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A Storm of the Heart

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‘Come on, Max!’ Chloe growled at me, her arms wrapped around her stomach; her cramps must have been terrible. Her eyes were fierce, with such fire I found myself buckling under that intensity. It was hard for me to even look at Chloe like this, she was so angry and in such pain; I had to do something.
‘You promised.’ Chloe snarled again, walking closer to me. I remember taking a step back. She advanced quickly, Chloe’s long legs catching up to me faster than I realized. She aggressively grabbed my hoodie and forced me inches from her face. That close to her, I could see her pain, her desperation; the Chloe Price I knew was breaking and my heart shattered.
‘Please, Max—‘ she pleaded, her voice so quiet and strained, ‘—I need your help…’

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

I force myself up from my bed, panting loudly as my phone vibrates so much it falls from my nightstand.
“Shit-!” I exclaim as I hear that overpriced plastic square fall to the floor. Scrambling, I grab it and shut the alarm off with an angry press of my thumb. With that annoyance out of the way, I fall back on my bed and groan, eyes locked to the ceiling. The images of Chloe’s pain, and desperation still vividly filling my eyes and my heart breaks all over again. I press my palms into my hands and try and rub the images of my best friend’s pleading face away; it doesn’t really work. Dropping my useless hands to the mattress, I just groan loudly and force myself off the bed. Blackwell doesn’t stop just for my problems, so I’ll have to deal with this at another time.

I grab the old reliables, my favorite doe T, my jeans and hoodie and lay them across my bed before turning to my closet and grabbing that little toiletries bag they still make us use.

‘Jeez, the whole counseling campaign lasted for, like, four days after Kate’s rooftop incident, but this is the thing they keep enforcing?’ I think to myself as I leave my dorm, eyes still on the floor. I’m going through my usual zombie morning routine as I make my way to the bathroom, I hardly even notice Dana and Juliet talking to one another not too far from me. I glace up and the two of them are just, looking at me, playful smiles on their faces. After a moment of Dana just, staring at me with her bottom lip between her teeth, Juliet pushes her back into her room and follows the cheerleader inside before closing the door.
‘That was, weird. Dana, Juliet and I are cool. Last year proved all that, so, I doubt they’re, like, trying to prank me—‘ I lose myself in my thoughts as I enter the bathroom, and barely even notice Kate Marsh at the sink brushing her teeth. I don’t even realize she’s talking to me before she’s right in front of me, looking at me with worry.

I blink.

“Oh, hey, Kate.” I say, trying not to let the sleep enter my voice, but I was never good at hiding my feelings.
“You look exhausted, Max.” Kate says, looking me over; I must look more like a zombie than normal. “How have you been sleeping?” Kate asks, folding her hands in front of her.

I rub the back of my neck and sigh, “Uh, not great, if I’m being honest.” I probably have gotten around twenty hours of sleep all week. I’m pretty sure I still have my powers, and I know for sure I have all the baggage that came with all that. My nights are filled with such detailed visions of so many things that happened last year, it’s like I’m reliving all of it again. The storm, meeting Chloe again, the alternate timeline, Kate on the roof and, even—
The Dark Room.

The way Jefferson, Mark Jefferson, loomed over me, needle in hand, that cold and dead stare on his face. I still remember the way the tape felt around my wrists and legs and the way he touched me, like how someone was touching me now.

I jump a bit, gasping and see Kate, her eyes wide and hands recoiled back to her chest. I exhale a breath and rub my hand across my face before looking back at Kate.
“S-Sorry, Kate-“ I say, trying to calm my beating heart. I feel her hand on my shoulder again and I relax; I’m safe with Kate, she couldn’t hurt a fly.
I can’t help but smile when I see Kate look at me. She’s so calm, patient and gentle and I feel so safe around her. I get the faintest hint of her scent and my smile grows wider as Kate moves in to embrace me in a gentle hug. I return it, gently squeezing her in my return embrace.

“It’s alright, Max.” Kate said, gently, “We survived. And we’ll continue to survive-“ she says, leaning back from the hug, “-because we’ll help each other. No matter what.” And I can’t help but smile at that. Kate’s become such a strong person since I helped her on the roof, and I really haven’t had to help her much with it.

“You’re amazing, Kate.” I say, moving back from her hug and exhaling a long breath.

“I do what I can, Max. Even angels need angels.” She beamed.

“Heh, yeah,” I answer, rubbing the back of my neck, “Don’t worry, I’ve got an appointment with my therapist tomorrow, and they’ll know all about my jacked up sleep schedule.” I say, trying to reassure Kate. She just beams at me, and my heart flutters seeing Kate smile with that genuine warmth I’ve always known Kate had.

“That’s wonderful news,” Kate says, before turning her gaze back to her own handy-dandy toilet bag. “I need to finish getting ready. So, I’ll see you in class?” Kate asks and I nod, being rewarded with another sunshine-bright Kate Marsh smile.
After Kate leaves, I prepare for my shower while trying to keep my mind from drifting back to my most recent dream. But, as the warm water splashes across me and begins to sooth my sleep deprived body, I can’t keep that promise to myself…

Her sheets smell of weed and cigarettes, but when she presses her body atop me, her hands gripping my wrists above my head, I can only smell her. Chloe’s always been so intense, and her scent reflects that. My brain is fogged with her, and I find it so hard to concentrate on anything other than the intense warmth in my gut and my lungs full of Chloe. Blue tresses tickle my face and bring me back to reality and that Chloe’s only inches away from my face. She’s panting and I can smell the pot on her breath, and before I can react her lips crash to mine. She’s hungry and desperate to douse her heat, after all, why else would she choose me for this? Only because I’m close and a pushover.
Her lips move from mine to my throat, leaving such fervent kisses and painful bites along my neck. I whimper and squirm under her attention, even the faintest kiss sends shivers throughout my body. God, I’m so pathetic. When she presses her hips against mine, I feel such a fire in my gut I nearly double over. I feel how eager she is, how ready she is, and when she moves back to look down at me, I know I can’t say ‘no’ to her…

I snap out of my vision when I hear familiar voices in the bathroom. It sounds like Victoria and Taylor. I never could stop myself from being nosey, so I lean closer to the shower curtain and peer out at the two of them in the curtain gap. Victoria’s bent over the sink, her hands gripping the sides and Taylor’s doing her best to comfort Victoria. They’re talking, with Taylor rubbing Victoria’s back, but it’s hard to tell what they’re saying over the rushing water of the shower. I see Victoria stand and push Taylor’s hand away before turning and walking out of the bathroom. Taylor slumps and rubs her forehead for a moment before following Victoria out.
‘Trouble in paradise.’ I think before turning the shower off. I redress in my PJs and leave the bathroom and trudging my way back to my room, full zombie mode engaged once again. I’m halted and shook back to reality with Taylor recoiling and staring down at me with a sneer.

“Watch where you’re--!” she begins, but softens a little when she sees me. “Oh, hey, Max.” Taylor says with a hint of remorse in her voice.

“Hey, uh, sorry, I didn’t mean to—“ I try and say, but both of us are forced to look at Victoria Chase’s closed door as an angry groan erupts from within. We both keep looking at the door for a moment before I look at Taylor, who sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. “—everything okay?”

“Uh. Yeah.” Taylor says, folding her arms over her chest, “Victoria’s just—“ she ponders for a moment as she looks through the door, “—a bit stressed, ya know?” she said quickly, turning to look down at me. “What with Nathan—“ she catches herself and lets things go quiet at the implication, but like the PR pro she is, Taylor continues “Victoria’s really throwing herself into the Vortex rebrand. ‘Out with the old’ kind of stuff. So, new rules for members, stricter punishments for rule breakers, and opening up all of our events to everyone. All that stuff.”

“Yeah,” I begin, instinctually moving my hand to rest on my opposite arm, “Sounds like she’s got a real full plate, huh?” as if on cue, another growling groan erupted from Victoria’s room and, of course, I jump from it. Taylor rolls her eyes and waves at me.

“Wish me luck, Max.” she says before opening Victoria’s door and heading inside. In the brief moment the door is open I’m smacked with a wave of scent. I linger at the door for a moment, staring at it like it was a priceless treasure.

‘Victoria’s an-‘ I begin before I shake my head. ‘W-Whatever. I need to get ready for class.’
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Aside
“Any reasons you’re here at my door so early, Juliet?” Dana asked, still in her night clothes, arms crossed over her chest and leaning against the door frame as she shot an accusatory look at Juliet. The other girl just beamed, smiling a wide ‘cat-who-ate-the-canary’ smile on her face as she leaned in closer to the tall cheerleader.
“Actually, yes.” Juliet says with a grin, “I’ve got a juicy little detail I recently learned, and I’d like to share it with my best friend.”

Dana exhales through her nose and raises an eyebrow at Juliet, “Kay? Well-?”

Juliet straightens and turns her head from left to right swiftly, trying to see if the two were private enough. When she felt safe enough, she bent forward and whispered to Dana, who had followed her in her conspiratorial stance.

“I learned, from a reliable source, that there’s an Alpha living in the girl’s dorm-“ Juliet began, but was interrupted as Dana groaned and sneered at Juliet.

“Yeah, no shit. Victoria Chase lives in the dorm.” Dana said shaking her head in frustration. Juliet just smiled and wagged a dismissive finger.

“Oh, trust me, it’s not Victoria.” Juliet said, another grin on her face. Dana gave her a disbelieving look. Victoria Chase ticked all the boxes, ambitious, brash, bold, ‘never-taking-any-shit’ attitude; who else could it be?

“So, who is it?”

“Someone you’d never expect.” Juliet said, smirking at Dana as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Brooke?” Dana guessed, but furrowed her brows when Juliet shook her head. “Alyssa?” No. “Kate?” Nope. “Then, who?”
Juliet turned to look down the hall and smirked before using her eyes to direct Dana’s gaze. Shambling like an arthritic grandmother down the hall, bedecked in a long t-shirt and baggy plaid sweatpants was Maxine Caulfield. Dana’s eyes widened.

“No.” Dana said, shaking her head slightly. “I’ve been around Max. She doesn’t have a scent. You’re bullshitting me.” Dana pierced Juliet’s argument.

“It’s true she doesn’t have a scent, but she’s an Alpha. What? Don’t trust my super-sleuthing?” Juliet said with such smugness that Dana could have smacked her. If Dana was even looking at Juliet, instead her eyes were on the waifish ‘Alpha’. Max was small, thin and even fragile looking, but she was also the kindest person Dana had ever met; right alongside of Kate Marsh for ‘Biggest Heart at Blackwell.’

Dana had never thought about it, really, but, Max was attractive, in a hipster kind of way. A lovely mop of hair to run your fingers through, soft lips, those adorable freckles and enchanting eyes. Yeah, yeah. Dana could do worse, she had done worse. Maybe—

But before she could finish her thought, Juliet had pushed Dana back into her room and closed the door. “Could you be eye-fucking her any harder, Dana?”

Dana looked back at Juliet and huffed, crossing her arms. “Whatever, Sherlock. Get outta my room. I need to get dressed.”
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I try to focus on my school work, really, I’m trying over here. But. I just can’t focus, no matter how hard I try. It also doesn’t really help that Mr. Jeff—Mark’s replacement had such a monotone voice. I have to use my arm propped up just to keep myself from falling asleep at my desk; maybe I can play these lectures at night to solve my sleep problem. I close my eyes for the briefest of moments and am instantly back in Chloe’s room. My best friend above me, panting heavily, her hands on my chest and bouncing on my—

‘Jesus, Max.’ I chide myself, shaking my head a little and rubbing my forehead. I dare a glance over at Kate, and our eyes meet after just a moment; she’s much better at listening than I am, apparently. She smiles a small smile at me and waves a little wave. I can see the worry in her eyes, but I do my best to smile back at her.
I push myself back up in my seat, rubbing my eyes slightly. When I put my hands back down, I notice something out of the corner of my eye and, just to distract me from the droning professor and the growing pressure to sleep, I look over to see Victoria glaring in my direction. She’s looking at me intently, her mouth hidden by a clenched fist. Weird. I can’t really do anything but stare back at her until she aggressively jerks her gaze from me and turns to face the front of the class. I blink, but notice her leg beginning to bounce up and down. She really must be stressed out, like Taylor said, but why stare at me like I’m the one causing it?
‘Maybe she hasn’t really changed. Big shock. Nothing changes at Blackwell.’

Before I have a chance to fall back into these stupid visions, the bell mercifully releases me from this prison of boredom. I gather my stuff into my bag as quickly as possible and make for the door. I’m in such a hurry to just, get out of here, that I barely notice Victoria shouting at me.
‘Calling me Lamefield, or something, I’m sure.’ I mentally groan as I walk as swiftly outside as possible. Just need to bask in that fresh autumn air, despite everything, I still love fall. But, I don’t even have any time to enjoy it, because as soon as I push open the front doors, my phone is vibrating.
‘Damnit. Can’t I have, like, five minutes, universe?’ I groan as I pull my phone out and look at the latest message. Messages.
Shit. It’s Chloe.

Chloe: sup Maxipad. I’m hungry. Two Whales later?
Chloe: I’ll meet you there. 3
Sent: Sorry, class. But, yeah, I’ll be there.

I look down at my phone and sigh. Can I even face Chloe today? All these damn dreams, visions. You don’t just fuck your best friend and then, like, have lunch, right? Everything will be all awkward, right? Or maybe it’s just me. Chloe knows I like her, she was my first kiss and all that, but, has she really moved on from Rachel? Would she even see what we did as special? Or did I just scratch her itch? Is that all I am? All I’m really good for? Could I be anything more than, what, a tool? Do I deserve anything more than that?

I barely have time to contemplate further when the bus pulls up. I decide to just give my over-thinking mind a break and pull out my headphones. I look at my phone and select something, something to mellow to. My phone decided the perfect thing for me was some good ol’ Syd Matters. I smirk as I hear those gentle acoustic notes fill my ears and, in that moment, it really does feel like he’s singing ‘To All of Me’.

Even as the bus pulls up, I’m surprised by the amount of cars in the parking lot. It’s absolutely packed.
‘Dang. Two Whales is the place to be, huh?’ I say to myself as I make my way towards the door, hands gripping tightly on the strap of my messenger bag. I’m swallowed by sounds as I enter the diner; all manner of chatter, music, orders being called out. I barely am even able to give Joyce a wave as she hurriedly walks past with six plates perfectly stacked up full of that delicious smelling food.

‘And people say I have a super-power…’

I take a seat at the far booth, hoping to melt into the background for a moment and try and drown out the sound of the busy diner. Joyce makes it a point to come to the booth, but we can’t really talk before she’s being called away. I make sure to order a black coffee before she leaves, and I sink into the booth couch, eyes stuck to the table. I don’t even really have time to think about anything before something crashes into me, and I can’t help but yelp.

“What’s up, nerd?” Chloe barks, before wrapping an arm around my head and pulling me into a hug. I barely smell the cigarettes as her scent fills my nose, and holy shit does she smell good. I desperately push back against Chloe as hard as I push back my memories, but both are gripping me with a strong grip I am accustomed to.

“Ugh, get off me. You stink like tar.” I say, finally breaking Chloe’s headlock.

“Oh, what? Don’t want to sit next to your best friend?” Chloe asks, playfully being offended. She places a hand over her heart and winces. “Ugh, Max, you wound me.”

“Yeah, yeah-“ I say as Chloe gets up to sit across from me, “-cry more tears, Price, they feed me.” I say with a smirk.

“Oof. Dark.” Chloe chuckles a little, raising her arms to rest on the spine of the booth. “So, what’s up? How’s school going an’ all dat?”

I shrug, my eyes returning to the table. “Okay. I mean, as okay as they can be, I guess.” I notice Chloe nod, “-given, ya know-“

“Hate to interrupt-“ Joyce says after placing my coffee down, “But I got a dozen truckers waitin’ for their specials, so-“ she expertly whips out a notepad and pencil and looks at us expectantly.

“Oh, shit, uh, cheeseburger, no pickle.” Chloe says quickly and looks at me expectantly.

“Uh. S-Same.” I stutter out as Joyce finishes writing and gives us both a smile before walking back to the lunch counter.

“Thanks, mom!” Chloe cries back, sending Joyce a wave. I can’t help but smile. Chloe and Joyce have really begun to reconnect recently, and I’m so happy to see it. Chloe’s even talking to David, a little; baby steps are better than nothing. Chloe settles back into the booth and looking back at me and smirking before pushing herself forward, “Oh! Yeah, dude, I need to tell you the fucking craziest thing that happened-“

I raise my mug slightly and give Chloe a look. She rolls her eyes.

“Look, compared to, like, normal-life shit, okay? Cut me a break.”

I chuckle a little and sip as Chloe begins her story. I, for the life of me, cannot focus on what she’s saying. Chloe’s speaking, obviously, but all I can focus on is her. Not her words, not even the way she uses her hands to illustrate the story. Just her. The way she smiles, the way her eyes light up, the way the sides of her eyes pinch when she’s especially excited. I sip my coffee and I can’t help but feel like I look like the most doe-eyed virgin ever. What am I even stuck on? Chloe’s looks?
No. It’s more than that. It’s the little things she does, even when talking. It’s thumping in my chest and the warmth that erupts when I look at her.

“Dude?”

My wild and passionate best friend being carefree and unbridled-

“Dude.”

-her just being so unabashedly Chloe, not caring what anyone has to say-

“DUDE.”

I blink, shaking my head a little. Chloe’s looking at me with concern in her eyes, brows furrowed. She’s leaning over the table slightly and examining my face. Wait, has our food always been here? And, why is Chloe’s mostly gone?

“You seriously zoned, Max.” Chloe says, more worry in her voice. “You feeling okay?” she asks, reaching to place a hand on my forehead. I wasn’t feeling hot before, but with Chloe’s hand on my forehead and her face inches from mine, I’m suddenly feeling like the surface of the sun. My cheeks flush a bright red and I jerk away from her hand.

“I—I’m fine. Just, sleeping problems.” I say, covering my face by grabbing the burger and taking a few quick bites. I keep my head down slightly as I chew the heavy bites, hoping that’ll distract Chloe long enough that she’ll stop with interrogation. It seems to work, but I can tell she doesn’t fully believe me.

“Yeah?” she says, tilting her head slightly. There’s a silence between us for a bit as I nosh on my burger, slowly chewing and doing my best to not look at Chloe. I know she’s examining me, her gaze feels like a hundred pounds just dropped onto my shoulders. It feels like she’s probing into my soul, trying to sus-out my secrets and my heart is pounding at the fear she’ll somehow know about these feelings. That with one right glance in the right spot, or one little slip up and she’ll know—

I love her. I’ve always loved her.

“Get that ‘to-go’.” Chloe finally says, her gaze softening as she reaches into her pants pocket. I blink and look down at the food, suddenly realizing I can’t really stomach it anyway. Chloe slaps a wad of money onto the table, and a few coins come rolling from her clenched fist. She stands and looks down at me, holding out a hand. “Come on. Let’s get your mind off of all this crap.”

I shiver as I look into her grinning face, and take the proffered hand. Chloe pulls me out of the booth and I stand inches from her. I get a whiff of her scent and my knees nearly buckle, but Chloe’s slap on my back jolts me back to reality. We leave the Two Whales and head for Chloe’s ratty old pickup. We jump in, Chloe’s ignites the engine, cranks the radio and we’re off down the road.
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I kept my arms close to my chest, shivering slightly as more ocean air rolled in. We still couldn't go back to the junkyard, not after everything that happened there. So, we found another regular hangout place. The beach.

Chloe didn't seem to mind the wind, taking another drag of her cigarette and swinging her legs off the side of the back of her truck. I glance over at her and, despite my roiling emotions, I can't help but smile. She still has a way of making my heart pound, even with something as simple as lounging in her truck, puffing a cigarette.
She turns and sees me, smirking as she puts the cigarette out and puffing a cloud of smoke from her lips.

"What're you smiling at?" she asks playfully, giving me that famous Price coy smirk. My heart skips a few beats; I probably technically died for a few seconds.

"You." I say, grinning.

"Yeah? I make you smile?"

"Obviously."

I must have emboldened her, because she shifts to face me, her grin somehow even cockier than before.

"Is it my undeniable charm? My stunning good looks?" Chloe grinned, wiggling her eyebrows.

I rolled my eyes and gave her a playful push.

"More like your dumbassery." Chloe cackles.

A silence grows between us when Chloe turns to look out at the sunset. Even the stunning beauty of nature can't keep me out of my thoughts, and I stare at my hands, rubbing my palms on my jeans.

The elephant in the room is coming dangerously close to trampling us, and after what seems like forever, I say it.

"Chloe," she turns to look at me, "About--" I try, exhaling softly, "About last week..."

I could feel the weight of Chloe's stare before I even saw it. Sheepishly, I met her gaze and shivered under her cold glare.

"Yeah? What about it?" she growled and I couldn't help but drop my head down. Maxine Caulfield, Alpha in her prime, dropping her head in submission to an Omega; classic Max.

“I just—“ I instinctually move my hand to rub my arm and keep from looking at Chloe’s burning gaze, “—I just need to know, Chloe. Did it,” I pause, my tongue suddenly feeling bloated and useless, my throat dry and voice cracking as I speak. “Did it mean anything to you?”

Chloe’s lips tightened together and she turned her gaze away from me. After a moment, she angrily adjusted her beanie and snarled, “Why would it mean anything? Just two adults fucking. Why’s it got to be more than that?”

My heart plummets into my stomach.

“It really was just—“ I try and say, but Chloe turns back to me an interrupts me, her voice competing with the crashing ocean waves.

“It was scratching an itch, Max. That was what we agreed upon. You scratch my back, and I scratch yours. No feelings, no bonding, none of that stupid shit.” She pushed herself off her truck and turned to face me; her whole body was twitching, as if she were some big jungle cat eager to pounce on unsuspecting prey. I instinctually cave in on myself until my knees are to my chest.

But, even ball Max isn’t safe from Chloe’s wrath.

“I just—“

“Just what? Just because an Omega wants to fuck an Alpha they gotta get married now? They can’t just fuck and leave it at that? I can’t be the one using an Alpha for a change? It’s just—“

My eyes meet Chloe’s and I feel, agitated. That inner Alpha, that thing I’ve tried keeping in check my entire life, finally begins to come loose. I move off the truck, taking steps towards Chloe, getting in her space and glaring up at her. She takes a step back, taken aback by my advancement, but still holding her ground. My fists clench tightly at my hips and I peel my lips back into a snarl.

“Use an Alpha? Is that all I am to you?” I growl at Chloe, surprising both her and myself. Chloe opens her mouth to reply, but I cut her off. “Am I just some tool? Some toy for you to use? Do my feelings not matter!?”

I’m not sure what startled Chloe, my words or the fact that, for the first time in my life, I was acting like an Alpha. She looked baffled at me for a moment before finally shaking her head.

“What, the fuck are you talking about?! That was the deal, Max! Why did you even agree to it in the first place, then? What? Were you feeling sorry for me? Just wanted to get your Alpha jock off?!”

“No! I did it because I wanted to help you! Because I--!” I shout, my face red from screaming at my best friend, my fists so tight I feel like I’m gonna bleed any second ‘—I wanted to be close to you! To be more than—“ my fists tremble and I try and hold back tears.

Chloe, dumbfounded, glares down at me and moves around me in a huff. “I can’t take this shit right now. The one person I thought I could trust to just help me, no questions asked can’t even do that.” She opens her driver’s side door and slams it shut, before turning her truck on and speeding off down the road. As I watch her truck drive away, the Alpha quiets, and I’m just left there, alone, trembling, and crying.
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My feet aren’t the only thing that hurts as I stagger onto Blackwell’s campus, my back also hurts from carrying all of this guilt the whole trip. I drag my legs towards the dorm room, my eyes on my phone, hoping to see something from Chloe. At this point, I’d be fine reading some long-ass angry rant about how much of a terrible person I am; at least she would be thinking about me. But, there was nothing back at the beach, and there wasn’t anything now.

I can’t help but feel like I really fucked up.

The trip from the door of the dormitories to my room’s door is uneventful. Everyone’s either asleep or studying at this late hour. Using the last of my strength, I push open the door and nearly collapse onto the floor; I’m just so tired. I can’t sleep yet, I need to do one more thing. I look down at the phone in my hand and sigh, struggling to tap the screen with my thousand pound thumbs.

SENT: I’m the biggest asshat ever.
I’m really sorry for everything I said, Chloe. I shouldn’t have gotten so angry. Or pushed you. We made a deal, and I ruined everything with my stupid feelings. I
shouldn’t have put you on the spot and bring it up. I’m such an ass, and I don’t know if I’ll ever stop saying sorry for making you feel so awkward.
I’m not asking you to not be mad at me. I just want you to know that, even after what happened today, you’re still my best friend. I’ve always had your back and
been in your corner. Even with this. Even if you don’t want to be friends anymore, I’ll always be here for you, Chloe.

I stare back at the messages, pondering if I should have sent them at all. Would it really help? Were these messages for Chloe, or were they just for me? Did I really want to apologize because I wanted to make Chloe feel better, or just to appease my own ego?

The longer I think, the heavier my eyes become. It’s almost impossible to stay standing, so I lean over my bed and collapse where I lay. I lock my heavy eyes onto my phone and, with thoughts of her in my mind, I drift off to sleep.

Chapter Text

"Max, I'm in a nightmare and I can't wake up-“ the rain falls off my face, my eyes locked to Kate standing on the edge of the roof “Unless I put myself to sleep-“. We’re both soaked from the rain, but the running water down her face emphasizes Kate’s frantic look, the heavy bags under her eyes and her wounded posture. ‘Then everybody at Blackwell can post pics of my body; I'm already on the internet forever-“ Kate’s so close to the edge. She can’t jump, she can’t! “No wonder they call it a "web"; nothing can ever get out. Like my video... I wish I could go back in time and erase everything..."

I sit up with a jolt, gasping softly, my hand on my chest trying to calm my racing heart. ‘Just a dream. Just a dream.’ I repeat to myself, ‘Just a dream. Kate’s fine.

'She’s alive.’

I exhale a long breath, shaking my head slowly. ‘She’s alive.’ I take in a deep breath, hold for a moment, and exhale. The memories of Kate are easier to get through, mainly because I know that her story ended well. Kate Marsh lived, and Kate Marsh thrived. I can’t help but smile at that, Kate’s alive. Shaking my head from my thoughts, I glance towards where my phone laid and my mood sours. Yesterday flashes before my eyes and I slump, debating if I should even bother looking at it at all.

‘Best to tear the band-aid off quickly,’ I say to myself as I grab my phone and turn it back on. My heart stops as I see messages from Chloe. ‘Shit. Oh shit. Oh no.’ I tap the messages, my body tense with worry.

Chloe: You’re not an asshat. I also said some shitty stuff.

           I’m sorry too, Max

           I’m just going through a lot of stuff right now. Stuff I need to work out on my own

           Give me a few days, okay?

A smile spreads across my face and I exhale a breath I didn’t even know I was holding. The weight of the world seems to just lift off my shoulders and I type back a response.

Sent: Of course. Take all the time you need I’ll be here for you whenever you’re ready

With my crushing anxiety lifted, I get out of bed and snatch up my toiletries bag. My feet bring me to the bathroom quickly, like nothing could bother me, like I was fifty pounds lighter. So lost in my happiness I hardly notice that in place of a beaming Kate Marsh brushing her teeth in the sink, I see a miserable Victoria Chase staring in the mirror. I stop and look Victoria over, surprised by the complete one-eighty change I see. Still wearing a tank-top and boy shorts, Victoria looks sick with her hair is unkempt, skin pallid and it’s obvious she’s been sweating a lot. I freeze, my body locked in place as Victoria turns to glare at me over her shoulder; her eyes are heavy and daring me to say anything.

“H-Hey, Victoria.“ I say, trying to smirk to ease the tension. It doesn’t work. She growls softly before pushing herself off the sink and turning to make her way towards the exit, the exit I am standing in front of. I thought she was going to bowl me over, with that furrowed look in her eyes; I even braced for her to shove me aside like nothing.

But, she stopped.

Her eyes widened a bit as she stood about a foot away from me and stared at me in utter confusion. I couldn’t help but think I was giving her the same look. We stare at one another for a time and my body feels frozen, like it weighs a thousand pounds. Victoria’s eyes move up and down me, and I’m terrified; the Queen of the Jungle is eyeing me up for her next meal, and I can’t tell if I want to run or swear fealty. She takes a few slow steps closer to me, her pupils as big as dinner plates, and it’s all I can do to move to the side away from her.

I dash, moving my hundred pound feet as fast as I can into an empty shower stall and pull the curtain behind me. Leaning against the wall, I do my best to catch my breath.

‘Holy fuck-‘ I think, gasping for air, ‘-her scent is so fucking intense.’ I shouldn’t be surprised about that. Victoria Chase has always had such a dominant personality, the center-of-attention and always the brightest thing in the room. Of course her heat would make that aura even stronger.

The bathroom door closes and I groan loudly, sliding down the tile wall. I rub my hand over my face and exhale a long breath.

‘Probably best for me to avoid Victoria for a while.’ Not that I had any plans to be around her, anyway. I'd seen her on campus, and it seemed like she really was really trying to make up for her years of bitchery; even Kate, the most recent recipient of Victoria’s ire, believes she’s changed. But, some wounds take time to heal.

I stand up slowly and give my head a gentle shake. Better just take a shower and push that little encounter in the back of my mind. So, off come the clothes and on comes the water. There’s just something about a hot shower that always makes me relax, and makes me breathe easier. If Victoria was going through her heat, then that would mean that all the dorm’s Omegas will be starting; damn cycles are like periods, just as messy, painful and unwanted.

‘Shit. I need to bail.’ I thought to myself. I would be the closest Alpha, and even though I do everything I can to keep my scent on the down-low, if all the Omegas are sensitive at the same time, I’ll blare like the damn lighthouse to them. ‘But, where can I go? I can’t hide out at Chloe’s, she said she needs to be alone and I’m not going to fuck that up. And Kate would be be starting too, no doubt.’ my choices for escape routes all but gone, I groan and gently bounce my forehead on and off the wall for what feels like ages.

‘What am I going to do?’ I raise my head up from my banging and let the cooling water run down my face. ‘Not gonna find the answer in here, so-‘ I turn the water off and begin getting dressed. I clench my fist around my toiletries bag, running a hand through my sopping wet hair when something snakes into my nose, grabs a hold of me in a tight grip and makes me pause in my tracks.

“Oh, hey, Max.” I hear, purring behind me. I turn and see Dana, tall, elegant Dana, staring down at me through half-lidded eyes. She’s propped herself up against the corner of the hallway in nothing but some boy shorts and a fully unbuttoned shirt. I desperately try and keep my eyes locked on hers, but the barest hint of Dana’s exposed breasts are really doing their best to grab my attention.

“Hey, Dana…” I drag out, feeling my chest cave in and my shoulders slump. It was her. Fuck, she’s in heat too?

“I’m in a bind, Max-“ she begins, long fingers toying with her open shirt, “-I’m having some trouble with an English Lit paper-“ I shiver, having watched enough cheesy skin flicks to already see where this is going. My inner Alpha is thrashing in its cage, but I ignore its roars for escape. Dana grins and begins to open her blouse more, revealing a hidden secret just to me. “Care to help a girl out?” she purrs and my spine rattles in my back.

“U-Uh, I—I, uh,” I do everything in my power to avoid looking at Dana, so I’m rigorously analyzing the carpet pattern under my feet. Oh my! Has the carpet always been such an interesting shade of gray? “S-Sorry, Dana-“ I croak, “I, uhm, gotta-“

Focus, Max! Think! Don’t take the bait. You’re not an animal, you’re not like other Alphas. You’re better than this. ‘Am I, though? I did the same thing for Chloe.’

“—gotta water my plant, Lisa.” I blurt, turning on my heels and marching towards my dorm, desperately trying not to linger on the burning glare I feel from Dana. I slam my door closed and slide down it, panting some heavy breaths. Was I even breathing at any time during that?

“I’ve got to get out of here. Next thing I know, even Kate will be trying to get in these jeans.” I grumble, and stand. I get dressed and try and be as quick as I can getting out of the dorm. Luckily for me, there’s no one in the hall and I sprint like hell to get out. Despite the winter chill, the air outside is a warm welcome and I can’t help but just take a few seconds to bask in it. A few deep breaths and already my heart is calming. I can’t enjoy it for too long though, I need to get away from the dorm.

I head for Blackwell proper, my hands in my hoodie pockets and my gaze on the ground. It’s nice to just be in my head for a moment, away from heats or dreams. I take the opportunity to think as I sit on the edge of the fountain, supervised by Jeremiah Blackwell’s statue. I try to keep my thoughts light, keeping my gaze up in the sky, trying to figure out what various clouds look like and how pretty the sky looks in its early afternoon blue. I could probably have gotten some pretty good shots of the campus in this bit of peace, but I didn’t bring a camera, so caught up in running away.

“Hey-Hey, Maxwell’s Silver-Hammer!”

I blink, returning to the real world and turn to see Warren’s smirking face looking down at me. His hands are gripping an aluminum foil wrapped burrito and I can’t help but feel my stomach rumble when I lay eyes on it.

“Oh, hey Warren.” I greet him, standing.

“Head in the clouds, Max? What’s the forecast looking like?”

“Ugh. Stormy clouds ahead, with a high chance of anxiety.” I grumble.

“Jeez, great. Just when I was hoping for a sunny weekend.” Warren gently elbows me and I can’t help but giggle. “For real though, Max, you look worn out.” Warren says with concern entering his voice.

“Y-Yeah. I haven’t been sleeping well lately.” My hand instinctually rests on my arm and I look away from him for a moment.

“Still got nightmares, huh?” I feel Warren place a hand on my shoulder and I try my best to smirk up at him.

“Yeah. Vivid as ever.” Warren’s face drops and his shoulder slump along with mine. “Like I’m still trapped in the past.”

“Damn, Max. Well, I’m no therapist, but-“ he rubs the back of his neck, “-I’m always in your corner. Whatever you need, I’ll help how I can, even if it’s just an ear to bend.” He pats my shoulder and I give him a few nods.

“I know. Thanks Warren.” He smiles at me and gives his burrito a shake.

“Hey, the taco truck is still down the street. Why don’t we grab you something, my treat.” My stomach answers for me with a loud growl. I put a hand on it to quell the beast and grin at Warren. “Yeah, yeah. That burrito smells awesome. I gotta feed the Kraken or else it’ll break loose.”

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Aside

“So, you’re sure?” Taylor asks, keeping her eyes on her nails as she rubs a file across an extended index finger.

“Yes,” Victoria said, her arms gripped around her stomach, “Or were you not listening when I told you I was, like, a foot away from her?” she turns to Taylor, who props an elbow on the edge of the couch she’s lounging on and looks at the pacing Victoria. Raising an eyebrow, Taylor just looks at Victoria, and when her best friend doesn’t move, she shrugs a single shoulder.

“Okay? But, you were going to ask her to the party this Friday anyway, so, why does this matter?” Taylor grins and speaks through a growing laugh in her chest, “Or, are you going to ask her to fuck y--?”

Victoria hisses, “Don’t fucking finish that damn sentence, Taylor.” The shivering Queen Bee of Blackwell can’t help but feel a heat in stomach flare up at that admittedly enticing thought. A flashing image of Max kissing Victoria’s throat, sliding one hand under the expensive blouse Victoria had planned out, eager fingers exploring her burning flesh and the other down her skirt to— Victoria shakes her head and shivers again.

‘God damn heat bullshit.’ She thought, dropping her gaze to the floor. Before she knows it, Taylor was there, next to her and placing a hand on her shoulder giving her a piteous look.

“No one would begrudge you for sitting this one out, Vic-“ Taylor began, sympathy for her best friend making her words heavy in Victoria’s mind, “-head planner or not, if you’re sick, you’re sick.” Victoria knew what Taylor was trying to do, and she loved her for it. But, Victoria had plans for this party, she’d worked hard on it, making it perfect; to stay home now would mean surrendering, and Victoria Chase never surrenders.

“You know I can’t-“ Victoria said, turning her head to the side to avoid Taylor’s defeated expression, “-I’ve worked so hard on this, spent weeks on this, planning every little detail. And,” she paused and pulled her arms up around her chest. She exhaled a long breath, “It really feels like the best time to just, apologize to Kate and—“ Taylor looked to Victoria and rolled her head to the side.

“And Max. Yeah, okay.” It was obvious Taylor wasn’t happy with this situation, but also knew she couldn’t argue with Victoria about it; she’d lost enough of those battles to know to not even start them. The blonde raised her hands up in defeat and turned, taking a few steps away from the agitated Omega. “We need an escape plan, though.” Taylor turned to see Victoria’s scrunched face.

“What? You don’t think Max would-“

“I just want to be safe.” Taylor closed the distance with Victoria and placed her hands on the Omega’s shoulders. “I know Max wouldn’t do anything creepy. She’s basically harmless, but, she won’t be the only Alpha there.“ Taylor just shrugged, rubbing her friend’s arm gently, her gaze looking away from Victoria. Taylor was a good friend, Victoria knew that and she couldn’t help but smile at Taylor’s concern. Victoria moved in and hugged Taylor close, giving her a gentle squeeze.

“Thanks, Sweet-T.” Victoria grinned, “You’re the best. And, if it’ll make you feel better, we’ll figure something out.”

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I would have never guessed that a burrito stuffed with peppers, chorizo, scrambled eggs and tater tots was something I needed, but apparently it’s the only thing I have ever really wanted out of this cruel, cruel world. I take another bite of the gigantic burrito and can’t stop a happy moan from leaving my throat. After savoring every flavor, I swallow and smile over at Warren lounging at the head of his bed.

“I’m already halfway to being a stoner eating like this.” Warren chuckles.

“Pretty sure potheads run the truck. Who else comes up with this kind of stuff?”

“Uh. Culinary geniuses?”

“Heh, Gordon Ramsey’s got nothing on tater-tot tacos.” We both share a small laugh and I exhale a breath of relief. Warren invited me to his dorm to just relax, eat and watch some new sci-fi movies he ‘bought legitimately’ on the internet. I was so eager to be anywhere but the girl’s dorm I readily accepted, even if it meant Warren might get a grumbling from Brooke later. Speaking of--

“Hey, Brooke’s not gonna be, like, upset that I’m here, right?” I ask, picking a tater-tot from my burrito and preparing to bite, “Don’t want you in the doghouse or anything.” Warren smiles and shakes his head,

“Nah. Brooke’s cool. We got a date tomorrow anyway, so-“ I nudge his foot with my elbow and grin at him, and he looks away with a smile.

“Cool. The girl’s dorm is kind of—“

“On edge?”

“That’s a way of putting it.” I say, popping the tot in my mouth and chewing.

“Yeah, Brooke saw the writing on the wall, so, she’s made her battle preparations.” Warren looks over at me, more concern in his face. “How’re you holding up? Can’t be easy on you at all.”

“It never is.” I groan and sag my shoulders. I trusted Warren with my status before I told him about my powers, so, him, Chloe and Kate are really the only people I’ve told I’m an Alpha; the only ones I trust to know.

“Man, there was a time when I envied Alphas-“ he began, “Surrounded by pleading hotties, being bigger and stronger than nearly everyone else. Seemed pretty cool on the surface.” He gave a half-shrug and looked away for a moment. “Then I looked into, like, everyday experiences of Alphas and Omegas and, heh, yeah.” His voice sagged, trailing off and his gaze remained away from me.

“Glad to be a Beta, huh?” I say, and Warren finally turns to me with a piteous look in his eye.

“Sorry, Max.” I just shrug and take another bite. “But, hey, you always got the Warren Cave to come hideout in when things get rough.” I smile and swallow my food.

“The-“ I raise an eyebrow and smirk at him, “Warren warren?” He groans loudly and covers his eyes.

“Terrible! Terrible!” and I can’t help but chuckle at my lame joke. “For that-“ he says, bending over the side of his bed and pulling out his laptop. He opens it and looks pointedly at me. “-you don’t get a say on the first movie.”

I place a hand over my heart and give a whine, “Aw! To the heart, Warren. You cut so deep.”

“Dad jokes are unforgivable, Max Caulfield. And you must be punished.” He says, turning to focus on his laptop and clicking around on it. “And that punishment, is watching ‘Barbarella’ with me.” I groan and flop back on his bed, resting on an elbow and nibble at my burrito as he sets the laptop between us and reclines, clicking play. The movie might be terrible, but the food and the company are good. A moment’s peace is all I need, a bit of normalcy to drown out the cycles and the dreams, even if it is only for a few hours…

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It was already dark by the time I got back to the dorms, which was great because it would mean no one else would be around. At least, I hoped, as I creeped into the hallway. From what I saw, no one was even awake, which I thanked; I didn’t even hear anything from the typical night owls like Dana or Brooke.

Just when I thought I would be home free, I heard a door open. I nearly jumped out of my skin as I saw someone leaving Kate’s room. My fists tightened around the straps of my messenger bag and I froze in place as I watched Victoria Chase, of all people, walk out of Kate’s room and turn to look back into her room.

She looked, different. It didn’t look like the Victoria I knew, the one who bullied and sneered at me for any slight against her. Her shoulders were slouched, her arms wrapped around her chest and her gaze wasn’t even meeting Kate’s. Honestly, Victoria looked more like me than the ‘Queen of Blackwell’. I couldn’t move as I watched Victoria and Kate talking, even if I couldn’t hear what they were saying.

Kate, as ever, was smiling; that beaming smile I was always so happy to see. Victoria was nodding, keeping her posture bent and submissive; jeez, that’s such a weird sight. The conversation ended when Kate opened her arms and brought Victoria into a hug, one that seemed to melt the ice queen. I couldn’t help but smile at that, Kate and Victoria seemed to be patching things up and that couldn’t be cooler. Kate released the hug and gave Victoria a gentle ‘goodbye’ wave before closing her door. And then Victoria turned, and saw me…

‘Shit. Shit.’ I panicked, squeezing my messenger bag strap like it would save me from Victoria’s inevitable wrath. She began to approach me, and my body tensed, preparing for the end. ‘Eighteen is a fine age. I’ve lived a full life. I’m ready for death.’

Victoria stopped, farther than I thought she would, and straightened her back. She looked, exhausted; I couldn’t help but give her a soft, sympathetic look.

“Max-“ Victoria began, attempting to regain her usual poise, “I, uh, wanted to talk to you about something.” she placed her hands on her hips and kept her eyes squarely on me. I wilted, as usual, under her gaze.

“Uh, o-okay.” I mumble, my hand reaching for its normal resting place of ‘on my elbow’. “What is it?” Clearing her throat, Victoria took a breath and slowly exhaled through her nose.

“I--I just wanted to-“ she raised a hand and began to play with her bangs, moving them to the side of her face, “I wanted to invite you to a party on Friday.” I blinked, and my jaw must have been dropped open the way Victoria began a snarl at me. I shook my head slightly, and cleared my head.

“Sorry. You want to invite me to a Vortex Club party?”

“Clean your fucking—“ Victoria began, but slammed her mouth shut and looked away from me. That was new. After taking another breath, Victoria returned her gaze to me, “Yes, Max. I want to invite you to a party on Friday.” she repeated. I waited a moment, and Victoria continued. “I—I’ve been a total bitch. To you, to Kate, to everyone. And, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t see it until I saw Kate on that roof. Because I drove her there.” Victoria clung her arms to her chest, “I’m trying to be better. And, I just thought—“ I took a step closer to her, holding a hand out instinctually to rest on her shoulder. She didn’t shake it off.

“I get it.” I said, “And, uh, a party does sound fun.” I withdraw my hand and rub my palm along the strap of my messenger bag. “I need a distraction from some stuff anyway.” Victoria glanced at the floor for a second or two before she gave me a nod.

“Well, good. I’ll be by your room around seven.” She turned away from me and walked straight for her room, opening and closing her door swiftly, Victoria’s scent still lingering in my nose. I stood in the hallway for a moment, still wrapping my head around the idea that I, of all people, was invited to a Vortex Club party. At least in this timeline, anyway. But, the last thing I needed right now was trying to think about time travel and all the baggage that came with that. So, I just run a hand through my hair, exhale a giant breath, and make my way to my room.

Besides, what the hell would I even wear?

Chapter Text

Red looks good on me, right? Red and black, really. Should I wear this with the distressed jeans, or just normal ones? But, I always wear just normal jeans, so, I should wear something different, right? Ugh, why are clothes so hard?! I was going to ask Kate to help me with my outfit, at least to get another pair of eyes on my choices, but she said she was busy. Victoria had invited her to the party too, but Kate declined; apparently she was helping her church with some volunteer work.

I mean, I was happy that Kate was doing things she loved again, but, I was kinda hoping I’d have a lifeline at this thing. And, now I was alone. Why did I even say ‘yes’? Because I felt obligated? Because I wanted to make Victoria happy? Because Victoria smelled so fucking good—

“Jee-zus, dude.” I say out loud, hoping to cut my mind off before it got any grosser. “Focus on your outfit. Or, lack thereof, I guess.” I grumble, giving myself a once-over.

I was wearing some dark jeans, purposefully distressed around the thighs and knees, and a red button-up plaid shirt. I remember wearing some of Rachel Amber’s old clothes that Chloe insisted I wear after our little pool venture, and I really liked how they made me feel. Confident and cool. Like Rachel.

I frown a little, still sore about everything that happened to Rachel. Nobody deserved what she went through, regardless if every rumor about her was true…

KNOCK KNOCK

“Shit!” I say, shaking myself out of my thoughts. I turn to the door and trot over there, gripping the door knob and swinging the door open. Standing there, hands on her hips, was Victoria Chase.

And, uh, wowsers.

I’d never say what she was wearing was ‘slutty’ or ‘skanky’, but Victoria always knew how to dress in a way that accentuated her figure; everything was so complimentary to her. A form fitting blouse and a snug skirt with black pantyhose beneath, her face done perfectly with dark makeup and ruby red lips. I must have been staring.

“Max.” was all it took to snap me out of my stupor, and my eyes darted to the floor. Damn, even her heels are nice? What the heck, Victoria.

“Are you ready to go?” Victoria asked me, and I tucked my hands into my pockets.

“Uh, yeah? I, mm, tried.” I felt, more than heard the silence between us, but in my intense studying of the floor, I notice Victoria’s heels move a step closer.

“Look up.” She said sternly, and I couldn’t help but obey, cheeks as red as Victoria’s lips. I felt her hand near my throat and I swallowed hard. She was undoing the top two buttons of my shirt and the barest touch of Victoria’s fingers on my neck sent shivers down my spine.

“Uh, th—thanks.”

“You’re going to a party, not giving a business meeting.” I head the smile in Victoria’s words, so I couldn’t help but smile back. “There,” she said, rubbing down some obvious wrinkles in my shoulders, “That looks much better.”

I dare a glance at Victoria’s eyes and I smile wider. I always knew Victoria was pretty but, tonight she was gorgeous. I catch her perfume in my nose and blink; she would obviously layer it on kinda thick if she was still in her heat. I look down at her exposed throat and swallow again.

“Are you sure you’re up to this, Victoria?” that must have irritated her a little, because she growled and rolled her eyes.

“Stop. You sound like Taylor.” she retorted, “I’m fine, Max. I can handle myself.”

My eyes drop to the floor again and I feel my shoulders slump. “I-I’m sure. Sorry, Victoria.”

“You’re sweet, Max.” That drew my attention, and I looked up at Victoria. She was smiling and moved her hands back to fumble with my collar. “And, you look good. Handsome. You clean up nice.” My spine about rattled out of my back.

“Th-Thanks.”

“Alright, come on. I wanted to get there a little early. A hostess should greet her guests after all.” Victoria smiled and took my hand in hers, dragging my stiffening bones out towards the party.

I could hear the music and feel the bass before I could fully see the pool house, where the party was taking place. I keep my hands tightly clasp in front of me, and I really try my best to keep away from Victoria. It doesn’t really work, as I notice her slowly moving closer to me, but she always corrected after a few steps. Obviously I didn’t say anything, but I know it was because Victoria was in heat and here I was, an Alpha, walking next to her; it’s just nature, after all.

I almost dreaded going inside, knowing I’d be consumed by thumping Pop music, or blaring Rap, but I dutifully followed Victoria as she entered the pool house. The last time I had been to a Vortex Club party, I was seeking Nathan Prescott and, as it seems ironic right now, Victoria Chase. But, I don’t think that actually happened. Or happened in this timeline. Or, wait, did it? God damn, time travel…

When we entered, the music was already playing, and there were more people there than I would have assumed. I even spot Daniel and Alyssa, which surprised me. They were just chilling at the makeshift bar, talking, but I still smiled at the thought of Victoria inviting some nerds. I mean, she invited me, Queen Hipster Trash.

A hand on my shoulder drew me back to the present, and I looked up to see Victoria looking at me. She smiled a small smile and I couldn’t stop my blush.

“Go have a drink, Max. I’ve got some hostess stuff to do.” She said, patting my shoulder lightly.

“Oh, I don’t drink—“

“I know. You’re ‘straight-edge’, right? I made sure there would be sodas, too.” I wouldn’t use that term, but I can’t help but smile at the thought.

“Uh, thanks, Victoria. That was really cool of you.” that seemed to trigger something in Victoria, because she blushed and dipped her head as she turned around and walked off to the curtained off area that must have been for VIPs, or something. Wowsers, déjà vu.

I just head over to the bar, because it’s not like I’d go dance, or have anyone to dance with. So, I get there, give small waves to Daniel and Alyssa and order myself a soda. I lean on my elbows and do my best to keep the thumping bass from pounding my brain into a thick, gray smoothie. In an attempt to keep myself distracted, I reach into my pocket and pull out my phone. No messages. I don’t know why I would think I’d have messages from Chloe, but, I was still hoping for it. I was going to give her the space she asked for, it was the least I could do after blowing up on her, and I wasn’t going to break my word so I could keep my mind busy at some dumb party. It’s just…

…it’s been a few days. And, I’m worried.

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Aside

Despite the sun beginning to set, there was work to do. The old clunker could still be salvaged, it just needed that tender loving care that Chloe Price was famous for. She growled and grunted as she gave the nut one final twist, freeing it and allowing oil to vomit forth. Learning from her past mistakes, Chloe had aligned the pan perfectly to catch the oil as it gushed out, and managed to avoid getting hot oil splattered onto her face. Squirming out beneath the beast, she smirked and reached for the ruined towel on the hood of the truck and wiped the excess oil from her fingers, viewing her handiwork.

Oil changes were easy for Chloe now, like second nature, but she knew her truck needed some work she wasn’t experienced for. And that kind of work required money. She’d learned from borrowing from Frank how bad an idea loans were, so, she’d have to think of another way to earn some scratch.

‘A job, I guess.’ She groaned at her own thought. Chloe Price at a 9 to 5? Times really are a changing.

Her eyes moved from the towel in her hand to her phone, resting on the hood of the beast. It had been a few days, and she hadn’t spoken to Max. Was she ready? Would she ever be? Fuck all this emotional bullshit.

She nearly jumped as she heard the front door close. Fuck, she really was on edge. Luckily there was a fresh roach waiting for her after this. She turned to see David approaching her, a water bottle in his hand; there was still tension between them, but Chloe was trying. He kept a bit of a distance and handed her the bottle, which Chloe gladly took and uncapped it.

“Got less oil on you this time.” He commented and Chloe smirked, taking a big drink of water. “You look more like a mechanic and less like a Jackson Pollock.”

“You know who Jackson Pollock is?” she said, a small laugh in her voice as she wiped some spilling water from her chin.

“I work at Blackwell. You learn things.” He smirked, turning to take a good look at the truck. “You’ve taken good care of this old clunker. Learned a lot.” He turned to look at Chloe, “I’m proud of you.”

“Thank, David.” She said, her brows furrowed and her mouth a tight line. Her gaze briefly dropped to the phone in her grip, and she pushed it into her jeans pocket with a huff.

“Still haven’t spoken to her, hm?” David spoke up after a moment of silence. Chloe didn’t respond, just trying to find some imaginary focus on her truck. Perhaps if she focused on the chipped paint long enough, David would just fade away. “At least let her know you’re okay. It’s obvious Max cares a lot about you.”

That tight line her lips formed scrunched into a ball as the words hit with Chloe. She wanted to be angry at him, furious even. It had been so easy in the past, but for some reason, she couldn’t be angry at him now. Because she knew, as much as it pained her, that he was right. It’d been a few days since Chloe even spoke to Max, so caught up in her own bullshit. She should at least give her some kind of update…

“Try not to work too hard, okay? Your mom’s in the kitchen making some salmon. With the lemon.” David said, shaking Chloe from her thoughts. “I’ll let you know when it’s done.” With that, he turned and headed back into the house.

Fuck, was she about to take advice from David Madsen?

She reached into her pocket, pulling out her phone and thumbed it awake. She stared at Max for a moment, thankful the picture she took wasn’t staring at her; that might’ve been a little much right now. Allowing herself to stare at the photo for a moment, Chloe couldn’t stop the smile creeping up her face, and decided to just linger in a memory or two for a moment before beginning a message.

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Well, I’m proud of myself. I’ve moved from the bar to a few feet to the right, and from leaning on the table to leaning against the wall. Hey, baby steps, okay? I’m still looking around the pool house, nursing a long flat soda, the music still isn’t my taste, but the bass isn’t rattling my bones anymore. Again, progress. I’d kept myself busy trying to spot the people I knew and see what they were up to; ‘people watching’ always sounded less creepy than ‘staring at strangers’.

Daniel and Alyssa hadn’t left the bar, probably too shy to really leave and mingle much. Not like me, brave soul that I am. I had also spotted Dana, her arms around Trevor’s shoulders and her hips swaying to the music.

‘Yeah. Trevor seems much more like Dana’s type than me.’ I think, noticing how much more relaxed Dana looks and can’t help but smile when I see her smile. ‘Hope he’s better than Logan.’ I say, taking another sip from my disgusting beverage. Most of the others were just faces you vaguely recognize while walking down the same hallways or standing in the same lunch lines. What seemed to stand out to me was the obvious lack of Victoria, she said she wanted to play hostess, and she’s hardly been around.

‘I hope she’s alright. Or, at least went home if her heat was acting up too much. This is definitely not a good place for an in-heat Omega.’ I think, taking a shot at tossing my now empty soda can into a nearby trash can.

I miss.

Classic Max.

Luckily everyone’s too busy doing cool kid stuff to notice me walk over to my shame, pick up the can, and toss it in the trash (for real this time). Satisfied with recovering my ego, I begin to return to my new spot while trying to remember what is the appropriately polite time to stay at a party before you awkwardly leave, when I’m blindsided by a stomping Victoria. She grips my hand like a vice and drags me away from the trash can.

“Max. Dancewithme.” She hurriedly commands. Next thing I know, she’s swinging me around and pulling me in close, her hands clasping behind me and locking her arms together. My face is mere inches from her chest, her fingers are pressing into my back, and her nails making lines down my spine. We’re moving, swaying, but I can barely keep up with Victoria’s movements, and I feel myself stumbling over my feet a time or two. As if my mind wasn’t already swimming enough, Victoria is so close to me I get socked in the head with a wave of her scent; Dog, she smelt amazing, like spliced apples…

I pull myself an inch or so away from Victoria, but her grip is like a vice. I feel her breath rolling across my neck and my muscles tense as her fingers begin moving up and down my back. “Victoria-“ I manage to say, trying my best to pull my neck away from Victoria’s panting. Panting? “-what’s wrong? What’re you doing?”

“Just-“ she says, her voice tight and another breath sputters out of her throat and onto my neck, “-h-hold me for a minute, Max. Please.” She begs. Begs? Shit, something’s wrong. I take a moment to get our surroundings, just waiting to see Taylor or Courtney come running up to us to whisk Victoria away. But, I see something else. I see eyes staring at us. Hard, hungry eyes. Jealous eyes. Some gazes from the football jocks, others from some kids I’ve seen study with Warren in the science class, and a few of Justin’s skater bros. All staring at me.

No. Not me.

Victoria.

“C-Come on,” I say to Victoria, moving my arms around her to hold her steady, “I’m getting you out of here.” I feel Victoria resist, trying to keep herself in place. Now, I’ve never been the strongest Alpha, not even the strongest Beta; let’s be honest, most Omegas can easily push me around. There was something about this situation that changed that though. I dug deep and found some semblance of the Alpha I was supposed to be, and I began to drag Victoria Chase along with me as I walked to the door, dead weight and all.

I felt some of those eyes burning into me, searing beams of primal jealousy straight into my back as I lugged Victoria to the door, and forced it open with my shoulder. I didn’t care. It’s not like I had never been picked on, or bullied before; what’s another round from some angry cock-blocked Alphas? They weren’t important, but helping Victoria was, and she was my priority now. It had gotten much darker when we burst out onto Blackwell’s campus; how long was I in there?

“Max, we can’t-“ I hear Victoria plead, “-I-I have to go back.” I exhale a long breath, still dragging Victoria along as she desperately clings to me.

“I’m taking you to your room, Victoria. Your heat’s going crazy.” I would know, her scent’s been bombarding me, swallowing me whole and I’m having to both fight Victoria’s deadweight on me, and my awakening Alpha instincts to not just rut her here on the lawn.

“I don’t need protection,” Victoria growls, “I just need—“ she says, trailing off. I feel her breath on my neck again, and her I hear her inhale my own scent. “-I—I, I need—“ her purr sends a shiver down my spine, and one of her hands begins to glide down my stomach. I know where she’s trying to go, and I am absolutely ashamed of the bulge in my jeans right now. We’re almost to the wall that separates the commons from the dorms when I feel Victoria’s hand reach down my thigh. I grit my teeth and when we round the corner, I grip Victoria, spin her around and pin her against the wall.

My Alpha, that thing I keep in its cage, is roaring out at me. My mind is a race of aggressive thoughts and images, and I struggle to fight back.

You’ve got this needy Omega where you want her! She’s giving it up!

You’ve taken so much shit from her! Show this bitch who’s really in charge!

She wants it! Begging for it! Give the Queen Bitch of Blackwell the dicking she deserves!

‘Stop! I’m not like that! I will never be like that! NEVER!

 

I hadn’t realized I had closed my eyes until I opened them and stared at Victoria. I held her wrists up, keeping her pinned to the wall, and she stared back at me with a lowered head and eyes the size of dinner plates. We were both panting heavily, and her scent projected so much want, so much need. She was in a lot of pain, I knew, her cramps must be terrible at this point. I was straining at my jeans, so much so that it hurt. We both wanted this. Needed this.

And besides, the only reason anyone wants me is for this. To use me to satisfy their heats. Might as well just accept it.

I lean in and press my lips to Victoria’s. I feel her soft lips against mine, and the moan she releases vibrates into my throat. Releasing her hands, I bring mine down to my jeans and I fumble with the clasp, while Victoria runs her fingers through my hair with such wanton aggression I’m shocked by how much I enjoy it. Her tongue forces its way into my mouth and I struggle to both dance with Victoria’s tongue and finish pushing down my jeans; halfway down, good enough. I tug my panties down and allow myself the sweet relief of an unrestricted hard-on, while Victoria continues wrestling with my tongue. Victoria’s pantyhose are being a problem, so I break from the kiss, bring my hands under Victoria’s skirt and tear the black fabric to shreds. That shocked me, I’ve never been like this before, and it must have shocked Victoria because she gasps loudly when I finish tearing open her pantyhose. But, she didn’t seem to mind too much, as in another second she’s hiked a leg over my hip and smashed her lips to mine.

I do my best to angle myself to enter Victoria, but it’s hard being a five-foot five Alpha, so I grip the base of my boner and push the tip inside. Victoria gasped, pulling away from the kiss and widening her eyes. I stop and look at her with concern.

“I—I’ll stop,” I pant, about to pull my hips back when Victoria pushes me closer, and deeper inside her, with her leg.

“Don’t you fucking dare.” Victoria growls at me. We lock eyes and the apex predator of Blackwell has returned. I push my hips forward, and the glare melts instantly, with Victoria falling against me, her arms wrapping around my shoulders and her pleading whimpers filling my ears. I keep pushing, and each inch or so makes Victoria whine, whimper and shiver. She’s like a silken vice around me and I can’t help but want her more, to feel her completely around me and be one with her. It’s tough goings, Victoria’s tight and squeezes me constantly, but I finally managed to fill her completely.

And then she gasps, loudly. I feel her hand slap my back, hard, and she grunts a deep throaty sound while her body spasms and shivers. All of her muscles tense, holding me close in a powerful grip.  I feel her squeezing just as hard when I’m inside her, and I grit my teeth at the sudden pleasure jolting through me. Did Victoria just-?

“Did you just-?” I can’t stop myself. Victoria relaxes her arms and pants softly, pulling away just enough to look me in the eyes.

“Cum? Yeah…”

“Already?” Victoria glares at me, and I swallow visibly.

“How could I not?” she says accusatorially.

“I—I don’t know—“

“You’re hung like a fucking horse, Max. How can I not cum when you’re tapping my cervix?” my face incinerates. I mean, I know about my size, but, talking about it always makes me so embarrassed—

“You’re not done, Caulfield.” Victoria shakes me from my stupor, bucking her hips slightly to bring me back to reality. “Get back to work.” I blink quickly and drop my gaze from Victoria, before pulling my hips back and pushing myself forward. Victoria whines and returns her grip around my shoulders. I keep that rhythm going, trying not to lose myself in the feeling of her; I don’t want to lose myself any further. It’s hard, though. Probably the hardest thing I have ever done. Victoria feels wonderful, perfectly warm and tight around me as I keep bucking up inside her.

Victoria whimpers and grunts with each thrust I give her, clawing at my back and panting into my ear. I’m trying not to lose it, trying not to let go, but Victoria isn’t making it easy. A hand reaches up my back and slides into my hair. Victoria pulls my hair as she moans a loud moan and squeezes down around me. She seizes up again, pressing her face close to mine and whimpering as her body shakes violently. I don’t let that stop me, and I increase my thrusts, pushing deeper and deeper into Victoria, pushing against her boundaries faster and faster. I watch as Victoria tosses her head back, heedless of the brick wall I’ve pinned her against and begins yelping breathlessly. Her body tightens and I can feel my knot beginning to form, slowing my thrusts with its natural curvature.

“Fuck me, Max. Knot me. Knot me, please!” Victoria pleads into my ear and I’m so close to doing it I nearly miss my chance. I pull out of Victoria fully, and she sags against me, whimpering such a pitiful sound my heart breaks.

“Why did you stop?” Victoria whines, “Max, why did you stop? I need you, Max.” she looks up at me with such hurt in her eyes, like I’d rejected her completely. My heart finishes breaking and I can’t stop my face from sagging.

“Not here, Victoria.” I pant, my Alpha growling at the unfinished business. “B-Back at the dorm.”

“Your room.” Victoria pants, and I begin to see her hunger return as her eyes dilate and I’m so terrified of the endless blackness in those eyes…

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Aside

“Uh, excuse me! Move!” Taylor shouted, pushing a few random students apart, her head frantically turning from left to right. She’s been at this little hunt for longer than she wanted. She stomped about the party, looking for any sign of—

“There you are!” she shouted, causing Courtney to look up from the clipboard she was staring at. Taylor stormed up to Courtney, who was using the clipboard as a shield against the advancing blonde.

“Relax, Tay. I’ve got everything under cont—“ but Courtney couldn’t finish before Taylor screamed over her.

“Where’s Victoria?!”

“Last I saw she was—“ Courtney began, pointing her clipboard towards the VIP section. Taylor sneered.

“Well, she’s not there! Make yourself useful and help me find her!” Taylor roared to the cowering Courtney. The blonde gripped snatched up her accomplice and pushed her forward. “She’s in heat and we can’t just abandon her.”

“Uhm, she couldn’t have gotten far, right?” Courtney said, doing her best to reassure Taylor.

“I hope so.” Taylor’s brow furrowed, “We need to find her before she does something stupid.”

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This is stupid. This is so stupid. I know this is stupid, but I can’t stop myself. The logical part of my brain lost this fight when I pushed Victoria against that wall. And now here I am, naked except my bra under a naked Victoria. The Alpha has taken over and I’m just hope I can come back.

Victoria was insatiable. She was moving so quickly, up and down on me and it was incredible. I slammed my eyes shut, doing my best to keep my thoughts off of how wonderful Victoria felt, and how beautiful she looked with her flushed cheeks, mussed hair and her gorgeous eyes—

‘Dude, stop thinking about her!’

I shook my head and couldn’t stop a grunt or two falling out of my throat, dropping my head back onto my pillow. My hands, moving on their own, moving up and along Victoria’s thighs, and I couldn’t help but give them a few squeezes. Her thighs were soft, but I could feel all those muscles Victoria did all that running for. I felt a pressure nearly fall onto me and I shot my eyes open seeing Victoria had fallen onto me. I catch her, holding my arms around her and just now realizing how hard I had been breathing during all this.

“Tori-“ I pant, “Are you okay?”

“Gimme a minute.” she slurs, and I feel how her back muscles are tense and her chest heaving heavily. “S’a lot.”

I look away, unable to stop the embarrassment flaring my cheeks. ‘Stop talking about my dick already.’

I feel the weight lift from my chest and watch as Victoria takes her previous position above me. I can’t help but stare at her as she looms over me, glaring down at me as her hands rake streaks across my chest down to my stomach. I wince and I hear a small laugh from above. She exhales and begins to move again, and I seize up. The rhythm is steady, but I feel myself pressing against Victoria’s wall every time she comes down.

Victoria claws at my stomach as she drops herself down as deep as she can and I bare my teeth. I was just getting used to her rhythm when she begins to pick up speed, not even trying to sit on me anymore Victoria just moves her hips up and down. She feels incredible, so tight around me and moving up and down me so quickly, it’s almost hard for my brain to even process what’s happening. She seizes again, and a jolt of electricity runs through my spine. I toss my head back and can’t stop the moans escaping my throat. I feel myself getting closer and closer; Victoria’s beginning to tap my knot.

‘Fuck. You have a goddess on you, Max. Think of something else!’ I scream at myself, ‘Daguerreotype, diCorcia, ‘Woman with Elephants’, ‘God is Dog spelled—‘

Shaking me from my thoughts, Victoria gripped her hands on my chest and picked up her speed, slamming against my knot harder and harder. I knew she wanted it, hell, I wanted it too. There was nothing I wanted more on this Earth than to feel Victoria Chase on my knot. My body shivered, moans rolling out of my throat so quickly I couldn’t stop it, my muscles tensing and shaking like mad.

Fuck, I was so close.

I moved my hands from Victoria’s thighs, raising to grip her back and pull her down on top of me. Before she can protest, I begin forcing my hips upward as fast as I can. I ignore Victoria’s moaning as I continue with my rhythm, pounding as fast as I can before I finally make a last thrust and force myself fully inside of Victoria. She screams, gurgling her voice as I clench my entire body around her, holding her as tight as I can and I feel myself begin to finish. Everything is hot, everything is tense, everything is confusing and ecstatic. MY body is on fire, and I would do anything in the world to continue feeling this jolting ecstasy for a moment longer.

Victoria was shuddering, clawing at my shoulders and arms, and it was then I realized she also must have peaked. I can’t really feel pride, or really any other emotion at that. Being proud of making the most popular Omega in school orgasm so many times you lost count is something Alpha’s should be proud of, right? Whatever, I can barely even think straight; my head is foggy and my body feels heavy after all of that.

In the clear spots in my fog, I must have rolled Victoria over onto her side, because the final thing I see is her closing her eyes, chest rising and falling in gentle cadence. I can’t help but smile at her as she sleeps. Without all the ponce, the status and drama, Victoria is gorgeous. Could we maybe--? Maybe thoughts for another day. My body demands sleep, and you can really only deny it for so long.

Chapter Text

The sun is ever persistent. Ever powerful, ever moving and undeniable. I know this because it won’t stop beaming into my friggin’ eyes.

I grunt, groan and attempt to roll away from the invading rays, but I know my fight is a futile one. I sit up, groaning and rubbing my eyes. A reluctant yawn to greet the day.

I turn to look down next to me, seeing nothing there. I suppose it would make plenty of sense that Victoria would just up and leave the following morning. Still, I felt a lump in my stomach knowing she had left me after what we had done last night.

‘Why would she stay? What, for you? Don’t be an idiot.’ I chide myself, rubbing my eyes before I hear something fall onto the floor. I nearly leap from my skin and turn to look and see Victoria picking up a stack of paperbacks that had fallen off the side table near my couch as quickly and quietly as she could.

“Victoria?” I grumble, scratching my head as I look at her through blurry eyes.

“Sorry, Max-“ she says, placing the books back onto the table, “-I accidently bumped into them. I didn’t mean to wake you.” There’s such a warmth in her voice, like she really meant it. I’m a bit taken aback.

“No, it’s cool. I’m awake. What time is it?” I ask.

“Uh, quarter to ten, I think.” Victoria answers, taking a few steps closer to the bed. I look at her and, in the golden rays of the morning sun, she looks stunning. Messy hair, less strain in her posture and just a much more relaxed smile. Of course, she always looks stunning, but there was something about her being surrounded by the sun’s warm golden halo that seemed to accentuate that beauty.

‘Fuck. Where’s my camera? This is perfect.’ I think, before I notice something odd about Victoria.

“Are those my pajamas?” I asked, noticing that the clothes don’t really fit Victoria. She was taller than me, so that made sense. And it looked a bit tighter around the chest and hips, also, made sense; but, uh, damn if she didn’t cut quite the figure. How could she be so beautiful without even trying? Jealous.

“Did you expect me to go piss in the nude?” she asked, a joke in her tone. That’s not what really surprised me about this whole situation, though.

“You came back?” I asked as she sat on the edge of the bed, idly toying with her messy bangs.

“Well,” she began, defensiveness beginning to melt as she finished, “Y-Yeah. I liked being close to you. What of it?” She turned her eyes from me and I could see a hint of a blush rising to her cheeks. Victoria wanted to be near me? What the frick-?

“Sorry. I’m not, like, pissed or anything.” I say, sitting up more in bed. I’m still only in my bra, but, like, Victoria’s seen much more so—

“I know.” Victoria responds. She put her arms around her stomach and slouched, offering a small laugh. “I’m sure you weren’t expecting that, huh?”

“Well…”

I didn’t want to really say what I felt. Victoria had been nothing but cruel to me since I arrived at Blackwell. I felt targeted, like she went out of her way to break me down and make me feel like I was worth nothing. On top of my self-esteem issues and social anxieties, she was a terror in my life that I hated being around. Why would she want to be around me at all? Why would she want to be nice to me all of a sudden? Why would she want to sleep next to me, or even consider what or how I felt?

But.

I couldn’t tell her that. That would make her feel horrible. And, Victoria was trying to be better. I could see it in the new Vortex Club rules, the way she was kind to Kate, the way she stopped insulting everyone. She really was working on her failings and trying to be a better person.

“You don’t have to say it. I know.” Victoria says, shaking me from my thoughts. “I’ve been nothing but shitty to you since I met you. No reason to believe I wouldn’t just, like, throw you away after what we did last night.”

I hated to admit that she was right. I did think that. Still, sort of, thought that. Ya know, what if this was all some big joke? Maybe she’d taken photos of me to pin up around school to make fun of my status, or my desperation?

But, that felt more like old Victoria, not ‘wear your PJs better than you ever could and yet still come back to cuddle’ Victoria. I should work on shortening that…

“Maybe before—“ I begin, and that causes Victoria to look at me, her arms loosening their grip on her, “—but, I-I don’t know. Things feel different now.” I rubbed the back of my head nervously, “Maybe, it was because it was our first time—“

“Mm. Well maybe it was your first—“ Victoria interrupted, but I blindsided her.

“Together. You and me.” I say, and Victoria seems to give me that point with a small nod. I give her a bit of a look for a second and she tries playing innocent before I continue. “Anyways, it felt like, I don’t know, things were different between us.”

“It could have just been my heat.” She says plainly, “Hormones can really mess with your head.”

“Heh. Yeah. Messed up your head so bad you actually wanted to sleep with me.” I say with a small laugh, moving some loose hair behind my ear before I look back at Victoria. She’s glaring at me. Brows furrowed, lips tight, eyes piercing.

“Knock that shit off.” She growled, and when I gave her a confused face she peeled her lips back into a grimace. “Don’t give me that ‘poor, pity me. I’m so shitty’ hipster crap, Caulfield. I’m tired of it.”

I’m a bit taken aback by the sudden assault, and I try and retreat into my blankets for protection. Blankets do protect you from monsters. But, it didn’t stop Victoria, who grabbed the edge of my blanket and yanked it back. She’s relentless.

“You have too much going for you to keep this ‘pity me’ shit up. You’re insanely talented, have an incredible eye for composition and natural light, you have your own unique photography style, you’re incredibly kind, selfless to the point of sacrificing your own well-being for others, and you’re fucking gorgeous, Max!”

My cheeks feel like the surface of the sun and I’m left nearly babbling like an idiot. But, that didn’t matter because Victoria didn’t stop.

“Any Omega would be so lucky to have an Alpha like you. One who’s kind, considerate and caring. Empathetic to your needs and not,” she shivered, her gaze moving away from me “Trotting you around like a prize they won.” I furrow my brows a little and reach a hand towards Victoria, but she moves away from it and continues. “You’re better than you know, Max.”

How was I supposed to respond to that? Victoria just barfed all over me with compliments and I had no idea what to do. I just sat there and let the silence grow between us. Victoria shivered a little, rubbing her hands along her biceps and I could tell she was getting anxious.

“Th-Thanks, Victoria.” I manage to babble out, and the blonde seemed thankful for some sort of recognition.

“Plus,” Victoria said with a smile, a small laugh on her breath, “You’re hung like a horse—“

“Stop.” I exclaim, holding my hands up and grimacing. “Please, don’t talk about, it…” that obviously must have surprised Victoria because she raised an eyebrow at me.

“But, it’s a compliment. Alphas love when they’re complimented on their junk, right?”

“I—“ I begin, shrinking in on myself and looking away from Victoria, “—I have a complicated relationship with my, status. Or, whatever.” The only other person I’ve ever told this too was Chloe. Kate and Warren might know I’m an Alpha, but they don’t know how much I hate being one.

“Sorry, Max.” Victoria says, and I can hear the sympathy in her voice. “I didn’t know.”

I just shrug, “How could you? No one really knows I’m an Alpha anyway. It’s not like you could have known my feelings about it.”

Victoria smirks and offers another little laugh, “Y-Yeah. I was pretty shocked when I smelled your scent. I swear that was the first time I’d ever smelled it.”

“Yeah, I’ve been on suppressants for, like, a really long time now.” I say, running my fingers through my messy bed head and giving Victoria a small shrug.

“Couldn’t be that long. You’re only eighteen. When did you start?” Victoria asked, seeming assured in her assumptions.

“After my first rut. It was a year or so before I moved to Seattle with my parents. So—“ I shrugged and looked square in Victoria’s eyes “—jeez, like, twelve, maybe?” Now it was Victoria’s turn to pick her jaw off the floor.

Twelve?!” she exclaimed, and I pressed my hands downward to subdue her. “That was-“ Victoria said, in a much softer tone. “That must have been intense. Really intense. You were like a baby back then.”

“It was really bad. I just remember, like, being in a ball and crying. I could barely move, it was like everything was on fire.” I’d had a lot of time to deal with this, therapy and doctor visits. I’ve never really forgiven my body or status, for all that trauma. “The doctors were really surprised when my parents took me to the hospital. Said it was, like, a biological fluke. One in a million.” I rub my arm, typical nervous habit. “I didn’t care. I begged my parents for suppressants. I never wanted to go through something like that again.”

Victoria’s gaze was sympathetic, and I felt a warmth blossoming in my chest as I met her gaze. I couldn’t stop my smile, and it seemed it was infectious.

“So, uh, yeah. I got on suppressants really early. The doctor’s warned that it would stunt my development.” I can’t help but roll my eyes; as if being taller was more important than not wanting to die every few months. “Must explain why I’m so, ya know, little.”

“Yeah.” Victoria attempts a laugh, “You’re the scrawniest Alpha I’ve ever seen.” I raise my arms up and look at my admittedly tiny frame.

“Hey! I was strong enough to haul you out of the pool house.” I saw with mock defensiveness in my voice. I know my smirk betrays me, though. Victoria smiles and holds her hands up in surrender.

“Okay, yeah, you got me there.” She says through a gentle laugh. Her laugh is so pretty. Like, her real one, not that dumb mocking laugh she does. I think I’m starting to like ‘real’ Victoria.

This felt comfortable, and real. I couldn’t help but remember Victoria’s words, not the girl sitting before me, but another Victoria of another timeline.

“Do you think it’s destiny that we aren’t friends…? Maybe we’re just too similar.”

But, this felt easy. Just talking to Victoria without any stress. No status, no Vortex Club, no photography competitions. Just two girls talking.

“Uhm,” Victoria says softly, but her voice alone wakes me up from my thoughts. I blink a few times and look at her. “So, uh, thanks for—“ she begins, clearing her throat and rubbing her elbow; just like I do, what the what? “Helping me.”

“Yeah, no problem.” I say, rubbing my arm slightly. “Hey, can I ask you something?” Victoria looked at me, her face expectant. “Would it be cool if I took a photo? Of us.”

“Like, a selfie?” Victoria asked, a smile peeking through her words. “Gotta stay on brand, eh, Caulfield?” I couldn’t stay mad at her, especially with the obvious warm tone in her voice. She nodded and I bent down to my discarded bag near the bed and reached for my camera. Always be ready to take the shot, even after a one night stand, I guess.

I sit next to Victoria and raise the camera to face us, and I feel Victoria’s chin on my shoulder. “Cheesecake.” I say and ‘click’. I bring the camera down and flick the newly processed photo. “Don’t worry, this is just for me. No one will know you and I are friends.” I say, words drowning in sarcasm. To my surprise, Victoria doesn’t correct me.

“There. Now, I have a weird request of you.” She says, standing and taking a few steps from me before turning around to face me.

“Uh. Yeah. It’s only fair.” I smirk, putting my camera back into my bag.

“Would it be weird to ask you to get a coffee?”

‘What?’

“What?”

“Ugh. Never mind. Forget I said anything.” Victoria says, standing and aggressively adjusting her bangs. Before she can turn away from me, I reach my hand out and grip her elbow. She turns and looks at me with a stern, but surprised look on her face.

“I know just the place.” I say with a small smile.

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This is the place? The Two Whales?” Victoria says, and I can hear the sneer in her voice. I’m too busy looking up at the old rust bucket diner full of love and nostalgia.

“Come on. Have you even tried the food here?” I chuckle, turning and giving Victoria an elbow. She furrows her brows at me, and I shrink back a little. “Just try it, okay? The food’s good, I promise.”

“If the food is as disgusting as this place looks, I’m fitting you with the hospital bill.” Victoria said as she readjusted her purse over her shoulder and walked up the stairs into the Two Whales. Despite myself, I chuckled at that.

I picked my usual booth and sat in my usual spot and grinned at Victoria’s obvious discomfort at eating with the peasantry. She sat down, kept her purse close and looked as stiff as a board as she eyed all the knickknacks about the diner. I feel my pocket vibrate and I instinctually reach my hand for it, but before I can say anything, Joyce has arrived with her notepad and pen; impeccable timing, I guess?

“Mornin’ Max,” Joyce spoke, that warm southern drawl on display. “I see you’ve brought a new friend here.” She said, turning to Victoria who immediately moved from socially anxious to social butterfly.

“It’s lovely to meet you. Victoria Chase.” She said with a smile, and I couldn’t help but applaud Victoria’s incredible social chameleon ability.

“Joyce Madsen. I take it you go to Blackwell as well?” Joyce asked, pouring some black coffee into my mug. Victoria smiled and nodded.

“Yes, Max and I take many of the same classes.” The Queen Bee beamed. Joyce raised her eyes up to meet mine, and I could tell she was asking me ‘where the hell did you find this one?’

“Well, she’s never mentioned you before. But, I’m glad you’re here all the same. Can I get you something to drink, dear? Just made a fresh pot of coffee, but we have pop for you, too.”

“Oh, I’ll just have a cup of coffee. Thank you so much, Mrs. Madsen.”

“Heh, well, I’ll get right on that. I hope all of Max’s friends are so well mannered.” I notice Joyce giving me a smirk as she turned and walked back to the counter to fill her coffee pot back to full. Victoria exhales as Joyce leaves and slumps against the back of the booth. I take a sip of my coffee and smile as I feel that warm ambrosia slide down my throat. I still can’t help but notice Victoria seems uncomfortable; maybe this wasn’t a great idea after all.

“Black coffee? You really are full hipster.” Victoria playfully chided. I laughed. It is a real ‘artsy-fartsy’ stereotype.

“I started drinking black coffee because I wanted to be more like a real artist.” I admit, scratching the back of my head, “Yeah. I know, it’s pretty lame, huh?”

“Very.” Victoria said, crossing her arms and sending me a playful smile. “But, on brand for you, Caulfield.” Her shoulders seemed to relax, but I still had an itching feeling in my chest about this whole thing. I place my mug down and look at Victoria, moving my hand slowly across the table, and offer my palm in case Victoria needed it.

“Hey, you look tense. You okay? What’s on your mind?” I ask, my voice soft as Joyce arrived and poured Victoria’s coffee. Victoria welcomed Joyce’s intervention, giving her a moment to avoid the conversation. She beamed up at Joyce, who withdrew her trusty notepad and stood expectantly.

“Alright. What can I get you two?”

“I’ll have another bacon omelet.” I say with a smile, as Joyce notes down my order and looks over at Victoria.

“These pancakes sound delicious.” Victoria grins and hands Joyce her menu. After taking her notes, Joyce gives us a nod and leaves as someone down the diner is loudly asking for her attention. I turn back to Victoria and give her a sympathetic look. Being found out, Victoria sighs a long breath.

“You said you were on suppressants for a long time, right?” I nod, and Victoria continues “We—We didn’t use any protection. I’m on birth control, but—“ she tightened her arms around her chest and looked away.

“Oh. Yeah.” I drop my gaze for a moment and flex my fingers into my palm. “Well, I had a physical before I came to Blackwell, and my doctor admitted to me being, uh—“ I move my hand back and rub my arm slowly, “—incapable. Of that.” My cheeks flushed, and I am reminded about how awkward it is for me to talk about my status and my body.

Victoria looked over at me and I noticed some of the tension leaving her. But, she kept her arms clasped around her chest.

“Even if there was some kind of miracle baby,” I say, my voice soft so only Victoria could hear me, “I wouldn’t go anywhere.” Victoria looked at me, and her eyes widened a bit. Was she really surprised by my answer?

“Do you have, like, a doctor’s note about that?” Victoria said, gently adjusting her bangs. That must be some kind of nervous tick, because her hair is always flawless.

“Uh, I can probably get one from my doctor. Like, in an email or something.” I shrugged, gently rubbed my arm. “Anything to let your nerves relax.”

Victoria must have finally noticed how tense she was and she forced a long breath and she slumped her shoulders fully, leaning back into the booth. “That helps.” She says softly, taking another breath. I could see how even that little bit of reassurance made Victoria feel better, her posture had straightened up and her arms sagging down a bit away from her chest.

Obviously this was a sensitive subject, and I totally get it. We sit in silence for a moment, me unsure of what to say, and Victoria keeping her thoughts to herself. It must have been a while, because Joyce had returned to us with our food and refilled my coffee mug. This silence had to stop. I missed that connection I was forming with Victoria back at the dorm, and I also just didn’t want her to be so incredibly sad.

“Hey, uhm, how’s the food?” I ask, watching Victoria chewing on her first bite of Joyce’s pancakes. I’m biased, but they’re the best pancakes in the universe.

“It’s good, actually.” Victoria said, with surprise in her voice.

“See? Told you the food was good.” I say with a smile, and Victoria seemingly struggles with her own smile growing across her face.

“Well. I hate to admit it, but, you’re right.” I grin and begin stabbing at my breakfast. After a few more bites, I feel like food isn’t going to really sustain this conversation.

“I hope you’re not gonna be mad at me for this,” I begin, putting my fork down and reaching for a napkin, “I took a little peek of some of the photos you had on your desk in Photography last week.” I look up at Victoria’s reaction, and she seemed to be interested. Which was better than her being mad at me, which I hate to admit I thought would be what happened.

“What did you think?” she asked, a harder look beginning to form in her eyes. I finish wiping my mouth and I put my hands in my lap.

“Uhm, the Avedon influence is really apparent. Which is a good thing. I have really gotten into his work recently-“ Victoria adjusted in her seat a little, and I notice her leaning forward a little. “-uhm, that picture of Taylor in the rain. Where she’s kicking the puddle of water up—“

“Yeah, I know which one you’re talking about.”

“It, uhm, reminded me a lot of the piece, uhm, what is it? Carmen?”

“Carmen, Homage to Munkacsi, Coat by Cardin.” Victoria stated with incredible accuracy and assuredness.

“Yeah! Yeah. I just thought that, the way Taylor was framed and the movement, the posing. Her, being so in focus and everything. It just really reminded me of that piece and, I think it’s really good.” Victoria nodded, her stoicism on display as if she was receiving critique rather than praise.

“You’ve been looking at Avedon recently?” Victoria said, idly toying with her half-eaten pancake.

“I’ve always liked his work. I just have recently gotten more into his stuff.” Why did I get back into Avedon? I liked his work, but what made me want to study him more now? Because he’s a master, yeah, but, why else? To maybe, bond with Victoria?

“I don’t see him in your work, Max. I was just a little surprised.” Victoria said, raising her coffee mug and taking a few drinks.

“Well, ya know, I still like his stuff.” I say, a nervous little laugh rising from my chest.

“I feel like,” Victoria says, placing her mug down and looking into it, “I feel like I’m still searching for my own eye. Like, I’m trying to be inspired by Avedon, but I feel like I’m just aping him.” Victoria gently taps her perfectly manicured nails against the mug and I can see how contemplative she is. I’m not sure what to do. “I always envied that about you, Max.” Victoria finally says, “You always had your own style. Your own eye.” She exhales a breath and stares wistfully into her mug.

“I-I don’t know if it’s unique, or anything.” I begin, nervousness rising in my throat, “I have my inspirations too. Doisneau, Man Ray, diCorcia.” I say, rubbing my hands together in my lap. “I learned by paying attention them and trying new stuff too.” I look up from my lap and notice Victoria glancing at me. “Your photos are great, Victoria. Really.” Although I’m nervous, scared to break such a fragile tether that Victoria and I have, I have to add some metal into my tone. Everything I said was true, Victoria really had a skilled eye and made some wonderful photos, but she was allowing her insecurities to get the better of her…

Shit. Wait.

Fuck, I’m the last person who should be having this talk with anyone. I guess it really is easier to help people than helping yourself. Still, Victoria needs this kind of support, and I’ll be there if she allows me.

“I—I have so much insecurity too,” I catch Victoria’s gaze and swallow some rising nervousness, “You know that. But, you believe in me, and I believe in you.” I say, bringing Victoria’s gaze fully onto me; she seemed surprised, genuinely surprised. Did I go too far? Maybe I shouldn’t have spilled my guts like that…

It didn’t help that Victoria started to laugh. I buckle in on myself and my cheeks begin to flash a bright red. Here’s the punchline, here’s where Taylor and Courtney come out behind the counter, phones in hand, chuckling and laughing at big-mouthed hypocrite ‘Smallfield’ going on her soapbox.

But, nothing happens. Victoria just slowed her laugh and smiled.

“Where is this spine coming from, Max?” she says, the laugh dying in her words.

I rub my arm and smile a small smile. I look up at Victoria and give her a half-hearted shrug. “Guess I just took a page from your book. You really kicked my ass with positivity earlier, so—“ my smile grows wider as I meet Victoria’s gaze. She smiles back and my heart flutters.

Wowsers. I have a crush on Victoria Chase. Shit.

The rest of our breakfast was smooth. Everything just flowed, easy and causal. It was nice, wonderful even. We talked about photography, cameras, equipment, our favorite places in town for lighting and our thoughts on composition. It was just, nice. But, we couldn’t stay at the diner all day. Victoria picked up the check and she drove us back to Blackwell in her swanky, fancy car.

As we got closer to Blackwell’s campus, I couldn’t help but smirk and glance over at Victoria. “So, do you need me to get out and walk back to campus? Don’t want to be caught with Queen Hipster Trash.” I joke and Victoria just gives me a small smirk.

“I’m sure you could use the walk.” She says, her smirk blooming into a full smile. My own smile grows as we get closer to the campus proper. Victoria parks her car and my phone vibrates in my pocket. Oh, wait, it had done that before. I grab it as I exit the car and look at the screen.

“Oh, shit.” I say, louder than I intended.

“Something wrong?” Victoria asks, adjusting her purse over her shoulder and rounding the car.

“Y-Yeah. I just, gotta go somewhere.”

“I know we just got here, but I don’t mind driving you.”

“Thanks, but, I—I should go on my own.” I say, putting my phone back into my pocket and beginning to take off. After a few steps I stop, turn around and walk back to Victoria. “I just wanted to, uhm—“ I stammer. Why was I so nervous?

“I had a great time too, Max.” Victoria answers for me, smiling a knowing smile. I laugh a nervous little laugh and rub my arm.

“Maybe—“

“I’d love to. Anytime.” Victoria’s in my head and I’m unsure if I like it.

“Uh, text me?” I say, taking some steps backward before turning and jogging away towards the bus stop. I hope Victoria doesn’t think I’m a jerk for leaving her so suddenly, but, this is important. I move as quickly as I can to the bus stop and I’m breathing heavier when I arrive.

Right on time. Luck of the Irish.

The bus pulls up and I quickly step onto it. Finding a seat, I reach into my pocket and look at my phone. Another message.

Chloe: Hey Max. Sorry for the radio silence. Wanna hang?

            No bad blood or nothing. Just wanted to talk.

            You must be busy. Text me when you’re free, k?

Sent: Hey, sorry. I was working on a photography class project.

           Headed to your place

I hated lying to Chloe, but, what was I supposed to tell her? That I’d spent all morning with Victoria Chase? She’d ream me for sure, tease me for having a crush or something. But, last night, and this morning I felt weird around Victoria. My face was warm, I smiled near constantly, and my stomach had butterflies—

Shit. Fuck. Oh no.

I do have a crush on Victoria fucking Chase…

Chapter Text

I sprinted as fast as my chicken legs would let me. Running down the street, messenger bag slapping painfully against my back the faster I ran. But, I had to be fast, I had to endure the burning fire in my lungs, and the screaming of my muscles. My pain would be worth it though, I’d be there for Chloe when she needed me. I’d spent five years ignoring her, not doing my part to help my best friend, the girl I lo—

I stop and give myself a moment to breathe, my lungs screaming at me for doing something I should never do. Running was something for crazy people, and a punishment. I stood in front of the Price family front door, panting and wheezing before I turned the handle. Open, like she said. I walk in, still panting, and look about. No one was home, at least it didn’t seem like it. I took the moment to check the kitchen and living room, peeking outside and even looking in the garage. No one.

Good.

I walked quickly, because running was impossible, until I got up the stairs, hearing some noise coming from behind Chloe’s door. I lean against the door, pressing my ear against it and listening in. There was, some kind of sound? Was Chloe whimpering? Crying? Shit, I need to get in there, it must be worse than I though. I swing open the door and nearly fall to my knees; I knew Chloe was in heat, but, wowsers bowsers. My eyelids flutter a bit and my vision clouds for a moment, her room was full of such an enticing scent. I can vaguely see Chloe laying on her bed, and her legs looked spread open, but I couldn’t really tell. My damn Alpha was clawing in my gut. What I did notice, though, was that Chloe was standing from her bed and stomping towards me, without her pants on.

I look up at her and her face is bright red, and she’s panting. Her eyes are so pained, I can’t help but feel some pity towards her.

“Finally. Y-You ready, Max?” Chloe asked, her arms moving close to her chest and she was rubbing her biceps. I looked her up and down and saw how her body seemed so tense, and her chest bobbing up and down quickly with each heavy breath. I saw the goosebumps wracking her skin, and her heat scent was flaring down my throat and warming my lungs like a winter bonfire; Chloe smelled like lilacs and I wanted nothing more to smell her scent all day.

“Ch-Chloe—“ I began, panting softly, my eyes finally focusing on her intense features. “I—I don’t know if we shoul—“

“Come on, Max!” Chloe growled at me, her arms wrapped around her stomach; her cramps must have been terrible. Her eyes were fierce, with such fire I found myself buckling under that intensity. It was hard for me to even look at Chloe like this, she was so angry and in such pain; I had to do something.

“You promised.” Chloe snarled again, walking closer to me. I remember taking a step back. She advanced quickly, Chloe’s long legs catching up to me faster than I realized. She aggressively grabbed my hoodie and forced me inches from her face. That close to her, I could see her pain, her desperation; the Chloe Price I knew was breaking and my heart shattered.

“Please, Max—“ she pleaded, her voice so quiet and strained, “—I need your help…”

My eyes burned with tears that wished to fall, but I tightened my lip and gave a small series of nods. I made a promise and, I wasn’t going to disappoint Chloe again. I’d done that enough times in the past, and I didn’t want to do that again. Something in my heart wanted to do anything, anything, to ease Chloe’s pain, to help her. I was going to be there for her. I won’t let her down again.

“O-Okay-“ I say, and I hear Chloe’s audible exhale “-h-how are we going to do--?” I tried to say, but I was cutoff. Chloe had brought her lips down to mine and kissed me with such passion it took my breath away. I hung there, nearly limp in Chloe’s grip as she pressed her tongue at my lips, begging entrance. I opened enough her, and her tongue moved in to dance with mine. Chloe’s long hands moved up and down my torso, teasing at my stomach and breasts, eagerly trying to slide beneath my t-shirt for the barest, hungriest touch of flesh. It was so much, I felt dizzy. All I could do was muster my strength to have a chance to keep up with Chloe’s insatiable hunger.

A moan escapes my lips as I feel Chloe grab my shirt tightly with both hands and yank me forward. She steps backwards, lips still pressed to mine, and awkwardly turns me around. I nearly stumble over my own feet before I bump my legs against something and fall backward, collapsing onto what is unmistakably Chloe’s bed. My lips are freed as Chloe leaves me, I gasp as I feel her tongue escape my mouth. I rub my eyes, trying to clear the heat-induced fog that constantly holds me. My legs are cold, suddenly, and I realize the sudden sound of fabric crashing to the floor are my jeans.

I scramble to my elbows and see Chloe staring with intensity at the tent in my boxers. She looks at it for what feels like years before she grips the hem and pulls them down to my knees. A yelp escapes me, and my cheeks redden at Chloe’s wide-eyed expression. My hands immediately move up to shield my reddening face, causing me to collapse backwards back onto the bed.

“Jesus Christ—“ I hear Chloe gasp, “That’s a lot of Caulfield.”

‘Killmenow. Killmenow. Killmenow.’ I beg to an uncaring universe.

A shift rattles me from my thoughts, and I dare to peak between my fingers to see what caused it. Chloe had sat her knees on the edge of the bed, bending forward and looking back between my legs. My eyes widen and I gasp as she grips my damned excitement. Oh, oh! She’s going to--!

My eyes slam shut and I wince as I feel heat overtaking me. It feels incredible! It’s so tight, and warm, I can’t believe it. Never in my most rut-addled dreams would I have ever imagined it would feel this good to be inside someone.

Ffffuuuck!” Chloe’s growl makes me move my hands from my face and look at her, something inside telling me to protect her. Her face is scrunched, her brows furrowed and her lips pulled back in a snarl “God damn. Fuck, that’s thick.” She growls, settling herself onto me and I shiver feeling myself inside Chloe. I look down between her legs and notice I’m not fully inside her. Had she reached her limit already?

“I—I’m sorry.” It’s all I can think to say. Was I hurting her? I didn’t want that…

“D-Don’t apo-ologize.” Chloe snapped, looking down at me before straightening herself out. She looked down and placed a hand over her bellybutton for a moment. Was that how deep I was? It was only a moment before she brought both hands to my shoulders and squeezed tightly. “Gonna move now.” She grunted, before pushing herself upward. A long whimper breaks free of my lips as Chloe lifts herself up; I never wanted that amazing feeling to end. The wind is knocked out of my chest as I feel Chloe’s thighs slap against me as she aggressively dropped back down.

I’m still stunned when Chloe begins a rhythm, my body is alight with so many explosions of sensation I can hardly feel anything but. My eyes are clamped shut, my lips a tight line and my hands gripping Chloe’s sheets so tightly my knuckles are aching. The light in front of my eyelids grows dark, and I tentatively open them to see Chloe’s bare chest right in front of me. If my cheeks weren’t already burning my face off, they would be now.

Chloe’s speed picks up, and I can barely acknowledge it; I know my brain is melting in my skull as I try to process what’s going on. The rhythm of her body is incredible, the feeling of being so close to Chloe makes my heart flutter as it never had before. My hands move on their own and slide up along Chloe’s back. I feel her muscles writhing as she moves quicker and quicker, faster and faster. I feel more moans forcing themselves out of my throat, quietly, hoarsely calling her name.

“Shit, Max-!” Chloe growls, her hands gripping the blankets tightly, her face twisted in a snarl, “-fuck! I-I’m cumming!” I couldn’t react before Chloe’s elbows buckle and she collapses on top of me. Her body seizes and I feel her back muscles tense and tighten, and she squeezes around me so tightly I find my gut quivering.

The sound of fabric jolted my eyes open before I felt Chloe’s hands move into my hair, her fingers lacing through. She’s panting heavily, and I match her breathing. Chloe’s whines, her tender whimpers send shivers into my heart. I move my hands to fully embrace her, to hold her tight as her body shivers and quakes. I turn my head and press my lips to her ear.

“I’m here. I’ll always be here.”

Chloe moans in response, a long and drawn out one at that. I feel her remove her fingers from my hair and flatten her palms on the bed. She pushes herself up, panting heavily, but not before moving to rest her forehead against mine. Her warm breath rolls across my face, and she opens her eyes slowly and peers into mine. There wasn’t aggression in her gaze any longer, but something was there; not anger, or want, but vulnerability. I continue to hug her, holding her as tight as my arms will allow.

“I—I don’t want to stop.” Chloe says through her quick breathing. I look up at her, and swallow hard.

“I—I don’t want to, either.” I whisper back. There’s a moment of silence between us before Chloe nodded. She moved a hand up and scoop some hair back behind her ear.

“C-Can we move? Positions. Change positions?” I nod quickly, unable to stop the eagerness in my face. Chloe pushes herself up and raises herself up and off of me. I’m a bit embarrassed by the moan escaping from my lips as Chloe removes herself and stands at the edge of the bed. I sit up and stand, watching Chloe as she looks down at me.

“Don’t—“ she says and I can see her cheeks reddening, “Don’t judge me, okay?”

I furrow my brows and shake my head slightly, “Chloe, I would never—“

“Just, promise me please, Max?” I just nod.

“I won’t. I would never judge you, Chloe.” Chloe huffs a little, turning her gaze from me and moving to climb onto the bed. Chloe sat on her knees and dropped her chest to the bed, looking back at me as she pushed her rear closer to me. Why would Chloe be ashamed of this? I mean, it always seemed common in the videos I’d watched; ruts aren’t the only time you get boners, after all.

I didn’t say anything, just climbed up on the bed and stood on my knees. My brain was still catching up to the present, and I just lingered on Chloe’s body for a moment; everything had happened so fast, I still felt like my head was spinning. Chloe turned her head back and glanced at me over her shoulder, and I blinked myself out of my thoughts and met her gaze.

“You gonna stare at me all day?” she said, and I could hear the impatience in her voice. I gulped down my embarrassment and nodded at her.

“S-Sorry.” I say, gripping myself and trying to find the right position. I line myself up, push forward and—

“Ah!” Chloe yelps, “Not there! Lower, Max. Christ.”

“What? Oh, s-sorry!” I say, moving myself lower. I can heard Chloe’s exasperated sigh.

“Yeah. Wrong hole, virgin.” She snipes and I can feel myself pout.

“Not one anymore.” I say quietly, but Chloe turns her head to glance back at me. Maybe something crossed between us, the way we looked at each other in that moment. Or, maybe I was just imagining things…

I gently push forward and feel Chloe around me. A small gasp escapes my throat, and I can feel Chloe’s body tense at my entrance. I still have no idea how to even go about this, so I after a few seconds of sitting there like an idiot, I move my hands to grip Chloe’s hips and I let instinct take control. Biological autopilot will get me through this.

It’s slow going, Chloe’s so tense and tight around me that I can’t move very quickly; my Alpha tells me that’s a good thing, this should last longer if I’m slow. Gently I push further, chills jolting up my spine every time I hear Chloe grunt or moan. There was just something, primal about hearing those sounds. Something inside me swelled with pride, but I couldn’t shake how shameful it felt. My grip tightens on Chloe’s hips as I keep pushing, a response to both Chloe’s growing moans and her grip around me.

I stop, not because I want to, but because I feel something blocking me, stopping me. Chloe grunts loudly and is gripping and tugging at her bedsheets with a white knuckle grip, her body squirming and muscles flexing. I glance down and see I’m not fully inside Chloe.

‘Oh.’ I say, more heat rising to my face and I begin to think I’m too big for her. ‘Fuck, this is embarrassing. Welcome back body dysmorphia.’ Luckily for me, Chloe strains out a whimpering sound and I look down at her. Her eyes are soft, pleading to me, begging me for something.

‘Fuck her. Make her yours.’ I slam my eyes shut and tighten my lips into a line, silencing the Alpha inside as it pulls for control. I begin to pull my hips back, and that seems to satisfy Chloe. She drops her cheek to the bed and closes her eyes as I nearly exit her. Before I do, I begin pushing back inside, my guts clenching as my spine shivers with excitement. This is the rhythm I go with, gentle and slow; I didn’t want to finish too quickly, or hurt Chloe. But, the longer I kept this up, the more I could feel my Alpha clawing at my mind.

It was growing harder to not just let go.

It would be easier, ya know? Just to close my eyes and let instinct take hold, let the Alpha dominate me and get me through this. Would Chloe like that? Would she like a real Alpha to fuck her? A real Alpha. Not one like me.

But, I was here. She asked me to do this. She wanted me. Me for me. Right?

“F-Faster, Max.” I look at Chloe, her eyes still closed, mouth open and panting softly into her bedsheets. My guts twisted and I shivered. I couldn’t say ‘no’, so I began to speed my rhythm up, gently feeling Chloe become tenser as I sped up. I could feel myself lightly tapping against Chloe’s limit, and each tap made her grunt and shiver. Suddenly, without warning, she jerked her head up releasing a croaking grunt as her entire body began to shake. I stop and watch as Chloe grips me like a vice. I wince and whimper as I try to make it through Chloe’s intense orgasm; it nearly pushes me to my own limit.

“Fu-uck.” Chloe grunts, finally coming down from her high, arms spreading out along her bed as she pants long and heavy breaths. I squeeze her hips tightly and shiver as I feel her grip loosen around me. My inner Alpha is screaming, and I can feel its claws in my mind, but, Chloe needs a break.

I don’t give her one.

I grip Chloe’s hips tightly and buck my hips forward. Chloe grunts in shock, turning back to look at me, her eyes wide.

“Sh-Shit. Can’t give a girl a breather, stud?”

I don’t listen, the claws are in my brain and I can’t dislodge them. I buck again and Chloe grunts, pulling on her bedsheets tightly. The rhythm I had previously kept speeds up, and I’m battering inside Chloe as fast as my Alpha can make me. Chloe whines, screams even, clawing at her bedsheets until I’m certain she’ll tear them to shreds. But, in that moment, I don’t care. I want her to, I want her to show anyone who comes into this room that she was fucked

‘She’s your best friend, you disgusting pig! Not some sex toy!’

I peel my lips back, clenching my teeth together as I keep up the pace. I know Chloe’s my best friend, I love her, but all I can think about right now is knotting her, claiming her and marking her as mine. I hate myself for thinking this way, for being so unabashedly Alpha, but I just can’t stop myself.

My knot’s forming, I can feel my thrusts shortening more and more as I keep up the pace. Chloe’s like a vice, squeezing me in a death grip as she howls into her pillow, her nails desperately clawing down her bedsheets, hands turning to fists and pounding onto the mattress. This just drives the Alpha on, my gut twisting and burning with intensity with each moan, scream and wail. Growls roll past my lips as I feel my knot battering for entrance. My hands leave Chloe’s hips, and I notice the red streaks and imprints my fingers left, before they reach for Chloe’s shoulders as if my entire body was out of my control. I flex muscles I didn’t even know I had and pull Chloe back and thrust myself forward.

“Max~!” Chloe screams, “Fucking kn-ot me, Max. Do it-“ she yells before her words catch in her throat and a breathy, gurgling grunt forces itself from her throat as I push myself in.

My mind explodes into a billion pieces, jolting flashes of bursting ecstasy fill my entire body. They trace down my arms, my legs and even rest in my gut. My vision is hazy, my eyelids heavy as I feel myself limply falling forward, another warmth surrounding me inside Chloe. It takes me a moment to realize I must have finished inside her, and it takes me an even longer moment to notice Chloe has effectively gone limp under me.

When was I on top of her? When did that happen? And my, my teeth were at her neck? Shit. This was borderline scary; how did I lose myself so completely?

I recover, eventually anyway, my chest heaving in a pitiful attempt to catch the wind that was knocked out of me, and push myself up off of Chloe. My arms scream my betrayal, but I have to know Chloe’s okay.

“Ch-Chloe?” I try, my voice scratchy and hoarse. “Chloe, are you okay?” she’s still breathing, so, at least it’s a relief that I didn’t somehow rut her to death. My arms shiver, and I struggle to stay up, just looking down at Chloe’s prone form. I can’t help but stare at the red marks my teeth left on Chloe’s throat, not deep enough to mark but, the intent was pretty obvious.

“T-Tryin’ to kill me?” I heard Chloe croak, and my heart sank. I being to panic, but Chloe turns her head to the side and she’s smiling. Smiling? After I was so rough on her? “How’d you know I like it rough?” she groaned, turning her torso to better face me. She almost looked high, her eyelids half down and some big, goofy smile on her face.

“I—I didn’t.” I dip my head, pink rising to my cheeks, “I just kind of, lost myself. I’m really sorry.” Chloe rolls her eyes and laughs softly.

“You’re good, Max. You didn’t do anything I didn’t want.” That was some amount of relief, anyway. She didn’t seem angry about anything, she actually seemed happy. Real happy. Loopy happy.

“Are you okay?” I ask, unable to stop one of my hands moving up to sweep some of Chloe’s sweat drenched bangs out of her face. She just beams up at me and I think my heart is going to burst out of my chest.

“I—I’m fucking amazing.” Chloe grinned, a small laugh in her throat. I want to keep looking at Chloe, just to get lost in her eyes. But, my arms are about to give way.

“C-Can we move so I can lay down?” I ask, and Chloe rotates her torso and, on her signal, we both roll onto our side. I’m still stuck inside her, but, we managed to lay next to one another somewhat. I move an arm to wrap around Chloe’s stomach, and I bury my nose into her back. Her scent is so relaxing, and I get several lungs full as we just lay together. It feels amazing having Chloe in my arms like this. Honestly, probably better than the sex we just had.

Well, okay, it’s a really close tie.

I close my eyes, exhaling a long breath down Chloe’s spine and nestle in as close as I can. My hands idly draw small shapes across Chloe’s stomach and I keep my hold on her tight. We’re quiet, but the silence wasn’t awkward, just relaxing; like we were both admiring the moment together. Everything felt perfect, like all the bullshit I had to deal with, the storm, the Dark Room, everything was all a trial so I could have such perfect peace. So lost in this moment, I didn’t even notice I had grown soft and began to limp out of Chloe. She seemed to notice though, because she rustled forward, moving off of me and sat up on her bed.

She moved a hand through her hair and scratched her scalp for a moment, her back facing me. I already missed the feeling of Chloe being so close, missed her warmth and her scent. Gently, I made my way over to her, she must have noticed me moving because she turned her head to look over her shoulder at me. I smiled at her and moved my arms to hold her close to me again.

But, she got up.

She walked a few steps away from the bed, and began to gather up our clothes. I sat there on my knees and watched her for a moment, confused as to why she’d left so quickly. Chloe remained quiet, and I didn’t say anything until she’d made a pile of my clothes nearby.

“Everything okay?” I ask.

“Peachy.”

“Who says ‘peachy’ anymore?” I say with a small laugh in my voice.

“I do, apparently.” Chloe said, with a bitter tone in her voice. I feel dread creeping into my chest. I had thought that there was something between us, that I’d felt a connection with Chloe as we looked into each other’s eyes, a spark ignited, a warmth between us when we cuddle. Was it there? Or, did I just want it to be there? Had there really been any feelings between us, or was I seeing what I wanted to see? Did Chloe feel the same way about me as I did her, or did I just want her to?

“It’s, uh,” Chloe began, pulling her pants up over her legs, “It’s getting pretty late.” Her voice seemed, sympathetic? And her face seemed riddled with sadness when she looked at me. I brought my hands up to clasp my arms around my chest. I couldn’t look into her eyes, I was too terrified to see the truth.

That this meant nothing to her.

“Y-Yeah.” I just state, standing and moving to begin donning my clothes.

“I’ll, uh, I’ll take you back to Blackwell.” Chloe said, throwing a black shirt over her tank top and reaching for her discarded beanie on the floor. Before she put it on, she turned her gaze to look at me fastening my jeans together. “And, Max?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks. For helping me. It means a lot that you’d do that.” Before I could really say anything else, she put her beanie on and began walking to the door. “Gotta hit the bathroom. Then we can go.”

I pulled my shoes on and tied the laces. It meant a lot to her? Does that mean that she feels the same way I do? It isn’t in Chloe’s nature to be so secretive, she’s normally so forward and blunt with her feelings. I’m just playing myself. If she cared for me like I do, she would just say it. This was just scratching an itch, and I was an idiot for thinking it would ever be more.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It’s all I could think about on my way to Chloe’s. The entire bus ride, that memory came flooding back, as vivid as the day it happened. I needed to wipe it out. I can’t keep thinking about Chloe in that way. It just makes things more complicated. I’ve got feelings for Chloe and Victoria, thinking about sex with either of them could make things worse; but, I guess actually having sex with them did made things worse…

I knocked on the front door and gripped my messenger bag strap in a tight grip. I was so fucking nervous, and for what? It was a moment later when the door opened and Chloe looked down at me. She grinned and walked out, closing the door behind her.

“Mad Max. Glad you made it.” She said, raising an arm to rest on my shoulder and pull me close; fuck, she smells so good. Lilacs. I could smell her forever. Chloe led me to her truck and unlocked the beast for us to take a ride in. “How’d your project go?”

“Huh?”

“Your project. You said you were doing something for photography class?”

“Oh. Yeah. Good. Almost done. Sorry, just been in my head a lot recently.” I said, curtly. I kept my gaze out the window, lost in my conflicting thoughts and feelings. I could almost feel Chloe’s gaze on me every so often as she drove down the road. I hated keeping Chloe in the dark, but what was I supposed to say? The last time I spoke my feelings it made Chloe so furious she drove off without me.

Maybe it would just be better for everyone if I just kept all these thoughts to myself. I couldn’t hurt anyone if they didn’t know…

“I know I’ve been quiet, and kind of an ass.” Chloe eventually says, breaking the long silence we had together. “But, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I think we should talk about—“ she pauses as we pull up into a parking lot. Where were we? I was hardly paying attention the whole trip.

“About?”

“Our little, deal. Our fight on the beach. Everything.” She kills the engine and looks at me. “You’re my best friend, Max. We’ve been through hell together. I don’t want anything to separate us. Anything.” I blink and nod, looking back out the windshield and finally recognizing where we are.

The Lighthouse. You can never escape the Lighthouse.

“Come on.” Chloe says, opening her door, but before she closes it, she turns to me and jerks her head to the well-worn walking path. “Let’s clear the air, Max.”

Chapter Text

I’d made this hike countless times. The trees overhead, the birds auditioning their best songs to us, the glimpses of deer staring at us in the tree line, and the ocean crashing on the rocks below us off in the distance. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the nature around me, it always had brought me a sense of peace; and I was praying for that peace right now.

Chloe was ahead of me, walking towards the Lighthouse with her hands in her pockets. She hadn’t said anything since we got out of the truck, and hardly even looked back at me as we walked. I was so worried about her, I didn’t say anything. I wanted to talk, to see what was going through her mind, to know how she really felt. If only my powers were, like, ‘super empathy’ or something, so I could just know how Chloe truly felt.

We finally reached the Lighthouse’s summit, and I walked up to Chloe as she stood near the cliff and watched the water rolling about the beach. I stood a few feet from her, my hand on my arm and all I could do was watch her. She was guarded, as usual, but I knew that prying when she wasn’t ready would only make things worse. So, I waited, silently and patiently.

Chloe rustled into her jean pockets and pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes. With a jerk upward, one rose up and she placed it between her lips and shoved the pack back into her jeans. Her free hand reached into her other pocket, withdrew a lighter and lit the cigarette. She took a few long drags of it, blowing the smoke so it wouldn’t waft near me (considerate) and then turned to look at me. Our eyes met, and she smiled around the cigarette.

Her smile was always infectious, competing with the sun for the title of ‘most illuminating’. I smile back and Chloe’s shoulders seem to relax.

Taking a final drag of her cigarette, Chloe walks towards the lone bench on the perch of the cliff and snuffs out her cigarette as she sits. She waves a hand over to me, and I follow, sitting several inches from her. I wanted to make sure Chloe knew I was going to give her space, physically and emotionally if she needed it. Her eyes lock with mine and she gives me a small smirk, before raising an arm and reclining it on the spine of the bench. Her gaze moves to the ocean, and it grows pensive.

“Well. Guess we should just start, huh?” she says, softly, her words almost swallowed by the ocean. I look at her and give a small nod, my hands moving to rest on my lap and clasping each other.

“Whenever you’re ready. No rush.”

It’s another moment before Chloe speaks again. She rubs the back of her neck gently, exhaling a long breath through her nose. “I think we need to end our little, uh, arrangement.” Was all she said, and I felt my heart fall into my stomach. Was it something I had done? Was I not good enough--?

No. Wait. This is my fault.

“I just think there are too many feelings going around, ya know?” and there was my confirmation. I’d brought feelings into this, and it made Chloe uncomfortable. I was sad to hear it, my head dropping slightly. But, I couldn’t really fault Chloe.

“Sorry,” I say, my fingers fidgeting with one another as I drag my gaze away from Chloe, “I shouldn’t have said anything. I—I’m sorry—“

“Max, just—“ Chloe says, holding her hands up, trying to pause me, “Let me say something first, please?” I look at Chloe, pulling my bottom lip between my teeth. Chloe takes a deep breath and lets it out before she continues, “You didn’t do anything wrong. I did. I was such a fucking bitch to you. Like, I, what’s that term? Gaslight? I gaslit you? I should never have said that your feelings mean nothing. They did mean something, they do mean something. And, I mean,” another long breath falls from Chloe’s nose, “It isn’t just you, Max.” that stopped me in my tracks. I furrowed my brow and ran her words through my mind a few more times. When I looked up at Chloe, she was looking at me with a heavy gaze.

“Wait, what are you saying?” Chloe chewed her lip for a moment and readjusted her beanie.

“I’m just going to come out and say it.” She said, a small growl in her throat, “I—I love you, dude.” She looked at me and my eyes blew up like saucers. “Like, love you. Not in that way girls just, ya know, say it to each other. I fucking mean it.”

This was, wonderful! Chloe feels the same way about me! We’ve got the same feelings! We can be together! But, then why did Chloe look so sad?

“You already know I feel the same way, Chloe. But there’s more, isn’t there?“ I give her a moment, looking at her expectantly. Chloe gets the memo I’m sending and just drops her gaze down to the dirt for a few seconds. There were so many cogs turning in Chloe’s mind, and I could tell, but I didn’t want to push. I still felt like I was on thin ice, and I didn’t want to give a push too far and ruin everything.

“I was scared. I am scared. Of my feelings. Of telling you. It’s not an excuse, and I’m still shitty for what I did, but, I’ve just got something I can’t get over.” Chloe moves her hand to rub along her exposed tattoo sleeve; is she picking up habits from me?

“Scared? Of what, Chloe?” I ask, reaching a hand to rest on one of her slumped shoulders. “What’s in your head that’s got you so wound tight?”

“It—It’s Rachel.”

‘Rachel?’ I think, ‘What does Rachel Amber have to do with--?’ but then it hit me. Of course Chloe still loved Rachel. The constant snooping, the investigation, nearly fighting Frank over her bracelet, the unbridle horror on Chloe’s face as we dug in the junkyard. I guess, for some reason, I just didn’t think about that as I was pining for my best friend.

“I get it.” I say, and that brings Chloe’s gaze back up to me. “You and Rachel were so close. She helped you through the darkest times in your life when I abandoned you. She raised you up, made you happy, made you smile at a time you never thought you would. Even after the stuff she did with Frank, you still remembered those times with her.” It hurt a little, I wasn’t going to deny that to myself, but, I wasn’t the only one here. Stop being selfish, Max.

Chloe sat back up and leaned against the bench, exhaling a breath. She rubbed her forehead for a moment and took her beanie off, holding it in her hand.

“I knew-“ she said, lifting her gaze out towards the ocean. “I knew, the last time we were here, staring out at the tornado,” she continued, and an involuntary shiver rolled down my spine at the memories of that terrible time in my life. Chloe really was one of the few things I had in my life that brought me joy during that horrible week. “I knew that no matter what you chose to do, you were doing the right thing. I learned that week, that there was always one person in my life who really cared about me, who I could trust implicitly.” I look at Chloe and can’t help but smile. I’m glad she thought of me that way.

“I’ve been the happiest I’ve been in years when you came back. Never would I thought in a million years how things would be when I nearly ran over you in the Blackwell parking lot.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “And, I can’t stop thinking about you. No matter what I do, you’re always there, in my thoughts.”

“But, you still love Rachel.” I say, trying to keep the strain out of my voice.

“I love you, and her. And, I just—“ she sighed, “This is what I was afraid of. Of getting close to you, falling for you, but not being over all my shit and ruining everything because of it. And, I think I almost did when I lashed out at you.” She puts her beanie back on and lets her hands rest on her knees in front of her. “I just don’t think it’s fair to you. If I’m with you, but I still think about Rachel.” If only Chloe knew that I couldn’t stop thinking about two people at once. Would it help her? Would it make her feel less guilty? No, no. I know that would just make things worse. That is still something I need to deal with, that I need to figure out. If Chloe is admitting her feelings for me, and she knows how I feel, I need to figure this out as soon as I can; my own conflict could tear Chloe and I apart.

I move my hand over to Chloe’s, and gently grip it. This brings Chloe’s gaze to look at me, and I offer her a small smile. I give her a squeeze, and she smiles back at me.

“I know you still love her. I understand why. And, honestly, I still feel the same way about you.” I say, my smile infiltrating into my words. “She was important, had such an impact, and, it wouldn’t surprise me if you still love her for a long time.” I shrug a little, “From what I know of Rachel, she was amazing. For all her faults.” Chloe glanced down and nodded a little.

“She was. Amazing.” Chloe nearly whispered, and I gave her hand another gentle squeeze.

“I don’t-“ I say, words seemingly appearing in my throat before I can stop them, “I don’t feel like you’re betraying me. Or, anything like that. I know your feelings for her are real, like your feelings for me.” Where was this coming from? “To me, it doesn’t seem like you’re cheating, or giving me less of your love. It seems like, honestly, that your heart has enough room for two people at the same time.” Was I saying this to comfort Chloe, or was I just finally explaining what was going in my own head?

Chloe looks at me, and I notice her brows creasing slightly. She turns her head away slightly and presses her mouth into a thin line. “I—I, uh, never thought about it like that.” She said, tilting her head from side to side slightly. “I just, never thought you could love more than one person.”

“We do it all the time.” I said, still telling on myself, apparently. “We love our friends and family, you know?” fishing for an excuse for validating my feelings.

“Yeah, but, like, romantically.” Chloe said, her tone of voice making seem like I was being kind of dumb. And, maybe I was. Was it dumb to have feelings for two people at the same time?

“If everyone’s okay with it. Why would it matter?” I ask, and that seems to make Chloe think once again.

“You—“ she began, “You wouldn’t judge me, if I still loved Rachel? Talked about her? Thought about her?” true worry was forming in Chloe’s voice, I could tell as it began to leak into her face. I give her a few small shakes of my head, my eyes locked with hers.

“You love her, Chloe. I don’t want to ruin that.”

“I know it’ll pass one day,” Chloe said, sadness in her voice, “But, I’m not ready to let her go, yet.” I give her hand another squeeze and inch closer to her. She turns her head to acknowledge me and smiles a little as I get closer.

“I’m not going to rush you, Chloe. I want you to take as long as you need.” Chloe’s smile widened at that.

“Thanks, Max. You’re—“ she laughed a small laugh and looked over at me, “—you’re perfect.”

Victoria’s face flashed before my eyes. Our kiss, our night together, the way she pulled my hair and screamed my name. The guilt stabbed me through the heart. It didn’t feel wrong to be with Victoria, but not telling Chloe is what got to me. But, I just couldn’t. Not now. We were doing so well.

I felt my hand squeezed tightly and it shakes me from my guilty memories. I look at Chloe and she’s beaming a smile at me, holding my hand firmly, and my heart fluttered. I didn’t want to think about the future, or the past. I didn’t want to worry about anxieties, I didn’t want to muck around with the timeline anymore trying to find the right words to make Chloe happy. I just wanted to enjoy this moment, right here and now. With Chloe.

“Well, I have, like, so much more to think about, now.” Chloe said, patting her knee with her free hand, “We sure did dump some stuff, huh?” she cocked a grin and me and stood, still gripping my hand. She pulled me up gently, and I couldn’t help but giggle as she pulled me closer to her. “Let’s take a break from emotional garbage and thinking, eh? At least for a little while.” she chuckled, and I can’t help but laugh louder at her. “Come on, let’s do something! I haven’t seen my best friend in a few days, I wanna do something fun!”

I take my free hand and cover my mouth, trying to hinder my growing laughter. This is so Chloe. I just nod at her, and when I finish laughing I clap my hand on her hand.

“Okay, okay. Yeah, that sounds great. What would we do?” Chloe looked around and her brow furrowed for a moment. I was a little confused as to why she went quiet and began looking about. But, I didn’t have to wait long when I saw Chloe crack a wide smile.

“Hey, didn’t we bury some treasure around here?” she looked down at me, that beautiful smile warming my heart. I look around and squint my eyes at the trees surrounding us. A memory sparks in my head and I widen my eyes.

“Wait, yeah! Our ‘super-secret treasure chest’!” I smile, remembering a trip Chloe’s family and I had to the lighthouse. We brought a shoebox full of our ‘treasure’ to bury and uncover sometime in the future. It would obviously be chock full of stuff our tweenage selves would love, but the idea of hunting this old relic sounded more fun than most would probably think. “Do you remember where we put it?”

Chloe’s eyes narrowed and she began to walk around the bench, her hand squeezing mine as she led me around to the fire pit. Some junk would signal that the youth of Blackwell still like partying up here, but it might have been a few days. I look up at Chloe as she scans the tree line.

“It was near our pirate hideout, yeah?” she asked and I followed her gaze. She was looking between two trees on the far end of the cliff. I thought for a moment, seeing past images of an old blanket with a crudely painted skull on it hung between two branches of separate trees. I tilt my head, narrowing my gaze and chewing on my bottom lip.

“Yeah,” I say, raising my hand and pointing between the two trees. “There. I think, yeah?” I look back up at Chloe for confirmation of my foggy memories. She’s already looking at the spot, hard, and then her face explodes into pure joy.

“Yeah! There! Come on, Max!” she shouts, pulling me along as she bounds for the bones of our old pirate fort. I can’t help but laugh as I’m pulled along, Chloe’s enthusiasm becoming so infectious even I’m excited to find a decaying box of garbage. We bounded through the underbrush, well, Chloe bounded, I was just dragged through like some dead weight, but we made it to the clearing nonetheless.

Memories begin to flood back as I look through the clearing. The blanket that shielded us from the views of normal visitors, the small clearing for our own fire pit (a place to put the gas lantern my folks still have), our ‘sleeping quarters’ and I look up and even see our makeshift ‘crow’s nest’. The branch looked a lot thicker and solid when I was thirteen. Chloe lets go of my hand and I blink back to the present. She was crouched near the edge of the fort, brushing back some loose leaves and pine needles, looking with incredible intent at the area she’s cleared.

“Found any clues, Captain Bluebeard?” I ask, smiling at Chloe as I crouch next to her.

“Arrr, Long Max Silver, I believe I be findin’ more clues ta find our long lost treasure, arr!” Chloe says in her best pirate accent and I can’t help but cackle upon hearing it. I hook my forefinger and close an eye.

“Yarr, Cap’n. I’ll be lookin’ too!” I say, my accent far worse than Chloe’s and she barks a quick laugh at my attempt. Despite my pathetic pirating skills, I move further from Chloe and begin scuffing the dirt with my feet. I don’t expect us to find anything, if I remember correctly, we didn’t bury our treasure very deeply. So, with like, what, five or six years of rain and wind would definitely have revealed our treasure and slung it down the cliff. I can’t imagine what the storm did to it—

“Dude! Uh, Long Max Silver!” Chloe barked, dipping into her accent. I turn and walk over to her, but after a few steps, Chloe stands up, her chest bent forward. I walk up to her, tilting my head and I try to see around her. Seeing me trying to sneak a peek, Chloe turns her body and grins, “Ah-ah-ah! No peekin’ Long Max Silver.” I shake my head and take a step back.

“Okay, okay,” I say, bringing my hands up and covering my eyes. “I’m not peeking.” I hear Chloe’s boots rustling in the leaves and dirt, and soon she taps my forehead with, what I presumably think is the treasure chest. I open my eyes and see a moldy old shoebox in Chloe’s grip, and Chloe’s absolutely beaming smile.

 “Let’s crack it open!” Chloe exclaimed, sitting down in the dirt and holding the old shoebox like it was a real treasure chest. I suppose it was, a real time capsule of Chloe and I’s friendship, and our past. I sit down across from her, my hands on my ankles as I sit cross-legged. I look over at the moldy old shoebox, and Chloe tenderly opens the lid and tosses it aside. I lean forward and try and peek inside, and Chloe’s squeals of happiness made me smile.

“What’s inside?” I ask.

“Dude! Look!” she says, reaching into the box and pulling out a well-worn and folded piece of paper. She began unfolding it to reveal a damaged posted of three young, stylish looking men. “Ha! It’s your old Jonas Brothers poster!” Chloe cackled. She held it up and grinned a wide grin as she put it up to her face. I laughed, placing a hand across my face, trying to hold in my embarrassment.

“Oh, Dog!” I shout, laughing so hard my stomach began to hurt. Chloe looked at it, examining the three boys intently, before she turned and looked at me.

“Hey, remember when I said Nick wasn’t the best singer of the three?” she said smirking at me with a knowing look in her eyes.

“Ugh, don’t remind me.”

“Don’t remind you of what? That you cried when I said Zane was a better singer?” I laugh and push Chloe a little, in which causes her to chuckle. I remember that being such a big deal back then, so much so I almost decided to not talk to Chloe for an entire weekend. Jeez, I kinda wish I could go back to such simple times. But, with Chloe, I almost feel like those times are still here. We just mesh so well, it’s like no time had passed between us. I smile at her pilfering throughout old treasures and I feel so at peace, I feel warm and content; I feel as if nothing could really disrupt what we have together.

“Aw, gross!” Chloe shouts, tossing a bag of a baggy away full of something with hair on it. I reel from it, and Chloe makes an exaggerated face of disgust. “That was our candy hoard, I think.” I reel from it too, sticking out my tongue and faking a gag. Chloe seems to follow suit and then we both can’t help but laugh after we recover.

“Black licorice,” I begin, smiling at Chloe.

“Now-and-Laters!” she shouts.

“Gummy worms!”

“Mars bars!”

“Toblerones!” before I can say my next candy, Chloe jumps in.

“Junior Mints!” we both shout at the same time, before we share a laugh. It really was like we were still kids, remembering out favorite candies, talking about boy bands. It was a great escape into nostalgia, into a better past without superpowers, without Dark Rooms or storms. I wanted to enjoy every second of it.

“This is hella awesome, Max.” Chloe says, her voice soft as she rummages through the treasure chest. “My brain is bursting with memories.” She smiles, picking up what looks like an old magazine. “Pffft. ‘Teen Beat’? Damn, can’t believe we ever read this.” Chloe shakes her head and puts the magazine back into the chest.

“You loved those old quizzes though.”

“How else was I supposed to know if my proper spring shade was ‘Blossom Pink’ or ‘Floral Red’?” Chloe said in a mock tone, and I snickered at her. I gave her a shrug, I actually did like those silly quizzes.

“Alright, Long Max Silver,” Chloe said, putting the lid on our treasure and beginning to stand, “Let’s head out. I’m starting to get hungry.” I rose alongside her and looked down at her free hand. Slowly, I move mine to grip hers, squeezing gently. Chloe looks down at me and smiles, returning my little hand hug. We breach the tree line and Chloe stops, looking out at the bench and horizon. I stop and look up at her, leaning in closer to her and that knocks her out of her stupor. She just smiles down at me before jerking her head towards the bench.

We walk over there, hands locked together, and when we reach the bench Chloe places down the shoebox treasure chest and lets my hand go. She walks a few steps forward and turns around.
“Do me a favor, Max?” she asked and I just nod at her, “Take our picture. I want to remember today.” She beams, and I can’t even imagine a world where’d I’d say ‘no’ to her.

I reach into my bag, pulling out my camera and Chloe walks over to me and places her arm around my shoulder, pulling me in close. I shiver at her contact, but I hold the camera up to take our picture. Before I can, Chloe grips the camera and takes it from me, raising it up higher.

“Gotta get my whole face, Max. It’s the best part, ya know?” I chuckle and look up, offering a smile as Chloe snaps the photo. She hands me the camera and as I put the photo and camera back into my bag and she puts her hands in her pockets. “Can I get a copy? When it’s all processed and junk?”

“Totally.” That causes Chloe to grin and she turns to start down the trail. I linger for a moment, my brows furrowed slightly. I jerk my head up and jog to catch up to Chloe.

“Hey, uhm-“ Chloe halts, turning to look down at me. “-can you do me a favor?” I say, my hands gripped around my messenger bag tightly. She turns to fully face me and nods.

“Of course, Max. Anything.” She says with more severity in her tone than I thought she’d have. I swallow and fidget with my shoulder strap. I look at my feet for a moment and exhale a breath.

“Can you,” I begin, tightening my lips, “Can we work on our, like,” I try and say, having trouble trying to cobble a diplomatic response when I put myself on the spot like this. I feel Chloe’s hand on my shoulder and I look up at her. Her gaze is sympathetic and I wilt a bit under it.

“On our junk?” she says, and I weakly nod, “Yeah.” She states, “If we want this to work, if it even starts, I gotta work on some stuff too.” A small shrug was her follow up and I placed my hand on hers. She looked at it momentarily, and then looked at me.

“I’m here for you. I’ll help you if I can.” That causes Chloe to smile. She claps my shoulder before turning and walking down the trail.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way, Max.”

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Twilight rays stream into my window and light up my room with a warm light. I should be soothed, comforted even. But, I’m still conflicted. Chloe’s not mad at me, we patched everything up and I feel like our relationship has grown stronger than ever. But. I can’t shake this anxiety. I made a promise to Chloe to work on my own junk, and here I am. Working on it. Kind of.

I couldn’t deny that I had feelings for Victoria and Chloe. But, I keep thinking it’s wrong. It doesn’t feel wrong, like, in my heart, but why am I so hung up on this? The best I can think of is, it’s just kind of taboo to have more than one partner. It’s a big Alpha fantasy, to have multiple Omegas at your beck and call, and that thought made me sick to my stomach. This isn’t like that though. I don’t think of Victoria or Chloe as trophies, or toys. They’re people. People who I love so much for just being themselves. Victoria is so smart, creative and she really engages me on such a level that inspires my creativity. And Chloe, what more could I say about my best friend? We’ve rekindled our friendship, we trust each other and we both are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. I love them both. And, I don’t think I can be happy without them both in my life.

But, would they feel the same way? Chloe was thinking about it, but, loving a dead person isn’t the same as loving a living person. I just don’t know and am too scared to even ask…

I’m holding my two newest photos in my hands, one in each hand. My eyes drift between both of them lazily. Victoria and I smiling with our messy bedheads nearly obscuring our eyes and Chloe and I grinning atop our lighthouse perch, windswept hair flying. I’m at once happy, and conflicted. Both of them make me so happy, two halves brought together to make me feel whole.

‘Oh, hey—‘ I think, noticing something I hadn’t before, ‘Just bring them together like this, and…’

I bring the photos together, obscuring myself in one of the photos and-

‘Perfect.’

Although the lighting is slightly different between the two images, I can imagine, even for just a small moment that we’re all together. Two halves come together to make me feel whole. My smile stretches wide as I scan along the makeshift panorama. Victoria, Chloe, and me in the middle; all smiling, all happy. My guilt returns, I wouldn’t be selfish; I’d fought against the idea of being a ‘typical’ Alpha my whole life, I wouldn’t start now. It’s not like I’d ignore them for another, or have some kind of preference; I’d love them both equally. I’d have to choose one, though. Just, just one. No matter how much that thought broke my heart. I’d—I’d need to, to choose one. I—I-I haav—

I shake my head, my vision becoming more and more blurry and clouded. What was going on? I blink and look back down at the photos. The pictures, the images, they’re pulsing. No, wait, this was just like before, with Chloe and I’s childhood photo. I try and break my concentration, but the images are distorting so quickly, so suddenly. There’s a sharp pain in my head, like my skull was splitting at the seams. Hot blood gushes out of my nose and I feel my eyes rolling back into my head as the images violently shake, crack, distort, and shatter.

‘WHAT IS HAPPENING--?!’

Chapter Text

I gasp.

It feels like air is filling my lungs for the first time in my life. I look around, panicking. What happened? What did I--?

I’m still in my room, and face down on the floor. I take stock and everything looks the same. Did I just faint or something? I guess that explains why my head hurts so much. I stand and instinctually place my finger under my nose. No blood. Okay, well, that’s a good sign. I turn to make sure my room is the same when I hear something rustle under my foot. I look down to see I’ve stepped on a photograph, so I bend down and pick it up. It’s Victoria and I’s morning selfie. I smirk at it and then furrow my brows, moving my feet apart and franticly look about the floor.

‘Where’s the photo of Chloe and I?’

My search is interrupted by a knock at the door. I turn and shake my head. I must have knocked it under the bed or something. I’ll get it later. When I open the door, I’m greeted by Victoria, whose smile grows wider when she sees me.

“Max.” she says happily, moving in to give me a hug. I just sort of freeze, what else could I do? Were we, like, being friendly in public now? I guess she senses something because she pulls back and leans in close to me, her eyes closing and her lips pursing. Oh, shit! She was trying to kiss me? As she leans in closer, I instinctually lean back and move out of her grip. Her eyes open and she looks at me with a mixture of confusion and sadness.

“Not--not in a kissing mood today?” she asks, and I wince when I hear the hurt in her voice.

“Why would we be kissing?” I ask, and she nearly reels back from my words, her eyes wide in shock.

“Why wouldn’t we--?!” she begins, but she pauses and tentatively moves closer to me. “Max. Are you okay?” she raises a hand and places it on my forehead. I pull away from her hand and Victoria moves back, her confusion blossoming across her face.

“Uh, yeah. I just,” I scratch my head a little, brows furrowed, “I’m fine.” Victoria doesn’t seem to buy it; I'm a terrible liar. She walks further inside my room, shaking her head a little.

“You’re acting weirder than usual.” She says while I close the door behind her.

“No, I think this is my normal amount of weird.” I say, thinking of all the time-travel shenanigans I’d done a few months past. If only Victoria knew...

“Trust me, I would know. Better than anyone.” Victoria said and my eyes finally notice something strange about her. I narrow my eyes a little, looking long and hard at Victoria and that’s when I notice something that surprises me. Wait. What is that on Victoria’s neck—

“Where did you get that?” I ask, limply pointing to the set of teeth marks on her neck, trying not to let the hurt in my voice take over. Victoria's been marked. She looks at me like I just sprouted another nose on my forehead or something.

“Where else would I get it?” she asked, folding her arms across her chest. “My mate.” She said flatly. Victoria had a mate? Who could it even be? I thought she was single. Did she have a partner when we--? I’m shook from my thoughts as I feel Victoria’s hands on my shoulders.

You, Max.”

I’m very sure my heart stops beating and I die for a few seconds. I must look like a zombie, because Victoria gently guides me to the bed. I sit, still completely in shock. I'm Victoria's mate? When did this happen? H-How did this happen? I remember our night together and I never even attempted—

“Max-“ I hear a soft voice in my ear, arms around my shoulders. I turn to see Victoria and I’ve never seen her more worried. “Max, something’s wrong. I can feel it. Does this have to do with your powers? Tell me everything.” my eyes shoot open and my mouth falls open. How did she know?! How could she know?! I shake my head at her quickly, trying to look away from her and avoid a guilty look searing across my face.

“W-What powers? What are you talking about? Tha-That's crazy, heh heh.” I expect some kind of lashing out by Victoria, but she just pets my hair softly.

“Your time-travel powers. The powers you used to save Arcadia Bay? Saved Chloe? Saved me from the—“ she tightens her lips into a line and moves on, “Never mind. This is about you. Tell me what happened, Max.” she asks softly. I think, my face tightening in confusion. I was sitting in my room, staring at the photos I had taken, and thinking about—

I reach into my pocket and pull out the photo. I hold onto it and stare at it.

“I remember that.” Victoria says warmly, and I feel her lean into me. It feels nice, and I can smell her shampoo as she rests her head on my shoulder. “It was after our, heh, our first time together.” She says with so much warmth and fondness in her voice, I feel my heart skip a beat. “I had no idea it would be the start of something so wonderful.” My face flushes and I begin to put the pieces together.

I had jumped into the past when I focused on an old photo of Chloe and I, the day of her dad’s accident. Was this something similar? But this, Victoria nearly kissing me and being marked by me, wasn’t a moment in the past. This felt like something completely different. This wasn’t a moment in time, this was almost like a different timeline entirely. One where I chose Victoria over Chloe. Could I even do that? I guess I did. But, if that’s how I got here—

How would I get back?

Victoria’s hand gently rubs along my thigh and I blink away my thoughts. I look down at her and she’s looking up at me with concern, and my heart sinks a little thinking I brought this on her. I swallow and look away from her with a quick jerk of my head.

“Uhm, I-I think I know what happened.” I say and Victoria lifts herself off me and looks at me intently. “Did I ever tell you about me going back into the past and changing the future?” I assume Victoria’s going to freak at that but, to my surprise, she nods as if I'd ask her if she remembered breakfast this morning.

“You were trying to save Chloe’s dad from his accident, right?. And, you changed everything. Chloe was in a wheelchair, you were in the Vortex Club-“ she pauses, looks at me and nods.

“I—I think something like that happened.” Victoria’s eyes widen a bit.

“You changed the timeline again?” she asked in confusion. I shake my head a little, rubbing the back of my head. Time travel, UGH. Such a damn headache.

“I don’t think so. You and I never dated in my timeline.”

Your timeline? Wait, is this a new timeline?” Victoria asked. The only thing I could do is shrug.

“I—I don’t know. This might be a whole other timeline than the one I’m from.” I watch as Victoria just blinks and rubs her forehead. I put a hand on her shoulder and offer a sympathetic smile. “Yeah. Welcome to my life.”

“So, if you’re from another timeline—“ she looks at me, “Where’s MY Max?” I blink, looking down at the photo in my hand.

“In my timeline?” I say, looking back up at Victoria. “I-I don’t know exactly.” Is all I can say. It isn’t helpful, but I don’t have any answers. Just more and more questions. I’ve never jumped into another reality before, I didn’t even know I could do that. My heart breaks as I watch Victoria slump down on the bed, her head in her hands. I move over to hold her and she takes a few deep breathes before she sits back up.

“I have to get her back.” She says, looking over at me, her face hardening with determination. “You might look like her, but you’re not my Max.” her statement hurt, but, it was true. I wasn’t the Max that bonded with Victoria, I was just a pale imitation. One that was too scared to even pick a girlfriend, let alone mark one. Why was this choice still haunting me?

I nod a few times at Victoria, doing my best to not let her see my internal conflict. “We will. We just,” I pauses, furrowing my brows, “We have to find out how I got here, and then recreate it.” I look down at the photo in my hand. I had been looking at this photo, and the one I had taken with Chloe when I traveled to, I dunno, ‘Victoria-verse’. I suck at naming things, apparently.

“I was looking at two photos at the same time,” I say to Victoria, “This one, and another one of me and Chloe. I just need to find that photo, and then I could try and go back.” I say with more confidence than I actually had. Is that how this worked? I mean, it worked that way when I traveled back to my tween years.

Victoria looks, uneasy. I tilt my head a little at her. She looks away for a moment and chews her lip. “That, mm, might be harder than you think.” I furrow my brows a little. I turn to face her fully, leaning in a bit closer to her.

“What do you mean?”

“When you and I, bonded, you told Chloe about it and, well—“ Victoria rubs her arm and exhales a breath, “—you two had a big fight. A—A really big fight.” I feel my shock overcome my face. Sure, Chloe and I’d argued before, but, a fight? Like, a real one? We would never do that…

“How bad was it?” I ask, nervous to hear Victoria’s response. As if sensing my nervousness, Victoria just turned her gaze from me and held her arms tight around her chest. Shew as silent for a long moment and I shivered at the implication.

“That bad, huh?” I say and Victoria just looks at me, placing a hand on my arm. I feel like a thousand pounds and slump in on myself. Just the thought of Chloe and I fighting was disheartening, but the fact that this was such a terrible fight that Victoria wouldn’t even tell me about it? It almost killed me.

“Max, I—I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. But, I don’t have any choice. If it means getting back to my own timeline, and bringing your Max back, I have to find her. I—I have to do something. Make amends or-or--” Victoria smiled a little, adjusting some of her hair.

“You may not be my Max, but—“ she looked up and smiled, my cheeks flushing a bright pink, “—you’re still Max Caulfield.”

I stand up from the bed and smile, rubbing the back of my neck as I put the photo back into my pocket. “Thanks, Victoria.” I hold my hand out to her, and she accepts it with a smile. I help her up and smile a wide smile at her.

“So,” Victoria said, breaking her gaze with me, “What am I like in your timeline?” she asks while I move to collect my messenger bag. I sling it over my shoulder and check the insides as I answer Victoria’s question.

“Passionate about photography, determined, braver than I’ll ever be when it comes to your work, and, uh,” I turn, adjusting my shoulder strap, “Beautiful.” Victoria smiles and drops her gaze for a moment.

“So, the same?” she grins, meeting my gaze again and I can’t help but laugh a little. Her smile fades and she looks thoughtful for a moment. I don’t have to wait long before I learn what’s on her mind. “Do you love her? Me. But, in your timeline, or whatever. However this works.”

“Uh,” I think for a moment. I won’t come back to this timeline, so, I could say whatever I wanted, really. But, what if my theory doesn’t work the same way as it did in the past? I’ll be stuck here. I don’t know if I should use my powers to change this timeline, I don’t know enough about it and it might do more harm than good. I tighten my lips into a line and look up at Victoria. “Yeah. I do. I—I really do. But-“

“But-?”

“It isn’t just you. Her. I also love someone else.” I dip my head, rubbing my arm nervously and trying to avoid Victoria’s gaze. My answer seemed to surprise Victoria.

“Someone el--?” she begins, but catches herself. She smirks and gives me a pointed look. “Chloe.”

“That obvious?” I say with a small laugh, Victoria shrugs and nods.

“Well, after the fight, my Max hasn’t really been the same. It’s almost like a piece of her died, or is sick. I don’t know if she felt the same way about Chloe as you do, but I know she cares about her more than I can imagine.” She looks at me, her gaze seeming to pierce right through me; I guess all Victoria’s have this power. “My Max made a choice. One she’s still dealing with. And, I guess, you’ll have to make a choice eventually.” My heart sinks and dread grips my stomach. She’s right, but, I’m still terrified. If me choosing Victoria ruined my friendship with Chloe in this timeline, what would happen if I chose Chloe in another? Would I lose Victoria forever, too? Why did I have to pick only one in the first place?

“Yeah.” I say, squeezing my shoulder strap. I look down at my feet for a moment, “I know I will. I’m not ready, maybe I’ll never be-“ I look up at Victoria and she’s looking at me with concern, arms folded across her chest. I inhale a long breath and exhale it slowly through my nose. “But, first things first, I need to go get your Max back.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Victoria was pretty firm in her stance of not coming with me to confront Chloe. It makes sense, though, if what she said was true. Apparently, after their big fight, this-Max and this-Chloe swore to never speak to one another again. That really upset this-Max, and I can understand, it would break me if Chloe swore off of me forever. But, with this-Max being so upset, this-Victoria lashed out at this-Chloe also. Apparently not as bad as this-Max’s fight with this-Chloe, but those two still burned what little left of a bridge they were trying to rebuild. So, if I’m to try and convince this-Chloe to give me the photo to go back to my timeline, I need to be as diplomatic as possible; that means, no Victoria. No backup. I’m all alone in this.

Victoria was nice enough to drop me off a few blocks from Chloe’s house, though; at least I don’t have to run the whole way from campus. This walk gives me time to think and, honestly, that’s one of the worst things I can do right now. It gives me time to overthink, doubt and worry about what could happen. What if this plan doesn’t work? What if I’m stuck here forever? I don’t even feel like I could be with Victoria; this-Victoria isn’t MY Victoria. I know it wouldn’t work, it would be too awkward and she liked this other Max, not me. So, if I was stranded here, I’d be alone. My best friend angry at me, my crush not even interested in me. My powers and my indecisiveness would leave me alone. All alone.

When I round the street corner I notice Chloe’s truck is in the driveway, and there’s boxes in the back. Boxes? When I get closer, the front door to their house opens and Chloe’s walking out with a box under her arm and a bag slung over her shoulder. She places the box in the back, aligning it up with the other boxes she’s previously put in there in a perfect fit. What is she doing?

As I get closer, Chloe catches me out of the corner of her eye and does a double take. She aggressively tosses her bag into the back and glares at me, squaring her shoulder defensively. I drop my shoulders and wilt under her intensity.

“What the fuck do you want?” Chloe snarls, flashing her teeth at me. I take a step back, bending in on myself as if I was just beaten over the head with a club or something. I know I need to say something, pretend to be this-Max, but all I can think of is Chloe’s packed truck and what all those boxes imply.

“Y—You’re leaving?” I stammer, looking at her truck. Chloe scoffs, jerking her gaze from me and flipping some of her hair out of her face.

“Got nothing keeping me here. No reason to stay.” Chloe returns her gaze to me and stares into me and I feel my bones ache as she drills into me with such a vindictive look. That hurt, like, a lot. This fight was so bad Chloe’s just leaving me? “Besides, why the hell do you care? Don’t you got your little princess to attend to or something?”

“I wanted to ask you a favor.” I just say, quickly, getting it out of my head and keeping my gaze away from Chloe. I hear her boots scuffing the sidewalk as she advances on me. I look up just in time to see her move in on me.

“You got a lotta fucking nerve, Caulfield.” She’s invading my space, leering down at me and I just buckle, nearly falling in on myself. “You fucking break my heart, insult me and toss me aside for some uppity bitch and then you come back asking for me favors?!” she was shouting, her hands tightened to fists at her hips and her snarl never left her face.

“Chloe, that wasn’t-“ I try and defend myself, but Chloe doesn’t let me. She’s relentless.

“Shut up, Max! I’m not sticking around here any longer. You abandoned me again, and I’m not letting you hurt me anymore.” Her voice tightens and I dare to look up at her and see tears streaking down her cheeks. My heart shatters and I reach out to her, instinctually wanting to comfort her.

She swats my hand away and turns around. I can’t take this anymore, I’ve already lost Chloe too many times, in too many timelines. I don’t want to lose her again. I can’t lose her again.

“I jumped.” I say, my voice so loud it stopped Chloe in her tracks. She turns and looks at me through puffy red eyes. “I jumped. L-Like when I tried saving William.” Chloe furrowed her brow and straightened her spine. “I—I need that photo we just took at the lighthouse. It’s the only way to get me home.” I don’t expect Chloe to believe me, she really has no reason to. Especially if everything she said was true. Would she really be able to ever trust someone who abandoned her? “Chloe. Please. I’m trying to fix this.”

I couldn’t imagine being so cruel to Chloe. But, this other Max is me. Or, like me. A me that I am capable of being if I’m not careful. A Max I don’t want to be. I stand there, hands clasped in front of me, shoulders slump and too weak to look Chloe in the eyes. I shrink when I hear Chloe open her truck door. She was just going to leave, and I don’t blame her. Chloe deserves better than me.

I hear her start the engine and my heart races. She really is leaving! I can’t let that happen. I need to get home. Need to fix this. I panic as I hear her shift into gear and I reach out to the truck door, gripping the open window; I have to do something. Chloe turns her glare to me, red eyes full of sadness and anger.

“Chloe, please!” I beg, my throat tightening as I pleaded. “Don’t leave! I—I need you!”

“Now, Max? NOW you do this?” she says before smacking her palm to the steering wheel. “It’s too late now, Max. I—“ she begins, her fury beginning to buckle, cracking at the seams, “I can’t be here. Can’t be here with you.” She pulled her eyes from me, and began to adjust her gear shift. Giving me one final look, she says with a breathy, exhausted voice the words I always dreaded to hear.

“Goodbye, Max.”

She began to back up, and I released the window, watching as she backed her truck out of the driveway. I couldn’t help but watch her, my own reserves cracking and hot tears begin to flow down my eyes, streaking my cheeks with sadness. I can only just stare at her as she reaches the street and, without looking back at me, she adjusts her gear shift and begins to drive away. My legs move without me saying so, my mind so shocked by what I see. I end up in the middle of the street and as I watch Chloe’s truck become smaller and smaller, I drop to my knees and just watch her go.

Chloe’s gone. Gone and she’s never coming back. My best friend is gone, and so is my chance at getting back to my timeline.

But, I can’t even think about that. All I can think about is Chloe leaving. If she left me here because I made the wrong choice, would she leave me in my timeline? It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. My heart has been shattered into a million pieces and the only thing I can think about is Chloe.

Chloe. Ch-Chloe. Co-ome ba-ck…

My vision. It’s blurring. My nose, bleeding.

Chloe. Ple-ase. Come ba--

Chapter Text

“Max? Yo, Max!”

I snap my eyes open, breathing for the first time in what felt like forever. I’m blinded by a bright light, and I raise my hand to shield myself. It takes me a moment before I realize I’m outside. Right, like I was before, but—

“Dude, Max-“ I hear Chloe, but she sounds different from before. Calm. I turn my head to look at her and see her sitting, leaning over to me with concern in her eyes. I put my hand on the cold metal surface I’m, apparently, laying on and push myself up. My eyes adjust to the light, finally, and I look around. Corpses of ruined cars, boats, appliances and debris fill my vision.

“The junkyard?” I say softly.

“Yeah, obviously. You okay, Max?” I feel Chloe’s hand on my shoulder and I feel reassured. Instinctually, I put my hand on hers. “You zoned out pretty hard after we started chilling. Come on,” she teased with a small smirk, “I’m not that boring, am I?”

I zoned out? More like I jumped. I must have, how else would I suddenly be in the junkyard and Chloe isn’t furious at me and driving out of my life forever? But, again? What happened? How did this happen? I didn’t even focus on any photo like before. Where was I now? Chloe’s hand gives me a gentle shake and I turn to look at her.

“Are you okay? Tell me everything, Max.”

“Déjà vu.” I say, giving her a weak smile, “—it’s kinda complicated.” Chloe raises an eyebrow at me.

“Come on, dude. Or did you forget what we went through just a few months ago?”

“Oh. Good point.” I say, leaning back onto my palms. The cold metal is kind of refreshing. A nice contrast to the beaming sun above me. “It’s my powers again.”

“Your powers?” Chloe asked, “I thought you swore them off?” Did I? When? Not, like, officially. Wait, not me. This Max must have. Ugh, my head hurts.

“No, I didn’t. Your Max must have.” I say, looking over at Chloe.

My Max? Hang on, what’re you talking about?” Chloe tilted her head and raised an eyebrow at me. “You’re my Max.”

“Not-“ I begin, my hand resting on my arm, rubbing nervously, “Not really. Did this-Max ever tell you about how she can—I can, travel to points in time by concentrating on photos?” Chloe’s eyes boggle. This must be new to her. “Well, I can, and I have. But, something weird has happened. Something new, and something I’m having trouble wrapping my head around.” I raise a hand to my head as I feel a new headache coming along.

“Everything about you is fucking weird, Max.” Chloe says, and I can hear her exasperation. Trust me, Chloe, I feel the same way.

I exhale a breath through my nose, “I—I think I just, like, jumped into another reality.” Chloe doesn’t say anything for a while, and I dare to glance at her and can see the visible confusion written all over her face. She’s reached under her beanie and scratching her head, the typical signs of ‘What the Fuck’. My hands retreat into my hoodie pockets, and I found myself curling into a ball  “When I traveled back to the day of-“ I stop, and Chloe seems to look even more confused, better keep it vague “-uh, yeah, I used a picture then.” My fingers find something. I slowly pull it out and look at it.

I’m met with Victoria’s face, smiling and resting her chin on my shoulder. Our morning together. Wait, I—I brought the photo with me? Into another reality? I stare at the Polaroid, absolutely puzzled. If I could bring this with me into this timeline, does that mean I could maybe--

"Is that yours, or my Max's photo?” Chloe spoke, and I heard poison rising in her throat. I nearly jump, so lost in my own thoughts and theories, I’d almost forgotten I was sitting with Chloe in the junkyard.

"It's mine." I say quickly, and that seemed to calm her back down, no need to get this-Max in any potential trouble. "I brought it from the last timeline I jumped. Apparently."

"Wait, last one? You've done this before?" Chloe said, her face screwed into confusion.

"Not intentionally-" I say, running a thumb along the Polaroid's edge. "It was an accident. I was looking at these pictures, hopping between this one and the one of you and me. I lost yours somewhere in transit."

"Then, what? Poof? You're there? Where ever that was?"

"I--I guess."

"But, you don't have my photo with you, right? How did you get here? Ya know, this reality or, what-the-fuck-ever."

"I--I don't know." I say, gripping my head with my free hand. My headache feels like its growing worse suddenly. "I just, saw you get in your truck and leave and," I tighten my lips for a moment, "And I just couldn't stop thinking about you. How I didn’t want you to leave me, how I needed you in my life. About how I really feel for you." Chloe looks at me with sympathy, and she places a hand on my shoulder.

"You just thought about me? Can you just do that to go back to your own timeline or whatever?"

"I don't know which timeline I belong to. I can't think of it, because I don't know what my timeline is. This must be a Chloe timeline, because I was thinking about you when I came here. But, we’re best friends where I’m from too, so, is that also a Chloe timeline?"

“Shit,” Chloe says, and I can tell she’s just as confused as I am, “Fuck if I know, Max.”

I’d always needed photos before this. To focus as hard as I could on a single photo, and that would allow me to jump to different points in time. But, now, the rules didn’t work like that? How am I supposed to get home if I can’t even figure out how this works? Will I be lost in these alternate timelines, these alternate realities forever? Am I just going to drift around forever? Will I just be trapped in realities that I’m not supposed to be in, that don’t even want me? The only thing I have to go on is what got me in this mess in the first place. I jumped between two photos, focusing on each one, and that’s what got me here. It’s all I had to go on for now, it’s the only thing I know that can work. It has to be my way out of here. My way home. To my Chloe and to my Victoria.

"This has to work," I say softly, barely even a whisper "It just has to." I feel a hand on my shoulder and I meet Chloe's determined, hardened gaze.

"It will, Max. We'll get you home." there's something in Chloe's voice that makes me want to believe she's right. Chloe’s always been so strong, so sure of herself. Her confidence always drew me to her, like a beacon of safety, a place where success is guaranteed that made me think everything was going to be okay, no matter what. As I look into her eyes, I let myself believe.

‘This will work. I will go home.’

I hear the sound of metal popping and see Chloe bouncing off the hood of the car. “You need that photo, right?” she said, moving around to my side and holding a hand out. She grins as me, and I can’t stop my own smile from forming. “I don’t have it,” she says, helping me down to the ground, “But you, or, my-Max said she had it in her room. So she could look at me all the time, whenever she wants.” She said that last part with a confident swagger in her voice.

I laugh, “Well, your Max has good taste.”

“Hell yeah she does.” Chloe said, putting her hands in her pockets and jerking her head in a direction before heading off. I follow, putting Victoria’s photo back into my pocket. We walk in silence until we reach the beast, and I can’t keep my eyes off Chloe. She’s exactly how I remember, how she always is. But, she’s also a stranger. She looks like the Chloe I know, but she’s not. She could be different in any number of ways to the Chloe I know. The Chloe I love.

 Chloe walks to the passenger side door. I stop, and furrow my brows a little; did this Max have her license? Chloe then opens the door and waves a hand inside before giving me a sly smirk.

“How gentlemanly.” I say, adding a bit of ponce into my voice as I climb into the truck.

“Old habits die hard, my lady.” Chloe retorts, closing the door and rounding the truck. She closes her door and ignites the engine into a roaring hum. American Rust began to fade into the background, and I found myself losing myself in the growing distance between us. My Chloe still had a hard time being near that place. We found Rachel there, and I think her ghost still haunts the Chloe I know. But, this one seemed to have no problems with that. Did this-Max help her through all that pent up grief? I know I would do my best to help Chloe through her grief. I need to help her recover.

“Hey, uh-“ Chloe spoke up, and I found myself sitting the truck, away from my thoughts. “That photo you have.” She said, looking over at me and pointing at my hoodie pockets. I look down and withdraw my hand from my pocket, I’d never let it go.

“What about it?” I ask, looking over at Chloe with as much innocence as I could muster. Chloe didn’t appear angry or anything, which I was a little surprised by. Chloe’s abandonment issues sometimes made her a little paranoid and clingy.

“You and Victoria together where you’re from?” Chloe asked, leaning an elbow on her open window, glancing between me and the road.

“Oh. N-No-“ I say, being honest, but not entirely.

“You just take morning selfies with everyone you invite over for sleep overs?” Chloe joked, smiling at me. “I know about what you two did.” My heart leaps into my throat and my back straightens. “My-Max told me.”

“You’re not, like, mad or anything?” I ask, timidly. Chloe just laughs a little.

“No. I just gave her some shit about having bad taste in Omegas.”

“But, didn’t she choose you?”

“Look, it wasn’t one of my best jokes. I admit it. Ran into that self-burn.” Chloe raises her hands briefly, slapping them down on the steering wheel. “But, I mean, we weren’t bonded yet, so—“ she shrugged, “Couldn’t be mad at her. My Max was never mad about my past with Rachel. So, why would I be mad at her for playdates with Victoria?” I smiled a little. At least there wasn’t any additional drama here.

Bonded with Chloe. I was bonded with Victoria in the previous timeline. I guess that’s the only thing that really changed between these two timelines. Who I chose to bond with. From what I experienced last time, I may very well lose someone close to me. Someone important to me. Someone I still love.

But, what choice did I have?

I blink a few times, trying to bring myself out of my head. Worrying about what could happen wasn’t going to help me right now. It wasn’t going to help at all. But, even so, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop fretting and worrying. Classic Max.

Would making a choice actually help me? Or just cause even more problems?

Walking about Blackwell was still the same, it seemed. Nothing was as dramatic of a change as the last time I altered history. Brooke was still in the courtyard, flying her drone, Hayden still hung around his little harem, and Justin’s skater boys practicing tricks near the edge of the courtyard. I exhale a small breath, and I feel Chloe’s arm around my shoulder. There was reassurance in that small gesture and I felt a warmth in my chest, one I never wanted it to leave.

Chloe and this-Max must have been a common sight on Blackwell, as no one seemed to care about Chloe being around. We even spotted David making his rounds and he did nothing but offer a small wave to us. So, there were some changes, but at least nothing super dramatic I’d fret over later. As we made our way to the dorm, rounding out into the dorm’s courtyard, I felt Chloe’s grip on my bicep. I stop, suddenly surprised by Chloe’s aggression. She pulls me back a bit; damn, she’s so strong. When I turn to look at her, Chloe’s gaze was far more concerned than angry.

“Look, Max, other-Max, you don’t know what’s gone down, so you need to be careful.” Chloe said in a slightly hushed tone. I raised an eyebrow.

“What’re you talking about?” Chloe rolled her eyes and exhaled a long breath.

“Well, us getting together wasn’t like, the cleanest, easiest thing.” She said, giving her shoulders a shrug. I blink my eyes for a moment.

‘Déjà vu.’

Chloe worried her bottom lip for a moment. “When this whole thing came to a head, you and Victoria had—“ I interrupted her.

“Had a really big fight, right?” Chloe just looked a little surprised. “In that last timeline I was in, the same thing happened. Except, it was you and me.” Chloe’s eyes sank, and I could see the sadness creeping into her gaze. “And, that fight lead you to pack your truck up and leave Arcadia Bay, forever.” I cling my arms together, holding myself tightly. I feel Chloe’s strong hands on my shoulders, and I bring my eyes up to meet hers slowly. She smiles at me, a gentle little thing, and I smile back.

This is why the thought of losing Chloe hurt so much. We’d been through so much together, grew up together and I couldn’t deny my feelings for her. I love her so much. But, when my mind came back to the idea that I’d fought with Victoria just as harshly, just as cruelly, it made my heart sink. Would I drive her away too? We were building something together, a great friendship and, maybe, something even more. But, this is just a potential future. One I can avoid.

At least, I hope so.

“Okay. Let’s—“ I say, nodding up at Chloe, “—let’s go.” Chloe smirked and just nodded, giving my shoulders a squeeze.

“I’ve got your back, Max.”

“Partners in crime.” I smile.

“Partners in time.” Chloe grinned.

So far, so good.

The hallway was empty, so Chloe and I had a clear bolt to my room. In-and-out. Well, hopefully out. Try not to focus on what could happen, Max. I need to just do it. This is what having confidence is like, yeah? I could get used to this.

Until I see Taylor, Courtney and Victoria leaving the Queen’s Chambers.

And this must be what it’s like having the wind knocked out of your sails. I freeze, thanking Dog the group hasn’t seen me. And there are Chloe’s hands again, giving me a little more strength.

“In your room, nice and quick. I’ll take point, okay?” she says quietly, giving my shoulders a little clap before moving on ahead. She puts her hands in her pockets and swaggers down the hallway. Chloe’s hard to miss in most situations, but in a near empty hallway she blared like a flare gun shot in the dead of night.

“Well, well, well,” Chloe began, stomping her way closer to the group. I could hear the swagger in her voice, that unbridled, unwavering confidence. “If it isn’t the Blackwell Bitch Brigade.” Taylor and Courtney took steps forward, forming ranks in front of Victoria. Their patented ‘Chase Glare’ firing full force at Chloe, who was immune to such pathetic weaponry.

“Well, well, well,” Taylor began, mocking Chloe’s tone, “If it isn’t Arcadia Bay’s Queen Butch.” Courtney smirked and Taylor folded her arms around her chest. They weren’t looking at me, thanks to Chloe’s perfectly placed position. Chloe laughed.

“Was that an insult? I take a lot of pride in being The Bay’s best butch.” She chuckled a little. I looked around Chloe to notice that Victoria was suspiciously silent. Something odd was going on here, I think. I watch her through Courtney and Taylor and see a more subdued Victoria than I was expecting. She was keeping out of this and seemed to even struggle to look at Chloe.

“Get lost, Price.” Courtney snapped, and Taylor curled her lip back in a sneer.

“Go stink up someone else’s air.” Taylor bit back at Chloe, who hadn’t responded. “Why’re you even here?”

“Besides dropping the property value.” Courtney quipped.

“You take Victoria’s Alpha away and, what, you come back to gloat?” Was that why Victoria was so silent? Was she still hurting? Had all this happened recently? I had too many questions, and I couldn’t stand this idiotic back and forth. I quickly try and move around Chloe, keeping my head down and my gaze at the floor.

“Speak of the fucking Devil.” Courtney sneered. I could feel their gazes and I stopped in my tracks. I heard Chloe’s boots stomp towards me and her shadow cast over me.

“Hey, leave her out of this, you fucking skanks.” Chloe barked, trying to keep the aggro on her. It didn’t work.

“Sending your fucking attack Omega on us, Smallfield?” Taylor hissed.

“Real fucking low.” Courtney added.

My throat tightens and I dare to look back, glancing past Taylor’s sneer and Courtney’s glare. I catch Victoria’s gaze and, for a moment, we just look at one another. There isn’t anger or hate in her eyes. No, not that.

It’s pain. Hurt. The same I saw in Chloe’s eyes before she drove away.

Fuck. What have I done? Why do I keep hurting the people I care about?

Blinking back tears, I quickly open my door and slam it shut behind me. I hear Chloe barking more insults and Courtney and Taylor keep their shields up. I hear Victoria’s door open and close, and the fighting grows louder. I fall onto the floor, small sobs escaping me. I want this to end. I want to stop hurting people. I want to—

I blink tears down my cheeks and look up. I see, on my bedside table, a frame. A frame that was never there before. My knees wobble as I stand, but I look inside the frame and see it. Chloe and I, smiling, windswept hair flying.

‘Please. Please, God, let this work.’ I beg to the universe as I pull the photo out of its frame. I withdraw the photo of Victoria and hold the two photos together, obscuring me and forming my hopeful gateway back to my reality. I stare between the pictures, moving my eyes in a slow line. Victoria, then me, then Chloe. Chloe, then me, then Victoria. But nothing is happening.

The fighting is growing louder, and I know I’ll hear more screams or something worse soon. I need to get out of here, but it isn’t working. I can’t focus on a single photo. I grit my teeth and slam my eyes shut. I want to throw the photos away in frustration, but I just growl loudly. Why isn’t this working?!

I’m trying to choose which photo to focus on, which one will bring me back!

And then…

I look down at the photos tightly clenched in my hands. And, something dawns on me. Why do I need to make a single choice? Every choice I have made about how I feel has ended badly. Someone is hurt. Someone is ignored. Someone is left behind. But, that isn’t what I want. It’s never what I wanted. I wanted—

The photos begin to blur, twisting and distorting. Victoria, Chloe and I fading into blurs, the lighting blending together. My head throbs worse than it has all day, like my skull will crack at any second. But, I can’t stop. My grip tightens on the photos, so much so I’m worried I’ll tear them. My eyes feel like their bulging out of my head, and I feel the hot sensation of blood sliding out of my nose. I know what I have to do, and I can’t stop now.

The photos begin to come into focus, I can see things more clearly now. I can see Victoria’s smile, her messy hair and contented eyes. I see Chloe’s bright grin, the fire of passion in her eyes. And, finally, I see myself. Smiling, happy, contented. Perfectly whole.

I’ve done nothing but cause trouble for myself with my indecisiveness. I wanted to make choices that made others happy, that fit perfectly into what I thought I wanted, what I thought I needed, what I thought I was supposed to do. But it only caused me, and those I loved, pain. I still needed to make a choice. But after everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve felt, and everything I’d put Chloe and Victoria through.

My head was splitting apart, I knew it. I felt the blood gushing from my nose and my eyes nearly rolled into my head as my fingers nearly cracked apart. The world was tearing apart, time and reality itself must have been fraying at the edges, for all the pain I was feeling. I needed to make a choice. One final choice to fix everything.

And so, I did.

Chapter Text

Normally around this time an alarm blared, that annoying, pestering noise that Victoria chose specifically to piss her off so much she’d wake up and mash the alarm off. Today was different, it wasn’t the alarm that caused Victoria to bolt upright in her bed. A commotion outside, frantic and panicked voices. Something was happening outside, something that stirred Victoria’s curiosity. She moved to her door cautiously and began to open the door, peeking out into the hallway.

There she saw Kate Marsh standing, hands over her mouth, shocked straight. Victoria saw that Max’s door was open slightly and Victoria immediately panicked.

‘Max!’ she thought, moving past Kate and being confronted with two EMTs moving over the prone and corpse-like form of Max Caulfield. Victoria gasped, her eyes wide with panic and fear. Max’s skin was pale, and the entire lower part of her face was covered with dark, caked on dry blood. Victoria could barely understand what the EMTs were saying, still consumed by shock, but could only retain a few glimpses of conversation as she stared in horror at Max’s body.

“--unconscious for several hours--”

“—barely breathing—“

“—faint heartbeat—“

“Get out of the way!” Victoria blinked and scuttled back into the hallway, nearly falling over herself as the EMTs pushed out a stretcher, Max’s limp body resting upon it. Max was wearing the same clothes Victoria had seen her in yesterday; had she been unconscious all night?! Feeling hands upon her, Victoria nearly jumped and jerked her head to see Kate resting her hands on Victoria’s shoulders.

“Victoria,” she said softly, and Victoria swallowed her anxiety, trying to calm her hectic and frantic breathing. The blonde raised her hand to her forehead and gave her head a firm shake. She had to get her head back to reality, she had to focus and not lose herself. Max was in danger, Max was hurt! She had to do something!

With a sudden jerk of her shoulders, Victoria broke free of Kate’s empathetic grip. She rushed off to her room, but not before giving Kate a sympathetic look before slamming her door. No makeup, no styling, no fashion, no nothing. There wasn’t any time. Victoria tossed on an outfit, grabbed her purse and keys and ran out the door.

The hallway had filled up, the groups of girls drawn out by the noise. Talking to one another about what happened, gossiping about potential events leading up to a girl being dragged out in a stretcher. Victoria ignored all of them. She even ignored Taylor and Courtney, even brushing them aside as they tried to flock around her. None of that mattered. Rumors didn’t matter, status didn’t matter, only Max mattered now.

Stomping down the front steps, Victoria saw that the EMTs had already begun to push Max off to the front of the school, no doubt to their ambulance. Victoria would have to dash to her car, brushing past anyone who was in her path, even shouldering into some idiot standing in the way. No doubt this would be on the mouths of every student at Blackwell; the rumor mill didn’t stop when Kate came back to class, why would it stop after Max came back?

If she came back.

‘No! Don’t think like that!’

After what felt like an eternity, Victoria made it to the parking lot. She’d nearly dropped her keys while fumbling with them in a frenzy to unlock her car door. She jerked it open, sat down and started the engine, almost forgetting to close the door behind her before she peeled out of her parking spot and drove out onto the road. Traffic be damned, Victoria tailed the ambulance in a reckless pursuit, following it all the way to the nearest general hospital.

There was a worry in chest, a need to be there for Max. Logically, it made no sense, to risk a traffic accident all over a dopey hipster she had some dumb one night stand with. But, she knew why she was doing this. She knew why she couldn’t stop thinking about Max since then, why she was so panicked about seeing her in that horrible state, and why she was trailing a speeding ambulance.

So, why was it so hard to just admit it to herself?

Normally, Chloe Price wouldn’t be out of bed before noon. But, there was something pestering her, buzzing around in her brain. So much so, she had woke up early, like, ‘normal working person’ early. She’d had a shower, put on a clean(ish) shirt, some jeans and a well-worn leather jacket, the whole nine-yards. Snatching her beanie up, she placed it snuggly on her head, walked down the stairs and was certain to give her mom a kiss on the cheek before grabbing her keys and heading out the door.

As the beast roared to life, Chloe made her way out to Arcadia Bay proper, a smile on her face and jammin’ to a Firewalk mix tape. She had a feeling today was gonna be hella rad. A quick stop at a local coffee shop and Chloe’d head off to Blackwell; even the thought of her being happy to be at that hell site surprised her. But, she just had to see Max. She wanted to. Wanted to give her a coffee, to walk her to class, hell, maybe even sneak back on campus and have lunch with her. Ya know, girlfriend shit.

Were they girlfriends? Chloe’d hoped so. Chloe’d slept on her conversation with Max and, if Max was okay with her still grieving for Rachel, then why shouldn’t they be together? She’d let Max know today. Maybe, take her somewhere. Where would she take her? Chloe’s broke as a joke, after all. Eh, she’d figure out. As long as she was with Max, it wouldn’t matter where they went.

Pulling up to Blackwell, she’d noticed the ambulance. Some poor kid must’ve had some kind of panic attack. ‘Maybe some Vortex chud OD’d.’ Chloe thought, but hated the cruelty in that thought. She grabbed the coffee and, with a swift kick of her boot, closed the door to her truck and headed towards the dorms. Max should be up by now, she was always an early bird; compared to Chloe anyway.

Coffee in hand, Chloe made her way into the Blackwell courtyard to be greeted by a few students who had stopped to watch as some EMTs began wheeling another kid out towards the ambulance. ‘Poor bastard.’ Chloe thought, passing a few students as she made her way to the dorms. Natural curiosity gave way and she turned her head to see who had caused all the commotion around campus so early in the morning.

And time just froze.

Laying across the stretcher, skin pale as snow, chin and neck covered in blood, was Max. She looked dead. Max. Dead. Chloe couldn’t believe it, she was sure she’d screamed out Max’s name, thinking that would wake her up. She couldn’t be dead. They’d been through too much, seen too much, confessed too much.

She. Can’t. Be. Dead.

And then she was nearly on her ass. Waking back to reality, Chloe turned to who crashed into her and saw a muffled head of blonde hair. Then, she heard the ambulance doors close and Chloe was moving immediately. Dashing back to her truck, she knew she needed to follow that ambulance. She needed to make it to Max, she had to do something for Max.

Everything was a blur, she vaguely remembered seeing another car speed out of the parking lot, and getting to the beast, tearing open the door and slamming her foot on the gas. The truck wouldn’t start. The damn thing wouldn’t start. Chloe snarled, growling at the scrap of junk as she tried turning the engine over and over. Smashing her boot into the gas pedal, Chloe took a fist and pounded on the console and steering wheel until she knew her fist would be bruised.

“Start you fucking piece of trash!” she roared, bashing her fist into the console until the engine finally woke up. And, in no time, Chloe had peeled out of the parking lot and pulled out into the road, nearly causing a multiple car pile-up. It doesn’t matter. Max is what matters.

Blasting down the road, Chloe followed the ambulance as best she could. And, the other car? The one leaving Blackwell before her?

Wheezing, panting and out of breath, Victoria barreled her way into the ER waiting room, nearly collapsing over the nurse’s station desk. She had been doing nothing but running, she had been at a ’10’ ever since she saw the EMTs leaving. Her body was breaking down, running on empty, but she wouldn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. Not until she could see Max.

“C-Caulfield.” Victoria panted, the nurse giving Victoria an odd look. “M-Maxine, Max Caulfield.” The nurse blinked her eyes and began to type on her computer. Victoria took several deep breathes, her eyes closing as her body begged for some kind of rest. Through her heavy breathing, she barely heard some heavy trodden footsteps stomp up next to her.

“Max. Max Caulfield. Where is she?” a voice bellowed, and Victoria couldn’t believe it.

‘Chloe Price.’ She said to herself, having an instinctual thought to creep away and hide somewhere in the room. But, her body wouldn’t allow it, exhausted from the constant running. Chloe hardly seemed out of breath at all. What kind of stuff was she made of?

“In a moment, ma’am.” The nurse said, typing away on the computer, “Max’s pretty popular.” The nurse looked up at Victoria and the blonde wanted to hide in on herself. She felt Chloe’s gaze turn on her and could feel Chloe trying to figure out who this messy headed jogger was.

Shit.” She groaned, the sneer obvious in her voice. Victoria did not want to deal with this right now. She just wanted to see Max, to make sure she was okay. To make sure she was alive. Victoria sure as hell didn’t want to have to deal with petulant degenerate Chloe fucking Price. “The fuck are you doing here, Vic?” Chloe said with less bite in her voice than Victoria would have figured. More frustration, which Victoria felt the same about the gangly punk.

“I’m here to see Max, Kari.” Victoria bit back, “Or did you not see her get hauled away in an ambulance?” Chloe stood taller, nearly lunging at Victoria, who stood her ground and dared Chloe to try something. They were both stopped as the nurse spoke up.

Maxine Caulfield.” The nurse said in a tone that clearly showed she knew how to handle angrier young adults. “Checked in only a few moments ago. Doctors are still looking her over, so—“ she looked up at both Victoria and Chloe above thick rimmed glasses, “—take a seat, and keep whatever drama outside.” The two women frowned, before looking at one another and pushing themselves away from the nurse’s station and walking to some empty seats far away from one another.

Seconds felt like minutes and minutes felt like days. More people would flood into the emergency room in various stages of illness or injury, but Victoria and Chloe remained islands among the growing ocean of people. Her arms bound around herself, her head locked to her feet, Victoria wrangled with her own internal conflicts. She knew she cared about Max; that much had been apparent the moment they were able to just, talk to one another. But, Max and Victoria had such a divisive history together, there’s no way anything could really exist between them so quickly. You can’t deny what you feel; the heart wants what the heart wants, even if it doesn’t make any damn sense at all.

On the opposite end of the room, Chloe had bent forward, elbows resting on her knees, boot bouncing in an anxious rhythm. Her face was hard, stern, as if she was furious at the world for daring to harm Max. She was angry. Angry at her lack of speed getting to Max, for not being there for Max when she apparently needed it, for failing her best friend. Failing someone she loved. Her face twisted and her eyes slammed shut. She wasn’t going to cry here, but god damnit it was the only thing she wanted to do. Max couldn’t be dead. Chloe had lost her dad, Rachel, and now she might lose Max. It couldn’t happen. It just couldn’t!

“Maxine Caulfield.” The nurse called, and both Victoria and Chloe stared up at the nurse’s station. They both stood, waiting on baited breath as the nurse tapped on her keyboard for another moment. The older woman raised her hand and waved the two closer to the station. Chloe and Victoria both nearly fell over themselves trying to get over there, surely pissing off some of the other patients. When they both arrived, they stared wide-eyed at the nurse who kept her gaze locked on her monitor. “Third floor. Room 322.” And like the wind, the two women darted to the elevator. Both women’s minds were focused on seeing Max, so much so even a cramped elevator ride caused no friction between the two. Their pride, their past, it all was nothing in the face of Max Caulfield.

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“Her heart rate is steady. No signs of external trauma. But, her brain activity is limited. She’s alive, but—“ the doctor paused, turning back to look at the prone Max laying in the hospital bed behind him. “—your friend, Max, is in a coma.” Victoria and Chloe’s eyes widened in horror. “She could be asleep for a few more hours or, a few more weeks. At this stage we’re unsure. But, we’ll be monitoring her extensively.”

“You’d better.” Chloe growled, and the doctor just looked down at her. Victoria took a small step in front of Chloe and dragged his attention from the growling punk.

“What are the guest accommodations like? May we request an extra bed or two?” Victoria asked, her voice as even tempered as she could manage. She was just as furious and protective as Chloe, she just wasn’t a blundering Neanderthal like Price was being. “She’s very important to us, and we want to be here for her.”

The doctor sighed a breath and tilted his head. “Well, we only really offer such things to family or bonded mates, but—“ he looked between Victoria and Chloe and gave them a small smile, “—I’ll see if I can pull some strings.” Victoria gave him a gentle smile.

“Thank you so much, sir.” She crooned and the doctor nodded before placing his hands in his coat pockets and exiting the room. With the doctor gone, both Victoria and Chloe turned their attention to Max. Slowly, they made their way over to her. Victoria kept her arms around her chest, and Chloe’s shoulders were tense and stiff; all they could do was look down at the unconscious Max while the heart monitor idly pulsed in the background. The silence was deafening, terrifying even as the thought of Max never waking up weighed heavily on both Victoria and Chloe. If Max never woke up, what would they do?

“M-Max?” Chloe said, her voice harsh and raspy, “H-Hey. It’s me, Chloe.” She croaked, trying to fight the growing tightness in her throat. She rounded the bed, her eyes still locked on her unconscious friend. “Sorry it took a while. Heh, d-damn nurses.” Victoria watched as Chloe talked at Max. She knew this whole conversation was pointless, that Max was unconscious and couldn’t hear anything. But, she still wanted to believe that somewhere in there, Max was listening.

“I—I’m here too, Max.” Victoria said softly, “Me. Victoria.” She said, leaning down a little and looking into Max’s closed eyes. “We, both, came as fast as we could. We’re worried about you.” Chloe watched Victoria and narrowed her gaze a little, why was she even here? Victoria and Max hated each other, but now Victoria was so concerned about Max’s well-being?

‘Trying to deal with her guilt, I bet. She probably was the same to Kate after Max brought her off that roof.’ Chloe thought, turning her gaze back to Max.

“We’re getting beds here so, you’ll be hearing from us. Me more so than Victoria, though.” Victoria gazed at Chloe and glared at her.

“It isn’t a contest.” She hissed, “I’m going to be here for Max, too.”

“Don’t you have classes to go to, Vic? Or minions to order around?” Chloe says, looking at Victoria under a heavy gaze.

“I have friends who can bring me notes and assignments, Kari.” Victoria growled, crossing her arms over her chest. “That way, I don’t need to go to class.” Chloe glared at Victoria, peeling back a corner of her lip in a snarl. There was no fucking way she was going to be spending any more time with Victoria than she needed to. Hell, the time she’d spent with her today was enough to last a lifetime.

The two were deadlocked, staring at each other like two lioness’s ready to fight for their territory, when an unexpected sound caused them to stop. A pained groan left Max’s lips and the two lioness’s backed down, turning their hateful gazes into ones of concern and worry. They both sat in silence for a moment, waiting to see if Max would say anything, or move. Anything.

Nothing.

Victoria tightened her arms around her chest, chewing on her bottom lip nervously as she stared at the ground. Chloe groaned and stuck her hands in her jacket pockets. She felt a carton of cigarettes in her pocket and the need for nicotine flared throughout her bones. Chloe began stomping back around Max’s bed towards the door, a movement that caused Victoria to raise her head and watch as Chloe began to leave.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“To get a smoke, why the fuck do you care?” Chloe responded back, rounding the corner out of the room and heading down the hall. A cigarette? Victoria had not had a smoke all day, and all this stress was roiling in her chest like an angry swarm of hornets.

Cigarette.

fuck.

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Never would she have thought she’d smoke clove cigarettes. It had started with Rachel leaving hers around the house and Chloe one day had such a nicotine need she just started smoking them. Now, turns out she likes them. Inhaling a long draw from her cigarette, Chloe let the smoke linger in her lungs, enjoying the feeling of the stress melting away before exhaling a long cloud of smoke. The entrance to the emergency room was a revolving door of patients coming and going, so Chloe had hardly even paid attention to the fact that Victoria had also come outside at some point.

Taking another draw of her cigarette, Chloe gave a few glances to Victoria. The blonde was still bottled up into herself, her gaze distant and cold. What was her deal? Why would Max’s school tormentor be here? Was she feeling guilty? Trying to make amends? These damn questions were pissing Chloe off. Victoria shivered, caving in on herself and exhaled a ragged breath.

Chloe recognized that shiver. A pang of sympathy rang through her, she’d been in that position more times than she could count. The addiction rattling her bones, freezing her blood, and no relief in sight. With a little too much drama, Chloe reached into her pocket and pulled out the crumpled box of her clove cigarettes. She pulled one out and walked over to Victoria.

The blonde looked up at Chloe and gave her a freezing glare. With Chloe’s peace offering, Victoria seemed to soften a bit, taking the cigarette and placing it in between her lips. Before she could ask, Chloe withdrew a lighter and began to light the cigarette for her. Once lit, Victoria puffed a little and exhaled a long relieved breath.

“Thanks.” Victoria said, taking another gentle puff of the cigarette.

“What’re you doing here, Victoria?” Chloe asked, cigarette bobbing between her lips. Victoria looked out into the parking lot, her gaze distant, hardly even acknowledging Chloe. “You’ve treated Max like shit ever since she came to Blackwell. Why do you suddenly care what happens to her?” Chloe had her hackles up, her shoulders square and her fists tight. She was ready for an argument, ready to fight if she needed to. She wasn’t going to let someone upset or even hurt Max after this; if Max couldn’t protect herself, Chloe would take any amount of blows to the chin for her.

To Chloe’s shock, Victoria just exhaled another long cloud of smoke. “Yeah. I’m a real piece of shit.” Wait, Victoria was agreeing with her? That wasn’t how this was supposed to go. “I’ve been nothing but mean to Max. Belittling her, mocking her, teasing her…” Victoria paused, looking down at her hands. She idly fidgeted with her fingers, rubbing in places gold rings would normally reside. “And, she just kind of ignores me. She should, honestly. And, at times, she was just, like, nice to me.” Victoria said those last few words as if they were a foreign language she’d never heard of before.

Chloe raised an eyebrow at Victoria’s bewilderment. It always confused Chloe as well why Max was like that. Max was always too kind for her own good, giving everyone the benefit of the doubt and forgiving people too easily. But, that was also something Chloe envied about Max. It probably would be better for Chloe to be more like Max in that way, if she wasn’t so stubborn, anyway.

“She, uhm,” Victoria began, a small smile forming, “She had a chance to mock me once. Really give it to me. Some, uh, accident happened and I ended up wet by some sprinklers, and then I got white paint splattered all over me. My cashmere coat still doesn’t really look the same, even after the dry cleaning.” Victoria flicked some ash from her cigarette, “So, Max had the perfect opportunity to mock me. Sitting on the steps of the dorm, covered in water and paint, cold, shivering, alone and pathetic. I was pretty easy pickings there.” Victoria raised the cigarette to her lips and took a puff. “But, she comforted me. Her bully. She comforted me. Just made me think. That and, everything with Kate…”

Chloe wasn’t going to bring Kate up. That was just too cruel. Even for Victoria.

“Yeah,” Chloe says, picking her cigarette out of her lips, “Max’s something special.”

“She’s—“ Victoria said, smiling a small, gentle smile, “—she’s amazing, honestly.” Her voice was soft, but Chloe still heard it. She’d expected to feel a clawing anger in her gut, a seething rage at the idea of someone else thinking that about Max. But, she didn’t feel that way. No, it was good that Max had people who cared about her. Being selfish, cagey with Max’s attention, worried about if she’ll leave. None of that helped anything, it caused more friction with Max than anything. That, clinginess, would cause problems. It’d be hard, but, Chloe needed to loosen up.

Her father may have left her, but Max would never. Not on purpose.

“Price.” Chloe furrowed her brows and blinked, looking down at Victoria. The blonde pointed upward, and Chloe crossed her eyes and noticed her cigarette. A long chain of ash had formed and Chloe gripped the cigarette and tapped the ash off. “Hm. You seemed lost in thought.” Victoria asked, finishing her cigarette and flicking it off into a nearby ash tray.

“Uh, yeah.” Chloe said, putting her hands back in her jacket pockets. “Just thinking about Max.”

“You like her a lot, don’t you?” Victoria asked.

“She’s my best friend.” Chloe shrugged, “Of course I do.” Victoria chuckled a little.

“Always looked like you liked her a little bit more than that.” Chloe narrowed her eyes a bit.

“By the way you were giving her moon-pie eyes up in the room, I’d think you were a little more than a ‘concerned student’.” Victoria’s eyes went wide and she crossed her arms and looked away from Chloe.

What was going on with her?

“I’m headed back up.” Chloe said after a moment of silence that had just phased into being awkward. She pushed her hands back into her jacket pockets and turned back into the hospital.

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The next few days were pretty hectic. The doctor made good on his commitment, and had two single beds brought into Max’s room. Chloe and Victoria claimed their spots, and continued monitoring Max’s condition. Nothing really changed. Max was stable, but her brain activity was still low. The biggest excitement came from the visitors.

Joyce and David came fairly often, checking in on Chloe and Max. Chloe enjoyed the food her mother brought, and the bag of necessities she’d need; didn’t want to greet Max with bad breath, after all. Eventually, Joyce started bringing food for Chloe and Victoria, something the former was suspicious of and the latter was incredibly grateful for.

Max’s parents, Vanessa and Ryan Caulfield, had flown in as soon as they had heard what happened. Their reunion with Max was as emotional as anything Chloe or Victoria had seen. Chloe nearly broke apart hearing Vanessa wail over her daughter’s prone, and unconscious form, and she was only kept standing by Ryan’s strong grip. The sadness of Max’s parents was infectious, and both Victoria and Chloe had started crying as well. Deep, hard and painful tears of fear and uncertainty. In their grief, Chloe and Victoria comforted one another, with Victoria hiding herself away in Chloe’s shoulder, and Chloe attempting to be as stoic as her mind would allow.

The Caulfields were frequent visitors after that. Trying their best to keep themselves occupied when visiting Max. They’d reminisce with Chloe about happier times, good memories and would even begin bonding with Victoria; they wanted to know all about the new friends Max was making at Blackwell. They would speak about Max with such pride and love that Chloe had hardly felt like any time had really passed, and that Max was just in the other room as opposed to…

Victoria kept to herself most of the time. Present, but distant. She wanted to be there for Max, but never felt truly welcome in Max’s world. Max’s parents helped with that somewhat, treating Victoria as one of their daughter’s friends, complimenting her on being so active in wanting to help Max as much as she could. Chloe was kind enough not to bring up Max and Victoria’s true past. Hearing about Max’s past made Victoria feel closer, in some way, to Max; all of which made Victoria only feel warmer towards this kind, waifish little hipster.

When Blackwell kids started to arrive, things only got worse for Victoria. She’d make herself all but invisible when Warren and Brooke came by, or when Alyssa and Stella would make their visits. Every so often, Taylor and Courtney would stop by and give Victoria the various amounts of homework she’d need to do. Aside from being delivery girls, they would check in on Victoria and see if she was alright. They never questioned why Victoria cared so much about Max but they were there for their friend as best as they could be. Taylor, in particular, was as supportive as she could be for Victoria. Taylor wasn’t so much repaying a debt, but comforting someone going through a similar situation she, herself, had been in. The only person Victoria didn’t feel such shame around was Kate Marsh. Kate would bring flowers to decorate the room, and would say soft prayers over Max in hopes for a speedy and healthy recovery. Kate always had a way of bringing peace to a room she was in, and Victoria was so glad that she hadn’t fully snuffed out Kate’s light. She should really be thanking Max for that…

Visits like this continued for two weeks. All the while, Chloe and Victoria were slowly eroding away. They rarely spoke to one another after a time, and only seemed to liven up when guests arrived; they had to keep up appearances, after all. Between the two of them, they could barely function. The likelihood of Max never waking up began to grow more and more like the most logical possibility. They couldn’t live in a hospital forever, so would have to leave eventually. Leave Max behind. Even the Caulfields had to return to Seattle. Could their lives continue? Did they even want them to?

Minds filled with thoughts of an impossible, yet frighteningly close future, Chloe and Victoria would wait. And pray. It’s all they could do.

For Max’s sake.

Chapter Text

Everything was dark. Where was I? Did I make it back? Was I in some kind of empty void? I can’t move, everything weighs a million pounds. Wait. My fingers. My toes. They can move. Sort of. But, it’s a start. Like ‘Kill Bill’. If I focus, I might be able to do…

…something. But what? Even my eyelids feel heavy. Eyelids? It’s dark because of that, I think. So, did I make it? Am I back in my own timeline? My own reality? I don’t know. How could I know? I couldn’t possibly know, unless I opened my eyes. But that felt impossible. They were so heavy, and I was so tired. Just so hella tired. I could just sleep. I needed it, after all. Getting enough sleep is good for you, I’ve heard.

No. No! I had to be sure I had made it home. No matter how hard it was, no matter how exhausted I felt, I had to try! Come on, Max. You can do this.

With everything I can muster, from my wiggling toes to my twitching fingers, I struggled. I felt like some sort of superhero when I felt my eyelids separate, like I really was ‘Super Max’. Just a small amount, but I had to keep going. I saw—I saw a fence? No, not a fence, dumbass. And, something. No. Someone. Standing, pacing. Something held up to their face. A phone. It had to be, being that small. The person turned and, short blonde hair…

‘Victoria.’

Seeing her gives me another boost of energy, and I use it to push my eyelids open just a little bit more. Victoria stops, turns to look down at me and she’s staring right at me. Her eyes are huge and her mouth gapes open. I hear her phone crash to the floor as her hands begin to shake.

“Ch-Chloe!” she shouts, moving close to me and staring at me with frantic eyes. I hear something else. Heavy footsteps. Before I can keep up, I see a tall figure enter my vision. Leather jacket, beanie, and blue hair.

‘Chloe.’

I see her shocked face and I press forward, seeing the reasons to keep fighting. All this effort, all this work, and my eyes are only half-open. I’m sorry, you two. I'm trying. I’m trying so hard.

“Holy shit,” Chloe says, “Max. Max! C-Can you hear us?!” she says excitedly, a lopsided smile splitting her face. Victoria nods a little, looking at me with just as much surprise, and hope.

“Yes, Max. Can you hear us? Uh, b-blink or, nod, if you can hear us.”

They’re both here. Both here, for me. They came to me. By the looks in their eyes I can see they’re happy, happy to see me. I’d cry, but I don’t have the energy. I’m using all I have just to keep my eyes open, open a little bit longer. I feel myself fading, feel the darkness coming back.

But, no, that can’t be all I can do!

I have to do something, have to tell them I’m here! With my last bit of strength, with everything else I have, I smile. It’s small, but, it’s all I can do. They gasp, tears welling in their eyes. Victoria covers her mouth, but I can see the edges of her smile peeking out, and Chloe just unabashedly sobs big happy tears.

They know. Good. Good. They know…

“She smiled at us.” Victoria finally said, turning to look up at Chloe. She stands and moves into Chloe, the two embracing in a tight hug. “She smiled at us.” Victoria says, muffled by her growing tears and Chloe’s arms.

“I know, Tori. I know.” Chloe said a great relief in her voice, rubbing a hand along Victoria’s back. “She’s not—“ but Chloe stopped herself, unable to say what had been on her mind not moments before “She’s back!”. The two just embrace one another for a moment before they look back at Max. She’d fallen back into her state, her smile fading, but that brief glimpse was enough to reignite the spark of hope that had been dying within Victoria and Chloe. Max was alive. And Max had a chance of coming back to them.

The two released one another and exhaled long, stress filled breaths. There hadn’t been much cause for celebration recently, and the two really needed some amount of relief, some sign of a positive light on the horizon. Victoria turned her gaze downward and picked up her phone. She brought it to her ear and apologized to the one she’d so carelessly dropped onto the floor.

“Yeah, I just dropped it. Sorry.” Victoria said, taking a few steps back towards the door. “I was just shocked, is all.” The voice grew louder on the phone and Victoria raised a hand to calm the voice, “No, no! Nothing bad, actually, the opposite! She opened her eyes. Not fully, but—“ she smiled as the voice grew loud and excited, “—I know! We’re both so excited.” She felt the happy tears arise again, but she choked it down. “W-We’ll keep you updated, Vanessa. Yes, yes, I promise.”

Chloe sat back down in the chair she’d claimed day one, and just watched Max’s prone form. She hated this, not being able to really do anything but sit around. Made her antsy, made her feel useless. Powerless. She looked over at Victoria talking to Max’s mom and smirked at the good news. Even though she couldn’t just fix the problem, she can at least be here. And, that’s something, at least.

A brief little nap. That’s all I needed, just enough to recharge my batteries. I had to get back out there. Had to be back with Victoria and Chloe. But I couldn’t sleep forever, I had so many questions…

But, for now, I’ll just go back to sleep…

“Victoria.”

The blonde was lazily scrolling on her phone, her eyes, half-lidded and sleep-deprived, raised up. She locked eyes with Chloe, who was lounging in her chair, leg swung over the arm of the chair and her arm slung over the back. Chloe was staring with an equally exhausted and groggy glare. It had been nearly a week since they last saw Max smile, and both were so eager to be ready to see her again that they’d been ignoring their own sleep schedules. Just for a slight chance. It wasn’t doing wonders for the two women’s already strained relationship…

“What.” Victoria growled. They’d rarely talked since Max woke up, and Victoria didn’t want to deal with Price’s irritating ego at the moment.

“You like Max, right?”

“What?”

Chloe rolled her eyes, “Open your ears. You like Max, right?”

Victoria wanted to answer, but she didn’t want to give Chloe the satisfaction of being right. Price was already a smug bitch, no need to add fuel to that fire. But, it wasn’t like Victoria could just keep lying to herself, and everyone around her. It wouldn’t matter in the end. Chloe and Max were attached at the hip, and Victoria was nothing but an eternal tormentor, a regular ‘Regina George’. Maybe just telling Chloe, getting it out of her system and weathering the ego battering, would be worth the relief the truth would bring. The truth will set you free, as some old fuck once said…

“Yeah. Fine.” Victoria said, turning her gaze from Chloe and scowling. “I like her. A lot. Happy now?” her arms folded across her chest, hoping to shield her away from Chloe’s inevitable response. Although Victoria prepared her defenses for a beating, Chloe Price style, something blindsided her completely.

“We’re gonna be spending a lot of time together, then.” Chloe said, moving from her lounging position to rest her elbows on her knees. She clasped her hands together and looked down at the floor for a moment. Victoria kept her guard up and did her best to ignore the gangly punk; the rhythmic tapping of her booted foot kept Victoria’s attention though. After a moment or so, there was silence.

“For Max’s sake,” Chloe spoke, breaching the silence softly, “We’re gonna need to, at the very least, be nice to each other.” Raising her eyes up to look at Victoria. The blonde felt Chloe’s stare and her defenses dropped slightly. Price was sending out an olive branch?

“You know how hard that will be.” Victoria said, slowly turning to look a sidelong glance at Chloe.

“Yeah. I know we’ve never had the best relationship. Our history is almost as bad as yours and Max’s-“ she raised an eyebrow at Victoria, “-almost.”

“Don’t fucking remind me.” Victoria said with a low growl.

“So, what’re you into?” Chloe asked, straightening her spine and leaning back into the chair. Victoria turned to fully face Chloe and scrunched her face in disbelief.

“What am I into? What’re you trying to do? Be my friend?”

“If that’s what it takes.” Chloe said, “This is for Max. Not for you.” Her eyes narrowing into a small glare.

Victoria sighed a deep breath. It didn’t help her mood. Chloe Price was trying to be friends with her. The same Chloe who would fuck her chemistry homework over, who lied to her so Rachel Amber could drug her before the Tempest play, and the delinquent who would pick and pick at her. But, she had a point. As hard as it was for Victoria to even think those thoughts.

‘This was for Max.’

Victoria had already made Max’s life worse, and regretted every second of it. She despised Chloe, hated her attitude, her ego, and her closeness to Max, but Victoria’s own ego was something that caused her far too much trouble. This could turn things around, and could help her growing relationship with Max. Even if it was just a start. After all, if Max and Chloe were going to keep growing closer, it would still be the right thing to do. It was time for Victoria to start making Max’s life easier.

“Photography, you know. Fashion. Makeup. And, uhm—“ Victoria exhaled a breath, what did she have to lose? “Anime.”

“Anime?” Chloe said with a small laugh in her voice. “You? A nerd?” Victoria scoffed dismissively.

“I knew this was a stupid idea.” Victoria growled softly. Chloe’s smirk softened. She wasn’t supposed to mock Victoria, she was trying to mend bridges not burn them. After a moment of chewing her lip, Chloe looked back at Victoria. How was she going to fix this before that bridge just collapsed?

“Y-Yeah, uh, Max and I used to watch anime when were younger.” Victoria kept her gaze away from Chloe, folding her arms back over her chest. “Uhm, what was it called? Like, uh, One Piece? Or something.”

“That’s right.” Victoria said softly.

“Right, yeah. I just remember the pirates. Max and I were super into pirates. Still are, honestly.” Chloe smirked and bobbed her head in a nod. Victoria turned half of her gaze back over to Chloe, reluctantly locking eyes with her.

“What was she like?”

“Huh?”

“Max. When she was younger.” Chloe blinked a little, caught off guard by Victoria’s interest.

“Oh, u-uh—“ she began, adjusting her beanie a she looked away from Victoria and thought for a moment. “—not that different than she is now, I guess. Insecure, shy, artsy-“ Chloe fixed her beanie and dared to catch a glimpse over at the unconscious form of her best friend. “—kind, selfless,” her voice dropped a little, “Amazing.” She caught Victoria looking at Max, as well. There was sadness there, regret even. Victoria had been trying to make amends to Max, and Chloe could at least give her credit for that. But, in that moment, something dawned on her.

“You wanna know more about her?” Chloe asked, Victoria turning to look at the punk.

“Yeah, actually.” Victoria answered and Chloe grinned. It should have been obvious, why didn’t she think about it sooner? If the two wanted to bond, they needed to bond over a shared interest.

Max.

“I’ve got all sorts of stories I could tell.” Chloe grinned a lopsided smile, “Many I’m sure Max wouldn’t want you to know. Secret, embarrassing stuff.” She winked over at Victoria, who smiled a small smile.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Totally.”

“Well, how about something less compromising first.”

“But, still juicy?” Chloe raised an eyebrow. Victoria shook her head and smiled.

“Why not?”

Chloe clapped her hands together and rubbed them for a moment, squaring her feet on the floor. “Alright, I got a good one—“ Victoria turned in her chair to face Chloe, crossed her legs and rested her hands in her lap, giving Chloe her undivided attention.

“Can’t wait, Chloe.”

“So, this was when Max and I were first able to head to Two Whales alone, that’s where my mom works.” Chloe begins, smiling, “So, we get there, yeah? We wanted breakfast and my mom would always give us stuff for free. Perks of her being a waitress, and me being her kid.” Chloe shrugged, “Max and I take a seat at our usual hangout and wait for my mom to come by and take our order. She gives us some drinks, right, but then more and more people start coming in. Lunch rush.” Chloe spread her hands apart, palms facing Victoria. “Minutes go by, yeah? And we’re expecting my mom to come back and take our order. No dice. So, we’re waiting and waiting, but-“ Chloe shrugs and twists her face slightly, “Nature calls, ya know? I can’t wait any longer. So, I lean over and tell Max my order. I jump out of the booth, wiggle my way through the crowd and beeline for the bathroom. I do my business, wash my hands and try and get through the crowd. And what do I see? Another waitress at our booth,” Chloe’s eyes widen and her mouth slacks open slightly, “But. No Max.”

Victoria furrowed her brows a little, pursing her lips in concern.

“I dart up to the booth and ask the waitress, ‘Hey-“ Chloe begins, her voice growing lighter as she tries to impersonate her younger self, “-have you seen my friend? She was just here before I went to the bathroom.’ The waitress shrugs, says she hasn’t seen anyone. Well, I start freaking out. Where did Max go? What happened to her? So, I’m panicking, and I want to find my mom, but she’s nowhere in sight. It’s up to me, then. I look around the end of the diner, yeah? Behind the jukebox, behind the counter, peeking in the kitchen. Max’s nowhere to be seen. I go back to our booth and get the hunch to look under the table. What do I find?”

“No.” Victoria says with a small smile. Chloe just nods, slowly.

“Under the table, knees to her chest, is Max Caulfield.” Chloe laughs softly, “I ask her why she was under the table, and do you know what she says?”

“No clue.”

Chloe’s voice attempts to go even higher than before, her body scrunching into a little ball as she spoke “I didn’t want to mess your order up, and I didn’t know that waitress. I got scared and hid under the table. I panicked. I’m sorry, Chloe.” Victoria couldn’t help but smile a small, piteous smile. She wanted nothing more than to leap into that story and give that small, mousey Max a big hug and tell here everything was going to be okay.

“That is so, totally—“ Victoria smiles, “—Max.”

Chloe nods in agreement, “Yeah. So, I helped her out from under the table, put my arm around her, gave her a hug and took her home. We had bologna sandwiches instead.” She glanced back over at Max, still smiling, “Doesn’t beat my mom’s cooking, but it was a small price to pay to see Max happy and calming down from a panic attack.” Victoria turns to follow Chloe’s gaze back to Max’s sleeping form (it helped her anxieties if she just said to herself that Max was just asleep.) and smiled a small, soft smile.

“She really hasn’t changed much, then?” Victoria finally said after the two had spent time watching Max.

“In some ways, yeah. She plays guitar now and, recently, she’s come out of her shell more.” Victoria nodded in agreement.

“Do you have any more stories?” Chloe grinned a wicked grin, turning to sit back in her chair. She slowly raised her arms up and gripped her hands together, resting the back of her head against her conjoined palms.

“Sister. I’ve got volumes.”

I must have slept forever. But, I needed it. Like, I really needed it. Who knew jumping between realties multiple times would be so exhausting? She said sarcastically. It was time for me to wake up now…

I open my eyes, they’re so much lighter now than they were before. My body is heavy, but I can actually move now, after some effort. I look around at my surroundings, my vision is blurry from disuse, but I can make out some details. I’m in a bed, with some railings around me. There’s a cheap blanket covering me, and I feel like I’m dressed in paper. There’s a weight on my left wrist, and some kind of beeping noise in the background. Beeping? What the crap?

Blinking my eyes a few times, my vision begins to clear up. I’m in a hospital, I think. What other place has beeping monitors and paper dresses? The weight on my arm is an IV needle stabbed into my veins and taped to me, I discover as I turn my wrist over. I try and sit up and it’s so much harder than I thought it would be. Big Alpha can’t even lift herself out of a bed.

Classic Max.

After an effort, and a lot of wincing from the needle in my wrist, I manage to sit up straight enough to see the rest of the room. It is a hospital room, with two more beds but, like, dorm beds not hospital beds; dorm beds that have been well used, by the looks of the carelessly tossed sheets and blankets. I want to get out of bed, to leave and walk around, to find Victoria and Chloe. But, I feel bound here. I couldn’t take the IV out without really hurting myself, so I feel like I’m handcuffed to this bed. I give it another look, rolling my wrist to look at it from all sides. How long had I been here? How long had I been asleep? Where were Chloe and Victoria?

I can’t wait anymore. I’ve waited long enough, been through enough. I need to see them. And nothing would stop me anymore!

With a swift yank, I tear the tape from my arm, and my arm is a searing landscape of pain. Ouch, shit, that hurt. Hurt more than I thought.

Maybe—Maybe I’ll just wait here. And, besides, those nurses worked really hard on putting this IV in, and if I yanked it out in a dramatic fashion, they’d probably be mad at me…

“…food’s like hot garbage—“

Wait, that voice.

“So, thanks for getting us some delivery, Tori.”

‘Tori?’

“Chloe?!” I can’t stop myself from shouting, nearly leaping out of the bed until my arm sears with pain again. IV. Right. But, I’m drawn from my pain as I hear hard soled feet clomping down the hallway. The thundering steps are nearly deafening before I can see her. Wide-eyed, chest heaving, long arms braced against the doorframe, blue hair scattered carelessly under her beanie.

“Max! MAX!” Chloe shouts, charging the bed, her arms slung wide open. I open my own arms and lean over the bed, and we collide into each other. Chloe hugs me with such strength I can hardly catch my breath. But, I don’t care. I don’t care about anything else but this. This right now. I smile, and feel hot tears roll down my face as I take in great breathes of Chloe.

Lilacs.’

“Chloe! Stop! You’re going to hurt her!” another voice brings me back to reality. I open my eyes and look over Chloe’s shoulder, and my smile widens. Carrying handfuls of paper bags, clomping as swiftly as her high heels will carry her, Victoria Chase approaches us. She looked much like Chloe did, shocked and amazed. It didn’t matter to her that the paper bags fell to the floor, possibly spilling its contents, because she just made her way closer to me. I could tell she wanted to hug me, her arms were stretching out and her pace quickening. But, she stopped. Her arms retreated to around her chest, and her gaze moved away from Chloe and me, but she would peek up at me from time to time. She was reluctant. Was it because of Chloe?

Chloe must have noticed me looking at Victoria, because she turned to stare at the blonde. With a quick glance back at me, Chloe left the hug and gave me a smile. She took a few steps back and I looked at Victoria, smiling at her when she met my gaze. I held my arms open for her and she walked into my grip, placing her arms around me. I felt her chin rest on my shoulder and feel a long breath exiting her.

Spiced Apples.’

“I missed you. I was so worried.” Victoria whispers and my smile breaks into a grin. I hold her closer, squeezing her tightly.

“I missed you too, Victoria.” I say softly and I hear a small breathy laugh jump from her lips. A gagging sound jolted us both and we turned to look at wherever that horrible noise came from. Chloe was looking at us both, arms folded over her chest and raising an eyebrow; her smirk put me at ease, though. Victoria pulled away, her cheeks flushing and quickly put her arms close to her side.

We missed you, Max.” Chloe said, grinning widely as she took a few steps closer to me.

“Mm. Yes. Both of us.” Victoria followed up, keeping her gaze off Chloe as her cheeks burned a brighter red. I felt myself sink into the bed a little, but I smiled a warm smile to both of them. I must have looked exhausted because Chloe put a hand on my shoulder and tilted her head slightly.

“Get some rest, Super Max. You look like you need it.”

“I—In a minute,” I say, placing a hand atop Chloe’s. They were both here, together. It was now or never. I had to face this head on. No more running. “I need to tell you both something.” The two looked at me, then to one another before returning to me.

Well. Here goes nothing.

Both of us?” Chloe said, furrowing her brows and looking between her knees for a moment. Victoria also looked confused, her brow as furrowed as Chloe’s. It was hard to look at them, so I kept my eyes down at my hands, which couldn’t stop fiddling with one another. Pinching fingers, squeezing palms, scratching nails, anything to keep my eyes occupied. But the silence was quickly growing unbearable for me. After what felt like forever, I look up and see Victoria’s puzzled look, but when I turn to Chloe, she’s just looking at me with a small smile on her face.

“Heart has enough room for two people at the same time. That’s what you said to me at the lighthouse, remember?”

I buckle a little. I didn’t really expect that from Chloe. I expected anger, or hurt. Disappointment or jealousy. How long was I unconscious? Must have been a long time for Chloe to have changed so much…

“You—You can’t—“ Victoria began, her confusion stalling her words, “You can’t be, together, with multiple people.” She said more as if it were a common fact, like saying the sky was blue or the water was wet. But, the look on her face made it seem like she wasn’t so sure of her words.

“Why not?” Chloe asked in a neutral tone, turning to look at Victoria with a blank expression. “If you love more than one person and everyone’s cool with it—“ Chloe just gave a small shrug, allowing that to end her sentence. Victoria looked like she wanted to say something, to rebuke Chloe or refute her. But she didn’t say anything. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, but she eventually fell back into her chair, her eyes on her lap.

“I just needed to say it.” I say, and look down just after both Chloe and Victoria turn to look at me. “Denying that part of me was eating me up inside, it’s what caused my pow—“ I stop myself, before looking at Chloe. She nods, understanding. “My, problem.” I correct myself. I let a moment of silence sit between all of us, and I rub my arm nervously. Who would have thought spilling your guts would be so neve wracking right? Sarcasm, obviously.

“I don’t expect anything. I know it’s weird, and different. But—“ I chew on my lip for a moment, the feeling is there, but my mind is having trouble forming words.

“But, it’s who you are. And you gotta be true to that.” Chloe so easily finds the words I can’t. “I get it, Max.” Victoria looks at Chloe and tilts her head slightly.

“Wouldn’t you be angry if Max was dating someone else if you two were together?” she asks, but without the accusatory tone I thought would be there. It’s almost like Victoria is asking Chloe to reaffirm something. Chloe, being Chloe, bucks the expectation.

“I would have. Before. But,” she turns back to me and smiles, “People change.” I smile back a little at her before Chloe returns to Victoria.

“B-But—“ Victoria says, her face twisted by confusion. Was she really baffled by this? Or was it something else?

“I mean, obviously it wouldn’t be for everyone.” Chloe says, another shrug sent Victoria’s way. “Everyone’s different, ya know?” When the heck did Chloe get so wise? What the eff.

“I—I guess,” Victoria says, her voice shrinking in defeat. I could see the cogs in Victoria’s head turning and I felt a pang of guilt ringing in my chest. I didn’t think it would be like this, honestly. I expected both of them to reject the idea. Reject me. But, here was Chloe, seemingly okay with it and Victoria trying to rework her entire worldview. Maybe I should have just stayed quiet…

No. I had to do this. And, I had to deal with consequences.

“You like Max, right Tori?” Chloe’s words breaking into my thoughts and dragging me back to reality. I look up, but decide to keep my head down. Victoria tightens her grip around her chest and I can see her cheeks flushing.

“I—“ Victoria begins, before closing her eyes and taking a long, deep breath. After she releases it, she looks at Chloe with a hard gaze. “Yes. I do.”

‘W-Wait a minute. What? Really?’

“After I’d seen what happened to Max, I—“ she turns to look at me, her eyes full of concern, “—I freaked. I didn’t know what to do. I panicked, and I was so scared of what would happen.” Her arms squeeze across her chest and she buckles into herself slightly. “I was terrified of what would happen to Max. And, I—“ she exhales a breath, “—I couldn’t figure out why. Why I was so scared. Why I had abandoned Blackwell and my friends. Why I stayed in a hospital for weeks, wrecking my nerves while I watched Max sleep.”

Victoria went quiet a moment, her eyes moving from side to side quickly as she looked into her lap. Chloe and I gave her some space, let her collect the thoughts she was obviously scrambling for. When she looked back up, she locked eyes with me, and I tried as hard as I could to give her a reassuring look.

“Acquaintances don’t do that. Don’t feel the way I felt, the nervousness and anxiety. And the relief when you woke up—“ she smiles at me, and I smile back, “—I know, it has to be something more. Something deeper.” Victoria and I keep our gazes on each other, and I just can’t stop smiling as I look at her. “I’m nervous,” she says after a moment, “About these feelings. But, I know they’re there. They’re real. And, I, u-uhm—“ she looks away from me for a moment, “—I feel totally exposed and vulnerable right now.” She says, a nervous little laugh escaping her lips.

“I know how you feel.” I say, “I didn’t know about me being, ya know, into multiple people, I guess?” there has to be a word for that. “And I just, ya know, told you two about how I feel, so—“ I mimic Victoria’s laugh with my own little nervous one.

“Alright, Vic-“ Chloe interrupts, and I’m thankful for a moment to myself, “—you like Max. I like Max. Max likes both of us.” Victoria looks at Chloe, “That much we know, right?” Victoria nods. Chloe smiles a thin line of a smile and raises her hands up in a shrug. “We can just have joint custody of her.” I furrow my brows a little, but, the analogy makes sense. In a way.

Victoria pushes her mouth to one side and looks away from Chloe. After a moment of thinking, she turns to look at me.

“I don’t know how I feel about this.” I expected this and it hurts, but not as much as I had expected. This was weird, and I knew I wouldn’t get what I wanted. Life isn’t perfect, and we don’t always get what we really want—

“But,”

Wait, hang on.

“I—I really like you, Max. And, I’m willing to—“ Victoria swallows before looking at me firmly in the eyes, “—to try, whatever this is.” My eyes widen, my heart is nearly breaking the inside of my ribcage. Victoria holds her hands up, and my excitement begins to wane. “But. I might not, you know, want to keep this going, so, you know, just—“ she drops her hands into her lap, “—just in case it happens.”

“R-Right!” I say, with way more excitement than I thought I had. I try and calm down a little, “Y-Yeah, totally. That, uhm, that makes perfect sense.” I nod a little and hear Chloe start to chuckle. She stands and walks over to me bringing her hand down on my head and messing my hair up a bit. I groan.

“Jeez, Max-“ Chloe begins, a playfully mocking tone in her voice, “-how come your mom lets you have TWO girlfriends?” I chuckle and Chloe wraps an arm around me, giving me a playful jostle. I’m so wrapped up in Chloe’s horseplay I hardly notice Victoria has moved to stand next to Chloe. She’s smiling and I feel butterflies in my stomach.

“You should be grateful, Max.” Victoria says, adding a little too much posh into her voice for her to be serious, “You must be something special if I’m willing to tolerate Price over here for you.” She smirks down at me and tilts her head. “You can thank me later with an appropriate amount of groveling.” I chuckle at that and nod at her.

“Come on, Vic-“ Chloe says, wrapping her other arm around Victoria’s shoulders and pulling her close, much to Victoria’s shock. “-we better play nice if we’re going to be sharing the same Alpha, yeah?”

I’m still in shock. I still can’t believe this is happening. Victoria and Chloe are both going to try and date me? Is the universe finally done taking a shit on me? Am I finally catching a break? I shouldn’t question this too much. It won’t last. I know it won’t. If the past few months have been any indication, what with the storm, Rachel’s fate, the Dark Room, there’s no way I get a perfect happy ending. Even if this thing is temporary, even if I know in my gut it will end badly, I should allow myself to enjoy it. I’ve been through so much shit, so much hell, I deserve to be happy. I deserve this.

As I watch Victoria and Chloe playful chide one another, I’m left wondering exactly when this will end. My smile shrinks to a smirk as Victoria playfully dismisses one of Chloe’s jokes. Whatever ends up happening, I’ll enjoy this and every other moment I can with both of them.

It won’t last forever, but I’ll still make the best of it. Of everything.

Chapter Text

I had returned to the Dark Room. I wasn’t afraid though. No, not this time. This time, I was in control. This was my Dark Room, not Jefferson’s; he couldn’t hurt me anymore. Not me, not Kate, not Victoria, not anyone. This wasn’t even some super-secret bunker, just a converted walk-in closet. Luckily for me, we didn’t need the extra bedroom anymore, so I could do whatever I wanted with it. Though, I’d best enjoy this while I could, I wouldn’t be able to use it in a few months.

Just a few more, and I think I’ll be done for the day. I pin up the last few photos to develop and pull my earbuds from my ears. The quieting tunes of ‘Lord Huron’ eventually fade as I put the buds in my pocket and thumb off my Spotify playlist. Enough work, so the jams can cease. Until tomorrow.

Quickly, I shut the closet door and look out and about the room. A fine, wide desk sits in the corner with a chair that costs more than most of my cloths do, and the computer sitting on it costs more than my life. Well, Victoria needed the best equipment for her work; or was it my work now? Speaking of Victoria, I should probably check on her. It’d been a while since we last spoke.

Our condo was big enough for us, but I’d hardly call it anything fancy. Victoria insisted on something nice and expensive, but I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable in any home that was too bougie. And, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, so Victoria was out voted. I walked down the halls, peering at the long line of framed photos, some were mine and some were Victoria’s. It’s a shame she doesn’t pick up the camera much anymore, but she works all the time. All for me. I still don’t know how I feel about her sacrificing her photography passion for me…

Even though she had told me she wanted to do it, told me she wanted to help me succeed, I still felt guilt over her decision.

You could hear Victoria before you saw her and, judging by her tone of voice, I could already tell what she was doing before I even walked into the living room. Victoria paced the room slowly, still dressed in a sleek black pantsuit despite her not being in the office. She was speaking to someone over her Bluetooth, seeming to be far more concerned with her conversation than with me sneaking into the room.

“Her work is top notch, Grayson. A master of natural light at such a young age would easily draw crowds. If you recall, I was the winner of the ‘Everyday Heroes’ contest from Blackwell Academy in 2013, and have been featured in several galleries myself. I know what I’m talking about. And you know that I know.” Victoria said plainly, but I noticed her brows furrowed as I rounded into the kitchen, narrowly avoiding smashing my hips against our newly installed kitchen island. One day I’ll get used to that marble-topped behemoth.

“Have you even looked at the proofs I sent you?” Victoria’s gaze was hard, glaring at a blank spot on the wall. “Well, god damnit, Grayson. How am I supposed to work with you if you haven’t even seen the damn prints?!” Victoria shouted. I instinctually winced, and nearly spilled the tomato juice I was trying to pour. “Look at the damn prints, Grayson, and then call me back!” and with as much fury as a fingertip could muster, Victoria ended her phone call. She exhaled a long breath and pinched the bridge of her nose.

Juice in hand, I approach Victoria with a soft smile. I hand her the cup, which she takes readily, and I gently rub my hand across her bicep. I could already feel how tense she was.

“Tough day at the office, dear?” I ask, trying to add as much humor into my voice. Victoria sighed, ignored my dumb joke and took a long drink of the juice, nearly downing it all in one go.

“I could go into it but, honestly, I’d rather just take a hot bath and drink a glass of pinot.” Victoria looked down at me and smiled a small, tired smile. I move in and hold my arms out to her, and she moves into the hug and nestles her nose into my neck. Maybe some good ol’ “eau d’Max” would help her calm down.

Before our moment can become too calming and romantic, the front door slams open quickly and Victoria and I nearly jump.

“Oh, no. Don’t mind me. Pregnant woman carrying groceries coming through. Don’t everyone jump up at once.” Chloe groaned, a few plastic bags hanging from her hands and forearms. I immediately flee Victoria and attempt to grab some of the bags. Chloe hands me some with a grunt and shakes her long green hair.

I begin unloading some of the groceries and Victoria joins us at the island, helping me as Chloe takes a laboriously long sit. She exhales a long breath and places a hand on her bulging stomach. Chloe was coming up on five months now, and it was getting harder to not notice just how pregnant she was.

“You know the doctor says you need to begin to limit your activity, Chloe.” Victoria scolds, placing some meat into the freezer. Chloe just rolls her eyes and groans in her throat.

“Get off my dick, Tori-“ Chloe snipes, “-I’m not made of glass. I can handle a grocery run”

“You’re not made of glass. But, you can’t be overworking yourself. It isn’t good for you-“

“-or the baby. Yeah, yeah, fuck’s sake, Tori. I know my own body.” Growled Chloe.

Oh boy. Here we go again. When you have two powerful personalities in a room for long enough, they’re bound to fight. I’ve learned this lesson very well over the years. Peacekeeper Max, deployed. I step between the two of them, hands held up to further block the two from one another.

“Okay, okay.” I say, in as calm a manner as I can. “That’s enough. No need to argue.” The two furrowed their brows and looked down at me, their scowls softening. I turn to look at Victoria and, in as even a tone as possible, I say-

“Victoria. Chloe knows her body, and knows her limits. We can trust her to know what she can and can’t do.” I could already feel Chloe’s smug smile forming behind me, but I turned to look at her and in that same tone, “Chloe, you know Victoria and I are just concerned about you. We’re not trying to belittle you, we just care about you and your health.” Chloe exhaled through her nose and gave me a nod.

“Yeah, I—I get it. I appreciate it, ya know? Really. Just—“ she shook her head and shrugged, “—hormones.” Her voice sounded at once frustrated, and defeated.

“I get it.” Victoria said, arms crossed over her chest, “And I’ve been so stressed about getting Max’s work out there into galleries. These crusty old gallery owners are stubborn.” The blonde looked up at Chloe and gave her a small smile. “Sorry, I’ll try and dial it back.”

“I’m sorry, too. Just because Max’s gremlin’s taking up space in here doesn’t give me an excuse to be a bitch.” Chloe said, her hand rubbing her stomach gently. I smile, peace has been restored to the kingdom; Max Caulfield, master negotiator.

“Whew. Crisis averted.” I can’t help but say, chuckling a little at my own joke. Victoria raises her eyebrows, un-crosses her arms across her chest and shakes her head at me. I can also feel Chloe staring at me. I shudder a little, both of their attention can be a little overwhelming.

“Yes. Wonderful oratory skills, Max-“ Victoria said as she walked around behind me and looking down at me with a smirk. “-Let’s hope you can bring that charisma to the gallery opening this Friday.” I felt Victoria’s hands on my shoulders and could feel her leaning in close. I shuddered.

“Heh, yeah, Maximus-“ Chloe said with a big smirk, “-you’re gonna be the star of the show at a big gallery. But, I’m sure you’re all full of confidence and excitement, yeah?” Chloe could hardly hold back her chuckle as I knew my face would flush at the thought of being under such scrutiny. I shiver in Victoria’s grip and I stare down at my feet. I feel a few of Victoria’s fingers gently rub against my neck, and I look up to see Chloe dismounting the stool she’d perched on.

Chloe walked up to me, placing her hands on my biceps and smiled down at me. Victoria and Chloe being so close to me was both nerve-wracking, and calming. The eternal conflict when my girlfriends, my—my mates, decided to gang up on me. I exhale another breath as I feel Victoria pressing against my back, jeez, these two will kill me one day. But, I’ll die happy, at least.

“I know this must be scary, Max-“ Victoria said, her voice soft and warm, “-but, remember, Chloe and I are here for you. We’ll always have your back. No matter what.”

“Tori’s right, Max.” Chloe adds, “Hell, you’ve faced down a once in a lifetime tornado, all the crap you did at ground zero in Arcadia Bay—“ Chloe began to smile as she continued, and it grew into a big grin as she sung my praises “—this gallery stuff will be a breeze by comparison. And with us at your backs, nothing’ll stop you!”

I feel the tears falling down my cheeks before I can stop them, but I’m smiling so, honestly, I don’t want them to stop. I feel Chloe’s grip on me tighten, and I know she’s looking down at me even as I shut my eyes and smile.

“Max. Max, are you alright?” she asks, and I feel Victoria’s grip on me change.

“Talk to us, Max.” Victoria says, concern growing in her voice, her hands squeezing my shoulders gently.

“Y-Yeah,” I sniffled a little, reaching up to wipe the tears away with a quick brush of my sleeve, “Yeah, just—“ my smile grows, “—you two are the best things that have ever happened to me. And, you just make me so happy. Sorry.” Victoria’s grip eases up and Chloe just smiles down at me. Ridiculous, I know, but my mate’s make me happy.

“Glad that’s taken care of.” Chloe says, gently patting my shoulders and taking a step back. “Don’t know if I coulda comforted Max right now.” she says, placing a hand on her stomach, “Out of the way. Bathroom.” With a small push, Chloe moved away from Victoria and me and made her way deeper into the condo.

I smile as I watch her leave, and feel Victoria’s lips on my cheek. It brings me back to her and I look up at her and she smiles while she wraps her arms around me and just holds me tightly. This moment was so wonderful, but I couldn’t enjoy it. Victoria released me and moved around to walk back into the living room. I suppose she wanted to say something important, but I couldn’t focus on anything other than her swaying hips.

“Alright, Max. Fun’s over.”

‘Oh, shit. Does Victoria have eyes in the back of her head?’

“H-Huh?” I blink and look up just in time to see Victoria turn around and look back at me, hands on those hips I was so intently staring at.

“You have a gallery opening on Friday. That’s only three days away, Max. We need to make sure you’re ready.” I smirk and rub my shoulder a little.

“You’ve got my photos. They’re all hung up, right?”

“Yes. But, I didn’t say ‘your photos’ need to be ready.” She walks towards me and places her hands on my shoulders, squeezing me slightly and looking down into my eyes with a firm gaze. I shiver a little, my elbows pushing in on myself. “You need to be ready.”

“Oh. Dog.”

I couldn’t believe this. I never thought I’d be here, at least, not in my own reality. Me, Max Caulfield, standing in front of an art gallery where my own work is being featured. To even get here before I had to sacrifice Arcadia Bay and Chloe. It wasn’t worth it. But even here, in this reality, I had to make a sacrifice. I deserve this as much as all the fishermen, truckers and shopkeepers deserved the tornado tearing through Arcadia Bay. Did all of them have to lose their lives, their livelihoods, homes and families just so I could get into a gallery? So that I could still have—

“Max—“ a hand falls on my shoulder and I about leap out of my skin, yelping like a scared dog. I put a hand on my chest to try and slow my heart from breaking out of my ribcage when I turn and see Chloe standing in front of me, hands up. “—shit, sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.” I take a few deep breaths and relax my shoulders.

“It’s—It’s okay.” I say, catching my breath. “I was just,” I rub my shoulder and look down at my shoes. “Inside my head.”

“You’re there all the time. But that won’t get you out of paying your part of the mortgage.” Chloe smirked, her hands on her hips. I smile and look over at her and am still surprised at what I see. Somehow, Chloe was standing in a dress. A dress, of all things. A long dark blue dress of comfortable silk, draping upward to sling over her shoulders and expose the length of her back before resting above the hip. Victoria’s choice, but her expertise made Chloe look fabulous. Although Victoria lost the fight with Chloe over footwear, Chloe used her pregnancy trump card to keep her feet covered in her ratty (Chloe says ‘comfortable’) sneakers. Chloe, pregnant. Another fact of my life that blew my mind every time I thought about it. Even her hair was done in a well braided up-do, exposing the faded mating bite upon her neck.

She was gorgeous. There really wasn’t any other word for it. I fluttered my lashes a bit, realizing that I was staring. Chloe was my mate, yeah, but it still wasn’t cool to just gawk at her.

“You look so beautiful, Chloe.” I say with a smile, clasping my hands in front of me. Chloe’s smirk grows to a wider grin.

“I guess I do clean up nice, yeah?” Chloe said, holding her arms out and looking herself over. “Speaking of ‘cleaning up nice’,” Chloe took a few steps closer to me and gripped the collar of my shirt, adjusting it. I was Victoria’s other target, and under her eyes I was wearing comfortable black slacks, a tight white button-up shirt, covered in a simple black blazer. Unlike Chloe, I lost my footwear fight, and chose some leather flats to wear; Victoria insisted on high heels, but I managed to talk her down from that disaster.

“I—I guess.” I say, dropping my gaze down to stare at my feet—or, Chloe’s stomach, actually.

“I get you’re nervous, Max,” Chloe said, her voice soft and intimate as she leaned closer to my ear, “You’ve got this. You know Tori’s in there softening up all those snobs and hipsters. She’ll help you deflect that hoity-toity crap.” I look up into Chloe’s gaze and feel a small smile forming on my lips. “And, hey, I’m here for you too.” She grinned at me, “If I need to, I’ll be stuck on you like glue. Whatever you need me to do to feel comfortable, okay?”

Chloe’s boundless confidence was infectious and I felt myself straighten my back a bit. From a meek five-foot four to a towering five-foot five. I could take on the world.

“O-Okay. We, uhm, we should go inside now. I—I guess.”

“Yeah. Tori said there’d be food and I’m eating for two.” Chloe puts her hands on my shoulders, spins me around and begins to push for towards the gallery’s entrance. The doors opened up and I couldn’t stop my mouth from opening. It was a large studio, with an open ceiling lined with bright fluorescent lights, air ducts and fans. The tall studio walls didn’t reach to the ceiling, but they were bedecked with all manner of art, even though photography was the dominant medium; a large iron-wrought deer sat in the middle of the entrance way and I couldn’t stop a shudder as I looked at it. I look between the various walls, and peek at the various photographs before my eye is drawn to a somewhat crowded hallway off to the front desk. Chloe gives me another gentle push and we head towards it.

“Look at that, there’s already a crowd.” Chloe says with happiness in her tone. I’m, of course, nervous. My spine stiffens and I can feel Chloe needing to push me a bit harder than before. “Come on, Max. Relax. If anything so I don’t have to push you so hard.” I do my best to take her advice, but, it’s hard to bend steel with your bare hands.

We breach the crowd, a few well-dressed yuppies were chatting and Chloe forced us through their conversation since they wouldn’t just move when we came by. Chloe stopped pushing when we got further into the gallery room and gripped my shoulders gently. I look around the room and my eyes widen as I finally realize that, these are all mine. My photography, blown up and printed on canvas or kept in their polaroids, was all over the walls. People were looking at my work, talking about my work, smiling as they examined every detail. My heart was going to stop.

“Max, hey—“ a whisper tickled my ear and I blinked back into reality. “—we should find Victoria. I promised I’d deliver you to her.” I looked around, trying not to critically stare at my work plastered all across the gallery. A small chorus of laughter drew my attention to the far corner where I saw a small crowd of sharp-dressed hipsters and a single figure in a svelte black dress.

‘Victoria.’

“Found her.” Chloe said with a smile, gently pushing me forward, easier now that I’ve figured out how my feet work again. As we approach, I notice a few of the hipsters had turned their smiling faces towards me, and when enough of them did, Victoria turned. Her small, polite smile blossomed into a wide grin as she walked closer to me.

“There you are.” She said happily, moving her free hand towards my collar, adjusting it (how do I keep messing up my collars?) while her other hand held a slender glass of yellow, bubbling liquid. Champagne. Classic Victoria. “Good, good. I was worried you’d chicken’d out.” Victoria playfully teased.

“Come on, Tori.” Chloe said with a fake tone of frustration, “I’ve been wrangling Max for years. I’m an expert.” She boasted. Victoria just gave Chloe a nod.

“Right. Trust the experts.” She said, swooping an arm beneath mine, hooking me closer to her. “I’ll take it from here, Chloe. Go get yourself some food.”

Chloe grinned and bobbed her head, “Hell yeah.” The hipsters looked a bit surprised by Chloe’s exclamation as she walked past them towards a long table filled with various finger foods. As Victoria walked me towards the group of hipsters, I look down at Victoria’s form-fitting black dress. It was complimentary as was everything Victoria wore, and ended slightly above her knee baring her legs and high-heeled shoes (how tall were those heels? Four? Six inches? Damn, Victoria). I noticed the lack of jewelry Victoria wore, in particular her lack of a necklace. My eyes moved to the outline of her mating mark; Victoria, like Chloe, blatantly showing they were happily claimed. I couldn’t look at her for too much longer, because we reached the group fairly quickly.

Victoria beamed at the group and turned her gaze to me. I look up and she gives me a quick wink before addressing the group again.

“Well, you wanted to meet the woman of the hour-“ she released my arm and moved to rest it along my shoulders. “-here she is. Max Caulfield.” The group looked down at me and I felt myself collapsing under their gazes. The only thing keeping me from breaking entirely was Victoria’s firm grip on my shoulder. She wouldn’t let me fall.

“Hello.” I manage to say, louder than I thought I’d be, but still quiet.

“Max,” Victoria says, drawing attention back to her, “This is Hilary Lorenz,” she says, gesturing her champagne glass to a shorter woman wearing a dark floral dress. She smiled at me, her eyes pinching around the two piercings she had in each eyebrow. I give her a smile in response. “She’s an editor at ‘Snapshot’, a popular art blog and an overall media guru.”

“Nice to meet you, Max.” Hilary said, holding a hand out bedecked in rings. I take her hand and give it a small shake, hearing her bracelets rattle together like a chaotic xylophone.

“Nice to meet you, too.” I meekly reply.

“Your work is incredible. Composition seems to come easily to you because everything I’ve seen is framed so perfectly. Every piece has such a distinct mood to it.” Wow, wait, did she really just say all that? About my work?

“Thanks. I, uhm, try and capture my subjects in, ya know, everyday situations. And, I try and make sure they don’t notice me, so, they’ll be more relaxed. I think it makes my photos seem more ‘real’.” I smile as she nods, seeming to reaffirm all that art school jargon I was forced to learn. This was like a big critique circle, except these were industry professionals that could make or break my future. So, no pressure to impress, I guess.

“Speaking of your relaxed models,” a man whose name I don’t know, raises a hand and smiles, “I absolutely adore these two photos here—“ he turned and pointed to two photos adjacent to one another. I follow his hands and look at two canvas prints, and I smile. The two photos were mirrors of one another, two women, two poses, back to back (essentially, they were both standing back to back in their separate prints).

Chloe was standing in her underwear, messy bed-head plastered about her, a look of restful peace on her face as she looked out the window basking in the morning glow and resting a hand on her (albeit slightly smaller) stomach. Behind her was Victoria, standing as she spoke on the phone, looking out at the city skyline ahead of her, her business attire was a large sweater that hung from her shoulder and long plaid sweatpants. The two most important women in my life, in two different times of their lives, reflecting their personalities as I see them.

Victoria was a driven, ambitious and fearless woman, but despite her near immaculate façade she showed the world, I know she is just a normal and flawed woman working as hard as she can to achieve her dreams. Chloe keeps up appearances as a hardened, gruff punk who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her but I know she’s a loving, compassionate and empathetic woman who would do anything for those she loves. These are the faces I wanted to show, the real women I wanted to show; the women who I fell in love with.

And if the reactions of the people who looked at them, and the small crowd gathered around me, showed me that people were happy to see this side of my mates.

“—a side of Victoria I’m sure she didn’t think anyone would see.” A voice said, and a small wave of polite laughter filled the circle. I blinked, turning my gaze back to them. Victoria smiled and took a drink of her champagne.

“Remember, remember, I’m the one who in the end approved these photos. I have nothing to hide.” She grinned and a few of the group nodded, admitting they were just playful teasing Victoria. To Victoria’s credit, she took the gentle prods in stride. She seems so at ease here, in the middle of everyone, talking and laughing, commanding the room. And here I am, trying so hard not to fall into my old nervous habits I’m nearly shaking. It’s hard to focus on much of anything with so much noise going on.

I do my best to keep up appearances, though. I smile, make small talk when prodded and accept the compliments when I can. Random people walk up to me and congratulate me, or compliment my work in ways I never even considered. Pats on the shoulder, handshakes, smiling faces, nodding heads; all of them start to blend together. My head’s starting to spin, chest is getting tighter.

I need a breather. I need some air.

Somehow, I can break away. I make for the entrance and push the door open. The crisp Seattle air is a welcome refresher as I walk further from the gallery. I let my feet carry me where they will, and I end up at a nearby bike rack, with just enough space for a single hipster to lean against. I grip the cold metal with tight fists as I lean against the rack, raising my head to take a few deep breaths of chill night air. The cool breeze on my face calms me, and I even allow myself a small smile once my anxiety begins to drift away.

I should be happy. Excited, even. My dreams were coming true. How many people can say that? But, I am happy. I am excited. But, I’m also terrified. Nothing can ever just be simple, can it?

“Hey, superstar.” I turn and see Chloe walking towards me, two plastic cups of water in her hands. She’s giving me a small smile, one I return in kind as she hands me the cup. “Victoria said you bolted out of here. Figured you might want this.” I gladly take the cup and sip a few drinks.

“Y-Yeah. Thanks.” I say, holding the cup in both hands. “I just—“

“No need to explain.” Chloe says, walking next to me and wrapping an arm around my shoulders. She pulls me in and gives me a few kisses on the top of my head. I lean against her exposed collarbone and steal away a small hint of her scent.

Lilacs.’ I’m calming down already.

“I can probably convince Victoria to keep the hounds away while we dip out.” Chloe grins at me in that way that reminds of when we broke into Blackwell Academy at night.

“Honestly, yeah, I’d like that.” I say, taking another few sips. “I’ve been on edge all night.” As if to emphasize that point, my body shivers.

“This was your first show, Max. The first of many.” Chloe gives me a gentle shake, her words filled with encouragement. “You’ll get used to this. The nerves will go away in time.” I believe her and smile a wide smile up at her.

“Yeah. Plus, I have the best cheerleaders.”

“Dana Ward’s got nothing on me.” Chloe beams, grinning from ear to ear. She lets go of me and holds her arms upward, “M-A-X! What’s that spell?”

“You’re such-a dork.” I chuckle and Chloe just holds her arms out.

“See? You’re laughing. Already doing my job.” She places her hands on her hips and gives me a nod. “Wait here, okay? I’m gonna talk to Tori, then we can get out of here.” And with that, Chloe turned about and headed back into the gallery. I hoped Victoria would understand.

I’ll find a way to make it up to her.

I don’t know exactly when I fell asleep, but it must have been somewhere in the middle of my ‘Still Corners’ album, because that’s the last thing I remember. Something had woke me up, but it wasn’t very loud. I was too tired to deal with a burglar anyway…

With minimal effort, I move Chloe’s arms from around my shoulders and begin the long trek to the opposite end of our California King bed. I scoot my butt off and pull the needle off the record player, the gentle hum of the record nearly putting me back to sleep. I stretch up to the sky, grunting a little as I do before I make my way out into the hallway. There’s a light on in the living room, so I guess the burglar is there. Maybe I should be a bit more careful dealing with an actual home intruder.

“Oh, shit.” The intruder says, with a little more of a slur in their voice than I thought. I breach into the living room and see a swaying Victoria trying to undo the clasp of her high heel. I shake my head a little and cross my arms over my chest.

“Aren’t you out past curfew?” I tease, and Victoria nearly falls onto the couch. Evidently, I surprised her. She recovers and just smiles at me.

“Max. Shit. You scared me.” I can hear the slur a bit more now. She must be drunk. I walk over to her and offer a shoulder so Victoria can have enough balance to finish unclasping her final shoe. She leans into me and giggles, giggles. Her eyes close and she puts more weight onto me, an arm moving to grip me in a lazy, awkward hug. I feel her nuzzle into my hair and I can’t help but laugh.

“What are you doing?” I ask through a small laugh.

“You smell good. Like fresh rain.”

You smell like booze.” I say, moving to drag Victoria’s dead weight back towards the bedroom. Carrying a swaying, dead weight Victoria. Déjà vu.

“I’m sorry, Maxine.” Victoria whines, and I let the name pass; she is drunk, after all. “I kept getting handed glasses of champagne and I wanted to stay and talk about how amazing you are. Oh!” she leans more into me and whispers into my ear a slurred barrage of words. “I’ve got in talks for another showing, same pictures, different gallery. Big things.” She leans back and shouts, “Big thiiiiings, Maxiiiiiine!” she says in a loud, sing-song tone.

“Victoria!” I say in an aggressive whisper, “Chloe’s asleep.” Victoria looks down at me with a genuinely sorry look to her face.

“Oh, shit, shit. Sorry.” She says as we round into the bedroom. Luckily for us, Chloe slept through Victoria’s shouting. I gently place Victoria onto the bed and it takes only a second before she flops over onto the bed, gripping the pillow close to her head. I look at her for a moment and smile, even as I shake my head at her.

“What am I going to do with you?” I ask quietly as I attempt to climb over her.

“Love me.”

“I already do that.” I say, getting back into my position in the center of the bed. As I pull the blanket up over me, I feel Victoria shuffling towards me, and her arms soon wrap around my waist. She nuzzles into the back of my neck, and I hear her taking big inhales of breath. I look back at her and see that she’s already closed her eyes and drifting off to sleep. Since Chloe hadn’t moved when I left her, I nestle against her collarbone and place my arms around her waist, holding her close to me. Between Victoria and Chloe, I find that sleep comes easy.

Surrounded by the two women I love more than anything in the world, my dreams finally coming true, and my mind finally calming down. I can’t help but smile. After Blackwell, the Dark Room, the storm, all the hell I’d been put through, I finally felt good. Finally felt happy.

For once in my life, everything seemed to be coming up Max.