A few soft rays of sunlight struggled to break through the clouds, rousing Max from her nap. Sleepily, she glanced down at her lifeclock and frowned lightly.

Huh. Says I've been out for four hours, not two. Damn, did I unconsciously rewind to catch a few more z's? Shit! Seriously a habit I need to get out of do- wait a minute! Hey! I can rewind again! Whew!

She was pleased to see that her powers were already returning. Still, she was in no mood to push herself anytime soon. Over the past seven subjective hours, she'd used her powers harder than she ever had before, at least outside of Zion's laboratory controlled situations. Between twelve and eighteen hours of rollbacks, plus changing the past - twice! - not to mention freezing time, as well as shooting forward into the future an hour...

Max was frankly amazed she was still alive, and that reality itself didn't seem all that worse for the wear.

So I still have the power to jump backwards in time through photos, and through years. Change the past, bounce back to the present. Shit. No wonder Cammie was so freaked out by it. Now that I've seen how terribly wrong it can go...

Still, Max couldn't help but wonder how far she could ultimately push herself. Could she shoot forward hours into the future, and then take it all back? Would it let her "cheat" somehow, go even further than her twenty-four hour limit? Or could she, while she was changing the past via a photograph, find another picture, and then jump, so she was like...changing the past at the same time she was changing the past, in some weird recursive loop?

It hurt her brain to consider it all.

Just as well that Chloe and I are gonna have an easy night, and then...

And then tomorrow, it was time to go.

Probably.

I really should get ready to run for it. The longer I stick around here, the more I'm pushing my luck.

And yet...

It was wonderful - absolutely, brain-meltingly awesome - being back in Arcadia Bay. Hanging with Chloe. She was so different now, and yet, there was still so much of her that was still the same, even with the new, darker streak.

Five years, and look at us. We're picking things back up, and it's like hardly any time passed at all. She still gets me. She still has her own style, and confidence, and she can be so pissy, but so sweet and adorable at the same time and...

Max sat up, swinging her legs slowly out of the bed, so she could sit on the side. She reached up to rub at her sternum, closing her eyes and wondering at the soft, sweet ache gnawing in her chest.

She stared out the window, and wondered if she could just live in this moment for the rest of her life. Or maybe just the next few hours. Free and happy with Chloe.

Sighing hard, she scowled, bowed her head, and peevishly remarked, "It's not fucking fair."

Barely a day had gone by...or was it more like two or three for her? But she only just found her best friend again. Had adventures. Learned shit, tried new things. Hell, they even saved someone's life together! Someone who was supposed to be otherwise dead.

But me and Che, we stopped that. We made the world a better place. Together!

And now she had to give that all up? Just like that?

No, it wasn't fair. And it never would be. Maybe she got more than she ever dreamed possible. Even seeing Chloe, alive and well, let alone saving her life - if what Chloe told her was accurate! - for just an hour or two would have been enough...for the Max Caulfield she'd been on Sunday night.

That was a long time ago. That was a way different person. The one who couldn't comprehend how beaten down she was, how imprisoned. Brainwashed into going along with all of Damocles' shit.

If only she could be left alone...be free!

That's the fucking problem with freedom, isn't it? You get a taste for it, and it becomes like air. Can't kick the habit.

Still...she was free. Every day she stayed ahead of Damocles.. Every minute she lived, every breath she took without being tracked, or monitored, or caged, was one more minute of glorious liberation. One more minute for her dreams to be free, to dare to hope that she could find a way to hide for good, or maybe come to an agreement with the S.O.A.P. That maybe, just maybe...

...I can come back and see Chloe again. Just a little longer? And maybe we could...

She wasn't sure what more she wanted from her best friend. But there was something, right on the tip of her tongue, on the outer edges of self-awareness. It was like being hungry, but not understanding the nature of hunger itself, or what one did to sate the need.

They're taking her away from me. Not directly, but making me have to keep running...they're taking her away from me. Again.

She was wasting precious moments up here, when she could be downstairs hanging out with her.

She slunk downstairs and found Chloe in the kitchen, softly screaming along with some old riot grrl band playing through a small set of Bluetooth speakers.

"Git outta my way, or I might shove! Git outta my way, or I'm gonna shove!" she snarled with gusto as she put all her effort into mixing a batch of batter by hand with a wooden spoon.

"Hey hey, Che-che" Max said, raising up her hand in greeting. She then peered curiously at what the other girl was cooking up.

"What up, my ninja?" Chloe playfully replied, reaching out and smacking a high five against Max's palm.

Max snickered, shaking her head. "Was that real, or did I dream that people were calling me that?"

"Oh, you better believe it was hella real, Maxima. You wanna see? You already have a fan page on Facebook." Chloe reached out to slide her smartphone in her direction. She picked it up, and began to thumb curiously through, confirming that yes, there was a "Blackwell Ninja Is Awesome!" group, and people were already singing her praises, posting up seriously grainy footage of her leaps and jumps, not to mention messages wishing Kate well.

Hmmmph. Seems now Kate has all the friends she could ever want. But the truth is other than me, only David bothered to try and run up the stairs. How fucked up is that? He seems like a controlling asshole... I mean, he was just doing his job...still, he looked like he actually looked like he cared. But everyone else? They were getting their camera phones out, ready for the show. Fucking hypocrites.

She sniffed in disgust. "Don't think fame really suits me, Chloe. Especially given the risk it puts me in." She quickly changed tracks, not wanting to bring up any negatives to spoil the rest of what should be an awesome evening with her friend. "So...whatcha making? A cake?"

"Nope! I'm making..." and Chloe paused, tilting her head down, and narrowing her eyes, "Bah-rownies!"

"Brownies? Mmm! Sounds good!" Max exclaimed.

"No no no! Not Brownies, Max, bah-RAO-nies!" Chloe canted her head towards the plastic ziplock baggie filled with sticky green buds, emphasizing each syllable with a tap of her wooden spoon against the rim of the mixing bowl.

Max blinked. "Um...I'm not sure I...what?"

Chloe rolled her eyes, then her head in mock exasperation. "Pot Brownies, babe! I put the drugs, the stuff you snagged - like a ninja! - in the brownies, and then we eat the brownies ,and then the brownies make us completely chill and awesome. Awesome for like...hours. The tricky part is getting the consistency just right. You can't just throw dank bud into the mix and assume it's all gonna work out, no...this shit is like science, yo! Like chemistry! Anyhow, I figure we got another hour or two before Mom and Stepass make it home, and that'll be more than enough time to get this all taken care of. Man...we're gonna get more baked than these brownies, that's for hella sure!"

Max smirked, leaning in across the counter. "I thought they were bah-RAO-nies?"

Chloe responded by swiftly reaching out, trying to tickle her in retaliation.

"Hey! Hey stop! I still have your phone as hostage!" Max held it up in front of her, using it as a highly ineffective shield. "Don't fuck with the federal agent! I have powers...political powers!"

The phone suddenly buzzed in her hand; she didn't mean to peek at the text that came through, it happened reflexively.

Bitch! I know where you live. Give me back the cash you stole, or I will kill you! Your fucking girlfriend wont be able to save your ass next time.

The text originated from an unknown number; Max didn't have to use any of the fancy cell phone network hacking that she'd been taught to figure out the obvious...

Nathan Prescott. You fucking prick!

"Max! Hey! Can I have my phone please? Don't go peeking at a sistah's texts."

Resisting the urge to crush the device in her hand, she thrust it out towards Chloe, and fumed, turning away from her, a scowl etched onto her face.

Max was mad...no...more than just angry. Furious. Absolutely enraged. It's as if the air around her began to sizzle and shimmer as rational thought quickly leaked away through the narrowing tunnel of black consuming her vision...

She wakes up with a start, finds herself still in the cab of Chloe's trunk. Wonders at the time that's passed. Too much time; too much for bad things to happen. Damnit, she tried to warn her. Did Chloe not hear her specifically tell her to duck?

Stumbling out, leaving the truck door open, she wanders towards the school, the girls bathroom. She should stick out like a sore thumb, but fails to do so, in violation of all normal rules of universal decorum. Maybe it's because everyone's too busy staring at the bathroom. The one with fresh yellow police tape stretched across the door.

They came quickly. The cops, that is. People, all the students, mill around as much as they dare, muttering and murmuring to each other in soft little buzzes.

"...Nathan went crazy. Confessed and shit."

"...wasn't that the girl who got kicked out two years ago?"

"...shit! Can't believe it! Ha ha, I bet you that asshole still gets off..."

No no no no no. This won't do at all. Clearly a change in narrative authority is required.

Wait, didn't she say that before? Will say, is saying now? Whatever, it still applies.

She walks towards the bathroom, smashing through the tape. She starts her rewind before anyone can react. She stops at points down the stream, here and there. Flash...Watches Nathan decompensate at his actions. Flash...Watches Chloe, her eyes still wide in fear and surprise, bleeding out, making a terrible mess over the school's nice clean tile floor.

She is not happy! Chloe is hers, and hers and hers alone, and it's not polite to break things that belong to other people, damnit!

She rewinds a little more. Chloe's corpse rises up from the tile. The bullet obligingly leaves her stomach and returns to the gun.

There. That'll do. Yes. Time to intercede...

"...Max! Yoo-hoo! Don't space out me. You don't have a fucking excuse, not until you eat a brownie!"

Max blinked, the confusing cacophony of half remembered fragments of memory melting away like fresh snow in the sun.

"Jesus...fucking christ. Nathan! That asshole..."

Chloe smirked, peering down at her phone. "Oh my God, I know, right?" Her lips turned up into a full smile. "Man, that dipshit is pissed! We totally owned him!"

Max turned, narrowing her eyes. "Chloe...what?! The hell?! How can you not be pissed over him texting you threats?"

Chloe shrugged, and calmly returned to her baking. "What? This BS? Please...Nathan Prescott is a yappy little junkyard bitch."

"He shot you! How can you be so...so chill about it?!" Max demanded to know.

"Uh...no he didn't. I mean, ha ha, you saw to that, right Supermax?! Besides, I thought you said you didn't remember what happened in the bathroom..."

Blinking, caught off guard, Max blushed, "I...I didn't but...I don't know. That text kinda jarred something loose."

"Look, Nathan caught me off guard. I didn't realize how dangerous he could be when pushed. But I know now. Hell, I got his gun. Maybe he's got money enough to buy another, but now? There's no way I won't see him coming if he tries again. This is just some bullshit macho dominance game. Trust me, Max. I've seen his kind...all kinds of people I've had to deal with. Assholes like Frank, and Nathan, and...and even worse! So don't worry. We're gonna have a blast tonight, right?" Her voice lowered, and she gave something mostly approximating a reassuring smile. "That's all that matters. Gotta make the most of what time you have left here."

Max stared hard at her best friend. Eyes took in every detail she could, every nuance of her body language, every hint and intimation encoded in her voice, the words she spoke, the way she carried herself. Putting the puzzle together.

Shit...she's putting on a brave face, I think.

But she couldn't leave it be. She couldn't just pretend like she hadn't seen what that sicko-psycho sent. What he'd done, what he was capable of...

...capable of taking away from her.

Pushing back slowly from the counter, Max smiled, unkindly. "Make the most of our time? Yeah? Huh. I got a..." She paused, waiting for the pieces to gel, the picture to form. The tactical situation to be assessed, and a solution to work it's way up into her conscience mind.

What does Chloe need? A way to blackmail Nathan, to at least keep him off her back for good. So where's someplace we can find dirt? Where could you get at a person's personal record?

Personal...personal...permanent?

Permanent record...oh shit!

"...idea." Max drawled. "Yeah...yeah! Change of plans, Chloe. I promise, we'll totally party tonight, but I got a notion for some early evening entertainment first. For cereal."

Chloe frowned. "Ooookay...you know, as much as watching you kick Nathan's ass up and down the block again might give me a warm, gooey thrill, c'mon...we got better shit to do. He's so not worth it."

Shaking her head, Max said, "No. We won't lay a finger on him, I promise. In fact, after this, I bet you won't have to worry about him bothering you ever again. All we gotta do is pay a little visit to Blackwell. After hours. Say around seven or eight o'clock. School'll be way out by then, dark for hours already. We go in, have a look around. Specifically in the principal's office. Betcha there's some crazy shit on all the students there, especially him. And...and you know what? That situation with Kate? That is so...fucked...up! The school had to know how bad she was doing. You made it sound like Nathan all but drugged and raped her. Who knows what else he's been pulling, getting away with." Max crossed her arms.

"We gotta do this." she continued. "We break in, ransack the files. We're in, we're out. Under an hour. Tops. Promise. Then we go home, get high, and watch movies and all kinds of awesome shit. If nothing else, think of all the extra cash you can blackmail out of him if you have something juicy on him. Enough to pay off Frank."

Chloe stared at her searchingly for a good ten seconds. Took another ten to fill the brownie tin and pop it into the oven. Pursed her lips, twitched them, and then said, "So. You figure we could just break into the school, easy as that, and steal files? Shit Max, have you even ever, actually, like..." she stopped, and then smacked her forehead with the flat of her palm, jerking her head back gently. "Jesus fuck, what am I saying!? Of course you have. I bet you used to break into the White House all the time for shits and giggles and go, "Hey Obama. S'up? Can I have a beer? Maybe you can tell me who really killed JFK."

Max snorted, "Yeah. And sometimes, I'd pop into Sasha's room, and we'd braid each others hair and talk about boy bands."

Chloe laughed. "Hah! So...like. Do I get to come along and help?"

Max demurred. Honestly, she wasn't initially in love with the idea. A solo op made the most sense. Less chance of being spotted. Easy in, easy out, especially when she didn't have to keep an eye out for Chloe. On the other hand...

...Chloe has intelligence. She knows names, people. She's lived here the past five years.

She didn't really need Chloe with her for this, per se. But, she found that she actually wanted to make this a two-woman operation.

Because...it'll...be fun! Oh God, did I actually just think that?

Well...yeah. Of course it'd be fun.

Still, she had to tease her, just a bit.

Feigning uncertainty, but giving her a shit-eating grin, Max crossed her arms across her chest and said. "Dunno. What assets do you bring to the operation?"

Chloe paused, turning around to grab a soda for herself from the fridge. "Not much. Just my winning personality, my hella cute ass, and you know, the master keyring that the stepdouche has for the entire school." With a twirling flourish she raised her hand up to head height, and intoned, "You may now bestow upon me the highest of fives."

Max laughed and slammed her palm against Chloe's. "Holy shit! That is so perfect! Cool. So yeah, you need what, another half hour to cook the brownies? We got to make some preparations, get a few things. Kill a little time."

Chloe gave Max a questioning look. "Preparations? Shit Max, what's to prepare for? We have the fucking keys. We just drive up, unlock the door, open the door, take what we want, close the door, and said, "Fuck ya later!".

Giving her hips a severe cock to the side against the counter, Max questioned Chloe, "Yeah. You want to drive to the school. In your incredibly obvious beater of a truck that both David and all the cops in town know to look for. Right into the parking lot I imagine?"

Taking another long pull of her soda, Chloe tried to keep from appearing too sheepish, and murmured, "Something...like that. I mean, do you have a better pla-...shit, of course you do." She mock pouted, and sniffed. "I hate that you're more awesome at secret agent stuff than me. In my defense, it's only because you're actually a secret agent."

Max held out her questing hand for a sip, Chloe obligingly handed her the can. Taking a drink of her own, Max replied. "Doesn't have to be fancy. We just need to be careful. Consider the angles, possibilities where shit can go wrong. It's subtle stuff, you know. Things that are obvious in hindsight, hiding in plain sight."

"Uh huh? And how does your brilliant spy plan start?"

"Welllll." Max mused. "Why don't you grab David's keys, and we'll go from there?"


A/N: Bam! In yo face, it's Black Swan Saturday! Lyta and Cory are rocking it. Bah-RAO-nies style! :-D

This was originally supposed to be a huge, 9000 word chapter. But I found I needed to A) improve readability by breaking text up and B) squeeze extra weeks out so I could have time to keep up with refilling the buffer.

Funny, how even in this alternate universe, Max seems destined to follow events down certain pre-determined paths ;-)

Anyhow, have a wonderful weekend!