle, drive down to a place to stay in the area and spend a few days looking around, maybe run a few –“

“No, no tests. No work. Fun time.” Emily looked a bit deflated, but Jesse stood up and walked around the desk behind her, placing her hands on her shoulders. She bent down and rested her chin on the top of Emily’s head.

“We can just take some walks down the coast, eat out, go for a walk in the woods.. you know, normal stuff normal people do. I’m sure we can manage it. And if there is anything, then I’m sure Polaris will let me know.” Emily closed her eyes as Jesse gently massaged her shoulders.

“That does sound.. nice. Although I might just research what couples are supposed to do on a holiday, just so I know.”

“Oh, I’m sure I can think of a few ideas myself, Dr Pope.” Jesse kissed her on the neck, making her shiver and angle it for more. “But I’ll take the service weapon, just to be on the safe side.”

“Mmm. But no flying or throwing things, remember? Not unless you have too.” Jesse made a disappointed noise, before letting her go.

“So, where is this place exactly?” Emily looked at her clipboard, double checking the information.

“It's a small old logging and fishing town I've never heard of before - Arcadia Bay.”

Chapter Text

Max's alarm beeped annoyingly, and she groggily groped with her free hand to pick up her cell and poked at it to turn it off. She saw that it was 8:30; far too early to be waking up in her mind. She still felt tired, as if she could ever have enough sleep - and then remembered something she had previously considered, but had dismissed. But right now, it suddenly seemed very appealing.

I mean technically it's practice.. so it's not like it's a complete a waste..

Max's alarm beeped annoyingly, and she once again groped for her alarm – this time around she had managed to go back 6 minutes, and she realised that she felt completely fine after doing it (although still wanting more sleep). Since the events of yesterday and the coalescing of the two timelines, she had somehow felt stronger within herself – as if her power had been magnified somehow. Either way, she was finding it easier to manipulate time than she ever had done before. Already the amount of time she could rewind was getting longer, without any of the noticeable ill effects she had had previously; she felt like all of the things she was supposed to be able to do were finally, if not in reach, at least appearing on the horizon.

Max's alarm beeped annoyingly, and she once more reached out her hand to turn it off.

“Maxine Caulfield, you do that one more time and I swear I will not be responsible for my actions.”

Ooops.

“Sorry,” she said, “I'd forgotten about that. It's not my fault your are cuddling me like a giant teddy, is it. Still, look – I managed to rewind quite a few times, and I took you with me – and the time I'm going back in a rewind, especially with you - it's getting longer. That was 12 minutes! Just think of the lie-ins I – we! - could have..”

“Mmpphhh,” came the muffled response. Victoria was face down in the pillow, one arm across Max's stomach, with her overlapping ankle providing another precious point of contact between them. True to her word, they had stayed up late eating pizza and just talking, avoiding any mentions of superpowers or alternate realities – just two eighteen year old girls hanging out together; with the added benefit of them stealing the occasional kiss – a simple action which still seemed unreal to them both; so, of course, they had to keep checking it was.

It had eventually got so late that it seemed easier for Victoria just to stay the night – and so with much feigned reluctance she put on one of Max's t-shirts to sleep in (a black one with a small rainbow flag on the front, and the words 'lez be friends' below it. Max had thought it was hilarious when she saw it in the shop), before grabbing some pyjama shorts from her own room. Max didn't point out the obvious that she could have got her own top as well, so secretly delighted she was that Victoria was wearing one of her t-shirts; especially that one.

There had been a briefly awkward moment before they got into Max's bed: it was smaller than Victoria's, meaning they were going to be in closer proximity than they had been before and there was a general shuffling around to get comfy. Eventually they had both settled on lying on their sides, facing each other. Any hope of there being something else to look forward too was swiftly shattered when they both fell instantly asleep.

Max had reluctantly set her alarm early as Victoria had made it clear that she had 'shit to do', as she had put it, and it was now this 'shit to do' that she seemed to be avoiding, her still being face down in the pillow and grumbling.

“The only reason we are awake now is because you said you had stuff to do. It doesn't look like you have that much to do to me, unless it is to undertake a thorough examination of my pillow.”

“It's a comfortable pillow,” Victoria mumbled. She turned her head to look at Max, her eyes sleepy. “Sorry, last night really took it out of me – I mean look at the t-shirt I am wearing. I must've been exhausted to have even considered wearing it.”

“It suits you,” declared Max, her face delightfully close to Victoria's. Victoria rolled her eyes, but her smile betrayed her.

“Well, I needed something to wear in an emergency. And besides, if I didn't wear anything.. well, I wouldn't have wanted you to get too excited now, would I?”

“Why not?” asked Max, her tone more serious than she had intended. Victoria frowned a little, as if trying to think of an answer.

“Because.. because we have school today? And needed some sleep?” Max gave her a disbelieving look.

“Yeah, cos a ten o'clock start is such a hardship. I used to have to do eight o'clock starts back in Seattle, it was murder.”

“Not my fault you were a public school peasant, is it,” said Victoria, ignoring the sudden poke into her ribs from Max. “Anyway, I have to go see Wells remember, don't I. Have to convince him that he needs me here for the good of the school, and the only way I can satisfy my parents enough to stay here is by pretty much taking it over in some aspects.” Max looked unconvinced, as if she was slightly uncomfortable at the thought of it all.

“It seems a bit extreme though, doesn't it? I mean.. it's a huge change for the school and you, isn't there an easier way to do it? Like maybe just talk to your parents about it a little?” Victoria laughed, but it was a laugh full of bitterness.

“Yeah, you really don't know them. Trying to have a reasonable discussion with them is just not going to happen, Max. They are so opinionated, and so convinced that they are right in everything they do, that it's just impossible. They had my entire life mapped out since I was born, to make sure it was fitting with the family I was born into.” Max decided in that moment that pointing out that her description of her parents could easily be applied to her, was perhaps not the best idea. Instead, she looked at Victoria who was now lying on her back looking up at Max's photo wall, and decided to try and find out a little bit more about her family.

I guess if I ever do meet her parents it might be useful. Besides, I should find out more about her, there's a lot I still don't know.

“Why would they map your entire life out? That sounds a bit.. well..”

Controlling? Cultish? Over bearing? Really fucking weird because it is 2013 and not 1813?” Max opened her mouth to protest but Victoria angrily waved it away. “No, it's fine, it's true. It is. But that's just what it was like growing up, this burden of expectation. You know, we are one of those annoying families that delight in tracing our heritage back to the Revolutionary War, and then showing off that we can trace it further back in France. Like some sort of genealogical badge of honour. Fucking ridiculous, as if what my great-great-great whatever did in fucking 17th Century fucking France was fucking important to me.” She stopped, as if pausing for breath, and Max leaned up on her elbow to get a better look at her. Victoria didn't seem upset, she seemed angry; as if frustrated by what hand life had dealt her.

“Well, it sounds pretty cool to me to know about your family that far back,” Max said, gently laying her hand on top of Victoria's stomach and feeling how hard and toned it felt, even through the material under her hand. “I mean we only go back a few generations before we disappear into the morass of Irish and German immigrants.” Victoria turned to look at Max briefly, before returning to stare at the photo wall.

“Well. Yes, it is I guess. I mean it would be if it wasn't used to beat me over the head with our glorious history of mercenaries, arms dealers and Robber Barons. What a glorious thing to be part of.” Victoria almost spat those last words, the venom in her voice surprising Max. “And here I am, the last one – well, the last direct one, there are a few sycophantic cousins around who would love to get their greedy paws on everything if they could. I know some were mightily disappointed when I was born and it meant that I get everything – didn't stop them trying to get my parents to marry me off to them, though.”

“That sounds awful.”

“You've got no fucking idea. Anyway, some credit to my parents I guess – they aren't that stupid. But.. as I told you before, there is an expectation for me to get married and pump out an heir. Keep the family – and the business – going, above all else.” Max gently stroked her stomach, thinking about what she had said. Victoria closed her eyes as Max slowly ran her hand up and down, unconsciously going a little bit further each time.

“Well, you still can,” Max said, “I mean it's probably only a matter of time before gay marriage is made legal here, and it already is in other countries. And having a child is not something I've ever thought about but there are ways and means there, too.” Victoria snorted with laughter.

“Steady on Max, we literally kissed for the first time yesterday and you are already talking about marriage. I mean I know I'm utterly amazing and all, but even so..” Max went bright red, and quickly removed her hand, sitting upright.

“No, no,” she stammered, “I meant just hypothetically. In the future, if you wanted too – not necessarily about us, I mean, not that if it came to it I wouldn't want to marry you assuming we were still together and everything, not that I think we would split up, but I mean you know if maybe -” Victoria poked her in the chest, hitting a part that was decidedly squishy - which Victoria did her best to pretend that she had not just touched.

“Yeah I know, I'm just teasing you. I mean it is an option, but could you imagine that conversation with them?” She sighed and closed her eyes, and Max found her self staring down at her face, admiring the line of her jaw, the proud nose and the way -

“You can either kiss me or get back to rubbing my stomach,” said Victoria, cracking open one eye, “just stop staring. It's a bit weird.” Max smiled and decided to do both; kissing her on the lips before settling back down, and this time placing her hand under the t-shirt, feeling Victoria tense slightly as she did so before she relaxed once more.

“So introducing you to my parents is going to be a complete and utter disaster, really you've got no idea how bad it is going to be. But I really enjoyed meeting yours, they just felt so nice and welcoming and.. what I imagine a normal family is like.”

“Oh my god, my parents are so not normal. This one time, when I was a freshman my Dad decided to pick me up after school to go to a game, and rather than just, you know, be normal, he turned up in full on ice hockey gear blaring an air-horn. I've never cringed so much in my life. I'm convinced that all my social cred evaporated that day.”

“Wait, you had social cred?”

“Oh be quiet, Chase. I'm cool. Everyone thinks I'm cool. You think I'm cool, don't you?”

“Max, anyone who thinks of themselves as cool isn't 'cool'. And who even says cool now? That's really not cool.”

“Whatever. Well you're stuck with me now, so you'd better make me cool or suffer the ignominy having me around you. Anyway, I'm happy you liked meeting my parents. They told me they'd like to meet you again. For some reason.”

“They would?” said Victoria with genuine delight. “I'd love that as well. I mean only if you want me to, of course. We don't have to tell them that we are.. you know.” Max slid her hand gently across Victoria's tummy, delighting in the feel of the skin underneath her fingers, letting them follow the dips between her abs.

“Mmm, I think I could make that happen,” she said, “providing you behave. But if we do go, then you go as my girlfriend, nothing less. They practically thought you were anyway, I think, that time you came over. They dropped enough really unsubtle hints.” Victoria didn't answer for a moment; she was either thinking about what Max's parents thought of her, or more likely the fact that Max's fingers were definitely getting a little more adventurous in their exploration of Victoria's stomach.

“I would like that,” she said eventually. “To be able to be open about this part of me with at least some people will be such a relief for me. I mean it's going to suck here for a while but it'll get better. I'll make it get better.” That last part was said with a grim determination; having decided on this course for her life, she was now going to see it succeed no matter what – and Max had better be prepared to be dragged along with her. Any further talk from Victoria was cut short by the feeling of Max's fingertips gently swirling down below her stomach, grazing the top of her shorts.

“Yeah, about that,” Max said. “I want to do all sort of sickening couple stuff with you, but.. honestly, I'm afraid of what people will think. Certain people specifically. And especially as this is so soon after.. everything that happened. It's not like we can tell people how we have really got together, is it? People will think that there is some ulterior motive from..” Max paused, unwilling to voice what she thought, and instead concentrated on what her hand was doing and giving Victoria a kiss on the cheek.

Max's thoughts were increasingly being occupied by visions of her Saturday night, and she could feel herself getting hotter and hotter at that memory. This was being coupled with the very subject of that vision literally being at the end of her fingertips.

“Me?” finished Victoria, with a loud snort. “That's.. harsh, but fair, I guess. I know I have a shit reputation, and it is going to take a fuck load of work to turn it around. But I will. I want to.” There was a heavy silence as they both seemed to feel the air suddenly feeling very thick and hot, as Max bent over Victoria again to give her a kiss, whilst her fingers moved slowly upwards in circles.

“So do I,” said Max in thick voice, her eyes alive with desire as she bent in and kissed Victoria again. “We can make.. it work.” Her fingers swirled further upwards until they brushed up against Victoria's breast, causing her to sharply breathe in and then gently grab Max's arm.

“Max,” she said, “I.. I.. erm... I mean.. can we.. just stop a second?” Max froze and then swiftly withdrew, looking mortified.

“I'm sorry, so sorry,” she stammered, “I thought.. I just... I mean.. I really like you and.. I thought you..” Max looked away, biting her lip, clearly upset. Victoria sat up and gently put an arm around her shoulders.

“Max, I really like you too,” she said, “but I literally had my first proper meaningful kiss with a girl last night, and I'm not quite ready to go that far just right now. I mean I really, really want too, the thought is on my mind like all the time, but.. I just want it to be.. good. I've never done it before, and I'm afraid that I'd be.. disappointing.” Max turned her head to look at her, and her face was full of earnestness.

“But it doesn't have to be absolutely perfect,” she said quickly, “I mean just being with you is amazing and so would everything! Trust me, I know as -” She bit her lip, cutting herself off and looking embarrassed. Victoria squinted her eyes and looked at Max with suspicion.

“You know? What do you mean, Max? Is there something you're not telling me?” Max suddenly seemed fascinated by her duvet cover, picking at it as if there was a loose thread she had to attend to. Victoria watched her for a second, before grabbing her hand to stop her.

“Stop it, it's annoying. I have to say, though,” she remarked, “you have surprised me by how.. confident, I guess is the word, you are about this all. I mean I would have never have thought that you'd be so.. explorative so soon.” Max huffed and looked a little affronted.

“Just because I'm a little awkward sometimes with people doesn't mean I don't think about or enjoy sex stuff, Vic,” she said. “I'm just like anyone else.”

“I know, I know.. but I did think you had no prior experience in it like me, am I wrong? You still haven't done it yet, have you - like me?” Max bobbed her head a little, as if uncertain.

“I.. I guess, yes,” she said in a voice so quiet Victoria nearly missed it.

“You guess? Did you have another relationship before then? I mean that's fine, you can tell me..” Victoria paused, then her eyes widened and put a hand to her head. “It's not Warren is it? Please god, tell me it's not Warren?”

“No!” said Max explosively, as if the very thought caused her pain. “Oh my god Victoria, don't even.. just no. Of course it's not, that's.. I mean.. come on.” She winced a little, as if thinking about it a little too much, before turning to fully look at Victoria. She took a deep breath and looked at her directly, making sure she had both of Victoria's hands safely in hers. “Promise.. promise me you won't get mad when I tell you. Promise.”

“Max..” said Victoria, trying to extricate her hands as a pained expression worked its way across her face. “What did you do..? It wasn't Taylor, was it? I knew she was too hot to let her be anywhere near you, I should've have..” Max shook her head impatiently.

“No, Vic, just -”

“Fuck me, it's Dana isn't it? I knew it, that's why she is always so fucking nice to you. I hope that massive rack of hers was fuc-” She was cut-off by Max lunging at her, using her lips to silence her mid sentence. Despite herself Victoria kissed her back, forgetting her rant as she once again found herself enjoying the sensation of kissing her new girlfriend. Max eventually drew back and looked at her, face slightly flushed.

“Right, are you going to listen to me now?” Victoria nodded, licking her lips as she did so and looking hungrily back at Max's mouth. Max twisted her fingers together as she worked up the courage to explain, fearing it would not go down well at all, no matter how she tried to explain it.

“Right, then. OK, well, don't get mad or anything, but it was.. you.” Victoria blinked in surprise at her words, before looking puzzled.

“Me? But.. we've never..” Her face turned serious and she appraised Max with a cautious look. “Wait, you haven't been fucking around with time and with me, have you? We agreed that.. but no, you'd never, would you..?” Max vigorously shook her head.

“No, of course not, I would never – that would be.. just, eugh. No.” She breathed in deeply before continuing, watching Victoria's reaction to her words carefully. “So on Saturday night I sort of had another.. time in the other reality.” Max slowly explained what she had experienced, and how she had felt what the other Max was feeling - and how she just might have enjoyed herself as well. “Honestly, having two orgasms at the same time in different realities, one of them down to you, was just.. mind blowing.” There was a silence that began to stretch longer and longer, and Max looked worriedly at Victoria, who was just staring off into the distance. Eventually the silence became too much for her to bear and she felt she had to fill it.

“Victoria, say something, please? You're not mad at me, are you? Are you?” She reached out to touch Victoria's arm in a gesture of reassurance, but Victoria didn't seem to even notice.

“Vic? Hey.. I'm still here.. waiting..” Max tried to keep her tone light but it was increasingly becoming tinged with worry. Eventually, after what seemed an eternity Victoria sighed sadly and looked at Max. She didn't appear to be angry; she just looked sad and resigned, as if she had lost something that she could not get back.

“I'm not mad, Max. Not at you. I am mad at the fucking universe though. It's just so... so unfair. I wanted to be the one who you had your first time with, I wanted to be able to make you happy and make it all amazing and everything.” She held up a hand to forestall Max's objections. “No, Max, despite it being me to you, it wasn't me. It was.. other me. And other Max. She was the one who did it.. not me. And I wanted to be the one.. when I was ready, when I knew I wouldn't fuck it up or not make it good. It had to be perfect, I had to be good at it. So I was going to have a whole plan and everything and now.. now I've been fucked over by myself. Fucking brilliant.” She let out a bitter laugh and looked down at her lap, looking miserable. Max quickly shuffled over and just hugged her, resting her head on her shoulder.

Max didn't know what to say or do; nothing she had read in the magazines she had stolen from her Mom and read voraciously in her room when she was younger, or what she had read on the internet as she got older, had prepared her for this eventuality in a relationship. But then, maybe nothing could; maybe this was just something they had to figure out for themselves.

“We're less than a day in and I'm already messing things up,” she said quietly. “I'm so sorry, Victoria. I just didn't think. Do.. do you want me to take it all back? Make it so it didn't happen?”

“What?” Victoria exclaimed, before grabbing Max's arm to make sure she couldn't rewind without her. “Don't you dare. That's such a.. a Max thing to suggest. No, I am – we are – dealing with this. No do - overs, Max, not for this – I'll just find out again anyway, won't I?” Max didn't say anything but went back to hugging Victoria, this time keeping her mouth firmly shut so as not to make things any worse.

“I really don't know what to think Max, it's so.. ugh, I know it's not your fault but like I.. really wanted it to be our first time together, you know? Like for both of us..”

“But it will be,” said Max quickly, “It will be – what happened didn't really happen, you were not actually there. It was just like a.. memory, a feeling. Not like the real thing will be, not with you here. Like really here.” Victoria smiled thinly, knowing Max was just trying to comfort her but appreciating the gesture regardless.

“Of course it will, everything is better with me there.” There was another silence, this one slightly less worrisome to Max than the last. However Victoria was clearly thinking about something, judging by the frown on her face and Max looked at her, expectant; but once more after a short while she couldn't bear it any longer.

“What? Tell me. Stop frowning like that, it worries me.” Victoria hummed in her throat.

“It's.. well, it's silly. But like.. you've seen me naked now, haven't you?” The image of a naked Victoria flashed once more across Max's mind, making her face flush.

“Um, yeah. I have; it's kinda hard to forget to be honest..”

“That's another thing which is unfair.” Max looked at her, and then without even really thinking about it let go and started tugging at her top, beginning to pull it up over her head.

“Max.. what.. what are you doing?” said Victoria, half shocked and half trying not to laugh.

“Making it fair to you,” said Max from somewhere underneath her top. “Argh, my arm is stuck, can you help me.. I can't..” Victoria went to tug her top back down again, but not before making sure she got a good look at the Max underneath it as she did so.

“Stop it, silly, you're being ridiculous now. You don't need to do that.” With Victoria's help Max pulled her top back down, looking slightly sheepish.

“I.. I just wanted you to not feel left out. I am being really ridiculous, aren't I?”

“Yup.” Victoria smiled at her and ran her hand through Max's hair, before pulling her forward for a kiss. “Look, it's just going to take me a bit of time to think through this, OK? But it'll be fine, I promise. I'm just upset that.. that my grand plan has been destroyed by me. I'm such a bitch, aren't I.”

“Yes, you are,” said Max, smiling carefully at her and looking a little relieved that Victoria didn't seem to annoyed. “But you are my bitch. And I know you got a good look a moment ago either, so.. consider yourself busted!” Victoria laughed a little, and her smile was genuine.

“Yeah, OK. I did. We're even.”

“And?”

“What do you mean, and?”

“And did you like what you saw?” Victoria opened her mouth to answer, then pointed at Max.

“You first. You've seen everything.” Max shrugged, and answered easily.

“You're hot. But you know that.”

“Eh, let's not get into the insecurities I have over my body. But you are also hot as fuck, Max. Like really. I'm so lucky.”

“We both are, then.” They looked at each other then burst out laughing. Victoria made pretend gagging motions, as if to hide her real feelings.

“Oh my god, listen to us - we are sickening.” Max nodded enthusiastically, and leaned up against Victoria happily.

“I know! It's so good!”

“God you're such a dork. Anyway, as lovely as this is I have to go. Wells waits for no man – but he will wait for this woman. Well, hopefully he will.” She stood up but Max grabbed her arm and pulled her back down again for a kiss. After a few minutes Victoria pushed her away and tried to get off the bed again.

“Max, I mean it,” she said, “I'll be late.” Max grabbed her arm again, and Victoria felt herself being taken back through time.

“Not if I do that,” murmured Max, pulling her down once more. After another few minutes Victoria broke away once more.

“No Max, I mean it – I have to go. I don't want you hurting yourself when we can do this any time. Besides, I don't want you to have too much of a good thing.” Max flumped herself back down into the bed, pouting.

“You're assuming you're a good thing, Chase. Don't you go getting a big head, now. Well, a bigger one than you have.” Victoria blew her a kiss and walked to the door and paused, turning to look back at Max as if memorising the moment.

Max looked at her as she stood there, face soft and gentle, shorn of all its hard edges and pretence; in that moment to Max she looked like the most beautiful thing in the world. She found it hard to believe that Victoria Chase, the Victoria Chase, was standing there in all her perfection, dressed in her silly t-shirt with her hair all mussed up and makeup free, and that she was hers.

“Well, let me know how it goes with Wells,” she said. “You'll be fine.” Victoria gave her a smile, before nodding confidently.

“Of course I will – and no matter what, I'm not leaving you. And I'm certainly not letting my parents try and send me anywhere else. See you later.” She turned and opened the door, mind already planning for what she needed to wear and exactly what face to put on to overawe Wells, to reinforce the impression that she was the one in charge, not him. She stopped suddenly, her departure arrested by the person standing in front of her.

“Oh. Kate.”