She's quiet for most of the ride up north.
Chloe doesn't know what to say. She keeps her hands on the steering wheel, rolling her shoulders every now and then to try and get rid of the stiffness. Sometimes her foot will jerk forward, and she'll unceremoniously thrust the two of them almost facefirst into the dashboard.
Even then, Max doesn't say anything, just sits back and adjusts her seatbelt before looking out the window again.
It takes some time, but the two finally end up at a pit stop. It's a small gas station, and it seems almost surreal in the way it's beating out a peppy, country tune. The cashier smacks on her gum, eyeing the two of them, but doesn't say anything. Max's mechanical movements and empty stare is enough to keep the cashier silent as she rings them up.
When the two pay for their things and get back to the truck, neither feel like eating. The chips rest in a bag on the floor, next to Max's foot. Chloe notices that Max twitches every now and then, hears the sharp intake of air that hisses through Max's teeth when she flinches at a resurfaced memory.
It's at the next pit stop that they get any signal on their phones.
Naturally, Max's parents have left her thirty voicemails and almost a hundred text messages.
Chloe tries not to think of the lack of notifications on her own phone.
She sits in the truck and tries to get down a mouthful of Doritos while she watches Max stand at the edge of the parking lot, phone next to her ear as she tells her parents what happened.
Chloe doesn't take her gaze away.
It's when she sees tears start to fall from Max's eyes that she gets up and holds Max in her arms as sobs shake her small, frail form. After everything that happened, Max feels like glass, cracking and breaking apart into unfixable pieces, reflecting back nothing but the chaos of the past week.
Max manages to finish her call with her parents. She tells Chloe that they'll need to get back to Seattle.
Chloe doesn't question it. It's not like they have anywhere else to go.
Besides. Anywhere Max goes, Chloe goes.
They stop for a night at a rundown motel. Chloe scrounges up what scraps of cash she has from the cab of her truck and gets them a single room.
They're too tired to say anything to each other. The moment Max slides into the bed next to Chloe, she wraps her arms around Chloe's torso, burying her face in Chloe's shoulder.
The rain from the storm had chilled their bones, leaving them with nothing but the sharp pricks of the icicles that spike in their minds, growing ever larger, always distorting the memories and thoughts that the two picture as they think back on the past week.
The past day.
Chloe wraps the blanket as tightly around them as she can.
But the warmth from the comforter lacks something, and Chloe finds herself unable to drift into dreams, because nightmares are all she thinks about.
But she can't imagine what must be happening to Max, because she's shaken from her reverie when she hears pained whimpers and cries from the girl in her arms, and Chloe immediately takes to saying as many comforting things as she can.
Max doesn't sleep at all.
Max makes the call to her parents the next morning that it'll take them a little longer than usual to drive up to Seattle. Lack of sleep isn't the best way to drive.
They're unwilling to spend more money on another room for the day, so the two end up lying down in the back of Chloe's truck, staring up at the impossibly blue sky.
It'd been a gray and black void just a few days ago.
Chloe doesn't say anything, and neither does Max. All they hear is the rustle of the wind, the quiet chirps of birds in the trees, and the occasional drifting sound of a car zooming past on the road.
What fills Chloe's thoughts are the fact that Max went through all of that for her. Went through all of those alternate realities for her, faced head on her nightmares for her, lived through drugging and kidnapping for her.
She almost wants to ask what Max is thinking about. But she doesn't. Instead she rolls onto her side, and Max does the same; they look at each other for a long moment, just taking each other in.
There were so many moments in the past few days where they were this close, when Chloe wanted to move forward.
But she doesn't.
It's not the right moment. Not right now. Not after Rachel. Not after Jefferson. Not after the tornado.
Instead Chloe tentatively reaches an arm out, and Max shifts closer, pressing her face into Chloe's chest.
They lie there like that until the sun disappears, leaving them alone with nothing but the chill of reality.
They curl up inside the cab of Chloe's truck at night, draping the old quilt over the themselves. It smells like smoke and weed and garbage, but Chloe notices Max drawing the edge of the quilt up over her face, her eyes closed as she breathes in and out.
Somehow being somewhere familiar brings them both some peace, and they drift into unconsciousness as soon as they have their arms around each other.
Chloe's woken up the next morning by the sharp vibration of her phone rattling around on the dashboard, and she thrusts her hand out for it, shoving the screen to her ear as she squints in the morning sunlight.
He's so incoherent when Chloe answers with a monotone greeting that Chloe has to ask him to repeat himself multiple times.
David's relieved. Overjoyed. Overwhelmed. Chloe is alive. Max is alive.
Chloe's heart starts to race and she pushes herself up on one arm. Joyce.
Chloe starts to cry, which wakes Max up.
Joyce, Warren, Frank, and a few other Arcadians had barricaded themselves in the back storage room of the Two Whales, using boards and shelves to fortify the place. David, apparently, had been down at the Dark Room with the police officers, restraining Jefferson. When they'd tried to leave the barn, Jefferson had tried to make a break for it - a crackle of thunder and the fall of giant pine had ended Jefferson's attempt to flee.
Neither Chloe nor Max were disappointed in this turn of events. David didn't sound sad either. He never trusted men with goatees, anyway.
David and the police officers survived the storm by hiding in the dark room. The morning after they'd gone outside and tried to find survivors in Arcadia Bay.
Max asks Chloe to figure out who else is alive.
David relays that some Blackwell students and a fisherman had been with Joyce and the others. Max murmurs something about Evan and Alyssa.
Kate, apparently, had made it out of the hospital the morning of the storm. Her parents had traveled down, picked her up, and left. Max gets out of the truck and calls Kate.
David apologizes for not contacting them sooner. Phone signal and working electricity has been annihilated in Arcadia Bay, and he's using borrowed police phones to contact them.
He then says he's still trying to find more people. He's glad they're both alive, but agrees that it's best that the two of them get up to Seattle. He hopes that he and Joyce can join them soon.
Chloe manages to say that she hopes so too.
It's not a lot of affection; Chloe doesn't forgive easily. But David seems to know what she means, and he'll call back later.
When Max gets done with her call from Kate, she looks a little more alive, a little more hopeful.
They get back on the road again, eating their bags of chips.
They finally get to Seattle and Max's parents overwhelm them with a thousand questions about their well-being. They wrap Max up in their arms, crying and sobbing with relief that their only child is alive.
Chloe doesn't really know what to do, so she tries to stand off to the side, but Max's lumberjack of a father wraps an arm around Chloe and presses her into the bone crushing Caulfield group hug.
Max puts her arm around Chloe's waist as well, and for the first time in a while, Chloe thinks that they both might be okay.
Ryan and Vanessa haven't changed much, from what Chloe can remember. They fuss over Max's haggard appearance, pushing her inside the house and up to her room and complaining that she needs to get into something warm and soft.
Then they do the same to Chloe, pushing her into Max's room, offering a thousand types of food. Max's parents don't seem to notice Chloe's new wardrobe change, nor her blue hair, nor her tattoo. All they see is Max's childhood friend, safe and sound.
Chloe doesn't have the energy to try and explain to them what happened. Neither does Max.
And though Max's house has a guest room, the two of them already know Chloe won't be using it.
It takes David and the ABPD about a week to round up most of the survivors. Most of the town is wrecked beyond repair, so the remaining Arcadians drift out of the bay. David and the ABPD stay behind to try and clean up what they can with the Red Cross, but the town population was so small that there didn't seem to be much point trying to fix anything.
No one mourns Jefferson.
Joyce and David make it up to Seattle a little after that.
Things are a blur to Chloe around this time. Joyce and David get a new, small house out on the edges of the city. She lives with them for a while, but she's rarely in the house - her time is devoted to being with Max.
Max enrolls in the next semester for the local high school. Chloe applies to a community college. She even manages to snag a job at a repair store. After a month of working and a loan from Joyce and David, Chloe gets herself a beatdown, tiny closet apartment close to Max's house.
They have a few months until January, until the next semester. Chloe mentions they have time to be together now.
Max laughs, a hollow sound. Time.
That's when Chloe reaches out for Max's hand, interlacing their fingers together. She makes the same promise as she did that day on the cliffside, when winds whipped at the edges of their clothes and rain spiked sharp icy points on their skin and hair.
It seems surreal to stand inside Chloe's apartment, hearing nothing but the soft whirr of the tiny fan in the corner, and to almost see that promise solidify in the air, binding them together through fate and destiny.
Max's hand tightens around Chloe's, and then they're hugging again.
It takes Chloe some time to think over what happened to Rachel.
The fury and vengeance that had pushed her so far throughout that week when Max returned to her - Chloe doesn't really know if they're still there.
Jefferson is gone. David hadn't heard anything from the Prescotts, either.
She manages to contact Frank, who, RV-less, had hitchhiked down to San Francisco. Apparently he and Pompidou were meeting with some old contacts Frank had down there, trying to establish a new life, one without drugs and despair.
What Max had told Chloe, apparently she'd told Frank too.
He tells Chloe that he's trying to be clean. He doesn't want to hurt people anymore.
The two have a long conversation about Rachel. What they're going to do now.
Rachel will always be a part of their lives. She hears Frank start to choke on tears, his voice raw. Chloe cries a little too, does her best to stifle the sobs. The tear in her heart where Rachel used to be had used to feel like an abyss, deep and empty like the void - but now it's slowly becoming filled with the memories of someone who made Chloe feel lighter, stronger.
Chloe and Frank share a moment about life without Rachel. As far as they're aware, they're alive. They survived. And they both think Rachel would've wanted them to find more with their lives.
Finally, Frank takes a deep breath and tells her that time moves forward, and they have to too, that she actually laughs - here, a drug dealer, giving her some deepshit advice.
She thanks him for it.
Then Frank congratulates Chloe on getting into college. He also mentions that he hopes Max is doing alright.
Chloe doesn't lie to him, but he seems to understand.
She doesn't think he and her will ever be friends, but they end the phone call on an amicable note.
Chloe does her best to give Max what she needs. If Max needs space, Chloe keeps her distance. If Max needs her, Chloe appears at her side.
But she doesn't think she can ever figure out or understand what really happened to Max that week they reunited. She can't really understand the alternate realities, the photo jumps, and it's a sick twist of her gut when she even thinks of Max and the dark room.
Max doesn't mention completely the nightmare she had on that final day. Chloe has to figure out what it was from the bits and pieces that she sees fragment off of Max's words, from Max's actions.
Flashlights and complete darkness terrify Max. Chloe always makes sure to have a lamp on when they sleep together in Chloe's bed.
It doesn't make any sense to Chloe when Max quickly leaves an art gallery featuring Annie Leibovitz's works, its white walls displaying fairy tail photos. When they get outside, Max's eyes are shut tight, and Chloe just holds her in her arms before the two go back inside.
It takes a few months for Max to start taking selfies again, too.
Even though Max has these moments, Chloe notices that Max is stronger than ever.
Like she said so long ago. Max isn't so chickenshit anymore. When Max starts taking selfies again, she does them more often than she used to. A selfie a day keeps the insecurities away.
She even begins to build her portfolio, sends them out to nearby art galleries. Chloe makes sure to come with her when they go to see her photo printed out on the wall for all to see.
Then there was one night when Chloe woke up, disoriented at the dimness of the room. The lamp isn't on - she turns to see Max sitting on the windowsill, moonlight flowing in from the night above.
They're healing, somehow. The both of them, moving forward through time. Together.
It's the next year, and summer's starting. The two somehow managed to survive going through their respective school course loads.
Max still keeps in touch with her friends from Arcadia Bay. Kate's doing well off at another prestigious school near where she lives, and they have occasional Skype tea chats. Apparently Warren had some family on the east coast, and he was there now at a science academy.
Things are better now.
Chloe notices that Max can genuinely laugh and smile. She gets excited at bookstores and coffee shops - damn hipster - and of course, Chloe's right behind her, wiggling her eyebrows at Max while she holds an erotic piece of literature in her hand (she gets the standard Caulfield eyeroll in response), or shoving her hands in her pockets while waiting for Max to order her damn Starbucks pumpkin spice latte or some shit.
Max, of course, still takes photos of the world. But her hands shake now when she holds up her camera.
The first time Chloe notices this, she doesn't say anything, just watches Max look a little disappointed when the photo comes out, her brow furrowed slightly as she notices the slight blur across the picture.
The second time this happens, Chloe stands behind Max and puts her hands over Max's, and they hold the camera together as Max snaps a photo of the sunset over the pier. The photo comes out crystal clear, the horizon sharp along the middle of the frame. Max's soft smile and quiet 'thank you' makes Chloe's heart flutter a little.
Max ends up hanging out so much at Chloe's apartment that Max's parents just end up telling her to live there. She's taking a gap year before applying to college, anyway.
When the two move Max's things in, Chloe tries not to think of the fact that this is what couples do. Then again, she thinks, as she puts Max's stuffed bear on her bed, they are partners in crime and time.
The first day after Max moved in, Chloe wakes up to go to work. She doesn't know what came over her to do this, but she gives Max a kiss on the cheek before she leaves.
There's a faint pink blush on Max's face when she smiles and tells Chloe to have a good day.
Chloe ends up going to work distracted over thoughts of Max and manages to get a door to ram shut on her fingers. She gets back to her apartment later that evening, cursing and swearing about how doors need to learn a thing or two about acting correctly when Max gently holds Chloe's injured hand in her own and presses a soft kiss to it.
She laughs at Chloe's dumbfounded expression, asks if it feels any better.
Chloe recovers and slyly tells Max that another kiss would make her feel much better. Just like before, back in her room so long ago, Max surprises her by giving her a kiss on the cheek.
Her recovery backfires and Chloe's left stammering about how hot that was as Max smirks and turns away.
Now every time Chloe gets up to go to work, she gives Max a kiss on the cheek. And now every time she returns to her apartment, she gets a kiss on the cheek from Max.
It feels like home. Max feels like home.
It's on Max's nineteenth birthday when Chloe gathers the courage to do what she needs to do.
The day is all for Max. Bookstores, coffee shops, gardens, the pier. Chloe tries to take her to the places that she thinks Max would like to photograph, and she thinks she's done a pretty good job when her bag is weighed down with a ton of polaroids by the end of the day.
When they get back to the apartment in the late afternoon, Chloe gets to work making Max's favorite food; breakfast for dinner. Thank God for Joyce imbuing the power of good waffle making skills.
It's when Chloe turns around and puts their plates on the table that she notices Max standing outside on the balcony, watching the sun set across the roofs ahead.
Gold and orange outline her frame, her brown hair blown back by a breeze as light as a flower's petals.
Chloe joins her, reaching out to hold Max's hand. They stay like that for a moment, the both of them watching the sky deepen into blues and purples. Max turns and presses her face into Chloe's shoulder, sighing.
It makes Chloe think of another time they stood together, but instead of watching the world turned, they watched a tornado turn over an entire town.
But their present is so much better than their past, and Chloe wants their future to be the best that it can be.
She shifts away slightly, bringing Max's hand up to her face, and she leans into it, feeling the warmth of Max's palm on her cheek, soft and gentle like the blue in Max's eyes.
The kiss is deep, slow, loving. Chloe feels Max tilt her head up to get more from the kiss, feels Max's hand tangle in her hair, feels her chest become a little lighter.
It's when Max pulls away and blurts out 'wowser' in that breathless voice of hers that Chloe bursts out laughing. Moment ruined, somewhat, but they can work on that, make more moments together.
There's time for that.