Max wakes up to the trill of a machine next to her. She can feel the heaviness of something against her arm and her eyes snap open in panic. For a moment, she thinks, this is it, I'm dead. I'm dying. She remembers Jefferson with the needle pressed against her neck, and thinks maybe he's killed her after all. There is a wall of white as far as her eyes can see but then something shifts and she notices the heart monitor and IV pole next to her. The trail of tubes fastened to her body. The scratchy blanket laid heavily over her legs.
There's a crackle of sound outside her door, which is halfway open. Nurses and visitors pass by without a second glance. She fumbles for the call button to the side of her bed. A nurse steps in a moment later, surprise registered on her face, and a doctor follows her inside a few beats later.
"Hey, Max," he greets cautiously and he's wearing one of those smiles that pediatricians save for those kids, the ones who are constantly a pin drop away from full-blown tantrum mode. He's not a pediatrician. "I'm Doctor Adams. How are you feeling?'
"Where am I?" she asks, because this seems like the more important question. An even more important one would be why, but there's only room for one question in her mouth right now. Her mouth feels heavy and dry as if she hasn't used it in a very long time.
"You're in the hospital, Max. You've been here for a couple of weeks. How much do you remember?" The doctor steps closer to her, tapping a pen against the railing of her bed.
Her mind backtracks but it's hard to keep all of the timelines together. Jefferson with the needle, the tornado, Chloe being shot in the bathroom. They are all there in her head, bright and painstakingly real before, suddenly, they're not. Suddenly, it feels as if she's woken from a dream where she can't remember all of the details. She can no longer remember the color of the tile in the bathroom, when the tornado had come, when Jefferson had abducted her. She remembers Chloe dying, over and over she died, but she can't remember if she's alive in this timeline. She can't remember anything of this timeline.
"I don't know," she admits. "What happened?"
"Well." Dr. Adams leans against the wall, as if he's weighing his words before he speaks. Beside her, the nurse fiddles with the IV pole. "You had an incident at school. Quite a few incidents, actually. So your parents brought you here."
She looks towards the window, the slightly familiar skyscrapers behind the glass. Not Arcadia Bay. "Seattle?" she mutters and then, as she focuses back on the doctor, "Incidents?"
"Hallucinations. Visualizations. Paranoia. A few bouts of...aggression," he stretches this last word, as if he'd been considering something harsher. He frowns as he takes in her previous question. "Why do you think you're not in Seattle?"
"Because I was in Arcadia Bay. I went to school there. Blackwell." She narrows her eyes at him because she doesn't like the way he keeps tapping his pen, studying her.
"You weren't in Arcadia Bay, Max. You haven't left Seattle. What is Blackwell? Is that some kind of...special school?" The ridiculous pause again.
"It's a private school. I have a scholarship there." Her arms feel as if ice is rushing through her veins. This couldn't be happening. Everything this lunatic doctor was saying just sounded wrong. An elaborate joke maybe. Or she was dreaming.
"Is it a magic school? Like Hogwarts or something?" He tries out a smile, but all it does is make her feel as if she were a bomb about to explode.
"No, it's an arts and science school. Why would you ask me that?" Her voice is climbing higher, louder. She scratches at her arm and bumps against the IV tube that's taped to her wrist.
"You've been exhibiting hallucinations of time traveling. I thought perhaps the two were tied." For as loud as her voice is getting, his stays consistently calm. She can't stand it; it's nearly as bad as the machine that keeps shrieking in her ear as her heart rate patters out warnings on the screen next to her. "It's all right, Max. We're here to help. I know this might be very terrifying for you right now. But we're here to help you."
"No, I don't understand," she says, because it's the only thing she can say. "Is this some kind of joke or something? I spent two months at that school. Two months. I mean, I fucking saw my best friend die over and over again trying to save this fucking town, and you're telling me this isn't real? What the hell is going on?"
She's screaming now. The nurse rushes outside for backup, but the doctor stays magnificently calm, his smile frozen on his face. Here is the bomb about to explode.
"Max, I'm going to need you to calm down. Remember, no one is here to hurt you. But if you can't calm down, we're going to have to sedate you. We don't want you to hurt yourself. I don't think you want that to happen. Right?" The way he says it implies that they've been down this road before. She remembers that he's said she's been here two weeks and she wonders if this hasn't been the first time she's woken up and demanded to know what was happening.
She closes her eyes and closes her mouth, but the scream is still there, building in her throat.
"Max! Oh, Max." Vanessa Caulfield bursts through the door with her husband Ryan right behind her and she throws her arms around Max with enough force to make her gasp. "Are you alright, honey? Do you know where you are?"
The doctor waves away the trio of nurses who've rushed in. Not this time, it says. She wonders how many times there have been.
"I don't know what's going on," Max whispers and she closes her eyes again, wishing she could just go back to wherever she'd been before. She reaches out her hand to rewind, hoping just maybe, but there is nothing but the beep of the monitor and the murmuring of the adults surrounding her. She's irrevocably stuck in this hellhole.
"—keep her here for another few days to monitor her, but if she's not improving, we're going to have to transfer her," Dr. Adams is saying and the word transfer looms over everyone's heads as a giant exclamation point.
"No." Ryan shoos aside his words. "No, we're not putting her in a psychiatric hospital."
Vanessa covers Max's ears as if she's afraid the term will cause her to disintegrate.
"If that's the case," continues the doctor, "then she'll need more care than we can provide for her at this moment. We'll reexamine this concept later. Let's just see how she's doing for the moment."
Max tunes out, lets the words run together, and focuses instead on the vase of daisies sitting on a table to her right. The card is a generic get well soon with a big pink heart. There is a scattering of other cards surrounding it, probably placed by her mother's bored hands while she was out, or sleeping, or forgetting. If it could be called that.
She tries again to link the timelines, to pinpoint the last thing she recalls before opening her eyes, but all she sees is Chloe's face. It brings a pang to her chest, but it doesn't tell her where or when she is.
"From your classmates," Vanessa says softly, gesturing to the cards Max had been eying. "I don't know if you remember any of them. You hadn't really gotten," she pauses and Max thinks of the doctor stretching his words just a moment ago. "Close," she finally decides. "You hadn't really gotten close with anyone before all of this."
"So, Max," Dr. Adams interrupts, but Max is already done hearing about cards and people she doesn't know about, so she only lays her head back against the pillow and lets her eyes drift towards the ceiling. "If you want out of here, then we're all going to have to work together. That means you're going to have to get used to your medication routine, therapy. We want to get to the bottom of why these episodes happened, and how we can move past them, but it's going to take time. As long as you want this, and we work together, you'll have a better chance of adjusting back to your life again. Capische?"
Max blinks and drags her gaze back to the doctor who once again is looking at her with that careful smile. And the only thing she can do is nod. "I want to sleep," she whispers and the doctor nods at her parents who nod back at her.
She wonder how many times she has gone through this moment, how many times she has woken and slept and woken again to find herself in this exact position, barricaded in a white room where the overhead light buzzes and burns into her eyes with its brightness.
She flinches and turns her head, her fingers hovering over the tubing bound and heavy over her wrist. And then she closes her eyes and forces everything out. Maybe she can make herself wake up back in her dorm room, or even her bed at home. She would gladly take either.
"Maximus!" A voice calls behind her and Max turns to find Warren jogging down the hallway. She startles backwards, hitting her head on her locker door and shuts it with a trembling hand.
When did she get here? She glances around the hallway, which is exactly as she left Blackwell. The same crowd of students busy themselves around her. She hears Victoria and Taylor laughing about something a few spaces behind her. Ms. Grant is chastising someone at the doorway of the science classroom. Warren leans against her locker, grinning, and she tries to match his excitement, but she's at a complete loss. "What are we grinning about?" she asks.
His smile falters for a moment before he just rolls his eyes and tries to brush off her question. When she doesn't continue, his smile diminishes again. "Come on, Max. The drive-in? Today? You didn't really forget, did you?"
"Right. I just lost track of the day, I guess. Too much homework or something," she says, scratching her arm. The skin feels real against her nails, just as real as the floor beneath her feet. "How long have I been standing here?" she mutters, more to herself than to Warren, but he shrugs and chuckles softly.
"You feeling okay, Max?" He taps her shoe with the tip of his own shoe and she simply looks down at it, trying to memorize the feel of his foot against hers. It happened. This isn't a dream.
"Walk me to class?" she asks because she needs to get out of this space and she has no idea what class she has next.
"Sure," he says and offers an elbow with exaggerated flourish. "It'd be an honor to escort you, m'lady."
"Yeah, no," she laughs and the sound startles her back a step. "This lady is in a hands-free zone right now. Or elbows-free. I don't know. I just feel kind of weird right now."
Warren's brows crinkle as he examines her but she waves aside his question before he asks it.
"I'm fine. I don't know. Maybe I didn't eat enough at breakfast or something."
"Well, whether you want it or not, take my hand so I know you're not gonna keel over to the side or something," he insists, holding his hand out.
She's about to refuse him again, but there's a glimmer as the walls start to distort. It's barely noticeable, a slight wave in the otherwise straightness to it, but it's there, dizzying and disorientating. She takes his hand firmly and he pulls her carefully through the crowd, stopping only as they get to the front doors.
"Are you sure you don't want to maybe skip out on this one? Get some rest? Or see the nurse?"
"No, I'm fine," she argues and pulls him away from the doors.
He leads her to Jefferson's class and she hesitates as they reach the door. She can see Jefferson's profile behind the window and she backs up into Warren, who stumbles backwards.
"What's wrong?" he asks and he pushes her slightly towards the door.
Jefferson is dead. Jefferson is in jail. Jefferson isn't here. When is he here? She can't remember the points she'd traveled to, the when she's supposed to be in. "I can't do this," she whispers and whirls around to face Warren.
He doesn't step aside. "Max?" His gaze bores into hers and he grasps her hands tightly enough to bring a flash of pain at her wrists.
"Warren, what are you doing? You're hurting me. Come on, let go." She tries again to step around him, but he pulls her to him.
"You can't go, Max. You have to stay here. This is where the road ends." He lets go of one wrist to show two pills in his palm. One a large gel-cap. One small and circular. "Don't take the long ones. Only the small ones," he says and in one slick movement, he grasps her chin and forces her mouth open, sliding one of the pills inside.
She tries to spit it out but then his mouth is against hers, his tongue forcing hers back, forcing her to swallow, his hand grasped around her throat. She feels the pill lodge in her throat and when he pulls away and she gasps for air, the pill slides the rest of the way down.
"Let's go," he instructs and pushes her towards the door again, which is open now. Jefferson stands before her, his smile greeting her, and Warren pushes her again, forcing her to stumble forward. But as she falls into the room, the classroom is gone, wiped into blank white walls and an irritated nurse who clucks her tongue at her.
"I'm not going to force you to take them. But if you don't, I'm telling Doctor Adams. I'm not trying to hurt you, Max. I just want to help." The nurse looks expectantly at her, her hand held before her. A white paper cup and a small circular pill inside.
Don't take the small ones.
"No," she yells and backs against the headboard, smashing her head against the hard plastic. She looks around for Warren, Jefferson, even the hallway of lockers, but of course there is only the white walls and the ever annoying beep of the monitor attached to her.
She can still feel Warren's eyes above her, prying into her own, and her chest tightens. That was not her Warren. Those were not the eyes that had rolled in exasperation as they traded jokes. That was not his smile that twitched at his lips when she greeted him. Her wrists still ache from where he had held her but when she looks down, she sees that she's grasping her own wrists, tightly enough to leave red streaks beneath her fingers.
The nurse looks surprised at her outburst and clucks her tongue again. "What's got you so wound up, hmm? Usually, you just stare at me when it's time for your meds." She shakes the cup and the pill rattles around inside. "Nothing that won't hurt you, I promise. I've had to hand this one out several times today and no one's died or jumped out of a window."
"Did...did I go somewhere? Else?" Max stutters, then shakes her head, because even if she had time-traveled, the nurse wouldn't have been able to tell.
"Sorry. Just here all day. Dr. Adams mentioned maybe letting you walk around the floor for a bit today, but you've got to stick to the plan first." Her eyes are alight with mischief, a small bribery.
It wasn't real, she tells herself and forces her hand to reach out and accept the cup. It wasn't real, she says as she swallows the pill with a sip of water next to her bed. It wasn't real, she thinks as she lays her head back against the pillow and closes her eyes again. She doesn't know what real is anymore.
Max's eyes snap open at the unfamiliar voice. It's a new nurse that stands before her now, a man with a crooked smile. "Doctor White is stopping by later but I thought you'd like to check out the therapy group before she comes. They're about to meet over in room three-seventeen."
She almost refuses but the thought of leaving this room is too tempting. Between bouncing from reality to reality, she isn't sure of when she'd actually left the room.
The IV and heart monitor are gone. She isn't sure when they'd removed them, but the nurse pushes aside the disused monitor so she can stumble out of the bed.
The nurse holds out a hand, still smiling, and Max recoils, tumbling to her feet instead. He helps her up and holds her shoulders until she stops swaying on her feet. "Need an escort?" he asks and she shakes her head frantically. "Well, too bad, because I'm going to anyway. I'd like to make sure you don't keel over to the side or something." For a moment, she feels Warren's hand tighten against her throat. She stiffens and considers bolting down the hallway.
"—because you'll love these kids. I bet you've seen one or two in your school. They all live around here. It's a great group. And Doctor White is hilarious. You'll love her," the nurse is saying, nudging her gently forward.
And the panic fades away again. She is not in a hallway back at Blackwell. Warren is not next to her. Neither is Jefferson. There is only a talkative nurse who is now joking with one of the patients walking past them, the smell of antiseptic, and the quiet chattering of passersby.
"—and here's three-seventeen here. Pretty easy to find. You can buzz one of the nurses if you need help getting back." If you start spazzing out again, she hears between his words but she nods and walks into the room.
A small group sits around a disorderly circle, the chairs turned in random directions. The teenagers in them don't seem to mind though, positioning their bodies from one side to the other to talk to one another. It's as if no one wants to move the chairs.
She finds an empty one and collapses into it, eying the group around her. She doesn't really recognize anyone. They're a field of generic faces, some friendly, some more wary. The boy next to her shifts in his seat and crosses his legs, one pointed shoe tapping the air impatiently. She swears she's seen those shoes before and when she glances up towards his face, she feels the panic seize her veins again.
Sitting next to her is a very disgruntled Nathan Prescott.