The kiss was still wonderful, even if their faces were drenched in rain and tears. It was something that had been swimming through Max's thoughts ever since Chloe dared her a few days ago. It whipped through the waves of her mind like a shark, coming to the surface every so often – usually when she was staring into Chloe's eyes. She knew she would eventually find the courage to do it again and really make it mean something without the pretense of a half-joking, "friendly" dare. But she never imagined it would be in these circumstances. Right after Chloe broke down and formulated her plan to save everyone. After she offered, even begged, to die for the residents of Arcadia Bay. To be a hero that only Max would remember. That made the kiss all the more desperate and painful. Reluctantly, Max finally pulled away.
"I'll always love you... Now, get out of here, please! Do it before I freak," Chloe cried as she backed away.
The admission swept away Max's insides, the words a storm in their own right. She knew Chloe meant it. She meant all of it. Max had just witnessed the birth of the true Chloe Price. All of her pettiness, the one aspect Max didn't care for, melted away. All she could see was the savior of Arcadia Bay.
Chloe Price, Patron Saint of the Damned...
Max opened her mouth to say it back, but was cut off.
"And Max Caulfield? Don't you forget about me..."
A bolt of lightning arced through Max's head. She recognized those words from several timelines over, when she devastatingly ended her friend's pain. Maybe, in a sad and unfair way, she was doing just that again one final time.
"Never," Max replied. It was automatic. There were no other responses. She looked out at the tornado, now pulling Arcadia Bay off the ground effortlessly. There were people in those buildings. She could imagine them swirling around in a vessel of death that she single-handedly created. She glanced back at Chloe one last time, hoping that 'never' was a sufficient substitute for 'I love you too.' Swallowing her nerves, she held up the Polaroid and began to focus.
Oh Chloe... Take it back. Change your mind. Please. I won't blame you. I could never blame you...
For a split second, Max considered tearing the photo in half. She could have Chloe... But the photograph began to shift. The image bent and quivered as it grew to life in her hands. She could feel herself being pulled away to that moment. But she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Max-" Chloe's voice was suctioned away as she slid through time, reappearing just as the flash of her camera went off.
Fuck! Fuck! What were you going to say? What was it?
Adding aching frustration to the list of her current emotions, she tore the photograph in her hands without even looking at it. She knew having it would be too tempting and she was so, so drained. And now, she had to be there, just feet away as her best friend was killed. Again. She wouldn't even know about the week they shared together. Chloe would die bitter, afraid and believing she was all alone in this world. And that hurt more than anything.
There was a seemingly endless moment of silence before the door opened. Nathan walked in and began to pace, talking to himself manically. Max felt at once immense hatred and a small, ember of sadness for him.
If only you got the help you needed, Nathan... Instead you killed Rachel. Killed Chloe. And created a fixed point in time that causes a small apocalypse. Fuck you.
She heard the door open again, followed by Nathan's voice. When she heard Chloe speak, her stomach twisted in on itself. She let the scene play out as she pressed her back against the stall, clasping a hand over her mouth to catch the sobs she knew would soon spring from it. Her eyes wandered aimlessly over the wall before her, the graffiti triangle with one eye. She could almost feel its gaze.
"Where'd you get that?" Chloe asked. It was the immediate shift in tone, from sass to fear, that made Max peek from around the stall. Just enough so she wouldn't be noticed. She felt her hand grasping for something, though it only met the flat surface of the stall. She just had to see Chloe one more time. Even if it was for her final moments.
"You are going to get in hella more trouble..." But Chloe never finished her line. Instead, she stood there with a slightly confused expression. This wasn't how it happened. Max had seen, or at least heard, the scenario play out several times while she fumbled with the fire alarm. Chloe was supposed to have more to say. Suddenly, Chloe's eyes briefly wandered over to Max, just barely leaning out from behind the stall. Her gaze was steel. Max's eyes widened.
What the fuck is going on?
Then, like it was the most normal thing to do in this situation...she smirked. She turned her attention back to Nathan, who was far too crazed to notice anything off.
"Get that gun away from me, psycho!" She shouted, thrusting her hands against Nathan. A bang filled the room, lancing through Max's heart. Tears, which had been falling for some time, hastened their way down her cheeks. She could hear Nathan screaming, apologizing to the room and to Blackwell and the world. He didn't mean to, she guess he was saying. The words sounds smudged and inhuman. She watched Chloe's blood ebb along the tiles. She quietly sobbed as the edges of reality closed in. The burnt Polaroid effect wrapped around her mind, pulling it from her current body. Pulling her from the most horrible moment to ever exist.
I'm so sorry, Chloe. I love you so much...
Max stared out into a golden sky, firmly rooted in the same spot she traveled through the photo. The storm was gone. The sunlight felt warm on her skin, but the cold ache in her chest remained. The strands of tears on her cheeks were cool. The town was saved.
"Chloe..." Max trailed off, watching the waves glisten under the sun. Even her name on her tongue felt sweet and horrible.
"Did...did that fucking work?" The voice fluttered in from behind Max. It was her voice. She spun around in shock. Chloe stood tall with an expression showing flashes of tremendous happiness and confusion. She was holding her hands out and analyzing them in awe. "Uh...holy shit. Max!" Her voice was wavy with emotion. "I think I like, fixed it or something? Maybe?"
"Chloe? Is this real? Are you real? The town is safe and..." Max flailed her arms a little. "You're here?" Her feet moved without her consent, hurling herself into the punk's arms.
"Ow, fuck!" Chloe winced. Max quickly backed off as the girl lifted the side of her jacket, revealing a large bandage visible on the exposed skin around her tank top. Speechless, Max slowly touched the bandage. Chloe clamped her eyes shut, anticipating the pain, but the brunette's feathery touch was nonexistent. Then Chloe started to laugh like a lunatic. She pulled Max into her arms.
"Chloe, are you okay? What...what happened?" She asked as she felt the blue haired girl's arms around her. The contact filled her with bliss.
"I got shot!" Chloe beamed, the tears still rolling down her cheeks. Still laughing, she squeezed Max tightly against her. Her side burned with an ache, but she didn't care. She had Max right in her arms. Right where she was supposed to be. The brunette reciprocated, but was still confused.
"But what happened? It was different! That's not how it originally went!" Max looked around frustratedly, terrified this was another nightmare. Maybe she never actually woke up from it.
"If you're reading this, it means you're dead." Fuck you.
"Max..." Chloe's voice was gentle as she pushed her away, setting her hands on the smaller girl's shoulders as she leaned down and stared into her eyes. "I...I don't know how really, but I went back with you. I was there! I just kind of like...woke up mid sentence and I remembered everything! And I thought, yanno..." Her tone switched to something sly, "maybe if I move a little to the right?" She spoke so fast, clearly just as unsure as Max was. "So I guess when Nathan shot me, it wasn't fatal?" He eyes grew wide. "Oh shit, I could have fucked everything up way worse! Goddamn butterfly wings, I could have made it way, way worse." She pressed her palm to her forehead in worry, but a loud sob pulled her from her thoughts. Max's face was buried in her shirt.
"Chloe, you're here. Oh my god, you're alive! This is real!" She began to cry harder into the punk's shirt, slightly tightening her arms around her. She felt the girl draw in a quick breath.
"Damn, that does sting though..." Chloe said with a small laugh. Max began to move away before she dragged her back into the embrace. "Max, I time traveled with you! We fixed everything! I mean, I think. It looks a bit less like the fucking end of the world out there," she motioned one arm out to the bay. "This is hella awesome!" Noticing that the girl still wasn't saying much, only clinging to her, she leaned down and planted a small kiss in her hair. "I think we did it," she whispered.
"I can't believe you're here," Max squeaked.
"I'm here," Chloe replied, pulling her fingers through Max's hair. "I'm here, Max."
The two sat on the bench for a long time just talking. Max explained how the time traveling worked, that they were on autopilot for the past week. Chloe had heard this all before, but now she was living it directly. The conversation was full of loaded eye contact, awkward smiles and amazed relief. Finally, Max had the idea to look through their phones. It was a little tactic she had picked up to get her bearings on a brand new reality.
They each sifted through the texts that had amassed over the past week. In particular, Max carefully studied the ones from Warren and Kate. Some of them were familiar while others were new. As always, sorting it all out made her mind spin. Chloe sat next to her reading her own texts. She silently mouthed the words she was reading, something Max found irresistibly adorable. She sighed, leaning against Chloe gently and laying her head on her shoulder. She reached across the girl's body and gingerly placed a hand on her shirt where the wound was.
"Nathan confessed," Max said after some silence. "And...Jefferson was caught." Her voice shifted to bitterness while it stomped over his name.
"And they found Rachel," Chloe added quietly. She lifted her arm so Max could duck under it, snuggling in further. "Good. I hope they fucking rot." She looked down at Max, her brow furrowed. "What caused the storm? What did it want?"
Max could agree by this point that the storm was a simple product of weather. It was a living creature. A supernatural force lusting after something, only growing bigger and more violent the longer it was deprived. It was hunting for something.
"Like just some Chloe Price blood? I don't get it. No way it's that simple. What was it after?" Chloe was contemplating it vigorously. Max sat up and turned to the punk, pulling one leg underneath her for comfort. Chloe mirrored the movement as Max took her hands into her own.
"Chloe, I don't know what it wanted. But right now, I just don't give a fuck. You're here. There's no storm and Jefferson is in custody. That's good enough for me." Her eyes were glossy with tears. She couldn't begin to guess the last time they were dry. Chloe smirked.
"Well I'm not exactly complainin', Max! I'm just trying to figure it out. I almost died, would it have even fixed anything? And I traveled through time! How!? Because I touched you just as you were leaving me?" Chloe winced at the word choice, but Max's expression didn't change. "You know what I mean. It's just different. I hear you telling me you do it, and of course I believe you...how could I not? But to actually do it myself! That's fucking crazy, Caulfield!"
Max looked out over the calmness. The ocean beneath them whirled with the usual waves. Arcadia Bay silently lived in the distance. It almost seemed like a painting. Nobody down there was aware of their possible fate. They sat in their upright buildings casually going about their business. Max eyed the blue haired fury sitting next to her and their eyes met. Chloe stared with a disbelieving smile, slowly shaking her head. Max moved toward her slowly and kissed her on the cheek.
"Fucking crazy," Max agreed with a tiny smile. "Welcome to my life, Chlo."
Chloe giggled the same way she used to when they were younger, a small hint of red spreading through her cheeks. She sighed and titled her head back, staring up into the cloudless sky. Casually, she looped her fingers between Max's.
"Your life is...hella strange."