What We Make – Chapter Eight: A Lighthouse in a Sea of Time

Max adjusted her grip on the gun, accidentally rubbing her raw wrists together. Chloe had only just finished removing the tape, and her skin still stung from it being ripped off.

Now Chloe was at her right, Kate and Warren on her left. They didn’t have long before David and the police would arrive, but it was still hard to know where to begin. The others were looking at her, waiting for her lead. There were so many things she wanted to ask, but she had a feeling with the right question the answers would start to fall together like dominos. Ultimately, most of what they’d learned from the Prescotts all had to do with –

“The storm,” Max said, and she held the gun a little higher as she spoke. “How did you know it was coming?”

Sean Prescott raised his eyebrows. “How do you think, Miss Caulfield?”

Max scowled, but Chloe retorted before she could.

“Don’t give us that bullshit,” Chloe said, stepping a little closer. “We want the truth.”

Sean seemed to consider arguing, but instead turned his attention toward Max again. Amelia, meanwhile, was still holding her bleeding hand, staring ahead as though they were beneath her notice.

“I told you before, Miss Caulfield,” Sean said. “You weren’t the only one – have never been the only one – to have power far greater than those around you. There’s a reason we’ve long controlled this town: that kind of power has run through generations of my family.”

“Generations?” Chloe repeated, narrowing her eyes. “So, your family has known the storm was coming for – ”

“As long as we’ve been in Arcadia Bay,” Sean finished. “My great-grandfather’s father saw many things with his gifts.”

“Gifts?” Warren asked, and Max glanced at him, furrowing her eyebrows. Sean had said something similar about her powers – that she’d been given a ‘gift’ his family hadn’t. “You’re saying he saw the future.”

Sean didn’t even look at Warren, and kept his eyes on Max as he answered.

“Only in his dreams. He saw hundreds, thousands, of visions while he slept. Some of what he saw would occur within weeks. Others well beyond his lifetime. All of it helped raise my family from obscurity, helped us prepare for what we knew was to come – ”

“Right, prepare,” Max cut across him before he could enter into a full-on monologue. “So, your family knew the storm was coming and – and built shelters. Okay. Tell me then, how exactly did Mark Jefferson fit into that ‘preparation’?”

“Everyone had a role to play,” Amelia whispered, her voice so low Max almost didn’t catch it. “His photography…it was supposed to…” She trailed off, and her next words were louder: “He – he would kill Nathan,” She said. She continued to stare off into the distance, her eyes oddly blank, even as they overflowed with tears. “Why…why couldn’t I see that before?”

Sean looked away from Max for the first time in the conversation, seeming actually pained by the words.

Chloe snorted. “Little late to act all worried when you let him hang out with a psychopath.”

Amelia glared at her, tears rolling down her cheeks, but Max knew they had to stay focused on their questions.

“You said everyone had a role to play,” She spoke loudly, before either her or Chloe could say more. “What was Jefferson’s role? Nathan’s role? What does the storm have to do with – with anything?”

“The storm was to be our catalyst, Miss Caulfield,” Sean answered after a second of silence, staring hard at her. Pain rippled across Max’s temples, and for a moment the lighthouse was gone; the storm raging around her, wind threatening to pick her up off her feet. She blinked, and found herself facing Sean Prescott again.

“Our roles were to survive the storm,” He said, “To emerge and remake this town. Jefferson’s work on the ruin of Arcadia Bay would have won awards, brought the Prescotts to the attention of the entire country. Our family would continue to gain influence – ”

“What are you talking about?” Kate burst out, striding closer to Sean, her fists clenched at her sides. ”W-why does th-that matter? Wh–what does any of this have to do with the – the Dark Room?”

“The Dark Room?” Sean repeated, his eyebrows raising. “We’ve told you: Jefferson’s part was to use his photography to document the aftermath of the storm. We would allow his…disgusting proclivities only as long as he was useful to us.”

There was a second of silence, and Max waited for the rest of it. Sean didn’t say anything else, just continued to try to stare her down. A howling was building in her ears, as if the storm was above them, and she shook her head to clear it of the noise.

She narrowed her eyes at Sean. “That’s it?” She asked in disbelief. “You – you just wanted his pictures ? E – everything he’s done, everything he made Nathan do, and that’s it ?”

At Nathan’s name Sean’s expression hardened, and Amelia actually flinched. When Sean spoke his voice was as polite as ever.

“What were you expecting, Miss Caulfield?” He asked. He tilted his head a little, and then gave a short laugh. “Were you hoping for some scheme about destroying the world?”

Max barely listened to what he said. Somehow, she just couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea. The Prescotts were so deeply involved in everything that she’d assumed there had to be some grand plan, but hearing the truth made it feel more pointless. All the death and horror, andthat was their reason for all of it.

“So, you did all this just for – just for what ?”  She demanded, her voice shaking, hardly able to speak due to her fury. “All that talk about destiny, and it was for – for money? For power?”

“Yes,” Amelia said softly, continuing to gaze blankly ahead, her shirt stained red with her blood. She was still crying, even as she spoke. “For power. How can you n-not understand? Before this, before your – your ‘power’, what were you? What could you do to protect the people you love? What could you do to keep everything from being taken from you?” She shook her head.

“Before my power, I was nothing. I could do nothing to save my family. My power came to me, too late to help them, and I knew I had to do everything I could to make sure that never happened again. But it did.” She leaned forward, her gaze sharpening as she finally focused on Max.  “Because of you .”

“No,” Max corrected. “Because of us.” She paused, and thought she could hear the faintest sound of sirens. There wasn’t much time left.

“Your power,” she said, even as pain shot through her skull and for a moment she could feel wind so strong she was almost lifted off her feet. She shook her head, blinking quickly to clear her vision.

“Your power,” she repeated. “What is it? How did you know about us, or – or what we were doing, where we would be? How did you get to Kate and Warren?” The gun felt almost impossibly heavy, but she kept it pointing at Sean. “Tell us. Now .”

For a few seconds Sean seemed to consider not answering, but Amelia shifted, lowing her bleeding hand to gently touch his arm. His eyes flicked away from Max to his wife.

“Power runs in the family,” He said after a few seconds. “We used all of our resources to make sure it stayed that way, to look for it where we could. Sometimes we didn’t have to look far.” He snorted, looking at Max again. “It would seem Arcadia Bay attracts it. I found Amelia because her abilities were similar to my great-great-grandfather’s.”

Of courseMax thought. She keeps talking about seeing! She can –

“She can see the future,” Chloe said, echoing her thoughts.

Amelia laughed, and the hairs on Max’s arms stood on end.

“There is no such thing as ‘the’ future,” she said, as if the words themselves were ridiculous. “There are too many possibilities, too many choices to make; a spider’s web that never stops weaving. I see it all,” she continued more quietly. “Every thread, always.”

“You…you see everything that’s going to happen?” Kate asked in horror, but Warren shook his head.

“It can’t be everything. You can’t know everything, or Nathan would never have been arrested,” he said. “How does it work? What do you see?”

Her oddly empty eyes – forever focusing on something else, Max realized – closed for a few seconds. “I told you,” she said, opening them again, “I see all of it, always. This week it’s been more and more and – ” She stopped suddenly. “ You were making more,” she said, as if to herself. “Of course. You – it has to be you, I could see you but never how…”

“What the fuck are you talking about?’ Chloe interrupted, and Max could definitely hear sirens now, still in the distance but getting closer.

Amelia laughed again, crying even harder, but didn’t answer.

“She saw you,” Sean said, still staring hard at Max. She was starting to wonder if he wasn’t blinking. “She never can see much beyond a week, and there have always been too many futures for her to understand them all, but she saw you. Again and again and again. We didn’t know who you were, what you could do or how, but she saw you, and knew you could ruin everything. We had to act, had to try and keep you distracted – ”

The word seemed to send a sort of ping through her mind, even as she could hear wind roaring in her ears, and she knew she was on the cusp of realizing something.

“Distracted.” Max cut across his tirade. “You said that before.” She could no longer keep her hands from shaking, either due to the weight of the gun or the conversation. “Why – why was I – why would I have been distracted ?”

There was silence for several seconds as they simply stared at each other. Max could feel the wind whipping at her, but she knew it wasn’t real, and she gripped the gun even tighter to ground herself to her reality as it all started to fall into place.

“Your great-great grandfather saw visions in his dreams,” she said and though she knew now what the answer would be, she asked her question anyway: “What can you do with yours?”

The question startled him, and like a rushing wave the wind in her ears grew, louder than anything, and she could feel sheets of ice pelting her skin even as pain burst across her skull and she doubled over, almost falling to her knees.

Chloe called out her name and caught her, but just as quickly as it had happened the sensations were gone, and she was left panting, blinking to try and clear her vision. She shook her head like a dog, and straightened.

Chloe’s hand was on her back, Kate supporting her on her left.

“You okay?” Kate asked, eyebrows drawn together.

Max nodded at her, managing a weak smile, and steadied herself.

“The drugs are still in your system,” Warren said, keeping the gun in his hand aimed at the Prescotts.”You should really sit down…”

“What happened?” Chloe asked, her arm around Max’s shoulders now, keeping her close.

In response, Max pointed the gun at Sean again. Amelia’s hand was gripping his sleeve tightly, as if to keep his arm from moving, and they were staring at each other.  Some kind of silent communication seemed to be passing between them.

“There’s my answer,” Max said. “And I guess that means you don’t just do it in dreams.”

“Dreams are easier,” Sean said, finally looking away from Amelia’s eyes. “Less conspicuous.”

“Hold on,” Warren said. “Let me – let me get this straight. You can…you can make people see what you want them to see?”

“Not quite,” Sean replied. “I can’t create what doesn’t already exist.”

“You’re lying,” Max said immediately. “Just now, you, you made me see the storm, and that doesn’t happen until – ”

“It’s real in your mind,” Sean spoke over her. “You fear the storm, what it means, what it could bring. You feared that the key to stopping it was the death of your precious Miss Price. It was all there in your head. The best way to get someone to do what you want is to feed them their own fears, Miss Caulfield, and that’s what I do.”

For a long moment she was left reeling in silence. Everything she’d learned seemed to be swirling in her mind, half formed thoughts connecting together in a series of realizations.

The dreams she’d been having. The visions. Everything in her previous timeline pointing her toward Chloe needing to die…the nightmare that had almost convinced her…had it been because of Sean Prescott all along? He’d said that she was meant to be distracted 

The door slammed open, and all of them jumped, Max swinging her arms to point the gun at the intruder automatically, but she relaxed when she saw it was David, carrying a gun of his own. She lowered hers, breathing heavily, her mind still spinning with her revelations.

“Chloe!” David crossed over to them in a few quick strides, and stopped short of Chloe, teetering forward as if he wanted to hug her, though he didn’t. Instead he looked her up and down. “What happened? They hurt you! Are you all right?”

“I’m – I’m fine,” Chloe said awkwardly, barely meeting his eyes. “Max and Kate and Warren are all hurt worse.”

Her words seemed to make him notice the others.

“Oh God,” he said, taking in their injuries. “How – how did this happen? Are you all okay? We’ll get you whatever you need, the police will be here any minute.”

His gaze shifted to the Prescotts huddled against the wall, disgust in every line of his face.

“You thought you could hurt these kids, huh?” He asked, looming over their hunched forms. They didn’t even glance at him, or react to David’s presence at all. “Thought you could just keep getting away with everything? All the money in the world won’t get you out of this.” He glared at them for a few seconds, and then turned to face Chloe and the others. The sirens outside were even louder now: the police would be arriving at the lighthouse soon.

“How the hell did this happen?” He asked, though he seemed to be more directing the question at himself. “We were looking for them everywhere, and somehow they…” He stopped and shook his head, then looked at each of them in turn. “Please,” he said. “Tell me what happened.”

Max exchanged glances with the others. They hadn’t had time to iron out exactly what they would tell David, let alone the police. It wasn’t as if they could tell truth. Or at least, they couldn’t tell all of the truth. If she could come up with a carefully-edited version, then maybe…

“They – ” She began, but that was as far as she got.

“I-It was m-me,” Kate spoke over Max, stepping a little away from Warren, drawing David’s attention completely. Tears were overflowing from her eyes, and she wiped at them with the heel of her hand. “Th-they w-wanted to k-keep me from t-testifying, b-because of what N-Nathan did to me. M-Max and – and Chloe and Warren they, they protected me.”

“Oh, Kate.” David made a gesture as if he wanted to touch her shoulders, then seemed to think better of it and bent down to look her in the eye. “I am so sorry this happened to you. I promise these people – ” The emphasis on the word showed he considered them anything but – “will never hurt you again.”

Kate smiled weakly at him, and then met Max’s gaze.

Good job, Max mouthed at her. Kate’s smile widened a little, though her tears were very clearly real.

“And – and Kate…” David began, ducking his head, suddenly unable to meet her eyes. “I – I know this doesn’t change what I – how I acted toward you. I wanted to help, and you needed it, but I treated you like a suspect. I…I’m sorry, Kate.”

Kate blinked at him, clearly surprised. “Th-Thank you, Mr. Madsen,” she said, giving him a soft smile, tears clinging to her eyelashes. “You came here for us, and – and that more than makes up for anything you said before.”

He ducked his head. “I – I don’t know about that.” He glanced toward Chloe. For a second Max thought maybe he would apologize to her as well, though he didn’t. “But I promise you kids will be safe now,” he finished. “Here, let me take those.” He gestured at the guns Warren and Max were each still holding.

Warren glanced at Max, then followed her lead as she carefully held out the gun for David to take, keeping watch on the Prescotts at the same time. They were yet to do anything since David had arrived, but that somehow made her feel more paranoid.

Though she’d known they were coming, the police officers that appeared in the still-open doorway startled her. She shifted closer to Chloe, grabbing her hand as five – no, six – officers surrounded the Prescotts, obscuring them from view. She recognized Officer Berry, and a few she thought might’ve shown up back when they had broken into the Prescott Offices.

Officer Berry stepped back from the group of officers and toward David, who met him halfway and began to fill him in on what had happened. He handed over the guns he’d taken from Max and Warren as he spoke, but Max wasn’t really paying attention to what he was saying, focusing instead on the people next to her.

“You guys okay?” She asked, keeping her voice low, though the others were close enough to hear her easily. “Warren, how’s your throat?”

He gently touched his bruises, and for a moment Max thought there were tears in his eyes.

“Well,” he said. “It feels like I got strangled, so, not great.” He gave a half smile and a laugh, then winced. “It’d be worse if it wasn’t for Kate, though.”

Kate didn’t respond. Her hair had largely fallen out of its bun due to Amelia pulling on it. Max had never seen it down before: it was longer than she’d realized, and flared wildly around her, the curls framing her face like brambles.

“Kate?” Max asked softly, as she might to a small scared animal. “You all right?”

Kate actually laughed, and then covered her mouth. She leaned against Max, Warren standing beside her with his hand on her back. Slowly she nodded, and then stood straight, though she didn’t say anything.

Chloe’s hand slid into Max’s, both she and Warren moving closer to keep them circled together.

“It’ll be okay,” Chloe told her, and for even just that one moment Max felt sure everything would be. “We’re – we’re all okay,” she finished, gripping Max’s hand more tightly.

Kate nodded again. “Yeah,” she whispered. Her eyes were still wet, and she sniffled, but she seemed to take comfort in repeating Chloe’s words. “It’ll – it’ll be okay.”

“You scared the hell out of me,” Max shook her head and gave a short laugh, but tears filled her eyes. She tried to blink them back, feeling as though something was rising in her throat. “All of you were – were so brave, and – ” She didn’t want to think about Kate’s lifeless body collapsing to the floor, or the fear on Warren’s face after he’d been shot. For a moment she was sure she’d throw up.

Before that could happen, Chloe pulled her suddenly into a hug. Max’s arms looped up and locked around her shoulders, and she curled her head into Chloe’s chest. She was shaking, and didn’t know when that had started. Cold seemed to be pressing in on her skin, but Chloe was achingly warm, and she didn’t want to let go.

“I was so fucking scared,” Chloe clung to her, and from the hitch in her voice Max knew she was trying not to cry. “E-everything happened so fast and I just reacted, and – and I sure as hell didn’t feel brave!” She let out a shaky breath. “You saved us, Max.”

“Me?” Max actually stepped away to look at her incredulously. “I could barely do anything! If it weren’t for you we’d never have been able to stop them. You – you tricked them and got the gun away from Amelia!” She looked toward each of them as she went on. “W-Warren, you acted right away before Sean could hurt me, and – and Kate you grabbed that gun and stopped Sean from killing him! And – ”

“And we couldn’t have done any of that without you,” Chloe spoke over her. Her arm was still around Max’s shoulders. “We went over this already. I don’t know what you changed, but I know you did it, and that means we probably never would’ve survived if it weren’t for you.”

Maybe, but the Prescotts would never have done this in the first place if it weren’t for me, Max thought. She closed her eyes as if it would stop her from seeing them all dead again, but of course it didn’t. They were alive in front of her now, but…

“I’m just…” She let out a deep breath. “I’m really really glad you’re all okay.” She wanted to say more, but David came up from behind them, Officer Berry on his heels.

“Hey,” David said, stopping next to Chloe, looking her over again as if to make sure he hadn’t missed any serious injuries. “I know you kids have just been through hell, but the officers need you to go to the station and give your testimony.”

“It’s better to do it when the memories are fresh,” Officer Berry explained, not unkindly. “We’ll get through it as quickly as we can so you can rest. And we’ve got paramedics outside who can take a look at all of you.”

“Yes,” Kate said. “Let’s – let’s get this over with.”

Max nodded. “We’ll be right behind you, officer.”

“You can ride with me to the station,” David offered.

“Ah, thanks, but my truck’s still here.” Chloe shuffled a little awkwardly. “Me’n Max can take it to the station and meet you there. If that’s okay?” She was asking Kate, but David didn’t seem to realize that.

“If – if that’s what you think you should do.” He said, clearly wanting to press the issue. Max was extremely thankful that he didn’t.

“It’s all right,” Kate said, giving Chloe a small but reassuring smile.

“We’ll see you guys there,” Warren added. He jerked a little in surprise as Kate took his hand, but then he threaded his fingers with hers.

David said something else, but Max didn’t hear him. She shivered, and her eyes caught something beyond Officer Berry. The Prescotts were being led away, cuffed and docile, surrounded by police, but as their gaze locked with hers she knew they had been watching her.  She held their stare until they disappeared through the doorway.

 

(-)

 

“Miss Marsh, I know this has been difficult for you. We’re almost done, and then you can go get some rest.” Officer Dale said, his voice light and reassuring. He’d been very kind through the whole process, and hadn’t protested much when Kate insisted that she wanted Max, Chloe, and Warren to stay with her and question them together. They sat as near to her as they could get, answered questions with half-truths, and jumped in when Kate’s voice faltered.

“Okay,” Kate said quietly. She’d been holding Warren’s hand through the whole conversation, Max’s hand on her shoulder. Her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen, and though she had stopped crying she was still sniffling a little.

“Now,” Officer Dale poised his pen to write. “Aside from wanting to keep you quiet, did the Prescotts say anything else that had to do with Nathan or – or Mark Jefferson? Even the smallest detail could help build the case, though frankly the evidence against them is beyond damning.”

Kate bit her lip. “Um…”

“They mostly just went on about how their family was ruined,” Chloe said helpfully.

“They uh,” Warren hesitated, and Max knew he was thinking carefully before he spoke. “They wanted to use Jefferson’s photos to gain influence,” he said. “They, um…they said he could only do his ‘disgusting proclivities’ as long as they had a use for him, and then…”

“Then?” Officer Dale kept writing, but glanced up to hear the rest.

Warren hesitated again. “I – I mean, I don’t know, we were – we were just trying to keep them talking so they wouldn’t kill us. But it – it sounded like they were going to turn Jefferson in themselves, frame him for everything to protect Nathan.”

“Yes,” Kate said. “Th-that’s why they c-came after me. They – they seemed to think if I was d – I, I mean, if they stopped me from being able to testify, then they could save their family name and – and frame Jefferson.”

“It was like they blamed Kate for everything,” Max added. “They – they kept saying that everything they’d worked for had been ruined. Over and over, as if it was Kate’s fault what Nathan did to her.” Lying was always easier if it had a grain of truth to it, and Max had learned that very well over this long week.

“All right,” Officer Dale nodded, finishing off his notes. He stood, his chair scraping loudly on the floor as he pushed it back. “That should be everything, at least for today. We may need to have you come in again for further testimony, even before any potential court dates.”

“Of – of course,” Kate said, bowing her head. “L-like I said, I’m more than willing to – to testify in front of a jury.”

“We all are,” Chloe added fiercely, and Kate shot her a grateful smile.

Officer Dale smiled a little as well. “Thank you all for everything you’ve told me. I’ll be back in a few minutes, and you guys should be good to go.” He walked around the table and to the door as he spoke, pulling it open.

Max’s eye caught on movement beyond him, across the way from their interview room. It was only for a second before Officer Dale filled the doorway and hid them from view. The Prescotts, or at least Sean Prescott, being led down the far hallway. Was he being taken to a holding cell? Another interview room? Would Nathan and Jefferson be over there too?

The clueboard she and Chloe had made flashed in her mind, and the notes they’d put together with Warren and Kate. They had puzzled out so much, and still there were pieces missing. In her erased week, she’d thought Chloe’s life was the key to everything. If she’d acted on what she thought she knew then…

Discreetly, Max lifted her hand. Chloe noticed what she was doing, her eyes widening, but before she could say anything Max had rewound.

It was only for a few seconds, just to get a better look at where the Prescotts were being taken, but a spark of pain flared in her head and stung her eyes. She stopped, her hand dropping, and felt blood drip down her nose.

Officer Dale was just starting to open the door now.

“Excuse me,” she said, and he turned back toward her, eyebrows raising as he took in her bleeding nose. “Can I go to the bathroom? I need to…” She gestured toward her nose, stemming the flow with her sleeve.

“Of course,” He said, seeming concerned. “I can take you there.”

“Max…” Chloe began, pulling a little on her hand. “Are you – ?”

“It’s okay,” she said, squeezing her fingers in reassurance. “I’ll be right back.”

She saw Chloe exchange glances with Warren and Kate as she followed Officer Dale out the door.

As they walked through the slightly chaotic and crowded station – a lot of people were being brought in for questioning because of everything that had happened – Max’s eyes scanned for Sean Prescott. He’d been in the opposite hallway, but they were heading in roughly the same direction now, and she might be able to see him if –

There! She could see the back of his head, just over the shoulder of the officer leading him along.  They kept going further down the hall, Sean’s head a little bent, and then made a right turn and Max couldn’t see them anymore. If she rewound, she could get closer, really see where they were going. Then again there are probably security cameras , she reminded herself. Even if she rewound she’d be seen on camera disappearing, unless she went back far enough and froze time. Just going back just a few seconds had hurt like hell, but she was pretty sure she could still do it –

“Miss Caulfield?”

“Huh?” Her head whipped around, realizing that Officer Dale had been speaking to her. They’d stopped outside of the bathroom. “Oh! Thank you! I’ll, um, I’ll just be a minute.”

“No problem. I’ll be right back to take you to your friends when you’re done,” Dale replied, and Max caught the unspoken hint that she wasn’t to go walking around by herself.

“Of – of course. Thanks,” she said again, opening the bathroom door and slipping inside.

Okay, Max, she thought, staring at her face in the mirror. You have to rethink this. The dark circles under her eyes could have been bruises, and her pallor did nothing to help that impression. There was a small wound under her chin from Sean kicking her, but it had already begun to scab over. My nose stopped bleeding, she thought ruefully, wiping away the last traces of blood, not that it’ll stay that way.

There was no other way for it. If she was to get over there without being seen, she’d have to freeze time, head in the direction Sean had been going, and search the rooms. When she’d gotten what she needed, she’d have to rewind again and get back to the bathroom.

What is it I need, though? Answers? Am I really going to get them? Max stared down at her hands, clenching and unclenching them. Well. She had to try, anyway. The storm was fast approaching, and this was her last chance to really understand.

Oh man, Max thought. This is gonna hurt. She took a deep breath, lifted her hand, and began to pull slowly back on time, second by second, until it stopped. Pain flared in her head, as though her skull was swelling with it. She kept her eyes clenched shut, her teeth gritting together so tightly she felt like they might shatter.

She held time there, and while the pain didn’t go away the longer she held on the more she could manage it. She breathed slowly, and tried to ignore the blood dripping down her nose, or the way even her eyes hurt. Bit by bit her jaw relaxed, and she lowered her hand, time continuing to stand still.

Okay, she thought, carefully opening her eyes. They teared up a little from the brightness of the fluorescent lights and hadn’t stopped aching. Every minute or so the pain in her head would briefly sharpen, but she could move now. She had a lot more rewinding and freezing time to do; she would have to push through it.

You’re almost done with this week, She told herself. It’s almost over. Just need to make sure we know everything we need to, and then we can face the storm tomorrow. She grasped the doorknob and dragged it open, wading forward through the frozen moment.

She weaved her way through people and doorways, across the station to where she had seen Sean Prescott, and the hallway he’d turned down. She doubted she could get more out of him or Amelia, but if Nathan and Jefferson were being held in the same place, then maybe…

There were identical doors dotting the hall, not unlike the one of the interview room she’d been in, but the officer standing guard told her they were likely holding cells.

She couldn’t see who was behind the doors, which meant she’d have to open a few to find out. There’s no way they’re unlocked though, she thought, looking up and down the officer standing on guard. But if he has a set of keys on him – aha!

She unclipped the ring of keys from his hip, and then hesitated. She would have to unfreeze time to get her questions, and there was sure to be a security camera in the room. She would rewind when she was done of course, but if she was spotted on camera too quickly she wouldn’t be able to get her answers. Maybe she could cover it up somehow to give her more time before she had to rewind.

Either way, I have to be fast. She stared down at the ring of keys in her hand. There were twelve, and she had no idea if each room had its own key, or one that worked for them all.

Only one way to find out, She thought, even as her head throbbed again. She closed her eyes for a second, waiting out the pain, and then attempted to slide a key into the lock of the nearest door. It wouldn’t fit; the second key did, but didn’t unlock the door. It wasn’t until the fourth key that she could turn the knob and open it. Unfortunately, there was no one inside.

This was also the case for the next door she tried. The third door had a rather disheveled middle-aged man wearing a donut shirt that she didn’t recognize. Behind the fourth door she found Sean Prescott.

Max stared at him from the doorway. He was sitting by a small table built into the wall, looking down at his hands. She was sure there was far more that he knew, but she was still just as positive that he wouldn’t tell her anything more. She backed out of the doorway and closed it, moving on to the next.

It wasn’t until the sixth door that she found what she was looking for. Even though she’d been bracing herself for it, just the sight of Mark Jefferson standing with his back to her made her stomach lurch.

Stay calm, Max, she told herself. He can’t do anything to you. Just get this over with, and then it’ll be like you were never here.

She glanced around the room, and saw that the camera was up in the corner to the left of the door. She was pretty sure she could stand directly under it without being seen: it seemed to be pointing out toward the rest of the room. It was a small blindspot, but it would have to work.

Max drifted to the corner, getting right underneath the camera, and took a deep breath. She exhaled slowly, and released her hold on time as she did so.

The world flowed into motion again, sound returned, and for a few seconds Max was overwhelmed by a wave of pain. After it receded, she simply watched Jefferson, wondering if he would notice she was there. He was staring out the window. It was small, and had bars on it, but the evening sunlight was streaming through.

He’ll have a nice view of the storm tomorrow , Max thought, with more than a little satisfaction. She knew she had to be quick, however, so she straightened herself, wiped the blood from her face, and spoke.

“Mark Jefferson,” She said, and he jumped, whirling around. He was as unkempt as the Prescotts had been, his hair pointing in every direction and his collar rumpled as though he’d been dragged around by it. He stared at her, and his mouth dropped open.

“Wh- what – how – how did you -?” He backed up against the wall. His eyes widened. “How?” he repeated. “How? How is this possible? How could you – how are you here, how – ?” He clutched at his head, fingers tangling in his hair. “You – you – ”

“Me,” Max replied, though the way her pulse was hammering in her throat made it difficult to speak. “What, is this not what you meant when you talked about being ‘captured in a moment of desperation’?”

“I must be seeing things.” He shook his head. He laughed and closed his eyes, leaning it back against the wall. His hands slid down his face and then his arms dropped to his sides. “Of course. Of course I’d see you now. My regrets are already haunting me. You could have been my…my masterpiece…”

“Shut up.” Max crossed her arms to hide the fact that they were trembling. “I don’t care if you believe I’m here or not. You’re going to answer my questions, right fucking now.”

He opened his eyes, and turned his head to the side, studying her. “Questions.” He repeated.

“That’s right.” Max shifted a little, but didn’t look away from him. “I want to know how involved you were with the Prescotts.” Sean and Amelia had said his role had only been to take pictures, but she had to be sure.

He didn’t answer, just continued to stare at her, and Max’s stomach rolled with nausea. She pressed her lips together.

“Now,” Jefferson said, but more to himself. He stood straight, and moved a little forward. “Why would my delusion ask about that?”

“I’m no delusion,” Max replied. “Answer me.”

“You’re real,” he said, almost in awe, and for a moment Max was in the Dark Room again, hearing him speak to her oh-so-reverently as he loomed above her. “Impossible, and yet…somehow it makes perfect sense…”

A slow smile made its way across Jefferson’s face, and Max’s skin crawled.

“Did you come to visit your favorite teacher, Maxine?” He asked softly.

Bile burned in Max’s throat, and for a second she was sure she’d throw up.

“Answer the question!” she demanded, her fists clenching under her arms, wishing she could step back even further from him. “You have nowhere to go! Tell me how much you were involved with the Prescotts!”

“How can you be here?” He asked instead.”Have the ‘fine officers’ of Arcadia Bay resorted to using children to get what they want? What would be the point? Nathan’s confessed, they found my dark room, my life’s work has ended – ”

“Yeah,” Max interrupted him. “It has. Everything you’ve ever done has finally caught up with you, you bastard. For the last time, answer the question!”

“My, my,” Jefferson murmured. He’d stopped smiling. His eyes seemed so dark they could have been black. “How is it you know so much? You never knew this much in my class.”

“I know everything .” Max actually laughed, though her heart was pounding so forcefully she was half sure it would break through her chest. “You thought you could just keep hurting girls and get away with it. That everyone would keep falling for your act. All of that…it’s come to an end, motherfucker. Now answer my question before I make you.”

At first she was sure he would dodge again. He studied her in silence, then his eyes narrowed, and he spoke.

“They hired me to take pictures of their family for a magazine interview,” he said. “It was supposed to happen next week.”

After the storm, Max realized. “But the Prescotts they – they know about the Dark Room! Why did they – ?”

“Their only part in the Dark Room was owning the property,” Jefferson corrected quietly. The low light cast long shadows on his face. “But how is it you know anything about that?”

Max didn’t want to waste energy going back and forth with him, and moved on to her next question. “Do you know about the storm?”

That seemed to throw him off. He stared at her, eyebrows coming together. “What storm?”

“Nevermind.” Max shook her head.”Why did the Prescotts let you use their bunker for your Dark Room?”

“Nathan showed it to me initially,” Jefferson shrugged. “Sean eventually found out, but, well…I suppose the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He said he was a fan of my work, and that it would be prudent to pay for my services with more than money anyway.” He smiled again. “He didn’t know how often I took Nathan there. Oh, they knew he was involved, but Sean didn’t have any idea just how much.”

“It was right from the start…” Max murmured, barely listening to him. “Of course…they were ready to turn on you the second it was convenient, they would have to have known from the beginning…What about you? You have a picture of Sean Prescott in the Dark Room. You were ready to take them down with you if you got caught? Or did you know something else and want to blackmail them?”

There were several long seconds of silence.

“Well,” Jefferson said finally, taking a few more steps toward her. Max felt horribly boxed in, but she would rewind the second he got too close.”You really do know everything. How is that possible?” He was speaking softly, but there was an edge to his voice, a wildness to his movements that made him feel like a predator about to strike.

“No quid pro quo Max?” He continued quietly, tauntingly. He smirked, and the hairs on her arms stood on end.

She snorted, because of course he’d say that line, the pretentious bastard.

“This isn’t your class or your – your Dark Room. You have no idea what I can do.” Max tilted her chin up, glaring at him defiantly, though her hands were still shaking.  “Who do you think turned you in?”

His mouth dropped open, then snapped shut.. “That’s – that’s impossible.” He was looking at her as if he’d never seen her until that moment, and in a way he hadn’t. Neither of them were putting up a facade anymore.

She gave a short laugh. “It’s starting to feel like nothing is impossible. Believe it or not, I turned you in. I’m here in this cell with you, and I’m through listening to your lectures and playing your fucking games.” She looked him over one last time in disgust. “You clearly can’t tell me anything worth knowing. I’m done here. Goodbye, Mark Jefferson.” She lifted her hand, even as he started toward her. “I hope you rot.”

She rewound.

 

 

She found Nathan in the room directly across from Jefferson’s. He was sitting on the small bed pressed into the corner, bent low, his elbows on his knees and head buried between them.

Max braced herself against the doorframe as another wave of pain rolled over her. You’re almost done, she thought, trying to keep her breathing even and steady. You’re almost there. You can do this.

Eventually her pain receded like the tide, though she knew it would also come rushing back. She blinked rapidly to clear her hazy vision, and her nose was bleeding fresh again.

It doesn’t matter, she told herself, wiping the blood away, and trying not to imagine what Chloe would say about that thought. She drifted toward the corner of the room, like she had with Jefferson, then faced Nathan as she released her hold on time.

He didn’t notice her. Max could hear a soft sound, and she realized that he was crying. He was also trembling, rocking backward and forward a little, his hands hooked behind his head to hold it down.

Somehow, it was harder to know what to say to Nathan. For several seconds she just stood there, her words stuck in her throat, and the only sound was his muffled cries.

Finally, her voice worked. “You know it was wrong,” She said, and his head snapped up. He stared at her, as still as he’d been in the frozen moment before. “You know, don’t you? Everything you did…you have to pay for it.”

He continued to stare at her, his mouth a little open. “H-how? How – how are you-?”

“I’m here,” Max spoke over him. She was too exhausted to deal with circular conversations, pain pulsing through her head. “I have…powers. Like your parents. I know everything, and what I don’t know, you’re going to tell me.”

 You ?” Nathan stood, though he stayed far back from her. “You have…” he stopped, shaking more than ever, and she realized he’d started laughing. Quietly at first, then louder and louder. “Everything he said a – about destiny and what we were meant for – it’s all a goddamn joke . I don’t get powers, but you ?” He sank back onto the bed, still laughing and crying, arms wrapped around himself as if he had to be held together. “How fucking perfect.”

Max didn’t know how to respond. He’d been unraveling so long, and now it was happening before her eyes. She hated him. She pitied him. She wanted to scream at him, cry with him, hurt him until maybe he’d understand even the slightest how much pain he’d caused.

And, for a fraction of a second she could see – could feel – clear as the Nathan weeping in front of her, another Nathan in a different life, playfully nudging her shoulder while she laughed.

Max shook her head, focusing on the real Nathan in front of her, and took a deep breath.

“Listen to me,” She said. He didn’t seem to hear her. “Nathan!”

His head snapped toward her again, his cries quieting, though not stopping.

“You drugged Kate.” She said. He gave a slow trembling nod. “You killed Rachel.” He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, crying harder.

 Yes ,” he whispered. “It – it was – it was an accident! I – I didn’t mean – ”

“You drugged her.” Max spoke over him. “You took pictures of her.” More vividly than her memories of another Nathan had been, she remembered Chloe. Chloe had never given up on Rachel, been the only one to look for her. She’d been so determined to find her, to save her, for her and Max to meet, and in the end they’d found her in a hole in the ground.

“She died because of you .” Max wanted to go across the room and shake him. “What you did to her…to Kate, to Chloe…it can never be undone.”

He didn’t respond – or was unable to – and continued to cry. He looked smaller than she’d ever seen him.

“But you can help me,” she went on, and his eyes flicked toward her. “You can tell me everything I need to know – ”

“It doesn’t matter!” He burst out. “The – the storm is coming, we’re all going to die!”

“The storm is coming,” Max confirmed.

“H-How do you-?” Nathan began, but she spoke over him.

“That’s not important. What matters is I’m going to do everything I can to keep people from dying. Help me . The more I know, the better.”

“It all got so fucked up,” Nathan whimpered. His hands dropped to his knees. He didn’t seem able to look at her. “N-no. It’s – it’s always been fucked. Everything. Everyone.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Max said. “Please. It…it doesn’t change what you did, but it’s a start.”

Nathan continued to sniffle and stare at his knees.

Max clenched her eyes shut as a fresh wave of pain washed over her, and for a moment it took all of her strength just to keep standing. Seconds – though it felt longer – passed, and so did the pain, fading back to something she could manage. It was starting to hurt keeping her eyes open, and she knew she had to hurry.

Nathan hadn’t seemed to notice anything she was doing.

She straightened and took a deep breath to steady herself, then spoke again.

“What were you supposed to do in the storm tomorrow?” She asked. “What was your – your ‘destiny’? What was – what was the point of all of this?”

He finally looked up at her. He’d stopped crying, but his eyes were red and swollen.

“The point?” he repeated hoarsely.

“Your parents – they, they said it was just to gain influence, money and power, but – ”

Nathan laughed again, blinking back more tears. “But ‘destiny’ makes it sound so fucking important , doesn’t it?” He shook his head. “The whole ‘grand plan’ passed down through my – my family. All just so we can control this – this goddamn place.” His hands clenched the sheets on the bed, and he gave another short laugh. “They always said that was just supposed to be the start.”

“The start of what?” Max asked, her heart thumping.

He didn’t answer immediately. “The first story I ever heard,” he said, and the words themselves surprised her. “My dad used to…show it to me in my dreams. I used to think it was like a – a movie I’d grown up with. My great-great-great grandfather saw what could happen – what would happen. His dreams they – they showed…paths, far beyond his life. How powerful our family would become. Could become, after – after the storm, how it would happen…” He took a deep breath. “Our ‘great destiny’ was to do anything to make sure it did. Our family was gifted, had – had seen what was coming. We deserved it,” he said more quietly. He gave another bitter laugh. “All that self-important bullshit…If only he’d known what a disappointment I’d be.”

Max pressed a hand to her head, the warmth and pressure helping to briefly relieve the pain. She wanted to sink to the floor, just let her legs collapse underneath her.

“So,” she said, and for a second she felt as though she was about to either burst out laughing, or into tears. Sean and Amelia Prescott had been telling the truth. “That’s it after all. Everything – all, all the pain and – and destruction…”

“My mom used to say we were – we were all parts of the greater whole.” Nathan whispered, as if she hadn’t spoken. “That she – she hadn’t understood what her place was, before. Why – why everything that happened to her – ” He stopped, and then went on. “But – but when she met my father she knew her destiny,  what – what it was all meant for. They said I’d understand one day too.” His voice became higher, wavering. “I – I thought I did once. I – I used to think…” He stopped again, and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. They called it fucking ‘destiny’, but all they wanted – they – they just wanted to use people. Use me .” His head bent. “Use me to – to be friends with kids from influential parents, bring them into the Vortex club. Make sure they stayed safe in one of our bunkers d-during the storm. A-after, it was – it was supposed to help them ‘get in with the right people’. And from there…my dad used to say it was just the first few steps on the ladder, and the – the ‘foundation on which we would stand’. ” Nathan snorted again. “He really knew how to make it sound so fucking important.”

“And you were going along with it,” Max reminded him, trying to keep her voice from rising. “You didn’t turn yourself in. You confessed becauseyou got caught . You – you were just using your friends so your parents could manipulate them and their families. Must have been easy to do basically the same thing for Jefferson , huh?” She demanded, and Nathan flinched. “No matter what happened Victoria defended you, said you were her friend – and you were going to hand her over to Jefferson all along.”

At that his head snapped up, and he stared at her with wide eyes. “W-what are you-?”

“Victoria was going to be one of Jefferson’s victims,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him. “You going to claim you didn’t know?”

“I – I didn’t!” He stood, actually taking a step or two toward her. “J- Jefferson he, he wouldn’t tell me a-about the next one until right before – ”

“The next one,” Max repeated, and Nathan stopped talking at once. “So you care that he was going to do that to Victoria, but not all of those other ‘ones’? And Jefferson didn’t tell you to drug Chloe, did he?”

Nathan backed up the few steps he’d taken, staring down at the ground, his fists clenched at his sides.

Max continued, both wanting him to answer for these things, and for him to never speak at all. “You drugged Rachel for Jefferson, but you just had to take her out on your own didn’t you? After all, how could you be like him if you didn’t practice .” Nathan flinched again, but made no attempts to say anything, or to stop her. Which was good, because she wasn’t done.

“You told Kate you were helping her at that party. She thought you were being nice ,” She added with revulsion, “And you were taking her to HIM. You – you just – you laughed with everyone else, knowing what had happened to Kate, knowing what Jefferson had done, and would do again!” She was practically spitting her words now. “All – all those posters of Rachel staring down at you, and you knew where she was the whole time, becauseyou put her there .”

Nathan was shaking again, refusing to meet her stare, but she hadn’t looked away from him once.

“So tell me again,” Max finished, her voice hitching, and tears filling her eyes as pain swelled in her skull. “Tell me how you didn’t mean to, how you didn’t know.”

He didn’t say anything, just continued to stand, trembling, as though unable to move.

Max closed her eyes, letting the tears roll down her face, exhaling deeply as the ache in her head faded once more. She hadn’t really learned much from Nathan, and she knew now that there was nothing else worthwhile that he could say to her.

“I’m…I’m sorry,” Nathan said quietly. He was crying again. “I – I’m really, really – ” for a second his voice broke, but he went on: “I’m sorry. For – for e-everything.”

Slowly, Max nodded, though he couldn’t see it.

“I know,” she said, and it was true. It was something . “Thank you for answering me,” she said, starting to raise her hand. She hesitated, and then went on. “I – I’m going to do everything I can to save as many people as possible tomorrow,” she said. “And…that includes you.” She knew he wouldn’t remember this moment, but it seemed important to tell him anyway.

His head jerked up and he stared at her. Before he could respond she raised her hand, and rewound.

 

 

By the time she hobbled back to the bathroom, Max hardly had the strength to stand. Letting go of time was like relaxing a muscle that had been cramped in the same position for hours. She let out a gasp of pain and relief, the world rushed into motion, and she collapsed to her knees, palms flat on the floor, bracing herself and preventing her from falling on her face. For a minute all she could do was stay, slumped and panting, blinking to clear her hazy vision, tears and blood dripping onto the white tiles below her.

Breathe, Max, she told herself.

There was a knock on the door. “You okay in there, Miss?” Officer Dale’s voice came from the other side.

“I- I’m fine,” Max said, struggling to get her voice loud enough to carry through the door. “I’ll – I’ll be out in a minute!”

Max managed to lean back on her knees, and catch the edge of the sink with her hand to stay steady. Gripping it tightly, she pulled herself up on her feet, and then leaned over the drain, wondering for a second if she was going to throw up. She didn’t, and she slowly raised her head, gazing at her face in the mirror again.

What do you know, she thought wearily, do look older.

It took another minute to gather her strength, and then she began to clean up. There wasn’t much she could do about the blood that had stained the top of her shirt, but she wiped off her face and used several paper towels to mop up the mess she’d left on the floor. She was a bit dizzy now, but she tried to ignore it as she opened the door and faced Officer Dale again.

“Sorry for taking a while,” she said, giving him an apologetic smile, but he frowned in response, looking her up and down.

“That’s okay, but…you look pale. Are you sure you’re alright? Maybe we should get you to a doctor – ”

“N-no, I’m okay,” Max said quickly. “It’s just – it’s been a long day.”

“I know,” Officer Dale replied sympathetically. “You kids can go home soon, I promise. Let’s get you back to your friends.”

She followed behind him, taking careful steps and trying not to show how unsteady she was on her feet. She pressed her hand to her head, the warmth of her palm providing some relief. This feels like it could take a while to wear off , she thought . I might have overdone it. In the end she hadn’t learned anything important…except, perhaps, that this was all she would know.

“Max!” Chloe’s voice brought her out of her thoughts, and she quickened her pace.

The others were waiting for her, outside of the interview room now. Kate and Warren were sitting in chairs along the wall, but Chloe was already on her feet and heading toward them.

Max stepped ahead of Officer Dale, and met Chloe in the middle. Chloe gripped Max’s arms, keeping her steady, and looked her up and down.

“You okay?” She asked, her voice a little tight, a crease between her eyebrows.

Max nodded, though the motion seemed to expand the ache, moving it down through her teeth and hovering behind her eyes. She winced, then leaned against Chloe a bit more, fingers curling into her jacket sleeves.

“Been better,” she admitted as Warren and Kate drew level with them.

“Oh Max,” Kate put her hand on Max’s shoulder. “Are you – are you all right? Was it the – the drugs they gave you? Do you need to go to the hospital?”

“N-no,” Max gave her a small smile. “I’m just tired.”

“You should probably sit down,” Warren said, and as Max pulled a little back from Chloe she could see the concern – and curiosity – on his face.

“Can we leave yet?” Chloe asked Officer Dale bluntly.

“Yeah, you’ve been given the all-clear. You might need to come in again, but we’ll give you a call before that happens. And before any court dates of course.” He paused. “You – you kids have been through a lot. Get some rest. Things will feel better in the morning, I promise.”

There was a slightly awkward pause- or at least, it felt so to Max – as the knowledge of what was to come tomorrow seemed to hang over them, but Officer Dale had already given them a smile and wave and walked away.

The quiet stretched on, as though they had somehow tuned out the noise surrounding them, and could only notice the silence from each other.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” Chloe said, her arm around Max’s shoulder now, still supporting her. “We’re, um…we’re all going to my place tonight, right?” She looked toward Kate and Warren questioningly, though they’d all agreed beforehand it would be for the best.

Kate nodded. “Yes, but, u-um, I still n-need to stop by Blackwell again.”

“David offered to go pick up my car,” Warren explained to Max. “So we’re just waiting on him to get back with it, then we’re stopping by Blackwell.” He frowned a little. “Guess it…might be for the last time.”

“Yeah.” Kate let out a long breath. “That’s why I want to go back. But tonight…I want to be with you guys. I don’t…I don’t think I could be alone.” Her voice was thick, and tears were threatening to spill from her eyes again.

“Of course not,” Max said. Though her arm was heavier than normal she reached up and squeezed Kate’s hand on her shoulder.

“Me either,” Warren admitted quietly.

“You won’t be,” Chloe promised. “We’ll all be together. I’ll spin it to Joyce somehow, and David – David will just have to deal.”

“I think he’ll be okay with it.” Kate said softly, wiping her eyes. “He was kind today.”

“That’s – that’s good,” Chloe shifted a little awkwardly. “But his brain might short circuit if I ask for a boy to stay at the house. He’s old fashioned that way.”  She waved her free hand and shook her head. “Doesn’t matter though. I’ll make it happen. We’ll see you guys tonight.” Her tone made it a promise, and Max understood she was also reluctant to separate after what had happened.

Kate squeezed Max’s shoulder one more time and then moved away, closer to Warren again. “We’ll call you when we’re coming,” She said, and Max knew her thoughts were along the same lines.

“Thank you,” Max replied, managing to stand a little straighter. She smiled at both of them, even as her heart clenched with anxiety. “We’ll see you soon.”

Chloe helped to lead her out of the station, holding open the heavy doors while Max did her best to stay upright.

“What exactly were you doing in there?’ Chloe demanded the second they were in the parking lot. “Max, you look like hell. What happened?”

Max tried to laugh, but it didn’t really work. She sighed.

“I – I wanted to make sure we had all the answers we needed. I figured out where Nathan and Jefferson were being held, so I…” She trailed off, feeling dizzier. She blinked to try and focus on Chloe’s truck ahead of them, as the world seeming to tilt on its axis. “Talked to them…” she mumbled.

“You what ?” Chloe stopped just in front of her truck. “What could they have to tell you now ?”

“Didn’t…really…” Max’s tongue was heavy, and it was as if she couldn’t remember how to form words. Voices roared in her ears like waves rolling in the sea, louder than the Chloe holding her and calling out her name. Or perhaps it was the water, dragging her down into the depths of these memories. As the world around her fell away, she knew, deep down, they were real, they were hers 

and she

sank

into them.

 

 

Her eyes snapped open. For several seconds she just stared up at the ceiling. Her heart was pounding, and she was panting, her body tingling with the sensation that she had been falling moments before.

She managed to lift her still-aching-head a little and look around. Chloe’s house…of course. She must have taken me here after I…passed out. With a frustrated sigh, Max leaned back against Chloe’s bed. I’m really getting sick of that, she thought, running a hand over her forehead. At least it didn’t hurt as much now.

She pushed herself up the rest of the way, trying to remember everything she’d seen. Normally she was able to pick out a few specific images or even sentences, but this time…it had been a tangle of voices, sensations, feelings. Was Sean Prescott just messing with her, since he couldn’t do anything else now? Or was it because she’d used her power too much?

New sounds took Max out of her thoughts, and she realized she could hear people talking beyond Chloe’s door. Chloe and Joyce, not-quite-arguing downstairs.

Carefully, Max slid her feet to the floor, wincing and giving a hiss of pain as her head protested the movement. She was still wearing her shoes, and slipped them off, heading toward the door. She opened it and stepped through, leaving it partially ajar, then stopped at the top of the stairs.

“Chloe?” She called, her voice a bit hoarse.

“Max!” Within seconds, Chloe was at the foot of the stairs, Joyce not far behind her. Max walked down the first few steps, and Chloe met her in the middle, on the lower step, making them almost eye-to-eye.

“You okay?” Chloe asked, reaching up and curling her fingers around Max’s arm.

Max nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll – I’ll be okay.”

Chloe opened her mouth, clearly wanting to know more about what had happened, but stopped herself, looking back at Joyce.

“Honey, I’m so glad you’re awake,” Joyce said, a slight tremble in her voice.

“I’m sorry, Joyce.” Max moved to join Chloe on the lower step; Chloe’s hand slid down, and she threaded her fingers with Max’s. “I’m all right, I swear.”

“Don’t apologize!” Joyce said quickly. “I’m just so glad you’re all okay. I was – I was so scared after David called…I rushed home as fast as I could. Then Chloe came in all banged up, with you unconscious…” She sighed, holding onto the stair banister for support. “I just…still don’t understand exactly what happened. David told me the Prescotts kidnapped you, but what -?”

“Mom,” Chloe cut across her, a little sharply. “I already told you everything.”

“Chloe, all you said was that they had you at gunpoint!” Joyce made a frustrated noise, tears filling her eyes, and Max’s heart clenched at the sight. “That – that somehow you all managed to – to fight them off and call David for help! You won’t tell me how they hurt you or – or what they did or how you -”

“Mom, we just…” Chloe paused, softening her tone. “I…I know you’re scared and – and worried. I don’t want you to be, but we just…we just went over all of this with the cops. Max doesn’t need you grilling her right now, okay? I’m – I’m going to keep her company while she rests upstairs, all right? I’ll – we can talk more later. Kate and Warren will be here in a little while.”

Joyce wiped at her eyes. “Chloe, I…I don’t want to be done talking about this. Please, I – I want to understand what’s happened, what’s going on! I know there’s somethin’ you’re not telling me!”

“We will tell you,” Max replied before Chloe could, her voice kind of raspy. “We’ll tell you everything. Tomorrow. I – I promise, Joyce.” Whether you believe it or not is another matter, she thought grimly.

Joyce looked at both of them for a long moment. Slowly she nodded, and moved back a little, letting go of the stair railing.

“Okay,” she said quietly. “I – I understand. Please, just…don’t leave me in the dark much longer.”

“We won’t,” Chloe assured her. “There’s…there’s a lot to talk about, and – ” She stopped, seeming unsure about what to say. “I want to tell you everything,” she finished.

Joyce gave a small smile. “Okay,” She said again. “We’ll talk tomorrow.” She hesitated for another few seconds, then went into the kitchen, leaving them alone on the stairs.

“How long was I out?” Max asked as they headed back to the bedroom. Chloe had continued to hold her hand, and watched her as if she were about to collapse again.

“Twenty minutes, maybe. You were kinda in and out. Mumbled a bunch of shit that made no sense.” Chloe shoved her door open the rest of the way, then shut it quickly behind them. She turned around to face Max, who fought the urge to stare at the floor like she would have as a kid.

“What exactly happened back there?” Chloe demanded, her voice low, though it clearly wasn’t easy for her to keep it that way. “You said you talked to fucking Nathan and Jefferson ?”

“Yeah, I did.” Max sighed, rubbing her forehead. “I had to make sure we knew everything, and there wasn’t going to be another chance.”

“Right.” Chloe crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “What could they know? Anything else they’d have to tell us wouldn’t matter much now!”

“I had to be sure!” Max insisted, moving closer to her. “Before – in, in the week I lived before – everything I thought I knew turned out to be wrong. We thought you -” she stopped, not wanting to say it out loud, or think about it, even though she could see Chloe dying in that bathroom as plainly as if it were happening in front of her. “I had to be sure,” she finished quietly, and this time she did look at the floor, tears filling her eyes.

“Max…” Chloe gave a heavy sigh. “I get that, I really do! On – on Monday it felt like I’d give anything to know what happened to Rachel.” Her voice broke on her name. “But we already know so much more now because of you! The Prescotts and Jefferson are going to prison! They can’t hurt anyone anymore.”

“I know,” Max said, even though the words still didn’t feel real, somehow. “I just…I felt like I had to! I had to talk to them!”

“Max!” Chloe spoke over her, her voice rising with her frustration. “The storm is tomorrow! What happens if you’re passing out then? Or – or if you need to use your power and can’t?”

That stopped Max short, and she rubbed her hands over her eyes. Her shoulders slumped and she let out a deep breath.

“I…I didn’t think about that,” she admitted, shame settling like a pit in her stomach. “You’re right. There wasn’t – they didn’t tell me anything important. I – I was so sure I needed to, but what a shocker!” She snorted, and finished bitterly: “I was wrong again.”

“Hey.” Chloe took her hand, and Max looked up at her again. “Don’t give me that shit.”

“You were just telling me how stupid I was being,” Max pointed out, even as she squeezed Chloe’s hand.

“Okay, it was stupid, but…maybe you did need to do it,” Chloe said, shrugging. “Sometimes you have to do the stupid thing.”

Max shook her head. “I can’t, Chloe. I – I’ve already fucked up so many times, I can’t -”

“Is there a quota on fuck ups that I don’t know about?” Chloe asked flatly, scowling. “Well I’m shit out of luck then.”

“Chloe,” Max began, “That’s not – ”

“Did you not hear me talk about all the shit you’ve helped us do?” Chloe spoke over her. “Max, we couldn’t have done any of this without you!”

Oh, Chloe, Max thought, giving her a small smile. “You’ve got that backwards. Without you, I – I couldn’t have gotten through any of this.”

Chloe stared at her for a second, and then looked away, a blush rising on her face.

“What – what I mean is,” she went on awkwardly, pulling Max gently by the hand and further into her room, “You needed to talk to Nathan and Jefferson for you . Not – not because of answers or whatever, but just because you – you needed to face them one last time.”

“Oh.” Max bit her lip, thinking. Had that been what she really wanted? Closure of some kind? The thought made her stomach sink: it meant that she’d risked them all by using her powers for something that didn’t matter. “I’m not sure if that makes me feel better,” she admitted, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

“Maybe not,” Chloe said, putting her hand on Max’s arm and sitting next to her. “But I’m saying…it’s okay , Max. Fuck, if I’d had the chance I’d probably have done something worse to them.”

Max smiled at her, even as she blinked back tears. Somehow, Chloe always did understand.

“That definitely crossed my mind,” She confessed, wiping away the remains of her tears. Then she laughed. “I can’t believe you were lecturing me about being reckless. Maybe that’s another sign of impending doom.”

Chloe elbowed her. “Shut up, Caulfield.”

Max giggled a little, feeling as though her heart had risen in her chest, or was perhaps less weighed down. They sat in silence for a minute. No matter what, Chloe could make her feel at peace, like the rest of the world – and all that remained ahead of them –  was further away.

“I really thought…” She began, “I don’t know…I guess I expected something else from the Prescotts. Or maybe…after everything that had happened, I wanted there to be more. To be…something.” She shook her head in disgust. “How does this feel worse, somehow?”

Chloe didn’t respond immediately. “Do you think you’d feel better if there was really some secret agenda for them to summon Cthulhu with the storm or something?” She asked. She didn’t let Max respond though, and instead kept talking. “It makes perfect sense to me. The Prescotts have always been…big fish, right? Big fish lording it over the smaller fish in the shitty pond that’s Arcadia Bay.” She shrugged. “They thought the storm was their chance to get to a lake.”

Max stared at her. “Wowzer,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Been thinking about that metaphor for a while?”

“Whatever,” Chloe said. “I’m a goddamn poet, and you know it.”

Max snorted, then settled against Chloe, leaning on her shoulder. “I think you’re right, though. About the Prescotts wanting to, uh, ‘get to a bigger lake’. Though I guess….it really doesn’t matter now.” She shook her head, more than ready to think about something else.

“Have you heard from Warren and Kate?” She asked.

“Not yet, but I bet they’ll be here soon.” Chloe paused. “Your mom called, though. While you were, uh, out.”

Max froze. “Oh. Shit.” She sighed, and ran a hand over her head. “I need to talk to her, but I have… no idea what to say.”

“Well I, uh, talked to her a bit,” Chloe admitted. “Said you weren’t feeling good, so you were taking a nap. She – she doesn’t know about the Prescotts or anything, but she said that Blackwell called her. She, ah…didn’t sound too happy.”

Max nodded. “Thank you, that – that gives me a little time to figure something out.” She sighed again. “I guess I’d kind of been hoping to avoid it until after this week was over. But I have to tell her something.”

“I know what you mean,” Chloe muttered. “I just…couldn’t say anything to mom down there. I – I wanted to, but – fuck, how do I even start? How can I think she’d even believe me?” She finished, a little bitterly.

“We’ll make her believe,” Max promised, despite her own doubts. “I’ll do anything I have to to convince Joyce and David and get them out of here.”

Chloe nodded, though it was clear her worries weren’t gone. “Yeah. You’re right.” She got to her feet, stretching a little. “Besides, we’ve got other shit to do, right?”

“Definitely,” Max stood as well. She shook her head. “I…I wish I felt more ready for this.”

Chloe simply looked back at her, and took a few seconds to reply.

“We’ll be okay,” she said, taking her hand and squeezing it. “You can do this. And – and we can do this. I know there’s so much shit that could go wrong, but…you’ve gotten us here, after everything, and I know we can get through tomorrow too.”

Max throat felt tight, and tears stung at her eyes again, though her heart seemed to rise in her chest. No matter how much she failed, Chloe always had faith in her. She gave up trying to speak; there were no words for what she was feeling.

Instead, she stepped closer, pulled a little on Chloe’s hand, then stood on her toes to kiss her.

 

(-)

 

Warren and Kate arrived within the hour, carrying a duffle and suitcase respectively. Max knew there was always the possibility they would lose any luggage or supplies they brought, but they had to try all the same.

Joyce also noticed the size of their bags. “You two look like you’re movin’ in,” She commented lightly, raising her eyebrows at Chloe, who avoided her gaze and shrugged.

“Thank you for letting us stay over,” Kate said politely, putting Joyce’s attention on her and resting her suitcase on the bottom stair.

“Y-yes,” Warren added. “Thank you, seriously. I – I know it must feel weird be- because of me, but – after what happened…”

“I understand,” Joyce assured him, though she seemed to be half speaking to Chloe. “I – I know you kids have been through all kinds of hell tonight. Even David agreed that you all needed to be able to support each other. Especially with your families not living in town. A-and…” Joyce hesitated, clearly working to keep her voice steady. “If – if you need anything, just – just let me know.” She glanced at Chloe, who this time didn’t look away.

“Thanks, Mom.” She said, her own voice shaking a little. “Um, we’re going to be…” She jerked her head towards her bedroom. “But…thank you.”

There were tears in Joyce’s eyes again, but she blinked them away.

“Now, I am going to have to insist that you sleep on the couch,” She added to Warren firmly. “But you’re free until then.”

“Of – of course,” Warren said, even as Chloe nudged him up the stairs. “W-wouldn’t have expected anything else!” He finished, laughing a little awkwardly before heading up to Chloe’s room, Kate following behind him, smiling a little.

Max brought up the rear, continuing to hold onto the railing despite feeling less dizzy.

“Oh God,” Warren’s voice was half muffled in his hand. “That made it sound like I was expecting something else. I – I assumed I was sleeping on the couch, I wasn’t – ”

“Relax, dude.” Chloe said as they entered her room, Max shutting the door behind them. “We knew what you meant. Besides,” She went on in a lower voice to Max as Kate and Warren set down their bags, “If anyone’s going to be making a move up here, it’s not gonna be Warren.”

Heat rose in Max’s cheeks, though she couldn’t help but grin. Well…she wasn’t wrong.

“I, ah, guess your mom didn’t think about that,” She said.

“Funny how no one ever does,” Chloe replied dryly.

“So,” Kate said, sitting in the chair at Chloe’s desk and drawing their attention. “What, um…what do we do now?” She’d changed clothes and fixed her hair since they’d seen her at the station, though her eyes were still kind of red. “Tomorrow…the – the storm is here, right?”

“Yeah,” Warren leaned against the desk next to her. “We – we’ve got all kinds of ideas, but, uh…we still need to decide what exactly we’re doing, right?”

“We’re sending out mass emails and texts no matter what,” Chloe pointed out. “That much is covered. And we’ve got some people to tell in person too, before we do anything else.”

“I – I may have…already done that,” Kate admitted before Max could respond.

“She did it when we were at Blackwell,” Warren explained.

“Just one person!” Kate went on quickly. “I – I know there’s others you’re going to talk to tomorrow, but…I told Stella.”

“Stella?” Max repeated. She’d known they’d been friends before, but this was still unexpected. ”Um, how’d it go?”

Kate twisted her hands together. “Good, I – I think. She’d…she’d apologized to me about what happened after – after the video, and I…I told her that I forgave her, but there was something I needed to ask of her. I wanted her to take Alice for me, and to – to get Alyssa first thing tomorrow and drive to Alyssa’s parent’s place out of town. I said – I said that I knew I wasn’t making sense, but that she had to believe me, listen to me.” She paused and smiled at all of them. “And – and she said that she should have believed me before, and didn’t, but that – that she was going to believe me now.”

“Thank God,” Max said. “That’s two people out for sure.”

“Shit, maybe you’ll be able to convince my mom tomorrow,” Chloe said, settling on the edge of her bed.

“I – I want to help!” Kate replied determinedly. “I want to do everything I can tomorrow.”

“Me too,” Warren leaned forward a little, crossing his arms. “I want to do anything I can to save everyone, and – and that’s why we need to decide exactly how. 

“You’re right,” Max said, sitting beside Chloe. “But…I’m not sure we can decide until tomorrow. A lot depends on how convincing Joyce and David goes, or if Frank shows up to help us.”

“You – you wanna wait until the last minute to decide?” Warren asked incredulously, his voice hitching. “You really think that’s the best idea?”

Shame and fear twisted in Max’s gut, and for some reason she wanted to burst into tears.

“Oh, like you know any better?” Chloe demanded, scowling at him. Max put a hand on her arm before she could say more.

“Warren…” Kate frowned. “I – I don’t think that’s what she’s doing.”

“N-no, that’s not what I -” Max stopped, and tried again. “We, we know what we want to do, but we won’t know if we’ll have all the options until tomorrow. We – we can’t prepare for them more than we have. And I don’t…I don’t know what we should do,” She admitted, trying to keep her voice from rising, tears stinging her eyes. “E-even with all I’ve seen, I – I don’t know! Half the time it – it feels like my choices bring nothing but death! But I’m supposed to know what to do!”

Chloe’s warm hand closed over her own. “Max…” She began, but Warren spoke before she could finish.

“No, please Max, I’m…I’m sorry,” Warren rubbed his eyes, and Max knew he’d been crying too. “After everything that’s happened – and – and knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow…” He went on so quietly she almost couldn’t hear him: “I’m scared. I don’t…I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared as I was today, and – and I still am.” He bent his head, his arms shaking a little at his sides.

Kate took his hand. “I’m scared too.” She laughed, even as she wiped at her eyes. “I – I know that’s not a secret. I – I can’t seem to stop crying, and…sometimes it feels like I can’t breathe because I’m so afraid. Today…” For a few seconds she seemed unable to speak, and just gripped Warren’s hand. “It – it makes me want to throw up, just…just thinking about it all. But…” She looked toward Max, tears clinging to her lashes, and her voice was steadier as she continued. “In the week you lived before, you said I was in the hospital. My family might have been there too, and…and when the storm came, I wouldn’t have known what to do or what was happening. We – we would have died , just… not knowing. And that – that is so much scarier to me now.”

“Kate…” Max didn’t know what else to say, but Kate wasn’t done.

“Everything that we’ve done together,” She went on. “All you’ve done for me, it’s…it’s given me a chance to fight, in a way I didn’t know I could! I’m still so, so , scared. I – I don’t know if we’ll make it through tomorrow, but…I’m also grateful to be here with all of you, to – to know what’s going on, to believe that maybe we can change things. On Monday everything felt hopeless, like – like I was sinking beneath the surface, and no one evennoticed . Or cared. I – I know the storm is coming, that – that – that we could die, but I’m not drowning anymore!” Kate was still gripping Warren’s hand, and looked from him to Max and Chloe and back again. She finished more quietly, but firm. “I guess…I’m saying I have faith. In – in us. In what we’re going to do, what – whatever happens.”

Warren rubbed his free hand across his eyes, sniffling a little.

“Yeah,” He said, his voice cracking. “I do too. I do.” He let out a long, shaky breath, then met Max’s gaze. “We’ll figure it out,” he finished. “We’re with you all the way, Super-Max.”

Chloe nudged her. “Well, what do you know? Looks like we’re all telling you the same thing.”

For several seconds she couldn’t say anything. Just like Chloe, they still believed in her, no matter how often she’d messed up already. Or how much she feared she didn’t deserve their belief.

Well, she thought, Maybe it’s time you lived up to it. You’re Super-Max. And you’ve got to save them no matter what.

“Thank you,” She whispered. She cleared her throat and went on a little louder. “I can’t tell you what it means to me, having all of you here. I…thank you.” She tightened her hold on Chloe’s hand, wishing she could say more but not knowing how to start. She could feel the tears coming again, and she was so fucking tired of crying. It was all just too much.

“Hey,” Chloe said, giving her hand a squeeze, but drawing everyone’s attention. “Uh, not that crying and talking about this shit isn’t fun, but I’ve had about all I can stand for today. I don’t know about you guys, but I say we just…” She shrugged. “Hang out. Watch a movie. Order a pizza or something. Everything that’s happened, or that’s going to happen…I want to spend a few fucking hours not worrying about it.”

“God, yes.” Warren said, laughing a little, though his eyes were still wet. “I’m so down.”

“That would be…really nice,” Kate smiled. “Like…we’re just having a slumber party.”

They looked toward her, and Max couldn’t help but smile at them, feeling as though a weight had been lifted from her chest; she could stand straighter, breathe easier, just having them there with her. Tomorrow was waiting for them no matter what, and she knew the kinds of hell it could bring, but until then…until then they had tonight.

“Just one condition,” she said, smiling ruefully. “No time travel movies.”

 

 

After some debating (and a few suggestions from Warren no one else had ever heard of) they settled on Howl’s Moving Castle . Kate had never seen it, and for the rest of them it had been years. Warren and Chloe worked together to move the old TV toward the center of the room, where they would be able to see better. Kate ordered the pizzas, reading off a note she’d made to make sure she got everyone’s preferences right.

Max, meanwhile, went downstairs to grab the DVD player, and to let Joyce know about the pizza delivery that was coming.

“We can totally pay for it,” she promised. “So don’t even worry -”

“No, honey, I insist,” Joyce held up a hand to stop Max from arguing the point. “After all you kids have been through tonight…” she trailed off, shaking her head. “It’s the least I can do.”

Max bit her lip, fiddling with the DVD player she’d placed on the countertop while talking. She knew it was hard for Joyce to be shut out this way, and had been for years.

“Joyce,” she said. She hesitated, trying to think exactly how to phrase what she wanted to say. “Tomorrow, when we – when we all talk…please.Please . Listen to us. No – no matter what we say or, or how impossible it sounds – please, listen to us. Listen to Chloe.”

“Honey, I’m willing to listen right now!” Joyce began, but Max spoke over her

“No! That’s not – ” She stopped again, knowing that she had meant more than that. “I’m asking you to believe us,” she corrected herself quietly. “To believe Chloe. She needs you to believe her. She doesn’t think you will.” Max wanted for a moment to rewind and take back that last part, but she didn’t. It was true, and she’d said it, and she was done wasting her power on such things.

Joyce stared at her, eyes red-rimmed. She wiped across them with her hand, and something about the gesture was so Chloe that it hurt to see.

“Max, you’re making this all sound so…” She stopped and took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. “You’re not givin’ me much to go on,” she finished, her voice a little steadier.

“I know,” Max replied. “But we’ll give you more tomorrow, I promise.”

Joyce didn’t seem to have a response to that, and there was no more for Max to say about it. She picked up the DVD player again and went back around the counter to the stairs. She could see Joyce still in the kitchen; she hadn’t moved, as far as Max could tell, as though frozen in her thoughts. Hopefully that was a good sign.

“That took a while,” Chloe said when she got back upstairs. “Everything cool?”

“Sorry,” she said, closing the door behind her. “And yeah, it is.” She gave a quick smile, then set the DVD player on the ground next to the old TV.

“We’re pretty much all set here,” Kate said, standing from her kneeling position by the pillows she’d been adjusting. Her body language reminded Max of the many group projects she’d been a part of in school. Someone had always immediately stepped forward to organize everyone and keep track of everything. If Kate pulled out a clipboard to help direct their activities, Max would only have been a little surprised.

“Yep,” Warren stayed on the ground, leaning back against the pillows they’d placed at the foot of Chloe’s bed. “We’ve got extra snacks for when we’re bored with pizza, we’ve got a whole pile of movies to go through, and this ,” he sank further into the pillows, “Is actually wicked comfortable.”

“Just one more thing,” Chloe said before Max could respond. She was standing over by her desk, messing with a little baggie. “Well, for anyone that wants it,” she amended.

“Sure,” Warren said, shrugging. “ I’ve smoked before. Besides, this is our time to ‘ eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die ’, right?”

Chloe laughed, loading a pipe as she spoke. “Hells yeah. Though – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – let’s stick with smoking, and not drinking. Tomorrow’s gonna be hard enough without a hangover.”

“Definitely.” The expression on Warren’s face twitched, as if he could not continue to hold his smile at the mention of tomorrow , but it only lasted a moment.

“You know I’m in,” Max said, leaning over to plug in the DVD player and pretending she hadn’t noticed his reaction. “After the headaches I’ve had today, I could use it.”

“Coolness,” Chloe said, heading back toward them. “With the three of us, we should – ”

“W-wait,” Kate interrupted, surprising all of them. “I – I might…want to try. Just a little!”

“Holy shit,” Chloe said, after a seconds’ pause. “Seriously? Like, I mean…are you sure?”

“Yeah, Kate…” Max frowned at her. “Please don’t feel like you’re obligated or – or whatever – ”

“I don’t,” Kate promised, her voice more firm. “That’s – that’s just it. At the Vortex Club party when I…drank…I did want to try it, just – just because. But also it felt like – like I had to drink, being there. I don’t feel like that here, with you guys. I feel like…I want to try it.  Just this once.”

“Probably should just be one for your first time,” Chloe advised. She grinned. “Before this week, I never would have guessed you could be such a rebel.”

Neither would I , Max thought.

Kate blushed, tucking some of her hair behind her ear. “Well…if you’d told me all the things I’d be doing this week…” She shook her head. “I – I never would have guessed it either, but all of it…feels like something that’s been in me all along. I don’t know.” She laughed a little, seeming embarrassed. “Does that make sense?”

“Absolutely,” Max assured her, settling down on the far left end of the pillows,  Hell, she’d never known what she was capable of before this endless week. “But, if you change your mind or anything, or you don’t like it, that’s okay.”

Kate smiled. “Thank you, Max. I know.”  She sat down as well, Warren scooting over to the right, both of them making sure there was room for Chloe next to Max.

It took a minute for Chloe to finish up; she turned off the lights, leaving only her Christmas LEDs and the glow from the DVD menu on the TV screen. She navigated her way back to them, and dropped herself down next to Max, bumping their shoulders together.

Chloe lit her pipe, taking in a long breath. She held it, passing the gently smoking pipe to Max.

Max took her own hit quickly. Within a minute it was in Kate’s hands, and Chloe was explaining to her what to do.

“Don’t take too big of a breath,” She cautioned. “You’ll hurt yourself that way. Try to hold it in if you can though. Okay?”

Kate nodded. “Got it.” She brought the pipe to her lips, hesiated for another fraction of a second, then lit it. She managed to hold her breath for a moment, then coughed, passing the pipe to Warren, muffling her cough with her hand. She cleared her throat, drank a little water, and made a face. “I think that’ll definitely be my only one.”

Chloe laughed. “Fair enough. Let me know when you start to feel it, though.”

“Hey, one is plenty for me,” Warren said, taking his own hit. He held his breath longer than Kate, but also coughed. “I’m a fucking lightweight,” he added, clearing his throat.

“Hell, it’s good to know your limits.” Chloe snorted, then took another hit. “Still kinda working on that one.” She eyed Max, as if to say ‘ Aren’t we all? 

Max pretended she didn’t notice. She got the point, anyway. “You guys ready?” She asked, her finger hovering over the PLAY button on the remote.

Warren gave a thumbs-up, then resumed opening his Twizzlers.

“Go for it,” Kate said, pulling a blanket up over herself and looking at the menu screen with clear interest.

Chloe blew her smoke in Max’s face. “Fuck yeah. Let’s get this party started.”

Max snorted, though she couldn’t keep herself from smiling. She pressed the button, then leaned back against the pillows with her friends as the movie began.

 

 

On the screen, Sophie followed the light of her ring through the magic door. At the end of the black hallway before her was the world as it had been in the past, and her key to understanding what she had to do.

Well, shit. Max thought. She shook her head as she watched Sophie enter the door. There goes my condition.

“So much for ‘no time travel’,” Chloe said, as if reading her thoughts.

“I totally forgot about this part,” Warren said apologetically. “Kinda sneaks up on you at the end. Sorry, Max.”

“It’s okay. I forgot about it too,” Max admitted, taking a handful of the M&Ms Kate offered her. She’d had quite a few slices of pizza already, but something about the weed and the inescapable dread of what was coming for them made her particularly hungry.

Still, the movie was – at least in that moment – hitting a little closer to home than she maybe would have wanted. It wasn’t like her rewind power at all, but something about Sophie’s long walk back in time through the hall of darkness chilled her. A lump rose up in her throat, and for a few seconds it was difficult to breathe.

Chloe’s hand slid to her own, threading their fingers together.

Max’s shoulders relaxed, and she exhaled, leaning against Chloe. She knew this part of the movie didn’t last long, and she was already feeling better, but she sort of tuned out until Sophie returned to her own time and reunited with Howl.

She squeezed Chloe’s hand, sitting up a little straighter. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Kate wipe at her eyes. She’d loved the movie from the start, and all of her reactions to it had been very cute. She’d also, Max noticed, slid closer to Warren over the course of the film.

“I can’t believe you haven’t seen any Miyazaki movies before,” Max said to her, as Howl and Sophie located the remains of the moving castle.

“They’re, um…not really the sort of thing my mom would have…. allowed in the house,” Kate replied delicately. “I think my sisters would like them though.”

“We can watch more of them tonight if you want,” Chloe promised. “Lots of feel-good shit in those movies.”

Kate giggled. “Good to know.”

“There’s no way that platform would hold them there!” Warren protested, squinting at the screen as if in suspicion.

“Magic, dude,” Chloe said. “Powered by a fire demon, remember?”

“I’m just saying, at this point it really should’ve been Howl’s Falling Castle , you know?”

Max chuckled, while Kate laughed again, and Chloe shook her head.

“No wonder you and Max started hanging out,” she said.

“Come on,” Max rolled her eyes, leaning up against Chloe again. “Your puns are even worse.”

“Trauma and terrible puns,” Chloe said dryly, “Two things I’m a god-damn expert on.”

They settled into silence again as, back on the TV, Sophie pressed Howl’s heart into his chest. Max kept hold of Chloe’s hand through the remaining minutes of the movie; the warm pressure in her palm was surprisingly soothing. For those few minutes she could have been back further in time, back to their childhoods, watching movies and holding hands, huddling close under blankets. Some things really did never change.

When the movie faded to black, Max yawned, glancing out the window while she did. There were no storm clouds yet that she could see, but she wouldn’t be surprised if they came very suddenly.

Chloe got to her feet and walked to her door, flipping on the lights. “Sorry,” she said, as the others winced in the brightness. “Gotta pee. Be right back.”

“Me too,” Warren leaned up and stood, stretching a little as he did. “Do we need anything from downstairs?” He asked as he and Chloe headed out the door, closing it behind them, keeping Max from hearing her response.

“They seem to be getting along better,” Kate said, watching the door with a fond expression that Max imagined was pretty similar to her own.

“Yeah,” She agreed. “I figured they would, once they got to know each other a bit.” And once Chloe knew that I wasn’t interested in Warren, she thought.

“Yes, but I’m sure… other things helped too,” Kate replied, raising her eyebrows.

Max blushed. “Well, uh s-speaking of getting along, you and Warren sure seem to be.”

Kate’s smile widened, though she bent her head, looking shyly down at her hands.

“He’s sweet. And funny. And – ” She lowered her voice a little, glancing at the door as she went on: “He’s really cute.”

“He is. You like him, then?” Max couldn’t help but smile back at her. Honestly, they’re both pretty cute.

“I – I do. A lot.” Kate gave her a sidelong look. “I told Chloe she had nothing to worry about.”

Max stared at her. “Huh? What do you mean?”

Kate laughed softly. “The other day, when you rode in Warren’s car? Chloe was…a little agitated. She didn’t want to talk about it, really, but I told her she had no reason to worry.”

Max remembered when they’d arrived at the Prescott house that day: Chloe had seemed flustered while waiting with Kate. “You…talked to her about me? A-about us?”

She nodded. “Before, I kinda thought maybe you were interested in Warren. But once I was with you and Chloe together…” She shook her head. “I could tell.”

“You weren’t the only one,” Max admitted, feeling heat crawl up her face. “Hell, Warren basically told me the same thing that day.”

“Yeah, Warren, um…told me a little about it.” Kate was looking at her hands again. “We’ve had a lot of time to talk this week.” She paused, then met Max’s eyes again. “Before, that would have seemed strange. It’s only been a few days, really, but…everything feels so different already. Isn’t that weird?”

Max nodded. “Yeah, I – I get what you mean.”

“But?” Kate prompted.

It took a few seconds for her to find the rights words.

“Things are different. Really different. There’s so much that’s happened in this week that didn’t before, but it’s still…” She stopped, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly. “It’s still familiar, somehow,” she admitted. “It’s like there are these…echoes, of what happened in my other reality. Today, in the week I lived before, I got dosed with the exact same drug, was tied up and threatened with death, it was just Mr. Jefferson who did it then. Even things like Warren getting hurt, or -” Your death, she thought, though she couldn’t bear to say it out loud. “Or – or other stuff throughout this week. There are these…echoes, and they make everything both familiar and different all at once.”

“You’re right,” Kate said, after a few seconds of silence. “That’s much weirder.”

Max laughed, louder than she meant to. “Yeah. It kinda is.”

For a moment Kate just watched her. “It must be really scary too.”

Max’s throat tightened at the sympathetic tone of her voice. She glanced down at her own hands, fiddling with the corner of the pillow nearest to her.

“Yeah,” She managed finally, as though she had to force the words out through her throat. “It – it is.” She let out a shaky breath, and added: “But it’s…it’s better, with all of you guys here. Than last time.”

Kate put her hand on Max’s arm, but before she could say anything else Chloe was opening the door, Warren right behind her. They were holding a few more snacks, as well as another blanket that Max recognized from sleepovers long ago.

“David’s back,” Chloe said bluntly as she closed the door behind them.

“Oh?” Max pushed herself to her feet, joining Chloe by her desk. “Is he, um, going to – ?”

“No,” Chloe replied immediately. “I made it very fucking clear that we need some space right now. He took it…okay.” She conceded, making a face.

“That’s good.” Max sighed in relief. She was very grateful to David in a number of ways, but She knew he had other questions for them, and frankly she wasn’t ready to deal with any of that until tomorrow.

“I think he wanted to go over everything that happened with your mom anyway,” Warren said, setting the snacks down on the desk.

“Yeah, probably,” Chloe muttered, eyes flicking toward the closed door and back again.

Max took her hand, giving it a slight squeeze. Chloe smiled, and the tense line of her shoulders softened as she squeezed her hand back before releasing it.

“Well, party animals, what’s next?” she asked, leaning over to read the stack of DVDs on the desk, “We’ve got time for a few more movies before Warren’s banished to the couch, unless you guys are too sleepy.”

“I still don’t think I could fall asleep yet,” Kate said. “I – I know we need to sleep, but…I’m more than happy to keep watching movies for a while.”

“Same, honestly,” Warren said. “I mean, I am tired, but…I think I’d just lie there staring at the ceiling for hours if I tried to sleep now. Fuck, I might end up doing that anyway.”

Chloe snorted. “Right there with you. So, movies to distract from reality then?”

“Oh, definitely,” Max said. “But there’s something I want to do first.” She reached under the desk, into her bag, and pulled out her Polaroid. She gestured for the others come toward her. Chloe gave her a look, but she still moved over with the others, pressing against Max’s side.

More echoes, she thought, staring down at her camera as they gathered around her. She’d never taken a photo with all four of them, but the ones she’d taken before with Chloe, with Warren, had proven to be both complications and lifesavers in equal measure.

She lifted up the camera, turning it to face them. Chloe stood on her right, putting her arm around Max’s shoulders. Kate was on her left with Warren beside her, both leaning in as close as they could.

She wanted to remember this night, these moments with them. She wanted them to be able to get through tomorrow and look back at this picture. But if they didn’t, well…she’d be able to come back to this moment, too. Try to fix everything again.

“Okay, smile!” She said, making herself follow the same command despite the thoughts she’d been lost in. She pressed the shutter, fighting the urge to close her eyes against the bright flash.She pulled the picture out of the camera a few seconds later, watching the image seep across the photo.

“Phew,” Warren said, “I was worried it caught me blinking.”

“Oh, I really like this one!” Kate’s hand came up by Max’s, hovering around the other half of the photo. “Do you think you could get me a copy sometime?” She hesitated. “If you…you know, can.”

“Of course.” Max assured her. “Anyway, do you guys want to choose another movie? And I’m serious about my condition,” she said, mock sternly. “My brain can’t handle any more time travel tonight.”

“You got it,” Warren said, grabbing the stack of DVDs from the desk. He and Kate sat down on the pillows, and began shuffling through the options.

“Nothing too violent or sad either,” Kate reminded him.

“I know!” Warren said. “Trust me, I’m not in the mood for that right now either. We could do another Miyazaki movie if you wanted, or what about…”

Max started to head toward them, but Chloe grabbed her arm.

“Max.” Chloe’s voice was very low, and she pulled back on her arm a little to make her stop and turn around. “Did you take that picture because you wanted to, or to have a backup plan if things go bad? A way out?”

Max couldn’t respond immediately. So that’s what her look was about. No matter how many times it happened, it still caught her off-guard how easily Chloe could read her.

“Both,” She replied after a few seconds’ pause. “I hope I won’t need it. I hope it won’t be more than just a picture, but if we need it…” She trailed off, not wanting to finish the thought.

“I guess we’ll find out tomorrow,” Chloe said. She looked beyond Max for a moment, at the window behind her, as if she was also waiting to see storm clouds. Then she sighed and shook her head. She stepped back, and brought her hand down to Max’s. “C’mon.”

Chloe’s fingers slid through her own, and together they went to sit beside Warren and Kate again. They only had a few hours left to relax, to pretend the storm wasn’t coming for them, or that there was still so much that could go wrong. Max didn’t want to waste a second of it.

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