What We Make, Chapter Five: Time-Turner

Max’s heart pounded as she listened to the ringing on the other line, her phone pressed to her ear. Come on, come on, she thought. Hurry up and answer!

Thankfully, Warren picked up a second later.. “Max?” He asked, concerned. “You okay? Did something – ”

“We’re fine,” Max assured him hurriedly as Chloe stared the ignition and began to drive away. “But we – we found something.” She explained everything as quickly as she could, looking around as they drove. A part of her couldn’t help but worry that Jefferson would suddenly appear out of nowhere, but she pushed that thought down.

Kate was quiet in the seat between them, looking down at her hands, seemingly tuning out what Max was saying. Chloe appeared to be hyper-focused on the road, her posture tense, her hands tightening on the steering wheel when Max mentioned Rachel’s earring.

“And I – I took pictures, and we copied the photo of Sean Prescott onto Chloe’s flash drive,” Max finished. “So we have that proof. But this means – ”

“Sean Prescott’s involved.” Warren finished, his voice low.

“Yeah,” Max said. “And that means we have to investigate him too. We’re going be back at Blackwell soon, Warren, so be ready to come with us. We’ll need your help.”

Warren was waiting for them in the same place they’d picked up Kate earlier. He was pacing, his hands in his pockets, but stopped and looked up as they approached.

“Hey,” Max said, rolling the window down. “I don’t know if we can all fit in here. Do you want to follow us in your car?”

“A – actually,” Warren said, scratching behind his head. “I was…I was kinda hoping you’d ride with me there, Max. There’s uh, something I want to talk with you about.” He looked at her, and then away, and then behind her, at Kate and Chloe.

Max could feel Chloe’s eyes on her back. “Um,” she said. “Okay. Yeah of – of course. You’ve listened to me, after all the unbelievable shit that I’ve said. How could I do anything less for you?” Max opened the door and climbed out, unable to resist looking back at Chloe as she did. Chloe met her eyes, but her expression was unreadable, and after a moment she turned her head away.

“I’ll meet you guys there,” Max said, closing the door and stepping back.

“Of course, Max,” Kate said, who was looking back and forth between her and Chloe, her eyebrows furrowed. Then she smiled a little. “We’ll see you there. Drive safe.”

“You, too,” Max replied sincerely, and at that Chloe glanced over at her again, nodding, before shifting gears and driving past them.

Chloe, Max thought, sighing, her heart sinking as she watched the truck start to circle around the parking lot, out toward the road again. She’d have to talk with her later about Warren. Though Max knew that this hadn’t exactly been the best timed, what with what they’d found at Jefferson’s house; seeing Rachel’s earring had rattled Chloe, hurt her deeply. And leaving her, even for just a little while after that, felt wrong. But Warren deserved to be listened to, and…if he was talking to her about his feelings, well…that was a conversation they needed to have anyway, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

“Uh, I’m parked over there,” Warren said, pointing to his car a few feet away. He wasn’t really looking at her, his head kind of bent, and he swung his hands like he wasn’t quite sure what to do with them.

“We should probably hurry,” Max said, walking toward it. “So we can meet them,” she added. She didn’t want Kate and Chloe to be alone too long. She’d more than learned that her power wasn’t infallible, but still…she felt better having all of them in her sight, where she could be there to help them if she needed to.

“Yeah, of course,” Warren said, walking with her. “And, uh, don’t worry. This – this won’t take very long.” He said the last part kind of quietly.

Max blinked, glancing over at him and frowning. He smiled at her, but something was off about it, and he looked away from her again.

The short walk to his car was a silent one, and that silence continued as they got in the car and Warren drove out of the parking lot.

“Uh, what did you want to talk about?” Max asked as they pulled out onto the road.

Warren laughed nervously. “I was working up to that,” he said, shooting a glance at her and smiling, though his smile dropped a moment later. “I know this is a bad time. What you found at Jefferson’s house…” Warren trailed off, shaking his head, his expression hardening. “With all that’s going to happen – with all that could happen – I didn’t know when I’d get another chance to say this. And…and I wanted to – to clear the air, you know?” He let out a deep breath, adjusting his grip on the steering wheel. “I – I don’t think I’ve made it a big secret that I think you’re…pretty much one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met,” Warren said, looking over and meeting her eyes for a moment before turning his attention back to the road. “And yesterday I’d been planning to ask you to, um, ‘Go Ape’ with me, to – to this Planet of the Apes marathon. As a date.”

“Warren,” Max said softly.

“But I think you knew that already,” Warren said, glancing at her again. “And I think I know what your answer would be. You don’t…” he let out a slightly shaky breath. “You don’t feel the same way about me.”

For a few seconds, there was silence, as Max struggled to figure out how to respond.

“I…” She hesitated, and then shook her head. “No,” She said, still quietly, but also firm. “Warren, I – I do think you’re incredible. You’re a great friend, but that’s – that’s what you are to me. A friend.”

“Yeah,” he replied, his voice cracking just a little. “I, um, kinda got that.” He let out a long breath. “And I’m not gonna pretend that doesn’t – I mean – I’d hoped you’d feel the same. But…” He paused, and then went on. “I’m happy just being your friend, Max. I am. That’s the most important thing to me. And that’s – that’s really what I wanted to say.”

Max’s heart felt like it was rising in her chest, and it took her a moment to form words. “Warren, I…thank you. Your friendship is important to me, too.” She replied. “I can’t…I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”

Warren smiled at her again, and she noticed that his eyes were a little red. His mouth opened like he was going to say something, and then he closed it and turned his attention to the road once more. Before she could ask what he’d been going to say, he opened his mouth again and took a breath, hesitated for another second, and then finally spoke. “Max, th – there is actually something else I wanted to ask.”

Max furrowed her eyebrows. “What is it, Warren?”

“You – you don’t feel the same way about me. That I feel about you,” he added awkwardly. “Is that – is that because of Chloe?”

The question was so unexpected that Max didn’t even register what he’d said at first. “O – oh! Th-that’s, I – I mean…wh…” She could feel her face heating up, and she struggled to get herself to make sense. Sure, it was something she’d admitted to herself, but it was quite another matter to talk about it with Warren of all people, especially considering he’d apparently picked up on her feelings. Was she that obvious? She cleared her throat, and then swallowed. There was no point in trying to deny it, and she really had no reason to. Finally, she was able to get herself to form coherent words.

“I – I mean it’s…” she let out another breath. “Pretty much everything I do – everything I’ve done – has been because of Chloe, for Chloe. And I…I can’t think of a time when – when I didn’t love her,” Max admitted, and she could feel Warren looking at her, though her own eyes were focused down at her hands. “It – it feels like something that’s always been there. I just…before this week, these weeks, and – and e-everything that’s happened, I didn’t realize how much. I love Chloe,” she said, and her heart was pounding, but there was something powerful about admitting it out loud. “I’m…I’m in love with her.”

There was silence for a few seconds, and Max peeked over at Warren, who was nodding slowly.

“I, uhm…hope you guys are happy together,” he said finally, awkwardly. He seemed unable to look at her.

“I…I hope we are too,” Max said. They had to get through this alive, first. “And Warren – you’re a great guy.” She put her hand on his shoulder. “Anyone would be lucky to date you.”

He didn’t seem particularly convinced, but he gave her a small smile. “Thanks, Max.”

“And you’re one of the best friends I could ever have,” she added, squeezing his shoulder, and at that his smile widened. “And we can’t do this without you,” she finished.

He was officially grinning now. “I know, I’m pretty awesome.”

Max rolled her eyes, shoving his shoulder lightly as she leaned back into her seat, looking forward at the road again as their destination came into view: the Prescott house.

The property seemed to extend well beyond the house, if the massive lawn was any indication. The driveway was circular, kind of like a roundabout, bordering both the large garage and the house itself. In the middle of the driveway was a patch of grass and a small perfectly-trimmed tree, and similar trees lined the edge of the house. In some ways, the place immediately reminded Max of Jefferson’s, with its modern design, flat roofs, and several large windows. It was made of a similar dark wood, though it was slightly lighter than at Jefferson’s, and the house itself wasn’t mostly made of glass. A smooth grey stone wall – probably made from some really expensive and rare material, because of course it would be – to the right of the front door blocked off part of the yard from view, and Max guessed that the house was even bigger than she could see. She was kind of surprised that there wasn’t a gate; hell, she’d half expected that there would be armed guards waiting for them.

Chloe and Kate were parked a few feet ahead, off to the side of the road, and Warren pulled in behind them as they were climbing out of Chloe’s truck. Kate was saying something to Chloe, a small smile on her face, and Chloe – of all things – seemed…embarrassed? Awkward? She scratched at the back of her neck, not looking at Kate even as she nodded and responded to her. As Warren parked, and took off his seatbelt, Chloe raised her head and met and held Max’s gaze through the windshield.

For a second, Max expected her to look away, but she simply raised an eyebrow at Max and called: “You gonna get out of that car anytime soon?”

Max blinked, and realized that she’d been staring; Warren had gotten out already, and he and Kate were also looking at her and waiting for her. Max felt her own face heating up, and she fumbled with the seatbelt as she opened the door and went outside. The four of them turned and faced the Prescott property, and for a few seconds none of them said anything.

“You guys ready?” Max asked, turning and looking at them, from Chloe at her right to Kate and then Warren on her left.

“I am,” Chloe said, her jaw set. “After what we found at Jefferson’s fucking house…” She let out a sharp, angry breath. “We need to do this now.”

Kate nodded, her mouth in a hard line. “We have to find out as much as we can, and as fast as we can, like you said Max. We – we don’t have much time, even with your power.”

“Are you sure I shouldn’t have stayed to keep an eye on Nathan?” Warren asked, his eyebrows furrowed with worry. “What if he shows up? I mean, Vortex Club members ditch class all the time.”

Max nodded. “I know. It’s risky. Really risky. And Kate, you said that Nathan’s mom could be here, and she’ll probably tell Nathan that we came. But it’s a risk we’re going to have to take.”

“Even if that fucker knows we came here, he’s not gonna know why,” Chloe pointed out. “At least, he won’t know why if you don’t get caught looking around the house, and we’re not gonna let you get caught.”

“We’ll keep his mom distracted while you’re searching,” Warren confirmed.

“And with your power, you should be able to help keep her from getting suspicious, right?” Kate asked.

“Right,” Max agreed, smiling a little, feeling slightly more confident. They were a team now. They could do this. Together, they started walking toward the house.

“Remember,” Max said in a low voice as they approached the large front door, “We’re interested in joining the Vortex Club, and Nathan said for us to meet him here. If that doesn’t work…” She paused, faltering for a second. Sure, they were a team now, but they still didn’t have much of a plan, or much time to think of a plan, even with the help of her power. “If that doesn’t work we’ll try something else,” she finished. Right, that’s really reassuring Max, she thought sarcastically.

They stopped in front of the ostentatious door, which also – Max noted with a lurch in her stomach – had doorknobs with a spiral pattern. Great. As if this wasn’t foreboding enough.

“Stop second-guessing yourself,” Chloe said, taking her out of her thoughts. The words seemed to ring in Max’s head. She’d heard them before, and for a moment she was back in Chloe’s bedroom, lit in the soft morning light, and a voice sang softly in the background: I know you have a heavy heart, I can feel it when we kiss.

“We can do this. We’re Team Max,” Chloe went on, giving her a nudge and smiling at her, taking Max back to the present moment.

A lump formed in Max’s throat, and ridiculously she felt like crying. No matter what – no matter that Max had been a shitty friend to her before, no matter that she’d dumped this unbelievable situation onto her, no matter all the horrible things they’d discovered and the ways that Max had failed…Chloe always had faith in her.

Max blinked back the tears and smiled back at Chloe, unable to form words to say how much all of that meant to her, and for a long moment they just smiled at each other.

Max turned back toward the door, took a deep breath, and knocked. For a few heart-pounding seconds, she hoped that maybe no one would be home, and they could just sneak in, but then she heard clacking footsteps approaching: someone wearing heeled shoes. Max exchanged one last look with the others – they’d all moved a little closer together without thinking about it, bracing themselves – before the door opened.

Nathan’s mom (at least, that’s who Max assumed the woman in the doorway was) didn’t immediately say anything, looking them over. Amelia Prescott – as Chloe and Kate had said her name was – looked to be in her forties or fifties. Her hair was a dirty blond, turning grey at her temples, and pinned up in an elegant twist. She wore a grey pencil skirt and a long-sleeved white button-up, and her shoes gave her an inch or two over Chloe in height. Though Nathan took more after his father, Max could still see the family resemblance with his mother: they had the same angular face, and, though she was smiling, there was something immediately off about her. It was different than with Nathan, whose anger practically surrounded him like an aura, but something in her expression…Max couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

“May I help you?” Amelia Prescott asked, and her voice was also perfectly polite.

“U-uhm, sorry to bother you ma’am,” Max said, stepping just a little bit forward and trying to smile normally. “We’re classmates of Nathan’s, and – and we’re interested in joining the Vortex Club. He asked us to meet him here.”

There was a long silence after Max’s words, or at least it felt long. Max’s heart pounded as the older woman considered what she’d said. Then, Amelia Prescott’s smile widened. “Of course,” she said brightly, giving a tinkling laugh. “It wouldn’t be the first time Nathan’s had the club meet here. Come in,” she stepped back, gesturing for them to come inside, and Max couldn’t help looking at the others again as they stepped over the threshold.

We’re in enemy territory, Max thought. We all need to be on our guard.

The door closed lightly behind them, and Amelia Prescott led them down the hall. The floor was polished wood, and the white walls had several framed prints hung on them, both paintings and photography. They were led into the large living room; the furniture was all very modern in design, and it had a similar contrast of light and dark in it’s coloring that Jefferson’s house had. The couch was white, U-shaped, and bordered a black coffee table. There was a big fireplace against the far wall, and the large windows on the other allowed them to look out on the property. There was a deck that Max hadn’t been able to see before, and the yard itself seemed even bigger than she’d thought, extending all the way to the dark distant treeline.

“I know Nathan carries on the Vortex Club tradition of skipping class,” Amelia Prescott said, startling Max out of her thoughts. “I remember doing the same at his age.” She wasn’t looking at any of them, instead out the big window. “Please, feel free to sit down while you wait for him.” She gestured at the couch, still smiling pleasantly.

“Thank you,” Kate responded seemingly automatically, polite as ever. She sat down on the couch, Warren and Chloe quickly doing the same.

“Uh, yeah, thanks,” Chloe said as she settled on Kate’s left, Warren going over to her right.

“You, um, have a really nice house,” he said as he sat.

“Thank you,” Amelia Prescott replied, still smiling. She looked at Max – who was still standing – expectantly.

“Oh – um, I was actually wondering if I could use your bathroom?” Max asked, her face heating up. “S-sorry to ask.”

For a second Amelia Prescott looked back at her, her head tilted just a little to the side, but then she smiled even wider. “Of course,” she said, gesturing toward the stairs. “Anything for Nathan’s friends. It’s the second door on your right.”

“Thank you,” Max said, exchanging one last look with the others as Amelia Prescott turned back toward them.

“So!” Chloe said immediately – and loudly – “Bet you see a lot of parties here!” She briefly met Max’s eyes, and Max smiled at her before walking out of her sight and up the stairs.

Even just walking up the stairs, her footsteps seemed too loud. From what she’d seen so far, all the floors were hardwood, and she’d have to be extra careful to make sure Amelia Prescott wouldn’t hear anything suspicious. Her hand gripped the polished railing, noticing as she got toward the top that the wall on her left had a large glass panel, allowing her to look down into the living room where Chloe, Kate, and Warren were talking to Mrs. Prescott. Max could still hear them, too – Mrs. Prescott was asking them about joining the Vortex Club.

“ – something I always wanted to do,” Warren said, sounding only slightly nervous.

“Y-yes,” Kate added quickly. “I’m in M-Mr. Jefferson’s photography class.” She only stumbled a little saying his name. “With Nathan and Victoria, and that’s what made me want to come here. A-and I know it can open up some – some possibilities for my future.”

“It certainly can,” Mrs. Prescott said. “Without the Vortex Club, my family wouldn’t be where it is today.”

No shit, Max thought as she reached the top of the stairs, looking down the hallway ahead of her.

“Plus, we heard the ‘End of the World’ party’s gonna rock,” Chloe said, her voice still echoing clearly from below. Max wondered if Chloe was maybe trying to be extra loud on purpose – either to cover up any noises Max made, or to make sure Max could hear her warning if something went wrong. Then again, Chloe was loud almost all the time, and that thought made Max smile fondly. Then she steeled herself, and walked down the hall, glancing back to make sure Amelia Prescott couldn’t see her. The bathroom was the second door on the right, so what was the first?

Max pushed it open carefully, relieved when it didn’t so much as creak, but it was just the linen closet. She shut the door, making sure to hold the knob so not even the slightest clicking sound could be heard as it closed. The third door down the hall was on the left, and looked to be a spare bedroom; it was empty, aside from a perfectly-made bed and a bare dresser. Max kept walking, keeping her footsteps as quiet as possible, turning right at the end of the hall to find herself walking down another one, with more closed doors ahead of her. The house was definitely larger than she’d been able to see from the outside.

The first door she tried led to what she thought was Nathan’s sister’s room; it looked long unused, but there were band and movie posters on the walls, and several stuffed animals sat arranged on the bed. Max considered searching around his sister’s room, but decided against it. Granted, she hadn’t seen a lot about Nathan’s sister, but Max didn’t think it was likely she would find what she was looking for in there.

After she closed the door, Max paused for a moment, listening. She could hear the others talking to Amelia Prescott, though not as clearly. Still, the nervous knot in her chest seemed to loosen every time she heard Chloe, Kate, or Warren speak, and she continued searching.

The next room was definitely Nathan’s. Max could easily spot the empty spaces on the walls, on his desk and dresser, from the things he’d once kept there but were now at his dorm. The coloring of the room was similar to his dorm as well, with his black bed frame and desk, and the slightly-eerie photographs on the walls. The pictures weren’t of women, or dead animals, but rather collapsed buildings, what looked like an abandoned amusement park, and – Max realized, a chill going down her spine – a tornado.

Max leaned out Nathan’s door, peering down the hallway, listening again to the conversation downstairs, and then she moved further into the room. She stopped in front of the tornado picture, staring at it for a moment.

It really feels like there’s a connection between the storm and the Dark Room, she thought. These spiral patterns I keep seeing, this picture…is it all just a coincidence? Max reached up, carefully lifting the picture off of the hook. She turned it over, not sure what she was looking for exactly, but her heart still sank when she didn’t see anything. If there was something else to be found with the photo, she’d have to take apart the frame to get to it, and there were other things she needed to find. She put it back up on the wall, looking around the room to see if anything else stood out to her.

She knew it was possible that a deeper search of the room would yield more results, but she wasn’t sure she’d find any new information in Nathan’s room at all. Sean Prescott was the one she really needed to investigate – they were short on time, no matter what her powers could do.

Still, she she peeked in his mostly-empty closet, as well as his dresser. The dresser was also largely empty, except for a birthday card in the top drawer. Max hesitated for a second, and then flipped it open. Inside was a short message from Sean Prescott, addressed to Nathan:

In society’s eyes, you are a man today.

Soon you will prove that by helping this family achieve our destiny. Everything we have done and all we have sacrificed has been leading up to this, and leading up to what is to come. We are building our legacy, and it is time for you to be a part of it.

Don’t let us down.

Max frowned, reading over the message again. There had been similar messages in the Dark Room, and in Nathan’s dorm. She put the card back, closing the drawer carefully, looking around again.

The more glimpses I get at Nathan’s life, the more I learn how much his family – his parents – are to blame for the things he’s done, Max thought, shaking her head. I really shouldn’t be surprised that Sean Prescott is involved – he was already a big part of this, just from how he raised and treated Nathan. If things had been different, well, who knows what Nathan might have been like in another world. In another reality…

For a moment, Max could see it, could see herself sitting across from Nathan, laughing with him, posing for pictures with him, passing a joint to his hand – she shook her head, blinking rapidly, but she could still see it all so clearlyno, she could remember it. She could remember being in a dark room with him, a normal photo dark room; could feel for a moment the pressure of him sitting at her side, could even hear Victoria giggling, feel her squeezing her hand, and Max stumbled back, catching herself on Nathan’s bed frame. For a moment she just held onto it, breathing, shaking her head again. After a few seconds she straightened, wiping her hand across her sweaty forehead.

What was that? Memories from another timeline? She wondered. A life I lived, but didn’t live? A life I could have lived…Max let out a deep breath. How could she remember a life that hadn’t ever been hers, but felt and looked like it had?

Focus, Max, she told herself. You have shit to do. You’ve been gone too long – better rewind.

She held up her hand, rewinding back just a little. She had to keep a delicate balance to make sure it seemed like she was gone just right amount of time. There, she thought. Now, as far as Amelia Prescott is concerned, I’ve only just climbed the stairs. Max could worry about memories from other timelines later – for now she just had to keep searching. She needed to find Sean Prescott’s bedroom, or maybe his home office if he had one.

Max carefully crept out of Nathan’s room, closing the door soundlessly behind her.

The next door opened to reveal an exercise room, and the one after that was locked. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a keypad. She’d either have to find the key, or break the lock and rewind. I’ll come back to it, she decided. Maybe I’ll find the key in another room.

Max opened the next door, and at first glance thought it was another guest room. There were only three pictures on the walls; the one on the right wall was large, and reminded her of ancient portraits that royal families would have. In it, the Prescotts were all standing very formally, none of them really smiling. They were dressed in expensive clothing, and were posing in front of the big fireplace Max had seen downstairs. Nathan and his sister were young kids; his sister was maybe around nine, while Nathan looked closer to four or five. They were holding hands; Nathan stood in front of his father, while his sister was in front of their mother. Sean Prescott had his hand on Nathan’s shoulder, while Amelia’s was on her daughter’s.

The other two photographs on the opposite wall were more stylized, and clearly meant as a pair. One was a close up of a much-younger Sean Prescott, who’d looked even more like Nathan as a young man. It was only half of his face, divided down the middle, his visible eye seeming to stare right at her. The other was Amelia Prescott, also a close-up of half of her face. The pictures themselves were pressed together, giving the impression that each was just half of the same face; both seemed to be looking at her, no matter where she stood in the room. Judging by what she could see of their clothes and Amelia Prescott’s hair, she would have guessed that these were taken on their wedding day, and this had to be their bedroom as well.

Max stepped further into the room, looking around. Aside from those pictures on the walls, the room was rather sparse. It reminded her of a hotel room (a very expensive hotel room, but still). Because of its emptiness, she wasn’t sure where to start. The closet, maybe? The dresser? Maybe she would find the key there –

Before she could move further into the room, a sound came to her. No, sounds – the voices back downstairs were louder, suddenly, and Max’s heart jumped in her chest. Shit, shit, shit, what’s happening? She ran out the door, forgetting for a moment that they would be able to hear her and know where she was, but she kept running anyway, down the hall, around the corner, and the other hallway.

Max stopped dead at the top of the stairs, looking down through the glass into the room below.

Sean Prescott stood in front of Chloe, Kate, and Warren, blocking them from her view. As Max stood there, frozen, he turned to look up at her, a smile on his face.

This snapped her out of her shock – her fear – and Max raised her hand, and rewound. She watched as Sean Prescott seemed to move backwards, out the front door again, and she pulled back even further than that, not sure exactly when he’d arrived or how quickly he’d walk in. She’d been rewinding regularly, so as far as anyone else was concerned only a few minutes had passed; but in the mere minutes that they had been there, Sean Prescott had arrived before she’d found anything. Now, she would have no chance to find anything. Before, whenever she’d thought about Sean Prescott, he’d always kind of loomed like a shadowy villain in a cartoon, but now that she knew he was involved with the Dark Room…

They had to leave.

The moment she stopped rewinding Max started walking down the stairs. She couldn’t act suspicious, but she still had to hurry – maybe they could get out before he arrived.

Chloe, Kate, and Warren shot her startled looks as she entered the living room, and Amelia Prescott looked around at her, her eyebrows raising a little.

“Sorry,” Max said, before she or the others could say anything. “I, um, I – I just got a phone call. F-family emergency. We have to go,” She said, looking right at the others, and all three immediately stood up.

“Of course, Max,” Chloe said, and with a few long strides she was standing next to her, Kate and Warren not far behind.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Amelia Prescott said as they headed toward the door. “Do you want me to call Nathan and let him know what happened?”

“O-oh,” Max said, stopping for a second to turn and shake her head, her heart pounding even faster; she could feel it in her fingertips. “N-no, that won’t be necessary.”

“W – we’ll tell him,” Kate added quickly. “But thank you.”

“I hope things are all right with your family,” Amelia called as they started to walk toward the door again. “And I look forward to seeing all of you again.”

“Thank you,” Max called back distractedly, walking as quickly as she could to the door. She grabbed the doorknob, about to pull it open, when Amelia Prescott’s voice rang out again.

“Miss Price.” Her cool tone sent a spike of fear into Max’s heart, and the four of them turned around slowly.

Amelia Prescott was standing by the entrance to the living room, still smiling pleasantly. “You dropped this, Miss Price,” She said; in her hand was a beat-up wallet with a pirate-flag style skull and crossbones on the front. Amelia Prescott walked closer, holding it out to them, her head tilted a little to the side, her smile never wavering.

Chloe took it quickly, stuffing it back in her pocket. “Thanks,” she replied. “But, w-we, uh, we’ve got to – ”

“Of course.” Amelia Prescott stepped back, gesturing toward the door.

Max’s hand was already blindly reaching for the door, her heart pounding faster now. They needed to get out, they needed to –

She pushed the door open, turning around, only to almost run right into someone else.

It took a second for her to take in what she was seeing, who she was seeing. She looked up slowly, dread settling like a weight in her chest as Sean Prescott smiled down at her.

“Careful there,” he said mildly, stepping back, even as Max could only stare back at him, frozen. “May I help you?”

“They know Nathan,” Amelia Prescott replied, and Max’s head snapped around, still unable to form words, feeling horribly boxed in. “And they’re interested in joining the Vortex Club.”

“Ah,” Sean Prescott looked at them again, wearing a perfectly-fatherly smile. “The Vortex Club is a proud tradition, and is always open to new – ”

“Sorry,” Chloe interrupted, pulling on Max’s hand and snapping her out of it. “Gotta go, family emergency.” Without waiting for a response, she started walking down the driveway, still holding Max’s hand. Max stumbled a little at first, and then kept pace with her, even as she looked back.

Kate and Warren were right behind them, hurrying as well, but Max’s attention was focused on Sean and Amelia Prescott. They’d moved closer together, and were still standing on the porch, watching Max and the others walk away.

“I take it Papa Prescott crashed the party, and you rewound?” Chloe asked in a low voice as they hurried back toward their cars.

“Yeah,” Max said, facing forward again as they started down the hill and the Prescotts vanished from sight. She let out a sharp, angry, sigh. “I didn’t have time to find anything. I’m sorry you guys, this was a – a total failure, and – ”

“Don’t apologize,” Kate said firmly. “It’s not your fault.”

“You got us out of there,” Warren pointed out. “Even though we still ran into Sean Prescott, you got us out of there fast.”

“And besides,” Chloe said, squeezing her hand, warmth blooming in Max’s chest at the gesture, “We’ll figure something else out. Right?”

“Right,” Max agreed, squeezing Chloe’s hand back. Chloe smiled at her, and then ducked her head, looking away.

“Right,” Warren echoed as they stopped in front of Chloe truck and his car. “And uh, not to be a pain in the ass, but…anyone got any suggestions as to what that ‘something else’ might be?”

Max looked back up toward the Prescott House, thinking. She’d chosen to search the house because it had seemed the less risky of the options, but she’d been completely wrong. Still, they needed to find out more about Sean Prescott – what exactly his role was in all of this. “We still need to find out what’s happening,” Max said, looking at the others one by one. “And…I can’t believe I’m suggesting this after all that happened here, but…” She took a deep breath, and went on: “One option is to try and search through the Prescott Offices, and Sean Prescott’s office itself. I don’t know if we can try the house again, but maybe if we look through his office…”

Chloe was nodding already. “That fucker is hiding all kinds of shit. We need to find it out what it is.”

“Yes, we do,” Kate agreed, crossing her arms, her face set.

“We’re with you, Max,” Warren reminded her. “We know it’s risky, and – and it could go wrong, but we gotta do this.”

She smiled at all of them. “Okay. Okay. So…” She let out a deep breath, closing her eyes for a second. She opened them, nodding. “Okay. If we’re going to investigate the Prescott Offices, we should be more prepared – I know we don’t have much time, but we came here without preparing at all, and look how it turned out.” She shook her head; she should have known better. “Let’s head back to Blackwell – there’s some stuff there I want to get.”

“Me too,” Kate piped up. “I printed out directions to the storm shelters in town – we can start putting them up.”

“That’s great, Kate,” Max nodded at her, smiling. “The storm will be here soon, and we need to be as prepared for that as possible.” She paused for a second, and then went on. “Then, after Blackwell, we can meet at Chloe’s house again.” she glanced at Chloe to make sure it was okay. “And start planning for tonight.”

“Tonight?” Warren and Kate asked together.

“Tonight,” Max confirmed. “We don’t have much time. It has to be tonight. Let’s go.” There was another moment of silence, but this one was slightly awkward, as they all sort of seemed to hesitate.

“Y-yes!” Kate said suddenly, brightly, startling Max a little. Kate practically jumped toward Warren, grabbing his arm. “Come on, Warren.” She smiled and waved back at Max and Chloe. “See you at Blackwell.”

Max stared after her in confusion, watching for a second as they both got into Warren’s car. Huh. “That was kinda weird,” she commented to Chloe, looking over at her. “What do you think?”

“Uh, dunno,” Chloe called back lightly, shrugging, already walking to the driver’s side of her truck. Max followed behind her, getting in the passenger’s side.

She looked back at the Prescott house again as Chloe’s truck roared to life, and she continued to stare at it as Chloe began to drive down the road. Max let out a sigh, turning forward again. I know we didn’t find what we were looking for, but…I’m glad to be out of that place.

“Glad to be out of that place,” Chloe said, as if reading her thoughts, and Max smiled.

“I was literally thinking the same thing,” she said, glancing over at her. Chloe turned her head to meet her eyes, smiling as well.

“Oh yeah?” She asked, her smile turning into a smirk and she focused on the road again.

Max couldn’t help laughing softly; as kids, they’d spent so much time together that they’d often end up speaking in unison or finishing each other’s sentences. It wasn’t anything they did on purpose – though they loved it – but sometimes it really had seemed like they could read each other’s thoughts. It felt so good to be doing things like that again.

“I am glad to be out, though,” Max said, resting her hands on her knees.

“Seriously,” Chloe agreed, shaking her head a little. “I don’t want to spend a second longer around that bastard than I have to.” She paused for a second, and then added: “That woman – Amelia Prescott – she gave me the creeps too.”

“I know what you mean,” Max said. “Did she do or say anything weird or whatever while I was upstairs?”

Chloe shook her head. “No. No one got the chance to really say much at all. We talked about the Vortex Club mostly, and she got a phone call, but only for a second.”

“What phone call?” Max asked, frowning.

Chloe shrugged. “How the hell should I know? She didn’t say who it was, but it sounded like she was talking about seeing someone at a meeting tomorrow, and that she had to go over some notes. That’s it.”

Damn, Max thought. We really got nothing this time around.

“Anyway,” Chloe went on. “She gave me some serious creeps. She was like…Stepford Business Barbie.”

“No kidding,” Max muttered. Now that Chloe was saying it…she realized that that was what had unsettled her about Amelia Prescott in the first place. The way she’d looked at them…it was like she wasn’t actually seeing at them at all, and something about it reminded Max of a doll’s eyes.

“We can’t rule out her involvement,” Max continued. “Sean Prescott knows about the Dark Room – even more than that, maybe. And she might too. And now she might be dangerous to us.” Max shook her head. They never should have gone – it had been so stupid of her to –

“Stop beating yourself up,” Chloe said suddenly, startling Max out of her thoughts. “If she is involved in all of this, she’d be dangerous to us no matter what. And if you say that it would be your fault,” she added quickly, speaking over Max as she started to respond, “I will punch you in the face. Don’t test me, Caulfield.”

Max couldn’t help but laugh, even as she – ridiculously – felt her eyes sting with tears. She blinked them back. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” she replied, and they smiled at each other again.

“So, we investigate Prescott’s office tonight,” Chloe said after a moment of silence. “And then tomorrow…?”

“Tomorrow…” Max hesitated. “I don’t know. I feel like there’s still so much I don’t know or understand, and – and the storm is going to be here on Friday, and we’re not ready for that either, but we have to be.”

“We have ideas for how to help other people and get them out, Max,” Chloe pointed out. “You’re more prepared this time around.”

“Yeah,” Max smiled again. “I am.”

“We do still need to figure out how we’re all getting the fuck out of here, though.” Chloe added.

“Definitely,” Max agreed. “Any ideas?”

Chloe pursed her lips for a moment, thinking. “We could steal a bus?” She offered.

Max laughed. “Of course that’s what you’d say.”

Chloe shoved her shoulder, rolling her eyes. “Eat me. I’m serious.”

Max stifled her laughter, though she couldn’t drop her smile. “I know. I love it.” After all that had happened, these timelines she’d gone through, Chloe could still always make her smile and laugh, and feel better, no matter what.

Chloe looked at her again, for a second longer this time, and then went on: “I’m telling you, we should think about it! We can’t all fit in my truck, and if we wanna get out of here – ”

“You’re right,” Max said, nodding. “It’s something we should think about, but…do we even know anyone that could drive a bus?”

“How hard could it be?” Chloe asked, shrugging.

Max shook her head. “I don’t know. But it’s not something we’re going to want to be trying to figure out during the storm.” Maybe David would know how? He did drive a bus in that alternate reality, she thought.

“Okay, okay, you’ve made your point,” Chloe waved a hand. “Steal a bus as a last resort. Any other ideas, Captain Caulfield?”

Max smiled a little. “Maybe,” she said. “I’m not sure, but…in my other timeline we did get Frank to help us. And I might be able to convince him to help us this time around too, so we could all go in his RV. It’s still not much of a plan, but…”

“Hey, we have my completely awesome bus-stealing plan as a backup,” Chloe reminded her, and Max felt herself smiling again, warmth rising in her chest. “We’ll figure it out.”

“Yeah,” Max said, as their eyes met once again. With Chloe, she could do anything. “We will.”

(~-~-~-~-~-~-~)

“…So, we might go in this RV?” Kate asked.

“It’s an idea,” Max said as they approached the girl’s dorms. Chloe and Warren were waiting for them back in the parking lot. Kate will grab the fliers from her room, I’ll get my stuff, and from there we’ll head to Chloe’s to prepare for tonight. Max kept running over the plan in her head again and again, though admittedly it wasn’t much of a plan at all. She knew it was what they had to do, but anxiety was coiled tight in her stomach: her previous timeline couldn’t guide her at all on this one.

“Hm,” Kate pursed her lips, thinking. “Can we trust this Frank? I know you said he helped you in that – that other timeline,” she said, lowering her voice a little as they passed by some other students. “But…you said he gave those d-drugs to Nathan, right? The – the ones he and Jefferson used on us?”

“He did.” Max replied, her stomach twisting at the thought. “I don’t trust Frank the way I trust you, and Chloe, and Warren,” She paused.“But I think I trust him to help us. And, well…we don’t have a lot of options.”

Kate nodded. “I know, Max.” She was quiet for a moment as they entered the building, and began climbing the stairs toward the dorms. “What if we rented a big car or something?”

For a moment Max’s heart leapt – What about the money from the handicapped fund? They could – but a second later she realized that wasn’t right at all. Of course they didn’t have that money – they’d never stolen it, not here. Max tried to shake off the strange feelings that gave her, and focused on Kate’s words. “I don’t have any money,” she said after a few seconds’ pause. “And uh, I know Chloe doesn’t either.”

“Neither do I,” Kate admitted. “And I um, d-don’t think my family would send me the money.”

“I don’t know if Warren could afford it on his own,” Max added. “But, having a car of our own like that would make things easier, right? Or, maybe we could steal a rental car, or some other kind of car, if we had to.” There were moments where it was kind of hard to believe the words coming out of her own mouth. She’d never thought there would be a time where she’d be discussing the pros and cons of stealing a car or a bus. It’s so surreal, sometimes, she thought.

Kate nodded again, this time to herself. “Staying in a shelter might be a better option,” she added. “Instead of trying to get out of town, I mean.”

“Maybe,” Max nodded. “But if we can, I’d like us to get out of town.”

Kate nodded again, her mouth set, eyebrows a little furrowed, clearly thinking hard about their plans. The sight made Max smile; it wasn’t long ago that Kate looked so lost, and now…

“Tonight,” Kate went on, glancing around, even though no one else was on the stairs, “Should we, um, wear dark clothing? Cover our faces, or – or something?”

“Just to be safe, yeah,” Max replied. Sean Prescott might already be on to us, with my mistake earlier, she thought guiltily, but she pushed that thought away. She needed to focus on what they were trying to do.

“Okay. Anything else?”

Max shook her head. “I don’t think so. Warren had some ideas he wants to tell us about when we’re at Chloe’s, too, so there’s that.”

They reached the top of the stairs; Max pulled open the door and stepped through. “If there are security cameras,” She went on, “I’m thinking maybe we can find the video files and erase them, or – ” Max cut herself off mid-sentence, realizing that Kate had stopped walking a few steps behind her.

“Kate?” Max asked, looking back at her.

Kate’s eyes were fixed further down the hall; Max followed her line of sight to find Victoria, Taylor, and Courtney heading right toward them. At first, they didn’t seem to notice Max or Kate, but then Victoria spotted them, and the three seemed to walk faster.

Wonderful, Max thought, glancing over at Kate, who was still standing frozen, though as Victoria drew closer she looked away from them, and down to the ground. Max recognized that expression: the way her shoulders slumped, how she couldn’t seem to look anyone in the eye. It made Max’s stomach lurch, and fury shot through her. Victoria wasn’t evil, but some of the things she did were.

“Well, well,” Victoria said, stopping in front of them, Courtney and Taylor flanking her at her sides. Max half expected them to burst into song with the formation they had. “Been out partying with Kate, Max? When should I start looking for your slutty video?”

Max stared back at Victoria for a second, her eyes narrowing. “Why the hell are you doing this, Victoria?” she asked.

Victoria blinked, sharing quick uncertain glances with Taylor and Courtney, and then scoffed. “Uh, excuse – ”

Why are you doing this?” Max repeated, louder, stepping toward the three girls, looking at each of them. “Kate didn’t want to be in that video, or do any of the things in it! And if she had, it’d be none of your goddamn business.” She was glaring at them now, her hands fisted at her sides.

For a second Victoria seemed stunned into silence. “What – ” Her eyes flicked to Kate and then down for a second, but Max kept talking.

“Why are you doing this?” she said again. “Go on, tell me.”

“Hey, shut the hell – ” Taylor began, and Max stepped closer to her, stopping her mid-sentence..

“Taylor, you don’t have an answer either!” She said, not caring that her voice was getting louder. She could see people down the hall looking at them, could feel Kate moving closer to her, but still she kept going. “Or Courtney, or – or anybody! There’s no good answer because there’s no good reason to do it!”

Victoria seemed to shake herself out of her surprise, her chin coming up. “I don’t – ”

“You made me feel like I wanted to die!” Kate’s voice cut through hers, making all of them turn to look at her, everything else seeming to go silent. She was standing next to Max now, her arms crossed tight, eyes practically burning. “And you – you think I don’t know it was you? You think I don’t know it was you that took the video, you that posted it?” Her voice became higher, wavering, and she wiped the back of her hand across her eyes as tears threatened to spill. “Do you have any idea how scared I was? A-any idea of what h-happened to me?” Her voice broke.

“Something – something happened to you?” Taylor whispered. She’d gone pale, her eyes wide.

“Wh-what do mean?” Courtney asked, looking at the still-speechless Victoria as if she’d have the answer. “Like, something…”

“Oh, so you care now?” Kate asked, giving a short laugh. “Now you want to know?”

The other people in the hall hovered on the outskirts of the conversation. Max could see Dana looking concerned, Juliet trying to get closer, Alyssa and Stella watching Kate with clear worry on their faces.

Kate glanced over at Max, and Max nodded at her encouragingly. She knew Kate wouldn’t say anything about the Dark Room, or Nathan. But whatever she did say, she had every right to say it. A part of her hated to see Kate like this, so angry and hurting, but at the same time pride bloomed in her chest. Kate was standing up for herself. Kate was fighting back.

“I was drugged at that party,” Kate said, and that confidence was there, so different from how she’d first told Max about it in her room, what felt like so long ago. She wasn’t questioning herself, wasn’t ashamed and blaming herself. She knew the truth, and she’d become stronger for it. “I w-was drugged and hurt, and all you did was laugh at me.”

Victoria deflated; her hand half lifted toward Kate, mouth opening and closing again. She looked at Courtney and Taylor, who didn’t speak either, looked unable to speak.

“I – ” Victoria began uncertainly. “I didn’t – ”

“You did,” Max countered. “And you know it. You know that it’s wrong, what you’re doing is wrong, but you’re too scared to admit it.”

It was there in that moment, plain on her face – the fear, the guilt, confusion and uncertainty – and

Max could see the person buried beneath all of Victoria’s bullshit.

“You can be better than that,” Max pressed, stepping closer again. “All of you can.”

Victoria’s eyes flicked between Max and Kate, lingering on Kate; for a moment she actually looked like she was about to cry. She opened her mouth like she was going to say something, and then closed it again. Then her chin came up, just a little, and she looked past them, squaring her shoulders. She walked right between them, as if they were beneath her notice, Courtney and Taylor trailing after her.

Max watched them as they opened the door to the stairs and began heading down, both Taylor and Courtney shooting final looks back at them, though Victoria did not. I hope that got through to you, Max thought as the door shut behind the three girls. Any of you.

Max was startled out of her thoughts as a pair of arms wrapped around her – Kate’s arms.

“Kate,” Max said, hugging her back as best as she could, though Kate had kind of pinned her arms to her sides. “You were so amazing.”

I was amazing?” Kate asked, shaking her head and stepping back to look at Max. She was crying, but her smile was huge, infectious. “Max. N-no one’s ever stood up for m-me like you. I…” she trailed off, and then hugged Max again, leaving Max’s arms free this time. “Thank you,” she said quietly, her voice trembling a little.

Max hugged her back, just as tightly. “Of course, Kate,” Max said. “I wish I’d done it more, and sooner.”

Kate laughed, stepping back again, wiping at her eyes. “Max, I think you’ve done more than enough.” She smiled again, her eyes crinkling at the edges, and Max couldn’t help but smile back.

“Come on,” Max said, nodding down the hall. “Let’s get our stuff, and meet Chloe and Warren back in the Parking Lot.”

“Yeah,” Kate replied, walking with Max down the hallway. The small crowd that had kind of been watching their confrontation with Victoria was still there. Dana pulled a very-curious-looking Juliet away toward their dorms, though she shot a worried look at Kate and Max as they walked by. Alyssa and Stella stayed where they were, though Stella opened her mouth and seemed like she was going to say something, but the moment passed and Max and Kate kept walking.

“Meet you downstairs?” Kate asked as they stopped in front of her room.

“Sounds good,” Max replied with a small smile, waving and continuing toward her own dorm.

She stopped just outside of it, looking down the hall. Stella had gone inside her own room, but Alyssa was still there, kind of hovering by Kate’s door, and Max wondered if she was thinking about talking to Kate. Max hoped so.

She opened her own door, closing it behind her, taking in the sight of her messy room. It was kind of strange coming back; over the past weeks – week – she’d hardly spent any time in it. Hell, she’d hardly been at Blackwell the past few days at all, and aside from the final visit she’d do before the storm to make sure she had everything she needed, she wasn’t planning on coming back. After the storm, she might not ever be able to. Might not want to.

Max shook her head, shaking off the weird feelings those thoughts gave her, and dug under her bed for her duffle bag. She’d had it for almost as long as she could remember, and it was the bag she’d always used for extended trips, or extra-long sleepovers at Chloe’s. Though, for those past sleepovers I wasn’t packing clothes for breaking and entering, she thought as she pulled the bag out and set it on the bed.

First, though, she wanted to plug her phone into her computer. Specifically, she wanted to update her ‘Chloe’ playlist for tonight. She had a number of playlists for her music, different ones that she would listen to depending on her mood, but the one she’d had the longest was her ‘Chloe’ playlist. When she’d been living in Seattle, she would listen to it whenever she thought about Chloe, and had continued to do the same now that she was back in Arcadia Bay. The songs on it had changed over the years (and even just over the past week), as she had changed, as Chloe had changed, as her feelings for Chloe had grown. Listening to the songs always made her feel better, calmer, and with the trouble she’d been having sleeping, Max had kind of been thinking that listening to the playlist before she went to sleep could help prevent her nightmares. It was worth a shot, anyway.

While the music was syncing to her phone, Max packed her toiletries, Captain the Bear, and an extra pillow in her duffle, and then began searching through her closet for clothes.

Do I even have anything ‘appropriate’ for a break-in? Max wondered as she pushed aside several of her graphic t-shirts. It’s not like I have a ski mask. Or even much black clothing. One of the few black pieces of clothing she did own was a dress, and her fingers brushed over it. It was pretty, though she hadn’t had a chance to wear yet, and she immediately knew it wouldn’t make sense for her to bring it, but she also felt something more than that. Something that…twisted in Max’s gut at the sight of it.

She let go of the dress, trying to shake the feelings off, even as a shudder worked its way over her body. She stepped back, shuddering again, but her legs felt wobbly, and she stumbled backward, clutching at the couch to keep herself from falling to the floor. Her vision swam, and she fought it, just like she did every time, but she could see it, could feel it, all around her.

She saw the blue butterfly landing on a coffin, Joyce crying so hard she could barely stand. Max saw herself standing in front of the mirror and wearing her black dress, willing herself to go because it was Chloe’s funeral and she’d wasted all that time and would never ever see her again –

And then Max was back in her dorm room, and she gasped as if she’d just surfaced from underwater. For a few seconds she just sat there, panting, taking in her surroundings. Chloe’s alive, she told herself. She’s here and she’s alive. She shook her head slowly, shifting a little so she was sitting properly on the couch, leaning forward and resting her head in her hands. This shit’s starting to get really inconvenient, she thought, running her hand across her forehead and through her hair. She took in a deep breath, and let out a long sigh. Is this something I’m just going to have to get used to, for the rest of my life? She wondered, but then she shook her head again. Come on, Caulfield, snap out of it. It doesn’t matter. You have shit to do.

She got to her feet, a little unsteadily, and heard her phone buzz on the desk. She walked over to it and unplugged it from the computer, her fingers trembling slightly, to see a text from Kate: Max? Are you okay?

Shit, Max thought. How long have I been up here? And I still need to finish grabbing everything. Shit, shit. She quickly typed up a response – Sorry, meet you in the parking lot – and started moving around the room as fast as she could, gathering what she needed and trying to make up for her lateness. She could have rewound, but…her head hurt, and she still felt a little unsteady after what she’d seen. Hurry, Max, she told herself. They had plans to make, offices to break into, an apocalypse to plan for. She snorted. Just another Wednesday in Arcadia Bay.

Thankfully, the duffle wasn’t too heavy, even with her computer in it, so it didn’t slow her down too much on her way to the parking lot. Max walked alongside the grass just outside her dorms, holding the duffle with both hands. As she crossed the quad, she saw Victoria and Taylor sitting on a bench on the far side of the grounds. Their backs were turned toward her, so they couldn’t see her. As Max watched, Taylor slowly put her hand on Victoria’s back, and Victoria leaned in toward her, her shoulders slumped.

Maybe she will take what I said seriously, Max thought, continuing to glance back at them even as she moved further and further away from them.It seems like she’s thinking about it, anyway. Maybe –

“Max Caulfield,” a horribly familiar voice said from in front of her, freezing Max in her tracks. “Just the person I was hoping to see.”

Slowly, her heart pounding, Max turned her head forward to face Mark Jefferson.

He was saying something, but there was a ringing in her ears and she couldn’t hear a word of it, couldn’t look away from him. Her hands tightened on the straps of the duffle bag, and it took every ounce of her self control to keep a straight face. Her stomach rolled, her knees felt weak; with a blink, she was back in the Dark Room, and he was walking toward her with a syringe in hand. With another blink that memory was gone, and she was facing Jefferson in the open, during the day.

“ – been to class for a while. I was concerned,” Jefferson was still talking, hadn’t even seemed to notice she hadn’t said a word. God, he just loved the sound of his own voice, the bastard. “I was hoping I’d run into you here. Now, Max, I know I’m just some old dude who can’t understand how you’re feeling, but I want you to know I’m here for you, if you need to talk, or – or anything, and – ”

That was it. Max couldn’t bear to hear another word of that bullshit. “I don’t need to talk,” she interrupted sharply. She tried to walk past him, but he blocked her path.

“Hold on, Max,” he said, his voice gaining a bit of an edge. “You’ve been skipping your classes. This is serious, and not like you – ”

“You have no idea what I’m like,” Max shot back, unable to stop herself from glaring up at him, her arms shaking.

He gaped at her in surprise for a moment, but recovered quickly, smiling and chuckling. “Well, you’re quite right Max. But, perhaps if you would participate more, put yourself out there, like with the contest, I would know you a bit better. Art is always a reflection of the artist in some way, and – ”

“I know,” Max replied shortly, getting her expression under control again. Your work is your reflection all right. If only I’d noticed sooner, she thought. “I have to go,” she added, attempting to step around him again, only for Jefferson to block her once more.

“Max,” he said, his voice raising even more, and Max hated how her stomach tightened in fear at the sound, and tried to hold onto her anger instead. “This is simply unacceptable. You are going to squander your potential – ”

“By missing some classes?” Max snorted. “Right, whatever.”

He raised an eyebrow at her cooly, a flicker of a different emotion passing over his face, and now rather than increasing her fear, she instead felt strangely satisfied. It was like she was witnessing a chink in his armor, no, putting a chink in his armor. A big part of her desperately wanted to just scream at him, wipe the smile off of his face completely, tell him she knew exactly what he was, and then rewind, but she knew better than to waste her power on shit like that. Jefferson would get what was coming to him; she would make sure of it. Still, the small victories didn’t hurt.

“I understand that things have been crazy around here lately,” Jefferson said after a slight pause. “So I’ll ignore that and let you try again. If you continually miss class you will not be able to pass – ”

“I don’t give a shit,” Max said, this time stepping around him successfully. “I have to go.” She walked past him, and didn’t dare look back, though she was sure she could feel him watching her. Goosebumps raised on her arms and legs, and she shuddered at the thought. Just you wait, you piece of shit, she thought. You’re gonna get what’s coming to you, and soon.

It was only after she reached the front of the school that she looked back. Of course, Jefferson was nowhere in sight, and she hadn’t expected him to be, but still. Max faced forward again, trying to shake off the leftover adrenaline and anxiety. She could see Chloe, Kate, and Warren below, gathered around their respective vehicles, and just the sight of them waiting for her was oddly soothing. She moved faster, nearly stumbling and just catching herself; she adjusted her grip on the duffle, and kept walking, though her arms couldn’t seem to stop shaking. They were parked on the far end of the lot, and didn’t noticing her coming immediately. When they did, they all turned to face her. Chloe was leaning against her truck, her hands in her pockets, but she stood straighter as Max approached. Kate waved, as did Warren, and Max waved back, picking up her pace and jogging the rest of the way.

Max saw Chloe’s eyebrows come together as she got closer; she looked Max up and down, her eyes narrowing a little, and walked forward to meet her.

“Max, what happened?” She asked immediately.

“Something happened?” Warren asked, stepping toward her in concern. “I mean, Kate told us about Victoria – ”

Kate frowned at Max. “No, it was something else, wasn’t it? Are you all right?”

For a second Max couldn’t speak at all. Shit, do I look that bad? Her arms were still trembling a little, and she set down the duffle, crossing her arms tightly, shaking her head, letting out a short laugh. “It’s fine. I just – I ran into Jefferson.”

Kate’s eyes went wide, the color draining from her face.

“Fuck,” Warren breathed, raising a hand like he was going to pat her shoulder. He seemed to change his mind at the last second, and swung his arm back down awkwardly.

Chloe’s expression darkened, and she looked over Max again. “Are you okay?”

Max shrugged, though she smiled a little at Chloe. Her hands had finally stopped shaking. “It’s fine. One of us was bound to run into him. I’m just glad it was me.”

“But you were alone,” Kate said, clearly horrified. “Oh, I should have waited for you. We need to stick together, you said so yourself!”

“Don’t worry about it, Kate,” Max told her quickly. She wasn’t kidding about being glad to be the one to face Jefferson: she’d faced him before and could do it again. The thought of Kate or Chloe spending one more second around him…it would have been so much worse. She didn’t want Warren around him either of course, but after everything Jefferson had done to Chloe and Kate, here and in other realities…the idea of them having to face him was enough to make Max feel sick.

“You’re right though,” she went on. “We should make sure we keep sticking together.” After all, Kate could have run into him (or Nathan) on her own when she was heading to the parking lot too. I should have thought of that, she told herself. I can’t keep making mistakes like this.

Max jerked in surprise as Chloe grabbed her wrist. She looked up, Chloe holding her gaze as she said fiercely: “You won’t ever have to face him alone again, Max. I promise.”

She wanted to say It’s okay or I can handle it, but she couldn’t look away from Chloe, and the words wouldn’t come. Chloe’s hand moved, letting go of her wrist only for her to grab and squeeze Max’s hand. Chloe’s hand was warm around her own, and for a moment Max felt like crying, but instead she smiled. “Okay,” she said quietly.

Chloe smiled back at her, squeezing her hand again, but then looked over toward Blackwell and scowled. “I hate knowing that that fucker is in there.”

“So do I,” Max agreed.

“It makes me feel like he’s watching us,” Kate said, rubbing her hands down her arms. She bit her lip. “Like – like he’s going to follow us or something.”

Max couldn’t blame her for that. Hell, she felt the same. It was pretty much exactly what had happened before, when Jefferson followed her and Chloe to the Junkyard. Max quickly pushed those memories away – she didn’t want to think about Chloe getting shot, about Jefferson drugging her.

“Weeeellll,” Warren said slowly, and they all turned to look at him. “If it helps, I may have uh, let all the air out of his tires.”

For a second they simply stared at him.

He grinned, shrugging. “I was gonna break in and put cheese under his seats too, or something, but I didn’t have time.”

“Wait,” Chloe said, a look of pure delight spreading across her face. “You’re serious?”

“Well,” Warren shrugged again. “I didn’t want to risk him being able to drive off and find you guys. And…” he hesitated. “I know it’s not much, and it – it doesn’t change anything, but – ”

It’s the small victories, Max thought, but before she could say anything, Kate started laughing.

It was quiet, soft, and she covered her mouth with her hand seemingly out of reflex. “T-Thank you, Warren,” she said, giving him a brilliant smile. “You’re right, it – it doesn’t change anything, but…thank you.”

“Uh, yeah,” Warren replied, blushing a little. “I mean, you’re welcome?”

Kate laughed again, and Max could’ve sworn the sound was actually warming her heart. It had been such a long time since she’d heard Kate laugh.

Chloe pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Too bad you couldn’t do more,” she said. “I’m absolutely down for keying that motherfucker’s car.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think we could do that without someone seeing,” Max pointed out. It was great to fantasize about, though. For a moment she imagined writing something similar to ‘I’M A RAPIST PIG’ on his car, Lisbeth Salander-style, but they needed to get going. They had a lot of planning to do before they headed to the Prescott Offices.

“Time to go?” Chloe asked.

Max nodded. Chloe was still holding her hand, and Max didn’t want to let go of it, but she did. She leaned down and picked up the duffle, squaring her shoulders. “Yeah,” She said, looking at Kate and Warren, and then back at Chloe again. “Time to go.”

(~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~)

Somehow, the Prescott Offices seemed even bigger at night. There were only two floors, but it was a wide building, and like the Prescott house had a very modern and angular design. Nothing about it seemed suspicious – it looked like a regular building – but a chill still worked it’s way down Max’s spine as she looked at it, and the longer she looked, the more she noticed. The landscaping was still somehow eerily perfect – thin threes bordered the entire building, trimmed so straight they almost looked fake. Unlike at the Prescott home, there weren’t a lot of wide windows revealing the inside; the windows that were there seemed rather small, though the large front door leading to the reception area was entirely glass.

We have to find something this time, Max thought, gazing up at it. The parking lot was completely empty, so it didn’t look like they’d have to worry about running into anyone at least. Still, they’d want to go as fast as they could – find the security room and erase or steal the footage of themselves, find Sean Prescott’s office, search it, and get out. She ran over the plan again in her head, even though she’d done so a hundred times already.

“Here,” Chloe said, and Max looked over at her. She was holding out a pair of latex gloves. Warren was carrying them in his backpack, and had passed them out.

“Thanks,” Max replied, slipping them on as Warren also started passing out the flashlights they’d brought. Even though they were planning on trying to get rid of the security footage in some way, there was the possibility that they wouldn’t be able to, or that the security footage was being streamed somewhere else. Warren had suggested using flashlights to solve the problem – if they pointed the lights at the cameras, it made it much harder to see their faces. It wasn’t full proof, but it was the best they could do.

Max tugged on her hood, pulling it down a little more as well. If they got caught here…She shook her head. If they got caught, she could still use her powers to get them out. She could do it. They could do it. They’d come better prepared this time, after all. Thanks to Warren’s science knowledge, a few basic household supplies (and some double-checking online) they’d put together some simple smoke bombs, and those could give them some extra cover as well.

She glanced over at the others, who were also looking at the building looming in front of them. Kate seemed a little less nervous this time around – going into Jefferson’s house had probably made her feel more confident about this sort of thing – while Warren seemed to be checking on the smoke bombs. He nodded to himself, zipped up the backpack, and carefully slung it over his shoulders.

Chloe was staring straight ahead at the Prescott Offices, her shoulders back and eyes slightly narrowed. Her flashlight was already on and raised, a metal baseball bat in the other hand. Max had talked her out of bringing David’s stolen gun, and so they’d compromised. They could use it for breaking and entering if they needed, or for defense if the absolute worst happened. In any case, Chloe looked like she was ready to march into battle, and Max felt a sudden desire to kiss her again – no, it’s first time, here, she corrected herself – her face heating up. Sometimes Chloe was just so…she didn’t even have the words for it, and this was usually the moment she’d be whipping out her camera, but now wasn’t the time.

Focus, Caulfield, she thought, looking back at the building again, even as she could feel herself blushing to the tips of her ears. We have a job to do. She closed her eyes, let out a long breath, and then opened her eyes again.

“You guys ready?” Max asked, turning on her flashlight, Kate and Warren following suit.

“We just have to erase the security footage, then search Sean Prescott’s office,” Warren replied. “We got this.” He smiled, but there was a nervous edge to it.

“We have to find the truth,” Kate said, glancing over at Max, and then at the building again.

The truth within the truth, Max thought. They couldn’t come up empty handed this time. They couldn’t.

“Let’s go,” Chloe said, stepping forward, and they quickly followed along behind her.

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