We had won, and the prize was a love so powerful that it had transcended time and space. Every kiss, every touch, every simple moment in each other's presence was an affirmation that the suffering we'd endured had been worth it in the end. Those, however, were only the good days when the crushing weight of it all was replaced by the warm blanket of relief.
It was always there, the great big ugly elephant in the room; Survivor's guilt. I don't think either of us had truly expected it when we were on that cliff-side in the storm. Blinded by the relief in the finality of the decision and admission of the love we shared. Some days it wasn't so bad for her, others she was inconsolable. I think I hid my grief better than her, the blood I'd soaked my hands in during my time travels numbing me somewhat to the heartache.
Little by little as the months passed us by, we both came to a realization without needing to say a word. Our paradise was crumbling away, leaving purgatory in its place... something had to change... I had to go back and try again.
Chloe froze when she saw the photo in my hands. Unable to meet her gaze I lowered my eyes to the glossy image of Warren and I standing outside The End of the World party.
“We can't go on like this, Chloe, we both know it,” I whispered, gripping the corners of the photo so hard my hands were trembling. She was silent for a long time before responding.
“I understand... it'll be better this way, right? I love you, Max, I love being with you so fucking much but... it's not a fair trade right? Me for all of them...”
I looked up and the pain in her eyes threatened to tear my heart in two. I pocketed the picture and rushed across the room to throw my arms around her neck and kiss her with every bit of love that I could muster.
“No, Chloe, gods no! Not like that, I couldn't sacrifice you then and I never will! I'm going back to try again. There has to be a way to save you without letting Arcadia Bay be destroyed...”
Her eyes widened and she pushed me away to arms length.
“What? Fuck no, Max! You nearly killed yourself jumping around like that.”
I shook my head.
“It's different now, I've had time to learn and practice... I'm stronger than I was before. I can do all the things I wanted to try back then but was too afraid because of how much the power was wrecking me.”
“But... what if all that doesn't mean shit when you jump back into your old boney ass?” She argued, but her heart was falling out of it. “I just...”
I mustered every bit of willpower that I could and smiled up at her, hoping I looked even remotely confident.
“I think I can do this, Chloe... and even if I can't, I can always just bring us back here and try again at this life. I think... I think it would go a little better if we knew what we were getting into, right?”
She stared at me for a long while before the smallest hint of a grin touched the corners of her lips.
“You're such a little shit, you know that?”
“Me?” I asked, a little coyly.
“Here I'd been psyching myself up for weeks to be all noble and sacrifice myself and you just blow that shit out the water with this hope and positively BS.” Our foreheads came together and I took my time languishing in the embrace before pulling away. “Just, do me a favor, yeah?”
“Tell my dumbass younger self not to be such a scaredy-bitch about us. Fuck, I've been in love with you since we were kids, just too chickenshit to take the chance.”
It was my turn to be surprised.
She blushed awkwardly and shoved me away, hesitated, then rushed forward to kiss me before shoving me again.
“Yeah, now get going, and be safe, damn it!”
I smiled as I pulled out the photo and started to focus, feeling the power build up inside me.
“I love you, Chloe.”
“I love you, Max.”
“Forev...” her final word cut off as I felt myself being pulled back through time...
I lurched forward out of Warren's arms as my mind settled into my younger body. I stumbled a few steps before straightening, feeling at my nose and finding only a tiny drop of blood.
“So far so good,” I whispered under my breath.
Chloe, who had been mostly ignoring the whole situation, let out sigh of exasperation.
“We don't have time for this...”
“Chloe!” I shouted, not wanting her to go off on the tirade that followed. I quickly walked over to her, threw my arms around her neck, and crushed our lips together. At first her eyes widened in surprise, then softened at the passion of the kiss and satisfied longing... and then after a time they narrowed and she pushed me away.
“You're not MY Max, are you?” she asked suspiciously.
“Not quite. Well, not yet anyway,” I said, a hint of shyness creeping into my voice. I could see her itching to both grill me for answers, and to storm off to sate her bloodlust for Nathan. “A lot of shit has happened that I can't even begin to get into right now. I need the butterfly picture...”
Her hand went instinctively to the pocket of her jacket before she could stop herself. A bit of the fire went out in her eyes.
“So I'm a lost cause, then?” she asked hollowly.
“What do you mean?”
“I'd only give you that picture if I thought I was totally fucked. Future me must have given up hope of making it out of this,” she said sadly, then after a moment, smiled. “Sucks, but at least I get a last kiss apparently.”
She reached into the pocket and offered me the photo. I stepped passed it and wrapped her up in a tight hug.
“Not the last, not by a long shot. I tore it up and let the storm take it. That's why I came back here, Warren's photo was the only one I had left.” I paused, and glanced over at Warren who was shuffling about awkwardly, not knowing whether to speak up or leave. “Thank you again Warren, I'm sorry... that I don't feel the same way about you.”
“I get it, Chloe's a cool chick.”
“Yeah, she is,” I said, turning and smiling up at her. “I love you, Chloe, I'll never give up you, not ever.” I kissed her again before pulling away and taking the photo. “I'm going to make this all work out in the end. I promise!”
“I trust you.”
“Oh! Before I forget! I don't quite think this is how it works, but just in case this does become an alternate timeline you should know that Nathan is already dead, Mr Jefferson is the killer we're looking for. David was already investigating him, go to him and tell him there's a bomb shelter at the Prescott's farmhouse with all the evidence, he'll know what to do.”
“What? No way am I...” I shook my head.
“He's a better man than we both thought, Chloe, he saved my life and he does care about you and your mom. Trust me.” I could tell it was a bitter pill to swallow, but eventually she nodded. “I'm going now. Everything's going to be alright, I promise,” I said, focusing on the picture that would take me back to the beginning.
“Max... I love you.”
“I love you too, Chloe. Always.”
More prepared for it this time, the lurch of settling into my younger body passed quickly. I dabbed at my nose, again pleased with the relatively small drop of blood. The relief faded as the reality of the situation settled in. I steeled my resolve, put my camera in my bag, and grabbed the hammer from under the mop bucket. Nathan entered and started his familiar rant, I slipped out behind him and swung the hammer with everything my small frame could muster. He dropped like a sack of bricks and I quickly went through his pockets for his phone, unlocking it with his birthday, and hurriedly sending out a confession that would implicate Mr Jefferson and end this whole mess before it could even begin. I stood, added the hammer to my bag, and hurried out the door, running headlong into the younger, more innocent, Chloe Price.
“Oh my god, Chloe!” I shouted, throwing my arms around the stunned girl's neck.
“Max?!” she shouted incredulously.
“I was literally just planning on how to make up for the last five years of being a shitty friend, and here you are!” I said, pulling away and tugging on her hand towards the exit.
“Wha? The hell are you talking about? I don't have time for this shit, I need to...” she muttered, her mood shifting from surprised to steely as she tried to tug herself free and make for the bathroom.
“Run away with me!” I blurted out suddenly. She stopped. I swallowed hard. “I've... got a couple thousand dollars in the bank, lets run away like we always planned.” I darted forward suddenly and gave her a quick kiss on the lips before pulling back and restarting my pull towards the exit doors. “I know this is out of fucking nowhere but don't be such a scaredy-bitch, I know you wanna leave this shit-hole town in the rear-view so let's just do it!”
I could feel her resistance and surprise starting to fade, the hint of a smile forming at the corners of her mouth.
“I don't know what the fuck happened to you in Seattle, but you really think you can just pop back into my life and pull this kinda shit after five years of nothing?”
I gave her a one-armed shrug and grinned.
“I was kinda hoping the kiss would entice you enough to come along far enough for me to at least explain things.”
“I'm still pissed at you... but I'd be fucking lying if I said it wasn't a decent start.”
She stopped resisting, letting me pull her along and out the doors just in time as the sound of David Madsen's heavy-booted footfalls came charging down the hall towards the bathroom...
It felt so good to apologize and make up for lost time all over again without all the stress and misery of the investigation looming over us... and so torn up inside with the fear that this may end up being a failed experiment. Still, I wanted to make the best of it, for better or worse. This was a lot more like a true reunion between friends then what we got to have before. At first we argued, letting her work out the stress and frustration my abandoning her had left. Then we cried to work through the grief. Then we argued again because, well, Chloe, leading to her storming off for about twenty minutes before storming back for an amazing make-out session.
Eventually the whirlwind of emotions died down and we found ourselves cruising down the coast to California. Joyce seemed to be a little concerned, but altogether happy about the whole situation when I finally convinced Chloe to check in. My parents... not so much, though in the end they supported me, even going so far as to convince the school that I was taking a break due to stress from the ongoing criminal investigation and would return in a weeks time. It probably wouldn't matter in the long run but it was a sweet sentiment nonetheless.
The next three days with Chloe were so damn amazing. I hadn't seen her smile that much since we were kids, it was almost like we'd both gone back in time. Her radiance as she reveled in the freedom and budding romance was more than enough to convince me that I had made the right decision in coming back to try again. I too decided to cherish that freedom, if only just for the week, by going out of my way to avoid seeing any news from Arcadia Bay, fearing reports of strange weather would drag me back into my miserable reality. Even if this attempt ended in failure, at the very least it would double as a nice vacation.
Chloe saw the news report first. I exited the bathroom of the hotel room to find my pirate queen in shambles as images of a tornado devastated Arcadia Bay flashed on the screen. The pang of remorse that resounded in my chest nearly broke me, the resolve I'd thought so strong faltering under the returned weight of my mission. I held her, comforting her through the worst of her grief, using it as fuel to stoke the flames of my resolve once more.
The first experiment had failed, but I learned two very important things in the process. The first, that even without any additional time travel and Chloe and me being far away from the area, Arcadia Bay is still destroyed. The second, that using the first photo of the Blue Butterfly to go back to the beginning essentially reset the timeline back to zero. With a heavy heart I kissed this sweet, almost innocent Chloe goodbye and pulled out the photo of us that William had taken that day so many years ago, restored from my attempt to destroy it by my use of Blue Butterfly photo. I had been surprised to see it when we stopped by Chloe's house for supplies on the way out of town but I was grateful for the opportunity it presented.
The look of confusion on her face when I told her that I would always love her before gazing into the picture saddened me in a way that I didn't quite understand at the time. Once more, with a heavy heart, I stepped into the distant past to the sound of her reply.
“Someday Dad will get one of them newfangled computers,” 14 year old Chloe said with a laugh.
My new-found endurance paid off, allowing me to recover quickly and adapt to the new location more fluidly. I slipped away quietly as they bickered about the photo and then breakfast, quickly scooping up William's keys and dropping them out the window before settling in to watch the two of them with a smile. If I had gained nothing else from my last trip it would have been enough to learn to take the time to enjoy myself. The curious look on Chloe's face when she noticed my dopey grin was more than enough to tell me I was at least doing that part right.
The call came in like before and I did another fine job of selling William on the majesty of a bus ride, watching with the same giddy glee as he walked out of the door for what wouldn't be the last time.
“Max, you are being so fucking strange. You feel okay?” Chloe asked, her familiar foul mouth combined with the innocent features of her younger face making me giggle.
It was time to begin the second experiment.
“Chloe, now that we're alone there's something I've really REALLY been wanting to do.”
“You heard Dad, no more wine for us,” she said with a laugh.
I shook my head, trying to force a serious look onto my face.
“Not that! I... umm...” I murmured, blushing hard at what I was about to do. “Please don't be mad!” I said, darting in to kiss her on the lips. More than a quick peck, much less than the kisses I'd become accustomed to, but just enough I thought to convey budding tween love. I wasn't quite expecting the look of horror on her face when I pulled away.
“You... kissed me! You... you ruined everything!” she shouting, brushing passed me roughly to stomp around the living room, fuming.
“Wha? What's wrong with it?” I asked, unexpected tears forming in my eyes. “Did she lie about loving me when we were kids?” I murmured under my breath, a dull pain forming in my chest.
Chloe looked up from her fuming and saw me crying, all anger vanishing instantly as she ran over to pull me into a hug.
“Oh, shit, no Max, I didn't mean it like that!”
I sniffled, feeling fat tears rolling down my cheeks. I'd forgotten how powerful emotions could be at this age.
“What did you mean then? It... it was really hard to finally do that and I thought... I thought...”
Chloe kissed me, sweetly, tenderly, and with more longing than I had put into mine. When she finally pulled away she had tears of her own flowing.
“I had all these plans to make you dinner at the fort and kiss you on your birthday, it was gonna be hella fucking romantic!”
“Oh... that really would have been... I'm so sorry I ruined it!” I sobbed.
“It's okay, I probably couldn't have waited that long. I... I...”
“I love you so much, Chloe! Always!” I blubbered through my tears, wrapping her in as tight a hug as my skinny little teenage arms could muster.
“I love you too, Max...” she wailed through her tears. I squeezed my eyes shut in anticipation of the impending flash forward. “Forever.”
The full word fell on my ears like a thunderclap and my eyes shot open. The realization that I had actually seen William exit the door and not just vanish into white haze like before came far too late. I turned to look out the sliding door, seeing green grass and the wooden fence encasing the back yard. The bottom fell out of my stomach at the implication, my increased mastery over my powers hadn't just brought me back for the moment; no flash forward would be taking me back to the present day. Teenage Mutant Ninja Max was here to stay.
“Max... do you wanna... I dunno, talk about it and stuff?” Chloe asked from behind me. I turned to see her wiping futilely at her tears but grinning ear to ear with so much relief that it made my heart skip a beat.
Of course, her little teenage mind had probably been bursting at the seams with fear and insecurity at how I'd react to her feelings for me. I'd read enough stories of how much those kinds of unrequited feelings could twist a person up inside at this age to know that she must be absolutely singing on the inside right now to have them returned.
“That sounds good,” I murmured shyly, only to have my stomach let out the loudest gurgle of hunger mankind has ever heard. An awkward silence settled over us for about ten seconds before we both burst into laughter.
“Maybe... maybe we should eat first!” she managed between fits of giggles.
“That sounds good!” I repeated, struggling for breath as we made our way to the kitchen.
As the laughter died away an easy calm settled over the two of us. Slowly, shyly, I leaned my head on her shoulder as she went about pouring the pancake batter onto the griddle, sharing a happy little sigh with Chloe as the butterflies danced in my stomach. This wasn't even close to what I had planned for this experiment... but damn if I wasn't looking forward to what was going to come of it.
It took exactly three days for our sweet and silly young love to be discovered. Luckily it was by William who didn't seem surprised in the least and promised to keep our “secret”. Without the five years of silence and anger hanging over us our budding love blossomed quickly. It was literally the worst secret of all time. Anybody who spent more than thirty minutes around us together with their eyes open could probably figure it out.
Eventually the time came for the dreaded move to Seattle and it took a level of screaming, spitting, crying rebellion that only a teenage girl can muster to stop it from happening. This including a hunger strike, then threats of running away followed immediately by a rewind power aided actual three day runaway with Chloe and me hiding out in our various forts around town when they tried to call my bluff. Nothing on Earth could have torn me from her side and eventually my parents gave in.
School was... very different this time around. I had never been the best student but my 18 year old brain put me way ahead of the curve. That, combined with being part of the obvious lesbian couple as I mentioned did little to put me in the good graces of my fellow students. Chloe, unsurprisingly, was able to brush off the teasing most of the time... though every once in a while something would pierce her armor and she'd come crying to me for feel-better hugs and kisses. Chloe still had that classic rebellious spirit only a more toned down and manageable one. It actually took some convincing on my part for her to begin the process of turning into my blue haired pirate queen. At the moment taking the form of jet blue streaks in her long strawberry-blonde hair. Gods she was pretty...
High school presented me with a unique opportunity in the form of Kristine Prescott, Nathan's older sister and the only Prescott in the future to not be the scum of the Earth. My advanced intellect, i.e. foreknowledge and rewind cheating, allowed me to share several classes with her despite my being a Freshman and her a Junior. All it took was a few gentle suggestions and some well timed nudging for her to keep a closer eye on and be a more supportive shoulder for Nathan, urging him to get the help he needed. From what I could gather from my spying, the twisted, rage-filled drug addict that we had known in the future would never come to be.
As for the second half of that equation... Mr Jefferson would not receive the same mercy upon arrival to town. Without the Dark Room I didn't have a quick and convenient method of sending him to jail so I decided on a more personal method of removal. A time-stopped snip of his brake lines on a cliff-side road was a quick and simple fix to that monsters continued existence. I didn't feel sorry in the least for that bit of blood on my hands, I slept like a baby in Chloe's arms that night.
The only major hurdle we had to deal with in this timeline was, ironically enough, Rachel Amber. Rachel was a lot of things I wasn't, and I knew Chloe had been in love with her in the other timeline. In a stupid twist of karma it was actually my jealousy over nothing that led to Chloe and I's one and only short break-up. The two of them had gotten a little wasted at a rock show I wasn't able to make it to and Rachel had dared Chloe to kiss her... which was when I walked in. I didn't run away like they do in the comics and confronted them directly, leading me to break-up with her. Rachel immediately stumbled over and kissed me as well, showing me that the kiss hadn't meant anything before shoving me at Chloe and telling us to make up before stumbling downstairs to sleep on the couch. We were back together in two minutes. See, I told you it was short. After that, I was never jealous of Rachel again... about Chloe anyway, Rachel was still way too pretty and had a nicer rack than I ever would despite us being the same general size... the bitch.
I was so damn happy that at times I could almost forget about what the future may have in store for us. I had changed so much in this timeline that it almost seemed ludicrous that events would play out the same way they had before. This world was perfect... and I don't think anybody in the history of ever has been as disappointed or angry as I was to see snow falling. On that bench overlooking the soon to be stormy sea I confessed everything to Chloe. It was taking everything I had not to break down and Chloe... always full of surprises... dived immediately into full on investigation mode and dragged me along with her. We gathered everything we knew about the storm and poured over it continuously over the next few days. Sadly... we found more questions than answers.
I had suspected that the tornado was the result of the timeline balancing itself out if Chloe survived but it might be more precise than that. I had been too wrapped up in grief and anger to realize that the tornado had still appeared on Friday despite the fact that Chloe had been killed by Mr Jefferson on Thursday. Also, in the alternate timeline the tornado seemed to be right on track despite the fact that Chloe was already going to die of lung failure. This led me to believe that they either weren't connected to begin with, or that Chloe was meant to die at that exact moment in the bathroom. In order to test it I would have to do the one thing I had sworn never to do... let Chloe die.
We spent our final moments together as only lovers could... and I knew that the grief of losing this Chloe would haunt me for the rest of my days. With a heavy, almost broken, heart, I began to gather my enhanced power. Five years of training had earned me the ability to jump back to a previous location without a photo so long as I could picture it clearly enough in my mind. I could feel the tug that would have flash forwarded me back if I hadn't been strong enough to resist its pull and allowed it to wrap itself around me.
We swore our love in tried and true fashion... but unlike the first time... I didn't get to hear the whole thing.
Upon returning to the hotel room at the end of our five day runaway tour I realized immediately why Chloe's confused expression before I stepped back into the past had affected me so. The two of us were bound by something, a destiny of some kind. For the first time since learning of my power I had truly left her behind and that thought chilled me to the bone. I broke down and told her everything, the grief and the heartache almost too much to bear as the words spilled out of me. I knew I was doing more to destroy the freedom of this Chloe than the tornado had... but it was the right thing to do.
After all that happened I couldn't bring myself to go through with the final experiment. The pain was still too fresh to allow her to die. I spent a few weeks with this Chloe, helping her through her grief while trying to ease my own at the same time. In time I felt I was strong enough to continue my experiments, deciding to exhaust all other possibilities before taking that last, horrible step.
57 experiments, 5 multi-year vacations into the deep past, and 2 trips years beyond the tornado later I finally reached the tipping point. I realized that if I kept going there would be nothing left of me even if I did succeed and my powers had evolved to a level I had never dreamed possible. It was now or never. I feared that waking my current Chloe would weaken my resolve to go so I settled for the cute little murmur she let out in her sleep after I kissed the wedding ring on her finger as an admission of her forever love.
I called up the image of the Blue Butterfly in my mind and stepped into it as simply as passing through an open door, easing into my body on that day that had started it all. I quietly put the camera and photo away and curled up in a ball where I wouldn't be seen. My mind instantly settled on a hundred different ways to save her and it took every ounce of willpower I had scraped together in my journey through time to not intervene. The bitter irony of the situation wasn't lost on me. After all the impossible things I had done to save her... the most difficult thing I would ever have to do... was nothing at all.
All but the tiniest ember of light inside me winked out at the sound of the gunshot. Other than a few vague memories of speaking with David the next few days were completely lost in the haze of despair. I found myself walking on trembling legs towards the coffin, the black funeral dress a pale echo of the darkness inside of me. I took a moment to look up at the clear blue sky and cursed what its existence meant.
The Blue Butterfly fluttered down to land on her coffin. Over the course of my journey through time I had changed my mind about the Doe being not my spirit animal, but rather Rachel's. The first and last times I had seen the spirit had been the place where her body was buried, she had guided me to it to find her rest. The Blue Butterfly, obvious now during this moment of cruel clarity, must belong to Chloe. First at the place she had died, and now at the place she would be buried. A small, hollow smile, spread across my lips. The final experiment was a complete success... Chloe Price must die... and with that realization, so too would Max Caulfield.
I raised my hand and summoned every last bit of my power, giving it no direction so as to pull me into so many pieces they could never be put back together. At the last moment before I let the dark torrent free the Blue Butterfly landed on my outstretched finger. The flash of memory triggered by her spirit was enough to give direction to my power, pulling me not into the sweet relief of oblivion... but back into the abyss of time.
I found myself standing in a white room in the form of a gargantuan circle. Ringing the edge of the room were thousands upon thousands of... Max's, each of them standing frozen before a portrait of an event I'd experienced. In the center of the space was a lone Max with no portrait, she waved me over.
“Does the universe really need to rub salt in my wounds at this point?” I asked bitterly. “The only thing that could have made all this worse is knowing that I left thousands of alternate timelines just waiting out the inevitable misery that's to come.”
The Max in front of me smiled sadly and shook her head.
“It's not like that. They do exist, but only for the instant that you travel to the next place, that's why you see them frozen like they are.”
“Well what makes you so damn special? And how come I didn't get added to the lineup?”
“I never traveled anywhere, I was what was left behind after the first time you used your power. As for you... that's a bit more complicated. I think the best way to say it is that you were brought here,” she said, raising her hand as the Blue Butterfly fluttered around me to land on her outstretched finger.
“Chloe's spirit...” I said, barely breathing out the words.
The Max in front of me tilted her head curiously for a moment and then smiled.
“It's a bit more complicated than that but I guess you could see it that way and not be wrong.”
I let out a long slow sigh.
“No offense, but I just lost the only thing that mattered to me... and I'm tired... so unless you have some magical answers to fix all of this I'd like to go off and die now.”
The sad smile returned to her face.
“Yes, you are so very tired,” she said simply.
“Wonderful,” I muttered, raising my hand and gathering the power that would pull me into oblivion.
“All that power and you're still giving up?” she asked quietly. I gritted my teeth, focusing the power and readying it's release. “Breaking your promise to her... you're no hero...”
The words hit me like a bucket of ice water and slowly, I lowered my hand back to my side, clenching it into a fist.
“I tried damn it! I couldn't save any of them, not really in the end!”
She tilted her head curiously.
“That's not true. You could have saved one of them.”
If time existed in this place it would have frozen at those words.
“What... what do you mean?” I asked, voice trembling.
“I know you remember, you just buried it down deep to avoid the guilt.”
“Stop fucking talking in circles and just tell me! I don't have... I don't have Chloe to help me piece some web of clues together so for the love of fucking everything just tell me...”
Another sad smile, and a nod.
“In all your travels through time,” she said, gesturing to the thousands of portraits around her, “one of the Chloe's you met was unique from all the others, do you remember how she was different?”
I wanted to scream with sheer frustration and pent up misery but the sight of the Blue Butterfly forced me to calm myself. Chloe had brought me here, it had to be for a reason. I wracked my brain, digging fruitlessly through the tangle of lives and memories. Just as I was about to give up I remembered what she had said, one that I felt guilty over. That could only be this most recent one... because I gave up and let her die... no... there was another.
I turned, sweeping my gaze across the frozen portraits before settling on one, a shiver running up my spine at the sight of Chloe... paralyzed and dying a slow, painful death, begging me for the mercy of ending her life.
“That's right. Unlike all the other's you've met, she was the only one who wanted to die... and you let her down.”
“I... I couldn't...”
“You couldn't then,” She corrected. “Remember what you said, you're stronger now.”
“I don't feel strong right now...”
“You were strong enough to let one of them go... why not the one that actually wished for it?”
“So what... she'll still be dead, her parents will be millions of dollars in debt, and last I saw the tornado was still on it's way. It wouldn't fix anything. Chloe Price needs to die at that exact moment in the bathroom in order to keep the universe from flipping its shit to balance things out.”
“It's true that Chloe Price needs to die at that precise moment... but what I really wonder... is if it matters which Chloe Price it is...” she said in a conspiratorial whisper.
I spun to face her.
“That... that's impossible!”
She actually laughed at that.
“You've done nothing but the impossible since this all started! What's one more time?”
For the first time in many, many trips my head was spinning with the possibilities... and the faintest glimmer of hope.
“I... thank you,” I said quietly, offering her a small smile for the first time.
“Don't thank me, silly,” she said, nodding towards the waiting portrait. “Thank her.”
Slowly, I nodded and stepped towards the portrait, swallowing hard over the lump in my throat, and stepping back to the moment before I made that fateful choice.
“I... I'll do it,” I whispered, the relief in her eyes tearing me to pieces. “But on one condition... I want you to listen to a crazy story...”
“Okay,” she said, looking at me doubtfully.
I smiled and reached out to caress her cheek, locking this last moment of innocence deep in my mind before launching into the story of my journey through time, holding absolutely nothing back.
“Yes...” she said simply as I finished.
“Thank you,” I returned, standing and slowly going about unhooking her from the various machines apart from the oxygen tank, pocketing the morphine injector, and lifting her frail body into my arms. “I've never done this before...”
“I trust you.”
I shifted her to one shoulder and pulled out the photo of the Blue Butterfly and held it up for her to see, gathering the power I would need to move us both through time.
“I need you to focus on this image, burn it into your mind and try to picture yourself there.”
“Thank you so much for this...” I whispered, feeling the path through time lock into place.
“No... thank you...”
I set the power free, and felt the familiar heavy pull of time.
I nearly dropped her oxygen tank as we settled into place, pain roaring through my skull.
“Shit... haven't felt anything like that for a while.”
Chloe let out a startled little gasp and I looked down to see here staring up at with wide eyed wonder.
“Holy fuck, you really can time travel!”
I couldn't help but laugh, even at a time like this, Chloe was still Chloe.
“You still doubted me?”
“Well... just a little,” she murmured coyly, a shy smile on her lips. “So, what do we...”
I shushed her quietly and listened in. To her credit, she didn't make a peep as Nathan burst into the room and started his tirade. Her eyed did however widen in surprise when Chloe came bursting in after him. I smiled sadly down at her and nodded. Slowly, I reached out with my power, trying to identify the exact moment to act. At the very first instance of the gunshot, I froze time and stepped around the corner.
“Oh wow... I look so damn hot!” she shouted. I laughed, taking a step forward only to stumble as the room began to spin. I had to lean against the wall to keep from dropping my precious charge. “Oh, Max, your nose is bleeding, like, a lot!”
“Yeah... probably. Took a lot to carry two people... I'll be fine though, just a little bit more.” I took a moment to steady myself. “This next part isn't going to be easy to watch, I need to see the exact instant that... you should probably close your eyes.”
“I understand,” she said, squeezing her eyes shut tight.
With a sigh of effort, I unfroze time, watching the love of my life take a bullet and crumple to the ground for the way-too-manieth time. I waited, focusing all of my power to locate the exact millisecond that she passed. The moment came and I locked it in my mind, reaching out with my spare hand to rewind back to just before the bullet struck. I stepped up to her and flicked the bullet aside where it would strike the wall harmlessly. I steeled myself against a wave of dizziness, the taste of coppery blood on my lips, before stepping back to peek around the wall before unfreezing time. The bullet popped into the door frame, surprising both of them. Nathan, shocked that the gun had gone off, dropped it to the floor. I counted down the precious seconds as the two of them slid away from where the gun had landed. Thankful that I wouldn't need to intervene again, I waited until the exact instant before Chloe would have breathed her last and froze time once more.
“I'm going to put you down now, it might be a little uncomfortable but please bear with it, it's not long now.”
She nodded, and didn't fuss as I laid her on the ground and shifted her into the exact position Chloe would have fallen in. I pulled the morphine pump from my pocket, then paused for a moment as an idea struck me. I hurriedly stepped into one of the stalls and used some toilet paper to wipe the blood from my nose and mouth as best I could before stretching out on the floor next to her.
“I... I really wish I could reach out and touch your face,” she whispered, tears sliding down onto the floor.
Smiling sadly, I leaned forward and pressed our foreheads together.
“I'm... so sorry that...”
“Don't, you don't need to apologize for anything. You're my hero Max Caulfield, don't you ever think differently!”
I leaned forward and kissed her, soft and tender, putting every last bit of what remained of my soul into it before pulling away slowly and reaching up to caress away her falling tears with my thumb.
“Thank you for that... I didn't want to die... without you doing that at least once. I'm ready now, go ahead and do it.”
“I... already did... about 30 seconds ago,” I whispered, choking on the words as I pulled the syringe from her heart.
“Oh... I thought my face felt warm because of the kiss...”
I choked back another sob and smiled warmly at her.
“Can't it be both?” I asked, heart thudding dully in my chest. “I love you so much, Chloe...”
“I love you too, Max.”
“Always...” I whispered, knowing all too well what was coming.
I unfroze time for the barest hint of an instant, matching the two deaths perfectly in time. Almost instantly I could feel a pressure in the back of my head that I hadn't quite realized was there dissolve away. Chloe Price had died at the destined time in the destined place... my journey had finally come to an end.
I stood slowly, collecting the hammer and smashing the still frozen Nathan in the side of the head with enough force to knock him out cold when time started up again. I then reached into his pockets and repeated the process of sending out the messages that would incriminate both he and Mr Jefferson, bringing the whole mess to a quick end.
With a heavy heart, I collected Chloe's body and stumbled around the corner, head swimming as I summoned the power needed to take us back to the room with the portraits.
“You did it, Max. You kept all your promises,” the original Max said, smiling warmly at me.
I couldn't bring myself to look her in the eyes as I walked up to stand next to her, dropping the hammer into her hands and shoving her towards the still open window where Chloe waited.
“You're up, kid.”
“W-What?” she asked, voice trembling. “No, you did so much to save her, I couldn't!”
I shook my head.
“I'm done for, used too much power, I can feel it... and even if I hadn't there wouldn't be any point only to have her stuck with my broken, jaded old self. You can take better care of her than I ever could. Don't let me down...”
“Max, stop! You can't! You went through all of that... and you're not even going to get to... that's too horrible.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I asked, turning to face her and giving her a warm smile as I cradled Chloe's body tight to my chest. “I totally got the girl, she called me her hero and everything. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get this one into bed and maybe... maybe join her and get some much needed rest...”
With that, she turned and walked through the portrait, I watched and cried as she gently lay Chloe down on the bed, before taking a seat in the chair beside it. She let out a long sigh of relief before resting her head on Chloe's shoulder... and died. I turned away and clutched my chest, the sadness... and beauty of the moment etching itself onto my very core. I felt the barest hint of a breeze as two butterflies flitted past my head to dance in the air around me. One blue. One light brown. I smiled and did my best to compose myself, I needed to make them proud.
Gripping the hammer tight, I stepped through the open door...
A wave of dizziness and nausea washed over me and I felt myself tilting as something heavy tugged me forward.
“Holy fuck, you knocked his ass out cold! That piece of shit was gonna kill me... you saved my life!”
The world slowly began to steady, I looked up to meet a pair of piercing blue eyes that I could never forget in all my life.
“Chloe?! Is that you? I didn't even recognize you!” I shouted, only to look down at the sound of groaning to see Nathan, bleeding and unconscious, and the hammer in my hands. “Holy shit!” I shouted, dropping the tool and sidling away towards Chloe.
“And here I thought you jumped out to save me to make up for five years of silence... Max...”
There was a hint of scorn when she said my name, and I couldn't really blame her for that.
“I'm... I'm so sorry about that, Chloe... maybe... saving your life is worth lunch at The Two Whales and a chance to apologize?” I asked, smiling shyly up at her.
“Maybe...” she murmured, a hint of color in her cheeks.
Our eyes met, and at that moment two butterflies passed between us. Before I knew what I was doing I was up on my tip-toes and pressing my lips against hers, tears flowing down my cheeks as a river of emotions I couldn't begin to imagine the source of flowed out of me. Eventually, I pulled away, seeing her reaction mirroring my own.
“Maybe... we can talk about that too?” I asked, a coy smile on my lips.
“Yeah... I think that might be for the best... god damn... I've wanted to kiss you since we were kids and you up and do it out of nowhere after saving my life. How's a girl supposed to stay mad?”
We both laughed, leaning against each other with that unknown sense of relief in the air. Eventually, the sound of heavy boots approaching at a dead run thundered in from the halls.
“Uh oh, I think I know who's coming... You got my back on this?”
“Always...” I promised.