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How You Get The Girl(s)

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As her eyes opened, Max noticed two things.

The first was that she was in her room in Seattle. The pale blue walls were covered in scattered polaroids and posters, the occasional outdated calendar plastered over the desk. Notebooks were scattered across the left side of the mahogany desk, while the right side had a loud-running laptop still playing a video on screen. It became background noise as Max looked around carefully.

The second thing she noticed was that the door was slightly ajar, the familiar sound of her parents downstairs could be heard if she strained her ears enough. Near the door was her phone, laying on the ground face-down. Max could vaguely remember throwing it in a moment of frustration, but the memory was blurry, as though it wasn’t her own.

Swallowing, she began to move from her place on the chair in the middle of the room. The video continued to play in the background as she gained her bearings and straightened herself up. She had been slumped over for some reason, like she’d blacked out for a second. Holding her head, which was pounding, she scooted over towards the desk to set her chair there and sit back on the bed, where she thought she’d been before.

As she did so, she finally listened to the sound of the video, and she froze. The voice was somewhat familiar, like an old friend, but not quite someone she knew.

She straightened the laptop and sat up straight, scrolling back to the beginning and pressing play. It wasn’t a Youtube video, but it was playing off an unfamiliar USB drive that was plugged into the side. She eyed the red drive carefully before she allowed the video to play out.

The woman on screen looked distraught and dirty, but Max recognized her regardless. It was herself, sitting at the exact same desk, no timestamp on the video.

Weird.

“Hey Max,” the video started, the Other Max running a hand through her hair. “Okay, I don’t have much time, so I have to explain something to you before we start this. I left an envelope under the desk for you, taped upright. Don’t open it until I’ve explained everything, okay?” Other Max paused, taking a deep breath before she continued.

“My name is Max Caulfield, I come from the future. Late October 2013, actually. Today is November 14th, 2012. I don’t have much time to explain this so please don’t pause this video until I’ve stopped. I’ve left a note inside that envelope that explains everything in a lot more detail, but please. Listen to me and don’t question it.”

Other Max went on to explain a series of events that took place over a week in the October she mentioned, along with the consequences of those actions, and the beforemath of how to stop them. Max’s head was spinning by the time the video was done, even if it was only four minutes long. The envelope in her hand began to feel like a heavy weight. She was sure she was dreaming, or maybe she hit her head --

“Maxy?” Came a voice from the door, and Max nearly jumped out of her skin. Slamming the laptop closed, she stuffed the envelope under it and turned around to face her father.

He looked at her knowingly, even though he truly had no idea what he’d caught her doing. Approaching her, he gently ruffled her hair and kept the smirk on his lips as he spoke. “Dinner’s ready. Hurry up.”

Max swallowed, watching as he left. The second he was gone, she ripped open the envelope and investigated.

True to her word, Other Max had carefully folded up several pieces of paper with long writing on it. There was a small planner inside for 2013, with dates surrounded by text and locations. A bus ticket and a plane ticket were also in there, along with three hundred dollars.

What the fuck?

Max moved to her bed, holding the papers in her hands. There were four in total, and it took her a couple of minutes to read them. She was sure the information didn’t fully retain by the time she was finished, but she got the gist of it.

She’d always dreamed when she was younger she’d be the “chosen one” for something. She never imagined it would come with so much anxiety and confusion.

Swallowing, she tried to bury her anxiousness as she heard a second voice call her from downstairs. Grabbing her phone off the floor, she began to search through her texts, seeing Chloe’s name at the bottom. She hadn’t sent her a text in months.

Chloe was the key to all of this, she knew it. Seeing her name made Max’s stomach do a flip, but Other Max had been very clear that she couldn’t contact her yet. Nervously, she tucked her phone inside of her pocket and went downstairs.

Assuming that her earlier “transgressions” were what was making her quiet at the dinner table, her parents didn’t say anything to her as they ate. Max remembered the argument but it was clouded by something else she couldn’t identify; a lost hour or so that she couldn’t get back. Her fork stuck itself into the mashed potatoes aggressively as she tried to remember what Other Max said in her speech.

She didn’t really want to do this, but if the consequences were real, then she knew she had no choice. Clearly Other Max couldn’t deal with the aftermath of the whole situation, and if Other Max was her…

Her head was starting to hurt.

Clearing her throat, Max prepared herself for what she had to do next. Playing through the script in her head, she started. “So I got a text from Chloe this morning.”

Both of her parents looked at her in surprise, but pleasant surprise, thankfully. Ryan was the one who spoke first. “About time.”

Max swallowed, reaching a hand up to toy with her hair. “She invited me over for the weekend. She says she has some sort of play at school and she wants me to come see it. I can stay at her house and everything. And it gives me a good chance to explore Blackwell before I apply and make sure it’s for me.”

“Oh that’s wonderful, we can contact Joyce in the morning and arrange a flight.”

Max shifted uncomfortably as she struggled to remember what the video had said. “They already got me a ticket and everything so you don’t have to worry about that. And Joyce won’t be home this weekend, so there’s no point in calling her. Just her step dad will be there.” She lifted her head, hoping that they were buying it.

They nodded carefully. “We’ll drive you to the airport, then. You’ll have to call us as soon as you get there. I’m sure Chloe’s changed all these years but I trust her enough, she’s your closest friend, after all.”

Max felt her shoulders sink in relief, but she kept her expression as neutral as possible.

“What time’s the flight?” Vanessa finally asked as she took a sip of her wine, eyeing her daughter carefully. Max hesitated for only a moment before she explained.

---------

The flight was short but nerve-wracking, considering Max had never been on a plane alone before. Unaware of what she would need to pack, she had one single bag, filled to the brim with clothes and snacks just in case. The money and the notes were zipped in the top of her bag for safekeeping.

Plugging in her music, she tried to keep a cool head during the flight and tried to maintain a sense of sanity. In her little planner was a description of her destination tonight, and she read it a million times to drill it into her head.

Suddenly feeling tired, she drifted off into sleep just thirty minutes before the plane began to land. She had barely gotten a lick of sleep the night before, just reading the notes over and over, trying to commit them to memory. There were many parts that stuck out to her, and she couldn’t keep all the names straight.

Her stomach turned as she mulled it over, and her dreamless sleep came to an end as the flight landed. Once she was off the plane and away from security, she pulled the bag over her shoulders and began her walk to the bus stop.

The whole journey took a few hours, and it was around noon when she reached Arcadia Bay. Although it was familiar, she felt no sense of nostalgia as she approached, almost as though she’d just been here. The dread in her stomach only grew but she tried to bury it, not wanting to make it worse. It didn’t work quite as planned.

100 SOVEREIGN BLVD
ARCADIA BAY, OR

The bus came to a shuddering stop at the gas station, and Max jumped off it at the last second. Examining the planner in her hands, she checked against the door to ensure this was the correct address. The planner showed a pathway down the back of the gas station, leading down a hill towards…

She had no idea, but she’d come this far, might as well continue.

Pocketing it, she pulled her hood over her head as she made her way down the hill. The leaves crunched under her feet, nervousness making itself known in the little breaths she took, in the way her fingers shook as she held her bag close to her chest.

The junkyard came into view within about twenty minutes of walking. Pausing, she stopped to sit in the grass, reaching into her bag once more to read one of the notes she had been given. She had put them in her journal to keep them straight. The note had a description of the junkyard on it, complete with a little map.

As she moved to her feet again and made her way past the entrance, she spotted a fire from the middle of the junkyard, smoke rising in the air. Even laughter was heard in her ears as she began to navigate the rusted structure of the yard.

Pausing, she realized something horrifying. She had no idea how she was supposed to convince Chloe of this truth, how she was supposed to get her to listen after so many years of radio silence. There was a chance Chloe might just tell her off, might just shove her away again. According to Other Max’s instructions, she wasn’t supposed to tell her the whole truth, but a white lie that would help protect her and everyone else.

Lost in her thoughts, she nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard a voice.

“Where did you come from?”

Whirling around, Max found herself face to face with an unfamiliar blonde. She was beautiful, even standing in the middle of the dirty junkyard, with a braid in her long blonde hair and a bright sparkle in her eyes. There was a hint of the smell of weed wafting off of her, and she had a feather earring hanging off her visible ear.

Max thought she might throw up. The feather was a familiar theme among her messages from the future, and she knew exactly who this was.

“Helllllllooo?” Rachel asked, waving a hand in the air between them, as though Max was slow or something. “Are you looking for something? Are you a cop?”

“I uh --” Max swallowed, not having prepared for this. Other Max didn’t say that Rachel Amber would be here today, or maybe she just didn’t know.

“Rachel, who are you talking to?”

The third voice that joined them was the one that made the walls in Max’s heart come crumbling down. As she slowly turned, she faced her best friend, seeing the shock in her eyes as she froze in her tracks.

She was older than she remembered her, but younger than she had been in the photo Other Max had shown her. Her hair was bright blue, high above her shoulders, and her eyes piercing and bright. She was wearing a white tank top that hung a little too low on her frame, with a three bullet necklace around her neck.

Max had barely a moment to process her new look before she spoke.

“MAX?!”

Chapter Text

The beer in her hands felt cold and foreign as she moved to sit down inside of the little building in the center of the junkyard. It was clearly Chloe and Rachel’s space, but once she had told them she had something important to say, she had been invited in.

Chloe was livid, and that was all that Max really knew. She could still read the other girl like a book, she’d always been one to wear her heart on her sleeve. She had tried to kick Max from the junkyard the second that she had shown up, but when she’d explained why she was there, Rachel had been the one to tell her to stay.

Now, though, both of them sat on the futon, glaring at her as she sat on a chair across from them. Swallowing, she picked at the label for a moment before taking a sip of the warm substance, wishing it was stronger, even if she had never had beer before -

She wasn’t sure she could do this.

Lying was one thing, she could force the lie out if needed. She was worried that it would seem like a play of pity and nothing more. That Chloe wouldn’t listen and she’d have to this all fucking over again,

Rachel, despite what Max knew about her, seemed genuinely to care about Chloe, which was a good first sign. Other Max had made it clear in her notes that Rachel and Chloe really did love each other, even if Rachel had her commitment issues. She didn’t know the full truth as she’d never gotten a chance to get to know Rachel, but the reassurance helped her from getting a little too jealous.

“So what, did you come back just to stare at me?” Chloe challenged, a sharp edge to her voice. Max winced, feeling a sense of sorrow in her heart, but trying to shove it back. The Chloe that Other Max had talked about was different, she knew that, but this was her Chloe, the one that she actually knew. Even if Max had betrayed her.

Max took her time before she spoke, eyeing her drink carefully. A smell hit her lungs and she looked up to see Rachel smoking a blunt she'd prepared as she waited, leaning back in her seat, still eyeing Max with a glare.

Now or never, she guessed.

She took a deep breath, not facing her friends. “I came to warn you guys about something.”

Chloe scoffed, loudly, but it was Rachel who spoke. “What could you possibly be here to warn us about?”

Max didn’t look up, as though focusing on the drink would give her strength. “Do you guys still go to Blackwell?”

At the same time, they answered: “fuck no” and “yes”.

Encouraged, Max continued. “Do you know the photography teacher, Mark Jefferson?”

“You mean the hottie with the beard?”

Chloe scoffed again, rolling her eyes. “He’s alright.”

“Come on, Chloe, even you have to admit he’s kind of hot.”

Chloe turned to face her friend, gesturing at herself. “Hello, lesbian?!”

“Lesbian with eyes, though.”

Max watched the two of them banter, a small smile creeping onto her face. It was clear that Chloe was being taken care of here, even if it wasn't by Max anymore. Max waited for their banter to die down before she continued.

“He’s dangerous.”

Neither of them believed her, and why would they? They waited for her to continue, and as Max thought of how to answer, she absentmindedly pawed at her wrist, surprised by the sudden flash of light that the action brought on.

A dirty junkyard, lit only by the moon in the sky. Max slowly fell to the ground, her legs giving out from under her. As she did so, she noticed another person falling in front of her, a blue-haired beauty with a bullet in her forehead.

Chloe --

Her voice was strained, ragged, as though her vocal chords had shut down. When the scene shifted again, she was sitting upright in a chair, bound tightly to the wooden structure. The room was barely in focus, but she could see enough.

Struggling, she turned her head and saw another blonde laying by her feet. She had only a moment to recognize the body before a sudden shift in time had a man at her neck, holding her as gently as possible, shifting her neck.

A needle in her neck.

It shifted again, and he was in front of her, tightening her wrists, ignoring when she spat at him. She was no longer in control of her body, simply a passenger in a scene she didn’t want to be in. He reached a hand up, slapped her --

A needle in her neck.

Her voice hoarse with screaming as David walked in the room and was immediately knocked off his feet, the sickening crunch of his skull against the tripod as he fell.

It happened again, and again, and again, until she could no longer control it, until she’d memorized that noise. Glancing around on the eighth or so time, she noticed her journal was burned, her photographs burned. There were burn marks on her legs.

A needle in her neck, hot breath against her throat, a faint hum from a stranger that felt way too intimate and made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

Need to be free. Need to struggle. Need to break out.

Need to save her. Need to go back.

Need to run.

Gasping, Max came to in the real world again with a strangled cry and a pull backwards. She had been putting in all of her power to free herself from the chair, and it somehow translated to the real world, for she collapsed backwards in the chair she was in, hitting her head against the wall and spilling the beer everywhere.

Other Max hadn’t warned her about memories from other timelines. Then again, she wasn’t sure that Other Max even knew about what happened to the Max’s she left behind.

Her head was spinning and for a moment, Max thought she might pass out. She felt her stomach churn violently and her limbs shook, and she was either being lifted by the way her brain was rattling around or she was actually being lifted off the ground.

When her vision finally began to come back and her ears began to function once more, the world no longer sounding like it was underwater, she noticed that she was now sitting on the futon, with the two girls crouched in front of her.

“Max? Max?! For fuck’s sake, Max --”

Chloe’s voice broke her out of her stupor enough to shake her head slightly, trying to clear the brain fog. “I’m okay,” she finally mumbled, slowly moving to sit up carefully. “I’m okay, sorry, I’m fine.”

The girls leaned back, sitting down in front of the brunette, looking at her with a mixture of fear, concern, and shock. Max couldn’t really blame them, it was a strange situation they found themselves in. A girl from Chloe’s past showed up out of nowhere and suddenly was having crazy flashbacks and demanding to know about their school life.

Other Max probably should’ve planned this better.

Raising a hand to her forehead, Max took a moment to compose herself, waiting for the throbbing in her head to subside. When it was a dull ache, she finally lifted her head, facing the girls who were still sitting in front of her.

Rachel stood up first, reaching into a nearby box to grab a first aid kit. She moved to sit next to Max on the futon, reaching a hand up to dab at the blood dripping down her nose that she hadn’t even noticed. Max stiffened at first but eventually let the stranger clean her up, looking at her gratefully.

“Max, what the fuck?” Chloe finally said, voicing everyone’s thoughts at once. As Rachel finished cleaning her up and threw out the tissues, they finally all sat still, waiting.

Max swallowed. She realized then that the next thing she was going to say wasn’t going to be a lie, not anymore. Maybe that was why the vision came - to make this easier for her, to make the impact harder, to ensure that these girls listened to her.

Slowly, gently, she reached her fingers up to touch at her wrist again. When no other visions kicked in, she ran her finger tips over the nonexistent scars, finding comfort in it as she spoke.

“I know he’s dangerous because I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it.” She paused, searching their faces for anything, but seeing nothing but confusion there. She pushed on. “I was in my room in Seattle when I found out that he was going to be teaching at Blackwell. My mom, she wanted to get me into a good school for my last year, something photography heavy. She suggested Blackwell, so I looked it up.”

Max licked her lips. She knew Jefferson hadn’t worked at any schools before Blackwell, so she wasn’t sure this story would stick at all. It would stick as long as the girls didn’t look into the inconsistencies, but she was confident they wouldn’t after seeing her freak out. Although the story had holes in it, Other Max seemed convinced that it would work, so that was enough for her. Lifting her hand, she pawed some hair behind her ear before she continued, not looking at the other girls anymore.

“I had to warn you, Chloe. He -- he was teaching at my school before he went to Blackwell. He’s not a good dude, not at all. He has a lot of money and power, and he uses other people to give him that money and power. He has a bunker and an affinity for teenage girls.” She finally looked up, meeting Chloe’s eyes. “He’s disgusting. I need you guys to stay away from him, no matter what. I think he has people in his pocket. If I researched it right, the Prescotts gave him money for a facility once, and I know they’re in Arcadia Bay, too. Please, you have to promise me you’ll stay away from him and the Prescotts. I’m begging you, please. Both of you.”

She paused her rant, realizing her cheeks were wet with hot tears. Other Max’s experiences clearly had some impact on her, considering how much her chest hurt. She felt a sense of anguish that didn’t make sense for someone who had been through what she had been through, but it was there, aching her lungs. A powerful sensation she couldn’t overcome.

They were both staring at her in surprise. Rachel stood up, lost in thought, running a hand through her blonde hair. Chloe, though, was looking at her with a deadly expression.

“Max, what did he do to you?” She asked, her voice low and borderline dangerous. She’d never seen that expression on Chloe’s face before, and it made her falter.

The brunette paused, unsure if she should go any further. If it made an impact on their decisions, perhaps it was for the best. There was, however, still a chance that they would end up trying to fix this themselves and both get killed.

Closing her eyes, she tried to remember the memory she’d just had. It came back to her, not all rushing at once, but slowly. She could at least try.

“He drugged me in a jun -- in a yard,” she started, stumbling over her words. “Tied me to a chair with duct tape. Photos, so many photos.” A shudder ran through her, her voice dropping to a whisper. “He was so close to my face. So many needles.So many photos. His breath smelled….”

As she trailed off, she heard Chloe stand suddenly, and she opened her eyes. Chloe made her way to the other side of the structure, kicking something that broke in half when it made contact with her foot. Max winced.

Composing herself, Rachel approached the brunette, sitting next to her. Chloe had told her that she’d always been touchy-feely, which seemed to be true, for she put a hand on Max’s knee as she spoke. “Max, honey, it’s okay. You don’t need to tell us anything else. We get it.” She paused. “Did you tell anyone?”

Max shook her head. “He’s too smart. Leaves no evidence behind.”

“I’ll fucking kill him,” Chloe spat, rounding on them. “He’s at Blackwell? Let’s go, I’ll fucking curbstomp him.”

“Chloe, hold on,” Rachel argued, looking up at the bluenette. “Max didn’t tell anyone. There’s no evidence against him, I’m guessing no one else spoke up?” The brunette shook her head to confirm, letting Rachel continue on. “He might not even have done something here yet. If we want to stop him hunting him down won’t help. We have to figure something else out, maybe we can figure out a plan --”

“No.”

Even Max was surprised by her own voice; firm, demanding, dark, she paired it with standing up so quickly that her head started spinning. “Neither of you can go near him, you understand me? I’ve witnessed him firsthand, he’s way more powerful than you realize. You need to keep an eye out and report anything you see, but most importantly you need to protect each other. I don’t know what I would do if either of you got hurt because of me.” She stopped, wringing her hands together, taking a few cautious steps forward towards Chloe. To her surprise, Chloe didn’t step back, just looked at her with a mixture of pain and anger in her eyes. “Chloe, please. I know I fucked up not calling you. I know I’m the worst friend in the entire universe, but please. You cannot fight him. Not now. You have to stay away from him. And Nathan. All the Prescotts. Please. Don’t be the hero just this once. I’m begging you.”

The silence that hung between them when Max finished was painful like a knife in her ribcage. She expected one of them to ask how the hell she knew Nathan, but they didn’t. Instead, Chloe swallowed and nodded, surprising Max by pulling her in.

The hug was all-encompassing, and Max felt herself crumble under the contact as Chloe wrapped her arms around her. Burying her head in Chloe’s neck, she felt the dam shatter, sobs breaking through her before she could stop them. She didn’t bother to pull away as they overtook her, making her cling onto her friend as tight as possible. She didn’t even pull away when she felt the third girl join, hugging her from behind.

When they finally pulled away, Max was lightly gasping but beginning to compose herself. Chloe wiped at the tears on her shirt with a teasing “gross” and Rachel smiled at them both gently.

“I’m still mad at you, but --”

“Chloe!”

“Let me finish! But I guess I can forgive you for now. And I promise to stay away from him unless I see something, okay?”

Chloe smirked at her, and for a moment Max thought she might burst into tears again. Instead, she just nodded, anxiously pawing at her wrists again.

“C’mon, hippe. Let’s go get lunch. Two Whales?” When the girls both nodded, Chloe grabbed her bag and nodded for them to follow her.

Chapter Text

On the drive to the diner, Max sat in silence as she listened to the two of them while they fought over what song to play, laughing the whole way there, and it warmed Max’s heart. She felt a pang of jealousy but knew it was unfair of her to feel that way when she was the one who had left Chloe.

Sitting by the window, she examined the dirty handle on the door with her finger. What other surprise memories did Other Max have for her? How many more horrifying things were in store for her? Although she knew about Jefferson hurting her, she hadn’t been provided any intimate details in the notes.

She knew about some of Chloe’s deaths. She knew about finding Rachel’s body. She knew about how she had destroyed herself trying to fix it all.

Curiously, she wondered if she still had that power, but she felt her stomach turn at the thought of using it again and risking more timelines that she couldn’t control.

Running a hand through her hair, Max leaned back in her seat, ignoring how squished she felt when pushed between the door and Rachel. Watching the scenery drive by, she let her thoughts wander to all that Other Max had told her. She didn’t know how it was possible that she’d seen so much in a week, unless time just kept dragging on for her, nonstop. Chloe’s body in the junkyard kept appearing in her mind, demanding her attention, no matter how much she tried to shake it away.

“We’re here, sweetie,” she heard from her left, feeling Rachel gently touch her arm. As angry as they were at her earlier, they seemed to have toned down the anger for now. She was sure there’d be a moment later where she and Chloe would have to hash it out, but for now she could focus on how hungry she was instead.

“What’s up losers!” Chloe shouted as she entered the diner, much to the annoyance of everyone in there. Max held her tongue as they made their way inside, feeling her heart swell at the sight of an annoyed Joyce approaching them.

“Chloe, beha --” She stopped herself, spying the shy girl behind Rachel. “Maxine Caulfield, is that you?!”

Max nodded, unable to answer in any other way before Joyce was crushing her in a hug. The contact was almost enough to make her cry again, but she resisted, instead hugging her back.

Before long, they were settled in their booth, Max with her signature pancakes and everyone else with their choice of food. According to Other Max’s plans, the second that she said she came here without a place to sleep, Joyce had predictably offered their place immediately. She had no concern on whether or not David would like it, which Max was grateful for. She had seen that man die too many times to hate him.

Chloe scoffed at the mention of him, but was otherwise happy-go-lucky at their lunch table. Joyce seemed thrilled that the bluenette looked so pleased, and Max found herself just as thrilled. Chloe had really grown into her own; she was so much taller and more assertive than she had been as a kid, but still the same old Chloe. It made her heart flutter in the familiar way it had so many years ago.

“You’re staring at me, Maxipad.”

Max blinked out of her thoughts to see Chloe and Rachel sitting across from her, both smirking. Shaking her head, she tried to will the blush away but was unable to stop it. She’d never been good at hiding herself from others, especially not Chloe.

“What should we do now?” Rachel asked, adjusting herself in her seat to face Chloe. “We should show Max around a little bit. Maybe we avoid Blackwell, though.”

“She’s seen everything already. Unless you wanna go explore all of our childhood favourite places. Like the lighthouse,” Chloe suggested, looking at Max.

The brunette felt her stomach sink at the mention of the place, but she didn’t let it show. “Maybe we can stop by your house and drop my stuff off. I haven’t seen your room since we were kids.”

“Fine with me, we can bake a little,” Chloe answered with a shrug. “Step-douche is working until like eight or some shit today.”

Max smiled, the words ‘step-douche’ bringing back a sense of nostalgia from a timeline she didn’t quite live in.

---------

Chloe’s room brought back an inkling of memories, but not quite the actual memories themselves. Instead, the whole room felt like it was familiar and new at the same time.

After dumping her stuff in the guest bedroom, Max had been left to her own devices to wander around the room as Rachel and Chloe shared a joint on the bed, talking quietly amongst themselves. Max examined the radio for a moment before her eyes dropped elsewhere, looking at the floorboards. She saw a notebook on the floor and picked it up, pawing through the empty pages for a moment as she sat down on the floor.

Quietly, Max allowed herself to get lost in her thoughts. She knew that she had been here before, but couldn’t remember being here after she was thirteen. It was all so strange, to feel like she knew this version of this room but didn’t at the same time.

Closing her eyes, she let her fingers wander over the empty pages, losing herself in the distant memories. They felt like they were a thousand miles away but right around the corner at the same time. Voices and images were a few feet away, beckoning her closer. Breathing in, she tried to summon them, but found it was a fruitless effort. It seemed as though they would come at random unless she strained herself too far.

When she opened her eyes again, her sigh was so heavy that the other girls noticed.

“You okay over there?” Chloe asked as she moved to sit up, watching the brunette. From where she was sitting, the photographer looked like she was the tiniest thing in the world. Max simply nodded. “Whatcha holding?”

“Blank notebook,” she commented, closing it slowly.

“Oh yeah. I was gonna give that to you when we were kids and then I lost it.” Chloe smirked. “The cover art looked like your kind of thing.”

Max nodded, holding it to her chest. Any gift from Chloe was one she would treasure. “Thanks,” she mumbled, still lost in her thoughts.

Watching her for a moment, Chloe climbed off the bed and walked over to her, plopping down hard on the ground in front of her. She’d never been graceful and wasn’t about to start now.

“Alright, what gives, Max? You’re so weirdly quiet. Is this just how you are now?” She asked, tilting her head. “Want a hit?”

Max shook her head when she was offered the joint. “I -- I guess, yeah. It’s been a long five years.”

Chloe nodded, understanding from her own perspective. “Not much of a party animal in Seattle, I’m guessing.” Her tone was a tiny bit better, a slight sneer on the word Seattle, but Max didn’t mention it.

The brunette shook her head, lowering the notebook and examining the cover. The deer on it made her feel uneasy, but she wasn’t sure why. “No. I didn’t have any friends, just the same routine every day. I dunno, it was lame.”

“Well, it sucked over here, too. Especially when my best friend ignored me the whole time.” Although Chloe said it casually, the hurt showed in her eyes. Max winced.

“I really am sorry, Chloe.”

“Water under the bridge, dude.”

“No,” Max continued, echoing her actions from earlier. Setting the notebook in her lap, she reached out, taking Chloe’s hands. If the other girl was surprised by her actions, she didn’t show it, just looked at her cautiously. “I mean it. It was fucked up of me to do that. After some time, I convinced myself you hated me and it was too late to reach out. But I can’t apologize enough. I really don’t want you to hate me.”

Chloe bit her lip, the vulnerability starting to show. She freed her hand, lowering her joint from her lips, clearly thoughtful. “I don’t hate you, Max. I’m just a little mad at you still. That kind of stuff doesn’t go away, you know?” She paused, breathing in. “I’m really sorry for what you went through, though.”

Max ignored that part, knowing she hadn’t actually gone through it in this timeline. “I know. It’s okay to be mad. I just want you to know that I never meant to hurt you, really.”

Chloe nodded, falling quiet, taking another hit of her joint as she looked away from Max’s eyes, instead examining her outfit. She was wearing her usual grey hoodie and white t-shirt combo, but the necklace around her neck was new, a gift from her mother when she’d turned sixteen. It was simple, just a long gold piece at the end of it, but it could almost resemble a bullet if you looked at it hard enough.

The brunette realized she was still holding her friend’s hand, so she let go, instead grabbing the notebook again. She was examining Chloe now, too, and all the differences she had since they’d last met.

“I never stopped loving you, Chloe,” she said, not recognizing the words as they left her mouth. Her tone was so quiet she wasn’t sure if Chloe missed it, but the expression on her face spoke for itself. “I’ll spend forever making up for it if I have to.”

The room filled with silence after that, Chloe looking down at her own lap to try and fight the tears that were there. Trying to be tough all the time took its toll, and it wasn’t her true personality, she was a sucker and Max knew exactly how to get to her. Before she could say anything else, Rachel sat up on the bed, smirking slightly, but her eyes were sparkling with joy at the reunion she’d just witnessed.

“I feel like I’m interrupting a private moment here,” she joked, watching as Chloe broke out of her trance to look at her. “Should I let you two have the room?”

“Shut up,” Chloe answered with a laugh, moving to stand up. Rachel squealed loudly as Chloe made her way in, pretending to throw a punch at her and instead tackling her onto the bed, tickling her sides, making her squeal with sudden laughter. Max watched with a quiet smile.

---------

This memory was a simple one, but a thousand times more clear than the previous one. Maybe it was because she wasn’t on drugs this time, or maybe this was just a memory that Other Max actually wanted to remember.

She was sitting at a table near a park, Chloe sitting in front of her. The bluenette’s roots were showing, her lips were curled up in a smile. She was holding her game system in front of her, pointing at it, explaining something. Max could barely hear her, like it was underwater, but she still listened as hard as she could.

When Chloe finished, she looked at her friend expectantly. To her surprise, Chloe moved to stand up and kiss her on the cheek, making her blush. The contact was so close that she shook herself awake in surprise.

Max opened her eyes from her spot on Chloe’s guest bed, the room shifting into focus. f she remembered Other Max’s words well enough, then she suspected it was a post-storm memory, before they’d decided to go back.

Stepping out into the hall, seeking some familiarity, she shivered at the coldness that hit her skin. Another surprise hit her once she was in the bathroom and splashed her face with water, as she opened the door and saw Chloe standing there, wearing a t-shirt and shorts, frowning at her. She looked half asleep.

“Sorry,” Max mumbled, moving to go back in her room.

Chloe stopped her. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

The brunette just nodded, trying for a smile. “Nightmare, that’s all.”

“Ah,” the other girl said, as though she understood. “Jefferson?”

Max felt her mouth go dry but she simply nodded, afraid to say anything else. Chloe offered her a sympathetic smile, and leaned forward to give her an awkward one-armed hug. “Sleep it off.”

As Max nodded and parted for her, she felt her entire body freeze when Chloe sleepily pressed a kiss to her cheek as a goodbye. When she went back to the guest room and sat on the bed, she touched her cheek slowly, surprised at how familiar that kiss felt, like she was right back there in the park.

Chapter Text

Something in the air the next morning made Max nervous.

She was sitting on the grass near Blackwell, watching as the kids walked around campus. She sat with Chloe, waiting for their friend to come back from her dorm with the stuff she needed for the day. Max’s stomach turned as she checked the date. They were months away from Rachel’s death, but it felt so close anyway.

Nervously, she toyed with the zipper of her jacket as she sat, her leg shaking. Chloe looked annoyed, as much as she tried to hide it.

“Max, calm down.” Raising an eyebrow, Chloe seemed to examine her. “Still thinking about your nightmare?” She asked the brunette, glancing at her from the corner of her eye. Max shook her head for a brief moment before falling back into her routine of keeping quiet, staring at the ground. Chloe couldn’t understand her nervousness, and if she explained, she wouldn’t get it, anyway.

After a while, Chloe sighed, unlocking her phone and shooting Rachel a text before pocketing it again.

“You know, you’re a lot more quiet than I remember,” Chloe said, turning her body to face her friend. “I feel like there’s something else you’re not telling me.”

Max tensed, unable to stop herself from showing her worry. “Uh, no, there’s nothing.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Max, I know you better than that.”

She glanced at the bluenette, who was looking at her with a mixture of concern and annoyance in her features. She swallowed, trying to fight the sinking feeling in her stomach.

Chloe must’ve seen the look on her face because she sighed and turned back around to face in front of them. “Fine, never mind. But if you ever wanna tell me, you can tell me anything, you know?”

Relieved, Max nodded. Another moment of silence passed between them before Max moved to lay her head on Chloe’s shoulder, feeling exhaustion as her bones refused to carry her anymore.

Although she tensed slightly, Chloe eventually relaxed under the contact. Max was so soft, so familiar, it felt comforting to have her so close. She didn’t make any movements, simply kept still and quiet, feeling the other girl breathing slowly.

Whatever she had been through in the past few years, it was weighing on her, and she couldn’t shake it. Chloe had wanted to give her a piece of her mind when she’d first arrived, but how could she?

“Isn’t this adorable?” Came a sneering voice that made the two girls look up.

Max didn’t know her yet, but she did at the same time. Victoria Chase wore the persona of a head bitch in charge, with a mocking expression to match. Her hair was perfectly done up and her clothes wore designer logos that Max didn’t know a single thing about.

It hit her after a few seconds.

The other blonde on the floor of the memory.

Her mouth going dry again, Max said nothing.

“Looks like the loser punk finally got a new toy. Rachel finally ditch you?”

“Fuck off, Vicky.”

“Oooh, touchy.”

The banter continued for a minute, Max completely lost in the look in Victoria’s eyes. Her cheeks were pink, she was clearly very much alive, but she couldn’t shake the memory of her laying on the ground, groaning softly. This was going to be tougher to deal with than she thought.

“Do I have something on my face?”

Realizing she was being addressed, Max drifted back into focus.

“Huh?”

“Are you slow?”

“Don’t talk to her like that,” Chloe snarled, her anger starting to bubble.

“Whatever. I have better things to do than to be seen speaking to the help.” She grinned gloriously, as though she’d won the argument, and stalked away. Max was completely zoned out again, only Chloe’s voice breaking her out of her thoughts.

“You look like you saw a ghost again,” the bluenette commented, voice right back to the mixture of slightly annoyed and slightly concerned.

Max shook her head. “Uh… she just looked like someone I know, that’s all.”

Chloe seemed to believe her, gratefully. As she explained who Victoria was, Max found herself zoning out again. She wasn’t sure she’d ever come back to this world in full, always dancing through the memories of a different Max.

---------

The girls had remained true to their promise to show Max around Arcadia Bay five years after she left. She was shown a few new plazas of stores, the familiar docks, the playground, the cafe, and everywhere else she could possibly think of.

It was nearing evening now and their stomachs were rumbling, but they had one more stop to make. Max had been more than willing to go until now, when they finally pulled into the parking lot and began their way up.

She noticed right away that her footsteps became a bit more sluggish, as though the universe itself was trying to stop her from going to the lighthouse. It was demanding she didn’t go up there, trying to protect her from it.

Stopping just a few meters of the top of the hill, she felt her stomach start to turn dangerously. Her eyes suddenly burned, her throat felt like it was on fire. She paused, leaning against a tree, her breathing starting to pick up speed.

Fuck.

Rachel was the one who noticed first, approaching her. “Max, are you okay?” She asked quietly, concern in her expression.

“Yeah, I’m --” Max paused, her mouth feeling like lead. Panic was filling her mind, and she didn’t know why. “I don’t think I can - I don’t think I can go up there.”

“Hey, our tree’s still up here!” Chloe called from a distance, chuckling. “I’m gonna add Rachel to it.”

“It’s okay. I can help you. When we get on a bench up there, you can sit down. It’s a far walk, I know. You can lean on me.”

Rachel’s tone was so gentle, so concerned, that Max fought off her anxiety-ridden mind enough to nod.

That came to be a mistake. As they finally approached the top, Max found herself leaning on Rachel even more heavily. When they reached the bench and Rachel let her go, the blinding white light returned, this time filling her mind with so much pain that she cried out.

What timeline she cried out in, she didn’t know.

Suddenly, the sun had set, surrounding them in darkness. Rachel was gone, and standing in front of her was a slightly older-looking Chloe, her hair blowing in the wind. Max may have noticed the storm if she wasn’t so entranced in Chloe’s expression.

“Max? What are you waiting for?”

Max swallowed loudly, trying to compose herself. She realized then that she was holding something in her hands, a photo of a butterfly. As she examined it, her eyes caught the storm heading for Arcadia Bay.

Suddenly, she remembered.

Looking at Chloe, she realized she was dancing through a memory once again and had no control over her actions. She couldn’t stop herself as she ripped up the photo, throwing it into the wind, exclaiming a “fuck that!” as it got lost in the wind.

Next to her, Chloe looked torn between being angry and relieved. Before she could say anything else, she felt the bluenette’s arms wrap around her tightly. Holding her back, she buried her face in her shoulder, refusing to face the storm.

The memory may have lasted seconds, but for Max, it felt like hours. Hours before Chloe said something, forcing the brunette to lift her head. Chloe squeezed her a little tighter, looking down at the other girl with red puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks. “Max, are you sure?” She asked the brunette, her voice incredibly shaky.

Max moved to answer but found she wasn’t in control of her mouth. Instead, she leaned up, pressing her lips to Chloe’s in a desperate, emotional kiss. She felt the other girl wrap her up tighter, holding her as close as possible as she kissed her back, resting their foreheads together when they had to break for air.

Sobs broke through the air and Max realized she was still crying. Hands touched her cheeks and Chloe kissed her again, ignoring the pain of the hard rain around them, ignoring the storm on the shore, ignoring anything but each other.

“You and me,” Chloe whispered, only loud enough for Max to hear.

“You and me against the world, forever.”

When Max came to, her head was on the ground, her every limb shaking.

“Max?!” Asked Rachel nervously as she reached out for her. Max, still stuck between the memory and the present moment, jolted back violently, letting out a strangled cry as she regained control of her limbs.

The world slowly came back into focus and she noticed how both girls were looking at her in worry. Unable to face them, she lowered her head into her hands, feeling her body shake even more violently. A thousand emotions came to a head and she didn’t know how to react to them.

Was there a fucking guide book for this time travel thing? Why the hell did she need to see that memory specifically?

“FUCK!” She shouted suddenly, seeing the girls jump at her sudden outburst. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! What the hell!” Frustrated, she lifted her head from her hands and looked up at the sky. “What the FUCK!”

The girls remained silent for a moment, letting Max compose herself. The brunette moved to stand up, feeling anger filling her brain -- anger at the universe, at the Other Max, and at herself for not stopping the storm. Grabbing her hair, she let out another angry groan, moving towards the edge of the cliff, looking over the horizon.

“This is so unfair,” she whispered, her voice shaking as much as her hands were. “This is so fucking unfair. This is so fucking unfair.”

After a few more seconds, Max realized she needed to get the fuck out of there. She quickly grabbed her bag off the ground and started to run.

“Max!” Chloe called after her, starting to follow. Rachel did the same, trying to keep up with the brunette’s pace. She desperately needed to get away from the lighthouse, already feeling more memories starting to break through the barrier of her brain.

As she’d guessed, they faded as she made her way away from the lighthouse. When they hit the parking lot again, she finally let herself stop, feeling her legs ache from how quickly she’d run. Dropping her bag, she fell to her knees, trying to catch her breath.

“Max, what the actual fuck?” Chloe asked between heavy breaths as she caught up to her. Rachel, looking disheveled, echoed the same sentiment on her face. “What the fuck was that? Are you okay?!”

Max shook her head.

“Was it another memory?” Rachel asked quietly.

Max shook her head again. Not exactly.

A few seconds of silence passed between them before Chloe moved to kneel in front of her, staring determinately at the other girl.

“Max, you have to tell us what’s going on. Please.”

Chapter Text

Max had chosen the treehouse to tell them everything.

It was oddly still intact, even a little decked out from Chloe still using it in the years in between. It had joints laying around, books and empty game cases sprawled about. Chloe and Rachel sat on bean bags on one side, listening to her carefully, while Max sat on the floor and spoke. As she spoke, she held the planner in her hands.

She didn’t want to tell them every single detail. Instead, she decided to pick and choose what she told them. She explained that she woke up one day with a video from Other Max, explaining what was going to happen at Blackwell in October of 2013. She explained that Rachel went missing, and she explained that the memory of Jefferson hurting her was a memory from a different time.

She left out that they’d found Rachel’s body, and she left out how many times Chloe had died. She explained the storm that was coming, and explained the bare bones of her plan to fix everything, but avoided going into detail about it, and avoided saying who died in the storm.

She didn't explain anything about Rachel and Frank, and definitely didn’t explain her relationship with Chloe.

Max also had to choose her words very carefully to make sure that Chloe understood she came back to Arcadia Bay to see her, not just because Other Max told her to. She wasn’t sure if Chloe believed her, but she could see that she appreciated the effort.

By the time she was done explaining, the moon was up, the stars out. The two other girls had been mostly quiet, listening carefully. When Max finished, Rachel stood up and began to pace around the room.

“So, let me get this straight,” she started, scratching the back of her head. “I go missing soon, thanks to Nathan and Jefferson, right?”

Max nodded.

“Okay, so I avoid them as much as possible. That’s one problem solved. Then, in October, there’s a big storm that wipes out the town, right? But, before that, you befriend someone named Kate, who kills herself thanks to Jefferson and Nathan, again. And there’s a whole thing with you having memories of that timeline but they just come to you in random moments and you black out, right?”

When Max nodded again, Chloe finally spoke up. “And you’re a time traveler.”

“Right, you’re a goddamn time traveler, too.” Rachel paused, moving to sit down on the bean bag again. “Holy fuck.”

“Holy fuck is right,” Max mumbled, looking at her hands. The planner in her hands was meant to be for her eyes only, but she gently handed it over to the other girls, who began to go through it. She hadn’t gone very far in it, otherwise she would’ve noticed a date in October that said “first kiss”, and the way it made Chloe’s cheeks go red.

Other Max hadn’t said the day that they found Rachel’s body, but she had noted “DARK ROOM” in big letters over one specific day, which is when Rachel closed the book. Handing it back to Max, there was a lull in conversation as they tried to process.

“Max, this is fucking insane,” Chloe finally said, shaking her head. “This is literally fucking insane. You’re a time traveler and your future self told you that you have to save all of these people? What the fuck?”

“What the fuck is right,” Max repeated, her voice still in a mumble. She took the planner back, sticking it in her bag. After a second, she put her head in her hands again, muffling a sob that was threatening to break out. “I don’t know why me. Other Max gave me a million names of people to save and I -- I don’t know how I’m supposed to do it --”

Chloe stood up, walking over to Max’s side. Wrapping an arm around her shoulder, she sat next to, watching Rachel, who shared the same concerned expression. “Well, first thing’s first, do you still have your powers? I mean, if the storm is coming anyway, might as well use them if we need to, right?”

“It would open a lot of doors for us,” Rachel agreed with a nod.

Max sighed, shaking her head. “I don’t know, I’m scared to try.”

“Go for it. Nothing to be scared of.”

Max sighed once more, figuring she had to. It was important that they knew. Reaching her right hand up, she gently pawed the air, feeling time start to slow around her. The ache in her brain only grew but she continued, until --

Chloe stood up, walking over to Max’s side. Wrapping an arm around her shoulder, she sat next to, watching Rachel, who shared the same concerned expression. “Well, first thing’s first, do you still have your powers? I mean, if the storm is coming anyway, might as well use them if we need to, right?”

After Max had let go of time, she was surprised to see that her nose wasn’t bleeding.

“It works. I just tried it.”

“Oh,” said both girls at the same time, looking at Max, who looked exhausted. She dropped her hand, closing her eyes slowly.

Chloe squeezed her grip on her friend, encouraging her to lay her head on her shoulder. As she obeyed, she felt Rachel sit next to her, wrapping her arm around Max’s waist instead and laying her head on Max’s other shoulder.

They sat like that for a minute before Max spoke again. “You know, Rachel, when you were missing, Chloe spent every day looking for her.”

Rachel lifted her head, smirking. “Wow, crushing on me much?”

As Chloe said a disgruntled “no!” Max said a confident “yes”. The three of them broke into a fit of giggles before long. The brunette allowed herself to relax a little bit.

---------

Sunday night rolled around, which marked Max’s last day in Arcadia Bay for a while. As she was leaving the next morning, the girls decided to camp out in Chloe’s room and organize a plan for the upcoming year.

Once Max started at Blackwell, they would have only about a month to get everything sorted. Therefore, they had to work quickly, and the other girls would have to work on the whole situation over the summer. In front of them was a large cork board with notes written all over it, thanks to the empty notebook she’d been given earlier.

As luck would have it, David was working tonight, so they were free, aside from Joyce occasionally checking in on them before bed. Max sat on the floor, writing on the notepad as Rachel sat on the desk, laptop in her lap. Chloe remained on the bed, smoking and watching them.

On the cork board was a series of names. Nathan and Jefferson had their own side, while Victoria and Kate had the other side. At the bottom, David and Wells had their claim of territory, while the storm and Frank had the final empty area.

Max made notes. She had taken a few minutes to write all she knew about Nathan, which wasn’t much, and added it to his side. All she knew about Jefferson was a lot more - like where the bunker was located, the girls he wanted to pick, where he got his money from, and when his classes were. David’s side had a lot more info from Chloe, but she only knew about his douchebagness - Max had added notes about the cameras in the school, his patrols in October, and how he’d been looking into Jefferson. She avoided making notes about the cameras in the house, although she had made sure to secretly destroy the one in this room before they started.

The storm was mostly empty, as was Well’s side, aside from a note about the handicap money and the files on his computer. Frank’s was filled with descriptions about how he’d sold drugs to Nathan and when, along with a vague note about how he had a heavy interest in Rachel, which made Rachel vow to keep away from him from now on. Bonus.

Victoria had a note on why she acted the way she did, and Kate had a note about the date of her suicide, the video, and so on.

In conclusion, the board was overly detailed, and before long they’d formulated something of a plan to try and figure this out.

“Okay, so,” Chloe began, eyeing the board. “The most important thing right now is Nathan and Jefferson. They’re the ones who kidnap you, Rachel, so you’re not gonna be involved in this until Max comes back.” She eyed Rachel to make sure the blonde nodded in approval before she continued. “Step-douche is looking into them, it doesn't look like during the time from now until October they do much else, so we’ll just keep our distance, right Max?”

Max nodded, so Chloe continued. “Except for Kate Marsh. They get her early in the school year and drug her. When Max comes back to school, she needs to immediately befriend Kate Marsh, and make sure she doesn’t go to the party. Right?”

“Yeah. We don’t need the video for evidence on Jefferson, all it does is make Kate --”

Chloe skated right over it. “Right, so Rachel, our goal is also to befriend Kate. We have to not be so bitchy to Victoria, too, I guess.”

Max nodded her approval again but Rachel groaned. “Why not?”

“You didn’t see her on the floor of Jefferson’s,” Max explained somberly. “She’s a victim, too. The last thing I want is to hurt more people.”

“Right, whatever,” Chloe continued, ignoring Victoria for now. “Next time is Wells, we have to ignore him, no more pranks and shit.” Rachel frowned, making Chloe grin at her. “I know, I know, it sucks ass. Step-douche is next, apparently nothing I do impacts what he does at Blackwell so I can continue to be normal to him as I wish, right Max?”

Max rolled her eyes but approved.

“And finally, Frank.” She tapped the board with her pen. “Rachel, we have to stay away from him, apparently he’s got some kind of weird obsession with you?” Chloe shuddered and so did the other two, although for Max it was for different reasons. “He’s selling drugs to Nathan. When Max comes back, she has a plan to grab his shit and use it for evidence. For now we lay low.”

Putting the cap back on her pen, she moved to sit back on the bed. “Basically, Rachel and I have to keep our heads low and befriend the girls of Blackwell, while Max will help us do the hard shit when she gets back. Right?”

Max spoke up now. “We want to try and remain true to this timeline, even though you guys know everything already. If all of this gets fucked up while I’m in Seattle, then we’re stuck like this.” She took a deep breath, making a new note and pinning it up. “Other Max basically let herself disappear to keep you two alive, so that’s what we’re focused on right now. She also wrote a whole planner for me to help me keep track of days. I just have to make sure I’m here to do it, so I’ll focus on getting into Blackwell, and you guys focus on staying alive.”

She moved to stand up, facing the two with a nervous expression. “It’s really important that you guys follow the steps, okay? If we fuck up, I’m scared of what’ll happen if I have to go back again. Please.”

“We got you, Max. You’re the boss,” Rachel agreed, grinning.

Relieved, Max reached for her bag, grabbing her camera that she hadn’t used since she got here, but Other Max told her to keep it. She snapped a quick pic of the scene, pocketing it quickly, mumbling something about a “save point”.

A few hours later, the girls were sprawled out on the bed, with Max in the middle of the two of them. The other girl laid on their sides, watching Max as she spoke.

“I think that’s when I figured it out, you know?” She paused, her eyebrows furrowing. “Sometimes I wonder if Other Me had the exact same past, or if some things were different. Even just little things, like maybe she had different teachers than me or something. Sadly I don’t think I’ll ever know, and technically Other Me is me now, and she’s erased from time now, and I can’t ask her things.”

Chloe whistled. “That’s a lot of mindblowing shit, Max. Careful, you’ll make your cute little head explode.”

Max frowned. “I’m never telling you anything anymore.”

As Chloe scoffed, Rachel joined in on the fun. “Chloe, don’t act like you’d be able to keep track. You'd probably explode if there were multiple yous.”

“There are! Didn’t you hear her? Tell me about Other Me, Max.”

Max faltered, not wanting to go into detail, but eventually she did, picking her words as carefully as possible. “Well, you were just like you right now. Just a lot more sad, because you didn’t have Rachel. And after the storm, we both just had a lot of guilt.” Nervously, Max bit her lower lip but didn’t dare move otherwise, not wanting to bring an awareness to the other girls of how close they all were. “We just drove away. If I remember correctly. Stayed at shitty motels and stuff.”

There was a silence for a moment, everyone seemed to be deep in thought. Rachel was giving the two girls a knowing smile, her free hand resting on Max’s arm. She waited for Chloe to piece it together, but it seemed the bluenette was still kind of clueless.

“Glad to know we were still friends, though,” Chloe said thoughtfully, gently using her own free hand to move some hair out of Max’s face.

Having both of them so close was making Max’s heart swell in a weird way. Chloe was so close she could almost kiss her, but she wasn’t sure what memories would come back up if she did so. Plus this wasn't the other timeline, she couldn't just do that. She could feel Chloe's breath, could smell her cigarettes, could see the blue sparks in her eyes. Rachel on her other side was just as warm, giving her a similar feeling, and confusing the shit out of her. It was like she was between two of her favourite breeds of puppies and all she could do was close her eyes and enjoy the sensation.

So, she did. As Max’s eyes closed, she found herself scooting a little bit, aiming to be closer to either of them. Sleep overtook her just as she felt both of them scoot in closer, keeping her warm and safe.

---------

“I promise I’ll come back.”

Chloe didn’t have to say it, Max could read it in her face. She stood in front of the airport, the cold wind in her hair as she watched her friend look at her in worry. Realizing she’d been found out, Chloe slowly nodded, swallowing. “Yeah, I know, Maxie,” she said, her voice not as convincing as she thought.

Stepping forward, Max pulled her into a hug. She squeezed her tightly, leaning over to kiss her on the side of the head before she whispered in her ear. “I love you,” she said quietly, feeling Chloe shiver at the words. She hoped that Chloe took it platonically, but she was fully aware that she herself didn’t mean it that way.

Some things never change.

Once they let go, Rachel reached in for her own hug. She copied Max’s movements, kissing her on the side of the head, surprised when Max let out a little squeak in surprise, grin on her face when they parted.

Back to Seattle it was.

Chapter Text

The summer passed by mostly without event.

True to their word, Rachel and Chloe kept their heads down and out of trouble as much as possible. Chloe even got a part time job at a local grocery store and began to save us some money, planning to leave Arcadia Bay as soon as this was over. The original plan had been for her and Rachel to run off right when Rachel graduated, but with their new mission, that would have to wait. There was an unspoken agreement between her and Rachel that they would wait until Max graduated, too.

They visited Seattle for Max’s birthday, where Chloe gave her her dad’s camera, triggering another flashback that had her parents worried but had Max and Chloe hugging and crying.

As time went on, Max found that she understood completely why Chloe fell so hard for Rachel during their time together. She was soft and understanding, always aware of what she was doing and always making sure Max was taken care of. It didn’t help that whenever they were together, she was so physically affectionate and always had a hand on either of them, making Max blush like an idiot whenever her hands were on her.

Despite the distance, she felt like their friendship was thriving. The girls kept her updated every day, and once Rachel was out of school, they would often Facetime her when she was chilling at home and they would just hang out like normal.

However, the closer that September got, the more nervous Max got. She knew that there was a chance this would all go downhill very quickly, and she couldn’t help but put a bit of distance between her and her girls, although it wasn’t exactly on purpose. She just couldn’t get out of her head no matter how she tried.

The last thing she wanted was to drive a wedge between them, especially when Chloe hadn’t completely gotten over the five years apart. Thankfully, she seemed to understand and give her space when needed, knowing things would improve when she got back to Arcadia Bay.

Somehow, by some miracle, they had managed to get her on Facetime the night before she was set to return to Arcadia Bay. Despite her initial nervousness, they eventually broke through her barriers, making her laugh loudly in the quiet of her house. Rachel had a tendency to flirt with the both of them heavily until they were both red in the face, and she didn’t let up that night. When Max finally hung up after some time, she found herself thinking about it just a little too much.

She should’ve expected them to be waiting for her at the airport, but it still came as a shock when she saw them. Chloe hung back while Rachel ran forward, meeting Max halfway and pulling her into a hug. Max held onto her tightly, surprised at how much she missed the other girl.

Still clinging to her like her life depended on it, she let out a laugh when Chloe finally joined them and hugged them both. As they parted, Max shook her head.

“Took you long enough, Chloe,” Rachel scoffed with a grin.

“I’m a smoker, I don’t run,” the bluenette commented with a shrug. She was trying hard to be casual, but the gleam in her eyes and the relief in her expression gave her away. Intending on embarrassing her further, Max leaned up to kiss her on the cheek before picking up her bags so they could go to the car. Although she was successful in making Chloe blush and mutter something about “making a move on her”, she was surprised at how it made her stomach flip when she did it.

Packing the truck only took a few minutes, and before long they were on the road. They had gotten Max a milkshake on the way up, and the drive was made easier with music and simply catching up with each other. A couple of hours later, Max fell quiet, simply enjoying the two other girls being engaged in some random conversation.

Jolted awake, she realized she’d fallen asleep when she heard the driver’s side door open and the music cut out. Lifting her head from Rachel’s shoulder, she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes as she climbed out of the truck.

It was evening now, the sun slowly falling over the horizon. Once the bags had been evenly distributed among them, they made their way to the dorms.

Max felt her nervousness increase as they approached the dorms. Here, so many things had happened in the other timeline, she felt a horror in her heart as she realized that she would soon be assaulted with memories. Instinctively, she reached for whoever was closest, which happened to be Rachel. The blonde let Max hold onto her arm as they entered the dorms.

Her breath caught in her throat as she watched the front door of the dorms slowly open. Memories were prickling at the surface, but they weren’t quite close enough to reach. An overwhelming sense of grief and doom seemed to crowd her, and her breathing became less controlled as time went on. Rachel must have noticed, for she pulled Max along as quickly as she could towards her room.

Once they were inside the mostly empty dorm room, Max felt the feeling fade a little bit. Still, it was biting at her, and she had to pause for a moment to sit down. She noticed the other two girls exchange a look but she didn’t say anything, she just sat down.

“Max?” Rachel said after some time, which must’ve been maybe ten or fifteen minutes later, although it felt like hours. Her voice was gentle, reassuring, and completely unfamiliar in this room - which was, honestly, a good thing right now. It brought her back to her current reality and not into a void of nothing but memories trying to break the surface.

“Hm?” She asked, looking up at the blonde, who was standing in the middle of the room. Even in the shitty dorm lighting she was beautiful, her smile inviting, and Max was reminded of things she had been trying to bury over the summer.

“Chloe went to grab a pizza. Can I sit?” She asked, gesturing at the bed. Max nodded and scooted over, not realizing she was still sitting in the middle of it, looking lost. How long had she been zoned out? There hadn’t been any dreams breaking completely through this time, just nothingness, but she was terrified of what was waiting for her.

As Rachel sat next to her, she felt an arm wrap around her waist and she leaned into it, laying her head on the blonde’s shoulder. Sighing softly, she kept quiet as she lost herself in the warmth of Rachel’s touch, allowing it to ground her.

“Better?” Rachel whispered, smiling down at her. Max nodded, grateful that Rachel understood what she needed at any given moment. “Good.”

That’s how Chloe found them a few minutes later, leading to a sound that sounded like a mix between a surprised cry and a laugh from Chloe.

“Should I be jealous?” She questioned as she set the pizza down on the empty desk.

“Max wanted to cuddle instead of unpacking,” Rachel said simply, winking at the brunette. Although it made her blush deeply, she was grateful that Rachel didn’t tell Chloe about how she had still been completely gone after Chloe left. She really didn’t want to have to go into detail about the feeling of dread that she felt by sitting in this room.

An hour or so later, the girls were curled up on the floor, a movie playing on Max’s unpacked laptop, the pizza fully eaten.

Max had fallen asleep already, and the two girls tried to plant her on the bed without disturbing her. She stirred a little bit before she fell back asleep without event, and they were able to leave.

Rachel decided to walk Chloe to her car, a habit they’d picked up in an attempt to keep each other safe during the summer without Max. They walked quietly, mostly lost in thought, simply enjoying the cool September night air. Before long, Rachel had reached out to take Chloe’s hand, and she took it happily.

Feelings were confusing, both girls realized. It had always been complicated between them, but Max was an addition to the equation that made little to no sense. Still, it wasn’t a topic of normal discussion between them, so they kept it in their heads.

Once they reached the car, Rachel gave her a brief hug.

“Lunch tomorrow?” She asked the bluenette with a smile. “Our usual spot?”

“‘Course,” Chloe answered with a smirk. “I’ll bring Max’s usual, too.”

Rachel nodded before she paused, hesitating for a moment. “Do you think she’ll be okay? I mean, based off what she said, she went through a lot of trauma here. I’m kind of freaked out for her.”

Chloe shrugged. “She’s got us. We’ll do what we can to protect her. That’s all we can do, right?”

They exchanged a look before agreeing that, yeah, that’s all they could do.

---------

This memory wasn’t the one she expected.

Max was standing outside of her dorm room, recognizing the hallway. Her legs trembled as she slowly felt herself move forward, her feet touching the floor slowly but with purpose.

The door she was heading towards was one she dreaded to see, but knew she was going to see it at some point. It was covered in flowers, in goodbye notes, in a large scribbling of the word “sorry” on the whiteboard next to it. Her friend’s photo was in the middle of the floor, looking up at her. Polaroids littered the display and she vaguely remembered planting those herself.

Her stomach turned violently, even stronger so when she noticed the door was opened and there was the sound of crying on the other side of the door. Carefully, Max found herself lifting a hand, moving so slow it might as well not be moving at all. When she opened the door just a tiny crack more. When she saw who was inside, she immediately turned away, not wanting to intrude.

Victoria Chase never looked so small and so vulnerable.

Max flew out of her bed as the dream shook her awake, almost stumbling onto her feet as she moved to stand.

Holy fuck.

It was the first of many horrifying memories that she knew she would have to deal with. When there was a knock at the door, the feeling only grew, crashing into her like a freight train when she opened it and saw the girl on the other side.

“Um -- hi! I’m Kate.”

Chapter Text

She realized, then, that she wasn’t exactly dressed to make new friends.

Max was wearing her clothes from last night; still in a pair of jeans that were riding up, and a shirt that was messy as could be. Her hoodie had been discarded, but she looked like she just rolled out of a drunken stupor. A glance at the clock would’ve told her it was almost six, the sunlight streaming through the window behind her.

Kate stood at the door, looking prim and proper as ever. Her outfit was white, her cross hanging off her neck, with a pair of comfortable grey slacks on. She had a beautiful smile on her face, one that Max wasn’t used to seeing.

Suddenly, it all came back to her.

The scene disappeared around her, but Kate’s face stayed in the same spot. Instead of standing in her room, she was standing on the roof, water frozen around them in droplets. Kate’s expression changed from a friendly greeting to something else entirely. She looked broken beyond repair

Max tried to walk forward but found that her feet didn’t move. Kate was saying something, but she was totally lost in, making it sound like she was speaking through a tunnel. As hard as she tried to focus, she couldn’t --

“Hello?” Questioned Kate, her face suddenly transforming back into the Kate she knew now. She looked a little worried, but otherwise calm.

“Max?” Asked the other Kate as the scene transformed once more, and Kate was looking at her with a completely different expression on.

This didn’t feel like the kind of memory she’d had before. She faded in and out, as though Max was dancing in between two worlds. Which she sort of was.

“Max, are you --”

“ -- there? Hello? --”

“Max?”

As the world began to dramatically shift between each Kate, Max felt her head start to pound. Gripping the sides of her head. She desperately tried to hold onto reality, to no avail. The sound of rain and nature hit her ears as loud as the silence of the dorm did, and she couldn’t figure out where the fuck she was.

“I’m just looking for my --”

“ -- hope. I have none anymore --”

“ -- I thought I saw her run in --”

“ -- Let me go --”

“ -- Are you there? --”

“ -- Max, I'm sorry --”

Max let out a strangled noise that could be a mix between a scream and a cry, before her eyes opened. Now, she was permanently in one spot - on the roof. Kate looked at her with a sad smile, and before she could stop it, she was falling backwards --

“Whoa!” Cried out Kate of reality as Max fell to the ground, still gripping her head. Reaching out, she stopped her from hitting her head on the ground, concern written all over her features. “Are you okay?!”

Max, trying to breathe normally, curled up further into herself, feeling her heart beating a thousand times faster in her chest. As she tried to find the words to speak, she let the sight of Kate and the sound of her voice slowly bring her back to reality.

“Your nose is bleeding,” Kate commented quietly as she let go of Max to find some tissues, presumably the ones left by Rachel just in case. She grabbed them, making her way back to the other girl, offering them to her.

“Thanks,” Max mumbled as she slowly moved to sit up, still gripping her head with one hand. “Fuck. Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Kate said, her voice soft and honest as it always was. As she moved to stand up, she offered Max her hand, which the brunette happily took.

Resisting the urge to hug Kate, she couldn’t help but stare a little bit as she noticed how the girl looked so different now. A lot happier, a lot more shy, without those hopeless eyes that had led to her jumping off the roof. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she smiled softly at Kate. “I get nosebleeds sometimes, and really bad headaches.”

“I see that,” Kate reassured, still with that soft smile on her lips. Max was struck again by her beauty, and she made a mental note to beat the shit out of Victoria if that whole video scenario happened again. “I was just looking for my bunny. I thought I saw her run in this direction, have you seen her?”

Max shook her head. “No, but I’ll keep an eye out. I’m Max, by the way.”

She offered her hand, noticing how Kate faltered when she saw how much it was shaking. Eventually, Kate shook it back, her firm grip but her strength weak, and Max found it adorable.

“I should go look for her, then,” Kate said, heading for the door. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.” The brunette smiled softly. “It’s nice to meet you, Kate. I hope we can be friends.”

“Me too, Max!”

---------

Max’s feet couldn’t move at all.

Standing outside of the Blackwell doors, some ten minutes before classes began, she was completely frozen.

No memory was coming to her, she just simply could not move.

Suddenly, she was jarred back to reality by the feeling of a hand on the small of her back. Turning, she saw Rachel standing next to her, smiling at her softly. “Ready to go in, supergirl?” She asked quietly, to which Max slowly nodded.

“Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.”

“Good.”

Rachel kept her hand on Max’s back as she led them inside, not at all surprised when Max stiffened up as soon as they were through the doors. Like always, the inside of Blackwell was full of rowdy boys and annoying gossipers, but Rachel kept her focus entirely on her friend as they made their way to the locker at the end of the hall, which Max already knew off by heart.

As they approached, ignoring everyone, Rachel leaned against the locker next to her as she waited. Max’s hands trembled like a leaf when she tried to put her combo in, and after a few seconds of cursing, Rachel reached out to take it from her.

The contact of their hands made Max blush, but she dropped the lock right away. “I got it, sweetie,” Rachel reassured, turning the dial it was unlocked.

“Thanks, Rachel,” she mumbled softly. The blonde simply nodded.

“What kind of loser hangs around a school after she leaves?” Victoria challenged as she approached them with her goons intact. She looked as nice as ever, wearing a jacket around her shoulders and makeup on her features. She would be beautiful if she wasn’t so mean. Rachel, true to her word of ignoring Victoria, simply shrugged in response. The other girl scoffed, not pleased by the answer. “You don’t have to be the little hipster’s bitch, you know.”

Max was still trembling as she pulled her books out. Not thanks to Victoria’s taunting, but rather, because her voice brought back strange memories. Ones of Victoria on Kate’s floor, sobbing, of Victoria on the steps, opening up to Max for the first time - of Victoria’s panicked voicemail before the storm took her --

Slamming her locker shut, Max unintentionally made the group go silent. She turned around, finding herself face-to-face with Victoria.

“Excuse me, please,” she asked quietly.

Victoria’s eyes narrowed, didn’t move right away. In response, Max lifted her head, and looked her right in the eye.

“You need to watch out for your own, Victoria. Not mine,” she said, causing Victoria to go stiff and glare even harder.

It worked, and Max was able to move past her. Rachel, knowing full well that Max was uncovering memories, quickly followed her, grabbing her arm gently and holding onto it. Grounding her once again.

The day passed by mostly quietly from that point on, lunch was boring and spent outside on the benches.

By the time Jefferson’s class came around, Max found herself standing outside the doors of the school, having a panic attack.

Rachel, true to her word, was there in seconds. Holding onto Max’s shoulders, she whispered reassurances to her before eventually Max fell onto her and they were hugging. She tried to regain control of her breathing while burying her head in Rachel’s shoulder, breathing in the scent of her perfume.

Whatever she was whispering in Max’s ear was working, and before long the brunette felt herself returning to life. She finally heard the soft whispers of “I got you” breaking through her thoughts, and when she pulled away, she felt a little better.

“Thank you,” she whispered to Rachel, trying to put a smile on her face. Rachel responded with a smile of her own.

“Anytime, Max. I’m always just a phone call away, okay?”

Max nodded, grateful for the support. Rachel leaned in and for a second her breath caught in her throat before she felt lips press down on her forehead. Rachel grinned at the mark of lipstick that it left and the way Max blushed all the way down to her toes.

Max would try to ignore that feeling of disappointment she felt when she realized where the kiss was going to be planted. This wasn’t the time for dumb high school crushes.

After their little moment outside, Max made her way back inside, still rubbing the lipstick off her forehead. Once she was confident it was off, she made her way back towards her familiar seat in the back of the classroom, filling in as the rest did the same.

She thought seeing Mark Jefferson again would trigger some memories. Instead, it seemed to do the opposite, and Max found her mind went completely blank at the sight of him. She expected hate and anger to fill her heart, but there was an emptiness there, she was completely disassociating.

The brunette was brought back to reality when she heard snickering and looked up to see Victoria and some of the boys, near her throwing things at Kate behind her back. Kate looked mildly annoyed, but nothing serious. Nathan was missing entirely. Max shook her head - some things never changed. If they knew what they were in the room with…

“Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves to each other,” Mark said, turning around from the board and frowning at the kids throwing paper around. “One at a time, please. Start up here.”

As people droned on, Max continued to space out, examining the desk in front of her as though it was fascinating. Hayden’s loud chortle broke through her thoughts as he recited some sort of practiced joke which made half the class snicker and Mark frown in annoyance. He wasn’t a fan of boys, but Max knew that already.

Now that she knew the truth about him, she could see a lot of microaggressions in his expression. What were once admiring eyes to her were hungry eyes now, what was once slight annoyance was pure anger and evil. The eyes were the gateway to the soul, and Max could see his soul clear as day.

If she was a vengeful person, she’d snuff it out now. But she knew she had to bide her tone, she had to wait.

It didn’t mean she felt any less anger when he looked at one of the girls with a curious expression on his stupid ugly features.

“Ms. Chase, what about you?”

Victoria sat up straight and so did Max, eyeing the other girl carefully.

“My name is Victoria Chase, obviously. My parents own the Zeitgeist galleries in Portland and San Diego, along with several others.”

“The mention of galleries is an excellent lead into the Everyday Heroes contest, which we will discuss next class,” Mark agreed, excited twinkle in his eyes as he encouraged Victoria to continue. Victoria looked pleased with herself but Max felt sick to her stomach. As she droned on about her photographer inspirations, Max glanced over at Kate, who looked increasingly nervous.

“Thank you, Ms. Chase. That was insightful. Ms. Marsh, what about you?”

“Um.” Kate shifted in her seat uncomfortably. “My name is Kate, I grew up here. I have a bunny named Alice. I draw a lot of inspiration from photographers such as Elanvita Mandley and --”

“Jesus freak,” mumbled Victoria from the corner, which earned another nervous shuffle from Kate and a few chuckles around the room. Max could see Kate struggling not to mention her religion and her past, and she pawed at her necklace as she continued.

“ -- Um, that’s it, I think,” she finally said, scratching her bun and looking down at the floor.

Mark looked interested, but moved on quickly. “Thank you, Ms. Marsh. What about you, Ms. Caulfield?”

All eyes fell on Max and she felt frozen to the spot. Looking up, she spied Mark eyeing her curiously. Her mouth went dry.

It was as though she could hear her powers calling to her, reminding her that they were still there, that she had a way out.

She got an idea.

Biting her lip back, she debated how to start. Mark looked at her expectantly. She began, carefully treading her toes in the water.

“My name is Max Caulfield,” she began, eyeing the man standing at the desk. “I grew up here, too. I moved to Seattle a few years ago and then I moved back for Blackwell.”

“And what drew you to Blackwell?” Asked Mark, attempting to engage in casual conversation.

Max didn’t hesitate to put her plan into motion, moving to stand up, her chair squeaking loudly against the floor. She was acting on autopilot at this point, acting out the fantasies she’d had all summer, ever since she’d gained Other Max’s memory of him. A part of her almost felt like this was Other Max taking over.

But she could remember Other Max’s memories of him. She could remember Chloe’s anger whenever she mentioned it. She could remember the protective expression on Rachel’s face when she’d called her at 4am sobbing from another nightmare.

“Isn’t it obvious?” She asked softly, stepping out from behind her desk. Her limbs shook with nervousness, but her voice remained steady, confidence starting to rise as she saw Mark’s confused face. “I moved back for you, Jefferson. My biggest inspiration in photography, of course.”

Mark looked confused for a brief moment but quickly put the mask back on, smiling softly at her. She could see the curiosity in his eyes. “I’m flattered, Max. I hope I can live up to your expectations.”

“You know what my favourite part about your work is?” She asked Mark, still approaching him. She stepped a few feet in front of him, hearing the class remain absolutely dead silent as they looked as the quiet kid who was doing something weirdly daring.

“What’s that?” He asked, eyes beginning to grow a little wary. No one else would notice that expression but Max, and she was living for it.

She reached out, grabbing Jefferson’s tie as though she was going to kiss him. Instead, she leaned in and whispered, “I love how vulnerable they all look in your pictures.”

His face briefly contorted, moving into even stronger confusion. Despite the fact that she’d whispered, she knew the entire room had heard her. Satisfied that she had silenced him, she let go of his tie and continued her speech as she turned around.

“After you drug them, that is,” she continued, crossing her arms over her chest and glancing at everyone who was looking at her with wide eyes. “Do they know it’s you, Jefferson? When you kidnap and drug those girls, or do you hide behind someone else?” She paused, turning to face him.

She could see the anger in his eyes, buried underneath his fake confusion. He knew, and he knew that she knew. It was satisfying to see him so livid, but it did nothing to scare Max. It did quite the opposite, actually.

“After you drug them and bring them to your little torture chamber, how long do you actually keep them conscious?” She asked, tilting her head. “Or do you keep them drugged the whole time so that they don’t remember your ugly ass face looking down at them? Do you stay in the room when you masturbate to photos of them tied up to a chair, or do you take it somewhere private?”

She was approaching again, getting as close to his face as her height allowed her to get.

“The only thing scarier than a man who thinks he’s admired is a man who admires himself.” Gathering her strength, she spit at him, watching as the glob of spit hit him in the face. Too stunned to react, he didn’t push her off as she grabbed his shirt, shoving him back on the desk. He stumbled, landing on his ass on the floor as she stepped back.

The adrenaline pumped through her veins as she moved to slowly approach her desk again, her chest heaving. She turned around to face him once more.

“I’m going to stop you, Jefferson. I’m going to stop you from hurting anyone else. And when I do, you’re going to wish you were dead. You’re going to wish I gave you the mercy of being shot in the face.”

She couldn’t help herself as her leg swung around to kick him in the face.

And then, she lifted her right hand, and --

“And what drew you to Blackwell?” Asked Mark, attempting to engage in casual conversation.

Max smiled and answered.

Chapter Text

That experience put some confidence back into Max, and for the rest of the class she was flying high. By the time she left and reunited with Rachel sitting on a table outside, she was grinning.

She’d forgotten what it was like to use her powers like that, to actually act out with the knowledge that her powers could save her. It was freeing, even if she knew how dangerous it was. She had a newfound confidence that she would be able to do this, she might actually be able to save someone. It was clear that her girls were rubbing off on her; she had the confidence of Rachel and the walk of Chloe as she made it through the rest of the school day.

Plopping down at the table, her friends grinned back at her as she settled.

“Did it go well?” Rachel asked with a smirk as she glanced at Chloe, who was stuffing her face with oreos.

“Yep,” Max said, not explaining any further. “So what’s the plan for today?”

“Well, I have to work at eight,” Chloe said grumpily, to which both girls frowned at her. “But before that we can go out for dinner, if you want. Two Whales is always open.”

“Sounds like a plan to me. Are you sure you can’t call off? Just this once?”

As the girls spoke, Chloe looked up just in time to see someone she dreaded to see approaching. She winced as Warren ran up to the table, grinning from ear to ear. While she sat out here with Rachel for the last couple of hours of class, she noticed him on occasion, always wearing a dopey smile. Something about him just rubbed Chloe the wrong way.

“Hey, Max!” He greeted, offering her his hand. “I’m Warren. I saw you in the halls, I like the pins on your backpack! You’re a Mass Effect fan?”

He barely even seemed to notice the other two girls at the table. It would be sweet and innocent if it wasn’t slightly annoying, but Max smiled anyway.

“Nice to meet you, Warren. Yeah, of course. You have good taste in games.”

“Uh, duh,” Warren continued, moving to sit next to Chloe, who scooted over while still frowning. The boy just now seemed to notice the other girls. When he saw it was Rachel Amber sitting there, he blushed, but tried to maintain his Cool Guy Persona. “Hi, I’m Warren.”

Rachel and Chloe introduced themselves, giving each other a look.

“A-Anyway, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to hang out sometime?” Warren asked, still grinning that big dopey smile. “I have the the special R2-D2 edition of the Xbox 360, and it kinda looks better quality if you really look at it --”

“Sorry, squirt,” Rachel started, moving to wrap an arm around Max’s waist. Max felt herself blushing but she resisted it as much as possible. “She’s busy tonight.”

“Oh, okay,” Warren replied with a shrug, still oblivious as ever. “Maybe another night?”

“Sure,” Max agreed, giving him a polite smile.

“Right on!” Warren replied, still grinning in that way that was making the other girls furious for some reason. “I’ll see you later then.”

As he sauntered off, Rachel found herself squeezing Max a little tighter. The brunette wasn’t at all upset that she was being held by Rachel, but her cheeks were growing redder, and it definitely wasn’t easy to hide.

“Bye, Walter!” Chloe called, earning a confused look from the boy walking away. When she turned back to her friends, she rolled her eyes. “Boys are already falling all over you, Max. What did you get up to on your first day?”

Max shrugged, but she smiled to herself.

---------

Later that night, the girls were curled up in Chloe’s truck, watching a movie from atop a hill.

It had been Rachel’s idea to sneak into the drive in theatre that was forty minutes away from the Bay, calling the road trip there and the whole experience “romantic”. She’d even finally convinced Chloe to call out of work, using those famous puppy dog eyes on her. Max found it to be the perfect end to a stressful day - the movie played on while they all curled up on the bed of her truck, the speakers playing the audio from the movie, far away from the cars and the employees who would see them secretly watching from outside of the parameters. Thankfully this place was at the bottom of a small hill and thankfully they played movies seven days a week.

Max felt herself start to fall asleep and she tried to shake herself awake from her spot in between Rachel and Chloe. It was quickly becoming her favourite place in the world; comfortable between the two of them. Chloe was the tallest, and being on Max’s right she was usually the one towering over them, keeping them warm. Rachel was about her height and she was always curled up against Max’s side, laying her head on her, holding onto her arm for dear life.

Max couldn’t help but think this whole “chosen one” thing was worth it if this was what she got out of it.

As she leaned more into Chloe, the brunette let out a small and content sigh that had the other girl smiling down at her.

There was an unspoken thing between the three of them, an unspoken thing they couldn’t quite shake. What had developed over the summer in Seattle felt like it was burning with the strength of a thousand suns now that they were all reunited again. Under the stars, laying on the bed truck, it felt more obvious than ever. The brunette was almost certain she saw the girls looking at her when they thought she didn’t notice.

But, no one bothered to give voice to the elephant in the room. Instead, Max slowly fell asleep, curled between the two girls she loved, and they followed suit.

---------

Victoria’s room was exactly how you’d expect it to be.

Proper and pristine, everything had a place, even her laundry was perfectly put together in the corner. The walls were filled with gorgeous and expensive art work probably worth more than the dorms themselves. Her expensive ass computer was triumphed only by a laptop that sat on the same desk, the picture of perfection and privilege.

Yet, Victoria herself looked a bit of a mess tonight.

Her hair was sprawled out in a ruffled manner, her eyes crazed as she blinked sleep out of them. She had been reading for hours now, focused entirely on her homework - since she had gotten back from school, her focus had been on getting ahead. After all, Mark Jefferson wanted a model student, and she intended to be that.

Here, in her room, in the late hours of the night, she could be herself for no one but her.

Running a hand through her short hair, she checked her phone once more, seeing no response from Nathan. Once her screen was locked once more, she took a sip of her water from her steel water bottle and shut the book, finally turning off the light and making her way over to her bed.

As she did so, she heard a sound from outside the room.

She couldn’t help it, curiosity got the best of her.

Cautiously, Victoria opened the door to her room, sticking her eye out only slightly. What she saw in the hallway was Kate standing in the middle, her door wide open, her bunny on the ground in front of her. She was holding some kind of leafy green in front of her, telling the bunny to jump up, to which he simply stared, as though he was confused.

Or she? She didn’t know or care to learn.

“Shut the hell up out here,” she hissed through the door before she shut it. Kate’s expression was apologetic as the door shut, and Victoria found herself smirking as she shut the door. As soon as she was back in her safe spot of the room, she let the facade drop, raising it back up as soon as the intrusive thoughts of that was kind of adorable started to pop up.

Chapter Text

She had been at Blackwell for a week now, slowly getting her bearings back and putting her plans into motion. For the most part, the classes had gone by uneventfully. She’d started to sit next to Kate in Jefferson’s class, and had even hung out with Warren during lunch hour a time or two. It felt like things were starting to fall into place, nothing dramatic or over the top had happened yet. Sitting on the quad at a table, Max sketched in her notebook absently as she thought to herself about how best to approach the next part of her plan: Victoria.

She needed to warn Victoria about Nathan, so she could attempt to get through to him. She hadn’t seen much of him since school started and that made her nervous. Checking her phone, she noticed how Rachel had texted her in reassurance, saying she was hanging out with Chloe for the day before her shift and she’d catch her later.

She was sure it was annoying that she constantly demanded her friends tell her that they were okay, but she couldn’t help it. She was worried.

She continued to sketch absently as someone moved to sit across from her. She lifted her head, pleasantly surprised to see Kate.

“Good morning, Max,” Kate said with a brilliant smile as she moved to sit next to her. “How are you?”

“I’m okay, how are you?” She asked her friend as she closed her notebook, smiling back at her. It was so nice to see Kate alive and thriving, nicer than she realized.

“Good. What were you writing?”

“I keep a journal sometimes. Helps me keep my head on straight.”

“That’s nice, I should do that.”

Max nodded in response as she watched Kate throw her bag on the table, pulling out a few textbooks. “How have you been liking photography class?”

“It’s okay,” Max responded, her mouth going dry at the mention of it. “I don’t think I like Jefferson much, he’s a bit pretentious.”

Kate furrowed her eyebrows while Max smirked in response. Clicking her pen closed, she watched her friend carefully for a few moments. The memories of Kate had begun to slip into dreams, bringing back more and more things that she had gone through in a different timeline. They kept her awake at night, but she hadn’t told anyone about them. Before Max could get too far lost in the memories, Kate spoke again, breaking the silence.

“Max, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

Kate seemed to hesitate a lot, which made Max nervous, even if she tried not to show it. The blonde licked her lips before she continued. “I just --” She paused. “Have you noticed anyone talking about me behind my back?”

The brunette shook her head. “No, Kate. You’re a sweetheart, why would anyone talk behind your back?” She frowned, looking the blonde in the eyes. She truly hadn’t heard anything aside from Victoria and her crew, but they usually did it to someone’s face as opposed to behind their backs. That’s what she’d noticed so far, at least.

Seeming relieved, Kate shrugged. “I don’t know. People stare at me. I’m mostly used to it, so I told myself I wouldn’t let it bother me, but sometimes it just hurts a little bit. I suppose it was just morbid curiosity.” She smiled sadly. It was her suspicion that if anyone would know, it would be Max, considering she was buddy-buddy with Rachel Amber, the most popular young girl in town.

Max felt a sense of determination, an all-encompassing need to protect her friend. Without asking for permission, she reached out, taking one of Kate’s hands in both of her own. If the blonde was surprised, she didn’t show it.

“Kate, listen to me,” Max insisted, firm in her tone but hopefully gentle at the same time. “Don’t change for anyone. You deserve all the love and support in the world.”

Kate grinned gratefully. “You’re sweet, Max.”

“Just… take care of yourself, okay?” Suddenly aware of how tight she was gripping Kate’s hand, she slowly let go, lowering the intensity down a bit. “If they talk behind your back, that says a lot more about them than it does about you.”

Max picked at her pen again for a minute before she continued. “When I was in Seattle, I didn’t have any friends. People talked behind my back, too. And then I met Rachel and Chloe.” She shrugged. “Sometimes all you need is one or two really good friends instead of a whole bunch of fake friends. The people who are popular and talk down on people now will suffer later. I’m here for you no matter what, okay?”

“Thanks, Max. You’re a good friend.”

That made Max’s heart fill so much that she thought she might just explode.

---------

Kate and Max sat at the table for another thirty minutes, sitting and chatting. Max found out things about her that she didn’t know before, and Kate seemed extra curious about everything going on in Max’s life. It was normal, refreshing, and comfortable. As much as she loved Rachel and Chloe, sometimes she preferred to be alone - just by the simple logic that she wanted to be a wallflower sometimes. Rachel seemed to command a room whenever she was in it, all eyes on her, and Chloe was always loud and abrasive. She loved them both to death but as her anxiety for October began to rise, she needed a time or two to herself to simply observe the world.

Once the time rolled around for class, the girls packed their bags and walked up the path towards the front doors. Naturally, in true Blackwell fashion, the day couldn’t go by as peacefully as Max wanted.

“What the FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!”

The cry came from a bright-haired boy in a red jacket, screaming at Wells from the front steps of Blackwell. Frozen at the sudden outburst, Kate held onto Max’s arm as they took a step back, pausing before proceeding further.

Nathan was seething for whatever reason, smoke practically coming out of his ears. Next to him stood a disheveled-looking Victoria.

“Mr. Prescott, this is simply protocol, when you miss so many days --”

Wells was cut short as Nathan got up close to him, practically spitting at him as he continued to scream. “Do you even know who my father is?! You don’t get to suspend me or give me detention! I had important work to do --”

“Nathan, please,” came Victoria’s exasperated cry from next to him. As she reached for him, he jolted his arm back, letting out a loud hiss, almost hitting her.

Well, this was new.

Max had sort of figured the timeline would be a bit wonky after she saved Rachel - butterfly effect and all. However, the Nathan of Other Max’s timeline was noticeably different. He had shot Chloe in the bathroom of the school but not until October. It seemed he was unraveling early, for whatever reason.

Since she had warned Chloe about Nathan and Jefferson, herself and Rachel had avoided parties, keeping to themselves for the rest of the year and well into the summer. As a result, Chloe was never a victim of Nathan’s, and the whole situation in the bathroom was never going to happen. Rachel had also never accidentally died.

In truth, she wasn’t sure she would ever know what she changed. She had no idea what the nature of the friendship was between Victoria and Nathan in this timeline, or what Nathan was currently doing. All that she knew was that he was unstable and still working for Jefferson. An outburst from Nathan was just inevitable due to his mental state, but she hadn’t expected it to happen this early.

Whatever the case, Nathan let out a cry of “fuck this school!” before storming off. Glancing at him as he left, Max held her breath when she noticed they were walking right towards her.

“Get the fuck out of my way,” Nathan challenged, to which neither Kate nor Max immediately moved, a bit too frozen to move straight away. Shaking with rage aimed at anyone who was close, Nathan stepped forward, getting as close to Kate’s face as he had gotten to Wells. “I said get the fuck out of my fucking way, bitch.”

Kate swallowed in fear. Just as Max began to raise her hand to pull Kate aside before Nathan hurt her, she was surprised when someone else stepped in.

“Nathan, stop.”

Victoria was between them in an instant, raising a hand to Nathan’s chest to try and push him away. He seemed to stop under the touch, oddly enough, and glanced at her just long enough to acknowledge she was there.

“Nathan. Leave her alone. Please.”

Despite the fact that they were outside and nature gave them the soundtrack of a fall day, there was still enough silence in the air that you could hear a pin drop.

Victoria’s tone was completely different than any other tone she’d ever taken on. Gone was the determined hard ass, gone was the queen bitch - replaced with a broken young girl trying to make sure her best friend didn’t fall off the deep end. Whatever had happened to Nathan over the summer had made him crumble a thousand times faster.

And Victoria dropping her Head Bitch In Charge persona in front of everyone.... It was scary, as though Max was looking at a dog walking on it’s two hind legs. It felt unnatural.

Nathan glared just a moment longer before turning to walk off, letting Victoria lead him away. As she did so, she glanced back at Kate in an expression that could only be read as apologetic.

---------

The rest of the day passed with little event beyond that. Victoria and Nathan were both absent from classes, giving Max some room to screw her head on straight. That wasn’t a part of her master plan at all, nor was that a moment that had happened in the other timeline. Because of Nathan’s mental health collapsing, Victoria was starting to change too, right out in public. It was a culture shock for Max.

Jefferson’s class ended without much event, until she tried to head for the door and he stopped her.

“Max, can I speak with you for a minute?”

Despite the bad feeling she had, she nodded and stood in the middle of the room as the rest filtered out. Kate looked worried at Max’s expression, but she said nothing else and left with the others.

“Yes, Mr. Jefferson?”

Mark smiled. It only made Max feel more sick to her stomach. If she had to fight him off and turn back time, she’d do it again. Her right hand ached for some action.

“I understand you’re friends with Rachel Amber.”

Not liking where this was going, Max crossed her arms over her chest and nodded hesitantly, hoping her expression didn’t change too much. “Yeah. She doesn’t go here anymore.” It was a simple reminder, making sure Mark knew she wasn’t to be touched. She wasn’t about to give him anything else, though.

He pushed on. “She was a star pupil in my class and I’ve seen her out and about with you. I can see some of her influence in your work and your personality. You’re a wonderful photographer, Max. Something about your work is just so --” He paused, as though searching for the words. “-- new, raw. It’s a rarity.” Another pause and he examined her expression. “I also noticed how you’ve been connecting with Kate. You seem to be good at making friends. I can certainly see you becoming another Rachel Amber.”

I can certainly see you becoming another Rachel Amber. The words were meant to be somewhat complimentary, but it made Max nearly throw up on the spot. He had no idea the implications behind that statement, had no idea what it truly meant. Or maybe he did, somehow, and he was taunting her. The whole conversation felt off - like Mark was trying to get a read on her, trying to figure out what kind of a person she was. He was complimenting her work while mentioning Rachel one too many times. It felt like a veiled threat. She knew that Rachel was like a prize to him.

Maintaining her neutral expression, she fought off the angry tears threatening to break through the surface.

“Thank you, sir. Is there anything else?”

Mark looked surprised by the abrupt end in conversation before he shook his head. “No, nothing else. You are planning to submit to the Everyday Heroes contest, correct?”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Chapter Text

The end of the world party was on October 10th, 2013.

As Max noted on her notepad this morning, the date was September 13th, 2013.

She hadn’t expected to see this poster that she saw up on the board, but it was there, clear as day. This was not an “end of the world” party, but rather, a beach party, which made Max wince. She suspected that this hadn’t been in the other timeline, either, for Other Max did not appear in any memories. Unless she just hadn’t gone.

Why did random little things change so much? She had expected everything to be the exact same, but random things kept popping up. First Nathan’s outburst, then Victoria’s moods, and now the parties were changing. What else did the butterfly effect have an impact on? Was this her own doing?

Standing next to her, looking at the same poster, Chloe sighed.

She was standing a foot or so away from Max, close enough for Max to smell the cigarettes on her but not as close as Rachel would’ve gotten. Still, it was enough to make Max’s heart skip several beats as she turned to face the brunette.

“So this isn’t the party?”

Max shook her head, swallowing her nervousness as she looked back at the poster. “No, this is too early for it. Maybe they had another party planned. I dunno. Maybe this was always a part of the timeline. Or not.”

“But as far as we know no one we know gets hurt here.”

This time, Max nodded. “Kate’s incident is later on, this one is… it’s unmarked territory.”

“Alright then,” Chloe commented with a smile. “We’re going.”

If the shock didn’t show on Max’s face, it definitely showed in her tone. “Chloe, are you insane?! What if Nathan’s there?”

“We’ll have each other’s backs, Max. The three of us. Plus, we need to keep an eye on everyone. We’re the only three people who know the truth, which means we’re the strongest ones out there, we can make sure no one gets hurt. You’ve got your powers still! We’re an unstoppable time-jumping flag-waving pirate team!”

Max raised her right hand, as though it was cursed.

“I dunno, Chloe…”

“I promise not to get drunk. Or get high. Nothing to compromise the situation. I’ll even be the designated driver.”

She finally looked up, noticing Chloe’s begging expression. Finally, she sighed. “Fine, but please stick by me the whole night, no matter what.”

Chloe grinned, leaning down to press a kiss on Max’s cheek. She was taking a note right out of Rachel’s book, which was only confirmed when she smirked after.

“Rachel was right, you do blush easily.”

“Shut up,” she mumbled, feeling a mix of embarrassment and… something else.

---------

Around eight o’clock the night that the party rolled around, Max stood in her dorm room. The bag on her body held her camera, which she was preparing for her “manual saves”, along with her phone, some waters, and a first aid kit, just in case. She wasn’t sure what she needed all this crap for but better safe than sorry.

She knew that the girls were waiting for her outside, but she couldn’t find the strength to walk to the door and exit the dorm room. Instead, she continued to stand in the middle, silently begging herself to work up the strength to go.

Before she had the chance to, there was a polite knock at the door followed by someone barging right in.

“Let’s get our party on!” Chloe called out as she entered the dorm, grinning from ear to ear. As soon as she saw Max’s expression, her grin wavered, frowning instead. “You okay, Maxipad?"

The brunette debated faking that she wasn’t, but instead, she just shook her head. Words, however, didn’t come easily, and she faltered.

“She’s nervous, Chloe,” said the third girl as she closed the door and approached her friend. Rachel wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her into a quick hug before freeing her. “We’ll be with you the whole time, Max. We promise.”

“Yeah. Nothing bad happens at this party anyway. Right?” Chloe questioned, her tone much calmer and much more apologetic.

“I dunno, remember, Chloe?.” Finally speaking, the brunette licked her lips and sighed. "I didn't get any... memories about it overnight or anything.

“Well, we got your back, Max.” Rachel grinned. “We’ll even let you hold our hands, both of us. Right, Chloe?”

As the brunette looked at Chloe’s grin, she tried to pretend that that didn’t make her feel butterflies.

When the truck finally pulled into the parking lot near the beach, Max found that she had calmed considerably. The ride along with her best friends both laughing and joking around had certainly helped. However, if she was honest, it was both of their hands in her own which really did it.

She got to sit in the middle this time.

As they piled out slowly, Rachel held tightly onto Max’s hand while Chloe let go for a moment to shut the car off and get out. The three of them watched the scene in front of them: a bonfire in the middle of the sand had a bunch of beer bottles and rowdy teenagers around it, the rest of the beach and the surrounding forest area had scattered teenagers every few feet.

Unlike the one party she had been to, there was no “vortex club” area. Max held on tighter to Rachel’s hand as she reached the awareness that Nathan might be literally anywhere, her nervousness growing as they approached the party.

“Max! You made it out!” Cried Warren as he approached them, awkwardly trying to hug Max while she still had her hand in Rachel’s.

Max would be lying if she said the expressions on her girls’ faces didn’t make her heart flutter a little bit more.

Obviously tipsy, Warren stumbled back with a growing grin. “I didn’t think I’d see you here! Wow, everyone came out tonight! Must be a start of school thing. Hey, Chloe. I like your hair.”

“I like your nothing.”

“You’re funny.”

Max winced, wondering what “everyone” meant. As she got lost in her own thought, some cheerleaders approached them, making him a little wary as he stepped aside and eventually away from the group.

“Hey, Rachel,” greeted Dana, eyeing the hand that still held Max’s. “No luck getting out of Arcadia Bay after grad, huh?”

Rachel just shrugged. “I’ll get there eventually. How’s it going?”

As they engaged in what sounded like perfectly casual conversation, Max continued to look around. Dana and the others started to walk towards the belly of the party, allowing the three girls to follow. Max’s nervousness increased, lessened only when she felt Chloe grab her other hand. Glancing back at her, she was momentarily swayed by the concerned and caring expression on Chloe’s face.

Try as she might to appear tough, Max knew that her best friend was a softie inside, and she showed it with every action.

Squeezing Max’s hand, she trailed behind the group as Rachel took the lead, still chatting it up with the other girls. Max tried to ignore them, not wanting to dig up old memories by accident.

Eventually, they reached the middle of the party where most of the action was. Dana and the cheerleaders left, leaving the three girls alone. Rachel let go of Max’s hand as she walked over to the mutual drinks counter, grabbing a few beers for her and her girls.

Chloe moved to sit on a log near the fire, pulling Max towards her. She felt the smaller girl still trembling from a mixture of fear and the cold, so she pulled Max into her lap, making Max's stomach flip. She wasn't sure what had Chloe acting like this, but she wasn't going to complain.

“Thanks,” she said to Rachel, taking the beer. Rachel sat on the ground next to them, taking a sip of her own. Max kept hers at a distance.

“Not a bad party,” the blonde said after a few moments, looking up at the two of them. She smiled softly. The sight of Max being so comfortable with them made her heart swell, even if she wouldn't admit it out loud.

As it stood, neither of the two older girls really knew where Max stood in terms of potential crushes on them. Max wasn’t sure where she stood, either -- all she knew was that she felt safe and warm in the arms of them both. It was somehow more confusing than this time travel bullshit, which was saying a lot.

Leaning against Chloe, she laid her head on the bluenette’s chest, comforted by the sound of her heartbeat. A conversation began between the girl she was sitting on and the girl on the floor, but she was only half listening. Finally taking a sip of her beer, she made herself as comfortable as possible.

Despite the environment, despite the looks they occasionally got, Max was starting to calm down and feel comfortable here. The beach was beautiful, the water reflecting the stars brightly, making it shimmer. The stars were all out, not at all polluted by the light of the town. Chloe was warm and comfortable, her chest rising and falling with every breath, her ribcage shaking with every laugh. Max let her eyes close, enjoying the moment for all that it was.

She felt a chin on the top of her head and opened her eyes, shifting back a little to look up at Chloe. The bluenette was smiling at her, nothing but love and adoration in her eyes, making Max’s breath catch in her throat. She could taste the beer on Chloe’s breath, and it was making her very aware of her own.

“Doing okay?” Chloe asked, using her free hand to brush hair out of Max’s face. The brunette let her eyes close, nodding slowly. “Okay, good.”

As she laid her head back on Chloe’s chest, she noticed that Rachel was no longer sitting there. “Where’s Rach?”

“She went to get another drink,” Chloe commented with a small shrug. “None more for me, unfortunately. She assumed you didn’t want one.”

Nervous at how Rachel was no longer with them, Max bit her lip back and didn’t answer. Chloe must have noticed, for she wrapped a lazy arm around Max’s waist.

The comfort and joy she felt didn’t last very long. She heard the shouting before she saw it, Rachel walking into earshot, sounding like she was fuming.

“Fuck off, Victoria. This is a public fucking beach!” The blonde argued, glaring in her direction. Meanwhile, the pixie-cut blonde glared back at her, a few feet away.

“This is still run by the vortex club, and you’re not in it!”

“Half of these people aren’t.”

“Don’t care. Get you and your orgy out of here and stop drinking my beer.”

Rachel’s glare only grew. If looks could kill.

Storming back to them, Rachel grabbed her empty beer bottle and chucked it. Chloe was right when she’d described Rachel a few months ago: when she was angry, she was angry, but hell if she wasn’t still beautiful.

“Come on, guys,” she told the two of them, who quickly moved to stand up. Chloe was grabbed by the arm, while Max and her bag trailed behind, quick to make their exit.

An hour or so later, they found themselves on the other side of the parking lot, sitting in a small clearing, their car in view from the distance. They sat in a circle, finishing off the last of their beers, engaging in casual conversation. They had debated going back to the junkyard, but after Rachel’s anger subsided, they decided that they had to stick to their plan of making sure that Nathan didn’t act out.

Their plan proved to work, for there was commotion a few moments after their conversation died naturally.

Rachel was the first to notice it, head snapping up. The voice was familiar but loud, and it sounded like it was only from a few feet away, at the edge of the parking lot.

“Oh my god, oh my god, can you hear me?!”

The three of them exchanged glances before moving to stand up, Rachel leading the way. She saw the situation first as well, and ran ahead when her eyes realized what she was looking at.

At the end of the parking lot, near the very back of the party, among the beer bottles, Kate laid on the ground, a panicked Victoria shaking her shoulders. People looked on, one or two guys crouched near her, looking concerned.

“Kate?! Fuck, Kate, wake up,” she urged, shaking her again. Kate began to stir, looking up at her with a dopey grin.

“Victoria!” She greeted, her voice sounding slow and forced. No one even dared try making fun of Victoria for the name, and Rachel fell to her knees next to them.

“What happened?” She asked quickly, glancing at Victoria. To her surprise, the pixie-cut blonde was miles different than she’d seen her a few hours ago -- she looked freaked out, her hair disheveled, her eyes wide with worry.

“Kate, honey, can you stand?” Rachel decided to address Kate, instead, to which the blonde sort of nodded, her head lulling a bit too much.

“Fuck,” Victoria swore, leaning back as she moved to stand. Chloe crouched down, holding Kate by the other side as both her and Rachel began to try and lift her.

Max thought she was going to throw up, pass out, or both at the same time.

Meanwhile, Victoria had something else on her mind. Now that she was upright, she turned on the two guys who had been crouching near her. If they were afraid of her before this, they were terrified now, one guy scrambling to his feet as Victoria approached him with a fire in her eyes Max had only seen a few times before.

Despite being shorter, she grabbed the boy by his shirt as aggressively as possible, leaving marks on his chest with her nails. “What the FUCK is wrong with you! She was obviously fucking drugged! Are you out of your fucking mind?!”

He tried to scramble to answer, but she was already pushing him back with enough strength to knock him to his feet. The second guy ran off before Victoria could get her hands on him, but she was already turning back to the girls.

Kate was upright now, barely awake and leaning on the girls who were holding her up. Victoria made her way closer, putting a hand on Kate to hold her up. “This way,” she ushered them, nodding at the parking lot in front of them. “No way I’m putting her in your fucking trash heap of a car.”

Chloe grunted a response, but obeyed, leading Kate away. Max stayed behind, looking at the scene around her. As she did so, she noticed someone she didn’t recognize standing there, still holding out a phone and recording.

Without hesitation, the brunette approached them and grabbed the phone. As it was still unlocked, she opened the photos app, deleted the video, and threw the phone on the ground before walking up.

They made their way to the car before long, hoisting Kate into the back seat as Victoria started the car up. Max wanted to say something, anything, but her words failed her. This was already going way off plan, nothing like she expected.

“Who drugged her?” Chloe asked as they shut the door.

The girls expected a glare from Victoria at the question. Instead, she looked at them, and her mask failed, showing her true feelings for a brief moment before she shifted back into neutral. As she stared at them in fear and sorrow, the girls suspected that she knew the answer.

Chapter Text

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

As Victoria sat in the waiting room of the hospital, she found that, for once, words were lost on her.

She had a bad feeling ever since the school year started. Try as she might to keep Nathan in check, he was spinning out of control and she knew it. Max’s words rang in her head day after day, telling her to “watch her own”, ever since the first day. She had wanted to rage out at her but found the effort to be fruitless considering she’d echoed her exact thoughts out loud.

Now, here she sat, in the waiting room of Arcadia Bay’s tiny little hospital, while Kate Marsh, the kind and quiet Christian girl, tried to fight off drugs she had seen Nathan put in her drink.

Since his fuck up with the school, Nathan was slipping out of control. Jefferson no longer had a hold on his targets and had insisted the boy hunt down Kate Marsh next, but, thrown off his game, he hadn’t bothered to make sure they were completely alone when he’d drugged her, not noticing his friend had been watching.

She could excuse a lot of shit for Nathan, but that was crossing the line.

Kate coming to the party had been a joke at first. As soon as she’d shown up, Victoria’s plan was to make her life a living hell. It had absolutely worked; she was miserable the whole time, while everyone made fun of her for refusing to have a drink or acting like a Good Christian Girl the whole time. It was fun for Victoria, for once. She hated Kate before this, as much as she could hate someone she didn’t know -- fucking goody two shoes, running around preaching about Jesus, like anyone gave a fuck.

Until she saw what Nathan did, and saw Kate stalk off to make out with strangers.

She couldn’t have let it happen and still feel good about herself. Her gut feeling about Nathan was simply making her more and more aware of every shitty thing he did. As much as she didn’t like Kate, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to look in the mirror if she had left her alone. Victoria knew how handsy boys got when they were drunk.

With her hands clasped together, Victoria watched the floor in front of her as she tried to plan her next moves. It didn’t feel right to run off and leave Kate on her own, but she also hated being here more than anything.

Standing up, she made her way to the nearby gift shop, which was more of a tiny place to buy snacks as you waited than anything else. Still, she was able to find a stuffed bear and a balloon, and she rang up her American Express quickly, not wanting to be seen by anyone. Once she was back in the waiting room, she wrote a quick note and made her way down the hall towards the room.

Kate was sound asleep, still working off the drugs. Victoria found herself staring for a moment before she worked up the strength to walk further into the room, gently setting down the gifts on the bedside table before she turned on her heel and ran off.

--------

With the danger of David looming over their heads, the girls decided the smartest thing to do was to move their operations to the junkyard.

Max stood in front of the corkboard while her girls sat on the futon, watching her as she spoke. Pointing at Kate, she began to scratch off certain things before she proceeded. “So Victoria saving Kate was… unpredictable. But this is good, this means that Kate might not try to kill herself, and maybe…”

She paused, furrowing her eyebrows, frowning to herself. The girls exchanged looks, wondering if she was zoning out again, but then she pushed on. “Victoria might get through to Nathan, I dunno. Or might report Nathan or something. Either way, this is good, I think.”

“We already foiled Jefferson’s plans by saving me,” Rachel said, taking a sip of her drink before she continued. “Maybe they’re losing control of the situation, which is why they’re doing stupid shit like drugging Kate in front of everyone, or messing with Vicky.”

Max nodded, looking thoughtful. She sat down on the chair near the corkboard, trying to figure out her next words, while the others waited patiently.

“Kate being drugged was what led our investigation in the other timeline, it’s how we tried to take Nathan down. I don’t think we need to use that anymore, considering Victoria saw him, but we should still steal Frank’s stuff as proof somehow. Maybe.” She paused, scratching the back of her head. “Fuck, I’m starting to lose track of how to fix things.”

Rachel stood up, crossing over to her and examining the board. “The only person who can get through to Nathan is Victoria, and she saw the whole thing happen. If she does that would lead to finding out about Jefferson. But there’s a chance she might not even tell anyone.”

“So should we talk to Victoria first?”

“I think that’s a good idea.”

Chloe groaned, rolling her head dramatically. “Can we do literally anything other than talk to her?”

Max shook her head in response, pulling out her camera from her bag. “She’s our best bet.”

“I can’t stand her ass.”

“I know.” Max paused, holding the camera up and snapping a save point photo of the two girls looking disgruntled. Even in the shitty lighting of the building and the terrible angle she was on, they looked as beautiful as ever. She fought off a smile as she pocketed the picture, continuing. “But she’s not as bad as you think, you know. She’s just as insecure as any of us, she just has a hard time showing it.”

“Bullshit.”

“It’s true, I’ve seen it.”

Chloe scoffed, but didn’t argue it further. It gave Max a chance to continue.

“After Kate…” She faltered, not wanting to finish the sentence. “... I found Victoria in her room, crying her eyes out. She felt so guilty, and I felt really bad. I wanted to rewind and take it all back, but my powers had failed on the roof, and I knew it was pointless.”

Sighing, Max let her camera drop back into her bag and turned back to the board. Other Max’s memories were merging with hers even more lately, and she felt the guilt as real as if it was her own. The rest of the room remained silent, not wanting to remind Max of what she’d lost in a different timeline. They knew how much it weighed her down, how much she fought with herself. “Whatever, we know what we have to do now.”

“Why don’t we take a break?” Rachel suggested, offering a gentle smile to both of the girls, trying to ease the tension in the room. “We can go back to your dorm, Max, watch a movie or something. We really need to get you a TV.”

Max shrugged, but took the offer, and half an hour later they were parked outside of the dorms. Max led them towards the doors, avoiding David walking around with a flashlight, even though Chloe had insisted that she could hit him just once and Max’s powers could save them from getting in trouble. Sneaking their way to Max’s room, they walked past Kate’s empty room and Victoria’s. As she began to unlock her door, she heard a loud noise from inside of Victoria’s room, and froze.

Chloe stood in front of her girls protectively, acting on instinct, watching as Nathan made his way out of Victoria’s room, looking angry and disheveled.

“Nathan, listen to me!” Victoria demanded, following him out of the room, not noticing the other girls in the hall. “I’m not telling you to tell anyone, I just want you to explain to me what’s going on!”

“I can’t, Victoria.” Nathan turned on his heel, facing her. His expression changed, the anger fading and replaced by something else. “Please, just trust me.”

With that, he quickly left, leaving her standing in her doorway, looking like she was battling with a thousand emotions at once. As she met eyes with the girls, she stormed back inside of her room.

Don’t do it, Max. Don’t do it.

The photographer glanced back at her girls. Chloe shook her head but Rachel nodded, and that was all that she needed. She let go of her door, dropping the keys in Chloe’s hands, and walked over to Victoria’s, making her way inside and leaving the others in the hall.

“Go the fuck away,” Victoria demanded, her tone a little less firm than normal. She sounded too exhausted to fight but shot Max a deadly look. “You can’t just walk into my room!”

Max stood in the middle of the room and looked at the pixie-cut blonde. “Are you okay?”

The question seemed to deflate Victoria of whatever fight she had, and she just shook her head, muttering a; “Whatever.” She sat on the chair on her desk, slumping over. Max gently closed the door so no one else could see them and then went back to her position of standing awkwardly.

Victoria looked like she was about to rip her hair out, but she kept silent as she sat there, hand tugging on her hair and eyes downcast. Max was cautious when she stepped closer, but did so anyway.

“Look.. I know it’s not my place, but… I used to have a friend like him. A little tortured, made some bad decisions. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I’m sure he really appreciates you trying to help him.” She crossed her arms over her chest, pushing on when Victoria didn’t answer. “Victoria, I think he might be caught up in some bad shit. I’m worried about him, and I know you care about him.”

Victoria remained deadly silent, letting it stretch into the air for a bit too long. When she turned to face the other girl, Max was surprised to see her eyes were red and puffy, and for once, Victoria looked vulnerable. She was suddenly glad she closed the door.

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to help him,” she said, finally sighing. “Nobody cares about him but me.”

Her voice was so quiet that Max barely heard it, but she pushed on, desperate to get through to her. “That’s not true. What about his family?”

“They throw money at him and ignore him.” She threw her arms in the air, moving to stand up and pace around the room, nearly knocking Max over as she did so.

“I’m sure there’s someone.”

“Why do you care anyway?” She snipped, her voice devoid of any real anger.

Max swallowed, debating whether or not to continue, but she finally decided might as well take the risk. “Kate’s my friend. I don’t want anyone else hurt. Not her, not you, not even Nathan. He needs help.”

Wondering if she’d crossed the line, Max froze in the spot as Victoria stared at her. Finally, her shoulders sagged once more, and the look of defeat on her face was so strong that Max found herself feeling the urge to hug her, which was weird in itself.

“I guess I can talk to his sister.”

Trying not to let the relief show on her face, Max nodded. “Right. That’s an idea. You can start there and see what happens.” After an awkward pause, she took a step back. “Well, I’ll leave you to it, then.”

“Sure,” Victoria responded, ushering her out. As Max opened the door, she was surprised to feel a hand on her arm, and she looked at Victoria, who looked like she was just as surprised. “Max?”

“Yeah, Victoria?”

“Thanks.”

Knowing that Victoria would deny this tomorrow, she offered the other girl a small smile regardless and nodded before heading out the door.

--------

Max woke up the next morning still tangled in a mess of limbs and hair.

Blinking herself awake, she slowly turned her head, taking in her surroundings. Chloe was draped over her, the bluenette’s head laying on the top of her head, while Rachel laid next to them, properly and quietly curled up against Max’s side. Why neither of them moved to the couch was a question she couldn’t answer; she had been the first to fall asleep after the second movie, and didn’t remember anything after that.

She was tempted to move but decided better of it, instead just shifting to get more comfortable between them. As she did so, Chloe squeezed her a little tighter and she realized the other girl was still awake. Lifting her head, she met Chloe’s eyes, smiling at her.

Chloe was so radiant in the morning light it took Max’s breath away. She remembered all the sleepovers and all the times she’d woken up before her, watching her blonde hair reflect the sunlight, feeling butterflies in her tummy. Her blue hair somehow reflected it better and Max felt those familiar butterflies come back -- dammit Max, you are uselessly gay. She swallowed, resisting the urge to look behind her and glance at Rachel, who likely looked just as stunning as Chloe did in the morning light.

She realized then that this position was not the best one for her to be in at all unless she wanted to become a blushing mess.

Propping herself up on her elbow, Chloe looked down at her with a responding smile, oblivious to the torment in Max’s head. “I think we’re making a habit of this cuddling thing,” she commented.

Max shrugged, feeling that goddamn cursed blush in her cheeks. “I’m not complaining, are you?”

“I mean, you no longer try to push me off in your sleep so I guess it’s fine.”

This time the brunette snorted, shifting her weight once more to snuggle up to Chloe’s chest so she wasn’t looking her in the eyes. She should get up but she’d be damned if she didn’t want to give in to selfishness just this once. She didn’t even want to bother with thinking about the implications behind what they were doing, she just wanted to enjoy it. She could remember about a million memories with Other Max and Other Chloe and she was happy to confirm that she still felt like home after all these years.

Soothed into relaxation Chloe’s heartbeat, she closed her eyes, not daring to move even when she felt Chloe’s free hand raise from being wrapped around her to instead thread through her brunette hair. The sensation felt familiar and new at the same time, and she felt a shiver run through her body as she nuzzled closer, not daring to look up in case she was still red in the face.

(She was, of course.)

“I’m worried about you,” Chloe mumbled from above her, making Max finally lift her head to look at her. The brunette examined Chloe’s throat and chin from the angle she was at, resisting the urge to lean up and kiss it. Dammit Max, get it together.

“Why?” She questioned, waiting for the other to look down at her and meet her eyes, which she eventually did.

“Other Max had a lot of shitty memories, dude. I don’t know what else you’re gonna see. And you always black out when it happens. The closer we get to October the more freaked I am. I’m starting to think I should just have a bodyguard around you at all times just in case.”

Max snorted, laying her head back. “I’m getting less worried about that, honestly. I think I’ve seen most of her shitty memories so far.” (She was wrong, but it’s not like she knew that.) “She has a lot of good ones I see sometimes, so that’s been nice.

“Like what?” Chloe questioned, head tilting slightly.

It was now that she had moved up enough to give Chloe the chance to see the blush in her cheeks. She tried to fight it off, but Chloe’s sudden question only made it ten times worse. Clearing her throat, she just shrugged a little bit, careful not to disturb or wake up Rachel behind her. She had walked right into this. “Nothing.”

“Fuck no, you don’t get out of this conversation that easily,” Chloe challenged, leaning in a little with a smirk. “You said they were good memories. Is my hot ass in them?”

Max swallowed nervously, but slowly nodded. “You’re in almost all of them.”

“Like from that week? Before?”

“Both. And A-After.”

Stop answering, Max, you’re getting yourself into trouble here.

“What happened in them?”

Max debated it for a minute. She hadn’t exactly explained to Chloe the nature of their relationship in the other timeline, she had expected (or hoped) that it would progress naturally. Somehow, presumably from Rachel’s influence, they had been pushed together even closer in a shorter amount of time in this new timeline.

Still, from this angle, Max’s breath caught in her throat. She’d had a crush on her childhood best friend ever since she was a pre-teen, but over the years her friend had simply gotten more beautiful, she’d really grown into her own. Teenage fantasies of running her hand through golden hair had changed to blue, of running her fingertips over bare skin had changed to tracing Chloe’s tattoos.

Realizing how silent she’d been in the past few moments, Max slowly drifted back to reality, seeing Chloe’s confused face above her. If she tried to explain now, she was sure the words would fail, tripping over her tongue like they were knocked off balance. Instead, she let the memory of a morning in Chloe’s bedroom dance through her brain as she decided to just fucking do it Max you coward.

The kiss was chaste and quick, too quick for Chloe to respond aside from a shocked expression, much like she had that morning. As soon as she did it, Max began to pull herself off the bed so she could get ready for the day, not wanting to see the aftermath of the kiss.

If she had stayed, she would have noticed how Rachel, who had been awake the entire time, smirked at a confused Chloe for a solid minute before pushing her by the shoulder, giggling out a whispered “I told you so”.

Chapter Text

Jefferson’s class was as usual; it was nearing the end of the month now, and Max could feel the tension in her shoulders whenever she sat in the back of the class.

Since the incident at the party, Kate had been incredibly quiet. Unlike in the other timeline, no one bullied her for the kisses or for being drugged - Victoria was still visibly livid with the whole situation, and nobody was gonna undermine her. She didn’t make a point to talk to Kate or sit with her, but it was progress, sorta.

Max sat on the other side of the class, dead silent as she watched Jefferson drone on and on. She had taken to sitting next to Kate, occasionally writing her a note and sliding it over, happy to see when Kate smiled a tiny bit in response to a joke she’d made.

She yawned as she adjusted herself in her chair, her mind wandering back to the night before. It had been a couple of days since she’d kissed Chloe suddenly while curled up on their bed, and although things had been a little awkward between them as they both always chickened out of saying anything about it, their plans to fix this timeline were slowly forming.

She knew that she would inevitably have to run into David sometime soon. He was a key part to this whole thing, and she suspected he would be the one to eventually bust Jefferson. Still, Max found herself increasingly nervous. It didn’t help when he, as if on cue, walked right in during the lesson and gestured for Kate and Victoria to accompany him to the headmaster’s office.

Left alone, Max let the rest of the class drone on until she was finally freed. Grabbing her bags, she quickly ran past the rest of the class and Jefferson, eventually finding herself right outside the doors, nearly running into Rachel.

It was so easy to be caught in Rachel’s wake. She was like a tidal wave, hitting you all at once, knocking the breath out of you. Max wasn’t a fool -- she knew what it meant when your breath was caught when you looked in someone’s eyes. For a moment, she was distracted by Rachel’s smile and her hair, and she forgot what she was doing.

“Whoa there,” the blonde said in amusement, grabbing Max’s shoulders to steady her. “You okay?”

Max snapped out of it. “Yeah. Did you see Kate and Victoria walk by?”

Rachel nodded somberly. “Wells called them, I don’t know what’s going on in there. Do you think she’s going to tell him what happened?”

Max shrugged, feeling a sinking feeling in her chest. She knew the aftermath of telling Wells about Nathan, she had mistakenly done so in one timeline. It never led to anything except angering Nathan. She didn’t think Victoria would sell him out to Wells, but the thought made her increasingly nervous. Rachel took the hint and held onto her arm and led her down the hall, heading for the main office.

As they walked into the office, David was no longer there, but rather, a secretary who raised her eyebrows at them. Rachel sat down on the chair, eyeing Max, knowing she had a plan.

She sure did.

Reaching into her pocket, she called Rachel, waiting for the blonde to answer her phone. Plugging her earbuds into Rachel’s phone, snatched it from her, she gestured for Rachel to stay sitting as she strolled into the office without a second thought.

“Don’t mind me,” Max mumbled as she walked into the middle of the room, much to the confusion of everyone in there. Heading for the nearest cabinet, she put her own phone on speaker, muttering a: “testing?” into it.

Satisfied, the brunette dropped her phone in the cabinet, leaving it open enough for them to hear, before walking back towards the door.

“Ms. Caulfield, what in the WORLD --”

As they walked into the office, David was no longer there, but rather, a secretary who raised her eyebrows at them. Rachel sat down on the chair, eyeing Max, knowing she had a plan. It was then that she noticed Max was holding her phone in her free hand. “Max, what --”

Max waved her off, moving to sit next to her, handing her one of the earbuds. The phone call kept going, even if Rachel was hella confused - it was one of the things she’d tested for herself while messing around with her power over the summer. She put the earbud in her ear and waited for Rachel to do the same so they could listen.

“Ms. Marsh, we will make this simple for you,” Wells began, sounding gruff. “I understand the police spoke with you the other night when you went to the hospital, correct?”

“Yeah,” came Kate’s quiet and scared voice, which brought a rage to Max’s chest but she bit it down.

“Here at Blackwell, we intend to keep our students safe as much as possible. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors that are going around. I want you to understand, Ms. Marsh, that if someone hurt you, especially one of our students, I would want to know.”

“I don’t think Ms. Marsh has any kind of obligation to speak here, especially not when there’s an ongoing investigation. Plus, she’s still a minor, which means she doesn’t have to answer your questions if she doesn’t want to.”

Rachel snorted. When Wells had brought in Victoria to be a second witness, he hadn’t expected her to go all lawyer on him. Kate smiled gratefully, and although the girls couldn’t hear it over the phone, they could see it in their heads.

“Of course, Ms. Chase. I’m not asking her to speak on the investigation. Do you know anything about this, Victoria?”

“If I did I wouldn’t tell you.”

It was surprising to hear Victoria standing up to Wells - especially in regards to Kate. She would normally bend over backwards to impress that man. Surprising, but not unwelcome. The girls listened closer.

Wells seemed uncomfortable. “I simply want to make sure you two feel safe here, and like you can come to me with anything.”

“Well, we don’t. Is there anything else?”

“Ms. Chase --”

“Wells, if we’re not in trouble you have no rhyme or reason to keep us here. Either of us.”

The silence that filled the room was so long that the girls thought the call may have dropped. Finally, Wells scoffed.

“Very well, ladies,” he said, gesturing for the door.

Gratefully, Victoria stood up, leading Kate to the exit. They didn’t even notice Rachel and Max sitting there as they walked right past her.

--------

“So what does that mean?” Chloe asked as she stuffed her face with a cupcake.

Max resisted the urge to laugh at her and just shrugged. “Victoria doesn’t trust Wells, I guess. I mean, she knows better than anyone what the Prescotts have under their belt and the power they have. I guess she thinks if she tells Wells about Nathan he won’t do anything about it aside from brushing them off.”

“Either that or she’s protecting Kate,” Rachel responded, grabbing a cupcake for herself.

“You think? I didn’t strike them as friends.”

The blonde scoffed. “Please, she’s done nothing but protect her lately.”

Max fell quiet, thinking about it, remembering the past memories she had of Victoria crying in Kate’s room. Perhaps Victoria’s caring side was much less buried than she had expected. She wasn’t sure if it was due to the timeline shifting or a simple aftermath of the party. Had she caused this or only had the privilege of witnessing it? Was Kate’s suicidal thoughts completely off the table now that she had someone she seemed to be able to almost rely on other than her? So lost was she in those thoughts that she didn’t even notice when Warren approached, looking hesitant.

“Hey, Maximum Drive,” he started, warily looking between the two girls. Chloe appreciated the pun, but she’d rather die than say it out loud, so she just kept up her glare party in Warren’s direction. “Can we talk for a second?”

“Sure,” Max said, standing up and making her way over to him, walking away from the disgruntled girls still sitting at the table. “What’s up, Warren?”

He crossed his arms, sighing. “I wanted to do something nice for Kate. You know, because of the party? But I can’t think of anything.”

“That’s very sweet of you, Warren.” She paused, thinking. Warren really was a nice guy - even though he was a little naive. “You’re a movie geek, right?”

He nodded, encouraged.

“Maybe you can find her some funny movies and put them on a USB drive for her. Something without sex scenes or violent scenes, I guess. She really likes bunnies too, a stuffed bunny would be cool.” She shrugged. “Just do it from the heart, Warren. I’m sure she’d really appreciate just the thought, like I said, it’s very sweet of you.”

He thought for a moment before grinning. “Thanks, Max,” he said excitedly, reaching out to pull her into a hug.

Max thought she would be stiff and hate it, but truthfully? She remembered watching Warren die in the diner, and she couldn’t help but hug him back. Saving him from the storm was one of her priorities. It didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.

“Anytime.”

“Movie offer still stands.”

She smirked. “Maybe someday.”

He shrugged, taking that as a satisfying answer, before walking off. When Max returned to her party, she noticed how Chloe was glaring after him.

She couldn’t help herself. “Jealous, Chloe?”

“Oh, come on, Max, that guy is like, practically drooling over your feet!” She pouted, clearly moping. The brunette shook her head and sat back down, exchanging a knowing look with Rachel before they went back to their snacks.

--------

“You can come in, if you want.”

Kate’s room was exactly how Victoria had expected it to be. It was clean and proper, not unlike her own, with a cross on the wall and the rest of the room pretty empty of posters and photos, aside from a couple of her family. Her bunny was in a cage in the corner, sound asleep, her bed on the floor and a small couch on one side.

She had been standing in the door, unsure why she even showed up. It’s as though she wanted to take one last look of her before going into her own dorm. Victoria towards the couch after a moment’s hesitation, closing the door behind her. Once she was (somewhat) comfortable, she watched as the smaller girl walked around the room towards her designated tea area.

“Would you like some tea?” Kate asked quietly, glancing at the other, who nodded.

“Sure.”

“Okay.” Kate fell quiet again, focusing on the tea. The only sound in the room was the bunny kicking in her sleep and the sound of cups moving around before eventually she walked back to Victoria, handing her the tea. In the meantime, Victoria had looked around, but found that there was not much to see in here.

“I, um --” Kate began, biting her lip back as she moved to sit on the end of her bed. Her fingers trembled as she took a sip of her own tea, but her voice remained steady. “I appreciate what you’ve done for me. The balloon was very nice, too.”

“Yeah, well, don’t get used to it,” Victoria responded. If she was in a better mood, perhaps her tone would have reached the intended snippiness, instead of just sounding dull.

“I won’t,” Kate answered, a slightly amused smile on her lips. “I know about your reputation. But I also remember, even if it’s blurry, you saved me that night.”

Victoria, clearly uncomfortable, just nodded.

“If there’s anything I can do for you, please just let me know.”

“I don’t need your pity,” Victoria spat, feeling the anger starting to finally boil over the way she had intended it to. To her surprise, Kate didn’t wince or move away, she just listened. Setting her cup down, she moved to stand, irritation biting at her insides. “Just forget I did anything. We’re not friends, Kate.”

“We don’t have to be.”

“Well, good.”

She paused, examining Kate’s face with a glare. That’s the thing about Kate -- Victoria envied her ability to be honest about her feelings, to always be genuine and express how she felt. Victoria had never developed that ability. Her entire life, she had to conceal her feelings or she wouldn’t be respected in her own home. The older she got, the worse it got, until she eventually was just too good at it. Her mask had become a part of her, a part she didn’t know how to live without.

Kate, though, was clearly ten times more genuine. Her expression was a mix of sadness, gratefulness, curiosity, and confusion. She could read everything in the other girl’s expression and that infuriated her as much as it intrigued her.

As Victoria turned to leave, figuring the conversation was over, the smaller girl finally stood along with her. “Hold on, Victoria,” she asked, waiting for the taller one to stop in her tracks and slowly turn around.

Kate walked over to her desk, setting down her cup and picking something up. She handed it to Victoria, smiling cautiously. “We don’t have to be friends or anything like that. But you saved me. If there’s anything you ever need, just let me know.” She paused, examining Victoria’s expression, which was slowly crumbling. “And I promise, I won’t tell anyone it was…” She stuttered, not wanting to bring up the name. “I won’t tell Wells. Not unless you want me to.”

Victoria swallowed, realizing what she was asking of Kate. Looking down, she saw the piece of paper she’d been handed; it was a sketch of the two of them, Kate’s skills evident in her careful pencil work. It was a bit messy, considering she had done it in the hospital - to her, this was a gift, this was a love language. It was her version of a gift. Her family wasn’t wealthy enough for lavish gifts, after all.

Victoria would be lying if she said it didn’t warm her heart.

She looked up to meet Kate’s eyes, hoping her own didn’t give her away. “Don’t tell anyone yet, Kate. I’ll figure this out for you.”

“I believe you.”

Victoria offered a small, pained smile, before she turned to leave. Once she was back in her dorm and she could let her walls crumble down, she carefully reached for a pin and put up the drawing right over her desk.

Chapter Text

The absolute last thing that Max expected was to hear a knock at her door at midnight that night.

She was buried in her homework, checking her phone every few seconds. Apparently Rachel and Chloe were busy tonight, so she had the chance to finish her homework that she’d been falling behind on. Unfortunately, her memories did not extend to homework, and she had to re-learn all of this. It was frustrating how it was familiar and confusingly different at the same time. Would this ever get easier?

When she heard the knock, she lifted one of her earbuds, moving towards the door. Victoria standing on the other side in her silk pajamas was a surprise, but the brunette stepped aside to silently let her in, shutting the door behind her. She figured if Victoria was here so late at night, something was important.

“We need to talk,” Victoria began, voice snippy as ever but expression cautious. Max nodded, gesturing for her to sit on the futon so she could grab them some water bottles. After handing one to her, she sat on the floor, waiting.

“Your room is disgusting,” Victoria continued, sneering at the clothes on the floor. Max just shrugged.

“I didn’t expect guests.”

“You live in this filth?”

“Yep.” Max didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of being annoyed so Victoria would get to the point. Not to mention, she had been through too much lately to let this annoy her anymore.

Victoria, as though taking the hint, sighed and began to toy with the end of her pajamas as she thought of how to approach the situation. Finally, she spoke, her voice noticeably quieter. “I don’t know what to do about Nathan.”

The brunette waited patiently, encouraging her to go on. Victoria sighed again, this time louder and more dramatic. To anyone else, it would’ve seemed like she was getting annoyed, but Max had learned enough about her to learn the truth - she was upset, worried. This was just how Victoria communicated - the second her mask began to drop, she needed anger to put it back up. It was the one emotion she knew how to control. Max sincerely hoped someday she’d be able to feel something other than anger as vividly as she did that emotion.

“I think he’s in something. He keeps skipping out on class and acting weird around me. The other day he told me to just trust him. He told me that he can’t tell me the truth, he can’t get me in trouble. I’m kind of… freaked out.” She looked up, meeting Max’s eyes. “He’s not a bad guy.”

Max swallowed the urge to scream about everything Nathan had done to her and those she loved, and just nodded instead. She was trying to be a better person in situations like this. Nothing got solved if she didn’t. “I know. What do you think he’s caught up in?”

“Fuck, Max, I don’t know,” she grumbled, running a hand through her messy hair. “Something bad. I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know how to help him.”

Max thought carefully, not dwelling on the satisfaction she felt when Victoria called her by her real name and not a snark nickname. There were a few things she could try. If she gave Victoria the evidence that Frank had been selling to Nathan, she could take him down, which might mean that Jefferson got no more drugs for his escapades. However, Frank might not be the key to this at all. Victoria admired Jefferson too much for Max to mention him, plus she had no evidence against him yet. She would probably march right out. Convincing her to go to the cops wouldn’t work.

“Did you end up talking to his family?” Max finally asked, deciding that was the safest route.

Victoria shook her head. “I sent his dad an email and he didn’t reply yet. His sister won’t answer my texts, either.”

“What did the email say?”

“I explained what happened at the party and how worried I am for him.” She paused, biting her lip. “I also mentioned the farm he sleeps at.”

That made Max freeze, flashbacks prickling at the corners of her brain. “Farm?”

Victoria nodded, clearly cautious with her next words. “I followed him the other day and he kept going there, it was like some empty shack, I don’t remember what it’s used for, but I’m pretty sure his family owns it and it’s abandoned. He used to have parties there when we were younger. If he’s sleeping outside then he’s more fucked up than I thought. He has a house, for Christ’s sake.”

The brunette tried not to give it away in her face, but she knew this was bad. If Jefferson found out that Victoria was sneaking around and on the verge of finding out his secret, she was in serious danger. He would be her next target.

Max didn’t need more blood on her hands.

Clearing her throat, she looked up at the other. “Maybe that’s enough. His sister’s probably just busy right now and will read it later.”

“I kinda wanna go there,” she said wistfully, as though lost in thought.

“No!”

It came out louder than intended, and Victoria looked at her with a raised eyebrow.

“No?”

“Uh, I mean -- it could be dangerous to go out there alone, I should come with you.”

“What, you and your guard dogs?” Victoria smirked, although it looked more sarcastic than anything. She pushed on. “What is the nature of that relationship, anyway? Seems like more than one big orgy. Is the tiny little hippy into polyamory?”

Max’s face flushed but she ignored it, moving to sit next to Victoria, keeping her tone serious. “Victoria, think about it. You said he was in some dangerous shit. And now he’s using an old-run down barn on the regular? You have no idea what’ll be in there. You can’t go alone. Please, promise me.”

Victoria stared wide-eyed at her for several long seconds before finally shaking her head. “Alright, jeez, you’re intense today.”

“Thank you.”

A silence filled the air between them before Victoria spoke again. “Seriously though, what is the nature of that relationship?”

Max groaned.

--------

This place was disgusting, in Victoria’s opinion. The countertops were dirty, the air was filled with the smell of fish, and the food looked like it was made in a microwave. She wouldn’t be caught dead in a building like this. Her designer clothes were meant for something ten times nicer.

For Max, she was right at home.

The two of them sat in the corner booth of the Two Whales, sipping their drinks as they watched the door. Max was admittedly nervous, but she tried her best not to let it show.

She had, of course, told her girls that Victoria had shown up and wanted to talk to them about something, deciding not to go into detail over the phone. They’d mutually agreed that telling Victoria everything was a bad idea. She was emotional and impulsive (much like Chloe) and could ruin their plans. Rather, Max was planning to help ease her girls into the idea of going into the barn altogether, grabbing evidence, and running.

Victoria stalking Nathan enough to know about the barn was news to this timeline. Nathan going to the barn at all was news to this timeline.

This was risky territory.

Her girls showed up right on time. Rachel approached the table right away, all eyes on the diner on her (even the creepy pervs, and Max had to resist the urge to use her rewind to punch them). Chloe was a little later, making a point to approach her mom first and yell at her about something.

“Hey, cutie,” she greeted Max, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek. Max instantly flushed red while Victoria sneered at them. She wasn’t a big fan of Rachel to begin with, and Max was too nice to be caught up in Rachel’s bullshit. Pissing Victoria off, of course, had been Rachel’s intention.

The action was enough to make Max feel those cheesy butterflies she’d always dreamed about feeling but had only ever felt around Chloe until recently. Christ, these girls were going to kill her someday.

“This is the most depressing party ever,” Chloe greeted as she sat on the table, her feet on the table. She smirked at the girl next to Max. “You look out of place, Vicky.”

“Victoria. And I’m used to more clean establishments,” she commented with a glare at the other girl’s feet.

“I resent that,” commented Joyce as she approached the table, a smile on her face. Victoria would look embarrassed if she had the capacity to do so. “Rachel, Chloe, what would you like to drink? And Chloe, feet down off the table, please.”

They answered at the same time with “coke, please” and “you know what I like”.

As Joyce walked off, the girls began to address each other.

“So, Maxi Pad, why bring us here?” Asked Chloe as she leaned back, putting an elbow on Rachel’s shoulder, ignoring the other girl’s attempts to shrug her off.

“Well,” she started, glancing at Victoria, who had suddenly faded in confidence and looked slightly nervous. It was disorienting to see out in public. “We have a potentially bad idea.”

“Aren’t all of our ideas bad?”

“Sort of. But this one is really bad.” She paused, sucking in a breath. “Victoria thinks she may know something about what Nathan is tied up in. She knows about a barn he goes to on occasion. She thinks it may be in our best interest to check it out.”

The table fell silent. Both Rachel and Chloe knew what the barn meant, and they exchanged looks with Max that danced between concern, fury, and worry all at once. Rachel spoke up first. “Why can’t we call the cops?” She knew that the Prescotts had the cops in their pocket, but maybe if they saw the bunker...

“That would be idiotic even for you,” Victoria answered, glaring at her. The tension was clear between the two of them but the other two at the table pushed past it.

“So what, you want all of us to go?! By ourselves?” Chloe asked, frowning. She had her eyes trained on Max, worry written all over her features. The brunette had never seen such a look on Chloe and it scared her. “It seems dangerous.”

“We’ll be prepared,” she answered, hoping Chloe understood what she meant. Chloe knew she was talking about her powers, but it did nothing to reassure her.

“I don’t think drugging Kate was the first thing he’s done,” Victoria began, surprising even Max. As she spoke, she leaned forward in her seat, so only they could hear. “Do you remember the parties from last year? Rachel, you were there.”

Rachel nodded cautiously.

“Everyone was high, like normal. But do you remember Carol?”

“Carol Mendez?”

“She went to a party in November and after that… she just changed… and then she dropped out, out of nowhere.” Victoria paused, biting her lip. She was no longer addressing any of the girls, but simply speaking, as though talking to herself. “I have a really bad feeling about this.”

As Victoria lost herself in thought, the three other girls exchanged increasingly nervous looks. Right at that moment, Joyce approached, taking their orders and Victoria snapped out of it, sitting straight upright again.

“Right, well, we’ll need to get a couple of things but we can probably do it tonight,” Rachel started, earning another glare from the girl across the table.

“I’m pretty sure that Nathan has been sleeping there, Amber. We need to go during a time when we know it's empty. He's been skipping school a lot so school hours are out of the question." She paused, thinking. "He has a meeting with Wells after school at seven on Friday and I know he isn’t going to miss it because his dad has to be there. We’ll have maybe an hour from that point, it seemed serious when I overheard him on the phone.”

“Alright, after school it is,” Chloe agreed, digging into her food.

Victoria looked around the table as though just realizing the company she was keeping. Chloe, with her messy hair and ugly beanie; Max, with her happy go lucky innocent girl attitude; and Rachel, who she just straight up hated. “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe I’m sitting at a table with you losers.”

“Eat your pancakes, Vicky.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Or what? You’ll hit me with your purse?”

“I’ve always wondered what you looked like with a black eye.”

“I’ve always wondered what you looked like dead.”

“Great comeback, did your dad teach you that one?”

“Guys, please,” interjected Max, shaking her head at the two of them, who were fuming at each other. They went quiet, eating their food.

This was going to be a blast.

--------

October 1st was that coming Monday, and, as a result, Max was scared out of her mind. Friday evening rolled around and she felt like she was about to scream. This was too close for comfort.

The timing for their little adventure happened to work out perfectly. Sean and Nathan were tied up with Wells exactly at five, and it seemed like a serious meeting. Max had used her powers in class to check Jefferson's schedule, and he turned out to have some kind of dinner meeting that evening, which meant that they had just enough time to get into the barn. An hour should be enough.

They pulled up in Victoria’s luxury sedan, Chloe and Max in the back while Rachel sat at the front. The ride there was mostly silent, with Chloe secretly fuming because they’d all decided her truck was much too loud for sneaking around. In an attempt to calm her down, Max was holding her hand, but she wasn’t sure if Chloe’s blush was from anger or from the close contact.

They reached the barn just in time, the girls piling out one by one. Rachel had agreed to be the one to stay in the car to keep an eye out, shifting to the driver’s side, keeping the car on. After a quick goodbye, Chloe joined the other two at the front of the barn. Max exchanged a nervous look with Rachel in the car, her smile not quite reaching.

Slipping on gloves, the three of them walked inside slowly, examining the structure. As expected, it was virtually empty, save for the one trunk that Chloe had opened up in another timeline. She did the same now, waiting for Victoria to walk over and look at everything, frowning when nothing seemed remarkable in there.

The latch was in the exact same spot that she expected it to be in. The process to open it up was the same as it had always been, and before long Max had pushed over the large machine and the latch had broken clean off. She did so quickly enough that the other two didn’t notice until she was already opening it.

“Over here,” she called to them as she walked down the stairs towards the familiar bunker. Like before, memories began to eat at her brain, threatening for her to fade out any second now. She gritted her teeth and broke through the barrier regardless, determined to make it inside, at least. The last thing she wanted was to fall apart, and she’d already seen these memories, anyway. The girls needed her.

Pressing on the number pad using the familiar combination she was used to, she waited for the door to open up. Glancing behind her, she saw Chloe standing directly behind her with a flashlight, looking nervous as hell. Victoria was only a few feet behind, as pale as she’d ever seen her. She had expected Victoria to be rambling about something, but she was dead silent.

Now or never.

As Max opened the door, she heard Chloe mutter something about the apocalypse bunker they found themselves in. She ignored her, still fighting the pain in her head as they walked further into the room.

Chloe was the first to stop, almost making Victoria collide with her. Before the blonde could swear at her, she paused, taking in the scene in front of her.

Jefferson’s stuff was still all laid out, as though he’d left in a hurry. The binders were still there, with some of them on the messy desk. The tripod stood near the door, making Max’s stomach turn. With shaking hands, she raised her hand and pulled out her phone, trying to take some pictures of everything. Flashbacks bit at her brain and she felt tears in her eyes, but she fought. She continued to take photos, working carefully and quietly.

To her surprise, the memories didn’t fully break through. It was as though her mind knew this was too important to fight with her right now.

In the meantime, Chloe, knowing what she was going for, began to paw through the binders. Rachel and Victoria’s were empty, Kate’s was also empty, but Dana and Taylor’s were on the table, a couple of photos in each. She felt sick to her stomach but kept it open so Max could take pictures. Booting up the computer, she started to sort through it, finding her hands were shaking as she typed.

Victoria, though, was still stunned by the whole scene. As she walked further into the room, she felt her stomach turn. “What is -- What is this?”

“Looks like a bunker,” Chloe replied, speaking up when Max didn’t answer. “With a place for a sick fuck to get off. Victoria, look at this.”

She gestured at the binders, waiting for Victoria to approach them. Her expression was apprehensive, changing to one of anger when she saw the binders with hers and Kate’s names. Shifting through the binders on the table only made it grow, and when she looked at Chloe again she was livid, her face dark and contorted.

“This is what the drugs were for?! This is why he drugged Kate?”

Chloe nodded somberly, going back to the computer. Victoria dropped the binders, letting out a strangled cry as she walked further into the room, suddenly feeling like she was about to throw up.

“Got some pics,” Max mumbled as she walked back to Chloe, snapping some more. “We need to go soon, I have a ton. There’s some blo -- blood on the wall, I got that too. Find anything?”

Chloe shook her head. “Fucker only uses this to print the photos and send emails.”

“If there’s anything in the emails, forward them to my throwaway email and then delete them from the sent folder.”

The bluenette nodded, pulling up the app, before she glanced at Max, who was trembling. “Max, you okay?”

“No,” she answered honestly. Meeting Chloe’s eyes. “Not at all.”

With her free hand, Chloe took Max’s, squeezing it tight. “I got you, Max. We’ve got this.”

A loud noise nearly made them jump out of their skin before they noticed it was Victoria throwing a tripod on the ground. “What the fuck!” She screamed angrily, moving to smash something else. Max quickly made her way over to her, intending to calm her down.

“Victoria, we can’t break anything,” she said carefully, backing up a few steps when Victoria rounded on her.

“Max, look at this! LOOK at what he’s doing! Are you fucking kidding me?! I’ve been here before and I never - I never saw - this is so fucked up. This is SO fucked up.”

Victoria was hysterical, starting to sob. Neither Max or Chloe had ever seen her like this -- it was as though the dams in her emotions burst all at once. The brunette turned around to meet eyes with Chloe, who nodded.

“Victoria,” she started, getting no response. “Victoria!”

The blonde paused from her hysterics, looking up at Max with desperate and pained eyes. She didn’t even pull away as Max put her hands gently on her shoulders.

“Victoria, look around one more time. Trust me.”

She swallowed, shaking like a leaf, but obeyed. Moving carefully, she began to examine the room, including the cameras. One of them stuck out to her, and she picked it up in her gloved hand and looked it over. Confused, she looked up at Max.

“He doesn’t normally like Sony,” she mumbled, toying with it. “He’s an elitist about it.”

Max stood back, her arms crossed over her chest, waiting for Victoria to figure it out as she kept looking around. Chloe continued to send emails for another second before she exited out of the app, moving to the home screen of the computer. She turned the monitor around, waiting.

“And this…” She reached down, grabbing a tripod with a brand she didn’t recognize. “You can’t get these from a regular store. They have to be rented.”

As realization dawned on Victoria that this wasn’t Nathan’s stuff, she turned around to face the other girls. The apologetic expression that Max gave her paired with the photo of the bearded man on the screen (a goddamn selfie, no less) was enough to make her make the connection, and the camera she was still holding fell from her hands.

Max, cursing, rewound only long enough to catch the camera and set it back down. Victoria fell to the floor, stunned to silence, as she tried to make sense of it.

The cool night air filled the car as Rachel played quiet music with her window open, nervously pawing at the car console. She knew Max wasn’t going to text her pics yet - she needed to keep them on her phone since she was the only one who was able to rewind in case things went south.

They would, of course.

The set of headlights that approached made her curse and turn her own off, watching carefully as the car parked on the other side. For a moment, she wondered if they were just driving by, but thought better of it as she climbed out of the car, leaving it running, and stalked to that side of the house.

Although in a suit, Mark Jefferson looked disheveled, as though he had just run a marathon. He moved to go inside of the barn, stopping when he spotted Rachel. Of course, he couldn’t hide his surprise, but his expression quickly changed to something calm and collected.

“Rachel Amber,” he greeted, approaching her. “What are you doing here?”

Rachel crossed her arms, swallowing. This was the man who, in another timeline, had helped be responsible for her death. He had helped bury her, helped make sure she disappeared before she could escape the Bay that had ruined her.

She put on one of her classic Rachel Amber smiles.

“Just exploring, Mr. Jefferson. You know me, I like to wander around to abandoned places and just see what’s going on. I thought this one’s been abandoned for a while.”

Mark shrugged. “For the most part, yes.”

“I’m guessing you aren’t here for the same thing.

With another shrug, he walked closer. Rachel held back a nervous swallow and just met his eyes. “I have some business to attend to. Although it’s always wonderful talking to you, Rachel Amber. I heard you were planning to be a big-time model when you left Arcadia Bay, is that right?”

“The rumors are true, yes.” Keeping on her always-effective Rachel charm was increasingly more difficult as fear made it hard.

“Impressive. I can see it. If you need help building your portfolio, I’d be happy to help.” He smirked. “I’ve been told I have quite the eye.”

MAX, GET BACK OUT HERE. “I’m sure you have.”

Chloe shut down the computer, slapping the mouse down. “Alright, I sent all the emails, let’s get the fuck out of here before either of them comes back.” She began to run off, but not before stopping to grab a couple of needles, stuffing them in her pocket.

She thought Max would tell her off for taking evidence, but the brunette just nodded. She moved to shake Victoria, who was still frozen, and helped her up. Before long, the three of them were making their way to the door when they heard it.

Footsteps.

Frozen in the spot, Max was the first to recover, ushering them to stand against the wall behind the curtain. They stayed there completely still as Jefferson descended the stairs.

Once the door opened, the bearded man stepped inside, sighing softly. Removing his coat, he tossed it in their direction without looking, heading for the computer. While his back was turned, Max gestured for them to follow her up the stairs, quietly at first before they ran like hell.

For the girls, it took maybe a minute and a half to get to the car safely.

For Max, it took about six hours.

Everything that could’ve possibly gone wrong went wrong. For twelve out of those times, Jefferson turned around, spotted the girls, and closed the door before they could run out. For six of those times, he shot them instead of closing the door. For four of those times, he dragged Rachel along with him and Chloe lost her shit, giving away their position. Someone always died during that scenario. For eight of those times, Victoria was the one to approach Jefferson, screaming and yelling until he plunged a needle into her neck and they couldn’t stop him.

Ten more still when Chloe tried to use her needles against him and was shot in the head as a result. Five more where they tripped on the stairs and he heard. Twelve where Max tried to get the gun herself and failed. Eight where they got outside but he followed. Four where they got outside and he didn’t follow but one of them fell back and disappeared. Once where the car didn’t turn back on after shutting off. Two where Chloe tried to leave Victoria behind and Max ran back in only for it to be too late. Ten times where Jefferson closed the door behind him as he walked in and they couldn’t get out, making them sitting ducks until he noticed they were there.

One where Victoria was the only one to make it out. One where Max was drugged herself, and she spent an hour waking up before she managed to strain herself enough to move back an hour. She still wasn’t sure how she did it.

At the end of the “two minutes”, Max was exhausted. This one had been perfect: they walked up the stairs quietly, as the door was wide open, and once they were at the top they ran like hell to the car. Max lugged behind, her every limb screaming at her, shirt completely covered in blood she was choking on as she stumbled to the car.

Chloe, realizing that Max’s state had changed, grabbed her just as she fell to the ground outside of the barn. Rachel was there in a second, hoisting her up on her free arm, resisting the urge to curse or give away their position.

As she was tossed in the back seat, the world faded out.

--------

Victoria had assumed that Max had just fallen and would be fine, so she had no issues with going back to her dorm alone after the experience, promising that she wouldn’t tell anyone what they did today.

Meanwhile, back in the showers of Max’s dorm, the girls tried to keep her upright as they cleaned her of blood, eventually stripping her and wrapping her in a towel. She was still out of it when they got back to her room, Chloe setting her down and Rachel sorting through her clothes to find her pajamas.

Once Max was dressed and settled in bed, the girls agreed to leave her alone for the night, right as she began to stir.

For once, Max had no dreams or memories as she was passed out. Instead, she was in the car one minute, and in her bed the next. She felt cleaned, even if her hair was still a little wet, and was warm and comfortable. As she looked up, trying to take in the scene around her, she saw the door opening and the girls leaving.

“Wait,” she mumbled, her voice a slur that was barely above a whisper. Both of them hesitated before entering the room again and shutting the door.

“Max?” Whispered Chloe as she stepped closer. “It’s okay, you’re safe. No one got hurt, and we got the photos and emails. Just go to sleep, okay?”

Max’s mouth felt dry as the memories of the earlier day came to her. Suddenly, she saw a million images fly through her mind: images of Rachel being dragged into the room, of Chloe being shot, of either of them screaming as she was drugged. She felt sick to her stomach and shook her head, as though trying to shake the memories.

“Don’t go,” she added in another whisper, letting her head drop on the pillow.

“Which one of us, Max?”

Max scooted over, making herself comfortable in the middle of the bed, moving to lay on her side. Her movements were still sluggish, she still felt like she was underwater, but she managed to do it. “Both of you, please.”

They exchanged a look. It was still a bit too early for bed, but eventually, they decided they couldn't leave her. They nodded, Chloe moving to take off her clothes that were covered in dirt and water from the shower. She set them on the floor, instead just wearing her underwear and bra as she crawled into bed behind Max, laying on her side. Max kept her eyes closed, waiting for Rachel to use some of Max’s clothes as pajamas (they were the same size but Chloe was too tall for them) before she joined them.

With Chloe behind her and Rachel in front of her, Max felt instantly calmed. It was like she’d felt all those summer nights on Facetime, when she’d fallen asleep and woken up to one or both of them watching her. A calm serenity that they could only give her. She scooted back a tiny bit, feeling Chloe wrap an arm around her waist and cuddle close, feeling her breath against her neck. Closing her eyes, Max reached out to find Rachel’s hand and hold them in her own, squeezing her tight.

Part of it was a reassurance that she was alive and they were both alive with her, but a bigger part of that was the selfish part of her that simply wanted them to be closer. Both of them felt like home in different ways, and she found her fear fading, her worries disappearing into the night sky as they held her close. Chloe’s breath on her neck began to slow as she fell asleep, nuzzling a bit closer.

She opened her eyes, capturing Rachel’s gaze in her own. The blonde smiled at her gently, her smile radiating like the sun. “You okay?” She asked quietly, reaching a hand out to brush hair out of Max’s face before she put them back where they were before. Max found herself speechless once more, staring at Rachel through sleepy eyelids. She somehow knew all the right things to say, all the right things to do, all the right moves to make. Rachel’s smile was the final nail in the coffin for Max, and as she closed her eyes again, she felt herself starting to fall asleep. Before she could stop it, she broke the silence.

“I love you. Both of you.”

Rachel was surprised but smiled, scooting a tiny bit closer, squeezing her friend’s hands. As she watched Max fall asleep, leaving her as the only one awake, her eyes drifted between her and Chloe. Both of them looked so peaceful and so beautiful under the moonlight, like nothing could hurt them from here. She wanted to stare at them forever.

She was screwed, and she knew it. In situations like this, she couldn’t find herself wanting anything more. Living in this shithole was worth it after all. A sentence she never thought she’d say or think in her lifetime. They had crept their way into Rachel’s heart without even realizing.

Closing her eyes, she sighed softly, letting sleep come for her, too.

“Love you too, Maxi.”

Chapter Text

Max slowly woke up first, somewhere around early morning, her eyes fluttering open slowly. The first thing she noticed was that she was lying on her back, Rachel having moved to lay on her chest, arm wrapped lazily around her. On her other side, Chloe had somehow maintained a similar position she was in before, cuddling the photographer with an arm around her waist, her head next to hers and her eyes still closed as though she was sound asleep.

She realized how they were both somehow closer than they were now than they had been last night. Trying to swallow the nervousness she suddenly felt, she slowly let herself relax into their touch. One of her arms was sound asleep under Rachel. Wiggling it free, she managed to adjust herself in such a way that she was able to use that hand to gently thread through the blonde’s hair, stroking the blonde locks slowly.

She never thought she would be here. She never thought she’d see Chloe again, let alone end up in bed with her and with the most popular girl in school. It was like they were both stars lighting up her bright sky -- Rachel had a habit of making every room she walked into bright and welcoming, while Chloe had the same effect whenever she was near Max, a side of her they only got to see.

Other Max wouldn’t have dreamed of this in a million years - even though her relationship with Chloe was wonderful, Rachel had always been an unspoken regret between them. Not only had she given herself a do-over, but she had given herself about a million more things on top of it. Max was certain this was heaven.

“She’s a heavy sleeper,” she heard, and she didn’t have to look over to know Chloe was awake. “Sometimes even David bursting into our room wouldn’t wake her ass up.”

Max kept her eyes down, her hand still in Rachel’s hair. She gently brushed some out of her face, watching the earring fall onto her neck, listening to her sigh softly in her sleep. It gave her a sense of peace but also butterflies that almost made her stomach lurch with how suddenly they came on. The overwhelming mix of emotions running through her body right now would rival the storm. She wasn’t sure when she got so attracted to Rachel but not having a crush on her was like trying not to fall asleep; impossible, comforting, overwhelming.

“You’re a heavy sleeper, too,” Max replied, glancing over at the other, whose bright blue hair shone in the morning light, her eyes half-open with sleepiness. She was fully aware of how close Chloe’s face was to her own and it made her heart beat about a thousand times faster, but she fought off the impending blush. This was getting more and more difficult by the moment. “You used to get so angry when I’d try to wake you up early when we were kids.”

“I remember.” The bluenette shifted a tiny bit, propping her head up on her elbow with her free arm to get a closer look at the brunette. “Max?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you uncomfortable?”

Max frowned. “I’m the most comfortable I’ve ever been, actually. My arm’s still asleep, but it’s okay.”

“No, I mean --” Chloe paused, gritting her teeth as she tried to find the words. “I mean I couldn’t find any clothes that fit me --”

“Chloe, I’ve seen you in your underwear about a million times. It’s fine.”

Chloe bit back a response and just nodded, lowering her head down again. She felt Max shift a little bit. The arm still wrapped around Max moved up, instead brushing some hair out of her face before she put it back. She was so small and warm, it was like having her own personal heater. Despite their awkward position, Chloe was sure she could lay like this for days and be happy. Who needed food as long as she had this?

Max stretched a bit, her eyes closed, enjoying the comfortable silence for a few moments. It was strange, how much different this felt than sleeping alone. It was so comfortable and natural she was sure she wanted this forever. She’d laid like this with Chloe about a million times throughout their childhood, but this felt… different.

“Max, I have one more question.”

The brunette chuckled slightly, opening her eyes so she could look back at her. “What?”

“Can you tell me a little bit more about Other Us?”

Although she felt a growing sense of panic, Max swallowed and figured she’d kept it from Chloe for too long to deny it now. Still playing with Rachel’s hair, she took several moments to find the words to reply, to which Chloe waited patiently.

“I already told you the events of the week,” she started, softly speaking and trying to keep her tone even and not stuttery. “I destroyed the picture at the lighthouse, and we stood there and watched the town. After that we just sort of ran off for a while. We got in your truck, got Wells’s money, and we left.”

Chloe listened intently but quietly, not wanting to interrupt or discourage her.

“I had a lot of guilt. I didn’t regret saving you, but I had a lot of guilt. A lot of that is --” She paused, eyebrows furrowing. “-- Blurry. It’s like Other Max doesn’t want to remember it. Or blocked it out. But I remember getting hotel rooms, and stopping at my house in Seattle for a while. We went back on the road after that, just sort of… surviving. We stole a broken down RV at one point, for some reason.”

She faltered, still focused on Rachel’s hair, before she let her hand drop so she could try and formulate her words carefully, not wanting to fuck this up and have to rewind. “My powers were still there, but we were scared to use them, so we went about life the normal way. After a month, we got a small apartment. After three, we decided to go back.”

After a few moments of silence, Chloe spoke, her tone was careful but firm. She wanted to make sure the brunette understood she was serious. “Max, you know what I meant.”

Max shut her eyes again, terrified. For all she knew she might say her next words and Chloe could run out. It would feel wrong to rewind it, like she was taking advantage of her. She could tell her she wasn’t ready and avoid the subject, but that wouldn’t feel fair to her, either. In the end, Max settled for honesty. “Chloe, if I tell you, I can’t take it back,” she whispered in a wavering voice.

Chloe considered it for a second before she answered. “Whatever it is, I won’t want you to take it back. Please.”

Silently, Max cursed her other self. She wished all of the memories merged with her own, giving her the whole truth and not just snippets, so she could address this properly and answer Chloe’s inevitable questions. Was anything going to change after this? Did she want anything to change? Would this even make sense to tell Chloe right now when Rachel was also in the mix of confusing but exciting teenage feelings?

Finally, the brunette continued. Her voice was low and quiet, and she was unable to hide the tremble from it as the words came tumbling out. “Do you remember when I kissed you the other day?” When Chloe nodded, she continued. “I was echoing a memory, sort of. I was trying to make you understand what I’m not good at putting into words. That week in the other timeline happened like I told you, but there was one thing that I left out. That morning, after we went to the pool we --” She paused, swallowing nervously. “We kissed, just like the way I kissed you. But that kiss changed everything. We looked at each other differently.

“After the storm, when we ran off together, we spent the first night in the motel just crying. We were both so upset and full of guilt. It was rough, but you were there for me. You always were there for me. Eventually we just… crossed the line. And we didn’t regret it, not for a second. Everything felt natural and normal with you. The demons in my head would be swirling and then you’d kiss me and they would go away.” She fought back the memories, but they weren’t biting at her this time - they were calmer, like remembering scenes from a movie, or a story she’d read once.

“But… as much as we were in love, there was always something hanging over our heads. You missed Rachel and I felt guilty for not saving her. Every time we were in bed together, I knew you remembered her. It didn’t cause any fights or anything, it just felt like a cloud over our heads. I also missed my friend Kate, I had nightmares every single night from the storm. We wondered if we would ever be able to move on.” Another pause and she let herself glance at Chloe for a quick second, looking away as soon as they met eyes, not used to the intensity.

“We’ve never been good at that. Letting go. It’s why I worked so hard to save you so many times. Why I ripped up the photo that could’ve saved the town. We love too hard, and sometimes it makes us hurt, too. Eventually, I figured it out. Going back far enough to save Rachel, you, and everyone else was the only way to fix it. No matter what the cost. So I formed a plan. I would save her, save Kate, stop Jefferson, save the town. I knew you’d dated Rachel in another life, and I knew there was a possibility you’d choose her over me in the end, but I took that risk. For you. For everyone.”

Max fell silent, trying to find the right words to continue. The room around them was still, and she barely noticed how Rachel wasn’t breathing heavily anymore, she was just as quiet.

“I didn’t have the memories when I first saw you again, not all of them. But I felt such a strong sense of relief it almost knocked me over. Stronger than I would’ve expected. I know that was Other Max, in a way. She was willing to risk everything to save you. Her entire life, her entire future. And then I saw Rachel, and I felt the same relief, even though I’d never met her before. When I first saw her, I got it. I understood why they wanted to save her so bad. It was like the whole world was suddenly complete, even if you did hate me at first. Other Max felt so fucking guilty for not saving Rachel. I know if she knew that it worked, she would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

She paused once more, looking at the ceiling. “Other Chloe always said that Other Max and Rachel would be best friends. I’m glad I got to discover that for her. If we fail at this somehow and I have to do it all over again, I will. I get it now, more than I did when this first happened. Every memory brings me closer to Other Max, like I understand her more. After having experienced a world without you, and a world without Rachel, I can confirm that the world can’t exist without either of you. It would be like the planet spinning without a sun.

“I wouldn’t trade this timeline for the other one. I wouldn’t trade this for the world, I think. It’s worth it. I think she’d be really happy, you know?”

If Max had been trying to lay it on easy, she failed miserably. After pouring her heart out, she silently cursed herself, hoping she didn’t scare either of them off. She was aware now that Rachel was awake and had probably heard it all, and that Chloe was dead silent. Closing her eyes, Max tried to compose herself, terrified of the aftermath of what she'd just said.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. She’d fucked up.

Nervously, she slowly looked back at the girls to see that Rachel had moved off of her, into her line of sight, and was looking at her. Her eyes were brimmed with tears, making Max terrified to turn and face Chloe. Before she had the chance to, a strong arm wrapped around her waist and Chloe fell into her shoulder, clutching her as tight as she could.

Max let out an “oof” as the air was knocked out of her, feeling Chloe bury her face in her neck. The bluenette’s shoulders were shaking with sobs, but she said nothing else, just squeezed Max a little tighter. She looked at Rachel in a panic, seeing the other girl smiling gently at her.

The moment passed after a while, and Chloe lifted her head. Max had only a few seconds to recover before there was a hand on her cheek, pulling her head to the side, allowing Chloe the room to plant a kiss on her lips.

Frozen, Max didn’t kiss back at first, eventually giving in when Chloe didn’t pull away. It only lasted a few seconds, and it was filled with salty tears, but when it was over Max needed a second to catch her breath.

Sitting up, Chloe wiped at her face to try and get the tears away. “Oh, god, Max, you can’t just say that shit,” she said, shaking her head as she finally regained her composure. Her eyes were still puffy and red but she was breaking into a smile, much to Max’s relief. “What the fuck, did you rehearse that?”

Max shook her head, too stunned to respond.

“It did sound a little rehearsed,” Rachel replied, smirking at the smaller girl.

The brunette looked between the two of them in shock, unable to stop herself from gaping like a fish. She had essentially confessed all of her biggest secrets and they somehow were just chilling, smiling at her? Her head hurt.

“Wait,” she started, moving to sit up between them. Her shirt rode up a little bit and she pulled it down, trying to hide the blush on her cheeks as they both looked. Chloe still looked like she was about to start crying again, but Max pushed on. “You guys -- you aren’t freaked out? I mean, that was a lot of… of emotion at once.”

“Max, the first day you met us you told us that you’re a time traveler. Nothing you say can freak us out now,” answered Rachel with a shrug. “I sort of figured you guys were a thing in the other timeline. Other Max basically destroyed time and space for her, after all. I also figured you’d eventually be a thing now. Chloe’s been in love with you since she was like twelve --”

“Rachel!”

“-- She would always talk about you when you were gone, it was so obvious. Even when she and I are alone I can tell she’s thinking about you. Just like she did with me in a previous timeline, I guess.” She paused. “It seems like no matter who ends up together, we end up missing someone.”

Max was dead silent, not wanting to give herself and her current double crush away. She didn’t want to explain the budding butterflies whenever she looked at Rachel, didn’t want to explain how she missed either of them whenever they were apart. She just kept adjusting her shirt, as though it was still out of place.

“We’re all just too gay to handle ourselves,” Chloe responded with a laugh, glad Rachel was taking it well. The blonde just shrugged as though she agreed.

Both of them glanced at Max, who was beet red, looking away from them both. After exchanging a knowing look, Rachel reached out to poke her in the shoulder.

“You still there, Max?”

“Yeah,” she mumbled, internally kicking herself for sounding like a nervous wreck.

“What’s wrong?”

She sucked in a breath, trying to figure out how to say this. If there’s anything she’s learned from this morning, it was to just fucking say it, you coward. “It’s not that simple. I think -- I think it’s inevitable. Like… I think….” She grunted in frustration as she tried to find the words. “We all have a connection, you know? Really strong, between all three of us. Like all of our souls are intertwined or something like that. Like -- Chloe, you’re familiar, and you make me feel safe, like no one can hurt me.”

Chloe beamed in pride at that.

“And Rachel, you’re new, and you make me feel safe, too. Like I can’t hurt myself. It’s like two totally different things but without the other I feel like something is like -- it’s missing. And I think that was a big secret reason why Other Us wanted to go back far enough to save you, Rachel, even if she never met you. She felt like she really had to. She thought it would fix everything.” She looked up, hoping the blonde understood. “They were happy, but they felt like something was missing.”

There was a brief silence before Chloe spoke up. “Max, it sounds like you’re calling all three of us soulmates.”

She considered arguing against that, but Chloe had hit the nail on the head. So, she just nodded.

Rachel exchanged a look with the bluenette, who just shrugged at the unspoken question. Sighing, the blonde turned her whole body to face Max, taking both of her hands in her own as she spoke.

“Max, can I tell you something?” When the brunette nodded, she continued on. “Chloe and I have been on and off for a while, but over the summer we started hooking up a lot more. Right, Chloe?”

Chloe nodded, encouraging her on.

“Right, well, before we met you, we fought sometimes. It felt like there was tension. I never felt fully satisfied, like something was missing. We thought it was the bay, or the drugs, or my commitment issues. That’s what I pretended it was, at least. I never committed to Chloe and she hated me for that.” She licked her lips, clearly trying hard to remain vulnerable. This wasn’t a side of Rachel Amber that anyone else got to see, and Max found herself eternally grateful that she’d been granted the privilege to see it.

“Until last November, when you showed up. After that we felt like everything was right where it should be, and we stopped fighting. It felt normal.” She paused, sucking in a breath. “Then you left for Seattle, and we started hooking up again, and it was good. Every time we… you know… spent a night together, we would lay there after, and I knew we were both thinking the same thing. We were remembering you and missing you. It seems like there’s a pattern here, no matter what timeline we’re in.”

Max frowned. “So --”

“Sooo….” Rachel interrupted, not giving Max a moment to overthink. “Max, how did you feel last night? Tell me every word you would use to describe it. After we got in bed, I mean.”

She shifted where she was sitting, trying to think of the words to describe it as requested. “Safe. Warm. Comfortable.”

“Complete?”

Max nodded. “Yeah, complete.”

“That’s it, then,” Rachel said, as though she had just found the answer. She dropped Max’s hands, grinning at them both. “That’s the answer. We felt the same, right Chloe?” When Chloe replied with a hella yeah, Rachel looked back at Max. “After a while of sleeping together, when we figured out that it was working this time, we agreed we wouldn’t start being serious until you came back and we figured it out with you. As suspected, you came back, and the feelings got stronger.”

“You mean -- you like me?”

Chloe scoffed, speaking up. “Max, we stayed in Arcadia Bay for you. It wasn’t just because of our little mission.”

Rachel seemed to agree. “I was kind of jealous of how much that Chloe talked about you before we met, but when I actually did meet you… I got it. You’re hard not to fall for, Max. It’s entirely possible to fall for two people at once. It looks like we all did it.”

Her fucking head was spinning. Max looked away, trying to figure it out. It made sense, of course it did. Every time she was apart from either girl, she missed them. Even when she was alone with Chloe, a part of her head missed Rachel, which had surprised her but also felt completely natural.

They let Max think on it, watched her eyes drift between the two girls slowly. She figured there was only one way to know the truth, to confirm if her feelings were real. Facing Rachel, she gave the girl only a few seconds to process before she reached up, putting her hands on Rachel’s cheeks. She figured it out at the last second, smiling as Max’s lips met hers eagerly.

It was exactly how she’d expected it to be. Something clicked into place, something in her heart skipped a beat. She felt her stomach flip and for a moment she thought she’d died and gone straight to heaven. It felt like the kiss she’d shared with Chloe but it was entirely new at the same time.

It just felt… right.

Rachel pulled away after a few seconds, not wanting to let the moment get carried away before they talked. “So does that mean you agree?”

Max licked her lips, trying to debate how to answer without sounding like an idiot. “Uh, I mean -- I’ve wanted this for awhile. You guys are just --” She stopped, looking away, feeling her confidence start to slip. “Whenever I was in Seattle, I missed you guys when we hung up the phone, and it only got worse…”

Before she could ramble too much, she felt two arms wrap around her, Chloe resting her chin on her shoulder. “We can go at your speed, Max. Whatever you’re comfortable with. Cool with us.”

She nodded, grateful. Rachel scooted closer and before long she had pulled Max into another kiss, this time resting her hands on the brunette’s cheeks, not parting their lips until she heard Max lose her breath. She let out a small giggle Max had never heard before as they rested their foreheads together.

Nothing more needed to be said. Max was perfectly okay with that. It was hard to find her focus when Rachel leaned in again, and impossible still when she felt Chloe’s lips touch the skin of her neck. Her brain shut off and all she could think about was the two of them, as if nothing else existed.

The rest of the morning flew by, spent with Max alternating between the two girls whenever her lips were free for more than a second, relishing in their quiet laughs and huge grins every moment she possibly could.

--------

As luck would have it, David was out of town for the weekend.

As luck would have it even more, there was another party on Saturday.

As if luck himself had it out for Victoria, Kate wanted to fucking go.

To say Victoria was angry would be an understatement. The blonde was livid, although she was trying not to show it. They were sitting a table in a somewhat fancy restaurant an hour or so north of the Bay, away from the nothingness that it had to offer.

It wasn’t a date, of course not. It was a nice and quiet space for Victoria to tell Kate about what had happened, and about how they found evidence on Nathan and were sending it out to David the second that he got back. None of the girls seemed to know why David suddenly left, but he said he was coming back on Monday, so they would send him the stuff that they had on Monday. Just a few more days.

She had opted to keep Kate in the dark about all of the details. She regretted that now as she glared at the small blonde who was smiling softly at her.

“Victoria, it’s okay,” she said, as though trying to reassure her. “Like you said, we caught him. He’s not going to try anything after he messed up last time. And if I let these things control me, then I’ll be giving in to the power that he has over me. I don’t think that’s fair. All my friends are going and I have nothing better to do that night.”

“And you’re not just doing this to spite your parents?”

Kate smiled, not wanting to give truth to that answer. “I’ll be okay, Vic. I already asked the girls, they said they’d help me find a cute outfit.”

“Of course they did,” she answered through gritted teeth.

It was clear that Kate wasn’t budging. She was as stubborn as Victoria was, even if she wouldn’t admit it. An idea formed in Victoria’s mind and she set down her fork, leaning back to look at the other girl.

“Fine, but I’m being your date.”

Kate nearly choked on her water before composing herself. “My what?”

“Your date. I take you there, I take you home, I keep an eye on you all night.” Victoria grinned wickedly. “I could use a little eye candy, after all.”

Kate seemed stunned, reaching a hand up to play with her necklace for a moment before she opted to answer. “Are you sure?”

“Anything for you, Kate.”

Chapter Text

“You know, it’s really like dating one person except twice as fun,” Chloe explained as she propped herself up on the truck bed, looking at the brunette who was blushing all over. “You don’t really have to google polyamory.”

“Chloe!” Protested Rachel, moving to smack her in the arm, ignoring her loud laughs. “She’s nervous, let her google it if she wants to.”

“Google didn’t have much info,” Max mumbled, still red all over. Her ears felt like they were burning.

Rachel reached for Chloe, making her scoot back on the truck bed a bit more. “Here, try this,” she said, gesturing for Chloe to pull her legs out from under her. Once they were settled, Rachel patted her lap.

Max still felt her face burning with embarrassment but she moved, settling her head on Rachel’s lap and the rest of her over Chloe’s. It was comfortable, and she felt Rachel lower a hand to play with her hair.

“See? It’s easy,” the blonde explained, twirling Max’s between her fingers. “You just get twice as much love as you would normally get.”

With a sly grin, Chloe began to creep her hand under Max’s shirt, laughing when she earned a gentle smack to her wrist in response.

An hour or so passed, the girls eventually engaging in casual conversation. Max relaxed considerably, eventually almost falling asleep under the attentive care of her girls.

Girls? Girlfriends? She liked the sound of that.

Picking up her phone, Chloe frowned at the text on the screen. “We should go soon, Kate still wants us to pick her outfit, she’s nervous about going with Victoria.”

Rachel snorted. “I’ll bet you twenty bucks that Kate is gay and secretly in love with Victoria.”

“I’ll take that bet.”

Max grinned. “Before we go,” she began shyly, looking between the two of them. Easily the most gorgeous girls she’d ever seen in her life, and here she was, sandwiched between them, examining their expressions as they looked at her adoringly.

She could die tomorrow and she would die happily.

Moving to sit entirely in Rachel’s lap, she gestured for Chloe to come closer. Chloe’s expression resembled that of a kid on Christmas, and she happily scooted closer and leaned in so she could get a kiss.

Max was still shy and both girls knew it, so they were happy to take it slow with her. After all, if all went according to plan, they would have all the time in the world.

Placing her hands on Chloe’s cheeks, she pulled the bluenette in for a brief kiss.

This time, when she kissed her, she was thrown back into a memory.

It was a random one this time, not of any noticeable significance. Max was lying on the bed of what looked like an old and rusty RV, and Chloe was on top of her, kissing her softly. She composed herself quickly, kissing her lover back.

She felt a tongue creep into her mouth and happily let it explore, still holding Chloe’s cheeks tightly. When she chuckled, Max felt herself going flush in embarrassment.

“Relax, Max,” the other girl said as she pulled away, still chuckling. Max took in her surroundings, noticing right away how Chloe’s hands were up her shirt, how her cheeks were flush. Oh my god was that a hickie on her neck?

This might be the memory that killed her.

“I got you,” Chloe promised, leaning back down to kiss her own before slowly sliding down her neck, leaving bites and kisses everywhere she could reach. Before Max could say anything else, she felt Chloe sneak a hand into her pajama shorts.

She came back to reality with a jolt just as she heard a moan leave her lips in the memory, breaking the kiss with Chloe suddenly. The bluenette frowned in confusion, examining Max’s face as she started to blush even deeper than she had before. She wasn’t sure that was even possible.

“Max, you okay?” Rachel asked, leaning over to look at her, too.

Max had no way to explain herself, she just buried her face in her hands, groaning softly. Realizing what was happening, Chloe started giggling again as she sat back.

“Oh my god. Max doesn’t have dirty dreams, she has dirty memories.”

“Chloe!” The brunette groaned, lifting her head. “It wasn’t even dirty, it was just --” She stopped, unsure she could blush any harder. “Intense.”

“Intense, huh?” Chloe challenged, leaning back in. “Intense how?”

“Chloe…” She mumbled, fighting off a nervous smile.

The older girl chuckled but leaned away, giving Max a bit of room to breathe. Rachel shook her head but laughed at the banter between the two of them, finding them adorable. Reaching up, she pulled some hair away from Max’s neck so she could place gentle kisses to her neck and shoulder blades.

“Fine, but someday I wanna hear the stories, all the stories,” Chloe said as she sat back against the truck, still smirking.

“Not sure I can say some of them out loud.”

While Rachel and Chloe exchanged a look, Max tried her best to look as far away from either of them as possible, finding her embarrassment couldn’t be hidden. When they giggled, they felt herself go red right down to her forearms.

“So,” Chloe began, adjusting herself so she was facing both of her girlfriends. “The mission is coming along nicely so far. We have evidence of Jefferson, and Kate wasn’t hurt. It’s working, right?”

Max hesitated, but eventually nodded. “Yeah. I keep getting a bad feeling, though. Like something’s gonna happen. Aside from the storm.”

Chloe shrugged, scooting closer to her. She desperately wanted to make her forget all about it but she wasn’t about to cross any boundaries with Max yet. Instead, she just leaned forward to kiss her cheek softly. “It’ll be okay, Max. We’re all together, right?”

Max smiled. “Together.”

--------

The outfit they’d chosen for Kate was simple enough. She was wearing a dress that went up to her knees; white with gold accents, it was easy on the eyes but also intriguing to look at. The necklace around her neck was a gold-studded cross necklace, one that Rachel had insisted on buying her. After doing her makeup, Rachel had taken it upon herself to do Kate’s hair, placing it somewhere between up and down, so that the natural locks flowed but also didn’t get too in her way.

Rachel, meanwhile, was also in a dress, although hers was less formal. She didn’t have to go on a date with Victoria Chase, after all. Hers was a simple red, as bright as her blonde hair, with a matching necklace close enough to her neck to resemble a choker. Even in such a simple outfit, she looked like a supermodel, easily intimidating Kate, although she’d never admit it. Both of them wore flats, not bothering with heels. Rachel had a beautiful jacket on to complement it.

Finally, Chloe. Having been forced into a nice outfit by the other girls, she wore a half-buttoned up light blue blouse over a black bra and jeans without rips in them. She had a thin choker on and her hair had been neatly tucked behind her ears, no beanie in sight. Rachel thought she looked like a million bucks. Chloe was annoyed by it but appreciated the compliments.

Leaning against Kate’s bed, she sipped her water as she watched the two of them fuss over Kate’s hair. Once Rachel was satisfied, she let go and pulled Kate towards a mirror.

“What do you think, Kate?” She asked, smiling. Kate looked surprised at herself but turned to Rachel with a big smile.

“Thank you, Rachel. This means a lot to me.”

“Where’s this party again anyway?” Chloe asked, looking between the two of them. Rachel looked hot as hell but she resisted the urge to make a move on her when the Christian girl was in the room with them.

“It’s like a mansion, sort of,” Kate explained, eyebrows furrowing. “Victoria’s driving me, so I’m not really a hundred percent sure.” Seeing the look in Chloe’s eyes, she smiled softly. “It’ll be fine, don’t worry.”

Chloe scoffed as though she didn’t believe her but didn’t explain further, just glanced at Rachel, who was already fussing with the collar of Kate’s dress. “Perfect!”

In the other room, Max stood with someone she never thought she would stand with. The air between them was still a little awkward, but she tried best to ignore it as she fiddled with Victoria’s necklace.

“Ow -- holy fuck, Caulfield, have you never put a necklace on someone before?!” Victoria scoffed as she glared at the brunette in the mirror.

“Sorry,” Max mumbled as she finished putting it on, letting her hands drop.

Victoria was dressed in white, matching Kate’s dress. Unlike Kate, she wore a white button-up blouse with a matching skirt, a necklace placed perfectly among the colour and modest makeup on her features. Her hair was perfectly in place, making Max a little jealous at how easy it looked. She was wearing heels, which Max was not jealous over. Finally, her outfit was completed with a suit jacket over it.

Max, meanwhile, looked nothing like herself at all. She had asked Victoria to help her pick an outfit, and although she’d seemed annoyed at even the mere suggestion of it, she’d shown up with something for Max to try on. The pants were comfortable enough, but the girly top she’d been given did not suit her at all, even if Victoria insisted that it did. Still, she’d put it on, just wanting to get the night over with.

“You look nice, Victoria.” She smiled at the blonde who simply glared at her in response. “Are you nervous?”

“Why the fuck would I be nervous?” She scoffed, rolling her eyes as she grabbed her bag and checked inside of it to make sure she had everything.

“Because of Kate.”

The brunette saw it, the way that Victoria’s eyes flashed with something unrecognizable at Kate’s name before it went back to normal. “No, it’ll be fine. Let’s go.”

They stepped outside at the same time that the others did. Chloe wolf-whistled at Max and approached her with a smirk, muttering about how she “looked like a real hot piece” before ruffling her hair. Max pouted but shook it off, trying to hide the blush she had on her face at the sight of her girlfriends. She could see Chloe’s bra through her shirt and Rachel looked like she walked right off the runway.

That confirmed it, she was going to die tonight.

As she was occupied with her girlfriends, Kate approached Victoria with a small smile on her lips. Both girls were trying to fight off the urge to check each other out, but they tried to not let it show. It wasn’t going well for either of them.

“You look nice,” Kate said, her voice soft and caring. Victoria fought off a smile and just repeated the same words to Kate, making her blush.

--------

The house they arrived at was massive. Victoria and Kate had gone ahead of them, parting ways after they’d left the dorms. Max sat between her girls in the ratty truck as it pulled up to a stop in front of the house.

“Do we know who’s place this is?” Chloe asked as she shut the car off.

“Hayden’s,” Rachel answered, looking over to her. “I once made out with a cheerleader in the basement of this house.”

Chloe snorted, but Max barely heard it over her own mind. “We shouldn’t stay for long. Just check the scene out, make sure no one’s hurt, make sure Nathan isn’t there.” She paused, toying with the hem of her shirt. “Make sure Kate is okay.”

“We know, Max. We’ll keep an eye out, promise.”

Before long, the two of them were inside the house, which was crowded with teenagers drinking, smoking, and laughing. Chloe held onto Max’s hand while Rachel walked off to get them some drinks. As per usual, all eyes followed her and the two of them watched as boys approached her, trying to hit on her as long as she entertained them.

Not everyone here was directly from Blackwell. Despite all of Blackwell knowing about the three of them (rumors flew almost the second it happened, knowing the three of them were sharing a night in a dorm together), drunk boys still wanted to take advantage of the hottest girl in town while she was in their space.

Making their way further into the house, they found themselves crowded against a wall, Max leaning on it as she looked around and took in the scene. Chloe stood in front of her, smiling reassuringly at her.

“Chloe!” Greeted someone that Max simply did not recognize, and she turned around to grin at them. “Holy shit, I haven’t seen you at one of these things in ages. How’s it going?! You wanna come outside and smoke with us?”

Chloe kept her grin on as she pulled Max in, putting her arm over her shoulders. Max was sure she was blushing right down to her toes. “Nah, not tonight. Gotta be somebody’s designated driver, right babe?”

Max stuttered out a response as the boy laughed. “Whatever, man, just happy to see you here.” He paused, his eyes lighting up. “Is Rachel here too?”

“Yep, she’s getting us drinks.” Chloe smirked - it felt good to be dating the person that everyone else was in love with. This dude must not have gotten the memo.

“Sick,” he responded, showing her that his fingers were crossed as he walked towards the kitchen. The girls watched in amusement as he met Rachel halfway, wordlessly saying something to her which she shook her head at, finally approaching them with a sigh.

“I think I prefer our quiet little movie nights nowadays,” she said as she handed the two of them a beer. Max didn’t want hers at all but she wasn’t about to turn it down. “Am I getting old?”

The loud roar of laughter was heard over the commotion of the party and Max gripped her drink a little tighter, her earlier confidence fading in the face of a bunch of judgmental and horny teenagers.

Speaking of which….

Chloe still had her arm around her, and she was close enough for Max to smell her breath and the cigarettes still on it. Her heart was skipping a thousand beats a second, try as she might to hide it. It was way too hot in here and dark (why don't teenagers like lighting at parties?) and it was making her neck heat up.

“I’m gonna go for a smoke real quick,” she said suddenly, whispering in Max’s ear, making her shudder. Then she walked off, leaving her alone with Rachel, who was also standing closer towards her with a growing smirk.

“Kate looks like she’s having fun,” Rachel said, gesturing at the girl who was standing next to a protective-looking Victoria, talking to someone that Max didn’t recognize. She let the sight calm her a bit, reassured that Kate was okay. “Are you?”

Mad nodded in response, smiling softy at the other girl, who seemed pleased at her response. She took Max’s hand and guided her towards the empty spot on the couch, ushering for her to sit on her lap, which she did.

This was ten times worse than what Chloe had been doing to her earlier. Rachel was warm and soft and she had an arm draped across Max’s back as she took sips of her beer and engaged in casual conversation with the couple next to them, who Max didn’t recognize. All that she knew was that the feeling of Rachel’s fingertips on her side was making her heart race and everyone was looking at the two of them.

The night continued to drone on. An hour or so passed sitting on that couch, talking to strangers and occasionally Max would pipe in with something witty or funny and her girls would grin at her. Chloe sat on the floor in front of them, occasionally leaning up to give Max a sly smile that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

She was never one for PDA or physical affection. Other than Chloe, she’d always kept to herself, even when she had a “boyfriend” for a week in Seattle. Parties were new to her, too. Never in a million years did she think she’d be sitting on a couch at a crowded party, curled up in the lap of one of her girlfriends while her other one sat at her feet. Never in a million years did she think she’d be dating two of the hottest girls around.

As time went on, Nathan was nowhere to be found, so she let herself relax a little.

Once she’d swallowed her first beer and was on her second, she had leaned over a bit to thread her hand in Chloe’s soft hair absentmindedly. “I should dye my hair someday,” she mumbled, smiling at their surprised faces. “It looks good on you.”

“We could dye you red or something,” Chloe agreed, looking up just enough to ensure that Max’s hand didn’t move from her hair. “Or pink, you’d look cute with pink.”

Max snorted. “No way in hell. Red is less… bright.”

Rachel leaned forward, putting her chin on Max’s shoulder. Her breath mingled with Max’s and for a second the brunette thought she stopped breathing entirely. Her brain turned to mush as she tried to come back to reality to answer her. “Huh?”

“I said, you’d look cute in any colour.” Rachel smirked, as though she knew the effect she had on the brunette. “We could do green. Or maybe just give her blonde highlights or something.”

She slightly regretted giving them enough room to go off on a tangent about her hair, but she let them argue for a minute, just listening to their voices. Still playing with Chloe’s hair, she glanced at Rachel’s face, as though trying to commit it to memory. Sometimes she still dreamed of being in the junkyard with Rachel’s body and she had to remind herself that she’d fixed that, that there was nothing left to fix to bring her back. It was so different seeing her alive and well - her cheeks no longer sunken, her skull no longer visible. Max couldn’t help but stare at her beauty.

It was disorienting sometimes, as though she was stuck between two realities. She would often wake up and shoot either Rachel or Chloe a text asking if they’re okay and alive, depending on the dream she had at the time. As she watched Rachel, she noticed the way the veins in her neck popped as she laughed, the way her nose crinkled whenever she didn’t agree with something. She noticed the way she smirked, and noticed when Rachel glanced at her and realized she was being stared at. Max just smiled back, trying to fight off the blush she felt incoming.

She couldn’t help it - it was so easy to fall for Rachel, as easy as it was to fall with an actress from your favourite movie. If you weren’t pulled into Rachel’s storm, then you might as well not have a heart.

Chloe, on the other hand, was just as easy to love but somehow even more all-encompassing. As Max continued to play with her hair, she noticed how Chloe scooted up a bit more to keep that contact, how she smirked whenever she spoke, how that blouse was doing her way too many favours. Her childhood best friend had become one of the most beautiful people she’d ever seen in her life, and she had to stare at her just as hard.

She sighed after some time, quietly enough that neither of them noticed. It was a sigh in contentment, in feeling as though she was right where she belonged. She leaned her head on Rachel’s shoulder, breathing her in and closing her eyes.

She wasn’t sure how long passed from that point before she was being shaken back to reality. She had zoned out for a bit there, and opened her eyes to see Rachel grinning at her.

“I gotta pee, Max,” she said apologetically, waiting for the brunette to climb off of her. “I’ll be right back.”

As she left, Chloe moved to sit down next to Max on the couch. She draped an arm around her, leaning in as she took another sip of her beer. It was still her first, as she was designated driver for them, but she had been too distracted to even drink it.

“Did you ever think we’d be here?” She asked Chloe, glancing at her. “You and me, sitting on the couch at a high school party, and we’re dating. It’s kind of weird where life leads.”

Chloe shrugged. “I always wanted us to. I imagined that if you ever came back I’d take you to all the parties and show you everything.”

Max winced. “I’m still sorry about that, Chloe.”

“Water under the bridge.”

“It’s not, though.” Max adjusted herself, scooting almost onto Chloe’s lap, leaning on the back of the couch. “What I did to you was fucked up and I never apologized for it. It was so cowardly of me to do. I just -- I just told you about the time travel and expected you to go along with it and forgive me.”

Chloe leaned on the couch, too, turning to face her. “I’m not mad at you, Max.”

“Why not?”

The bluenette scoffed, gesturing at her legs on her lap. “I think you’ve more than made up for it. I mean -- yeah, I was mad for a really long time, and it was fucked up what you did, but -- I can’t hold it against you anymore. Not after everything. Plus, you stuck to your promise in the end. You came back.

Max bit her lip as she thought it over, trying to figure out what to say in response. Before she could, Chloe leaned in, pressing their lips together in a quick kiss. “You’re forgiven.”

The brunette thought her heart might explode. She wanted to scream and cry at the same time, proclaiming Chloe’s name to the heavens. Instead, she grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and pulled her back in, kissing her harder, not giving the bluenette a second to breathe before she was caught up in her again.

She felt Chloe smirk against her lips and she scooted closer, adjusting them so that they were at the best angle to continue kissing. They parted ways for only enough time to take a breath before they were kissing again. Max felt like she was on fire, her every sense kicking into overdrive. Chloe’s lips were soft and tasted so uniquely her; it was a feeling she wanted to memorize, she wanted to experience every single second for the rest of time.

Her breathing hitched as Chloe’s tongue ran over her bottom lip, the action giving her enough room to slip her tongue in. The sensation made Max feel like she was about to catch right on fire. She was fairly certain she could disappear from the world right now and she’d be pleased.

Chloe wrapped an arm around her, tighter, letting Max tangle a hand in her blue hair to hold her steady. If they were more aware of the outside world, they would notice people looking and smirking, and the occasional whistle as boys seemed to find joy in watching two women make out on the couch.

Rachel kept her distance until she noticed a lull in their affections. Once the girls parted, breathing heavily and looking each other in the eyes, she caught Chloe’s view and gestured for her to follow her. Not giving Max a second to recover, the bluenette scooped the brunette into her arms and carried her bridal style, ignoring the squeal of surprise from the other girl. “Chloe!!”

She managed to somehow not drop Max as she descended the staircase into the painfully white walls of the hallway. Rachel had already walked ahead, finding the room at the end of the hall - which was, conveniently, empty.

It resembled a tiny living room or perhaps some kind of movie room. Three large couches, which were oversized in cushions and covered in pillows, faced a large plasma TV on the wall. Chloe finally let Max go just as she closed the door behind them, locking it.

“Whoa,” Max muttered, looking around at the room. “This is sick! I want a room like this. It’s like the ultimate movie watching spot!”

Rachel couldn’t help her smirk. “Yeah, I’ve been to parties here before. It’s mostly used as a make out spot, though.”

“Oh.” It seemed to click in Max’s head and she glanced between the two girls, suddenly red in the face again. “I, uh --”

“Relax, To The Max. We’re not going to pressure you into anything. Rachel’s just good at reading when someone wants some space away from the crowds,” Chloe explained, throwing herself onto the couches. “Plus those guys whistling were being creepy.”

Max, still red in the face, slowly nodded, making her way further into the room. She knew what they were thinking of but she wasn’t sure she was ready for that kind of stuff just yet. The thought made her nervous, as though she wasn’t going to be good enough for the two clearly more experienced adults. She slowly sat on the couch, stiff as a board, watching as the other two girls lounged around and made themselves comfortable.

Among the pillows and the cushions, she watched as they laid across each other, exchanging small words and giggles. Regretting her decision not to bring her camera, she opted instead to pull her phone out, messing around with the settings until she was satisfied. She set up the shot of the two of them and subtly took it, changing the lock screen on her phone. When she looked back up, she felt less tense.

She wiggled her way to lie on her stomach between the two of them. Rachel’s hand found her back and gently rubbed her spine while Chloe brushed some hair out of her face.

“Sorry, guys,” she mumbled suddenly, feeling a little nervous. “I know I’m not -- I’m kind of lame, I guess. I’m not really good at -- being spontaneous.”

“You’re not lame,” Chloe said with a scoff, raising an eyebrow at her girlfriend. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, I know you guys -- I know this room --” She stopped suddenly, realizing she was stuttering like an idiot. “Um, never mind.”

“Max,” Chloe said seriously, moving to sit up. “Listen to me. We said we would move at your pace. Don’t even worry about that shit. We’re not going to rush you into anything, ever.”

She nodded, feeling genuinely reassured. She sat up along with Chloe, moving to wrap her into a grateful hug. Chloe hugged her back, squeezing her tight.

“We love you, Max, no matter what,” Rachel agreed from behind them, staying in her lying position, too lazy to get up.

As they pulled apart, Max examined her girlfriend’s face for any sign that she was disappointed. She seemed perfectly fine and content, which calmed Max’s nerves more. She bit her lip down for a second before nervously leaning in to kiss her softly.

Suddenly she wondered if she was doing this right, if this is what Chloe truly wanted, if she was trying way too hard and making it obvious. Her own self doubt distracted her for a second and she felt Chloe pull away as she stopped kissing back. Suddenly panicked and regretting being distracted, Max pushed forward with more force, knocking the wind out of Chloe who let out a little grunt as she was kissed vigorously.

It wasn’t long before they resumed the intensity that they’d had on the couch, lips meeting lips in an intimate dance, breath coming out in pants whenever their lips parted. Max found her nerves were starting to fade and replaced by something else entirely. She gave her girlfriend a brief moment to breath before she kissed her again, softer this time, careful and slow, allowing herself to feel every part of it.

Chloe explored her tongue in her mouth and she briefly felt her mind turn to mush. When Chloe bit her bottom lip, she thought that her brain might never recover. When they pulled apart for real and Chloe looked at her with that dark and smitten expression, she lost the ability to process coherent thought entirely.

“I --” Max started, unsure what the hell she was even saying. The words were escaping her before she could stop them. “I wanna --”

“Do whatever you want, Max,” Chloe said, smiling gently at her. She still wasn’t used to Chloe’s tone being so serious and sensitive, but it was beautiful, like a vulnerable little part of her that only her girlfriends got to see. “Can I move you, though?”

Max nodded, red in the face. Chloe made a mental note to tell her how cute her freckles were over her blush. She adjusted her seating position, moving so that she was comfortably in one spot, adjusting Max as well so that she was sitting in front of her. Rachel already knew where to move and sat behind Max, wrapping both of her arms around Max’s waist, pressing her body flush against Max’s back, placing her chin on Max’s shoulder and kissing the side of her head gently.

“Okay, go ahead,” Chloe said once she was comfortable, letting Max set the pace.

Suddenly, the brunette realized once more that she was in over her head. Nervous, she could barely look at her childhood friend, her thoughts of desire clouded by her inability to see past her own inadequacy. She felt her bottom lip start to quiver and it took everything in her now to push them both off and have a mental breakdown in the corner. Chloe seemed to pick right up on her cues, for she leaned in and kissed Max gently and Max let herself relax. It was comforting, warm, and reassuring -- all things she needed.

Just like the kisses in the Other timeline, it calmed her demons, even if the demons were in her own brain.

Taking the first step was the hardest part. She felt her heart racing a thousand beats per second in her chest, making her head spin. Chloe had her hands on her hips and she was kissing her so carefully, barely ghosting her tongue in Max’s mouth, letting her breathe every few seconds. It was so gentle and caring that Max thought she might explode from pure affection.

With shaking hands, Max moved to start to unbutton Chloe’s shirt, which was already barely hanging on since she hadn’t felt the need to do it up the whole way. As she did so, she felt herself tense a little when Rachel moved her head, surprising her. She let the kisses on her shoulder and neck calm her down and she went back to what she was doing, desperate to finally see what she’d been sneaking glances at all night.

Once Chloe’s shirt was undone and pulled aside, she parted their kiss so she could look at her. Max felt her entire face flush and the reality of what they were doing slowly began to set in. She glanced up at Chloe, seeking her gaze, and smiled at her when she saw that Chloe was grinning.

Always the one to ruin the moment, Chloe proudly proclaimed, “I wore my nice bra.”

Max felt herself laugh. Rachel shook her head with a chuckle and kissed Max’s neck again. She was careful and slow, sliding her tongue along gently, not wanting to push Max into it too quickly. Max reached a hand out to Chloe’s shoulder, pulling her in to kiss her again while her free hand gripped Rachel’s arm that was wrapped around her.

She realized then that she was screwed. There was a strange sensation growing in her stomach, increasing by the second. As every moment passed, she found herself more and more desperate, simply wanting to be putty in the hands of these two girls. She didn’t care what they did or didn’t do to her. She trusted them completely, and crossing these boundaries with them seemed so natural. They were the only ones she ever wanted to do this with, anyway.

Her breathing hitched suddenly as she felt Rachel switch from gentle kisses to instead drag teeth along her skin. To her surprise, Chloe used a free hand to hold Max’s chin, tilting her head to kiss her deeper and give Rachel more access to her neck. Max blushed, adoring the feeling of the two of them doing whatever they wanted to her.

Rachel drifted up, kissing her ear lobe and gently nipping at her. Max tightened her hold on Rachel’s arm, still too distracted by throwing her all into the kisses she was sharing with Chloe. As she felt Rachel finally brave up enough to sink her teeth lightly into a particularly sensitive spot on her neck, she couldn’t stop herself from letting out an embarrassing noise against Chloe’s lips that was a mix between a moan and a surprised yelp.

“Max,” Chloe whispered, her voice in a soft tone that Max had never heard before. Her stomach was swirling and her head was spinning with emotions. As she opened her eyes, she met Chloe’s gaze. “You okay?”

Max debated it for a second, licking her lips. She thought long and hard before she finally nodded. Her breathing was coming out quick and nervous, but she knew that she didn’t want to stop anytime soon. She was sure she’d be disappointed.

“In that case,” Rachel mumbled, lifting her head and reaching out to tilt Max’s head towards her. “Can I get a turn?”

The brunette nodded again, closing her eyes and leaning in to kiss her sweetly. She leaned back against Rachel, letting her guide the pace - and she was not shy about the way that she kissed. It was languid, loving, and sensual all at the same time. It felt just as caring as Chloe’s kiss but different enough to make her head spin. Max’s heart was beating so loud she was surprised that they couldn’t hear it.

Chloe kissed the other side of her neck, not trying to be shy with her teeth and tongue. Max had lost her shyness when it came to her noises that she’d made earlier, and she let herself moan softly, hands gripping at the both of them.

Rachel parted their lips and sank back, moving back to her position against Max’s back. Chloe kissed her reddening lips again and Max felt like she was in heaven.

She wasn’t sure whose hands snuck under her shirt first. Quite frankly, she didn’t care. She still had one hand gripping Chloe’s hair and her other moved to clutch at the blanket under them, her body on autopilot, her heart beating so fast she thought she might pass out. Rachel kissed her neck again and moved her hands to Max’s back to undo her bra and that was it for Max, she no longer had any worries, nerves, or reservations -- she simply wanted more, simply wanted them closer.

“Hey, Chloe,” Rachel said suddenly, making Chloe break their kiss. “Could you help with --”

The bluenette took in the scene, letting out a chuckle when she saw the predicament. “Sure, one sec,” she said, leaning back and grabbing at Max’s shirt. She lifted it up in one fluid motion, throwing it aside and giving Rachel the ability to remove the brunette’s bra properly.

“Teamwork!”

“Teamwork.”

As they high fived, Max grinned at them, recognizing it as the most endearing and dorky thing she’s ever seen in her entire life.

She wasn’t given much time to recover before her bra was properly disposed of, tossed to the side. Realizing how exposed she was, she resisted the urge to cover herself up. Looking over at her girls helplessly, she was reassured when they looked at her with a mixture of lust and adoration.

“Will you lie down, Max?” Rachel asked softly, bringing Max back to reality. The brunette nodded, moving to lie down, trying to hide her blush behind her hand but failing.

Rachel was the first to follow her down, adjusting herself beside the other girl. She leaned down and kissed her gently, intending for it to just be a quick kiss, surprised when Max flew a hand up to grip at her hair, holding her into place. Kissing Rachel was like getting into a warm bath after a long day -- comforting and warm, able to wash away all of your sins. Rachel was all tongue and teeth as she kissed Max, earning noises from Max that mixed between moans and whimpers.

Meanwhile, Chloe nervously began to kiss down Max’s body. Now it was time for Chloe to get hit by the gravity of what she was about to do, realizing had gotten herself into an intimate situation with her childhood best friend. It was a lot of pressure, and she felt her stomach coil in nervousness. Even if it was their first time, Max could read Chloe like a book, and she pulled a hand down to meet Chloe’s.

Chloe held her tight. She would never let her go again.

The two of them were a well-oiled machine. As Rachel kept Max occupied with kisses, she dragged a hand to Max’s chest, gently palming one of her breasts and pinching her nipple while Chloe occupied the other with gentle kisses and eventual bites. The combined sensation was almost too much for Max, who had never felt anything like it before. She parted from the kisses suddenly, gasping as she tried to gain control of herself, and failing.

It was as though they had planned it, perfectly taking their time with Max, completely in sync. They already knew what to do to make Max buck her hips, burying her head in Rachel’s shoulder as she tried to hide her face. It was so strange and new but so incredible at the same time. Her body was on fire, every part of her was lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Every time one of the girls touched or kissed her, she could feel the walls she’d built crumbling, she could feel all the bad memories fading. It was a stereotype to say one night could make you fall in love, but she understood it now. She understood why sex was an intimate thing, why it mattered to people. She understood all the stories and all the songs.

Grateful that Victoria hadn’t put her in skinny jeans, she shimmied off her pants when she felt Chloe tug at them. Rachel reached a hand up and tilted Max’s head again, leaning down to kiss her neck, sucking at her pulse point, not shy about biting it and leaving a mark. It almost made Max cry out and she tightened her grip in Rachel’s hair, desperate to keep her as close as possible. By the time the blonde finally moved back to Max’s lips, she was panting again.

“You’re beautiful, Max,” Rachel whispered, drifting a hand over Max’s chest and stomach now that Chloe wasn’t over it. Max attempted to respond but it just came out as a mix between a moan and a whimper. She thought for a second she might cry from emotion, which would’ve been way too much at once.

Instead, she just met Rachel’s eyes, locking their adoring expressions together. Rachel kissed her softly, distracting her from the kisses at her inner thighs. The rush came to her all at once when she realized where Chloe was, and suddenly she was insecure -- how would she look? How would she taste? She should’ve showered for longer, she should’ve worn cuter underwear.,..

“Definitely beautiful,” Chloe responded, smiling up at her girls with a soft smile reserved for only them. And just like that, she got rid of the fears she hadn’t known that Max had been having. A few more kisses to her inner thighs and then she pulled Max’s thighs apart before moving closer. She was slow and careful at first, making sure to ease her into it.

Max thought she might just die from the moment she felt Chloe’s tongue on her. The sensations were overwhelming, and she opted to drop her hands and grip at the blanket underneath them instead. They were complete and incredible contradictions: Rachel was gracing Max’s body with bites and kisses anywhere she could reach, dedicably rough, while Chloe was gentle and slow, easing her into it. It was all done with so much care and love that Max was sure this was what heaven felt like.

“Oh god…” She mumbled, some of her first words since they’d started. “Oh fuck.”

They took that as a good sign, continuing with their actions. Chloe finally began to brave it, letting her tongue move over the bundle of nerves right where Max wanted her. She immediately cried out, bucking her hips against Chloe’s face, not even caring that the other had a smug smirk on for a moment before she did it again.

Panting, Max felt the butterflies in her stomach grow in population. As Chloe began to lick and suck at her clit in a perfect pattern, Max thought once again that she might just die from this. She found herself moaning louder than she’d expected, breathless and grinding her hips completely on instinct.

Rachel was there, holding her tight, pulling her into another kiss. She moaned into the blonde’s mouth, panting against her lips as Chloe continued what she was doing. She felt Rachel bite her bottom lip just as she let out a sharp gasp when Chloe slid two fingers in.

“Oh fuck,” she groaned again, surprised by her own volume. “Holy shit.”

Rachel laughed breathlessly against Max’s lips, kissing her once more before she decided Max needed some breathing room. Chloe continued to pump her fingers in and out of her while she gently lapped at Max’s clit. It was nothing like Max had ever felt before. She wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to do anything again when this felt so goddamn good.

She wasn’t about to last long, not right now, not when this was her first time and she was being treated with such careful care with every movement. Her thigh was being held down by Chloe’s free hand as she moved faster, curling her fingertips. Max was going to explode.

She felt Rachel lean in and opened her half-lidded eyes to see her looking down at her. The blonde put a hand on her chin again, keeping her gaze steady. “Max, baby,” she whispered, leaning in to make sure she could feel Rachel’s breath on her own. “Are you close?”

Max practically cried, a whimper leaving her lips as she tried to lean forward and unsuccessfully lock their lips together. She could feel herself sweating, feel the coils in her stomach tightening, feel her walls starting to clench. Rachel forced her to keep eye contact, smiling at her sweetly.

“I’m —“ She stuttered, her words failing as she finally freed a hand from the blanket to grip at Chloe’s hair. Holy fuck she didn’t know she could ever feel this good. It was building up, red-hot, threatening to make her burst. “I think I’m —“

“Shhh,” Rachel purred, leaning in to brush their noses together. She kept holding Max’s face and leaned into her ear, biting gently at the earlobe as she spoke. “Come for us, Max.”

The words had an effect like a magic spell. The combination of Rachel’s tone and Chloe’s movements made her cry out, bucking her hips violently as she felt her orgasm begin to take over. Her body froze, like a shot in a camera, the hand on Chloe’s hair threatening to pull her hair out. She continued to moan and whimper as she came, her entire body shaking. Chloe finally pulled away after a few, letting Max ride it out.

When it was over, Max was overwhelmed. She’d never felt so vulnerable and so loved at the same time. Chloe moved up and before long she was surrounded by her girls, offering her sweet kisses to the side of her face, gently so.

Max was on the verge of tears. Happy tears. She didn’t want to be known as the girl who cried during sex but these girls made it hard. Chloe kissed her cheeks and Rachel kissed her forehead and she bit it back.

“How was that?” Chloe asked, a little nervously.

Max could say a million things. Instead, she breathlessly settled on the obvious. “I’m -- I need a second.”

Rachel grinned. “Good, then?”

They let Max come down for a bit before they decided that they’d been occupying this room for too long and needed to save the rest for later. That didn’t stop Chloe and Rachel from quickly doing each other, encouraging Max to join even when she was nervous at messing up. She did fine, and the three of them left the room happy and in love.

--------

The party didn’t go quite as well for others.

As soon as Victoria Chase walked in, she was immediately assaulted with weird looks for standing next to Kate. Her friends approached her, seemingly confused, thinking she wasn’t coming at all, and she had to explain that she changed her mind at the last minute. As Taylor and the others spoke with her, she noticed that Kate felt out of place, stepping aside to walk further into the party.

It felt as though she was being pushed in two different directions. She had promised to keep an eye on Kate, but she wasn’t about to make everyone think that she was Kate’s little puppy, following her around. She chose to stay with her friends until the conversation died out and then she excused herself and made her way to the drinks, making one for herself and Kate, turning down the offers of boys to make some for her.

She saw Kate from the corner of her eye, standing against the wall, drinking a bottle of water. Against her better judgment, Victoria felt the corner of her mouth almost turn up in a smile. She was still the same Kate, and she suspected that she would never try alcohol again after the events of the last party.

As she finished making herself a drink and making Kate a non-alcoholic mix, she walked over to her date.

“Enjoying yourself?” She asked, offering Kate a tight-lipped smile and the cup. Kate looked up at her and for a moment they met eyes - and she saw it again, the inability to hide how she was feeling, the pull that Victoria felt in a desire to understand her. It was too strong, and she had to look away, focusing on Kate’s nose instead.

Cute nose.

Fucking pull yourself together, Victoria.

“Yeah, it’s nice,” Kate answered quietly, taking a sip of the drink. If Victoria was a more observant woman she would notice how Kate immediately trusted her not to give her alcohol or anything else she didn’t consent to. “A lot of people, though. At least he’s not here.”

Victoria’s jaw clenched but she nodded. “Nobody will fuck with you here, Kate.”

A thousand questions came to Kate’s mind. She wondered why Victoria cared so much. Why she let herself be vulnerable for only a quarter of a second before she came right back to her old self. Why she still stood around Kate instead of ditching her, despite the looks she was getting. From here, she could see Rachel and her girlfriends stealing the show, but still some looks were cast their way.

She wanted to ask Victoria why, but just as she did so, Victoria opted for a simple, “I’ll be right back, bathroom. Stay right here, please. Will you be okay?”

Kate nodded, and Victoria made her way to the bathroom just as Rachel was exiting. They met eyes but otherwise said nothing. Taking advantage of being alone, Victoria laid her head against the door, closing her eyes.

For once, she didn’t feel at ease at a party - she felt on edge, bothered. Like her every sense was on high alert. She wasn’t sure if it was Kate doing this to her or her own nervousness. She didn’t like it. She missed her mask. The desire to protect Kate was a new feeling, one she wasn’t sure was there because of obligation or… something else.

She returned just as Kate was deep in conversation with a scruffy-looking boy who was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. Men really did not try at all, they just wore the most basic things and pretended like it was fashion.

The boy faltered as soon as Victoria approached, perhaps expecting her to say something. She didn’t, just examined him, which made him more nervous.

“Uh, anyway --” Warren continued, glancing at Kate. “I’m really glad you liked the movie, Kate. I was worried it wouldn’t be your thing.”

“I like science fiction,” Kate answered with a shrug. “I was never allowed to watch it growing up, it’s really quite a fascinating genre.”

This conversation was going to bore her to death.

As the party went on, it continued in a similar fashion. Kate found total losers to talk with and Victoria would eventually scare them off with dirty looks or sometimes with her snarky comments, which usually led to the conversation being cut short. Whenever Victoria’s friends approached them, she would give them the same energy.

To be totally honest, she didn’t trust fucking anyone. Even if her own friends were raising red flags. Anytime anyone even stepped close to Kate’s drink, she decided the conversation was over, and scared them off using her usual tactics. It was working wonders but doing nothing to ease Victoria’s worries. She kept glancing around the party, increasingly worried, distracted.

Before long, it was just Kate and Victoria standing outside on the deck, watching the stars. Kate had a water in her hands but she looked antsy, and she turned to Victoria.

“I’m going to go inside,” she said, offering the other a smile. When Victoria turned to follow, she put a hand up. “It’s okay, you can stay out here.”

Once she was left alone, Victoria pursed her lips, leaning against the wall of the house. Being alone didn’t help her nervousness - in fact, it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She glanced inside, not seeing Chloe and her crew, and not seeing Kate, either. Making her decision to not listen to the other girl, she walked back in and began to search for her.

After not finding her, she began asking around, she found out where Kate was. Her stomach began to turn at the implications of what she’d heard. The stairs were creaky and old, and it made Victoria increasingly scared as she approached the empty bedrooms attached to the hallway upstairs. The second floor was basically unoccupied, save for a couple of doors that were closed and the sounds of teengers were heard from behind them.

She reached the last door, finding it closed but slightly ajar. Trusting her instincts, she opened the door to see Kate sitting on the bed, looking at her phone. The blonde looked up as Victoria entered, looking slightly annoyed, try as she might to play it off.

“What are you doing here?” Victoria asked, frowning. Kate’s shoulders sagged as she sighed a little bit.

“I just needed a second,” she mumbled, looking at her phone. “This party’s much more crowded than the last one. It’s a lot.”

“I don’t think we’re allowed in the bedrooms.”

“I’ll leave in a second, you can go.”

Victoria pursed her lips again, debating, before she opted to walk towards Kate and sit on the bed with her.

“Are you okay, Kate? You’ve been acting weird,” she asked, not daring to keep the snark out of her tone, on the off chance it would show the vulnerability she was feeling.

Kate, ever the emotional teenager, felt anger break through the surface, try as she might to stop it. “I’m fine, Victoria.”

Victoria chose not to answer, looking at the ground instead. Before she could even decide what to say, Kate spoke again.

“Why did you accompany me?”

The pixie-cut blonde opened her mouth and closed it a few times before answering. “I’m keeping an eye on you.”

“Why?”

“To make sure no one tries that shit again.”

“You made a pretty big scene at the last party, I don’t think they will, and Nathan isn’t here.” Kate paused, furrowing her eyebrows. “You’ve been following me around all night and scaring off everyone I speak with. I just don’t understand.”

Victoria was livid. Here she was, doing everything in her power to protect Kate, and she was saying shit like this. She stood up, crossing her arms and glaring at the girl. “I guess I’ll just fucking leave you alone then.”

Kate winced, moving to stand up. “Victoria, that’s not what I meant --”

“No, it is what you meant. Whatever. I don’t care.” She scoffed, raising her hands and moving to storm out.

Kate stopped her, reaching out to touch her arm, which completely froze Victoria to the spot. “Please, Victoria. I just want to understand.” Waiting until Victoria turned to face her, she looked up at her with an expression similar to a puppy dog. It made Victoria’s heart clench, the feeling so overwhelming that she couldn’t even find the words to speak. Thankfully, Kate continued. “I just want to know what we’re doing. Are we friends? Do you want to be friends?”

Victoria debated it for a minute. She could be honest, she could tell Kate that she just wanted to protect her from everything from Nathan to stupid boys who just wanted her for one thing and one thing early. She wanted to see Kate have a good time instead of being scared. The smaller girl was no good at hiding the tension in her shoulders, and all Victoria wanted to do was keep her safe, for god’s sake.

But admitting that wouldn’t be very Victoria Chase of her, would it? And who was she except not a slave to her own reputation?

“We’re not friends,” she answered, leaving before she could see Kate’s expression.

Kate didn’t understand why that felt like heartbreak. She didn’t understand why seeing Victoria storm out made her feel like the air had been stolen from her lungs. She didn’t understand why the room felt cold when the other girl left, effectively ruining their friendship, even if she was still a little mad at her.

If Victoria took one damn second to think about it, wonder why it hurts so much, she would have pieced it together.

--------

The next few hours was mostly uneventful. After their time in the basement, the girls found themselves in the backyard, which was not fenced in and near to a forest. Max sat in Chloe’s lap while Rachel sat next to them and held their hands, rambling on and on about something that they weren’t particularly listening to. It was peaceful, and Max found herself wishing she’d brought her camera so she could capture the essence of her girlfriends and the content looks on their faces. Maybe this party wasn’t a bad idea, after all. She blushed as she thought of the hickey on her neck that was conveniently concealed by the position she was sitting in.

Victoria and Kate did not have such luck. After that, Victoria stormed off to get a drink and socialize with her friends as normal, bitching everyone out with ten times more strength. She drank, eventually becoming the life of the party once more. Her own fears and worries for Kate were quickly drowned out, in true Victoria Chase fashion, she needed to bury the vulnerability. Stupid Kate Marsh. Stupid adorable, sweet, and caring Kate, thinking she could just snake her way into Victoria’s heart like that.

The girls didn’t notice, too caught up in the comfortable calm of the outdoors to notice anything was off. Kate, meanwhile, immediately stalked off to the basement, finding Warren and engaging him in conversation as she kept to herself for the most part. The conversation with Victoria had affected her more than she’d realized.

After a few hours, the party began to die down. As the night drew to a close, Max found herself getting sleepy. Laying her head on Chloe’s chest, she let the sound of her talking lull her into a light sleep. It was funny how comfortable she was already to just sit and enjoy the night, listening to her two girlfriends talk, and forget about nothing else.

This time travel thing was worth it.

A few more minutes after that passed and people came to see them and say their goodbyes. Rachel hugged them all as they left, waving at a sleeping Max to make their way to their cars. The house began to filter out, with some exceptions as a significant number of teenagers fell asleep where they stood.

As they were debating if it was time to go home, they heard it.

Victoria was one of the few left behind at the party, and she was storming her way up the stairs from the basement. Her hair was disheveled, she looked a few drinks in, but she was brushing past a number of people still standing and dancing or whatever it was teenagers did at a party. She rounded on a boy, asking him a question which he shook his head at. Looking dejected, she approached the screen doors and stepped onto the patio, looking at the girls with a panicked expression.

“Kate’s missing.”

Chapter Text

“Kate’s missing.”

Now suddenly wide awake, Max sat between her girlfriends as she listened to Victoria. No longer the composed mean girl she always was, Victoria looked incredibly distraught, understandably so. Guilt and anger was written all over her features and she didn’t even bother to hide it. The typical Victoria Chase mask had disappeared, replaced with genuine fear. She was standing across from them, pacing with her head in her hands. Max had only seen her like this a few times before, and it was terrifying. 

“Okay, run me through it one more time,” Rachel asked, keeping her tone as neutral as possible, despite the fact that it wavered at the end of her sentence.

Victoria lifted her head and spoke, her own tone dripping with anger. “I told you! She went to the basement with that sci-fi kid and then I didn’t see her again. I thought she was still down there. Fuck , I’m so stupid!”

Victoria was visibly beating herself up. She had told Kate off and now she was missing. So much for being a protector . Poor Victoria Chase, unable to do something as simple as keep Kate safe. Unable to do anything of value . What did she deserve in this universe other than to be average at everything that she did, no matter how hard she tried? What did she do other than slip into old habits and put people in danger?

Max pulled out her phone, searching for Warren’s number and shot him a text while Rachel continued to speak. “Okay, well, maybe they went home together?”

Victoria glared at her, unsure why that suggestion made her so much angrier. She could’ve hit Rachel right there, but Max interrupted before she had the chance.

“No, she’s not with him,” Max piped up, reading the text off her phone. “He says he went home an hour ago and she was still down there.”

“Who else was down there?”

The pixie-cut blonde sighed heavily. “I don’t fucking know.”

Max stood up silently, heading for the screen doors. The girls followed her, heading for the basement. 

When they had been here, there had been no one else in the area, aside from the little corner they were hidden in. Now, it seemed as though there were pillows all over the room, and the game system was still running on the TV. They began to dig.

Heavy breathing filled the room, coming from the pixie-cut blonde who was visibly trembling. Victoria felt like she was going to throw up. After a few minutes of looking, she fell to the floor holding her head, flashbacks of the dark room coming back to her as she began to worry about where Kate possibly could be. Her panic attack was right on the edge of becoming full-blown, a sight no one normally ever saw but herself -- but, to her surprise, Max was the one who walked over and put her hand on her back reassuringly.

“Did you call her?” Chloe asked, approaching them. “Did you call Nathan?”

Victoria’s glare had lost its strength. “She won’t answer, and yes, he won’t answer either.”

“Shit.”

“We need to search the house,” Rachel finally said, moving to stand up from her crouching position. “Chloe and I will take the upstairs, you guys look on the main level.”

After almost twenty minutes of searching, they found nothing. They even spoke with everyone at the party who was still around and got no further info. The girls were beginning to lose hope, until finally one of them approached Max.

“Did you guys lose something?” The boy asked, running a hand through his greasy hair as he glanced at her.

“Have you seen our friend?” Max responded, showing a photo of Kate on her phone. “She’s short, cute, always wearing a cross around her neck.”

“Yeah, I saw her,” he commented, leaning his head back once more. “She went out back with some dude.”

Victoria was there before Max could even call her, standing oddly close, her breathing still panicked and heavy and eyes wide.

“What dude?” Asked Max, to which the guy just shrugged.

With a growl, Victoria ran off to the screen doors towards the side of the house and the driveway just as Chloe and Rachel came from upstairs. They followed Victoria outside, watching as she ran towards the cars and saw nothing there. 

“Fuck,” Victoria swore, brushing past them and walking towards the back of the yard, towards the desk and the pool area. The other girls followed, even when she began to walk too far, too close to the forest at the end of the property.. Max had a sinking feeling in her heart and, based off the expressions on everyone else’s faces, they all had the same feeling.

Max, Chloe, and Rachel stood in a row as they watched Victoria fall to her knees at the end of the backyard, reaching into the dirt and the grass. Their expressions changed from fear to dread when they saw what Victoria pulled out as she turned to them, tears streaming down her cheeks, holding up a cross necklace.

--------

The ride to the barn house was mostly silent. Chloe sat in the back, trying to call David repeatedly, only to get voicemail. She cursed as she called him again and again and again, desperate to get him on the line. She didn’t quite blame him for not answering. However, even Joyce wasn’t answering her phone, probably due to the late hour. Max sat next to them, her hands shaking, realizing she should’ve brought her fucking camera.

Victoria’s driving was desperate and erratic, her fingers tapping furiously against the wheel as she weaved through traffic. Rachel kept quiet, having already made the calls she needed to make and finding out that Kate wasn’t at the dorms.

The tension in the car could be cut by a knife. Victoria was a mixture between livid and devastated, hot tears still running down her cheeks, smudging her mascara. None of the other girls dared to talk to her, not wanting to make her feel worse. The mask that had once been Victoria’s protection had been left behind in the garbage somewhere.

Max clutched Chloe’s hand tight, exchanging a worried look with her. The brunette had a bad feeling, and she knew Chloe felt the same. She suddenly had flashbacks to the memories of how many times Chloe and Rachel had died in that basement, in this timeline alone, and her stomach lurched. 

Chloe seemed to understand on some sort of intimate level, and she leaned over to gently nuzzle Max’s hair and press her lips there quickly and softly. It reassured Max to a certain extent, which Chloe had a tendency to do.

As they pulled up to the barn and the radio cut off, the girls sat up straighter as Victoria got herself ready. She brushed hair out of her face, threw her bag in the back (hitting Max in the leg), and reached across Rachel’s lap into the glove compartment.

Max nearly had a heart attack at the black item she pulled out and put in her suit jacket pocket. “Where did you get a gun?!” Stuttered out Rachel, adding her voice to the words that Max had been thinking.

Victoria just rolled her eyes and got out of the car. 

Max had a bad feeling about this.

Not only was Victoria having a gun totally out of character, but all of this was completely different than she’d expected. She barely even had a chance to process what was going on before they were piling out of the car, heading for the barn.

Victoria was miles ahead of them, already at the barn doors. Chloe held tight to Max’s hand as they made their way towards the already-determined Victoria. 

Max knew what was going to happen from this point on. This was the moment that determined if they caught Jefferson in the act or if they ended up screwed. She was dizzy at the thought of running headfirst into danger like this, but if they were right about Kate being in there, they had to move quickly. 

Other Max hadn’t been to this barn that often. When she’d been in there, she had been dealing with Chloe’s death, and was motivated with the pure need to save her. She still remembered the pain that she felt at the memory, the expression on Chloe’s face when she fell as she was dying was something that was burned into Max’s memory and would be there forever. 

How ironic, that the girl she loved had died in the grave of the other girl she loved. 

They moved in a line like cattle moving to the slaughter. The hatch was opened, and they didn’t hesitate to make their way down. Victoria was in front of them, with Max at the very back and her girlfriends in between. It felt like they were marching towards their death, which they very well could’ve been.

Max heard Victoria call out to Jefferson as she marched into the room, heard the gunshot and the scream coming from the girl that she’d become all too familiar with. Rachel’s cry of “fuck!” confirmed what she’d suspected, and Max put her hand up in a panic as she moved time back.

This time, as Victoria pushed ahead, Max stepped between her and the latch and whispered for her to creep up on Jefferson instead of storming on him. Victoria took the advice and they went back down, making their way towards the dark room… only for Chloe to trip and give them away at the last second.

This time, they creeped up on him perfectly but Kate, still half-asleep and half-drugged, gave them away with wide eyes. Jefferson turned around at the last second and took Victoria out with a smack to the face, grabbing her gun and aiming it at the closest person, which was Rachel. 

Max moved back, feeling the blood start to trickle down her nose.

This time, she told Victoria to move quicker, which she did. She managed to take Jefferson out, knocking him out and running towards Kate. The reunion was brief and sweet until they heard someone come down the stairs. Before any of them could react, Jefferson began to wake up, and Max just decided to go back.

This time, they were positioned perfectly, and Victoria took Jefferson out again. The world wanted to change the script on them, though -- no one suspected David to call right at that moment and yell something into the phone, distracting Chloe long enough that she didn’t notice when suddenly Nathan was revealed to be the stranger from before, making his way down the stairs with a gun in his hands. Rachel went down again, shocking Chloe and also Max back into reality.

This time, they were positioned perfectly, but Max had stolen Chloe’s phone and muted it, just in case. As Kate began to wake up slowly, Victoria and Rachel moved to hold her. Nathan made his way down the stairs and Max pushed the door on him, but he had already fired. The bullet froze a few seconds from her face and she moved back.

This time, Victoria and Max went in by themselves while Rachel and Chloe kept watch.

That went about as well as you’d imagine.

It took over 100 tries before Max figured it out.

When she came back to herself, they were standing near the car, her feet nearly giving out from under her. Her dressy shirt was covered in blood, her head spinning, but she managed to choke out a “wait!” towards Victoria, making her stop and turn around in cheer surprise at Max’s sudden change in tone.

Chloe was still holding her hand, and she moved to hold the brunette up as she tried to regain her balance, suddenly worried.

“Max, forget about your fucking nosebleed. We have to go inside now --”  Victoria argued, but she was cut off by Max.

“You can’t,” she spit out, wiping the blood from her nose, ignoring how it stained her hand now. She tasted blood and bile in her mouth. “If you go in, you die. Or Rachel dies. Or Chloe dies.”

“We can’t know that if we don’t try,” Victoria scoffed, eyes narrowed. “Kate’s in there!” She insisted, looking between the other two girls who looked dejected.

Max knew the only way to get through to her was to change her tone up, so she snapped back at her. “Victoria, I can’t explain it right now! I just need you to trust me.” She stood up properly, looking the other girl in the eyes. “I need to do this by myself. It’s the only way that we can save everyone. Please , trust me.”

The silence that passed was painful and lasted way too long. Max had to go back three times to convince Victoria, and by the time Victoria agreed she felt ragged and spent. Perhaps that was what changed Victoria’s mind at the last second, and she nodded and handed the gun to Max.

“Thank you,” the brunette muttered as she walked towards the barn. Turning to face her girls, she nodded at them. “Victoria, watch the doors. Stop anyone who tries to come in. Rachel, keep the car running, and Chloe, keep calling David.”

“Aye, aye, Captain,” Chloe agreed, looking at her fearfully. She approached her, cupping Max’s face to place a quick kiss on her forehead, trying to wipe the blood away. 

“Don’t die.”

“I’m not sure my powers will let me,” Max replied with a small smile and a whisper as she walked inside.

This time, she had it all planned. She was holding the gun in front of her, slowly making her way downstairs. She locked the latch behind her so Nathan wouldn’t follow like he had when the girls had been with her. The room smelled like it always did, and her every sense was on fire. The first thing she made note of was that Jefferson’s gun was in the normal spot, and that Kate was lying where she was always lying. 

She did what she had to do, as much as it would hurt with the strain.

As she forced a hand up, carefully, forcing the world to come to a stop. Everything froze and for one, graceful moment, she was right where she needed to be. Still holding the gun, she took a few steps into the room, keeping everything as frozen as possible as she inched her way towards Kate.

However, she was too spent from using her powers for too long at this point, and as she stepped closer, the world began to come back, slipping from her fingers like she was trying to hold water. Panicked, she held her gun up towards Jefferson. As the world unfroze, she met his eyes.

“Stop!” She called out, making him freeze. Frowning, he stood up from the binders he had been pawing at and began to slowly walk towards his gun when he saw the gun in Max’s hand.

“Max,” he greeted, his tone as calm and collected as ever. “You should put that down, someone might get hurt.”

“I’m planning on it,” she growled as her finger itched at the trigger. Slowly, she stepped to the side, making her way towards Kate. Closer, closer, closer .

The two of them moved in perfect synchronization, like a dance.

“I know everything you’re about to do, Jefferson. Don’t even try. If you try to shoot me I’ll just go back and do it all over again. You’re lucky I’m even sparing your life.”

She was erratic, and fully aware she sounded crazy - the blood dripping from her nose and mouth probably didn’t help, but the strange words made Jefferson pause.

“Max, are you okay?” He asked softly, stepping towards her instead of the gun. “Are you in trouble? Do you need help? I can clean you up --”

“Don’t come any closer,” she barked, her voice shaking. He raised his hands but listened, stepping back a tiny bit. 

They stared at each other for a moment, both knowing that someone would have to get hurt in this scenario. Max had been through this a million times. She was already so haunted by Other Max’s memories of her girlfriends dying, now she had to be haunted by her own. She could still see the way that Chloe looked when she fell, could still hear Rachel’s scream as she was shot. She could even see Victoria’s face as she died, too.

It took all of her strength not to fire at Jefferson right there. Instead, she stepped closer into the room, taking only a few short steps before she fired at the cabinet. As it shook, the gun fell from it’s spot on the shelf, and Max only had a few seconds to move forward, forcing herself into a painful dance between a rewind and regular time in order to finally find herself in the original position she’d been in, holding both guns. That action took almost everything out of her -- she felt like she was on the verge of passing out, but she fought it with everything in bones.

Once she was close enough towards the cameras and the lights, she stared Jefferson down as he stayed frozen in the spot, eyes narrowed as he watched her go.

“Max…” He started, taking advantage of when she paused to listen. “This isn’t what it looks like. Kate volunteered.”

“She’s drugged.”

Jefferson shrugged. “Some girls want to be vulnerable. They take pleasure in it. Kate has had her whole life controlled by her family. Just once, she wanted to relinquish control to someone whom she trusted. She came to me, asking to be involved, and I obliged. I would never hurt someone like her.”

“That’s bullshit,” Max spat, glaring. “You’d hurt anyone who tried to escape you.”

“It’s not escape if they volunteered,” Jefferson explained again, sighing as though this was an inconvenience for him. “I’m not sure what you think you see here, Max. It’s not what you think.”

Max hesitated. She wanted to just shoot Jefferson in the chest, but she wasn’t sure she had the energy to go back in time if something was fucked up. She realized she only had one choice, so she took the chance. Slowly, she lowered her hands, still holding the triggers but not aiming them at her face.

The man smiled, thinking he was winning. He slowly approached her, confidence gained when he saw that she didn’t raise her guns again. “Max… I’ve always told you that you’re talented. You would be an excellent subject for me. Wouldn’t you like to see what it’s all about? Wouldn’t you like to be my muse?”

He smiled even wider when Max said nothing in response. Reaching out, he touched her face, gently dragging his fingertips under her jaw. She shuddered but tried to fight the urge to bite his fingers off. He leaned in, tilting his head. “If you join me in this project, I’ll let Kate go. I even have a shower you can clean up in.”

For a second, he thought he’d won. Max looked at him with a mixture of curiosity and intrigue, and he grinned wickedly. He was so focused on her face that he didn’t notice when one of the guns slowly raised and aimed right between his legs.

He sure as hell noticed when it fired.

The expression on his face shocked Max for a second and she quickly stepped back, removing the gun from its spot against his pants. Jefferson screamed and fell on his back, letting out a mixture of screams that sounded like a pig being slaughtered. Dropping the guns, she ran towards Kate and began to untie her.

The process of bringing her upstairs was painful. She had to re-open the latch, breaking two fingers in the process, but she had no energy left to re-wind and fix it. By the time they got to the barn and started to head outside, Kate was slowly starting to wake up.

Meanwhile, outside, things had gone according to Max’s final plans. The girls had stayed in their designated spots, after a few minutes Chloe finally got David on the phone. “Holy shit, David, you need to come here right now!” She had screamed into the phone, making him a little freaked out, but he had listened. A few minutes after that, Nathan’s car pulled up, nearly crashing into theirs. Victoria had quickly rounded on him, preventing him from going inside of the barn. He was still freaking out at his car trying to push past her when Max came stumbling out.

Suddenly, Nathan was forgotten as Victoria let go of him and ran towards them. Max lost her balance and fell to her feet, dragging Kate with her. Exhausted, her head pulled back and she barely had a second to process what was going on before she started to pass out.

Rachel and Chloe were at her side in seconds. Chloe pulled her away from Kate and into her lap, pushing hair and blood out of her face. “Max? Max?!” She yelled, shaking her gently. Rachel kneeled in front of them, slipping her jacket off to try and clean up the blood.

“Max, baby, can you hear us?” She whispered as she scraped dried blood free from Max’s nose. 

“Max?” Chloe said, leaning down and resting her forehead against hers. Her hand found Max’s and she cradled it gently, avoiding the bloody and broken fingers. “Max, come on, for fuck’s sake --”

Max coughed as Rachel gently prodded her nose again, and both girls looked relieved as they looked down at her.

“Did I --” Max tried to speak but coughed again, feeling blood in her throat. She didn’t continue her sentence, and Chloe thankfully cut her off.

“Yeah, you did it. Of course you did, you’re Super Max. Is Jefferson --?”

Max snorted, the gesture incredibly painful and she groaned in pain. “I sh-shot him in the -- in the balls.”

Rachel laughed, pulling Max in for a group hug. They piled on her gently, holding her as close as possible. Chloe whispered something as she kissed her forehead, but Max couldn’t hear it. She was slipping slowly into unconsciousness. It should’ve been scary, but it wasn’t. She was wrapped up in the girls she loved. She could not come back from this and she’d be okay with that.

Meanwhile, after Kate had fallen to the ground, she had been surprised to feel herself wrapped up in a pair of thin arms. She was between worlds and couldn’t focus enough to open her eyes but could see that much.

“Holy shit, Kate,” Victoria started, her voice shaking as she laid Kate on her lap. “Kate, are you awake? Kate?!”

Someone kneeled down in front of her and Victoria was surprised to see a sobered-up Nathan looking at her apologetically. “She’s drugged,” he answered, reaching out to feel Kate’s pulse, which was slow and steady. “She’ll be okay. You’ll be okay, Kate.”

With tear-filled eyes, Victoria looked away from him down at the girl in her lap. She brushed hair away from Kate’s face, watching her chest as she breathed. Carefully, she reached into her pocket with her free hand and pulled out the cross that was in there. She laid it in Kate’s hand before squeezing it gently.

“I’m sorry,” mumbled Nathan as he sat back, his head in his hands. 

Victoria wanted to let Nathan have it, to scream at him until her throat was raw, but… looking at his expression, she felt all the fight fade out of her.

Nathan was silent for another minute before he stood up and walked away, leaving his car behind. Victoria felt no urge to follow him, far too focused on the girl in her arms instead. She heard the other girls lift up Max and lead her to the car, but she couldn’t tear her eyes from Kate. Like this, she almost looked peaceful. All the emotions she was used to seeing on Kate’s face were replaced with a serene calm. Victoria would’ve loved to see that in any other context. Shaking her gently, she whispered her name until she saw her start to stir.

Kate’s eyes opened as she looked at her and Victoria felt her heart grow three sizes. She had been unaware that feeling even existed until now. Kate blinked slowly, eyes closing again as her lips pulled into a small smile. For a moment, Victoria forgot that anything existed aside from the girl in her lap. She had been lying when she said she didn’t want them to be friends. She had been trying to protect them both from Nathan. Maybe even protect them both from the inevitable pain of being friends with her, but she had failed miserably. She knew she would regret that for the rest of her life.

“‘Tori,” Kate mumbled softly, opening and closing her hand which had the cross in it. She adjusted herself slightly, moving that hand to grab the side of Victoria’s jacket. “It’s -- It’s Jeff -- It’s --”

“Shhh, shhh,” Victoria reassured, squeezing her hand tightly. “We’re taking care of it. We got you, Kate. You’re safe now, I promise. I’m sorry.”

Kate slowly nodded, loosening her grip on Victoria’s shirt. Victoria’s next movements were completely on instinct, acting only on the overwhelming tidal wave of relief that she felt. She let go of Kate’s hand, instead moving to Kate’s cheek. It was so soft under her touch, pink and filled with the breath of someone who was very much alive. Victoria was almost certain she was going to start sobbing. Instead, she leaned down, brushing her lips against Kate’s cheek.

She was surprised when the still-drugged girl smirked slightly, with half-lidded eyes, and mumbled something that sounded like, “You missed.”

Victoria would be surprised or even shocked but when she heard Kate giggle groggily, she couldn’t help but smile.

Chapter Text

David arrived not long after the girls piled into the car to drive to the hospital. As there was no room for all of them in Victoria’s car, Rachel ended up staying behind with him as he held Jefferson while they waited for the cops.

Victoria and the doctors rushed Kate both girls into the back, Max was still passed out, waking up when the doctors were surrounding her. The hospital wasn’t Max’s favourite place to be but after a few hours of rest and medication she was grateful for the help. She had to get a scan to check the source of the severe nosebleed, but they unsurprisingly found nothing wrong. 

Victoria had sat quietly in the waiting room as she waited, but Chloe had, naturally, thrown a fit. The second that Max was out of her scan and into a room she had screamed and begged the nurses to let her in until they gave in simply because they sympathized with the daughter of well-known William Price who was just afraid to lose someone else.

“You’re good to go, Ms. Caulfield,” reassured the nurse once he was done checking her over once more. “Nothing seems really wrong, just a bad nosebleed, dehydration, and exhaustion. Rest and drink lots of fluids.”

“Thank you,” she said, smiling at the nurse as he disappeared. She turned to Chloe, who was standing in front of her bed. “Do you think Kate’s gonna be okay?”

“Yeah, she was already waking up when we got her in the car,” Chloe said, leaning in to kiss her softly. Max melted into the kiss, wrapping her arms around Chloe's neck, sighing softly. "I was worried about you."

"Don't be, I'm fine," she replied, laying her head on Chloe's chest.

They stayed like that for a few seconds before they got up, Chloe reaching a hand out to help her girlfriend up as they went towards the waiting room. “Rachel texted me a few minutes ago, she’s on the way. The cops are surrounding the barn now, Jefferson’s going down. We did it, Max.”

“We did it.”

The words didn’t feel real in Max’s mouth. It felt like she was saying something she didn’t quite believe yet. They had successfully saved everyone that they’d planned to save, and hopefully they could convince the town about the incoming storm, too. If the signs started to appear, that is -- she was still holding out hope that it wouldn’t come.

The waiting room was empty, not even Victoria was here now. Max sat down hard in a chair, watching as Chloe moved to sit next to her. As soon as she was close, she laid her head on Chloe’s shoulder.

“I’m so tired, Chloe,” she mumbled, to which Chloe responded by kissing her on the top of her head.

She must’ve fallen asleep again after that, if not only briefly. Rachel showed up and sat on Chloe’s other side, resting her head on Chloe’s other shoulder. The three of them held hands in the silence, waiting for someone to show up and tell them Kate was okay.

An hour later, David showed up, adjusting his shirt as he watched the girls. Joyce was trailing behind, looking disheveled. 

“How is she?” He asked, clearing his throat.

“We don’t know yet,” Chloe answered. She was grateful that David had saved their asses, and although she’d never fully accept him, she felt a little less hateful of him right now. “We’re waiting for an update.”

“Is she okay?”

“Max? Yeah, she’s fine, she just had a nosebleed.”

David cleared his throat, mulling his next words over carefully. “She’s going to need to give a statement, we have officers here.”

Chloe opened her mouth to protest but Max was already awake. “It’s okay,” she whispered, leaning over to kiss Chloe on the lips without even realizing that Chloe’s parents were both watching. She gave Rachel the same treatment before following a stunned David out the doors towards the officers.

“Well,” Joyce began, pulling up a chair to sit next to the girls. “That was one way to let him know.”

“You knew?”

“That you three are dating?” Joyce snorted. “Darling, I’ve suspected you and Max would be a couple ever since you two were barely old enough to know what it meant. Rachel was a surprise. When I saw you three together I put the pieces together.” She smiled at the two of them, showing that she was accepting it, which lifted a weight off Chloe’s shoulders that she didn’t realize was there. “As long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters to me.”

“Thanks, mom.”

As the conversation came to a close, Victoria walked back into the room, looking exhausted. The three of them sat up straight and Victoria held her hands out.

“She’s fine,” she said, letting the words settle in. “She can’t see anyone right now, her family’s on the way. You guys can go home now.”

Chloe stood up, walking over to Victoria. She awkwardly put a hand on her shoulder. “Thanks, Vicky.”

“Don’t call me that,” she mumbled, without any of the energy behind it.

“Let us know when she can see people?” Asked Rachel as she also stood up.

“Sure.”

--------

Kate woke up a few hours later feeling a lot better. Next to her was Victoria, curled up on the chair looking at her phone. When she heard Kate start to stir, she looked up.

“Hey, Kate,” she started, pocketing her phone. “Your parents called, I told them where you are. They should be here in a few hours but you won’t be here for long.” She paused, biting her lip. “I can go, if you want to sleep.”

Kate was silent, eyeing the other girl carefully. She was stuck between a world where she didn’t understand Victoria and one where she connected with her. The drug-induced kiss from last night was still solid in her memory, try as she might to fight it. She’d been confused about her sexuality before but didn’t really understand it until she opened her eyes and saw herself wrapped up in Victoria’s arms and it felt confusingly safe .

She’d expected those feelings to go away when she was out of that environment and somewhere normal. However, even Victoria mentioning leaving made her heart constrict, and she knew that she couldn’t fight it, try as she might. She’d read too many goddamn romance novels in her life, now she was paying for it.

“No, it’s okay,” she said softly, offering a smile to the other girl, who looked relieved. “No stuffed animal for me this time?”

“The fucking gift shop is closed,” Victoria scoffed, leaning back in her chair. “It’s all disgusting in there anyway. Not exactly top quality stuff.”

“I seem to remember you thought it was perfectly fine last time I was in here.”

“That was before we were friends.”

Kate paused, examining Victoria again, checking her expression for any lies. She saw honesty there instead, and it surprised and terrified her at the same time. Victoria was never really an open person, as far as she knew. “Are we?” She asked softly, tilting her head. “Friends, I mean.”

Victoria hesitated. She knew that she wasn’t exactly Kate’s favourite person, and the last thing she wanted was to scare her off. She breathed out a sigh and answered slowly. “I’d like to be,” she said honestly, looking away from Kate and down to her hands. “Kate, I --” Breathe in, compose yourself, Chase. You don’t fall apart in front of people. You don’t cry in front of people. You’re better than that. “I’m really sorry, Kate. For everything. For bullying you earlier in the year, for yelling at you today. For dragging you to a party and ditching you. This is all my fault.”

“No it’s not.”

Frustrated, Victoria looked up and met her eyes. It was irritating to see Kate’s gentle and understanding expression. Shouldn’t she be mad at her? “Yes, it is, Kate! I left you alone! I let you go to that party! I wasn’t there for Nathan and he went off the rails - I didn’t notice Jefferson was a creep - fuck , why aren’t you more angry at me now?”

Victoria’s growing hysterics weren’t enough to scare Kate off. Instead, she answered in a quiet and gentle tone. “You saved my life.”

The girl deflated at that, almost falling right back into the chair. Sighing, she put her head in her hands for a brief moment before she scooted her chair closer, resting her hands on the bed. Kate didn’t give her a second alone before she placed her hand there, allowing Victoria to gently take it.

“I’m sorry, Kate,” she whispered, desperately hoping Kate understood all she was trying to say with those three words.

Kate smiled at her. “I know.”

They sat in silence for a few moments as they looked at their conjoined hands. Victoria was surprised that she didn’t want to pull away, and Kate was surprised that she enjoyed the feeling. It brought her back to last night, to feeling like she was a heroine and Victoria was a superhero saving her life. She smiled at the memory, making Victoria look at her with a confused quirk of her eyebrow. 

The expression was so different than what she’d expected to see on Victoria’s face. The mask had been slipping. Somehow, Kate had been one of the only few people who could see the emotions in Victoria’s eyes whenever she tried to hide it. She wasn’t sure how she’d gotten here, but she didn’t want to leave.

When Kate made her decision next, she tried not to let it show on her face. She wasn’t sure if she had been reading the signals wrong, but she knew she desperately wanted to feel as safe and warm as she’d felt last night. 

Worst case scenario was that Victoria pushed her off and went back to bullying her. After what she’d been through lately, she could handle that.

“When do my parents get here?” She asked, tilting her head.

Victoria shrugged. “A couple of hours, maybe? They said they’re getting on a flight. They’ll be here before midnight.”

“Okay.”

“Why?”

Kate smiled, her expression scaring Victoria a little bit. As she felt one of Kate’s hands rest on her cheek, she realized that the expression scared her a lot. But she didn’t pull away, she simply couldn’t, so she just locked eyes with the girl who had invaded her life and made a home in her heart without even realizing.

“Just stop me if you want to,” Kate whispered, trying to remain as confident as possible despite the fact that her hands shook. Victoria nodded but didn’t dare move otherwise, letting the smaller girl gently pull her in. She closed her eyes at the last second, waiting patiently for Kate to make the move.

Seconds passed, her heartbeat louder than a clock, and Victoria opened her eyes for only a moment to see that Kate had stopped centimeters away from her lips. She looked like she was trying to build up the strength, her hand still shaking on Victoria’s cheeks. She realized then that she was either letting Victoria make the final move or she was too scared to go any further.

Slowly, Victoria lifted her hand to meet Kate’s and hold it. The overwhelming urge to protect Kate came back in full, like a fire overtaking her heart and burning her very flesh. It was painful and it was scary as hell but she wasn’t about to fight it.

“It’s okay,” she whispered, feeling Kate shudder at the feeling of their breath mixing. She closed her eyes once more and leaned in, letting their lips brush.

Kate felt like her heart was about to explode. She understood it then, the realization clicking into place like a puzzle piece. Why she had wanted Victoria to be her friend so bad. Why she had felt so unsafe when she was gone. As she felt Victoria kiss her back, she knew the other girl had figured it out, too. That there was something falling into place between them that felt completely natural and right.

Kate had kissed those boys when she was drugged but it felt nothing like this. She was sure a kiss like this would sober up a dead man. It was so soft, so caring, so warm, that Kate knew she was addicted the second it happened. Victoria knew how to kiss but she took it slow, letting Kate get her bearings and compose herself until she finally slowly moved her lips against Victoria’s.

When they parted for breath, Kate felt herself smile. Her eyes flickered open to see Victoria Chase doing the impossible. Kate adjusted herself as she moved both of her hands to wipe Victoria’s tears away before kissing her passionately, washing away any doubt and any fear either of them had.

If she went to hell for this, like her parents always said, it would be damn worth it.

Chapter Text

The next few days went by particularly easily.

After Kate had been cleared to leave, her parents had insisted on bringing her back home right away to ensure she was safe. There were a few loud arguments but Kate found herself back in her dorms, much to their dismay. Classes were cancelled for the next week thanks to the Jefferson thing, so she found herself sitting in her dorm room, reading a book while Alice ran around the room freely.

A light knock at the door made her look up, setting her book down to pick up Alice as she walked to the door to open it. Victoria stood on the other side, smiling softly and holding a bag of take out.

“Can I come in?”

“Of course,” Kate agreed, stepping aside. “What’s that?”

“Chinese food. I ordered it.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’m not usually one for fast food, but this had good reviews and I remember you mentioning you had a craving when you were in the hospital.”

Kate grinned widely at the details that Victoria paid attention to, and the other girl glared at her. It didn’t seem to phase Kate at all, who made her way to the side of the room to clear the desk and give Victoria a spot to put the food down.

Once Kate’s parents had arrived, there had been no room to talk about the kiss or the night or anything else. Victoria had left after they’d asked her to, and Kate was itching to see her again. Now that she was here, the girl realized she had no idea what she was doing at any given moment when it came to romance.

She cursed her parents for sheltering her so much.

Victoria, meanwhile, was a mixture of emotions. Before that kiss, she had simply wanted to be Kate’s friend, blaming the previous cheek kiss on a spur of the moment thing. Kissing her felt so right , and to her surprise, she hadn’t stopped thinking about the kiss after it had happened, and even laid awake in her bed thinking about what the hell she’d just gotten herself into.

“Can you hold her for a second?”

Snapped out of her thoughts, Victoria glanced at the bunny, who seemed to be staring at her angrily. She opened her mouth to protest but before she could the bunny was being shoved towards her. It was surprisingly soft and cute, and she let herself relax as the bunny settled in her lap, thumping its foot against her leg.

“Alice likes you,” Kate commented. Thank god, Victoria had forgotten the name.

“She is quite cute,” Victoria agreed, stretching behind the bunny’s ears. Kate smiled and moved to sit on the couch, having made plates for them. She set it down for a brief moment to pick up the bunny from Victoria’s lap, making the girl frown, so she could put Alice away and give them space to eat.

They ate in silence for a while, not even watching a movie. Both of them could tell the other was lost in thought. It was Victoria who spoke up first after a while.

“Can I ask you a potentially invasive question?”

Kate shrugged, signaling that her answer was a yes. 

“What does your church think of gay people?”

She had been expecting that question, but the reminder still stung. She shrugged, looking down at her feet. “The same as every other church,” she replied, not meeting Victoria’s eyes. “My parents are big on the church, so they think the same. My mom would probably have a heart attack if she found out that we kissed.”

“Does that… bother you?”

She paused again, shrugging finally. Looking up, she met Victoria’s cautious gaze. “I guess, but not really? Like, she’s never liked the things that I do, she’s always been more of a fan of my sisters. I always tried to be the perfect daughter, do everything perfectly, make her proud, and she still sort of ignored me my entire childhood.” She bit her lip back again, hearing her voice start to shake. “It’s stupid to be disappointed.”

“It’s not,” Victoria answered, pausing as she tried to search for the words. She wasn’t used to opening up to people, so this was hard, but it broke her heart to see Kate struggle. “My parents… are liberal art freaks. When I came out they were fine with it. But I still didn’t, for a long time, because I didn’t want to disappoint them.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel.”

Victoria nodded understandably, offering the other girl a small smile. There was more silence before Kate, surprisingly, continued.

“I don’t think it’ll matter in the end, though,” she continued, taking a bite of a spoonful of rice. “I’ve always been the one in the family who was more accepting of others. I’ve always felt a disconnect from them as a result. Perhaps that was God preparing me for the day I realized I liked girls.”

Victoria seemed surprised. “You’re not mad at yourself for it?”

“God made us in his image, Victoria. Sins come from our choices, not who we are.”

The other girl nodded thoughtfully, watching as Kate finished her food and set it aside, turning to face her entirely.

“Do you regret it?” She asked Victoria, who nearly choked on the last of her food as she also finished and put it aside.

“The kiss?”

Kate nodded, not able to meet Victoria’s eyes. The other girl kept quiet for a minute, playing with her hands before answering a small but solid “no”.

Victoria felt like she might explode. She was terrible at expressing her own emotions, and now she had to do it in front of Kate. A part of her wanted to lash out and scream at her but she knew it would do her no good. Instead, she slowly stood up, refusing to meet Kate’s eyes as the other girl watched her closely. 

“I mean, I --” She paused, sucking in a breath before she continued. “I don’t regret it, no, but -- Kate, I already ruined your life in a million different ways. I can’t be responsible for you falling out with your family. I just can’t.”

“That’s what you’re worried about?” Kate inquired with a frown. “Why?”

“Because I care about you,” she answered between gritted teeth. 

Kate seemed to debate it for a second before moving to stand in front of Victoria, stopping her from pacing. “Victoria,” she started, waiting until the other girl looked at her. “Do you know what my mom said to me when I told her what happened to me with Nathan?”

Victoria shook her head.

“She told me it was my fault for going to a party,” she continued, shrugging when Victoria frowned. “I shouldn’t have had a drink, I shouldn’t have gone out from the dorms. She went on and on and on. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it, either. I just sort of learned to ignore it, I guess. I’ll always be her disappointment.” She paused, looking Victoria deeply in the eyes. “You aren’t a tragic part of my life, Victoria. You aren’t the cause of all of my pain. I like you. That’s all I know. And that’s all I care about.”

The other looked like she wanted to say something but she held back until she felt Kate come closer into her personal space, and she began to stutter.

“I’m -- I’m not a good person, Kate. I’m gonna fuck this up for you. Or I’m gonna hurt you. Or both.”

Kate shrugged. “Nobody’s perfect, ‘Tori. I don’t expect you to be. I just want you to be you.”

Victoria could’ve kissed her until she stopped breathing right in that moment.

So, that’s what she did. She pushed forward, capturing Kate in a kiss so fierce she almost knocked the girl off balance. Kate let out a laugh of surprise against Victoria’s lips but kissed her back, feeling a shock run through her body as she fell back onto the couch.

“Sorry,” mumbled Victoria as she looked down at the surprised girl, feeling ashamed for jumping on her. Thankfully, Kate found it amusing.

“Come here,” she invited, reaching a hand out to pull Victoria down. Once the taller girl was sitting next to her, she turned to face her, pulling her into another kiss that was gentle and careful, but not any less passionate.

Victoria let her walls come crashing down. And for once, she wasn’t afraid to do so.

--------

There was one more thing they had to deal with.

The three girls sat on the beach, overlooking the water as they laid out the last of their plans on the sand in front of them. Chloe was half-sitting in the water, making a sand castle, completely focused, while Rachel and Max sat side-by-side, reading the notebook.

“The solution is easy,” Chloe muttered as she put the final touches on her castle. “Vicky saw you jump through time and save Kate. There’s no way she didn’t notice that you did it in a weird way and had a major fucking nosebleed. You knew everything to do. We tell her the truth and hope that she can tell enough people to get them out in time -- FUCK! Stupid fucking water, ruining my fucking watchtower… Get them out in time to save them from the storm. God damn it.”

Although they heard what she was saying, the girls watched in amusement as Chloe frowned at her sand castle, desperately trying to save it.

“It’s not a bad idea,” Max agreed, sighing. “She seems… different now. I doubt she’ll not believe us.”

“She’s different because she hooked up with Kate.”

“What?!”

“Oh fuck, I forgot you were passed out. Yeah, they totally kissed outside of the barn and now they’re probably banging in her dorm.” Chloe paused for dramatic effect. “Do you think she only does it missionary? How would that even work --”

“Chloe!” Complained Rachel, scoffing.

“What? I’m just saying.”

“Okay, so…” Max continued, looking at her sketchbook. “We should tell Victoria, to warn her about the storm, and then --” She stopped, looking up again. “I’m sorry I just can’t get over what you just said. I wouldn’t have pegged those two as being in love.”

Chloe just shrugged, finishing the last of her castle. “Ta da!”

“Good job,” the other two said in unison.

“I know right. Looks fucking badass .”

She stood up and the girls nodded adoringly, as if she hadn’t just created a literal pile of sand and called it a castle. Max decided to humour her girlfriend and pulled out her camera, snapping a polaroid of it and grinning at the photo as it developed

“So we tell her then? If we see the signs?” Rachel asked, making sure they stayed on the subject.

The others seemed to agree, so she let the subject drop for now, satisfied that it was the best plan they could think of at the moment. They didn’t have many other allies.

As the sun began to set that evening, the three of them found themselves at the lighthouse. They weren’t sure what drove them here, but as the days drew nearer to that week in October, they knew they needed to take advantage of the Bay while they could, just in case. So, they sat on the grass near the cliffside, eating a pizza they’d ordered a couple of hours early, sprawled out and enjoying the sunset.

“Can you guys do me a favour?” Max asked as she took a step back, holding her camera. They looked at her curiously but followed her guide, standing with their backs to Max. She gestured for Rachel to put her head on Chloe’s shoulders, and shot the photo.

They were illuminated like silhouettes, Rachel’s head fitting perfectly onto Chloe’s shoulder. You could faintly see the blue in Chloe’s hair from the sunset lighting, and even Max could admit it was a good photo. She smiled to herself as she let it develop, looking at it silently. 

One last memory came to her, slowly and gently this time.

She was standing on the same cliffside, looking off into the distance, snapping a photo. After she put the photo in her pocket, she finally took in her surroundings. Arcadia Bay was in ruins ahead of them, but it was also covered in construction workers - there was no storm, no mess of Arcadia Bay, simply the Bay rebuilding.

It was early morning, she could tell by the sun rising. Looking over to her side, she noticed Chloe standing next to her, with longer half-blue-half-blonde hair under her beanie. She turned to Max and spoke in a soft tone. “Babe, it’s time.”

Max was now acting out the memory. She looked at Chloe, increasingly nervous. The other girl seemed to notice her nervousness and she took both of Max’s hands in her own. “It’s okay. Do you have everything?”

The brunette patted her bag, checking for the journal, the envelope, the planner… and she nodded.

“Yeah, I’m ready.”

“Okay.”

She couldn’t help but notice the hint of sadness in Chloe’s voice. She smiled sadly, looking down at her camera. 

“We don’t have to do this, Chloe,” she began, looking back up to meet her girlfriend’s eyes. “It might backfire. We might not end up back here. It could be the worst idea ever.”

Chloe bit her lip and debated what to say before she answered. “Max, you haven’t slept in three days. I haven’t seen you eat a full meal in three months. You scream so loudly at night that we’ve gotten noise complaints. The guilt is killing you, eating you up inside. I’ll take whatever consequences we get if it fixes this.”

Max looked like she wanted to say something else, but before she could, Chloe’s hands were on her cheeks. The look in her eyes was so intense that Max faltered and remained silent, examining her expression. She could see a hint of tears in Chloe’s gaze but the other didn’t let them spill.

“Listen to me,” Chloe began, hoping Max understood the seriousness of her tone. “These past three months have been the best of my life. You’ve taken my broken heart and pieced it back together. No matter what timeline we’re in, no matter where we are, that’ll always be true.” She let one hand drop, taking Max’s in her own and putting it to her chest so Max could feel her heartbeat. 

“Max Caulfield, my heart is yours. No matter where we end up, what timeline we create, we’ll find each other. I know it. We’re meant to be.”

Max had to hold back her own tears and she just nodded.

“I love you, Max,” she continued, leaning in to rest their foreheads together. Max closed her eyes, desperately trying to memorize her scent, as though it would be the last time she ever smelled it. “I love you more than anything in this entire stupid shitty universe. I know we’ll be together again someday.”

“I love you, too,” Max whispered, afraid if she spoke any louder she’d start crying. Chloe didn’t answer - she just closed the distance between them in one last desperate kiss. Max tried not to let it feel like a goodbye kiss but as she felt Chloe’s tears spill over and mix in with the kiss, she knew that it was.

“I’ll come home to you,” Max promised, kissing her once more before they pulled away. “I promise.”

Chloe nodded, holding onto Max a little tighter. Max knew it was time, and she reached into her pocket and pulled out the polaroid they needed.

“See you on the other side, Captain Bluebeard.”

“See you, Long Max Silver.”

Max came back from the memory like she was exiting the ocean. It left her in waves, leaving her breathless but otherwise composed.

She met the eyes of her concerned-looking lovers. Chloe looked a bit younger, her hair bluer than blue, her eyes expressive with much less weight on her shoulders. Rachel looked as radiant as ever, long blonde hair framing her face so perfectly she looked like she jumped right out of a magazine. Someday, Max would share all of her memories with them. That memory, though, felt like it needed to be locked up and kept in a place where only Other Chloe and Other Max knew where it was.

She knew this whole stupid journey was worth it. She knew that this was the way things had to be, the perfect timeline. It still felt surreal to really be here, looking into their eyes. She felt Other Max’s emotions like they were her own. All of a sudden, she was back at the junkyard, seeing her girls for the first time again. She was standing on a cliff, watching the Bay be destroyed. She was sitting in a junkyard, reminiscing about Rachel well into the night. She was all of those things and more.

She was Other Max and she was herself.

“You okay?” Rachel asked, taking a step forward to touch Max’s arm. Max nodded but said nothing, just pulling Rachel into a hug, breathing her in. “Oh,” the blonde mumbled, a little surprised but otherwise pleased. She squeezed Max back tight until Max pulled away and moved to hug Chloe, too.

Neither of them asked what she’d just seen, deciding it was better for her to tell them on her own terms. When she finally stood in front of them both again, she tucked the polaroid she’d just taken into her pocket. Reaching for them both, she took one of their hands and placed them both on her chest. Chloe looked like she wanted to say something snarky but held her tongue, just examining Max’s expression curiously.

“Chloe Price,” she began, looking at each of them as she spoke their names. “Rachel Amber. I want you both to know that this past year has meant everything to me. I owe you guys everything.” She paused, sucking in a breath of air before continuing. “Even if this storm happens, even if we can’t save everyone, I know now that I can’t stop fate but I can survive it with people like you by my side. My heart is yours. Both of yours.”

As the night began to roll around and they walked back to the truck hand in hand, Max wished she could tell Other Chloe that they’d done it successfully. That she’d found her way home and they’d brought Rachel along. She was content with telling her Chloe, though, and making new memories, if only to honour a job well done.