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Kate walked down the corridor with a spring in her step - although school was restarting and she didn't have a particular love for most subjects, she was quite looking forward to the resumption and a return to at least a pretence of normality after the events of the past few weeks.

Her Sunday evening had been an uneventful mixture of preparation for the week and then an unexpected visit from Dana, who had said she was just checking up on her before the week commenced - a check-up that had lasted a pleasant few hours of idle chatter.

Now she was on the way to call on Max to make sure she was up and ready for their first classes - and also to make sure she booked her for lunch before someone else did first; the image of an eager faced boy coming to mind. She went to knock on Max's door when it opened unexpectedly in front of her.

Kate stood there transfixed, her eyes seeing but not believing; her eyes flickering from Victoria’s face down to the t-shirt with those words and flag on it, and then beyond; beyond to her one true friend here who was looking at her, eyes wide and guilty as if she knew that she had betrayed her trust by being with the person who had seemed determined to make her life a misery. No, not just being, but clearly doing something with her.

Kate looked and looked but still couldn’t understand it, until she ran, ignoring the shouts behind her – her stomach knotted, throat sore but lancing through it all was the thought of why was Victoria wearing that t-shirt and why was Max oh Lord no oh no Max and Victoria but she is one of them then why oh Jesus help me –

 

Max was the first to react, leaping off the bed and towards the door with an explosive shout.

“Kate! Wait! Don’t-” But it was too late; Kate was gone and it was just her and Victoria, caught as they were surely always going to be at some point, but that didn’t make it any easier. “FUCK!” she groaned, running her hand through her hair in agitation.

“Well, that was awkward,” remarked Victoria lightly. Max pushed her angrily.

“No, Victoria, this is not funny. This.. this is all your fucking fault, if you hadn’t been such a fucking bitch to her, bullied her for weeks just because she was a bit different then none of this would have happened. This is all your fault!” Victoria stepped back from her, eyes wide; her instant reaction was to attack back but the look on Max's face told her that it was the worst thing she could do.

“Max, I’m sorry but you know -” Max’s finger was in her face and her eyes were positively glowing – Victoria could sense her rage, feel something coiled within her ready to burst out. She was vaguely aware of what Max had told her about what the other Max had done, of what she had been capable of – and right now she was reminded by the glimpse of the other Max she had seen, so hard and cold and dangerous, and for the first time Victoria was afraid of her.

“No, don’t you fucking dare. She deserves none of this, and you know what - you are going to fix it. You are going to make sure that girl knows you are sorry and you are going to crawl on your fucking knees until she forgives you, do you understand me?” Max’s voice was a low growl, all the love and affection of a few minutes ago vanished in the blink of an eye. “And until you do, Victoria, it will always be between us. You want this shiny future with me? Fucking work for it.” Victoria didn’t say anything but just looked down at the floor. She felt as if her heart had been ripped out of her chest and smashed into pieces in front of her – and the worst thing was, the real worst thing – was that Max was right.

“OK, but you need-” was all she managed in a small voice, but Max was not finished yet.

“You know what the worst thing about all this is?” she said, her voice cold and unfeeling. “I'm pretty sure Kate is gay as well.” Victoria’s face was a perfect picture of astonishment, swiftly replaced with confusion and then guilt as the ramifications ran through her mind. Max looked at her dispassionately, arms folded.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said, twisting the knife a little bit more. “The girl you’ve harassed for no reason at all is suffering in exactly the same way as you. So well fucking done there, Victoria. Bravo.” There was a long silence as Victoria didn’t say anything but just continued looking down at the floor, face blank; Max watched her and noticed a single tear slowly roll down her cheek before it fell frozen to the floor. Victoria gave a little sniffle and wiped an eye, but still didn’t move - Max could feel the cold radiating out from her, and shivered a little.

Max felt her rage abate a little, the hot fire within her cooling as she a little guiltily watched the person she knew she wanted to be with suffer at the hands of her own words; standing there and just taking it – so unlike the Victoria she knew. She also knew that she had felt something, an anger and fury that she didn’t know she had within her, and it left her feeling frightened, but alive. She knew it was a dangerous path to step on, having seen where it could lead, all this power, this potential; so she quashed the feeling away from her, stowing it away into a box in her mind and trying to lock it tight. She felt a little guilty about having reacted so bad and reached out to take Victoria’s cold hand in hers.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” she said gently, running her fingers over the frozen skin, trying to ignore the biting cold entering her own fingers. “I really am. I overreacted. It’s just.. we’ve been avoiding this stuff all week and it had to come out sometime. I just wish it hadn’t been this way, but I can fix that.” She concentrated and spun the world back for them, giving them as far as she could tell a few minutes before Kate would knock once more. “There.. we are back to where we were. We’ve been given a chance to make this right, Vic, so.. so let’s not waste it.” Victoria looked at her and Max saw her eyes were red, framing the bright green as she tried to control herself.

“Max I've never seen you like this before. It worries me - I don't like it, nor what you are saying to me. But.. do you.. do you hate me now because of this?” said Victoria quietly, her voice uncertain. “All.. all of what we did, is.. is it..” Max raised her hand to Victoria cheek and brushed away a tiny trail of frost.

“Don’t be silly,” she laughed, “of course I don’t. This doesn’t take away from everything else, but it is something we need to deal with. If you want to be out about this is then you need to convince Kate that you are trying to do better. And not just Kate, but everyone else.”

“OK, fine” said Victoria again, nodding a little and trying a small smile. “But I’m not going to be a doormat Max, that’s not who I am. You know that, changing from that is just as false as.. hiding everything.” Max pulled her into a hug and Victoria rested her head on Max’s shoulder, closing her eyes.

“I know, Vic, I know. And that’s what makes you special, all those little things. But being a doormat doesn’t mean you have to belittle and be mean to everyone else. You’d get further being just you, I think – just show people the real you and who cares what they think about that.” Victoria swayed with Max a little, slowly returning to a more normal temperature.

“Easier to say than to do,” she said, "and you are lucky I like you, or.."

“Only like? But I know it's hard,” said Max, “but small steps. The first thing you should do is apologise to Kate. But not now, her finding you here is going to be super bad, as we just saw.”

“Right," said Victoria, drawing herself upright and mentally shaking herself. “I can do this, of course I can – and if she doesn’t accept it, I’ll freeze her fucking ass off.” Max rolled her eyes.

“Victoria..”

“Just joking, just joking.. and really, she’s gay?”

“Yes, I'm pretty much certain but don’t you dare mention it, OK? She is keeping it a secret and needs time to deal with it, I think.” Victoria nodded thoughtfully, before turning to leave once more. She opened the door to check the corridor was clear and was about to leave when she felt Max pull her back and kiss her on the lips.

“Sorry for being so mean,” she said, “but you kinda deserved it. I just want this to work – we've only got 580 days until I might be erased from existence, so.. no time to waste.”

“Apology accepted, for now. And you're actually counting the days down?”

“Yes, I am. Now shoo, so I don’t need to rewind again.”

 

Victoria sat outside of the office and ran once again through the pages of documents and notes she had contained within the plain binder. She knew that everything was there - she had checked often enough - and she hated to admit it, but she was nervous.

A Chase is never nervous, Victoria. A Chase always knows what they want and knows how to get it. Failure is something we do not do, it’s what makes us out to be different from everyone else.

She could see the scene in her mind, her Dad staring at her from across the dining room table as he read one of her school reports, wanting an explanation as to why it was only a B+ instead of an A on one stupid paper out of a million of them.

That was like 5 years ago, and it still gets to me. I hate it. Everything has to be perfect; I have to be perfect, have to succeed..

She took a breath to compose herself – the last thing she needed was to accidentally fire a chunk of ice at Wells head, as tempting as that would be.

You can do this. For Max. For you.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the door opening and the large figure of Wells appearing, looking down at her with a friendly, if tired, face. He had bags under his eyes as if he had not been sleeping well, which all things considered Victoria thought was quite likely, given the media storm that had descended on him the past week – along with his numerous interviews with a suspicious law enforcement system. Victoria had come to the realisation that Principal Wells was a deeply flawed man – his desire to keep the school running (and himself in a job) had caused him to take the Prescott money, and to turn a blind eye to the various problems that caused – instead of protecting the pupils under his charge, he instead protected the institution and by extension his own position. That, however, was now under threat – his negligence had left him deeply exposed and vulnerable.

And here I am telling him to take my money instead and that there will be strings attached – but they will be different strings. Better strings.

“Ah, Ms Chase, good morning,” he said smoothly, as if everything was alright with the world. “I must say I was surprised to receive your request for a meeting, but I always have time for one of Blackwell’s more prestigious students. Please, step into my office.” Victoria stiffly stood up and followed him, her skin already crawling with distaste at his obsequious manner – something he only seemed to reserve for those who he thought had the potential to be a wealthy patron of the school. Someone like Max who was on a scholarship he would hardly give the time of day for, and the thought rankled.

I get away with so much more shit than Max does, just because this bastard knows I have money. It’s so unfair now I think about it – but why has it taken this week for me to see it as is it really is?

Because you enjoyed the status it gave you, Vic, and what did you care for anyone else before?

Her mind was occupied with these thoughts as she sat down opposite Wells, who took his time in settling down into his chair before leaning forward to appraise her over steepled fingers. Victoria looked with interest around his office, noticing in particular the giant bird on his desk that she could immediately identify as a cheap, mass produced knock off.

“Ms Chase, you requested a meeting this morning ahead of the restart of the school year, and I have to say I admire your resilience and fortitude in light of recent events and trust that you will continue to be a shining example of the can-do spirit of Blackwell during these troubled times.” Victoria didn't respond and just shifted a little in her chair, knowing that Wells was just trying to flatter her.

“Now,” he continued, “to what do I owe the pleasure of this meeting? Is there something I can be of assistance of?” Victoria nearly rolled her eyes; there was no way he would be speaking like this to anyone else at this moment in time. In a way she pitied him; it must really have dented his ego to have to talk like this to her, but then she realised he had largely put himself into this position.

Show time. Time to work that Chase magic.

“Thank you for your time, Principal Wells,” she began, clutching tightly to her folder as she tried to remember all the things she had detested about what she had, on the odd occasion she has been there,  seen her father do in business meetings. “I have a proposition that you may find of interest. I understand that Blackwell relies to a certain degree on private donations, which enable it to operate at the high standard that is expected due to its reputation.” Wells leaned back a little, his expression changing from one of indulgence to a more calculated look; this was clearly not where he had been expecting the conversation to go.

“With the current legal problems facing the Prescott family,” Victoria continued, delicately circulating around a topic she, and she suspected Wells, had no desire to get further into, “and them being the major benefactor to Blackwell, it is clear to me that Blackwell may be facing something of a funding crisis.” Wells face twitched a little and Victoria knew that she had hit a nerve, but he recovered well.

“I can assure you, Ms Chase, that the future of this Academy will be secured in due course. Now, admittedly there may be a short-term funding shortage, however that should not affect the students or syllabus in any manner. You should not have any concerns that your stay here is -” She held up a hand cutting him off, to which he looked mildly annoyed.

“You misunderstand, my leaving here because of a lack of adequate facilities – although that is something I wish to talk to you about – is not the issue here. I want to stay, and for that to be possible there has to be certain.. changes. Changes that would, of course, come with an appropriate level of funding.” That last sentence caught his interest and he folded his arms, motioning for her to continue and watching her carefully – his impression of her updating by the second as he recalculated just what this girl wanted.

“I assume you know a little about my, uh, family background?” said Victoria. Wells shrugged noncommittally.

“I am aware that you come from a family wealthy enough to pay the fees, Ms Chase, and you have never not donated money when requested. However, it is not generally within my purview to pry into the background of my students, unless there is some extra-curricular or welfare requirement.” Victoria reached into her binder and pulled out a few sheets of paper.

“Here are the most recent details of my own, my family and the business’ finances, as per end of the last financial year. Naturally that is only the publicly available information, needless to say we have considerable private assets that you do not need to know about. I took the liberty of getting my lawyer to prepare a summary for your benefit on the bottom of page two.” Wells took his time scanning over the documents, unconsciously licking his lips as his eyes jumped from figure to figure.

“I see,” he said eventually, his tone trying to stay even. “That is indeed, as you say, considerable.” Victoria handed him another sheet of paper.

“As you can see, the levels of funding we could provide, if we chose, dwarf the previous levels of funding that you received previously, by a considerable factor. Therefore, we would be willing to fund Blackwell Academy for the foreseeable future, obviously dependant on certain conditions, with the funding being commensurate to what is required to make Blackwell truly the premier destination in Oregon, if not the north-west of the country.” Victoria had rehearsed this bit over and over, trying to play to Wells' ego. Wells fell for it hook, line and sinker.

“Blackwell Academy already has as you know a premier reputation; however, you are correct that it is primarily funding that has held this institution back at present, and thus your proposal would, uh, suffice to help propel it towards a higher standard. However, you stated that there would be certain conditions?” Victoria pulled out a thicker document, closely written in dense legalese, and placed it down on the table between them.

“Quite simply, I propose that this school becomes semi-affiliated with Chase Industries. This would entail, in light of recent events, the installation of a new Security Team under our control, a new..”

 

Max and Kate had arranged that morning to meet up after algebra class for lunch – with Math Lab afterwards and then what should have been Photography class; but given recent events that was now on hold whilst a new teacher was found – something they were both grateful for. Some time away from that classroom and its association would be a good thing for everyone, and so in the meantime they had a free period instead.

For now, though, the focus was on getting something to eat and just surviving through the first day, before the general routine of school gradually washed away the traumatic memories of the week before from the collective consciousness. To Max it seemed unfair that this would happen, she felt like the memory of Chloe (and Rachel) should be kept alive, that it shouldn’t eventually be forgotten – but then she reminded herself that she had pretty much done exactly that with Chloe, so she couldn’t blame others for forgetting over time as well.

Kate and Max left the classroom and walked down the corridor, both of them discussing the fact that they had no clue what the teacher had been on about.

“I mean it’s all very well writing something on the board and then going ‘and, of course, it simplifies down to blah blah blah’ and I’m just sitting there going ‘OH, of course it does, silly me’.” Max rubbed the back of her neck and groaned. “I’m so going to fail this, it’s just.. impossible.” Kate hummed in sympathy.

“Yes, it’s not the easiest is it. I’m not sure how it is ever going to help me draw better, but.. got to get that graduation and into university.” The corridor was busy as the classrooms all emptied, and they weaved their way through the crowd towards the cafeteria.

“University? That seems a long way off, but I guess we need to start applying in – oof!” Max's words were cut short when someone barged into her, knocking her to the ground.  Kate rushed to get down next to her, helping her up.

“Max, you OK? You fell -” Max pushed her away angrily, standing up to stare after the retreating back of someone who, judging by his jacket, was one of the anonymous members of the football team.

“Hey – that hurt! Are you going to apologise for bumping into me? Hey!” He ignored her and just carried on walking, and Max felt an anger rise up inside of her - despite everything that had happened last week, nothing seemed to have changed.

People think I – we - are weak, to be pushed around and bullied like they do to Daniel every day. That we don't matter. Like Chloe didn't matter, or Kate, or even Rachel.

But I have changed. I am not putting up with this.

Not now.

Not ever.

She took a few steps forwards and almost on instinct she thrust out her hand, feeling her power trigger as she slowed then began to speed up time - just as she had experimented with before, yet this time it seemed to just come naturally, as if it was something she just knew how to do and was now merely an extension of herself. It wasn't seamless, and she clearly had to practice more but it was there – and she went to strike out, to punish him for what he had done; to make an example of him that things were going to fucking change around here, that she was now here and no-one was going to fuck abo-

Max..

What are you doing?

She paused, and time slowed back down to a crawl as she looked around her at the busy corridor and the students going about their business, and the guy a step ahead seemingly oblivious to the looming vengeance behind him.

This is the second time today you've lost it, what's wrong with you?

This isn't you. You know where this leads.

Max gradually relaxed her hand from the clenched fist it was in, and time began to flow normally once more, but the world seemed dim and foggy, as if she was observing the world from underwater. She felt a little shaken, as if she was walking along a cliff edge where the slightest gust of wind would blow her over, down into the darkness where something waited. What she needed was a rope, an anchor, to stop her from falling off it – unbidden into her mind came a flash of green eyes, a smile, a touch – as when it was away from her, the temptation to fall, to see what lay in the abyss below was overwhelming.

This power.. with it I can do anything, be anything, rule over an-

“Max?” Kate's voice, piercing the fog of her thoughts and making the world suddenly seem bright and loud once more. Max turned to look at her concerned face and gave her a reassuring smile.

Lock the box.

“Hey, I'm OK, sorry – just a bit of a shock that's all. Banged my elbow.” She rubbed it to try and add credence to her lie, and Kate seemed to accept it given the gentle smile she got in return.

“Come on then, let's go get some food.” Kate looked in the direction that the guy had gone, a frown on her face. “I hate this place sometimes,” she murmured under her breath, before looking back at Max. “You know I never realised how blue your eyes could be, sometimes,” she remarked. “Like just now, the way the light caught them made them almost glow. It was quite beautiful.” She stopped then covered how mouth, blushing. “I mean, not that I look at them much, I was just saying you know, that.. well..” Max winked at her.

“Careful Kate, or I might think you have a crush on me,” she said jovially, while at the same time her mind raced with a new thought.

Do my eyes get like Victoria's when I use my power? Shit, why have I never thought about that? I should ask her.

Kate didn't answer but seemed to have a pained expression on her face that Max was oblivious to at that moment, so wrapped up in her own thoughts was she. They made their way without further incident to the cafeteria which was already quickly filling up, so Kate bagged them a table while Max went up and got them lunch; a couple of none too appetising sandwiches and a pre-packaged fruit bowl each.

“Here you go, about the best they have,” said Max, sitting down opposite and passing the food to Kate. Kate unwrapped her sandwich and looked at it with little enthusiasm.

“You know,” she said, taking the smallest nibble possible, “given how much the fees are here you'd think the food would be better.”

“Hmm,” said Max in agreement, but devouring her sandwich nonetheless. Kate watched her for a moment, clearly wanting to ask her something but trying to find the right words.

“Max,” she said carefully, “I wanted to just ask you something. Which you don't have to talk about if you don't want too, but..” Max put her sandwich down and eyed her warily, wondering what it could be, and waited. Kate fiddled with her spoon nervously before putting it down on the table and clasping her hands together.

“Tomorrow. I.. I know it's Chloe's funeral, and I know that you are going,” she said, watching Max's reaction carefully. “I.. I know the pastor who is doing the service, and I am going. In fact, Dana is giving me a lift there, as she is going as well.” Max's face was impassive, but Kate could see that she was trying to suppress her emotion. “So if you need anything, even if it's just a shoulder to cry on, then you know.. just.. ask. I'll be there for you if you need it.” Max looked at her and her face seemed to crease, as if pent up emotion was threatening to burst forth. She went to say something but the words didn't seem to come out, and she just wordlessly nodded then reached out to grasp Kate's hand. Kate gave her a reassuring smile then continued in a soft voice, as if she was speaking to an elderly relative.

“I know you don't believe in this sort of thing but I do, and I believe she is in a better place now and probably looking down at you and wondering what all the fuss is about.” Max smiled weakly at her, knowing that Kate was meaning well but that if she found out the truth – that Chloe was sacrificed for what was supposed to be the greater good, and that the greater good seemed to involve the one person she actively appeared to despise – then Kate's sentiments might be slightly more Old Testament.

Besides, how can I ever believe in a God when I am almost like one myself? Not that it has done me or Chloe any good.

Do I have to believe in myself? Ha, now there's a double meaning.

I hope I don't need to write a holy book or anything.

“Thank you, Kate,” she said, “that means a lot to me, it really does. It's going to be difficult, but.. my feelings don't matter. It's Joyce’s – Chloe's mum – that are important. She needs my – our – support more.” Kate squeezed her hand then picked up her sandwich once more.

“You're such a good person, Max,” she said, words that just reinforced the hollow feelings of guilt Max kept feeling inside of her whenever she spoke to Kate. Kate didn't appear to notice; instead her attention was grabbed by something else. “Although, that can't be said about everyone.” Max followed her gaze and a dull feeling entered her stomach – for there entering the cafeteria was Victoria.

Victoria paused, scanning the room and her gaze fell on Max with the ghost of a smile, and then on Kate where her face became troubled. She stood there a little indecisively, before slowly walking over to the pair. Max could see out of the corner of her eye Kate visibly shrinking within herself and she wished that she could tell Kate the truth – the whole truth – in that moment, to try and make her feel less afraid of Victoria.

Victoria ended up standing awkwardly in front of them, picking at her fingers as she did so; her whole mannerisms so out of character for her that Kate seemed to be overcome with curiosity, her anxiousness in facing Victoria forgotten as she wondered what was about to happen.

“Hi Max. Hi Kate.” There was an awkward silence as the three girls all looked at each other. Victoria looked at Max for help but was met with a stony refusal; Kate looked at Max staring at Victoria and received no help either. Kate eventually took the lead and cautiously answered her; anything to break the lengthening and increasingly uncomfortable silence.

“Um, hi? What do you want, Victoria?” Victoria breathed out as if in relief and replied to a point roughly 2 centimetres to the left of Kate's head, her jaw set in a grimace as if she was forcibly controlling each word that left her mouth.

“I was just wondering if you were free this afternoon when we were supposed to be having photography? I wanted to just have a quick talk with you. Alone.” Kate eyed her suspiciously, fearing that it was some sort of trap – but Victoria was just standing there alone and looked even more out of sorts, fidgeting with her hands. Kate subconsciously rubbed her hands together, as if feeling a slight cold breeze, while Max crossed her arms around her chest.

“I was going to do something with Max this afternoon, so.. if you don't mind I'd prefer it if she was around as well?” Victoria looked mildly panicked and darted a glance at Max – Kate couldn't see Max’s expression anymore, but whatever it was seemed to make Victoria relax a little, although her expression remained blank.

“That's fine - we can meet you outside the front, Vic – Victoria,” said Max with surprising warmth in her voice. Kate looked at Max questioningly but went along with her friend.

“Yes, that should be OK," she said  "I.. I guess we'll speak later then?” Victoria nodded stiffly and spun around on the spot, marching off across the cafeteria to get her own food. Kate watched her go, a bemused expression on her face.

“Well, I'm not going to lie - that was weird.” Max turned back to face Kate, a strange expression momentarily on her face that quickly disappeared.

“I.. I think she is not as bad as you think Kate. I mean, don't get me wrong, she has been a complete and utter bitch and bully to us both in the past – especially you, and there is no escaping that. But.. but I think she wants to try and make amends. She didn't know about anything to do with.. with what Jefferson was up to, and I think it's hit her harder than she makes out.”

“Since when have you been talking to Victoria Chase?” asked Kate, a sceptical look on her face. “I know you want to be friends with everyone, Max, but sometimes people are just mean because that is how they are and nothing will change it.” Max looked at her with a pained expression.

“That's.. that's very judgemental of you, Kate. I don't want to do the whole religion thing, but.. isn't part of it that you shouldn't be so swift to judgement? Yes I know, that's despite all the evidence you have had from her previous actions – I'm just saying, people can change. Like you.”

“Me? What do you mean..?”

“Well.. just look at how quickly you've started hanging out with Dana now, and buying new clothes and just.. being more confident about yourself. And that's just in a week! So if you can do it, then why not someone else?” Kate pulled a face, as if not liking what she was being told.

“I'll believe it when I see it Max, and even then I'm not sure I could ever trust her to actually change.”

 

After their lesson after lunch Max and Kate made their way out of the building and towards the statue - the grounds were quite empty as they appeared to be the only ones with a free period. It was empty apart from the lone figure of Victoria, who was walking up and down while animatedly talking on her cell. Max and Kate walked past her, Max catching her eye as she did so. Victoria gave her a surreptitious nod before returning to her conversation.

“No, you listen to me - You will be there along with everyone else. No, no fucking arguments, understand? No, I don't give a shit about that, we are all doing it. Because I say so, and if you had any sliver of decency..”

Wow. I feel sorry for whoever she is speaking too, it sounds serious. I wonder what it was about?

Max's thoughts on it were interrupted by Kate motioning her to sit down with her besides a tree - it wasn't quite cold enough to not sit on the ground yet, but it wasn't far off.

Kate pulled out her sketch book and began to doodle while Max fiddled with her camera, before standing up and taking a few speculative shots of her drawing, followed by a few of the campus. They were both so engrossed by their endeavours that they hadn't noticed Victoria quietly walk up and stand there to watch them, until Max turned and saw her and quickly took a photo before she could protest.

“Hi Victoria,” said Max loudly enough to get Kate's attention. Kate looked up from her sketchbook and watched Victoria carefully, as if wondering what she was planning. To her surprise Victoria seemed a little agitated again, an occurrence that Kate was confounded by - she had never seen Victoria as anything but her imperious, confident self and she wondered at the change and what it boded for her. Either way to see Victoria conflicted about talking to her seemed to lend her some reassurance and confidence, however little it was.

“Victoria, what can I do for you?” she asked, trying to sound confident but still fearing the usual lash of Victoria's tongue. Max walked over to stand next to Kate, and she noticed that Max was staring boldly at Victoria with what looked like a small smile on her face - as if she had no fear of her despite her reputation, from which Kate also found a small measure of courage herself. Victoria seemed to look at Max for a moment, before looking at Kate.

“I.. I really just wanted to apologise,” she said, then stopped, looking almost pleadingly at Max, something which Kate found unfathomable.

“Victoria, who are you apologising to? And for what?” she said quietly, to her surprise not feeling in the mood to accept anything from her right now. It had only been a week since Victoria had been mercilessly bullying her, even when she was at her lowest – a point so low that she wondered if it hadn’t been for the intervention of the FBI at her door, and the support from Dana, what she would have done.

It all felt so dark and hopeless, like there was no escape. It almost feels like divine intervention, what happened – but then why had it not happened before?

Kate was currently struggling with her faith, something not helped by the newly surging emotions and desires that were being stirred up by a certain someone; things which she knew would, in the eyes of her mother at least, consign her straight to the most fiery depths of hell. Subsequently, any notion of forgiveness was firmly banished from her mind in that moment.

Victoria looked at Kate and her face seemed torn between her natural pride and trying to be remorseful, an interesting combination that Kate was a little fascinated by. She hated to admit it herself – and not just because of the enmity she felt towards her, but also due to her reluctance in acknowledging her own preferences – but Victoria really was pretty, and seeing her like this when she was clearly trying be a normal person only reinforced that fact.

“To you, Kate. I wanted to apologise for being so.. mean. It was uncalled for. Sorry.” She looked at Kate expectantly, as if waiting for an answer but Kate just looked at her, folding her arms as she did so in a gesture of, if not rejection, certainly dissatisfaction. Victoria looked at her then seemed to look at Max once more, as if trying to ask for help. Kate again noticed this subtle interaction and wondered what was going on.

Has Max put her up to this? It’s the sort of thing Max would do, to try and make everyone friendly with each other.

“Is that it?” she said, her tone flat and very un-Kate like. The change in Victoria was instantaneous - she rolled her eyes and looked at her, and this time Kate could see that the old Victoria was still there – her glance was hard and tough, and Kate felt herself flinch as if she was being physically assaulted.

“Jesus Kate, what else do you want from me?” Victoria snapped, her tone cold and harsh as she was clearly upset that her apology had been dismissed so easily. Victoria took a step forward with a finger raised, and to Kate it seemed that Max seemed to move without moving, standing a little bit more away from her; but Victoria stopped mid flow with a pained expression, putting her hand to her forehead and breathing deeply.

“Sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean to fly off the handle like that. I don’t want to fight with you.”

“Er.. OK,” said Kate, puzzled, “but we haven’t fought yet? Have we? All I meant was that you have a lot to apologise for, Victoria, that one apology is just not going to cut it. Not yet. How do I know you are not just lying to me? How do I know Max has not put you up to this by begging you to be nice?” She looked at Max. “You haven’t, have you? You’re not like bribing her or anything?” Max laughed and then covered her mouth in embarrassment.

“Sorry, no. That’s funny though, the thought of me being able to bribe Victoria. No,” she continued, looking at Victoria with what Kate swore to herself was a gentler expression than she expected, or she thought Victoria deserved, “Victoria is trying to be genuine I think. She just finds it hard to apologise for anything, Kate.”

“Hmm,” was all Kate replied. She looked at Victoria who was standing there awkwardly, almost as if she had just been told off by someone and didn't like it. “Fine, apology accepted. But it doesn’t mean I can forget or even forgive you yet; but by your actions I will judge you.” Victoria nodded quickly, as if grateful to even accept that.

“I mean it Kate, I am really sorry for everything. If I had known what… what was happening then.. I just.. I mean, it’s so hard.. I..” She trailed off, wanting to say a thousand things more but not having the courage to do so, yet. Kate looked at her, as if discerning that there was more to this person than she had previously given her credit for. Despite everything, Kate was still Kate and she couldn’t help but at least try and offer a small olive branch in return.

“It’s in the past now, Victoria, it’s over. Let’s not talk about it. I can’t hold you responsible for what they did, even if you didn’t exactly make things easier.” She looked at Max, as if remembering something. “I forgot to ask you, how are you getting to the funeral tomorrow? Do you want a lift with me and Dana? I’m sure there is room.”

“Oh!” Max said quickly, “It's fine, I've already been offered a lift. I'll meet you guys there, so don’t wait for me. I'll be fine.” Kate nodded then looked up at Victoria.

“Are you going tomorrow?” Her voice was laden with the belief that Victoria wouldn’t dare go anywhere near the funeral tomorrow, that such an act would be far too –

“Yes. I feel it is the right thing for me to do; to at least go and pay my respects.”

“Oh. Well. That’s.. good of you.” There was another silence, until Victoria stirred and made to leave, her face fixed with an unhappy frown.

“Well, I’ll leave you two to it. I hope you are happy now.” Kate looked at her in surprise, but Victoria seemed to be speaking to Max, although she couldn’t be sure.

“Yes - and I'll see you later, Vic?” Max said and waved goodbye to her as Victoria turned without responding and left. Kate gestured at Max in surprise.

“You two seem more friendly than I expected, Max,” she said. “I thought you hated Victoria?”

“I don’t hate anyone, Kate,” said Max. “Besides, as I told you – she’s not as bad as she comes across. I think you should give her a chance to make amends. Her coming to apologise to you must have been a big deal for her – you know how much pride she has in herself.”

“No, I don’t – but you seem to.” Max got up and walked away from her a little, ignoring Kate’s question. She stood there for a moment in contemplation, looking in the direction Victoria had gone before turning back to Kate.

“We’ve got the whole afternoon free – fancy heading into town and getting a cup of tea? My treat.” Kate thought for a moment, then quickly closed her sketchbook and stood up.

“Sounds great. I can still do a bit of doodling while we are there, and you can look over those Math problems.” Max groaned but she was smiling, and they both made their way slowly down to the bus stop. The road was practically deserted, with only one car slowly making its way up the road. Max watched it idly as it approached, and then suddenly felt something; something looking for her, finding her, knowing that she was there. She felt a cold sweat break out as the car slowly carried on up the road, and she stared after it wide-eyed.

What the actual fuck was that?

 

“Well, here we are. It's not much, is it?” Jesse looked out of the window as the car rolled down towards the sea front, Emily driving slowly as they both looked around them. Jesse had been happy for her to take over the driving, having covered most of the distance from Seattle.

Right now we either look like we are tourists or that we are from a secretive government agency. Thank god I insisted we didn't take an agency car.

“It reminds me of a few of the towns I went through when I was on the run,” she said. “One in particular where I worked on a boat. That was fun while it lasted.”

“What happened?”

“Eh. I didn't want to stay in the same place too long; thought I was being followed. Which I was.” Emily was silent, feeling a little uncomfortable - although she had not known about the Bureau's surveillance of Jesse, she still felt a little guilt by association.

“We're booked into the Bloch Hotel,” she said with false cheerfulness. “It was quite booked up, surprisingly, but I got Sarah in admin to pull a few strings and we got a decent room.”

“Emily, we're supposed to be on holiday, not doing things on work time – and that includes that. Besides, I've stayed in plenty of places where you are lucky to get clean sheets, so it doesn't matter to me.” Emily clicked her tongue; eighteen years on the run and lying low had left Jesse with what she thought were a skewed sense of expectations - something she sort of admired in a way, an ability to do without and get by. But she was not like that; coming from a comfortably middle-class family she was used to a thoroughly comfortable bed and decent shower.

“Well like it or not you are the Director now, and we can't have you slumming it. And besides, don't you want to spend our first proper night away somewhere nice?” Jesse gave her a smile and caressed her thigh.

“You're right, I haven't really stayed somewhere nice before and I'm nearly 30. So maybe it's about time.” She pulled out her smartphone, something she was getting used to again after spending so long in the Oldest House. “We need to take the next turning on the left and follow the road up the hill.”

“Yes Ma'am.”

“Emily...” There was a shared smile between them as they took the turning, Jesse still looking out of the window at the passing town. “It doesn't look like there's been an AWE or anything, it all looks normal. We'll get settled in tonight then go explore over the next few days and see what we find.” She held up her hand and the service weapon leapt into it, shifting through its forms while Jesse checked it over. Emily glanced at her with a mixture of pride and nervousness, hoping that Jesse would not have to use it - but if she did, she wanted to see her in full flow again.... and maybe run some tests. Jesse let the weapon drop and rubbed her hands together in anticipation.

“Oh, and at some point I want to visit that diner. Some greasy trucker food would do you good, Emily - better than all that salad stuff you inflict on me.” Emily pouted but continued driving up the hill, eager to begin unravelling the mystery of Arcadia Bay - even if it did involve more saturated fats than she wished. They passed a large brick building which proudly heralded itself as Blackwell Academy, and as they did so Jesse started and looked around her, causing Emily to perk up.

“What is it? Notice something? Should I stop?” Jesse slowly shook her head, looking slightly puzzled as the building receded into the distance.

“No, just.. I don't know. Polaris just seemed to notice something but.. It felt like it was just an echo. A shadow of a thought. Let's keep going, it was probably nothing.”

“Well that’s the sort of thing we are looking for, isn't it? You should know by now to trust your hunches, Jesse. We can have a poke around tomorrow though, I’m sure I can run some experiments to narrow it down.”

"Emily.. no experiments. Holiday, remember?"

The car continued slowly on, but Jesse found herself more and more preoccupied with the view behind her, until the building was eventually lost amidst the trees.

 

I know you're there, whoever you are.

Chapter Text

The journey towards the cemetery was grey and depressing. The sky itself was overcast and sullen; a mood matched by the atmosphere in the car. Victoria seemed to be agitated and in no mood for conversation, something which had initially suited Max as she was also in no mood for small talk - but as they drew nearer it had begun to prey on her mind little. The day before they had spent precious little time together; Max had knocked on Victoria's door when she thought the coast was clear but Victoria had been quite standoffish despite Max's attempts to lighten the mood and be affectionate. It had felt to Max like some barriers had been raised once more by Victoria, but the reason behind it had remained a mystery to Max – and the more she tried to lighten things up between them the worse it got. After agreeing a time to meet up the next day, and frustrated at the change that seemed to have occurred between them, she had left in a little bit of a huff and gone back to her own room and spent the remainder of her evening watching some trash on Netflix to try and take her mind off things.

Now, stuck in the car with a girl who seemed to be preoccupied with something which annoyingly seemed wasn't her, Max had little else to do but watch the road ahead as they joined a small line of cars that were winding their way up the hill, with more joining behind them.

“Seems busy,” she remarked, “a bigger turn out than I expected.” Victoria just grunted in assent, taking extra care as they turned onto the gravel track towards the car park. It took her a bit of manoeuvring to find a space, especially one that was big enough to not get her car scratched by other people's doors, but eventually they were parked up and ready to go.

Max felt an uneasiness in her stomach and looked for Victoria for support, but she seemed to be occupied in checking what cars were still streaming in to to find a place. Seemingly satisfied, at least for now, she turned to look at Max- her face was stiff and severe, makeup absolutely flawless.

“Let's go,” she said quietly, the first words she had uttered to Max in a while, pausing to check her appearance in the mirror before leaving the car. Max had to admit it but no-one pulled off funereal chic quite like Victoria - Max's simple black dress and jacket seemed positively threadbare compared to the elegant, yet entirely appropriate dress Victoria had on, topped off with a small black hat, gold and emerald choker and matching bracelet. In any other setting Max would have commented on how fabulous she looked - but here and now it was the last thing from her mind, underlined by how heavy the door handle felt to turn, how loud the door sounded as she closed it.

With increasingly heavy steps Max walked a pace behind Victoria as they made their way across the car park and through the gates, joining a growing swell of people that seemed to be heading the same way.

These all can't be for Chloe's funeral, can they? There must be another one scheduled.

Victoria glanced back at Max to make sure she was following and offered her a hand; Max shook her head, gesturing at the people around. Victoria frowned a little in apparent annoyance, but turned away and carried on walking, the silence between them accentuating the sound of their feet on the gravel path.

Eventually they came to the burial site and Max saw that there were rows of chairs laid out around the thing which suddenly dominated her vision: a large casket on a raised table, surrounded by flowers and with a photo of a girl on it that, a face that Max knew all to well and would never see again.

All of the suppressed guilt came washing over her at that moment, and she groped blindly for a chair to sit down on, ending up on the front row next to young woman she didn't recognise. Victoria took a seat behind her, still scanning the crowd as if counting who was present and who wasn't.

Max sat there for a moment, head bowed and not daring to look up until the woman next to her spoke.

“It's a good turn out. I'm glad.” Max looked up at her, ignoring the dark shape looming in her peripheral vision as she did so, before looking around at the crowd. The seats were filling up rapidly, and Max recognised a few of the faces as people she had seen from Blackwell, including members of the faculty (with Wells looking serious and grave) and many students, including those from the Vortex Club. There also seemed to be others from around the town, including members of the Police Department who seemingly hadn't been swept up by the anti-corruption probe. Max realised that there was at least fifty or more people there, with a few more coming up the path - Max saw Joyce and David amongst them and quickly looked away back at the woman, feeling nauseous.

“Yes,” she said, “it's good to see. I'm sorry, I don't recognise you – I don't think we've ever met? I'm Max, I'm.. I was a friend of Chloe when I lived here.” The words threatened to choke her as she spoke them, and she felt like she just wanted to scream I'm sorry I had to let you die and I hate myself for never calling you and now it's too late and I'm oh so sorry.

“Steph,” the young woman replied. “I used to go to school with Chloe a year back. Have you come far today? I rushed over from LA when I got the message.” Max shook her head.

“No, not far,” she almost whispered, not wanting to explain to this stranger any more than she had too. She looked away again and saw Kate sitting next to Dana, who raised a hand in acknowledgement.

Further conversation with Steph was cut short by the arrival of Joyce and David, along with the Pastor who was conducting the service. The Madsen's sat down a few seats up from Max, Joyce with bowed head while David sat almost stiffly at attention, face stern and with one hand on Joyce's back.



Of the service Max recalled little, so consumed she was by the stabs of guilt and remorse she felt for her inaction on the day, even though she knew that she had had little choice - although the lack of not being in touch for months was less excusable, which just made it hurt even more.

Joyce and David had got up to say a few words, with Joyce breaking down in tears and letting David say the final words; his usually strong, harsh voice low and quiet. making people strain hear his words. Max had risked a look and saw the face of a man who seemed utterly broken in that moment, someone who had returned from the hell of war only to have violence visited on his own family, a cruel twist of fate making it so that he was the one who had to hold his dying daughter in his arms, as she bled out on that dismal bathroom floor just meters away from where he could have done something.

And Max - Max knew that she could have prevented it all, that she could have run to that bathroom and saved Chloe, that she could have stopped her from entering at all, that..

.. and ended up like other Max. You know this, you know this is the only way..

Max half listened as the Pastor finished with a few passages from the Bible that seemed to give some measure of comfort to Joyce, before thanking everyone who had attended and mentioning that there would be a wake and memorial at the church for those who wished to attend.



Max slowly approached the coffin, feeling it loom ever larger in her vision with every step she took. She was filled with a creeping dread, for what reason she couldn't work out why – she thought she could hear Chloe's voice remonstrating with her, asking her why she was there, why she was there only now. She began to imagine a dead Chloe leaping out of the coffin to grab her, to ask her why she let her die, why she let her die and just to get together with Victoria, why she never got in touch, why why why...

The wood was cold and hard to the touch, but it was just that – wood. No voices, no Chloe – just a coffin containing a body, ready to be buried and grieved over before life continued on as it had before, and would continue to after everyone here was long forgotten. Max rested her hand on the coffin, closing her eyes and taking in slow, deep breaths; listening to the quiet murmur of people slowly leaving and heading away and the gentle sound of the wind in the trees.

“Goodbye, Chloe,” she whispered, “I'm sorry it had to be this way.”

After a few minutes Max turned away to head back to the car park and saw that Victoria was standing there, watching her from a polite distance. Max gave her a weak smile and walked over.

“You OK?” Victoria asked in a low voice. Max stopped and looked around, casting a final look back at the coffin.

“Yeah, I will be. Shall we go to the wake?”

“Yes, definitely. Give us a chance to speak to the Madsen's properly, and there is a few people I want to catch up with who will be going.” Victoria began to walk down the path and Max set out to follow – but once again she had the feeling that something was there looking for her, trying to find her – she looked around but could see nothing but the trees and a few of the remaining mourners. She tried to shrug it off and followed Victoria, but kept glancing back as if hoping to catch a glimpse of what it was.



Emily watched the mourners slowly leave the grave side, leaving the cemetery workers to finish off their duties while who she presumed were the parents looked on. Emily had some some research before they had come here and had an idea of the background of what had happened to these people; their coming had been off a hunch Jesse had had after a drinking session last night in the Hotel bar with a girl who was probably underage. Emily was sure that it was against all sort of Bureau regulations, but then Jesse was the Director so maybe that meant it was probably OK. Probably. Besides, it's not like their relationship would past muster with most HR and company boards, but given who their board were.. well, who knew what they thought? Not that she really trusted them any more for it to matter.

“Anything?” she asked quietly. They were both standing discreetly to one side, within a clump of trees that afforded them a good view whilst keeping the relatively innocuous.

“Her,” answered Jesse, pointing with a finger. “The short one who was by the coffin. But.. it's not just her. There's something about the blonde one as well, or at least that's what Polaris seems to think.” Emily was still unsure as to whether she was dating both of them or just Jesse, but had pragmatically decided that there was nothing she could do about it anyway, so had decided not to worry about it.

“So two of them? That unusual. Maybe it's some form of mass outbreak? I wish I had my gear with me, then I could take some readings.”

“Holiday, remember?” Emily watched the two girls slowly disappear from view.

“So what now? Get a team here? Bring them in?” Jesse was silent for a while, before turning away and looking at Emily, taking her hand in hers.

“You know, I was eleven when they came for me. Took Dylan away and locked him up. Prime Candidate my ass,” she said bitterly. “Eighteen fucking years on the run. Eighteen years of having my life destroyed by them.” Reflexively the service weapon materialised into her free hand, shifting forms as it did so, and Emily felt a few branches snap from trees with that telltale whine that heralded them being sent with extreme force at something unlucky enough to be in the way.

“Jesse..” she said, and wrapped an arm around her waist and leaned her head against her shoulder. Jesse relaxed at her touch and sighed, closing her eyes and letting the various objects orbiting above her drop harmlessly to the floor, before speaking again.

“Now I'm the Director. I'm in charge. I'm not going to have their life destroyed like mine was.” Her voice was hard and authoritative, a change Emily had noticed every time Jesse got her Director face on. The last time had been after that visit from the CIA when Jesse had not taken too kindly to their requests, and she had seen a glimpse of what she must be like when in full on rampage mode. Emily had been slightly aroused by the spectacle - not that she would ever tell Jesse that.

“We can't do nothing though - what if someone gets hurt? What if they are corrupted, or contacted by someone else? You might not like it but you still have a duty to do.” Jesse sighed in exasperation.

“I know, a duty / service/ enslavement. Ugh. But it will be done my way.” She paused, thinking for a moment. “I'll talk to them. Let them know we exist and are here if needed. That would also give you the chance to find out what you can.” Emily's eye's sparkled with excitement.

“That's a great idea! I can -”

“But no tests.”

“But – but - Fine, Director Ma'am.” Jesse kissed her on the cheek.

“Good girl. Let's go do something fun, it can wait until tomorrow at least. I don't want to intrude on a day like this.”

“I saw a boat trip advertised where you go out whale spotting, we could do that? Can we, please? Pleeeaassseeeee?” Emily pleaded, batting her eyes at Jesse. Jesse rolled her eyes, but couldn't hide her smile.

“Sure, why not - I just hope it's just a perfectly boring and ordinary boat which doesn't try to kill me, or transport me to an alternate dimension - now that would make for a nice change.” They both quietly left the cemetery, Polaris humming contently away in Jesse's head - it also seemed happy to be taking it easy for the day.



The wake was being held at a small church halfway up the hill of Arcadia Bay. Max remembered it vaguely from a few weddings she had attended, and quite liked its white clapperboard appearance topped with a steep spire clad in grey slate. She made a mental note to take some photos of it when the light was right and the situation less depressing. There was a steady stream of people coming into the church building, with the Pastor at the entrance greeting everyone as they entered. Max exchanged a nod and walked over the threshold, Victoria right behind her.

The main hall was decked out in flowers, with tables of deceptively simple but excellent quality food laid out along with what appeared to be expensive looking drinks. At the far end was a photo montage of Chloe, surrounded by candles and yet more flowers. Max felt her eye drawn to it and she wandered over, looking at the photos of a girl as she changed over her life time - noting the sharp change from the joyous young teenager she had known to the blue hair haired punk that she had not.

“Hard to believe it's the same person, isn't it,” said Victoria quietly behind her. “I wonder how she would have turned out if fate had been kinder to her. She was brilliant, you know. Academically, I mean. And she threw it all away.”

“I know.” They both stood there for a moment, before Victoria let her be to go talk to some people she had just spotted. Max stayed there as if transfixed, trying to piece together the life of someone she felt like she had never seen grow into the person she had become. Max saw one photo which had Chloe giving the finger to whoever was taking the photo as she lay on her bed.

“That's my Chloe. Always trying to be a rebel.” Max looked and saw that Joyce was standing next to her, face lined and the life in her eyes diminished. She seemed older, more shrunken; as if the death of Chloe had been the final thing to remove what had kept her going every day. “First my William, then Rachel, and finally her. How I hate this town.” Max stood there awkwardly, unsure of what to say – whether there was anything she could say. She reached out and laid a hand on Joyce's arm, and Joyce clasped it with her hand and that seemed enough, for now.



Victoria had slowly worked her way across the room, seeking out someone in particular she had seen and wanted to speak too - that person being a girl a year older than her whose intelligent face watched her approach with a wry expression. Victoria stopped and looked at her, trying to think of an easy way to begin to talk to her. She decided to just try plain and straightforward.

“Hi Stephanie, I'm glad you made it here OK. How was the trip?” Steph gave her an amused smile in return.

“Hi Victoria, I would say it's good to see you but.. circumstances and all that. The trip was fine – long, but doable. And you can call me Steph - I must admit I was very surprised that you got in touch, but I'm glad you did. I am happy I was able to come here for this.”

“Where's Michael? I thought you came with him..?”

“Mikey is just demolishing the canapés over there. Also, I got you this – it's not much, but I just wanted to say thanks for the Hotel and everything. You didn't have to do that, it was very nice of you. Really saved me some hassle and expense, so thanks.” Steph handed her a bag containing some chocolates she had picked up, looking slightly embarrassed as she did so. “I feel like.. like I may have misjudged you a little in the past.” Victoria took the bag graciously and then gave a gentle laugh and shook her head ruefully.

“No way, you had me figured out completely correct at the time. Maybe now I'm just growing up a bit, finally.”

“Maybe.” There was a silence as they both sort for another topic of conversation, but luckily Mikey chose that moment to appear.

“These salmon things are amazing, Steph, they would be a real cure for your hangover. You should - oh. Victoria. Hi.” Victoria gave him a little wave, practising her friendly smile which she was sure was getting more natural and didn't hurt her face quite as much as before.

“Hello Michael, how's the food? And.. hangover?”

“Great! I never knew funerals could be this tasty.” He munched happily away, until he saw their expressions. “What? You've got to make the best of it.” Victoria had only seen him on the periphery of her social scene at Blackwell, with him being in the year below her – and didn't really know much about him, apart from that he used to be friends with Chloe and Steph. He, however, was fully aware of who she was, and the reputation that went with it.

“Steph was apparently up far too late last night drinking in the hotel bar with some ladies she had met.” Victoria knew that Steph was one of the few openly gay girls she had known about at Blackwell, other than Chloe (and she also suspected Rachel, but then it was rumoured that Rachel had also worked her way through the entire football team – with a sudden moment of clarity she realised that those were the exact same rumours people spread about her).

“Good to see you haven't changed then, Steph. What are you up to at the moment?” asked Victoria, not being able to help the slight barb she put in her speech. “I see you are in LA now?” Steph nodded and went to answer, but was interrupted by the sudden arrival of Taylor.

“V, there you are. I was just checking how much drink there was left and - oh, hi Mikey.” Mikey gave her a wave; he knew Taylor thanks to an extracurricular biology club that Taylor secretly attended and they got on well enough, although he could never fathom why she was friends with Victoria. Taylor looked at the girl standing next to him with open interest, and she in turn returned the compliment. Victoria looked at her for a second, before glancing at Steph.

“Thanks Taylor, but the catering team should have it in hand - no need to worry, that's what they are paid for. Or should be doing, anyway. Besides, I don't want people to find out,” she finished quietly, to which Taylor nodded conspiratorially. Steph took that moment to intervene.

“Not going to introduce me to your friend then, Victoria? Hi, I'm Steph. I used to go to Blackwell up until last year.” She held out a hand and Taylor took it willingly, shaking her hand but not letting go afterwards.

“Taylor. Taylor Christiansen. I don't believe I ever saw you around? I was there at the same time as you I think. Year below, though.”

“We must have just missed each other then, which is a shame.” Victoria watched them both as they kept shaking each other's hand while their eyes seemed to be engorging themselves on each other.

“Yes, yes it is,” said Taylor. “So you used to know Chloe? I didn't really, I've come just to show solidarity and help out Vic here.. and I'm glad I did now. Did you.. did you come alone or..?”

“No, very much alone, only me. You?”

“Same.” Victoria looked between the two of them, eyebrows raised so far they were in danger of flying off. Steph motioned towards the buffet table, expertly steering Taylor away from Victoria.

“Shall we get something to eat? Well, I knew Chloe..” Victoria and Mikey were just left abandoned there, feeling a little uncomfortable. Victoria watched Taylor disappear with a frown that quickly turned into a small smile when she saw Taylor laugh in a far too over the top manner.

Well Taylor, I hope this isn't another missed opportunity you'll end up regret having. I need to make sure she follows through with it. If she wants to, that is. It's what friends do.

“Tell you what, Michael, let me introduce you to Max and get us away from whatever the hell that was. You'll like her – she used to be an old friend of Chloe, and she's a complete nerd.”



Max was standing on her own by the edge of the hall, silently observing the throng when Victoria found her with Mikey reluctantly in tow, like a small dinghy caught in the wake of a passing liner. Victoria pushed him in front of Max, presenting him as some rare treasure she had found for Max's entertainment.

“Max – this is Mikey, an old friend of Chloe's. Mikey, this is Max, my g-”

“Friend,” interjected Max quickly, and smiled warmly at Mikey. “You used to know Chloe? I think I've seen you around Blackwell, haven't I?” Mikey nodded enthusiastically.

“Yes, I'm in the year below you. Me and Chloe used to play D&D together with Steph – that's her over there, talking to Taylor. Sometimes Rachel – Rachel Amber, one of Chloe's, er, friends - would join us, although she was always insisting she was far too cool for it. I think she only turned up because of Chloe, now I think of it.” Max looked over and recognised the girl who had sat next to her at the ceremony, while Victoria stood there with an annoyed expression, staring at Max – Max couldn't work out what she possibly could be annoyed about, and continued to talk to Mikey.

“Oh yes – she spoke to me earlier, didn't catch her name though. So you used to play D&D? Do you still play it?” Mikey stood up a little straighter and pushed his glasses back up his nose, as if realising he had unexpectedly found a fellow enthusiast.

“Well, yes actually – there's a little group of us who still meet on occasion for a game. Would you like to join us? We are currently halfway through the Dreadlords of Angstein campaign, but there's room for another party member. Desperate need for a tank actually, I can ask Brian – he's the DM – about you joining at such a late stage though. I'm sure we can work it into the story somehow, of course you'd have to come in at a higher level so there would be some work in that but I have a character generator for a given level somewhere I can lend you so that shouldn't be a problem.” Max blinked a little, as if overwhelmed by the sudden flow of information, before nodding enthusiastically.

“That sounds pretty neat, actually. What days do you meet? Also, do you know Warren? He might be interested in joining as well.” Victoria rolled her eyes as if exasperated and walked off muttering to herself under her breath.

What's her problem? mused Max briefly, before getting lost discussing the adventures Mikey and Chloe used to embark on and feeling a slight pang of regret she hadn't been able to be part of it.



Kate had sneaked away to go to the bathroom, having drunk far too much coffee and juice. The wake was beginning to die down, with people slowly giving Joyce and David their condolences before drifting away. She sat on the toilet and stared at the wall, her mind trying to process the conversation she had just had with the Pastor which was troubling her.

So an anonymous donation paid for all of this, the flowers, the food – but who was it? It must have cost quite a bit; I guess it could have been Blackwell?

No, why would they, it wasn't their fault really and Chloe was no longer a student.. but then everyone seemed to be there today, even people I would never have expected. Dana said she had received an email telling her when it was and that they must all go, no excuses, but she wouldn't tell me who it was from. The school wouldn't have done that and Dana would tell me if it was them – and anyway I would have got something too. And they would not make it apparently mandatory to come.

So who arranged it all? And who made the donation?

It has to be someone wealthy and connected to the school enough; maybe someone with a reason to do it? Someone who wanted to make a statement, or even say sorry for something? Someone who is connected to it all and has the money and knows everyone at the school.

But that means..

Oh God no, not -

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door opening and two people talking quietly entered. She thought she should recognise the voices but wasn't entirely sure; the heavy door of the toilet and the acoustics of the room made it hard for her to certain.

“I'm telling you, she's really fucking me off with it now.”

“But I thought you wanted it a secret? No gossip, you said. Worried about what people would say.”

“Yes, I meant I didn't want it spread around the fucking place right away, but I don't mind people like you knowing at the moment. But with her.. I mean we can't even hold fucking hands because she is so shit scared of what some people think.”

There was the sound of running water before the voice spoke again.

“I'm trying, I'm really trying, and not just for her but for me as well. It's like we talked about, remember? But it just doesn't seem to be enough, and there's this whole guilt thing she keeps doing..”

“Have you told her all of this? I know what you are like, you'll bottle it all up and then explode and we'll all suffer.” Kate strained her ears, feeling a little ashamed in eavesdropping and knowing that often no good would come of it, but she felt engrossed despite herself in whatever drama was being played out. The reply was too low for her to hear, and she held her breath so as to not miss anything else, in case her breathing was too loud.

“Well let me talk to her then. I have already told her not to fuck around with you, so she should know better. I can't believe that she would..” The voices were becoming fainter as they moved out of the bathroom, and Kate couldn't discern what was being said. Eventually there was silence and Kate thoughtfully finished up.

What on earth was that all about?



“Victoria? Victoria Chase?” Victoria turned around from where she had been chatting with a few of the remaining attendees from Blackwell and saw a middle aged man approaching, who she recognised from various bits of media coverage - as well as his professional standing.

“Mr Amber? Pleasure to meet you.” Her years of being lectured at to present the most professional appearance she could subconsciously kicked in, and she held out a hand for him to shake while fixing him with a confident smile. He looked like he hadn't slept in years, and it seemed like he was barely keeping it all together. Victoria eyed him with a measure of pity as he shook her hand limply.

Not surprising – they only dug up his daughter last week, and I'm sure the Prescotts helped fund his re-election campaign, the duplicitous fuckers.

“Can I have a quick word?” he said, motioning her to one side. Curious, Victoria followed him over to a quiet alcove where he stood for a moment looking at the mourners, his eyes fixated on Joyce and David in particular.

“You know,” he said quietly, “I never gave the Price's – I mean the Madsen's – the amount of time they deserved, considering. I always thought them too.. too low for my Rachel. Especially Chloe. Thought she was a bad influence on her. And maybe she was, but maybe it was also the other way around. Both of them together. And yet.. Chloe was the only one who would never give up looking for her. She never gave up.” Victoria politely listened, although she wondered where this was going – it can't have been unknown to him that she and his daughter didn't get on in the slightest.

“Rachel.. Rachel certainly had a fiery streak about her,” said Victoria, secretly pleased at the double meaning she put into it and wondering if he would pick up on it, whether he knew.

“She certainly did,” he sighed wearily, not even hesitating slightly, “and I miss it. I miss her terribly. Knowing she ended up..” He squeezed his eyes momentarily, before looking back at Victoria. “But that's not what I wanted to talk to you about. I know – don't ask me how, I am the District Attorney after all – I know what you and this Max person did to uncover it all. I don't know how you knew, and frankly I don't care. I just wanted to say - thank you. And if you could thank him as well for me, when you see him, I would be grateful.” Victoria didn't say anything at first, unused to receiving this sort of thanks – especially from such a figure of authority, and even more when she hadn't been expecting it.

“She,” was all she could think of. “Max is a she.” Amber looked at her with raised eyebrows, before bursting out into a little laugh, which momentarily changed his face completely.

“Ah – well explains why I couldn't find out who it was. Well, thank her then,” he said. “Seriously though, it has been some comfort just finally knowing, even if it was not the answer we wanted. Deep down I always feared that it would be something like that, I've seen too many cases to have had much hope. But there was always some.”

“I'm sorry for your loss,” Victoria said, finding the saying unbelievably trite in that moment. “Rachel and I – well, we weren't friends, I think we were maybe too alike looking back, but I am happy that I was able to at least do something for her in the end.”

“And for my part – I need to do something I should have done long ago.” Victoria watched him walk over towards Joyce and David and quietly greet them and exchange embraces. Victoria watched them for a while, wondering if some day her parents would be doing the same if she was not careful.

We were so alike. And yet that Butterfly had her wings clipped; remember that, Victoria.



“Max! Hey Max!”

“Oh Taylor, hi. How are you?” Taylor's face was not too friendly as she looked at Max, folding her arms tightly across her chest as she did so.

“Not too good, Max. I mean, this funeral is depressing as hell, they always are – hate the things. But that's not it. I was speaking with Victoria earlier.”

“Oh?” said Max, a queasiness entering her stomach at the mention of her name. She knew that Taylor knew about them, but even so it still felt odd to her. “What did she have to say?”

“Well, she wasn't happy. Not happy at all. She wanted me to -” A hand on her arm cut her off mid sentence and she looked around in surprise to see that it was Steph – and her face immediately lit up from the scowl it had been.

“Hi, sorry for interrupting,” Steph said. “I'm just going now, and I wanted to say good bye before I do.”

“Oh! Are you going back straight away or..?”

“No, I'm staying on until tomorrow. So..” Steph left the question hanging, and Taylor felt the world slow and the air thicken as she quickly made her choice, her stomach falling through the floor as she did so.

“Um, well.. do you fancy.. maybe meeting for dinner? Only if you want to and having nothing else on, you could tell me about your course or..”

“I'd love to. Six OK?”

“Yes! Perfect. Um.. here's my number.. and my email.. wait I'll add you on Facebook,” stammered Taylor, fumbling with her cell. Steph laughed quietly, feeling slightly guilty at making the noise at such a solemn occasion.

“Thanks, Taylor. I'll see you later. I'm looking forward to it.”

Taylor watched her go with a wide grin plastered across her face, feeling like the slightest breeze would blow her away. Then she remembered what she was supposed to be saying, and turned back to confront Max – but Max had disappeared into thin air.



Kate had spent some time catching up with the Pastor towards the end and it had felt good to do so, helping to restore somewhat her faith and resolve. There were still a host of unanswered questions and things for her to resolve, but the simple act of chatting with someone who she thought was entirely good and an excellent example of cast iron faith had helped her immensely, at least for now. She didn't mention anything about her personal quandaries though, focusing instead on the impact Chloe's death had had on the Madsens and how they could help them in this hour of need.

It was with buoyed spirits that she walked through the church, sending a message to Dana that she was on her way. Dana had thoughtfully offered to wait for her, despite the fact she was due to meet Trevor later. Kate found the gesture warmed her heart, and she did her best to not think to much of it, or read too much into it.

Those thoughts were interrupted as she left the church and heard what sounded like an argument happening just around the corner of the building. For the second time that day she found herself accidentally eavesdropping (it was definitely not snooping and being nosy, definitely not). She didn't recognise the voices at first, but one was sounding angry.

“You didn't even want to hold my hand! How is that supposed to make me feel?”

“I'm sorry, but it just didn't feel right. Not there, not with everyone there watching, it just -”

“But that's just it, isn't it - it's never feeling right for you, is it?”

“No, that's not fair. It's not that! And anyway I thought you wanted to take things slow and be careful? I thought that was the idea until things were settled.” Kate found herself edging closer so she could hear better, curious as to who it was - she briefly flirted with the idea it was Dana and Trevor, and tried to quash the hope that leapt through her when she did.

It's not right to wish these sort of problems on people, despite how much you might wish it in that case. And that's a very bad thought to have, Kate Marsh. Shame on you.

“No, I said I didn't want it to be spread around the school instantly! Not that I didn't want to do all the coupley stuff. You are the one counting down the days, remember – not much time to do it you said. But right now it feels like.. like you are ashamed of me. Of being seen with me.”

“Of course I'm not, that's not true. It's just.. hard for me to tell people. You must see that?”

“Taylor knows, and she is completely supportive of it, despite how you are being right now.” At the mention of Taylor Kate's curiosity was peaked - it had to be Victoria who was speaking. Kate suddenly realised she was seeing the continuation of the conversation she had overheard in the bathroom.

But who is she speaking to?

“Yeah, but that's easier as she is your friend and knows you. But Kate doesn't, does she?”

“Fuck me, Max - why is this relationship so dependant on Kate? You're supposed to be with me, not her.”

Kate felt like she had been stabbed, and she leaned against the wall in shock, horrified but seemingly unable to move her feet and was being forced to listen to the conversation.

“Victoria, she's my friend! Of course she is important to me, but not like that. I won't see her be hurt by this. You know what might have happened to her if.. if...”

“But it didn't, did it - we changed it. We. Look, you've known her for a fucking month, Max. You're going to fuck everything up - the entire future, what you know she sacrificed herself for, for that? Why? Am I not important to you as well? I can't keep on trying to make amends for ever until you think the time is right and no-one gets upset about any fucking thing ever. It's alright for you, you just avoid every fucking uncomfortable thing, don't you.” There was a silence and Kate suddenly found her feet working again, driving her around the corner to make her confront her worst fears.

There, standing together were Max and Victoria, Max holding loosely onto Victoria's hand as she stared at the floor. Victoria looked up at her approach and to Kate it seemed like her eyes were gleaming like a cats, sending a shiver down her spine. She stood there, unable to put into words how she was feeling; the sense of betrayal coursing through her - suddenly it all made sense, all the meetings and glances she had seen between them, all laid out in plain sight for her to see.

In that moment Max looked up and saw her, face framed with astonishment and shock. She sprang guiltily away from Victoria.

“Kate! Wait, it's not what it looks like, we were just -” She was interrupted by an angry growl from Victoria.

“For fuck's sake,” she said, before grabbing Max and kissing her hard on the lips.

“If you rewind that I'll fucking kill you,” she whispered, before angrily walking away.

Chapter Text

Max sat alone at the diner table and looked morosely out of the window. It was early evening, and the Two Whales was unusually empty, considering the time of day. Max checked her cell to see if there had been any missed calls she hadn’t heard, or a message, anything, but her screen was depressingly blank. Victoria was apparently not going to be here for another half an hour, but every passing minute just seemed to increase Max's anxiety.

A car turned into the car park and she looked out eagerly, only to sigh in disappointment - it was just some random ordinary car, not Victoria's. She realised she was missing sitting in it – and more importantly sitting in it with her - already, and she felt a pang of self-pity in her stomach as she feared that it was all over now. The great Max Caulfield had been given unbelievable powers and knowledge of the future, and had managed to mess everything up at the first available opportunity.



The end of the wake (only yesterday! It already seemed a lifetime ago) had been a complete and utter shitshow. Max had been so stunned by Victoria's actions that she had forgotten that she had the ability to rewind; then when Kate had run off in tears and Max had tried to speak to her - only to be met by a slamming car door and a very puzzled looking Dana, it was too late for her to do anything - and she didn't know if she could do multiple rewinds over and over to get it all undone. More to the point, she didn't know if she should.

Max had stood there alone in the church's car park, abandoned by both her newfound lover and her friend and didn’t know what to do. So eventually, as the numbers thinned out and the Pastor asked if she was OK and if she had somewhere to go, she left feeling very alone and very miserable.

She had to catch the bus back to Blackwell as Victoria had driven off ages ago at great speed with Taylor as her passenger, and when she had arrived back to the dorm she was met with closed doors. There had been no answer from Kate when she knocked; Dana had made it very clear that although she didn't know what had happened she was not pleased with Max at all, didn’t she know how vulnerable Kate was right now and she shouldn’t go upsetting her, honestly Max what is wrong with you this week and in no mood to talk either, at least not until Kate had given her version of events, and Victoria.. Victoria was nowhere to be found, neither answering her cell, nor replying to any messages, nor even opening the door as Max knocked ever more plaintively on it. Eventually with nothing else to do Max had gone to bed; to listen to sad music and wallow in her own misery and wonder what she had done to deserve all of this – all she had wanted was to make everyone happy.

She had turned the music up to try and drown out the insidious voice that had said no, you only wanted to make yourself happy.

Lessons the next day had been excruciating, with Kate for the first time sitting away from her and blanking her completely, and Victoria in the one lesson they shared that day not even giving her so much as a glance or indication that she even acknowledged her existence – in fact it very much felt like starting at Blackwell again, and being the lonely outsider desperate to make friends. It may have been her imagination, but she felt she could feel the cold emanating from across the classroom from Victoria, a physical indicator of her mood towards Max in that moment.

Max had had to spend a miserable lunchtime with only Warren for company - what they had talked about she could not recall and didn't care; except she had found his constant attempts at conversation and bad jokes singularly annoying in that moment, but despite that she clung to his presence as a precious gift not to be wasted, just in case it was the only thing that she had left – a thought that made her feel even more depressed.

And then – and then it had come, a single message with nothing but a place and a time:

VCx 3:32 pm: Two Whales. 6:30.

And that had been it, nothing more – and no response was forthcoming to the desperate flow of messages and unanswered calls she had sent. It was an agonising few hours alone until it was time to leave but eventually she had left to catch what felt like the loneliest bus into Arcadia, wondering how her life had seemingly turned around so badly in such a short amount of time.

You've really fucked up this time, Max.



The door to the diner opened and Max looked up expectantly, hoping that Victoria had finally arrived. Instead, in the doorway stood a woman with red hair and piercing eyes who looked directly at her - and in that instance she knew; she knew that the woman suddenly striding purposefully towards her was the person who she felt had been searching for her. Terrified she reflexively rewound a few minutes, breathing hard and sweat forming on her brow.

Who the fuck is that? How did she find me? She has power but she doesn't feel like Victoria does, she doesn't feel like one of us.

Are there others like me? And what does she want?

How much trouble am I in?

Who the fuck is she?

Max briefly considered rewinding further and trying to escape her predicament but realised she may just be putting off the inevitable. Whoever this was has found her once and would find her again, no matter where she ran.

Max made sure her power was bubbling away under the surface just in case she needed it, unaware that it was making her eyes gleam slightly, and braced herself for what was to come.



Max watched the woman enter once more, this time noting that she was not alone - another blonde-haired woman was behind her, and Max couldn't help but notice that her hair was cut similar to Victoria's - the thought sending a wave of sadness through her. She had little time to dwell on that as the other woman strode through the diner as if she owned the place, clad in dark jeans and boots, a long leather coat billowing around her and not concealing at all the large bulge on her hip.

She has a gun.

Although Oregon was an open carry state, relatively few of the people Max knew had a gun and she felt a deep unease whenever she saw one, instinctively distrusting them and those who used them - and a stranger moving rapidly towards her with intent did nothing to assuage it.

The woman halted next to Max's table and looked at her; Max could sense the power radiating off her like a blazing beacon, different to what she had felt before around Victoria, yet with a certain commonality to it. She looked up at the woman's face and tried to match her gaze, as if demonstrating she was not afraid and was just here to eat - she clasped her hands together to try and hide their trembling.

Max, you can just rewind and it'll go away, Max. You have the power! You can do this! You have nothing to be afraid of, you’re in the middle of a diner!

I'm so fucked.



“Hi,” said the woman in a surprisingly soft voice. “I'm Jesse. Jesse Faden.” The other women arrived next to her, a smiling bundle of energy in comparison to her serious companion and grinned widely at Max in greeting.

“And I'm Emily. Emily Pope.”

“Max,” replied Max carefully, making no effort to furnish any more information than was necessary and trying to appear as normal and boring as possible. “Can I help you at all?”

Nothing to see here, move along.

“May we join you?” asked Emily. “I'm hungry and Jesse has been threatening me all week with diner food, so now is as good a time as any to try it.” Max opened her mouth to reply, momentarily befuddled by what was happening.

“Um, sure. I am expecting someone but they will not be here for half an hour, so.. I guess?” With a big smile Emily slid into the seat followed by Jesse, who before sitting laid her gun on the table. It was big and black and sat there in front of Max, and it was like no gun like she had ever seen before - it seemed to be twitching, parts of it moving and not seemingly connected to anything, as if it was alive. Max knew in that moment - as if there was any doubt before - that this was no ordinary meeting, and the thought seemed to relax her a bit.

“What do you recommend?” asked Emily in a cheerful voice, while Jesse sat there watching Max carefully, as if trying to read her mind.

“Um the waffles are good,” said Max offhandedly while watching Jesse back. “Who.. Who are you people? Why are you here? What do you want with me? Also, what's up with that?” Max pointed at the gun on the table, and she swore to herself that it seemed to turn to look at her.

“That's the service weapon,” answered Emily before Jesse could get a word in. “It's what we call an Object of Power, or I suppose the Object of Power. These Objects of Power – or Oops as we like to call them - are typically manifestations of a certain idea or belief that take a physical form; in this case it's the form of the weapon you see in front of you, aligned to what the current cultural manifestation of power is, but we believe that historically it has taken the form of a sword, or hammer - depending of course on what the dominant folklore it has been -”

“Emily,” said Jesse, touching her hand to stop the constant flow of information. She looked at Max, and this time there was a smile on her face that transformed it and made her seem just like an ordinary person sitting opposite her in a diner. “Sorry, she likes to explain things in so much detail - she's possibly the cleverest woman I know and thinks everyone else is and can so can keep up.” Emily rolled her eyes and bumped her shoulder, but there was a look of pride on her face. Max noticed Jesse squeeze her hand and jumped straight away to the correct conclusion about their relationship.

“As for who we are,” Jesse continued, “I am Jesse Faden, Director of the Federal Bureau of Control, and this is Dr Emily Pope - Head of Research. We're supposed to be on holiday, but.. well, you.” Max didn't like the sound of that at all, and decided obfuscation was the best policy while her brain scrambled for a solution.

“The Federal what of what now?”

“Federal Bureau of Control. We're based in New York. It's nice.” Max looked at the pair then leaned back, arms folded and tried to look unimpressed despite every fibre of her being screaming at her to get out and get out now.

“Never heard of them. Got any ID?” Emily and Jesse exchanged amused looks before Jesse dug through the pocket of her jacket, pulling out a card and handing it to Max.

“Here you go. Here's mine. We're sort of like.. The FBI of the supernatural. But with less hunting the reds.” The gag went straight over Max's head as she studied the card - it certainly looked real enough, with an impressive logo and motto in Latin and Jesse's face staring right back at her.

Jesse Faden. Director, Federal Bureau of Control.

It looks real enough, and she has that gun, why would they make it up? And I can feel her power, it's so strong it's almost overwhelming. And there's something else.. hidden, but I can feel it watching me.

“Why have I never heard of this.. Bureau before? And what do you want with me? I'm just a high schooler, I've done nothing wrong. I'm just waiting for my friend. You've got the wrong person.” Emily leaned forward, her infectious grin almost making Max smile along with her.

“You won't have heard of us, Max. The FBC by design is not to be noticed, undertaking our mission statement in secret. We are tasked with the containment, study, and control of paranatural phenomena all over the United States, and beyond. The FBC investigates events and objects which violate the scientific laws of nature, with the goal of understanding and controlling these elements. These events typically manifest themselves as Altered World Events, Altered Items, Places of Power and so on, and can be anything from a ordinary television set to a emerging parautiltarian. It is our mission to -”

“Emily, it's not a job interview.” Emily rolled her eyes.

“Jesse, she -”

“And what can I get you three ladies for dinner this evening?” They all looked up, having forgotten they were in the diner. Max welcomed this intrusion of reality, until she saw the gun - no, the service weapon - snap into Jesse's hand before being stowed safely away inside her jacket, without her seemingly having to reach for it.

“I'll have the waffles, please,” said Emily. “Along with an orange juice and coffee - cream one sugar.” The waitress made a note and then looked questioningly at Jesse.

“Double cheeseburger with fries, onion rings, extra bacon, extra cheese no mayo. And a strawberry milkshake. Thank you.”

“And you, Ms?” Max smiled politely and shook her head.

“I'm fine for now, thanks with my coffee - I'm waiting for someone to join me.” The waitress bustled away leaving the three of them alone once more. Max fiddled with her half empty cup, aware of the gaze of the two women opposite her, thinking things through.

“Just then,” she said suddenly. “That gun.. It moved into your hand without you doing anything. How?” Emily leaned forward once more to speak to Max, clasping her hands together as if trying to control her excitement.

“Jesse here is a parautiltarian of great power, one of - if not the most - powerful we have seen at the FBC. In every test I've performed so far on her, all I've done is realise that I need to invent new ones to undertake more research.” Jesse exchanged a look with Max that told her everything she needed to know about what Jesse thought of the tests, and Max suppressed a giggle.

“Her telekinesis ability for example is off the charts,” Emily continued obliviously, “to say nothing of the aerial and displacement aptitude, which are manifestations we have never seen before in any of the FBC records. And we have a lot of records.”

“I can throw things and sort of fly, amongst other stuff,” Jesse translated. “Some of that is down to Polaris, but what is me and what is it, is something Emily loses sleep over.”

“No I don't, stop being silly,” pouted Emily. “It's just that the symbiosis present is something that is remarkable due to -”

“Erm.. Polaris? Who is that?” asked Max, learning quickly to cut across Emily and looking around the diner to see if there was anyone else around. Jesse smiled at her, then tapped her head.

“It's in here. It's my.. guide, I guess, a -”

“- resonance based life form from Slidescape 36, who was able to transmit the counter resonance to the hiss invasion -” interjected Emily, before Jesse could stop her.

“- yeah, that.” Max leaned back and looked at the pair, and felt like her entire world was coming apart around her. Here were two women opening a crack in a door for her to see an entire world she had never even suspected existed, but suddenly began to make sense of everything she had been experiencing.

“This is all a lot to take in at once,” she said. “It's.. unbelievable. Well, it would be if it wasn't for.. things.”

“I know exactly how you feel,” said Jesse. “I was in the same place as you when I first found the Oldest House. It's like.. like you're in a room, and on the wall is a poster, and the poster could be of anything but we all admire it -” out of the corner of her eye Max saw Emily facepalming - “- and you think the entire world is the room and the poster, and then someone pulls down the poster and there is a whole new world behind it.” Realisation dawned on Max.

“Oh like that film, the Shawshank Redemption.”

“Yes!” exclaimed Jesse excitedly, before turning to look at Emily with a triumphant expression. “See? She gets it. I like her already.” Max watched their easy banter and found herself missing Victoria even more; she glanced out of the window but there was still no sign of her. Max felt herself warming to the pair but was still cautious as to their true intent.

“This is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with me?” Jesse and Emily exchanged a look before Emily spoke gently to Max, as if she was a child.

“Max, the very fact you have not even raised an eyebrow at anything we've said says it all.” Max raised a finger to object before lowering it – she had a point, she hadn't even queried the fact Jesse said she could throw objects with her mind, like any sane person would.

“Besides,” chimed in Jesse, “Polaris can sense it, and that's good enough for me.” Max looked between the two of them, debating whether to rewind time or not.

And then what? If what they say is true then they'll just keep looking for me, and you won't be able to run forever. I'll find out what they want now and then I'll decide what to do..

Max shrugged, and held her hand out wide in a gesture of admittance.

“Fine, you found me. Well done. Now what?”

“Well that depends on you, Max,” said Jesse, leaning back and laying her arm around the back of the seat, which Emily leaned back into contentedly.

“Meaning?”

“Max, if you could give us an indication of what sort of power you have,” said Emily in a slightly more business-like tone, “and when did they manifest, what unusual occurrences or objects may be involved, who knows about it - that would be a start to enable us to make a decision.”

“Not wanting much, then,” said Max wryly. “Well, to put it simply I guess you could say I'm a time traveller.” There was a silence as they both looked at her, before Emily's face broke out in the widest of grins, eyes shining at the prospect of what that could mean.

“Unfuckingbelievable. That's just -”

“How many times have we had this conversation, Max?” asked Jesse quietly. Max was impressed by her quick thinking - clearly Emily wasn't the only one with brains.

“This is the first time, I promise. I can only go back about ten minutes at the moment, but I know I can do more - freeze time, slow time, jump through time - even use a photograph to travel back to that moment.” For some reason Max felt like she had to try and justify the fact that she could do more if she was able to, like it was some form of competition.

“How do you know that, Max? And how long have you had this ability?” Jesse tone was slightly worried, as if the implications of dealing with a time traveller were unfolding in her mind.

“Since last Monday. And I know because I told myself.” Further conversation was cut short by the arrival of the food, and Max took the opportunity to check the time - Victoria should be here soon.

Max watched them for a few minutes as they started to eat, getting food jealousy as she did so. She noticed she was feeling strangely at ease in their company - they didn't feel like a faceless, evil government agency, especially when they were mocking each other's food choices or unconsciously bumping shoulders or exchanging small smiles. Max realised she was profoundly jealous of the close intimacy they were causally showing in public (despite apparently being work colleagues), and how much she wanted something like it. Emily took a sip of orange juice before noticing Max watching her, and resumed her questions.

“You said you told yourself, Max - what do you mean by that? Some form of precognition?”

Max quickly surmised the events of the past week of how she had gained the powers and nearly broke reality. She saw Emily was making notes on a notepad that seemed to have appeared from nowhere, jotting things down in-between bites of waffle. Jesse didn't say anything and seemed to be concentrating on her burger - but every now and then Max caught her looking intensely at her, with her pale blue eyes.

“So all this happened last week?” said Emily when she had finished. “Well that explains the readings we picked up - and knowing it was an alternate reality causing it really gives me some information to work with. Knowing the cause of the readings means we can more effectively identify this in the future, and maybe establish a system where we could identify such -”

“Readings?” queried Max, and Emily not looking put out at being interrupted once again explained how they had found her – how they shone out like a massive red warning light to those who knew what to look for.

“And if we picked up on it, you can bet others did too - which is why we came out here straight away. We have a lot of experience as passing such things off as unusual weather, or a freak storm or some such thing. Hiding the reality from people so they can sleep safe at night.” Max was half listening to her words, her mind preoccupied with who else could be looking for her – and why.

“Who else knows?” interjected Jesse, sucking on her milkshake and watching Max over the rim of the glass.

“Only my.. my girlfriend, Victoria.”

“The tall blonde with the great dress sense?” Max nodded slowly, her eyes narrowing as she realised she had been watched more than she realised.

“What's her power then? She does have one though, doesn't she? Polaris could tell.” Max rubbed her face with her hands; she felt as if her entire life was being interrogated and laid bare with nothing kept secret.

“Yes, she does. She can create and fling ice all over the place. Even lower the temperature, and sometimes seems to be able to create a mini storm.. It's quite impressive actually.”

“So a form of elemental telekinesis then,” said Emily, stripping it away to boring technical details and starting a fresh page of notes. “Interesting. Has she had them just for this week as well?” Max shook her head.

“No a year or so. She kept them hidden from everyone as well; I only found out because I told myself and then she couldn't deny it.” Jesse nodded in sympathy, as if it was the most perfectly normal thing she'd ever heard.

“Is that who you are meeting tonight?”

“Yes.. Well I hope so. We.. we had a fight.” Max paused, and looked at the two older women sitting opposite her, as if thinking how to explain it all. “It seems utterly ridiculous now as well, after everything you've just said. Like a really petty thing to argue about, considering.. everything. How the world is. Do you two ever fight?” Emily laughed around some waffle.

“Is it that obvious we are together? Yeah we do. It's hard not to when she insists on doing such ridiculous things..” Jesse looked at her with a hurt expression.

“It's all part of the job, it's not like -”

“Uh-huh. And what about the vase incident last week? Forgotten that?”

“Oh don't you go dragging that up again, I said I was sorry.”

“Vase incident?” asked Max, curious despite herself, thinking it was some eldritch incident that had mortally imperilled them both. “What happened?”

“I don't want to talk about it,” said Emily sulkily. “It was a moving in gift from my mother which she broke.”

“Look, I may have accidentally launched it across the room. Total accident, I swear, it's not like I -”

“And I guess the painted dog figurine was as well. That was a Christmas present from her, too.”

“It was hideous! Like it was painted by a 3 year old!”

“Ha! So you admit it!” Max watched the back and forth, noting that underneath it all was genuine love and affection – and a bond that seemed unbreakable.

“Can I ask how you two met? I mean not if you don't want too tell me, that is. I'm just seeing you both so happy that...” The pair stopped bickering over a broken Princess Diana Memorial Plate (total accident, Jesse had sworn, sometimes she just forgets she can do the whole throwing multiple objects with extreme prejudice) and looked fondly at each other, with Emily taking Jesse by the hand.

“Jesse saved mine - and dozens of others - lives. She just turned up, opened the door of the shelter I was in and -”

“Love at first sight,” finished Jesse. “Corny I know, but sometimes that's just how it is. HR had a nightmare, but I'm the Boss so.. tough shit.” Emily kissed her on the cheek, her cheeks flushing as she did so, before turning back to Max.

“I know this isn't the time and place for it, but is there anything else you can tell us about your power?” Max looked down at her coffee cup, and then suddenly back up as a thought struck her.

“Butterflies,” she said. “I think that's what gave me my power. A blue butterfly. Victoria has a green one.” To her surprise Jesse threw her hands up in exasperation.

“Butterflies? That so unfair. She gets a butterfly, I get a 100ft high giant slug monster with one eye who I argue about sandwiches with while trying to save the world.”

“Sshh you,” said Emily. “Please excuse her, her priorities are a bit skewed sometimes.”

“Well so would yours be if you were attacked by a sentient rubber duck,” she muttered. Emily wisely ignored her and spoke instead to Max.

“That does sound a bit like something that you would normally encounter either within, or touched by, the Astral Plane. If one of them has escaped, then..” She looked a little worried and made a note or two, before looking questioningly at Jesse. Max shifted uncomfortably as Jesse's smiling face became stern, as if she was thinking on what to do – all the joviality of before was gone as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Control looked at her.

“The problem I have, Max,” she said slowly, “is that by law I should bring you in. That's what's supposed to happen, and would have if there was anyone else but me here. My uh, predecessor, would have had the place swarming with Agents to contain the two of you. You would be in the Panopticon already.” She took a big suck of her milkshake, the sound feeling incongruous given the serious nature of the topic being discussed. She finished and leaned back looking at it, as if pleasantly satisfied.

“But I am not him, and I'm doing things my way. So, I will not be taking you in - although I suspect right now it would be difficult anyway, given you could just jump back in time. I expect Emily could come up with a countermeasure for that given time - but what I do want is this.” She looked at Max expectantly, to make sure she had her whole attention. Max felt uneasy again, realising that for all their friendliness they were still here to do a job - and that job was her, and by extension Victoria. Her protective instincts flared and the desire to rewind time and escape it all was almost overbearing. Jesse frowned a little, as if she could sense what was going through her mind.

“What I want you to do is simple - after Christmas, once you've had a few months to settle down and get used to it, come to New York and see me and we can talk properly. I don't want your life ruined like mine was, so I'm trusting you – just.. just don't break reality or anything. There's a lot of paperwork if you do, and I hate paperwork.”

Max giggled, as much to relieve the tension as anything she had said. Jesse reached into her pocket and handed her a business card.

“Here. You can reach me on this - not many people have these details, and it's not like the FBC is on Facebook.” Max looked at the card, turning it in her hands as she considered the proposal.

What choice do I have? I feel so out of my depth right now, and having someone to talk to about it, who might know what is going on..

“OK,” she said. “I will. But I don't want Victoria involved, not yet - not until I know more about this. It's a lot to take in at once, and she gets really stressy sometimes.” Emily nodded understandingly.

“Yes, it can be a lot, can't it. I remember my first day on the job, straight from University - I thought I was going crazy. But you get used to it, eventually. Or you die before you can.” Max started and looked at her to see if she was joking, but her face was serious. Jesse saw her expression and added further explanation.

“Comes with the job. I mean in my example, turns out you are either appointed the Director or you don't live. At least we get dental, though.” She stretched a little, and looked at the time.

“Shouldn't your girlfriend be here by now? Is she usually late?” Max shook her head.

“No, that's usually me. I wonder what's keeping her?”



Victoria had been utterly pissed off after the wake, and had decided that the best thing Max needed was to see what it was like to not have her at all. She had feared that Max would rewind time, but given she could still remember having kissed her in front of Kate, even if she had done it the end result appeared to have been the same.

It had been tough ignoring Max calls and messages, or even her plaintive pleading outside of her door at night. Victoria had felt like she was kicking a puppy, but then reminded herself that it was entirely Max's own doing and that Max needed to know she was not to be taken for granted. She was Victoria Chase after all, and had some self respect at least.

It had taken even more willpower to ignore her and wait most of the Wednesday before sending her the message to meet up (as it was she had cracked two hours earlier than she had planned) – but as an olive branch she had chosen the Two Whales as a place to meet, hoping Max would get the hint that she was not really, really mad at her. Sure, she was angry and frustrated, but it wasn't like she wanted to end it or anything – in fact quite the opposite.

She had got herself ready in good time, and with one last glance in the mirror to check she was looking particularly devastating she had made her way to the car park, leaving exactly at 6:30 – she figured Max could be left waiting a little bit longer for her. The car park was badly lit and it left deep shadows everywhere; Victoria was so focused on her upcoming meeting with Max that she didn't notice the figure observing her walk to the car until they spoke.

“Going somewhere, Chase?” Victoria froze momentarily before she recognised the voice, and relaxed slightly.

“I'm going out, Logan – not that it is any business of yours. What are you doing creeping around in the car park in the dark?” He was leaning against the wall, hidden in the shadows while observing her – it was almost like he had been waiting for her, but that would have been absurd. He watched her as she fished in her bag for her keys, then shifted stance slightly and seemed to move a little bit closer to her.

“Oh you know, bit of this, bit of that. Thinking, mainly.”

“That's not like you,” retorted Victoria. She had little love for him, but he was a Vortex Club member and thus within her social orbit.

“Funny.” He paused, as if thinking on his words. “I've been having some thoughts though, mainly about the Vortex Club.”

“What about it?” asked Victoria tersely, conscious of the time passing and beginning to feel a little impatient.

“I think it is about time it headed in a new direction. No offence to you, but I think it needs a man at the helm to give it what it needs.” Victoria bristled; she couldn't quite believe what she was hearing and snapped back at him with some venom, hackles raised.

“Let me guess, that fucking Neanderthal would be you, would it?” Logan shrugged easily, taking another step closer towards her. Victoria frowned a little, but didn't think too much of it.

“Could be, could be. Ever since that prick Prescott got arrested – stupid fucker, he should have just stuck to the normal drugs we used like the rest of us, but no - he had to try and be one of those fucking arty wannabe types with that paedo Jefferson, didn't he.” Victoria felt a hollow feeling in her stomach, both at the reminder of her friendship with Nathan and the subtle implications of Logan's words.

Other drugs? What exactly does that mean? What the fuck has been going on that I don't know about? I need to speak to Taylor and Courtney about this, see what they know.

“That's over now, Logan. In the past where it belongs. And we all bear responsibility for it. Some more than others, it seems.” Logan stepped out into the light from the lamp, and she could see his face clearly – the soft light making his features angular and harsh.

“Yeah, you aint fooling me with that whole funeral stunt, Chase – oh boo hoo some waste of space got shot. Who fucking cares. Or maybe you have gone soft now – maybe it is about time for new blood at the top.” Victoria straightened up, jutting her chin forward – Logan was physically bigger and loomed imposingly over her, but she was not cowed by him. Victoria was not short of courage when it came to it, something which had often got her into trouble when she was younger – besides, a Chase never backed down, no matter the odds.

“I'm still Club President, Logan,” she said dangerously, “and if you want to stay in it, you'd better start sucking up right now.” Logan sneered in her face, clearly not intimidated by her.

“For now you are, yes. And from what I hear, sucking is the last thing you want to do. Which is a pity.” Victoria blinked in shock before her mouth distorted into an angry smear, her fists clenching as she stepped right up to him.

“What the fuck did you just say?” Logan was in her face, staring down at her, revelling in his dominance over the smaller woman.

“You heard me, you fucking dyke. Maybe if you had actually whored your way around the team you wouldn't be such an uptight -” Furious rage burned its way through Victoria, and on instinct she thrust out her hand, untamed power surging through her and sending an ugly, raw lump of ice straight into his chest with all the force she could muster. It caught him heavily and knocked him backwards, where he stumbled and fell to the floor, clutching his ribs.

“What the fuck?” he laughed wheezily. “You're fucked now, Chase. I don't care how fucking rich you are.” He looked up at her and the laughter died in his throat; her eyes seemed to be lit with a green fire, shining in the darkness as she looked at him, like a tiger toying with its prey.

She stalked towards him, holding out her hand and forming a long, thick club of ice – it was crude and ill-formed, made of anger and rage and a desire to inflict pain; the ice was dark and hard, reflecting little light. Logan tried to scramble away on his hands, looking wildly up at her and clearly terrified of what he was seeing.

“Get.. get away from me, you fucking freak!” he screamed, before Victoria drew back her arm and then smashed him across the face with the club, jerking his head viciously back in a spray of blood. She twisted it in her hand and dealt another savage blow, causing the club to break and shatter into shards.

Victoria looked at him grovelling on the floor and felt like every fibre of her being was being electrified; she was young and strong and powerful and rich and beautiful. She took held out her hand to form another club but Logan quickly scrambled to his feet and ran for his life while the laughter of Victoria echoed in his ears.

“That's right, run you fucking bastard! Run!” She launched a blast after him which missed and smashed a car window, and she shrugged in disappointment. She had never felt so alive in that moment, so sure of herself and finally feeling like she could let go, let herself be the thing she thought she was supposed to be. As she turned back towards her car she thought she saw a brilliant flash of green out of the corner of her eye, and she turned back to look for it but it had gone.

that Butterfly had her wings clipped; remember that, Victoria...

The thought seemed to come from nowhere – her voice but not her voice, and the grim reminder dampened her mood somewhat. She realised she'd have to deal with the fallout of tonight's incident at some point, but right now she didn't fucking care, for she was alive and she was Victoria Fucking Chase – and she had a girlfriend to go meet.

A few moments later she was tearing her way through Arcadia Bay, adrenalin coursing through her veins as she slammed the car into another gear and nailed it down the road, the engine snarling like a beast from hell.



Max sighed with relief when she saw the car screech to a halt in the car park, coming to rest across three spaces.

“She's here,” she said to Jesse, pointing at the car.

“Nice car,” Jesse remarked. Max nodded, a smile spreading across her face. She looked at Jesse and quickly made a decision.

“Look, as I said I think it's for the best if she doesn't know about you yet. It's tricky enough for us both as it is and I'd prefer if she didn't have to deal with this as well.” Jesse looked unconvinced, and went to say something but Max held up a hand to forestall her. “Look, I promise I will come to New York, OK? It's not like I have a choice but you said it yourself – try to live an ordinary life for as long as we can.” She stared out of the window where she saw Victoria slowly getting out of the car and stretching, as if sore from a long journey.

“Besides,” she continued softly, “I need to fix what I've broken first. Please let me have this, for now?” Jesse looked at Emily whose face softened into a smile, and she squeezed Jesse's hand.

“New Director New Rules, remember?” Jesse smiled back at her, and kissed her.

“I hate you sometimes. OK Max, you go get your girl – but I expect you after Christmas. Don't let me down.” Max stood hurriedly up to run out to intercept Victoria before she came in.

“I won't. You have my word. I'll – I'll be in touch.”



Victoria was walking towards the diner when Max burst out of the door at the run, and before she could react Max had flung herself at her, grabbing her face with both hands and placing an urgent kiss on her lips. Victoria stood there for a moment, dumbfounded, as Max wrapped her arms around her neck and didn't let up, before melting into the kiss and responding in turn. After a few moments they parted, and Max looked at her slightly red faced. Victoria looked at her, still riding the high from her recent violent escapades and grinned.

“I like your way of apologising, Max,” she said. “Wait - aren't you afraid of someone noticing? There could be anyone here.” Max looked down at her feet before meeting her gaze again.

“Yeah. But honestly? Fuck them.” Victoria laughed loudly and Max joined in, before reaching out to hold Victoria's hand and twisting their fingers together.

“Look I'm sorry,” she said. “I've been completely stupid with everything, I was just so.. I don't know. Not scared, but..”

“Selfish? Not thinking about my feelings? Thinking I would just suck it up and do whatever you asked without expecting anything back in return?” Max grimaced, but nodded a little.

“I wouldn't have put it in quite those words, but yes. I guess so.” Victoria stood there watching her, hand on her hip, waiting.

“And?” she said. Max looked up at her questioningly.

“And what?”

“And what are you going to do about it?” Max gawped a little before shrugging non-committally.

“I guess.. I guess I'm not going to hide it when we are together...?”

“Yes, and...?”

“... talk to Kate and anyone else and tell them?”

“And tell people. Bravo, Max, you got there in the end.” Victoria paused for a moment, and her gaze became thoughtful as if remembering something. “I know it won't be easy, there are plenty of complete dickheads who won't like it but..” She grabbed Max's other hand and pulled her in close for a hug. “We're superheroes, we can do anything .”

“That we are,” laughed Max, “that we are. Oh – but do you want to eat? I was thinking we could go somewhere you wanted to go, rather than here.”

“My my, willing to give up the Two Whales for me? I'm honoured.”

“Yeah. I'm not feeling it tonight, and with the whole Joyce thing let's just go somewhere else.” Max didn't dare look back at the diner; she felt as if she could feel Jesse's eyes boring into the back of her head. “Why were you late, anyway?” Victoria rested her chin on the top of Max's head, debating whether to tell her or not.

I feel like I have the high ground with Max right now for once, and I don't want to lose that. Besides, she would be really judgemental about it all knowing her, and I could do without that right now as well – as far as I'm concerned he had deserved every single fucking thing

I'll tell her tomorrow. Or maybe Friday.

“Oh. I just.. had to talk to someone, that's all. Bumped into them and they wouldn't shut up until I made them, you know how it is. Nothing interesting really. Hope you weren't too annoyed sitting on your own.”

“No.. it was fine. Gave me time to think about everything. Look at the world from a new perspective. Anyway, let's get going – I'm hungry.”

“OK, I know just the place – is Italian OK? But don't think I'm letting you off this easily, Caulfield. You still have to be punished most severely.”

“Do I now, Ms Chase?” replied Max coyly, “I guess I could let you punish me a little – just be gentle, I bruise easily.” Victoria blushed to her roots, and she barely managed to stammer a reply.

“God you are such a perv, who would've thought it. Get in the car and let's go, Pervfield.” Max walked to the car and couldn't help but look at the diner one last time before she got in – there, framed in the window, she could see them watching her every move.



Chapter Text

It wasn't until the Friday that Kate had even agreed to talk, and even that had only been accomplished via the medium of a still confused Dana who had caught Max in the halls to pass on the message - to meet Kate at Teawitched at 4 o'clock that afternoon.

“I don't know what is going on between you two,” Dana had said, arms folded and chest thrust out in a threatening manner, “and it's none of my business, and unless Kate decides to tell me it's between you two to sort it out. But I.. I care for Kate, and she has been through enough right now that I don't want you upsetting her any further, Max. Do you understand what I'm saying?” Max had assured her that she did indeed understand what she was saying and that upsetting Kate was the last thing she had wanted to do; but that it was all just a silly misunderstanding between them. She wasn't sure if Dana had believed her and Max had made her excuses to leave before things got suddenly very awkward – behind Dana she could see the Battleship Chase hoving into view, and she went on an emergency intercept course before hostilities broke out between the pair, as they always seem to do at the moment.

Max had briefly dwelt on Dana and Kate's continuing blossoming friendship, intrigued by the apparent disparity in personalities and interests and wondering how good a match they could potentially make (assuming Dana even liked girls, that is), before spending the afternoon with Victoria working on some photographs - although there seemed to be more talking, kissing and general hanging out than taking photographs.

Victoria had disappeared after a while on some Vortex business that Max had literally no interest in whatsoever, despite Victoria's attempts to get her to be, and so with a promise to let her know how things went with Kate Max had whiled away the time in her room procrastinating over her homework.

Eventually at twenty to four Max had left her room and started to make her way towards the bus stop to go meet Kate – she had realised that although she might normally be cutting it fine time-wise, there was literally no excuse for her to be late any more. As she left the dorm she saw Samuel working away on the flower beds, and she took a moment to wander over to speak to him.

“Hi Samuel. Looking after the plants today?” Samuel looked up and gave her a lopsided grin.

“Hello there, Max. The plants need some care with winter approaching.” He turned back and resumed digging away, as if that was all he had to say. Max watched for a moment before turning to leave, causing Samuel to look up at her with a wry expression.

“They're happy you two are working things through, Max. Keep going.” Max paused and looked at him closely, but he had returned to just digging away.

“Um.. who are? And.. us two?” she queried, voice curious. Samuel shrugged and gestured in a vague direction.

“The squirrels talk to me. They tell me things. Green and blue together, as it should be.” Max felt a nervous thrill run through at her his words, but did her best to keep her face straight.

“Oh, well.. I'm sure it all makes sense to someone. I'll.. I'll be going. Bye!” She was aware of Samuel's eyes on her as she walked away, doing her best to pretend everything was all perfectly normal and right and not weird at all. So absorbed was she in trying to not think about anything at all that she nearly walked into two people having a conversation as they rounded the corner of the building.

“Watch where you are fucking going, Caulfield,” growled one of them, glaring at her as if he would squash her right there and then. The impact of this glare was lessened slightly by two black eyes and some steri-strips across his nose, along with some angry swelling on his cheek.

“Oh, sorry... Lon.. Lan.. Login!” said Max cheerfully, taking a moment to try and remember his name and failing miserably. “I was just lost in thought and didn't see you.” He just glared at her and she saw the other person with him was Trevor, who she had seen hanging around with Dana quite a few times - increasingly more of late, and she thought there was probably definitely something going on there.

I should ask Dana about it.. and if Kate knows – or cares? I don't want to make a faux pas if I can avoid it.

“Hi Trevor,” she waved, and was greeted with a curt nod.

“Hi Max,” he replied quietly, looking a little uncomfortable as if they had been interrupted discussing something private. There was a silence as Max looked at them both, and she filled the gap.

“Are you OK, Landon? You look like you've been attacked by a wild animal.” If looks could kill Max would have been dead on the spot, but she was seemingly oblivious to it. “You should get the nurse to look at that, it looks sore.”

“Fuck you,” he said and turned away. Trevor gave her an apologetic shrug and followed him, and they resumed the conversation as they away from her and out of earshot.

“So anyway, I had told Wells about her and what she did but..”

Max strained her ears but couldn't hear anything more.

I wonder what they were talking about? It sounded interesting. God you are so nosey, Max.

Oh well, I guess I'll find out eventually.

She turned to go before smacking herself on forehead for her own stupidity.



“Honestly, I was just hanging around when she attacked me out of nowhere – I'm telling you, she's a psycho bitch.”

“Dunno man, she always been pretty chill to me. Plus she's not exactly big, I don't see how-”

“She had a fucking bat, Trevor. Of course she couldn't normally take me in a fight, that's why she got me unawares. Only way she could. I'm telling you, she's a psycho bitch!” That last word was almost spat, and Max from her hiding place (assisted by a few rewinds to keep out of sight) was tracking their progress with interest.

Whoa, so Larry was attacked by someone. Sounds pretty bad, I wonder who it was? This is exciting, Detective Max on the case.

“Still doesn't sound like her. Anyway Logan, why were you there on your own? Looks a bit odd, if I'm honest.”

Logan! That was his name.

“Hey, I was just hanging out. I'm allowed to do that, it's a free country. Anyway, the doctor told me she'd broken my fucking nose. That's me out of the game this weekend, coach is going to be pissed.”

“Wait, why didn't you just call the police and get her done for assault then?”

“Yeah, as if they'd believe my word against hers, you know how it is - they always play the victim. And anyway she could get hold of some expensive lawyer and twist it around that they'd probably blame me for it.” Max perked her ears up and began to listen more intently, making sure she was just a shadow behind them.

“Oh. Well.. I dunno..”

“I even went to Wells, useless bastard that he is. 'These are serious allegations and Ms Chase is a valued member blah fucking blah'. Such a waste of fucking space.” Max froze at the mention of the name and leaned against the wall.

Victoria did this?

“So what are you going to do...?” The voices faded away as Max tried to work through what she had heard.

Victoria attacked Logan? No, she wouldn't just do that for no reason, that's not her. So something must have happened to provoke her.. was that why she was late then? She said she had spoken to someone. Why wouldn't she tell me about it?

Like you've told her about meeting Jessie?

Max resumed walking towards the bus stop, deep in thought.

I guess I should keep an eye on him, just in case.



Kate was waiting for Max in the café, a set of tea already on the table along with what looked like some scones and jam. Max cautiously walked over and stood by the table.

“Uh.. hi, Kate.” Kate looked at her, face serious, and Max noticed how her hair was tied back in a high, loose ponytail and that she was wearing a simple t-shirt and jeans – a look that seemed quite incongruous and entirely not what she thought of when she thought of Kate. Max hovered by the table just long enough to start feeling awkward before Kate motioned for her to sit. Max quickly pulled up a chair and sat down, while Kate slowly poured herself another cup of tea. Max's cup was left empty, but she didn't mention it.

Max watched Kate as she slowly made her tea, waiting and waiting for her to say something until she couldn't bear it any more and just had to break the silence.

“Kate, how are -”

“Why didn't you tell me?” Kate's question was simple and direct, and cut Max right to the bone and she just stared at Kate without replying. Kate looked at Max for a moment, before picking up a scone and slowly cutting it in half. Max watched the blade of the knife as if mesmerised, the jam on it taking on the appearance of blood as she scraped it across the scone. Max felt an uneasy memory of something, something that ghosted on the fringes of her mind – an echo of something that had never happened.

“I.. I.. there's nothing to tell you, I was just.. chatting to Victoria and.. and..” The knife clinked as it was laid down on the plate.

“If you are just going to lie to me, Max, then you can get right up and -”

“- tell me?” Back and forth went the knife, the jam glistening.

What can't I remember? Is this something from other Max? What happened?

“I didn't want to make you upset, I thought that -”

“I'm not some delicate flower that needs protecting, Max; at least that is not your decision to make about me. You lied to me, and to say it was just to protect me? That is -”

“- tell me?”

“I was just waiting for the right time -”

“- tell me?”

“It's nothing special just -”

“- tell me?”

“- tell me?”

Because I have fucking super powers that mean I can go through fucking time and me and Victoria are meant to be fucking together and she can fire ice from her fucking hands and I can't keep on fucking doing this over and over!” Max banged her hand on the table in anger and despair and screamed in frustration, screwing her eyes tight as she felt her power fluctuate along with her rage. It was all so stupid and unfair that she couldn't make Kate accept any excuse she could come up with, why can't the world just do what I fucking want it to?!

She opened her eyes and looked at Kate; Kate who was looking at her with a shocked expression, frozen in time; around at the cafe where people were motionless mid-sentence, mid-gesture – not a sound to be heard but the beating of her own heart. She realised that she had managed to freeze time once more, but this time it felt much easier than it had back in Seattle – whether that was some lingering effects of other Max, or she was developing her powers without realising it, she didn't know.

Suddenly she felt a familiar sensation on her forearm and saw that, apparently having appeared from nowhere, was her butterfly; nonchalantly flapping its wings at her as if without a care in the world.

“Hello again,” Max whispered, “It's good to see you.” As before Max felt calm, as if the butterfly was doing to her what she seemed to do to Victoria whenever Victoria got upset. “Have you come to tell me off again?”

The butterfly seemed to look at her, as if contemplating how to reply, before it fluttered its wings -

- and Max felt images flash through her mind, quicker than she could possibly make out - images of her future, glimpses of places she had never seen, people she had never met; but always one constant - a flash of green eyes and a happy smile, a touch, a glance, an overwhelming feeling of love - before the images suddenly stopped and Max felt herself -

'Is everyone OK? Anyone hurt?' It was pitch black and she couldn't see anything, and she coughed once more as some dust got in her lungs.

'I'm OK,' came a reply she recognised as being Victoria. 'Something hit me on my head but I think it's only a cut. I'll be OK.'

'Let me create some light,' said another - Hikari - and there was a sudden blaze of light as she held up a hand wreathed in fire. Max could see now that they were all scattered around the room, the passage behind them having collapsed, but the door out looked to be intact, if not a little battered. Max concentrated to try see if she could get them back out of there but there was only a dull flicker and she winced in pain.

'Sorry everyone, I'm out - you'll have to do without me for a while. Phoibe? Aleks? Lina?' There were assorted grunts of acknowledgement and 'here's', followed by the sound of sliding debris as they all slowly stood up with a groan or two.

'Right, good - let's get out of here then while we still can, we don't know if there is anyone else still alive and I'd rather not push our luck. Hikari you go first with Aleks - Vic can you take the rear? Lina, Phiobe, you with me.' She could see now, in the flickering light, that Victoria had a nasty gash across her forehead with blood smearing down across her cheek and she instinctively wanted to rush over and hold her tight, make sure she was not too hurt and kiss it better - but she knew she was responsible for everyone now, not just Victoria, and she made do with touching her face gently and squeezing her hand, to acknowledge that she knew and would do everything she could to make it better.

'Hey, take this – I haven't used all mine.' Victoria handed her a gel pack and Max kissed her in gratitude, popping it in her mouth and feeling the sugary liquid ooze down her throat.

Suddenly they were outside, in what seemed to be an industrial compound and Max breathed deeply in the cool night air, glad to have made it all out in one piece.

'Freeze! Nobody move! Put your hands where I can see them. All of you!' Max turned and saw a patrol car parked near the compound entrance with a lone policeman standing there, gun drawn and clearly nervous. Without a word the girls fanned out into their customary positions; Aleksandra moving next to Max in a defensive stance, fists raised; Hikari was on the right with fire rippling down her arms, Victoria on the left with the wind and ice already swirling up around her; Phoibe with eyes growing blacker as she channelled the darkness within, checking the action on her Beretta while Lina moved quicker than sight to the far side, guns drawn and ready for action, scanning the high ground.

The officer looked at them opened mouthed, struggling to comprehend what he was seeing; the gun lowering of its own accord as part of his brain realised with increasing urgency that pointing it at the six was possibly the worst thing he could be doing and took over. In the distance Max could hear sirens approaching, their wail cutting through the still air.

She's late, she thought, but better late than never I guess. She looked at the officer and felt her power slowly return as her exhaustion passed and some meagre reserves of energy returned, her eyes taking on the telltale inner fire of the others. The officer looked at her in alarm as she took a step forward, a small triumphant smile on her face, and he tried to move away but his legs buckled under him and he sagged against the car.

'Who.. who are you people?' he stammered. Max looked at the others - her team, bloodied but unbowed, united behind her with common purpose, ready and prepared; with one in particular meaning more to her than the entire world. She turned back to him and gestured at them, waiting expectantly on her command.

'We.. we are the Butterflies. And.. we're going to change the world.'

Max blinked and she was once more back in the café; just herself, Kate and a pot of tea. Max was momentarily bewildered, still feeling the cool of the night, the gritty feeling of dust in her eyes and a sense of confidence, of power, of purpose.

“Are you showing me my future? Or.. a potential future?” asked Max, trying to cope with the conflicting emotions still swirling around her. The butterfly seemed to shrug, if that was possible, as if to imply that it could be, but it was dependent on her, on what she was going to do. Max looked at Kate, frozen in time; sitting opposite her right now because she did not have the courage to tell her the truth.

“But it’s so hard,” she muttered, “I just want people to like me, to make it so we all get on and everyone is nice the way I want them to be. I mean the way they should be.” There was another flutter and Max distinctly got the impression of it being disappointed; that given the powers she had been given, just to try and make everyone be nice to her was not only selfish, but extremely narrowly focused, a waste.

“My team,” she said slowly to herself, “changing the world.” She looked down at her hands, as if wondering whether she truly could do what she had seen, or whether it was just a trick to try and get her to try.

I’m only 18 and I just want to take photographs. I’m no hero, I'm no leader. I’m just Max.

“Why have you given me this power? I don't want it, I just want to be me,” she said, but her arm was empty once again: it was just her and the frozen world.

Her head was beginning to tingle a little, a small pressure building up as she felt her grip on holding time loosen – she felt a tiny trickle of blood threaten to drip from her nose and she knew that she had to think quickly before she was back in normal time, likely with no more chances left. She gritted her teeth and dragged time unwillingly back once more, feeling her power flicker and die as she did so.

“- tell me?” Max looked at Kate, mind racing, trying to think what to say while ignoring the pounding within her head that seemed to want to make her just slide gently out of her seat and curl up on the floor.

“I..” Max began, struggling to find the right words. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before continuing. “I didn't want to tell you because I knew you'd be upset, and I didn't want you to be upset with me because.. because I want you to like me. As you are one of my only friends I have here. And I knew telling you would mean that you might not be any more because of.. of how she treated you. So I didn't tell you because I thought.. I thought I could hide it for long enough that eventually it would be too late and.. and you'd just accept it.” Kate looked at Max, face impassive. She took a bite of her scone and chewed slowly, as if thinking on Max's words. Max felt like the wait was unbearable, and desperately wanted to fill the silence again but held her tongue.

With a sad sigh Kate put down the scone and clasped her hands together, thumbs twisting over each other as if to keep them busy while she talked.

“It's not the fact it's Victoria – well, no that's not true, it is, but I'll get to that – it's also the fact that you lied to me, Max. You didn't tell me. And that hurts.” Max stared down at the table in front of her, in some ways Kate just being disappointed, rather than angry, was worse. It almost felt like when she had been naughty at home and her mother was telling her off – no shouting, no anger – just disappointment.

“We're supposed to be friends, Max, aren't we? And friends are supposed to tell each other things.”

“Yes, I know Kate – but you don't tell me things either. Like the fact you were going to that Vortex party the other week. I would have come with you if you had asked and maybe.. maybe..” Kate's face stiffened and Max felt her gut lurch.

Wrong thing to say, Max, you complete idiot.

“That's.. that's not fair, Max. What happened to me was.. was..”

“Yes, Kate I know it was fucking awful. I don't deny that, I'm just saying you've also hid things from me when you didn't have too, so.. so.. I mean..”

So you mean what, exactly?”

“I mean.. we both haven't told each other everything that goes on, have we? I mean why did you go to that Vortex Club party if Victoria and everyone is so evil? Yes she's been a bully, but that doesn't explain why you went if that's the case, as you knew she would be there. So.. yes I didn't tell you about her, but then.. neither have you told me everything. As you said, friends tell each other things.” Kate looked at Max as if she was about to burst into tears, but blinked rapidly as if trying to push them away.

“That's.. that's really unfair, Max. I was drugged at that party, the things they.. they did to me..” Max reached out to grab Kate's hand, and she flinched as Max's hand took hers.

“I know, Kate, I know,” said Max quietly. “I know. And they will rot in prison for it, and for other things. I am not saying that what happened wasn't bad, but.. but to blame it all on Victoria is.. really unfair, especially as she was supposed to be next. She's not like that, not really.”

“I'd suppose you'd f- really know now, wouldn't you,” Kate said bitterly, trying to disengage from Max's hand. “I bet you had a good laugh about it.”

“No!” exclaimed Max loudly, causing people to turn and look at them. “No,” she continued in a quieter tone. “Of course not. But I have heard what she had to say about it, and she knows she fucked up, with you, with that, with everyone. She's trying to change, Kate, but it is hard for her to make amends over something like this. Believe me, she knows, it's really haunting her.”

“Since when did you become her confidant, Max? Why have you spent more time getting to know her rather than with me, your supposed friend? If it wasn't for Dana being there.. I... I don't know..”

- into Max's mind came the image of a knife and red and a body and a scream in her throat -

“I get that, I do,” said Max, ignoring the horribly real and intrusive thoughts running through her mind, “but it has been difficult for me too, with what happened to Chloe.” Kate had withdrawn her hand and had her arms around her chest, looking incredibly defensive and hurt. Max tried a rewind again, but all she got was a stab of pain that made her wince.

“Look Kate, we've been friends for like a month now and I really value it. I do – it's why I'm here. I'm really sorry for lying about it but surely you can see why I did, I knew you wouldn't be happy.”

“I'm not.”

“Please let's not fall out over this.” Kate was silent but looked down at the table, avoiding Max's gaze. Her lips moved silently for a moment, as if she was working things out in her head before she suddenly looked up at Max, her gaze piercing.

“How long has it been? You and.. her.”

“How long? Oh. Um.. about a week or so.” Kate looked surprised, as if it wasn't the answer she had been expecting.

“Only that long? I thought.. I thought...” She fell silent once more, as if readjusting what she had been thinking. “Only a week.. but I don't understand, what happened? Why are you suddenly.. like this with her?” Max saw the lifeline and grabbed it with both hands.

“Right, so remember last week I went back to Seattle? Back home? Well it turned out Victoria had also gone back, and I guess she was feeling bad about things because she messaged me to ask if I wanted to meet up.”

“I didn't even know she had your number.”

“Oh.. I think.. I think we might have swapped it on the first day of term, you know when we all arrived. Anyway, she said she just wanted to talk so I agreed to meet her at her house -”

“You went to her house?” Max gave her a panicked look while her brain raced for an answer.

“Well.. yes. I.. I.. I guess it made her more comfortable to meet there.” Kate poured herself another cup of tea; she still didn't offer Max any but just waited for her to continue her story.

“So anyway we just sort of.. hung out, I guess, and chatted. She wanted to try and make up with people and I guess I was the start of it, but we.. I saw a different side to her. Like the real her, away from everything - who she could be if it wasn't for all this bullshit. And then the next day she offered me a lift back and since then.. we've just sort of fallen for each other, I guess.”

“Really? That quickly? It must be love then,” said Kate sarcastically. “Is she buying you something or paying you? What game is she playing?”

“No game,” replied Max. “Do you really think I would let her do that to me? Do you really think that little of me, Kate?” There was no answer and Kate still looked decidedly unhappy, although Max's words had made her feel a little guilty.

“She's really trying, you know,” Max continued. “she wants to make things better. Be a better person, make amends for everything. Including you.” Kate let out a heavy sigh, as if she had found out something that she regretted.

“I know she is trying, I found out what she had done at the funeral.”

“Oh? What was that?” Kate looked at Max suspiciously, and raised an eyebrow.

“You don't know? Really? She arranged and paid for the wake. Anonymously too, didn't want the Madsen's to know.”

“I had no idea, I promise,” Max said, “but don't you see? That's what I mean, she's trying. And she really can be the sweetest, most kind and generous person you - why are you laughing?”

“We are still talking about Victoria Chase, Yes? Sorry, it's just... unbelievable. But if you say that then.. Maybe. I don't know.” Max waved at a waitress, finally realising tea from Kate wasn't forthcoming. Kate waited patiently while she ordered, looking slightly guilty that she hadn't shared before and in a conciliatory gesture offered her a piece of scone that Max eagerly accepted, her stomach feeling empty.

“I just wanted to see what it was like to be the same as everyone else,” Kate said suddenly. “I mean I had heard about parties and things but I was never allowed to go by my parents. Dens of sin and inequity, my mother called them. And I just wanted to see for myself, you know? Try and fit in a bit more. I want to be liked and have friends as much as anyone else.” She paused and her face twisted at the memory of it. “And I thought she had been right, that it was my fault for giving in to sinful wants, that it was punishment for disobeying her and being weak.” Kate stared at the table, eyes glazing over as she recalled walking down a much darker path not that long ago.

“Hey, you know that's not true,” Max said, trying her best to offer reassurance. “What happened wasn't your fault, it was Nathan and -”

“Don't say his name,” Kate interjected, “please. It's still too soon. I know it's not, but it's hard to.. to believe it sometimes, especially when your family doesn't.” They were quiet for a few minutes as Kate thought things over, and Max watched her carefully, thinking that she could see her face maybe grow a little clearer and happier - although that may have just been wishful thinking. Max's drink arrived and she busied herself pouring a cup of Earl Grey - it wasn't her favourite but she wanted to try and expand her palette.

“So Victoria is gay. I never knew that.” Kate's voice was quiet and thoughtful, as if she was more speaking to herself. Max took a sip of tea before replying.

“Yes, she is. I didn't know either until last week. She has been really afraid of people finding out, of their reaction to it.” Max saw Kate was listening with interest although trying not to show it, and thought she should elaborate further. “Especially her parents, she told me. I mean they are not religious or anything which is often where that sort of thing comes from I think, but they just have.. expectations of her. Impossible ones. To be honest I never appreciated the pressure she was under, but then why would I have?” Kate didn't answer and seemed to just concentrate on her tea for a few minutes, before looking up at Max - and to Max's relief her face seemed to be almost back to how she always was with her.

“Thanks for telling me Max, and explaining everything. Truthfully this time, I mean.” Max opened her mouth to protest but Kate waved it away. “I forgive you. I am still annoyed that you lied but I forgive you. At least I understand why you did it now. But Victoria.. I can't forget how she bullied me, Max, but I am willing to give her a chance to try and redeem herself. Especially if it means I am potentially going to be seeing more of her, I don't see how I have a choice.”

“Still friends, then?” Kate smiled at Max and grasped her hand.

“Still friends. But seriously, Victoria...?”

“Kate, you are not going to keep doing that every time, are you?”

“Only until it stops being funny for me,” she said, smiling wickedly. “So never.” There was a more comfortable moment than there had been for a while as they both savoured their tea.

“So, are you taking Victoria to the Halloween party then?”

“Halloween Party? I didn't know there was one.”

“There were posters put up for it today, a Vortex thing – I'd have thought you would know about it. I think I want to go. I don't want to be afraid of things because of what happened, and maybe this time if I go with friends like you or.. or... Dana, maybe, then it could be OK.”

“That sound great – let's do that. Victoria will understand, she will probably be busy anyway with organising things. If not then she can tag along with us cool kids.”

Kate suddenly frowned in puzzlement.

“But wait, there's one thing I don't get. Assuming you are pursuing this.. this thing with Victoria, then why are you going on a date with Warren tomorrow?” Max looked at her as if she was mad.

“What? What date? What are you on about, I'm not..” Max stopped in a panic, trying to think back over the past week.

“Warren told me you are. He's been talking all week about it, the two of you going to the drive in together. I thought after what you told me about your, uh, preferences, that he was mistaken but he was adamant about it.”

“But.. wait.. I thought that.. no, you must be wrong..?” Kate shook her head.

“Nope. Ask Dana, she knows as well – she was there.” Kate looked at Max, and despite her deep, deep reservations about Max being with Victoria, could suddenly see some further amusement for herself.

“Have you told Victoria this yet?” she asked innocently. Max gave her a panicked look.

“Oh f-”



“-ucking hell Max, what is wrong with you?”

“No, wait, I can explain! And keep your voice down!”

“We spent the last few days patching things up and now you tell me you are going on a date with Warren?” Victoria was practically shouting by the end of the sentence, her voice echoing around the quad where they were sitting.

“It's not a date!” protested Max. “It's just a trip to the movies..” Victoria looked at her with narrowed eyes that glinted in the light of the lamps, and Max could feel the telltale build up of energy that was an accurate indicator of just how pissed off Victoria was - and it wasn't a good sign.

“The two of you. In a car together. Miles away. Watching some trashy romcom all cocooned up? Sounds like a fucking date to me.” Max grasped her hand and winced at the cold, but felt the energy subside at her touch - even if Victoria's face was still set to 'murder'.

“I think he may have asked me and I was distracted by all the stuff that was going on,” Max said with not much conviction that it would assuage Victoria. “But its not a date for me, believe me.”

“Cancel it then.”

"What? I can't do that now, he's still a friend and he has gone through so much effort..”

“You're fucking useless, Max. Honestly. Either cancel it or..” Victoria stopped and a sly smile came across her face. “Or I come as well. Just to keep an eye on you both.” Max looked at her horrified.

“What? No, that would be really, really awkward. You can't..”

“Oh I can. And I am.”

Max buried her face in her hands and let out a loud groan.

“Oh fuuuucckkkkkkk....”

Chapter Text

“So what do you think?”

“It's nice enough I guess. Small town, seen better days. Reminds me a lot of -” Emily bumped her shoulder playfully.

“No, silly. I mean about Max.” Jesse didn't answer but stared out across the bay from their vantage point, up by the lighthouse. It had been a fun week; just them spending the time together and trying not to think about anything else. Just a normal couple doing normal things.

I wish we could just do this forever. I wish the poster had never come down.

She sighed and turned away from the edge, looking at Emily - her blonde hair was ruffled by the wind, which had also turned her cheeks pink; but there was a happy smile on her face. Jesse pulled her towards her, savouring the closeness of her body.

“I think she'll come through. She wants some answers and although I don't think we can give them entirely, we might be able to help. Plus we have to make sure we keep her on our side.” Emily hummed in agreement, burrowing deeper into Jesse as if to hide from the cold.

“Keep her away from them. Yes, I agree. The thought of someone like her being used doesn't bear thinking about, does it.”

“No. So - we keep a discrete eye on her, our ears open for anyone else sticking their nose in and.. see what we can do in the meantime. For both of them.”

They stood there for a while on the clifftop, watching the waves crash against the rocks below while the afternoon sun glinted off the sea in the distance. Emily watched a gull lazily fly through the air before swooping down to the sea.

“We could just not go back,” she said wistfully.

“You don't have too, if you don't want to. I don't think I have a choice. Duty / service / enslavement and all that rubbish.”

“Fuck the Board,” Emily replied with some venom, making Jesse chuckle.

“Yeah. Fuck them.” Jesse took one last look at the bay before turning away.

“Come on, let's get mo-” the words died in her throat, as watching them were three squirrels all in a row, sitting on the haunches. Polaris flared a warning in her head, sensing a familiarity in their presence.

I understand. Do you know them? Are they friend or -?

Emily looked at them and bent down, smiling and held out a hand.

“Oh hello, aren't you cute? Jesse, look -” Jesse pulled her quickly back, readying the service weapon in her hand.

“Em, get back. These are not.. squirrels.” Emily frowned but didn't argue - she knew by now to trust whatever Jesse felt, it had saved her life after all on more than one occasion. Instead she quickly got out her cell and took a photo - but the screen showed nothing in the resultant image.

“Interesting - look Jesse, you can't take a photograph of them. I wonder if they have some form of photochromism filter that means that they can't -”

“Not the time, Em, not the time,” Jesse murmured while switching the service weapon to pierce, causing it to extend and crackle with energy.

“Who are you and what do you want?” she said, as if talking to squirrels was the most normal thing in the world. They looked at her and then one hopped forward and regarded her with a quizzical expression, as if trying to work out who or what she was. Jesse could feel Polaris reach out through her, searching and seeking and trying to communicate.

< DIRECTOR / LEADER WE ACKNOWLEDGE / SEE YOUR PRESENCE / EXISTENCE >

The words sounded distorted as if by radio static and seemed to form directly in her head, and she just understood without any conscious effort - and by the look on Emily's face she was hearing the same as well.

“Who are you? Why are you here?” Jesse kept the service weapon pointed at the squirrel, the absurdity of the situation not lost on the pair – although they had both seen far stranger things.

< WE WATCH / OBSERVE. GUIDE / SUPERVISE. PROTECT / SHIELD >

Jesse could feel Polaris thrumming away in her head, as if in recognition – or remembrance - but not in fear, which made Jesse feel slightly more relaxed.

“Are you protecting Max? Is that why you are here?” There was a pause, and she got the distinct impression that the three squirrels were discussing things between themselves.

< YES. BLUE / GREEN / COLOUR. BOTH / PAIR >

“We mean them no harm either,” said Emily quickly. “We just want to understand, to learn. To prevent anything bad happening.”

< WE KNOW / APPRECIATE IT SPECIALIST / SNOOP >

Jesse let go of the service weapon and knelt down so as to make herself appear less threatening to a group of squirrels.

“What are you going to do? Do I need to be concerned or..?”

< A CHANGE / SHIFT IS COMING / EXPECTED. THE SIX / ALL WILL BE TOGETHER / UNITED >

Jesse frowned in puzzlement – she found conversations with things from the Astral Plane – which she presumed these were – were always a mix of riddles and double meanings, although this one was at least better than her conversations with the Former.

“Change? What change? And you are saying there are six of them? I don't understand.”

< YOU MUST ESCORT / WARD DIRECTOR / LEADER >

And then they were gone, and it was just the two of them alone on the clifftop. Jesse stood up, a frown on her face.

“Is it.. always like that?” asked Emily. “I mean with the Board and what have you.” Jesse shook her head, still lost in thought.

“No, usually it's much worse, more cryptic. And the Board are a bunch of assholes, they usually have at least three variants and when they address me they always throw in 'slave'.”

“Well, they did call me a snoop,” Emily replied, a little huffily. “They must know the Board as well.”

“Maybe,” Jesse replied. “But clearly they were trying to warn of us something. We did the right thing in coming here, but..” She turned to look at Emily, and her face was serious – she wasn't Jesse at this moment in time, but The Director, Head of the FBC; with all the power and responsibility that held.

“This doesn't go beyond the two of us – not yet. Write up some notes but they are SC level 15 at minimum. That's only you and me, for now.” Emily nodded, understanding the divide between their personal and professional lives.

“Yes, of course Jesse. But what about Arish? He must know. And Langdon? We may need the Panopticon..”

“No! They are not going there. No-one else is. Not after.. after..” Emily winced at her own stupidity.

“Sorry, sorry. I had forgotten. But if we are to keep an eye on them, then we need to do something.” Jesse grimaced a little, as if in frustration.

“Yeah, I know. I'll try and think of something. But for now.. I guess we need to head back to New York.” They both walked slowly back down the hill, hand in hand – savouring the last few moments they had before it was back to reality.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. My mother is coming to visit.”

“What? Why?!”

“Um.. she's my mother..? And I want you to meet her.”

“No. No way. Not happening. I'm busy. Work. Director stuff, you wouldn't understand.”

“Jesse...”

“You save one cute Doctor's life and suddenly it's meeting the parents. I don't remember this in the job description.”

“You didn't have a job description.”

“Not the point..”

Their voices were slowly lost to the wind as they left Arcadia Bay, and Max, behind.

 

Warren looked at the t-shirts laid out on his bed, trying to choose which one would be the right mix of witty and cool. He felt like it was of utmost important to choose the right one; not only would it make him look good but could also potentially provide a humorous talking point and demonstrate his wit. He eventually chose one that said 'I may be nerdy, but only periodically', with the word Nerdy spelt by elements from the periodic table. He thought it was a good blend of clever and funny, and knew Max would appreciate the pun.

Next on the list was to check he still smelt OK after his shower – he sniffed and wrinkled his nose, adding another layer of Axe Apollo just to be on the safe side, making sure he sprayed it everywhere he thought he should.

There – that should be enough. Maybe just one more squirt.

He made sure he put on his clean jeans and sensible shoes that he had polished especially before checking his breath and deciding to brush his teeth just one more time. He looked at his reflection in the mirror, appraising himself with a critical eye – he was nervous and could feel a sweat underneath his arms every time he thought of how the evening could go; he grabbed for his can of deodorant once more just to be safe.

OK Warren, let's think this through. Meet Max by the car park, play it cool. Don't forget to say she looks nice. Pretty? Or nice? And she'll say thank you and smile and then I'll take her to the car and she'll be impressed when I open the door for her. And then I'll put on my music selection I made for the journey and when it gets to that track maybe I'll casually put my hand on her knee and she'll lean her head on my shoulder and then we'll get there and snuggle under a blanket with some food and I'll have my arm around her and then.. and then..

Struck by a thought he opened his wallet to check for the fifth time he had the tickets, and that also tucked away at the back was a freshly bought condom, just in case. The sight of it made his stomach flutter; he hoped that he didn't muck up when it came time to use it.

I should have practised, too late now. Time to go.

Squaring his shoulders he walled confidently down and out of the dorm, shrugging on his jacket as he got into the cool evening air. Although it was still October the first tendrils of colder weather were making themselves known.

He felt increasingly full of nervous energy as he walked across the quiet grounds, as if in anticipation of the evening ahead. Walking past the statue at the front he saw Max waiting for him at the top of the steps to the car park; she was wearing what looked like new jeans with a smart, light pink t-shirt which he saw had a rainbow on it, disappearing into cartoon clouds. A grey unzipped hoodie completed the ensemble, and to Warren she looked the picture of perfection.

As he drew closer he saw that she had also gone to the trouble of putting on a little makeup, and his heart beat faster as his mind ran through the implications of that; further bolstered by the shy smile she gave him as he approached.

“Hi Max - you look really nice tonight!” He cringed internally - he knew he should have said pretty, but he rallied quickly. “I like your t-shirt, it's very you.” Max smiled and absent-mindedly ran a hand down it, as if smoothing out creases.

“Er.. thanks. It was a present from.. someone.” She looked at him with her pale blue eyes that seemed to be drawing him closer, and puckered her lip. “Um Warren, there's.. something I need to tell you about tonight, I..  Um..” Warren smiled reassuringly back at her, and hovered his hand around her back to guide her towards the car park.

“Have you got everything? The car is all ready to go - tonight is going to be awesome. Let's get going though, we don't want to be late - it's 50 miles to the drive-in and we want to get a good parking place so we can see the screen.” Max followed his lead down the steps as he continued to talk to her, his mind running through the plan and the next steps. So far it was going better than he had hoped; Max was looking absolutely breath-taking and had clearly -

“Warren, wait, there's something..” Warren looked at her, unable to hold back the smile on his face.

“What? Did you forget something? Shall I run up and..” She shook her head and Warren noticed the way her hair flicked in front of her eyes.

“No, it's just that.. that tonight.. um someone else, is.. Um..”

“Graham,” said a voice that cut right through his chest and into his spine, making him freeze like a rabbit that was about to be eaten by a wolf. He turned his head and was confronted by the black knee-high booted, short black skirted, low-cut red topped, flawless skinned and perfect haired glory that was Victoria Chase, fixing him with two perfectly green eyes that seemed to shred him to his soul. His mouth felt dry, and his eyes nervously flickered from her thighs to her face and then to her chest, where he could see the black lace of a bra straining to hold in two objects that he knew existed but had never even dared to think about. He looked back at her face and saw that she was looking at him with what he thought was amusement.

“Victoria..?” he managed, his voice coming out half strangled. He cursed the nerves – terror - that appeared whenever she was around, knowing it was making him look weak in front of Max.

“Victoria wanted to come with us,” Max said, looking a little embarrassed. Warren looked at her and then back at Victoria, trying to work out what was happening and why now. He could feel his plan unravelling, his carefully laid plans with Max being derailed by the intimidatingly attractive presence of Victoria.

“You.. want to come as well?” he managed, doing his best to keep his eyes fixed on a point behind Victoria's ear and not let them stray down to that inviting valley of temptation. He could feel unwelcome sensations as he desperately tried not to think about it, and prayed that no-one would notice.

“Someone has to keep an eye on you and Max,” she said archly, raising an eyebrow. He looked back at Max, who seemed to be rolling her eyes and was still confused.

Why is Victoria wanting to keep an eye on me and Max? She doesn't even like Max! And why is she all dressed up?

Is it.. is it. for..

The rest of his thoughts weren't completed as Victoria took a step towards him and rested a hand on her hip, looking at them both. Warren found himself mesmerised by her movement and tried to shake his thoughts free and concentrate back on what he was trying to do tonight.

Max. Drive-in with Max. Not the drive-in with those legs and breasts and red lips and breasts and blonde hair and br-

“Are we going then? Or are we just going to be standing around like idiots.” Max giggled to herself and that suddenly reminded Warren of The Plan.

“Max, I thought it was just you and me tonight, not.. not.. her as well..” To his surprise Max shrugged and gestured towards the pair of them.

“I don't see why Victoria can't come. Could be fun.” Warren looked between the two girls, and swore he saw them exchange a look of what looked like competition between them.

Wait.. why are they competing against each other? It was only supposed to be just me and Max tonight, when she would finally see the gentleman I am and fall for me and then we'd do it. But.. both of them?

Warren felt his palms sweating at the thought and wished he had brought his deodorant. He suddenly felt like he was 6 inches taller and with some confidence smiled at them both.

“Well, ladies, let's get moving then shall we?” he said as suavely as he could, pulling out his car keys and brandishing them like some mystical weapon.

“What are you doing?” demanded Victoria. “We're going in mine. You think I'm going to get in -” She stopped suddenly, looking annoyed and casting a glance at Max who was smiling quietly to herself. “We will take my car. You can sit in the front. With me.” Warren opened his mouth to protest but then saw the lights flash on Victoria's very expensive car and the sudden thought of travelling in it overrode any musical plans of seduction he may have had. He followed Victoria as she strode towards it, watching the sway of her hips before remembering Max and looking back for her. He chivalrously held out a hand which seemed to amuse her a little.

“Thanks Warren, but I know the way,” she said with the sweetest smile he thought he had ever seen. “Have you ever been in a Porsche before?” Warren was impressed she knew what make of car it was, but shook his head.

“No, I haven't. I mean of course I've been in lots of fast cars before, but.. not this particular sort. I mean these ones are special Max, because the engine in the front -”

“Back,” interjected Victoria.

“- back are air-cooled -”

“Water-cooled.”

“- water-cooled and that means that the naturally aspirated-”

“Turbo charged.”

“ - turbo charged..” Max caught up to Warren and laid a hand on his arm, which felt as hot as a glede to him.

“Warren, you don't need to impress me about cars, not in front of Victoria.” She withdrew her hand and Warren immediately wished it was back there, but she was hurrying to catch up with Victoria, talking to her about something he couldn't quite hear. Whatever it was Victoria did not seem happy about, but she fixed him with a smile that seemed to be more teeth than anything.

“You sit in the front with me. Max will go in the back.” Warren looked at her and then at Max.

But... what about me and Max in the back together..?

“I don't mind sitting in the back with Max so I can - I mean to keep her company on the journey..” Victoria's smile was positively predatory now, her voice a low growl.

“No, in the front with me Gra- Warren. It'll be fun.” Max scooted into the back while Victoria got into the driver's seat, starting the engine with a roar. Warren stood there indecisively, still feeling a little lost as the night wasn't going how he had planned at all. He watched as Victoria leaned over to pat the passenger seat -

- oh my god look at those -

“Are you getting in or not?” Warren throat felt dry as he tried failed to scrub the image from his mind.

“Sure,” he croaked, and tried to confidently sit down next to her.

I mean Max is really pretty and all and I do like her but like her boobs in comparison to, I mean -

“Gr – Warren? Belt up.” He looked at her in shock as if she had been reading his thoughts, but she pointed at the buckle and he hurriedly put it on. He felt himself pushed back into the seat as Victoria rammed her foot to the floor, the car leaping out of the car park and onwards towards the drive-in.

What have I got myself into?

 

The next forty-five minutes were some of the oddest in Warren's short life. To Victoria it seemed that speed limits were more of a suggestion, and Warren had given up trying to point out the signs as they screamed past them - Victoria had just rolled her eyes the first time, trying to hide a smirk. Warren had settled back into the soft leather seats, marvelling at how they seem to suck him in. He hated to admit it, but it was a far better way to go to the drive-in than in his car, as much as he was proud of it.

Warren tried to make some small talk with Max but she was too far behind him, happily playing with her cell or looking out of the window - and a conversation with Victoria was something that had never previously even been on the remotest edge of his consideration, not even in his wildest fantasises - of which he had quite a collection.

OK Warren, play it cool. You’ve got this.

“Nice.. car, Victoria.” Victoria turned to look at him briefly, her expression amused.

“It is.” Warren fell silent again, trying to think of something else to say. He briefly remembered The Plan and cast a surreptitious look at Victoria's bare thigh, swallowing hard as he did so.

Yeah.. I'm not touching that. As enticing as it looks.

“So.. um..” he began again, trying to not sound too nervous as those green eyes swept over him once more. “Why.. did you want to come tonight?” Victoria gave a short laugh.

“To keep an eye on you and Max, of course. Make sure you both behave yourself.” Warren furrowed his brow, puzzled.

“Why would you want to do that? I thought..” Victoria cut him off with a strange look.

“Why do you think, Warren?” She turned back to concentrate on the road, before casting a quick glance back at him as if gauging his reaction. Warren's brain went into overdrive, trying to connect all of the pieces together.

So Victoria wanted to come to keep an eye on me and Max. But Victoria hates Max and Max hates Victoria, so why would she care what we did? Unless.. unless Victoria doesn't want Max doing anything with me, and Max was too scared to tell her that she couldn't come with us. So why would she do that, unless..

..unless Victoria wanted to do something with me instead..

… which is why she got all dressed up, and why she asked me to sit next to her instead of letting me get in the back with Max like I wanted..

Oh my god, Victoria Chase fancies me.

The revelation sent a thrill through him, a thrill tempered by the fear of being firmly in the sights of Victoria Chase. He risked another glance at her and accidentally caught her eye as she looked at him, and he blushed and turned away.

She’s looking at me. Oh wow.. this is.. amazing. Warren you complete and utter legend.

He tried to hide a grin that was forming on his lips and rubbed his thighs in excitement; it felt like finally he was being noticed instead of it always being the popular football guys who got the girls – tonight was going to be his night.

But even so, even if Victoria did like him like that, she was still ferociously intimidating; a single glance from her was able to cow him into submission and he knew he had to play the game carefully. Warren therefore tried to think on how to adjust The Plan to this new information – he still wanted to be with Max, that was not in doubt, but the temptation offered by Victoria was on an entirely new and enticing level to him, a glimpse of something that would ordinarily be, he believed, out of his reach.

For the rest of the journey he tried to make small talk with Victoria and was generally answered by amused looking glances and the occasional sardonic comment, which compared to his previous interactions with her (when she noticed him at all) was a revelation. Max was sitting quietly in the back seemingly oblivious to this turn of events, and Warren wondered why she was so willingly going along with Victoria like this when it seemed she was trying to steal him away from her.

The answers to such mysteries would have to wait, however, as they had arrived at the drive-in which turned out to be a large car park with a giant screen at one end with oversized speakers, and a parade of fast food trucks along the side. The car park was already half full with a motely array of vehicles, and Victoria managed to park somewhere in the middle with a decent enough view of the screen. Warren bounded eagerly out of the car, with a more reluctant Victoria following suit.

“What do you think? Amazing isn’t it?” Victoria looked around with a curl of her lip.

“It’s certainly something,” she said.

“I like it, it’s got a real retro feel,” said Max quietly behind him. “Thank you for arranging it Warren.” Warren nodded happily, then walked to the front of the car and went to sit down on the hood.

“What do you think you are doing?” hissed Victoria. “Get off before you scratch it. I can’t-” Warren leapt off as if scalded, surprised at her tone of voice. He looked at her and saw Max was standing next to her, hand on her arm as if trying to calm her down. Victoria seemed to look at Max with a pained expression, and Warren felt the urge to try and step in to separate the two.

“I mean don’t sit on the front, let me pop the trunk,” she continued as if through gritted teeth. To Warren’s surprise she lifted the hood up to reveal a trunk underneath – which he realised made sense if the engine was in the back. “We can all squeeze a seat on the edge here – I packed some food and drink as well, so we don’t need anything from over there, if you don’t want?” That last question was aimed at Max who was looking longingly at the fast food trucks.

“I can go get something?” Warren volunteered, but Max looked at him with a smile and shook her head.

“I’m fine for now, Warren – let’s see what Vic has brought should we?”

 

Half an hour later they were all sitting relatively comfortable on the edge of the car. Victoria had placed herself in the middle, separating Warren from Max – another sign, he thought, that she was trying to move in on the territory that he thought Max had claimed. To his surprise Max had not demurred, something he had put down to her not wanting to upset Victoria given how fearsome she could be – for now everyone seemed to be getting along, and Warren was pleased in his role in keeping that going.

The film was vaguely entertaining; Warren was not particularly interested in it as it had not been the primary motivation of going to the drive-in, but Max and Victoria seemed quite engaged by it. Warren’s mind though was preoccupied with how he could test the boundaries with Victoria, to try and confirm if what he suspected was happening, was happening.

“Do you like the film, Victoria?” he asked, thinking to try and start the conversation as safely as possible. Victoria turned to look at him, her expression unreadable.

“It's.. it's OK. Not something I would normally watch.” She paused, her face closer to him than he had ever experienced before and he felt his eyes flicker between those searching eyes and those red lips that seemed to be whispering to him to come closer, to come and be devoured by her in a  passionate embrace as she -

“I mean it's good to try something different for a change, isn't it,” she finished, with what Warren thought was a meaningful look. He felt himself blush and looked away towards the screen.

“That's.. that's good,” he managed. He shifted position slightly and felt his leg brush up against Victoria's, he froze as it seemed to wake parts of him that he would rather not be noticed by her or anyone else.

Oh shit, what if she notices.. but wait, what if she notices? What do I do? Is this good or bad? Think Warren, think!

He sprung up quickly from the car and Max looked at him in surprise.

“You OK, Warren?” she asked with a concerned look, leaning past Victoria to try and see him clearly. Warren waved his hands in reassurance, before adjusting his trousers as if they were discomforting him.

“Yes! Yes, I'm fine. Er.. does anyone want a drink? I could quickly go and get one if you like, as we've finished everything Victoria brought..” Max gave him one of her trademark smiles which seemed to make him feel like he was momentarily the centre of her universe.

“That would be lovely – I'll have a chocolate milkshake, please. Vic?”

“What?”

“What drink would you like.” Victoria looked slightly puzzled then saw Warren waiting expectantly. “Oh. If they do coffee then I'll have a macchiato. If they don't then.. just some mineral water.” To Warren it seemed that Max seemed to nudge her in the side. “Thanks.”

He gave them both a thumbs up and wandered off between the cars on his mission.

 

Max rested her head against Victoria’s shoulder, leaning up against her with a happy sigh.

“Thanks for this,” she said. Victoria snorted, watching Warren work his way towards one of the trucks.

“No, I mean it,” Max said. “You’ve been relatively.. normal towards him, a few rewinds notwithstanding. I’m impressed you’ve not even tried to use your powers on him, now that’s some control.” Victoria pulled a blanket up an around them both – more for Max than her, then wrapped an arm around her waist. Max hummed happily and tried to worm herself even closer.

“He’s.. he’s fine, I guess,” Victoria said grudgingly. “He’s just a little nerd boy who needs to grow up a little. And seriously needs to get laid by someone, it’s almost pathetic how thirsty he is. Honestly, if he stares at my tits one more time..”

“Hmm, it’s not like we can talk about our various numerous conquests is it? Anyway, you are doing a decent impersonation of Dana today. It’s quite impressive really.. and distracting.”

“I should hope so, this bra wasn’t cheap.” Victoria looked down at Max and furrowed her brow. “Are you staring down my top, Maxine Caulfield.”

“Yup.”

“Good.” They both chuckled and stared back at the screen, watching the film for a moment.

“This is really nice, you know. Just spending time together like a normal couple. How I always imagined things would be with someone.”

“Yes, even if we do have a third wheel. Honestly Max, he’s been perving at the two of us all night. I really think he somehow thinks he’s got a chance with us both.” Max blew out her cheeks in exasperation, although more at him than Victoria.

“You know I think you may be right. But it’s not like I’ve encouraged him, it’s your fault for looking absolutely drop-dead gorgeous tonight. I mean who dresses up to go to the drive-in? It's just so.. so.. you.” Victoria preened, pleased that Max had noticed the effort she had put in.

“Well one of us had to look good, although it is amusing to watch Warren get all uncomfortable every time he looks at me. Maybe I should flirt with him a little, what do you think?”

“Don’t you dare! That’s not fair on him, you’ll probably give him a seizure. And besides, I might just get a little bit jealous.” Victoria looked at her, a thoughtful expression crossing her face.

“Jealous Max? Hmm.. and what would you do to stop me?” Max sat up straight and placed her arms around Victoria’s neck, her eyes having a mischievous glint to them.

“This,” she said, and closed the distance.

 

Warren waited impatiently for the drinks to be prepared, before slotting them all into a cardboard tray and quickly making his way back towards the car, wanting to minimise the time he spent away from the two girls. He had spent the time waiting planning his next move, deciding to try and sit in-between them with the potential for casually putting his arm around one of them just so and seeing where that led.

The longer the night had gone on, the more he had been convinced that they were both competing for his favour – how else could you explain the way Victoria kept Max away from him, or the way she had dressed, or the looks she had given him?

It’s not like they are close friends or anything, is it – it must be the only explanation. Who would have thought I’d have Victoria Chase chasing after me! And Max!

Getting Chased by the Chase – Warren you are a comedy genius.

Balancing the tray on one hand he worked his way through the car park until he was only a few cars away and nearly dropped the tray in shock.

Max is kissing Victoria.

He felt his stomach fall through his feet, nausea rising through his throat.

Max is kissing Victoria.

All at once it was if his entire life had come crashing down around him – all of his fantasises, all of his dreams were completely made a mockery of. It wasn't him they were interested in – it was each other. Warren watched Max pull back away from Victoria and look at her, like how he had always wished she would look at him, and just wanted to run away and cry.

You're such an idiot Warren. So stupid. I can't believe I thought that they would ever be interested in someone like me.

They must think I'm such a loser. I bet they are laughing at me right now.

He stood there on his own watching the pair of them together under the blanket, with smiling faces and little glances that just further confirmed how wrong he had been. He went back over all the interactions he had had this evening, suddenly seeing them all from a new angle – Max happy to allow her to come, Victoria biting her tongue when speaking to him – it all made horrible, horrible sense.

This is the worst night of my life. What do I do? I'm 50 miles away from Blackwell, no car to get home. I could call a taxi but.. why is life so unfair? What’s wrong with me?

At that moment Max happened to glance in his direction and saw him standing there forlornly – she waved at him as if beckoning him over, so with a heavy heart he slowly walked back, each step feeling heavier than the last. He felt that every smile, every touch that they did was a stab to his heart – even if the entire fantasy had only ever existed in his mind. He silently handed them their drinks, avoiding their gaze and then sat back down as far away as he could from Victoria.

“Thanks Warren,” said Max cheerfully as if everything was perfectly normal and she hadn’t just ripped his heart out. “Mm, this is good.” Warren didn't answer but just sucked on his own drink in sullen silence, while his brain worked – he may have been academically brilliant for his age, but in some matters it took him a while to get where he needed to be.

So Max likes Victoria.

And Victoria likes Max.

Wait, since when has Max been gay?

Wait, wait – since when has Victoria been gay? I thought she had been all through the football team..

And if they are gay, then.. maybe it is nothing to do with me after all. I mean maybe they just don't like me because they only like.. girls?

That’s really hot, imagine them  – no, focus!

Wait wait waiiiitt a second, since when has Max even be friends with Victoria?!

“Warren? Are you OK? You're being very quiet.” Max again, just trying to be nice to him as always.

“Yeah, sorry. Just.. thinking.” Victoria snorted.

“I'm not sure I want to know what you are thinking ab-”

“Victoria!” Max again, and he realised that Max was defending him. “Warren, are you sure you're OK? You look like you've had bad news or something.”

“I.. Um.” He stopped, looking down at his drink then at the slightly blurry screen. “I.. didn't know.. that you.. and.. were.. you know.. like that,” he mumbled awkwardly, trying to put into words his thoughts.

“Like what, Graham?” asked Victoria dangerously, and he could feel the coldness of her gaze lancing through the side of his head while he steadfastly looked at the screen.

Oh shit, what did I say wrong?

“I mean together,” he said, inwardly sighing with relief when he felt Victoria relax as if she had been wound up like a spring. “You two look really -” hot “- good together.”

“I know,” replied Victoria, “And if you spread any of this around, I'm going to fucking kill you, understand?”

“Victoria!”

“What? He needs to know that. Well, do you?” Warren risked a quick glance at Victoria then regretted it – those lips were no longer looking inviting to him but seemed to be set in a vicious line, cheekbones hard as granite as her eyes drilled right into him.

“Of course,” he stuttered. “I mean who would I tell anyway? Max is my friend, and I wouldn't do anything that would hurt her.” Max leaned over and patted him on the arm.

“Thanks Warren, I know you wouldn’t – and just ignore Victoria, her bite is worse than her bark.” Warren frowned.

“Don't you mean -”

“No.”

“Oh.” He sucked on his drink some more, studiously ignoring Max kissing Victoria on the cheek, which caused her face to light up in a way that made her seem positively normal and human just for a second.

Look on the bright side – having a friendly Victoria can only be a good thing for me in the future.

And maybe she has some hot friends I could get to know as well.

“So when did you two.. how.. I mean, Victoria is.. I mean she..” He stopped as Victoria looked at him once again, and it seemed to him that the light from the screen was reflected in her eyes, making them glow slightly; which had the effect of making her face look even more terrifying. Max once again came riding to his rescue.

“Warren I appreciate you looking out for me, but you don’t need to, trust me. I’ll tell you everything tomorrow, OK? Let’s not ruin the rest of this night by you two fighting unnecessarily. Yes, Victoria?”

“Yes,” she replied, without taking her eyes of him. Warren quickly nodded in agreement and settled down to watch the remainder of the film, pondering a future of new possibilities that just may be opening up for him.

Chapter Text

Courtney was in a foul mood. Even though it was only the second week back in class since 'the incident', as she had started to think about it, it seemed like everything had changed around her. Yes, she was still sitting outside the front entrance with Victoria and Taylor, so nothing new there - but it just wasn't the same.

Victoria had her headphones in, eyes closed, head back and listening to some music and apparently completely relaxed, a mood Courtney was unprepared for. What was odder was that she hadn't needed Courtney to run any errands as much of late - she had even been doing her own homework. The downside to this had meant that Courtney suddenly had a lot of free time that she needed to fill with something. Taylor had been no use - she was seemingly constantly glued to her cell, texting constantly with someone who seemed to be making her smile a lot. Like a lot.

In fact when she thought about it, even Victoria had seemed happier than usual - she still had her acerbic comments about all and sundry but she couldn't hide the occasional smile when she thought Courtney wasn't watching, or how she just seemed slightly less on edge and confrontational with the world.

Courtney was feeling a little left out of whatever it was that was going on for the two girls; especially as it seemed they were both apparently having a lot more fun than she was - it was a worry that the troika she was part of (no matter if she was just the junior member or not) could fall apart, and then where would she be? As if to underline this fear Taylor giggled to herself, hunched over her cell as if there was nothing more important in the world.

“God, what's got into you Taylor? You're practically glued to that thing.” Taylor looked up at Courtney, as if she had forgotten she was there.

“Oh!” She looked at her for a moment and then back at the screen. “It's just.. someone I met. We exchanged numbers and.. I dunno. We just click.” Courtney could smell gossip from twenty miles away and circled around her target, hungry for information.

“Oh? And who is this person? And when exactly did you meet them? What's his name?” Courtney was quite a way into the longest barren spell she had ever had, which had resulted in a tendency to live vicariously through others to satisfy the lack in her own life. Taylor quickly replied to another message before putting her cell down to give Courtney her full attention.

“It was at the wake; they were old friends with Chloe. Actually went to Blackwell up until last year. I'm surprised you didn't see me talking to them?” Courtney looked a little embarrassed and dropped her gaze to stare at her fingers.

“Yeah, well. I might have left early, it was just so depressing. I mean who wants to hang around a wake for someone you never knew? It’s shit enough when you do know them, let alone when you don’t.” Taylor raised an eyebrow, casting a quick glance at an oblivious Victoria who was nodding her head in time to the music, eyes closed and still looking positively content.

“Please don't tell her I bailed, please. I don't think she noticed. She’ll be so pissed if she knew.”

“Your secret is safe with me. But if you had stayed, who knows? You might have found a rich old man to marry. One with dodgy heart.”

“Shut up, he wasn't that old, and anyway nothing happened. And I was so drunk it would have probably been illegal.” That particular incident had been a source of much teasing between the three of them, and Courtney thought it would haunt her until she graduated. “He didn't look that old at the time. It was dark too.”

“Do you want to borrow a spade to dig that hole deeper, or..?”

“Oh shut up. Anyway, you still haven't given me all the details.” Taylor just shrugged non-committally.

“As I said she used to go here. I guess we just hit it off. She's.. fun. And clever.”

“Oh. Well always good to make new friends, I guess,” replied Taylor, clearly disappointed with the reveal. “I was hoping it was a new man in your life.”

“No, not a new.. man.” Taylor's cell buzzed and she eagerly went back to it, another smile creeping over her face as she did so. Courtney watched her for a moment, wondering if it really was a girl given how captivated she was. Courtney checked her own cell but there was no message for her, not even one from her Mom. Sighing inwardly her mind wandered to what few remaining tasks she had in her schedule.

“You still OK helping with the Halloween party? I've ordered decorations and stuff, but there are more flyers, music, VIP guest list to do..”

“Sure. But I don't think V wants a list this time,” said Taylor offhandedly. Courtney blinked, momentarily surprised.

“What? Why not? It’s a Vortex Event; how can we not have a VIP list.. that's.. that’s the whole point?”

“She wants it to be more inclusive this time. No segregation. I mean she will still want us to have an area for us to crash out on but it's not going to be roped off or anything.”

OK, something is definitely wrong with her, decided Courtney. No VIP section? Is she sick or something? How could I not have noticed this? Maybe that's why she hasn't needed anything of late.

Courtney was now feeling even further adrift, as if she was becoming untethered from the mother-ship she had clung to and which had dragged her along into circles she would never normally have been - at her previous school Courtney had been firmly in the 'too clever to be cool' group, and had watched with envy as others lived the life she had wanted. This sudden departure from what she was familiar with - the three of them, together, even if she sometimes thought she was only there because of her perceived usefulness – was deeply unsettling.

Salvation, however, appeared to be at hand - coming towards them was a target that Victoria usually could not resist; one that Courtney knew would get her approving looks and bring them all back together as it used to be.

“What do you want, Lamefield?” she said, trying to put her best sneer into it. She didn't know what Victoria's issues with her were, but she easily recognised how it could have been her on the receiving end under other circumstances. Her follow up was cut short by Taylor grabbing her arm and shaking her head urgently, a look of panic in her eyes. Courtney shook her off.

“What? It's only Ma- I mean Lam-”

“Sshhhh!” Taylor motioned towards Victoria, who was taking her earphones out as Max approached.

Aha! So Taylor thinks Victoria should get in first. Makes sense, don't want to steal her -

“Hey Max.” Victoria's tone was positively friendly, and Courtney looked at Victoria in confusion as if to check it was indeed her who had spoken. To her further consternation Max stopped and smiled back at her, holding up a hand in greeting.

“Hey Vic. Hi Taylor. Hi.. um.. hi.. Ca.. Cra..”

“Courtney.”

“Courtney! Hi Courtney.” Victoria turned to look at the two girls and impatiently waved her hand at them.

“Budge up you two, make some space for Max.” Courtney found herself being pushed along by Taylor, and she watched open mouthed as Max sat down next to Victoria, sitting what looked like really, really, really close to her.

“Wha..” she began quietly to Taylor, who just put a finger to her lips as if to silence any further questions, before leaning over to whisper in her ear.

“Just sit back and watch the magic, Courtney.” Courtney did as she was told and out of the corner of her eye watched Max and Victoria quietly chat to each other - if she didn't know better she would say that Victoria looked positively happy - and not the sort of cruel happy she usually saw in her when she had successfully crushed someone with a well-timed barb, but one hundred percent bona fide genuinely happy; the sort of happiness that seemed to be shining out through her, as if it was unable to be contained.

Courtney found it very disturbing, and as if to reinforce the strangeness of it all, Victoria popped one of her earphones into Max's ear and they both began to listen to her music, heads unsettlingly close.

“Taylor, what's going on..?” she asked in a slightly panicked voice. She was not prepared for this; this scenario had never once entered into any of her wildest plans to stay in the good books with Victoria, and she didn't know what to do about it.

“Magic,” said Taylor. “Isn't it marvellous?” Courtney didn't know what it was and kept glancing at the pair as if to confirm it was actually happening.

“This is a fucking weird day,” she muttered. She decided that watching those two was disturbing her a bit too much, and Taylor had returned to her cell; with no other source of entertainment she just stared vacantly ahead towards the road, mind trying to work out the fact that Victoria and Max now seemed to be friends.

Suddenly she noticed a series of black vans moving up the road, a convoy of six with tinted windows and a logo on the side she couldn't make out. Interest piqued she watched as they pulled up by the school and a series of burly men got out, dressed in some form of uniform and with weapons casually slung about them, carrying heavy bags and boxes. Courtney found herself looking rather intently at the men, noticing how tight some of their t-shirts were, biceps straining against material as their powerful legs -

“What the fuck? No! Not like this!” Courtney was jerked out of her fantasy and looked at a suddenly in motion Victoria, who was frantically sprinting towards the group.



Victoria had watched the vans turn up with dismay – she knew that the new security was coming this week, but she had thought it would at least start with a discrete transition; maybe a quiet talk to set the stage for them to seamlessly takeover with minimum fuss. Instead, it looked more like a full-on invasion, all with the suddenly (to her) highly conspicuous Chase Industries logo plastered on absolutely everything.

Subtle it definitely was not.

Victoria raced towards who she thought was in charge – an older looking, weather-beaten guy who seemed to be issuing orders to various groups around, who were all unloading packs and sorting through various pieces of equipment. Victoria marched straight up to him, bristling with anger.

“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded. The man looked at her in surprise, clearly not expecting an angry young woman to be shouting at him.

“I’m sorry, and you are..?”

“Victoria. Victoria Chase. That” - she pointed at the logo on his vest - “That Chase.”

“Oh. Ah yes, I was due to try and arrange a meeting with you, Ms Chase. Pleased to meet you, I’m John Osei, Head of Interior Security at -” Victoria waved a hand impatiently.

“Yes, I’m sure you are – but what I really want to know is why you are all turning up at my school like it’s down-town fucking Baghdad! Are you all fucking insane?” John seemed to wince at her words, as if he had been reminded of something, before his face grew less welcoming and professionally blank.

“Ms Chase, we have received strict instructions on how this operation is going to be run at this school, both for you and the school’s safety. I would suggest that if you have any concerns on how this is being undertaken, then you raise it with the person who I directly discussed this with – Mr Chase.” At the mention of her father Victoria paled slightly, but it was swiftly replaced with a fury that began to obviously manifest itself, despite her best efforts over the past few weeks to keep it under control – a slight breeze stirred, with the temperature dropping markedly.

“My fucking father? I knew it. He just couldn’t let me do one fucking thing by myself, could he? I -” She was interrupted by John holding up his hand.

“I'm sorry, Ms Chase, but that is for you to discuss with him – if you'll please excuse me, right now I have a job to do.” As if to deliberately enrage her even further he turned his back and began to speak to his men, ordering them to get ready to move out and up into the school. Victoria was almost apoplectic – no-one turned their back on her like that, no-one – and she clenched her fists, feeling the power running through her as she directed all of her anger towards that retreating back, wanting nothing more than to -

A hand crept into hers and the feeling of power building up uncontrollably subsided, the world becoming still. Victoria closed her eyes, knowing who was there for her at that moment and she let a feeling of calm wash over her, making her relax and she breathed deeply.

“You know,” Max said, “you are really pretty when you get all mad. Maybe I should annoy you more.” Victoria tried to scowl but she couldn’t hold it and ended up chuckling.

“Oh shut up. Ugh, I’ve made such a mess of things, I’m so stupid.. wait, have you stopped time? Max – that’s..”

“Really painful,” Max interrupted with a grimace. “I can manage it for a minute on my own, but with you.. it’s really starting to hurt already.” Victoria let go of Max’s hand and time flowed around her once more, and she looked at her as if she was crazy.

“Max..! Why did you.. you didn’t have too.. I mean I don’t want you to hurt yourself for this.” Max squeezed her temples with her knuckles before wiping some blood from her nose. Victoria suddenly seemed to remember that Max was supposed to be her girlfriend and quickly put her arms around her, squeezing her tight. “You’re so fucking stupid sometimes, you could have hurt yourself. I’m not worth you doing that, ever.” Max allowed herself to be told off by Victoria, enjoying the sensation of being crushed up against her.

“I was just trying to stop you from doing something you’d regret, that’s all,” she replied with a happily muffled voice. “Although I guess I could have just tapped you on the shoulder, but where’s the fun in that?” Victoria rested her chin on the top of Max's head, watching the security team slowly make their preparations, drawing curious looks from the students that were nearby.

“I know, and thank you, but you really need to be more careful.” She paused, before continuing slowly and feeling a little bad about even raising the topic. “Max, I know it's not the best time to be asking, but..”

“You want me to rewind time for you, don't you?”

“Well. Ugh I know this must sound really selfish given what I just said, but, yes. I want to make this better, it's important to me that... that people don't know what I've done – planning to do - for the school? Plus I don't want him to think I'm some sort of immature spoilt daddy's girl just having a tantrum.”

“Even though you just literally acted like an immature daddy's girl having a tantrum?”

“Oh fuck you, Caulfield,” Victoria replied, but it was without her usual venom – if anything she just sounded tired and sad. Max broke away from her comfortable nest in Victoria's chest and looked up at her.

“Also, didn't you give me a long lecture about me being able to avoid the consequences of my actions? And how I have to stop doing that?” Victoria rolled her eyes impatiently, clearly not in the mood to be lectured or reminded of her faults.

“Yes, but that was different.. it was you, for a start.”

“How is that different?”

“Because it's your power and you can use it all the time.. I have to always live with everything, but now for once I have a chance to start afresh and not have to put up with such a shitshow that I’ve stupidly done. Look, please trust me – changing this will be better for both of us in the long run.” Max still looked unconvinced, so Victoria went straight to the option she knew would work and kissed her.

“Pleaasee?” she said in-between kisses, trying to make her voice sound cutely-pleading, while gently holding the side of Max's face and looking into her eyes and batting her eyelashes.

“Ugh, fine. I know what you are doing right now Chase, and annoyingly it’s working. You owe me.”

“Sure.”

“Like, owe me lots of kisses.”

“That's not a problem.”

“And the first turn on Mass Effect when we play it next.”

“Again, that’s fair, so no problem.”

“And dinner at Two Whales.”

“Wha- OK, whatever. For you.”

“And you have to watch Final Fantasy Spi-”

“You know what? I'm good. Forget it.” Max laughed and held her hand, swinging it to and fro, a smile on her face.

“Come on, let's head back to the bench, we can't go back here otherwise we’ll freak people out. So what exactly do you want to accomplish by going back anyway?” Victoria looked thoughtful as they walked back up towards the bench where Taylor and Courtney were waiting.

“I just wanted them to come to make the school feel safer and reassure my parents, but not make it feel like a prison, or a military base. But if my father has told them to come in like this, then.. I don’t know. I need to persuade them to do it my way; I mean I do own the company as well, so..”

“Do you?”

“Yes Max, I already told you this – I'm one-third owner at the moment, sole heir, yadda yadda. Keep up.” Max frowned, as if trying to remember, while Victoria continued. “So I have just as much a say as they do in what goes on, I've just.. never done anything before. I've never wanted to do anything before, nor have anything to do with it; but now.. maybe now I need to..”

“Grow up?” said Max quietly, her face serious. Victoria stopped her walk, hands clenched by her sides, her face hard as she stared at the school, oblivious of everything else; as if she had even forgotten Max was there.

“Yeah, I guess,” she said eventually, so quietly Max nearly missed it. Max looked at her, standing there so tall and proud and stubborn, like a rock you could wreck yourself against but be happy that you did, and made a decision.

“Major Jon Osei,” she said, swaying slightly. “US Marines, served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Has worked for Chase Industries for six years now since leaving the Marines and seems to run the security over a few of your facilities out in Nevada and New Mexico. Don't know what they are though, something secret I think. A lot of the people under him are ex-Army or used to be under his command when he served. Apparently he was told that you were 'difficult' and 'stubborn'. That's all I could get without killing myself.” Victoria turned and looked at her, eyes wide open in shock and momentarily speechless, before enveloping her in a hug once more.

“Max! You're amazing! Thank you!” She suddenly withdrew and looked at her with concern; Max had the tell-tale trickle of blood running from her nose and she looked really pale. “But.. why? I didn't want you to hurt yourself with this, I just wanted to only go back once to.. why did you..? Max, are you OK? Talk to me, tell me you are OK.” Max smiled weakly at her.

“I'll be fine, but.. you'll only get one go at this. I shouldn't have frozen time with you, it was too much too soon. It's why it really hurts, Victoria. It hurts.” She stumbled a little, as if really weary, and Victoria wrapped an arm around her waist to hold her up.

“Are you sure you want to do this? I can still live with it; I mean it wouldn't be the first time I've done something absolutely fucking stupid, would it?” Despite her exhaustion Max nodded determinedly.

“Yes. And we have to do it now otherwise it'll be too late. Come on, I can do this. For you.”



“Major Osei? Have you got a moment?” John Osei looked up from the tablet he was reviewing, and saw a tall blonde girl standing next to him with a friendly smile on her face. She looked vaguely familiar, as if he had met her before – he was reminded of something he couldn't put a finger on, but shook the feeling off.

“Just plain mister now, I'm afraid Ma'am. And you are..?” She held out a hand for him to shake.

“Victoria Chase. I believe that we were due to meet at some point today to discuss the arrangements for security at the school?”

Of course, Victoria Chase – that's why she looks familiar. I can certainly see a hint of her father in there, but she doesn't look like the photo they gave me. Older. More.. serious. 

“It's nice to finally meet you, Ms Chase. Yes, that was the plan – we were aiming on getting setup within the school as soon as practicable, as the previous team have all left. I wanted to get this all moving as soon as possible before meeting up with you.” She smiled understandably, as if she was fully aware of what was involved.

“Yes of course, that makes total sense. Although if I may make a suggestion - and I know you have received instructions from my father about coming here – but you may have heard about the recent shooting in the school?” He nodded – they had been fully briefed about the tragic events of a few weeks ago, which was one of the primary reasons they had been sent here – to protect the asset – person – in front of them.

“Yes, it was part of our mission briefing before deployment, I mean before we arrived here.”

“Yes, it has been quite traumatic for everyone. And part of the reason I thought I'd introduce myself is that I thought that maybe having all these guns on show might not be the best, uh, thing for people to be seeing right now?” John looked at her and was quietly impressed.

She's not what I was led to believe, at least on first showing. But maybe she is right – things still might be a bit raw around here. No need to antagonise the situation, these are just kids after all,

“That's.. that's a good point, Ms Chase. Hey, Kowalski! Leave the heavy stuff for now, we'll sort that out later.” Kowalski looked up and nodded before speaking quietly to the men assembling. There were a few grumbles as they began unloading all of the gear they had just spent time putting on, but John didn't mind – they had all been through enough that he trusted them all to do as ordered. Victoria seemed to follow his gaze and watched with interest.

“Those your men?” she asked. He nodded, watching them with a certain element of pride. This school was a far cry from their usual work, hell it was even further from those days when every day was a fight for survival, but he treated every mission with the same diligence and concern for his men.

“Yes Ma'am. We've been through a lot together. I'm proud of these boys, they'll make sure that you -” John noticed another, smaller girl had walked up next to her and quietly held her hand “- and your friends will be safe.” He watched as Victoria glanced at the girl next to her and saw her face light up.

Interesting. This wasn't in the brief either. Are they just friends, or..?

“Thank you, that's all I wanted when I proposed it to my father.” John raised his eyebrows – that little nugget of information hadn't been passed over either. “If you have some time now we can run over the plans? I wanted to see if I could help in anyway, as obviously I know the school and may be able to provide some insight? Sort of like how to low-key get about the place, all the hideaways – that sort of thing.” John held up the tablet he had been reviewing.

“Sure – it was exactly what I was just running through. Do you want to take a seat and we can run through it now?”

“That would be wonderful, thank you,” Victoria replied. He noticed the other girl was smiling to herself, as if someone had told her a joke. Victoria looked at her and he swore he saw her roll her eyes.

“Max, you don’t have to hang around – I'll catch up with you later?”

“Sure. See you later.” She appeared to quickly look around to see if anyone was watching then kissed her on the cheek and walked off; he watched trying not to smile as Victoria's gaze followed her for a moment before turning back to him.

Definitely an 'or', then. That's good to know.

Victoria looked at his expression and frowned a little; her face was no longer smiling and her voice now had a slight edge to it.

“There's just one thing though, Major. I would appreciate it if you could keep certain things -” she tilted her head meaningfully - “to yourself for now. I would like some privacy over certain matters, which.. certain people do not need to know about. Do you understand what I'm saying?”

Nope, definitely her father's daughter. And anyway, who am I to intrude on their private matters? That's not my job.

“Of course, Ms Chase. I am under no obligations to report anything, and as you are also my employer..” He left the rest of the sentence unfinished, and Victoria nodded brusquely; her smile returned.

“Thank you, I'm glad we are on the, er, same page. Now let's have a look at those plans. Actually, I understand that you have a lot of former veterans working for you? I was wondering if..”



Courtney watched Max walk after Victoria as she ran towards the vans and wondered just what exactly had been going on. She felt like she was missing something, some key piece of information that would explain what the fuck was going on in this world.

Since when is Victoria friends with Max?

That was a conundrum that led her into thinking about how Victoria had been in general over the past few weeks. Victoria had certainly been different towards her – much more like, well, a friend, than she was used to. And she had to admit, she liked it. She felt like she was finally being accepted into that rarefied social circle of Victoria that Taylor (and, she recalled with a shudder, Nathan) seemed to have been in since they had met.

So maybe her being friends with Max is what has caused it? Or her change has made her be friends with Max?

Courtney didn’t dislike Max, she had mainly followed Victoria’s lead on how to treat her – more afraid of any fallout with her than the impact it was having on Max. And if Victoria was now friends with Max then.. Courtney could see no reason why she couldn’t be either.

What was it Taylor had said? Watch the magic?

“Taylor,” she said, disturbing Taylor once again from her text conversation, “what’s going on with Victoria?” Taylor looked at her – Courtney knew that Taylor was clever, despite outward appearances; hell, all three of them were (although Courtney knew with certainty that she was the brightest – not that she would ever tell Victoria that), so she knew Taylor would give her a straight answer – if she could.

“Magic,” she replied with a grin. Courtney rolled her eyes.

“Seriously, Taylor. Victoria is behaving.. different. To me. Why? And what’s the deal with her and Lamef- Max?” Taylor put her cell down and folded her hands in her lap, casting a glance to where they could see Max now standing next to Victoria as they talked to whomever was down there.

“How can I explain it – you know how when you were younger a boy would tease you and make fun of you all the time, but secretly liked you but couldn’t work out how to express it?”

“No.”

“Oh. Well if you did, then that’s what’s been going on. Basically.” Courtney wrinkled her brow as she processed this new information.

“Wait, so the only reason Victoria has been a bully towards Max was because she liked her?” Taylor nodded.

“That’s.. really stupid,” declared Courtney. “Why would you do that about someone you wanted to be friends with? Makes no sense.” Taylor looked at her strangely, as if it wasn’t the answer she had been expecting.

“Yeah.. it would be, for just a friend.” She returned to her cell, seemingly reabsorbed in whatever conversation she was having, leaving Courtney to stew in her thoughts about what was going on with Victoria, Max and life in general.



Max had made her way back to her room to have a lie down – mucking around with time in so many different ways had really taken it out of her, and she just wanted to lie down and have a rest. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but she woke suddenly and saw it was already dark. Rolling over and grabbing her cell she saw it was already 7:30, and the rumbling in her stomach made it clear that she was hungry. Sitting up on her bed she stretched out a yawn and tried to work out a plan of action.

I'm really hungry again, and thirsty. I wonder what Victoria is up to. Maybe we could grab something to eat? That would be nice.

There was a knock at her door and she rolled off the bed, padding over to it while scratching the back of her head, stifling another yawn as she did so. The door opened to the pleasant surprise of Victoria, who was glancing nervously down the corridor as if afraid of being seen.

“Hey. You’re up. How are you feeling?”

“Hungry, and a little sleepy still. What’s up? How did it go with the security guys?” Victoria pulled her across the corridor towards her room.

“Come with me and I’ll tell you, let's not get caught chatting out here.”

“Wait, I thought you didn’t mind if we did..?” Victoria froze, then put her hand to her face in annoyance.

“Oh fuck. Yes. I guess. Sorry, it’s just.. habit. And anyway there's no need to give people gossip, is there. I was thinking of getting something to eat? Also.. we could watch a film together maybe?”

“Sounds good.” Max pulled her in for a hug and kiss. “I know it’s only been a few hours but I missed you.”

“Mhmm. Good.” Victoria tried to pull her along again but Max suddenly went limp, hanging on to her like a limpet.

“Max.. what are you.. wait, are you trying to get us caught?”

“Moi? Never!” Victoria poked her in the ribs before she half lifted her up and dragged her across and into her room, where they fell into a heap of limbs and laughter. Victoria was the first to sit up, half astride Max.

“You’re the worst, Caulfield. And especially because I was going to make a special effort for you today, after what you did for me.”

“Oh?” said Max from her position on the floor, reaching up to place a hand behind Victoria’s neck. “And what’s that going to be, hmm?”

“Well,” said Victoria, bending down to give her a kiss as she let Max ran her fingers through her hair without much complaint, and ignoring the desire to stop her messing it up. “I was going to order some pizza as I know you love all that grease, and then maybe we could watch..” She stopped suddenly, her face becoming a grimace. Max looked at her, wondering what heinous thing she had thought of that had made her react so.

“Watch what?”

“Ff…”

“Ff?”

“Fiii.. nal… ff.. no, nope, I can’t even say it.” Max's mouth opened wide, unable to contain her joy.

“Oh my god, you’re the sweetest, best girlfriend I’ve ever had!”

“I’m the only one you’ve ever had, Caulfield.” There was a happy smile on Max's face as she looked up at Victoria and traced a finger across her lips.

“Lucky me.”

Chapter Text

“So how is it going?”

“Mhmm? Well, I can’t really find exactly what I’m looking for, which is annoying.” Max slid a few more tops along a rail. “But I’m sure I can find something suitable. Failing that, I guess I could hire a costume, but...” Kate looked at her from across the rack.

“No, silly. I meant how is it going with.. her.” Kate still didn’t use Victoria’s name generally during conversation - it was if she was reluctant to give voice to the current situation, as if it would somehow make it more real to her. Max was getting increasingly irritated by it, but didn’t want to bring it up for fear of pushing Kate away more than she had previously. Things were slowly being patched up, and she didn’t want to pick away at the scab when she didn’t need to.

“You mean Victoria?” said Max pointedly, despite her decision not to keep pointing it out. “It’s.. well. To be honest it’s going far better than I had ever expected, or had hoped. She’s just so. I don’t know. Special to me. And so different from what I thought she would be like.”

“It’s still really strange seeing the two of you even just spending time together,” remarked Kate. “And I’m not the only person who has noticed that you are. I mean you can tell you are if you know that you are together together, but even so.. people are wondering.” Max pulled a black top from the rack and looked at it with a critical eye before putting it back.

“Let them wonder, we don’t mind. Not really. Well, I don't anyway. I’m sure it’ll all come out in its own time, and until then we are just going to carry on as we are.” Kate picked absent-mindedly at a top, her mind clearly elsewhere.

“I just think.. I mean it’s all just so.. weird. For you to be with her, I mean.”

“Maybe. But I am.” Max stopped looking through clothes and addressed Kate directly, fixing her eyes on her with a gaze that Kate found difficult to meet. “And it’s not going to change for the near future, Kate. I wish you would.. I mean at least try and give her a chance will you? She’s really not.. that bad a person. I wouldn’t be with her otherwise, would I?” Kate didn’t answer but just returned to looking at tops while Max watched her, a little frustration showing on her face.

Give it time, Max. It’s probably still a little raw for her. Even if it is frustrating.

Like really fucking frustrating.

“So who has been wondering, anyway,” she asked, “anyone interesting?” That seemed to perk Kate up a little.

“Well.. the main one you wouldn’t be surprised to learn is Dana. She’s seen you on the corridor, around the campus.. so she’s been asking me about it incessantly when we’ve been, uh, spending time together.”

“How is that going?” asked Max, glad to shift the conversation onto her and away from the topic of Victoria. Kate looked at her like a startled fawn, a deep blush creeping up her cheeks.

“What do you mean? How is what going?” she spluttered. It was Max’s turn to focus on exactly the same tops she’d discarded a moment ago, studiously avoiding Kate's gaze.

“Oh.. just you know, you two seem to be spending a lot of time together recently. Around the corridor, on campus.. people might start wondering if you are together together.” Max knew it was a bit mean to tease Kate about it, but she was still annoyed (and hiding it very badly) about Kate’s attitude towards her and Victoria.

“What? No! It’s not.. that’s not..” Kate was clearly flustered, her face redder than ever as she protested against Max’s insinuations.

“I’m only teasing, Kate,” said Max. “I mean it’s only fair if you are asking about my love life that I ask about yours.”

“It’s not my love life!” said Kate hotly, with her voice rising a few octaves. “We are just friends!” Max looked guiltily at her, and briefly contemplated rewinding – she hadn’t meant to get her this wound up; it clearly meant more to Kate than Max had realised. She quickly walked around and gave Kate a small hug as an apology.

“Sorry, sorry. I was only teasing. I know you are just friends.” Kate just looked down at the floor with a glum face, still a little pink from embarrassment.

“Look Kate, if you ever want to talk about that sort of.. stuff, then just ask, OK?” Kate looked up at her at that moment, her gaze searching Max's face to try and work out what she was exactly talking about.

“Max, I’m.. I mean I’m not.. you are.. I can’t just..” Kate stopped and looked ashamed, as if even the very thought was enough to silence her and make her bottle it all up again. Max knew with certainty at that point that Kate was struggling with exactly the same sort of thing Victoria had been struggling with, and what she had struggled with when she was younger – being able to accept who she was, who she liked, what she wanted; all in the face of a world which at best could potentially only be indifferent, and at worse – well, that didn’t bear thinking about.

Throw in overly religious parents along with her own faith, and you’ve got a recipe for being fucked up. No wonder in the other timeline she was so near the edge, it wouldn’t have taken much more to push her over.

“Well, as I said if you want to talk then my door is always open. Unless Victoria is in there, then knock first,” she added, which caused Kate to give her a look that seemed to say ‘that was far too much information thank you very much, and still not funny’. Kate broke free from Max and looked around the store, desperate to change the topic.

“There’s really not much here, is there? I mean, not for a costume anyway. Maybe we should have tried a proper costume store like I suggested rather than this thrift place.”

“But it's so cool! Look at all the old stuff they have! I mean how can you not love this cup? It's got pink and green and blue and yellow and orange snails on it!”

“I think we can come back here another time for that, Max,” said Kate firmly, taking the cup from her hands and placing it back on the shelf. “There's a costume shop of sorts over on 2nd, let's try there.”



“So what are you going as?” asked Kate as they ambled slowly along, taking the time to look in the few store windows that were present along the street front.

“I'm thinking a vampire,” said Max, turning towards Kate and raising her arms as if she had a big cape on. “I want to suck your bloooooooddd! Muwhahahaahahaa!!” Kate pushed her away with a smile.

“Stop it, save it for your.. woman.” Max pretended to try and bite her before relenting and letting her victim go, obviously highly amused with herself.

“What about you? You never struck me before as the sort of person to be up for something completely Halloween related.” Kate shook her head, looking pensive.

“You are right, I wouldn't have been before.. everything. I probably would have handed out some leaflets or something about how wicked it all was. I still might,” she said with mock seriousness, making Max giggle. “My mother would have a fit if she knew; I – we - never got to do any of this sort of thing. Ungodly, she said, perverting a Christian holiday.”

“And now?” Kate just shrugged, her face thoughtful. Max had noticed that she again had her hair done differently, as if she was experimenting with different styles until she found one she was comfortable with. Today it was just left loosely hanging down her back, a few clips keeping it in place.

“They probably stole it from some pagan festival anyway,” said Max. “They did have form for that sort of thing. I mean just look at Christmas.”

“Maybe. Anyway, I was going to go as an angel, as I thought that would be nice..”

“Yes! I can imagine you as one of those.”

“.. and then I thought how utterly predictable that was. Ooh, look at Christian Kate being an Angel. No thank you.” Max gave her a sideways look; ever since the timely intervention of the FBI and the proof that she had just been a victim, that she was entirely innocent of everything people had accused her of -

- apart from going to the party in the first place and drinking, said a treacherous voice in Max's head -

- plus the support shown to her by people like Dana, who was the antithesis of what everyone presumed Kate was, it really seemed to have broken whatever shell had been built around Kate to try and insulate her from the world. More and more she was questioning everything she had been told and brought up to believe, seemingly finally discovering who she was and not just what people wanted her to be.

“So what are you going to go as, then? What about... like a witch?” Kate shook her head.

“No, that doesn't feel.. right. I mean I do still believe in God.. I think.. no, I do, but.. I don't know. It still feels wrong to be doing this, and I know it's all in my head thanks to everything I was told, but – it's hard to not think it. Whether I want to or not.”

“Well how about,” began Max, thinking furiously about something she could be, “oh! I know. How about a murderous Alice in Wonderland? I could see you pulling off that cute but murderous look.” Kate laughed at her, her face lightening up at the suggestion.

“Cute and murderous? Victoria had better watch out then.” Kate laughed at her joke then realised what she had said and blushed crimson to her roots. “I mean.. I don't.. I'm not interested, I mean I-”

“Neah. Victoria can look after herself, I'm not worried about her,” said Max, magnanimously ignoring Kate's accidental slip of the tongue. They walked for a moment in companionable silence before Kate spoke again.

“What's it like?”

“What? Being murderous?” Kate looked at Max and saw she had a slightly worried expression, as if Max thought she was actually asking that, which made her smile – Max was the last person in the world she could imagine of being capable of murder, or even any form of violence.

“No, silly. I mean being with someone. Having a gir- artner.”

“Girartner? A wha- oh. Oh. Well.. I can only speak from my limited experience but.. it's just so nice to know there is someone out there who cares for you as much as you do them, someone who every time you are with them just seems to be the only thing that matters in that moment – like an all consuming thing that make you ache so much when you're not with them, and when you are all you want to do is to touch them, hold them and.. never let them go.” Kate looked at her with wide eyes, and Max turned away to hide her embarrassment.

“Or something like that, anyway,” she muttered. “Look – we are here, let's go find some costumes and then we can get some food. I'm famished.”



Jesse floated gently down to the red sand that covered the floor of the Foundation, alert for any signs of unexpected movement. Although it had become much safer down here in the furthest depths of the Oldest House than it had been, it still paid to be careful. Although the Hiss were gone, the fact that the Board had become openly hostile towards Emily after her research had found out a few truths they would have preferred kept secret meant that it paid to expect the unexpected.

And, of course, complicating matters further was the presence of Former; one time foe and now not exactly an ally but.. not openly hostile either.

Jesse walked to the edge of the cliff and looked out upon the tall, black pillars that stretched away into darkness, seemingly holding up the roof of the vast cave like structure she was in. She had long given up trying to make sense of the spatial geography of the Oldest House, having just accepted it as it was – Emily, of course, was far from satisfied with just that and had added it to one of the endless research topics she undertook at any one time. Jesse made a mental note to check Emily's staff were being paid adequate over time, and that she took more breaks – sometimes she wouldn't see Emily for the entire day and would end up finding her locked away in a test chamber getting overly excited about a new way of disembowelling something with a new type of knife, made from some eldritch material she had discovered.

Jesse made another mental note to ask her why she had a fixation with knives and general stabbing and gouging.

“Hello?” she called out into the darkness. “It's me. Jesse. Director Faden.”

Jesse waited for any sign of it - she knew it was hiding out down here, having escaped from the astral plain during the climatic battle around the Nail, and Jesse was happy for it to be here - as long as it stayed out of trouble. Whatever plans it was hatching against the Board were fine by her, as long as they didn't involve her, the FBC or imperil the fabric of reality; something which seemed to be on her list of concerns much more of late, after meeting Max.

She saw the shadows move subtly and readied herself; the service weapon was holstered, for now - she was here for information, not a fight. Besides, she had plenty of other weapons in her arsenal without having to rely on that.

And then it was suddenly there, rearing up in front of her to an enormous height, the single eye blazing like a searchlight and focusing down on her, the vast bulk of its body disappearing into the gloom along with its spider-like spindly legs; legs that had nearly smashed her to pieces on more than one occasion.

< #$##@##$ DIRECTOR ##$$@$#@ LEADER $#@@#$$ ALLY ###@$# FOE >

Former didn't have quite the same grasp on communication as the Board, but it was improving - she found she was able to at least make some sense now of it, even if every other word was still unintelligible noise.

“Hi there. How are you? How's it going down here?” Former's eye just spun round, shrinking in size and dimming in brightness, as if to say 'could be better'. For not the first time Jesse reflected on how quickly she had adjusted to the strange new reality she inhabited, although she suspected being able to sort of fly and throw things with her mind would tend to make the transition to believing in it easier.

“I think I might have met another one of you. Outside. In the world I mean. Something to do with butterflies? Or squirrels. Do you know anything about them?” Again the eye rotated, back to its full size, and she was caught in the full beam of it as it seemed to regard her thoughtfully. Polaris hummed away in her mind, not sensing any danger and curious as well to what the answer might be.

< OLD @#$#@$ OLDEST $@$$#@ ANCIENT #@$#$ FIRST @##$@# EGG >

Jesse frowned - clearly Former had heard of whatever it was, but what did it mean by it being the first? Or an.. Egg?

“You mean it was the first of your kind..? Or the first to.. What?” Former reared up, hoisting its vast bulk up until it towered above Jesse - she wasn't afraid, but surreptitiously made sure the service weapon was ready to go if needed.

< @##@@ NO $$@#@ FIRST #$$###@ POWER #$@@$#@ CHANGE #@#@$# DANGER @$$@@#$ ESCAPE #$$$## HELP >

That was probably the longest sentence it had ever said to Jesse, and it had left her none the wiser. She asked a few more questions but all she got was the same key words: whatever it was was old, powerful and definitely of a kind to the Former and the Board, although seemingly not part of their internecine struggle.

“Well, thanks anyway. You just.. stay out of trouble.” Former span its eye then seemed to dip its head slightly, before quickly disappearing off into the darkness, down between the pillars stretching endlessly away.

She pushed off into the air, gliding gracefully back the way she had came, pondering the information she had been given - hopefully it was enough to temper the inevitably disapproving conversation she would get from Emily when she told her where she had gone on her own.



Victoria was in a good mood, a fact that was somewhat unsettling for her. She wasn't used to it and wondered how long it would last until something (or more likely, her) fucked it all up and she was back to what she knew - the world was shit, she was shit and fuck everybody.

But for now, life was good. Things with the new security had settled down to the point that no-one had even really noticed the change in personnel; her two friends were both seemingly in good places as well (and that was ignoring the fact she now thought of them as friends), although Taylor seemed obsessed with the new person who may or may not be in her life now, and then there were the things with Max which were just.. well, better than she could have ever hoped for. They were becoming increasingly more comfortable with all the subtle little looks and touches that they did in public, although Victoria knew that rumours about her in particular where beginning to swirl; the sight of Max walking towards her (or sneaking into her room in the evening) still made her heart thump in her chest until she thought it might explode. They hadn't progressed much beyond kissing or the occasional wandering hand – this mainly down to Victoria being afraid of going further and disappointing Max, or Max not finding her attractive enough. Ridiculous thoughts she knew, but hard to shake when this was her first ever experience of a relationship, let alone a relationship with another woman.

But all things considered, life at the moment was better than she had ever hoped it could be - and the future promised so much, much more that she didn't dare think about it, for fear of jinxing it.

So it seemed entirely in keeping that she had earlier that day received a text message asking to meet to discuss an important matter - a matter she knew would be coming back to haunt her, and it was entirely her own fault that it was.

And so it was that, as the sun was lowering towards the horizon, she found herself walking across the football field to behind one of the bleachers; the usual meeting point for those trying to be secretive or partake in something they knew they probably shouldn't be doing. Victoria had an instinctive dislike for the place, not helped by the piles of detritus no-one had ever bothered to clean up and she grimaced as she had to pick her way through it in her entirely inappropriate heels.

“You came then. Good.”

“Logan. What do you want? I don't have time for this.” Logan was sitting on an upturned crate, arms folded and, despite his outward confidence, eyeing her warily. The bruises around his eyes had largely faded, although there was still some tape on his nose.

“And yet here you are, just as I ordered.” Victoria folded her arms and looked at him with disdain.

“I'm humouring you. Don't push it.” Logan stretched out his legs and looked up at her, a look of cunning on his face.

“Or what? Well, we know about that, don't we. You're lucky I didn't call the police.” Victoria gave a short laugh.

“I'm lucky? You're lucky I didn't report you for attempting to assault me. You're lucky you are still fucking alive.”

“And yet I am the one who was injured, and here you are without a scratch.” Victoria tapped her foot with impatience, clearly fed up with the conversation already.

“It'll happen again if you don't tell me what the fuck you want; or are you just wasting my time?”

“I'm here to offer you a deal. It's a fair one, I think.”

“What could you possibly offer me that I would be interested in?” Logan had a calculating look on his face as he looked Victoria up and down, as if mentally undressing her. Victoria seemed to notice and clenched one of her fists, and he hurriedly stopped and answered her.

“My silence, that's what I'm offering. Firstly on your little assault on me - attacking a star footballer unawares in a car park would not exactly be the best publicity for you, would it? Spoil your spotless record here. And the second thing is I don't tell everyone what a fucking disgusting freak you are - not wanting a man to sort you out like I.. you deserve.” To Logan it seemed that she paled slightly as he talked, and he waited eagerly to see what she did next, convinced he had managed to strike a critical nerve. In the faltering light her eyes seemed to gleam, as if they were reflecting the light of the sun, lending her an unsettling eerie appearance that he did his best to ignore.

“What.. do you want in return?” she said finally.

“I would normally fuck you whenever I wanted, like is usual for me, or us on the team. Maybe pass you around if I got bored. But no, you would have to be a fucking dyke, wouldn't you. Even forcing you would only be fun once. Or twice.” He watched Victoria's face twitch a little and he felt satisfied that he was hitting home - he knew her weak spot and was confident that he could exploit it to his advantage. “But I've been doing some research and I've found out that you are fucking loaded, aren't you? You've managed to keep that little fact well hidden, but now I know how much Daddy is worth and I want some of it.” Victoria raised her eyebrows at his words and ran a hand carefully through her hair. There was a gust of cold wind that blew some of the rubbish around, and Logan subconsciously rubbed his hands together.

“How much?” Logan smiled in triumph.

“Thirty thousand up front, then another twenty five every month until we graduate. I know you can afford it, you wouldn't even notice it gone. So it's fair, and will help pay for a few things I need.” To his surprise Victoria just burst out laughing.

“Seriously? That's it? Jesus, have some ambition. I can sort of understand your desire to fuck me, I mean who wouldn't? It must really must drive you mad knowing that will never, ever happen, even if I wasn't a 'fucking dyke'. But that amount of money is insultingly low. Fuck me, I'm worth ten million at least - and that plot was like 8 years ago. Jesus, Logan.” She laughed again and then stepped towards him, arms folded and looking down at him with a smile on her face that wasn't friendly in the slightest. Logan shivered even more; it really felt like there was an icy wind cutting its way through the bleachers and through his thin jacket, and he was sure he saw a faint mist creeping in along the floor.

“I'm going to overlook this utterly pathetic attempt at blackmail on one condition, Logan. You stay the fuck away from me, or anyone else I'm with or know. Understand?”

“Fuck you, Victoria. I offered you a fair deal,” Logan replied to her with some heat in his voice. “You're going to regret this.”

“Your threats are as hollow as your future, Logan. Never contact me or anyone I care about again or you will regret it. Understand?”

She turned away without waiting for a reply, leaving him seething.

This is not over, Chase.

This is not over.

Chapter Text

“Ow!” Max rubbed her shoulder where the ball had hit her, the sting of it making her wince.

“Caulfield, you’re out,” called Mr Smithson, who was watching with amusement from the side-lines. Friday morning Phys Ed – Max’s least favourite subject, now because just of course why not coupled with Max’s least favourite activity – Dodgeball.

I hate this. Why isn't it banned yet? I'm sure it should be banned.

Max sloped off to stand aside while she watched the game commence – once again she was the first one out, having been caught by a well flung ball from the Ultimate Dodgeball Gladiator that was Dana. Max’s eye strayed to the confidently bouncing figure of Victoria, watching as she exhorted her team to do better and crush the opposition without taking a single hit. It was very odd; Dana and Victoria were usually mortal enemies in all matters, except when it came to Dodgeball – here any differences were put aside and they became a murderous twosome that were feared wherever a ball had to be flung with extreme prejudice at someone.

There were a few more seconds of thumps and groans and then a battered Warren limped over to join her, having been on the receiving end of a particularly vicious and well-aimed throw from Victoria, who had seemed to smile with wicked delight at the result. Max felt a surge of pride, and a measure of pity for Warren.

“You OK Warren?” she asked quietly, watching as her team tried to organise themselves while Victoria and Dana high-fived each other. Warren shook his head.

“It’s not exactly fair, is it, having those two on the same team. Mr Smithson does it on purpose, I’m sure of it.” Max agreed; she had begun to suspect the same thing – whether it was a particular branch of sadism that she was sure ran through all gym teachers, or a fear of having them in opposition due to the inevitable fireworks that would arise if they were pitted against each other, she wasn’t sure. Max watched Victoria move, being more open about it than she had been in the past (not, of course, that she had ever looked at Victoria like that back then, no sir, not her); no longer worried about being caught watching by Victoria. In fact she was sure from the way Victoria seemed to be overtly stretching more than she probably needed to that she was aware that Max was looking at her.

Max watched as her team tried to fight back, evening the numbers slightly much to the vocal annoyance of the two girls who berated their team for carelessness. Max wondered whether this joint competitive display could help in bringing the two girls closer together – clearly when they both had something to fight for they tolerated each other and were even able to successfully work together.

Max’s grand plan of getting her friends to see Victoria as she saw her, and try to increase the amount of people Victoria could call a friend as a by-product, looked to have another string to it – although any considerations of what Victoria might want didn’t seem to occur to her; she just assumed that if she liked them, then Victoria would too.

A few moments later it was down to 6 vs 2, with Dana holding a ball with a predatory look on her face while the rest of the team backed her up; Max noticed that Kate, who was on Dana’s team, was orbiting her with a rather flushed face as she watched Dana move, seemingly having the same issues Max was having with Victoria – although Dana for her part seemed so focussed on demolishing her opponents she didn't even seem to register that Kate was there.

And then it was Hayden alone, facing off against the six – he valiantly threw a ball but was hit three times in swift succession, ending the game. He walked over towards where Max was sitting with the others with a rueful smile on his face.

“Sorry guys, they're just too good.”

“OK everyone, 5 minutes then the last game, OK?” shouted Mr Smithson. “And lets try and make it a bit more competitive, shall we?” There was a general murmur of conversation and milling about as the two teams readied themselves for the final match – Max could see Victoria and Dana standing next to each other, both drinking water and seemingly planning things out to ensure another crushing victory.

“It would be fairer if they mixed it up for the final game,” grumbled Warren again, clearly fed up with being on the losing side. “There just isn't enough time to react to them, they are just so fast. It's so not fair.” Max nodded in agreement, dreading the next match as well and another humiliating exit.

Maybe I might get lucky and not be knocked out first this time.

Time.

If only I had.. more..

..time..



Victoria sucked greedily at the bottle of water, watching the opposing team and watching one person in particular – the diminutive figure of Max, her Max, who was disappointingly useless at Dodgeball, and also useless at hiding the fact she had been staring at Victoria every chance she had got – something she had tried to encourage at every opportunity she could, delighting in the fact that no-one else knew what they were both doing.

Well, almost no-one, she thought, with a sidelong look at Kate. She felt alive, energised by the competition and how successful she was compared to everyone else – here she was unequivocally better than anyone; except of course, she grudgingly admitted, Dana – she was merely just about her equal.

“Places people, last match – that includes you, Scott, no hiding at the back.” Victoria capped her drink and walked confidently out onto the court, casting a glance towards Max – who hadn't moved and seemed lost in thought.

“And you as well, Caulfield – no day dreaming now. Up you get.” Max seemed to blink and look at the teacher in confusion, before giving a quick nod and scurrying onto the court, taking a position between Warren and Hayden. Victoria caught her eye and Max gave her a small smile, with a determined look on her face.

The teacher placed eight balls between the two teams and stepped back, checking for any encroachments from the over eager. Victoria readied herself to sprint to grab a ball, Dana alongside her in a half crouch like a coiled spring. Victoria knew that if they could grab all five then it would set them up nicely for an early advantage at potentially halving the enemy team in one stroke; one thing she was certain of was that she would be getting a ball no matter what.

The teacher blew the whistle and Victoria leapt forward, eyes fixated on a ball in front of her. She was conscious of Dana matching her pace for pace as she grabbed the ball in front of her, gaining even more satisfaction by beating Warren to it by miles. She gave him an evil grin as she held it up in triumph and turned to jog back to the game zone – as she did so she noticed Max had - probably for the first time ever – got to a ball as well, receiving a few appreciative nods from her team. Victoria was vaguely chagrined, it being five balls to three, not as good a result as she had hoped.

Still, it was easily recoverable – Victoria opened up with a vicious throw that smacked into her opponent, knocking them down much to her satisfaction, while easily avoiding the limp throw that came her way. A brief scurry to try to recover a ball showed that the teams were now 7 to 6, and much to her surprise Max was still there, scooping up a ball with a determined look on her face and eyeing up a target.

Victoria was momentarily without a ball and made sure she was concentrating on anything incoming – she gracefully avoided a limp throw, quickly recycling the ball and looking for a target – to her consternation they were two more down, the match now being 5 to 4 and into uncomfortably competitive territory. Even more surprising was the fact that Max was still there, now with a look of grim concentration on her face as she also scrambled for a ball.

Victoria had decided that enough was enough and launched a ball at Max as hard as she could, watching with satisfaction as it headed straight for her until at the very last moment she seemed to just slide sideways, avoiding the ball entirely as it bounced harmlessly past, before Max threw her own ball with surprising force, picking Brooke off with a thump that made her squeal.

Victoria blinked in surprise, momentarily stunned by Max avoiding what she was sure was a game ending shot. Dana next to her hadn’t seemed to notice, hitting her target and getting it down to 3 vs 3, which quickly became 3 against 2 as Kate bonked a ball off Warren, much to Victoria’s annoyance as she had wanted to do that.

“Good shot, Kate,” said Dana encouragingly, causing Kate to seemingly glow and stand 6 inches taller. Kate nodded her thanks and received a ball to the chest for her trouble which knocked her down, thrown by a Max who was positively glowering at them, her face intense and pale. Victoria frowned, surprised by the accuracy and force of Max's throw, along with her own seemingly newfound ability to avoid -

Wait a fucking minute! The cheating little…



Max grimaced from the pain but gritted her teeth and carried on. The worst part for her had been just after the initial rush, when still recovering from rewinding time to actually get a ball in her hands, she then had to avoid the numerous ones that quickly came her way – this desperate period of having to rewind was then repeated multiple times over the next few minutes to stay in the game until she was able to get a little respite, while the teams regrouped with reduced numbers.

Force equals..

Max had been forced to rewind three times to avoid the ball Victoria had thrown, barely missing it the final time. It had felt like daggers were being twisted in her head, but somehow she found a new source of strength and an increasing stubbornness to go on.

mass times acceleration...

Her ball thrown at Kate was sloppier than her previous shots but still hit home, with a bit too much force than she had intended – it was becoming increasingly harder to do what she wanted as she became more fatigued, a fatigue she knew deep down was utterly pointless – it was only a game – but she felt like she had a point to prove, and somewhere within her was a deeply buried ruthless streak of resolve to prove to herself that she could do it, no matter the cost.

.. acceleration is distance over...

Five rewinds to avoid two balls thrown by Dana and Victoria, deflecting one with the ball in her hands, while Hayden's own shot went wide. Before he could recover Victoria had moved with blistering speed and leapt into the air, throwing a shot hard against him, before landing down in a crouch with her eyes fixed on Max.

...time...

Max had dived across the floor, landing hard as a ball from Dana bounced where she should have been before scrambling up and grabbing a ball.

“Come on Max!” someone shouted from the side-lines, and her smile was all teeth as she sucked in air, subconsciously wiping a hand across her nose and leaving a small smear of blood across the back of it.



“Dana, you go left, we'll get her from two sides,” Victoria said quietly, frustrated with what Max was doing but still determined to win, to try and prove her point – whatever that point was. Dana nodded and moved across, while Max watched them warily, ball clutched tightly in her hands. Both sets of teams were cheering each of their own sides on, and Victoria was sure she even heard some 'Come on Victoria!' mixed in there, which caused a strange sensation in her chest that she realised was happiness that people were cheering for her.

“NOW!” shouted Victoria, and Dana jinked to one side, throwing as hard as she could at Max, while Victoria waited a split second before throwing her own ball, trying to anticipate to where Max would try and move. Max seemed to stand her ground, batting away Dana's ball with seeming ease while simultaneously sidestepping Victoria's with a move that caused her team to cheer, before she threw a ball at the rapidly retreating Dana that caught her flush, sending her sprawling.

“GO MAX!” yelled Hayden at the top of his lungs, which annoyed Victoria immensely. She quickly scooped up a ball, noting Max had done the same, and they both prowled up and down watching each other. Victoria extended her arm and pointed at Max, her face set in a scowl, momentarily letting her power build up and sending the tiniest speck of ice into Max's cheek, making her flinch. With narrowed eyes Victoria mouthed 'I know what you are doing', finger still pointed accusingly.

“Ms Chase, no taunting the opposition!” boomed Mr Smithson, but Victoria didn't care - she wanted Max to know that she knew what Max was doing, that she was on to her. Max stared back at her with a look; a look that reminded Victoria of a terrible evening in her room when the other Max had appeared and scared the living shit out of her; a look that she had thought she would never see on her Max.

“Come on Victoria!” shouted a voice that she vaguely recognised as Kate; a fact that shocked her and pleased her at the same time. She suddenly moved and threw, diving to one side as she felt rather than saw Max's ball whizz just past her, and she landed heavily before scrabbling up to grab another ball, knowing without doubt that Max had avoided hers. Max looked across at her with sunken eyes and appeared to be breathing heavily, much more than she was, and Victoria knew that Max was pushing herself to her limit – it wouldn't be long before she passed out at this rate.

I need to end this before she does herself an injury.

But I'm not going to fucking lose to her.

Victoria threw and ran, skidding across the floor to grab another ball; Max’s return shot was sloppier than it had been, and Victoria realised that Max was getting tired – whether through exertion of playing the game longer than she ever had; through using her powers so much in such a short amount of time; or more likely both – it gave her a chance, however slim, to win the game.

And I have an idea.. and she can’t complain about it either.

Victoria feinted a throw before after a quick sidestep throwing again, her eyes briefly blazing with a light that she hoped no-one would notice. Max went to step away but suddenly her feet seemed to slip under her, making her land awkwardly and she looked down at the floor in surprise. Victoria seized her chance, grabbing a loose ball and throwing it as hard as she could as Max looked up at Victoria, eyes lit with an inner fire that made her face seem almost cruel in its harshness. The ball hit Max squarely in the chest and she blinked in surprise, light suddenly extinguished as a cheer erupted from the sides.

Max looked at Victoria with a sullen expression, and seemed to start to raise her hand; Victoria subtly shook her head and walked over, regarding her carefully as the teacher called out congratulations to them both for a good game, and wouldn’t it be good if Max could put this much effort in every lesson.

“Good game, Caulfield.”

“Not too bad yourself, Chase.” Max looked slightly abashed and wavered slightly, as if she was having difficulty standing up – Victoria held out her hand as if offering to shake it, but actually helping her stay up right.

“Come on you silly girl, I’ll help you sit down for a moment so you don’t collapse all over the place.” Just as the others came up around them full of praise for Max, Victoria leaned in to whisper in her ear.

“We’ll talk about this later though, Max.”



“So what was that all about?” Max looked across at Victoria from where she was lying on the bed, book held across her stomach. She frowned and looked at the cover.

“It's on the syllabus? Required reading, once I've read it I'll tell you all about it, assuming you don’t finish it first.” Victoria rolled her eyes and stopped what she was doing on her computer to give Max her full attention.

“You know what I mean. That little display today during gym. What.. were you thinking? You could have really hurt yourself. You could have revealed everything and not been able to undo it. The risk was just… not like you.”

Max looked up at the ceiling and put her hands behind her head, as if reflecting on her actions. Victoria waited expectantly, curious as to the reasoning behind that sudden bout of competitive spirit that had suddenly manifested itself - notwithstanding the glimpse of a Max with a frightening intensity about her, which worried her – especially when they both knew that somewhere, somehow, that other Max potentially still existed.

“I think I just wanted to be good at something. I was so fed up with always being the first one out all the time that I wanted to be the person who people cheered for. The one who was on the winning side.. like you always are. I mean there’s only 562 days left until.. until.”

“Still counting, huh?” Max nodded, still staring at the ceiling.

“Right, well OK I get that, but you need to understand Max that I'm only good at fucking Dodgeball through hard work and practice! You think I'm this damn fit by accident? Have you not noticed me out running, swimming and everything else? Like that whor- Like Dana does.” Max waved a hand as if dismissing it.

“Yeah, I know that - but then I was able to nearly keep up with you by using what I can do..” Victoria got up and went and sat on the edge of the bed, looking down at Max.

“But you were basically cheating though, weren't you?” Max looked as if she was about to angrily object and Victoria quickly cut across her. “I mean using an unfair advantage, one no-one else could possibly have no matter how hard they worked. And anyway, I saw what it did to you. How much effort you had to put in. I was worried. For you. I didn't like the.. the change in you.”

And who knows what side of her was unleashed under that amount stress? Victoria left the thought unsaid, but it played on her mind. She was reminded of how she had felt in her confrontation with Logan, when she had felt like she could do anything.

Did I look like Max did? What is this power going to do to us both?

“I'm touched that you worry about me so much. No, really, I am. And it was pretty painful and exhausting,” Max admitted, “and I do see your point about it being unfair. But then how else can I compete? I’m not as good as you or Dana.”

“By practising things like the rest of us mere mortals, Max. Like you told me about my power, remember? Practice practice practice, you said.” Max pouted at having her own advice thrown back at her, but seemed to consider Victoria's words. Victoria reached out a hand and trailed it along Max's thigh.

“And if you think about it you have the advantage of having as much time as you need to practice. Well, in theory anyway.”

“That's.. a good point actually. Although I'm not much use if I get exhausted all the time, but I guess even a little extra time could help me learn things. Like even maybe with my grades.” Max looked thoughtful, as if it had never occurred to her that she could use it that way.

“Well, there is an easy answer to that,” declared Victoria. “Start exercising with me.”

“What? No.. why.. I mean.. I can’t. Brittle bones. I don’t sweat, rare medical thing. I have a heart condition. My feet have fallen off. It’s just impossible. Out of the question.”

“You can and you will,” said Victoria firmly. “It’s for your own good, especially if we have to use these powers. Same for me, we both know how exhausting it can be. You should be doing more of it anyway, especially with all that crap you eat. Besides,” she continued, her hand trembling a little as she ran it up Max's thigh, “it might put some meat on your bony ass.” Max swatted her hand away.

“If you are going to insult it then you can stay well away from it, Chase.” Max sat up and looked at Victoria thoughtfully. “You do have a point, I guess,” she conceded grudgingly, “let me think about it. I guess I don’t want to be in a position where I’m not able to save you just because I’m too tired.”

“Well that’s a mood killer, thanks. But really Max, you need to be more careful. I don’t want to lose you, or have the whole of reality break over something so minor. It was just a game of Dodgeball..” Max scooted to the edge of the bed, book long forgotten.

“OK, fine, I agree with you. OK? Happy?” She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck, before wrapping an arm around Victoria and leaning into her. “Sorry. I'm sorry, I'm just.. tired, and cranky. But can we talk about something else rather than pick over my failings? How about we play some more Mass Effect? We still need to finish the first game.”

“Sure. Although as punishment for today it’s the Mako only for you.”



“That was cool. So much fun.” Max’s eyes were glued to the screen as the ending played. She turned to Victoria, pointing at the screen where their character stood against a red background, gun in hand. “Although I’m not sure why it’s a red background, I thought we were supposed to be good. Paragon. Shiny Blue.”

“Ha! Face it Max, you’ve joined me on the dark side.” Victoria yawned; it was late – finishing the game had taken longer than they had expected. “We could start the next one, but I’m tired – I’m surprised you aren’t.” Max blinked and then rubbed her eyes, as if suddenly aware how sore they were from gazing at the screen

“Yeah, I am actually,” she admitted. “Funny how you sort of just get wrapped up in it and time passes.”

“You can stay over, if you like?” said Victoria hesitantly. “I mean we don’t need to get up early tomorrow, although I’ve got to help Courtney with some preparations before the party, but..”

“Yes, of course I will, you know you don’t have to ask! Let me just go take a quick shower and get my pyjamas. Won’t be long.” With a quick peck on the cheek Max disappeared to get her stuff ready, while Victoria turned off the computer before slowly picking up her own nightwear.

Pyjamas.

Maybe.. maybe I could not wear them? Both of us be.. naked?

But what if she doesn’t like me? What if she thinks I’m ugly or fat or too lumpy or –

Stop it, just stop it. You know she likes you like that.

But –

No, just... don’t.

Victoria closed her eyes for a moment, practising on suppressing her doubts and worries, repeating to herself that everything will be OK. After a minute or two she felt a little calmer and reluctantly got changed into her pyjamas, before picking up her toiletry bag and heading towards the bathroom.

Not tonight. Tomorrow, after the party.

I can do this.

Chapter Text

Max looked at herself in the mirror, a frown on her face. The trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth was smudged from where she had absent-mindedly wiped her hand across her face, leaving a dark red smear. Sighing with exasperation she picked up a sponge and carefully wiped it off before patting her face dry. She picked up the bottle of fake blood and tried once more, reminding herself to let it dry before touching her face again.

Eventually she was satisfied with how it looked; a thin trickle of blood running down from the corner of her mouth stopping just above her jaw. She stared at her reflection then slowly smiled, her mouth opening to reveal a set of small fangs which grazed her lower lip. The overall impression was slightly unsettling to her – she looked uncomfortably realistic as a vampire, and she realised that might be due to the fact she was getting used to her face being covered in blood.

At least no-one would think I've been travelling through time tonight, so that's one thing. Not that anyone knows about it, but still.

The door to the bathroom opened and Kate entered, dressed in a fluffy black dress with a white tabard front and her hair tied in twin braids that flowed down her back; coupled with knee high white socks and sensible black shoes. She looked the epitome of cute and innocent, an effect only slightly spoiled by the spatters of fake blood on the front and the bloody axe stuck in a slim belt around her waist. Kate looked extremely pleased with the entire thing, her face beaming as she saw Max.

“Hey! You all ready?” Max bared her teeth while pretending to snarl and raised her hands out as if to grab her, causing Kate to dissolve in giggles. Max was dressed in a short black vampire themed dress with knee high boots and a black cape with a red inner lining draped across her shoulders; an outfit that Max thought verged just a tad slightly towards what she considered risqué. Max wasn’t used to wearing dresses at all; her usual t-shirt and jeans combo had sufficed for pretty much every situation she had been in – the skirt only came to mid-way up her thigh but to Max it felt scandalously short and exposing. And that was saying nothing about what she thought about the boots.

“Nice outfit, Max – you really look the part.” Max smoothed out some wrinkles in the dress, looking down at it with an undecided expression.

“It’s a bit – well, short for me. And a bit too dress-like. And also, these boots, ugh. I mean how are you supposed to walk in these? The heels are like two inches. I feel like a giant.”

“So you are a vampire giant, then.” Max snorted and pointed at Kate’s waist.

“Nice axe.” Kate hefted it in one hand, smiling innocently.

“This little thing? Oh dear, look it’s got a little blood on it, how careless of me…” Max blinked in surprise then laughed nervously.

“Erm.. that’s just a little bit too convincing. Should I be worried..?” Kate’s eyes were wide with feigned shock.

“How could you ever think little me would do something like that? I’m just a poor, sweet girl lost in the woods..” She burst out laughing, the sound ringing around the bathroom. “Oh, this is so much fun. I’m so glad I am going and that I got all dressed up and we’re going together! I’m really excited – who knew it could be this much fun? It all seems so different from the.. the.. the last time.” There was an uncomfortable silence that threatened to dampen the mood, the spectre of the past hovering.

“Well, it will be different,” declared Max quickly. “I’ll be there, and Dana too, and Warren and Alyssa and.. everyone. You’ll be with your friends and we’ll watch out for you.” Kate looked at her appreciatively, before noting how Max’s expression seemed to harden, her eyes narrowing as she spoke again.

“I’ll watch out for you, Kate. Nothing bad will happen to you.” Max seemed to be looking past Kate at something else, as if she was thinking of something awful that had happened a long time ago, or of a memory that seemed to fascinate but also horrify her. “Nothing.”

“Oh Max thank you - and that was really in character too! This will be great!” Kate seemed to be irrepressibly cheerful no matter what tonight, a bubbling ball of energy and fun just seemingly itching to enjoy herself. Max shook herself and tried to match Kate’s mood, reminding herself that tonight was supposed to be fun. Tonight was supposed to be a night where her and Victoria spent some time together amongst friends, and maybe – just maybe – could be what they wanted to be around people.

“Yes, it will be. Are you ready? The party has started already, shall we go?”

“Sure.” Kate put her axe back in her belt and left the bathroom, Max following unsteadily behind as she got used to her boots. “So is.. your.. er.. you know, Victoria.. is she.. coming along?”

“No, she will meet me there. She was helping Courtney and the others finish up. I offered to help but apparently I'm not allowed because I'm not in the Vortex Club.”

“That's a bit weird, you'd think they'd welcome the help,” Kate said, helping Max down the stairs. “Although I'm guessing they don't know that you are the First Lady of the Vortex Club yet.” Max went to protest but then shut up – if Kate was able to at least make feeble jokes about it then that might have been a sign that it was becoming a little bit more acceptable in her eyes.

Outside the dorm they bumped into a werewolf, who turned out to be Warren, and a zombie dressed up as a cheerleader – an outfit that Max thought was a bit low-effort given that the cheerleader was Dana.

Stop being mean, Max – at least she did sometime homemade, you just got yours from a store.

Although the strategically placed slashes across the front of her top is certainly.. eye catching.

Note to self – don't look when Victoria is around.

“Hey Max, Kate!” Warren's greeting was slightly muffled by the mask he had on. “I like your outfits!” Kate gave a little twirl while Max just nodded her thanks – she wasn't in the mood to give Warren even the slightest hint that there was still even a vague possibility of anything happening tonight. Although Warren had been less weird towards her of late, especially with the obvious threat of Victoria flaying the skin from his flesh if he even breathed out of turn, Max still suspected that if there were any lingering feelings for her – Victoria had taken great pains in pointing these feelings he may have had out to her, much to her disbelief - it still paid to be careful.

“Good costume Warren, very realistic. You too Dana – zombie cheerleader, like it.” Dana put her hands on her hips, striking a pose.

“Thanks – when I was thinking about what to wear it came to me on two levels, actually – one the obvious being a zombie thing as it is Halloween, and another as a commentary on how the whole cheerleader culture of making everyone act the same, looks the same, do the same things could easily be interpreted as a form of modern day zombieism as a result of the mass consumerism of modern day media and how it dumbs down everything into one homogenous mess where we just act as an unthinking mob.” Max looked at Dana in surprise, half wondering if she was joking – but her face was serious.

“What about you Max? What was your inspiration?” Max looked down at her dress and boots, twisting the hem of her cape in her hands.

“Erm.. just.. being a vampire. You know. Sucking blood. Bats. That type of thing.” She looked back up at Dana and then at Kate. “But Kate here has the whole murderous innocence thing going on, which is cool, isn’t it?” Dana seemed to appraise Kate just a little too long and thoroughly in Max’s eyes, and she noted how Kate seemed to hold her gaze when their eyes briefly met – an interesting little interaction that Max filed away for later scrutiny (and gossip).

“You look really cute, Kate. I mean in your costume. Makes you look cute. Not that you aren’t, I mean. You are, but that -”

“Come on let’s go,” said Warren excitedly, interrupting Dana. “Trevor said he would meet you there – he was still getting ready with the others and told me to tell you.” Max watched as Kate’s face seemed to flicker with emotion slightly, although it was swiftly buried under her gentle smile. Max had found that she was spending more and more time trying to be observant of what was going on around her – something she used to do a lot anyway when taking photographs, but now she felt that it was even more important given her supposed super power status – and her ability to then manipulate people.

“Trevor? Oh. Yes, of course.” Dana turned to look up at the dorm, her face strangely impassive, before she offered an arm to Kate. “Come on, let’s go – we’ll meet them there.”



Various ghouls and ghosts, skeletons and witches, zombies and monsters were filtering across the grounds towards the gym. Max was impressed by the amount of effort people had put in, as if it was a collective effort by the student body to forget the trauma of the past few weeks and pretend everything was back to normal – which in a way, she supposed, it was.

How quickly we all forget.

Not that you were any better, you forgot everything when you left, didn’t you.

Pushing such thoughts aside she followed the group up into the gym. She noticed on the door one of the new security guards, a middle-aged weather-beaten man who seemed to find the whole situation quite amusing. As she passed by he gave her a quick nod, as if acknowledging he knew who she was – she was momentarily flummoxed, before realising that they probably knew who she was because of Victoria – apart from Taylor, Max thought she was the only one who knew that the security was here in part to ensure Victoria’s safety, something Max found mildly amusing given her and Victoria’s powers.

The inside of the gym had been completely transformed; gone was the scene of her and Victoria’s mortal combat of the day before and in its place was something almost akin to a film set, with each part of the gym themed around a different part of Halloween – graveyards, spooky woods, eerie ruins and crypts. Max gazed in wonder, amazed at the amount of work and expense that must have gone into it; she saw that against one wall was a giant angel and devil lit with white and red lights; areas labelled as non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks respectively, with tables heaving with food on the opposite side underneath a giant witch and her cauldron.

I guess it also pays to have your own security running the place if you want to be able to have a drink as well.

The centre of the gym was cleared for a dance floor, with a DJ booth constructed of fake tomb stones off to one side, and music was already pumping out through some over-large speakers. All across the walls and ceiling were cobwebs, spiders, skeletons and lanterns – the whole effect was simply quite stunning to Max's eyes; she had never seen anything quite like it.

Kate next to her was also staring wide eyed, as if she couldn’t quite believe it herself.

“It looks.. so different! I can’t believe how much it’s changed!” She looked at Dana who was standing behind her, a small smile on her face. “Is it always like this for a Vortex Party?” Dana shook her head.

“No, not normally. Courtney has really excelled herself this time, although we all came to help. The President was quite, uh, forceful in getting everyone onboard and pitching in, to make it a real club effort.”

“President? Oh you mean –”

“Yeah. I think she has also helped make up the gap in funding after.. well, you know.” Kate nodded, her expression carefully maintained to be cheerful; but Max noted that there was still a reaction to it, almost like an involuntary wince. Some things it seemed only the passing of time could cure.

One aspect of time I can’t help with.

Max walked forward across the hall, staring around at the decorations. Kate followed a little slower, as if trying to hang back with Dana without abandoning Max as well. Max dropped back to talk quietly to Dana.

“Hey Dana, would you mind if you looked after Kate for a moment? There's someone I really want to go find, but I'll be back in a bit. I just don't want to leave her alone...?” Dana nodded, understanding that Max was asking her to keep an eye out for Kate – none of them had forgotten what had happened to her at her last party, and there was an unspoken agreement to make the night as pleasant an experience as they could for her. Max also suspected that Dana was potentially the best person to do that tonight, even if it was just as a friendly face.

“Hey Kate, I’m just going to go and find.. you know. So if you want to stay with Dana and everyone I’ll catch up with you in a bit?” Kate looked a little uncertain, until Dana put an arm around her shoulders, making her tense up a little at the touch.

“Hey come on,” Dana said cheerfully allowing Max to quickly leave, “let’s go check out the decorations! I want to see how they ended up.”



The gym was already busy with students in varying degrees of commitment to costume and Max quickly became swallowed up in a sea of monsters, of which she was one of the probably the most convincing one. She worked her way through the throng, carefully filtering through the press of bodies whilst she scanned the crowd for Victoria.

Towards the rear of the gym a series of comfortable seats and sofas had been set up, along with a few low tables - one set in particular was slightly to one side of the others, forming a semi-circle. On a hunch Max made a beeline for it, seeing a group of people lounging around. As she got closer one stood up, a girl dressed in a long shapeless dirty white dress with a pale face half covered by long black hair, eyes surrounded by deep dark circles - but Max could recognise those eyes from ten miles away.

She felt a little nervous as she approached, this being potentially the most public place they would be seen deliberately together so far, and she stopped just short of Victoria, waiting for her to make the first indication of how she wanted play it.

“Sadako Yamamura, I presume?” Max asked. The ghastly demon broke into a broad smile.

“Yes! I knew you'd be a big enough nerd to get it. Do you like it?”

“Um, not really. You look horrible. Which I guess is kinda the point.”

“Well, I'll take that as a compliment.” Victoria fairly obviously looked Max up and down, taking her time as she did so, and leered a little. “You on the other hand.. Well, you can bite me anytime, Max.” Max bared her teeth and made a biting motion.

“I might just do that later. But only once you look like you again. Honestly, I'm finding it..it's just.. just frightening. Really impressive but..” Victoria suddenly looked dismayed, which was quite incongruous given her costume.

“Oh, really? I can go change if you want, I just thought it was a really different costume compared to other people's. I thought you'd like it.”

“No no no, I do, I do – it's just that film just really freaked me out and you have really captured the feeling of it. But it's good, honest. I mean scary but good.” Victoria still looked a little unhappy and Max immediately regretted her words, instinctively thinking to rewind and make it better before she remembered her promise to Victoria. “Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you, it must have been a lot of effort to do. The makeup is really good, too. Just as scary as the film. And the hair. And.. And at least I haven't rewound to change what I said, have I? So.. that's something? And I should stop talking, shouldn't I?”

“Yeah. You should.” There was an awkward silence before Victoria sighed suddenly. “Not how I wanted this night to start. You look so good and I look like, well -”

“A terrifying demon from hell out to murder me?”

“Really not helping, Max.” She looked at Max with a pained expression before suddenly seeming to come to a decision. “Look, give me half an hour, I'll be right back.” She walked off before Max had a chance to say anything else, pointing at Taylor who was dressed as a ghost and seemingly commanding her to follow. Taylor quickly glanced at Max, puzzled, and then ran after Victoria leaving Max standing awkwardly on her own.

“Well,” she said to no-one in particular, “I guess I'll go find some nibbles.”



Pineapple and cheese on sticks. I mean whoever thought of that is a weird genius.

Ohh, pretzels. Some of those as well.

“Did you find her then?” Max looked up from her ever growing pile of food to see a happy looking Kate next to her.

“Oh hi Kate. You having fun?”

“Oh yes,” she replied enthusiastically. “Everyone seems to love my costume and are just being so nice. I'm having a great time. What about you?”

“Trying to see how much food I can fit on this plate. I think I can get more on it though, there’s a good spot here between the sausages and the bread roll.” Kate gave Max a funny look.

“Did you not have lunch or something? Three meals a day Max, that's the way to do it. Or that's what my Mother used to say.” Max shrugged around a mouthful of salad.

“Dunno, I’ve just been feeling a lot hungrier these last few weeks. Maybe I'm having a growth spurt.” She swallowed, eyeing up some cake as she did so.

Thank you, God of Butterfly Powers; at least you have some other practical use apart from breaking reality.

“Where are the others?” she said, a wedge of cake being put on her plate while Kate watched with hungry eyes. “Want some?” Max proffered the plate towards Kate but she reluctantly shook her head.

“No, I shouldn't.” She paused. “Actually, why not - give me some.” Wedges of cake in hand they turned to look at the busy gym, full of students enjoying themselves. Kate pointed with a fork.

“Warren, Brooke, Stella and Alyssa are over there near that crumbly pillar with the big bat on top of it. I think Warren is trying to flirt with Brooke, and her with him. It's quite entertaining. I saw Juliet over there with Zachary, she's come as a zombie reporter. I guess it suits her. Not sure where Taylor is,” finished Kate, running through everyone who was on their floor. Max tried to look over the crowd but couldn't see anything.

“Oh, OK. Where's Dana?”

“She.. went to find Trevor.” Kate seemed to be suddenly busy with her cake, so Max played along with her.

“So you're having fun then. That's good, I'm glad you are. I was worried that.. it might be a bit much for you.” There was some thoughtful chewing while Kate determinedly demolished her cake.

“It's so different to the last one. So much calmer and.. I don't know. Less people throwing up everywhere and doing.. things. Less.. being drugged and kidnapped.” She turned to look at Max, a brave smile on her face. “I know it’s a really low bar, but in comparison and with you guys all here.. how could I not enjoy it?” There was a comfortable silence between the two as the music blasted out across the room.

“So did you find Victoria?” asked Kate eventually. “I don't think I've seen her yet. Thankfully.”

“I saw her briefly about.. oh, thirty minutes ago now; we chatted about her costume, then she just upped and disappeared. Haven't seen her since, actually.”

“Oh? What did she come as? I bet it was expensive and amazing, she must have looked really beu- good.”

“Actually it wasn't. She came as a character from this really scary horror film – maybe you and Dana can watch it on one of your movie nights.” Max waggled her eyebrows suggestively which Kate didn't even deign to acknowledge.

“Er – no thanks. Where is she then?” Max shrugged.

“I don't know. As I said we just chatted briefly then she left. Took Taylor with her too which is why I guess you can't find her. I'm sure she'll be back in a minute, she is sort of the host of the party.” Kate also tried to peer through the crowd but couldn’t make out anything between all of the bodies milling around and the strobing lights.

“It’s a bit odd given how much she loves being the centre of everything.”

“She’s not really like that! If you -” Max protested with some heat in her voice, which Kate again didn’t deign to respond to.

“What exactly did you say to her?” Max looked at Kate, surprised to be seemingly receiving relationship advice from her.

“Um nothing. I just said I thought her costume was good but too scary, and that it weirded me out a bit. And I didn’t want to.. to.. kiss.. her.. when.. she..” Max trailed off as she realised just what exactly she had said to Victoria. Kate turned to look at Max, her eyebrows raised so high they looked like they might fall off.

“You told Victoria Chase, the Victoria Chase, who happens to be your girlfriend” - Kate seemed to roll the word around her mouth, as if trying it for taste – “that you found her too scary – or you could say ugly – to kiss?” Kate patted her on the shoulder. “Well, it was nice knowing you.” Max gave her a panicked look.

“Oh my god, help me Kate! What do I do?”

“Run?”



Max had decided to take refuge where she could and spent a nervous few minutes hanging out with Alyssa and the others before she began to relax a little and start to have fun again. Warren seemed to be floating around a little bit too close to her again, probably emboldened by a little Dutch courage and the absence of the death cloud that was Victoria. Max did her best to try and keep at least Brooke in-between him and her, both to subtly discourage Warren (again) and because of the glares Brooke was sending her way when she even dared speak to him – and given the volume of the music it meant practically shouting into his ear – or where his ear probably was due to the ridiculous mask he was still wearing.

Alyssa for her part was trying to get her to pay attention to a particular story she was trying to tell, involving what she and Stella has got up to last weekend.

“And then I was trying to find out where I had left my book, so Stella thought we should head back down to the store where we had been hanging out, and then -” Max nodded politely, only hearing half it due to the noise and a general lack of interest on her part. School drama just seemed so mundane now that her horizons had been expanded so much – now that she knew there was more, so much more, to the world. Alyssa suddenly stuttered and blanched, her story faltering. Her eyes strayed to look at something behind Max, widening with apparent apprehension.

“Maxine,” said a voice in her ear, a low growl that made her shiver. Max spun around to be confronted by a transformed Victoria – gone was the long black hair and terrifying makeup; instead there were thigh high black boots, and a corset, and cleavage, and buckles, and cleavage, and long black gloves, and necklaces, and cleavage, and..

Max's brain seemed to shut down as it tried to take it all in and she licked her lips, eyes straying to those bright red lips that seemed to exude the command to kiss her right there and then. Victoria's eyes were full of triumph, and she placed a finger underneath Max's chin, angling her head upwards, before opening her mouth in a predatory grin revealing similar fangs to Max's.

“Every vampire has a Master, Maxine,” her voice deep and seductive and designed to make Max go weak at the knees. Max felt an overwhelming desire to launch herself at those lips, but Victoria just flicked her on the nose and walked off with a smirk, knowing that Max's eyes followed every swish of her hips.

There was a momentary silence before a collective exhalation of breath from those around her – they had not been able to hear what had been said; they had just seen Victoria walk up to Max, say something, poke her in the face and walk off – a fairly standard interaction in their eyes, with the major exceptions of Kate and Warren who were shocked and depressed in equal measure.

“What was that all about?” asked Brooke, dressed as a skeleton with her face made up like a grinning skull. “Is she hassling you again?” Max thought she heard a small note of glee in her voice, but it was hard to tell over the music. Max shook her head, failing to hide a smile that crept over her lips.

“But what did she want from you then?” asked Alyssa the witch in puzzlement. Max smiled more widely this time as she watched Victoria make her regal progress back through the crowd.

“She just wanted to make it clear who was in charge,” she said quietly, as if to herself. Kate crept up beside her and whispered into her ear.

“She actually went and got changed, just for you? Despite you being really rude to her? That’s just..” She stopped, as if trying to process what it meant. “If she. She did that. I mean, she must. Huh.” Max squeezed her hand.

“She’s not as bad as you think; or to be fair, she has been towards you in the past. Please at least give her a chance.”



Victoria was once again in a good mood – the party was really successful (not that she had ever had any doubt about that), but successful in a different way to others they had held. Everyone seemed to be genuinely having fun without there being an underlying current of nastiness that had marred so many other parties. She wondered if removing the VIP section had played a part in that; removing the 'us and them' aspect and making it feel more inclusive, although the strict orders the security were under to make it so no additional alcohol was brought in, and definitely no other drugs, probably also helped. The last thing she wanted was another incident involving a student and drugs – even her power and influence would not force the ending of any future parties if that happened.

Not to forget of course what that means for the person affected, she scolded herself.

In fact the only dark cloud had been Max's reaction to her first costume – she had been really pleased with it, a break from what she knew people would expect her to come as. It wasn’t the usual spin she did on her habitual image of perfection and beauty (like now), but something unusual and geeky.

And it had all fallen apart – Max had said it was good and all, but it had scared her - no, horrified her – and Victoria had felt like an idiot. Her first public outing (although not that sort of outing, not yet) with her sort of secret girlfriend and she had made herself look horrible; while Max had been the one to make herself beautiful – and beautiful for her. So what choice did she have, really, but to go and change and make herself the beautiful girl that Max deserved to be seen with? Of course, she was still a Chase and thus had to try to prove a point – coming as Max's Vampire Master was her own way of saying to Max 'Yes I changed my costume, and I did this for you; but you are not in charge – we are equals'.

Taylor had been her usual great self in helping and Victoria felt like she was really in her debt to her for helping out in her hour of need; for not the first time she knew she had to think of a way to make it up to her – and not just try to do it via monetary means.

For now though Victoria was basking in her (and Courtney! Can't forget the hard work she put in – another person to make it up to!) success and the adoration of her fellow students. She was sitting on her own on a sofa, slightly to one side from everyone else – both with everybody but not with everybody, a position of self-inflicted isolation she was used to but increasingly didn’t seem to want. It was if the first tentative weeks of her relationship with Max had begun the process of wanting to make her not be the one above it all; yes she was perhaps in a position of power and respect; but she was not liked, not loved. Max seemed to occupy that space with people without any conscious effort, something she had been drawn to when she had first seen her, but Max was also she now knew incomplete in her own ways. Together they could both improve and learn from each other, and this was now playing on her mind as she watched the people around her.

Taylor and Courtney were sitting opposite her, Courtney animatedly talking to one of the anonymous members of the football team (Ryan? Dylan?) who actually seemed to be interested in her. Taylor was next to her, entirely engrossed on her cell as she rapidly messaged someone, followed by a moment of waiting before there was a brief smile then more frantic typing. Victoria had a good idea who she was talking too, and a shrewd idea as to how to pay Taylor back began to form in her mind.

Such thoughts, however, were completely derailed by the arrival of someone who made everything else in that moment seem utterly unimportant.

“Hi.” A pair of intense blue eyes; freckles peeking out from underneath the white makeup; half chewed lips, despite Victoria’s insistence that she tried to take better care of them, with a splash of dark red lipstick; lips that drew back in a cautious smile revealing fangs that went with the trickle of blood running from her mouth.

“Hey.” A cautious touch of the leg, hidden from view as Victoria turned to face her; followed by a hand meeting hers and the delicious sensation of skin touching skin. Even just doing that in such a public place sent shivers down Victoria’s spine, as if she was sampling some particularly tempting fruit that she had long seen from behind the high wall of an orchard and had finally plucked up the courage to grab that ladder and begin to climb over it.

“I just wanted to say sorry about being mean about your costume. It was very rude.” Max’s voice was quiet, and she had to lean in so Victoria could hear it above the music, her breath tickling Victoria’s neck.

“I’ll let you off this time, Max. But only because it’s you.” They stared at each other, and every fibre of Victoria was screaming at her to kiss Max, but she couldn’t – not now, not yet, not with everyone watching. Max seemed to sense her hesitation and gave her a reassuring smile – for now she was just content to sit with Victoria, to share the same space – an action which of itself spoke volumes to the careful observer who knew them both.

One such observer was Taylor, who looked up from her cell momentarily and saw the pair, giving them a little wave and smile – which they both returned. Another was Courtney, who glanced at Victoria during a break in conversation when her potential suitor had disappeared to get her a drink (an occurrence that had left her feeling slightly giddy with hope at how the evening may turn out). The glance had turned into a second take, followed by a look of utter confusion. Victoria beckoned her over, and after a brief moment of hesitation Courtney made her way towards the pair. Victoria rose to meet her and whispered into her ear; to Max observing it seemed almost comical the range of facial expressions that ran over Courtney's face – a mixture of confusion, disbelief, puzzlement and then finally, eventually, after what seemed like an age, a cautious smile and a hug.

Courtney broke away from Victoria and stared at Max before giving her a nod and heading back to the sofa. Max watched as she immediately started to talk to Taylor, who looked at them and then laughed, causing much consternation in Courtney before their heads went together and they talked, Taylor looking very pleased with herself.

“Everything good?” Max asked Victoria, leaning up against her. Victoria reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze.

“It will be.”



Max was out somewhere on the dance floor, trying to dance with Kate and the others. She had given it her best shot, but somehow she still couldn't seem to match the beat. Kate was, surprisingly, in her element, a huge grin on her face as she turned out to be rather adept at dancing, much to Max's envy. It wasn't lost on Max either that Dana had turned up and was dancing with them, Trevor nowhere to be seen for now, and Kate seemed to be orbiting her like a doomed star around a black hole.

What was interesting, though, was that to Max it seemed as if Dana was a little bit more receptive to the obvious (to Max) attentions of Kate, happily dancing with her to the almost exclusion of everyone else. Max would have been highly entertained by such a thing if it hadn't left her awkwardly sandwiched between Brooke and Warren again – luckily there was no way her dancing could have ever been mistaken for anything even vaguely flirtatious.

And then -

..and then time seemed to slow, the music becoming muted and dull, yet Max's senses seemed heightened. A sensation began to gnaw through her, eating away at her bones; a sensation that somewhere, somehow, Victoria was in trouble.

Max looked around, trying to make sense of everything, and she thought she saw through a momentary brief gap in the crowd the figure of Victoria standing in confrontation with someone she couldn't make out – whatever it was reinforced the feeling inside of Max that she had to do something, that she had to act, that she had to act now – that Victoria needed her help. She started to walk -

- it was time for her to become who she was meant to be; a force of nature, powerful, imperious -

Max tried to push her way across the dance floor, but it seemed that everyone had decided to come and dance all at once – every way seemed to be blocked in turn, as if it was a deliberate ploy to stop her from getting where she thought she should be, where something was telling her where she needed to be. To get where Victoria was -

- strength, power beyond all reckoning, able to bend the world to her will -

Max was elbowed in the face by an oblivious dancer, before being squeezed between two others; someone stepped on her foot while someone else pushed into her and she was becoming increasingly hot and frustrated that people would just not get out of the way so she could help -

- to control them all, command them all, lead them all -

Max could feel herself getting angry; could feel her power welling up inside of her, tempting her to use it to get what she needed, to do what she had to do, to change the world for the better, change the world to what she knew it should be, what it must be. She pushed someone out of the way in frustration, time beginning to fluctuate as she felt an ever-increasing urgency to get to Victoria who desperately needed her help, who was in trouble, who was in danger -

- even a butterfly can have its wings clipped, but not this time, not with you, not if you -

Max knew what she could do, she had seen it; she had been shown what she was capable of, what she could become, and now was the time for her to show her quality, time for her to step up and fight for her if only they would get out of my fucking way -

< BECOME / BE LEAD / EVOLVE >

Max burst free from the dance floor, feeling the power coursing through her like electricity as everything moved in a muted slow motion, her senses alert and raw. Seemingly right in front of her she could see Victoria, standing tall and fair and proud and terrible, her partner in this reality and any other; she felt a surge of emotion as she looked at her and saw what threatened her – someone she couldn't seem to see clearly, a monster, tall, threatening; a dark looming presence that she knew she had to remove, to destroy, to cleanse.

Without a moment's hesitation she moved in front of the threat and slowed time to a crawl, before thrusting her hand out hard and fast into the monster as time began to flow once more. She felt a rush of exultation as everything she had practised came together, and with an audible crunch that she heard above the music the figure flew backwards into the furniture, crashing heavily against it. Max stepped forward, readying herself for another blow, the power positively surging through her, eyes blazing a brilliant blue, oblivious to anything else except the need to defend Victoria at all cost, to protect her. She drew back her fist, readying herself for another strike -

Slender fingers curled around her wrist and a familiar sensation of icy calm seemed to flow through that grip, flooding her system and soothing the raging turmoil within; in shock she slammed time to a halt. All thoughts of vengeance slipped from her mind as she stared into those eyes that suddenly seemed to fill her vision, a stillness surrounding them as everything apart from them was frozen in time.

“Max, what.. what are you doing?” Victoria's face was concerned, her eyes searching Max's face for answers. Max gaped at her for a moment, as if her mind was desperately trying to scrabble itself together again.

“I..I thought you were in trouble. I sensed you were in trouble, that you needed help. I wanted to save you, protect you. I thought you were.. I thought.. I don’t know, I..” Max's voice was thick with confusion; the thoughts she had been having were quickly disappearing, slipping away the more she tried to think of them, as if they had never occurred in the first place. Victoria wrapped her other arm around her, pulling her close – both a hug and preventing Max from moving away.

“That's really sweet of you, but – I'm fine. Really. Nothing to worry about, I wasn’t in any danger. Everything was under control.” She looked at the sprawled figure behind Max. “Although, I hate to say it but that was really fucking impressive seeing you be my knight in shining armour. And just a little bit hot.” She leaned in and kissed Max, and Max responded in kind, letting her free hand run up Victoria's back and to the nape of her neck. After a minute Victoria pulled back, face flushed.

“I've been wanting to do that for ages tonight.”

“Me too.” They held each other, enjoying the moment, before Max remembered where they were.

“So what was going on then? Who did I.. erm, hit?” Max immediately found herself regretting her actions, regretting having leapt in so quickly and without question without even assessing the situation first. Victoria closed her eyes as she replied, a look of annoyance flitting across it.

“Logan. He was being.. annoying.” Max blinked in surprise.

“Logan?”

That conversation I overheard.. was it something to do with that?

“Yeah. He was trying to.. I don't know. Show me up? Take over? We didn't get very far before you showed up.”

“Oh. Well. Sorry.” Another kiss from Victoria helped ease Max's conscience further, and Victoria let go of Max's wrist and held her hand instead.

“It's fine. Thank you for looking out for me though, I really appreciate it, but.. this is not the way.”

Yet. Victoria left the thought unspoken, but it seemed to weigh heavy on her. She had already crossed the line once before, and tonight had been a glimpse of Max doing the same.

“Well I can't leave it like this, can I. I've made a mess of it all again. I'll rewind back a minute, but.. I want to see what he has to say to you. I want to be there just in case.. just in case you need me.”

“I always like to have you with me Max, you know that. But let’s not go back too far, otherwise people might wonder why you suddenly disappear in the middle of what some people charitably call your dancing.”



Victoria sat on the edge of the sofa, awaiting the coming confrontation with some apprehension. Max had interrupted it before it had really got a chance to get going, and Victoria didn’t know what to expect. She did, however, know that no matter what Max was nearby and had already shown her willingness to not let anything untoward happen to her. Victoria didn’t want to have to rely on that, or even the use of any powers at all – not if it could be avoided. She had already nearly messed up with those already but seemed to have got away with it – but anything she did now would end up having to be rewound away by Max, unless they were prepared to utterly freak everyone – and the entire world, for that matter – out.

She watched Logan approach one more, flanked by Hayden and Trevor, along with a few more generic football players hanging a little further behind. She was a little pleased to notice that the one Courtney had been flirting with (Bryan? Tyrion?) wasn’t there. The music was loud enough that Logan had to approach quite close to make himself heard, and he stopped a metre or two away, looking down at her with a sneer on his face. Victoria noticed that Hayden and Trevor both looked a little uncomfortable; Hayden especially when her gaze swept across him – he quickly blanched and looked down.

“Yes?” she asked imperiously, not even bothering to get up from where she was sitting.

“We need to talk, Chase,” said Logan. “we -” he motioned vaguely behind him - “have been talking and we've decided that you should no longer be in charge of the Vortex Club. You are too much of a liability, and we don't like the direction you are taking it in.”

“Oh? And who is this 'we'?” Victoria narrowed her eyes, her gaze darting between the three of them – only one had the courage to meet her gaze, and so she swiftly dismissed the others as not important in the confrontation at present. Her entire focus was now on Logan, and she reminded herself again to keep calm – not to do anything stupid.

Again.

“Us members here – we have a say, just as much as anyone else. We are the beating heart of this club, we are what give it its prestige, its reputation. There is no place for the likes of you.” Logan was leaning forward now, his face becoming twisted with a burning hatred towards her. “And if you don’t, I’ll tell everyone what you are,” he whispered with an evil look on his face.

In a different universe she would have felt intimidated, but in this one – she was strong, far stronger than he could ever be, far stronger than anyone else. She was Victoria Fucking Chase, and she would not bow to anyone, secrets or no.

“The likes of me? What the fuck does that mean? I’m not giving up anything to fuckwits like you.”

“You know what I mean, you fucking dyke.” Victoria flinched at the words, and Logan smiled in triumph – he knew her weak spot, her carefully crafted reputation that was all built on a lie – a lie that he would use to tear her down, and then.. and then he would get his revenge. Victoria saw a nervous glance mixed with surprise occur between Hayden and Trevor, and realised that this was new information to them – further confirming that these two at least didn't really seem to realise what was in play. She would remember that, once this was all over. As if to confirm it, Hayden laid a hand on Logan's shoulder.

“Dude, I don't think -”

“Shut the fuck up Hayden, we're doing this like I said,” Logan snarled, batting his hand away before turning back to Victoria and pointing a finger. “I'm not having something this disgusting running my club. Not having that thing changing the ways thing have been. And I bet everyone else agrees with me.” There was a dangerous pause, the music still blaring in the background. Other people were beginning to notice something was happening and were taking an interest; Victoria could see people she vaguely recognised forming a ring around them – she thought she could see Taylor and Courtney, but she didn't have time to think about it.

I can't let them do this.

She closed her eyes moment, and a hundred different scenarios played out in her mind, where she slunk off in defeat and hid, diminished, afraid; despised by everyone for what she was; where everything fell apart and she ended up alone once more, where not even Max would -

No.

Stop it.

I have to face up to what I am.

What I want to be.

She opened her eyes and seemed to see everything for the first time; the way forward was clear, free of doubt. Slowly she stood up, resolve building within her as she rose to the challenge – the familiar feeling of power bubbling away under the surface reinforcing the strength she knew she always had, whether she truly believed it or not. She could sense something else, something that reeked of a hidden danger, a veiled strength, and she knew that Max was near, and she drew comfort from it. Victoria stood directly in front of Logan and thrust her face directly at the taller man, her eyes glinting.

“You have a problem with me, Logan?” Her voice was low and dangerous; but seemed to travel to the onlookers despite the noise. “You have a problem with me being -” a slight pause, a swallow - “gay?” The moment the words left her mouth she felt an immense rush of release, as if years of pent up emotion came flooding out of her all at once. No matter what happened now, she no longer needed to hide – things would never be the same, there was no going back. Already out of the corner of her eye she could see people whispering to each other, as the gossip spread like wildfire. Her momentary elation was replaced by a sick feeling in her stomach that refused to go away.

Logan had recoiled slightly as she had stood to face him, but swiftly rallied knowing he had people backing him up and, as he saw it, right on his side.

“Yeah, my problem is you and what you do. It's disgusting, and we don’t want it in our club.” He looked around the crowd which had assembled. “Am I right?”

For a moment no-one moved, and Logan grinned in triumph; Victoria still stood there, tall and proud, but alone – alone and discarded by everyone, a solitary figure which was going to break in the face of the coming storm.

But suddenly she was not alone, for a small figure quietly walked up and gave her a small smile, before standing proudly next to her. Victoria looked down at Max and smiled gratefully, the feeling in her stomach gone as Max stood with her. Then Taylor quickly walked over and stood on the other side, without saying a word; followed immediately by Courtney. Victoria felt overwhelmed with gratitude and went to mouth her thanks; but that was interrupted by another figure arriving, one which nearly shook her to the core – Kate stood next to Max, her face set hard as she in turn tried to stare down the people in front of Victoria. Victoria looked in wonder, and then saw that Dana was there too, staring daggers at Trevor who was looking increasingly uncomfortable.

Hayden had no such qualms and quickly abandoned Logan and was quickly followed by a rush of people who all came to stand with Victoria, a Victoria who looked as if she was going to cry. Soon it was just Trevor and Logan, and then Logan alone, as Trevor eventually shuffled his way over to stand near an angry looking Dana. Victoria looked around her at the people who had come to her side, both friend and what she had thought of as foe – just to show that it didn't matter what she was, just as Taylor had told her – and that people like Logan were no longer welcome at their school.

She turned back to look at him in her moment of triumph, and he had a hunted look as he realised his plan was in tatters, and he was the one who was now isolated and alone.

“I suggest you fuck right off out of my party, Logan,” Victoria said, crossing her arms.

“Or what? Going to attack me again? Do it - there are plenty of witnesses this time.” Victoria eyes flashed as she held her temper in check, feeling a hand appear at the small of her back.

“I'm not as stupid as you. Get out before I have my security throw you out.” Victoria's jaw was set hard, and for a moment it looked like Logan was going to argue before he abruptly turned away and stormed off, pushing through the assembled crowd as he did so.

Victoria seemed to sag as the tension left her, before quickly gathering herself back together. She looked around at the sea of faces who were looking at her expectantly, and she could not think of anything else to do but smile sheepishly and raise a hand. That, however, seemed to be enough, and the crowd began to disperse with the entertainment now over – Victoria even got a supportive smile from Kate and a nod from Dana as they left, leaving Victoria feeling thoroughly confused, but elated.



Former Sergeant Mike Harwood was standing idly against the wall of the gym, listening to the dim sound of the music coming from inside and contemplating life in general. It had been a long and strange road for him to end up in a foreign country guarding a party at a high school gym, but he wasn't complaining. It seemed a lifetime ago that he was crawling through the streets of Basra under fire, or watching his comrades suffer and die around him in Afghanistan while he survived; then the years of occupation and the ever present threat of sudden death until all that was left was a washed up former para drinking his life away in a run-down pub in the east end of London; a broken relationship and a child he'd never see again the only medals left on his chest. It was at this lowest point when he'd decided to pick a fight with anyone who happened to be around, and that anyone had turned out to be start of the long road here.

His opponent hadn't even tried to fight him, easily evading his drunken efforts; instead he'd given him an offer – instead of slowly drinking himself to death come work for him instead and have a fresh start. Of course he'd dismissed it out of hand, but the man had left a card in case he changed his mind - and in the dim light of another morning hangover he had called the number on whim and met the man again. He'd introduced himself as John Osei, former Major of the Marine Corp and now head of security at one of the largest conglomerates in the world – and due to the nature of some of their work they had a preference for former military personnel – especially those who had proven themselves capable before. What he hadn't been told was that it came with strings attached – and those strings turned out to be counselling, therapy and becoming dry – Mike had found out that his new comrades were no strangers to being at rock bottom, nor of suffering the unspoken effects of the horrors they had all witnessed.

So here he was, a few years after being dragged up from the gutter and having learnt a new way of life – less being shot at, but more dangerous and exciting than he had suspected - the world of corporate espionage and secrets was surprisingly savage, and coupled with the military work the company did it was almost like being better paid a lot more to do the same job.

He had even managed to repair somewhat the bridges that had been burned in his own life, and although they were probably never going to be fully repaired he at least got to see his son now – so guarding a high school gym, and the VIP within, was a little dull for a deployment, but not an unwelcome one. The secondary mission of keeping an eye on one of her ‘friends’ – he could hear the quote marks even as he was told – was just another minor complication.

Good for her, had been his only thought. He had only spoken briefly with Ms Chase, and she had seemed pleasant enough – on the surface she had been exactly what he had expected from the heir of such a large fortune and business interests; but underneath it all, showing occasionally in a glance here and or a look there, there was something else – something which warned him at the back of his brain that all was not as it seemed.

And he had learned through harsh experience to trust that little voice.

Such thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the gym door being flung back and a person storming out with an angry yell. Mike watched with interest as they walked over to a bin and started kicking it in frustration.

“I’m going to fucking kill that bitch!” he yelled, kicking the bin once more.

Ok, and this is where I step in.

He levered himself off the wall and walked over, wondering who the bitch was and why the bin deserved such a kicking.

“Sir, are you alright? Could you please stop assaulting the bin? I’m not sure how it has offended you, but if you let me talk to it -”

“Fuck off!” Mike admired his chutzpah but could also see that something was off about him. He seemed overly angry, more than a normal person should be. He judged from the build of the guy he was a player of what the Americans amusingly called football – something he never understood, given the fact they never used their feet – as far as he was concerned there was only one type of football, and that involved feet. Still, he knew enough about it to surmise that there was a high chance that the guy was probably taking steroids of one form or another – that could explain both his size, and his apparent anger.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to stop doing that. Also, can you please tell me why you are threatening harm to another student?” The guy turned to face him, face contorted with rage.

“I told you to fuck off! This is none of your fucking business. Fuck off back to wherever you came from and just do your job like a good boy.”

Rich kids. Same the world over.

“This is my job. I’d suggest you calm down unless you want me to make you calm down.” Mike judged that a softly softly approach would be a waste of time here, and he was proven correct when all he got in response was a finger jabbed in his face and some more poisonous invective.

“Make me! I know you actually work for her, don’t fucking pretend otherwise! Fucking bitch.”

Ah.

And there it was, something that had been discussed quietly between themselves on the team – they knew she had been threatened before, but that had usually been because of her father when she was younger. A threat was a threat though, and he was wise enough to take it seriously.

“Sir, I’d suggest you head back to your room now.” He got another glare in return, and he subtly shifted his stance in preparation for any escalation – things felt like they were on a knife edge.

“Trouble, Mike?” The familiar shape of his boss loomed up out of the darkness, flanked by two others. You could say what you liked about the Chase family – and the team often did when they were sure they were not being overheard – but for the things that mattered, they tended to go overboard. Manpower and equipment was definitely not an issue on this job.

“No, Sir. Not yet anyway. This gentleman was just going to head back to his room and not cause any trouble, weren’t you?” For a moment he thought there was going to be resistance but confronted with such odds he slunk away with a final kick at the bin. Mike exchanged a look with his boss, and one of the others discreetly followed him to ensure he did as he was told.

“Something we should be worried about?”

“I.. think it might be, John. He definitely seems to have an issue with Ms Chase, what it is I don’t know. Threatened to kill her. Might just be bravado, but..” John nodded, tapping his chin thoughtfully.

“But worth keeping an eye on.”

Yeah. It’s been a long road, but a good one.



Victoria didn’t know what time it was, and frankly she didn’t care. She was out on the dancefloor, moving in time with the music and surrounded by her friends. In front of her was Max, with her friends also; the two groups slowly intermingling with them both as the nucleus.

Victoria only had eyes for Max, and the way Max was looking at her she knew that the feeling was returned one hundred-fold. They were both dancing – although the term dancing was still being loosely applied to Max – within touching distance of each other, although even the most casual observer could see the occasional bumps and touches that occurred as they slowly closed the distance between them.

They danced closer and closer until they were practically touching each other, Victoria seeing nothing but Max’s face, the blue of her eyes and the red of her lips. All she wanted to do in that moment was to reach out and kiss Max, to show her how much she wanted her.

But she couldn’t, not with everyone here, not with everyone watching. She couldn’t let people know that –

These people who stood with me, these people who understand, these people who don’t actually care.

Victoria looked at Max who was smiling up at her as she tried to move in time with her; she glanced at the crowd around, at her friends, at Max’s friends, at everyone who was here; before her attention was inevitably drawn back. She closed her eyes, listening to the music and feeling Max’s body close to hers, so very close, and the world seemed to hold its breath as Victoria wrestled one last time with her inner demons.

With a deep breath she opened her eyes and pulled Max close.

Fuck it.

Chapter Text

“Hey Taylor, have you seen Victoria at all?” Taylor looked up at Max from where she had been in conversation with Courtney and her new potential paramour. Max was hovering nervously, still feeling a little bit of an outsider when it came to talking to Victoria's friends, and those of the Vortex inner circle. It had, after all, been only 4 weeks or so since her and Victoria had sat in that fateful classroom even though it seemed like a completely different lifetime, and Max was still feeling her way around the seemingly treacherous swamp that was high school social interactions.

“I'd have thought you'd know better than me,” Taylor replied with a twinkle in her eye. “But I think she said she was going out for some air.” Max nodded her thanks and quickly went to leave, but Taylor leapt up to grab her arm.

“Wait, Max, before you go,” she said, before quickly releasing her grip when Max's usual anodyne expression darkened as she looked at Taylor's hand on her. “Look, I just wanted to say.. well, thank you.”

“Thank you?” Max said in surprise, her expression clearing. “For what?” Taylor looked a little awkward and fussed with her hair for a moment as if to buy time to get her thoughts in order.

“Just for looking after V - Victoria. Being there. Helping her out where I - we – wouldn't. Or couldn't.” Max looked down at her feet, embarrassed.

“I didn't do anything. It was her decision, and the support of you all that -”

“No, I don't mean just tonight, but in general. You've really broken the ice around her, it's quite amazing.” Max laughed a little bit too much at Taylor's words.

“Broken the ice,” she chortled a little tipsily, much to Taylor's confusion. “Ha ha. That's funny.”

“Erm.. yeah. Just.. look after her, I know she puts on this brave front but she's still a bit of a mess. Aren't we all though, I guess.”

“I intend to, it is my destiny after all.” Max was smiling happily and staring off into the distance at nothing in-particular and Taylor surmised that she may have had a drink or two, which could explain the slight nonsense she was saying.

“Right, well I wouldn't have put it quite like that. Glad you feel like it though,” she continued, finding that Max's smile was becoming infectious. “I've known her since we both started here, and.. I've never seen her like this. I'm being serious Max, just don't.. mess with her feelings. Ever. It's like she's a butterfly finally emerging from her cocoon, all brilliant and colourful, but like really fragile.” Max's smiling face slammed shut in an instance, as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice down her back.

“She's like a fucking what?” Max's voice was low and hard and dangerous, and she took a step towards Taylor.

“What did I say?” squeaked Taylor, eyes suddenly wide-eyed with fright as some primeval urge short-circuited her brain straight into flight or fight mode, with an emphasis on the word flight. Max thrust her face right into Taylor's, and despite her smaller stature she seemed impossibly big in that moment, full of threat and menace. Max's eyes seemed to be glowing with a brilliant blue fire as she searched her face, as if looking for any possible secret meaning behind her words. Taylor was transfixed, like a small mouse trying to hide from an apex predator and desperately hoping it wouldn't notice her; although a tiny, rational part of her brain was still screaming at her that it was only Max, why are you reacting like this, what is wrong with you?

Max looked at her for what seemed like forever, before nodding to herself and stepping away again.

“- colourful, but like really fragile.” Max smiled brightly at her, and placed a hand on her arm.

“I know Taylor, and thank you for worrying about her; she is really lucky to have you as a friend. I'll look after her, I promise. I want to look after everybody.” Taylor went in for an awkward hug.

“You're a good person Max, thank you. I never would have thought I'd ever say this but I'm glad V has finally got together with you.”

Max finally extricated herself and made her way towards the door of the gym, eager to find Victoria. She was a little troubled by how quickly she had adversely reacted to Taylor's innocent words; it felt like she had just immediately flown off the handle, like a switch inside of her had been flipped. She realised that it felt disturbingly like how she had reacted earlier; an instinctive response against what she thought was a threat but was actually just someone trying to look after her friend.

Maybe it was the little drink I had, that's all.

Probably shouldn't drink if that's the case, I mean I am breaking the law after all.



The air was crisp as Max left the gym and she shivered a little, drawing her cloak tightly around her. The same guard was on the door as earlier and he gave her another nod, which she instinctively returned, feeling slightly embarrassed as she did so.

“Hi.. erm, excuse me but have you seen Victoria – I mean Ms Chase – at all?”

“She's just on that bench over there. Don't worry, we are keeping an eye on her.” Max expressed her thanks and walked in the direction he had pointed and then saw the shape of Victoria sitting down, huddled down on a bench alone. As Max approached she saw that Victoria was staring moodily at nothing in particular, seemingly lost in thought.

“Hey you,” she said, sitting down next to her, “what you doing out here all alone? There’s a whole fun party thing going on.” Victoria briefly glanced at her with a flash of a smile.

“Just thinking.” Max wrapped her cloak tighter around her; the night was not getting any warmer.

“About anything in particular?”

“Just.. stuff. You know, life, the universe.. our place in the great cosmic tapestry that is life.” Max looked at her curiously, never having seen Victoria in this sort of mood before.

“That's very deep. What's brought this on?” Victoria just shrugged by way of an answer. Max looked at her for a moment, before shifting closer and reaching up to gently grasp her chin.

“Hey,” she said softly, and turned Victoria's head to kiss her. Victoria seemed to freeze for a moment before relaxing into it, and using her fangs to bite on Max's lip a little causing her to take a sharp intake of breath. After a moment Victoria drew back, shaking her head ruefully.

“I know it's all out now but.. I can't help feel I still should be hiding. It's stupid. Especially as I bet everyone is just gossiping about it.” Max reached around her waist and pulled her close.

“Well you have been out for all of.. 3 hours now. I don't think it'll have reached the Washington Post yet, so you are safe for now. Can't promise by the morning, mind you.”

“Oh shut up, you know what I mean. This is a huge thing for me Max.” Victoria looked at her for a second; they were so close their noses were nearly touching. “I suppose it's too late to go back and..?” Max pulled away slightly so she could look at her properly.

“Would you want me too if I could?” she asked, her voice serious. “I mean.. it'll probably kill me, but I could try if you want me too.” There was a long silence while Victoria stared out into the distance again, as if thinking long and hard about it.

“No,” she said eventually. “It's better that it's all out in the open now, for better or worse. I've been running from it for too long.”

“Good, because I don't think I could anyway.”

“Maaaxxx..” Victoria shoved her with her shoulder, but she was smiling. Max squeezed her closer once more, and rested her head against Victoria's shoulder.

“I'm proud of you, you know? It was really brave what you did.”

“It wasn't brave. I don't think I had a choice. I couldn't let him win. I had to do it, Max, I had to. I had to stand up for myself and not run away from it. I had to, and I won't roll over for anyone. Not now, not ever.” It half sounded to Max that she was trying to convince herself as she spoke, to give herself reassurance that she had done the right thing.

“Except me, of course.”

“Except you.. under certain, limited circumstances.” There was another companionable silence before Max shivered.

“Are you not cold?” Max withdrew her arm and wrapped her cloak around herself once more - her costume was not thick, and she found she was regretting the short skirt even more.

“No. You know I don't feel it - do you want to borrow my cloak? Actually here, just take it.” Max busied herself in wrapping it around her legs, covering the gap between her boots and skirt.

“So what was Logan trying to do?” she asked offhandedly, as if it wasn't an important subject. “I'm assuming that wasn't the first time something has happened?” Victoria stiffened next to her, and glanced back at the gym.

“Why do you say that?” Max fussed with the cloak, as if it was proving to be exceptionally complex to rearrange around her legs.

“I overheard Logan talking about you a week or so ago,” she said in a casual tone but still not looking up from her work. “He said you'd had an argument or something and that you'd, um, hit him.” Max finally looked up at Victoria, who was looking a little stunned. “Is that where he had got all those bruises from?” Victoria stood up and began pacing up and down, clearly agitated. Eventually she stopped and stood in front of Max, arms folded defensively.

“Why did you not say anything before? Why wait until now to tell me that you had heard something?”

“I thought you'd tell me if it was important. Besides I know you can deal with him, as you showed tonight.” Victoria began to pace again, as if it helped her think.

“Fine, yes. He tried to threaten me, which is why I was late to meet you. And I might have lost my temper and used my powers a little bit to teach him a lesson.” Victoria quickly gave her a brief summary of what had happened, seemingly relishing in describing how she had dealt with the situation. Max looked a little shocked when she had finished.

“Vic, that was so dangerous! What if someone had seen? It's not like you can rewind, is it? And using them like that.. I mean isn't that the way to the dark side?” Despite the seriousness of the conversation Victoria couldn't help but give wrinkle her nose in scorn.

“No Star Wars references, please - a nerd like you I am not, so get them I won't.” She paused, her train of thought momentarily derailed before she pointed an accusing finger. “Anyway, you're one to talk - what was tonight all about? You did exactly the same.”

“That was different,” Max protested, “I thought you were in trouble! I wanted to-”

“You could have just rewound a minute or two, rather than come in all Mr Punchy. Which was amazing, by the way, but that's not the point.”

“Mr Punchy?” Victoria waved her question away as she paced before standing once more in front of her, this time with her arms down by her side.

“It wasn't just that though, there was another time a few days ago. He tried to blackmail me, threaten to reveal my secret like he ended up trying to do tonight. Of course I told him to fuck right off, but maybe.. maybe I should have taken it more seriously.”

“And told me! Victoria.. he could have done something to you, you should have said! What if he had.. I don't know, done something?”

“I can handle him. I'm super-me, remember?” Victoria smiled confidently but Max looked doubtful, clearly worried about her - which Victoria found touched her in a way she had never really experienced before. She sat back down next to Max and kissed her on the cheek.

“Thanks for being concerned though, it means a lot that you are worried about me. Look if it makes you happier I'll tell security so they can keep an eye out as well. Yes?”

“Yes, I think that's a good idea. At least then I know it's not just me having to worry about you all the time. And if anything else happens you tell me so at least I know. I mean what if he comes for me? Or someone else? What if I have to use my powers too do something again? I'm not sure I'm ready for all of this drama.”

“You love it really. What else would you do with your life?”

“Hmm,” Max replied thoughtfully, as if genuinely considering the idea. “I could just maybe take some photos, maybe drink a pumpkin spiced latte, maybe meet a beautiful girl..”

“Oh really? Tell me about this girl, is she clever?” Victoria leaned a little closer to Max.

“Very.”

“Beautiful?” Victoria inched closer.

“Extremely.”

“Funny?” Victoria filled Max's vision, her eyes darting around Max's face as if recording every minute detail.

“At times.”

“Talented?” Victoria's voice was a soft breath that tickled Max's nose.

“She's a very talented cheerleader, yes.” Max squeaked as she was suddenly shoved off the bench.

“You can sit down there on your own from now on, Maxine Caulfield.” They were silent for a few minutes, and Victoria thought she could hear Max shifting uncomfortably on the floor.

“Can I come back up? It's cold and the ground is hard and I'm tired and I want my cuddles.”

“Oh you want cuddles do you? Shall I go get that fuc- that friend of yours, should I?” Victoria was doing her best to treat it all as a joke, but somewhere deep down she knew that Dana was the sort of person Max would find attractive, and the green eyed monster was never far below the surface.

“It was just a joke.. can I please come up? I am getting really cold now.”

“Fine, I suppose,” Victoria said grudgingly. She patted the seat next to her and Max clambered back up, trying not to smile. They sat there for a while, listening to the dim sounds of the party and the occasional person leaving as the night wore on.

“I've met someone,” Max said suddenly, “I -”

“You fucking what?” exclaimed Victoria cutting across her before she could finish; Max felt the temperature drop through the floor, tendrils of ice already beginning to form across the bench as Victoria turned around to face Max, her face horrified. “You are telling me now after we literally just came out on the dance floor together? What the actual fuck, Max?” Victoria's voice was rising to a hysterical shout as she realised that everything she had been thinking, everything that she had imagined, was all just a lie, that someone like Max would never think of her like that, that she was just another one who -

“N-n-n-no,” Max said through chattering teeth, beginning to shake as a layer of frost formed on her. “Not-t-t-t li-i-ike that-t-t, I-I-I me-e-e-an-n a-a-a p-p-p-p-” Victoria had just about enough presence of mind of get up and away from Max, trying to channel the furious energies that were swirling through her, a function of her deepest fears of rejection and hurt, away from Max. She spun around and held out her hands, causing a stream of ice to blast away from her across the ground where it piled up against the nearby low wall in an ugly, misshapen mess, flecked with dark colours of purple and red. A mist seemed to rise up and around her as the moisture in the air plinked and solidified, falling in a gentle snowfall at her feet. Victoria turned to face Max, her face full of anguish and fear, eyes lit with the tell-tale fire that turned them both beautiful and terrifying.

Max sprang up out of her seat, both from a desire to try to calm Victoria down and to get out of the icy pit she had made around her. She rubbed her arms to try and get some life back in them, feeling the cold seeping into her bones.

“Vic, it's n-not like that! Sorr-y, I-I did did didn't mean-” Max could feel the cold emanating from Victoria; no, no just emanating, but actually cooling her down from the inside, as if her very cells were slowly being frozen. She realised that she would soon freeze to death unless she rewound and -

“Ms Chase – is everything OK?” The light extinguished from Victoria's eyes as she looked up to see that the guard had wandered over, clearly drawn by the commotion. He looked in amazement at the ice formed all around, the snow at her feet and a very cold-looking Max standing next to her.

“Um.. are you.. what is.. this?” Victoria looked from him and back to Max, who seemed to be turning blue.

“Shit shit shit,” she muttered, “when will I ever fucking learn? Why do I always fuck things up? Fucking hell Victoria, why are you so fucking useless?” Without a moments hesitation she reached out and grabbed hold of Max, wrapping her arms around the shivering girl whilst doing her best to calm herself down and not make Max any colder, trying to remember all the practice she had put in to do exactly that.

“Max, I'm sorry, but I think it's best if we went back..?” Max didn't answer but just tried to nestle further into her embrace, still shivering. “Max?”

“Mmkay.”



“So,” Victoria said eventually, still holding Max close to her as they sat on the bench once more. She felt a little warmer now and had stopped shivering, but Victoria wasn't going to take any chances – not when she knew that yet again she had imperilled Max by losing control, and she silently berated herself for still not being able to control the powers she had. Even now she could feel it threatening to burst forth once more whenever she thought about what Max had said. “Are you feeling less cold?”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Max sounded tired; it was well after 1:30 by now and she'd normally have been fast asleep – and Victoria felt the same, although she suspected that a combination of her emotional evening coupled with her outburst a few moments ago was also a contributing factor. Still, there were things that needed to be discussed, and the most pressing one gnawed away at her.

“So.. you told me that you'd.. you'd...” She couldn't bring herself to say it, and she found herself squeezing Max a little too tightly in an attempt to not let it all go again.

“Sorry, I really didn't mean to confuse you. I meant that I have met someone – well two people actually - who I should have told you about, not that I had met met someone. Of course I haven't, there's still only you for me. There only ever will be.” As if to underline it Max tried to kiss Victoria but was prevented by her annoyed outburst.

“Jesus Christ Max, you really need to think about the words you use. I thought that you had met someone else, and after your oh so hilarious joke about Dana, well..”

“I'm sorry about that. But I just wanted to tell you something and I used the wrong words.”

“You think?”

“I'm sorry.” There was another painful silence while Victoria composed herself, a feeling of relief rushing through her coupled with guilt that she had immediately jumped to such a conclusion – and underlying it all was the treacherous thought that it still could happen. “If I tell you, promise you won’t get mad?”

“Max, why would even say that? Now I’m thinking it is going to make me mad. So just tell me.”

“Ugh.” Max ran her hands down her face, before rubbing her eyes with her knuckles. She was tired and really not up for this, but Victoria seemed insistent on having it out now. She was also still cold; Victoria’s arms around her were providing some warmth but it was still the middle of the night and her costume wasn't getting any thicker – she would have been far too cold even without Victoria deciding to turn the place into a winter wonderland.

“OK. Well, um.. like well two weeks ago when I was waiting to meet you – the same day you had your fight with Logan – I was waiting in the Two Whales for you like you asked, when these two women came in. And.. they knew who I was. I mean what I was. And they were both from the Government and one of them was in charge and she had like powers and I knew I had sensed her before, like she was looking for me and… and..” Victoria looked at her open mouthed, blinking rapidly as she tried to process what Max was trying to badly explain.

“What.. I mean.. I’m sorry, you are telling me that two people from the fucking Government came up to you and knew you had powers and you didn’t think to tell me? Are you fucking insane, Max? What is wrong with you?”

“You didn't tell me about anything you did with Logan!” Max protested. “You hid things from me!”

“This is a little bit fucking different compared to some stupid prick in high school, Max! It's the fucking Government who fucking now know that you can fucking travel through fucking time!”

“Keep your voice down!” Max hissed, trying to placate her. “You said you wouldn't get mad!”

“No I fucking didn't! Max.. just.. I mean..” Victoria put her head in hands and groaned. She stayed like that for a moment, thinking on things before looking up suddenly. “Wait, do they know about me? Max? Answer me, Max – do they know about me?” Max nodded miserably, wilting under Victoria's rage – something which Victoria would, in later years when she thought back about this moment, find strange given their respective levels of power. But that Max was the result of everything that was going to happen, and for now Victoria was in the ascendant. Victoria swore with new swear words Max had never heard before, standing up and pacing up and down as she did so. Max watched her apprehensively before Victoria suddenly stopped and faced her, jabbing a finger in the face.

“OK Max, tell me everything. From the beginning. Everything.”



Max spent the next few minutes nervously telling Victoria everything she could remember from her meeting with Jesse and Emily. As she told her tale Victoria's face turned from angry to cautious to interested, as she realised that it wasn't quite the disaster that she had first thought – they were not about to immediately get swamped by figures hurtling out of helicopters to take them to some secret base for tests and experiments.

“So I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to worry until I had found out more, but then I realised that with everything that was happening that we need to work together.. and trust each other. Which I know is difficult to believe coming from me right now, but..”

“Yeah, it is Max.” Victoria sighed and then sat back down next to Max, looking at her before almost grudgingly wrapping an arm around her. “I really hate you sometimes, you know? You're so fucking annoying.” Max gratefully accepted the arm around her and rested her head back on Victoria's shoulder.

“And so are you. But I wouldn't have it any other way.” Victoria snorted in disbelief, but she squeezed Max tight.

“No more secrets?”

“No more secrets.” Victoria was silent for a while, thinking things through and Max had grown very still against her, her breathing soft.

“Are you asleep?” Max jerked upright.

“Me? No! Course not. Just resting my eyes.”

“You've drooled on my shoulder. It is late though, we should go to bed – especially if your lame-ass is just going to fall asleep on me.” Victoria stretched a little and yawned despite herself. “Although we do need to find out more about this Bureau of Control and whatever they are and whatever they are up to.”

“I've already tried to have a look,” said Max in-between the yawns which were becoming infectious. “There's really not much out there, only a simple official web page that says nothing. It's beyond my google skills anyway.” Victoria drummed her fingers on the edge of the bench, an idea forming in her mind.

“I think I know someone who may be able to help though. Fancy a trip back to Seattle next weekend?” Max perked up immediately.

“Oh yes! We could go to that gallery you own, the Chase Space – what do you think? I'd love to see it and what they have on display. And why do you own a gallery anyway?” Victoria waved her question away.

“Let's talk about that another time. But yes, sounds like a good idea. It's been.. a while since I was last there.”

“We can stay at my parents too,” Max said excitedly. “I'm sure they would love to see you again. And I could introduce you properly as my girlfriend.. if you don't mind? I don't want to presume, I mean if you don't want them to know. I’ve not told them about you yet.” In the dim light of the lamps Max thought Victoria's expression grew a little bit panicked, but her voice was its usual confident self.

“Sure. Yeah. Why not. It'll be fine. I'm sure it will be, nothing to worry about. All good.” It was Max's turn to squeeze Victoria, and she was about to say something when they heard the door of the gym bang open followed by raised voices.

“It’s not just tonight though, is it? What about all the other times?”

“Dana, wait – let me explain, it’s not what –“

“Save it, Trevor. I can’t even walk Kate back to her room without coming back and finding you leching over someone else.”

“But-”

“And that’s before I even get to whatever you were doing with Logan tonight, I mean..” The voices disappeared into the night, the angry sounds of Dana mixing with the plaintive pleads of Trevor as he tried to keep up with her as she stormed off.

“Oh dear what a shame,” remarked Victoria cattily.

“Oh stop it, she’s my friend. And she supported you tonight, so at least have some sympathy.” Victoria just grunted and stood up, pulling Max with her.

“Come on, let’s go to bed. I don’t fancy sleeping on a bench – you haven’t dragged me down that low yet.”

“What? Why on earth would I sleep on a bench – I’m not some sort of homeless hobo, you know.”

“You dress like one.”

“Oh be quiet, at least I don’t think I’m permanently on a catwalk. Let’s get going, I’m getting colder.” They went to get up when Max suddenly grabbed Victoria's arm.

“Look!” she whispered, pointing an unsteady finger. There, sitting on the ground a few metres away was her butterfly, shimmering brightly in the darkness. As Victoria turned to look they saw hers slowly flutter down, settling down next to Max's. They both sat there and felt a feeling of peace wash over them, and Max rested her head in its familiar place on Victoria's shoulder.

“I do think I'm beginning to fall a little in lo-” she began, but Victoria shh'd her – slowly fluttering down to join the two were four others, each a different colour that seemed impossibly vibrant in the darkness.

“Just like the Journal said,” Victoria muttered to herself, “another thing that is true. Which means..” She left the sentence unfinished, and Max was far too distracted by them to ask her what she had meant.



Dana and Trevor had disappeared somewhere by the time they got back to the dorms, and the floor itself was quiet as it seemed that everyone was either already asleep or still at the party. Victoria had insisted that they spend the night together in her bed, mainly because it was larger than Max’s – it had become entirely natural for them to spend the night together now, and Victoria had gotten used to having her asleep next to her.

“I need to get all this makeup off my face,” Victoria said. “And you should do the same. You don’t want to go to sleep with all that on your skin – I’ll lend you one of my scrubs, and some moisturiser. I’m assuming you don’t have any cotton pads either, nor -”

“I’m not entirely useless, Victoria Chase. I do have some of that stuff you know. Honestly, you make it sound like I have never worn makeup before.”

“But the stuff I have is proper, Max. None of that cheap knock-off stuff you use. Come.” Max’s eyes nearly rolled out of their sockets but she tagged along – she hated to admit it but Victoria did have an amazingly comprehensive array of lotions and potions that all smelled incredible and just looked reassuringly expensive – even if, as Warren had told her before at great and exhaustive length, it was all just basic chemistry that anyone could replicate.

Max had eventually got into bed, smelling delightfully of lavender and jasmine and feeling like her entire body had been cleansed. She had her classy bunny rabbit pyjamas on and snuggled down into the thick duvet, already feeling sleep overtaking her. The door to the room opened and Victoria wafted in, spending a few moments replacing her toiletries in an overly fussy manner, as if distracted by something else. Max watched her with curiosity from her comfy, warm nest as she placed and replaced the same things over and over.

“Are you coming to bed or doing some Feng Shui?” Victoria turned to face her, leaning against her desk with her arms folded around her red silk pyjamas. She seemed slightly hesitant to Max, which piqued her curiosity.

“What is it? You’re looking a little bit too thoughtful for this time of night. Come to bed, I’m practically asleep already.” Victoria smiled a little and shook her head.

“No, I’m fine it’s just.. wait.” She levered herself up and turned off the light, plunging the room into darkness. As Max eyes adjusted she could make out her shape moving in the darkness, and watched as she stood by the bed looking down at Max, lit by a sliver of moonlight creeping through a gap in the blinds.

“Just.. don’t say anything.” Max watched as Victoria turned her back and quickly began to take off her pyjamas. “And close your eyes.” Max did as she was told and scooted over, her heart beginning to race as the bed shifted and a very naked Victoria got in next to her. Max hesitantly reached out and touched bare skin, no matter where her hands went, feeling Victoria tense under each of her touches before gradually relaxing. Max sat up and quickly took of her top, before shrugging off her bottoms and rolling back into Victoria’s waiting arms.

“Just hold me, Max.”



Victoria lay there feeling her heart pounding away in her chest as Max snored softly against her. It had taken all of her control to not lose it when she had finally made the decision and ended up naked in bed with Max – the shroud of darkness helping her in finally making that last step. Of course, in the morning it would all be out in the open to Max's judgement and criticism, but she felt that somehow it would be OK, that Max would accept her for all of her flaws, real or imagined.

Victoria looked at Max’s face; noting the slight bit of drool that was creeping down from the corner of her mouth and the way her hair was already an unkempt mess falling over her eyes. She reached out to brush it clear with her fingertips and Max snuffled before rolling over and throwing an arm across Victoria, a hand clamping onto one of her breasts, still snoring unceasingly. Victoria flinched before relaxing again and placed her hand on top of Max’s, before gently drifting off into a restful slumber.



Chapter Text

Victoria stared at the strange symbols and letters, trying her best to decipher them. No matter which way she turned the page, or at what angle she looked at it, it made no sense to her whatsoever. She eventually put down her pen and rubbed her eyes in tiredness and frustration. Ever since she had agreed to actually properly do her own work for the subjects she hated, rather than farming it out to poor Courtney, she had realised how much she had slacked off, and was now desperately trying to play catch up.

Take for example her current problem, which was chemistry. First of all, what was the point; second of all what the fuck did all of these stupid letters and symbols mean, and thirdly; what the fuck was the point? She groaned and slowly headbutted the desk.

I'm in so much trouble. I'm never going to get this.

I really need help with it.

She suddenly jerked upright as a horrifying thought hit her.

Oh my fucking god, what if I need help from W.. W.. Wa..

The door to her room opened with a bang, and she turned in surprise to see Max leaning against the door frame, silhouetted by the light from the corridor. Victoria's face lit up at the sight; they hadn't planned on meeting up until later when both of their homework was done.

“Max! Do you think you could ask your stalker if -” Max strode forward and into the light of the room, and Victoria could immediately see that something was wrong – her face was pale, her eyes alight and a smear of blood across her chin. She grabbed Victoria by the arm and started yanking her out of her room. Victoria stood her ground and protested, not understanding why Max was behaving in such a manner.

“Max! What do you think you are doing? This top is more expensive than anything you own, and I'm still trying to do my -”

“Shut up and get up! Ugh, why are you so tall and heavy! Move!” Victoria allowed herself to be half lifted out of her chair, protesting all the way. As soon as she was on her feet Max pushed her out of the room and across the corridor into her room, before slamming the door shut behind them. Max leaned against the door, preventing Victoria from leaving.

“Max, what the hell is going on? Why are you – mpfh!” Max put her hand across Victoria’s mouth.

“Shhhh!” she hissed. “Just.. be quiet for a moment, if that's even possible.” Victoria relented and was still, staring at Max’s frowning face. A minute went by and Victoria was about to say something when there was the sound of knocking and someone shouted from the corridor.

“Victoria! Are you in there?” They could hear a loud banging on Victoria's door. “Stop hiding and come out! Victoria!” Victoria looked at Max, her face questioning. Max just looked tired and shook her head before waiting for a moment, then quickly opened the door and shut it in Victoria's face, leaving her behind.

Dana was standing in front of Victoria's door, glaring at it as if pure force of will would make it open.

“Hey Dana, what's up?” Max leaned against her door frame; arms folded casually as if everything was perfectly normal. Dana spun around to look at Max, her stern expression breaking into a smile.

“Max! Hi. I've been looking for her. Have you seen her?”

“You mean Victoria? I think she has popped out for some food. She's been busy doing homework, like me. Busy busy busy, you know me. Ha ha.” Dana looked at her, and Max thought for a moment that she wasn't going to believe her. “I should be seeing her later though it you want me to tell Victoria that you were looking for her.” That also wasn't entirely a lie and seemed to be enough to assuage Dana.

“OK, thanks. She's didn't answer her door earlier and she's been ignoring my messages too. Probably blocked my number.” There was a pause while Dana scrutinised Max, and not for the first time Max found herself captivated by her - Dana was not short of admirers, and Max thought it interesting that Victoria, who was just as pretty (if not more so) in her estimation, seemed to have so few.

Probably another reason they don't get on. Victoria is not exactly the most reasonable when it comes to things like that.

“Are you OK, Max?” asked Dana quietly, with a look of concern etched onto her features. “I saw you at the party and you seemed OK, but.. she's not paying you to be nice to her, is she? You can tell me if she is. I can help you escape, just tell me.” That last part was in said in a whisper, and Max shook her head with a wry smile.

“No, of course not. You think I would accept it anyway if she was?”

“Then you'll have to explain it to me then, because from where I'm looking... I thought you were.. well, better than that. I mean too good for her.” Dana turned to look at the door again, as if trying to check if Victoria really was behind it. Max watched her feeling slightly guilty, aware of Victoria's probably seething presence just inches away.

“How about we have a chat over lunch tomorrow then?” suggested Max, raising her voice so that anyone who might be behind a door could clearly hear. “I'll tell you everything you need to know then, as it's not the best place here and I've still got work to do before tomorrow - deal?” Dana nodded her head in agreement, relaxing a little as she did so.

“Deal. Although just you and not her, then at least I know she isn't controlling you or something.”

“It’s not like we are joined at the hip all the time, Dana. I still do stuff on my own and with my friends.” Max was feeling a little defensive at the criticism she was receiving about her relationship with Victoria, as if she had had no say in the matter.

“Hey, you have blood on your chin,” said Dana suddenly. “What happened? Wasn’t her was it?” Max reflexively put her hand up to cover it, kicking herself for having missed it.

“No! No. I was just.. erm picking at a spot. Must have bled again.”

“Must be the only one you have then,” remarked Dana. “you’re so lucky. I’ve got some wipes and concealer if you want to borrow them? Won’t take a minute, wait here and I’ll-”

“It’s OK, I’ll just get some tissue. Don’t bother yourself, it’s nothing.”

Dana looked a little put out at the rejection of her help and they stood there in a slightly awkward silence, Max still reluctant to open her door just in case Victoria was indeed right behind it.

“So.. How are things between you and Trevor? I saw you leave the party with him having a.. a.. discussion.” Max's question seemed to catch Dana by surprise and she floundered momentarily.

“Oh. You saw that? Well..” She looked down the corridor towards her room as if checking who was there and if anyone was listening. “We're just.. on a break. Taking some time out.” Max patted her on the arm as if consoling her.

“You can tell me about it tomorrow over lunch; only fair if you want all my sordid details.”

“I don't want to know about anything sordid involving her, thank you very much. There's not enough mind bleach in the world for that.” Max sniggered and Dana smiled at her. “But let's talk tomorrow then. Good luck with your work, and if you see Victoria tell her.. tell her I'm watching her.”

“Will do, I'm sure she'll love that.” Dana walked away towards her room, glancing back at Max with a smile and a wave that made her think impure thoughts that she quickly tried to dismiss from her mind. As soon as the coast was clear she opened the door and ducked back inside her room to come immediately face to face with Victoria, who was looking less than amused.

“Max, what the actual fuck was that all about?”

“I don't want to talk about it, I'm tired and I just want to lie down.” Victoria grabbed her arm as she tried to walk past.

“No, don't even think about doing that! I thought we discussed the whole you not doing things with time without telling me thing, or always bringing me with you? You promised!”

“Fine. You know what, I'll go back and you can get your nose broken again. Happy?” Max pushed past and fell face forwards on the bed with a groan. Victoria threw her hands up in disgust.

“Fine. Whatever. Lie down and..” Her brain, which had been prodding her for attention, finally caught up with her mouth. “Wait, break my nose? What? Really?”

“Yes,” came the mumbled reply from the bed. “And you deserved it. Every time.” Victoria walked guiltily over to the bed and looked at the prostate form of Max.

“Er.. how many times... are we..?”

“Enough. Too many. Honestly, the way you two go at each other you'd think there was a whole load of unresolved sexual tension between you.” Victoria's slight guilt vanished instantly at Max's insinuations, and she protested vehemently.

“That's utterly ridiculous! Why would I even be interested in her? She's so fucking annoying!” Victoria jabbed a finger in Max's direction. “Anyway, I'm not the one who now has a lunch date with her tomorrow!” Max rolled onto her back and eyed Victoria.

“It's not a date. It's me trying to sort this mess out before you end up hurting her.” She rubbed her eyes before squeezing her nose, checking her fingers afterwards to ensure there was no blood on them. “Although maybe I should make it a date, given all this hassle you are causing.”

“Don't even joke about it, Caulfield. It's not funny.” Victoria stood there for a moment before sitting down on the bed, which creaked a little under her weight. “But.. you shouldn't have done this, I need to make my own decisions in life, I can't -” Max quickly sat up, clutching her head as the sudden movement made her woozy.

“Ugh.” She waited for her it to pass before looking with annoyance at Victoria. “Make your own decisions? Like what, having your nose broken? That what you really want? A big fight in the corridor where you'll end up using your powers and I'll have to rewind anyway? Come on Victoria..”

“Well no, but... I mean..”

“Look, at some point you are going to have to learn to trust me a little, OK? I can't always keep taking you with me if I need to rewind, can I? What if you are not around? And what's the point..” Max paused and reached for Victoria's hand, cradling it in her lap. “What's the point of me having these powers if not to help you out like this? And.. I want to do it, I mean I would be a pretty rubbish girlfriend otherwise.” Victoria placed her free hand on top of Max's and caressed the back of her hand.

“I know but.. not to sound too pretentious here, but -”

“But you are going to sound like it anyway?”

“Shut up, I'm being serious. I mean it’s like.. how do I know I still have free will? That what I am doing is what I choose to do? That I’m not just some puppet being controlled by, well, you.”

“I can’t make you do things you don’t want to do, can I,” said Max quietly. “Your choices are still your own, ultimately. I can’t do mind control; time is enough I think.” Victoria frowned, clearly unhappy with something.

“That’s.. not what I meant. I’m not explaining it properly.” She thought for a moment, trying to find the right words to explain what she meant. “I mean that what happens is because it’s your desired outcome, what you think is best, and I can’t.. I can’t control that. And it worries me.”

“Why?”

“Because what if you are wrong?” Max didn’t reply, but slowly got up off the bed and walked to her window, staring out into the night at nothing in particular. After a few minutes she turned to face Victoria, arms wrapped tightly around herself and a sad expression on her face.

“Then.. it’s something I have to live with. Like the other Max couldn’t.” At the mention her Victoria looked frightened, as if reminded of her brief interactions with the other Max - one that she could end up becoming.

“Then you have to stop it! I don’t want you ending up like her. She was.. terrifying. Awful. Not.. you.” Max knelt down in front of Victoria and looked at her, noting the vulnerable look in her eyes as she seemed to run through a potential future where everything went wrong, just like it had before.

“I won’t end up like her,” she said. “I have you with me.” Victoria bit her lip at her words and looked as if she was about to burst into tears; so Max leaned forward to rest her head in her lap, feeling Victoria’s hands come around her. She lay there for a while, listening to Victoria’s breathing which seemed quicker than usual.

“You remember the girl in the diner? Mya?” Victoria shuddered at the memory.

“How could I forget? That entire experience was amazing. And traumatic.” Max lifted her head slightly to look up at Victoria.

“Would you have it that I didn’t intervene and save her?”

“No, of course not, but.. ugh, I don’t know. This is too complicated, of course you should have saved her, and I guess I’m happy my nose is in one piece, but.. can you see why I worry? You have seen what she did, you know where it can end up.”

“Of course I do. Believe me, it haunts me.. as does everything I undo. I can’t forget it.” Max lay her head back down, gladly accepting Victoria’s fingers running through her hair. “But as I said, unlike her, I have you with me. To keep me sane. Keep me grounded.”

“And to improve your dress sense, taste in music, taste in food, taste in general..” Max laughed, but knew Victoria was just trying to hide the seriousness of it all behind a joke. Victoria stroked Max’s hair some more, before continuing. “You are right though, I guess I need to learn to trust in you. it’s just hard to let go. To not be in control of things. But I’ll try.”

“Thank you.”

“But you have to tell me when these things have to happen, Max. Share it with me. Let me take some of the burden. Don't bottle it all up.”

“I will – like just I did now, but then you need to promise to not get all upset about it.”

“That’s fair,” Victoria said, then laughed. “You know, for once I’d like to have a normal argument with you. Like normal couples do, like over not putting the dishes away or something.” Max snorted with derision.

“When have you ever put dishes away?”

“Hey! I‘ve seen it on TV. I know it happens. I’m sure I could do it.” There was a comfortable silence as they both sat there, important things having been said in a manner that seemed positively grown up. Max eventually stirred, stifling a yawn.

“Come on, this homework won’t get done by itself. Let’s finish up and then we can do something fun. You can come in here and study if you like?”

“Yes, I’d like that.”



Aleksandra could hear the murmur of the small crowd from her dressing room, although to call it that was a bit of a stretch given it was just one of the changing rooms of the gym. Still, it had been put aside especially for her which was something and she sat there alone waiting - Krystoff was out there somewhere doing last minute arrangements or deals or whatever. She didn't mind too much as it was his connections that had arranged the fight in the first place, although she was still surprised it had been agreed. On paper it was a complete mismatch; she was giving away 20cm in height, probably the same in reach and at least 25kg in weight - any sane person would not fight in the first place, which made her wonder why he had even agreed to it.

She knew, of course, that the numbers did not tell the whole story and that her biggest problem would be trying to make her win look convincing enough. Knock him out in one go and people would say it was rigged to make her look good, not do enough and she ran the risk of losing. She didn't know what it would take to knock her out - of course any injury would heal fine of itself in quick order, but a blow to the head was still a blow to the head - and she didn't fancy finding out her limits that way tonight.

Of course he may think he is in for an easy ride, a little show in front of a few fans. 'Look at how I beat the silly girl with one hand, I am so great!'

Ha!

And yet.. and yet as she sat there she couldn't shake the feeling that this was not enough, that all of this - working in supermarket, trying to forge a boxing career while limiting herself so, so much - was all just a waste, a pointless use of what she had. Why had she been given this if not to use it in some way? Was she just wasting her life?

As she sat there staring at the stitching on her gloves and lost in thought, she thought she felt something shift slightly, a familiar feeling she had had before and it was no surprise to her to see a butterfly suddenly appear on the glove. As always when this happened she felt a feeling of calm exude through her, as if a missing piece of her was returning.

“Hey you,” she whispered, “come to see the show again?” It fluttered its brown wings that were streaked with yellow and settled down as if waiting for something. She stared at it, wondering what brought it here, and whether it was just too watch her fight. It seemed to understand her and fluttered its wings, and as it did so Aleksandra felt something happen, some strange feeling that the world was slowing around her, sounds becoming muted and dull as if being heard from a long way away. Her attention was distracted by some more movement and she glanced upwards, eyes widening in wonder as she saw, lazily spiralling down, another butterfly; but instead of brown like hers it seemed to glow with a brilliant blue that diminished all the other colours around it. Her butterfly seemed to acknowledge its presence, fluttering its wings as the other one regally landed on her glove and regarded her solemnly.

In that moment Aleksandra seemed to know that she was not alone, to understand that she was potentially part of a greater whole; that her future did not just lie in a dingy gym trying to fight for the recognition she deserved.

“So who are you then?” she whispered. “Were you looking for me?” There was no answer apart from what she thought was another curious look from it, before they both slowly took off again, flying out of sight.

She sat there for a moment trying to process what it all meant; all she knew for certainty was that either she really was going crazy or that there were others like her out there, and maybe, just maybe, they may be looking for her. Or she should look for them.

The door to the room opened, disturbing her out of her reverie.

“Aleks - you ready? It's showtime.” She stood up, suddenly full of renewed purpose and smacked her gloves together in anticipation at the coming fight.

Tonight she was going to show everyone what she could do, and after that – after that, she would try and work out where she fitted in the world.

Chapter Text

Dylan was, all things considered, in a good mood. Ever since he had delivered the requested computer to Blackwell Academy and reluctantly signed the contract, not only had he been paid in full for his work (Ten grand! Ten fucking grand for a few days’ work!) but he’d also received, as promised, the flat monthly fee for retention of his services – another five grand a month for doing what, at present, had been absolutely nothing.

Five grand for doing zilch, and if I have to do anything it’s only going to be easy tech support! This sort of money is really going to help plug the hole in this store, maybe allow me to properly hire someone to –

“Nah, I’m telling you. The Xbox 1 is the one to get; Sony will have a massive flop on their hands with the PS4 like they did with the PS3. Microsoft will sew up the market and it will be the end for Sony from here on. It's game over for them.”

“Yeah, sure Dave,” Dylan replied, half listening as his friend / professional hanger around espoused his views on the latest console release. An unabashed Xbox fanboy, Dave was a champion promoter of the XBox on all things Reddit and Chan related, wearing his battle scars with pride. Dylan was rather less invested than his friend, what with a business to run and the realities of life ever present (and not still living at home sponging off his parents, like his friend was). Still, he was good company to have around, as long as the topic did not veer onto –

“Sooo, that girl who was in the other week, have you seen her again? She was hot, like a solid 8 or even maybe a 9, except that her nose was slightly asymmetrical.” Dylan tried to ignore the comment about his now-employer, choosing to start taking a stock of inventory while it was quiet. “Did you get her number? I mean if you're not going to try to tap it then do me a solid and let me have a go at-”

“Dave, she's still in High School.”

“Really? She didn't look it...”

“And she's also my employer. OK? And a good one I think, or at least there's a lot of money in it for me. I'm not having you mess this up by being all weird around her, if she ever comes back here.”

“Aha! So she hasn't. Pity. Well if you tell me her name I can always do some research online for.. you know, purposes.”

“That's just.. no. Anyway. I thought you were after whatshername from your guild? Actually, have you even met her in real life yet?” Dylan suspected that this 'girl' was actually a guy with just a female avatar (I mean, who hasn’t done that online?), but Dave seemed convinced enough.

“No, but I think we might. We.. we actually chatted on the phone the other day.” Dave was being uncharacteristically coy about it, which piqued Dylan’s interest.

“Wait you talked to ‘her’? And it wasn't a dude? Really?” Dave looked embarrassed and turned away, suddenly taking an interest in the displays.

“No, it wasn’t. Don't be mean.” He swept his hair back and put his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, suddenly looking a little unsure of himself. “I mean.. like we talked, you know? Like.. about everything. It was cool.” Dylan waited for the smutty, immature follow up; but nothing came. He was about to make a further comment when the buzzer sounded and the front door opened.

As if she had been unwittingly summoned by them, in strode Victoria Chase, looking to Dylan like she was dressed to kill him in a not particularly unpleasurable way; he took that all in before his attention was drawn to the other girl who followed her – smaller, with brown hair and dressed much more casually than Victoria was.

“Good afternoon, Ms Chase,” he began with a fixed smile as she strode across the floor while her companion made a beeline for a rack of games. “I didn’t expect to see you here today, if I had known you were coming I’d -”

“You’d what?” she replied, looking him up and down – he had forgotten how dismissive her look always seemed, as if she was only tolerating his existence. “We have something important to discuss, which-” She turned her head to look at her companion, and Dylan saw her roll her eyes.

“Max, what are you doing?”

Max. Odd name for a girl. Is that her friend or employee or...?

“Look! They’ve got Final Fantasy Fourteen! We have to get this! Oh, look over here -”

“Max, focus will you? Important business? Remember?” The girl (Max, Dylan reminded himself) looked momentarily crestfallen, every inch like a disappointed teenager until her demeanour seemed to change and she seemed to stand a little taller, her face going from cutely innocent to serious and unsettling, something which made Dylan utterly confused and a little apprehensive.

“Um, what did you want to talk to me about?” he asked, watching Victoria as she waited for Max to join her, and he swore he saw a ghost of a smile flit across her face as Max arrived.

So, not an employee; a friend, Or - Before he could complete that thought, Dave decided that now was the time for him to step forward and intervene.

“Hi there, I’m Dave. Assistant Manager.” He held out his hand towards Victoria who looked first at it and then at him with a look of disgust.

“Dave, you’re not Assistant-” Dylan interjected, feeling a little annoyed that his friend was sticking his nose in and potentially endanger a lucrative arrangement. He didn’t get to finish as Victoria answered for him.

“No, you are not. You have to leave.” She pointed to the door as if to emphasise her point, but to his credit Dave didn’t even flinch.

“I’m working my way up to it and will be ready to take the mantle as soon as Dylan requires my services. With my IQ of 136 (from 6 separate online tests) and a level 85 Night Elf Priest -”

“Oh?” interrupted the girl who was called Max, suddenly looking again like the excited girl she had been moments before, “I’ve got a level 90 Paladin. Human. What Guild are you in? Maybe-”

“Yes, yes, who hasn’t, we’ve all got a level 78 Draenei but can we all just shut up and get on with this. Honestly.” This last word was said in an exasperated tone by Victoria as she once again looked at Max, arms folded. Dylan was by now thoroughly confused as to what was going on, but one question was answered when Max put an arm around Victoria and gave her a quick squeeze and an apology.

So, an Or. Interesting.

Satisfied, Victoria once again turned towards Dave and this time Dylan could see that her patience – if she even had any – was wearing very thin.

“I told you to leave, so leave.” Dylan felt a cold draught around his neck and he shivered, glancing at the front door to make sure it was properly closed. Dave looked at him and then back at Victoria, a mask of bravado pasted onto his face.

“Erm.. you can’t tell me what to do, it's not your shop and you are not the police, so..” Dylan blinked and Max was suddenly in front of Dave, jabbing her finger into his chest with each word, pushing him backwards.

“She asked you to leave, so leave,” she hissed, staring up at the man – her face once again having slipped into that hard look that seemed to Dylan to be so incongruous, like she was a completely different person. He watched for a moment as she stood glaring up into Dave's red face, hands on her hip – he suddenly thought that Dave might react and something might happen; but he knew somehow, deep down inside of him, that the winner would easily be the angry girl.

“Er.. Dave, just.. just do what she asks, will you? We need to talk about some business. I'll.. I'll talk to you later, OK?” With some mild protestations Dave was ushered towards the door by Max, while Dylan covertly made sure the nice, thick, heavy counter was in-between him and the two girls. The door closed and Max turned towards them, jangling some keys in her hand.

“Door's locked,” she declared, which caused Dylan to double take and pat his pockets.

“How did you..?” He was struck dumb a moment later when she suddenly appeared right next to Victoria, having not taken a step towards them. A cold sweat broke out down his back as he tried to process what he was seeing, the logical part of his brain insisting it was all a trick, while the rest of it was screaming at him to run. Victoria didn't seem phased at all; instead she was just looking at him in a positively predatory manner – he noticed just how green her eyes were in that instance, as if they had suddenly come alive – something that was mirrored in her companion.

Dylan didn't know what was going on, but what he did know was that he should have listened to himself before, and not had anything to do with her from the outset.

“Fucking hell,” was all he could manage, muttering quietly to himself before straightening up to look at the pair. “Who are you? How did you.. can I have my keys back?”

“Sure,” said Max, tossing them onto the counter, and he gratefully picked them up and inspected them, as if checking they were the same keys and taking some comfort in how real and solid they felt. Dylan looked at the girls, his mind already rationalising what he thought he had seen.

You must have just missed her walk to the desk.

And your keys were probably in the door.

That's it, nothing else.

It must be.

“Are you here about the computer? Is there a problem with it that I can help with?” He watched as Victoria just looked at him, while Max was fidgeting on the spot but seemed to be humming cheerfully to herself. His question remained unanswered and the silence stretched out uncomfortably; He was about to repeat the question when Victoria finally stirred.

“You signed a contract to work for me and are currently being paid for additional services, which are determined as being what I chose for them to be.” Dylan furrowed his brow; he was sure he hadn’t read anything like that.

“I don’t actually recall agreeing to any-”

“Section 8 point five point three.”

“Oh.” Dylan had no idea if she was telling the truth but suspected that she might be as he could easily check. And he was getting paid, so.. “I’m assuming that you want me to do something for you? What exactly were you looking for? Another PC or?” He watched as Victoria glanced at her companion who nodded slightly, and she leaned against the counter and lowered her voice, as if wanting to not be overheard.

“I want you to undertake a little research. Nothing too difficult, just some background information, see what you can find out.” Dylan pursed his lips in surprise, he hadn’t expected something so simple.

“Sure, that sounds easy enough if a little odd. What did you want me to look into?”

It’s probably something to do with some High School dr-

“The Federal Bureau of Control.” His stomach lurched at her words, a chill running down his spine.

Oh fuck.

He’d heard about it, of course – everyone who frequented the conspiracy forums had, especially those who were in the inner circle – beyond the surface level of conspiracy theories, the easily disprovable rumours – through the looking glass they called it, taking the red pill. He’d never really taken them seriously, it was just a load of fun – a way to meet people, to feel important in some small way – and yet here were two young, ordinary girls asking him to look into something that he believed they should never have heard of.

“I.. how do you know about that?” The smaller girl (Max, her name is Max, come on it’s not that hard) looked at him with that strange expression once more etched onto her face.

“I’ve met them. Met her,” she said quietly in a tone that brooked no argument.

“Met who?” Dylan said, confused and starting to feel a little out of his depth.

“The Director. Jesse Faden.” The name made him break out in a sweat – the vaguest of rumours, similar names that had occasionally cropped up but never together – a Jess, a James, the name Foden or Fiden or they were absolutely sure that it was Fagen this guy told me and he knew but this was all impossible there was no way that they could -

“But.. how.. why? Why would they..?” Victoria looked at him, a gleam of triumph in her eye.

“So you’ve heard of them, and you know that we have. That’s a start. As to how we know, well you don’t need to know. Yet. Prove yourself trustworthy and we may tell you. But for now, all you need to know is this – we need information, and we need someone who can find that out without drawing to much attention to themselves and has resources better than google. And, of course, has no obvious connection to me” Dylan raised a hand in protest, wanting to deny having anything to do with that sort of thing whatsoever but she cut him off with an impatient wave.

“Don’t even think about denying it. When we hired you we did enough background research to know that you dropped out of ComSci at MIT – which is an interesting decision in of itself – to run this shitty little shop, and we also found out enough about your exploits online. So don’t play stupid; I am not stupid and I would appreciate it if you remember that.” Dylan again cursed himself for ever agreeing to get involved with her, especially given the worrying amount of information she seemingly had on him, and especially as he thought he had managed to cover most of his tracks. What was more worrying was that he was beginning to realise he may have underestimated the gi- woman in front of him, which left him on very uncertain ground.

“I’m not sure I want to get involved in this, I mean it’s one thing making you a computer, but investigating a government department that might not even exist, and if it does could be dangerous for me? Is that even legal? I don’t know if-” He stopped with a yelp as Max appeared next to him, again without having apparently moved – her face was pale, what he thought was dried blood under her nose and her eyes, her eyes, my god her eyes, they were literally glowing as she stared at him. Dylan’s mouth was dry as he tried to back away through the counter, the solid wood now trapping him as he reflexively scrabbled to put as much distance between him and it as possible.

“You listen to me,” she growled, her voice low and full of menace, “you will do as she fucking asks you. She can fuck you up in all manner of ways, not only in burying you in so much legal shit that you would drown in it – but that’s nothing in comparison to what I can do.” She stepped forward until her face was inches away from his, looking up at him – in that moment Dylan understood what true terror was, a primeval urge to freeze and scream that drenched him in sweat.

“I know where you live, I know where your parents live, I know your favourite colour is blue, I know you have a thing for the girl in the 7-11 down the street, I know your grandma is in that home down in Merrill Gardens– there is nothing I don’t know about your insignificant, pathetic life. I’m going to break every bone in your body until you agree to do this, understand?” There was a dangerous moment as she waited for an answer, until Dylan recovered enough to manage the smallest of nods.

“And if you ever, ever, even breathe some much as a word about this I will make sure that you are fucking erased from existence, I will -” Victoria came and grabbed her hand, pulling her away from him.

“Max, I think he gets the message. Why don’t you.. go and find a game for us to play while I sort this out?” To Dylan’s consternation Max seemed to slowly diminish once more, becoming the small, innocuous looking girl who had entered the shop. She gave Victoria a tired but happy smile, and Victoria licked her thumb and wiped the blood off her face. “There, bit better. And thank you, you didn’t have to do that.” Max gave her a lopsided grin and then pecked her cheek, before she wandered off to look at the games, leaving an indulgent looking Victoria. Dylan was sure he was having a heart attack.

“Sorry about that,” Victoria said, “she gets like that when she hasn’t had the chance to find something that isn’t popular yet and pretend to like it.” Her gaze swept across Dylan, and he felt like he had managed to avoid a Tiger by jumping right into the Lion’s den.

“Why don’t you take a seat Dylan and take a moment; then we can talk about what I need you to do.”



“See? Now that was fun.” Victoria was positively bouncing down the street towards her car in a manner Max had never seen before.

“Yeah, perhaps. I mean I guess it was. Maybe. Do you think he'll keep his word?” Victoria wrapped an arm around Max and pulled her in tight, kissing the side of her head as she did so.

“Of course he will, if not because of the legal threat in the contract, then your whole 'I'll go kill your grandmother' thing will do it.” Max laughed uncomfortably; now, after the fact, feeling a little uneasy about it all and worried about how quickly she had resorted to threats.

“I guess. It just felt a bit.. mean. I didn’t mean to go off at him like that, but I was so tired and frustrated by all the rewinds to get information from him that I was just fed up with it all.” She paused, a small frown on her face. “Although I would be lying if I said it didn't feel pretty good to be all badass and what have you. It was.. intoxicating.”

“Max, you can never be badass, you're too cute.” Max blushed a little and tried to hide it by seizing on Victoria’s words.

“You just called me cute. I'm going to record that.”

“Don't care,” declared Victoria. “You are, and you're mine.” Max felt a warm fuzzy feeling inside of her at Victoria's words, which helped dispel the doubts she had momentarily from her mind, and she put her arm around Victoria's waist; Victoria responded by moving her hand down to her butt. Max swallowed a little, not used to such overt affection from Victoria.

“I think you'll find you're mine, Chase. Maybe I should get a marker and write it on your forehead so everyone knows.”

“I mean you could, but they won't find your body.” Max smiled and felt really happy in that moment, walking through the streets of Seattle with her girlfriend - something she had never dared think would ever happen even three months ago, and certainly not even in her most fevered fantasies had it ever involved Victoria.

“So are you going to show me this amazing gallery that you own for some reason?” Victoria groaned and reached for her keys as they neared the car.

“I don't think we have time. It's probably closed anyway. We don't have tickets.” Max made a great show of pulling out her cell and checking the time.

“Nope, it's only two thirty, I told my parents we won't be there until at six. And..” She released Victoria and pulled up the Chase Space website. “Look - it's open. And you can pay on the door! Amazing what you can find out on the internet.”

“I hate you, Caulfield. Fine, we'll go. But I'm logging an official objection.” Max raised her eyebrows and looked questioningly at her.

“A what now?”

“An objection. For the record.”

“And you call me a nerd, Chase. What's the problem, anyway?”

“It's just that I have..” began Victoria, pulling a parking ticket off the windshield and looking at it briefly before opening the car door and tossing it onto the back seat. “No, wait. It’s just that it was only bought to try and keep me happy and not do the whole photography thing at Blackwell. Why go there when I can have my own gallery to display my hobby in? While making sure I keep on maintaining the Empire, of course.” Max clambered in beside her, mind grappling with the prospect of someone owning a gallery just as a throwaway gift.

“I just wanted a new bike when I was younger, and you get a gallery. That's not fair.”

“Life's not fair, Max. Believe it or not I think you had the better childhood.”

“Hmm,” Max replied, not convinced as Victoria started the car and fiddled with the stereo. She glanced at the seat behind her, a thought occurring. “How much was the ticket? I can go halves if-”

“No idea,” interrupted Victoria. “Someone else sorts it, so don't worry.” Satisfied with the music selection, Victoria turned to Max and put a hand behind her head, pulling her closer. “Come here you, I want to kiss you.” Max allowed herself to be pulled towards Victoria, who began to kiss her with an intensity that caught her by surprise, which was further compounded when Victoria ran her other hand through her hair and carried on moving it down across her shoulder and to her chest.

“Vic,” Max said in-between kisses, “what are you..?” Victoria drew back like a scalded cat, face beginning to flush.

“Sorry, I just.. I wanted to..” She looked at the steering wheel, red-faced and clearly embarrassed. “Let’s just get going.” Max quickly reached out a hand to touch her arm in reassurance.

“Hey, it’s fine, honestly. You know I want you, just maybe not in the middle of a Seattle street..”

“Sorry. I’m just feeling.. you know.” Max looked at her, mouth opening into a wide grin.

“Is someone feeling a little frisky today?” Victoria put the car into gear and revved the engine with visible annoyance.

“Not if you continue to use words like ‘frisky’. Look if we have to go, then let’s just go.”



The Chase Space turned out to be a converted old industrial building, all imposing brick and large, tall windows – it struck Max that the space was ideal, with lots of light and space for converting into a gallery.

Space for the Chase in the Chase Space.

I'm so funny.

Max eagerly led the way, pushing her way through the large glass doors that formed the entrance, Victoria lagging a little behind as if not really wanting to enter. The entrance hall was large and airy, dominated by a black marble and steel reception desk, beyond which stretched various exhibitions and metal stairways to upper galleries. Behind the desk was a polite but officious looking woman who appraised them both with professional disdain – the overall effect Max got was that this was a place of snobbish exclusivity.

“Nice place you have here, Victoria,” she whispered. “It reminds me a little of you.” Victoria eyed her suspiciously but didn't say anything; she seemed reluctant to even be there and was happy to let Max lead. Max wandered over to the desk with her best friendly face on.

“Hello, I was wondering if we could come in today to look at some of the exhibitions? Can you tell me which ones are on?” The receptionist handed her a leaflet, an amused expression on her face.

“Certainly, Ms. Apart from our usual displays for buyers and those interested in certain objects d'art, we are currently running exhibitions on early photography from the late 19th century - that's in the Machine Hall - as well as a focus on the impact of early American Figurative Expressionism on photography. That's in the Finishing Hall. We also have our yearly local artists showcase running, which is in the Second Upper Gallery.” Max turned to look at Victoria, visibly excited at the range of things on offer.

“That sounds really interesting, doesn't it?” Victoria just rolled her eyes and shrugged, trying to look disinterested. Ignoring her, Max returned her attention to the receptionist.

“How much is it to view the exhibitions? I like the sound of the expressionism thing.”

“You're not a member,” the receptionist replied matter of factly, a tone of voice that Max thought unnecessary even if she was correct. “In that case it's $75 for entry, with an additional $50 for each of the exhibits you wish to see.” Max mouthed silently for a moment as she worked that out.

“That's like $225 to see it all! That's.. a lot!” The receptionist nodded sympathetically.

“Yes, it is. This is the premier arts gallery of the North West, and due to this we of course need to ensure that it is only a certain standard of clientele who visits and that they are able to, if they wish, purchase such artworks that are available for sale. I'm sure you understand.” She paused, noticing how glum Max appeared as she looked forlornly towards the exhibitions, and seemed to decide to rub a little salt in to the wound. “Of course, our Membership Scheme does make it considerably cheaper overall, if that helps at all?”

“Oh?” asked Max hopefully. “How much is that then?”

“Standard Bronze Membership is $3,500 a year, which is your basic access to the gallery. Silver Membership is $6,000 a year which gives all of the Bronze benefits plus access to all the Category B exhibitions, plus priority waiting for select viewings and auctions. And, of course there is our Gold membership at $9,500 which.. well, I guess you don't really need to know about that.” Max was dismayed; she hadn't realised how expensive it would be just to see some art.

“Student discount?” she asked hopefully, only to be met by an arched eyebrow and a shake of the head.

“I'm sorry, but no we don't. Look, if it helps there is the Seattle Art Museum which I believe is only $15 for entry, which may be more.. within your reach.”

Disappointed, Max turned and walked back to Victoria, who had been following the entire exchange with a frown on her face.

“I guess that's that then. A shame, I really wanted to see some of it with you.” Victoria looked at Max's forlorn expression and sighed heavily, as if she had just been asked to carry her own ski gear to the start of the black run in Chamonix.

“You really want to go in? Fine.” Victoria walked up to the desk and glared at the receptionist, who seemed nonplussed.

“Can I get a Gold membership for my partner?” The receptionist blinked in surprise as Max scurried over, grabbing Victoria's arm.

“Vic, you can't do that! That's like nine thousand -” Victoria shook her off, looking at her as if she was being especially slow today.

“Max, engage your brain for a second will you? Just think about who I will be paying.” Victoria turned back to the receptionist. “As I was saying, can I have a Gold membership for her?” The receptionist looked at Victoria, seemingly noting her obnoxious attitude along with more expensive looking clothes, and judging that she may possibly have parents who might be patrons of such a gallery.

“Certainly madam, I can bring up the membership application for you. That would be for the Gold membership, yes? Just to confirm that it is the $9,500 per year option you are interested in? We'll need her details and a photograph, along with payment of course.”

“I'm well aware of the cost and requirements; I am a member.” At her words the receptionist's demeanour became instantly more personable, giving her a bright and welcoming smile.

“Oh, well that makes things much easier, thank you - I can attach it to your membership and skip the background financial check process. One second.. there, could you just give me your membership number, if you can recall it? Otherwise your name and address.”

“Yes, it's one.” The receptionist entered the number then looked up expectantly.

“And the next number?” Victoria shook her head, and Max was sure she could see the faintest hint of amusement in her eyes, although she kept her expression impassive.

“No, that is it. One.” The receptionist frowned but brought the details up, and Max watched with some guilty joy as her face seemed to run through a whole series of expressions; from disbelief to panic to horror.

“Oh, er.. Ms.. Ms.. er.. Chase, I erm.. didn't realise that.. er..” She stared at the screen before glancing up at Victoria and then quickly back again, fingers tapping nervously on the keyboard as Victoria's face stared at her from the screen in all its horribly actually right there in front of her right now glory.

“Clearly not,” said Victoria, leaning forward to read her name tag. “I'll tell you what, Emily, we are just going to go on through and you can sort out everything for when we are finished.” Victoria watched Emily like a vulture as Max wrote down her details, before abruptly turning and heading towards the security guard who was checking tickets, Max in tow. Emily scurried after her, desperately trying to head off any inquiry from the security guard while babbling incoherently to Victoria about how if she needed anything at all then just ask and how she wished her a pleasant visit and honestly if there was anything she could do for her visit just ask it’s no problem and how terribly sorry she was over the misunderstanding it was all a mistake.

Victoria waved her imperiously away and dragged Max off into the exhibits, but not before Max managed to give the terrified Emily a sympathetic smile. Max held Victoria's hand tightly and glanced up at the taller girl.

“Admit it, you enjoyed that a little, didn't you?” Victoria looked around at the exhibits, as if assessing what was there with a critical eye.

“Maybe a little. She was just so dismissive and snobbish towards you just because of what you were wearing, it was annoying.” Max coughed as if something had caught in her throat and let go of Victoria's hand.

“Er.. yeah. Doing that is awful, isn't it? Judging someone like that.” Victoria nodded in agreement, before marching off towards the history of photography exhibition, Max watching her go before with a shake of her head skipping after her.

“You don't see how you..? No?” Victoria stopped suddenly, causing Max to bump into her.

“What are you on about?” She pointed at some of the exhibits on a nearby plinth. “Not bad, is it? I should find out who is responsible for all of this.” Max looked at what she was pointing at and just saw what seemed to be just a random pile of metal.

“Er.. yeah. It's.. um, something, that's for sure. I thought this was your gallery though, do you not like choose what goes in it?”

“Max, how on earth would I have time for that? There's a General Manager and everything who do all that sort of thing, I just own it. I have no idea how it all works.” She grabbed Max's hand again and towed her along towards their destination, Max trying to come to grips with the fact Victoria was so blasé about just owning a gallery, as if it was nothing.



The early photography exhibition proved to be everything Max had hoped it would be, and she spent a good half an hour cooing over the some of the featured photographs and information dumps, along with examples of early photography equipment – some of them with discrete details about purchasing options, if you could afford it.

“There you go Max, that's a daguerreotype, invented by -”

“Louis Daguerre around 1830, yes thank you for reminding me. You're not funny.” Victoria came behind her and rested her chin on the top of Max's head as she looked at the exhibits.

“You should take some notes – you might actually get a decent grade then.” Max ducked away from her, clearly not amused.

“You're still not funny. I do understand it.”

“Well, you can always ask me for answers if it's all above your head; it might even get you a little closer to my 3.9..”

“Victoria! Stop it! Just.. stop! Look, I try my best but.. it's hard for me. But I'm not stupid, I'm not!” Max said, with some heat in her voice, clenching her fists and closing her eyes as if to try to shut out everything, while Victoria watched in astonishment.

“Max.. I never.. I never said you were, why would you..” Max stood there for a moment, eyes screwed tight before she gradually relaxed and opened them, looking slightly ashamed.

“I'm sorry, it's just.. I just..” She stopped, clearly struggling with articulating something. Victoria was even more confused, and hesitantly reached out a hand that stopped just short of Max.

“Did I say something wrong? I didn't mean too, I was just joking about you taking notes and..”

“Victoria, just shut up.” Max stared at the old photograph for a moment, before turning to face her. “Look, I'm on an IEP, OK? This stuff is hard for me as it is, and I don't need you making jokes about it.” She turned without waiting for a response to look at another piece, leaving Victoria to scrabble after her.

“Wait, Max, I didn't know, I was just trying to make a joke about it, I didn't mean..”

“Well you never asked, did you.” Max put a hand to her forehead and took a moment. "Vic I'm sorry, it's just a sensitive subject for me, and sometimes I just feel so useless that.. ugh, it doesn't matter. I don't want to ruin our time here so forget it, OK? Just remember that what you say can be really hurtful sometimes for people. Come on, let's keep looking.”

Despite Max's words the atmosphere was still tense between them, with Victoria not daring to say another word for a good few minutes for fear of upsetting Max. She berated herself for not asking Max about it before; or more precisely not stopping to even consider if Max had any such requirement. She had always assumed Max just couldn't be bothered to apply herself as she knew she was clever - it had driven her to the point of fury that Max hadn't seemed to be as driven as she was, especially in photography in particular, given her talent. And now that she knew a little as to why, she was angry with herself for not knowing such an important thing about her girlfriend.

“Max,” she asked during a moment where Max was looking intently at an original 1888 Kodak (price on enquiry), “I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it, I didn't know. Why didn't you tell me about it?” Max shrugged.

“Because it wasn't important until you teased me about it. It's just a thing I have to deal with, like everyone else has too in one way or another.” Victoria still looked glum, so Max tried to lighten the mood. “I mean you have to deal with your resting bitch face, so..”

“Max,” half smiled Victoria, pushing Max's shoulder gently. “Anyway, that face has taken years to perfect, it wasn't easy. But look - if you want to tell me about it later and help me understand then let's do that, OK?”

“Of course. But as I said, it's not important as long as you remember.” Max gave her a little hug to try and reassure her, and it struck Max just how much Victoria seemed to have changed in the relatively short time she had properly known her.

Or maybe not changed. Maybe she was always like this, underneath it all.

Maybe it's our supposed 'joint destiny' causing the change.

Maybe it's because she just likes me, for whatever reason.

“Ms Chase! Excuse me, Ms Chase!” Both girls turned and saw a flustered looking middle-aged man in a smart grey suit hurrying towards them, a smile plastered across his face. Max looked at Victoria, who shrugged a 'I have no idea' back at her.

“Ms Chase, please accept my apologies for not getting here sooner. If I had known you were arriving then obviously I would have met you at reception, but we received no indication that you were arriving today.” Max watched as Victoria straightened up and her face became a little harsher and colder, as if she was putting on a mask.

“And you are?” she asked, her voice clipped and cold. The smile faltered a little, but a hand was extended in greeting.

“Andrew Jackson, General Manager of the Chase Space. I've been here since the gallery was founded – previously I used to curate the Art Institute in Chicago, before I was offered this opportunity.” He hesitated in the face of Victoria’s stare, as if it reminded him of a previous encounter he had had, and his outstretched hand now hung awkwardly in the space between them. Max surreptitiously nudged Victoria in the back and she glowered but quickly shook his hand before absent-mindedly wiping her hand on her thigh.

“Victoria Chase. Of Chase.. well, you know. And this is my.. my..” Victoria looked a little uncertain, so Max stepped forward to offer her hand.

“Friend,” she said confidently. “Hi, I'm Max.”

“Girlfriend,” corrected Victoria much to Max’s surprise and happiness, and sending Andrew a defiant look as if daring him to comment. To his credit he didn't even bat an eyelid.

“It's nice to meet you, Max. I see that you are our latest Gold member, so on behalf of the Chase Space, welcome.” Max beamed at him, before turning and beaming at Victoria.

“Look at me, member of a big swanky gallery and everything! This is so exciting! I've never done anything like this before.”

“Can't imagine why,” said Victoria, before turning her attention back to the manager. “What can I do for you?”

“I thought it appropriate that I introduced myself to the owner of the Chase Space when she visits, and to answer any questions that you may have on the current exhibitions, finances and so on that were not covered by the quarterly reports.”

“Quarterly reports.. yeah, those. Right. Of course.” Victoria face was carefully blank, but Max had been around her long enough now to detect when she covering to hide the fact she hadn't done something she probably should have.

“And, of course, given I believe your current interest in photography, then if you ever wish to display any of the images you have taken then please feel free to request any gallery space you require to-”

“Excuse me?” Victoria interrupted, a sudden breeze blowing through the gallery, “why on earth would I want you to risk the reputation of the gallery for something like that? And are you suggesting that it is the only way anything I do could actually get into a gallery?” Her eyes glittered under her lowered brow, and Max could feel the temperature getting colder - something she hadn't experienced of late, so clearly a nerve had been struck. She quickly reached out and laid a hand on her arm, feeling the pent-up energy within Victoria slowly quell in that strange way it seemed too whenever Max willed it to be so; or in a lesser manner when Victoria helped her when she needed it. Andrew didn't seem to notice anything unusual, too eager was he to try and dig himself out of a hole he had inadvertently created.

“Ah, please accept my apologies Ms Chase, I did not mean to offend, I merely meant that if you, er, you chose, you.. er..” He wilted under her stare into a bumbling silence as Victoria folded her arms, every inch of her giving off the distinct impression that she was less than impressed with him.

“Er well, in that case.. er, so.. if there is anything else I can, um, do.. then..” Victoria let the question hang just a little too long before answering.

“I want a macchiato. And an almond croissant. Max?”

“Oh, me? Oh, I'll have a.. a.. oh, a strawberry milkshake. And a cinnamon swirl too.” Victoria raised her eyebrows but didn't comment, and Andrew nodded his head and went to leave.

“Right away, I'll get right on it and bring you -”

“Don't be ridiculous, you're the Manager, I'm sure you have more important things to do than that.” Victoria paused, and a slow smile spread across her face. “Although I'm sure the receptionist, Emily, would be more than happy to do it.” After a few more apologies and assurances he began to make his exit, watched by the two girls.

“Oh, and Mr Jackson? You've done a good job here. Thank you.” He paused momentarily, before giving her a nod and continuing on his way.

“This day is getting weirder and weirder,” remarked Max, “and that's saying something. Do you want me to remind you when we get back to read those reports?”

“Oh shut up. Let's carry on looking at what they've done here.” Max took her arm and went to look at another exhibit, only to be spun into an embrace from Victoria.

“Just one thing before we go, though,” she said a playful smile playing across her face as she bent towards Max as if to kiss her.

“Mhmm, yes?” Max said, angling herself in preparation for a welcome display of public affection from Victoria.

“How do you have any teeth left, ordering all that sugary crap?”



Eventually they had, at Max's insistence, made their way down to the section showcasing the up and coming photographers, a varied selection of the brightest new talents in the area (along, of course, with details of how to purchase anything of interest). Victoria had been reluctant to go there from the off, stating that she would rather not see who the competition was as it would be too depressing for her; not even the entertainment she had got in the grovelling apology from the receptionist as she brought them some refreshments had brightened the prospect for her.

Still, Max had been insistent and so Victoria had been dragged down there, trying to show an interest in the competition. Max was in her element, darting from submission to submission with excitement and taking in all the varying different compositions and subjects.

“This is so exciting, look at them all! Such great photographs, all of them! Isn't it marvellous?” she gushed, tugging on Victoria's arm to come and look at some more of them. Victoria reluctantly pretended to look at one Max was pointing out to her, looking very uncomfortable with the entire thing.

“Oh yes, very nice. Mmm. Can we go now?”

“Oh come on, what's the problem? You should be interested in all of this. I can see the standard you need to get into a place like this, it's pretty high. I don't think I've taken anything that could; I mean my shots just feel so derivative in comparison.” Max peered closely at a photograph while Victoria hovered behind her.

“You would easily get in here Max, if you tried. You should just give it go.. you might be surprised.” Max didn't answer but moved to the next set of images; the gallery had a varying number of images per photographer on display – some took up an entire section, while others were just the single print.

“I don't know,” she said eventually. “I mean, what if they reject it? What if they laugh and think it's just so amateur and immature? And what about you, anyway?”

“Me?”

“Yes, why don't you submit something?” Victoria looked down at the floor, avoiding Max's eye.

“I told you, I don't want to put anything here. They'd take it just because it's me submitting it. Have you seen enough now? Can we go?”

“There are other galleries in the world, Victoria,” Max observed, “Not just yours. Let's just have a look at those over there – we should think about leaving soon anyway to head to mine.” Max left Victoria and walked over to the ones that had caught her eye; Victoria didn't immediately follow and seemed, if anything, a little agitated. The grouping Max was looking at was titled ‘Future Upcoming Talent’ and was made up of lots of different single submissions, all varying in theme and subject matter. Max happily peered from one to another, until she came to one that looked strikingly familiar. Puzzled, she concentrated and leaned closer -

'Hey, hold still – let me just get this last one, then we're done.' She laughed as Victoria scolded her again for changing her pose.

'I thought you said this was just a few photos before we go eat,' she complained, 'we've been doing this for like hours.'

Max desperately jerked her head away; the feeling of being dragged through the photo was overwhelmingly intense – it had felt like she was back there, that impromptu photo session they had had a week or so ago after school – the cool afternoon temperature on her skin, the soft light of the setting sun, everything so real. Head spinning, she dimly recognised that it was a photo of her face in profile, lit by the setting sun as she laughed at something in particular.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck!

She stumbled backwards and lost her balance; only to be caught by a pair of arms that had reached out to catch her.

“Steady on Max, it's not that good a shot,” whispered Victoria. Max turned and buried her face into Victoria's shoulder, before beating her with her fists.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid girl! Why didn't you tell me? I could've.. could've..” Victoria grabbed Max’s wrists before glancing nervously around – this section of the galley had a few people milling around and she didn't want to attract any undue attention.

“Max, what are you on about – it's a nice picture of you, I thought -” Max glared up at Victoria, eyes blazing a brilliant blue as the residual effects of her powers swirled through her.

“I nearly went through it! I could’ve fucked everything up! Everything! Why didn’t you tell me!” Max was entirely failing to control the volume of her voice and Victoria saw people were beginning to look with curiosity at them, so she grabbed Max and hustled her away, following the signs to a nearby bathroom which was mercifully empty.

“Max – what the fuck is going on with you?” Max gripped the side of a basin and stared at her reflection, still feeling queasy and afraid at how she nearly went through the photo.

“That photo of me. You know I was warned about it. It.. caught me unawares. If I concentrate on them too much I find myself being pulled through it. She specifically warned me about it, said that it could cause all sorts of changes that can destroy timelines.” She looked at Victoria’s reflection, her voice low and accusatory. “She specifically warned us, Victoria. You should’ve told me so I wouldn’t have been caught like that. Why didn’t you tell me?” Victoria held her hands up in protest, the bathroom becoming a lot colder as she came to stand next to Max.

“I didn’t know that was going to happen! You weren’t even supposed to know it was even fucking there! It was a secret, but you insisted -!”

“Don’t blame this on me. We can’t afford to run risks like this, Victoria! It’s too dangerous, I can’t control it! What if I, what if I had -” Victoria placed a hand on her shoulder, feeling Max stiffen at her touch and then shiver slightly.

“But you didn’t, you did manage to control it. Everything is OK, we are -”

“No!” Max pushed hand away, turning to face Victoria. “It’s not, Victoria. I’m so scared that one day I’ll accidentally do it and.. and change everything. I nearly fucked up just then, I could feel it. Feel that day, I was so close to going back before I even realised it. What if -” She stopped, and her face softened a little as she looked at Victoria. “What if I lose you? What if I don’t manage to stop it and I somehow break everything? I can’t take that risk!”

“Maybe being a photographer is not the best career choice then,” remarked Victoria, trying to change the mood and making a determined effort to stop herself freezing the bathroom. “Especially one who takes so many selfies..”

“You’re not funny!” Max snapped, running her hands through her hair. “I’m trying to be serious here!”

“So was I, in a way. If you can’t control it, then how exactly do you expect to do this? Or even be in a photo with me ever again. How would we do wedding photos?” Max snorted with an embarrassed look, punching Victoria lightly on her shoulder. Victoria looked at Max carefully, thinking it was her time to help Max out. “Maybe we can try and practice, like we have done with me all the time. Maybe if I am holding onto you it won’t happen? Or it’s easier? I don’t know. I just know that we can’t be living in fear of something going wrong all the time. Let me help you, Max. Work on this together.”

Max was silent for a while, returning to stare at her image in the mirror, lost in thought. Victoria waited patiently before trying once more, placing her hand on Max’s shoulder again – this time she didn’t tense up; instead she reached up and grasped the hand with a sigh, and that seemed enough.



“So explain to me then,” Max said, letting the bathroom door swing shut behind them, “how a photo of me has ended up in a gallery in which you apparently know nothing about, and refused to have any of your work shown?” Victoria pulled Max back towards the display.

“Look, I’ll show you then - no, it’ll be OK, I’ll be here, you know what to expect now – let me show you what I did. And why I didn’t want to come here with you.” Max reluctantly let herself be led back towards the exhibition, increasingly nervous as she got closer. A few metres away she clutched at Victoria, feeling sick with nausea.

“Vic, I can’t do this, what if..” she whispered, “what if I can’t control it? What if I..”

“Max, haven’t you taken a selfie of yourself recently? That hasn’t gone wrong, so why should this?” Max shook her head, tugging at Victoria’s top.

“No, I haven’t, I’ve only taken ones of you or other stuff. I didn’t want to risk it. I’d thought you’d have noticed, given how much shit you used to give me about it.” Victoria opened her mouth to argue, then quickly shut it as she thought back over the last few weeks and realised that she hadn’t seen Max do that.

Except..

“Wait, you took that shot of us in your room, remember? I’ve still got it on my cell. So you have taken photos of yourself without any problem.” Max furrowed her brow, thinking then began to feel a little bit better about things.

“Yes, you are right – I did. Then maybe..”

“Maybe you are overreacting? Look, let’s go look at this one again, and you tell me what happens. I won’t let you go – I don’t know it if will help, but I can try.” Max nodded and slowly stepped towards the photograph, gripping Victoria’s hand tight and looking at the floor. Slowly she raised her gaze, until the photograph filled her vision and she felt..

..nothing..

“It’s OK. I can just look it at it – nice photo by the way – but I’m not sensing.. anything.”

“See? I told you. maybe you were mistaken?” Max shook her head and tightened her grip on Victoria’s hand.

“No, let me see what happens if I really concentrate on it.” Max stared at the photo, trying to ignore everything else around her, focusing on the image, remembering the moment when it had been taken. She waited, but nothing happened, there was no feeling of..

No, wait.. there..

I can feel it, it’s trying to pull me through, I can feel the breeze on my face..

She jerked her head back, breathing deeply through her nose, trying to suck as much air in as possible.

“Max, you OK? What happened.. did you..?” Max closed her eyes, trying to remember the sensation before it slipped from memory.

To go back, erase my mistakes..

.. make everything perfect..

“Max?”

.. everything better..

A hand on her shoulder, turning her and she looked into concerned green eyes, eyes that dragged her back to the present, to here, to now, to this reality.

“I’m.. fine.. It’s OK, nothing happened. I mean, I felt it but I managed to stop in time as I knew it was coming.” She fell silent, a frown across her forehead. Victoria scanned her face, as if trying to read her mind and work out what was wrong.

“What? What is it? You said that nothing happened?” Max looked back at the photo, knowing that just doing that was OK as long as she didn’t think about the possibilities of –

No.

What had she written? ‘The most important thing to remember right now is this: never travel through a photo.’

Max shivered; the temptation was still there, so strong – to go back and change everything – any time, any place – even back to High School, where she could maybe be more confident in –

No.

“I could feel it Victoria, the temptation of it – to go back and change everything. Correct mistakes, make a new future, do whatever I could. I can see how it broke her, why she warned us against it.” Max looked around the gallery, then back at Victoria. “But the cost? Potentially losing you, losing everything.. it’s.. inconceivable, but the desire is there. I can’t deny it.”

“Then I guess we’ll just have to make sure that you love this reality so much that it won’t happen then, won’t we,” declared Victoria with a confident voice that brooked no argument. Max smiled at her words, feeling a warmth inside of her at Victoria’s certainty of making sure that everything would work out how they wanted it too.

“Well, if that’s the case then you can start by explaining why that photo of me is there, Ms Chase.” Max looked back at the photograph then did a double take. “Or should I say.. Maximilian Chasseur? What?” Victoria looked a little sheepish and her face went a little pink.

“Well.. I wanted to try and submit something as I knew they did this sort of thing – I do occasionally check the website - but I knew that if I stuck it in under my name then it would just get put up regardless, so.. I thought of this nom de guerre.”

“Nom de what?”

“A pseudonym. Fake name. I chose Maximilian because of, well, you, and Chasseur is.. our old family name. So..” She looked a little embarrassed and was surprised when Max suddenly hugged her.

“Oh my god, look at you getting your work in a gallery! That’s awesome! Well done, I'm really proud.” Victoria awkwardly rubbed the back of her neck, not used to the praise.

“Well.. thanks I guess. I only found out yesterday that it had got in. It's rather amazing to see it hanging there, I just wish it had my real name under it.”

“Lots of the greats go under different names, it's not that uncommon – but honestly, it's amazing. Of course, the model you used helped but why didn't you tell me you had entered?”

“Max, when you have been rejected as much as I have then you don't dare to even hope. I knew how excited you would get and I didn't want to disappoint you when I failed again, and then it got in and I was like oh shit, how do I explain this to you? Especially as it was a photo of you. Ugh.” Victoria was a mixture of happiness and annoyance, both with herself and the situation she had ended up in. “Besides, it's turned out to be a nice surprise, no? Apart from the whole nearly wrecking time thing again I mean.”

“I get the feeling that phrase is going to get very annoying for us both. But yes, it is cool to see. And I think we can work on taking some more and maybe submitting them, maybe, and I can practice not travelling through time through a photograph.”

“Deal.” Victoria looked at Max then laughed. “Our lives are so fucked up, could you imagine if anyone actually listened to us?”

“Well, at least then you wouldn't be able to deny being a complete nerd.” Max ducked away from Victoria's vengeful punch and ran off through the gallery laughing.



“Do they know that we are, you know..” Victoria gripped the steering wheel, staring up at the house. Although it was the third time she had come here - and the second time she was meeting Max's parents - this time felt different, this time it felt like there was a weight of expectation on her, arriving as the girl coming to take their daughter away from them.

“Eh, they know enough. I mean I told them not to bother with the guest room, and I don't have a bunk bed do I.”

“Right. Right. OK. Fine.” Victoria still didn't move, her usual confident manner distinctly absent. Max pecked her on the cheek and opened the door.

“Come on, we can't sit here all evening. Pop the hood and I'll grab the bags.”

Victoria watched Max cheerfully get their things before looking expectantly back at her as she still sat there.

“Come on Vic, you can do this. They are nice people, they like you, you like her, it'll be fine.”

Great, now I'm talking to myself.

She joined Max and they walked up the short drive to the porch where Max rang the bell enthusiastically, bouncing from toe to toe. Victoria found her happiness infectious and quietly smiled at Max's antics. The door opened, revealing Vanessa looking at Max with a confused expression.

“Maxine! Have you forgotten your key again? Hello Victoria, it's nice to see you again.”

“Mrs Caulfield,” Victoria said, extending her hand much to Vanessa's amusement. “Thank you for letting me come over today.” Max pushed past into the house, shouting out for her Dad while Vanessa eyed Victoria; Victoria did her best to not make it into a staring contest, breaking away after a moment with a smile fixed to her face.

“It's nice to see your house again, it's very, ah, cosy and welcoming.” Again Victoria thought she saw a twinkle of amusement in her expression, but Vanessa ushered her in.

“Please come on through, I don't know where Maxi- Max has gone, but I see she has left you with the bags. Let me take them for you.”

“It's OK,” Victoria said quickly, “I'll take them, it's no trouble.” She hefted Max's and her much heavier bag across her shoulders, wishing she had listened to Max's advice that she didn't meet to pack so much just for one night - she hadn't wanted to admit to Max that she had no experience of packing an overnight bag to stay at someone's house and so had thrown everything she could think of in.

“Max said that you were going to stay in her room tonight?” Vanessa questioned casually, as if it was the most innocuous thing in the world; but Victoria knew that she was trying to gauge exactly where they were in their relationship.

“Yes, that's right.” A thought struck her suddenly, and she hastened to quickly ensure she didn't create the wrong impression. “If that's OK I mean, I didn't want to presume. It's your house and I don't want to make it seem like.. if you're not comfortable then. I mean..” Victoria realised she was babbling from nerves and stopped talking, ingrained tutoring on how to present herself kicking in before she made herself look even more idiotic. Again that amused look, which now she realised seemed good natured if anything.

“Of course it's fine with us, any 'friend' of Max's is welcome under our house.” Vanessa stepped back and looked Victoria up and down before she smiled reassuringly. “And believe it or not I was young once, so we won't intrude on your privacy.” With a wink she turned and headed to the kitchen, telling Victoria to take the bags right on up to Max's room as she was off to prepare dinner.

Victoria climbed the stairs feeling slightly bewildered; it was an alien feeling to her to be in a household where not only was the fact she was gay a non-issue - which made sense given they knew Max was - but also that they had no qualms with the fact she could potentially be doing things with their daughter.

Doing things.

I want to do things with Max.

Lots of things.

Lots of things that I have only dreamed about.

Victoria entered Max's room and looked around; it seemed largely the same since she had last been here in what seemed a lifetime ago, when she had nearly walked out on Max in a fit of pique – how different would things have been if Max hadn't stopped her?

Or would we have got together anyway? Are we always meant to get together?

Do we have a choice?

No, there's always a choice.

Placing the bags down she sat on the bed, running a hand idly over the covers, her mind once again straying to the thought of her and Max maybe lying just there, running my fingers through her hair as her hand is in-between my thighs and -

“There you are! Making yourself at home already eh?” Max sauntered in with a grin on her face, looking very relaxed and happy – Victoria realised that here, at home, Max felt safe and able to relax and just be herself, something Victoria knew she had severely lacked in the empty tombs she had grown up in.

“You seem in a good mood.” She watched Max move around her room, searching through some drawers for something before with a triumphant ‘ha!’ picking something up.

“Music?” Max asked, and without waiting for an answer put on a CD. Victoria didn’t recognise the band but was immediately taken by its infectious beat and the distinctive voice of the singer. Of course, she didn’t show that to Max and instead put on her best indifferent face.

“What obscure band is this that you’re pretending to like?” Max tapped a hand against her thigh, singling the lyrics to herself.

“You won’t have heard of them,” Max said, at the same time as Victoria thought it in her head, “they are called the Editors, and they were really popular in England a few years back.”

“United Kingdom,” said Victoria. Max stopped tapping and looked at her with confusion.

“What?”

“They would have been popular in the United Kingdom. England is just one part of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom. It’s a common misconception,” said Victoria smugly.

“Why would you know that? Who knows that?”

“I’ve been there a few times. We have a place in London.” Max rolled her eyes.

“Oh, of course you do. Silly me, who doesn’t?” Victoria folded her arms, determined not to rise to it.

“A lot of people. I’m just telling you that’s how I know. We can go there one day if you’d like?” Max blinked in astonishment, much to Victoria’s amusement.

“Really? That would be.. wowsers. Wait, I’d need a passport, wouldn’t I?”

“Yes, Max, you would. But we can go. We’ve also got a place in New York, Barcelona, a nice chalet in Switzerland, the apartment in Monaco.. oh, and the old place in the south of France. You’d like that, it’s all very rustic and quaint.”

And boring. And empty. Like all of them. Shrines to our family, all perfect and clean and sterile.

“That sounds great actually. And you would let me go there? I’d have to see if I could afford the -” A knock on the door interrupted Max and they both turned and saw Ryan peering through the doorway.

“Hi girls, sorry to interrupt but your mother needs some help preparing dinner – Max could you go give her a hand?”

“Ugh, fine. Come on Victoria, let’s go-” Ryan held up a hand, a broad smile on his face.

“Actually Max, I was hoping Victoria could show me her car – she did promise last time, after all – and we can’t have guests helping prepare their own meals, can we?” Victoria looked between them, suddenly feeling a little uncertain as Max disappeared with a wave and a smile. There was an uncomfortable moment as Ryan looked at Victoria, a smile still on his face but something seemed to be behind it, and Victoria felt as if she was being judged.

“Right then,” he said suddenly, clapping his hands together. “Do you want to show me this car of yours?”



Victoria had the unusual, for her, feeling of nerves as she walked around the car, pointing out some of the finer details to Ryan. He seemed to genuinely take an interest and she was proud to be able to show that she was more than just a girl with an expensive car – she also had a real interest in such things and she appeared to have found a fellow soul in Ryan. However, she was also aware that she was being watched carefully, as if her every move was being analysed and noted. She stopped and leaned against the car, folding her arms and giving Ryan her best, confident stare.

“You didn’t invite me out here to talk about my car, did you, Sir.” Ryan smiled thinly at her use of ‘Sir’ but nodded his head.

“You are correct, in part – I do have an interest in cars, that is true – but I also wanted to see you, Victoria.” He leaned against the car opposite her, his expression now serious but not unkind. Victoria suspected what was coming but decided to play dumb.

“What do you mean?” Ryan sighed and looked back at the house, his expression unreadable to Victoria.

“Max.. Max found it hard when we moved here. Leaving Arcadia and her best friend behind.. She finds it hard to make connections at the best of times, and losing that one was.. Difficult. For all of us, but her in particular.”

“Chloe?” Victoria interjected, eager to show she knew something. “Yes, we went to her funeral.” Ryan paused, looking at her with some interest.

“Yes, Chloe Price. We got the invite from Joyce, but sadly we couldn’t attend – work commitments. Always work commitments. It’s why we moved in the first place.” He paused, as if reflecting on the past before fixing his gaze on Victoria again. “How was it?” Victoria shrugged, at a loss for what to say.

“It was.. a funeral. I think it was nice for the Madsen’s, there was a good turnout.” She paused, thinking carefully. “I didn’t know Chloe at all, I only went as Max asked me to go.”

A little white lie never hurt anyone.

“That was good of you. We need to go pay them a visit; we owe them that much. But that is not what I wanted to talk to you about. As I said, Max found it hard. She still finds it hard at times to form relationships, and we have always worried about her. We are her parents after all, even if she is an adult now.” He turned gave her a questioningly look, one which she had seen before in her own father. “So when Max told me that she had met someone and was so excited about it – and I realised it was the same person who I had taken her to go visit, you can understand why I am cautious.” Victoria was still quiet, wondering where this was going and too afraid to interject; but she tried to give him a reassuring smile whilst knowing that she had to make the best impression she could and assuage his fears – for all that Max liked her, she knew just how important her family was to her.

“I know a bit about your family, Victoria. You are fairly notorious in Seattle business circles, and of course it’s easy to find out how far your reach extends, and the extreme disparity between our respective lives. So you’ll forgive me if I have some doubt over your motives with regards to my daughter; she is not a plaything to keep you amused until you grow bored. I will not see my daughter hurt like that, not when she finally seems to be happy and becoming the person I always thought she could be.”

“Mr Caulfield, I-” Ryan held up a hand, interrupting her.

“Please let me finish. I will not deny the change in Max over the last few months has been remarkable. Clearly whatever she is getting out of this relationship is doing wonders for her, and that is why I am even more nervous about it. I can’t make Max’s decisions for her; she has to learn through her own mistakes. I just hope this isn’t one.”

“I’m not a mistake!” Victoria clenched her fists; she knew the that she had made a mistake as she saw Ryan unconsciously feel the wave of cold erupting around them. She closed her eyes, as if thinking but really knowing she had to hide what they likely looked like. “Sorry. But this isn’t a mistake, Mr Caulfield. I would never treat Max like that, she.. she means the world to me. Without her – without each other – then all would be lost.” Her words helped calm her a little as she thought about everything they had gone through, and what may lie ahead for them. She opened her eyes and looked at Ryan, who was looking a little puzzled at her words. “I mean we would be lost without each other. I know we seem very different but I do care for her, I really do. I couldn't imagine being with anyone else, she keeps me so grounded and I like to think in turn I do the same for her.” Ryan's expression was impassive, and Victoria found herself feeling like she had to justify it more. “I mean you said it yourself, Max seems more confident and sure of herself. She's a wonderful person and I'm really lucky to know her. I don't think I deserve her at times.”

Truer than you know, Mr Caulfield.

Although I’m more than happy to take credit for any confidence superpowers happen to give her.

Ryan sighed and shook his head ruefully.

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to come across so harsh. It's just my little girl is growing up and this seems to be the first serious thing she has been involved in, and I can't help but worry.” He paused and his expression changed as realisation dawned. “Good lord, I'm being the over protective Dad aren't I?” Victoria laughed carefully, hoping he wouldn't take offence.

“Just a little, yes. And if it helps any, Max can look after herself – she can be quite ferocious when she chooses to be.” Ryan laughed along with her and the atmosphere seemed to lighten considerably.

“Oh I know – you should've have seen her when I told her we would have to ration film, given how expensive it was.” He looked at Victoria hopefully. “You do photography as well, don't you? I don't suppose you could persuade her to go digital?” Victoria snorted with derision.

“I wish. She's far to wedded to that thing, I'm surprised it doesn't join us in bed.”

Oh shit, what did you say that for?

How much of a dumb fuck are you?

Ryan, to his credit and much to Victoria's obvious relief, let that slide with merely a flicker of an eyebrow.

“Well, I trust you will be comfortable here tonight; I'll make sure Max leaves it in the kitchen.” There was an awkward silence until Ryan clapped his hands together.

“Right then,” he said with forced jolliness, “how about we go for a spin in the car? I don't suppose there's a chance that..?”

“Here,” said Victoria, throwing him the keys. “Let's go.”



Half an hour later they pulled back up at the house, Ryan grinning from ear to ear while Victoria made a mental note to get the tyres replaced. She realised that she probably could not have wished for a better way to get onside with Max's parents; or one in particular at any rate. Ryan was all smiles and enthusiasm as they came back, Victoria completely missing the questioning look from Vanessa that he responded to with a subtle nod.

“Just in time,” she said, “we are about ready to serve up. Victoria, we're having salmon and potatoes tonight – I trust that is OK? Max didn't mention otherwise.”

“That sounds perfect, thank you. And thank you both for inviting me over again.” Max scooted over next to her and grabbed her hand.

“How was my Dad? Not too annoying I hope? Dad, did you annoy her? Tell me you didn't. You did, didn't you?”

“It was fine, Max,” said Victoria. “Your Dad at least knows about cars, so maybe you could learn something from him.” Ryan went over to help Vanessa with final preparations, while Max continued to quiz Victoria about what they had been up to, clearly worried that her Dad may have said something to embarrass her.

The meal itself was much more enjoyable than the previous time they had all sat around the table, the conversation flowing easily as Victoria seemed to have already been accepted into the Caulfield fold. She found herself being the butt of some gentle ribbing, which oddly helped make her feel even more at ease – although the best was every joke that was at Max's expense, as both of her parents dredged up even more embarrassing tales to tell about her. At one point Vanessa had proposed getting out the old albums, and to save Max from further embarrassment Victoria had enquired about any plans they had for Thanksgiving.

“We usually just have Max's Grandparents around, along with some cousins and Aunts,” replied Vanessa. “Nothing big, but it is nice to see everyone. Plus Ryan sometimes breaks out the grill and burns everything.” Ryan spluttered his denial at such accusations, while Max reminded him of the so-called 'charcoal pork log' incident.

“What about you Victoria, what plans do you have?” Victoria felt three pairs of eyes fall on her and suddenly felt very lonely.

“Oh, I guess.. I might just stay at Blackwell. Catch up on some work, I'm a bit behind where I want to be in some subjects.” Victoria saw Ryan and Vanessa exchange a glance and felt her heart sink, wondering what they must be thinking.

“Are you not spending time with your family this year?” enquired Vanessa, while offering her some more potatoes. Victoria bought some time by graciously accepting some and she took a mouthful before replying.

“No, they are out of the country at the moment on business. I might come back to Seattle or maybe go somewhere else for a couple of days.”

“You can come here,” declared Max. “Spend it with us. That’s better than rattling around that big old house on your own or holed up in your room.” Max looked at her parents, challenging them to disagree. “That’s OK, isn’t it? She can come? Help Dad with the grill? It would be a good learning experience for her, she can see what us common folk do for the holiday.”

“Honestly, it’s fine. It’s nothing that I’m not used too,” Victoria quickly interjected before anyone could reply. “I don’t want to intrude on your family thing Max. It’s for you guys, I would just be hanging around getting in the way.”

“Nonsense,” declared Ryan loudly. “You are more than welcome to come if you wish. I could do with help on the grill, as long as you can follow instructions and not stick you oar in every five minutes like these two do.” The conversation developed into gentle bickering, leaving Victoria to think over the invitation.

Spending time with them rather than alone would be better. But it feels a bit much. Is it happening too soon? I can’t believe that they are so willing to accept me into the family so quickly, it just feels wrong. We would never do this, it would have to be by formal invitation and then we’d arrange for lodging and catering and..

“Hey, penny for your thoughts?” Max said quietly, as Ryan and Vanessa argued over who exactly was coming for Thanksgiving. Victoria gave her a sheepish smile, motioning at her parents.

“I’m just.. trying to adjust to you all. It was nice of you to invite me for Thanksgiving, but you don’t have to have me around if you don’t want to. I don’t need your pity, Max, I’m used to spending the holidays alone or trying to meet up with friends. It’s fine.” Max frowned at her words and looked a little annoyed.

“I didn’t invite you out of pity, Victoria. I invited you because I wanted to spend the holidays with you. Because you’re my girlfriend, it’s what we are supposed to do, isn’t it?”

“Um, I guess? But I don’t know if I can invite you back to mine as well, I haven’t even told them you exist yet, let alone that I’m.. you know.” Max squeezed her thigh under the table.

“One step at a time, then. First you can get used to the most embarrassing parents in the world.”



Victoria found Max sitting on a bench in the garden, which Victoria had initially found a little small for her taste until she realised that her expectations were probably hopelessly skewed. The evening was cool and Max was wrapped in a coat, staring up at the night sky seemingly deep in thought. Victoria wandered over and sat down next to her, and Max immediately moved against her, resting her head on her shoulder. Victoria wrapped an arm around her and they sat there for a while in contentment.

“This is nice,” Victoria said eventually. “I never would have thought I would enjoy this sort of thing, you know. Like.. this is just so simple and easy and good, there’s nothing expensive or exclusive, no.. expectations on how to behave. Just.. normal.”

“You make it sound like we are a bunch of poor country hicks that you have decided to grace with your presence. I am so grateful, your highness. Let me go grovel at your feet.”

“Oh shut up. You know what I mean. This is all new to me, I told you how I was brought up. Tutors, gatherings, introductions, networks, deals, favours, performance, perfection – we never just had something like this. I mean I know that I am really lucky to have been born in such privilege and it must just sound like I am being a spoilt princess complaining about how unfair life is, but you are so lucky to have this Max.”

“Yes, I know. And I think I understand, but I would have loved to have had the opportunity to do the things you’ve done. They sound incredible.” Victoria didn’t answer; she wasn’t convinced that they were but she knew that saying that would make her sound even more spoilt and ungrateful.

You have a fucking car on the driveway that you don’t really care for which would pay for Max’s university tuition.

How about some perspective.

“What were you thinking about when I came out?” Victoria said, changing tack. “You looked pretty thoughtful.” Max didn’t respond immediately, and Victoria was just beginning to suspect that she had fallen asleep when she finally answered.

“Today at the shop I got tired and frustrated and angry and I just wanted to make him answer. I nearly lost control and hit the guy – you didn’t see that, but it’s how I felt. It scared me.” She fell silent, before turning her head to look at Victoria. “But it also felt good. Good to be powerful, to be in control, confident, not.. not me. Old me before I got these powers, before I met you.”

“Max, you were always just you, having these powers doesn’t change anything, you-”

“And again, at the party,” Max continued, ignoring her. “After confronting Logan, I lost it with Taylor – Taylor! I think I scared her, I didn’t mean too. Of course I rewound it but it just came so easily. Too easily.” Max stood up and paced up and down a little, rubbing her hands together as if anxious. Victoria watched her with some concern, but glad that Max was at least talking about it.

“It’s like I am slowly turning into her and I can’t stop it. Like I am doomed to become her, the one who went mad with power.” She looked at Victoria and her expression was sad and tormented. “Am I doomed to sacrifice myself for another to follow? Is this a cycle that will just go on and on through endless Max’s, each leaving a Victoria behind?” Victoria sat there staring at her, until her brain kicked her body into action and made her stand up and go to her, holding her hand and giving her the support she needed.

“Shh, you’re nothing like her. You’re you, my Max; Max who is trying to work out what the fuck is going on just like I am. I’m struggling with this too Max, with everything that’s going on. You, me, powers, school, secret government organisations, your fashion sense, eldritch abominations from beyond..” Max chuckled and clung to her while Victoria wrapped her arms tight around her, feeling their bodies squish pleasantly together.

“I know. It’s just sometimes it just feels like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders. Like this unspoken responsibility to make things right. The power in my hand.. it’s overwhelming. Frightening. I don’t think I can do this, Victoria. I’m just me.”

“No. Not just you. Us.” Max leaned up and kissed her, face lit with happiness that made Victoria’s stomach churn with delight.

“Thanks you. See, even you can’t be a bitch all the time.” Victoria kissed her back, letting her hands wander down Max’s back to her hips.

“Don’t get used to it.”



Victoria brushed her teeth, hair wrapped carefully in a towel. It had struck her that she had wardrobes bigger than the bathroom she was in, and not for the first time tonight she found herself feeling slightly ashamed at just how much wealth and privilege she had compared to others, but another voice (sounding very similar to her fathers) told her that if they wanted it they needed to work for it, and that nothing came for free.

And yet, they seemed so much happier as a family than anything Victoria remembered, money or no - what was the good of all this money if deep down you were just as miserable as anyone else?

Except I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, or a bill or whatever.

The Chase's don't do self-pity, Victoria. Pull yourself together and focus on the task at hand.

The task at hand was waiting for her in the other room, and she felt a nervousness in her stomach as she prepared to try and enter uncharted territory. Slipping on a dressing gown she padded over to Max's room; Max was sitting up in bed wearing what looked like a t-shirt she had owned since she was eight.

“Did you actually grow when you were a teenager?” Victoria asked, while carefully unwrapping her hair and ensuring it was dry.

“Eh? What do you mean? Was the shower alright?”

“Yes it was fine thanks. That t-shirt your wearing with the frogs all over it, I'm amazed you still fit in it.” Max looked puzzled and Victoria looked at her in horror as comprehension dawned.

“Oh my god you bought that recently didn't you? It's not a relic from the past.” Max stuck her tongue out and blew a raspberry.

“There's always the floor, Victoria Chase.” Victoria didn't reply, instead she fussed about making sure everything was folded neatly and that she was completely ready.

I hope I don't smell bad.

I shouldn't have eaten so much.

Shit.

I should've waxed.

Butterflies fluttering through her stomach she walked over to the bed, aware of Max watching her with curiosity. Victoria stood for a moment looking at her, and before she lost her nerve, she dropped her dressing gown and stood there, watching as Max's mouth opened and she swallowed involuntarily.

“Victoria, I-”

“Shut up and kiss me,” Victoria said, crawling onto the bed, a hungry look in her eye. She pinned Max down on the bed and began to kiss her, Max trying to say something in-between the kisses but Victoria was in no mood for conversation. She tugged at Max's t-shirt, pulling it half over head with one hand whilst the other roamed across Max's chest.

“I want you, Max. I want you to have sex with me right now. I'm ready for this. I want this.” Max's head appeared from underneath the t-shirt, and she tossed it aside before grabbing hold of Victoria's hands.

“Victoria, wait, please.” Victoria froze, a panicked look of uncertainty crossing her face as doubts rose again to claw at her and she tried to cover herself up, feeling her power begin to rise up as she just knew she was being rejected again by someone she thought she could trust and -

“I'm not going to have sex with you in my childhood bed while my parents are asleep next door. That's just... ugh.” Max sat up, gazing at Victoria's naked body and Victoria tried to kiss her again.

“We could be quiet, they wouldn't notice - it would be fine.” Max kissed her but then held her back again.

“Yeah, but I know they are there and these walls aren't exactly thick. And imagine if it was the other way around – what if we heard them.. you know.. doing.. ugh, I can't even think about it.” Victoria grimaced as an unwelcome image came into her mind.

“Thanks for that mental image, Max. You certainly know how to put a dampener on things.” She pouted and folded her arms, looking away across the room at nothing in particular. Max tried to poke her in the breast to get her attention.

“Don't get all moody. Honestly, I do want to, you know that; just not here - first chance we get tomorrow though I'm so jumping your bones. Yes?” Victoria nodded sulkily, knowing that Max was probably right this time. She went to get off the bed to grab a top, but Max's hand stayed her.

“I didn't say you had to put anything on though. Get that naked ass into bed with me, I'm going to use your chest as a super comfy pillow.”

Chapter Text

Max woke with a jolt, banging her head against the window. She looked blearily around her before realising she was still in the car with Victoria who was casting her an amused, but fond, look. Endless lines of trees were parading past the window in a blur; the music from the stereo was a quiet background hum.

“Wake up, sleepy head. Honestly, can you actually stay awake for longer than twenty minutes in a car?”

“Where are we?” Max yawned.

“About ten minutes out from Clatskanie, apparently. We've got another 80 miles or so to go, so maybe an hour and a half more.” Max yawned again, then stretched out her limbs as much as she could.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep. Must have been the lunch Mom made us, I'm always sleepy after a good feed.” Max watched the scenery pass, before turning back to Victoria. “Are you OK? You've been driving all this time, do you want me to take over?”

“Oh fuck no, you're not driving any car of mine until you've had some proper supervision. I'm OK though – thanks for asking. Although I do need to pee. And maybe get some coffee.”

“Coffee sounds good. And maybe a doughnut.” Max pulled out her cell to have a look at what was available in Clatskanie. “There's a few truck stops,” - Victoria made a disgusted noise - “one small cafe but I'm not sure it’s open on a Sunday. Oh, and a Starbucks. Let's go there.” An overly aggressive gear change seemed to indicate Victoria's opinion on the matter, but she didn't comment further.



The town turned out to be everything it looked like on the map - a small place that only seemed to exist because people had decided that there had been quite enough wilderness, thank you very much. Max suspected that logging was the main employer around here, and there was a certain folksy charm about the place that had Max's inner photographer getting itchy. It reminded her somewhat of Arcadia Bay, although in comparison to this town there were signs that Arcadia may be turning around with the removal of the Prescott's, and the silent hand of the Chase Empire slowly beginning the process of improving and enlarging the school, with all the attendant economic impacts that would cause in time. Compared to the rest of the town the Starbucks, however, turned out to be a depressingly modern building; low rise and concrete, with only a tiny seating section that was occupied by some bored looking teenagers.

“We can just sit in the car,” said Victoria. “But if you spill anything then you'll be cleaning it up yourself, OK?” Max shrugged her shoulders, puzzled.

“Well yes, of course I will. Who else would do it?” Victoria opened her mouth and then quickly shut it again, clearly thinking better of whatever her reply would have been.

“What do you want? I'm going to the bathroom first but I'll order after that.” Max sucked her teeth while deciding.

“I'll have a caramel latte with syrup on top and rainbow sprinkles, and also a doughnut with chocolate cream inside and some chocolate icing on top.”

“You utterly disgust me, Caulfield. Won't be long, don't go anywhere.” A quick kiss and the car rocked as Victoria slammed the door and strode off, leaving Max to her thoughts for a while. She stretched her legs out a little bit more before deciding that she could probably do with getting out properly; so she went and walked around the car park a little, feeling some life come back into her limbs. It was a little chilly and she wrapped her arms around her to try and keep in as much heat as possible, rubbing them to get some heat in. She realised that as it got colder and into Winter proper she would get jealous of Victoria and her apparent immunity to cold weather, something she now thought was actually pretty cool.

Ha! Cool. I’m so punny.

The thought of Victoria made her smile and look towards the depressingly grim Starbucks.

This weekend has been amazing so far, going to the gallery and Victoria meeting my parents properly. They seemed to really like her, and she seemed much more at ease and natural like she can be when we are alone. And she will come for thanksgiving too! I hope grandma doesn't say anything awkward. Or cousin Alan and his new wife, assuming they come. Assuming he hasn’t got married again. And..

And then there is what she said about finally wanting to do it..

Max's train of thought was completely derailed by the memory of Victoria clambering onto the bed wonderfully naked, wanting to do all sorts of things to Max - although what those were she couldn't quite imagine yet (although she did have some ideas) as she was just as inexperienced in this as Victoria.

And cross dimensional sex doesn't really count for that much, I mean not really. But I guess I could like kiss her on the neck, and then maybe start kissing my way down and.. and..

Max dwelt a little further on her fantasy scenario until she realised she was just making herself far too aroused for a Starbucks car park - and besides, it was a bit chilly and definitely much warmer in the car where she could maybe close her eyes and think a little bit more of the way Victoria's -

Scolding herself for thinking of it again and reminding herself that there would be plenty of opportunity when they got back to Blackwell to maybe put her thoughts into practice, she hopped back into the car and tried to lose herself browsing the internet; ignoring the treacherous reminders of Victoria's skin against hers, the distinctive smell of her far too expensive shower cream, the soft curve of her lips, the way her eyes narrowed when she was getting ready to shout at someone, the shy glance sideways she always did before holding Max's hand as if seeking approval, the -

“God, I swear that server was inbred; it really would be no surprise in a dump like this. Right, here's your sugar with a side of coffee and carbohydrates.”

- way she wasn't afraid to voice her opinion about anything and everything..

“Thanks Vic. What did you get?”

“Usual. Macchiato and a croissant.”

“Feeling adventurous today, are we?”

“Shut it, Lamefield. I care about my teeth, clearly you don't.”

“That's cos you're just so sweet already,” Max replied from around a mouthful of doughnut. “Want some?”

“God no,” Victoria replied with disdain, although Max could see she was secretly pleased by Max's words. Victoria sipped her coffee and watched Max eat her doughnut, a thoughtful expression on her face. Max licked some sugar off her lips, and she saw Victoria's eyes flicker down before quickly returning to her eyes. Max matched her gaze and felt a strange heat within her, and she felt her vision being slowly filled entirely by Victoria. She took another bite and this time slowly licked her lips, watching as Victoria's eyes followed every move. A deliciously wicked thought occurred to her, and she let a little of the glaze stick on her finger and went to put it in her mouth; only to feel Victoria's fingers grasp her wrist and slowly raise Max's hand towards her mouth, before gently licking the sugary mess off the tip of her finger.

There was a sudden heavy pause as they both looked at each other, as if willing the other to make the first move; the very air seemed to crackle with anticipation. Victoria carefully placed her drink in a cupholder then suddenly lunged forward, grasping Max's face and kissing her with hungry intensity. Max immediately responded in kind, hands running up through Victoria's hair and across the nape of her neck as the doughnut disappeared somewhere into the back of the car. Victoria made a little whimpering noise as Max's hand ran down her back and onto her hips.

“Someone might see,” Max managed between kisses but not removing her hands that were now eagerly running under Victoria's top, delighting in the touch of her soft skin.

“You can just rewind,” said Victoria, hand now firmly clamped on Max's chest as the other was entangled in Max's hair.

“S'good point,” Max murmured, tugging at the hem of Victoria's top. Victoria paused kissing her and reached down to move both seats back as far as they could before pulling off her top. Max gawked for a second before doing the same, Victoria immediately crashed back into her, mouth fixed on her neck. Max fiddled with the strap of Victoria's bra for a moment before it fell loosely away; Victoria with hardly a pause in her attentions discarded it.

“Hang on,” Max said, sitting up and pulling off her own. They both spent a moment in silent appreciation before coming together again, the delicious feeling of body against body sending delightful shivers through Max. Victoria's mouth seemed to be all over her, as if she was trying to kiss every inch and Max found herself pulling Victoria onto her as close as she could, and her fingers trailed around the waist of Victoria's pants.

Victoria reached down with one hand to try and tug them off, the lack of space ending up in a tangling of limbs as her pants were only half off when she banged her head on the roof, causing her to involuntarily giggle. Max grinned stupidly along with her, still tugging at her pants with one hand while trying to do the same with hers.

“This so impractical,” she said in-between kisses as Victoria got stuck with a hand awkwardly down Max pants, hand flat against her ass. “We could wait and..”

“I'm fucking you right here, right now, Caulfield,” Victoria growled from the back of her throat in a tone that sent Max's pulse racing. “Just lift your bony ass so I can get these fucking pants off.”

“Yours aren't coming off any easier,” she retorted, “if you left my breasts alone for one second I might be able to get them off.” Victoria ignored her and with a lot of delightfully squishy and sweaty manoeuvring they were finally mostly free of their clothes, clasped in each other's arms and sprawled halfway across both seats. It wasn't comfortable in the slightest, but at that moment they both didn't care. They stared at each other, green eyes to blue, a smile on their faces.

“So.. do you know what to do next?” asked Victoria hesitantly, looking a little vulnerable as she finally fully opened up to Max.

“Nope!” declared Max cheerfully. “But given we are both girls we can't muck it up too bad, can we? Let's just see what works, unless you are into some weird rich girl kinky stuff.” Victoria stuck her tongue out then blushed, mortified that Max had made her do that again. She jabbed Max in the breast, before kissing the resultant mark it made.

“Why don't you put that big mouth of yours to better use, Max.” Slowly at first they both began to explore each other; as they got used to their touch and taste their actions became bolder, hands wandering to places that they both knew they would like. Max tried to open her legs more and ended up with foot against the dash with the other up against the steering wheel; Victoria was half straddling her thigh while trying not to fall into the back. There wasn't much room for any real shifting of position, and they made do with what they could; Max caught her breath as Victoria's fingers began to explore below, and she wrapped an arm around Victoria's shoulder and tried to do the same as Victoria rode her thigh.

With a few quiet whispers of encouragement to each other they both found a rhythm and position that worked for them, and Max found herself feeling a build up inside of her of pleasure, and also of her power, as if Victoria was triggering both at the same time. A gasp from the girl on top of her seemed to confirm that she was feeling the same, and she turned her head to kiss Victoria and was immediately drawn helplessly into the gleaming pits of fire that Victoria's eyes had turned into, seemingly fluctuating through various shades of green as her breath came in short gasps; her thighs beginning to squeeze Max's leg and fingers. Victoria held her gaze and clearly saw something similar, and she rested her forehead against Max's, not looking away as everything for Max began to come to a climax.

Time seemed to move out away from her; it felt like her body was being stretched in every direction while a wave of pleasure came flooding through. She closed her eyes and her feet pushed against the car as she tried to arch her back; something seemed to break but she didn't care as Victoria's fingers roamed through her and everything was slow and light and golden. Victoria's own movements were becoming more erratic, a hand gripping tightly onto Max's, squeezing it tight as if she never wanted to let go. Max could feel Victoria getting cold as she lost control; her body shuddering as Max floated through her own time of pleasurable bliss.

“Fuuuuccckckkk...!” moaned Victoria in her ear, collapsing down onto her with her head buried in the crook of Max's neck, body as cold as ice which Max found quite agreeable in that moment. There was a soft silence as they both lay there, breathing heavily until Max began to shiver a little, causing her to open her eyes and look at the girl on top of her.

“Wowsa.” A disgusted grunt and Victoria raised her head to briefly glare at her.

“Wowsa? Our first time having sex and you say wowsa? Fuck me.”

“I just did. And you did me. And it was wowsa.” Victoria just buried her head back into Max’s shoulder again, still feeling icy cold. Max knew she was going to have to eventually push her off as her own body heat was just being sucked away by a Victoria who was clearly still channelling her power. She looked around her and started in surprise, nudging the prostrate girl.

“Look,” she said, “look what you’ve done.” Victoria raised her head again and then propped herself up on an elbow, looking at her in puzzlement before taking the rest of the car in.

“Whoops.” The windows and doors of the car were covered in a layer of ice that was formed into delicate, swirling patterns that seemed to grow in complexity the nearer they got to Victoria; while across the roof was a fine lattice work that had vague heart shapes within its structure.

“Whoops? How is that any better than wowsa?” Max looked at the intricate patterns, marvelling at how they seemed to be an expression of the emotions Victoria had been going through.

And I did that, she thought smugly, before shivering again.

“OK, as much as I love you being on top of me I’m going to freeze to death again unless you start warming up right now.” Victoria grumbled but levered herself off, and Max instantly missed the feeling of her body against hers, despite the cold. Victoria sat back to look at her, and as she did so there was a strange rattling noise, which made her turn then groan once more.

“Oh for fucks sake Max, you broke the steering! Look, the entire wheel has.. and the column! It’s smashed to pieces, what did you.. how..?” She picked up a piece of plastic and proffered it as damning evidence, even though Max could clearly see the wreckage behind. Max grabbed for Victoria’s top to use as a temporary blanket as she couldn’t see her own, then looked curiously at the broken wheel.

“Force equals mass times acceleration,” she said, as if that explained everything.

“What?” said Victoria in irritation. Max busied herself trying to pull her underwear and pants back on; Victoria seemed more than happy to be sitting there in glowering nakedness but Max was really feeling cold now.

“Shower when we get back,” she said half to herself, feeling a little icky. “It’s something Warren said to me.”

“Why the fuck are you talking to Warren about showering?”

“Eh? What are you on about?” Max decided that a shower couldn’t wait and started rummaging for some wipes which she found in the passenger side locker, and took out a few. “I was talking to Warren about how force relates to time. It felt like time was going all over the place just then, so I guess I must have put too much pressure on it and the changing time amplified it.” She looked up at Victoria, throwing her the wipes. “So in a way, it’s actually all your fault.”

“Well whatever it was, you’ve managed to break the car. It’s fucked.” Max refrained from making another pun about things being fucked and instead leaned over to poke the wreckage, arm casually and deliberately brushing against Victoria as she did so.

“Can you fix it?” Victoria snorted, mouth twisted into a derisory grimace.

“Of course not, what do you think I have, magic powers? Don't even think about answering that.” Max put her bra back on then had a sudden idea and pointed a finger at Victoria.

“Speaking of Powers.. I can just take us back and undo it. Problem solved – fixed car, and you don't lose the memory.” Victoria puckered her lip, as if considering the idea – in Max's view it was the perfect solution, and she let Victoria think on it while she finished putting on the rest of her clothes. She checked herself in the passenger mirror and saw that her hair was a mess, and there were conspicuous red marks across her face and neck. She felt oddly proud of having them, as if they were badges of honour to be shown off.

“No, it's fine,” Victoria said eventually. “Let's just leave it as is it. I mean I've fucked all the interior up by freezing it, so it's not just you breaking the controls. And besides, we should learn to live with some things we do, especially if they are not that important.”

“Right, OK, fine – but then aren't we stuck here then? We'll have to call a tow truck, or maybe get a cab or something?” Victoria narrowed her eyes at Max's suggestion.

“I don't do cabs.” Max rolled her eyes and gestured around them helplessly.

“Fine. Then we wait for a tow. Or..” A sly smile appeared on Max's face. “Or.. I could call Warren to come pick us up..” Victoria just flicked at finger at Max, causing a piece of ice to bounce of her cheek.

“Hey,” Max protested, “at least I'm coming up with ideas.”

“I have an idea,” Victoria replied, hand on the car door. “And it doesn't involve getting your stalker out to come and perv at me.” Victoria went to open the door and Max quickly put a hand on her arm to stop her.

“Um.. you might want to put some clothes on. I mean, I'm not complaining, but.. “



A few minutes later Victoria joined Max outside of the car – the ice had began to melt and turn the car into a horribly wet, cold, smelly dank hole which Max was glad to escape from. She saw that Victoria was furiously messaging someone on her cell, frowning in concentration before breaking out into a smile.

“Who are you messaging, huh? Should I be jealous?”

“Just Taylor, letting her know we’ll be late. She can worry sometimes.” Max felt oddly happy at the use of ‘we’ – it was a small thing but showed that they were now being spoken about as a proper couple. Slowly but surely they were emerging out proudly into the open with everyone, and it felt good.

“So how are we getting back then? I could ring my Dad, he would come and pick us up. I'm sure he wouldn't mind.”

“No need,” Victoria said. She fiddled with her cell for a second before holding it up to her ear. Max watched her, wondering what she was up to – she had already said she didn’t want to get a cab, so it must be a recovery truck.

“Hello Charles? I need a car picking up and another one delivered. No, it’ll need repairing, so bring a truck.. No, I’m fine. Well the steering broke, not sure how it happened but we weren’t moving so.. Yes, that’s correct.” Max watched as she listened for a moment, before covering the mouthpiece and looking at Max.

“Max – what car should we get to replace this one? We've got a choice between a V10 Gallardo, a V12 Aventador, a 458 Italia, a S63 AMG and a Shelby GT500; but let's be honest that one is just utter trash.” Max was flummoxed; she had literally no idea what any of that meant.

“Um.. a yellow one?” Victoria fixed her with a stare which a few weeks ago would have turned her to stone on the spot, but she knew now that there was nothing behind it – at least when it came to her, and she returned it with a blown kiss.

“Bring the Aventador. I’ll send you our location. No, right away.. That long? OK, we’ll find somewhere to eat while we wait..” Max watched as she went to hang up, before catching Max looking at her and hastily adding a ‘thank you’ before finally hanging up.

“Are you just literally getting another car to replace this one? Like.. just like that?” Max said incredulously.

“Of course not,” Victoria said, “that would be a waste of time and money. I’m just getting one from the garage, Charles looks after them all and is going to send one of the mechanics out with the replacement and take the other one back. I guess I should get it repaired – I never really liked it, my parents insisted I had it to take to Blackwell, but now after today it has a special meaning to me. So maybe… what’s so funny?” Max was laughing to herself, amused by the sheer ludicrousness of it all.

“I'm sorry,” she said between gasps, “you just ring up and get another car just like that because we broke your other one by having sex in a Starbuck's car park.. and you can't decide whether to keep it as a sex memento or just get rid of it.” Victoria looked at her, a little confused.

“It's just a thing, Max. It's not important, they are just objects.” Max pointed at the car.

“And how much was this ‘just object’?”

“About a hundred thousand or so, I think.” Max blinked, momentarily lost for words.

“Wow...sa. OK, and the one that is coming?”

“The Aventador? About four hundred at list, but I added some extras.”

“Thousand? Four hundred fucking thousand dollars?” Max voice was a high pitched strangle, making Victoria look at her with some concern and she put a hand on her shoulder, bending down to look at her closely.

“Max? Are you OK? Is.. is there something wrong with time? Did you break it or..?”

“What? No! It's just.. you.. the money... I mean.. I knew you were rich but.. I mean.. four hundred thousand dollars on a car?? A CAR!” Victoria's face cleared in recognition at what Max's issue was.

“Oh,” she said. “Well, yes. I've told you all of this before Max, it's not an issue is it?” Max rubbed the back of her neck and looked up at the sky for a moment.

“No, no.. it's just.. going to take some adjustment to get used too, that's all.” Max suddenly recalled what her Dad had said a few weeks ago when he was taking her to Victoria's house for the first time.

'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.' I see what he means now, all this money is just.. nothing to her. How can I possibly keep up and do the things she does, or expects?

But Victoria has not made an issue of anything to do with money, it's always been me.

Am I overthinking this?

I'm overthinking this.

And maybe it would do her good to see how us ordinary folk live.

“Max? You're spacing out on me again.” Max smiled reassuringly at her and then gave her a hug, squeezing her as hard as she could; making sure that Victoria would have no doubts about them whatsoever in that moment.

“Sorry. I'm just not used to having a super-duper rich girlfriend, that's all. I mean I had to work at Walmart to be able to get an ipod touch, and even that was second-hand.”

“Max, you're not used to having a girlfriend. Period.” Max stretched up to give her a kiss.

“Well, I'm glad I've got this one.”



3:56 pm Vic: T

3:57 pm Vic: T

3:58 pm Vic: T

3:58 pm Vic: T

3:59 pm Vic: omgggggfhfhfh

3:59 pm TayTay: r u drunk

3:59 pm Vic: omfg T

3:59 pm Vic: we did it

3:59 pm Vic: T

3:59 pm Vic: fuckin amazing imshaikn

3:59 pm Vic: help

4:00 pm Vic: wE BROKE THE FUCKINg cAr

4:00 pm Vic: fcukkk

4:00 pm Vic: WE FUcKING DID IT

4:00 pm TayTay: WHAT!??!?

4:00 pm TayTay: OMG

4:00 pm TayTay: Victoriaaaaaaaaaa!!!!

4:00 pm TayTay: you, me and a lot of wine in my room tonight! You can be with no max for 1 eveing!!!

4:00 pm TayTay: I want ALL THE DETAILS. ALL OF THEM <3

4:02 pm TayTay: wait

4:03 pm TayTay: wat do you mean you broke your car?

Chapter Text

“Wait, wait, wait - is everything cleared away? Hang on, let me just shove those under the bed.”

“Brian, it's fine. You're just being stupid now, I don't see why -” Brian straightened up from where he had been pushing some magazines under the bed, giving Mikey a panicked look.

“You remember what it was like last time! Is that desk clean enough? Help me move her chair.. a cushion! I forgot a cushion!” Mikey shook his head despairingly but helped him move the chair. Warren was watching them from the bed with a big grin on his face, idly doodling on his character sheet. Mikey pointed a finger at him, slightly accusatory.

“This is all your fault, you know. You could have warned us about her!” Warren protested his innocence but got up to help as well.

“I didn't know she was going to be coming, did I. Besides,” he said casting a glance at Brian, “at least your room is now clean and doesn't smell. Although you might want to put those socks in the wash.”

“What I don't get is why she is just so mean and cold all the time, walking around like she is the boss of everyone,” Brian complained, putting some stiff socks in a basket. “She's just a student like the rest of us, she could at least act the like it.”

“I heard from a friend who has a friend whose Mom works in the admin department that she owns Blackwell,” Mikey said with some authority. “That's why Wells let's her get away with so much.”

“There's no way that's true, and anyway I heard she was sleeping with a teacher and it was all being hushed up to stop a scandal. But it still doesn't explain why she's coming again, I thought we'd only invited Max,” Brian complained again, anxiously checking that the seat was clean. He couldn't bear a repeat of the last session, where it had felt like there was nothing he had done that had even approached her expected standard - a standard that she just seemed to assume he would meet, and he had found himself complying with, even though he didn't know why. He turned to Warren who was busy arranging the snacks and stealing a few at the same time. “I thought you were well in with Max, from what you were saying a few weeks ago, so tell us why is she coming?” Warren turned a little pink around the ears and took a sudden fascination with the label on some Mountain Dew.

“Ah, yeah, well,” he began, “she wanted it but you know how it is, I had to turn her down as I wasn't that interested really in the end.”

“That's not what you-”

“And Victoria is her girlfriend.” There was a sudden pause in activity as this new piece of information was processed, with a thoughtful look crossing Mikey and Brian's faces as their minds went to some interesting places.

“Like.. girlfriend girlfriend?” Brian said slowly. “Like the two of them.. together and..” There was another thoughtful silence as further thoughts were had, Warren feeling quite pleased that he had managed to deflect any further questioning of his failed attempts to seduce Max.

“That doesn’t seem likely,” Brian said eventually, “I mean they are so different and she’s such a bitch and Max is so nice and like us..”

A loud bang on the door interrupted any further introspection, and Brian gawked at it until there was another loud bang and a familiar voice demanded that they open up. He quickly unlocked the door and was swept aside as Victoria barged in, her sharp gaze sweeping the room as she quickly took everything in. Max peeked out from around the back of her and gave a friendly wave to the three of them, before stepping around a Victoria who was busy inspecting the cleanliness of all the surfaces, to greet them properly.

“Hi Warren, Mikey, Brian. How are you all? I'm really excited about tonight's session, I've been looking forward to it all week!” Victoria went and stood in the middle of the room, as if demanding that people pay attention to her.

“At least you've worked out how to shower and what cleaning is. This is my seat,” Victoria stated, sitting down in the chair that was waiting for her. She curled her lips in disgust, pointing at the soft drinks that Warren seemed to be guarding with his life. “I hope you have something better than that to drink.” Max swatted her on the arm, causing Brian to raise his eyebrows in surprise when he realised she was still living after doing that, and thinking that there was probably some truth to what Warren had said.

“Ssh you, if you can't be nice then don't come.” Max turned back to the three boys who all seemed to be standing uncomfortably around, unsure as to how to act. “Come on, just ignore her and let's get started – I can't wait to see what surprises you have in store for us this week, Brian!”



Max was seated on the floor with the three boys and excitedly joining in with the adventure, with Victoria sat in her chair above them all, observing. Victoria, of course, had to pretend she wasn’t interested and was far above it all – it was the second time Max had come here, with the first being an unmitigated horror show as Victoria had reacted with utter disgust at both the filth Brian seemed happy to live in, and also Max’s seeming obliviousness to it all. She had made it clear that her – and, she seemed to assume Max’s – future attendance would be conditional on them ‘cleaning up this shit hole so I won’t catch a fucking disease’, as she had so eloquently put it. It had never occurred to her that they wouldn’t do that, nor that Max didn’t want the same – but the results were clear to see as she sat in an acceptably clean and comfortable chair in a room that actually didn’t have an odour, along with a fresh juice drink made just for her.

As to why she had bothered to come again at all? She (of course!) wanted to keep an eye on Max around Warren (or, she realised, any other boy who hadn't got the hint yet - Victoria was beginning to realise how jealous she could be, now she had something to lose), but she also had a secret interest in what they were doing. Not that she would ever admit it of course; she would never stoop so low as to actually play but there was no harm in observing just a little. And maybe enjoying their adventure a bit, and also how excited Max got. She contentedly watched as Max leaned forward excitedly, a big goofy grin on her face as Brian held court from behind his screen. Victoria used her cell as something to hide behind as she listened in on the adventure.

“As you approach the portal there is a sudden rush of air, and emerging from the ground, towering above you all is a big shape wreathed in fire and smoke. It points a finger at you all and says 'I am Argleblag, Fire Warden of Aktash! You shall not pass!' What do you do? Max, you're up first.” Max rubbed her hands eagerly together before striking a pose, hand in the air.

“Well.. I step forward and brandish my sword and say 'I am Elvanya, Warden of the Seven Towers, wielder of the Sword of Sorrows, Hero of the Battle of the Golden Tree and I do not fear you, demon!' Then I smite him a mighty blow.”

“OK, so roll for attack; you get your bonus from the Sword of Sorrows of course.” Victoria watched as Max rolled her die then exclaimed in excitement.

“Nineteen! Yes!”

“Way to go Max!” Mikey was sitting beside her and gave her a thumbs up. “You're on fire again this week!” Brian was scribbling furiously behind his screen and then rolled a few dice.

“Your sword strikes the demon hard and he takes some damage, howling in pain. He then raises his sword and fire runs down the blade, and he slashes at you. Max, you're going to have to make a.. block check.”

“Twenty!” Max announced to cheers from the other two.

“His blow smashes into your shield, but you easily brush it away and he staggers back. Right.. Warren, you're up.” Victoria watched Max as Warren ran through some various options with them, noticing how excited Max looked.

She's really enjoying herself, and everyone seems impressed with how well she is doing. That's really cool, I'm happy for..

Victoria frowned and then squinted her eyes, trying to make them get a clearer look at something, but she couldn't quite make it out.

Wait.. is.. is that..?

“Warren, roll to attack - because you're a dwarf you're taking a penalty trying to strike it in the head.”

“Four..” groaned Warren, then groaned some more as his character fell over, having over balanced in their swing and hitting the floor head first, dazing themselves. “Damn - I'm out for three rounds.”

“Down to you and me then Mikey,” said Max cheerfully, as if the loss of Warren was of no consequence. “Hope you've got some good spells up your sleeve.”

“With your luck I won't need them,” he replied, running through his list of spells. “You've used all our luck up as well. I might try ice bolt of death, what do you think?”

“Can't beat firing ice at people,” said Victoria, leaving her chair and sitting down next to Max, to surprised looks from the others. “Don't mind me, I'm just here to watch Max - she seems to be doing well?”

“Amazingly well! She's like some Elven Warrior Goddess, not failed at anything!” enthused Warren, giving Max admiring puppy dog eyes until he caught Victoria's expression.

“Has she now?” She looked back at Max, who was suddenly not smiling so much. “I'll have to see this for myself then.”

“You don't have too, really you don't,” stammered Max. “You won't find it interesting, it's just boring nerd stuff..”

“Oh but I might, it looks fun,” Victoria said, weaving her arm through Max's and tightly holding onto her hand. Max looked at her in panic and Victoria smiled sweetly at her.

“Um, well, Mikey?” said Brian, who was now appearing to use his screen as a barrier against Victoria. Mikey glanced at the now ashen faced Max before casting his spell. Brian peered from above his screen, studiously now avoiding looking towards the two girls.

“The ice bolt causes a nasty gash across his chest - the ice spell is particularly effective against this demon and he seems weakened from the attack.”

“Good choice, Mikey,” said Victoria much to Mikey's confusion. Brian pointed at Max while busying himself consulting a list behind the screen.

“I.. Um.. I think.. I think I'll.. I'll um.. use my sword.. And, erm, hit it. Again.”

“One good hit should finish it off, Max!” said Warren, giving her a thumbs up for luck.

“Max? Roll to hit then.” Max slowly picked up the die and rolled it, watching it as it tumbled across the floor and conscious of Victoria squeezing her hand really, really tightly.

“One..” she said in a voice barely above a whisper, and there was a general groan as Brian momentarily forgot the presence of Victoria and looked at her with glee.

“You swing and miss, and in fact you miss so badly that you end up stabbing Warren on the floor for... 8 damage and bleeding.”

“Oh dear what a shame how sad,” commented Victoria. Max didn't say anything for a moment but just looked a bit glum.

“Are you going to go back to your chair now?” she asked quietly, as Mikey and Brian argued about whether he could levitate Warren's bleeding body out of the way.

“Oh no,” replied Victoria cheerfully. “This is much more fun now.” She looked at Max then ran her finger over a little bit of dried blood that was smeared across the back of Max's hand. “Besides, someone has to stop you trying to be the superhero all the time, my little Elven Warrior Goddess.”



Frank Harrison craned his neck and marvelled through the car window at the building which was slowly coming into view – endlessly tall and austere, a stark image of brutalism smack in the middle of Lower Manhattan. He had never seen it in any of his previous visits to New York – but then, he wasn't looking for it. The briefings had told him it would be as much – it can only be seen when it wants to be seen, or when people were looking for it. He'd not believed it, of course – who would? But there it was, looming in the bright light of day, and packed full of secrets.

“Here we are, Director,” the driver said, pulling up to the kerb. “Shall I wait here while you go.. wherever you are going?” Frank nodded his thanks, noting that the driver was seemingly unaware of the building looming up beside them. He briefly wondered what he did see, before getting out of the car and walking up a short flight of concrete steps and through some ordinary glass doors, entering a wide lobby which was surprisingly busy with people bustling to and fro. In front of him was a large reception desk flanked by two large American flags, with the Bureau's seal etched into the dark material underfoot. Out of the corner of his eye he could see armed security personnel, innocuously hidden away in places that he knew made the foyer easily observable, with all lines of sight covered. The receptionist gave him a welcoming smile.

“Welcome to the Federal Bureau of Control, established in 1964 as part of an effort to strengthen government relations,” he said. “We are proud to serve the United States and her people as we strive for transparency and excellence in all aspects of our esteemed nation’s infrastructure. How can I help you today?”

“Frank Harrison, Director, SAC. I have a meeting with Director Faden scheduled for two.” Another bright smile came his way as the receptionist picked up a positively antique looking telephone and made a call. After a few moments of conversation he was asked to take a seat and informed that someone would be down shortly to escort him to his meeting. He gave a curt nod before wandering over to the slightly hard seats that appeared to be designed to discourage people from hanging around too long.

He took the moment of time he had to run over the briefing he had received before coming here – Above Top Secret, Need To Know Only, all that kind of thing. What he had been told he didn’t believe at all at first, not really – an entire secret Bureau – actually, that part he could understand, on reflection – but one dedicated to fighting and controlling the paranormal? A whole ‘other’ world out there, hidden from sight – a world of nightmares and horror, of powers beyond reckoning threatening to destroy the world? That he didn’t believe, it was impossible, incredible – it had to be.

Until – until he saw the building for the first time, and maybe, just maybe began to believe it may all be true.

And if it was – and if the briefing on the Director is true, even in part – then..

“Director Harrison? Simon Arish, Chief of Security. Welcome to the FBC, Sir – if you would like to just come with me then we can get you inducted into the building.” Frank shook his hand and stood up, following him across the wide reception area.

“Induction? You mean where the fire exits are, that sort of thing?” he said, trying to gauge the correct tone of conversation – Arish had the look of someone who had worked their way up through the ranks, rather than being a suit parachuted in, and he wanted to adjust his chatter accordingly. They approached what looked like a normal set of metal detectors around a security gate.

“Something like that, Sir. If you could just empty your pockets of all your belongings, including any weapons, smart phones, smart watches, music players, digital cameras and so on and leave them in the tray here. They will be returned when you leave.” Frank reluctantly began to place his belongings in the tray provided – he had planned on taking some photographs and covert recordings here, which may prove difficult now if he wasn’t even allowed his cell, at least.

“Security that tight, huh?” he said. “You know we are all on the same side here, I’m not –“

“It’s not that, Sir,” Arish said cheerfully, placing the tray through the scanner. “It’s more that they could explode, or potentially become dangerous. No modern technology is allowed in the Bureau, unless prior cleared.” Satisfied he walked through the scanner, leaving Frank trying to remain as impassive as he could as the implications began to worm their way through his mind. Something was definitely off about this place, and he still wasn’t sure if it was just all a joke being played on him.

“Right, explode. Of course.” He followed Arish through the checkpoint, aware of the scrutiny from the assembled guards before being ushered into a side room and offered a seat. Arish pulled some papers and what looked like an oversized badge – similar to the one he was wearing, Frank noted – from a desk.

“This shouldn’t take long, but there are a few FBC specific Heath and Safety compliance items we need to inform you about. They are in more detail on this paper work here which you can read, but I'll run you through the most important things.” Frank flicked through the pages; it was all written in a very dry, bureaucratic tone similar to countless other documents he'd read. Arish handed him the badge, which was surprisingly heavy and appeared to be made of a thick, dark granite-like material.

“That is your ID badge for your visit,” Arish said, holding up his own which was affixed to a very heavy duty looking lanyard that clipped in several places to his pristine white shirt. “As soon as you leave this room you must wear it at all times until you leave the building. Do not remove it under any circumstances, and if you see someone not wearing a badge please notify me or another FBC officer immediately. Note that removal of the badge is entirely at your own risk – there's a section on page three where you need to sign to acknowledge that.” Frank turned to page three and saw that there was indeed a place for him to sign. He nonchalantly pulled a pen from his suit pocket, briefly read the wording then signed with a flourish.

“First time I've had to agree not to remove an ID badge,” he remarked, “bureaucracy hey? What can you do?” He gave a smile as one who had to suffer it to another, but Arish didn't smile.

“Yes Sir, however in this case taking the badge off could be fatal. They serve as protective resonance devices – you can speak to Dr Pope about that if you have time, but you'll have to clear it with the Director first.”

Dr Pope. Head of Research, acknowledged genius and rumoured, according to the briefing, to be in a relationship of some form with the Director. We wanted her; but she came here instead. Interesting.

“Understood, I'll keep it about myself. Anything else I need to know?” Arish nodded and clasped his hands behind his back, beginning to recite what appeared to be a well rehearsed speech.

“If for any reason there is a Bureau wide lock-down – signified by audible and visual alerts – then please follow any FBC staff instructions and make your way to the nearest shelter. If you find yourself at any point separated from your escort – me or anyone else – then please use the nearest intercom to alert us and wait to be rescued. Do not attempt to find your way out by yourself. If there are any unexpected building shifts and you find that you are in an unknown or undiscovered part of the building, then again please try and use the nearest intercom, or if that is not available, find a safe place or shelter and await rescue. This is all outlined further on pages five to thirteen.” Frank looked at him for a moment, searching his face to see if there was even a flicker of humour, and then flipped to the relevant sections and skim read the same, except in even more dry legalise.

“That's the main things you need to know, given you are only visiting today and under escort. Oh, also if you see a yellow rubber duck anywhere, then please do not touch it or approach it, and immediately alert the nearest FBC staff member.” Frank was about to laugh when he again saw that Arish was deadly serious.

“Yellow Rubber Duck. Right. I'll just sign here then, shall I?” Formalities done, he placed the lanyard around his neck and followed Arish out into the depths of the Bureau.



His initial impression was rather lacklustre – it seemed to consist of a series of dull, concrete corridors with numerous glass walled offices to either side, some occupied and some clearly not having been used for quite a while. Arish noted his curiosity and gestured to one office that looked very dusty.

“We are still a little short handed after the previous lock-down, but things are improving. Director Faden has improved our attrition rate considerably, compared with the previous Directors.”

“Attrition? Yes, it can be hard to retain good staff, especially with the lure of the private sector.” Arish gave him a wry smile, barely breaking his stride.

“No, I meant attrition – the previous lock-down saw losses of around 60% of active personnel on duty at the time, which will obviously take us some time to recover from. I’m sure Director Faden can explain more, if you ask.” Frank tried to mentally process this – he had seen combat a few times in the past, and had spoken to older veterans about their experiences, but losing 60% of active personnel? That was a massacre.

“You make it sound like it was a war zone.” Arish paused; they had reached a wide corridor lined with portraits of various FBC staff; a large one of the current Director was in a prominent position next to a lift.

“That sounds like an accurate description, Sir. But as I say, Director Faden can fill you in, it’s above my pay grade.” He pressed the button to summon the lift, and Frank saw that one of the portraits was of a Janitor, which he found odd. “Director Faden will meet us in the Executive Sector; she apologises that she couldn’t meet you personally.”



The doors of the lift opened and Frank followed him down a panelled corridor into a wide atrium, dominated by a huge black inverted pyramid that descended from the ceiling, its point ending above a strange set of objects and an occult looking symbol on the floor.

Looks like some sort of art installation. And this room is massive, I can’t see how it really fits inside the building. None of this makes sense.

There were a few FBC staff in the area, most deep in conversation or carrying files on their way somewhere; a series of steps on either side ran up to higher levels that overlooked the large space.

“Director Faden should be here in a moment, but we can wait for her in the -”

“Arish?” came a voice from above, and Frank looked up to see a woman leaning over one of the higher balconies and waving.

Director Jesse Faden. I wonder if-

Further thoughts were cut short as the woman leapt over the side of the balcony. Frank felt a cold sweat break out as he automatically went to try and break her fall, only to stare opened mouthed as she lazily floated down to the ground in front of him, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for someone to do. She gracefully landed then stood in front of him, dressed informally in a simple black vest, jeans and boots; which formed a stark contrast to the fiery red hair and pale blue eyes that seemed to be watching him carefully. He realised his mouth was wide open and quickly closed it, trying to compose himself.

She.. can fly.

“Harrison?” she said, arms folded across her chest. “I thought I’d already talked to the CIA. I had also thought I'd made it very clear I didn't want to talk to you lot again.”

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Director Faden. Director Frank Harrison,” he said smoothly, offering his hand which was left hanging awkwardly. “Yes, CIA but different branch. Special Activities Center. I received a briefing about the FBC and its new Director and thought it worth my time becoming better acquainted with the Bureau, and with you.”

And to see if everything they had said was true.

Faden didn’t respond and just seemed to stare at him, and he found himself filling the silence, slightly discomforted.

“I believe we may have similar areas of interest that we could assist each other with, to our mutual benefit.” Another long painful silence followed before Faden nodded her head towards a set of double doors at the top of a wide range of steps.

“Let’s go into the Conference Room. Arish, can you come as well?” Faden turned and launched herself gracefully through the air and up to the top of the stairs, leaving the two men to follow behind.

“Does she do that a lot?” asked Frank watching incredulously, still trying to comprehend what his brain was telling him was impossible and willing himself to act as normal as he could.

“She seems to enjoy it,” Arish said with a shrug. “I think I would as well, if I were her.” Frank briefly wondered what sort of things he had seen that would make seeing his Director literally fly through the air seem mundane, and suddenly the warning about Rubber Ducks, or the very building moving, didn’t seem quite as funny as they had.



Faden was already sitting down at the head of the long table by the time he entered, watching his every move before motioning to a seat opposite her at the far end. Arish leaned against the wall by the doorway, acting for all intents and purposes like a bouncer. As he sat down he saw a large, black shape on the desk that appeared to be twitching, and he realised that it was a gun – although a gun not like anything he had ever seen before.

It looks like the parts aren’t even joined together, which is impossible. But people can’t fly either, so..

Faden didn’t say anything and just leaned back in her chair, waiting for him to speak. He guessed that she was not one for small talk, and decided to get right to the point.

“Thank you for meeting with me today, Director Faden. I appreciate you are a busy woman so I will try not to waste your time. What I wanted to talk to you today about was how we – and you in particular – could work together cooperatively in furthering the goals of the country we both live in, and proudly serve.” He looked at her closely, trying to judge the impact of his words but she remained impassive, not giving away any indication of what she was thinking. He continued with what he had decided to call his sales pitch.

“The United States is, as you know, the greatest country on Earth. The values we stand for - freedom, democracy, capitalism - are what makes us great, and also what unfortunately makes us enemies. Enemies who wish to destroy us and our values. At the SAC we are the ones who get their hands dirty, so people can sleep at night. Doing the things necessary to ensure that our way of life can continue - like you do with the FBC.” He stopped and looked at Faden again, but her expression was still inscrutable. “As we both serve the Government of the United States and its interests, and given our respective missions there is much commonality between us.” Faden stirred and leaned forward, clasping her hands together.

“I do not serve the Government of the United States,” she said in a surprisingly bitter tone. Frank raised his eyebrows and gestured to the wall behind her, which was adorned with the portraits of former directors behind her.

“With all due respect, you are a Director of a Federal Bureau, you have the Flag of the United States in your reception and you are based in New York. Your funding-” Faden impatiently cut him off with a wave of her hand.

“Just because our headquarters are in New York does not make us solely serve the United States, Harrison. We are funded by all governments across the world, we have staff and offices in most countries, and we are responsible for everyone on this planet, not just those who happen to have had the luck to be born here.” Frank felt a little aggrieved; the briefing he had received had seemed to leave out that little bit of information and it felt like it left him at a disadvantage, something he didn't like.

“I apologise, I was wrongly briefed on that matter. But, be that as it may, Director, the stability of the United States is of paramount importance to you given where your headquarters are. Therefore we are formally requesting that you collaborate with us with the intention of furthering that stability.” Faden was looking increasingly unhappy as he talked, and he glanced up at Arish who seemed to be inspecting his fingernails. “Someone of your undoubted talents would be a valuable asset in the operations we have to undertake to ensure that stability is maintained, and you would be an undoubted force multiplier in certain situations. The lives that could be saved, the covert influence you could have would be an immense asset to the SAC. I'm sure we could -”

“No,” she said coldly. “Out of the question. I am not going to be your tool, for you to use as you see fit, nor for any other faceless Government organisation. I would suggest that you do not make this request again.” Frank floundered a little, surprised by her open hostility. There was clearly something at else at play here, something he didn’t know about – a severe gap in their intelligence that was in danger of destroying any slim chance they had had at getting her involved.

“Well, perhaps if not you as an individual, then surely the resources of the Bureau could potentially be utilised in such a manner to assist us. You have many talented people here ,such as Doctor Pope, or -” Faden banged her fist on the table, cutting him off.

I'm the Director, not you or anyone else. This is my Bureau, my people. They, the things within here and those I protect are my responsibility. We will not be at the beck and call of this Government, nor of any other Government.” She stood up angrily, and there was a load crunching noise as a piece of the wall detached itself and with a loud whining noise hovered threatening above her shoulder, little particles of dust cascading gently to the floor. Frank felt a thrill of fear course through him, but also an excitement at the manifestation of another aspect of Jesse's powers.

“The safety of the world is my responsibility, not the petty ambitions and squabbles of people like you,” she continued, holding out her hand and the gun leapt into it, morphing into different shapes before settling on one that glowed and crackled with energy. Frank sat there transfixed, knowing that he was looking at an exceptionally dangerous individual; possibly the most dangerous he had ever encountered. There was a small cough from the corner which took her attention, and she suddenly visibly relaxed, the lump of concrete falling to the floor as the gun collapsed in on itself and disappeared somewhere. She stood there for a moment, staring at Frank and apparently deep in thought.

“So no, I will not be part of whatever schemes you are planning, and neither will I let the Government ruin another girl's life. Do you understand?” Frank nodded and smiled disarmingly, spreading his hands wide as if in easy acceptance.

“Of course, Director Faden, I was merely enquiring if you could have been of any assistance, I did not mean to infringe on your independence or suggest anything to the contrary.”

“Good.” She paused for a second, gazing vacantly at nothing before nodding to herself, as if deciding some inner debate she was having. “Of course, that does not mean we would not lend assistance if you were to encounter anything that would fall within what we do. We have apparently worked with your agency and others in the past, as you would expect.”

“Absolutely Director Faden, I would not have expected anything else. The last thing we would want is for that trust to break down and something unfortunate to happen.” Frank was doing his best to smooth over the troubled waters he had inadvertently created, while part of his brain whirred away in the background. Faden appeared satisfied at his words and stood up to leave.

“OK. This meeting is over. Arish can you please escort him out? I need to go see Emily. And throw something at something.” Frank followed Faden out of the door and watched as she effortlessly glided down the stairs before reaching the strange object below the pyramid, and vanished. Frank was only a little surprised by this, which did surprise him – he now dimly understood how the people who worked here could end up being so blasé about everything.

It's only taken me a short while to get there. I guess it's a survival instinct, you can't stand around in wonder all the time looking at something that could rip you limb from limb if you gawped at it.

Or throw a lump of concrete at your head.

“She's.. quite something, isn't she,” he said to Arish, who had appeared at his side. “I don't think I have ever met anyone like her.”

“That she is, Sir. We all owe her our lives, every one of us. And I think so does the world. She saved us all.” He didn't elaborate any further and invited Frank to walk down the stairs and out of the Bureau.



Frank settled back into the soft leather of the car, watching the streets of New York slowly pass by. The meeting had not gone as well as he'd hoped; but it was clear that Jesse Faden was everything that the briefing had said and more, and that she had also earnt the undying loyalty of her Bureau. It was still a mystery how she had actually got the job, but that now seemed entirely in keeping with what he had seen of the FBC.

She is a remarkable woman. What an asset she would have been for us, the things we could have used her for. But that will not happen, not without coercion and we would have to fight the whole of the Bureau for that.

And her. And I don’t like those odds.

He relaxed and allowed himself a small smile; for all of her undoubted formidable prowess even she was clearly prone to a mistake.

'Not allow another girl's life to be ruined', Director Faden? And who might this girl be, exactly?

He pulled out his cell and brought up a contact, looking out at the New York skyline as it was caught in the wintry afternoon sun.

“Sarah? I'm on the way to the airport. No, unfortunately we were correct on that front - but we do potentially have an alternative. Can you start to get a team together? We just might have a lead.”

Chapter Text

“I'm just saying it's not fair,” opined Courtney, leaning back against the wall of the dorm. She looked at the two girls sitting on the step next to her, apparently oblivious of her complaints; Taylor preoccupied with her cell again and Victoria fiddling with her camera.

“I said, it's not fair.” Her voice was a little louder this time, and Victoria looked up at her.

“What?” Courtney gestured at the two of them.

“This. You are all loved up with Max, and Taylor in love with her cell. And I'm just going to die alone.”

“Oh.” Victoria looked back at the screen of her camera, adjusted something then quickly took a photo of the quad. “What happened to that guy you were with at the party, what was his name.. Sam?”

“You mean Jake?” Courtney made a disgusted noise and pulled a face. “He was fine to scratch an itch, but anything more? No thank you.”

“Well I don't know why you like boys anyway, so don't ask me for advice.” Victoria held up her camera and took a shot of Courtney, who struck a pose as she did so. Victoria showed her the result - Victoria was working on her portraiture of people, something she felt was lacking in comparison to Max (not, of course, that she would ever admit it) - and Courtney liked the end result.

“Oh send it to me, that'll be a good profile picture.” She looked at Victoria, something clearly on her mind. “It's still weird hearing you say that, you know. About girls I mean. I was just so used to the thought that you.. well.. you know, that..”

“Was whoring it around the football team?” replied Victoria, but there was no malice in her tone - instead it just sounded resigned. “I heard worse things.” She fixed Courtney with a stare that she had seen her use on other people; a stare that made her feel like she needed to choose her next words very, very carefully.

“Well yes I know, it's just I never thought you were like that, that's all. Not that it's an issue,” she added quickly, sensing a hole she was beginning to dig that was getting deeper and deeper. “And you and Max make the cutest couple.”

“Most revolting couple,” said Taylor, holding up her cell and taking a picture of herself and then sending it to someone. “Who would have thought the queen bitch here could be so sickeningly loved up.”

“Fuck you Taylor, at least I'm not married to my cell.” Victoria watched as Taylor typed away. “Are you going to see her again?”

“Of course, it's just the distance and finding the time that’s the issue. She's hoping to be back around Christmas, but I'll be back in Portland so..” Courtney leaned over to try and see what Taylor was doing.

“Who is that?”

“Taylor's fake internet girlfriend,” Victoria said. “They sext each other constantly. It’s sickening.” Taylor pushed Victoria with her shoulder but smiled, and it was another reminder to Courtney how much better their group dynamic was now. It felt like the group of friends she had always dreamed about, and she realised she was genuinely happy about that.

“Wait,” she said suddenly, puzzled. “Girlfriend? But Taylor I thought you were..” Taylor held her hand up in the air.

“Bi-club represent.” Courtney was now more confused than ever.

“Isn't that like.. cheating? Liking both?”

“Doubles my chances. Makes sense if you ask me.” Victoria just rolled her eyes and focused her camera on Samuel, who was pottering around the flower border and took a photo before looking at the result and frowning. Courtney folded her hands in a huff, feeling even more aggrieved.

“Maybe I need to like girls as well then, given the way you two seem to be going. Why are men so fucking useless.” Victoria stood up and stretched, checking the time on her watch.

“Right you useless bitches, I need to go meet Max after I've dropped my things off.” She looked at them both, and Courtney thought that she had never seen Victoria appear so relaxed; her happiness seemed to change her face completely, making her even more beautiful.

But not like I think of her like that, she thought to herself quickly, given the recent topic of conversation.

“I was thinking,” Victoria said slowly, “how about we go to LA after Thanksgiving? Just the three of us; Taylor could meet up with her fake internet girlfriend while we go do some exploring?” Courtney clapped her hands together and felt positively giddy at the prospect.

“That would be amazing,” she gushed, “wouldn't it, Taylor?” Taylor looked up at Victoria and gave her a heartfelt smile.

“Yes, it would. Thank you, Victoria, that's a great idea. Although given you've met her and know who she is, you know she's not some fake internet girlfriend. Or a girlfriend at all for that matter,” she added hastily, going a little pink around the ears.

“I'll see how much flights are, and I'll see if I can find some deals so it's not expensive. And maybe an AirBnB; if we are quick then it might still be reasonable,” Courtney said, already planning ahead and working out what she could do to help – despite the change in dynamic she still couldn’t help reverting to her role of defacto organiser.

“No need,” Victoria said hurriedly, looking a little embarrassed. “I've.. I've got a plane we can use. And I'll book us into a hotel. So leave it all to me, don't worry about it.” She quickly turned and fled into the dorm, leaving Taylor and Courtney looking at each other in surprise.

“A plane? Like her own plane? That flies? Did you know she had a plane?” asked Courtney incredulously. “I knew she had money but...?” Taylor shook her head, just as surprised as she was.

“No.. She never talks about it, and I never dared ask her anyway. You know how touchy she could get over private things. And she didn't really flash money around, did she – apart from her clothes and things, I mean. I always thought Nathan was the token rich kid around here. But even he didn't have a plane.” At the mention of his name Courtney realised she had already completely forgotten about Nathan; that period of time seemed so long ago, like a different world. She marvelled at how much better things were now than then, and resolved to be the best friend she could be to the two girls as it was something precious she didn't want to lose.



The blow caught her on the side of the head just as she walked through her door, causing her to stumble as her vision momentarily blurred, bag dropping to the floor and spilling its contents. Before Victoria could even work out what was happening she felt another hit to her stomach, winding her and making her double over in agony. She gasped in pain just as a hand grabbed her by the throat, squeezing it tight and strangling any further noises she could make.

“I fucking told you this wasn't over, Chase,” a voice growled in her ear; she could just make out the dim shape of Logan in front of her as dark spots appeared in her vision. She clutched at his hands, trying to get them away from her throat and then tried to lash out with her knee, hitting his thigh; but there was no force behind it.

“You just wouldn't do what you were told, would you?” he said, releasing her throat but immediately punching her in the jaw, snapping her head back before she felt herself pushed onto the bed. She sucked in a breath through her damaged throat, her head pounding and what felt like a loose tooth mixed in with blood. Her head swam and she couldn't seem to think straight, she knew she had to shout for help, to do something, but no sound came, only his mocking laughter.

“Now look at you, lying there like the pathetic bitch you are. Lying there - where you should be.” She felt his weight on the bed and her stomach crawled with nausea and terror as his hands grabbed her wrists, pinning her down and his leering face was in hers, breathe hot and stale. She tried to headbutt him but it was too slow, to feeble; in return she got a hard slap which made her head ring.

“Just fucking lie there like a good girl. It's about time someone made you a proper woman, not like that fucking disgusting cunt you are with.” His hand grabbed her throat again and began to squeeze, as his other began to tug at her top. She tried to struggle against him but he was too strong for her, far too strong; she was just getting weaker and weaker as her breathing became more laboured.

I'm going to die

Another Rachel

Max where are you?

A butterfly with its wings clipped

Max help me, please

Please

I'm going to

No, not like this

Max

No

Not like this

NO.

Somewhere deep within she felt her power rage, wild and untamed; an act of desperation unleashing it in a last attempt to save her. She clenched her first and jerked her hand toward his head - a crude, ugly lump of ice forming and smashing against it. It was enough, barely, for him to loosen his grip in shock and surprise, and as she took a desperate breath she thrust with both hands, ice hammering away at him, pushing him off her and to the floor. She rolled over on to her side coughing, drawing in ragged gasps as Logan tried to get to his feet. Victoria glanced at him and held out her hand; this time there was more control to it and she hit him hard and square in the chest, knocking him backwards.

Victoria was in pain and in shock, but she knew she had to act fast before he could recover. A burning rage filled her, anger at having been caught off guard, anger at someone daring to assault her, anger at something thinking she was nothing but an object to be abused. She levered herself off the bed, putting a hand out to the wall to steady herself, conscious that Logan was scrabbling to his feet, cursing. She lashed out once more, feeling her strength returning, and the impact pushed him back against the wall which he hit with an audible thump.

Logan shook his head blearily as if trying to collect himself and Victoria feared that he could still overpower her; out of desperation she sent blast after blast at him, wild and uncontrolled, ugly misshapen lumps flecked with black and red that spattered around him; a few hitting him hard and forcing him to cower, trying to shield himself with his arms.

“What the fuck are you? What -” A large chunk smacked into him, making him wheeze. “Ow fuck, no, please, no more, I’m sorry,” he begged, “have some mercy, I didn't-”

“Mercy?” she spat, pure hatred and anger causing her power to spiral out of control; a vicious wind swirling through the room, pushing the furniture away from her. “Where was the fucking mercy you were going to show me?” She hurled a spike at him, an angry dark red slash of ice that smashed through his hand and pinned it to the wall. He screamed and clutched at it, only for another to embed itself in his thigh.

Victoria stalked towards him, sheets of ice and snow spiralling around her as ice formed on the walls and ceilings, in dark twisted needles. Her eyes blazed in a brilliant green fire as a long, thick shard formed in her hand and she hefted it, feeling the weight before bringing it down hard across his face and neck, again and again and again until it broke in her hands. His head was an unrecognisable mess of blood and tissue, but she could still see his eye staring at her in mute terror. She reached down and grabbed the remains of his jaw; the desire for revenge, to make him suffer, consuming her, and she watched as he slowly froze to death from the inside.

She dropped the lifeless body and fell to her knees, looking at what she had done and screamed for Max.



Max was procrastinating at her laptop when she heard the scream, and she immediately knew that something was wrong - that Victoria was in trouble. She leapt out of her chair and ran through the door, seeing that Victoria's was closed and that it appeared to be covered in frost. Without a moment's hesitation she wrenched open the door, wincing at the cold on her fingers and stopping dead at the nightmare that was in front of her.

Victoria's room was destroyed; the furniture smashed against the walls and covered in ice, ice which also stabbed down from the ceiling and walls, all pointing towards the broken figure of a girl kneeling in front of a bloody mess, sobbing uncontrollably. Max felt her throat hurt as she ran to Victoria, who looked at her with a bruised and bloody face, tears rolling down her cheeks and freezing before they fell to the floor.

“Max,” she sobbed brokenly, “please, take it all back before it's too late. Please, I can't.. Max.. he tried..” Max wrapped her arms around her, ignoring the biting cold already seeping through her and looked at the misshapen lump next to her, repelled by the gory visage but forcing herself to look.

Logan.

“Max, please,” Victoria wept, rocking in her arms. “Please..” Max gently cradled her face with her hands and kissed her hurts, feeling like her heart was about to break; but also a creeping sensation numbness, as if part of her mind was switching off, preparing her for what she knew she had to do.

“Vic..” she said, already looking away from her as if to try and not have to see it anymore, not have it stuck in her memory when it would no longer exist. She stood up and began to rewind time, the muscles in her jaw tightening until it hurt as she watched the drama unfold in reverse; her fingernails dug deep into the palm of her hand as she saw what had caused Victoria to end up bloody and battered, sunk to her knees on her bedroom floor.

Mercifully, oh so mercifully, Victoria eventually disappeared out of the room, leaving Max alone with Logan, who was standing by the door waiting for Victoria to come in. Max just stared at him, time held still, not feeling any emotion; still trying to process what she had seen in the last few minutes and make sense of it all. She knew that she had the power to change everything for the better, to spare Victoria from the ordeal to come, to wipe it entirely from existence.

Wipe it from everywhere, except her own memory.

Max rubbed her eyes, seeing flashes of Victoria, the blood, the cold, the bruises –

She clenched her fists, trying to steady her breathing, trying to stop the feeling of burning white hot fury from overwhelming her, but every time she tried she just saw Victoria begging for her to undo everything, to make it all better, to –

She stiffened suddenly, a cold resolve lancing through her that seemed to drain all the emotion, all the feeling from her; leaving an empty husk of what she was; to prepare her for what she had to do.



Max leaned against Victoria's desk, gripping the edges of it. Logan was standing by the door, frozen in time, oblivious of her presence. Max had made sure she had enough time to do what she had to before Victoria arrived back; now it just remained for her to let time flow once more.

“What I want to know is,” she said calmly, as if having a pleasant chat over a cup of coffee, “is what exactly you were hoping to achieve? I just don't get it.” Logan spun around in surprise, looking at her in astonishment.

“What the.. how did you..?”

“I mean you're messing with Victoria.. and me. How did you think this was going to go? I don't get it.” Logan looked at her then at the door, as if trying to understand how Max was now here. He took a step towards her, as if a little uncertain but deciding that some form of action was required.

“I'm here to talk to the big bitch, not her little one. What the fuck are you doing here?” Max tightened her grip on the table, willing herself not to do anything yet.

“I'm giving you a chance, not that you deserve it. Walk away, Logan. Walk away now, and never trouble us again.” He looked at her as if utterly confused, before letting out a short, harsh laugh.

“Walk away? Fuck off. You're part of the fucking problem; things were perfect until you got your fucking claws in her.” He stepped closer, his face becoming predatory and he reached out towards her. “Maybe it's you who needs to be taught a lesson? Put you back in your fucking place.” Max just felt empty, she didn't want to have to fight; she wanted to believe that there was a chance, however small, that there was some way of appealing to Logan and make him see reason.

Logan lunged at her but she was no longer there; Max watched as he stumbled clumsily into the desk and tried once again.

“You don't have to do this. Please, just.. walk away.” Logan inched towards her again, frustration in his face as he tried to comprehend how she had managed to escape him.

“You just don't get it, do you. I don't fucking want your fucking type around here. It's unnatural, it makes me fucking sick. But I know what will cure you, you and that other disgusting whore.” Something inside Max seemed to slam down and she now felt blank; gone was any attempt to reason with him, gone was any pity or remorse. She felt her power unwind through her, like bands of steel wrapping around her limbs, giving her strength and purpose. She watched almost curiously as Logan leapt for her once more; time slowed as she stepped aside and then casually pushed him on and into the wall, which he hit with a crash when she released her grip on time. Logan reeled away, slightly dazed and with a bloody cut on his head.

“She killed you, you know,” Max said almost pleasantly. “It was no more than you deserved, but I couldn't let her live with it. I just couldn’t. But the question is -” She punched him in the jaw using her power to amplify it, and she heard a crack as the bone gave way.

“The question is, how much pain can I inflict on you that I can live with?” Logan was clutching as his face, staggering slightly but still trying to swing at Max with his free hand. Max grabbed his fist and twisted his arm down and back, watching in fascination as it bent back into an unnatural angle with a sudden snap, before letting him go and enjoying seeing the pain catch up with him. A vicious kick to the knee caused it to buckle and he fell heavily, Max absent-mindedly rubbing her knuckles as she circled around him.

She stood exultingly over the broken figure of Logan, who was now uselessly scrabbling on the floor as he tried to use a useless arm to prop himself up, as the other held his jaw together.

“Who is the bitch now, hey?” Max kicked him in the jaw, not even bothering to use her power and he collapsed into a heap, apparently blacking out. She felt like she could do anything that she wanted; that she could, if she chose, exact her revenge over and over, making him suffer again and again until -

Look after yourself, Max. Do better than I did.

Her words, written across space and time; her words, to warn her from going down the same path.

Do better.

She looked at the boy on the floor and felt her power slowly unwind, dampening down to what felt like a quiet hum.

Do better.

She slowly stepped away and sat down on the bed, staring at what she had done, eyes feeling hot and a lump in her throat making it hard to swallow. She knew Victoria would be here any minute; all she had to do was wait for her and it would be OK, everything would work itself out.

She placed a shaking hand on top of her knee and held it down with the other, trying to ignore the urge to rewind time and do it all over again.



Victoria entered the dorm corridor in good spirits; she thought her offer to take the other two to LA was a good way of saying thank you to them both for them putting up with her - and to maybe even be Taylor’s wing-woman for her own fledgling relationship. The only slight downside was going to be explaining to them why she had never told them all exactly how rich she was, but then maybe it was none of their business. Besides, at least she knew they might like her because of her, and not how much money she had.

Dana's door was in its customary open position and she glanced in as she passed - Dana was busy at her laptop but the sight of Kate made Victoria pause: she was sitting on the bed reading a book, but dressed in clothes that seemed very un-Kate like to her and with hair tied in a long French braid.

Since when did Kate have such nice legs?

And who exactly spent all of that time doing your hair, Ms Marsh?

As if she could read her mind Kate looked up and caught Victoria staring, giving her a wave which Victoria found herself responding to automatically, even letting a small smile creep across her face which was returned (with extra smile) by Kate.

Dashing the thought of Kate's legs from her mind (and since when did she wear such tight tops?) Victoria quickly headed to her room, eager to dump her things and go find Max.



The first thing she saw was Max sitting on her bed, looking up at her with a pleading expression. The next was the body of what she swiftly recognised was Logan. Ignoring him, she dropped her bag and ran to Max, putting her hands on her shoulders.

“Max! What the fuck.. are you OK? What happened? You're not hurt?” Max shook her head and was immediately wrapped in a hug as Victoria felt relief flooding through her.

“I'm fine, Victoria, I'm not hurt. But please call security right now, get them here.” Victoria didn't want to let go of Max, still worriedly checking her over.

“Oh thank God. What did that piece of shit do to you?” She looked a little closer at him. “He's not.. dead is he?” There was a brief pause before Max answered.

“No, he's not. Of course not. Look.. just call your security before he wakes up? I'll explain everything after, but honestly I'm fine. Trust me, please.” Victoria looked at her doubtfully but then relented, giving Max a kiss on the forehead that made her smile weakly, before grabbing her cell. While she waited for the call to connect she stood up to peer at the prostrate form of Logan, resisting the temptation to prod him with her foot.

“Hello? No, it's not – listen, I want you and some of your fucking useless idiots in my room right now! Yes I'm serious, if you had been doing what you're fucking paid to do I wouldn't be asking!” She hung up without waiting for a reply, beginning to seethe with anger as the implications of what could have happened began to occur to her. She glanced at Max, checking she was still OK and noticed that she seemed to be clasping her hands together tightly, as if not wanting to let them go. Victoria guessed that she had been using her powers, and judging by the prostrate form of Logan, the odd angle his arm was at and the purple swelling rapidly appearing around his jaw it had not been a good experience. She quickly sat back down next to Max, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and kissing the side of her head.

“Max, what happened? What did you do? Are you sure you're OK?” Max rested her head against her shoulder and Victoria could now see that her hand was trembling.

“No,” she answered quietly, but didn't say anything more. Victoria was about to say something further when they heard the sounds of heavy footsteps in the corridor, and Major Osei and the guard Max recognised from the party came barrelling through the door, pulling up short when they took in the two girls and the body on the floor.

“Shit,” the guard muttered, as if recognising who it was and bending down got a closer look. Victoria's eyes narrowed as she watched them both, feeling her wrath rise and squeezing Max a little too hard.

“Mike?” asked Osei, looking at the body before walking over to the two girls and crouching down to look at them, as if trying to appear as unthreatening as possible.

“Still breathing, he's just out cold. Looks like a broken arm, bad bruises to his face.. maybe the jaw is broken. No bleeding or too much blood loss. But it's him, alright.” Victoria couldn't contain herself any longer and jumped up, finger jabbing at the Major.

“You knew? You fucking knew he was going to be a problem? And yet he still managed to get into my room and attack my fucking girlfriend? And you fucking knew?” The temperature began to plummet and Max reached out to place her hand on Victoria's back, seemingly taking comfort in the touch but Victoria could also sense her own power being quelled down. An angry Victoria was enough without superpowers, and Osei seemed to have his hands full with her as it was – and apparently Max was also in no mood to have to rewind again.

“Please understand Ms Chase, we had him under surveillance for a while as we were concerned, yes, but with nothing untoward happening for a few weeks we thought that it was perhaps just a false alarm..”

“Does this fucking look like a false alarm?” she shouted, pointing a finger at Max who was sitting quietly on the bed. She was glad Max was stopping her from going completely supernova, as she knew without her here she'd have frozen the entire room by now.

“With all due respect, ma'am, we don't know what happened.” Osei avoided Victoria’s gaze and looked at Max, speaking softly and slowly. “Ms Caulfield, could you maybe please tell us what happened? Are you hurt? Is everything OK? Do you need to see a-”

“Isn't it fucking obvious? That piece of shit -”

“Victoria!” Max's voice was sharp and had the effect of shutting her up, leaving her seething. She glanced at the door and saw that Dana and Kate had appeared, clearly drawn by the commotion. Dana had a grim expression on her face while Kate looked horrified, covering her mouth with her hand before buying her face into Dana's chest, a protective arm wrapped around her.

“I came into Victoria's room looking for something,” Max said slowly, “and he was lying in wait. I don't know what he wanted, but he tried to grab me and I managed to dodge out of the way. I think he tripped over the table and fell because he ended up on the floor there. And then Victoria came in.” Osei looked at her sceptically, clearing realising he was not getting the whole truth.

“So he didn't touch you, and you didn't touch him?” Max nodded, glancing at the doorway and also seeing the two onlookers. Osei didn't take his eyes off her, noting what looked like a slight graze on her knuckles.

“So he tripped and managed to break his arm and jaw in the process?” Max turned to look at him, and Victoria thought she saw just the slightest hint of light within her eyes.

“Yes,” she said in a flat tone, staring directly back at him, her face set hard. Victoria's thin patience had entirely worn out and she angrily interrupted.

“Don't you dare try to cover up your failings here. You're supposed to be the security for this place, what if it had been me coming through the door?” Victoria caught a subtle shift in Max's expression, and then suddenly she knew, she knew that is what had happened, and that Max had changed time to stop it. The thought only served to increase her anger, and her voice was as cold as winter as she hissed out her commands.

“I'll tell you what's going to fucking happen. You are getting this piece of shit out of here and to a hospital - or a fucking morgue, I don't care - and then you get that useless fuck Wells ready for a little chat tomorrow and we ensure he doesn't get within fifty miles of Blackwell ever again. Understand?” There were a pair of nods, but she wasn't finished. “And then you and me are going to have a little chat, Major; but for now I'm going to look after Max tonight as clearly you lot are fucking unable too.”

Victoria stood there, hands on her hips, daring them to defy her and glaring at them until Logan was carried safely out of the room, and she carried on glaring at Dana and Kate as the two girls looked on. The two girls were watching in part awe and part apprehension, having never seen Victoria quite like this.

“Um, Max?” asked Kate quietly, “are you alright? Do you want us to stay for a bit? Or we can all go and get some tea or something?” Max smiled gratefully at her but shook her head.

“No, I'm fine – but thank you, Kate, that's very nice of you to offer. I'm happy to just sit here with Victoria for a while.” Dana looked doubtfully at Max and then Victoria, who bristled at her obvious disquiet.

“Are you sure, Max? It might be better if you spend some time with -”

“She said she wants to be with me, Dana,” snapped Victoria, more viciously than she intended. She was still on edge, and in no mood to pander to anyone. Dana frowned but refrained from responding in kind; instead she ignored Victoria and spoke to Max.

“Well if you are sure you're OK. We are just down the corridor if you need us.” Another doubtful glance at Victoria, and a little wave from Kate and the pair disappeared.

“If those two don't get together eventually it'll be a crime,” remarked Max, half to herself and sounding a little better. She looked up at Victoria and patted the bed next to her. Victoria closed the door and sat down and Max rolled against her, letting her head rest against her shoulder again. Victoria just held her, letting Max talk in her own time.

“I guess you realised I had to rewind time,” she said eventually, reaching out and holding Victoria's hand. “I had to, Vic, I had too. You asked me, I had no choice. It was just too much, I couldn't let.. it was..” She stopped and looked up at Victoria, eyes pleading. “You begged me to, begged me – you know I would never have done it otherwise, you know. I promised.” Victoria smothered her in a hugs and kisses, trying to reassure her.

“Of course I know that, silly. We discussed this, remember? Trust each other.” Max still seemed a little unhappy, so Victoria decided to be direct.

“Why did I ask you to rewind? What happened? Did he.. did he attack me?” Max looked away, not wanting to look at her.

“It.. it doesn't matter, I don’t think we should talk about it, it never happened. Not now.” Victoria gently turned Max's face towards her, letting her fingers brush against her cheek.

“Max.. you have to tell me. Don't keep it to yourself, it's too much for just you alone. And it's not fair on me, if I'm the reason you rewound then I deserve to know.” Max couldn't meet her gaze, looking down at where she was holding Victoria's hand. “Max... please.” Max didn't answer for a while, and Victoria began to think that she would keep it all bottled up inside.

“I was trying to catch up on my work,” she began quietly, still looking down at their hands. “And not doing very well at it. I wanted to try and get ahead on some maths as I'm a bit behind, and.. and.. and I heard you scream.” She looked up at Victoria, eyes wet as the dam finally burst and she began to tell Victoria everything that had happened. Victoria listened aghast as Max relived the past, stumbling over her description of what she had seen happen to Victoria, hot tears rolling down her face; before she composed herself and ran through her confrontation with Logan. Victoria sat there in silence, trying to understand everything that had happened.

“It's all my fucking fault,” muttered Victoria. “If I hadn't lost it a few weeks ago, none of this would have happened. I'm so sorry you had to go through this Max, I really am – I don't know what I can do to make it better but..” Max wiped her eyes and nose on Victoria's top and Victoria managed to not even grimace slightly.

“It's not your fault, it's all Logan's. You didn't do anything, don't ever say that. You didn't bring him here, he brought himself. It’s his own fault.” Max stopped and looked at the spot where he had been and her expression became blank. “Besides, he picked the wrong girls to fuck with.”

“Max..? What -” Max shifted uncomfortably, as if realising she had said something amiss – Victoria was sure that she felt a brief flicker as if time was trying to be rewound and frowned slightly; but she thought she might have imagined it as Max just sighed heavily.

“It's – no, it's nothing. Forget it.”

“Max...” Victoria said, tapping her on the hand as if to admonish her. “We need to talk about this, OK? We are supposed to be together, and apparently that means we have to talk about this sort of emotional shit. Well, according to those magazines I obviously don’t read.” Victoria was doing her best to make light of things, even though the enormity of everything felt like a crushing weight on her. She was also doing her best to not let her imagination run wild with what Max had told her.

Because it didn’t happen, thanks to Max. There’s no need to think about it.

Max is the priority now.

“So you need to tell me what’s on your mind,” she continued, “I can’t help with whatever it is if you don’t tell me. Don’t shut me out, not now.” Max twisted her fingers around Victoria’s, clearly torn about talking about things.

“Sorry, I’m still just not used to this. I don’t want you to think bad of me, if I tell you something that’s.. not good. I mean, I don’t want you to think less of me, or -”

“Well I can’t think anything if you don’t tell me, can I.” Victoria felt like she was cajoling a particularly difficult child and was trying not to get annoyed at Max’s intransigence. “I’m not going to think bad of you, but I will if you start hiding things again, like you did with Jesse.” Max rolled her eyes and was about to retort, but Victoria cut her off.

“And yes I know I didn’t tell you about Logan, but given that fucker is why we are here then you should definitely tell me.” Max sighed again, and seemed to collapse into her a little, as if defeated.

“Fine. It’s nothing to do with you or anything, it’s.. me. I mean, not to do with what I think of you or us,” she added quickly, remembering how easy Victoria could misinterpret her clumsy sentences, “it’s my power. When I was confronting Logan it was not like he was ever going to be able to hurt me. I mean never. It was almost pitiable how pathetic he was, but I knew I could do anything and he was utterly powerless to stop me. I could do anything, Victoria, and I could do it over and over again. And with no consequences, as I could just undo it. His life in my hands, to do with as I saw fit. The power, it was.. so tempting. So tempting.” Victoria was silent; she was reminded far too readily of how she had felt in her confrontation a few weeks ago with him when she had briefly let herself go – that feeling of power, of being invincible, of being able to master the world.

“And then I thought that that was what happened to her, wasn’t it?” Max continued. “How it ended up breaking and destroying everything, and destroying her. And it’s like the party, or other times when I’ve felt it, and every time it feels like it’s getting stronger and stronger and I don’t want to end up like her.” She looked up at Victoria, eyes wide and a sad look on her face. “Don’t let me end up like her.”

“I won’t,” said Victoria firmly. “And that starts with you talking to me about it so we both know what’s going on. And I’ve felt the same too, so it’s something we both have to face. But – but we can’t ignore the fact that we have this potential to be powerful. That we are different. And what that means for the future.”

“What do you mean?” Victoria thought for a moment, absent-mindedly stroking Max’s hair as if she was a cat and making Max burrow in against her.

“We have these powers,” Victoria continued slowly, thinking things through. “Which we have got for some reason. And there are the others, the other four. I guess they have powers too, and we have to find them. But for what? I want to be a photographer, and I guess at some point I’m going to have to work out how I balance that with the fucking company, but -”

“But?”

“But it feels like that’s just window dressing for my real purpose. Our real purpose. Do you not feel it too? That we should be something more, more than just fucking around in high school with all these pieces of shit and stupid fucking teachers and big breasted cheerleaders with friends with great legs and-” Max chocked back a laugh, Victoria smiling inside that she seemed to be coming out of her funk a little.

“Er big breasted what now? And why are you staring at Kate-”

“Ha! How did you know I was on about Kate? Have you been perving at her? I always wondered why you kept on going for tea with her all the time, now I – ow!” Victoria rubbed her arm in mock pain while Max nestled back down into her, resting her head on her chest. Victoria wrapped her arms around her once more, trying to make her feel safe and secure. Max didn’t stir for a while, and Victoria was about to check if she had fallen asleep when she spoke again, her voice rumbling into Victoria’s chest.

“A few weeks ago I had a vision, I had forgotten all about it. My butterfly had turned up suddenly, and it showed me a glimpse of the future. Or a future, I don’t know which. But also our future; you were there, and so were the others. And we were like a team, all working together with our powers and everything. And it felt amazing, like.. like we were some awesome superhero team type thing.”

“What, you are telling me that we were some sort of gay Avengers?” asked Victoria, not even querying the fact Max had had a vision of it – when your girlfriend had literally just altered the universe to save you, that was a minor thing in comparison. “Did I look good?”

“You always look good,” Max replied. “But yes, if you will – gay Avengers. Well, us two at least. Maybe that is the future that you can feel.”

“As long as it doesn’t involve spandex, I’m in.” Victoria looked at Max carefully. “How are you? And what do you want to do tonight?”

“I’m… a bit better. It helped to talk about it, and of course just to have you here. But can we stay in and watch TV together tonight? Get some really unhealthy pizza? Please?”

“Of course. I’ll even let you choose what we watch.”



Max had insisted they returned to her room, not wanting to spend the night in Victoria's with the recent events still so raw. Although she had told Victoria that she was feeling better, she was still haunted by what she had seen – it was only tempered by the fact she knew she had stopped Victoria from experiencing it and had received some measure of catharsis herself. Tonight though she just wanted to try and not think about anything and just be with her girlfriend, eating junk and watching trash.

The eating junk was easily arranged after Max ordered what Victoria described as her cheese, oil and meat on soggy bread; Victoria making do with some classy wedges and a wrap which oozed green. The watching trash, however, took a turn for the better when Max suggested a series she had just watched and that she thought Victoria would like.

“Although I get the strangest feeling that you've seen it already, it’s a bit weird. You haven't, have you?”

“Oh come on Max – one: I don't even know what anime is shut up I'm still talking; two: even if I did why would I watch something about tanks?”

“You'll love it, trust me. Now come sit behind me so I can use you as a comfy seat.”

Max settled in against Victoria, letting the first episode wash over her and just allowing herself to feel safe in her embrace. The sensation of being tempted by her power, to let go and just do whatever she wanted was receding from her memory, although every time she closed her eyes she could still see Victoria begging her to rewind time. She knew that over time the memory would hopefully fade, but for now it was too painful to dwell on.

Halfway through the first episode there was a quiet knock on the door and at Max's invitation the door opened, and the concerned face of Kate appeared.

“Oh, um.. sorry, I was just checking to see if everything was OK? Max.. are you feeling better?” Max raised her hand in acknowledgement and smiled reassuringly at her.

“Hey Kate, thanks for coming to see me – yes I’m fine, thank you. Victoria is taking good care of me, but we should do tea tomorrow though, if you like?” Kate smiled and nodded her head, clearly pleased at the prospect.

“That would be lovely, Max. Um, but if you need anything then I’m just down the hall?” Kate gave her another smile and then quietly closed the door.

“That was nice of her, wasn’t it?” Victoria just grunted, seemingly more focused on the screen.

It’s really good to know that she cares enough that -

Max’s train of through was interrupted by another knock at the door, a little louder this time. Max glanced at the disinterested Victoria before telling the knocker to come in. This time Dana stuck her head around, looking worriedly at Max and then little bit more suspiciously at Victoria.

“Hey Max, I just wanted to check that everything is OK? How are you feeling? Is Victoria looking after you?” Max nudged Victoria who glared at Max at being disturbed before looking up at Dana and contorting her face into something like a smile.

“What? Hey Dana. You’re looking very.. you.” Dana gave her a half scowl half smile back, before looking questioningly at Max.

“I’m fine, honest. Victoria is looking after me, so don’t worry.”

“Well, if you’re sure,” Dana replied doubtfully, “if you need anything then-”

“You’re down the hall, yes, thank you. I appreciate it, I really do.” Dana disappeared and Max settled down again, letting Victoria wrap her arms around her protectively.

I didn’t realise that oh for -

“Come in!” Taylor’s head peeked around the door, face a mixture of relief and worry. Max realised that clearly news was travelling fast around Blackwell, and she wondered what exactly was being said.

“Oh hey V, Max. I thought you’d both be in here, how are you both? You weren’t answering my calls, and I’d heard what had happened and..”

“I’m fine, Taylor, and so is Victoria. It was a shock, yes but it’s all taken care of now. But thank you for coming to check on us, it was very nice of you.” Taylor waited for Victoria to confirm that she was OK, and with a promise for them to talk properly later she disappeared, leaving Max to poke Victoria for attention.

“It was nice of Taylor to oh good lord who now?” Max scrambled to her feet, ignoring the complaints from Victoria when she got in front of the screen, and yanked the door open to come face to face with a surprised looking Courtney.

“Courtney! What -” Max leaned out past her and looked down the corridor and saw the queue of people stretching down it, with Kate, Dana and Taylor still loitering around guiltily. “What are you all doing.. are you all coming to check up on us?” Max could see Warren peeking around a sheepish looking Hayden, with Alyssa and Stella and a few others loitering behind them. Max felt a sudden rush of emotion come over here, and to hide it she opened her door wide and beckoned them all in.

“Come in, everyone, since you're all here.” Max held the door wide as they all filed in, some exchanging nervous waves at a suddenly indignant Victoria who was having her viewing spoiled.

“Make yourself comfortable, Victoria is ordering pizza for everyone so -”

“What? Wait? Since -”

“- so tell her what you want and then we can carry on watching her little anime show.”

“My show? My show? I don't fucking think that -”

“Double pepperoni for me!” shouted Taylor with obvious glee.

“Mushroom, broccoli, and fennel for me,” joined in Courtney, nudging Hayden.

“Triple cheese and ham!”

“Bacon, sausage and tuna!”

“Pineapple and -”

“Shut the fuck up, all of you!” Victoria stood up, looking visibly annoyed and pointing a finger at them all. “One at a fucking time. And if anyone dares to order ham and pineapple I'm going to shove it up their -”

Max sat down contentedly, looking at what she now realised were her friends – or at least those who thought enough of her to show support - with her one shining beacon of happiness losing her shit in what Max knew was her way of hiding her true feelings, and felt a little more at peace.



Victoria didn’t know what time it was, the first time she was woken up - Max was sprawled half across her, sleeping fretfully and saying things she couldn't quite make out. She could feel a sheen of sweat across her back, and Victoria tried to cool her off a little. Max shifted then clutched at her, a hand squeezing her shoulder tight as she muttered under her breath, words that to Victoria sounded desperate and frightened.

“Shh,” murmured Victoria, “it’s OK, I’m here. Shh.” She stroked Max’s hair and she seemed to stiffen then relax, a faint snore eventually beginning as Max settled back down into a slumber.

Victoria lay there in the dark staring up at the ceiling, clinging to the hope that no matter what, they would get through this.

They had too.



Chapter Text

“Excited?”

“No. Not really. I mean it'll be good to see everyone, but I just know Grandma will say something inappropriate about you, and Dad will be just, well, Dad, and-”

“No silly, I meant what Dylan has found out. We could really learn something today.”

“Oh. Yes, I guess.” Max looked out of the window at the passing trees, reflecting on just how many times she had done this in the past few weeks. The traffic was light and they were making good time, helped by Victoria's enthusiastic driving. Max suddenly realised that it had been Victoria so far who had driven her everywhere. “You should let me drive too, it's not fair for you to do it all.” Victoria snorted, eyes focused on the road ahead as she accelerated past a logging truck.

“And have you break it? I don't think so.”

“What happened to the whole 'it's just a thing, an object?'” Victoria gave Max a look, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel.

“That doesn't mean you waste money though. And besides, each car is different, even if they are the same model. Each has its own personality, little foibles and quirks that you just can't replace with another.” She thought some more before gradually starting to slow down. “But I guess it won't hurt to try; let me find somewhere safe and quiet and no object within a hundred miles to pullover.”



“It's a six-point-five litre v12, producing six hundred and ninety brake horse power, and you should note that it's all wheel drive as opposed to just rear wheel. The gears are a seven-speed single-clutch automated manual operated by those paddles here, and the - are you listening to me? This is important.” Max was prodding at various parts of the console.

“How do you start it?”

“You're such a philistine, why do I even like you? This was a mistake, I -”

“What's this button under the red flap do? AHA!” The car burst into life and Max gave an excited giggle, both hands on the wheel as she peered down the road. “How do I make it go?” Victoria rolled her eyes, making sure her seatbelt was safely fastened.

“Max, it's a car. You do know to drive, don't you?”

“Of course. I passed my test over the summer, I'm practically a pro.” Victoria put her head in hands and groaned.

“What?” asked Max. “As you said, it's just a car. Right, let's get going. Seattle - here we come!” The car lurched then stalled, an array of warning lights flooding the dash. Victoria stayed with her head in her hands, not daring to look at whatever Max was doing.

“Only you could stall this car. Only you.”

“Sorry,” Max said sheepishly. “I'll try again.”



Eventually they were making their sedate way towards Seattle again, Victoria gripping the hand rest tightly and looking extremely uncomfortable. Max was thoroughly enjoying herself, even changing into fourth gear at one point as the speedometer crept towards 60.

“See? We are making great progress.”

“We're going to be late.”

“Well, I'm going as fast as I can.”

“We just got overtaken by a RV which only had 3 wheels.”

“Stop exaggerating, we are not going that slow.” Max pressed a little harder on the accelerator, smiling to herself as the engine burbled away. “It's great fun, isn't it, I see why you like driving now.” Max glanced across at Victoria, not daring to take her eyes off the road too much – she didn't know what would happen if she tried to rewind while moving and didn't fancy finding out right then. Victoria was looking at her carefully, as if trying to read her mind.

“What?” Victoria looked away quickly, realising she had been caught staring.

“Nothing.” A pause, before she spoke again. “It's just.. how are you? I mean, really. Ever since.. you know.” Max gripped the steering wheel tightly -

- the blood, the smell of it rancid in her lungs, Victoria brokenly pleading with her to erase it all -

- and took a moment to steady herself.

“I'm.. better. A bit. I slept OK enough last night, I didn't dream of anything. Well, not that I can remember.” Max concentrated on the road, doing her best to not think about it at all. “It helps that you are here. If you weren't then.. I don't know. When you hold me it makes everything seem better. Complete.”

“God you are so gay sometimes.” Max rolled her eyes.

“Vic, I'm trying to be serious. You asked me how I was, and I'm answering.” Max felt a hand gently fall on her thigh, and she risked another look to see a gentle smile on that beautiful face, before it leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.

“I know,” Victoria said in a soft voice. “I'm just trying to make you smile, that's all. I like it when you do.” Max felt a little warmth creep through her, and the world seemed just a little bit brighter.

You make me smile.”

“You’re so GAAAYYYYYY..”

“How does that even work as an insult!? You're just as gay as me! You're my girlfriend! You couldn't be more gayer! You’re practically the Queen of Gaytown, population us!” Max felt her face getting hot as she protested, not believing that Victoria could actually be so childish as to behave like that when she was trying to be serious and -

Ah.



Dylan had left Victoria a message the day before, cryptically saying that he had information for them and wanted to meet. Luckily it had coincided with them heading back to Max's for Thanksgiving, and so they had arranged to meet him beforehand. For some reason he had asked them not to come to the store but had sent them a location that was out by the port. Victoria had taken over the driving again as they had got near to Seattle, Max not quite feeling confident enough to drive in the busy traffic, or not get a ticket.

“Well this is a shithole,” Victoria remarked as they slowly drove along. This area was a neglected part of the port, full of old industrial warehouses and facilities, abandoned cranes with rusty chains swinging in the breeze. Max's inner photography voice was practically yelling at her to get her camera out, and she made a note to try and find some time to come here again.

“It's like the most apt place for a secret meeting, isn't. Like we're in a film.”

“Ugh, I'm changing my shoes before we go anywhere. I bet there's all sort of toxic waste around here.” Max watched some rusty tanks slowly file past the window, the car slowing to a crawl as Victoria negotiated the broken pavement and potholes.

“It's got a certain romance about it. Like a relic from a bygone era, haunted by the ghost of past -” A loud grinding noise interrupted her.

“My car! My poor car!” Victoria wailed, tensing again as the car bottomed out once more.

“Look there,” said Max, pointing with a finger. “Someone else has parked up. This must be it.” Victoria slowly pulled up a few metres from the other car and Max quickly got out, finding herself scanning her surroundings and the high places, as if expecting an ambush.

Now why on earth am I doing that? You're not a secret agent.

The door of the other car opened and out got Dylan - he had a hood pulled up over his head and a baseball cap wedged down, as if trying to hide his face. Max found herself giggling at how ridiculous he looked but tried to keep a straight face.

“Hi Dylan,” she said cheerfully. “Nice to see you again. Victoria is just -” Max turned to look back to where Victoria was but couldn't see her; before she suddenly emerged from where she had been looking underneath her car and looked thoroughly unhappy.

“This had better be fucking worth it, boy,” she snarled, “there are some pretty big lumps taken out of the guard. You're lucky that -”

“It's not his fault you drive ridiculous cars, Vic,” Max said mildly, cutting her off mid invective. She turned to Dylan who seemed agitated, nervously putting his hands in and out of his pockets. “Excuse her, she hasn't had coffee for a while.” Victoria stalked around the car to join Max, folding her arms and staring at Dylan as if trying to freeze him on the spot.

“Well?” she said irritably, causing Max to poke her and give her a look. She sighed and rolled her eyes; waited a moment before speaking again. “Fine. Sorry. Hello Dylan, we got your message. You found something?”

“Er yeah. I did,” he said, looking at Victoria and then glancing around them. “Um, you weren't followed or anything..? Sorry, I'm just a little paranoid at the moment. Seeing things everywhere.” Max frowned at his words and she found herself powering up slightly, as if preparing for something.

“Paranoid?” she said slightly sharper than she intended. “Why? What's happened?” He looked at her then back at Victoria, as if trying to work out who was in charge.

“Nothing, it's just that what I found out I think it's making me.. well, worried. Cautious.”

“And what exactly have you found out?” asked Victoria, “and why couldn't you just email us instead of meeting in this dump - ugh it's all over my shoes. Max, I told you to remind me to change them!”

“No, you didn't. That's your own fault for wearing those things. And no, before you ask I'm not going back just for mud on shoes.” There was an awkward pause while they both waited for Victoria to stop cursing and hopping about as she changed her shoes, before finally they were ready to hear what Dylan had to say - he seemed a little more relaxed after the farcical start to their clandestine meeting, pushing his hood away from his face, although he still kept his hat on.

“After you told me what you wanted, I wrote a web-crawler programme to help me in my search, as well as tapping up my usual sources. I coupled it with a search and filter algorithm that utilised depth and breadth in a binary search along with a few custom heuristic functions I - you don't need to know this, do you?” Max shook her head, having no idea what he was on about. Victoria looked a little bit more thoughtful, tapping a finger on her chin.

“Why did you drop out of your course?” she asked, causing him to frown.

“How did you know - never mind.” He looked at them both, as if wondering how he had ended up here. “Stupidity, I guess. Youthful naivety. I didn't want to work for 'the man', as I called it. Thought I was being all idealistic and doing the right thing by leaving and setting up on my own and getting involved in things that I thought were cool and exciting.”

“Like hacking,” Victoria said, with Max wondering how she knew so much.

Did I tell her this? I can’t remember if I did.

Dylan nodded, then laughed to himself.

“Yeah, and pretty pathetic it was too, looking back on it. Still I did learn some things and made some contacts, but it doesn't exactly pay the bills. I could have made a fortune working for the Government or a defence contractor, or -”

“What's this got to do with what you found out?” Max asked impatiently, thinking that if she wanted to know more about him she could just interrogate him like she had before then undo it all. Victoria frowned at her, then whispered into her ear.

“He might be useful later, Max. We need to think bigger.” Max thought for a moment before realisation dawned, and she grabbed Victoria's hand and stilled the world for a moment.

“You mean he could help us search for the others? Using his Googlefu.”

“I wouldn't have quite put it like that, but yes.” Max pursed her lips together, not convinced - the more people who knew about them, the more likely the secret would get out and then what?

“It seems risky to be honest. The less people who know the better.” Victoria squeezed her hand as if in agreement.

“Sure, that's true. We don't have to decide now, but if we ever did then he could be useful. Plus I've got him tied up in so many legal agreements I basically own him.”

“And I could always go back and erase him from existence, if he crossed us,” Max said in a flat tone with no hint of humour.

“So bring out Scary Max, huh? Well let's see what he has to tell us first, yes?”

“Scary Max? Don't be silly, I'm not scary. I'm just me. You're the scary one.” Victoria gave her an unfathomable look, before nodding her head towards Dylan.



“Sorry Dylan, that was rude of me to interrupt. You were saying?” Max gave him a gentle smile as if to try to reassure him, to which he just look puzzled.

“Erm, OK. Where was I - oh yes, I did some searching using the information you had given me - the name was the most helpful, as it gave me something solid to work from. I, er, printed out a summary for you before deleting the file, so be careful with it as it is the only copy.” Victoria reached out and plucked it from his hand and began to skim read it, while Dylan continued.

“Basically it's all true. There is a Bureau of Control, it does exist. Faden appears to be involved - I found out where she was born, and when she was young there was an industrial accident in her home-town where the entire population just disappeared, which sounds to me like a cover up. She was charged with minor theft in different places, seemed to have been hospitalised in a psyche ward then just.. disappeared from the record.” Max waved her hand about, nonplussed.

“But I know this. I've met her – I even have her email address.”

“You could have told me this before,” he muttered in annoyance, before looking in wonder at Max. “You have her contact details? What was she like? Did she -”

“We knew it existed, Dylan,” interrupted Victoria. “What we wanted to know was, what does it do?”

And whether we can trust them, thought Max.

“Oh,” he said, still eyeing Max. “Well that's listed out at the bottom. But from what I found it’s.. well, it's unbelievable. Incredible. It can't be true, but apparently it is. And I don't know what that means, it's like everything I've been told has been a lie and.. and..” Max waited for him to get the point, realising that the fantastical was now merely mundane to her - for others it must be utterly confusing, or frightening.

“Most of it is hidden behind firewalls or secure servers, which would take me some time to get through, if at all - but there's enough out there to hint at it.” He laughed suddenly, shaking his head. “You're not going to believe it though, I still don't.”

“Try us,” Max said, with a sideways glance at Victoria.

“They investigate like supernatural stuff like you see in a film or on the TV, but it's like.. like it's real. That there are weird things and people out there, proper X-Files stuff, crazy things that only occur in a nightmare.”

“X-Files?” queried Victoria. “What's that?”

“Show you later,” Max replied. “You’ll love it. Go on, Dylan.”

“So they seem to cover up all these things and actively stop people finding out about them. 'Industrial accidents' or 'freak weather'. Like we used to think happened with all the UFO sightings and the Air Force, but once you know what to look for you can start joining things together and you can see the patterns, see what is actually going on. Circles within circles. What they do with all these things I don't know, but as there aren't, I don't know, X-Men all over the place then it can't be good. Or maybe they hire them to work for them.” He laughed and then looked at the pair, noticing that they appeared to be taking him seriously. “It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Doesn’t it? I feel like I've peeked behind the curtain, seen things I shouldn't have. I mean I have no proof, nor have I recorded anything anywhere but I can't help but worry that they will be looking for me for even trying. Maybe I'll just be an industrial accident one day.”

Max felt a little disappointed; it was nothing she hadn't felt she'd known already or been told by Emily, and she went to voice her feelings but Victoria interrupted her.

“Thank you, Dylan. That was useful, I'll read through this and let you know if I have any questions.” Dylan nodded then stood there awkwardly, to Max appearing as if he wanted to say something but unsure if he should.

“What is it?” she asked, already in her mind thinking about going home to her parents - she'd had enough of this; it had turned out to be not very exciting at all.

Maybe I should take a few photos so it wasn't a complete waste of time.

“I was just wondering why you two were so interested in it, and why you'd met Faden. If you don't mind me asking, it just seems a bit odd?”

“Because we are superheroes, of course,” said Max matter of factly. “Why else?” Dylan gave her a sickly grin and let out a forced laugh.

“That's very funny, Ms Caulfield. Well you have your reasons I'm sure, it's just.. strange.”

“We will tell you in good time, if it's necessary,” said Victoria with a sharp look at Max. “But for now you've done enough - I'll be in touch. You may go now.” Max watched as Dylan meekly got into his car, having been summarily dismissed, and slowly drive off. She thought she could see him watching them through the rear-view mirror, but it may have been her imagination.

“Why on earth did you say that?” asked Victoria. “And why didn't you undo it?” Max shrugged, not bothered by it in the slightest.

“As if he'd believe it. And if he does then maybe it would encourage him to keep on our side and not mess with us.” Victoria leaned against the car and pulled Max in against her.

“No-one will want to mess with us in the future. I feel like we are getting stronger and stronger. I mean you are: your power just seems to grow and grow.” Max didn’t answer but quietly reflected on her words – she was right, she did feel stronger than she had – every time she used it, it just seemed easier and easier, with her range getting wider. She had an idea of what her limits were – or her limits that the other version of her had found – but whether she could achieve it, or even exceed it, she didn’t know.

Yet.

“And this wasn’t a waste of time,” Victoria continued, “at least not for me. You forget that I haven’t met Jesse, or Emily – I only had what you told me about to go on. So at least I know you aren’t crazy, or that it’s some weird time travelling dimensional rift that’ll end the world.” Max shivered slightly, as if something had crawled over her grave.

“Don’t even joke about that. There’s only 536 days to go, you know. It’s passing so quickly. So, so quickly. I mean I could literally disappear from existence... it’s impossible for me to think that I could.. just be gone.”

“That’s not going to happen,” declared Victoria. “You shouldn’t think like that – it’ll work out, I promise.”

“How do you know? I mean this could all be utterly pointless, whatever I do is -” Max was cut off by a kiss, a kiss that seemed to go on until she was nearly out of breath.

“I won’t let it,” Victoria breathed, bumping her nose against Max's. “Like I wouldn’t let that photo take you away from me.”

“Wowsa,” muttered Max, feeling her face flush. Kissing Victoria still felt new and exciting to Max; sometimes in the morning she would wake before Victoria and see her sleeping next to her, and would marvel at even just that being a regular occurrence.

Need a bigger bed though.

“You make a good point, Ms Chase. How can I argue with your eloquence?” Victoria kissed her again, her eyes searching Max's features.

“I'm right, though. I won't let it happen. So we need to live life like it's not going to end, OK?”

“OK.” Max let Victoria wrap her arms around her again, and nestled down into her feeling safe and content.

Continue life as normal. In that case..

“We've got some time before we meet my parents, and this place is ideal for photography. It's just so.. rustic, and whimsical, and -”

“Clichéd.”

“Oh whatever, I like it. And you can be my model.”

“That's the most sensible thing you've said all day, Max. Let me go change my shoes.”



Victoria pulled up in the driveway and immediately got out of the car; it was almost as if she was beginning to feel more than comfortable coming to Max's house, especially compared to the first time she had been there. Victoria didn't feel the need for any pretence around Max's parents; they seemed to have just accepted her as she was, trusting that if Max was happy with her than they were; although she still remembered her Father's concerns and had vowed to not let him – or Max – down.

As if summoned, the front door opened and Ryan stepped out, filling the doorway like a doorman to an exclusive club.

“Victoria! It's good to see you again – wait, is that a new car?”

“Hello Mr Caulfield. Yes, it is – Max broke the last one.” Ryan's face creased into a frown, and he looked at Max as she emerged from the car.

“Max? You broke Victoria’s car? How many times have I told you to take better care of things?! Victoria, I’m sorry – let me know how much it will cost and I can see what -”

“Dad, Vic is joking. Of course I didn’t break it. Right?” Max glanced at her looking a little annoyed, and she suddenly felt a little guilty about joking about it.

“Yes, of course – sorry, I was just joking. You don’t have to pay for anything, Mr Caulfield. It’s fine, honestly.” Ryan didn’t look convinced, and Victoria cursed herself for making things awkward almost immediately. “Have you ever been in an Aventador before? We can go for a drive if you’d like?” Ryan’s expression immediately changed, and he rubbed his hands together in glee.

“That would be great, thank you! Er, Max do you want to just head in and..?” Ryan said distractedly, already moving towards the car and stooping to check the wheels.

“Custom alloys,” Victoria said joining him, “can you see the VC on the inner part of the wheel hub? I had that put on especially.”

“I’ll just go then should I?”

“Let me pop the trunk and you can look at the engine; it’s a six point five litre v-twelve putting out six hundred and ninety brake horse power..”

“I’m going inside then? Bye?”

“.. actually, it’s surprisingly easy around town – you’ll find it easy to manage the throttle given the torque..”

“I said BYE THEN.”

Victoria opened the car door for Ryan, vaguely wondering where Max had gone, before throwing him the key.

“The starter is under that flap there – just be careful of the kerb when we leave, as it’s a bit low..”



By the time they arrived back Ryan had a big grin on his face and Victoria was feeling rather pleased with herself – she had seemingly managed to find a sure-fire way of getting into Max's father's good books; now all that remained was ingratiating herself with Vanessa. Victoria felt it was very important that Max's parents liked her; in the back of her mind she thought it would lessen the chances of Max leaving her. Despite everything that had happened over the last month and a half she was still plagued by her insecurities, although they were nowhere near as bad as they had been.

“That was marvellous Victoria, thank you.” Ryan rubbed his hands along the rim of the steering wheel, as if savouring the texture.

“No worries,” said Victoria airily. “I've got plenty of others I don't ever get the time to drive, so if you ever want to have a go just let me know.” There was a brief pause while Victoria replayed what she had just said through her head. “Oh god, I don’t mean to sound like.. I mean, it's just that I.. well..” Ryan chuckled and shook his head in good humour.

“It's fine Victoria, I understood what you meant. And I might just take you up on it sometime.” He opened the door and then paused, looking back at her. “But don't you let Max take advantage of you, OK? She needs to pay her own way in life. I don’t want her to end up like one of those spoiled rich kids you see on those reality shows.” Victoria felt her stomach lurch at the implication and stared out of the window, concentrating on quelling that unwelcome urge to turn the entire world into a block of ice.

“Hopefully you can stop her becoming like that though,” Ryan continued obliviously, not noticing the palpable relief flooding through Victoria, “although I suspect that is far too mainstream for her anyway.”

“Has she always been so hipsterish then?” Victoria said quickly, eager to steer the conversation away from any mention of money. Ryan chuckled in good humour, his eyes that were the same shade of blue as Max’s twinkling at Victoria.

“She’s also done her own thing, has Max. Ever since she was young - she was not exactly contrary but very much made up her own mind on things. Even if it never seemed to make sense to us, or ever seemed the best thing to do. Always seemed in her own world.”

Not much has changed then.

Apart from world ending superpowers, of course.



Dinner was already laid on the table by the time they entered the house, Ryan receiving some disapproving looks from Vanessa that they were late. Ryan held his hands up in apology, gesturing towards Victoria as if that excused everything.

“Don’t you go blaming Victoria for being late, Ryan,” she said, “I told you we were sitting down at six thirty. And it was your turn to cook as well.” Victoria left a protesting Ryan to his fate and quickly sat down next to Max, sneaking a peck on her cheek when she thought no-one was watching.

“Hello you,” she said, “sorry to abandon you like that.” Max wrinkled her nose at her, a happy smile on her face.

“You can't exactly abandon me with my own parents, can you. My Dad wasn't too annoying, was he?” Victoria glanced at Max's parents who were having a very quiet argument in the kitchen, trying to do their best not to be overheard by the two girls.

“Not at all, although I think I've got your Dad into trouble.”

“Nah. Mom is just trying to do her best to impress you, and wanted everything to be perfect.” Victoria looked at her in surprise.

“Impress me? Why?”

“Because of me, dummy.”

“Oh.” Before Victoria could process what that meant fully, Max's parents came back in with overly bright smiles pasted on their faces, carrying various dishes with them.

“Hello Victoria,” said Vanessa, “it's nice to see you again. I hope Ryan wasn't too annoying, he does go on a lot at times.”

“Not at all, Ms Caulfield, it was a pleasure to go out with him again in the car – I'm sorry if it caused you any trouble though? I didn't realise that everything was being prepared.”

“Nonsense,” Vanessa declared. “Ryan should have known better. And please, call me Vanessa.”

“Thank you, Vanessa. I must say, that food smells delicious.”

“Suck up,” murmured Max under her breath, causing Victoria to kick her in the shin.



Victoria felt comfortably full; the food was simple but good, and the easy banter that flowed around the table made her feel like she was being accepted as part of the family.

“Your Grandma will be here tomorrow, Max, and she’ll be staying over in the spare room. Also your Uncle will be popping by, along with Auntie Rebecca.”

“Great; as long as cousin Alan isn’t turning up.”

“Maxine! That’s not a very nice thing for you to say. Cousin Alan may be a little eccentric -”

“Creepy.”

“– but he is still family.”

“Unfortunately,” Ryan muttered, gaining a glare from Vanessa and a snort from Victoria who blushed crimson and covered her mouth, whilst trying to ignore Max’s sniggering. Vanessa frostily picked up some of the dishes to clear from the table, pointedly making as much noise as possible. Victoria pretended to pick at her food, not daring to say anything in case it was the wrong thing.

“Are you not seeing your family this Thanksgiving, Victoria?” asked Vanessa as she re-entered the room, jug of water in hand. “They don’t mind you being here instead?” Victoria shifted uncomfortably; she didn’t like to discuss her family (especially when it would be in comparison to what she had seen of the Caulfields), but knew it would be rude not to answer.

“My parents are out of the country on business, so I was just going to be at home or alone or stay at Blackwell. I’m very grateful for your invitation and welcoming me to your home though.” The words rolled off Victoria’s tongue with practised ease, although she did actually mean it. Her words seemed to have the desired effect, with Vanessa waving of her thanks and saying she was more than welcome anytime. Victoria was more than aware of Max rolling her eyes and kicked her in the shin again.

“Are you not seeing any other relatives?” asked Ryan, whilst offering Victoria some more sausages. “Max? Do you want some? Max, are you OK? You look like you are in pain..?”

“I’m fine,” Max said, “just banged my leg on the table.”

“Yes, it keeps happening for some reason,” remarked Victoria as she took another sausage. “No, all my grandparents are dead, and I’ve only got a few distant cousins who I try to avoid as much as possible. So it's just me and.. my parents, really.” Victoria missed the small glance that passed between Ryan and Vanessa, only smiling at their response.

“Oh, well you are always welcome here.”

“Thank you,” she beamed, “you have a lovely home here and I am very thankful you have invited me.”

“See Max?” Ryan said, “Victoria knows how to say the right thing, unlike say when someone gives you ice cream that isn't to your exact requirements.”

“Dad..”

“Oh, what's this?” asked Victoria with some relish as Max groaned and put her face in her hands.

“I was like six!”

“Eleven. We had taken a trip to Disneyland, and..”



Max lay in her bed with Victoria half on top of her, limbs delightfully entangled. Max idly played with Victoria's hair, letting her fingers brush through it as Victoria breathed softly, half asleep.

“Smoking,” she said suddenly, causing a bleary eye to rise up and regard her before disappearing back to its comfortable position in her chest.

“What?” Victoria's voice seemed to vibrate through her chest. “I'm trying to sleep here.”

“Smoking,” Max said again. “I haven't seen you smoke at all for like, well since I first went to your house.” There was a silence for a moment before Victoria's head came fully into view, Max immediately missing the warmth from her body.

“Huh,” Victoria said. “That's.. Huh. I haven't, have I?”

“Nope,” declared Max happily. “It's great; stops you stinking, stops you killing yourself, stops you killing everyone else..”

“Are you saying I stink?”

“Used to. Used to stink. And get back to hugging me, I'm getting cold.” Grumbling Victoria settled back down, Max resuming combing her fingers through her hair. There was a comfortable silence which stretched on to the point Max was about to check if Victoria was awake when she spoke.

“It's weird, I was just thinking that I didn't even realise I had. I don't miss it, I think. I mean now I'm thinking about it I kinda want too, out of habit maybe, but there's not a.. a craving.”

“Well that's good. It's a disgusting habit, so you've saved me telling you all the time that it is and trying to get you to stop anyway.” Victoria just grunted and Max smiled to herself. She lay there for a while longer with her thoughts, before speaking once more.

“I was thinking,” she began, “that -”

“Really? Why. I'm tired. I'm asleep.” Max went and stroked Victoria's back as if trying to placate her but continued anyway.

“I was thinking that I'll send Jesse an email. Go see her after New Year, what do you think?”

“Sounds great,” Victoria yawned. “We can spend New Years there and you can go after we have slept.”

“Oh, won't it be expensive to find a hotel at that time? I was just going to fly there or something.”

“I told you,” Victoria said into her chest, “I've got an apartment there to sleep in so it's not an issue. I hardly use it so we might as well sleep there.”

“Did you? I can't remember.”

“I'll write you a list of places that you can put on your wall, Max. Now shut up and let me sleep, since you are not getting the hint.” Max squeezed her affectionately, letting her hand run down to the small of her back. Victoria fidgeted, as if trying to make Max more comfortable to lie on before her breathing began to slow. Max idly traced her fingers across Victoria's skin.

“You know,” she began slowly.

“Mmmppff.” Victoria grumbled, as if trying to imply she was actually asleep and Max should just be quiet.

“You know how I can take you back in time with me..”

“Mmmhmm.”

“.. so you don't forget what's happened..”

“Mmzzzzzzz.”

“.. so if you were to make too much noise, or maybe put ice everywhere I could undo it but you'd still remember..”

“Mhmmm -” Victoria's head suddenly jerked up and she looked at Max, suddenly not tired. “I thought that you -” Max pulled her head down and began to kiss her, a free hand grabbing Victoria's ass and pulling her up and closer.

“Well, they will never know, will they?”

Chapter Text

Max flumped herself down onto the sofa, feeling very happy and content with life. She was at home, surrounded by her family and slowly bringing her girlfriend – girlfriend! – into this precious circle. Things could not have been going better for her; any darkening clouds on the horizon seemed far away and unimportant in that moment.

“Do you want a cup of tea, Grandma? Or I could get some coffee?”

“Tea? Your father is supposed to be getting me a gin. Now just sit there and tell me how you are.” Max happily began to tell her about her term and life at Blackwell when Ryan entered the room holding a glass.

“Here you go, Joan. A shot of tonic topped up with gin.” Max could smell the alcohol wafting out of the glass as her Grandma accepted it and immediately took a gulp.

“Ah, that's much better, thank you Ryan. Where's that daughter of mine got too?” Ryan pulled out his cell to check the time.

“She has gone to the store to get a few last-minute things with Victoria. But if you'll excuse me I need to go turn the roast.” Max watched as he disappeared back into the kitchen, aware of the good-humoured gaze of her Grandma on her.

“So Max,” she said. “Victoria.” Max squirmed a little; she had been dreading the forthcoming interrogation.

“Um.. Yes?”

“Does she treat you right? Are you happy?”

“Yes, I am, and yes, she does.” Her Grandma patted her gently on the arm, smiling.

“Good. Then I'm happy for you.” She leaned back and took another drink, an amused look on her face at Max's surprised expression. Max had been expecting a much more thorough examination, and at the very least a ribald comment or two. Further conversation was cut short, however, by the front door opening and her Mom’s laughter echoing down the hallway.

“Hello! We're back! Max, can you come help with the bags?”

Max found her Mom and a visibly excited Victoria weighed down with numerous bags, both of them giggling about something.

“What's so funny?” Max asked, relieving her Mom of a bag full of vegetables.

“Oh, Victoria was just telling me a tale about you, nothing important. Is your Grandma here?”

“She's just in the lounge,” Max said with a jerk of her head. “What tale?” Vanessa didn't answer and just walked off, so Max tried again with Victoria. “What tale? And you seem to be in a good mood.”

“I never knew that grocery shopping was like this! I've learned so much! Did you know there's like whole aisles of cereals? And you can push this little cart thing around with wheels that go in all directions and there's a seat on it and everything.”

“Yeah it’s called food shopping. Are you seriously telling me you've never done that before?”

“Of course I have,” answered Victoria, carrying a bag through to the kitchen. “There's a nice artisanal market I've been to in Barcelona that sold fruit and vegetables and I went and bought some with real money and everything. I've just never been to a common grocery store before, I mean why would I?” Max followed her carrying the bag of vegetables and shaking her head in bemusement.

“Common? How nice. But I've seen food in your house, remember? We had that amazing lunch with the cheese and everything, so how did that get there?”

“That's what the housekeeper is for. They make sure that there is plenty of food available; there's one at every house we have. The one here in Seattle has been with the family for years, so she knows what we like and what we expect.” She went back into the hallway to get another bag, seemingly enjoying the novelty of it all. Max followed a little bit more reluctantly, still questioning her.

“But you eat at Blackwell, so..?” Victoria paused, looking at her with a questioning expression.

“Yes? I get take-out, or use that godawful cafeteria. Or Taylor or Courtney will cook something. Why is this so difficult for you to understand? I bet there's lots of people who have never been grocery shopping before.” She picked up a bag of oats, reading the label with interest before looking back at Max, who was still watching her with a look of bewilderment. “Are you going to help? Although you have reminded me to sort out the food at Blackwell, I had forgotten that was still on my list.” Max half-heatedly picked up a can of beans, tossing it from hand to hand.

“Somehow I doubt that there are lots of people who have not been to a grocery store. But I'm glad you had fun.”

“Yes I did, me and your Mom had a great time. She was really nice, and she kept telling me stories about you when you were younger.”

“All lies. Don't listen to her.”

“Don't listen to who?” asked Vanessa, entering the room. “How are you two getting on? Thank you for your help Victoria, you didn't have to come - you are our guest after all.” Victoria gave her a brilliant smile, which to Max actually seemed largely genuine.

“It was my pleasure, Vanessa. It was all very exciting.” Vanessa chuckled, taking some things from Victoria's hands.

“Well I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. Now you both run along and I'll finish up here.” Max needed no further bidding and dragged Victoria away to the lounge.



“Grandma, this is Victoria, Victoria this is my Grandma.”

“Delighted,” said Victoria, extending her hand which was shook with some amusement.

“Nice to meet you, Victoria; I’m Joan, Max’s best Grandma. Why don't you sit down and tell me what you are doing to my Max,” her Grandma said. Victoria blinked in surprise as Max facepalmed.

“Grandma..”

“Shh you, I need to interrogate your girlfriend here. Now, sit and tell me about yourself.” Much to Max's surprise Victoria promptly sat down and waited politely for her Grandma to speak again. Max, somewhat at a loss, gestured futilely and then sat down next to her.

“So, now we are all settled,” Joan said, sitting back in her chair and steepling her fingers as if she was a Bond villain, “please, go on Victoria – and Max don't you interrupt her.” To Max it seemed as if Victoria slipped a mask on, confidently giving her Grandma a very brief overview of her life and interests, as if it was a job interview. There was a moment of silence before her Grandma leaned forward, took a swig of her gin and then tapped Victoria gently on the knee. Victoria flinched slightly but did her best not to react.

“Well Victoria,” Joan said, “thank you for that summary, but this isn’t an interview. I have run across you Chase’s before – yes, I recognised the name, Max. We have a little history together, do me and the Chase’s.” Victoria looked a little distraught but managed to sputter a reply.

“I'm sorry? What do you-”

“Grandma!” interjected Max, feeling she had to rush to her defence. Her Grandma waved her off.

“Both of you calm down, dearie me. No need to get excited – as I said, I recognised your surname, Victoria. I’ve encountered it – and your family - before.” She picked up her glass and settled back comfortably into her chair.

“When I was younger - before I had your mother, Max, and before I met your Granddad - I was in love with a young guy called Marcos. Well I thought it was love at the time, maybe it was just infatuation – you know how it is when you are young. He was tall with dark hair and brown eyes; a stomach you could crack a walnut on. He had such stamina too, could go for hours-”

“Grandma, please!” Max said, mortified and covering her ears.

“Oh come Max, I was also young once; just like you are now. Although I guess you both aren't interested in what he had to offer in that department. Which was a lot, believe me.” The matter of fact way she said this made Victoria blush and look down, while Max slowly died inside.

“Anyway, it was the mid-sixties and I was young, idealistic; we had such lofty ideals - social change, equal rights, nuclear disarmament, all that sort of thing. We used to sit up for hours debating within our group, planning on changing the world one cause at a time, before going to bed and -”

“Grandma, please stop.”

“What? It's probably not that different to what you both get up too, and at least you can't get-”

“Did you go and join all those protests then?” asked Victoria quickly, coming to Max's aid. “I remember seeing a documentary about all the different things that were happening then.”

“Yes, we did Victoria. Mainly in Oregon, but we also headed down to California and joined some Civil Rights demonstrations. Exciting times they were, there was a real feeling of change in the air. One time someone had the idea of protesting against the armaments manufacturers - the Vietnam War was going on and all of us disparate groups were beginning to centre around that as a focus, a real call to arms, if you excuse the terrible pun.”

“And the manufacturer you protested against was Chase Industries,” Victoria said slowly, as if putting things together in her mind. “I see.”

“Yes, very astute of you Victoria – it was somewhere down in New Mexico, I can’t remember exactly where now. There was six of us and we took an old camper van, joining others along the way. We made quite the convoy, it was all tremendously good fun.” She paused a moment and smiled to herself, as if thinking of a fond memory. “Anyway, we ended up camping outside the gates of this large set of buildings, protesting against the workers who were coming in, waving placards, singing songs – all that sort of thing. We even had the local TV news turn up, which was very exciting for the time – we didn’t have the internet or anything back then, so any coverage was tended to be seen by the locals and sometimes nationally as there was nothing else to do.”

“But what does this have to do with Victoria, Grandma? She wasn’t even born then, was she!” Max wrapped an arm around Victoria’s waist and pulled her close, as if trying to protect her.

“Let me finish and I will tell you, Max. Don’t be so impatient. Now, apparently this was not good news for whoever was running the place as the State Troopers turned up, and then someone clearly had a word with someone higher up as the National Guard came along to clear everyone out, which was a thing they did back then. Some of us were arrested; I was lucky and managed to escape that, but those who weren’t were prosecuted for trespassing, criminal damage – you name it, anything that the lawyers could make stick.” She stopped and looked at Victoria, scrutinising her carefully as if gauging her reaction - Victoria met her gaze and didn’t falter.

“That would have been my Grandfather’s time, when he was running the company. I.. I didn’t know him that well, he was always busy and then he died when I was still young. Heart attack. I’m sorry if -”

“Oh don’t be silly,” Joan interrupted. “It’s not your fault that we were young and reckless; it’s just meeting you stirred up those old memories of when I was young, like you are now. You have to allow an old woman her indulgence in remembering her past, it’s practically my duty to bore you all.” She took a final swig of gin and inspected her empty glass, as if a little disappointed it was empty. Max was feeling a little annoyed that Victoria was being put on the spot and went again to defend Victoria, but Victoria beat her to the punch.

“What happened to Marcus?” she asked. “Are you still in touch with him?”

“Oh good lord, no,” Joan laughed. “He was arrested trying to assault a Guardsman – playing the hero like he always wanted to do. We lost touch after that; I came back up to Oregon and ended up meeting Max’s Grandad, but I still had an interest in what was happening in the world, and with Chase Industries - at least for a little while. But the last I heard – about twenty years ago - he had become an insurance salesman with 3 kids, and was on his second wife.”

“Some rebel he turned out to be,” Max laughed. “You’ve never told me this before Grandma, why bring it up now?”

“You’ve never had a girlfriend who was the granddaughter of someone who had my friends arrested.” Joan had a twinkle in her eye as she said it and looked at Victoria with a kindly smile.

“She’s never had a girlfriend full stop,” Victoria said, earning a jab from Max. She looked at Max’s Grandma, chewing her lip a little as if deciding the best way to respond. “But then, neither have I. This is all new to me, er, Max’s Grandma -”

“Please, call me Joan.”

“Joan, yes, right. This is all new to me as well, and I’m a little nervous meeting you all as I want to make a good impression. Max means the world to me and, and I don’t want you all to think less of me because of who my family is.”

“Unbelievably enough, I trust Max’s judgement,” Joan said. “If she is happy with you, then that is enough for me.” Victoria smiled and glanced at Max, who pecked her on the cheek. Joan watched the pair of them then rubbed her hands together as if having made a decision.

“So now you know how I have heard of your family, Victoria; why don’t you tell me what you actually enjoy doing, and not just to Max.”

“Grandma!”



Max spent an enjoyable hour with Victoria and her Grandma; they both seemed to get on like a house on fire, delighting in making Max as uncomfortable as possible with as much innuendo as they could think of. Mixed in with this Max was aware that her Grandma was gently probing Victoria, as if trying to see how much she was involved with Chase Industries, and what she knew – clearly her protesting spirit was still alive and kicking. Victoria fielded all her questions easily enough and didn’t seem put out by it; if anything she seemed happy to talk – although Max noted that any questions regarding Victoria’s parents or family life were quickly avoided by her.

Ryan, who had been relieved of cooking duties had joined them, informing them that more people were due to arrive soon enough and that Max would have to help prepare the table in due course, much to her complaints. Victoria was about to offer to help when her cell rang, and she glanced at the screen with a frown before with an apology leaving the room to answer it. Max watched her go still feeling very happy with life and she smiled to herself at the thought of where things were now compared to where it had been just a few months prior.

“Well, she clearly makes you happy,” her Grandma observed. “I don’t think I’ve seen you smile so much for such a long time.”

“She’s done well, hasn’t she,” observed Ryan. “I was beginning to give up hope that she would ever find anyone.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Max protested. “You never thought any such thing. And I only told you a few months ago that I was gay, so -”

“Max, it was obvious for years,” he retorted. “I’m your father, it’s my duty to notice these things to prepare to defend the family honour.”

“She’s very nice,” her Grandma said. “Not quite what I expected, which is a good thing. I hope that she stays like this when she ends up running that evil corporation.”

“Evil corporation?” asked Vanessa, bringing in a fresh glass of gin for her Mother. “Wait – you haven’t been interrogating Victoria and going on about your youth, have you?” Joan looked a little embarrassed and concentrated on her drink, seemingly suddenly fascinated by it.

“Mother,” Vanessa groaned, “why would you do that? Why can’t either of you -” She jabbed a finger at Ryan and her Mother – “just be normal with her? She’s Max’s girlfriend, you have to be nice to her. That’s an order.” There was a general grumbling and Max looked gratefully at her Mom – the last thing she wanted was them to scare Victoria off, even inadvertently.

“Huh, that's odd - it's snowing,” remarked Ryan looking out of the window to change the subject. “I thought it was quite mild today, that’s unusual.”

“Climate change,” Max said offhandedly. “It's only going to get worse too. I saw a thing about how the change in temperature is affecting the migration of whales.” There was a pause while everyone digested the information.

“Well that's odd, it's not snowing out the front,” said Vanessa. “Well, at least it wasn't a moment ago.”

“Must be the whales,” her Dad said, making Max roll her eyes. Something was poking at the back of her brain, trying to get her attention.

It's a big problem, I don't know why they think it's funny. Freak weather like snowstorms could be a harbinger of much bigger changes.

Snowstorms in this weather though is not exactly rare, but -

Wait, where's Victoria?

Oh no.

Oh fuck.

Max leapt out of her chair and ran through the kitchen and out into the garden. Snow was gently falling despite the clear skies, coating the garden in a pleasing blanket - but Max could feel a wave of cold wash over her, a cold emanating from a figure sitting on her old swing and surrounded by ever growing piles of snow and ice. Without a moment's hesitation she froze time and ran over to Victoria, her feet slipping away from under her on the slick surface.

Victoria looked up at her as soon as she touched her, quickly realising that Max had stopped time. She didn't say anything but just looked at her with an anguished expression, a mixture of anger and sadness.

“Victoria,” Max said, kneeling down in front of her and wrapping her arms around her waist. “What is it? What's wrong?” Victoria laughed bitterly, staring out at the winter scene she had created, snowflakes suspended in the air.

“Just me being fucking stupid as always. Look at me, the slightest thing and here we are, me fucking everything up again.”

“What slightest thing? What's happened?” Max grabbed her hands in concern, catching her breath at how cold they were. She wished she had thrown on her jacket before coming out as she could feel the cold slowly creeping into her. Victoria shook her head and just stared into the distance, looking thoroughly miserable. Max could feel Victoria's power still swirling around inside of her, and her head was beginning to dimly throb with the effort of holding time still for them both.

“Vic, you really need to tell me, this is starting to hurt a little and I can't have you freezing me and my family to death, can I.” Victoria sighed heavily and closed her eyes, before speaking in a quiet voice that wavered a little.

“Family,” she said. “That was mine who called. They wanted to know where I was. What I was doing, why I wasn't at home.”

“Well that's good isn't it? What's wrong with that?”

“They are not supposed to be there! They were supposed to be out of the country. And they wanted me to go over for lunch today but I told them I couldn't. But I have to go tomorrow.” Victoria was clearly becoming agitated and Max stood up and wrapped her arms awkwardly around her as Victoria sat on the swing.

“That's doesn't sound too bad, does it? I mean they clearly want to see you and spend some time with you.”

“Ugh. You don't understand it. It won't be a nice thing like.. like it is here, where I actually feel welcome.” Victoria looked back at Max's house, a slightly wistful expression on her face. “They are going to interrogate me about everything, and then demand that I do what they want regardless of what I want, and.. and..”

“And?” Max was really beginning to feel pain creeping up on her, a stabbing sensation behind her eyes that was becoming ever more painful the longer she held time still.

“And they will go on about my life and choices and how I'm not living up to their impossible standards, and I can't even tell them about you.” Max closed her eyes for a second, willing herself to go on for a bit longer.

“Why not? I mean you can just say I'm your friend, at least.”

“I don't want to lie about you!” Victoria said with some passion, and she looked at Max, her face earnest. “Would you want me to hide you from them like I'm ashamed? Also, are you feeling OK? You're looking a little pale.”

“I feel like my head is about to explode and I'm getting really cold, but it's OK - I want you to be calm enough when I restart time that we can just go back in without anyone asking questions, or me having to rewind. Actually I can't rewind anyway without suddenly disappearing from the lounge, so this is the next best thing. It's all I could think of.”

“Oh fuck, I'm so sorry. I didn't think, I.. I just..” She stopped and looked around herself once more. “I just fucked up. Again.” Max smiled, her teeth beginning to chatter and a tingling sensation in her nose warning her of an onset nosebleed.

“Maybe, but you're my fuck up. Times nearly up though, I'm going to have to restart or I will pass out and then die of hypothermia.” Before Max could react Victoria pushed her away and immediately froze as the link between them disconnected, and Max felt the pressure began to ease a little - she was still pushing herself but it was not so painful now. It was always so much harder when she had to do things with Victoria; taking her back was one thing, but holding time still with her seemed to be the hardest of all. With a sigh of relief she let time flow, checking her nose wasn't bleeding.

Just in time, good.

Ha. Time.

Victoria stood up from the swing and hugged her, apologising as she did so. Max gladly accepted the embrace, trying to scavenge whatever heat she could from Victoria who was rapidly warming up.

“I’m sorry Max, I didn’t mean for this to happen. But I have to go tomorrow, I can’t avoid it. And I’m worried - what if I end up doing something like this? Could you imagine?”

“Well don’t then. Or – if you do, send me a message and I’ll rewind then text you to warn you. So you’ll know to control yourself.” Victoria looked at her, a smile creeping across her face.

“That’s.. that’s brilliant. Of course, you can just undo it then warn me. I’ll make sure I’ll have my cell on so I know.” Max grinned and gave her some finger guns.

“See – I’m clever.” Victoria grabbed her fingers and scowled.

“Don’t ever do that again. We can meet up somewhere afterwards, what do you think?” Max tried to free her fingers, but Victoria was holding on tightly.

“Sounds great, we can go on the waterfront, or maybe a museum, or oh I know, a bookstore! Plus we don’t have to be back to Blackwell until Sunday, so we can stay as long as we need. I’m sure my parents won’t mind.”

“I’ll buy them a thank-you present,” Victoria said, twisting on the spot as Max contorted to get her fingers back.

“Aha!” she said with a triumphant shout, getting one hand free and pretending to shoot Victoria again who quickly tried to grab it, causing them both to dissolve into a fit of giggles as she tried to grab Max’s hand while she kept shooting and making pew-pew noises. The sound of the kitchen door opening made them both turn around – luckily the snow and ice was already melting away, making it look more just like a sudden snowstorm rather than anything untoward.

“Max – can you come help lay the table?” her Dad called.

“Coming!” Max answered, before looking back at Victoria. “Better?”

“Better.” Victoria gave her a kiss, which Max prolonged for as long as she could before breaking away, both of them smiling happily. Max grabbed Victoria’s hand and pulled her along.

“Come on, let’s go back inside. Oh, and before I forget – I apologise in advance for my Uncle, too.”

Chapter Text

Victoria drove slowly up the drive from the gatehouse, an uneasy feeling settling in her stomach as the house loomed into view. It struck her - as if she was seeing it for the first time - just how big it was, and how empty it seemed. Max's house would have easily fitted into the ground floor of just one of the wings, but she knew that given the choice she would choose to be there instead in an instant.

It took her a few moments to get out of the car while she sat there running through various permutations of the impending conversation in her head. Suitably prepared, she walked up to the front door and went to ring the bell before stopping as if remembering something; instead she got out her keys and unlocked the door.

“Hello?” she called, her voice echoing down the empty atrium as the door slammed shut behind her. “It's me, Victoria - I'm home.” There was no answer and she began to make her way towards the main dining room when seemingly out of nowhere a middle-aged woman appeared, dressed in a smart suit.

“Ms Victoria, welcome home. Can I take anything? Is there anything you need?” Victoria found herself giving the woman a friendly smile, which made the woman raise an eyebrow.

“Oh hello, Maria. It's nice to see you again. Apparently my parents are having lunch somewhere?” Maria nodded curtly, then realised what Victoria had said.

“Thank you, Ms Victoria. Your parents are in the main dining room awaiting you. Can I take anything? Do you need any-” Victoria shook her head and looked past her, as if trying to see through the walls.

“No, no - it's all good, I know the way. I'm sure you have other, more important things to be doing.” There was a pause while Maria looked at her with an inscrutable expression, before giving her a cautious smile and thanks and disappearing to wherever she had come from. Victoria walked down the corridor, absent-mindedly looking at the various portraits and statues that lined the walls. She vaguely remembered her younger self being told at length who each of them were and why they were important; but now they were just a group of predominantly old men staring back at her. Over three hundred years of Chase family history was memorialised in front of her; with her as the last member of that House.

Victoria's heels clacked against the stone flooring as she made her way to the dining room, feeling increasingly nervous as she got closer and reminding herself that she had to - no, must - keep control of herself. She didn't want to have to use the Max get out of jail free card, but knowing it was there was a small comfort.

The tall oak doors creaked open as she entered, with the heavy wood panelling matched by the long table that stretched away from her. Seated at the far end were her parents, and she could see one of their interchangeable PA's hovering in the background. A place was set for her at the opposite end of the table as normal, which she suddenly realised was rather ridiculous.

“Hello Victoria,” her Mother said, looking up at her as she entered. “You are looking well; it's good of you to join us.” Her tone was pleasant but formal, but Victoria couldn't help but detect a small rebuke in what she had said.

I'm not the ones who have been out of the fucking country for the last six months. You could have come and seen me at any time.

“Mother. Father.” Victoria slowly sat down in her seat, aware of their eyes upon her. Not for the first time she was struck by just how much she looked like her Mother, who was immaculately dressed and made up as always. Her Father looked slightly older, a little grey peeping around his temples but with the same serious face and serious suit as always. Victoria couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him smile, or at least smile at something she had done.

As soon as she was seated the far door opened and in swept some serving staff with the starter for their lunch – some Lobster Bisque with various breads, which Victoria poked at with a spoon. There was a silence in the room, broken only by the sound of expensive cutlery clattering on even more expensive china.

“How are you both?” Victoria eventually asked, to break the silence more than anything. It seemed a long way from the hustle and bustle of yesterday’s lunch, with Max's family all crowded around the dinner table; but she knew that this was the also only family she really had and had decided to try and make the best of it.

“Good actually,” said her Father. “We've managed to close on a controlling interest in some lithium extraction around Atacama, which should be profitable and put us in a good strategic position going forward. We are expecting an increasing emphasis on electric vehicles globally, so it should be a sound investment.”

“We've also increased the holding around Entrechaux, and the restoration is nearly complete,” her Mother continued. “We now own roughly 20 percent of the village centre as well as the surrounding farmland. It's where we went after Monaco, as Françoise wanted to show us the improvements to the Chateau. You should see the new vineyard that has been planted, it's quite spectacular.” Victoria looked at them both, realising that she had been told nothing.

“No, I meant how are you two? Not how is the business, or the old house. I haven't seen you both for months, and.. I just wanted to know how you are.” There was a glance of surprise between the two of them and then her Mother practically smiled at her, which nearly made her fall of her chair in shock.

“We are good, Victoria. A little tired from all of the travel, and I keep telling your Father to slow down, but you know how he is.”

No, I don't. Not anymore.

“We can't afford to let things slip,” her Father said grouchily. “The Family needs to be maintained, and that requires hard work and dedication.” Victoria wondered at what point in history 'The Family' had become synonymous with 'The Company' and vice versa, and what things would have been like without it. Would they instead be sitting at a small table, eating simple food but actually enjoying it? There was another pause as Victoria tried her soup; it was expectedly delicious. She idly wondered if the PA had eaten yet, or whether she was being forced to watch them all eat. Just as she wound up the courage to ask her Father spoke again.

“I was impressed by your proposal for Blackwell Academy, Victoria. That was a well thought out piece of business that should prove profitable for the future, especially for a supply of easily recruitable future employees with the skills we need. Well done.”

“Thank you, Father,” Victoria said, finding herself basking in the unexpected praise. “I thought it was a good solution to the situation that I had found myself in.”

Or you had put me in.

“Speaking of which,” he continued, “we do need to discuss your future. You will be going to university next year, and we have already been in contact with a few people we know at Harvard and Princeton about you joining there. Of course, you'll major in Business, but there will be a chance to choose other complementary electives.” Victoria just stared at them as they continued to eat their soup, the matter seemingly settled. She felt a cold sweat break out on her forehead at the thought that the near future – potentially the last year she would be spending with Max before whatever the fuck was going to happen would happen – was being decided for her. What was worse than the cold sweat was the unwelcome feeling of her power treacherously deciding that now would be a good time to manifest itself.

“No,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper and a sick feeling in her stomach. She stared at the table, aware of the sudden cessation of spoons clanking on china.

“What did you say, Victoria?” asked her Mother, in a voice that seemed perfectly designed to make her feel like she was eight again and being told off for not practising her piano enough.

“I said no,” Victoria said again, this time in a louder voice; raising her head and trying to look her parents in the eye. “I want to choose where I go. It's my life, my future – I want to do something I want to do.”

“We've discussed this before, Victoria,” replied her Mother. “We let you go to Blackwell because we thought that you would get over this silly little phase of yours and finally grow up. It's clear that -”

“It's not a 'phase', Mother,” Victoria practically spat. “I like photography. I'm good at photography. Very good. Why can't you just -”

“Being a Chase has responsibilities,” cut in her Father with a wave of his spoon. “You cannot just abandon them because you think you might be good at taking pictures. All of this -” he gestured around at the room “- is because of the hard work and dedication that we have all put in, what we have all sacrificed for. Me, your Mother, and everyone before us. And you in the future will do the same.”

Victoria gripped her spoon tightly, fighting the overwhelming urge to just throw a chunk of ice at their stupid bowls of soup and immaculate clothing. Her own soup had already long since frozen solid.

“And you have shown through your involvement with that boy Prescott that you cannot be trusted to choose the right circles to mix with, so therefore we have to choose for you.” Victoria blanched at her Mother's words; as much as she didn't want to admit it, she had a point – or at least would have had a point. Things had changed now; Victoria had changed – she was no longer that person. She was different. Better. Stronger.

“The people you will meet at Harvard would be much more appropriate for you to be socialising with, rather than a crowd of small-town nonentities wasting their lives,” her Mother continued. “The contacts you make now will pay dividends later on – knowing the future leaders and policy makers is integral in maintaining our position.” Victoria was only half listening – she'd heard all of this before, on more than one occasion and at much greater length. She glanced at the PA who seemed to be doing her best to ignore the conversation, and she briefly wondered what she made of it all.

Probably thinks the whole thing is ridiculous and that I am just an over privileged brat, and only stands there because of the money.

What was really annoying her, however, was the description of her Max – Max, her girlfriend, her lover; the one person who seemed to just accept her as she was, and possibly the most powerful person on the planet – and not just Max, but Taylor and Courtney and Kate and even Dana, as nonentities. These nonentities who had more personality and intelligence than all the other so-called acceptable members of her social class she had met, the nonentities who had become her friends, friends more real than she had ever had in her life before.

Victoria was slowly winding herself up in ever increasing levels of anger and annoyance, which was beginning to visibly manifest itself in the most obvious way that it normally did; thin tendrils of frost were appearing on the edge of the table – which only served to make her more annoyed at both herself and the situation. The chiming of her cell served as a welcome distraction, and she hastily dug it out of her bag. The message was short and to the point.

1:24 p.m Mxx: I can't rewind any more you are on your own

Victoria felt a wave of guilt and nausea flood through her – just how many times had she fucked up and forced Max to redo this? Why couldn't she keep herself from losing control all the time? She used to be able to do it, so why not now?

Because you were even more of a fucking mess then than you are now, weren't you.

She looked down the long table at her parents, so distant and far away, so unknowing about her life and what she wanted, what she needed.

And what I need to do..

Victoria abruptly stood up, her chair scraping loudly across the floor as she did so. She picked up her cutlery and glass of water, leaving her frozen soup behind, and walked down the table to where her parents were, overly conscious of their eyes on her. She pulled out a chair from next to her Mother, the feet seemingly to deliberately make as much noise as they possibly could as they were dragged across the floor. Victoria quickly sat down, arranging her cutlery out in front of her as slowly as she could, as if buying time. Eventually she looked up at her parents with a bravely brittle smile.

“There we go, now we no longer need to shout at each other.” Her parents looked at her as if completely baffled, before her Father suddenly burst out into a short bark of laughter, a sound Victoria realised she had not heard for what seemed like forever. Even her Mother smiled thinly, and the very sight made her feel giddy inside. Victoria took a moment to compose her thoughts, doing her best to keep her voice level and without too much emotion – both to try to control her power, and because of what they had drilled into her for years growing up.

“Father. Mother. You have to let me decide what I want to do. Let me be my own person, make my own mistakes – and take responsibility for it. Like a Chase should.” Her parents exchanged a glance, as if silently communicating a conversation they had had many, many times over between them.

“Victoria, you are our only child and we only want the best for you,” her Mother said. “You are the heir to everything this family has built up over a long time, and we have to ensure that that legacy is maintained. You must understand that we only have your best interests at heart when we say these things.”

You mean the best interests of the family, not me.

“But you never once asked me what my best interests are. It's always you deciding for me, and I can't-”

“Victoria, you've not exactly shown us that you can make the best decisions,” rebuked her Father. “Your behaviour before you went to Blackwell was bad enough – how many times did we have to get the lawyers involved to cover up for your antics? And just in the last few months - do you even have the slightest idea how we felt when we saw in the news that Prescott had been arrested? Especially after you told us how much of a friend he was of yours. To think you could have been involved in that -” He stopped when he saw the expression on his daughters face – Victoria's thoughts had immediately jumped to a red binder with her name on it and the knowledge that in at least one other reality she was dead, murdered by the very people she thought she had wrapped around her finger.

“What is it?” her Father asked, his tone now one of slight concern. He glanced at her Mother, raising an eyebrow as if questioning if she knew anything.

“Victoria? What is it?” Her Mother bent over to try and get a better look at Victoria, who was now staring down at the table, fists clenched tight. Victoria's imagination had decided to fill out with gleeful delight all the various ways she could have ended up as another Rachel Amber; dying alone and forgotten in a ditch somewhere – with the worst of it being the fact that she knew, she knew, that it had happened to her – until that Max had stopped it, and sacrificed herself in the process.

“I -” She looked up and caught the eye of the PA, who was standing there and pretending to not take any notice. “Actually, could you leave? This is a private matter.” The woman hesitated until there was a surreptitious nod from her Father, and with a small half bow left the room. Victoria waited for a moment to make sure they were really alone, before looking at her slightly bemused parents.

“If I tell you something, promise me.. promise me you won't get all mad or judgemental; or tell me how disappointed you are. Not until I've finished anyway.” She paused, watching their reaction – their faces were inscrutable, carefully set to not give away any indication as to what they were thinking – years of being at the top level of business having made it second nature to them. “And you can't tell anyone about this, either. Please promise me.” Victoria's voice was almost pleading, and something in her voice seemed to indicate to her parents that she was, for once, being serious.

“Of course, Victoria. You can trust us, we're your parents,” said her Father.

“You haven't done anything illegal, have you?” demanded her Mother. “This had better not be a repeat of-”

“Mother!” said Victoria in exasperation. She wondered how many times she had had this conversation with them, and how badly it had gone wrong before – she made a mental to note to thank Max when she saw her later.

Maybe I'll buy her some flowers. Wait does she like flowers? What does she like apart from stupid hipster shit? Why don't I know this?

Oh, I know.. maybe I could -

“Victoria?” Victoria blinked, realising she had been spacing out like Max usually did.

“Sorry, I was just thinking of something.” She paused, took a deep breath then looked up at her Father, fixing her gaze at him as if daring him to doubt her. “There was a binder with my name on it. I was next.” The room was deathly quiet as they both stared at her, before her Mother frowned and spoke, clearly not believing her.

“Victoria, this is just - how do you know? Are you sure? This sounds a bit-”

“Because I’m the fucking one who brought in the FBI, OK?” Victoria shouted, before forcing herself to calm down and speak in a more controlled manner. “Me and my.. my friend, we had found it all out. We realised what had been happening and we called them in, told them what to find and where. And we were right.” There was another silence as they both digested the information, her Father having an expression that seemed to Victoria to be one of admiration and approval. Her Mother, though, appeared to not be buying it.

“Victoria, what have I told you before about lying about things? This is just like the time-”

“I’m not lying,” Victoria said quietly, turning to gaze with defiance at her Mother with a courage she didn’t realise she had within her – given everything that had happened to her over the past few months, confronting her parents suddenly seemed not insurmountable. “Call the District Attorney – Mr Amber – if you don’t believe me. Go on, call him now. I’ll wait.” As if to emphasise it she tossed her cell onto the table, where it lay as a direct accusatory rebuke to her Mother

“There’s no need for that, Victoria,” answered her Father. “I believe you.” He stared at her for a moment before rubbing his face as if agitated, then swore under his breath. Victoria was shocked; she had never seen him like this (or at least she couldn’t remember having seen it – but then what she had chosen to remember of her parents was decidedly selective and one sided) and she didn’t quite know what to think.

She watched as he picked up his cell and dialled a number, staring at her all the time with a mixture of what appeared to be anger and regret, and she realised that she didn’t feel anxious at all, which caught her a little by surprise.

“Simon? Matthew. No, listen - I have a new assignment. I want you to find out everything you can about the Prescott family – yes, that one. I mean business interests, assets, surviving relatives – everything. We are going to utterly destroy them, I don’t care what it takes. Yes, that is correct. Arrange a meeting for next Monday. No, I’ll be in touch. Thanks.” He hung up and gave Victoria a smile that seemed positively predatory and rubbed his hands together as if in satisfaction at a job well done, or a pleasing task ahead. “I’ll sort this Victoria, no-one messes with the Chase’s, especially with my daughter, and gets away with it.” Victoria didn’t answer, but felt slightly perturbed by the fact that her Father was acting like some sort of mafia boss from a film – but then she knew that there was a long and at times unsavoury family history stretching behind her, so why would it be any different now?

But it could be different with me. When I am in charge.

“Thank you, Father. I think.” She didn’t look at her Mother, who she could sense was still disapproving of whatever she did. “I know in the past I may have not been the best behaved,” she continued with remarkable understatement, “but going to Blackwell, and making my own friends – and yes, I know not all of them were the best choice – has helped me grow up a bit. Be my own person, be able to understand what it takes to be the person I need to be.” She paused, her mind rapidly working on the best way to convince her parents. “You even said it yourself you were impressed with my proposal for the school, and given I also managed to stop.. stop those things from happening, can you not see I can do it? Can you not trust me a little bit now? Can you not trust me to choose where I want to go to University, to study what I want to study?” Her parents looked at each other again, faces impassive before her Mother spoke.

“Victoria, you have to look at it from our point of view. We are your parents and we only want the best for you, but above all we want you to be safe. We worry about you and given what you just said we are right to be worried.” Victoria rolled her eyes, feeling exasperated but doing her best to keep herself under control.

“I can look after myself. And I’ve had to, haven’t I – you both are never fucking around.” Victoria couldn’t help herself; the stark difference between her stay at Max’s and the open welcome she had received was in stark contrast to this austere, awkward lunch in an empty room with the people who were supposed to be there for her.

“Victoria! Language!” admonished her Mother, but Victoria didn’t care and doubled down, thinking she had nothing to lose.

“Well it’s true, isn’t it? You are fucking never here anymore. I’m just left to rot in this fucking house on my own, while you are obsessed with just getting more and more useless stuff. You say I’m in danger – how the fuck do you know I am?” She pointed a finger shaking with anger and nerves at her Mother. “What courses am I doing at Blackwell? Can you tell me?”

“I.. Victoria- ” Victoria turned to her Father, the finger wavering.

“Do you know who my friends are? What I like to do?” Her Father held her gaze but showed no reaction – if anything he seemed a little amused by her outburst. Her Mother suddenly shivered and rubbed her arms, and Victoria quickly realised her mistake – she stood up and went to stand between the two of them, as if forcing them to look up at her but instead getting a safe distance away to buy her time to calm down. She put a hand to her forehead, being careful not to mess up her hair and closed her eyes, conscious of her parents just looking at her, as if waiting for the next outburst – to which they would eventually lose patience and the whole thing would end up in another tedious argument.

“Look, I’m sorry,” she said instead. “I didn’t mean to lose my temper, but can you not see? All I want.. all I want is my parents back. How it used to be. Like that time we went skiing years ago, do you remember? Can we not just have a normal lunch like a normal family?” She looked beseechingly at her parents, and it felt like there was a tension in the air - as if things could go one way or the other until her Mother suddenly sighed.

“I don’t want to fight with you, Victoria. And neither does your Father. You are our daughter and we are proud of you, even if we don’t show it enough, it seems.” Victoria was caught by surprise; she couldn't remember the last time they had said they were proud of anything she had done, nor backed down from a confrontation with her.

“We wanted you over for Thanksgiving because we hadn't seen you for so long,” her Father said. “And yes, admittedly it was to discuss your future, but also to see you. Maybe our priorities were a little wrong.”

You think?

And did my Father just admit he was wrong?

Victoria slowly sat down again and looked at them both. She wondered if she should have tried to rebuild bridges sooner – but realised that before everything with Max had happened, she was in a far too destructive cycle to have done so. Either way, considering how she had felt before coming here, this was as best an outcome as she could ever possibly imagined.

“So,” her Mother said, trying a friendly smile on her face to see how it fitted, “as we are trying to be ‘normal’, I will ask you about yesterday. You said you were staying over at a friend’s house. Is it someone we know? No-one we know informed us of this, so..?”

Oh fuck.

“It was a friend from Blackwell who lives here in Seattle,” she stammered. “A new one I've made, a really good one. They helped me uncover the whole Prescott thing,” she added, as if trying to vouch for Max's validity as a friend.

“And you stayed the night?” asked her Mother with a raised eyebrow. Before Victoria could answer some attendants came into the room as if silently summoned and whisked the dishes away again, to be replaced with the main course – Seared White Sturgeon with Caviar Beurre Blanc. Victoria's stomach grumbled with hunger – although the dish smelled delicious, there just wasn't enough of it for her liking. There were a few minutes of quiet as the three of them tucked in, and Victoria began to think that the subject of her new friend had been dropped before her Father spoke again, a glint in his eye.

“So, this new friend of yours.. do I need to stop Veronica matchmaking?” Victoria coughed on her food, grabbing the serviette immediately handed to her by her Mother before taking a sip of water.

“Pardon?” she said weakly, trying to stall for time – but her Father clearly wasn't having any of it.

“This new friend who you stayed over with, for perhaps the first time I can ever remember. What's their name?”

“Max,” Victoria said, suddenly regretting the attempt at trying to rebuild the bridges to her parents. They, meanwhile, exchanged a meaningful look, and her Mother took the lead in the inquisition.

“Well you are finally making some progress in that area, at least. What business are the family in? How serious is this? Are you taking suitable precautions? I trust that you will introduce us to him, and his family.” Victoria suddenly wished for Max's rewind powers and wondered if it was karma for egging on Max's Grandma yesterday so much.

“It's.. it's not like that, and anyway it's only been a few months and.. and.. Max is.. is.. is a..” The word just couldn't leave her lips, no matter how hard she tried.

“Well, there's no rush – if it lasts, I'm sure we will meet him in a few months, yes? I mean we can trust you to make a good choice now, can't we?” Victoria stared glumly at her food, defeated – she knew that if she wanted to show that she was as capable and independent as she was saying, then introducing her new partner would be an excellent way of demonstrating it, especially as it was Max.

The problem – the big, big problem - was that it was Max.



Max was waiting for her near the big wheel, leaning against a railing and looking out over the waterfront. She hadn't yet seen Victoria approach, and Victoria fished out her cell to quickly take a picture of her – she was pleased with the results, especially give it was just taken on her crappy cell.

“Hey,” she said, and Max turned to face her with a happy smile that made her feel all squishy inside.

“Hey you.” Max leaned in to give her a kiss, and after a brief hesitation before she reminded herself that she had left her parents far behind, Victoria leaned in to receive it.

“How was your lunch date?” asked Max. “Did you all manage to not kill each other?” Victoria gave her a withering look before handing her a bag.

“Yes. And I bought you a present by means of a thank you.”

“A present? For me?” Max snatched the bag out of Victoria's hand and delved into the contents, pulling out a cardboard box that was ornately decorated, which she quickly opened.

“Doughnuts!” she cried in delight, pulling out a sticky, gooey, tooth destroying mess.

“Not just doughnuts, but posh doughnuts. Apparently there was a good French bakery around the corner, so I popped in there to get you some as a thank you.”

“For what?” asked Max, mouth already full and bits of chocolate stuck to her chin.

“You don’t have to eat them all right now,” Victoria said, looking with disgust at Max as she stuffed the rest of the doughnut in her mouth. “It was a thank you for helping me today with all the rewinds. Everything ended up being OK after that. Almost normal. Almost.” Max rooted though the box for another doughnut.

“Ooh, raspberry jam and cream with icing! Yum!” She held it up for inspection, and Victoria’s teeth seemed to rot just looking at it. “It’s very kind of you, but you needn’t have – I didn’t rewind at all.” Max took a bite of the new doughnut, giggling as the cream oozed down her chin creating even more of a mess. Victoria just stared at her as her brain tried to reconfigure the entirety of the afternoon.

“Wait.. you didn’t.. but you sent a message saying you did? What.. I thought that..” Max gave her a mischievous grin from around the doughnut.

“Well I knew that you would probably lose it with them, so to save myself the whole effort of having to do it to get to that point, I thought I’d just skip it all. And it worked, I bet.” Victoria just stared at Max, not sure whether to be furious or impressed.

“Why you little… give me that! Give me them back! You don’t deserve those!” Max danced away from her laughing, clutching the box in one hand while stuffing the rest of the doughnut into her face with the other.

“Not a chance! You gave them to me and they are mine now! All mine!”

“Come back here you duplicitous little shit!” growled Victoria, running after her. She reached out to grab hold of her, but Max was suddenly a few metres away, still laughing as she opened the box once more.

“Stay back, Chase! Don’t come between me and my sugary treats!”

“I hate you, Maxine Caulfield.”

“Mmphh, these are sooo good.” Max licked her fingers, and Victoria narrowed her eyes debating whether she could get away with a quick blast of ice to knock it from her hands. Max pulled out a doughnut that seemed entirely composed of purple and held it out in front of her as shield.

“If you just heat yourself up for a second, you’ll realise I did you a favour. You managed to get through it all on your own, without me helping you.” Victoria had realised that already, but it did little to assuage her annoyance.

“Yes thank you, I get that. You still don’t deserve those though, so gimme. Now.”

“What’s your problem then? You didn’t do anything stupid, and I got doughnuts. Everyone wins.” Victoria knew Max was right, but it just didn’t seem fair – she felt she had been tricked into behaving well.

Wait, that’s a bit of a fucked up way of looking at it. I shouldn’t have to be tricked into it.

Ugh. She's so annoying.

“Fine, whatever. But don’t eat them all, you’ll be sick.” Max looked at her then reluctantly put the purple monstrosity back in the box, but still cradled it protectively. Victoria rolled her eyes and took a step towards her, causing Max try to shield the box some more.

“Mine! My preccciouusssssss..”

“I’m not going to steal them Max, I just want to give you some wipes as you look like a two-year-old.” Victoria proffered a packet as evidence, then pulled one out and began to dab at Max’s face. “And why did you say it in that silly way, are you trying to reference something nerdy that I don’t know about? They are only doughnuts, not like a ruling ring of power or anything.” She stepped back and admired her handiwork. “There we go, you look human now.” Max stood on her tiptoes and kissed her, still clutching the box tight just in case.

“Thank you. And really, well done with today. You can tell me all about it once we are on there.” She nodded her head towards the wheel that loomed up behind them.

“You want to go on that? Why?”

“Because it’ll be fun, and romantic. And you can tell me about your lunch with your parents. And then we can go for a walk along the front, and then some food – there’s a Thai nearby which is supposed to be good. What do you think?” Max looked up at her with a happy expression, and Victoria couldn’t help but smile back at her.

“That.. sounds perfect. But only on one condition.” Max looked at her quizzically, tilting her head to one side and causing her hair to fall across a cheek.

“Oh? What’s that?”

“I get lots of hugs and kisses.” Max laughed and did just that, then took Victoria by the hand and led her towards the wheel. Victoria reflected that, on the whole, today had been a good day – and was only going to get better.

Chapter Text

Kate sat at her desk trying to finish her homework and failing miserably. She was distracted by two separate, but equally pressing, issues. Firstly, there was only a week or so left until the end of term, which meant heading back home to her family and the mixed reaction she knew was going to receive. She was looking forward to seeing her sisters again and catching up with them, and she knew that her father would be as supportive as ever. The problem, looming over everything like a black cloud, was her mother and some of her other relatives. Despite the results of the FBI investigation, the arrest of Jefferson and Nathan, the exposure of the wider network, the mass media coverage (which, luckily she was omitted from) and the complete and utter vindication of the fact that Kate was a blameless victim, that still was not enough in their eyes. Kate was there to be judged and blamed, a sinner who had to repent to be absolved.

Kate had always known that there were two sides to her faith - the compassionate, forgiving (sometimes, she realised, to a fault) faith that she subscribed too, and the fiery, condemning side that she secretly suspected were just one big bunch of hypocrites. A Christmas spent in their company - a time when they were all supposed to be coming together to celebrate both the birth of Christ and their time together as a family - was looking decidedly stressful and uninviting.

Secondly, and completely tied in with the issue of faith, was the ever increasingly confusing emotions she was going through - watching Max and Victoria together (who, she grudgingly had to admit to herself, wasn't as bad as she had always thought - she'd even seen glimpses of what Max presumably saw in her) just served to remind her of what she knew she wanted to be able to do - be open and proud, not having to hide or be ashamed any more of what she was. And if even Victoria could do it and be happy, then why shouldn't she be able to?

Thrown into this were the feelings she had for a certain someone which only seemed to grow the more time they spent with each other; someone who she didn't know if they even liked girls, let alone reciprocated the feelings she had. The fact that the relationship with Trevor seemed to be over had kindled the vaguest flame of hope in her heart; but the fear of rejection and discovery haunted her every waking hour. This turmoil was decidedly not helped by seeing Max roaming around Blackwell in her own sunny cloud; Kate felt envious of her happiness which she knew was a very un-Christian thing to be feeling, but she couldn't help it.

One thing she had started doing however was leaving her door ajar; a habit she had picked up from Dana to serve as a prompt for her (or anyone else, she always added hurriedly to herself) to enter for a chat – and a way of ensuring she was not going to isolate herself away from anyone else again. Kate had a constant desire to at least know that there were other people around – it was a comfort and helped reassure her that she was safe with her friends.

Right now though, she was decidedly reassessing that policy as it was not helping to alleviate her suffering as she suddenly heard Max's voice in the corridor, followed by her knocking loudly on the door of the adjacent room.

“Victoria, come on, I promise I'll behave.” Kate could just about make out the muffled reply from Victoria – the walls weren't thick at Blackwell, but they were thick enough to hide what she was saying – Kate wondered why on other nights they hadn't seem to hide the noises from next door, and reminded herself to get some earplugs. Max knocked again, her voice amongst pleading.

“Please, we'll be late otherwise. You said you were happy to go, so.. come on, don't make me beg.” Kate threw down her pen, stretched then stood up, deciding that work could wait another hour or two. She stuck her head outside the door and saw Max, smartly dressed and standing outside Victoria's room, looking a little lost.

“Max, everything OK?” she asked, leaning against the wall as she watched Max knock again.

“Victoria, please.. we need to go or we'll be late.” Max turned to face Kate, looking a little pouty. “I'm fine, Kate, it's just.. well, Victoria. She's being a BIG STUPID MEANIE!” Max said that last part back to the door, and Kate realised that whatever was going on, wasn't remotely serious – even she, with her limited experience of relationships, could see that.

“Where are you both off to?” she enquired politely, after a muffled 'Fuck off, Lamefield!' was heard from the other side of the door.

“We're supposed to go the movies in Portland, that's all,” shrugged Max, before turning back to the door. “But we are GOING TO BE LATE!” Kate heard what sounded like 'I don't care, you can just fix that anyway' through the door which left her feeling a little puzzled.

“What's up with her, then? Is there anything I can do to help?” Max smiled at her, then shook her head.

“No, but thank you Kate, that's very kind. Victoria is just in a mood because I made a little joke that I thought was funny-”

- 'It wasn't funny and you promised!' -

“- which was and still is funny, and now she's just in a mood.” Kate looked at Max and realised that while she was happy for her she still had to do her best to squash that feeling of envy that threatened to creep up on her.

“Well you could always go with someone else?” she said innocently, but loud enough for Victoria to hear behind her door. “I mean I’m busy tonight, but I'm sure there would be someone else willing to go.. like Warren maybe..” Kate swore she heard a thump against the door, but that was immediately replaced by a cackle from Max.

“Ha! You hear that Chase? Maybe I should go ask -” The door flew open, revealing a positively seething Victoria who glared first at Max then at Kate; who despite the virtual 180 degree change in their relationship still found herself wilting slightly under that fearsome gaze.

“You fucking ask that fucking stalker on another fucking date and I will fucking end you. Painfully.” Max didn't react but just bopped her on the nose.

“So we going then?” Victoria huffed then grabbed Max by the hand with feigned annoyance.

“Fine, let’s go see your stupid kids’ film then.”

“Yay!” Max waved at Kate as she was dragged down the corridor and Kate raised a hand in farewell back, watching until they disappeared through the doors at the end. She stood there for a minute watching the doors, before with a sigh levering herself off the wall and finding herself stepping past her door and onto the ever open and welcoming door of Dana's room, where she leaned against the door frame looking in. Dana was sitting cross legged on her bed reading a book, looking like she was already dressed for bed in shorts and a top, even though it was still early. Kate found herself just staring at her, eyes unconsciously travelling the length of her body until she realised what she was doing and looked away, embarrassed with herself.

“You can come in you know,” Dana said without looking up, and Kate wondered if she knew she had been looking at her – either way she didn't seem to indicate that she minded if she had. Kate went and sat on the bed, close but not too close to Dana, who marked a place in her book and then gave Kate a smile that seemed to go right through her like a hot lance.

“So what was all that noise about?”

“Oh, it was just Victoria and Max doing their thing, having a pretend argument. They're off to the movies.” Dana snorted and looked at the open door, as if trying to still see them.

“It’s still really weird that whole thing, isn't it? Those two together, I mean I'd have never thought that Max would ever be interested in someone like Victoria.” Kate hummed in agreement, joining Dana in her inspection of the corridor.

“Yeah I know what you mean. Victoria isn't the easiest, is she? I mean she's very beautiful, so I can see that bit, but.. she can be difficult.”

“Understatement of the year there, Kate,” Dana said drily. She turned her gaze on Kate, looking at her with a mischievous look. “So you think Victoria is beautiful, do you? Been looking much?” Kate coughed and went bright red, feeling the heat radiating off her cheeks.

“What? I mean, no, yes, well anyone can see, I mean,” she stammered, desperately trying to back-peddle and deny everything. “She is pretty, though of course not as much as you are, but I can see why Max would find her attractive because of that.” She gave Dana a quick smile to try and show that everything was normal and that she hadn't actually been looking at Victoria like that, but Dana was just looking at her with a strange expression. The silence between them began to stretch to a point where Kate began to feel a little uncomfortable, and she wondered if she had said something wrong - Dana looked as if she was turning something over in her mind. Just as she made up her mind to try and fill the silence Dana spoke.

“I never suspected that Victoria was gay though, did you?” Dana's voice was thoughtful, and Kate surmised that was what she had been thinking about.

“Me? No, of course not. But then I didn't know Max was either.” Dana raised her eyebrows and shifted position, extending her legs out across the bed. Kate tried not to notice the way her shorts were riding up, reminding herself that Dana was just a friend and she shouldn't think of things like that; especially, for example, not the way the tank top she was wearing seemed to be just a little bit too small for the things it was trying to contain.

Not that I'm looking, I mean I'm just noticing them because they are right next to me and-

“Max told me a few months ago,” Dana said, cutting through Kate's increasingly fevered thoughts. “She just casually dropped it into the conversation when we were talking about relationships.” Kate felt a little aggrieved that Max hadn't told her sooner, but then realised that Max may have been uncertain as to what her reaction would be, given her faith - something she was still struggling with herself, let alone in relation to anyone else.

“Oh. Well, good for her, I suppose.” Kate fiddled with her fingers, looking around Dana’s room as she did so. It had become almost like her second bedroom of late, what with their regular movie nights and general hanging out.

Not, of course, that I have ever spent the night here like I would have done in a proper bedroom, if I was -

“What about you?” asked Dana, interrupting her thoughts which suddenly skated away into terror as Kate realised what she had just been asked.

“What?” she squeaked. “I.. you.. what..”

“I mean I have had one or two relationships,” Dana continued, apparently oblivious to Kate's pounding heart. “Not all of them – actually no, most of them – being a complete mess. What about you?”

“Ohhhh,” Kate exhaled, relief flooding through her. She subconsciously wiped her palms on her thighs while she thought of an answer. “Well to be honest I've never had a relationship with anyone. What with church and my parents, it was never even considered for me, not with any one they approved anyway. Or even considered by me. Well, not unless I was ready to get married but it's not lega– I mean a few of my friends are married off already, one even has a child on the way. I – I'm not ready for that.”

I don't think I will ever be, or at least not how my family and friends expect. And they change the law.

“Not met the right person yet, huh?” asked Dana, looking at her with an expression that Kate struggled to read and couldn't meet; unsure if it meant more than it seemed, or if it was just more wishful thinking on her part. Kate felt a sickness in her stomach at her question, wondering if this is what everyone felt in her situation. It was the first time she had experienced these feelings – and it both excited and petrified her.

“Well,” she said, her voice falteringly a little, “at least not one that my family would approve of.” She dared a glance at Dana and caught her staring directly at her, and she blushed and looked down at her lap. She felt a hand on her arm which made her jump slightly, and she looked up once more to see Dana looking at her with a gentle smile on her face.

“Well,” she said, “I've definitely had enough of relationships with men. They are all useless, aren't they? It's a shame Max is taken isn't it.. or maybe I should say Victoria for you..” Kate went bright red and went to protest but Dana shoved her with a hand whilst laughing, causing Kate to fall over on the bed and end up giggling too.

“This is not helping with my homework, Dana,” she said looking up at her from her prone position and quite liking the view. “If I flunk the year then I'm blaming you.”

“Need I remind you that you came in and disturbed me? I'll tell you what, I'll come and read in yours while you finish up, then we can go do something together - what do you think? Watch a film, go eat..?”

“That sounds great,” said Kate happily, sitting up and getting off the bed, while Dana followed in one fluid motion. As they walked back to her room Kate was consumed by the very real spark of hope that Dana might, just might, have not given up dating women.



Frank Harrison watched everyone slowly file into the room and sit down in the various seats around the large table, the murmur of conversation slowly dying down as people got themselves organised. Frank exchanged a few nods with people; most of those here he had worked with before on numerous occasions, and the fresh faces he had requested to join the team were on recommendation from other departments. An expectant hush fell as everyone looked at him expectantly, and he took a moment to revel in the attention before addressing everyone.

“Good morning everyone, and thank you for attending at such short notice. Just a reminder before we start that all information is classified, no hard copies are to be taken, everything is to be run through the dedicated server - you all know the drill. Also if you can make sure your cells are on silent that would be appreciated.” He waited while there was a general shuffling as people checked that they were, before fiddling with his laptop to get a presentation up on the big screen - luckily for once it happened straight away without needing to call IT.

“There we go - right, let's get started. First a piece of admin - as you are all aware it's Joyce's 25 year service day next week, so there is a collection going around and we've got a table at the Steak House booked for seven. I trust you will all be there.” Frank looked around the table, ensuring that he got nods of acquiescence from people that they would be attending. Satisfied he started the presentation, beginning with an overview of where they currently were on the programme of increasing the United States covert force projection, outside of the usual channels of the traditional military, CIA and foreign operatives.

“Given the failure of the recent smart drone application, and the slow pace of development of the robotic infiltration systems - something I believe we are still decades away from achieving, despite the assurances we keep receiving - it's been decided that we look to what may be perceived as a more esoteric direction.” He paused, looking around the room. Most of them seemed to be paying attention, although some of the old hands looked a little bored - this was just another presentation in a long line of them for them, although Frank had hopes that the next section might wake then up a little, and he clicked to the next slide.

Jesse Faden's face suddenly filled the screen, glowering down at everyone.

“This, as some of you are already aware, is the Director of the Federal Bureau of Control, Director Jesse Faden. The FBC's remit is to investigate and control the paranormal, or what we could call the supernatural. They are meant to be the first line of defence against the sort of things that would keep the ordinary person awake at night, if they knew of them.” There was a snort from someone around the table, and Frank raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Sorry, sir - that just caught me by surprise. But I mean really, the supernatural? Who conned the Government into funding that, and more importantly, how do I join?” There was a general chuckle around the table and even Frank smiled - they were all aware, for example, of the CIA's ludicrous history of trying to set up a PsyOps department, and this must have seemed more of the same – another black hole for Government funds to disappear into.

“As amusing as it sounds - and I must confess that I thought exactly the same when I first heard – unfortunately this is not a joke. They are investigating and, more importantly, containing, things that are very real indeed. Horrifyingly real.” He paused for effect, judging their reaction. This was the first hurdle he had to cross, getting them to understand that the fantastical was merely the normal, mundane reality. “If you look at handout two on the table – and please, remember that these are not to be taken from this room – that handout details some of the investigations that the FBC has undertaken over the years. These are the only ones we have been able to obtain – most of them are classified beyond our access – but they give a flavour of the work they do.” He allowed them a few minutes to read the material, noting the raised eyebrows and whispered conversations.

“If you have any questions, save them for a moment as there will be plenty of time later as we go on.” The slide changed, showing a bullet list of what was known about the FBC's investigations. “Of particular interest for us would be things that they call Altered Items, which appear to be objects that are imbued with some form of power – whether that be a traffic light that kills when it turns red, or a x-ray machine that freezes people in place. Sounds fantastic, doesn't it – yet they are very real, very dangerous - and the potential for weaponising them, to give us a decisive edge, is something that has been – and still is – being considered. But there are serious drawbacks to such an approach. After-all, there is a reason the FBC was created in the first place – these items are dangerous to everyone, and thus any usage of them could pose an unacceptable risk to the CIA which - yes?” A hand was raised from the rear.

“Sorry, just a quick one – but I’m sorry, this still seems very farfetched. I have never heard of anything like this, it all just seems a bit, well, like a bad film. Or like something from a computer game.”

“I understand this is difficult to grasp, and I went through the exact same process. There is a world out there which is beyond our understanding, and in many ways it is better to ignore it – to remain in ignorance and trust to others to hold the line. But, in those such circumstances is where we operate - in that blurring of the boundaries, the shades of grey that we hide within, exerting our influence to further American Power, Influence and Freedom.” He was quite pleased with that line; he'd been practising it for a while. “I would ask that for now you put doubt aside, as things are about to get a little stranger.”

He spent a few more minutes elaborating on what little they knew about Altered Items, and how and where there they occur - the constant flow of information and analysis seemed to quell any further expressions of disbelief; instead he saw the look of people analysing the data, forming options and strategies.

Good. They are getting on board. Time to crank it up a notch.

“Moving on, the next part is where even our limited knowledge runs out. The only people who know - or at least have the ability to study it - is the FBC, and as their records are unavailable to us, and we have no one in place there at present to provide us with any intelligence, what follows is largely informed guesswork.” Another hand was raised, and Frank motioned for them to ask the question.

“Is there any chance we could get an asset in place? If we have a knowledge gap then surely we should target this Bureau in the same manner as we have other agencies, Governments?” Frank shook his head.

“We have tried previously and always been unsuccessful. There is some means they have of somehow rejecting every single candidate that we have put forward, even before they reach the interview stage. And as for recruiting the existing staff, they are all to a person fiercely loyal to the current Director. That means we are on own at this present time.” Frank changed to the next slide, which posited a series of questions.

“Of course, the obvious question is - if there are such things as Altered Items, then are there such things as altered people? And if there were, what would they look like? What could they do? And how would we know?” Frank left the questions hanging, seeing that the team were now focused on his every word, most with arms folded and looks of concentration on their faces.

“Two weeks ago there was an incident on the outskirts of Ardmore, Oklahoma. A chemical fire at a factory caused a large explosion and electrical fire, luckily with no fatalities or injuries. This was the official story as told to the media, and it made a few local news channels. The reality, however is very different.” He changed the slide, a nervousness in his stomach from anticipation of what was to come, despite having analysed it himself over and over. “This is the only known footage of the incident, which we managed to obtain before every digital record was wiped. We suspect that was done by the FBC, as it fits their modus operandi.”

On the screen a short video started to play, clearly taken from a security camera. The footage was grainy and low quality, but the compound of an industrial building could be seen. A large, flickering object looking very much like an industrial motor was pulsing with energy and electrical discharges as it hovered a metre above the ground. Suddenly into view flew a figure, coat billowing around her as she landed on the ground, the concrete surface cracking and breaking around them from the force. A burst of electricity leapt out at them from the object, but she seemed to dash to one side at incredible speed, before a large chunk of the floor detached itself and hovered around the her hand, before travelling with extreme force towards the motor, while she simultaneously leapt off into the air again and out of view.

The footage ended, leading to a stunned silence in the room. Frank changed the slide, and Jesse Faden's face looked at them once more.

“That was as you saw Jesse Faden, aforesaid Director of the FBC, and who is what we can call an Altered Individual, for want of a better term. Clearly what you have seen looks like something from a film, or a computer game, but -” He stopped and looked at all their faces, everyone waiting expectantly. “But I have personally seen her do some of this in person, only a few weeks ago at the FBC headquarters. That footage is completely genuine and an accurate reflection of what she can do, and as far as I know is the only existing recording of her, or any Altered Individual.” Frank let them process what they had seen, replaying the footage once more and pausing it at various points as the team analysed and discussed the implications.

“During our meeting I did discuss the prospect of mutual cooperation given her extraordinary capabilities; however given the onerous duties that the FBC undertake there would not be at present sufficient capacity for that to happen, but she wished us well in our mission.” There was a general murmur around the room, and he spent a few minutes answering their questions where he could, although it was clear that his knowledge was limited – and they didn't need to know the real truth about his meeting.

“So back to the question I posed earlier - at least one Altered Individual does exist. Which leads to another question - are there others?”

“It stands to reason,” answered someone from the back, “that if she exists, then there must be others either working for the FBC, or within the world at large. Although they are clearly hidden from discovery, otherwise we would be in a Marvel film and I haven't seen Thor anywhere lately.” That raised a few chuckles, which helped break the tension which had been building as their understanding of the world had shifted.

“You raise a good point,” Frank replied. “There are two possibilities: either they are common and yet have successfully hidden from view for years without anyone ever noticing; or, which I think is more likely, is that they are exceptionally rare. If we think back through history and all the tales of witches, or prophets with healing powers – all these old gods and religions like Thor that you mentioned – then it makes sense that these stories must have had a basis from somewhere. Why could this basis not have been Altered Individuals?” The somewhat deliberately provocative statement caused some heated debate amongst the team, which Frank let run – he thought he had them invested in the idea and open to the new way of looking at the world that he had shown them.

“So the question is,” he said loudly, causing the chatter to die down, “is there someone out there who has even a fraction of the ability of what Director Faden has shown?” He paused for dramatic effect, before letting a small smile creep across his face. “The answer, of course, is yes – which is why we are all gathered here today. During my meeting with Director Faden, it became known to me that the FBC was aware of another individual who was potentially of similar ability to Director Faden, although seemingly not yet under the control of the FBC. This individual is believed to be a young woman, possibly a teenager.” A change of slide, and Frank pointed at each bullet point in turn as he read them off.

“So this is the purpose of getting you all together today. We are going to form a new project, codenamed Apate. Our tasks going forward are as follows. One: identify who this person is, and what their abilities are; Two: seek to establish contact and earn their trust if at all possible, and Three: recruit them to the division and use them as a force multiplying asset for the United States. And if that is not possible, then we must endeavour to ensure that they are not appropriated by any other foreign power, by any means necessary – including termination.”



“Sooooo... what did you think?” Max skipped after Victoria, who had been marching on ahead as if in a rush. Victoria stopped suddenly, nearly causing Max to run into the back of her.

“That depends,” Victoria said, “on what the next words out of your mouth are.” Max scooted around to face her, reaching out to grab her hand.

“You’re not still mad at me, are you? It was only a joke, I wish you’d just let it go..” Victoria narrowed her eyes, her mouth set in a thin line.

“You’re treading a dangerous line here, Maxine,” she growled. Max fished around to take hold of Victoria’s other hand, before holding them tightly.

“Would you say,” she said with a sly grin, “that I’m treading on thin ice..?” Victoria went to push her away but Max held on tight, and the two began to contort around each other in the middle of the street.

“Let the fuck go of me, Maxine Caulfield, I’m going to turn you into a fucking popsicle!”

“Come on Elsa, use your powers for good! Be the good Queen!”

“Look you miserable little hipster, one more word and you’re walking home.” Victoria managed to get a hand free and then spun Max around, freeing her other hand; then dragging her back in against her and holding her tightly from behind.

“Got you,” she whispered in Max’s ear, the sound electrifying her spine. “Now, what were you saying?” Victoria held up her hand and Max saw a thin sheen of ice appear around it. She swallowed hard, feeling a delicious sensation of excitement and fear coursing through her – even though she knew Victoria would never hurt her, some subconscious part of her was thrilled by the danger of it all, and the power Victoria was showing.

“I was just saying that.. you’d look good in that dress..” Victoria lessened her grip a little.

“Go on..” Her lips were close to Max’s ears, voice even lower.

“And.. you’re my beautiful ice queen..”

“And?”

“No more Frozen jokes?” Victoria released her grip, blowing into Max's ear as she did so which made her let out a shivery giggle.

“Well done, Maxine. No more Frozen jokes.” Max stepped away from her, a smirk on her face.

“It was like your autobiography though, wasn’t it – you should ask for royalt – OW! Great, now I’m going to have to rewind, aren't I. Hey! Come back here!” Max slipped a little as she went after Victoria, who was spreading ice around her as much as possible, forming it in large spikes and drifts; causing those around them to stare wild-eyed as others started to scream. Max slipped again and fell to her knees, before she remembered what she could do and quickly froze time. Carefully standing up, she slowly walked over to Victoria and grabbed hold of her.

“OK Chase, you made your point. Truce?” Victoria looked at the frozen world – in both senses – and nodded.

“Truce, Caulfield.”



A moment later they were both walking down the street, hand in hand, watching people obliviously walk on by again. Max was humming to herself as they headed towards an Italian they had booked for dinner.

“Stop it,” Victoria said, causing Max to look at her questioningly.

“You’re humming that snowman song. Stop it.”

“Oh. Sorry. It was catchy though, you had to admit.” Max looked at the girl next to her and felt a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. She was happy, far happier than she had ever thought possible – even the grim events that had happened with Logan a week or so ago were slowly fading from her mind, helped by Victoria being there for her when she needed it, and just understanding. She looked around at the busy streets and felt content – until she suddenly felt a sharp poke in the ribs.

“Max, you’re doing it again. Stop.”

“Oh my god, sorry. It wasn’t deliberate, I swear. I’m just.. really happy.” Victoria halted and turned to look at her, a slightly vulnerable expression on her face.

“You are?” she asked quietly. Max smiled and stretched up to give her a kiss.

“Absolutely.” Victoria bit her lip then turned away, squeezing Max’s hand tight as if never wanting to let go.

“Good,” she said in a thick voice. “Come on, let’s get to the restaurant. I’m starving.”

Chapter Text

Get out the car. Now.” Max’s voice came out as a growl; she was furious, and it showed. Victoria looked at her and then nodded towards them.

We’re not keeping this, are we?” Max shook her head.

No, of course not. Go for it if you want.” Victoria smiled thinly, then walked around to the front of the car, blocking its escape. She held her arms out stiffly from her sides, and Max watched as her eyes took on that familiar glow as a wind whipped up around them. There was a loud thunk as a hailstone the size of a fist smashed into the bonnet, followed by another, then another; a steady hail that battered the car, smashing the windscreen and punishing the bodywork.

She said get out of that fucking car!” Two men quickly got out, shielding their faces from the flying debris. Max waited impatiently with folded arms for them both to stand in front of her, while Victoria relented on destroying the car but kept a watchful eye on them, a wind still viciously whipping across the ground.

Why are you following us?” Max said, barely able to control her voice due to her anger. “We’re on fucking vacation.”

We.. but.. we’re not, you are -” Max clenched her fist and smashed the side window in frustration, the glass fracturing into minute pieces.

Don’t lie to me. I’ve been watching you follow us and I will find out what you want. How easy this will be is down to you.” She frowned then quickly froze time, relieving the two men of a pair of guns they had concealed underneath their jackets.

Guns? Really?” she said in a slightly disappointed tone, handing them off to Victoria who inspected them curiously.

I thought they didn't have guns over here? Well, the more you know, I guess. Shall I keep hold them?” Max nodded before turning back to the pair, who were looking at her with horrified expressions.

Now. Once again. Why the fuck are you following us?”



Max jerked upright, a bead of sweat rolling down her forehead, heart pounding in her chest. She instinctively reached out to where Victoria should be but the bed was empty, and she remembered that Victoria had gone to Los Angeles with Taylor and Courtney the day before – Taylor a bag of nerves and Courtney practically bouncing off the walls with excitement.

Max pulled the duvet up and around her, creating a little cocoon of warmth in an attempt to try and calm herself down a little. The dream had seemed so lifelike that it didn't feel like a dream; it had felt more like the visions of the alternate reality she had seen, or the glimpse of the future her butterfly had given her. She fished for her cell to check the time, seeing it was just after two-thirty. The only thing she was doing later was meeting Kate for lunch and so she could sleep in but waking up at this time – and in such a manner – was not particularly welcome.

I miss Victoria.

She quickly sent her a message then sat there for a moment, trying to forget the dream (if that's what it was). As she sat there her thoughts treacherously wandered back to the memory she was still trying to forget and which had started to gradually fade; that horrible encounter she'd had with Logan where she had felt in a way that had reminded her of the other Max, the Max who had fallen so far that it had been preferable to try and erase herself from existence than continue to live.

And I'm the beneficiary of that decision by.. me.. and what am I doing? Panicking at two in the morning over a dream. Or all of those visions.

And I can't see how I am supposed to be a leader of anything, certainly not like I was shown with those other girls, whoever they were.

I'm no leader, I can't even save Victoria from something horrendous without agonising endlessly over it afterwards. How am I supposed to do anything else? How am I supposed to do that?

Despite what she was thinking, Max knew that she was lying to herself – she had enjoyed that sensation of power, of being able to be something, someone important. She also secretly enjoyed the fact that she could cover for any mistakes she made, help with her (at times) crippling social anxiety and in general make her life easier - and make people like her in the way she wanted to be liked.

She had found herself, however, using it less and less with her friends and people she did truly care about (and not using it at all with Victoria, as she had promised), as she had realised that she wanted to be liked for who she really was, not just because she had manipulated people into liking her, especially as it was so easy to do. She was astute enough to realise that the basis of any friendship developed that way would be built on hollow foundations, and that despite her desire to make it that way, not everything could turn out how she thought it should, no matter how much she willed it.

Still, it was an awesome thing to have in her back pocket just in case she needed it (and to help build her own confidence with people she had just met), and that was without her even figuring out why she had it, without even considering what she should actually do with it.

And maybe I need to do things like I did with Logan. Try and be a force for good. But not fall like other me did. Not step over that line, wherever it is.

But how?

Max tugged the duvet tighter around her and lay down again on her bed, but something felt missing and she couldn’t settle. After a few minutes tossing and turning she got out of bed and left her room, crossing the corridor and entering Victoria’s room with a spare key. The room was dark and Max made her way over to the bed, banging her shin into a chair as she did so. Hopping on one leg and muttering curses she fell into the bed and pulled the duvet around her. On one of the pillows Victoria had left a top that she wore on occasion before getting into bed (her old slumming it top, she called it, which still cost more than any clothing Max had owned), and Max turned it into an impromptu security blanket, hugging it tight. It smelled faintly of Victoria and she felt herself relax, her thoughts now straying to the ever-increasing memories she had of her, rather than worrying thoughts of a darker future. Burying herself deeper into the pillow she nestled happily down and drifted off into an undisturbed slumber.



Sam Thurston was in a desperate position - a few grand in the hole, and a deadline fast approaching to repay it - or payment would be taken from him, and he quite liked his fingers. Not for the first time he cursed himself for borrowing money from them but he had no choice as the normal, reputable outlets would not lend to him any more. All he needed was a little more capital and his luck would surely turn around - just one more game and he'd be able to get all the money he needed, get back on that winning streak.

And so it was he found himself lurking in an alley near the waterfront, waiting for another opportunity to present itself. He'd done it before (and had even done so earlier today; a lone woman walking proving to be an easy, quick target) - a quick purse snatch, a smash and grab for a watch - enough to pawn to cover the debts and get a stake together, to feed the ravenous beast that consumed his every waking hour. Pickings of late had been decidedly easier, both with the police consumed by their internal investigation into who was on the take (although when he had heard about it on the news he had wondered why they hadn't just asked him, he could have given plenty of names in exchange for some hard cash), and with the slow, recent up-tick in wealthier tourists coming to the area, or prospective students checking out the school given the proposed changes that were slowly filtering their way into next year’s prospectus.

The reasons why this was the case were of little interest to him as all that mattered was getting hold of some cash, and quick. As fortune would have it, coming down the street towards him was the perfect target - a middle-aged couple happily wandering along, looking at the stores and out across to the ocean. Wealthy out of towners who could easily be relieved of a few valuables that would tie him over until he had won what he needed to pay off his debts.

He found himself tensing as they got closer, pushing himself into the wall to stay out of sight as long as possible, feeling that nervous anticipation before he sprung into action and all -

“It doesn't end well, you know,” said a quiet voice behind him. “It's actually quite horrible. Well, it would have been.” He spun around in surprise, finding a young woman casually leaning against the opposite wall and watching him. She looked at him for a moment and then inspected her fingers, as if he was utterly inconsequential.

“I don't know why you did it, and frankly I don't care. I'm sure you have what you think are valid reasons, but watching someone bleed out in the street is not how I wanted to spend my time before lunch.” She looked back up at him and her eyes seemed to be brighter, as if reflecting the morning light. He finally found his voice.

“Who the fuck are you? And what the hell are you on about?”

And more importantly, do you have anything valuable on you?

He patted his pocket to ensure his gun was still there and shifted his position slightly as his plans changed. Here was a much easier target, and this alleyway was a much more discreet location for what he had in mind.

“Who am I? Good question,” she said, still leaning against the wall. He noticed that she had a messenger bag slung across her shoulder, with something bulky inside – whatever it was, it probably would be worth something at least.

“I was asking myself the same thing last night,” she continued. “It’s funny what you think about at those times, isn’t it? But I guess you can call me… blue.” Sam edged a little closer, preferring to grab and run rather than have any direct confrontation – not that he was above that if the situation needed it.

“Blue? What sort of name is that?” He pointed a finger at the bag. “What’s in it? Give it to me.” She shook her head, an amused look on her face.

“Not a chance. It’s my old camera; it’s not even worth stealing but it means a lot to me. More than you could ever know.” Her apparent coolness in front of him was setting him on edge a little, and he began to get a little panicked – this had already been going on for longer than he wanted, and she had clearly seen his face. It was time to escalate and escape with what he could get away with.

“Fucking just give it to me and you won’t get hurt,” he snarled, stepping forward and reaching in his pocket to pull out his gun – but his pocket was empty. He frantically patted his jacket then looked down at the floor, thinking he had dropped it. A small laugh caught his attention.

“Looking for this?” She was holding his gun with two fingers and with a faint look of disgust as she examined it, as if the very touching of it was distasteful to her. “You killed him with this. You didn’t have too, yet you did it anyway. Why?”

“Give that back you little – killed who? I ain't killed no one. Give me my fucking gun back or -”

“Or what?” she snapped, and this time the smile was gone. Suddenly she was directly in front of him, glowering up at him as her voice rasped out. “You fucking killed him. I watched him slowly die while his wife screamed for help. And for what? A fucking watch?” Before he could react she was back on the other side of the alley, staring at him like he was nothing.

Sam was a lot of things; but one of those wasn’t being stupid, and he turned to run. Before he had got more than a few strides he found himself flung violently into the wall, his head hitting it hard and stunning him. As he staggered back his legs were swept from under him and he crashed to the floor, landing hard on his wrist which sent shooting pains up his arm. He groggily shook his head and he could feel something hot and warm trickle down his forehead; he tried to move his uninjured arm to wipe it off but then felt a foot on his wrist, pinning it down. She spoke again and he groaned as he felt his injured arm pulled behind his back while a knee pressed into it, rendering him helpless.

“Actually I’m quite impressed with myself, this is only the third time through. So thanks for that, I guess – I dread to think how many more times it could have taken. Now, where’s your cell?” He tensed, ready to break free as soon as she let go but she didn’t seem to – her foot was still on his wrist, knee in his back and her grip on his arm was like iron.

“Hello? Police? You have to help me, this man is following me and I think he wants to hurt me!” Her voice was a high falsetto, a credible acting job. “I’m really scared and.. no, I can’t, help! I’m hiding in an alley just off Main, and.. yes, I’ll wait! Please hurry! Please!”

He heard a smashing sound and saw pieces of his cell fall to the floor from where it had apparently hit the wall, before her breath was hot in his ear.

“Think of this as a favour. You’ll only do a few years and be out, maybe you'll turn your life around.” He felt the pressure on his wrist lessen, then the world went dark.



Max bounced quickly down the street, high on adrenalin and nerves. She smiled at a middle-aged couple walking towards her who cheerfully returned her greeting, and she realised that she had done the right thing despite her reservations. Her knuckles were sore and she rubbed them, hands shaking slightly as she walked briskly down the street, ears peeled for the sound of sirens. Just as she neared the Bean Hip Café where she was meeting Kate she heard the wail of sirens and a police cruiser whizzed past her, and she found herself relaxing a little. She wasn’t worried about the guy mentioning her at all; any story he would tell would easily be interpreted as a bizarre cover story to explain the stolen goods and likely illegal firearm he had on him. Being able to manipulate time had made it child's play to ensure there was no physical evidence of her left at the scene.

She glanced back down the street to try and see what was going on – the cruiser had parked up in the distance and she could see some officers milling about near the alley. She quickly turned away as if fearing they would somehow see her and get suspicious, and entered the café.

Kate was already there, sitting down at a table and reading a book. Max noticed that yet again she was wearing something different; it was if her whole wardrobe, her whole style, was undergoing a revamp – much brighter colours and less conservative styles, hair done in differing ways – it was like Kate was trying to find out what she preferred, in her own time and in her own manner. Max wondered at the change, but didn't want to ask – she presumed if Kate wanted to tell her she would when she wanted too.

“Hey Kate,” Max said, sitting down. “You're early – or I'm late.” Kate marked her place in her book and gave her a winning smile.

“Hi Max. No, I was early – thought I'd catch up on some reading.” Kate went to put the book in her bag and Max's curiosity was piqued.

“Anything interesting?” Kate hesitated, before pulling out the book again and showing Max the cover.

“Is God anti-gay and other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction,” Max read slowly, before looking up a bright red faced Kate. Max hesitated, then quickly spoke in as neutral tone as she could manage. “That looks interesting, is it a good read?” Kate quickly stowed the book away again while her face became even redder, if that was possible.

“Um it's OK, I was just reading it because.. because.. I..”

“Because of me and Victoria?” Max said, gallantly coming to her rescue.

“YES! Yes. I mean, yes, of course, I.. I was..” Kate was ferociously inspecting anything but Max, who placed her hand on top of Kate's and gave her a reassuring smile.

“It's OK, I understand.” Kate looked at her and managed a small smile herself, and Max had a sudden thought. “You know, Victoria would understand too, I think. Better than me.” Kate didn't reply and just looked down at the table for a moment, before looking back up at Max with a pensive expression.

“Thank you, Max,” she said, before looking down at where Max's hand was on top of hers. “Are you feeling OK? Your hand is shaking. Oh, and it has a cut as well..” Max swiftly withdrew her hand and rubbed it, as if that would help.

“I'm fine -”

- 'Somebody help me,' the woman screamed, futilely holding her hand against the gaping wound in his chest as Max looked on in horror, blood already pooling underneath his body. She instinctively stopped time, knowing she had to -

“- I'm just a little hungry. Probably low blood sugar. Maybe I just need some cake.” Kate chuckled and held up one of the menus.

“Cake does always seem to make things better, doesn't it.”



After a few minutes further chat and perusal of the menu, they have both ordered and settled back with a drink - Kate with a cup of chamomile tea, Max with a thick strawberry milkshake. Max realised she was hungry; probably a combination of not eating anything for breakfast and her exertions of a few minutes earlier. She was feeling a little calmer; the adrenaline rush and euphoria she had experienced was wearing off and she was doing her best to try and remind herself that what she had done meant that the memory that was trying to force its way to the surface had never actually happened. She realised that what she wanted was to talk to Victoria about it, to be wrapped up in her arms on the bed and told everything would be alright.

“So how's it going?” Kate's question cut through her thoughts, and she wondered if she could read minds.

“How's what going?” Max replied, knowing exactly what Kate was enquiring about but buying some time to formulate an answer. As if to reinforce this she picked up her milkshake and began to suck it noisily, and Kate waited politely until she had stopped

“You and the Queen Bee, of course.” Kate looked a little pleased with herself, as if she had thought of a new name she could call Victoria.

“She's not the Queen Bee,” Max said with a roll of her eyes. “She's just Victoria. And it's good. Better than good.” Max was feeling a little defensive for some reason, it was as if she felt still had to defend their relationship.

“I can tell, I see and hear the two of you often enough,” Kate said with a slightly pained expression.

“Hear?” Max asked in puzzlement.

“Yes,” was all Kate said, sipping her tea. She inspected her cup, seemingly pleased with what it contained. “Anyway, I'm glad that it's good. Really. And it's amazing the change in Victoria, and just around school. Everything is so much.. better.” Max knew what she was driving at, and did her best to not still be annoyed that Victoria's past behaviour was still being brought up – she had a suspicion that it would take a long time for some people to forget, and the fact that Victoria herself was not exactly easy to get along with at times, especially to those who she didn't feel close too, probably didn't help.

“Well, as they say – God moves in mysterious ways. Oh, no offence, I mean.”

“None taken. And I can definitely believe a higher power must be involved to make Victoria behave.” Max went to object but then saw the small smile on Kate's face, and instead managed a smile herself.

“A higher power? You just may be right.”

“Oh, I didn't know you believed in God, Max.” Kate looked at her thoughtfully, as if reassessing something. “You never mentioned this before.”

“Oh, well.” Max thought for a moment, trying to put what she had meant into words without sounding completely crazy. “I don't believe that there is a 'God' so to speak. At least not some old man - and it's always a man, isn't it - sitting around looking over us in some benevolent way until we break some arbitrary rule. No.” She sucked her milkshake, aware of Kate watching her. “But do I think there are things out there we can't explain. That maybe some people are extraordinary and could be seen as prophets or gods or something. Like the people the Church used to burn, maybe, and call witches or whatever. Something like that anyway.” Kate didn't reply but just sipped her tea, and Max began to wonder if she should go back and change her answer.

Luckily the food arrived and they busied themselves with cutlery and inspecting what they had. Kate had made do with a Caesar salad, whilst Max had a concoction of sugars with some optional waffle. Max attacked it with gusto, delighting in the sugary ooze she was shovelling into her mouth.

“It's not surprising your hand shakes given all that sugar,” Kate said, her own fork laden with green. “You'll get diabetes if you’re not careful. Or your teeth will fall out.”

“You sound just like Vic,” Max grumbled through a full mouth. “Why can't I just enjoy my food without you all moaning at me. Nothing wrong with this, I mean my life could be over in fifteen months time and I don't want to waste it.”

“Fifteen months time? That's oddly specific, Max – is there something -”

Fuck.

“- You sound just like Vic does, she says I eat to much sugar as well.”

“Well clearly me and Victoria care more for your teeth than you do. Maybe I'll team up with her.”

“Don't you dare! She's bad enough as it is. And anyway, I brush my teeth twice a day. So there.” Max made sure to put an extra big bit in her mouth as if to prove a point, making exaggerated sounds of enjoyment as she did so. Kate just shook her head, trying not to laugh at her antics.

The conversation meandered for a while, the two of them chatting about this and that before Kate brought up the coming holiday, as she corralled the remainder of her salad.

“What’s your plans for Christmas? Are you heading back to Seattle?” Max nodded, whilst looking forlornly at her empty plate. She still felt hungry and knew that another dose of sugar and waffles probably wasn’t the best thing to have, tempting as it was.

“My Dad is coming to pick me up tomorrow, and I’ll be at home over Christmas, seeing the relatives, all that sort of thing. I’m hoping Vic can come over as well; at any rate we are off to New York for the New Year. That should be fun.” Kate whistled softly, eyes wide.

“New Year in New York? Wow, that’s.. can I come?” Max laughed and shook her head.

“Sadly no, it’s just me and the Chase. She has an apartment there I think, it’s not like we are staying in a fancy Hotel or anything.”

“No, just her personal apartment,” Kate replied drily. Rumours swirled around Blackwell about Victoria, rumours compounded by the subtle changes at the School – changes to the Security, discrete logos appearing here and there; a drastic improvement in Cafeteria food – rumours that even Kate had heard. “You do know that you are part of Blackwell Royalty now, don’t you?”

“Er.. what?” Max waved at the waiter, beckoning him over. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you being with Victoria. You’re one of them now, the upper crust of Blackwell. Oh - thank you, another tea, yes. Before you know it you’ll be ruling the Vortex Club, mixing with all the popular kids – a real social butterfly.”

Ha. Not that sort, Kate.

“We are the popular and cool kids, not them,” Max groused, having ordered some more food. “And Vic is more like us than she lets on. I mean in that she likes to do the things we do, it's not all ponies and skiing and fast cars.”

“But some ponies, at least?”

“I don't even know if she can ride. And if she can, I doubt she enjoys it. Not if -” Max left the sentence unfinished, just about realising that airing Victoria's personal family laundry in public with Kate probably wasn't the best thing to be doing.

“Oh.” Kate sounded a little disappointed, as if one of her mental images of Victoria had been destroyed. Kate's tea and Max's second lunch arrived – this one decidedly more carbohydrates and protein than sugary goodness.

“What about you? I guess you are going home as well? See your sisters and all?”

“Yes, I guess so. See my family, go to Mass. Usual things.” That was all Kate said, and to Max Kate did not sound overly thrilled at the prospect; but she assumed that it was due to the fact it was just the same old thing as always while she at least had the prospect of something exciting to look forward too – a first Christmas with her first ever girlfriend, the prospect of celebrating the New Year with her in a city she had never visited, and then – and then a trip to the Oldest House, and to visit Director Faden as she had promised.



The door of the apartment slammed shut behind her as she tiredly shrugged off her shoes, before heading into the small lounge. Hikari was tired and above all angry; angry at yet another Saturday spent working at the office 'to help out, everyone else is doing it, you don't want to let everyone down do you?', angry at this tiny apartment she had to rent as it was all she could afford, angry at her life slipping away from her while she was stuck in a dead end job, and most of all angry at being different from everyone else, having to hide away and be careful just in case she made a mistake - and then that would be the end of it all.

She slumped down in a chair, too tired to even get up to make something to eat and just stared listlessly at nothing in particular, eyes feeling heavy and gritty, and she blinked a few times to try and dispel it.

I'll just close my eyes for a second, then get up and make something to eat. Then I'll check to see if there is anything new, which I doubt, and then.. do something else I guess.



Her eyes snapped open and she felt momentarily disoriented, until she remembered she was just at home. Yawning she checked the time on her watch and saw she had slept for a good two hours, leaving a slight crick in her neck which she tried to massage out. Her stomach reminded her that it was empty, so she dozily wandered into the small kitchen to make herself something, settling for some Udon broth that she managed to rustle up before wandering over to the window to stare out across Tokyo, the bright lights of the enormous city shining up into the night sky.

The food settled agreeably in her stomach and she felt a little bit happier; the nap had done her some good as well. She found her thoughts drifting once more as she stared out of the window as she ate, dwelling on how unfair life was and how it had all started when she had first found out about her power - accidentally settling fire to the family garden had been a difficult thing to explain, and being punished for lying (when she wasn't, no matter how much she had protested!) had been a harsh lesson in both life and the need to hide what she was.

It wasn't even that much of the garden, not really. And it needed redoing anyway.

She found herself looking at her reflection, as if trying to see if there was any tell-tale sign that people could see that she was different; but all she saw was an ordinary, late twenties Japanese office worker, nondescript and entirely unremarkable. She smiled sadly and went to turn away, then stiffened as she saw a flash of orange flicker behind her, something she had not seen for quite a while. Turning around she saw her butterfly, its orange colour almost incandescent as it fluttered casually along and settled on the table in front of her.

Hikari had often wondered if there was something wrong with her, if the butterfly was just the deranged product of her mind – that she was seeing things as a means to try and add some excitement in her life, to try and make herself feel special, rather than just another anonymous person in this huge city. She would occasionally wonder if she really could summon fire and burn things, whether that too was just a figment of her imagination – but the bills for replacement of various pieces of furniture told her that, at least, was real enough.

She kneeled down as if it was a small child who she wanted to talk to, and then held out her hand. The butterfly seemed to regard it for a moment, before with a little flutter hopped onto her outstretched hand, where it unfolded its wings and seemed quite content. Hikari felt a feeling of calm flow through her, as if the very physical presence of it was enough to make her forget her worries, at least for a little while.

But I guess it still is just you and me. But at least you are here. I'm feeling a little lonely tonight.

A little flutter as if in response, and Hikari smiled and -

- She saw two young women walking along hand in hand; one with brown hair and brilliant blue eyes, and a taller one with eyes green as emeralds. They were laughing as if at some private joke between them, and she felt like she should be there as well, as if she should know them and they know her, that they were one and the same, and they both looked up at her and she knew that -

Hikari blinked then stared in wonder, as on her hand she could now see three butterflies; brilliant blue, emerald green and her own, and she knew that the two girls she had seen were just like her, and that she was no longer alone in the world. She felt joy bubbling up through her, mixed with a shuddering relief, and she just wanted to shout out loud and laugh and cry.

The three butterflies sat there and in that moment somehow she just knew that they were looking for her, that they were trying to find her just as much as she had, every night, been unknowingly trying to find them.

“Thank you,” she whispered; they gave her a flutter as if in response before slowly spiralling up and out of sight. She knelt there for a little while longer before unsteadily getting to her feet, a grin spreading uncontrollably across her face. She held out a hand and concentrated, laughing once more as a flame began to slowly spread around her hand, not wild and uncontrolled as it had been, but tamed and serenely beautiful. She just stared at it, no longer troubled but instead marvelling at it, knowing with certainty that at some how, some where, she would meet the others.

Chapter Text

Max peered out of the bedroom window, trying to see further down the street than she could. Frustrated, she quickly ran downstairs and opened the front door, letting in a blast of cold air, before heading down the short driveway to try and get a better look, but there was still nothing. Not for the first time she wished she could make time go faster, rather than backwards.

“Maxine! Either come in or shut that door! You're letting all the heat out!”

“Sorry Mom,” she called, giving one last look up the street before trudging back into the house. Her Mom was waiting for her with folded arms, pointedly staring at the open door.

“Honestly Max, we're not made of money! How many times have I told you to close the door after you?”

“Sorry Mom,” Max said again, trying to slip past her.

“And what are you doing out there anyway? You don't even have a coat on.. or shoes!” Max looked down at her socks, as if only now wondering why her feet had been so cold. “You're lucky it's dry out.”

“Sorry,” she said once more, “I was just seeing if she was coming, she should be here by now so..” Vanessa's expression softened slightly.

“Well.. just put on a coat and shoes on next time. And close the door.”

“What's going on here? Anything interesting?” Max's Dad came into the hallway, stopping to look at them and then trying to peer past the pair.

“Nothing Dad, I was just waiting for Victoria when -”

“- she forgot to close the door and she went out in her socks, Ryan, how many -”

“Victoria? Oh, excellent.” Ryan craned his neck again, as if trying to look through the closed door. “Do you think she is going to come in a different car? Did you ask her at all, Max..?”

“Dad! Victoria is not coming just so you can see one of her fancy cars. And you shouldn’t be asking that either, it’s rude. She’s my girlfriend, not your car delivery person thing.” Vanessa gave him a withering look and Ryan looked a little abashed, mumbling out an apology before heading back to whatever he had been doing.

“Your Father sometimes.. I wonder what goes on in his head.” Vanessa shook her head then looked back at Max. “Everything is OK though, Max? You know you can tell me if there’s anything that is worrying you, or..” Max went and gave her Mom a hug, letting her wrap her arms around her like she had done when she was still a child.

“Thanks Mom. Everything is all good though, you don’t need to worry.”

“Good. And you know we both like Victoria; it makes us happy that you are happy.” Vanessa gave her a squeeze before leaving to apparently go have a word with her Dad and Max smiled to herself, because she was indeed happy with things at the moment. She had only seen Victoria once since they had left school for the winter holidays, and that short time had been mainly occupied with, as Victoria had put it, fucking each other into the ground, and she was not used to not seeing her for this length of time. Both of them being at Blackwell had meant that it was almost like living together, and the time apart - while it had been nice to see her parents and have a break - had only served to remind her how much she actually missed Victoria.

Now, though, she had the prospect of Victoria staying with her and her family for a few days, before they then jetted off to New York for the New Year – a prospect that filled with her nervous excitement, it being their sort of first holiday together. Hanging over it, of course, was also going to the FBC headquarters to see Jesse; but Max refused to let that little cloud dim her excitement.

Besides, Jesse and Emily seemed nice enough. I’m sure it’ll work out fine, and if it doesn’t then that’s what I have my powers for, isn’t it?

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of an engine roaring down the street coupled with a strange high pitched whine over the top of it – Max had grown use to the sound of Victoria’s Aventador (she was pleased that she could at least remember the name of it now, even if it didn’t mean much to her) but she didn’t recognise this particular one. Max reopened the front door and looked out, just in time to see a blue car she hadn't seen before pull up on the driveway. The engine was given a big rev before being turned off and Max wondered what their neighbours must be thinking; but dismissed the thought when the car door opened and her stomach turned to mush.

Victoria stepped out and looked directly at her, a half smile on her face, and Max found herself captivated by the mere sight of this girl who she still couldn’t believe had decided to be with her, and at how they had both grown closer to each other the more time they had spent together, the bond between them getting stronger and –

“Victoria! It’s great to see you!” boomed a voice next to her, trampling all over her introspection. Victoria gave a wave and quickly walked over, smiling at Max but talking to her Dad.

“Good afternoon Mr Caulfield, it’s wonderful to see you again. Thank you for letting me stay with you, it's very kind.” Ryan stepped forward and held out his hand, a big grin on his face.

“Please, call me Ryan.” He pumped Victoria’s hand but Max could see his gaze sliding over to the blue car. “Isn't that a Shelby GT500?” Max’s eyes felt like they were rolling out of her head, and she mouthed ‘suck up’ at Victoria from behind Ryan’s back. Victoria ignored her and fixed Ryan with what Max now recognised as the smile she used when trying to ingratiate herself with someone.

“Why yes it is, Ryan, you really do know your cars. I thought that as I was coming again to see you that you might like to try something different. I mean personally I think it’s a load of American junk and not even in the same league as say, even a 911, but don’t let me put you off, ha ha ha.” Victoria guided him away towards the car, before looking back at Max and sticking her tongue out. Max responded with a scowl to which Victoria blew her a kiss, before turning her attention back to Ryan.

Max watched them for a moment before going back inside, slamming the door to try and make a point before breaking out into a grin – Victoria was trying her best, in her own way particular way, to get on with her parents, and that made her realise that Victoria was properly in this; that this was not just some little thing that would peter out when she got bored, or found some other plaything.

No, this was the real thing – and if it meant that if she had to wait a little while longer to get the affection she wanted, then that was perfectly fine by her.



“So how was Christmas?” They were sitting in the garden on a bench while Max's parents busied themselves with preparing lunch, with both of them having brought a present for each other which were safely stowed away at their feet. It was cold out and Max had wrapped herself in a big comfy coat which she peeked out at the world from, while Victoria made do with just a thin top. As a sop to anyone asking questions she had a thin jacket besides her, and Max was feeling a little envious again about her resistance to cold.

“It was great actually,” she replied. “We had my Cousins and Uncles over, and my Grandma who you met if you remember, and we had lots of food and presents and even some wine which was nice. My Dad drank too much beer and fell asleep in a chair, so we played a game where we tried to see how much stuff we could pile on top of him before he woke. Wait, I took a photo.” Max fished in her pocket for her cell to show Victoria, who looked at it then smiled in response.

“That looks.. fun.”

“Oh yes, it was. Although normally there'd be some snow and we'd make a snowman together or have a snowball fight. I used to make snowman out the front on the porch, like little families who I used to make up stories about.”

“Weren't you too old to be doing that?” Max smacked her gently on the arm.

“Don't you dare say that, you are never too old to make snowman.” She glanced up at the stubbornly clear sky and sighed. “Shame there's none this year though, you could have marvelled at my snow skills.” Victoria snorted.

“The only one with snow skills is me, Caulfield. Stop trying to steal my thing or I'll.. I'll.. buy lots of clocks or something.” Max wrinkled her nose in confusion.

“How does that even work?”

“Oh just shut up and kiss me.”

After a minute they broke apart, much to Max's dissatisfaction, but she watched as Victoria pulled up a package from the bag next to her; it was expertly wrapped in gold coloured paper with a little tag attached to it.

“Here, I got you this. Merry Christmas Max, it's not much but.. I hope you like it; if you don't I can always get it changed or something, or -” Max bopped her on the nose to quieten her and grabbed the package with both hands.

“Gimme! I love presents!” Max hurriedly tore the wrapping off; being so eager she did not even register how thick the wrapping paper was in comparison to the stuff she was used too, before holding up what Victoria had bought her.

It was a bag, shaped like her messenger bag and made up of different shades of the softest leather she had ever felt, all expertly stitched together in a way that just oozed quality. She carefully opened it and saw that it was divided internally into compartments, which she saw were designed to be big enough to hold various things she used like her camera, film or notebook. On the inside she saw that a message had been stitched, winding its way along the top of the bag.

“To my little hipster, at least you have something fashionable now. VC xx,” she read slowly, aware of Victoria's anxious expression.

“Do you like it? Is it OK? How's the colour? If it's no good I can get them to make another, just say, I can-” Max put her finger against Victoria's lips to quieten her, before, still clutching the bag in one hand, she pulled Victoria's head towards her and expressing how much it meant to her by the intensity of her kiss. Max eventually broke away when she needed to breathe, leaving a red-faced Victoria with some hair decidedly out of place.

“So it's OK then?” Victoria asked, as if still needing further reassurance.

“It’s perfect,” Max said, holding the bag up and admiring it. “Makes my present seem really rubbish in comparison.” Max had really struggled with getting a present for Victoria – what do you get the girl who could literally own anything she wanted? With some trepidation she reached down to the bag by her side and pulled out a rectangular package, wrapped as neatly as Max could manage in wrapping paper covered with cartoon snowmen and reindeer. “Here, I got you this, it’s not much but.. I hope you like it.” Victoria took the package from her hands, trying to not smile too much.

“Thank you, Max, I didn’t expect anything. You didn’t have to get me anything, I know this must have cost you -”

“Shush you, you’re my girlfriend; I have to get you a present it's practically the law. And I wanted too.” Max watched as Victoria carefully pulled the wrapping off, revealing a hard-backed black book. Victoria turned it over in her hands; the cover had ‘Victoria and Max’ written in gold across it and she looked a little puzzled, before opening the first page. Right at the top was the number ‘84’, and underneath was a copy of the picture they had taken during that first week together in Max’s room. She turned the page and the next page was titled ‘83’, and there was a picture of them at a restaurant after they had made up from the argument that week. Max watched as Victoria flicked through each page, each one counting down and with a picture she had taken of them underneath – at the party, hanging out at Blackwell, together in her room. Victoria slowed flicked through until she came to ‘73’, and looked expectantly up at Max.

“That’s for this week; I was thinking maybe we could take a photo now and put it in. I.. I.. I know I said I wouldn’t worry about it, but in case it doesn’t work out I wanted you to have memories of everything we’d done, and.. and..” Max stopped as she could feel a lump in her throat at the thought of everything she had right now suddenly disappearing, of her disappearing, leaving Victoria behind with.. what?

Victoria didn’t say anything for a moment and just stared at the book in her hands, and Max began to panic.

She doesn’t like it, it was a stupid idea I knew I should’ve got her that glass winged horse with the –

“Well, we'll need to get another one when this is full, won't we?” Victoria said, her voice faltering a little as she held tight to the book. “And we'd better make sure we fill this one with the best photos we can, we are photographers after all.” She looked up at Max and she saw that Victoria's eyes were bright and shimmery, as if she was holding back tears. Max reached out and her fingers grasped her cold arm, which immediately seemed to warm to her touch and Victoria let out a little sigh, much to Max's alarm.

“I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to upset you, it was a stupid idea and -” It was Max's turn to be cut off by a kiss, but it didn't last long before Victoria broke off to speak, punctuating each word with a kiss.

“Don't be silly, it's perfect.”

“Are you sure?” Max managed between kisses, “I know it's not as expensive as what -”

“I said it's perfect Caulfield; shut up and don't ruin the moment.” Max shut up immediately and happily kissed her back, letting her hands wander down Victoria's back and to the top of her trousers, a finger slipping in to the top of the band. Victoria squirmed away from her with an amused look.

“Steady on Max, I don't fancy your parents catching us at it, even with your rewind. There's plenty of time for that later. And then I'm going to make you scream so fucking loud you'll have to use it.”

“That a promise, Chase?”

“I'm going to bury you, Caulfield.” They looked at each other then burst into giggles, Max leaning in against Victoria who wrapped an arm around her. They sat there contentedly for a few minutes, while Max ruminated on life.

“Oh, I forgot to ask – how was Christmas with your parents?” She felt Victoria stiffen slightly, then relax a little.

“It was.. fine. We had a few relatives over, the usual Cousins and Uncles and Aunts, bunch of fucking duplicitous sycophants. Can't wait for me to keel over, or get disinherited. Fucking vultures, the lot of them.” She paused and stared moodily at the house, and Max sensed she just needed some silent support and cuddled up closer to her. Victoria rested her chin on the top of Max's head, and they rocked together slightly before Victoria continued.

“I did have Christmas dinner with my parents though, just the three of us. And we didn't have it in that fucking ridiculous dining room, but the one we had lunch in – do you remember? It actually felt.. like old times. Like when I was younger.” She fell silent again, and Max was once again content to let her speak in her own time, if she wished.

“Anyway, it was better than it has been, let's put it that way. No screaming at each other, slamming doors.. I mean that's not exactly a high bar, but even so. Oh, and here's something funny, I bumped into one of my old friends – well not friend, more like an acquaintance I guess, we used to go to the same parties – you know those ones where someone would hire out a house for the weekend and there's loads of drinking and random sex and someone would have brought some drugs, and..”

“No.”

“Oh. Well, one of those anyway. Not of course that I got any of the sex, but.. yeah. So um, this girl was someone I used to go with, and I bumped into her because her Father wants to stay on the good side of my Father, and oh my god but I never knew how annoying she was, so vacuous and boring with nothing interesting to say, and she had this really fake way of speaking and throwing in random phrases like she was from Cali -”

“You throw in random bits of French now and again, you know,” Max said mildly, cutting Victoria off mid-flow.

“What?” Max carefully snuggled in further, grabbing hold of Victoria's hand to ensure her own safety.

“Well you know, throwing in a random au revoir, or bonjour, or où est la banque. I mean you've stopped doing it as much, but when I first met you it was like you were trying to be a French exchange student.” The arm around Max started to squeeze, and she could feel Victoria's hand gripping hers tighter and tighter.

“What? No I didn't – that's not the same – I'm not – oh shut the fuck up, Lamefield. It's totally different.”

“Oh yes I'm sure it is. Completely different. Not the same at all. And can you stop trying to break my hand?” Max pulled it free and waggled her fingers a bit, before pulling Victoria’s arms tight around her again, causing Victoria to grumble a bit and shift to be more comfortable.

“I actually know French, Maxine, and I am French as well.” Max sat up out of Victoria’s embrace, and looked at her sceptically.

“You told me you were born in Seattle!”

“I was, but I told you my family are from France. I’m French American. France is the land of my people.” Max waved her hands around, as if at a loss as to what to say.

“That’s.. utterly ridiculous. It was like over two hundred years ago, you’re as American as me. Might as well say I’m Irish because my great-grandfather came over from there. You don’t see me waxing on about the ‘Old Country’, do you? Uggghh.” Max always felt a little annoyed about people claiming heritage from other countries due to some distant ancestor - why couldn’t they just be happy to be American? She was American, and proud of it – she didn’t need any borrowed heritage, or to pretend to be from somewhere she wasn't. It all just seemed really disrespectful.

“Yeah, but you forget the fact that I actually still go back there, and we have our old house still,” replied Victoria smugly. “And anyway, I have a French passport as well. So there. Face it Maxine, I’m right and you’re wrong. You can call me Mademoiselle Chase de Entrechaux from now on.”

“God I hate you. And what do you mean you have a house there? Another one? I thought that it was just the place in New York and that place in Spain.” Victoria gave a sigh, as if she was disappointed by the lack of attention Max had been paying.

“You really don’t pay any notice of what I tell you, do you. That ‘place in Spain’ as you call it, is Barcelona, and I’ve told you lots of times about our house back in France. It’s this big old Château on top of a hill overlooking the village; my parents have spent a fortune bringing it up to modern standard as previously it had been neglected a bit, especially after the war. We couldn’t exactly maintain it during then, even if we were dealing with both sides at the same time.” She paused and seemed a little unhappy about something.

“Never let morality get in the way of a good profit,” she eventually said softly to herself, as if repeating something she had been told before. Max looked at her, then kissed her on the cheek in an attempt to get her out of her suddenly sombre mood.

“So you have a big old house on top of a hill? Sounds awesome.” Victoria smiled a little, wrapping her arms around Max again and clasping her hands together in Max’s lap.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool I guess. You’d like it, it’s really rustic and twee, right up your street.” Max didn’t rise to the bait but instead looked at her own house which was tiny in comparison to Victoria’s, but was her home. She wondered if she would be so fond of it if it was one of many, or even if that mattered at all.

“Well I guess it would be nice to see it sometime, then. We could go to France, given you are now apparently French. Although I don’t have a passport, or any money so..”

“Easily fixed,” Victoria said airily. “I mean I’ve got my plane, and accommodation costs would be free obviously so it’s quite simple.” Max rolled her eyes; everything seemed to be simple when you had money.

“Yes, so simple. But you know I’m not sure how environmentally friendly it is having a plane and flying about the place, Victoria. Air travel is one of the leading polluters in the world and a big contributor to climate change.”

“Thanks for the lecture during this little romantic time we are having; you can walk to New York then.” Max smacked Victoria’s hands, wanting her to take these things seriously.

“You know what I mean. We could take a scheduled flight, for example, cut down on -” Victoria abruptly got up, dislodging Max from the bench and then stood in front of her, hands on her hips and glaring angrily at her.

“You ever fucking dare suggest again that I take a fucking economy flight on one of those fucking dirty death traps with all those disgusting, fucking annoying people who burp and dribble and fucking breathe all over you then we’re through. Understand?” Victoria looked entirely serious, but Max couldn’t quite help smirking at the ridiculousness of it all. Before she could say anything the back door opened.

“Girls! Lunch is ready!” Max used the diversion to scramble past Victoria with a cackle.

“Come on Mademoiselle, I’ll try not to breathe on you too much.”



Lunch was a pleasant affair involving the reuse of some of the left-over food from Christmas which Vanessa had expertly made into a variety of dishes; coupled with some fresh breads and cakes she had rustled up. Max was tucking in with gusto, enjoying the easy banter that ran around the table. She was pleased to see that Victoria was willingly holding her own; it was if she had seamlessly become a part of her family already. She watched her out of the corner of her eye as her Dad regaled her with tales of Christmas’ past, which mainly seemed to be stories featuring Max going through every embarrassing moment they could think of, and she delighted in the way Victoria’s laugh would turn into that little snort she never realised she did.

“Has Max told you about how she used to build little snowman on the front porch?” Ryan said, looking at Victoria with a sidelong glance at Max. “She likes to pretend that she was all original, but she stole the idea from Calvin and Hobbes.”

“No I didn’t!” Max retorted, “I’ve never even read that. And it was lots of fun, so I don’t care. I’d do it right now if I could.” Victoria gave her an odd look from behind a glass of water and then turned towards Ryan.

“I’m sure it was just the start of her creative career; did she take Polaroid’s of them as well?” Ryan raised a finger as if struck with an idea.

“No, but that reminds me – I did dig out some old -”

“Dad! Victoria didn’t come all this way just to see old photos of me.” Victoria smiled politely at Ryan, avoiding a kick from Max under the table as she did so.

“That sounds wonderful, it’s always nice to see those sort of memories, isn’t it. Isn’t it, Max?” Max just glared at Victoria.

“I hate you; we are so taking economy,” she muttered under her breath. There was a brief moment of confused silence until Vanessa cleared her throat.

“Max told us that you are off to New York for the New Year, Victoria.” Victoria nodded and gestured at her plate.

“The food is wonderful, Vanessa, thank you for having me stay. Yes, we are – I thought we could go to Times Square for the countdown, I don’t think Max has ever been to New York so I thought it would be fun for us both.” Vanessa fired a look at Ryan that Max only just caught, and she wondered what it meant.

“No, she hasn’t been before. Are you staying in a Hotel? How are you travelling there? Max hasn’t told us anything, so..?” Max gripped her fork tightly, feeling a little annoyed at the direction the questioning was taking.

“Because -” she began, but Victoria spoke over her.

“We are staying in my apartment, so there is no cost there,” she said smoothly. “And we’re using my plane, so that’s covered too. It’s all taken care of, so no need to worry.” She finished with a bright smile and looked at Max, giving her a little nod. Max, however, was too busy trying to discern the meaning of the silent communication that seemed to be passing between her parents.

“That’s.. very generous of you, Victoria,” Vanessa said. “But we can’t let Max impose on you like this; at least let us help towards the cost of something, it would be wrong for us not too. We don’t want you to think that we are taking advantage.”

“Mom..” Max groaned, “that’s not -”

“That’s very nice of you Vanessa, but it is no trouble at all, Max is not imposing. Completely the opposite in fact.” Victoria gave them a reassuring smile, but an awkward silence had descended over the table. Max glowered at her food and her parents, various conversations running through her mind which all seemed to descend into full on rants. After a few moments Victoria politely excused herself to go to the bathroom, and Max watched her go before rounding on her parents.

“What the hell is your problem?” she demanded. “Why did you say something like that?” Ryan frowned at her tone.

“Max, don’t use that tone with us, young lady – you are still in our house and we are your parents.” Max rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth.

“Fine. Whatever. Why did you make our trip have to be about money, like I’m taking advantage of her? Just.. ugh, you’ve probably gone and really upset her now.”

“Max, that was not our intention,” Vanessa said, “but we have to make sure that everything is OK, as -”

“No, you don’t,” Max said with a bravery she never knew she had. “It’s my relationship, not yours, and I don’t want you to spoil it.” She could see her Dad beginning to raise an objection and she quickly spoke again. “Look, I get that you are looking out for me but I’m eighteen now and need to make my own way in life and just learn how to do it without you always trying to fix things for me. And that includes with Victoria.” Max looked at her parents and could feel her power just itching to burst through and undo it all as their stares were becoming unbearable, but it gave her some comfort (as always) that she could have another go at this if she needed.

“Max, maybe we sound like we are being overly protective, but we do worry about you. And when we hear you are being flown to New York by someone you only met a few months ago, you can see why we might be.” Max gawped at her Mom, slightly at a loss before her brain kicked into gear.

“What, you don’t trust her? Or me? What happened to the whole liking her and welcoming her into the family? You do realise that Victoria using her plane is no different to you using your car to drive to work? It’s just how she is, it’s nothing special to her nor is staying in her apartment.” Max paused, thinking about it. “Which I know sounds crazy, but it’s just what she is used to, even if we are not. And Dad, you don’t seem to mind when you get to have a go with whatever car she turns up in, do you?” Ryan looked a little abashed, before looking at Vanessa and muttering about taking some dishes through to the kitchen, leaving Max and her Mom alone staring at each other across the table. Eventually her Mom sighed, and held up a hand as if in a peace offering.

“Look, I'm sorry Max. I didn't mean to upset you and I forget sometimes that you are growing up so fast. You've changed so much since going to Blackwell that it is like you are different person, and you are no longer the little girl we worried so much about. It's hard for us to see you grow up, we can't help but worry about you.” Max did her best to keep her expression neutral, despite a desperate urge in that moment to confess everything to her Mom. She debated with herself whether to tell her, knowing that she could just rewind and take it away again – but then what would be the point in that?

“It's started to snow,” her Dad announced, walking back into the room. “It's coming down quite thick.” Max looked out of the window and saw that snow was indeed falling into their back yard, gradually becoming thicker and thicker – although the sky appeared to still be clear a little further away.

“Odd,” Vanessa remarked. “The weather forecast said it was going to be clear all day. Still, makes a nice change.” Max was hit by a sudden sinking feeling in her stomach, and she quickly stood up with a clatter of dishes.

“Sorry,” she said in answer to the questioning look she received, “I, er, just wanted to check on Victoria, see if she is OK.” Without waiting for a reply she left the room and sprinted up the stairs, heading for the bathroom. Fear was coursing through her; a fear that something had happened to Victoria, that she had upset her or something far worse. She could already feel her power welling up through her, as if preparing herself for anything that could happen.

The bathroom door was closed, and as she put a hand out to open it she could feel the cold emanating from it making her making her fear the worst; it resisted her attempt to open it so channelling her power she slowed time and pushed hard against the door, causing it to suddenly fly back against the wall in a shower of ice.

Victoria was leaning against the wall, eyes blazing with a brilliant fire and a bright trickle of blood running down from her nose to her chin. Max quickly rushed over to her, slipping on the wet floor, and grabbed hold of her, wincing at the cold that was already eating away at her.

“Victoria, what is it? Are you OK? What's wrong? Speak to me, please!” Victoria looked at her, a sheepish smile on her face.

“So.. do you wanna build a snowman?”

Chapter Text

Victoria weaved her way through the crowd, tugging Max along behind her. The square was packed with people who were just mingling around while half watching what was going on, and Victoria actually found the anonymity afforded by the crowd quite pleasing. Here no-one even gave her a second glance, and she felt like she didn't need to pretend to be any one, or any thing, to fit in. Here she was just one young woman amongst many, and at present she quite liked that.

Of course, it would come to a point in time where, if she stayed here for long enough, that she would very much like people to know just who she was, especially when it came to, for example, getting a table at a restaurant or priority entry somewhere - but in this moment, she didn't care for any of that.

Right here, right now, she was standing openly with her girlfriend in a huge crowd and no-one even seemed to notice or care, and she felt like another huge weight was lifting off her shoulders. Being  with Max at Blackwell, or walking around together along the waterfront in Seattle was one thing, but being openly out in a huge city with thousands of people all around ignoring them, and seeing that they were also by far not the only gay couple here, was immensely liberating - a final vindication for her that she was completely normal, just like everyone else.

Well, maybe not entirely normal. But normal in that way.

There was still ten minutes to go, based on the large clock that was counting down. The air was chilly, with the night time temperature just barely above freezing and Max standing next to her was bundled up in a thick coat, woollen gloves and a woollen hat with antlers and a big red bobble like a nose that Victoria had (of course) declared a crime against fashion but also found far too cute, not that she would ever say so. At Max's insistence she had a cream leather jacket on that she had left half zipped up, only agreeing to it after recognising that she would attract odd looks if she was the only one in the crowd without some semblance of trying to keep warm. A squeeze on her hand made her look at Max, who smiled brightly at her from beneath the ridiculous hat.

“It's so exciting, isn't it!” she said. “So many people here, all waiting for the New Year to come.” Victoria just squeezed her hand back and smiled, then pulled her close and wrapped an arm around her waist. Max settled in happily, wrapping her arm around Victoria.

“Funny thing is,” Max continued, “is that I could put it off for a while; stop the New Year from coming - but it eventually will, you know? Despite everything, I can't stop time moving ever onwards.”

“Well that's cheerful,” remarked Victoria. “Thanks for that.” Max shoved her with her hip.

“No, I didn't mean like that - I'm just saying that it is just something to think about. We're growing up, we'll leave Blackwell at the end of the year and start a new part of our lives. It's exciting and daunting and.. I'm glad I'm going to do it with you.”

“Aren't you supposed to give me the whole mushy speech thing at midnight?” Victoria said, doing her best to hide the fact that she was so, so happy at Max's words. Max poked her in the ribs.

“Now who is spoiling the moment.” Victoria didn't answer but just kissed her on the cheek, causing Max to smile as she also watched the clock slowly edge towards midnight. The noise from the crowd was growing, drowning out the abysmal entertainment on the stage in front before the ball dropped at midnight. Victoria had always found the whole evening a bit crass – she'd had enough of it the last time she had been here with her parents a few years ago and been thoroughly bored, but this time Max had been like an excited toddler which Victoria couldn't help but find infectious.

Their day so far had been immensely fun, as had been their whole stay so far in New York. Victoria's apartment was a stone's throw from Central Park, and they had spent some time (after a very, very late and lazy getting out of bed) wandering through there as Max had wanted to take some photos and Victoria was more than happy to join her - despite everything they were both still photographers, and Victoria still wanted to be the best. Or at the very least Max's equal.

Dinner had been in a restaurant that to Victoria had seemed quite modest, as Max had insisted on paying and Victoria had graciously let her choose where to go. To her surprise the food had been pretty good; even if it had just been something that had decided to classify itself as artisan, gourmet burgers, with an overabundance of chunky, English style fries and solid milkshakes. She worried that her taste was being dumbed down; that if she spent too long with Max she might even start finding diners attractive. She shuddered at the thought, and Max looked at her inquisitively.

“What do you want to do after this?” Victoria asked instead. She had mentally composed a list of clubs she knew they could potentially go to, most of them private and exclusive enough that they would not get asked any awkward questions regarding their ages, but she kept that in reserve in case Max was content to let her decide.

“Mmmm,” Max hummed, as if deep in contemplation. “I was thinking maybe we could just head back and maybe get in bed and maybe finish off that wine in the fridge, maybe also eat some really big gooey chocolates, maybe listen to some music and then maybe see where it goes..”

“Maybe that sounds good - as long as it's my music and not that weird hippy stuff you listen to.” Max didn't deign to respond but just watched the stage up ahead, where various random celebrities were gathered. They had arrived late and missed most of the entertainment, a mixture of a busy city at New Year and a small amount of procrastination on the part of Victoria. Max pointed at the stage with a finger.

“Who is the woman up there?” Victoria looked and then pointedly turned Max's head towards one of the big screens.

“That's Miley Cyrus, please tell me you've heard of her. In fact, don't pretend you haven't.”

“Oh, of course I have. She just looks different. Like really different. Her hair looks a bit like yours, actually – or yours looks like hers..”

“Clearly she copied me. Anyway, there's only two minutes to go, so pay attention given we've come this far for it.” Ahead the large electronic screen was counting down the time in seconds and the crowd began to chant along, Max yelling as loud as anyone. Victoria found herself joining in, a feeling of excitement coming over her as the numbers edged closer to zero.

“Five!” she yelled, along with everyone else. “Four! Three! Two! One!”

The world went still, perfectly poised between the end of the old year and the start of the new, and Victoria looked into a pair of brilliant blue eyes peeking out from beneath an utterly ridiculous bobble hat.

“Zero,” Max said softly, and kissed her.

Chapter Text

Max stared out of the window, watching the buildings of Lower Manhattan slip slowly by. The mood in the car was uncomfortably tense; Max could tell Victoria was clearly very unhappy about the present situation and had hardly spoken a word since they had left. They had argued late into the night over whether to go through with it, with Max adamant that they didn't really have a choice - not if they wanted to live their lives without looking over their shoulders all the time. Victoria had an utter mistrust of anything to with the Government, and especially one which knew of their existence. Max had done her best to assuage her fears; but the stress building within her girlfriend was still very much there, given the fact Max kept shivering.

Despite her misgivings, Victoria had insisted on accompanying her and then waiting outside until she came out, making Max understand in no uncertain terms that if she didn’t, she would tear the place down brick by brick until she found her. Max was confident that it wouldn't come to that - Jesse had had plenty of time and opportunity to do something but had, apart from an email telling her where to go and how to get in, been entirely absent from their lives so far.

“Look - there it is. Can you see it?”

“Fuck me, it's huge,” Victoria said, the first thing she had said all journey. “How have I never seen it before?” A massively tall concrete building stretched up before them, entirely devoid of windows and dominating the surrounding area. It was easily the largest building around and stuck out like a sore thumb, but Max could never recall any photograph showing it, nor in any book on architecture or on any listing of major buildings in New York. But there it undeniably was, a stark reminder of the strange world they now inhabited, where the unusual was quickly becoming the mundane.

“Well as least we know it's real now,” Max said light heartedly, “it's not a wasted trip.” Victoria didn't answer and just frowned, the journey settling back down into an uncomfortable silence once more. Max was convinced that she was doing the right thing despite Victoria thinking she was utterly insane to be voluntarily walking into whatever this place was. This whole situation had been the source of their first proper fight last night which had upset Max, with it only ending when she pointed out that the FBC knew of them already and it was probably best to face it head on, rather than wait for them to come find them. If all else failed she could go back in time and undo it all; but Victoria had gone to bed alone and unhappy and it still lay between them now.

A short while later Victoria pulled up outside of the building, parking in a place that threatened all sort of fines that she just ignored and switched off the engine. Max looked at her as they sat there, Victoria gripping the wheel and just staring forward.

“Hey, it's going to be OK. Trust me.” Max put her hand on top of Victoria's and squeezed it, and Victoria turned to face her. “It'll be over before you know it.”

“You'd better come back to me, Max.” Max leaned over and kissed her.

“Of course I will. Look, how about if I'm not back in two hours -”

“One hour.”

“- hour and a half you come and find me. Yes?” Victoria sighed heavily.

“Is it too late to ask you not to go? I don't like this. I really don't.” Max gave her a bright smile and hugged her.

“Yes, we're here now so you might as well go get an overpriced coffee. It'll be fine Victoria, I promise.”



Max hesitated in front of the glass doors that led into the building; despite her brave words to Victoria she felt a queasiness in her stomach. She desperately hoped that she was right in doing this, as the alternative didn't bear thinking about. With a deep breath she held out her hand and pushed the door, it swung open easily and she stepped into building.

She found herself in a wide atrium, all concrete and austere pillars. A huge emblem was etched into the black flooring, and ahead of her was an ordinary looking reception desk flanked by two flags. It looked to her very much like any over government building she had seen, and nothing gave any hint as to what the real purpose of the building was for. Max could also sense something else, a sensation that she was being watched as if by the building itself, like the building was alive and aware of her presence there. She felt like she could hear whispers just on the edge of hearing, an unsettling sound that set her a little on edge; whispers that gave her the impression it was being questioned as to why she had come.

The area was quite busy with people; some were waiting while others disappeared up stairs or through plain looking doors. Max could see some armed security guards watching over everything (and, it seemed, her) and she tried to walk confidently across the floor to the reception, but in that moment she just felt like an 18 year old high schooler instead of the force of nature she was apparently supposed to be. The receptionist looked up at her and gave a brightly fake smile.

“Welcome to the Federal Bureau of Control, established in 1964 as part of an effort to strengthen government relations,” she said. “We are proud to serve the United States and her people as we strive for transparency and excellence in all aspects of our esteemed nation’s infrastructure. How can I help you today?” Max gestured aimlessly, stammering over her words.

“Um, er hi. I was supposed to meet someone here? I told them I was coming, but I don't know where to go or um, how to reach her so can you help?” she ended lamely, cringing internally at how silly she sounded. The receptionist carried on giving her the smile.

“I see, and who were you supposed to be meeting? Are you sure you have the right place?” Max pointed at the gold letters on the wall behind her.

“This is the Federal Bureau of Control? I was supposed to meet Jesse.” At the name one of the receptionist’s eyebrows raised.

“Jesse?” she queried. Max felt a cold sweat break out, suddenly fearing that she was in entirely the wrong place and that Victoria had been right all along not to come.

“Er.. Yes, Jesse Faden. She is the Director..? I’m, er, Max.” The receptionist looked at her then down at a piece of paper and suddenly her demeanour changed, becoming much more business-like and professional.

“Maxine Caulfield, isn't it?” Max nodded, and then patted her pockets.

“Um, yes I er don’t have any ID or.. I left it in the apartment, sorry I didn't think I'd need..” The receptionist held up a hand to stop her, and picked up what looked like a telephone straight from the 1980's.

“Just one moment please.. hello? Yes, it's Marie here on reception, your guest has arrived, shall I.. I see, no that's fine. Yes, Director. Of course.” She replaced the receiver and this time gave her a genuine smile. “The Director will be down shortly, if you would just like to take a seat over there I’ll let you know when she arrives.” Max gave her thanks and then wandered over to some semi-comfortable seats, taking her time to look around.

It all looks just so ordinary. Maybe I imagined it all, maybe this is just a normal Government thing like the DMV. I should probably be careful, then, just in case. Not tell them anything more than I need too.

Max sat there and admired the brutalist aesthetic of the building, all straight lines and concrete expanse, with the occasional splash of green from a plotted plant. Everything was clean and perfunctory, with only the slight hint of an aesthetic being repeating rectangular insets within some of the walls. Max could appreciate the design choice behind it, although she much preferred more organic forms that were more in tune with nature and the environment.

“Max?” a voice called, and she looked up to see a familiar woman dressed in a smart suit with red hair tied loosely back, walking confidently towards her. Max noticed how tall she was, having only met her sitting down before, and also how everything else seemed to diminish around, becoming insignificant to the commanding figure. Max had just enough time to come to the realisation that she was also very attractive indeed – something she had seemingly missed the first time around – before a hand was thrust in her face.

“Max, I’m so glad you came. It’s great to see you again.” Max looked at the hand and then up at the smiling face, before reaching out to shake it.

“Hi Faden, I mean Jesse, Director Faden? Sorry, this is all just a bit.. um out of my comfort zone.” Jesse laughed, and looked around her.

“Well you and me both, the first time I walked in here I had no fucking clue what was going on. I thought I was going even madder than I normally was. Come on, lets get you inside this place.” Max followed Jesse as she briskly walked off towards a security point, and wondered whether it was normal for Directors to swear. Jesse just seemed so normal, so nice, that she almost forgot where she was and who she was dealing with.

Almost. Keep it cool, Max. You can do this.

“You'll have to leave anything electronic here, Max. Can't take it through I'm afraid – that goes for anything modern really. Oh, and you haven't got any famous logos or.. or... oh what is it Emily says.. oh yes, 'any objects considered iconic representations of an archetypal concept'. There's a list somewhere, hang on – there, on the wall.” Max looked at her blankly before glancing at the list and frowning.

“Er.. what?” Jesse pulled out a plastic tray like they used at airports and laid it in front of what looked like to Max an x-ray machine.

“Just put your things on here, we'll keep them safe in a locker. We can't take anything modern through, it has a nasty habit of exploding, or worse. It's why it looks like we are stuck in the 1980's, it's actually quite annoying at times when you are used to things like a decent cell phone.” Max emptied her pockets, feeling a little weird without her cell – like she was cutting herself off from the outside world. She was aware of the curious glances from the security personnel, noting how every one of them was heavily armed. She suddenly felt quite glad she was with Jesse.

Jesse had a quick conversation with the guard on the scanner, before handing Max a heavy badge on a lanyard.

“This is your badge, Max, for your visit here. Don’t take it off whatever you do, even for a moment.” Max quickly put it over her head then inspected it curiously; it appeared to be made of some dark heavy material and was slightly concave on one side, with the badge details on the other. She noticed that all of the people around her had similar ones on.

“What happens if I do take it off?” she asked. Jesse looked at her for a second, and furrowed her brow as if thinking hard.

“Hopefully nothing, but you could get invaded by the Hiss and your mind utterly destroyed, and then I’d have to kill you.” The matter of fact way she spoke made it clear to Max that she wasn’t joking, and Max clutched the badge tightly.

“Oh,” was all she said, feeling completely out of her depth. “Um, how come you don’t have one?” Max had noticed that Jesse was not wearing a lanyard or any form of ID. Jesse beckoned Max to follow her up a flight of concrete stairs, talking as they went.

“Oh I don’t need one. Everyone and the building knows I’m the Director, so of course I don't need ID, and I’m the only thing keeping the Hiss at bay. If I go, then the world will probably end. Or so Emily says, but then she says a lot, especially about unexpected visits from parents.” Max was by now thoroughly confused, feeling as if there was a lot she didn’t know or understand.

“Parents?” she said weakly, climbing the stairs and emerging into a wood lined corridor with an elevator in the middle. Max could see portraits of various people on the walls, one of them she recognised as being Emily, but with the larger ones being of Jesse. “Also, why are there so many portraits of you everywhere?” Jesse paused in front of one of them, appraising it with arms folded.

“Hideous, aren’t they. The building puts them up; I’ve found out that removing them is a waste of time because they just reappear. Still, at least it lets everyone know I’m still in charge.” She turned and walked to the elevator with Max in tow, who was wondering what exactly she meant about the building putting things up. Again she noticed that the building felt like it was watching her, that the very walls were alive; but she didn’t feel afraid or in danger. Instead there was a sense that for now, she was tolerated.

“So where are you taking me?” Max asked, as the elevator doors closed behind them. Max was beginning to feel at ease but wasn’t letting her guard down, constantly looking around her to try and remember where she had come from and making sure she was ready to trigger her power at a moment’s notice. She had no idea what to expect; the mundane nature of the building was undercut by the strange things Jesse was saying, and the knowledge that clearly everything was not as it seemed – including herself.

“Well, I thought I’d show you around a bit, so you can see what we do here and that we are not scary or anything. I’ve got a big fancy office I never use, and I’ll show you the pyramid, and then we can go to Central Research and the trees – there’s a cafeteria there, and if we get time then we can go to the Quarry..”



Max was in a strange mood; she felt like she was having some form of job interview, or at the very least an induction into a club. Jesse had led her through a series of identical corridors, both of them drawing semi-interested looks from the various people who were busily going about their working day. She supposed it must have looked a little strange; her dressed in sensible trousers and smartish jacket (something Victoria had insisted on – she was damned if Max was going to her doom looking scruffy) but looking very much like the student she was, walking alongside the taller woman who just seemed to ooze power and responsibility, even if it was unconsciously, as she was taken on the tour.

Max had seen a large room dominated by an implausibly large inverted black pyramid that hung down from the ceiling, something Jesse had obliquely referenced as ‘the annoying Board’, but Max couldn’t see how it even looked like a Board – weren’t boards flat? And how could it be annoying?

Next up had been Jesse’s office and it was as she had said – large and office like, and Jesse had not seemed particularly enamoured with it. Off to one side there was an opening through what looked like a gold doorway with a corridor stretching away, and Max looked down it.

“What’s down there?” Jesse walked over to her and a smile crept across her face.

“Oh, you’ll like this – come on!” She walked off and Max scrambled to follow, trying to work out how this all fitted together inside the building she had seen. It already felt like they had walked further than should have been possible; the geometry of the place was confusing and complex and frankly impossible. She followed Jesse down the corridor, then turned past a bored looking guard who gave Jesse a nod from behind his desk. Max scurried on behind her, keeping close to Jesse so she didn’t get left behind and lost, or worse. The corridor slowly changed shape and then suddenly became a gantry over an impossibly large void, blackness stretching out on every side as far as she could see. The gantry ended and Max could see a glass box suspended in the void, within which was what looked like an old leather chair and a table with a red telephone on it. Max marvelled at it, trying to see if it was some form of trick or projection – she was beginning to feel like she was dreaming, and pinched herself to make sure she was awake.

“What do you think?” asked Jesse, folding her arms and grinning while looking very pleased with herself.

“Is.. is it real?” Max asked, doubting what her eyes were seeing. “What is it?” Jesse laughed; it was loud and rough and seemed entirely out of place given the situation.

“That's the Hotline Chamber. A way of communicating with the other side, so to speak. Emily could probably tell you at great length how it works, but it is pretty much just a telephone. A dangerous one, but still a telephone.” Max stood there transfixed, wishing she had brought her camera - she realised that her Polaroid would probably have been allowed in, given how old it was.

“It's.. unbelievable. I mean I can travel through time, but.. I thought I was.. I don't know.” Max felt like her horizons, her very view of the world and her place in it, were being expanded far beyond anything she could have ever thought possible.

She suddenly felt positively mundane, as if after all she was just another oddity in a world full of them, like the glass chamber in the void.

“How do you get there? There's no bridge or..?” she asked, and Jesse pointed at a light switch cord hanging down in front of them, although Max couldn't see what it was attached too.

“Via that. Don't pull it though,” Jesse added quickly, and Max swiftly withdrew her hand looking a bit guilty. “It takes you there via an interdimensional motel, which I think might only exist in my mind. Or possibly not. It's hard to explain. Anyway, probably best not to go there.” Max looked up at her and felt slightly in awe - she was so confident, so utterly strong in herself that it seemed to radiate outwards and make even her believe in herself a little.

But you still don't know what she wants, or why she wanted you here. She still works for The Government, and since when have secret government agencies ever been good? Try and be genre savvy Max, you've seen enough films to know this ends up in brainwashed super soldiers.

“OK. Um, but why did you bring me here? I mean why did you want me to come?” Jesse's smile disappeared and she looked at Max seriously; Max seeing that strange shift she seemed to do from being a cheerful every-woman to a hard faced superpowered Director.

“Yes, I suppose I owe you an explanation. Let's head off to the cafeteria in Central Research, it'll be a bit easier to talk there.” She turned and leapt into the air, serenely flying back down the gantry before landing with an apologetic smile to an amazed Max. “Sorry, force of habit; I forget that not everyone can do that. Come on, I need a coffee and I think they just might have some cake today.”



Jesse led Max back through to a different elevator and they descended in silence, Max having given up trying to work out where she was in the building - she was beginning to realise that it really did make no sense whatsoever, so just rolled with it. It made a certain amount of sense to her, as did the nagging sensation that the place was alive around her and that the building itself was sentient; it just seemed to fit with it being far larger than it looked on the outside.

“Like the Tardis,” she said out loud.

“What is?” Jesse asked. “The elevator?”

“No,” Max said whilst blushing, not realising she had voiced her thoughts. “This building, it's like the Tardis. You know, from Doctor Who? Bigger on the inside than out.”

“Ah, yes,” Jesse replied. “I've not seen it but I know what you mean. It's a.. what is it, Emily told me the other day.. hang on, it's on the tip of my tongue..” Jesse folded her arms and stared up at the ceiling deep in thought for a minute, while Max stood awkwardly next to her not knowing where to look. Luckily the ping of the doors interrupted them, and Max followed Jesse out into a vast atrium of many floors, accessed by broad staircases that ran up and down in all directions. Off to one side Max could see a huge black door with 'Ritual Division' written above it in gold letters, but what really caught her attention were the vast trees that ran up through the middle of the space; like giant Redwoods with their canopies many floors above Max. Jesse was already descending a flight of stairs and Max hurried to catch up, doing her best not to fall down them as she tried to take everything in.

A few floors down was the bottom of the space, and dominating one large corner of it was a huge cafeteria that could have been found in any Mall. It was packed with people eating their lunch, as if it is was the most normal place in the world to be doing so. Max supposed that if you worked here for long enough then giant trees and a flying Director probably became mundane after a while - much like magical butterflies appearing out of nowhere, or being able to manipulate time.

Max followed Jesse into the cafeteria, hiding in her shadow as Jesse was greeted by various members of staff who then looked at her inquisitively, as if she was some oddity for inspection. She assumed that not many students were shown around the place by the Director, and therefore it was not surprising that she was attracting looks. She was feeling completely overwhelmed by the experience, and began to wish that she could just go home and curl up on her bed with some trashy TV and Victoria; but did her best to quell the increasingly pressing sensation of being overwhelmed by it all disquiet stick it out for a bit longer.

Jesse made a beeline for a clear table and sat down, gesturing for Max to join her. Max saw that there was a plain, type written menu on the table, and a large chalk board with specials on the wall. Max was too nervous to be really hungry, but as she glanced down the list to avoid the gaze of Jesse opposite her, she saw there was indeed a whole bunch of cakes and other goodies available and her stomach grumbled.

“I'm going to get a coffee and a panini, do you want anything?” asked Jesse. “It's on my tab, so don't worry. Benefit of being the Boss.”

“Thank you, er, Director -”

“It's just Jesse, please.”

“- Jesse. Um could I just have the broccoli and ham quiche? And a latte as well, please. Oh and if it's OK some of that double chocolate cake for afterwards? That's not too much is it? I don't want to assume or..”

“Of course not.” Jesse waved at one of the staff behind the counter who came over and took their order, as Max fiddled with the menu and began to feel a little better due to the shear mundaneness of it all.

“So, Max,” Jesse said, leaning back in her chair and fixing Max with a look that she found a bit disconcerting, “you told me about the things you could do. I know you can do something - Polaris can sense it, and you sort of stand out to me because of it, as did your girlfriend - but I'd like you to show me. Preferably without destroying something or reality, there's a lot of paperwork if you do and I don't do nearly enough of it as it is.” Max couldn't help but giggle nervously, but felt like she had to try and impress the woman in front of her, to show her that she was worthy of all the attention she was getting.

“Well, I can only go back in time, so.. um I guess you could maybe tell me something I would not know, and then I'll go back and tell you what it is you told me?” Jesse shrugged.

“OK, I guess that could work. Let me think of something.” Max waited while Jesse thought of something, fiddling with the menu aware that Jesse was still watching her intently.

“I've thought of something. There's no way you could know this, so here goes. Ready?” Max nodded and made a show of paying attention. Jesse looked right at her, and her gaze was one of steel, her jaw clenched tight as if she was remembering something she'd rather not.

“When I was twelve I was so hungry I had to steal food, and there was this.. Market Basket in the town I had escaped to. It wasn't the first time I’d stolen from there, but this time the security guard caught me. He took one look at me and.. and he just looked past me, as if I wasn't there. Whispered to me to quickly grab something else and run. And I was so grateful and terrified that I just grabbed some rolls and stuffed them in an old carrier bag. I went there a few other times he was there and he turned a blind eye every time. I wish I knew his name so I could thank him now.” Max looked at her in wonder; her voice had been very level and matter of fact as she spoke, but Max could see that the memory was making Jesse think of something else entirely and had fallen silent. Max was about to ask her about what she had said before she remembered the whole point of it.



“- there's a lot of paperwork if you do.” Jesse looked at Max and frowned, then shook her head as if puzzled by something. “Something.. doesn’t.. huh. Never mind.” Max nervously played with the menu again, trying to think how to start the conversation.

“Why.. why did you have to steal food when you were twelve? From the Market Basket I mean.” Jesse looked at her, completely failing to control her surprise and Max rushed to explain. “You told me this. In the future. I mean you did, I came back to show you I could. Go through time, I mean.” Max cringed at how idiotic she sounded, suddenly wishing she had the confidence of Victoria when it came to these sorts of situations. Jesse didn’t seem to notice, or at least didn’t give the impression that she had – she just looked at Max with a blank expression, before shaking her head and letting out a little smile.

“I told you that, did I? I see.” She didn’t say anything else and Max found herself filling the silence.

“I can do something else, too. When I go back in time, I stay in the same place so it looks like I've teleported somewhere when I haven't. Wait, I'll show you.” Max got up and walked a few paces away then rewound, watching with a little sense of smug satisfaction as Jesse started then glanced over to where she was. Max did it again to get back in her seat, a shy smile on her face.

“That's pretty impressive,” Jesse said. “Although I keep getting the strangest feeling, like.. like a deja vu.”

“Glitch in the Matrix,” Max said, making Jesse laugh.

“Yeah, maybe. Just don't say that to Emily, she'll come up with all sorts of tests. Like, a lot of them.” Coffee arrived, and Max cradled the cup in her hands. She was feeling a little pleased with herself, as if she had shown that she was maybe worthy of the attention Jesse was giving her.

“You told me last time a little of what had happened to you, how you got this power - could you explain a little bit more?” Max looked up at Jesse, and felt a little emboldened after her display.

“Um could you tell me about you and.. all of this first? It's all rather.. overwhelming, and I feel a completely out of my depth.” She found herself wilting a little under Jesse's stare as she tried to match it, desperately trying to remind herself that she was a powerful person in her own right, even if she didn't feel like it. Jesse regarded her for a moment, before giving her a quick nod.

“That's fair. And I guess you could always just go back in time and I'd never know anyway.”

“Oh I'd never do that!” Max said quickly. “I mean I'm trying not too, I don't want to.. end up like that.” Again that look from Jesse, as if she was trying to read the thoughts inside her head.

“Sure. I get it. Well, I'll give you the short version. As short as I can make it, anyway. I grew up in a town called Ordinary, and it was. Me and my brother, we used to play in a dump with some friends. We tried to stay away from home because it was.. not the most welcoming. Anyway, one day we found an old slide projector, and we played around with it. Turned out the slides opened doors to other dimensions, which was.. unusual.” Jesse stopped for a moment and seemed to stare off into the distance, as if lost in memories.

“That's incredible,” Max murmured. “You must have been really excited.”

“Excited? Perhaps,” Jesse said. “Terrified by the end, certainly. Without it I would never have met Polaris, but then without it maybe.. maybe more people would be alive. Maybe my brother would not.. maybe things would not be as they are. But you can't change the past, so..” She laughed suddenly. “Well, most of us can't, such a power..” She looked at her once more and Max began to feel uncomfortable, not liking the direction the conversation was going.

“Why were you terrified?” she asked quickly. “What happened?”

“Polaris wasn't the only thing out there. Other things came through, terrible things. It all went to shit, all the adults disappeared.. somehow.. and then the Bureau turned up.” Max noticed the hesitation when she mentioned the adults and wondered what lay behind it, but Jesse's face was coldly impassive, and Max didn't dare ask, nor risk a rewind to do so.

“The Bureau? You mean the FBC?” Jesse nodded.

“The very same. Those fuckers turned up, took the slide projector, took my brother, and tried to take me. I escaped, he didn't. And I ran. For years I ran, bouncing from place to place, surviving however I could and always trying to find my brother.”

“That's awful. I'm sorry you had to go through that, it must have been terrible.” Jesse just inclined her head, and Max floundered for more words. “Is that why you were stealing food?”

“Yes. I had no parents, no family, no money and was terrified of being caught. No-one would believe me about what happened, it sounded crazy. So crazy they put me in hospital, trying to convince me that it didn't happen, that it was all in my head. Turned out the fucking Bureau was following me, keeping track of me all that time.” Max furrowed her brow, trying to make sense of it all.

“Why? I don't understand.” Jesse laughed once more, but it was full of bitterness.

“I was their control subject, while they fucked around with my brother. Trying to groom him to become a future Director for when it was necessary. Use him for their own end. Poor kid.” Jesse sighed and looked down at her hands, as if blaming then. Max felt her heart go out to the older woman, realising that she had appeared to have suffered through some traumatic past events that even now seemed to be affecting her – assuming she was telling the truth, of course, and it wasn't some elaborate trap.

And how can I be sure it isn't? She could be making this all up to try and get me to sympathise with her. I want to believe her, but..

But some things just don't add up.

“I don't understand how you ended up here though. I mean as the Director. You just told me how horrible they are, and yet we are sitting here with you being in charge of it. It doesn't make any sense.” Max spoke all in a rush, as if trying to get all of her thoughts out in one go in case she lost her nerve. Jesse remained silent, still looking at her hands and lost in thought, and Max wondered if she had upset her. Max felt the silence stretching out ahead of them, despite the bustle of conversation around until Max found it unbearable.

“Um, Jesse? Are you OK?” Her words seem to snap Jesse out of whatever mood she was in and she looked at Max, as if just remembering she was there.

“Oh, Max. Yes, sorry was just thinking about things. What was your question?” Their food arrived, interrupting any further questions and they both settled down to eat while exchanging small talk. Jesse turned out to be good company and soon Max's fears seemed to slip further away as they chatted about films they had seen – apparently Jesse was something of a film buff, it being one of the few sources of entertainment she had been able to access while on the run. The food was good, and as she ate Max found that she was surprisingly hungry, which made a question rise in her mind.

“This is really nice. Do you make all the food here?” Jesse nodded around a mouthful of panini.

“Yeah, we have a good chef – Mrs Miggins, she does all the lunches. Does a fantastic hot pot, and her chocolate cookies are to die for.” Max suddenly wished she had ordered those instead of her cake, and wondered if it would be rude to ask for them as well. She also wondered how you ended up working as a cook in such a bizarre place.

Speaking of which..

“You never told me how you ended up here,” Max said, gesturing around with a loaded fork. Jesse wiped some sauce off her chin with the back of her hand and finished off her coffee.

“Well -”

“She turned up in the nick of time and saved us all,” said a voice from behind Max. Another attractive face framed by short blonde hair, that reminded her of Victoria's, hoved into view, an infectious smile across her face. “Max, hi. Emily, Emily Pope. I don't suppose you remember that we met before..” Max smiled back at her and watched as she quickly pecked Jesse on the cheek before pulling over a chair.

“Yes, I remember. Hello again.” Emily looked at Jesse’s empty plate, then at Max’s food, before turning back to Jesse, smile gone from her face. “Did you not get me something, like I asked?” Jesse looked at her slightly wild-eyed.

“Did you? When was.. no wait, you didn’t.. did you?” Emily gave her a look, a look that made Jesse scramble up and head off to the counter. Max watched in amusement as Emily’s bright smile returned once more as she looked at Max.

“How are you Max? I hope Jesse has been looking after you? Thank you for coming to see us, it means a lot to Jesse, even if she hasn’t shown it, which I bet she hasn’t.” Max felt herself immediately warming to the woman, finding her manner disarmingly friendly.

“She’s been very nice, it’s not what I was expecting coming to such a scary place. I mean, it’s my first time coming to a secret government thing but everyone has been so.. friendly, so far. It’s not how I imagined it would be.” Emily nodded eagerly.

“Yes, well you have Jesse to thank for that. The Director of the FBC tends to leave their own personal imprint on how the Bureau functions, probably due to the unique way they are appointed and the paranatural bleed over from the Astral plane. I think it may be down to the nature of how archetypal objects are affected that is so prevalent here, so the managerial style and structure of the Director – which are in of themselves inherently rooted in popular culture and preconceived ideas related to societal norms at any point in time – means that this tends to create change within the organisation at a rapid rate compared to other more traditional bureaucracies, which have an institutional inertia of their own due to their cultures and traditions and are thus more resistant to change, which happens on a much slower timescale.” Max had done her best not to lose concentration during Emily’s speech and let her mind wander, and she think she had worked out what Emily meant.

“So because Jesse is friendly the Bureau is?” Emily beamed at her, and Max basked in its warmth.

“Exactly. Under the previous Director – Director Trench – the Bureau was very different, much more how you would probably imagine it to be. Which unfortunately led to some of the problems that Jesse had to come and save us from.” Max had by now picked up enough hints that Jesse had somehow turned up and saved everyone, then had become the Director because of it. It all seemed very strange; but then she was sitting in a cafeteria with giant trees growing up into an enormous space, which was all somehow within an office block in Manhattan.

So maybe it is not that strange after all. And Jesse is like a proper superhero, like a for real one. Like from the movies.

“Do you have any powers, Emily?” she asked. Emily smiled and shook her head.

“No, not at all – I’m just the Head of Research. Jesse is the most powerful and gifted Director we’ve ever had, with test results that are off the charts,” she gushed. “In fact, so far off the charts I had to invent new ones, which was a lot of fun.” Max was put under no false impression that she had indeed had a lot of fun doing that.

“In fact people with such abilities are very rare, normally it is just someone who can, for example, have an idea of where something could be, or perhaps a sense of something vague that may happen,” Emily continued without pause. “You know when you get a hunch about something, like a sense of forewarning? It tends to be things like that. Fairly mundane in the scheme of things, although I have built upon some previous research we did to create some reliable tests that allow us to gauge where on the Bradshaw-Croft scale they would fall, although I have amended and improved it slightly. Are you familiar with their work? It was ground-breaking in its day; of course not the sort of research that is commonly taught in your average syllabus, but they did have to make some assumption that are not quite born out by the empirical data we have collected so far.” Max wondered when she actually took a breath, and everything was beginning feel just a little too loud and bright for her; but there was no reprieve in sight as Emily began to delve ever deeper into what sounded like a very arcane process in assessing the innate paranatural ability of someone. Just as Emily was pulling out a pen and a piece of paper to start drawing diagrams, her saviour arrived.

“A non-Euclidean Space!” Jesse announced in triumph, plonking herself down next to Emily, who looked a bit annoyed at the interruption and disturbance of what she was drawing.

“Um.. what?” asked Max cautiously, glad for the distraction and focusing on Jesse.

“I remembered what Emily had said about the Oldest House. It’s not important.” Jesse looked at the piece of paper in front of Emily and jabbed a finger at it. “What is that?” Emily hurriedly tried to hide it.

“Nothing, just a few equations and things, nothing interesting.”

“Emily.. we agreed, no tests or experiments, and that includes trying to get her to understand anything.” Jesse glanced at Max and winked conspiratorially. “Even I have no idea what you are on about half the time, so have pity on poor Max here.” Max looked between the two and saw how at ease they were with each other, and hoped that someday her and Victoria would be like that without either of them misunderstanding the other – or more likely Max saying the wrong thing without thinking.

“It’s fine, it was just all quite a bit above my understanding though. I’m not really taking physics at school, you’d need Warren for that.”

“Warren?” asked Jesse.

“Oh, just a boy at school,” Max explained. “Victoria seems to think he wants to get in my pants all the time, as she so delicately puts it. I’ve never told him or led him to believe I'm interested in him that way, and he is a good guy and a great friend, but Victoria thinks..”

“She thinks he doesn’t get the message?” interjected Jesse. “Yeah I know the type. It’s like you can beat them over the head with a spade and then glass them and they still don’t get it. Really annoying.” Emily looked at her in surprise.

“You never told me about this? I need to know who these people are – I knew there was a reason I was developing those knives, I -” Emily was interrupted by the sound of three loud bongs over an address system.

ATTENTION ALL BUREAU STAFF. THIS IS A CODE THREE ALERT. COULD THE DIRECTOR PLEASE PROCEED TO RECEPTION IMMEDIATELY. ALL BUREAU PERSONNEL PLEASE BE ON STANDBY FOR FURTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS. RANGER TEAMS ONE TO SIX PLEASE PROCEED TO YOUR ASSEMBLY AREAS. REPEAT, THIS IS A CODE THREE ALERT. COULD –

Jesse leapt up as the message kept repeating, swearing under her breath.

“Emily – keep an eye on Max. Keep her safe – I’m going to go see what is happening. If we need a lockdown, then -” Emily reached out and tugged at her arm, bringing her down to her level and giving her a kiss.

“Look after yourself,” she said in a voice Max could barely hear. Jesse smiled at her, nodded at Max then left, flying up into the air towards the upper levels.



Jesse landed by a control point, hurriedly held out her hand and focused. She could see the layout of them all in her mind, a spider web that wound its way through all of the parts of the Oldest House they had managed to control so far. As far as she was aware, she was the only Director who had been able to do this and during the Hiss invasion it had been invaluable in ensuring she was able to confront each trouble spot as occurred; she still woke occasionally at night, tormented by just how mentally exhausted she had been, how close she had come to failure. Now, however, they served as convenient methods for her to travel around the Bureau when she didn't fancy walking, or wanted to surprise Emily by suddenly arriving wherever she was.

Jesse concentrated, chose the point closest to reception and willed herself there. She had the familiar sensation of being in two places at once, of being stretched between two points of reality, before suddenly appearing in a corridor near reception. She could immediately hear shouting and heavy crashes, and without a moment’s hesitation dashed as quickly as she could towards it, reaching an upper corridor that overlooked it and launching herself into the air, hovering high above to try and see what was happening.

The entire area was in chaos; the main doors to the building were shattered and twisted, the reception desk was shattered into wreckage and she could see the receptionists cowering behind whatever cover they could find. A guard or two were slumped against a wall and clutching various parts of their bodies, apparently alive but injured, whilst others were taking cover by the security gates and readying firearms. Large chunks of ice were embedded into walls, scattered across the floor and piling up into small drifts, while a wind was whipping viciously around, lifting debris and papers into a swirling morass. Jesse saw that at the centre of it all was a figure she recognised, and immediately knew what was happening.

Victoria. She’s come to find Max. I should have asked about her. That’s my mistake. That's on me.

Jesse aimed and launched herself heavily down onto the floor, causing the surface to crack and splinter, gaining the attention of the person at the centre of the maelstrom as they were rocked slightly by the force.

“Where the fuck is she? What have you done with her?” Victoria's voice was hoarse, and Jesse thought that she looked exhausted and was apparently beginning to lose control. Polaris gently hummed in agreement and seemed to suggest that she wasn't actually a threat - just worried and scared, and that Jesse should try and de-escalate the situation. Jesse held out her hands in a gesture of appeasement, trying to appear unthreatening.

“Calm down, and let's talk. We are not your enemy - Max is fine. We were just having lunch.” Victoria narrowed her eyes suspiciously, and Jesse now saw how much they glowed - like a cat caught in headlights. She could also feel the power rolling off Victoria, and it seemed to be surging in uncontrollable waves - a sensation she had felt when purging a corrupted item, but somehow not feeling as hostile. Jesse could also feel a coldness on her skin and saw the ground under Victoria's feet was sparkling with tiny icicles.

“She's just upstairs; if you just calm down I'll take you to her and then we can all talk,” Jesse continued, suddenly wishing she had gone on one of those negotiation courses she was supposed to have done. Victoria seemed to hesitate, and Jesse thought that her simple speech had worked. Unfortunately someone behind her had decided that now was a good time to stand up and raise a weapon, and Jesse watched as Victoria flung out a hand and several spikes of ice flew from her hand, causing whomever it was to curse and presumably get back under cover. Jesse concentrated and intercepted one of the spikes, holding it above her in mid-air to grab Victoria's attention before launching it hard at the wall behind Victoria, hopefully stopping her from creating any more projectiles. Jesse noticed that Victoria was wobbling slightly, and that there was blood trickling down from her nose.

She's not used to this. She's raw and unpractised, but there's such potential - you can see it. I can feel it.

Polaris flickered in agreement, suggesting that she should maybe end this before someone was seriously hurt.

I agree, my friend. And besides, I want them both to trust us, for their own sake.

“You must come with me,” she said, gauging the distance between them. “Right now.”

“Fuck you! Where is fucking Max!” Victoria shouted, and Jesse felt a biting chill wash over her. “Why the fuck should I trust you? Where is she!” Jesse closed the distance in the blink of an eye before Victoria could even react and pointed the service weapon right at her, the weapon crackling and spitting with energy.

“Because you have no fucking choice, Victoria Maribeth Chase.” Jesse pulled a lump of concrete from the floor and it orbited up around her head, the familiar whine echoing around the room. “I am the fucking Director but I am not your enemy, Victoria. I can't let you continue doing this – as someone else will get hurt, and that someone will be you.” There was a dangerous moment as Victoria stared her down, and Jesse feared that the situation might deteriorate further and that she might indeed end up hurting her; but Victoria suddenly seemed to sag as if exhausted, the light diminishing from her eyes and she sat heavily down. Jesse cautiously lowered the service weapon, letting it collapse in on itself before it jumped to her side, and there was thump as the concrete landed harmlessly behind her. She slowly went to stand over her, still alert for any sudden attack, but trying to appear as unthreatening as possible.

“Are you OK, Victoria? You're not hurt, are you?” she said, reaching out a hand to help her. Victoria eyed it cautiously and shook her head.

“No, I'm fucking not OK. I'm fucking tired and fucking angry and I want to see Max. And your fucking goons could have killed me.” Jesse looked around the room with a wry expression on her face, noting the damage Victoria had done.

“I'm sure the feeling was mutual. Look, I promise you - Max is fine, she was actually just looking forward to eating some cake when I left her to come here.” Victoria seemed to perk up a little at her words and looked up at her questioningly.

“Cake? What sort?”

“Double chocolate cake with chocolate sauce.”

“Ha.” Victoria looked warily at Jesse as if having some form of internal debate, and then stuck out a hand. Jesse reached out to grab it, wincing at how cold it was before pulling her up.

“Sorry for.. this,” Victoria said, gesturing around the room. “But I didn't know what to do. Can I please see Max? It's not that I don't trust you, it's just..”

“Just that you don't trust us? I get it, don't worry, I wouldn't trust us either – I didn't trust us at first. But let's go to her and you can see. And maybe you can sit down as well and eat something. You look exhausted. And we can get you cleaned up.” Jesse walked across the room towards the security gates, checking on the various members of staff who were hurt - luckily none of the injuries were serious, mostly bruises and cuts, and nothing that they weren't used too. A few of them cast curious glances at Victoria as she followed Jesse, but didn't ask any questions. Jesse saw Arish arriving at the bottom of the stairs with some heavily armed Rangers, and she quickly went to intercept him.

“Hey Arish.”

“Director.” Despite her continued insistence for him not to call her that, he continued to do so and she had long given up trying to persuade him not too. “Is everything OK? Do you need us to assist with..?” He gestured at Victoria, and Jesse shook her head.

“No, it’s all OK. Just a slight misunderstanding. No casualties” Arish looked around at the wreckage of the reception and the injured staff.

“A misunderstanding. OK. I’ll see to everyone here, and I’ll have one of the Ranger teams escort you so we can be certain that the misunderstanding is contained.” Jesse pulled him to one side, out of earshot of Victoria.

“Thanks Arish, but I don’t want to go heavy-handed with this. I’ll debrief you later, but we’ve got two who I want to keep on side with us – you know, new friendly Bureau and all that. So I want her to feel comfortable and not like she is in trouble, despite the fact she most definitely should be.” Arish looked at her dubiously but nodded his acquiescence.

“Understood, Director. But I will keep some teams on standby until you let me know they are both clear. We can’t be too careful.” Jesse gave him a thumbs up then beckoned Victoria to follow her towards a scanner.

“You’ll need to leave any cells, electronic devices – in fact anything on.. on.. hang on, there’s supposed to be a list somewhere.” Jesse rooted around in some of the scattered paperwork before triumphantly pulling up a piece of paper, which she handed to a confused looking Victoria. Victoria read the list with a frown on her face, before looking up at her for an explanation.

“Can’t have anything too modern in here yet. Tends to explode, or get corrupted into something weird – it’s why we have all those old phones and so on. We keep it all in lockers over here – there’s mine with my name on and all, and Max’s things are in that visitor locker.”

“That’s why she wasn’t answering her cell,” Victoria muttered. “I see. I thought..” She looked up at Jesse, who did her best to give her a friendly smile.

“Come on, let me get you a badge and everything and we can go to her.”



After Jesse had disappeared Emily had done her best to allay any fears Max had.

“It's probably just a drill; Arish - he's the Head of Security - has implemented them so we don't get caught as bad as we did the last time. But if things do go wrong then we need to head for that shelter over there.” Emily pointed with a finger and Max saw a massive and very heavy looking door with the words 'Emergency Shelter' written across it, and she felt a little queasy. Luckily the repeating message had stopped, and she saw that most of the staff were continuing as normal as if was indeed nothing to worry about.

“Um.. OK. Is it actually safe? Would we be safe?” Emily looked a little pensive and waved a hand uncertainty.

“Probably. I have faith in Jesse, she's just.. incredible. But there's always a risk, it’s in the nature of the work we do.” She looked at Max as if she was a particularly interesting specimen under a microscope. “And, of course, whether you would be at risk is an open question. Would you mind giving me a demonstration of what you can do, just for my own curiosity?” Max shifted uncomfortably, feeling a little like she was an exhibit at a zoo.

“I guess. I've already shown Jesse, but I can do something for you as well.” Max decided to repeat the trick of looking like she had teleported across the room, and Emily clapped her hands in delight. Max repeated the trick to end up sitting opposite her again, now with a grin on her face that was matched by Emily's.

“That's just incredible. Truly amazing, I've never seen anything like this. It's like we can open a whole new area of research, a new paradigm of parautilitarian ability that we've never encountered before.” Emily's face was the picture of excitement, and Max could tell that her mind was already conjuring a myriad of tests for her to go through.

“Emily, how did you end up working here? And how did you meet Jesse?” Max asked, hoping to distract her from coming up with them. Emily beamed at Max and leaned forward, clasping her hands together.

“Well, I was actually studying Physics at University and I was approached one day by a man who it turned out worked..”



Emily and Max chatted for a while, Max happily listening as Emily talked about her career at the FBC. Max gleaned that it was an inherently dangerous place to work, but most of the staff saw it as a privilege, and with Jesse at the helm there was a renewed vigour and sense of purpose about the place.

“So it's been an incredible journey,” Emily said, “a real -”

Max stood on a dark plain which stretched out endlessly away from her, disappearing into a black sky that was dimly lit, as if through fog. She looked around her, trying to understand where she suddenly was and what had happened to the bright cafeteria and the smiling Emily. It was deathly quiet and the air felt still - and suddenly Max realised that she wasn't even sure that there was air. She took a step forward and realised that the ground was hard and made of what she now realised looked like some form of dark marble.

“Um.. hello?” she called out, feeling a little foolish as she did so; as if she should have thought of something better to say when suddenly transported to what appeared to be another dimension. Regardless, there was no reply and Max wondered what to do, so she slowly turned in a circle to see if she could see anything of importance. She felt oddly calm, as if there was no reason to be worried or to panic, although she didn't know why that should be the case.

At first there was nothing to see, but then faintly at first she realised she could make out what appeared to be a tall pillar of stone, which felt oddly familiar and that she felt she was being drawn towards.

Step by step she walked towards it, and as she approached it towered above her, hewn out of some black material that looked older than time. She stopped and stared up at it, feeling a sense of wonder but also familiarity, as if she had seen it, or been here, before. She didn't feel afraid; it was just another strange thing on an already strange day, and she hesitantly reached out to place a hand on the stone. It was warm to the touch, and she felt something flow through her into it. Tiny little flecks of light seemed to leave her hand and travel through the stone, flickering through it like a lattice upwards and outwards. She stepped back and looked up as they spiralled around, and now she could see carved into the stone high above her the faint images of butterflies, arranged in a rough spiral. The light seemed to trace the outline of each, moving closer and closer into the middle until they reached the largest and most central one, whereupon they coalesced into the outline of a butterfly, the image burning brighter and brighter, slowly changing hue from white to a familiar blue.

Max stood and stared at the blazing image, a butterfly, her butterfly.

I'm.. home?

< YOU HAVE FINALLY COME HEH / SEIKO >

Voices were all around her, sounding strangely distorted with static but speaking in unison. She looked around and thought she could discern shadowy shapes just on the edge of sight.

“Er... hi? Who are you?”

< WE ARE THE WATCHERS / BUSYBODIES. YOU HAVE MUCH TO RELEARN / REMEMBER AND DO CHRONOS / ROLEX >

“Um I think you have the wrong person, I'm Max, not... a watch. I take photographs? And apparently I have terrible fashion sense and bad taste in music?” Max suddenly began to wonder if she was actually going insane.

I mean this isn't exactly normal, is it?

Is it?

< WE HAVE BEEN WAITING / SLEEPING FOR YOU TO COME HERE A LONG TIME / ETERNITY SINCE YOUR LAST HOST / PARASITE DIED / FAILED >

“Well you've really got the wrong person then. I have no idea what you are on about.” Max waited and got the sense that there was an air of uncertainty, as if she was not what they expected or that she was playing the role she should - whatever that was supposed to be.

< YOU ARE ETU / IKENGA / TAG HEUR. YOU ARE OUR STRENGTH / WEAPON AND IT IS YOUR DESTINY / FATE. SO IT IS ENGRAVED / TYPED >

Max found she was actually rather enjoying annoying whatever these things were - she had worked out what they thought she was but was having absolutely none of it.

“Nope,” she said cheerfully. “Just Max. Boring old me. I am practising the guitar though.” Again that sense of disquiet, and she got the idea there was some frenzied debate going on around her.

< YOU.. HAVE NO CHOICE / FREEWILL. IT IS IMAGINED / FORETOLD THAT YOU WILL FIND / ENLIST THE OTHERS AS YOU HAVE FAILED / TRIED BEFORE. THE GIFT / CURSE WHICH IS GIVEN CAN BE TAKEN AWAY / EXTRACTED >

“Oh. Well OK, take it then. I never wanted this.. gift, you can have it back. I'm more than happy to go back to just being me, without all of this shit. And I’m right here, so..” She held out her hands as if offering her power to them, and the butterfly continued to burn bright above her. There was a long moment of silence before they spoke again.

< DO NOT TEST / ANNOY US. YOU HAVE TO OBEY / COMPLY WITH WHAT WE HAVE PLANNED / CONSTRUCTED >

Max grinned to herself - she had the feeling that these.. things, whatever they were, didn't have any power over her, or so it seemed at the moment.

“You can't take it, can you. Well I'll just carry on doing my own thing then, if you don't mind. I mean I was going to try and find the others anyway, but I'm really not going to do it for whatever you lot want me to do.” As confident as Max sounded, she realised that she maybe might need them to get back to the cafeteria of the FBC, so she decided to be at least a little accommodating and offered them an olive branch. “How about once I've found them all we can talk again and you can try and sell me on your idea, whatever it is? As long as it is not some evil plan, of course. I'm not doing that.” There was a silence and she imagined some form of whispered debate was happening

< THAT IS ACCEPTABLE / PERMISSIBLE >

“OK great. Um, how exactly do I do that..?”

< YOU MUST COME BACK TO THE OLDEST HOUSE / OFFICE. THIS IS WHERE REALITY / TRUTH CAN BE CROSSED / BROKEN. OLDEST / FIRST PLACE OF ALL >

“Come back to the FBC. OK, got it. Can I go back now..?” Max waited and nothing happened, so she tried being polite. “Um, please?” The gloom around her seemed to flicker, and the butterfly seemed to flare out to an even brighter intensity -



“- change in how we operate, and it is only for the better – for us, for the world.” Max blinked, and quickly realised that no time seemed to have passed. She felt momentarily disoriented, as if her brain was having trouble processing all of the information it had received and she found herself phasing out from whatever Emily was talking about, her mind dwelling on random tangents to try to cope with the information overload. When she was younger she had often found herself shutting down as a defensive mechanism, retreating into herself and shutting out the world, but as she had got older it had manifested more as her finding it difficult to focus on a specific thing and being distracted, or having trouble with social interactions when there was a lot happening around her. In some respects her newly found power had been an immense help, giving her time to not only think but also to re-absorb everything so it didn't overwhelm her.

Max did her best to concentrate on her food, giving herself time to sort herself out and a valid excuse to prevent any further questions from Emily. She gripped her fork tightly, the solid metal seemingly confirming to her that she was back in the real world – or this world, at any rate.

This whole day has been so surreal. I can’t wait to talk to Victoria about it.

But what the hell was all of that I just saw? Why did they think I am something I’m not? And what did they want to do with me?

What do I do?

“Max – look who I found!” said a voice behind her, snapping her out of her thoughts. Max half turned and saw Jesse walking towards them, and to her utter surprise a slightly dishevelled looking Victoria.

“Victoria!” she said, rising out of her seat. “What are you doing here?” Max ran over to her, noting the dried blood on her face.

“What happened? Are you OK? You’re not hurt, are you?” Victoria looked unhappily at Max.

“We said an hour and a half, Max. I didn’t hear anything from you, and I thought.. you weren’t answering your cell, or.. so I..”

“She broke the front door. Don’t worry, we’ll cover the bill,” Jesse said with some humour. “Take a seat, both of you. Victoria, do you want something to eat? Max – your cake has arrived.” Victoria just shook her head and slowly sat down, looking warily about herself and with wide eyes up at the trees. Max sat down next to her and took her hand, rubbing her thumb gently across the back of it. Jesse sat down and quickly updated Emily on what had happened, Max listening in and becoming acutely aware of the slowly dropping temperature caused by the person next to her.

“Victoria, are you alright?” she asked quietly, “you’re not hurt?” Victoria shook her head.

“No. But can we go? Please?” Max frowned at her, wondering why she was so agitated.

“Victoria, it’s good to meet you. I’m Emily, Emily Pope.” Victoria stared at the outstretched hand which was left hanging for an uncomfortable amount of time until Max nudged her, and she reluctantly shook it.

“Victoria. Victoria Chase. But you already know that, don’t you?”

“Yes, we do,” said Jesse. “But only as part of finding out who you were. We just wanted to get to meet you.”

“Why?” Victoria’s voice was quiet, but there was a steel behind it that Max could sense. She felt like she was at a family meal where various family members were dredging up old arguments and everyone was being oh so polite to each other, and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.

“Not the reason you think, Victoria. There are people out there who would want to do what you think, I suspect, we would do – control you, exploit you – run all sorts of tests. I can’t deny that these threats are out there – I know, they have even approached me – but that is not why we wanted to see you. We are the Bureau of Control – but that doesn’t mean we want to control you. I don’t think you are a threat, not like we usually face. Not at all.” There was a silence after Jesse had spoken, which was suddenly broken by the sound of a fork scraping across the plate.

“Sorry, sorry,” Max said. “This cake is really good. Vic, try some?” She proffered a forkful towards Victoria, who looked at her as if she was insane. “Go on, try it.” Victoria rolled her eyes but then took a bite, nodding in appreciation despite herself.

“OK, that is good cake.” Max smiled in triumph and took some more for herself.

“You have to understand Max, Victoria, that if we have been able to find you, then eventually others will as well even if they do not know exactly what to be looking for, “Emily said. “We could offer to protect you here, but we can’t force you. It’s not how we work.” Emily gave a sidelong glance at Jesse, subconsciously rubbing her arms as if cold. “Not any more, anyway.”

“But it’s our choice,” Victoria said. Jesse and Emily exchanged looks.

“Of course. But we want you to be safe,” Jesse said. “And if someone were to force you to use your powers in a way that threatened the fabric of the universe, then we would have to intervene.”

“We’ll stay in touch, how about that?” Max offered, cutting across Victoria who looked like she wanted to continue to argue. “Then if we find out anything, or fear something is happening, we can let you know?”

“That is a great idea, Max,” Jesse said. “We wouldn't ask you to do more than that.”

“Victoria, that's OK, isn't it?” Max's voice had a slight pleading tone to it.

“Fine. Whatever. Can we go now, please?” Max looked at Jesse and Emily and mouthed a ‘sorry’.

“Yes – that OK with you Jesse? Nothing else you wanted?” Jesse, who was giving Victoria a searching look, nodded.

“OK great – but I’m finishing this cake first.” Max picked up her fork but felt Victoria's hand close on her wrist.

“Max, can we just go. Now.”

“OK. Sorry.”



The ride home was even more uncomfortable than it had been on the way there. Victoria wasn't just upset, she was absolutely furious and Max didn't need any subtle hints of superpower's leaking out to see it. Max kept glancing at her to try and see if it was safe to talk, but the look on her face reminded Max of the time she had forced Max to go clothes shopping and the assistant had asked Victoria how she was going to pay for everything.

Victoria had parked up outside her apartment and walked in without a word, Max hurrying to keep pace and just squeezing into the elevator before the doors closed, and then began to regret it as it felt like the interior of a freezer. Max was just about to say something when the doors opened and Victoria marched out and went straight into the apartment, kicking off her shoes and throwing her keys onto a table before disappearing off towards the kitchen.

Max lingered in the foyer, anxious to follow but thinking she might let Victoria have a moment. The apartment still amazed her; if she hadn't really understood before the wealth Victoria had largely kept hidden then it was right here on display - a ridiculously large three bedroom apartment a stone's throw from Central Park, with three bathrooms and a lounge that was twice the size of the one in her house, and all tastefully decorated in a modern style; if rather devoid of any personal touches to indicate that anyone actually lived there.

Max slipped off her shoes and cautiously followed Victoria into the kitchen, finding her standing in front of a counter and staring out of the window across the city. Max hesitantly went up and placed a hand on her back, feeling the cold bite into her hands and the tension in Victoria's back.

“Hey, what's wrong? Talk to me. Please.” Victoria didn't move and continued to stare out of the window. Max waited for a minute then stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her, clasping her hands together around Victoria's stomach. Max could feel Victoria's power raging within her, and she reached out from within herself and tried to calm it down.

“Don't do that,” Victoria said sharply, and Max sprung back as if wounded.

“Sorry. I was just trying to help.” Max stood there awkwardly, one hand holding onto her elbow as she tried to work out what to say to make things better. “You seem really upset and I don't know why and I don't want it to be me and I don't know what to do.” Victoria seemed to stiffen then sagged, as if whatever had been driving her onwards and keeping her up had finally let go. Max waited and eventually Victoria turned to face her, backlit by the early evening light which cast her face into shadows that accentuated her cheek bones in a way Max would have found incredibly attractive, if she wasn't being consumed by crippling anxiety.

“It's not just you,” Victoria said slowly. “It's this whole fucking situation. I mean it is your fault you went in there alone - anything could have happened Max! What a risk to take, we should.. we should never have fucking gone.”

“But it did work out OK, didn't it? And besides I knew you'd come rescue me if needed.” Max smiled at her, trying to lighten the mood but it just made Victoria scowl even more. “Can we not have the same argument that we had last night? Please? I don’t want to fight over this again. It's done now, we've met them and everything is OK.”

“And that's another fucking thing. That woman -”

“Jesse.”

“- Jesse, she's.. just...” Victoria stopped as if searching for words, and when she spoke again she spoke in a quiet voice without the confidence Victoria usually tried to cloak herself in. “She's so powerful, Max. So, so powerful. So far above us that.. she could have taken both of us captive and we could have done nothing about it. She made me seem so weak, so.. useless.” Max dimly discerned that this may have been part of what was eating away at Victoria, that if things had gone wrong there would have been nothing she could have done about it - and not only that, it had shown Victoria that she was nowhere near as good as she may have thought she was. Max stepped back towards Victoria and slowly took both of her hands, consciously trying to ignore the desire to calm Victoria’s power down as she did so. Victoria looked at her, half annoyed and half happy with the contact.

“Hey, but it didn't go wrong though,” Max said softly. “I told you it would be OK, you have to trust my judgement sometimes. Like I have to trust yours, it's what being together means. If worse came to worse I'd have rewound my way out of there and you could have had the satisfaction of being smug about it all.” Victoria smiled thinly and swished their hands about a little.

“Maybe. But how do you know that would have worked?”

“I didn’t. But my power worked in there, and I never felt that Jesse could stop it - in fact she seemed worried that she couldn't.” Victoria hummed under breath, pursing her lips in thought.

“But they know about us, and they warned us that there were others out there too who may be looking for us. I don’t like what that could mean for us in the future.”

“I could try and take us back to before we went. I think I could do it; it might mean doing it in stages and resting – I don’t know. It might give me an aneurysm, for all I know.” Victoria looked at her a little hopefully, as if being able to erase today would be exactly what she wanted.

“But,” Max continued, “think about it – we were supposed to go there today. If we don’t turn up then what will happen? Jesse and the Bureau will come and look for us, they know who we are, they know where we live. I promised them I’d go, and if we prove ourselves to be untrustworthy, then what?” Victoria sighed heavily.

“Then they will come after us with helicopters and vans and balaclavas and take us away to some secret laboratory for tests and weird experiments. Ugh.”

“Um, OK,” Max said. “Not exactly what I was going to say, but yes that could happen. But instead I think we might have them as – well, maybe not friends, but as an ally of sorts? Isn’t that better?” Victoria nodded grudgingly.

“Sure. Better than tests. But I’m still annoyed at you.”

“That’s not fair, I thought I did well today. You were the one who decided to try and kick the door down. And before you say anything as I can see you are just dying too, let me finish. They only know I can go back in time a little, they don’t know I can freeze time, they don’t know I can bring you with me, they don’t know about the others. And if you hadn’t tried to rescue me like a big gallant knight, they wouldn’t know about what you can do either.” Max looked at Victoria and suddenly felt like she had actually done something right; making the right choices and managing to act even a little grown up.

Like I saw in the vision of us all. Can I actually do this?

I mean it may have been all accidental, but I still did it.

Victoria looked a little less unhappy, and Max suddenly remembered something else.

“Oh, and speaking of the others – something else really weird happened as well.” Victoria just raised an eyebrow, clearing wondering what else there was for her to cope with today. Max did her best to explain her strange visit to the place with the obelisk, trying to put into words what she had seen without it making it seem like she had imagined it all. There was a silence when she finished and she waited expectantly for a response from Victoria, who just looked at her then walked out of the kitchen. Max blinked in surprise then after a moment followed her and found her sat on a sofa, leaning back and staring at the ceiling. Max looked at her, trying to gauge her mood and getting nowhere. She awkwardly stood in front of Victoria, unsure as of what to do – things had been going so well of late that to see Victoria in this mood – especially after the fight the night before - had really thrown her. Victoria turned to look at her and seemed slightly confused.

“Why are you just standing there?”

“Um, I’m sorry, I just.. don’t know what to do. Or what you are thinking. Are you upset with me?” Victoria rolled her eyes and patted the sofa next to her.

“Yes, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want you next to me. I’m just tired and a bit fed up with it all.” Max came and sat next to Victoria, rolling into her slightly. She was relived to feel Victoria put her arm around her, and that she was now a relatively normal temperature. There was a comfortable silence while Max waited for Victoria to speak.

“You know,” Victoria said eventually, “all I ever wanted was to be able post silly pictures of me and my girlfriend, and go to places on holiday and go out to eat and to the movies and.. just be together doing shit. You know, normal coupley stuff. Instead I’m stuck with fucking alternate dimensions and fucking secret government agencies and a girlfriend who should never be late but somehow still manages to be.” Max smiled to herself and snuggled into her.

“Yes, but you get to do it all of this with me, so it’s all worth it.”

“Ha.” Victoria gently ran her fingers through Max’s hair, making her shiver in a delightful way. “So there’s some weird interdimensional beings who want you – us – to do something for them? But we don’t have too? Well fuck them, then.”

“You’re taking this all very well. I could hardly get my head around it all.”

“Well I can’t exactly not believe it, can I. I’d have to be really stupid to not too, especially after the day we’ve had.”

“Yes, it has been one crazy day. But we are here together, it could be worse. It’s strange to think we will be back at Blackwell in a few days, it’s like a completely different world.” Victoria snorted.

“Oh that will be a little fucking bundle of joy, won’t it. Still it will be good to see Taylor and Courtney again.”

“Yes, and Kate and Dana and Warren.” Victoria grimaced, and went to open her mouth but Max was to quick for her and kissed her instead. Max went to pull away but Victoria dragged her back in, kissing her with an intensity that seemed to border on desperation and which sent a thrill through Max, realising how much she had missed this even if it had only been for less than a day, and how much she wanted Victoria right now.

“I thought I’d lost you,” Victoria said in-between kisses. “I thought they’d taken you away from me. And I could do nothing about it.” Max found herself pulled onto Victoria’s lap, looking down at her. Victoria had an oddly vulnerable expression on her face, and Max was captivated by how beautiful she looked, gently brushing a stray hair away from Victoria's eyes, before leaning forward and kissing her again. She felt Victoria's hands reach up and around her neck, letting her fingers run through Max's hair. Max felt desire run through her and she let her fingers wander down from Victoria's hair and to her top, tugging gently at the buttons. Victoria growled in her throat and her hand cupped Max's breast, before suddenly pushing her away.

“No – wait, we have to talk about some stuff first. Then we can fuck each other's brains out.” Max made a petulant noise and tried to kiss her again, undoing another button but Victoria was adamant – talk first, then fun time. As if to underline her point Victoria's stomach growled, and Max realised that despite the lunch she had had, she too was a little peckish.

“Fine,” she said huffily, and rolled off Victoria onto the sofa, letting her legs rest on her lap and attempting to tease Victoria with her toe before it was swatted away. “What do you want to talk about that's more important than our first makeup sex – also, you should eat. As a way of making things up to you, I'll cook something for you, rather than get a take-out.” Victoria nodded.

“That's fair -”

“- assuming you've got food in -”

“You know these places always do, so -”

“- and it's not like you even know how to cook, do you, so it has to be me doing it anyway..” Victoria pushed Max's legs off her, making her fall to the floor in a heap. Max decided to just lie there for the time being in sexually frustrated annoyance, and Victoria rested her feet on top of her.

“So I've been thinking about things, and I think we need to start taking things seriously.”

“What? I thought we were, I mean I am at least!” Max protested from the floor. “I thought things had been going really well! We’ve had sex! Lot’s of sex! We should be having sex right now! And you've met my parents, and Kate has -”

“What? No, not us. That's.. perfect. More than perfect. I meant the other thing, the whole superhero thing. Confronting the FBC and Jesse was a really.. difficult experience for me. We need to be better prepared, stronger, fitter -” Max groaned from the floor, leading to a prod from Victoria. “Yes, fitter, as you know how exhausted you get. We get. And we also need to start looking for the others, before someone else finds them.”

“And graduate, and find a university, and a career, and all the other things too. We can't give up on life, Victoria.”

“Yes yes, I know, and I need to try and sort out whatever the fuck my parents want from me as well. I know. But we could be in danger, and I don't want to lose you. And you never know, you might have to do something to stop reality breaking apart when the time comes. You know, when.. when..”

“When other Max is supposed to come back?” finished Max. “Yeah, I know. And you're right, it can't hurt to be prepared. But let's just go back to Blackwell and get back into things first though, yes? Try and pretend things are normal for at least a little while.” Victoria looked thoughtful but nodded her agreement.

“OK.”

“Great, can we have sex now please?”

Chapter Text

Max stepped out of the shower, carefully pulled the curtain back behind her and padded over to the sinks. The showers were unusually busy for this time on a Sunday; Max had slept in a little after a particularly energetic night with Victoria; the thought of which made her cheeks go a little red as she looked at herself in the mirror.

Not as tired as I normally look, although I've got a real crick in my neck.

Max fished her toothbrush out of her wash bag and began to brush her teeth, the room filled with the soothing sound of water falling. There was the sound of another shower curtain being pulled back, and a moment later a woman she vaguely recognised came and stood next to her, apparently to do the same ablutions as Max. She smiled at Max, who desperately tried to remember where she had seen her before.

“Hi. It's.. it's nice to meet you.. um, I can't remember your name, sorry.” The woman smiled at her, and held out a hand.

“Hello again, Max. It's Steph. You remember, we met at the funeral?”

Oh yes. That's right. And she remembered my name, while I completely blanked. That's just rude, Max.

 

“Hello, Steph isn't? It's really nice to meet you again.” Steph smiled at her as she adjusted her towel to fit tighter around herself.

“Hi Max. It's good to see you again. How are things?” Max rinsed her toothbrush while wondering why she was here, given she had already graduated from Blackwell.

“I'm fine, thank you for asking. But I didn't know you had come back here?” she asked. “Um, also you've left your shower running, and you may not remember but the hot water here can be a bit temperamental and gets used up, so..” Steph gave her an amused look, apparently not put out by Max's mild disapproval of her water wastage, and jerked a thumb behind her.

“Well, you've left yours running as well, I think?” Max went a little red and couldn't meet her eye.

“Um, no,” she stammered, “I, um.. it's... I mean.. I..” She trailed off into silence, fiddling with the string on her wash bag as she tried to think up a convincing answer to Steph's question. As if on cue one of the showers stopped, and the curtain was swept aside as Victoria stepped out and acknowledged Steph with a familiar nod.

“Hi Steph. Didn't know you were here this weekend.”

“Hey Victoria. Last minute decision, I only came up yesterday evening.” Victoria looked at Max who was bright red, and looking like she just wanted to die. “What's up with you?” Steph leaned against one of the sinks and grinned.

“I think she's embarrassed by the fact I may have realised you two were showering together.”

“Oh.” Max watched in embarrassed silence as Victoria just carried on as normal, wondering why she wasn't slowly dying inside as much as she was.

“Um -” she began, only to be interrupted by the other shower being turned off, and that curtain being pushed aside.

“Steph, have you got my -” Taylor paused and looked at the three girls, quickly and correctly assessing the situation. “Well. So. It's..” Max looked between them all; Steph apparently finding it all very amusing, Victoria casually inspecting her eyebrows in the mirror, and Taylor who looked a combination of embarrassed and pleased, and decided to do the best thing she could.

“I've got to go. Meeting Kate. Er. Bye. See you later, Vic,” Max said, and quickly fled the bathroom.

 

Max got herself ready, taking the time to ensure her hair was properly brushed and that she looked at least vaguely presentable. Spending so much time with Victoria, who always seemed to immaculately turned out - in public at least; Max had started to see another side of her behind closed doors where she seemed just as happy as Max to slum it, as long as no-one else could see - had started to rub off on her, and she was beginning to take more time on how she looked; nothing much, but definitely more than previously. In part this was so that she looked her best for Victoria whenever she was out with her, as Max knew how important appearance could be to Victoria and she figured that making at least a little effort was an acceptable compromise, especially as Victoria was doing similar things for her. Both of them were slowly changing they longer they spent together without realising it, subconsciously finding small ways in which they both learnt and adapted from each other.

Max did still have what she thought was her own particular style; but the t-shirts she wore were increasingly smarter, the jeans better fitting - and sometimes she wore some thing approaching a smart shirt and trousers, especially when the two of them were eating out as a couple. More of her budget was going towards clothes than it ever had before, and Victoria had recently acquired a habit of randomly ordering clothes she said were for herself but then somehow didn't fit, but oh look they luckily fit you Max and what a coincidence that was and it's so much smarter than that ancient thing isn't it?

Max didn't mind Victoria doing this, and she knew that Victoria knew that Max knew what she was doing, but was happy to let her to continue to do so - Victoria wasn't trying to change her way of dressing or even turn her into a Victoria clone, but just wanted to make it in her eyes less off a  crime against fashion what she was wearing. Max could readily admit that Victoria had great taste and a real eye for what max would like,  and if it meant Max got some new clothes into the bargain, then she wasn't complaining.

Max grabbed her new camera bag and stowed away her camera just in case, and went to leave - before remembering to grab the key card from her desk. This was a change everyone was still trying to adjust too - now every dorm, and even the buildings themselves, were controlled by a key card tied to the particular student. This meant that if, for example, Warren wanted to meet Max in her dorm she would have to meet him to let him in. It also meant that no longer could people barge into other people's rooms, unless they deliberately left the door ajar. Overall, Max was fully in favour of the change, especially after the experiences of last term; but every time in the last week she had forgotten the card and been locked out of her own room she had been decidedly against the change. She was sure that Security were getting very fed up with her ringing them up to tell them that yet again she had locked herself out, but they had always been courteous to her - something she suspected Victoria may have had a hand in, or been at least a side effect of being with her.

Max checked that the corridor was clear of Steph and Taylor - she could do without that awkward encounter, even if she could rewind it – but reminding herself to interrogate Victoria about it later, and headed out to meet Kate at Teawitched.

 

The bus to the centre of town gave Max the opportunity for a moment of reflection, safely isolated from everything by the means of her earphones playing some whimsical band she'd found and most definitely could remember the name of. Her quick trip to the bus stop had been an odd one for her; various students she couldn't recognise had given her a cheery hello or just a smile with which she had found herself awkwardly responding too. Max had never been what she would describe as popular, and she wouldn't think of herself as being so now, but clearly people seemed to know who she was for some reason. She suspected it was her - now completely out in the open - relationship with Victoria that may have something to do with it, thrusting her out into the limelight.

So, not really popular Max, well known Max because of who your girlfriend is.

I wonder if the other Max experienced that as well? What was she doing on this day? Was she sitting on this very bus going to meet Kate?

Max pondered the metaphysical implications of how the small changes that they had made had cascaded out into what they hoped was a completely different future; but perhaps, given they were after all the same person, there was a chance that they did do similar things across both timelines.

Max was so lost in thought that she nearly missed her stop, just preventing the driver from going past it just in time. As the bus drove away she again wondered what would happen if she rewound while the bus was moving, and decided that she needed to find out - in a safe manner of course. She had no desire to find out that she was still travelling at speed but suddenly was not inside a vehicle anymore.

Not unless I have roller blades on or something.

Now there's an idea to test out. We could try it in Vic's car, or maybe if I'm on a skateboard or something. Test that out as well.

Oh god I'm turning into Emily.

 

Kate was waiting for her in what Max was beginning to realise was clearly her regular table. Kate's hair was tied up in a bun that Max had not seen her do for quite a while, but aside from the discrete gold cross around her neck that she always wore she looked completely different to when they had first met at the start of the school year - her previous, fairly conservative dress style, was entirely gone; today she was wearing a cream roll-neck sweater with dark jeans, which seemed to suit her perfectly, and Max found herself appreciating the sight before she realised that she was checking out her friend - which was highly inappropriate, in her mind. She slid into the chair opposite Kate, who closed what seemed to be the customary book she always seemed to have whenever they met here.

“Hey Kate. What are you reading this time?” Kate turned the book over looked at the cover.

“It's called 'Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit'.”

“That's a funny name,” said Max. “Is it good? What's it about?” Kate carefully put the book back in her bag, before replying.

“It's.. interesting. It's about a girl who grows up in a Pentecostal family, and the.. the challenges she faces.” Kate looked a bit thoughtful, before suddenly smiling and looking at Max. “So, how are you – we've not had much of a chance to catch up this week, after the holidays.”

“I'm good, I think. It's been a hectic week hasn't it, so much to do and never enough time. But you look tired? Did you have a bad night?” Kate looked at Max with heavy bags under her eyes and a strangely inscrutable expression on her face.

“It was.. quite noisy last night,” she said eventually. “I got woken up, then the noise made it hard to get back to sleep.”

“Oh, that's no good,” Max said cheerily. “Next time just tell them to be quiet, whoever it was. I'm sure they'd listen.” Kate looked at Max again, then sighed and shook her head.

“Maybe they will, but I don't want too.. ah, never mind. Did you remember your key card?” Max plonked her bag on the table, fished around for a moment then held it up in triumph.

“Aha, see? I'm getting better, so you don't need to worry about letting me in again – thanks for that, by the way, you were a life saver. Have you ordered? I've not even had breakfast, I'm famished.”

 

Max ordered herself some pastries along with a cup of tea, already planning on getting something more substantial later on. Ever since she had got her power it was like she required more food than before, which only increased dramatically whenever she used it. She had seen the same in Victoria, and wondered whether she was having to literally fuel her ability.

I guess the power has to come from somewhere. I should have asked Jesse if she had the same thing.

I could ask Warren whether he thinks superheroes would eat more. Batman would, but then he doesn't have superpowers. Superman gets his power from the sun, so that's a form of fuel also I guess.

Warren definitely knows more than me about this, I'll chat to him later about -

“Max?” Max started and looked at Kate.

“Sorry! I was miles away.” Kate smiled at her, and then stifled a yawn.

“Oh, excuse me. I just asked how your Christmas was? You told me yesterday that you'd gone home, how was it?” Max eagerly told her about Christmas with her family, and how excited she had been when Victoria had come. Kate listened politely and Max just about remembered to not gush too much about the wonderful time she'd had - Kate was gradually coming around to accepting Victoria, especially as Victoria had been on her best behaviour of late, and Max didn't want to remind her too much of the existence of Victoria just in case it dragged up old memories that were better off buried.

“Did Victoria get you that bag?” Kate asked, pointing at it next to her. “I don't think I've seen you without it since you came back.”

“Yes, it was her Christmas present for me,” Max said a little defensively. “I'd bought her something as well though, so.. I mean it's what you do at Christmas.”

“Of course, I was just asking. It's a nice bag.” Max nodded and held it up for Kate's inspection.

“Yes, I needed a new one anyway for all my camera stuff and books and bits and bobs. It's got lots of useful pockets and things, and plenty of room for film and all sorts.” Max passed it to Kate who made all the appropriately correct noises. “She even wrote me a message on the inside, just there.”

“To my little hipster, at least you have something fashionable now, VC,” Kate read. “Oh, that's sweet of her. It's a very nice bag, it must have cost a fortune.” Max took it back and cradled it.

“I guess. But what does it matter how much it costs? It's the thought that counts.” Max felt like Kate was having a little dig at her, as if she was just with Victoria for expensive things.

But she would never do that, I'm just being paranoid.

It's Kate, she's your friend and always so nice to everyone.

And you're going out with the girl who bullied her, Max. You couldn't blame her if she did make them.

Max looked at Kate who was quietly sipping her tea, wondering what she really thought behind that placid façade. Surely Kate must have some feeling of anger or sense of betrayal? Why else would she be making snide comments?

Or am I just imagining things?

She can't just accept me and Victoria just like that, can she?

Can she?

Max debated with herself to try and decide whether to find out more, apparently having forgotten that Kate had already told Max that, while she had reservations about Victoria, she trusted Max's decision - and had even begun to warm to her. Max, though, was suddenly consumed by an anxious doubt that her friend was not being entirely honest.

And anyway, I can always undo anything if she gets upset or anything. She would never know. Where's the harm in finding out?

“Kate, do you mind if I ask you something?” Kate smiled gently at Max.

“Of course, what's on your mind?”

“Does it really annoy you that I am with Victoria? I mean, would you want me to split up with Victoria? You've not said anything about her and her I know she bullied you and generally made your life unpleasant, so surely you must hate her still because of it?” Kate blinked in surprise, setting down her cup.

“Max, I don't hate anyone, why would -”

“No?  You don;t hate anyone? Not even Nathan? Or Jefferson? You must hate them, surely, after what they did.” Max knew she was unfairly goading Kate, but couldn't seem to help herself from pushing it.

“Max,” Kate said softly, “what do you want me to say? Of course I do not have.. any liking for them, at all, and I'm trying to forgive them like I know I should, but -” She looked at Max, and a glimmer of a tear began to form in her eye. “Max, I don't hate Victoria. I think I understand her a bit now, what she went through. More than I ever did before, anyway. Of course I am – was - upset by what she did, but she.. she didn't... do anything like what they did. Nothing like that..” Kate paused, looking down at the table, her voice quiet and sad. “Max, I'm really struggling with -”

Max.

Stop.

Too much.

“I'm really, really, sorry Kate. I don't know what came over me, you don't deserve this. Please forgive me. I'm sorry.”

“Wha-”

 

“- cost a fortune.” Max took the bag off Kate and smiled at her, while her stomach twisted with  stabs of guilt.

Max, how could you do that. You are supposed to be good, remember?

Remember what happened to other you. Each small step you take, Max.

“Yes, I think you may be right,” she said with false cheerfulness. “But she clearly thinks I'm worth it, so I'm not complaining.”

I'm not worth shit. Not after that little display.

Max watched as Kate sipped her tea, wondering what Kate had been on the verge of telling her before she rewound. Part of her wished she had just waited a bit longer to find out, to get Kate to divulge her secrets so Max could know; while another part of her was horrified by her actions in deliberately upsetting her friend for her own selfish gain and refused to let her use her power again.

“How was your holiday, Kate?” she said eventually, trying not to choke on her words. “Did you have a nice time? Did you get to see your sisters?” Kate seemed to perk up and began to speak animatedly.

“It was great to see them again. I miss then both when I'm here, us all growing up together meant we were there for each other when we needed it. Even the small things, you know?” She stopped and smiled fondly, as if recalling some long ago memory. Max looked on, feeling a little envious - being an only child had felt a little lonely at times, which was part of the reason her and Chloe had become so close. The sudden thought of Chloe's name caused a wash of remorse go through her; it was dull and not as painful as it had been, but it was still there, eating away at her.

“Lynn is growing up so fast as well, I'm worried she is going to start discovering boys - if she hasn't already,” Kate continued. “She's nearly eleven, and I can't help but worry as it will happen at some point. Maybe not for a year or two, but..”

“Well it's inevitable I guess. What's the worry though?” Kate fiddled with her cup while she thought of an answer.

“I'm not sure I'd be able to give her any useful advice.” Max wondered whether Kate meant relationships in general, or with boys in particular. She was tempted to use her power to find out, then scolded herself for even thinking of it.

“Well I'm sure just being a big sister for her would be helpful,” Max suggested instead. “I would have loved to have someone I could ask for support or just have a moan too. So maybe you can do that? Just be there.” Kate nodded, looking thoughtful.

“Yes, I was thinking something like that too. She does have Jessica too of course, but I'm.. not sure she would be that helpful.”

Max's food arrived and she took a minute or two to inhale a pastry, much to the amusement of Kate.

“Why's that?” Max asked around a mouthful of pastry goodness.

“She.. takes after my Mother a lot. A lot more than me, anyway.” Kate's voice quavered a little at the mention of her Mother, but Max was too intent on feeding herself to notice.

“Is that a bad thing? I thought you got on well with your parents. You always talk about your Dad and his work as a pastor, for example.”

“Dad is great. He's always there for me when I need him, ever since I was young. If I hurt myself falling off a swing, or was having trouble with school work, or anything like that. My Mother though is very.. unforgiving, especially when it comes to not adhering to what she thinks is the right path to follow. Christmas was not overly pleasant; there were a few difficult conversations regarding my life here at Blackwell.” Kate sipped her tea moodily, looking thoroughly sad. “She was convinced that everything was my fault, despite all evidence to the contrary.” Kate looked at her now empty cup, as if debating to get some more, before suddenly looking up at Max with an unexpectedly fierce expression. “How much more evidence does she want? I've got the FBI, the actual FBI, asking me for witness statements, and yet somehow it's still all my fault.”

“That sounds really -” Max began, but Kate was not finished.

“'I told you to go to the Christian College!'” she said, in a voice Max guessed was supposed to be her Mothers. “'It's your fault for mixing with those Godless Liberal Art Types! If you had just done as God had intended, as He had told me, then none of this would have happened, but clearly Kate knows best, not the Lord.' And on and on and on.” Kate looked at Max, and her normally happy face was clouded – if Max didn't know Kate better, she could have sworn that she was angry, and Max had thought Kate didn't get angry – which she realised was actually a ridiculous thing to think;  Kate was not some perfect emotionless angel, she was a teenage girl just like Max and prone to the exact same emotions as she was. Max waited for a moment to see if Kate was going to say anything further, but she just stared down accusingly at her cup. Max gestured at it.

“Do you -”

“I'm fed up with it, Max! I'm eighteen, I can vote, I can join the army, I can.. can.. can have sexual relations with someone! I'm not a child any more, and can make my own choices! Even if they are not ones that my Mother approves of! Like where I go to school, or what I want to do with my life, or who I would like to have sexual relations with!” Max found herself leaning back in her chair, as if Kate's words had a physical force. Max had never seen her as animated as this; her face was set and determined. Max was unsure what to say to her (and no way in hell, rewound or no, was she going to ask her about 'sexual relations'), and struck out onto safe ground.

“That's.. that's um.. do you want another tea... or something?” Kate nodded, and Max waved the waiter over. Kate seemed to relax a little through the simple process of ordering tea, and it was a more thoughtful one who looked back at Max afterwards.

“Sorry for getting so excited just then. There's just been a lot for me to deal with of late, things seem all upside down and not making much sense any more. Everything used to be so.. sure. Certain.”

“No need to apologise! You can talk to me whenever you want; you know I'm always here for you.” Kate smiled at her but didn't respond, and Max had a sneaking suspicion that there was a certain someone else who Kate would go to first if needed – not that she minded too much, as she would do the same with Victoria if the roles were reversed. Kate's tea arrived and she spent a few minutes blowing on it to cool it enough to sip; Max spent the time finishing her food and feeling a lot more satisfied after it.

“What do you think of the new photography teacher?” Kate asked suddenly. “He seemed pretty good, I mean it's not exactly hard to be better than him, but..” Max nodded in agreement, while leaning to look past Kate at a variety of cakes that were on display and seemed to be calling out to her.

“Yeah, I looked him up actually. Used to work for AP, amongst others. Spent time covering the Iran - Iraq War, Lebanon, the Congo – has really been around a lot of places. Did some lecturing at Washington State afterwards as well.” Max had been very impressed with him so far; a completely different style and background to what Jefferson had been. Yes, it had been a more serious, less welcoming style of class than previously; but on reflection that was probably a good thing. It had only struck Max afterwards how obvious it had all been with hindsight – especially with all the information laid out for her to read by her alternate self.

“Quite impressive that he has decided to come to little old Blackwell, especially after everything that has happened. You'd think it would taint your reputation, unless there was a big incentive to come.” Kate looked at Max over the rim of her cup as if implying something, but Max had no clue what it could be.

“Yes! It's certainly going to be great for the remainder of the year, and for any new students after us.  We are really going to learn a lot, it's amazing!” Max's enthusiasm seemed to make Kate smile, as did Max waving to the waiter to order some cake.

“It amazes me how much you seem to eat, Max,” Kate said a little enviously.

“Just lucky, I guess I have a fast metabolism or something,” replied Max. “Do you want some or..?”

“Oh no,” Kate said, shaking her head, “I can't, I already ate and.. and.. actually, yes. I will.”

 

Warren sat at a table in the cafeteria in a state of nervous anticipation. Despite repeated efforts to tell himself to calm down and not read too much into things, he just couldn't help himself. He'd been keeping an eye on things obviously - like any concerned friend would, of course - and he'd seen the photos posted to their Facebook and Instagram over the holidays, and sure they looked happy - but then why had Max sent him a message telling him she urgently needed to speak to him? Had something happened over the holiday that now meant she needed to see him alone like this?

He'd answered straight away, of course; the flame he still tended flickering into life once more as his imagination began to run away from him.

Maybe she just needs my advice on some work? But then why say she urgently needs to meet me? It's a Sunday afternoon, and I know Max doesn't start even looking at her work until around seven on a Sunday based on her usual schedule.

And she went out with Kate earlier today, and Victoria was nowhere to be seen. What did she have to talk to her about?

And she only sent that message while she was with Kate, so.. so maybe she was asking Kate for advice then she messaged me for an urgent chat.

Which means that she needs some advice on something from me and Kate - but it can't be that as Kate doesn't know anything at all about science and I don't know that much about religion, so..

So maybe she asked Kate for advice about what she urgently needs to talk to me about, which must be something to do with Victoria as she is not around, so..

So maybe..

Maybe..

Warren didn't dare entertain that thought further, and found himself sweating slightly as the time crept on - it seemed no matter how often he checked his cell, the numbers refused to budge. He nursed his strawberry milkshake as best he could, only dimly aware that the menu in the school this term had been vastly expanded in scope and quality.

His vigil of staring at the door eventually paid off when he saw Max enter, and his stomach lurched involuntarily as he looked at her, standing there and looking positively radiant. She saw him and waved, a smile on her face and began to walk over. Warren quickly got up from his chair and went to give her a hug, but he must have misjudged because she suddenly seemed to be a lot closer and already sliding into the seat on the other side of the table, an irritated expression on her face - but it might have been his imagination, as she quickly was all smiles again.

“Hi Warren. Oh, what have you got there?” Warren sat back down and then held up his glass for inspection.

“Strawberry milkshake. It's really good. Do you want some? Or I can buy you one if you like?” He proffered his glass towards her, but she shook her head.

“It's OK, let me go get something. But do you want anything?” Warren was by now feeling even more nervous and didn't trust his stomach with anything else, so politely declined. He watched closely as she wandered over to the counter, making sure -

- to check that her jeans were fitting her well enough around her ass and legs and how she had done her hair and how she seemed to cock a hip to one side as she looked at the menu and -

- to inspect the table for build quality when she turned back towards him and wandered over.

“So Warren, how are you? I'm sorry I've not seen too much of you this week, it's been hectic.” Max seemed quite happy to Warren, sucking away on her milkshake.

“I'm OK but.. but I did try to speak to you after science on Tuesday, and you didn't seem to see me.” Max blinked and then frowned, as if trying to remember.

“I'm sorry, did I...?”

“Yeah. Oh, and Thursday we were supposed to meet up to watch a DVD but you never showed up, which was a real shame as I had a great film for us to watch.”

They just don't make films like Smokey and the Bandit any more.

“Did we? I don't.. Oh, wait. I remember. I'm sure though I messaged you to say I couldn't make it..?” Warren shook his head, doing his best to keep his expression slightly reproachful, but not too much - he didn't want Max to feel really bad, only just a little. After all, he had consistently been nice to her since he had known her; always being as attentive and helpful as possible, so wasn't it no more than he deserved for her to spend some time with him, at least? Just the two of them, alone.

“And then on Saturday, do you remember I met you by the fountain as you wanted to chat, but you then had to go and do something?”

“Oh, well then.. I guess.. sorry?”

“It's fine, really, I don't mind,” Warren said magnanimously, while minding very much. “It would be nice to see you more often though. I feel like I've hardly seen you recently.”

“Sorry, I've just been really busy with school restarting and everything. There's never enough time. But I'll definitely try to have more time with you from now on.” Warren used the time bought by Max noisily sucking up some milkshake to completely over analyse what she had just said.

Try to have more time with me? But that must mean.. that she.. surely..?

“Warren, can I ask you something?” max said, interrupting his thoughts. He looked at Max, who was gazing at him with her pale blue eyes that he could get lost in forever over the rim of her glass, and felt his stomach liquefy.

“Sure,” he said as casually as possible, “what can I help you with?” Max toyed with her half empty glass, rolling it between her fingers.

“This may sound a little stupid,” she began -

- oh wow it's really happening, keep calm, keep cool Warren, just -

“- but do you think superheroes would need to eat more than normal people do?”

“Yes, of course I – what?” Max continued to slurp up her milkshake as Warren's brain desperately tried to reboot itself.

“Superheroes. You know more about them than me, so I was just wondering – if they have powers, you know like the X-Men do or something, would they need to eat more to power them?” Warren just stared at Max, trying to work out just what the hell she was on about, while another part of his brain merrily went ahead and answered the question.

“Well I guess it depends on the superhero. Superman gets his power from the Sun; Batman is just an ordinary - if rich - man so would need food, or more probably a load of protein shakes; someone like Storm gets her from a mutant gene, but how that is powered is never explained – I mean simple physics would dictate she has to get the energy from somewhere, so I guess it would make sense for it to be food if nothing else. Conservation of energy and all that, can't create it form nothing. I bet though having endless scenes of them eating would not be that interesting to see, or more likely they probably just hand-wave it all.” Max rolled her now empty cup once more between her fingers, looking thoughtful.

“In Mass Effect the biotics have to eat a lot,” she said, “as it takes a lot of energy to do it. They don't show it in game, but it is in the codex. So I guess that's the same thing.” Warren blinked in surprise.

“Oh wow! I didn't know you played that,” he said. “What class did you choose? Have you finished it yet? Who did you romance? Are you Paragon or Renegade?”

And could she get any more perfect?