What We Make – Chapter Six: Excellent Adventure
There was something about the Prescott Offices that seemed too still, too quiet.
Maybe it was just Max’s paranoia talking. Nothing about it was immediately suspicious, though she couldn’t see a lot of it with her flashlight pointed up toward the corner where the first security camera was. Getting inside hadn’t been too much of a problem – no keypad could withstand Max Caulfield, Time Warrior – but when the door shut behind them, muting the noises from outside, Max had felt a kind of chill go up her spine in the sudden silence. It was like she was waiting for a pin to drop, waiting for some kind of noise, and would be on edge until it came. The others stood close to her, their flashlight beams joining hers at the camera, and for a few seconds they just looked around, taking in their surroundings.
The moonlight coming in from the large glass doors made it a bit easier to see the room; there was a big desk topped with a few computer monitors in front of them, and a sizable waiting area to the right. Behind the desk was a short hallway that led to the offices on the ground floor, but she knew Sean Prescott’s office was upstairs, and it was likely the security room would be there as well. Off to the far left was another hallway that – Max assumed – would take them to the elevators and stairs. She exchanged glances with the others, and jerked her head in that direction. They walked quietly, keeping their flashlights up where they could easily find the cameras.
The four of them stayed near each other, to the point of frequent accidental contact. Max’s hand brushed Chloe’s, Kate’s elbow bumped into her back, and Warren stepped on her heel, but she didn’t mind the closeness. It felt safer, somehow.
They rounded the corner, heading down the hallway. There were only a few doors, but the signs mounted on the wall told Max she’d been correct – the stairs were ahead of them on the left – and they walked past the powered-down elevators.
The door leading to the stairs seemed to open too loudly, and Max couldn’t help but wince as the sound echoed up the stairwell. Okay, so they didn’t think anyone was in the building, but still…
“Shit,” Chloe hissed.
“Keep your flashlights up,” Warren reminded them, his voice also too loud. He immediately lowered it. “Sorry,” he whispered as Max quickly raised her flashlight higher again, and so did Chloe.
Max waved it off. “Let’s try not to talk right now,” she said, keeping her voice as low as she could while still having the others hear it.
They all nodded in response, and the four of them moved closer to each other as they started climbing the stairs. They walked quickly, even their footsteps seeming too loud. Max was thankful it wasn’t a taller building: getting to the top of the stairs didn’t take long.
As they left the stairwell they were more careful with the door, closing it slowly and quietly. Even though they had no reason to think anyone was in the building…it was still better to be careful.
With the small windows, the hallway seemed especially dark, and having to keep their flashlights pointed at the cameras didn’t help. It also made it harder to read the door labels, but Max knew they had no choice. They might not be able to hide all the evidence of their break-in, but if they kept their identities hidden things would be okay.
They walked past each door, pausing for a second to carefully read the label next to it. The darkness made the hallway seem particularly long, and it rather reminded Max of her recent nightmare. She shook her head, chasing those thoughts away, moving a little closer to the wall to get a better look at the labels she passed.
About halfway down the hall she paused for a second longer, squinting. “Hold on,” she whispered to the others, and they all turned to look at her. “I think this is it,” she went on, gesturing to the door in front of her. The others moved closer so they could see the SECURITY label next to it. There wasn’t a keypad, but a standard lock on the door.
“What should we do?” Warren asked quietly, glancing down the hall but still keeping his flashlight pointed at the nearest camera.
“I could try to pick it,” Chloe offered, just as quiet, “But no guarantees there.”
“We could try to find a key somewhere?” Kate suggested. “At the reception desk, maybe?”
They all looked toward her, and Max hesitated, thinking. Okay, so Chloe hadn’t been able to pick the lock at Blackwell, but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t try it. Searching for a key was a possibility, though it might take a while to find anything. It was also possible that neither option would work, and they’d have to try and break in with Chloe’s bat. Whatever they did, they needed to try and do it fast, too. If they split up they could try both, but Max didn’t like the idea of them splitting up at all, especially for something she wasn’t sure would work. They were short on time, and didn’t have any to waste on searching for keys or picking locks. They needed to find what they were looking for and get out as fast as possible.
“Those are good ideas,” Max said, nodding at both of them, “But we don’t have time for either.” She turned and met Chloe’s eyes, as she finished: “Looks like we’ll have to do some breaking after all.”
Max, Kate, and Warren all stood a little back from Chloe, giving her plenty of room to swing her bat. She’d been just a little-too-excited about the idea of breaking in, though less so when she realized she wouldn’t remember it after Max rewound.
“One of these days you’ve gotta let me do this without rewinding,” she grumbled, still quietly, but Max heard her, and had to stifle her laugh.
Chloe raised the bat high above her head, and brought it down hard on the doorknob with a loud clang that made Kate jump, and Max couldn’t help but wince at the noise.
I still can’t believe ‘breaking and entering’ is becoming a regular pastime for me, Max reflected as she and the others watched Chloe hit the door again, and again. For a second she could hear an echo of Chloe’s voice saying they can’t charge us for just entering, but she pushed that memory aside.
We’re definitely ‘breaking’ this time, she thought, as Chloe stepped back from the door, panting.
“There,” she said, her voice just slightly too loud. She lowered it, adding, “I think that should do it.”
Max moved closer, inspecting her handiwork. “Yeah, you got it,” she said, looking back at Chloe, who shot her a quick grin. Max smiled back. “See you on the other side,” she told her, and the others, opening the door and stepping in.
She immediately raised her hand and rewound. She could somehow both see and feel the door close behind her, heard the splintered wood repair itself, and stopped rewinding a little before Chloe hit the door. She glanced around the room, blinking and squinting in the light from the monitors. The security feed had been left on, and it took her a second to adjust to the brightness.
One of the monitors looked like one for a standard computer. It sat on the desk with a keyboard and mouse next to it, while the other monitors were attached to the wall behind it. There were six of them, and like at Jefferson’s house seemed to be alternating between the different rooms; half were reserved for the first floor, and the other half for the second. Max watched as one of the cameras showed her the hallway, and the others gathered outside the door. Thankfully, with their flashlights up, she really couldn’t see their faces, and a wave of relief shot through her.
She turned back toward the door, stepping forward and unlocking it, just in time for Chloe to come stumbling in, propelled with the force of her swing.
Max stepped forward to help steady her automatically, catching Chloe around her arms.
Chloe froze, and it took her a second to realize what had happened. She looked up at Max, blinking owlishly, and then straightened to her full height. She glanced around the room, and then back at Max. She raised an eyebrow, a smirk creeping up her face. “You tryin’ to sweep me off my feet, Caulfield?”
Max could feel herself blushing to the tips of her ears, and she wanted to look away from Chloe, but she didn’t. It took her just a second too long to respond, and Chloe’s eyebrows furrowed a little, but Max managed to keep her voice light as she said: “It’s just an added bonus.”
“Holy shit,” Warren whispered, coming up behind them, and Max and Chloe stepped apart. “You just disappeared!”
“It was like you teleported,” Kate added, lowering her voice while also seeming surprisingly excited. “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve really been able to – to kind of see your power.”
Max knew it was silly, stupid, but for a moment she kind of felt like she was glowing. Sometimes her power caused so much trouble, so much death and hurt, and it was easy to forget how, well, cool it could be. Still, she pushed those feelings back. It was dangerous to feel too good about rewinding. It was that kind of thinking that had led to her her biggest mistakes, and they had a job to do.
She smiled at the others, but went on seriously. “Let’s find those video files.”
“On it,” Warren and Chloe said at the same time. They both stopped, and looked at each other; Warren seemed embarrassed, while Chloe was surprised. Warren immediately gestured toward the monitors, as if he was saying ‘after you‘. Chloe raised an eyebrow at him, smirking a little, before she turned to the desk along the wall, and sat at the chair in front of it.
Max moved to stand behind Chloe, Warren following a little behind her, and heard Kate closing the door behind them.
“Remember,” Max told Chloe as she scooted her chair in toward the desk. “Turn off the cameras, erase the files.”
“We should be able to do it all from here,” Warren assured them, and Chloe nodded.
“You got it, Bat-Max,” she replied, turning her attention toward the monitor in front of her.
Max smiled. “Thanks, Robin.”
“Could use that utility belt right about now,” Chloe added, gesturing toward the computer. “I think you’re in need of a superhero upgrade.”
“I’ll get right on that,” Max said dryly. “Superhero gadgets. I’m sure I can buy those online.”
Chloe elbowed her, never looking away from the computer. “Shut up. And I was talking about a costume, obviously. What’s the point of being a superhero if you don’t get the spandex that comes with it?”
Max let out a short laugh, “You’re right. That’s the most important part.”
“That and your lair,” Chloe added.
“I am lacking in lair,” Max agreed, smiling. For a moment she could feel herself talking about building another pirate fort to keep the world out but the actual words didn’t pass her lips. She tightened her grip on the flashlight, grounding herself to the now, this moment, this reality. She shook her head, glancing around at the others, realizing she’d kind of forgotten that they were with her for a second, and she felt herself blushing, her stomach twisting in embarrassment. At least neither Warren or Kate seemed upset: Kate was smiling, glancing between her and Chloe, while Warren looked about as embarrassed as Max felt.
“Let’s see…aha!” Chloe said triumphantly, and all three of them focused on her again. “Found the kill switch.” A few seconds later, the six other monitors flashed to a black screen. “There,” she finished. “We’re officially invisible.”
“Awesome,” Max told her, squeezing her shoulder and speaking at a normal volume again.
Kate let out a relieved sigh. “That should make things easier for us,” she said. She made a face. “I can’t believe I was just caught on camera trespassing.”
“The flashlights protected our faces,” Max assured her.
She shook her head. “That’s not what I meant. I – it’s just…last week if you’d told me I’d be doing all this…” she gestured around them, shaking her head again.
“Tell me about it,” Max muttered. You kind of get used to it, she thought grimly.
“Besides,” Chloe said as she selected the video files labeled with today’s date, “As far as this is concerned, we were never here.” She deleted the files and stood up, pushing in the chair.
“Hold on,” Warren said. “The files could still be there. A lot of times even deleted files are still stored on the hard drive, or – or backup drives, for a while.”
Chloe paused, but then nodded and pushed the mouse toward Warren. “Take it away, Dick Grayson.”
Warren shot her a surprised glance, pulling the keyboard closer to himself. “So, uh, I’m a Robin too?” He asked, and he was smiling a little hesitantly.
Chloe blinked, and then shrugged, giving a slight smile too. “Well,” she said, “Batman did have more than one.”
Max couldn’t help her own grin. Looks like she’s been warming to him a bit, she thought. Really, she’d figured they’d get along once they knew each other better.
“Sorry,” Kate said, and Max knew she meant it. They all glanced over at her. “But, um, we should hurry.”
“Right, I got it, sorry,” Warren said, standing up. “I think that should do it.”
Chloe pushed back her chair, also getting to her feet. “Good,” she said. “Now we can finally figure out what else these motherfuckers are hiding.”
Max nodded, her heart beating a little faster. They couldn’t waste any more time. They’d already been there a while. “Come on,” she said, jerking her head toward the door.
Kate opened it, heading out into the hallway. Max, Chloe, and Warren quickly caught up with her – it was so much easier to move now that they could use their flashlights properly – and they made their way down the hall, to the end of it, where Sean Prescott’s office was.
There wasn’t a keypad, or a lock, and for a moment Max had a sense of foreboding. All they had to do was open that door…it almost seemed too easy. She knew, though, that it never was that easy, no matter how it seemed, and they’d likely run into more obstacles inside.
She grabbed the handle, and pushed the door open.
Like everything else she’d seen with the Prescotts, and with Jefferson, Sean Prescott’s office was clean, modern, and somehow creepy in its neatness, as if it were too sterile or something. There was an expensive-looking black desk with several drawers toward the end of the room, an equally-expensive-looking computer monitor sitting on it. There were some cabinets against the left wall, while the back wall was a big window, and the way it was facing gave Sean Prescott a perfect view of the town. Max could just picture him standing there, like some king looking down on his subjects, and the thought disgusted her.
Otherwise, his office was largely bare, like it was a picture of an office she’d see in a magazine. The only other thing that stood out to her were the photographs on the walls, and staring at them sent a chill down Max’s body: they were all pictures of storms.
All were black and white. One was of a lightning storm, the bolts seeming to be splitting the sky itself. Another was of violent waves crashing against a rocky cliffside, a lighthouse just barely visible. The third was – of course – a vortex, whose funnel cloud seemed to take up the entire skyline. Unlike the others, that photo was a point-of-view shot; the camera made it look as though the tornado was heading right toward them.
This can’t be a coincidence, Max told herself as she stared at the images. It can’t be. All of this – it – it has to mean something, right? It has to.
The door shut behind her, making Max jump a little and taking her out of her thoughts. She glanced back at the others, who were all looking around the room and taking it in.
“That’s not ominous or anything,” Chloe muttered, staring at the tornado picture.
“No kidding,” Kate shivered, running her hands up and down her arms.
“It’s weird,” Warren said, turning his head to the side. “I mean, timing-wise, right? With the storm coming…”
“Yeah,” Max agreed, and they all looked at her. “It is weird. Everything about this is weird.” She shook her head. Sometimes she still couldn’t believe half the things she’d seen, and she sure as hell didn’t understand most of it. She kept finding bits and pieces of the puzzle, but she still couldn’t figure out what the whole was supposed to be. “The Prescotts know something. Let’s find out what.” She started moving forward, and the others followed her.
Max strode to the computer, her heart pounding. There were drawers and cabinets to search as well, but she knew her best bet would be to find something on the computer. She reached the other side of the desk, Chloe and the others just a half step behind.
Max turned on the computer, noticing as she did so that there actually was another picture she hadn’t seen before, sitting next to the monitor. It was the same royal-family-style portrait she’d seen at the Prescott house. It honestly kind of surprised her – she hadn’t thought Sean Prescott was the kind of guy who would have a photo of his family at work. The only other things on his desk were some pens and notepaper. She looked back at the screen as the Password box popped up.
“Okay,” she said, glancing at the others. “I don’t know this password. We’re gonna have to look around here and see if we can find it written down, or something that’ll help us guess.”
“Like when we were at Jefferson’s?” Kate asked, her eyebrows drawing together, clearly thinking.
“Exactly like that,” Max replied. “And we have to search everywhere else in here anyway. So keep a look out for anything that could be related to a password – important dates or – or numbers, anything.”
“Got it, Captain,” Warren said, giving a quick salute. He bent down, opening up the first of the right side drawers attached to the desk. Max could see some papers inside, and he grabbed one and started reading it.
Chloe went around to Max’s other side, and the drawer there. She kneeled next to Max, pulling a stack of files out from the drawer, and set them down to look through them.
Kate had paused on her way toward the cabinet against the wall. She was staring out the huge window behind them, at Arcadia Bay, and she just stood there for a few seconds, looking out at the town. Then, she turned and walked to the cabinet, opening the first drawer.
Max stared at the computer screen, trying to think of something. They couldn’t get stumped by a password now, not when they’d come so far. She leaned forward, picking up the pad of paper on the desk, and flipped through it. She frowned, holding it up to her flashlight. She could see faint impressions of words left on the paper…could she find a way to read them? In movies she’d seen people use pencils to read imprints of messages on paper, but did that actually work? She couldn’t see any pencils in front of her, though there might still be some in the office.
“Let me know if you guys find any pencils,” Max said, and the others all looked at her. “There could be stuff on this notepad, and I want to see if I can try and read the imprints left here.”
“Hold on,” Warren said, dropping his backpack to the ground. “I think I have a pencil in here.” He dug through the pack for a second, and then made a triumphant sound. “Got one!” He pulled it out and handed it to Max. It was sharp, too.
“Thanks, Warren,” she said, giving him a quick smile, but he was focusing on the contents of the cabinet again.
Max bent over the notepad, placing the side of the pencil lead against the paper, rubbing it gently back and forth. As she did so, words began to appear on the paper; they weren’t perfectly legible, but she kept going, hoping that the message could be of some help anyway.
Her heart leapt as she started to read it – the first word very clearly said ‘Nathan’. The rest after that, however, was harder to read.
“Guys,” She said, getting their attention again. “I think I found a note to Nathan from his father.”
“What’s it say?” Chloe asked, standing up and looking over the note with Max, standing very close to her.
“I can’t quite make it all out,” Max explained, squinting at the paper. “But it’s more stuff about Nathan’s ‘great destiny’. It says ‘it’s almost time’, and..I think this this says ‘our…lunacy?’ No, ‘legacy’,” She corrected herself before going on. “It says ‘our legacy depends on this’, but that’s all I can read.”
“This is all so – so creepy,” Kate muttered, shuddering. She was still by the cabinet against the wall, but she’d been listening to Max all the same.
“Seriously,” Chloe agreed darkly. “What a fucking ‘legacy’ to leave. Binders full of drugged girls and a trigger-happy son.”
Warren made a disgusted sound.
Max shook her head, exhaling slowly, a sick feeling in her gut. “They’re at the root of all of this,” she said, “But there’s nothing about a password here,” she finished. “Let’s keep looking.”
“I don’t think I found a password,” Warren said slowly as Kate turned back toward the cabinet she’d been searching through. Chloe also started looking through the drawers in front of her again, though she glanced up again as Warren went on: “But I did find a lot about all the different properties and businesses Sean Prescott is trying to buy around Arcadia Bay.” He shook his head. “It really is like he’s trying to own everything here.”
“H-hey,” Kate said, getting all of their attention. She was still over by the cabinets along the wall, and was holding a piece of paper in her hands, staring at it. “I think I found something.” She turned on her heel and walked quickly toward them, setting it on the desk for all of them to see.
“It’s a – a record, about the different storm shelters they have in town?” Kate pointed at an address. “That’s their house. They have one on their property, and a few others. One of them is the – the Dark Room, right?” She glanced over at Max, who nodded.
“That one is,” she replied, pointing toward the correct address. “The others…I don’t know. We might not be able to use them.”
To Max’s surprise, Kate shook her head. “That’s not why I’m showing you this. Look.” She pointed at something written in the upper right corner of the paper. The writing was messy, but legible, and was a series of numbers: 101113.
“I was thinking about what you said,” Kate went on, and Max looked up at her. “About how it might be like at Jefferson’s? And wh-while we were there, all the stuff that led us to his passwords had to do with The Dark Room, and – and the girls l – like me. And so I thought it’d be the same here, too – ” The words were coming out of her faster and faster, as if her mouth was struggling to keep up with her thoughts. “Because it has to be – it can’t be a coincidence. Jefferson had that – that earring of Rachel’s, and that was it – nothing else suspicious or – or important, and I noticed that the only things Sean Prescott has here are these photographs,” she gestured to the storm pictures on the walls.
“A – at first I didn’t know what to think,” Kate went on. “Or, or what it meant – a – and I still don’t know, but these numbers, don’t you see?” She looked at all of them, her eyes bright. “These numbers are a date too, they h-have to be, it matches up perfectly!” Her finger glided along under the numbers as she read the date: “October 11th 2013.”
“The day of the storm,” Max said, her heart starting to pound.
“Holy shit,” Chloe breathed, staring down at the paper.
“But – wait, wait,” Warren said. “What does this mean, exactly?”
“I think,” Max said, leaning toward the keyboard and typing in the date, “We’re about to find out.”
The password was accepted, and the screen lit up bright white as the computer loaded. Her fingers tapped impatiently as she waited for it to finish, hardly able to keep her thoughts in order. What did this mean? About everything? The computer desktop came into view (the background was just the Prescott Business logo) and there were several folders she could look through.
The others pressed closer to her, Warren on her right, Kate behind her, and Chloe on her left. Chloe’s hand was on her shoulder, and she was leaning over, her face rather close to Max’s.
For a second, Max hesitated. She kind of wasn’t sure where to begin. She needed to see if she could find anything about the storm, or the Dark Room, or anything – where could she find that? Her fingers hovered over the keyboard, and she glanced reflexively at Chloe, who gestured for the keyboard. Max slid it over immediately.
“Don’t know where to start with his files,” Chloe admitted, as she scrolled through Sean Prescott’s emails. “But I’m sure he has shit to hide – ” She paused, frowning, opening up one of the emails, her eyes narrowing. “Shit,” She said again. “I think this is addressed to the Chief of Police.”
“Seriously?” Warren asked, astonished.
“W-wait,” Kate, frowned. “Why would…?”
“Well,” Chloe said. “This hella looks like blackmail to me.” She leaned over a little to let Max see better. “It goes on for a long-ass time about all the ‘good’ the Prescotts have done for the community – ”
As if on cue, Max, Warren, and Kate all made incredulous noises, but Chloe kept going.
“Blah blah blah, everything we have is thanks to the Prescotts,” she said, waving a hand, “And ‘there are other contributions, to the police force and yourself, that have entitled us certain compensation’.” She finished, shaking her head. “As if we didn’t know already that the police are in Sean Prescott’s pocket.”
“I guess I didn’t want to believe it still,” Kate admitted. “I…I can’t believe they’d keep allowing the Prescotts to do these things…”
“It isn’t all of the cops,” Max assured her, giving her a comforting touch on the shoulder. “And they don’t know what Jefferson and the Prescotts are really doing. Before – ” she hesitated for a second, because it was still weird to say these things out loud – “In that um, other reality, after they figure out about the Dark Room, they arrest Nathan and Jefferson immediately. Once they have this evidence, they won’t be able to ignore it,” she promised.
Kate gave her a small smile, but she still looked worried.
“No, they won’t,” Warren agreed. “We’ll make sure they can’t ignore it.”
Kate smiled a little wider. “Yeah,” she said, standing a little straighter. “You’re – you’re right.”
“Hell yeah they’re right,” Chloe said as she took a screenshot of the message and then copied it to her flash drive. “These fuckers won’t know what hit ’em.” Before she could say anything else, Max’s eyes caught on another sent message.
“Hold on,” She said, pulling the keyboard over from Chloe. “This one’s from today, and it’s – it’s to Nathan.” Her eyes scanned over the words, hardly able to breathe, as she started to realize what they meant.
I can’t keep writing these same messages, waiting for it to sink in, for you to realize this is what we were meant to do. Your destiny – our destiny – is almost here, and it is time for you to step forward and take on the mantle of this family with us.
She started reading out loud, not quite able to believe what she was seeing, what she was reading.
“Everything we’ve worked for is coming to fruition,” she said. “And it is time for you to let go of your doubt and your childish problems. The storm – ” and here she really couldn’t believe it, could barely speak the words – “The – the storm will be here on Friday, and we’ll need everything to be ready when it comes.” She kept going, ignoring the sounds of shock the others made. “You know where to be, and what to do afterward. There will be no more discussions. I know it isn’t easy to understand, but one day you will.”
For a few seconds Max just stared at the screen. Her mind felt like it had flown into overdrive. They knew. The Prescotts knew about the storm – no, had known about it, for much longer than she had. They’d been – they’d been preparing for it, and that was Nathan’s destiny? The Prescott’s destiny was the storm? How could that be? What did that –
The door in front of them burst open, hitting the wall with a BANG, making all of them jump.
“Freeze!” A man called out from the doorway. “Police!”
For a terrible heart-stopping moment, Max did freeze, only able to stare as the police started to come through the door, flashlights blinding, footsteps thundering, their guns raised, but then she thrust her hand forward and rewound.
Time pulled back around her; the officers went back out the door, which swung closed after them, and Max went back further – watched as Chloe took the keyboard back and then stepped away from it, watched as Kate seemed to walk backward toward the cabinets along the wall, as Warren put files back in his folder, and she kept going, kept pushing, to before she looked at the note from Nathan, before she turned on the computer, before they’d been in the room long.
Her hand dropped, and she jerked forward, catching herself on the desk. She blinked, and looked up, seeing the others standing by the door, staring at her in astonishment.
“Whoa,” Warren said. “That’s, uh, gonna take some getting used to.”
“Max?” Kate asked, her eyebrows drawn together, looking confused.
“Wait, you rewound?” Chloe asked. “What happened?”
Max shook her head, standing straight. “We found what we’re looking for, but we have to get out of here now.” She walked quickly around the desk and toward the others, grabbing Chloe’s hand and pulling her to the door, though Chloe immediately came along with her, Warren and Kate right behind them. “The police are coming – they might already be here. We have to go. And turn off your flashlights,” she added, shutting off her own.
“Shit,” Chloe said, her hand tightening around Max’s.
“W-what?” Kate gasped. “H-how did they – ”
“Did we set off an alarm or something?” Warren asked as Max paused in front of the door.
“I don’t know,” she said, looking back at them. “But it doesn’t matter right now. We have to go – and be quiet,” she added. “We don’t know if they’re in the building yet.”
She waited until they all shut off their lights and were closer to her, and then carefully opened the door, stepping out of the room. The hallway in front of them was empty, silent, and for several seconds none of them said anything, just listened.
Chloe caught Max’s eye and jerked her head toward the small windows dotting the hallway. Max nodded, and Chloe let go of her hand, walked toward one of the windows, and peeked out of it.
“Anything?” Max whispered, gesturing for Warren and Kate to follow with her and she moved to stand by Chloe.
Chloe squinted, craning her neck to get a better look. “Can’t tell,” she replied, keeping her voice low. “I can’t see the parking lot from here.”
Shit. They had no way to know if the police were already in the building, and no time to worry about it. “Let’s go,” Max said, and they started down the hallway again.
At least the cameras were off, and they’d erased the files. They just had to get out – they had the information they needed (though the proof was gone, now, Max realized, her heart sinking, and they only had her memory to go by) – but they could still get out, and get away. They had to.
It didn’t take long for them to cross the hallway and reach the heavy door at the other end. They opened it slowly, carefully, and Max stepped through to peer down the stairwell. There was no sign of the police so far, but Max knew they would be arriving soon, if they hadn’t already.
She gestured to the others that it was clear, and they made their way down the stairs, trying to strike a balance between moving quickly and moving quietly. They were going as fast as they dared, but somehow it still felt too slow, the door at the bottom too heavy; they only hesitated for a second before opening it, not sure what they’d see on the other side.
All four of them pushed against it. Max went through first, pulling the door open the rest of the way to let the others through, keeping it steady so it wouldn’t creak. She closed it just as carefully, and they started heading down the hallway toward reception.
A slight sound came to her, and Max stopped, Chloe, Kate, and Warren crashing into her from behind, their feet scuffling too-loudly on the floor, but they froze immediately afterward. Max lifted her hand toward them in a ‘wait’ gesture, and carefully crept forward to peer around the corner at the end of the hall.
The police had arrived.
For several seconds she couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. They were climbing out of their cars – the sound she’d heard had been the doors shutting – and there were five, no, six officers. They already had their flashlights and guns out, and were talking to each other and gesturing toward the building.
Max stepped backward, throwing her arm up and rewinding again. When she stopped, the police hadn’t gotten out of their cars yet, and it took her a second to realize that the others had now only just come through the door to the stairs. She stumbled back toward them, tripping over her own feet, but they hurried meet her, and it was Chloe who caught her this time.
“P-police,” she managed, trying to quell her rising panic. “Outside.”
“Fuck,” Chloe said, her hold on Max tightening for a second as she looked around, clearly trying to find another way out.
They all snuck to the end of the hallway, looking out beyond it to see the police cruisers, and the officers again starting to climb out of them.
“W – what do we do?” Kate asked.
We have to do something, we have to do something, Max thought, but she couldn’t move, could hardly think – she could rewind, but what would that do? The police would still see them. They were trapped, and she’d led them to yet another mistake.
“Max?” Warren asked, but she hardly heard him, because it didn’t matter they’d erased the footage, they were going to get caught and it was all her fault –
“Max!” Chloe said, as loudly as she dared, and Max blinked, glancing at her, and then toward the officers again.
“I – ” She said. “I – I don’t – ” Pull it together, Caulfield, she told herself. “Shit, um, we – we need to find a way to get around them, get out the door – ”
“The smoke bombs!” Warren said, slipping off his backpack and reaching inside.
“Yes,” Max said, relief shooting through her – they’d planned ahead, they weren’t completely unprepared, they could do this – “And, and we’ll need to get them away from the door, so we can get through – ”
“Got it, Max,” Warren said, and he took a deep breath, and then walked right past her, going into a crouch as he passed the end of the hallway.
“Warren!” Kate said, slightly too loud. “What are you – ”
He kept going, glancing toward the door as he quickly crossed the distance to the reception desk, hiding behind it.
“Warren!” Max whispered as loudly as she dared, looking at the door that the police were just now starting to head toward. “Get back here!”
“I have an idea,” he said, thankfully keeping his voice low. He shot her a nervous smile. “Just, uh, back me up with your rewind, okay, fearless leader?”
She flicked her eyes toward the door again, her heart pounding. The cops were going to open it any second, they had no real time to discuss a plan. What other choice did they have?
“God dammit, Warren,” She said, and he smiled.
“Sorry,” he replied.
“Just don’t do anything – ” Max began, but she didn’t get to finish and say ‘stupid‘ because that was the moment the officer in front pushed open the door.
Max carefully stepped back, though she knew they couldn’t see her from their position, and they couldn’t see Warren either. The officer in front that had opened the door – she couldn’t tell if she knew him in the dim light – simply held it open, and looked back at the other officers. They started talking to each other quietly, and the officer let the door close, preventing Max from hearing any of their conversation.
Max watched them, hardly breathing, one arm extended to the side as if to stop Chloe and Kate from charging out too. She glanced at Warren; he was keeping an eye on the officers at the door as well, but he also reached up to grab something from the desk. Max couldn’t tell what it was.
The officers were still talking, but they were raising their guns and their flashlights now, and facing toward the door together.
Warren crept to the edge of the desk, holding whatever he’d grabbed from the desk. He was facing toward the other dark hallway, his back pressed up against the desk. He craned his neck to look around the corner toward the front door, watching as it opened again and the officers stepped through.
Max ducked back behind the corner, completely out of sight. She could see the beams of their lights moving on the opposite wall, steadily growing bigger as they stepped further into the room. She looked at Warren again, watching only him now, trying to be ready for anything, whatever his plan was.
He glanced around the desk one more time, and then lifted up one of his hands, and drew it back, flicking his wrist and throwing something into the hallway in front of him. Max heard a faint sound – a tapping? – and all the beams of the police’s lights immediately pointed toward the hallway. The cops didn’t saying anything (at least not that she could hear) but she could tell from the motion of their lights and their faint footsteps that they were heading toward that hallway.
Warren stayed crouched, and started moving backward, following along the inside of the desk to the other side in order to stay out of sight. He had one hand up to keep himself steady, and Max held her breath as the police got closer and closer, and Warren inched away. He reached the corner just in time, and looped around to the front of the desk as the officers drew level with the hallway behind it.
The cop in front looked back at the others, who all stayed in formation, guns and lights raised. The front officer made a gesture Max didn’t understand, and then pointed his hand down the hallway, and they started walking again.
Warren edged along the front of the desk, coming up behind the officers with only a few feet between them, the smoke bomb out and ready in his other hand.
Max almost rewound automatically, almost made a sound – he was so close to them, too close, if they turned around the cops would see him for sure. Her eyes darted from Warren to the officers disappearing from sight down the hallway, one by one, and she moved her arm out of the way for Chloe and Kate, getting ready to head for the door when Warren made his move.
Warren shifted slightly, moving up onto his toes, ready to spring up, watching the last of the officers head into the hallway. Max couldn’t see them anymore, but she was pretty sure Warren could; he craned his neck, leaning out a little from the desk to see them better, and then he lowered his arm, pressing a smoke bomb to the floor – Max’s muscles tensed in her body, coiled like a spring, because it would be any second now, any second they’d have to go – and he carefully, quietly, rolled it toward the hallway.
The moment it left his hand he turned on his heel, and Max was crouched and heading for the door, holding Chloe’s hand in her own while Chloe held Kate’s, all of them walking together. Max glanced back to watch the bomb’s progress, but they weren’t even halfway to the door when it went off.
It was louder than she expected, making her jump and gasp a little automatically, but she only stopped for a second, even as dark smoke explodedinto the air, the officers behind it making sounds of shock; they were saying something, or shouting maybe, but she didn’t try to hear it, just kept moving. They couldn’t afford to be loud, draw attention to themselves, no matter how much she just wanted to run: they had to get out the door and get to where they’d parked the car. They were almost there, almost, she could still see the door through the quickly-thickening smoke, just a few more steps and…
Her palm connected with the glass door, and she let go of Chloe’s hand to carefully push it open. She stumbled out of the building and into the parking lot, grabbing Chloe’s hand again, the others close behind. They’d only made it a few more steps before another bomb exploded behind her, making her jump again, her ears ringing.
She got a glimpse of Warren grabbing Kate’s hand (and where he had put the second bomb) before dark smoke clouded everything: it seemed like he’d dropped it just after they got out the door, but then she heard unfamiliar voices shouting to her left.
Shit, she thought. There are cops waiting out here too! She hadn’t been able to see them from inside, and she squeezed Chloe’s hand tightly in her own, moving forward again. She was pretty sure she was going the right direction, so they just had to be quiet and stay together. They had to get to where they’d hidden the car, had to keep moving, and everything would be all right.
The smoke was thinning the further she walked, and her heart felt like it was in her throat as she stepped out of it, the last of the parking lot coming into view.
Max exhaled in relief, looking back at the others to make sure they were all with her, but she didn’t break her stride, continuing to pull the others along with her. They had to keep moving, the smoke wouldn’t stay long out in the open air, they had to get out of the parking lot before –
She jerked to a stop, breath caught in her throat. She could see the light from the officer’s flashlights silhouetting them, casting her shadow on the pavement ahead of her, but she didn’t turn to look at them.
The police said something else, but she couldn’t hear them, could barely breathe. She felt Chloe’s hand slide out of her own, and Max glanced back, squinting in the brightness, to see her, Kate, and Warren tremblingly raising their hands above their head. She could hardly see the officers walking toward them through the lights, and for a second all she could see was HIM, outlined in light, the world seeming to tilt around her, she couldn’t focus couldn’t breathe couldn’t move, he had her he had her –
Max blinked, shaking herself out of the memories, turning her head forward again, away from the officers, dread settling like a weight in her stomach. Fuckfuckfuckfuck, she had to rewind.
She lifted her hand, and even though she wasn’t actually holding anything, she could still feel her grip on time as she pulled it back. If they had to, maybe they could make a run for it, they just had to get out of the parking lot before the officers saw them, they could do it, they had to –
She dropped her hand, released time, and lurched forward, feeling blindly behind herself for Chloe’s hand, and then she glanced back and did a double-take.
Chloe, Kate, and Warren weren’t behind her anymore. With a rush of horror, she realized they were still in the building.
Shit. Shit, of course they didn’t move through time with me! How could I have been so stupid? They were inside and the officers that caught them were right there and they’d see her any second. She had to get to the others, get back inside, but what could they do? The cops were right on top of them, and she could keep rewinding but she’d leave the others behind and there was nowhere for them to hide, nowhere to go, no way to run, they were trapped and it was all her fault –
Nonononono, She shook her head, lifting her hand again. She hadn’t come this far, done all of this, for everything to fall apart now. She had to try something.
Max’s hand strained in the air, reaching; there was nothing solid for her to grab, though somehow she could feel time as she held it, in a way she never could quite explain out loud. Still, it was there in her hand, and she kept pulling at it, even as she felt herself hit a wall. There was no other word for it, what kept her from going back further, that feeling when she was at the edge of her limits. The time in her grip seemed to stretch in her fingers, made her body vibrate with the force of it, but she kept pulling, again and again and again –
– and she could feel the weight of Chloe’s body on top of her own, but it was cold now, and even as Max shook her and begged and cried she knew it was too late, she’d failed AGAIN
Max shook her head, blinking to try and get away from what she was seeing, but the sounds of it thundered in her ears, and she could smell the storm and taste blood on her tongue –
no matter how many times it took, she’d go back and back and back a n d b a c k
they were GONE and it was all her fault
she had to save them, save everyone, but her legs shook and she fell to her knees
the bullet burned as it tore through her, and she wanted to scream, fuckfuckfuck it hurt it hurt it –
Max gasped, doubling over, fighting to keep herself upright, her hand still raised. She’d felt that heat in her abdomen, the blood bubbling up from her lips, and could hear Chloe crying, and still through it all something else: her own voice, though she couldn’t quite make out all the words.
“– Prescott’s had been planning for this day – ”
“– right choice – ”
“– and live with what you’ve chosen.”
Max’s hands fisted in her hair as she sank into a crouch, holding herself up on the balls of her feet, curling tightly into herself, her head pressed to her knees, eyes clenched shut, as if that could stop her from seeing more.
The seconds ticked by, but to her surprise nothing more came to her – no other lives, no different realities or – or memories, nothing. She was panting, the sound of it so loud she couldn’t hear anything else, and she could feel blood dripping down her nose. The air felt…wrong…somehow. Different, but in a way that was familiar too, and each breath seemed sharp in her lungs. Time wasn’t vibrating or – or stretching in her hand anymore, threatening to snap, though she could still feel it there. She was still holding it.
Max opened her eyes, lifted her head, and realized why it felt familiar. She wasn’t pulling on time anymore: she’d stopped it.
The two officers were by their car, frozen halfway in motion, and if she squinted she could see Chloe, Kate, and Warren crouched low to the ground, Warren still by the desk, Chloe and Kate just barely emerging from the hallway. The other officers were there too, not yet hidden by the smoke bomb.
Well, she thought, a slightly hysterical laugh escaping her, sounding somehow flat in the still air, the police did tell me to ‘freeze’.
Max stepped forward. It kind of reminded her of walking underwater. The air wasn’t solid, exactly, but thick, somehow. She took another step toward the glass door, and then another. Before, when she’d done this (though it hadn’t ever happened here, in this time, she reminded herself) every step forward had felt like there were weights holding her back. Every second she’d spent holding time still had been a struggle, and she’d felt like her head was going to burst open, like she was banging it over and over against that imagined wall, but now…
She looked down at her hands. She didn’t even have her right one up like she had then, like she always did when she rewound, but time was still frozen around her. How…She thought. How is this happening? I don’t understand! Her hands were trembling a little now, and she squeezed them together to stop it, shaking her head again. It didn’t matter. She could think about all that later, but for now she had to figure out how they could get away.
She’d stopped time, which meant she could move around as she pleased, but that didn’t do anything to help the others. Think, Caulfield, She told herself. What can you do? Just take a second and think it all out. There has to be a way out of this.
When Kate had jumped – Max tried to not think about seeing her fall that first time, her body plummeting to the ground – and she’d stopped everything, she’d been able to get up to the roof with her. She’d managed to push open the heavy doors to get to Kate, so…could she move other things? No, more than that…could she move other people?
Max looked over at the police standing by their cruiser. One way to find out, she thought, and she started walking toward them.
It really did remind her of moving in the water. Every step was slowed, and the air felt strangely heavy as she moved through it, but she kept going. She stopped once she reached the officers; one was looking out toward the road beyond the Prescott Offices. The other was holding a walkie-talkie, but both of their backs were to her, which Max was grateful for. Even though she knew they couldn’t move, it would have been even weirder to be doing this with them looking right at her.
She glanced up and down them, wondering exactly what she could do. She reached forward, but then hesitated. Moving a door was one thing, but they were people. Would moving them while they were frozen in time…would it hurt them?
Her gut twisted at the thought. Again, there was only one way to find out.
Max waited another second, and then willed herself to reach forward, and pulled on the arm of the officer holding the walkie-talkie. To her relief, it was easier than the door had been; like with her own movements, it was slower and heavier, but she could do it. She paused once more, checking his arm for any sign of injury, but she couldn’t see any. His arm moved with her, and she wondered if it worked kind of like the stuff she carried: her bag and photos and even the hammer she’d used to get to the fire alarm when she’d first saved Chloe…If she had physical contact with it, could she move anything with her through frozen time?
Max opened up the officer’s hand, leaving the walkie-talkie to hover in the air, and grabbed his other one, bringing both of his hands together, behind his back. Then she reached for the handcuffs hanging from his belt, and quickly cuffed his wrists. After doing the same thing to the other officer, she considered the two of them for a moment. Would that be enough? It’d stop them from drawing their guns, make chasing after Chloe, Kate, and Warren harder…but the cops could still catch a glimpse of her or the others if they turned around. Her eyes scanned up and down them again, looking for something she could use to prevent that, when a thought came to her.
Max hesitated for a second again, her eyes flicking up to the officer nearest to her, and then she started digging through the pouches on his belt (carefully avoiding the gun in its holster), as well as his pockets. There was a lot in there she could maybe have used somehow, like the taser and pepper spray, but she made a noise of triumph when her fingers closed around what she’d been looking for: sunglasses. She opened them up and placed them on the officer’s face, smiling in satisfaction. They shouldn’t be able to see anything through these, she thought, moving to the other officer to do the same thing with his sunglasses.
Well, that was one problem down, and what felt like a million more left to go.
She stepped away from the two officers, and shuddered, feeling something wet on her lip, just as a wave of pain rolled through her head. She wiped her sleeve under her nose, a line of blood trailed across her arm as she did so. Maybe freezing time was a little easier now – and even the headache was rapidly fading for the moment – but that didn’t mean doing it for too long was a good idea. She had to hurry.
Okay, she told herself. You have those two taken care of. Now you have to get the others out of here. Can I…can I move them, too?
Because of her rewinding, Chloe, Kate, and Warren were back inside, and if they were going to have a chance to get out, she needed to give them a hell of a head start. How well would it work, though? They were a lot bigger than an arm, and heavier than a door, and she couldn’t move as fast as she’d like in this frozen time, but she pushed those thoughts away. She still had to try.
The glass door opened fairly easily under her palms, and Max tried to ignore her feeling of unease. She snorted to herself. Had it really gotten to the point where she was instantly suspicious of anything going right for her? Well, it wasn’t like she didn’t have reason to be, but she shook off that thought and made a beeline for the others. The bomb hadn’t even gone off yet, though Warren had already rolled it toward the hallway and had turned to head toward the door. Chloe, and Kate were doing the same, frozen in motion, stopped before they could even register that she hadn’t been with them anymore.
For several seconds (could she call it that? Did time technically pass when she had frozen it?) she just looked at all of them, trying to think of what to do. She didn’t know how long she would be able to stop time, so she needed to find the best and fastest way to do this. Her eyes rested on each of them for a second, and she wished they could talk to her, but she tried to focus on what was happening in that moment, not what she wanted to happen.
Kate was probably the lightest, so Max stepped around Chloe to Kate, hesitating for only a second before she put her hands on Kate’s shoulders. She pushed her, lightly, and to her relief Kate’s torso moved fairly easily. Come on, Caulfield, it’s not like you can just march her to the door, she thought.
Max bit her lip. Could she…carry Kate? Like when she and Chloe would carry each other sometimes while playing in a pool? She wasn’t actually in water, and everything would have more weight, but it was the best thing she could think of. Besides, she’d figure out pretty quick if she couldn’t do it.
Max bent down, carefully unclasping Chloe’s hand from Kate’s, and hooked one arm under Kate’s knees. She kept the other on Kate’s back as she lifted her legs, holding her rather like how Max’s parents had when she was a kid, for those times she’d fallen asleep while watching a movie and they’d carried her to bed.
Max stepped forward, carefully, again feeling like she was underwater. Kate was oddly weightless, in a way; her body didn’t move unless Max moved it. She had a kind of buoyancy, almost, as if the frozen time would keep her floating wherever she was, but there was a solidness that slowed them down all the same. Still, Max kept walking.
She pushed open the door with her back this time, careful to watch her step so she didn’t trip with Kate in her arms, looking out across the parking lot and to the road. They’d parked the car by a hotel just down the street in order to keep it from looking suspicious, and it hadn’t seemed like a long distance to get back to it before, but now…
Hey, she remembered Chloe saying once (though in this moment she couldn’t remember if she’d really heard it, if it’d actually happened) We can do this. We’re team Max. She repeated it in her mind, over and over. It didn’t matter how far it was, how slowly she moved. They were a team, and all of them believed in her. She couldn’t let them down.
Max took a deep breath, gripped Kate tighter, and started heading for the road.
She couldn’t help but wonder how long it all took her. As far as anyone else would be concerned it happened instantly, but the seconds still passed for her – for only her – and that made it all feel longer. Who knew; her concept of time was somewhat different, to say the least. She hadn’t truly experienced eternity, but she was beginning to guess what it felt like, after all she’d been through.
Walking through a river of mud in time didn’t even compare to that, not really, but still she wondered.
Max wiped her sleeve across her nose again. Even with the dark material, she could still see the blood staining the fabric. She shook her head to clear some of her dizziness, blinking rapidly. She was almost done, almost. Just a little bit more.
Warren was frozen in the air next to her, half curled up as Kate and Chloe had been when Max was carrying them. She’d been right about time ‘holding’ them in place, and she’d let him go so that she could get that second smoke bomb ready. He’d had the right idea of using it when they got outside, and even though they were going to be much further away when it went off this time, she still wanted it to give them extra cover. With luck, the cops wouldn’t even realize they’d left the building until they were well away from the Prescott Offices.
There, Max thought, stepping back. The bomb was frozen in the air like Warren, but the moment time resumed it would drop, and go off. Okay, she told herself, facing Warren again. Let’s keep going.
She started walking. The street seemed even further away than it had before, though she knew it wasn’t. She’d made this walk twice already, but maybe now she was so close to the end it seemed somehow out of reach. Her arms were starting to ache, and with every step it felt like she was trembling more and more; for a second her knees buckled beneath her, but she managed to keep her balance. She just had to get out of the parking lot, and get to the hotel. Chloe and Kate were already waiting there by the car, and once they were there they could get away. It would be all right. She wouldn’t fail again.
Max kept her eyes forward, not focusing on anything else around her. She couldn’t. She had to keep her eyes ahead, keep her mind on where she was going. Everyone was depending on her; for a moment she could hear Chloe in her ear: You’re almost there, Max, and she didn’t know if it was a forgotten memory or her imagination, but her voice echoed in her head over and over. Almost there, almost there, almost there almost there almost –
She could see the car now, Chloe and Kate’s frozen figures next to it. If she could, she’d be running to it. Instead she dug her feet into the ground, and with every push of her knees her body shook, and her legs threatened to collapse. Keep going, Max. Almost there, almost, come on, almost –
She was breathing faster now, panting, pushing pushing pushing to find whatever strength she had left to go just a little bit faster, little bit harder, she had to go go go go, it was right there, right there, almost there almost –
Max stumbled, leaning against the car to stay on her feet as she released Warren again. For a few moments she just stayed there, breathing, before she swayed forward, straightening out Warren’s body and limbs, making sure his feet were on the ground, like Chloe and Kate’s were. She’d tried to make it so that they wouldn’t fall or hurt themselves when she let go of time, though she wasn’t sure she’d succeeded, because right then she couldn’t bear to stay any longer.
Finally, finally, she raised her hand again. It was shaking, and she closed her eyes, letting out a deep breath as she felt for that grip she was keeping on time, and released it.
The world snapped back into motion, everything sliding together and moving all at once, and Max fell forward on her hands and knees, just barely keeping herself from landing flat on her face.
“Wha – what the FUCK!” Chloe shouted, and Max heard her stumble, and catch herself on the car.
Kate wobbled to the side, tripping over her own feet and falling to the ground as well. “W-wait…” She said. “Wh-what’s…”
Warren jumped about a foot in the air, and very nearly fell backward. He didn’t seem able to make any kind of coherent words. “Wh – we – wuh – uh?”
Max couldn’t say anything to them, just staring down at the sidewalk, her hands bracing herself up. As she watched, a drop of blood, and then a few more, dripped onto the cement, and she took in a shuddering breath.
“Max!” Chloe said, immediately getting down next to her, putting her hand on her back. “Shit, are – are you okay? What the fuck happened?”
Max pushed herself up, leaning on Chloe for support, looking around in a bit of a daze, nodding but still not quite able to form words.
Kate’s eyes widened as they took in her face. “Max!” She cried, climbing to her feet and walking toward her in concern. “Your – your nose!”
Warren had paled. “Oh man,” he said, crouching down in front of her, reaching forward like he wanted to pat her shoulder, or hug her or something, but he pulled his hand back a second later. “That – that doesn’t look good. You okay?”
“Shit, Max,” Chloe said, turning her shoulders so she could see her face. She gathered the end of her sleeve and brought it up to Max’s nose, wiping at the rest of the blood, her eyebrows furrowed with worry. “What the fuck happened?” She repeated.
“And how did we get here?” Warren added. “Did we…it’s like we, um, teleported with you, but – ”
Max let out a short laugh. “You did, p-pretty much,” she said, shakily getting to her feet, Chloe helping steady her. Warren and Kate stood as well, Warren offering his hand to Kate to help her up, and she accepted it, giving him a slight smile in thanks.
It took a few seconds for Max to be able to go on. “I, uhm, had to freeze time to get us out of there, and – and I – I pushed you guys through time with me.”
“H-hold on,” Warren said weakly, gaping at her.
“You what?” Chloe interrupted. “What the fuck does that mean?”
“How – how did you…?” Kate began, before she stopped, seeming at a loss for words.
Max shook her head. “Wasn’t sure I could. I’d pushed things before, but – but I didn’t know what else to do. W-we were trapped, and…and there were officers everywhere, they were going to get us, and…” She trailed off, her eyes burning. “I h-had to try something.” For a second her voice caught in her throat, but she forced herself to keep going. She had to tell them what they’d found. “That – that doesn’t matter, though.”
“Like hell it doesn’t!” Chloe shot back, scowling, her grip on Max’s shoulder tightening.
“Max,” Kate said, eyebrows furrowed in concern. “Of course it – ”
“It doesn’t,” Max repeated, speaking over them, her voice stronger now. “We don’t have time to talk about it.”
“Max – ” Chloe began, and Max knew that stubborn tone of voice, and she shook her head, standing taller and trying to ignore the way her vision swam. She blinked to clear it.
“No,” she insisted. “It doesn’t matter because the Prescott’s – the Prescotts know the storm is coming. Knew. Have known, for – for a while.”
“What?” Kate and Warren said together before Max could continue.
Chloe gaped at her. “How – how the fuck could they know that?”
“I don’t know,” Max ran a hand over her aching head. “But that doesn’t matter either, because this – this means the storm, it – it’s not tied to you at all, Chloe.” She looked toward her as she said it, meeting her eyes. “They’ve been preparing for it all this time, and that means…” Max paused as it all slid together. “That means it was always going to come, no – no matter what, and – and there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” she finished.
For several seconds, none of them spoke, but there wasn’t time to let it all sink in.
“And we have to go,” Max continued, glancing back down the street toward the Prescott offices. “I got us a head start, but we shouldn’t stick around.” She jerked her head toward the car next to them. “I’ll explain more, I – I promise, but we have to go.”
“R-right,” Warren said, who looked somewhat dazed. He shook himself and then headed toward the driver’s side of the car. As soon as he unlocked it Kate got in the passenger’s side, as she had on their way over, and Chloe hovered by Max as she too-slowly made her way toward his car. One of Chloe’s hands was at her back, supporting her, the other holding Max’s hand, and Max squeezed it tightly, forcing herself to walk faster. They hadto get going.
Chloe slid in first, and Max crouched to get in after her, nearly tripping over the floor mat, Chloe’s keeping her steady.
“Here,” she said, leaning across Max to reach for the door and pull it closed, which was momentarily distracting. She was bracing herself on the seat with one hand, and they weren’t actually touching, but it was still close enough that Max thought she could feel her body heat, or maybe that was just the flush creeping along her own skin.
Chloe leaned back into the car, settling in her seat as Warren started it up. “Max,” she said, and held her gaze, her voice very serious. “You okay?”
Max nodded. She did feel a bit better now, mostly just tired. “Yeah. I – I’m all right.”
Chloe’s eyes narrowed a little, and she opened her mouth a little like she was going to say something, but then Kate spoke from up front as the car began to make its way up the street.
“Y-you said you’d explain, Max,” she said, turning a little in her seat to look back at her.
Max nodded, putting on her seatbelt with slightly fumbling hands, glancing at Chloe to make sure she did the same. “Yeah,” she said. “I’ll explain, but – but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna make any sense,” she warned.
“I’m starting to get used to that,” Warren remarked, shooting her a quick smile in the rearview mirror.
“Just tell us what happened,” Chloe said, putting her hand on Max’s arm.
“Okay,” Max said, glancing through the window behind them, just before they would make a turn that’d take them out of sight of the street. There were no signs of police cars yet, but she’d still keep an eye out for them. “We found what we were looking for,” she said, like she had before, and she told them the rest.
“Please, please let me know as soon as you get back to Blackwell,” Max said as she stepped out of Warren’s car, Chloe getting out after her and closing the door.
“Of course, Max,” Kate said, smiling a little, before she looked out her window again. Like Max, she’d regularly checked to see if the police were following them, and still seemed slightly nervous.
“And let me know if you need anything,” Max added, mostly to Kate, but she looked at Warren to make sure he was included in that as well.
“Aye aye,” Warren said, giving a two-finger salute. He looked down at the note in her hand that he’d written. “And you guys let us know what happens with that,” he went on, nodding toward it.
Max nodded. “We will,” she promised. “Drive safe,” she finished, raising her hand to wave.
“See you guys tomorrow,” Chloe called, nodding at them as they started to drive away, both Kate and Warren waving back at them.
Max and Chloe both watched as they drove away. Max kept her eyes on them until they turned out of sight, and she sighed, looking over at Chloe.
“Ready to leave this for David?” She asked. She lifted the note in her hand for emphasis. Warren had written what Max had dictated, in careful, slow, blocky print that didn’t even look like his own handwriting:
MARK JEFFERSON AND THE PRESCOTTS ARE DANGEROUS. YOU’LL FIND THE EVIDENCE YOU’LL NEED IN HERE. YOU HAVE TO STOP THEM.
Chloe’s expression had tightened at David’s name, but she nodded, and started heading for the front door, Max close behind her. “Looks like Step-douche isn’t home yet. We should be able to leave the evidence for him without him seeing.”
And my rewind will keep me off the cameras, she thought. Shit, that was something she’d almost completely forgotten about. One problem at a time, Caulfield, she told herself. You’ve got bigger fish to fry, remember? At this point she was rather looking forward to seeing Jefferson and the Prescotts burn.
They reached the front door, and Chloe unlocked it, pushing it open with the side of her fist.
“Chloe?” Joyce called from upstairs.
“Yeah!” Chloe yelled back. “And Max is here too!”
After a few seconds, Max heard footsteps from above, and then Joyce appeared at the top of the stairs. “Startin’ to get used to you being around,” Joyce teased lightly, smiling at her before giving her a big hug.
“Not ready to kick me out yet?” Max asked, smiling, hugging her back just as tightly.
Joyce laughed. “Honey, you’d have to do a hell of a lot to get me to kick you out.” She smiled back at her, but that smile shifted when she looked at Chloe. Max felt a prickle of annoyance. She loved Joyce, and knew she’d been through a lot and was doing her best, but…sometimes it felt like she talked to Chloe as if she was looking for someone to blame. Which made sense, considering Chloe did the same thing.
Still, Joyce just said: “Glad you’re home before curfew, for once,” and raised an eyebrow at Chloe.
“I try to be fashionably late,” Chloe replied, and Max couldn’t help but smile a little.
“Is that what you kids are calling it these days?” Joyce asked, crossing her arms.
“Something like that,” Max interjected before Chloe could respond. “I’ve, um, we were going to head upstairs while I did some homework…”
Joyce nodded. “Of course, honey. If you guys want dinner, there’s leftover chicken from the other night. David hasn’t been home yet, and won’t be for a while.”
“Oh yeah?” Chloe asked, keeping her voice casual, but Joyce still shot her a look.
“Don’t you start,” she warned, continuing before Chloe could respond, though Max could feel her bristling. “He said something about a student playing a prank and letting all the air out of a teacher’s tires – ” At this, Max exchanged a look with Chloe, now trying very hard not to laugh out loud – “So, there’s still plenty of grub for everyone.”
“Got it,” Chloe said, already turning and walking the rest of the way up the stairs.
“You’re welcome, Chloe,” Joyce called up after her, and Chloe actually stopped on the stairs, and climbed back down to look at her. There was an odd expression on her face, and for a second Max wasn’t sure she’d say anything, but then she did.
“Thanks, mom,” she said quietly, looking at Joyce and then away again.
Joyce blinked at her in surprise, and then smiled softly. “You’re welcome,” she said again, this time sincerely.
Chloe shot her a small smile, nodding a little, and then turned and went up the stairs again.
“Thanks,” Max echoed, smiling at Joyce as well before she followed after Chloe.
Good thing I don’t feel dizzy anymore, Max reflected as she reached the top of the stairs. Then again…there was something kind of unsettling about that too, how quickly she’d recovered. Or am I just completely paranoid at this point? She wondered as Chloe opened the door to her room and they stepped inside. Ugh, I just wish all of this would make sense for once.
Gathering the evidence didn’t take too long – including photographs like the still of Sean Prescott in the Dark Room, as well as the passwords she knew – and it all fit in the manilla envelope Kate had provided. They folded the note in half and taped it to the outside, and then Max gave Chloe a small smile.
“You won’t remember this, but I’ll see you in a minute,” she said.
“Wait,” Chloe said, reaching out a little and then lowering her hand. “Are you sure you’re good to do this?”
“Positive,” Max said, touching her arm reassuringly.
Chloe nodded. “If it ends up taking longer than you think, I’ll keep an eye out for Deputy Asshole.”
Max snorted, unable to keep from smiling a little. Chloe’s creative nicknames for David were always funny, even if they were rude.
“Back in a flash,” Max said, and Chloe raised an eyebrow.
“Been working on that one?” She teased.
“…Maybe,” Max replied, smiling wider now.
“Could use more work,” Chloe said, sighing theatrically. “Clearly, I need to be in charge of your catchphrases.”
“This coming from the girl who says ‘awesome sauce’,” Max pointed out dryly.
Chloe just gave a shit-eating-grin. “Come on, man, don’t deny the sauce that’s awesome.”
Max laughed, covering her mouth a little with one hand, the movement jostling her hold on the envelope she was holding, reminding her of what she was supposed to be doing. It was just so easy to fall into that familiar rhythm with Chloe, she’d kind of forgotten about everything else, if only for a moment.
“I’d, uh, better get going,” Max said, jerking her head toward the door.
Chloe nodded, her smile fading, and Max turned and headed out of Chloe’s room, shutting the door behind her. She tucked the envelope away inside her shirt, and carefully stepped toward the top of the stairs, peering down it. She wasn’t sure if Joyce was downstairs, or in her bedroom. Keeping one hand on the rail to help herself stay steady, Max crept down the stairs, careful to lightly skip over the one that always creaked. She reached the bottom and stopped for a moment, listening. She couldn’t hear any sounds of someone in the kitchen or living room. The kitchen light was still on, but the rest of them were off, and again Max was reminded of her dream from before, of that endless hallway surrounded by darkness. She shook off the feeling, and headed through the front door, making sure to close it quietly behind her.
The night air was a little chilly, but she ignored it pretty easily, using her phone flashlight to navigate down the short pathway toward the big garage door. She hesitated outside of it. Leaving the envelope outside was a risk, but David needed to see it right as he drove up. The sooner he had the information, the sooner he could start bringing down Jefferson and the Prescotts. She nodded to herself, and raised her hand, rewinding to before she’d ever left Chloe’s room or gone down the stairs.
Before she released her grip on time, a thought came to her, and she held on a little longer. She slowed down her rewind, bit by bit by bit, easing off of the pull. She kept her eyes open, and watched as the world stilled around her – from the fireflies in the yard, to the slight breeze in the air – and she could hear words still, could feel herself being both there and not there, but right then it was like static in the background, and she could ignore it if she concentrated.
She stopped, and hesitantly lowered her hand. The world stayed frozen around her, and for a second Max couldn’t quite believe it.
I’ve done this three times now, she thought, feeling a bizarre urge to laugh. Wowzer.
She’d been bleeding over this not even a half hour ago, and now…
Pain bloomed across her skull, and she stumbled a little on her feet, but stayed upright. She clutched at her head, correcting herself. Maybe it wouldn’t be all that painless. Still, the headache had eased to a dull throb for the moment, so she pulled out the envelope and set it down against the large garage door.
It wasn’t as direct as a text message, but she didn’t think she’d be able to do that anonymously now. David knew who she was, was more prone to be automatically suspicious of her. He’ll find it. He’ll find it and arrest them.
Max let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, and nodded to herself. It wasn’t a good idea for her to hold time much longer, and she needed to get back to Chloe. She ran a hand over her aching head, and then began to make her way back inside the house, where she would let go of time once again.
She held it through the door, up the stairs, and into Chloe’s room, before she released it.
“ – sure you’re – shit!” Chloe jumped a little, looking from the spot in front of her (where, to her, Max had been only a second ago) to Max now standing by her door, leaning against the wall.
“Still gotta get used to that,” Chloe said, walking toward her. “Guess that also answers the question of if you’re good to do this.”
Max smiled a little, straightening. “It’s done,” she said. “And I’m fine.”
“Really.” Chloe crossed her arms, raising an eyebrow, and giving her a look.
“I have a headache,” Max admitted, running a hand over her head again, wincing. “But that’s it. I’m totally fine.”
Chloe pressed her lips together, looking over her again, and Max braced herself for Chloe to push the issue, but instead she nodded. For a few seconds, neither of them said anything, until Chloe broke the silence. “So, now we wait?”
“Now we wait,” Max agreed.
She nodded, crossing her arms a little tighter, and silence came between them again.
Max wished Chloe’s window had a view of the driveway; she felt antsy, on edge, a strange mixture of fear and excitement. Knowing that it was coming, that Jefferson and the Prescotts were going to face justice, possibly within hours, and she had to just sit there and wait for David…
Chloe’s voice took Max out of her thoughts. “Fuck it,” she said, turning and heading toward her desk. She opened one of the drawers, and after riffling through it for a few seconds made a triumphant sound, pulling out a little baggie of what was unmistakably weed.
Max couldn’t help but smile. Of course that was what Chloe would do in this situation.
She placed the baggie on the desk, and then paused, keeping her back turned toward Max. “Do you, uh, want some?” she gestured vaguely in the direction of the baggie, and Max blinked at her in surprise.
Chloe had never asked her if she wanted to smoke, probably because she’d known that Max would say no. And before – in a before that had never existed here – she would have been right. Now, though…
“It might help with your headache,” Chloe shrugged. “And…” she hesitated again, before plowing on: “I sleep like a fuckin’ rock most of the time after I smoke, and, and last night you…” She trailed off, making a vague gesture with her hands, but Max understood, and she nodded.
“Yeah,” she said, pressing a hand to her head. “I know.” She’d brought her ‘Chloe’ playlist with her in the hopes that it would prevent her bad dreams, but if smoking helped too she was definitely willing to consider it. She was starting to forget what it was like to sleep without having nightmares. Besides, she’d done so many new things with Chloe, things she never would have considered before, so what was one more?
She walked over to Chloe, standing beside her at the desk. “You’ll have to show me how to do this,” she said, and Chloe looked at her, a surprised smile lighting up her face.
“Ah, everyone’s a noob their first time,” she shrugged, smiling wider, and bumped her shoulder against Max’s. “Looks like I’m still influencing you to break the law.”
Max laughed. “Some things never change,” she agreed, bumping Chloe’s shoulder back.
“Like how you’re a smartass?” Chloe asked, as she reached into the baggie and pulled out a partially-used joint.
“Naturally,” Max said, smiling wider. “Wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”
Chloe snorted, rummaging in the drawer again until she pulled out a lighter. “Disappoint?” She asked, before her voice became overly dramatic, reminiscent of a parent dropping their kid off at school for the first time. “My little Max is all grown up and doing drugs.” She wiped an imaginary tear from her eye. “I’m so proud.”
Max pushed her lightly, laughing. “Don’t make me change my mind!”
“No take-backs, Maxaroni!” Chloe insisted, smirking.
Max rolled her eyes, but her big grin probably ruined the effect. She couldn’t help it; being here with Chloe was just so familiar and right, she could almost forget about everything that had happened, everything that could still happen.
As she watched, Chloe lit the joint, the end flaring red as she breathed in, and then she lowered the joint, holding her breath for a few seconds before she let it out. The smoke seemed to half-settle on the ground, like a haze, and she handed the joint to Max.
“Normally I’d be starting you off with my bong,” She said, like it was obvious. As if sensing Max’s confusion, she explained: “You can put ice in it, and that makes the smoke less harsh. But it’s hella dirty right now, and I can’t clean it with Joyce here.”
“Oh,” Max said, even though she didn’t really understand. She had no frame of reference for any of this, and she was sure that was obvious by how gingerly she was holding the joint. “Should I just – ?” She lifted it up, miming bringing it to her lips, but Chloe lifted a hand to stop her.
“You saw how I did it, right?” She asked, and Max nodded. “Okay. You’re not gonna want to take as big a hit as that, though. I’ll light it for you the first time, so you get an idea of what to do.” She turned the lighter on and off for emphasis. “Oh, and try to hold the smoke in for a few seconds if you can, but it’s okay if you have to cough.”
Max nodded again, and after a second’s hesitation, brought the joint to her lips, looking at Chloe to signal she was ready. Chloe leaned closer, flicking on the lighter, holding it up, while Max moved the rest of the way to meet her, and breathed in.
“Man, that thing is fucking creepy,” Chloe said, after she exhaled, the smoke blocking the screen in front of them for a moment.
“No-Face used to give me nightmares,” Max admitted, fumbling blindly for the joint Chloe was holding out to her. She’d been smoking periodically through the movie, taking small hits to make sure she didn’t overdo it, resulting in a high that had sort of gently come over her. She was listing a little to the side now – almost leaning against Chloe, actually, she realized belatedly.
“Maybe hold off, Super-Max.” Chloe said. “Unless your powers include a high weed tolerance.”
Max snickered. “High tolerance.”
Chloe actually facepalmed. Max was pretty sure she’d never seen anyone do that in real life before, and that just made her laugh more. God, she hadn’t laughed this much since…well, she honestly couldn’t remember. She felt lighter, somehow. Like something had been constricting her chest, and for the first time she could really breathe. The Prescotts and Jefferson were going down. Sure, the storm was coming, but she had a team now to help her figure out a plan. She was here, with Chloe, watching one of the movies they’d loved when they were kids. There’d been a time – in a time that didn’t exist, a time she no longer knew – when she hadn’t thought she’d ever be able to do things like this again.
“Come on,” she told Chloe. “You know you loved that one.”
“No comment,” Chloe replied dryly, but she was smiling. She put out the joint, getting to her feet to set it back up on her desk, and then sat down next to Max again, closer than before, their arms pressed together. They were leaning up against Chloe’s bed, sitting on the floor, watching Spirited Away on Chloe’s laptop. There’d still been no sign of David, as far as Max had noticed, but thanks partly to the smoking and partly to Chloe’s company, she wasn’t really thinking about it at the moment.
Chloe shifted a little next to her, her leg brushing against Max’s, who felt very aware of the contact. Yeah. There were definitely other things on her mind. When they’d first started, Max had been unable to help thinking of movies where couples had passed smoke to each other through their mouths, and the idea of doing that with Chloe sent a flash of heat through her, even just remembering it now. She deliberately kept her eyes focused on the movie, waiting for her face to cool down.
“So,” Chloe said, and Max looked over at her automatically, though she wasn’t sure she’d stopped blushing yet. “How’re you feeling?”
For a second Max didn’t know how to respond, and then she realized Chloe was talking about her headache. “Oh! Oh, much better,” She said, smiling. “I wasn’t even really noticing it anymore.” It was still there, just a little, but it was definitely an improvement.
Chloe smiled back, looking rather pleased with herself. “Good.” She nudged Max with her shoulder. “So, you gonna join the stoner ranks? We have brownies.”
“Mmm, brownies,” Max said. “That was the key all along.” She was only half joking at that moment; they’d already gone through most of a bag of chips, but brownies of any kind did sound amazing. People aren’t kidding when they talk about ‘the munchies’, she reflected.
Chloe laughed, but then went on more seriously. “No, I – I mean, do you think you’ll want to…do this again?”
Max glanced over at her. Even though in some ways her senses felt kind of dulled, in other ways it was like she was hyper-focused. When she looked at Chloe, everything else seemed to kind of tune out, though that sometimes happened even without the influence of drugs. Chloe had kept her from having too much; it wasn’t like when Jefferson drugged her, and she hadn’t been able to control her body. She just felt…relaxed, more than anything else.
“Yeah,” she said. “I do.” She hesitated, and then added before Chloe could say anything: “Thanks.”
“Uh, for what?” Chloe asked, giving her a strange look. “The pot?”
“Well, yeah,” Max nodded. “That, of course, but I wanted to say thank you for…for…” She struggled to figure out exactly what she wanted to say, what she was feeling, and she couldn’t tear her eyes away from Chloe. Her hair was sticking up a little from taking off her beanie, and the light from her computer kind of made it look like she was almost glowing. It reminded her of that night in the pool, a night this Chloe had never known, a night that didn’t exist now, but Max could still hear an echo of her voice: You’re like the smartest, most talented person I’ve ever known. Could hear Chloe telling her that they were connected. That she was there to guide her. That of course Max could do it, do anything, she was Max-Fucking-Caulfield, Time Warrior, and together they would take over the world.
And now, Chloe still believed in her, after everything that had happened and all the ways Max had failed, Chloe was here to rub her back after her nightmares and to tell her it would be okay.
“For everything,” Max said finally, quietly. “Thank you, Chloe.”
For a second Chloe didn’t respond, just stared back at her. And then she blinked, and looked away, still seeming confused. “Uh, okay,” she said. “That’s not vague or anything. You’re welcome, I guess?”
Max laughed a little, even as for a moment she felt a bizarre urge to cry. It wasn’t as if she expected Chloe to remember what had – hadn’t – happened before, that wouldn’t be fair. There was no way Chloe could remember, but the fact that she didn’t hurt all the same, in a way Max didn’t understand.
Still, she smiled. “I’m just…really happy to be doing this with you,” she said. “After – after everything that’s happened…” She paused, and shook her head. “Talk about some things never changing,” she said, smiling again, her chest feeling a little lighter at this thought. “Sleepovers with you are a constant I guess.”
“So is breaking and entering, from what you told me,” Chloe pointed out, and Max laughed loudly at that. She lowered her voice to reply:
“True,” she said. “But that’s your fault, remember?” She shot Chloe a sideways grin. “You’re a good bad influence.”
“It’s what I’m best at,” Chloe agreed easily, smirking.
Max snorted, and for a few seconds they just smiled at each other, until it suddenly became darker in the room, and they both jerked in surprise.
“Oh,” Max said, glancing at Chloe’s laptop, where the end credits were now playing. Whoops. She’d really kind of tuned out the movie after a while there. She hadn’t even realized they’d talked through the ending.
Chloe ejected the disk, and Max saw on her computer clock that it was nearly midnight. They had to get up fairly early tomorrow, especially if they were going to buckle down on planning for the storm. And, if I want to try and set something up with Frank, tomorrow’s the day to do it, she thought. Still haven’t seen any sign of David yet either…who’d have thought he’d have to stay this late?
“We should probably go to bed soon,” she said reluctantly. She kind of wished she could just stay up all night with Chloe, like they sometimes did when they were kids.
“Got a lot of shit to do tomorrow,” Chloe agreed, sounding a bit disappointed herself. “But we could chill for a while still, listen to music or whatever, if – if you want.”
“Of course I want,” Max assured her. “I’m too wired to go to sleep right now anyway. Are you sure it won’t be too loud, though?”
Chloe snorted. “Trust me,” she said flatly. “If it was too loud, Joyce would let us know. Besides, these walls are fairly soundproof, thank God. Means I’ve almost never heard Joyce and Sgt. Pepper having sex.”
Max made a horrified sound, muffling her mouth with her hand even as she started giggling. “Oh – oh God, why would you say that?” She asked, kicking at her. “Now that’s in my brain forever!”
“Hey!” Chloe said indignantly. “At least you’ve never actually heard them.” She shuddered.
Max considered that. “Good point,” she said, patting Chloe’s shoulder sympathetically. “Now let’s never, ever, ever, talk about it again.”
“Right,” Chloe agreed, getting to her feet and stretching her arms over her head. “Music time.”
She walked to her desk, where their phones were. Max had brought along her auxiliary cord, so Chloe could plug her phone into her hi-fi for music instead of just relying on CDs. While she was getting that ready and choosing music, Max changed into her pajamas. She did it quickly, feeling oddly self-conscious, even though she knew Chloe was preoccupied with the music.
When she was done, Max turned around to see Chloe standing by the hi-fi, looking down at her phone but seemingly not doing anything.
“Decisions, decisions,” Max called out to her, and Chloe actually jumped.
“Ah, shit,” She said, laughing a little, sounding a bit embarrassed. “I – uh, zoned out, sorry.” A second later Max could hear the first quiet strumming of an acoustic guitar, and Chloe turned on her heel to head back toward Max, though not before grabbing her joint again.
Max sat down on the edge of the bed, feeling strangely awkward. She looked down at her knees while Chloe turned off the only lamp she’d left on, and closed her computer, meaning the room was now only lit by the christmas lights lining the walls.
Max blinked, trying to adjust her eyes to the dimness as Chloe sat on the bed beside her. She flicked the lighter, casting a sliver of red light along her face, the end of the joint glowing again as she breathed in. When she exhaled a few seconds later, Max could just make out the cloud of smoke drifting from her lips, and again she thought of that smoke passing between them, and she looked away.
“Step-douche is taking a while,” Chloe commented after a second, and Max turned toward her again.
“I was thinking about that,” She admitted. “It, uh, kinda makes me nervous.”
“You’re sure giving the evidence to him is the right thing to do?” Chloe asked again.
“Yes,” Max said patiently. “I’ve explained it to you, and you know it’s true.”
Chloe shrugged. “I know, I know, it’s just…” She paused. “It’s just hard to picture it, I guess.”
Max could picture it, but she could also remember – even though she’d never seen it, even though she knew she’d come out of the closet to help Chloe – the backside of David’s hand smacking across Chloe’s face, feeling the shock as if she’d been the one hit, and then the anger that simmered under her skin, waiting to blow.
“I know, Chloe,” she said, reaching over and placing her hand on top of Chloe’s for a second. “David’s hurt you. But I also know this is what we’ve gotta do to take down Jefferson and the Prescotts.”
Chloe ducked her head for a second, nodding. Again, there was silence, but Max didn’t feel like she needed to say anything. She realized that she was still holding Chloe’s hand, and gave it one more squeeze before pulling back.
“What do you think will happen to them?” Chloe asked, her voice very soft. “In the storm?” With her hand free again, she lit her joint once more.
“I…haven’t really thought about it,” Max admitted. Even though she knew now that the Prescotts had known about the storm, they had kind of existed separately in her mind. She really hadn’t thought about what would happen once they were arrested. One thing at a time, she thought. “I’m more concerned with how we’re getting everyone else out.”
“You can’t just make everyone evacuate,” Chloe said. “I mean…it’s not like we can get the government involved.”
“I know,” Max said. Okay, so maybe she was biased due to fictional examples, but getting the government involved in any of this screamed Bad Idea. Still, though, maybe she could move people out if she had to. She moved Chloe, Kate, and Warren just a few hours ago, after all…
“But that includes us too. We need to make sure we’ve got a way out of here.”
“So, we see Frank tomorrow,” Chloe said, and Max nodded.
“I also want to put up more of those posters Kate printed out,” she added. They only had tomorrow before the storm would arrive, and Max tried to push away the anxiety that clawed at her with that thought. For a few seconds neither of them said anything; a new song on the hi-fi started playing, another familiar one, though before Max could place it Chloe’s voice distracted her.
“I still say we should steal a bus,” She said, and Max laughed.
“Who knows?” She asked, shrugging. “Stranger things have happened.” That’s for sure, she thought.
Chloe laughed with her, shaking her head a little. “God, no fucking shit. I still can’t believe you moved us through time with you.”
“Well, it was frozen time,” Max said, as if that made it more reasonable. “It wasn’t like I pulled you guys back through time with me.”
“Oh it was only frozen time,” Chloe said. “Excuse me. That’s completely different, obviously.”
Max rolled her eyes. “Shut up. It really wasn’t…” Max frowned, trying to figure out how to put her feelings into words. “It wasn’t easy…” she said cautiously. “But when I did it in that um, other timeline, to – to save Kate, it was…” she let out a deep breath. “It felt like my head was going to crack open the whole time, but when I did it earlier, it wasn’t like that. It felt…it felt like I could do more without – without it hurting me as much. I don’t know.”
“What’re you, like, leveling up?” Chloe asked, and even in the dim light Max could see her frown.
“Leveling up?” Max repeated. “Maybe.” It was something to think about, anyway. “I just wish I – I understood more, about all of this.” She shook her head. “Every time I think I understand, it turns out there’s just so much more I don’t know…” Before, hadn’t she been so sure that the storm was connected to Chloe? Everything had seemed to point her in that direction, and if she hadn’t come back…
The realization was like a punch in the stomach. If she hadn’t come back, if she’d used the butterfly photo, she would have let Chloe die for nothing. Her stomach twisted, and for a second she thought she’d be sick.
“Max?” Chloe’s hand was on her shoulder, and Max looked up at her, almost jerking back in surprise when she noticed how close they were to each other. She knew she should say, well, something, but she could barely breathe, let alone talk. Chloe wasn’t moving, wasn’t speaking, either. Max felt like she was supposed to move, or – or maybe she wasn’t? They were so close now that she was pretty sure she could feel Chloe’s breathing, and her heart was pounding loudly in her ears, but not enough to block out the music, which seemed to swell in their silence: and as the world comes to an end/I’ll be here to hold your hand/’cause you’re my king and I’m your lionheart.
Max blinked, tearing her eyes from Chloe to look over at the hi-fi. Wait. The song…it was one of the ones on her ‘Chloe’ playlist. And the one before had sounded familiar, she just hadn’t been paying attention. H-hold on, Max, she told herself as it started to come to a close. Maybe Chloe just has the same song.
Within the first few seconds of the next one, though, she knew that this was her playlist. She glanced over at Chloe, who was still watching her, and Max had a feeling Chloe had been waiting for her to notice the music. It took several moments for Max to be able to speak, her voice caught in her throat as ‘Obstacles’ played on.
“This…” she said, clearing her throat before continuing, “This is…” She still couldn’t form the words, looking over at Chloe, expecting her to deny it, maybe, but Chloe just nodded.
“Yeah,” she said, moving her hand down Max’s arm, her fingers just brushing her, sending goosebumps along her skin. “It is.”
Again, it took Max a second to speak, and when she did her voice was quieter than she meant it to be. “Why – why did you…?” It was still a struggle to form complete sentences.
“You look through my shit all the time,” Chloe shrugged, but she ducked her head again.
“That’s not what I meant.” Max said, but she wasn’t even sure what she meant, really, how to describe the feelings surging through her.
Chloe nodded, but didn’t answer the question. Instead she looked up at Max again, and asked one of her own: “Why do you have a playlist named after me?”
There were a lot of reasons Max could have given for that, and they all seemed to get tangled in her head. “Chloe, I…”
She was close enough now that Max could see her face in more detail, and she realized that she’d also been moving toward her. Chloe’s hand was on top of hers, lightly, just barely touching her, and for a moment Max’s heart was in her throat as she felt Chloe’s other hand come to rest on her knee.
Her mouth had gone dry, and her voice was practically a whisper now. “I…”
A BANG, like a car door being slammed shut, made Max jump about three feet into the air.
“What the fuck – ” Chloe got up, heading for her bedroom door as they heard the unmistakable sound of an engine starting, tires squealing, and she was out the door a second later, Max only a few steps behind.
Joyce stepped out of her bedroom as they were climbing down the stairs. “Was that David?” She asked, her tone suggesting there would be hell to pay if it had been.
Chloe reached the bottom of the stairs, and threw open the door. “Looks like it,” she said, and Max was there just in time to see the last glimpse of his headlights before he turned down another street and disappeared from sight. Chloe turned back toward her, and they exchanged a look as Joyce came to stand by them.
“What in the hell was that about?” Joyce asked, scowling. “He woke up half the damn street! I’m gonna call him.” She lifted her phone to her ear, and then raised an eyebrow at Max and Chloe. “Why don’t you girls head back to bed, though. Don’t you have class in the morning, Max?”
“Uh, yes ma’am,” Max said, shooting her a quick smile, even as she felt a little guilty for the not-quite-lie. She did have class tomorrow, even if she wasn’t actually planning on attending. She exchanged another look with Chloe, and they headed back up the stairs to her room.
“Guess he found the evidence,” Chloe said as soon as they were inside.
“Last time, I don’t think it even took 24 hours to get Jefferson arrested,” Max told her. “I doubt it’ll take much longer now.” It still felt like too much time to wait for Kate to finally see justice, for Jefferson and the Prescotts to pay for everything they’d done, but that didn’t matter. They could wait a little longer.
“Tomorrow, then,” Chloe said, walking further into the room and stopping at her desk. Max knew that she was looking at the Rachel posters still sitting there. “And then Friday the storm will be here.”
Max came to stand beside her, gently putting her hand on Chloe’s arm.
Before she could say anything though, Chloe spoke again: “What are we going to do after? After the storm, I mean.”
“Oh.” The question took her by surprise. Mostly she’d hadn’t thought beyond making sure Chloe and everyone else survived the storm. The idea that she would get beyond this week…she didn’t even know how to feel about it; it was practically a foreign concept. “We should probably go see my parents,” she said after thinking it over for a minute. Then she laughed. “I think after we’ve survived the tornado, they’ll be pretty forgiving about how much class I’ve missed.”
She expected Chloe to laugh too, maybe tease her about being a delinquent now, but instead Max felt her tense, and she stepped away, crossing her arms and pacing to the middle of the room. Max followed her partway there, confused. “Chloe…” She began, but Chloe spoke over her.
“You’re okay not going to class?” She asked.
Max blinked at her, not understanding. “Uh, what do you mean? We’ve got more important things going on.”
“Yeah, I know,” Chloe said, turning to look at her. “But…going to Blackwell’s been your dream for years. Photography has been your dream, and now you just…”
“Chloe, Jefferson’s there. You really think I want to keep going to his classes?” Max asked. She didn’t get where this was coming from. Chloe hadn’t seemed to care about her missing classes before.
“That’s not what I mean,” Chloe said, irritation starting to color her tone. “It’s – it’s like you don’t even care, Max! When we were kids all you would talk about was going to Blackwell and being a photographer! On – on Monday you were just – ” She stopped, suddenly, realizing.
“I was a different Max on Monday,” Max reminded her quietly.
“…I guess you were,” Chloe said, and Max was surprised at how much the words hurt, even though they were true. “So, what, the new you just doesn’t give a shit about school?”
Max shook her head, still not understanding where this was coming from. “Since when do you care about me missing class?”
“Since you stopped!” Chloe retorted, her eyes narrowing.
“It doesn’t matter!” Max insisted. How could Chloe just not get it? Of course it didn’t matter, how could it matter when she had to save her and everyone?
For a second Chloe just started in disbelief, her mouth slightly open, and then it snapped shut and she scowled. “Right.” she said, her voice tight. “It doesn’t matter. Of course it doesn’t.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Max asked. Okay, now I’m starting to get mad. “We’ve got bigger shit to worry about than – ”
“Okay, fine, there’s a killer tornado so you don’t want to do homework, whatever!” Chloe said, throwing her hands up in frustration. “But what about those fucking nosebleeds, and – and you fainting and seeing and hearing all this different shit? What about that, huh? ‘Cause you keep saying thatdoesn’t matter either.” She stepped closer to Max, and Max clenched her fists at her sides, her arms shaking.
“I don’t know what to do about any of that, Chloe!” She shot back. “I don’t know what the fuck is going on, so right now – right now, yeah, it’s the least of my problems.” Her heart was thundering in her ribs, and though she was trying to keep her voice low enough that Joyce couldn’t hear anything, she didn’t know if she was succeeding. Her breath felt like it kept getting caught in her throat, and she blinked rapidly.
“Least of your problems?” Chloe asked, her voice raising a little too much, and she lowered it. “Max, you’re fainting and bleeding at random! Andyou’re having nightmares, but you keep saying you’re fine!”
“Chloe,” Max began, but Chloe spoke over her.
“You’re not fine, Max,” she said, “So don’t you fucking say you are.”
“Right,” Max retorted, anger and fear and anxiety knotting in her stomach. “Like you always tell me exactly how you feel. You’re just an open book!”
Chloe glared. “We’re not talking about me, Caulfield, because I’m not the one bleeding like a stuck pig from my nose every day!”
Max opened her mouth to respond, but Chloe kept going.
“It doesn’t matter that you’re – that you’re missing out on your dream school, it doesn’t matter that you’re bleeding and fainting and, and, shaking and can’t sleep through the night!” Chloe said, getting even closer to her, practically in her face. “So let me guess! It doesn’t matter if you get hurt or die, either, huh? It doesn’t matter what that would – fucking – ” and she actually pushed Max, sending her stumbling back a few paces, almost tripping backward over the bed. “Your family would have to BURY you!” Chloe said fiercely, her eyes burning, and Max couldn’t look away, even as she tried to blink back tears. “But I guess that doesn’t mean anything! It doesn’t matter what would happen then!” She kept going, a hard edge to her voice. “So what does matter to you, Max?”
The word burst from her before she could think about it, before she could stop it. “You.”
Whatever Chloe had been about to say, that stopped her in her tracks. She blinked, and then stared at Max, her mouth a little open. Silence stretched between them for several seconds, and Max tried to hold it back, but she couldn’t do it anymore. She blinked, and sniffled, and pressed her lips together, but the tears spilled over from her eyes and she let out a shuddering sob.
“I – I s-said,” she began, hardly able to get the words out, and Chloe was staring at her still, seeming horrified by Max’s tears. “Wh-when w-we were f-facing the st-storm before.” She let out a gasping breath, and for a second her voice was steadier. “I, I told you you were – you were all that m-matters to me.” Max finished, and she couldn’t look at Chloe now, couldn’t bear it. She sank onto the bed, her hands clutching at her knees. “You asked me,” she continued, and a little steadier this time. “In – in my dorm, after I came back, and I was telling you about – about everything. You asked me w-why I would do this for you. That’s why.” The last words were barely more than a whisper.
“Max…” Chloe began, and her voice was trembling.
Max let out a laugh. It sounded odd to her ears, and she heard Chloe stepping closer.
“But you don’t remember that,” Max said, almost as if she were talking to herself. She leaned back, lying down on the bed, putting her arm over her eyes. She felt a hot tear roll down the side of her face, where it pooled in the curve of her ear, and she let out a shaky breath.
“Max,” Chloe said again, and Max felt her hand brushing her arm, and her weight settling on the bed, but Max shook her head before Chloe could say anything else.
Slowly Max removed her arm from over her eyes, staring up at the ceiling. If she looked over at Chloe now she would completely lose it. She followed the line of the Christmas lights as far as she could, watching the colors change on the white paint. She realized that the music was still playing, another song with quiet guitar – what they call love is a risk/you always get hit out of nowhere and end up on your own – but she could barely focus on the words, couldn’t even think of the song.
Chloe didn’t say anything, though Max could feel her move closer, lying beside her. Their arms touched at the elbows, sending tingles through Max’s body, but she didn’t want to move.
“How…” She began. “How can something be real…how can it have really happened, if I’m the only one th-that remembers it?” She let out another low laugh, fighting more tears.
She felt Chloe grab her hand, and their fingers threaded together, but Max still couldn’t bring herself to look over at her. All of those moments together were real, and they’ll always be ours. She could hear those words, like Chloe had said them just yesterday, but she hadn’t.
“It was real,” Chloe said, squeezing her hand.
Max shook her head. “You c-can’t know that.” She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand, giving another shaky laugh. “You don’t r-remember – ”
“Oh, fuck that,” Chloe spoke over her, and Max could feel her move even closer. “Okay, I know I wasn’t there, and I – I don’t remember, but that’swhat doesn’t matter, Max, don’t you get it?” Her voice had gone quieter, and now Max couldn’t help but look at her. Her face was so soft in the lights, nearer even than she’d realized. She was sure she could feel every breath Chloe took, as if she were breathing with her.
“It doesn’t matter if I don’t remember,” Chloe went on. “Or, or what timeline it was in, or whatever. I’m with you. Think about it,” she insisted, holding Max’s gaze. “No matter what’s going on or what’s changed, we always find each other, right? That’s what you’ve seen.”
Slowly, Max nodded, unable to speak, but Chloe didn’t seem to be waiting for an answer.
“Even if I’m d – ” She hesitated for a second, and then went on. “Even if I’m d-dying, you’re still here. You came back here, after everything, and – and you keep saying that some things never change, that we never change – ” And she gripped Max’s hand tighter in her own, rolling up onto her side, and Max still couldn’t look away, even as she kept crying. “Because no matter what fucking reality we’re in, we’re together, Max, and we’ll always be together.”
Max just stared at her. Chloe’s hand was warm over hers, and her heart was pounding loudly in her ears, though she could still hear the song playing on – I wish for one more day to give my love and repay debts – and for a moment she felt like she was on that cliffside by the lighthouse again, standing on the edge, as if waiting to jump or go tumbling over.
She leaned forward, crossed the little distance between them, and kissed her.
Chloe stilled, and Max immediately pulled back, looking away from her.
“S-sorry,” she said, blinking rapidly to hold off her tears. “I – I shouldn’t – ”
Chloe’s hand was at her shoulder then, pulling her up onto her side, making Max meet her eyes.
“Like hell you shouldn’t,” she said, and then she kissed Max back.
For a second, Max couldn’t move, couldn’t process what was happening, and then Chloe tilted her head, opening her mouth, and it was like a current passed through Max’s body, just under her skin. She gasped, returning the kiss a little too eagerly and knocking their teeth together. She winced, pulling back a little, feeling herself flush.
“S-sorry,” Max said. “I’m, uh, pretty new at this.”
Chloe gave a low chuckle. “Just need practice,” she said, and then her lips were on Max’s again. She tasted like smoke, her mouth almost unbearably hot, but Max liked the burning, couldn’t get enough of it, her fingers curled tightly in Chloe’s shirt, pulling her closer.
Chloe’s hand slid from her hip up to her back, and Max pressed against her at the touch, trying to learn what to do with her lips and her tongue based on whatever Chloe did. Every second she understood more: how to breathe, how to keep from bumping noses, and that sucking on her bottom lip made Chloe gasp.
In return Chloe pressed kisses down Max’s neck, to her collarbone, and Max’s head tipped backward to give her better access. She let out a shuddering breath as Chloe moved back up the other side and to her mouth again, and this time Max tilted her head so she could kiss her more deeply.
She knew their conversation wasn’t over, and things weren’t resolved. She knew that maybe this was the wrong thing to do, maybe it wasn’t the right time or place, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. It would all come back tomorrow, the weight of it crushing her shoulders, but for tonight…
She could do this just for one night, couldn’t she? After everything, couldn’t she lay there in the dark and kiss Chloe, even if it was only for a little while?
She could still hear the song echoing around them, telling her this is the end, this is the end and maybe it was, or would be, and so Max kept kissing Chloe, held her tighter, because there was no one else in the world she’d rather be with to face it.