Max suspects that she might be the least interesting person Chloe has slipped into her room in the early hours of the morning. She lacks a lip piercing and an audacious punk attitude, lacks the long flowing hair of Rachel Amber, but she’s still psyched to be there. There’s something so nostalgic about tiptoeing around Chloe’s house in the dark. It feels so familiar it almost aches.
Chloe leads the way, turning to shush Max when the stair creaks under her foot, like Chloe didn’t just stub her toe and whisper-shout “fuck” ten seconds earlier. It all seems a bit unnecessary, creeping dramatically up the stairs like they’re undercover agents. Between Joyce’s special mom powers (she had always known when they’d stayed up playing video games until two in the morning, convinced they were the most badass ten year olds on the planet) and David’s disturbing surveillance, they’re pretty damn likely to get busted.
The thing is, Max doesn’t care.
She feels positively giddy when Chloe shoves her bedroom door closed a little too forcefully, out of habit. She stumbles forward into Chloe’s arms and sways into a hug, laughing in relief, half-delirious, too hyped to care. It’s kind of weird, the way Max’s fingers tingle as they curl around the rough fabric of Chloe’s jacket, the way her chest feels tight as she presses her nose into Chloe’s shoulder, the way it's comforting, despite the smell of chlorine and stale smoke.
Max isn’t like this with any of her other friends – so close, so tactile. It just feels so natural with Chloe. Maybe it's because they’ve known each other forever, or maybe saving someone’s life and sharing your secret unexplained time altering powers just has that effect on a friendship. They’re as close as they always were and yet different than they used to be. Older, braver. Invincible.
“Tonight was so fucking wild,” Chloe says, spinning Max in a half circle, making her dizzy.
“I feel like we’re kind of unstoppable right now,” says Max, still giggling.
She feels bold and a little reckless, like she might actually let Chloe put a blue streak in her hair or take her to get a piercing, if she asked nicely enough.
“That’s because we literally are,” Chloe grins, leaning back far enough that Max can see her wild-eyed excitement.
“You are going to get us into so much trouble.”
“Yep,” Chloe chirps. “But I’ve got you to get me out of it.”
Max feels herself deflate a little, feels guilt twist in her stomach. She doesn’t want to rely on her power. Her body feels like shit after using it so much, and she should probably pay more attention to the moral repercussions of messing with all this, the bad karma that’s probably heading her way in the form of a huge fucking ominous tornado.
But she’ll think about that later.
For now, she’s got Chloe to worry about.
Chloe shrugs out of her jacket and pulls her damp shirt up over her head, exposing her pale stomach and the glint of her pierced belly-button – stripping completely casual, like it’s normal, and it is normal, only Max feels strange. It makes her mouth dry. Chloe has changed so much in the last five years.
Max averts her eyes a beat too late.
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” Max says, conscious of the way her voice wavers. “Since our last sleepover.”
“Sure has,” Chloe says.
Max hears the irritation in her voice, the we could’ve done this every week if you hadn’t fucked off and left for five years. Chloe kicks her jeans across the floor, more forceful than she needs to be. Hopefully Joyce is a heavy sleeper.
Max feels super awkward. She perches on the edge of the bed, routing aimlessly through her bag. She stares at a stain that stretches across the floor, stares at her cell phone, stares at anything other than Chloe as she grabs a shirt from the floor, unhooks her bra –
Max forgets how to act casual, so much that she’s tempted to google for instructions. She needs instructions – basic stuff like how to breathe, how to chill the fuck out. She wonders briefly if there’s a ritual she can perform to the time gods to gain the power to fast forward.
“Dude, you’re too quiet. It’s weird,” Chloe says. Max squirms, feels her cheeks heat up. “Stop being shy and steal something to sleep in.”
Max looks up and Chloe’s right there, pointing at her dresser, a single eyebrow raised. She’s softer somehow, without her ripped jeans, with her damp hair loose. Max smiles at her rock chick shirt. Cute.
“I’ll be right back. Be good while I’m gone. Don’t get high in my room again, Jane dope.”
Max lets out a breath when the door creaks closed. She feels exhausted, like all that adrenaline and excitement has finally drained from her body. She realises dimly that her head is pounding – it has been since the roof, since Kate. She presses her palm against it, closes her eyes and takes a moment to calm down. Then she forces herself into action. She really needs to change into something that isn’t contaminated with chlorine.
It’s surprisingly hard work, finding a shirt that isn’t ripped or unwashed, debating which is worse – pool-soaked underwear or no underwear or Chloe’s underwear. She’s finally pulling on some shorts when Chloe re-enters, demanding Max’s attention, the way she always does.
“You look cute in my shirt,” Chloe says. She lets her eyes linger. She’s probably just teasing.
Max pats her damp hair self-consciously.
“I feel so gross,” she says.
“You smell it too,” Chloe says, that mischievous grin edging back across her face. “All that chlorine. You’re sleeping on the floor.”
“I’m a guest,” Max snorts. She nudges an empty beer can with her foot. A visual reminder that Chloe’s room has an overwhelmingly toxic aesthetic and is basically unsuitable for humans. “You take the floor.”
“Are you rejecting my hospitality?” Chloe somehow manages to sound incredibly offended. “I was going to make you a pillow from the softest week-old pizza crust I could find. You won’t get five-star shit like that anywhere else in Arcadia Bay.”
“You’re disgusting,” Max says, turning towards the door. “I’m going back to my dorm.”
Chloe catches her by the wrist. Max feels guilty when she turns back, because Chloe’s smile has faltered enough that she almost looks worried. It’s kind of cute. As if Max would walk all the way back to Blackwell barefoot. As if she’d leave her camera.
“Relax Max,” Chloe says, gesturing to her bed. “I always have room for you. Besides… kicking cute girls out of bed isn’t really my style.”
Chloe’s eyes are dark and curious, like she’s waiting to see how Max responds. Max forgets to react – just allows herself be held in place by Chloe’s gaze, by the fingers still curled around her wrist. She should laugh, act casual, rewind and be prepared with some witty response. She should do something other than stand there like a fucking zombie.
“Teeth,” she forces out, taking a step back. “I should. Clean my.”
“Blue toothbrush,” Chloe says, “But don’t fuck around. Step-scum will be home soon.”
Sharing a toothbrush is so gross. Maybe Max could buy one to leave here. Maybe she’ll start sleeping over just for fun, like old times, without a preceding night of minor crime. She smiles a little at the thought.
She smiles again when she collapses onto Chloe’s bed, rolling onto her side so they can lay facing each other. It’s mad comfy.
“You got texts,” Chloe says, her voice deliberately even.
Warren, Max thinks, without even looking. She nods.
“Someone seems pretty interested in taking a ride on the Max-mobile.” Chloe scoffs, eyebrows raised.
“Chloe,” Max says, crinkling her nose in distaste. “He’s my friend.”
“I’m just saying. Seems pretty desperate. If you need me to fight him, I will. It’s basically my job to like. Defend your honor and shit.”
“Sir Chloe the chivalrous,” Max says, rolling her eyes. “Wait, does this mean I have to defend yours?”
“Please,” Chloe snorts. “Like I have any.”
Chloe’s watching. Waiting to see if Max checks her phone. It can wait until morning. She doesn’t have the energy.
“We should go to sleep,” Max says, stifling a yawn.
It’s probably 4am, and she does have class, not that she really gives a fuck at this point, but she could probably sleep for five days. Her head’s still pounding. Sleep sounds amazing.
“Probably,” Chloe says, yawning big herself.
It almost feels like they’re kids against – exhausted but fighting sleep just to talk to each other, like they’ll miss an adventure if they drift off, like their time together is just that precious.
“Remember when we used to try stay up all night?” Max asks.
“And we’d always do all those crappy quizzes,” Chloe says. “Like, Which anime character are you? and What shoe are you?”
“I was an old sneaker,” Max sniffs. “I was so mad.”
This makes Chloe smile, satisfied and smug. She definitely got something cool like a combat boot or a stiletto.
“I still remember your face,” Chloe says, contorting her features into a hideous expression of pure horror. “Like this!”
“I never looked like that,” Max says, defensively.
“You did. Remember how fucking crusty that sneaker was?”
Max scrunches up her nose in disgust. She hated that stupid quiz.
“See!” Chloe cries. “That’s the exact look. Quick, where’s your camera?”
“You’re the worst,” Max hisses, covering her face with her hands.
Chloe tries to coax her hands away. Max locks her elbows tight against her body as she fights off various coercive methods – Chloe invading her personal space, brushing the tips of her fingers over Max’s ribs, light enough to tickle. Max giggles unintentionally, lowering her hands just enough to see that Chloe is way too close, teeth bared in a predatory grin. Max squirms into the mattress, and she’s actually a bit scared for her life, when Chloe prowls over her, it's hard not to get all flustered. Her legs are so soft and her breath is all hot against Max’s nose and her lips are so close, too close. Max is kind of tempted to do something reckless, like lean in, just to see what happens.
She overrides her hormones and curiosity and resorts to putting her cold feet on Chloe’s bare legs. It’s super effective –Chloe practically shrieks. She smacks her hand across her mouth, then shushes Max. Like she’s the noisy one.
“You’re a cheater, Maxine Caulfield,” Chloe hisses. “Keep those ice blocks away from me.”
Max feels smug and victorious. Her exceptionally cold feet have won her several tickle fights over the years. She needed this, just hanging out and acting like kids. Max is so thankful that she isn’t alone in her dorm, having nightmares about Kate on the edge of that roof, worried every creak outside is Nathan, scouring books for answers until her eyes burn –
She’s here instead. They’re lying so close now, practically pressed against each other. Max is hyperaware of Chloe’s steady breath, her long legs, the undyed roots of her hair – a small reminder of who she used to be. Max feels kind of nauseous, sick with sleeplessness or maybe it’s her nerves, which is stupid, it’s just Chloe. She takes a shaky breath. It’s hard to make eye contact, when Chloe’s all quiet and soft like this. It’s kind of uncomfortable. Weirdly intense. But she likes Chloe this way. With her guard down.
“What are you thinking?” Max asks, voice so soft it’s practically a whisper.
Chloe sighs, deep and thoughtful. She lets the silence drag on for a moment, and then, in a wounded little voice, she says, “I miss my cozy chair.”
“Seriously?” Max laughs.
“Seriously. I dunno, I’m just thinking like. How fucking chill this is? I can just… relax around you, you know?”
“Yeah,” Max replies eloquently. “I know.”
“God, just imagine if we didn’t have to deal with all this bullshit. Like, we could just get the fuck out of here, just hop in my truck and drive until we find somewhere gorgeous where you can take photos, and I can just have the best fucking time. It’d be so perfect, if only–“
Chloe tenses, prickles, deflates. She doesn’t even have to say it – Max knows that look by now. Rachel.
Max’s stomach sinks. It’s not like she could leave Arcadia Bay anyway, she has commitments – school and friends. But she kind of likes being included in Chloe’s daydreams, even just for a passing moment. Max bites her lip, wondering what will happen if they find Rachel. She thinks about Chloe driving away forever, starting a new life, too busy to call. Like Max would deserve any better when she did the exact same thing.
It's hard not to think about Rachel Amber, beautiful and popular, her name scrawled all over town, slipping from everyone’s lips.
It’s pretty fucked up, feeling jealous of someone who might be dead.
Chloe rolls onto her back and sighs, all deep and melancholy. Suddenly she seems so sad. So distant.
“Chloe,” Max says, tenderly, gently.
“Hmm?” Chloe says.
Max wants to say something to make it better. The silence feels as thick as the words stuck in her throat. She could probably try and rewind, try and rewind for hours. She still wouldn’t find the right thing to say.
Max is so fucking exhausted.
“Should I… get the lights?” Max asks. She hates herself a little, for chickening out of saying anything meaningful.
“Go for it,” Chloe says, voice flat.
Max flops down on to the bed when the room is dark. It’s too warm to get under the covers, but she’s happy to snuggle down into the mattress. Her eyes are heavy. Her whole body is crying out for sleep.
“Sorry to be like… a downer or whatever. I had an awesome night. And I’m really glad you’re here.”
Max smiles, warmth spreading right down to her fingers. Her heart flips in her chest.
“Me too. I’m scared, Chloe, really scared, but with you here I feel...”
“We are not invincible.”
“Sure we are,” Chloe says, confidently. “I mean. Probably.”
Max yawns. “You are pretty badass.”
“And you’re fucking amazing. We’ve got this.”
Max reaches out to find Chloe’s hand. Chloe sucks in a little breath, like she’s not expecting, but then she relaxes, twines their fingers together. Max holds on tight, soothed by the warmth of Chloe's hand. Her life is fucking bizarre, but Max is pretty sure she can handle it if Chloe's here with her.
She drifts off immediately, listening to Chloe’s breath as she slips into sleep.
Max might have to sneak out of her dorm more often.