What We Make – [Chapter Four: Continuum]


 

“You…saw me jump?” Kate asked softly. She wasn’t looking at anyone, her arms crossed tight.

For a second it was all so clear in Max’s mind – Kate’s broken body, the vivid red of her blood – and Max swallowed against the feeling of bile rising in her throat.

“Yes,” She said. “I had to rewind to get back far enough to stop you. Then my powers were failing and I couldn’t go back. I managed to – to freeze time, and that’s how I got on the roof with you.”

Kate didn’t respond, still not looking at any of them.

“And – ” Max didn’t know why she was going into more detail, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself. “And – you, you said that God had put you on that roof, and that no one c-cared about you…” Max’s voice hitched, and for a second she couldn’t breathe around the lump in her throat. She blinked rapidly, trying to keep the tears back. She squeezed Chloe’s hand tighter in her own, probably too tightly, but Chloe only squeezed her hand back. Max wasn’t looking at her – wasn’t looking at anyone besides Kate – but the heat and pressure from Chloe’s hand felt like an anchor, holding her steady. Max swallowed, and let out a trembling breath. “But that’s not true Kate. It’s not. We care, and – and your dad cares, and your little sisters, and – and Alyssa and Stella and Dana, and – and I know that everything lately has just – just been shit, Kate, but you’re not alone. You’re not,” she repeated after a moment of silence that felt much longer.

She swallowed again, sniffling, and loosened her grip on Chloe’s hand a little, waiting for Kate to say something, but she didn’t. The seconds ticked by, and Kate still didn’t say anything.

Max glanced at Chloe – her eyes were red-rimmed again, though she hadn’t done any actual crying – and Warren – his eyebrows were furrowed with worry, and he seemed a bit teary as well – not sure what to do. She hesitated, biting her lip, and took in a breath to speak, when Kate stood up.

“Max, I – ” Kate stopped. She was still looking at the ground. Her hands wrapped around her upper arms, rubbing them like she was warming herself. “I – I need to go outside. Be – be alone, for a moment. Please.” She finally looked up at Max, only for a second, but long enough for Max to see that she was crying.

Max didn’t know what to say; should she let someone who was suicidal go off by themselves? Would being by herself right now just make Kate feel worse, after everything she’d just heard? Okay, so it made sense that she’d need to be alone for a while to process it all, but –

“You can go out to the backyard, if you want,” Chloe said, interrupting Max’s thoughts.

Kate nodded. “Thank you,” she said quietly, and then she was moving, going out the door and closing it behind her. Max listened to Kate going down the stairs, and strained her ears, trying to see if she could hear the sliding door open. She thought maybe she heard it, like a faint whoosh, but she wasn’t sure. She definitely didn’t hear the front door, so at least she knew that Kate hadn’t decided to just leave.

“Uh,” Warren said, and Max turned her attention to him. He was still pale, and his hair was messy from the number of times he’d run his hands through it in disbelief, or held his head in his hands in shock. “Should we, uh – I mean, you said that today, in your timeline, that Kate tried to – to jump. Should we…should we let her be alone right now?”

Max shook her head. “I don’t know. The last time I let her run off when she was upset, she…well, she ended up on that roof.”

Warren flinched at that, and Max felt Chloe shift on the bed beside her.

“She’s not gonna do anything,” Chloe said, and both Max and Warren looked at her.

“How do you know?” Max asked. God, what if she was making a huge mistake? What if she was giving Kate opportunity –

“Because I know what it’s like when you need to be alone,” Chloe replied, her voice flat. “Course, I’ve got lots of practice with the whole ‘alone’ thing,” she added bitterly.

Max looked down at their hands, still intertwined. “Chloe…” She said quietly, reaching forward to put her other hand on top of their clasped hands, so that she was holding Chloe’s in both of her own. She didn’t know what to say – if there was anything she could say – but she kept looking at Chloe until their eyes met. They held each other’s gaze for a few seconds, and Chloe softened.

“Kate’s not gonna do anything,” She repeated, more quietly. “Okay, so I don’t know her like you do, but –”

“No, Chloe, it’s – ” Max gave her a small smile. “You’re right. She needs time to process all of this.” She squeezed Chloe’s hand again, reassuringly, and then turned to Warren. “What about you, Warren? How are you, um, processing?”

Warren laughed a little, running his hands through his hair again. “I…kinda feel like I can’t quite wrap my mind around it all, so there’s that.” He turned serious. “But I believe you, Max. Everything you said, it – it makes a twisted kind of sense, you know? It sort of fills in the blanks on some stuff, like what happened to Kate at that party, and –” Warren glanced worriedly at Chloe (who stiffened, sensing what he’d been about to say) before hurrying on. “And – and everything,” he finished awkwardly. He was quiet for a moment, his arms propped up on his knees. “Thank you for telling me this, Max,” he said, meeting her eyes. “You trusted me with this, and it means a lot.” He smiled. “Time travel and conspiracies, corruption, mystery, and a big storm on the way. To think that I can help with that, help you, it’s…it’s like I’m part of history in the making. Thank you,” he repeated.

For a moment she felt as if she was back with Warren in the diner as the storm raged around them, and the words he’d said then. How could there be a bigger moment in history? And I’m in the middle of it with you…

“Thank you for believing me,” Max replied. “Seriously, Warren. That means a lot too.”

He smiled wider, his eyes crinkling at the edges. “You got it, Super Max.”

She smiled back in response, but Chloe interrupted before she could say anything.

“If you two are done flirting, maybe we can start figuring out how we’re going to catch these fuckers,” Chloe said irritably.

Warren went bright red. “U-uh, I – I didn’t, I mean, I wasn’t – um –”

Max, on the other hand, wasn’t flustered at all. “We can’t discuss it until Kate’s back,” she said sharply. “And we weren’t flirting.” Out of the corner of her eye she saw Warren sort of droop a little, and she winced internally. Well, she could’ve handled that part a bit better, but Warrendid need to understand how she felt. Still…Sorry, Warren, she thought.

Chloe’s response was to take another hit off of her joint. She exhaled the smoke in a long sigh. She didn’t look at either of them, her head a little bent, but she didn’t let go of Max’s hand either.

Max opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it. She ought to wait until they were alone to really talk about this with Chloe; it was personal, and not the kind of thing Chloe would probably feel comfortable discussing in front of Warren. In fact, Max realized, That’s probably part of why she doesn’t like him being around. She doesn’t know him at all; even Kate she kind of knew before. Warren’s practically a stranger to her.

“We’re going to get justice, Chloe,” Max said finally, squeezing her hand a little. “If we all work together, we can do it. I know we can. And Warren’s going to help us. And, and I think Kate’s going to help us. We’ll bring down Nathan and Jefferson, and find some way to stop the storm. We will.”

“I…” Warren spoke, to Max’s slight surprise. He hesitated, looking at Chloe. “I want to do everything I can to help. What’s happening is wrong, and I just…I want to help,” he finished.

There was a long silence. Chloe wasn’t looking at anyone still, the line of her shoulders tense. She took another hit, and blew out a long column of smoke. Slowly, she nodded. She didn’t say anything, but Max knew it was a step in the right direction.

She squeezed Chloe’s hand again, and then let go of it, standing. Her hand felt kind of cramped and sweaty from being held so long, but it definitely wasn’t something she wanted to take back.

“I’m going to go check on Kate, if you think its been long enough,” Max added to Chloe.

This time Chloe did look up at her, and she nodded again, but still didn’t say anything.

Something tightened in Max’s chest.

“We’ll be back up soon,” she promised, keeping eye contact with her and offering a small smile. For a long moment Chloe looked at her, her eyebrows a little furrowed. “Yeah,” She said slowly. “See you soon.”

Max smiled a little wider, even though she was kind of surprised by the way she’d responded. She turned and nodded at Warren. “Be right back,” she said, and then she went out the door, closing it behind her.

(~-~-~–~-~-~-~)

Kate was sitting in the backyard, on the swing. She was holding the chain on both sides, her head slightly bent. She looked up as Max walked closer.

“Hey, Kate,” Max said softly as she stopped beside her.

“Hey, Max,” Kate said, just as quietly.

They were both silent for a moment, and then Kate drew in a shaky breath. “E-everything you’ve told me, it – it’s all true, isn’t it?”

“Every word.” Max replied seriously.

Kate nodded. “I know. I know it is. While I was sitting here I kept trying to – to think about other explanations for how you could know so much, or something that would tell me you made it up, or – or were delusional or something, but…”

“But?” Max asked gently.

Kate didn’t answer immediately, looking at her feet. There was hardly any grass there, from the years Chloe and Max had spent playing as kids, kicking up all the grass by the roots as they swung, leaving behind patches of dirt. Kate rocked her feet back and forth on that dirt, swaying slightly.

Kate let out a shaky breath, and continued. “But I can’t think of a reason why you’d do that. Why you would make any of it up, or how you could have. And what you did inside, knowing what was in my purse and Warren’s pockets, and all the cars that passed – it had to be true. Has to be true. Which means…” She hesitated, took in a breath and then let it out, and then turned to look directly at Max. “Which means you’re right. I’m not alone. I’m not alone because Mr. Jefferson has done this before, to all those other girls in those, those binders. To you. It’s what Nathan tried to do to Chloe too, and – and we have to get justice for everything they’ve done to us.” Her voice became stronger as she went, and Max saw something in Kate’s expression that she hadn’t seen from her in a long time: determination.

“We will,” Max promised. “Together, Kate, we’ll get justice.”

For a moment Kate just looked at her, and then she nodded again. “I believe you, Max.” They were simple words, and Kate had been mostly believing her through Max’s explanations, but it was different this time. She said it firmly, without any doubts, and looked Max in the eye while she did.

Max tried to form words, but they wouldn’t come. She leaned forward and hugged Kate, and for a few moments they just held each other. “Thank you,” she managed finally as she pulled back, wiping at her eyes.

“Thank you, Max,” Kate said, smiling a little. “From everything you’ve told me, it sounds like you’ve saved me a few times over.”

Max shook her head. “You saved yourself, Kate.” And if all that stuff I’ve been seeing is true, then I’ve failed you just as much as I’ve helped you.For all that what she saw when she fainted was like a dream and hard to remember, there were some things she could never forget, and the sight of Kate’s body was one of them.

“And if you’re right about all of that,” Kate said, taking Max out of her thoughts, “That means you’re right about the storm, too, and we only have until Friday to come up with a plan.”

“Well,” Max said, standing and holding her hand out to Kate. “We should get started then.”

Kate smiled again, and then her face grew more determined as she took Max’s hand and was pulled to her feet. “Yes,” she said, releasing her hand. “We should.”

Together, they walked back into the house.

(~-~-~–~-~-~-~)

They were sitting cross-legged in a circle, several pencils and pieces of notebook paper spread out on the ground between them.

“What do you think, Max?” Kate asked.

Max bit her lip, looking over the papers on the floor. The one that Kate was pointing to – labeled STORM PLANS – looked a lot less finished than the other notes they’d made. They all had different titles – DARK ROOM INVESTIGATION, CONNECTIONS, and the like – and those papers were full of notes and ideas they’d all come up with. The whole setup, them sitting in a circle with crossed legs, paper and pencils on the floor, reminded Max of being a kid, doing group projects in school, or drawing with Chloe. It had mostly been Kate’s doing, though. Max realized in retrospect that she shouldn’t have been surprised; before she’d been drugged and kidnapped, Kate had been open, social, in charge of clubs at school and church programs. She was used to being organized, to heading up projects. And even though Max knew there was more they had to do, having it all out on paper like that somehow made her feel more accomplished.

“I think we’re off to a good start,” she said, smiling at Kate, who smiled back. “We’ve got some good ideas. We just need to figure out what to do first.”

“We’ve got some time to deal with the storm,” Chloe said immediately, from her place at Max’s right. The more they’d talked and planned, the more animated she’d become. “The longer we let fucking Nathan and Jeffer-shit run loose, the more time they have to hurt someone, or get away.”

“I think so too,” Kate added solemnly. “We can’t give them the chance to drug more girls. I – I don’t want there to be any more victims.”

Warren patted her hesitantly on the shoulder. “Me neither,” He said. “And Max,” He turned toward her, “You said that you think there’s some kind of connection to the storm and what Mr. Jefferson’s been doing, right? We have to figure that out too.”

Max nodded, thinking, tracing her hand along the papers on the floor. “We need to do more investigating. Even with all I know, there’s still so much I don’t understand about all of this. I think…it’s time to investigate Jefferson himself.” She picked up the paper marked with his name. “We just need to decide how.”

“Ah!” Chloe said, sitting up straight. “We can get his address and do some digging at his house! You said he’s got surveillance in the Dark Room, but I bet he doesn’t have it at his house.”

“You’re right,” Max said slowly, smiling a little and meeting Chloe’s eyes. It was just…so Chloe to suggest breaking into his house right off the bat.“He probably doesn’t.”

Chloe blinked at her. “Uh, yeah.” She gave a slightly awkward laugh. “I’m, uh, not used to a Max who’s so eager to break the law,” she said, and there was a teasing hint to her voice that made Max’s smile widen.

“Well, it’s all your influence,” Max replied, arching her eyebrow and bumping Chloe with her shoulder. Chloe smiled, but Kate spoke before she could say anything else.

“Mr. Jefferson,” she said in a low voice. “Yes, we need to expose him.”

“Hold on,” Warren said, raising one of his hands a little. “You don’t know for sure that there aren’t cameras at his house. And going anywhere near where he lives seems really dangerous. I know we’ve gotta investigate him, but we have to be careful too.”

“You’re right,” Max said. “We need a plan, especially to make sure Jefferson won’t come home while we’re there. So, at least one of us should probably keep Jefferson busy at Blackwell.” She paused, thinking. Chloe was definitely out – she’d probably end up attacking him, not that Max could blame her. And Kate…after she’d just learned everything he’d done to her, Max couldn’t ask her to face him. Maybe Max could keep him busy – she knew how to keep him talking after all – but her powers could be needed for investigating too.

“I’m up for whatever you want me to do to help, Max,” Warren replied after a few seconds of silence, taking her out of her thoughts. He scowled. “I’m more than happy to keep that motherfucker busy and away from you guys.”

Max smiled at him gratefully. “Thank you, Warren. I think that makes sense. But you need to be careful around Jefferson. He has to stay at Blackwell, and he can’t get suspicious of you.”

He nodded. “You got it. I’ll make sure he doesn’t leave, and doesn’t suspect a thing.”

“You’re the best, Warren,” Max told him sincerely. “So, we’re investigating?” She asked, looking at Chloe and then at Kate, who nodded.

“Time to Scooby Gang this shit,” Chloe said. “We’ll find whatever that fucker is hiding.”

“Yes, we will,” Kate said, straightening her shoulders and keeping her head high. “We’ll find the evidence we need, and we’ll bring him to justice. Besides,” she added, leaning forward and tapping the STORM PLANS paper with her pen. “In terms of the storm, I can start making flyers to point people toward the nearest shelters if nothing else. The church basement’s been used to survive big storms before, and I can see if there’s anything else in town that could work.”

“And I can look into the broadcast warning system,” Warren offered, leaning over and pointing to another idea on the list. “Maybe there’s a way we can get one out to warn people about the storm.”

“We need a getaway car too,” Chloe pointed out. “If we can’t make it to a shelter or something, we’ll need a way to get out. My truck doesn’t have much room, so we’ll need something bigger than that.”

“And in the meantime, we’ll investigate Mr. Jefferson tomorrow,” Max finished. For a ridiculous moment she almost felt like she should say something like ‘meeting adjourned’ or ‘Avengers, out!’, or something. Well, they were a team now, even if they didn’t have a team name or colorful costumes. Thankfully, the others seemed to sense her intentions if nothing else, and started getting to their feet.

Warren stretched his arms over his head, popping his neck. “I dunno about you guys, but I should probably head back to Blackwell.” He looked between Max and Kate. “You guys want a ride back?”

“Um,” Max glanced at Chloe. “No, that’s all right.”

Warren looked slightly disappointed, but still smiled at Kate. “What about you? Want a ride in the Warren-mobile?”

Kate laughed a little. “That would be nice. Thank you.”

“Wait, Kate,” Max stepped forward, putting her hand on her arm. “If you feel like you can’t stay at Blackwell because of Nathan or Jefferson or – or if you are feeling lonely or anything, please let me know.”

“Yeah,” Chloe said, stepping toward Kate as well, surprising Max a little. “Seriously. Just text us or whatever, and me’n Max’ll come pick you up.”

Kate smiled widely at both of them. “Thank you. You guys have…have made me feel hopeful again.” She headed toward the door with Warren, pausing and looking back at them.

“Where should we meet tomorrow?” Kate asked. “And when are we going to investigate?”

“We can meet at Blackwell,” Max assured her, “So that should be easy. Warren can go head off Jefferson – ” she gestured toward him, and he nodded back “– and we can go to his house. The earlier the better, probably, so long as it’s when we know he’ll be at school.” She hesitated, though she knew she needed to ask. “Are you guys okay with missing class?”

“Uh, I think I’ll worry about my classes after we’ve survived the giant tornado,” Warren said. “This is more important,” he added seriously.

Kate bit her lip. “I’ve always tried to do well in school, and I’ve never skipped or been late. But Warren’s right. This is more important.”

Max walked them to the front door, though Chloe stayed behind in her room. “I really can’t thank you guys enough for this,” she told Warren and Kate. “I know everything I said it – it’s hard to believe. So it means a lot that you’re here.”

Kate leaned forward and gave her a hug. “It means a lot that you’re here, too, Max.” She stepped back toward the door.

Warren hesitated, and for one moment Max thought he would try to hug her as well, but he just waved. “She’s right,” he said, smiling a little. “See you tomorrow?”

“See you tomorrow,” Max promised, and with they they went out the door, closing it behind them.

For a moment Max hovered by the door, just taking it all in. Warren and Kate believed her. Chloe believed her, and they had plans and ideas and…and they were a team. Max smiled. We’re a team, she thought. And together we’ll make things turn out right this time. I just know it.

A sound reached her ears and she frowned, trying to listen and understand what it was. After a moment it came to her: Chloe was playing music in her room. Max started walking back up the stairs and was able to identify the song as “Santa Monica Dream” by Angus & Julia Stone. Chloe had had that song on the playlist she kept with Rachel Amber’s picture.

Oh, Chloe, Max thought. She never wanted to hurt her, but here she had just piled all kinds of hurt onto Chloe all at once, and all at the same time. It was too much; too much for anyone. She couldn’t blame Chloe for reacting the way she had at all because it was all so much to take in. That was one of the reasons Max hadn’t mentioned any of her more intimate moments she’d shared with Chloe in her timeline; Chloe was dealing with Rachel, she didn’t need to be worrying about all of that. More importantly…Chloe was grieving for Rachel. If Max came to her, telling her that she was in love with her and wanted to be with her…It would either overwhelm Chloe, or it’d be like I was taking advantage of her loss. She didn’t want to do that.

Max reached Chloe’s room, hesitating for a second and listening to the song outside the door – I’m somewhere, you’re somewhere, I’m nowhere, you’re nowhere – before she opened it.

Chloe was smoking again, lying on her bed. “Hey,” she said levelly.

“Hey,” Max responded. “Um.” She hesitated, gauging Chloe’s body language. “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” Chloe said, taking another hit off of her joint. She held it in for a few seconds and then exhaled. When she spoke again, small wisps of smoke unfurled from her lips. “When you wanting a ride back to Blackwell?” Her tone was kind of flat again.

“Well, I wasn’t really planning on going back, actually.” Max said. Chloe paused with the joint halfway to her mouth, and she sat up. She looked over at Max, who smiled at her.

“Oh,” Chloe said, her voice no longer flat. “Really?”

Max nodded. “If you don’t mind, I was kinda hoping to crash here tonight.” Max folded her hands together, and then apart again, feeling strangely nervous, but not in a way that bothered her. “I kinda thought, you know, that maybe we could have a sort of sleepover? Like when we were kids?” She glanced at Chloe and then away. After everything – the week she remembered that hadn’t happened, all the visions of death she’d seen – she just wanted to spend some time with Chloe. To wake up the next day and see her there, know that she was alive.

“That…” Chloe exhaled another puff of smoke, a little shakily this time. She looked up at Max, a small spreading slowly across her face. “That sounds hella awesome,” she said, and Max’s own smile widened.

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

“You did not,” Chloe said, staring at the scene before her, her mouth hanging open.

“I did,” Max said smugly, trying very hard to hold back her smile.

Chloe’s mouth snapped shut and she shoved Max’s shoulder, shaking her head. “Dude, you are EVIL! I can’t believe you waited to nail me with that lightning bolt until I was just about to win!”

“Oh, right,” Max rolled her eyes. “Just last round you bumped me right off a cliff twice! You’re just as evil,” she teased, “And a sore loser.” She picked up the small couch pillow next to her and bounced it off of Chloe’s head.

Chloe’s eyes narrowed. “Well now it’s on,” she declared. “Prepare yourself for the ass-kicking of your life, Caulfield!” She settled herself back on the couch, getting the next race ready. They’d been playing Mario Cart for a while, something they’d done all the time as kids. Even though she hadn’t used it in a while, Chloe still had her Nintendo 64, and two out of her four controllers worked. They were both rusty with the game, but it had started to come back to them, as had the familiarity of playing with each other. Max could remember sleepovers in the past, getting competitive and throwing as many items at each other as they could. Or there were the times they’d played Zelda: Ocarina of Time, alternating who was using the controller. One night, Max had had a nightmare at Chloe’s house, and Chloe had hummed the ‘Zelda’s Lullaby’ song from the game to help her go back to sleep.

Chloe furrowed her eyebrows, focusing on the screen to choose their course. Max wondered if this was the first time she was playing Mario Cartsince Max had left. She’d said it had been a long time, and that was how long it had been for Max. It hadn’t been a conscious choice on her part, exactly, but every time she was in a situation to play games she’d played with Chloe with someone else…she just hadn’t wanted to. She’d end up remembering all those memories with Chloe, and maybe it was somehow her trying to make up for being an asshole and not contacting her, or maybe there was a part of her promising that the next time she played it would be with Chloe; either way, she hadn’t been able to bring herself to do it. Now, though, she was here and playing with Chloe again.

“I think we need to – Max? You okay?”

“Huh?” Max blinked, jolted out of her thoughts. She cleared her throat a few times – it felt tight – and her eyes were a little watery, but hopefully not enough to be noticed. “Sorry, I was just –” Max stopped, and then finished her thought. “I was just thinking that it’s…really nice to be having a sleepover with you again.”

Chloe smiled, eyes flicking to her and then away. “Yeah. It is.”

There was a second of silence where they just smiled at each other, and then Max asked: “What were you saying?”

“Oh!” Chloe straightened, her smile becoming more of a smirk. “I was saying I think I know how to settle our Mario Cart battle.” She gestured toward the racing course that was up on the screen.

“Oh no…” Max said in exaggerated horror.

“Oh yes,” Chloe replied gleefully. “Rainbow Road.”

“Nooooooo,” Max exclaimed, throwing her hand back over her head dramatically.

Chloe kicked at her, laughing, and Max swatted her foot away.

“Shut up,” Chloe said. “And meet my challenge, coward! Verily, I shall prove my merit over thee!”

She crossed her arm across her chest like she was making an oath, bowing her head.

Max giggled, doing the same. “Verily,” she agreed, and they started racing again.

In retrospect, Max should have known that just because people called her ‘Mad Max’, didn’t mean she was actually an amazing driver. While she put up a valiant effort, and managed to get another win, she had to ultimately offer up her controller in defeat.

“You are the Mario Cart master,” she told Chloe. “I bow to your skills.”

“Hell yeah you do,” Chloe said, grinning lopsidedly. She leaned back against the couch, her hands behind her head. She looked up at the ceiling, letting out a long breath, the smile starting to fade from her face.

Max scooted a little closer to her, leaning back and looking up at the ceiling as well. For several seconds, neither of them said anything.

“This doesn’t feel real,” Chloe spoke in a low voice, and Max turned her head to look at her. She was still staring at the ceiling.

“I know,” Max said. She turned her head toward the ceiling again. “It kinda doesn’t feel real to me either.”

Chloe let out another long breath, but didn’t say anything. Max looked over at her again, opening her mouth and then closing it. What could she say? Ask if Chloe was okay? What kind of question was that, after all that had happened?

“Do you remember…” Max said, pausing to collect her thoughts, “Do you remember that time we made pirate pancakes?”

There was a second of silence, and Max wondered if she’d said the wrong thing, and then Chloe laughed.

“Fuck, yeah, I remember that! God, that made a mess.” Chloe laughed again. “We tried to make swords and skulls and crossbones and – shit, what was the other one?”

“Well, we tried to make a captain’s hat too,” Max answered wryly, “And I made one that sorta looked like a peg leg, but that was pretty much the best result that we got.”

“Oh man, there was flour and milk everywhere,” Chloe said fondly. “ And we burned the hell out of one of the pans. Mom was so pissed.”

“That,” Max said, bumping her with her arm, “Is because someone decided to have a flour fight in the kitchen instead of pay attention to the things on the hot stove.”

“Oh, right, like you were all rushing to stop me!” Chloe accused, bumping her back. “You dumped practically a whole sack of flour on my head!”

“Oh yeah,” Max said sheepishly, laughing. “I forgot about that.”

Chloe smiled again, but not quite as brightly. “I miss doing shit like that all the time.”

“Well, who says we can’t?” Max said, moving a little closer to her. “I mean, okay, not all the time, but right now we could.”

“Yeah?” Chloe asked, her smile growing. “You suggesting we make pancakes?”

“Aye, Captain Chloe.” Max said, smiling wider as well. “That is exactly what I’m suggesting.”

Chloe drew up straighter. “Well then, First Mate Caulfield, it’s time to pillage the kitchen for our treasure.”

“Arrrrr!” Max cried, thrusting her fist into the air.

Chloe laughed, loudly, and warmth filled Max’s chest at the sound.

“Arrr!” Chloe echoed, putting her own fist up in the air and bumping it against Max’s. She swung her legs up and stood, holding her hand out to Max to pull her up from the couch. Max took it, and Chloe pulled her to her feet. To Max’s surprise, Chloe kept holding Max’s hand as they walked to the kitchen; for a moment Max was back in time in a completely different way. She could see this as she had when she was a kid – Chloe’s hand in hers, leading her along to whatever scheme they’d thought up – and tears came to her eyes again. She blinked them back, smiling, as they went into the kitchen.

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

Chloe nodded her head along with the music, stirring the batter in the bowl.

The music was playing from her laptop – the sound quality wasn’t the best, but it worked okay – the songs shuffling randomly, and every once in a while Chloe would skip one. Some of them Max knew, and other ones she didn’t, though most of them seemed familiar somehow.

“So,” Chloe said, taking Max out of her thoughts. “You said I’m influencing you to break the law?”

“Oh,” Max laughed a little. “Um, a bit.”

“Like breaking into Blackwell? You said we, uh, did that in the other timeline.” Chloe went on. “Damn, that’s weird to think about. Anyway, what other illegal activity have I driven you to?” She said it like a joke, and she was smiling a little, but something was off in the tone of her voice.

“Um, well…” Max bit her lip. She’d told Chloe, Kate, and Warren the big details, but even then there were some things she’d skipped over. Not because she was hiding them, but because they weren’t really related to what she needed to tell them, or had time to tell them, though Chloe she’d told the most of all.

“Did I tell you that to get into the Principal’s Office we used a bomb?” She asked.

Chloe’s mouth dropped open. “Wait, really?” Max nodded. “Dude, no way!”

Yes way,” Max replied, relieved at Chloe’s obvious delight. “Warren texted me instructions on how to make one and I got supplies from the different classrooms, and we set it off. It was really loud, and it completely like, blew the door open.”

Awesome,” Chloe said, actually cackling a little. “We’ll have to use that for something this time around too.”

“Who knows,” Max said, shrugging. “We might need another bomb.”

“What else did we do?” Chloe asked, seeming kind of eager now. “Sounds like we were…quite the team.”

“We are quite the team,” Max corrected her, and Chloe smiled. “And, well, after that we also went swimming in the Blackwell pool.”

“At night?” Chloe asked, smiling wider. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Max replied. “We turned on the pool lights and jumped in, and…” her voice had gone quieter, without her meaning to. Her throat felt caught for a moment; all she could think about was Chloe in the water, the way she’d looked in the lights, how she’d said she was never leaving her, that they were connected. Max swallowed. “It was…one of the best nights of my life.”

Chloe’s voice was soft too. She’d stopped stirring, was just looking at Max. “What did we do?”

“We just…talked.” Max smiled fondly. “About everything that had happened. About taking over the world,” she chuckled briefly. “About Kate, and…and Rachel,” Max added hesitantly. Chloe became even stiller, but didn’t say anything. “About my powers. Things like that. Then the Blackwell Security came in and we had to sneak out of there.”

For a second Chloe didn’t say anything. Then she stirred the batter once more, and placed the bowl by the stove. She poured oil on a pan, and turned on the stove. “What then?” She asked.

“Uh, I, uh, had to stay the night here,” Max explained. She tried to sound normal, even though she didn’t really know how to talk about what had happened next. “’Cause we couldn’t get around them back to my dorm. They didn’t catch us, though.”

“That’s it?” Chloe asked, sounding a little disappointed, a teasing lilt to her voice. “No arson or anything?”
“N-no,” Max said, laughing nervously. She didn’t want to push her feelings on Chloe, didn’t want to make her feel obligated or whatever, but not telling her about it now…no, deliberately not telling her about the kiss felt deceptive. Still, the words seemed to get stuck on the tip of her tongue, but she pushed them out. “You did – u-um d-dare me to kiss you the morning after.”

Chloe actually froze at the stove, and then turned around to face Max. “And did you?”

Max let out a breath. “Yes, I did.”

“Whoa, Max,” Chloe gave a slight chuckle, turning back toward the stove, her own cheeks pink. “I-I didn’t know you had it in you! Guess I am a good influence on you,” she added, laughing a little more.

“A good bad influence,” Max teased, moving to stand by the stove with her, shaking her head. “I’ll have you know you also had us shooting bottles in the junkyard, and nearly got run over by a train! Oh, and you somehow convinced me to steal from the handicapped fund.”

“You’d be more convincing if you didn’t sound so excited about it all,” Chloe commented dryly, looking at her with a raised eyebrow.

“That last one I feel bad about,” Max admitted. “But I don’t regret any of it.” Doing those things to find the truth, to help Chloe and Kate and Rachel, to try new things, to make Chloe happy…No, she couldn’t regret any of it.

The oil in the pan popped, making both of them jump.

“Whoops,” Chloe said, turning the heat down a little. She poured some of the batter they’d made onto the hot pan. For a moment they both just watched as the batter settled, forming a not-quite-perfect circle. Small bubbles started to appear on the edges of the pancake, but it wouldn’t be time to flip it until they were all across the surface.

The smell of the cooking batter filled Max’s nose, and she couldn’t help but inhale deeply. No matter what, that smell brought her back to her childhood, to moments like this with Chloe.

“Max?” Chloe asked quietly.

Max turned toward her. “Yeah?”

Chloe kept her eyes on the pan, testing the edge of the pancake with a spatula. She took in a breath, seemed to gather herself, and said: “I’m…really glad you’re here.” She looked at Max then, and for one rushing moment Max wanted to do nothing more than lean forward and kiss her.

Instead she smiled. “I’m really glad to be here too. And I’m not going anywhere,” she promised.

Chloe smiled back at her, almost shyly, and they finished making their pancakes in easy, comfortable, and familiar, silence.

Even though Max knew it was coming, a chill worked across her skin as she watched the eclipse. The sun was still setting, and the light it cast was nothing short of beautiful; it kind of made everything glow, and she hadn’t been able to resist taking another picture. The last time she’d seen the eclipse, it had been after Kate had tried to jump. Her power had just failed on her. Warren was there for her, but nothing he’d said had really made her feel better: she’d known something bad was on the horizon, though she never could have guessed just how bad things would get.

This time, though, Max was sitting with Chloe on her roof. They’d climbed out her window, and sat beside it. They were facing away from the road, so Chloe felt comfortable enough smoking a joint outside; besides, most who saw it would just assume it was a cigarette. And sitting outside meant they’d have plenty of warning for when David or Joyce came home. Chloe had put on some music on her hi-fi, too, and they could hear it from the window. Right now it was playing a soft, sad, song that Max didn’t recognize, a woman singing about lost love.

Shadows settle on the place that you left

Our minds are troubled by the emptiness

Her phone buzzed, and she glanced at it, seeing a text from Warren – Super Max predicts the future – and one from Kate – I guess this means we’re one day closer to the storm. Something bad was still on the horizon, but this time they knew it was coming, and together –

“So,” Chloe said, taking Max out of her thoughts. “We’re investigating that fucker Jefferson tomorrow.”

“Yeah, we are.” Max drew her knees a little closer to her chest.

“What do you…” Chloe hesitated, swallowing, and then continued: “What do you think we’ll find?”

Nausea rolled in Max’s stomach, and she squeezed her knees tighter; she could still feel the fresh terror at seeing those pictures of Rachel and Kate, the binders of Jefferson’s other victims.

“Probably something really awful,” She replied, shuddering. “But we’ll use it against him. And we have to look for anything about the storm, so we can finally start to really figure out why all of this is happening.”

Chloe didn’t respond for a moment. “How do you know?” She asked quietly.

Max blinked. “What do you mean?”

“How do you know that – that all of this isn’t happening because I am supposed to die?” Chloe’s voice shook a little. “You said that everything before it – it pointed to that, right? How do you know that’s not true?”

“No.” Max shook her head, refusing to even consider that notion. She was back, and she was not going to make that choice. “There’s more to this. I can tell that there’s – there’s something more, I just don’t know what it is yet. I’m not going to let you die, and I’m going to do everything I can to save Arcadia Bay.”

“But what if you can’t?” Chloe pressed. “What if – ”

“Chloe.” Max met her eyes, her voice firm. “I’m not making that choice. I’m not going to sacrifice you. Ever.”

Chloe let out a long breath and for a moment she didn’t move, just looked at Max. Then she sort of blinked and turned away and took another hit off of her joint. She exhaled the smoke, and Max wished for a moment to take another picture: Chloe’s back haloed by the color of the sunset, smoke drifting from her lips, but she didn’t.

“I just…” Chloe let out another long breath, trailing off, shaking her head a little.

As the woman singing continued – and if you’re still breathing, you’re the lucky ones/cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lungs –Max moved closer to Chloe, their knees bumping together.

“You just…?” Max asked, lightly putting her hand on Chloe’s arm.

For a few seconds she didn’t say anything, but then Chloe continued. “I keep thinking…” She said. “There’s so much that’s – that’s happened, and it – I just – I keep forgetting. That she’s gone.” Her voice wavered for a moment, and then was stronger. “Rachel is dead.” She let out a shaky breath. “And you’re here,” she said, turning and looking at Max now. “You’re here and you – you went on this wild time traveling adventure with a past version of me, and all this fucked up shit happened, but now it didn’t happen. I don’t remember all this stuff that we did together, but it was real, and – and so was Jefferson hurting you. What Kate said a-about a bright room and someone talking to her – that’s what happened to you, and to Rachel, and there’s a gigantic tornado on the way, and…” She leaned forward a little, resting her arms on top of her knees. “And somehow you made your way back here to do it over again. To save me.”

“That part’s kind of easy for me,” Max admitted. “I mean, I don’t understand what’s happening, or what half this shit means, or even really how I got back, but…but being here, saving you? I don’t have to question that at all.”

Chloe looked at her again. No, stared was more accurate: her mouth was open a little, like she didn’t know what to say, and something about the expression on her face made Max’s breath catch in her throat.

Had they leaned closer to each other, or was it just Max? There was something softer about the way Chloe was looking at her now, about the set of her shoulders, and the music was getting louder, the woman singing more passionately: my eyes are damp from words you left/ringing in my head when you broke my chest.

They were definitely closer now, and Max’s heart was pounding, and it would be so easy for her to lean forward and press her mouth to Chloe’s. It would feel so good and so right, and she wanted it, wanted that warmth, to kiss her in the light of the setting sun like anyone else in love.

Chloe’s eyes flicked away, and then she avoided Max’s gaze directly, pulling back a little.

Max immediately pulled back as well, facing the eclipse again. They were still sitting very close together, their arms brushing against each other, and for several long seconds neither of them said anything.

What the hell do you think you’re doing, Caulfield? Max scolded herself, her heart pounding, face flushed. You’re not supposed to push your feelings onto Chloe – she just learned Rachel is dead and all this unbelievable shit. You can’t start kissing her and expect her to immediately feel the same way you do! It didn’t matter what Max wanted. She just needed to be there for Chloe and keep her safe, and figure out the truth and save the town, and then after all of this was over, maybe –

Max felt Chloe shift next to her. No, she was scooting closer, still facing the eclipse, leaning against Max’s side, her head tilting and laying on top of Max’s. For a second all Max could focus on was the way she could feel Chloe breathing, and could breathe with her. Then she tilted her own head, leaning into Chloe’s neck, and together they watched as the moon continued to pass over the sun, and the sun set further, inching toward the horizon.

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

Max sat up from Chloe’s bed, shaking her head to try and clear it. She still felt half asleep, and everything in the darkness around her seemed hazier somehow as a result. Shapes bled into each other, creating new ones, and as a kid her imagination had turned those shapes into monsters in the closet, and other nighttime terrors. She knew better now than to be afraid of a boogyman; there was so much worse in the world.

She glanced back at Chloe, who was still sleeping. The covers were half pulled up to her stomach, and one leg was sticking out of the other side. The sight immediately made Max feel more at ease, and she got off the bed, walking across Chloe’s room. The floor felt especially cold to her bare feet, and she shivered, glancing around the room one more time. In the quiet, every shift of movement, every creaking floorboard, seemed too loud and made her heart leap into her throat.

Calm down Max, she told herself, opening the door and stepping out into the hall.

The hallway looked different in the dark: longer, somehow, and Max squinted in confusion. The stairs should have been right in front of her, but they weren’t. Instead, the hall continued to stretch out in front of her.

Max stood, unable to move, just staring down the dark hallway. The longer she stared at it, the more certain she was that she couldn’t see the end. This is wrong, she thought, taking a step back and desperately reaching behind her for the handle to Chloe’s room. She grasped for it, turning around, searching for the knob in the steadily-growing darkness – because it was growing, pressing closer every second – but she couldn’t find it. No, it wasn’t there. The door to Chloe’s room was gone.

“No, no, no, no, no!” Max’s fingers scrabbled at the wall, her heart pounding. No – she had to get to Chloe, had to find her, they couldn’t be separated, she had to keep Chloe safe.

A slight sound came to her. A sniffling. A choked sob, and a shuddering gasp.

Max turned around. She could hear the crying all around her now, and voices with it. It was her voice – no, Mr. Jefferson, please – please stop – and Chloe’s voice – HELP ME MAX – and Kate’s voice and Victoria’s and they were begging, pleading, and she had to save them, she had to save them.

Max lurched forward; every step was heavy, pulling, like something was trying to drag her to the ground. She pushed forward, and she could see doors ahead of her now, on and on and on down the hallway, which twisted before her eyes, the floor moving beneath her, doors shifting and bending to the ceiling.

Still, she walked along it, following the twisting path, even as it arched up the wall. She forced the first door open, stumbling inside. She squinted in the brightness, and when her eyes adjusted she found herself somewhere else entirely: the Two Whales Diner. The sun was streaming through the windows, but it looked strangely eerie: the restaurant was completely empty, aside from one person sitting in a booth toward the back.

It was another her, just like in her nightmare before, but this version of herself was smiling at her, a little sadly. The other her opened her mouth and started talking, but it was like she’d been muted; Max didn’t hear a word of it.

“Wait,” she tried to say, but her own voice had no volume either. “Wait, please! What are you saying?” Still, no sound came out, and she grabbed at her throat, massaging it, trying to shout, whisper, anything. A violent shudder went through her; all of a sudden, it was too easy to picture herself clawing at her throat, like that horrible illustration in the Dark Room. No, it was more than her imagining it: she could see it, feel it, blood gushing, and she choked, even as her fingers tore at her skin again – and then something in the air seemed to snap, and the feeling was gone.

Eyes blurred from her tears, Max slowly looked around, lowering her shaking hands. She was back in the twisted hallway, and a low sob escaped from her. She slumped forward, her palms flat on the ground, kneeling. For a moment she swayed there, her throat raw, and then she pushed herself to her feet and started making her way down the hall again.

She only made it a few steps before she heard a piercing scream – Chloe’s scream – from the door to her left. Without even thinking, Max dived for the door, wrenching it open, only for her to almost go flying out of it. Her foot was caught between the door and the jamb, stopping it from closing, and even as wind pulled at her, she held onto the doorknob. She had to, because in her other hand she held Chloe.

Max’s hand was around her wrist, both of Chloe’s hooked around her own wrist, and Chloe was scared and crying and the tornado was behind her, trying to suck them in.

The wind howled around them, pulling at them, and lightning flashed so close to them that it was as if Max felt it strike; the force of it seemed to pulse through her, but all it did was make her grip Chloe’s wrist tighter.

“Max!” Chloe shouted at her, her voice carried away on the wind. “Max, please! You know what you have to do!”

Max shook her head, unable to speak, even as the edge of the door pressed painfully into her foot, even as her arms shook with the effort to keep holding on.

“PLEASE, Max!” Chloe begged. “Look at what you’ve done! Look at what’s happening!”

“No!” Max held her even tighter, unable to resist crying out as the door dug further into her foot.

“You have to, Max!” Chloe went on desperately. “PLEASE!”

“No!” Max shouted back, and maybe the wind was stronger or she just wasn’t strong enough, but her hand slipped off the doorknob and they both went tumbling into the vortex. Chloe was screaming, screaming her name, and Max held onto her hand even as they fell, even as they twisted in the wind and something shook her, and Chloe’s voice was getting louder and louder –

“Max! Max – Max, it’s okay, it’s just a dream! Max!”

Max’s eyes shot open, and she jerked awake and out of her nightmare. For a few seconds all she could do was breathe, her panting seeming too loud in the otherwise quiet room.

“Max?” Chloe asked. “You okay?”

Max nodded slowly, forgetting that Chloe probably couldn’t see her, but didn’t say anything, clenching and unclenching her hands. She turned over on her side, curling up as tightly as she could. Sweat rolled down her neck, but she shuddered, goosebumps prickling along her arms.

She felt Chloe move closer to her. “You okay?” She asked again.

It took Max a few seconds to answer. “…No.” She said quietly, laughing, blinking back tears.

Chloe didn’t say anything at first, and after a few seconds Max felt Chloe’s hand press against her back, warm and soothing, and Max couldn’t help but move into that warmth. In response, Chloe rubbed at her back a little, and Max gave a small sigh of relief at the sensation.

“It’s okay,” Chloe said softly. She was right behind Max, her voice close to her ear, breath tickling her neck. Her hand was still rubbing small circles in her back, and every one made Max’s shoulders relax more, her breathing slowly evening out. “It’s okay, Max. It’s okay.”

Chloe kept repeating that, quietly, over and over, and every second she did the tension drained out of Max’s body, until she drifted to sleep again.

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

The next morning, Kate and Warren were waiting for them in the Blackwell parking lot. They were by the stairs, talking to each other, and both looked up as Chloe’s truck loudly approached. Chloe pulled up to the curb in front of them, and Max opened the door, hopping out so that Kate could fit between them. It would be a little tight, but it would work.

“Hey, guys,” Max said as she stepped aside to allow Kate to get in.

“Yo,” Chloe said, nodding at both of them.

“Are you…ready?” Max asked, looking back and forth between them.

Kate bit her lip, but then squared her shoulders and nodded. “Yes, I’m ready.”

“Me too,” Warren said firmly. “I spent most of last night planning things to keep – ” he lowered his voice – “Jefferson busy.”

“And not suspicious,” Max reminded him. “I – I know it’s a lot to ask Warren, and it could end up being really dangerous for you, but – ”

Warren shook his head. “Don’t insult me, Max.” He smiled a little, but then went on seriously. “You guys are gonna be in danger too. And in a few days we’ll all be in danger from the tornado. I want to do this. And I won’t let Jefferson get suspicious either,” he added.

“Thank you, Warren,” Max said. It felt like she would never be able to thank him or Kate or Chloe enough. “And I have faith in you. We’ll see you soon.”

Kate brushed his arm with her hand. “Thanks, Warren,” she told him, smiling a little.

He smiled back at her. “Sure thing, Kate.”

“Be careful,” she told him, and then turned and climbed in Chloe’s truck, fastening the seatbelt across her lap.

“We’ll keep you updated on what’s happening,” Max told Warren as she got in the truck after Kate. “Keep us updated on what’s going on with you, too.”

“Aye aye, Maximum Commander.” Warren said, his smile widening.

Max snorted, unable to help her own smile. “And you say my puns are bad?”

Warren laughed, and then he waved at them all as Chloe started driving away.

“So,” Max said as they got on the main road again. “You, um…know where Mr. Jefferson lives?”

Kate didn’t respond at first, her lips pressed tightly together. “I…I went around to different houses with my church group collecting donations for charity. Mr. Jefferson,” she emphasized in disgust, “Really congratulated me on what I was doing and gave a generous donation.” She sighed angrily, and then went on more evenly: “We had to get down his address and everything for the payment. I don’t remember the numbers exactly, but…his house is pretty memorable.”

“Just tell me where to turn,” Chloe told her. “I was always shit at remembering addresses anyway.”

“Just turn left up here,” Kate said, pointing down the road, “And head up the mountain.”

When they came to the turn, Chloe did as Kate said, and they started their way up.

Jefferson’s house was…well, Kate had been right about it being memorable. The first word that came to Max’s mind was ‘pretentious’, followed closely by ‘creepy’. It was built slightly slanted, following along with the shape of the mountain, and had three stories; the bottom was a garage – and what looked like a room next to the garage – while the main part of the house was up above. She could see a great deal of it, as three sides of the house were a patchwork quilt of glass, framed with the same dark wood that made the rest of the house. A shiny deck surrounded the second floor, also fenced in by glass. The inside, from what Max could see, already reminded her of the Dark Room: it was stark, mostly white, and seemed eerily sterile, even from a distance. The third floor was smaller – possibly only one room, maybe two – but Max couldn’t see it as well. If it had been owned by anyone other than Jefferson, Max might’ve liked it more, but as it was, the thought of going inside the house and seeing more of it actually made her stomach churn.

She sent a quick text to Warren – Arrived safe – and they all got out of the truck, staring at the house.

Chloe looked absolutely revolted. “No wonder that fucker lives here.”

“It’s…” Kate frowned. “Strange that his house seems so open when he has so much to hide.”

“I think that’s part of the idea,” Max said darkly. “To seem open, and – and friendly. Like someone you can trust.” She could picture it so perfectly, again cursing herself for not seeing through him sooner. Hell, he could basically pose for whoever came up to his house – presenting who he wanted the world to see to get away with what he actually did. Bastard.

“Well, how do we get in?” Chloe asked. Her eyes lit up for a second. “Wait, we can – ”

No,” Max said, trying not laugh. “We’re not going to make a bomb.”

“Um,” Kate said. “What?”

“Alternate reality,” Max explained. Kate nodded, though she still looked kind of confused, and somewhat alarmed.

“Oh, come on!” Chloe complained. “You said we might have to blow shit up again, and I don’t remember when you did it before.”

“Much as I’d like to blow up Jefferson’s house – ” And it is an appealing idea, Max thought – “ We don’t have the supplies for it. Besides, I think I can get us in another way.”

“Okay, okay,” Chloe said, though she was clearly disappointed. “Lead the way, Lupin.”

As always, whenever Chloe said something that reminded Max of before – of the other timeline – it both gave her a sort of thrill and hurt at the same time. “Um, yeah,” she said, turning around and walking closer to the house, Chloe and Kate following behind.

The front door next to the garage looked like a normal door – maybe they could break it in somehow, and then Max could rewind and open the door from the inside? No matter what, once they found a way in she’d be able to use her powers to erase any evidence of what they did. As she got closer, however, she saw something on the wall between the door and the garage that made her realize even that wouldn’t be necessary. It was another keypad, and Max felt torn between exasperation – how many times was she going to have to enter these codes? – and excitement, because if it was the same as the passcode for the Dark Room, she’d just found their way in.

She stopped before pressing any of the buttons at the keypad, reaching into her bag and pulling out what her and Chloe had picked up at the store on the way over to Blackwell: latex gloves.

“Here, Kate,” Max said, tossing her a pair. Of course, it wasn’t likely that Jefferson would go brushing for fingerprints, but Max wanted to avoid leaving any indication that they’d been there. She passed a pair to Chloe, and slipped some on her own hands, before facing the keypad again.

She immediately pressed 542, and her heart leapt when a green light came on and the garage door slowly – and loudly – started to lift. Abandon all hope ye who enter here, Max thought. They basically were stepping into the gates of hell.

“Shit,” Chloe said, stopping next to Max. “Did you rewind to do that, or…?”

Max shook her head. “No, that one was elementary, dear Watson.” She said, and Chloe smiled. “I just remembered it from before,” she explained to both her and Kate more seriously. “It’s the same code to get into the Dark Room.”

Chloe’s expression hardened, while Kate paled, and for a moment all three of them just stood, staring into the entrance of the dim garage. It was Kate who spoke first.

“Let’s do this,” she said, and that determined look was on her face again.

“Yeah,” Max agreed, and together they stepped into Jefferson’s garage.

Within moments of each other, they pulled out their phones and turned on their flashlights. The empty garage wasn’t completely dark, but maybe it was all the trees helping to cover the sun, or how deeply the garage was built, or the fact that it was Jefferson’s house, but it still seemed too dark.

“This is already hella creepy,” Chloe muttered, and Max could practically feel the tension radiating off of her.

“It’s evil,” Kate said fiercely.

“Yes, it is,” Max replied. “Remember to put everything back exactly how you found it,” she reminded both of them.

They started stepping away from each other, and for one moment Max was back in that graveyard at night, just before Chloe was shot by Jefferson, Rachel’s body beneath their feet. “A-and keep checking in with each other,” she added, and the other two paused, looking back at her. “E-even if we’re split up, we should make sure to talk to each other, or – or check in a lot.” She knew that Jefferson was at Blackwell, but…

“Yeah, Max. Of course.” Chloe said softly.

“We’ll mostly stay together,” Kate promised.

Max smiled at them, and then they started searching.

There wasn’t initially much to see in the garage; it wasn’t full of tools like the one at the Price house, though Jefferson still had a few basic tools lined up perfectly on the walls that Chloe was looking at.

Kate was looking at a photograph hung on the wall: a black-and-white picture of a woman sitting among the ruins of a building. It might have been an earthquake, or some other natural disaster, but something had made the building by her collapse; she was covered in dirt and rubble, and though she was wrapped in a blanket, you could clearly see underneath she was wearing a short, oddly-pristine white dress. There were police officers and EMTs around her – all men, from the looks of it – but the focus was on the utter misery on her face, her eyes looking down and past the viewer, to the ground.

A sick feeling filled Max’s stomach. No matter where she looked, she just saw more and more hints toward who Jefferson really was – he was truly the wolf in sheep’s clothing, hiding in plain sight and waiting for his moment to strike.

Shaking off her disgust at Jefferson, Max quickly noticed that there were two doors at the end of the garage: one leading into the rest of the house, and another to a room that she hadn’t been able to see from the outside. This door was also made of dark, polished wood, and had a rather ostentatious black doorknob carved with an intricate spiral pattern. Yet more vortex symbols, Max thought, a chill going down her spine. She reached forward to try the knob, even knowing that it was probably locked, but to her surprised it twisted in her hand, and she pushed the door open.

With a fumbling hand, she felt along the wall inside and flipped on the light, blinking in the sudden brightness. Then she focused on what was in front of her: a wine cellar. The bottles sat on ornate black shelves, but as far as she could tell there wasn’t anything else in the room. Still, she wasn’t surprised: of course Jefferson had a wine cellar. She could just see him showing how oh-so-worldly he was with fancy wine at a party, or tricking some poor unaware girl with something that seemed romantic…She shuddered again. What a fucking bastard.

“Anything in there, Max?” Chloe asked, and Max turned around as she approached. Kate, still over by the picture, looked over and started walking closer as well.

Max shook her head. “No. It doesn’t look like there’s much in here – we should head further into the house. I know we have my rewind, but I still don’t want to waste any time we have here.”

“We’d better keep moving, then,” Chloe said, nodding her head toward the other door. “Come on.”

That door opened up to reveal stairs; they were white, and the railings were glass, and Max knew from what she’d seen in the windows that this was a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the house. Max checked her phone, seeing two messages from Warren: ‘Be careful.’ and ‘It’s so weird watching Mr. Jefferson teach, knowing what he’s really done’.

Max responded quickly –Will do. Trust me, I know – putting her phone away again as she reached the top of the stairs.

The second floor was, as she’d seen from outside, very sleek and modern in design – most everything was white, even the furniture, and it was starting to hurt Max’s eyes. The few things that weren’t white – one of the couches, the kitchen counter and cabinets, a rug in the living area, the barstools – were a dark brown or black. It was all so similar in coloring to the Dark Room, with even a similar interior design and art style.He’s all but screaming what he is, in any way he can that doesn’t result in him getting caught, Max thought in disgust, taking in yet more pictures of sad, defeated-looking women adorning his walls. No wonder he can’t stop talking about himself in the Dark Room – his victims are the only people he can be completely blatant around.

God, somehow he just kept managing to make her hate him more. The things he did…to Rachel and Kate and Victoria and herself and all those other girls…and here he was, practically parading it around for all to see. Everyone around him just told him how good he was and how artistic he was, and perhaps the biggest insult of all is that he would pretend to be humble about it. He believed his torture of his victims was art – made himself famous with sanitized versions of the same thing – and no one had noticed it.

Max realized that she was just standing in the middle of Jefferson’s living room, clenching her fists so tightly that her nails were digging painfully into her palms. She unclenched her hands, trying to relax, shaking out her fingers. Come on, Caulfield, she told herself. Focus. You need to search this asshole’s place. Think. He wouldn’t hide something actually incriminating out in the open, right? All this stuff – the – the pictures, and – and everything it all points to what he does in the Dark Room, but it’s not actual evidence! I need to find something we can use as proof.

Max shook herself, and then squared her shoulders, and started searching again.

Neither the living room or the kitchen provided any kind of proof. Though the pictures on the walls continued to have the same theme – black and white and grey, typically pretty women looking sad – and walking by them always made Max extremely uncomfortable, none of them found anything they could use. When Warren texted asking for an update, she responded: Not much so far. Mostly just clean and creepy, but she knew they had to keep looking, so Chloe and Kate followed her up to the third floor.

“Is that…” Kate began, looking at the slightly-open door on their right at the top of the stairs. “Is that his bedroom?”

Max’s stomach twisted. “I think it is.”

Chloe visibly tensed, letting out a hard, angry, breath, and then opened the door and walked inside. Max started following behind her, but then Kate spoke.

“Wait,” she said, and Max turned to look at her. Chloe stepped back out of the room to follow Kate’s gaze down the rest of the short hallway. There was another door at the end of it, and on the door was a rather-expensive looking doorknob with a keypad. Kate was already walking over there, and Max and Chloe quickly followed behind her.

“Looks like this fucker does have more to hide,” Chloe said as they stopped in front of it.

“Color me surprised,” Max muttered darkly.

“Do you think it’s the same code from before?” Kate asked.

“One way to find out,” Max replied, entering 542 on the keypad. Nothing happened. Max frowned, pressing 5 again, and then the light above the keypad blinked red.

“Damn,” Max said. “It’s a different code. A four-digit one.”

“I don’t suppose you remember any other codes from your, uh, timeline?” Chloe asked.

Max shook her head. “I didn’t really see any other codes, at least not ones from Jefferson. There was a different code to get on Nathan’s phone, but I don’t remember that one either.” She ran her head through her hair in frustration. “Shit.”

“W-well, maybe we’ll find the code in his…his room?” Kate suggested. By the look on her face the idea of going into Jefferson’s room made her feel sick as well.

“Yeah,” Chloe said, her face set. “And we’ll find a way in no matter what.”

“Yes, we will,” Max agreed, and they headed back toward Jefferson’s room.

The room was much like the rest of the house; though it was mostly surrounded by glass, it had been more difficult to see from the outside, but it was decorated exactly the same. It seemed…emptier, however, than the other rooms. There was only one picture on the wall: a photo of a woman from the nose down. She was wearing a tight, dress that draped off of her shoulders. She wasn’t smiling, but her lips were slightly parted like she was surprised. Out of focus of the camera, she was surrounded by other figures at a party, but all of them appeared to be looking at her from behind her back.

A small black cabinet sat next to the bed; it had three drawers, and lamp and book sitting on top. There was a bookshelf against the wall on the other side of the bed, a dresser, and a small closet with a glass door, but nothing else.

They glanced at each other, and then slowly moved further into the room.

Kate walked to his dresser, looking carefully at the drawers, and a few papers that were stacked on top that Max hadn’t noticed before. Chloe went for the bedside cabinet, opening it and peering inside, rifling through the contents.

Max headed for the closet – maybe there was something on a shelf in there? Or hell, maybe there was a hidden room in there. With all she’d seen so far, she wouldn’t have been surprised. She slid the thin glass door open, and pushed aside the suits and button-ups hanging in the closet. Hmm. No shelves in here anywhere. Max pushed on the wall behind it, but she honestly had no idea how to tell if it was hollow, or if there was something behind it. Still, she kneeled down and checked the whole wall, and even looked under his shoes to see if there was something hidden there.

Nothing, Max thought, sitting back on her knees. Maybe if –

“Max.” Chloe’s voice took her out of her thoughts, and the tone of her voice immediately made Max get to her feet.

“What is it?” She asked, walking up beside her, and she saw Kate walking over as well.

The book on top of the bedside cabinet was open, somewhere toward the middle. It took Max a second to realize that Chloe’s shaking hands were holding the thing that Jefferson had been using as a bookmark. It was a feather. Most of it was blue, but there was a little brown on the bottom, and Max knew she’d seen it somewhere before. It was only when she noticed what was attached to the feather – a small silver hook – that Max realized with dawning horror what it was: an earring. And she’d seen it before because –

“This is Rachel’s earring,” Chloe whispered, staring down at it. Then her fingers tensed and her teeth came together and her voice rose and she said again: “This is RACHEL’S earring! This bastard he – he – kept it! He fucking kept it like – like a trophy!”

“Chloe…” Max said softly, putting her hand on her arm.

“And I…I have to leave this here, don’t I?” Chloe went on, as if Max hadn’t said anything, and Max couldn’t say anything to that. If Chloe took it, Jefferson would definitely know that they’d been there, but to tell Chloe to just leave it there…

“You’ll get it back,” Kate said, and Chloe looked at her. There was that determination in Kate’s eyes again. “You’ll get it back,” she repeated. “Jefferson will pay for what he’s done, and – and Rachel’s earring won’t stay here.”

Chloe looked at her for a long moment, and then she nodded slowly, placed it back in the book, and closed the book, leaving it how she had found it.

Max’s hand was still on her arm. Her shoulders were tight, and she wasn’t looking at either of them. Max gently moved her hand up and down over Chloe’s arm, and Chloe seemed to relax a little.

“So, what now?” she asked flatly, finally looking up. Her eyes were red-rimmed, but she wasn’t crying. “I haven’t found a single fucking code, and we haven’t found shit anywhere else.”

“I know,” Max said, “And that’s why we have to keep looking. Maybe there’s something here that we can use.”

Chloe nodded jerkily. “Yeah. Yeah. We have to fucking find something.” She met Max’s eyes for a second, and then turned and headed for the bookcase, pulling books out one by one and flipping through the pages.

“I’ll help you look,” Kate offered immediately, joining her at the bookcase, and she started pulling books off of the shelves as well, though she took a few moments to check the titles too.

Max looked down at the book on the bedside cabinet, the little blue feather peeking out through the pages. She didn’t want to think about how Jefferson got that earring…if Rachel had been alive when he’d taken it. God, she felt sick again. He actually kept this in his bedroom – it was the most incriminating thing they’d seen so far – and Chloe was right about it being like a trophy. He was proud of it.

Max shook her head, pushing back her revulsion. She had to focus on what they were doing. She started searching again, getting on her knees and looking under the bed, while also trying to think of what exactly they were looking for. It would’ve been easiest if Jefferson just had the code written down on a piece of paper like Nathan, but Max definitely had the feeling that it wouldn’t be that simple. He’d want a code that he’d remember…a number that was significant to him in some way, maybe? But they hadn’t found any kind of numbers that seemed important – not a bill, not a paycheck, no dates or anything. Chloe was right. The only thing they’d found was Rachel’s earring, and that wasn’t –

Max froze, and then slowly got to her feet. Her heart was pounding, loud in her ears, drowning out all other sounds as her mind raced. Rachel’s earring wasn’t just like a trophy – it was like a memento. It was the only remotely ‘personal’ thing they’d seen in Jefferson’s house – the only thing that didn’t match the rest of his carefully constructed persona. The code…Max realized with dawning horror, It has something to do with Rachel.

It took her several seconds to be able to speak. “Chloe…” she said, and both Kate and Chloe looked at her. “I…I think…” Max trailed off, her stomach twisting again. She took in a deep breath, and then went on: “Chloe, when is Rachel’s birthday?”

Chloe’s eyebrows furrowed and she blinked several times. “Uh, July 22nd. Why – ” She stopped, her mouth a little open, eyes wide. “You mean…”

“Th-the code,” Max went on, unable to take her eyes off of Chloe’s face.

“What?” Kate gasped, her hands going over her mouth.

Chloe closed her eyes tightly, and let out a long breath. Then her eyes snapped open and she stomped out of the room and down the hall to the other door, Max and Kate hurrying behind her.

“Try it,” Chloe said, looking at Max as they stopped in front of the door. She blinked rapidly, and Max knew that she was trying to keep herself from crying. “This fucker is going to pay for what he’s done,” she added, her voice only breaking little.

This time, Max didn’t hesitate to grab her hand. “He will,” she promised. She squeezed Chloe’s hand, and then turned her attention to the keypad, and entered the code: 0722. Immediately, a green light flashed on, and the door unlocked. Max pushed the handle down, and opened the door.

The room was smaller than she’d expected; there was one black desk, on which sat a computer with a three monitor setup, all of the monitors mounted on the wall behind it. There were a few papers scattered on the desk, and a cabinet with drawers to the right of it, but otherwise this room too was relatively empty. But the computer…there had to be useful information in there.

“We should look in the cabinet too,” Max said, “But let’s try and see what’s on this computer.”

Kate, who was closet, turned it on, and they all leaned forward over the desk, around Jefferson’s chair, watching as it booted up in seconds, and Max entered Rachel’s birthday again as the password. She frowned when INCORRECT PASSWORD appeared in red on the screen. She stopped for a moment, glancing at Chloe. She hated to ask, but she had to.

“What year was Rachel born?” Max asked Chloe, as gently as she could.

“1994,” Chloe replied tonelessly.

Max added those numbers, but it still wasn’t the right password, and she leaned back, away from the screen. “Maybe something else in here – ” She began, but she didn’t get very far: Kate spoke over her.

“Try my birthday,” she said, with a stony expression. “September 12th, 1995.”

Oh, Kate. Max hesitated, but then she entered 9121995, and it worked. The screen directly in front of her loaded a normal desktop – not even a picture in the background, just blackness – with only one folder on it. The screen on her right automatically loaded a live video, as did the screen on her left. The one on her left switched back and forth between the outside and the inside of the barn, while the one on the right flashed between the Dark Room entrance and interior.

These are the cameras Jefferson saw me and Chloe on, Max thought. God, we were caught the minute we drove up.

“That’s it…” Kate whispered. “That’s the Dark Room?”

Max put her hand on Kate’s shoulders. “I’m so, so, sorry you ever had to see that place Kate. I’m so sorry.” She wished she knew what more to say – anything she could say – but Max knew that there weren’t any words that were going to make this better.

Kate took in a shaky breath, and then let it out, nodding slowly. “Let’s keep looking,” she said. She quickly wiped the back of her hand across her eyes.

Oh, Kate. Max’s heart clenched in her chest. Maybe she shouldn’t have done this – Kate didn’t deserve to see all of this, to be hurt this way and relive all of it. You can control time and you still keep fucking up, Caulfield, she thought. But…she’s also helping take him down. I have to believe this was the right choice – that we can do this.

Max took hold of the mouse, and turned her attention to the monitor in front of her, and the single unnamed folder on the desktop. Max clicked on it, and was surprised to find that there was only one picture inside. She clicked on that too, and it opened up to reveal a blown up image: a still from the security footage in the Dark Room. It was exactly like how Max had seen it – the creepy pictures on the walls, the photography setup, but there was someone standing in the middle of the room. He was middle-aged and wore a business suit; his hands were casually in his pockets, his head partly turned like he was looking around. Max had never seen him before.

“Holy shit,” Chloe breathed, leaning closer to the image, her mouth open.

“Wait,” Max looked at her in surprise. “You know who that is?”

“So do I,” Kate said, who hadn’t torn her eyes from the screen. “That’s Sean Prescott.”


 

A/N: The songs talked about in this chapter were “Santa Monica Dream” from the Life is Strange soundtrack, and “Youth”, by Daughter. “Youth” is an excellent song, and it fits Life is Strange rather well.

Jefferson’s house is based around this picture: https://assets.dwell.com/sites/default/files/styles/article_photo/public/2012/12/14/into-the-woods-gambier-island-house.jpg?itok=p3avX4U6
I tried to make it both creepy and pretentious, and like a place people could actually see him living. I hope I succeeded: all feedback is appreciated.

Chapter title comes from the TV series ‘Continuum’.

One of my favorite things to write about is Max and Chloe just hanging out with each other. It was one of my favorite parts of the game too. It’s also kind of fun to write the investigating aspect of the game. I tried to keep it both realistic and interesting, so again feedback is appreciated. I also really enjoy writing this trippy imagery – the nightmare sequence in the game is visually stunning if nothing else, and writing similar sequences is very interesting.

As always, please comment and enjoy.

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