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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; Max watched her and noticed a single tear slowly roll down her cheek before it fell frozen to the floor, followed by another then another. Victoria gave a little sniffle and wiped an eye, but still didn’t move.

Max felt her rage abate a little, the hot fire within her cooling as she watched the person 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 moth, 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 the 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.