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Summary: They say the best time for self-reflection is when you're with your best friend, doing your favorite things. Max Caulfield would disagree. Each and every one of them.
Maxine Caulfield crossed her legs and steepled her fingers.
She gave a massive sigh. "Well, I guess we're doing this, now."
Before her sat a circle of high chairs, mini-thrones before her full-bodied marble seat, higher than all of them. It was far more comfortable than it should've been – same could be said for her current reality.
She was used to her own fucked up dreams, but even this one had little details and quirks that had her feeling unfocused.
The other Maxes in the room, staring expectantly up at her, certainly didn't help. Chloe was going to have a lot of trouble recreating her descriptions when she woke up from this one.
Once, she rode a deer through battle, Alyssa the Fairy on her shoulder (she kept falling off), to slay the Jabberwocky Jefferson and behead the Queen Bitch Victoria, saving Princess Kate. That made sense.
This; not so much.
She blinked at the white room surrounding her, and each of her varying reflections. "Am I dead?" A good, simple, first question.
Max – well, one of them – seemed to consider her words. "Well, I don't think so. I don't feel dead. Do you?"
"I… don't think so." Suddenly, not so simple or good.
What the hell was she doing before? She should be remembering; it wasn't like her to lose her memory, especially when she wanted to forget.
Was it the weed Chloe gave her? No; that wasn't it. Chloe promised her that it was the weakest stuff she had. She called it the Appletini of skunk.
And she was just starting to realize that was an oxymoron, considering skunk was slang for really strong weed. Fucking Chloe.
"I think I just need to close my eyes for a second."
Some of her other selves nodded. "Good idea," one said aloud. Her rainbow hair was louder than she was. It swished as she looked back and forth at the very familiar faces. "That's the last time I try that strain."
There were several mutterings of agreement, smatterings of 'Chloe' and 'fuck' reaching her ears. Her sentiments exactly, but then again, that was expected from her audience. Some looked confused at the exchange, and again, she agreed with that reaction whole-heartedly.
One comment did stick out, however.
"…I swear I'm not even pulling out, next time."
The relatively quiet seething slowly crawled to an ice cold fucking stop.
The Max who spoke furrowed her brows at the confused reactions, befuddled herself. "What? Something I said?"
The Max in the highest chair leaned forward, scrutinizing everyone before her. "Why are we here?"
"Bad weed," one of them said quickly.
"Chloe," said another.
"Bad Chloe," was the conclusion.
"No," Max reiterated, "I mean – why here? Does this have something to do with… our power?"
"That seems fairly obvious," Rainbow-Max confirmed, her frown a concerned one. "I was getting ready for Prom and graduation, and Chloe convinced me to take the edge off."
Confused stares all around. "We were getting blazed watching the new Blade Runner," she helpfully supplied.
Or, rather, added to the collaborative breakdown of all of her. "There's another Blade Runner?!" echoed from several points in the room.
"Guys," one of them muttered. "Blade Runner 2049 was just announced… where I'm from."
"Where I'm from, it's 2048." Everyone looked back at the highest chair's Max. "Uh, not the year. The movie. I don't think the weed did this. I think… I think we're in a multiverse."
"You can't be in a single multiverse," One said, not quite convinced. "Isn't that a contradiction?"
"Well, since it's a multiverse, implying that it's multiple verses existing as one, yes, you can be in just one." One of the lower chairs explained it so clinically, Max took it as the truth. "But I haven't used my powers in ages."
One of the Maxes sighed. "Good," she sighed to herself – herselves. "I thought this was where all my failed attempts go or something. I – the last thing I remember is jumping in front of a bullet, so… I guess this is a relief?"
"You – you jumped in front of a bullet?"
She shrugged. "Well, I wasn't gonna let Chloe die again. I mean, it would've technically been the first time, but it was the tenth for me. She's done enough, I felt I should die at least once, right?"
Max never knew she had that kind of dry humor in her, but she guessed that was expected from someone who jumped in front of a bullet. "So, Nate shot you instead? In the bathroom?"
She nodded. "At least that much is accurate. So, taking a guess here –" She pointed at all the different versions of her, noting the subtle differences and facial expressions. "You're all the result of the choices we made on the never-ending quest to unfuck the reality around us? The double moons and the beached whales and dead birds and vortex ants and – everything?"
One by one, after looking left and right to confirm with each other, they began nodding.
"Good," she whispered again. "I might be in a coma, I guess. So I'm not crazy, per se. It's literally everything else that's fucked up."
Even though there wasn't a question asked, the nods were much quicker to come around.
Max licked her lips. "So, let's try to pinpoint this. What happened to us?" She pointed to the Max that took a bullet, and, possibly unnecessarily pointed out: "Your 'Jane Doe' shirt is, uh, faded."
The girl looked down, pulling apart her gray hoodie a little more and sure enough, the picture of the doe on her pink shirt was completely missing. It simply said 'Jane.' "Oh my dog, I didn't even notice!"
Max tilted her head. "Maybe all of us has one of those distinguishing marks?"
"No two of us are alike," another Max pointed out to the room. "Some of us are dressed the same," she gestured to her own 'Jane Doe' shirt, "but none of us are alike."
And everyone's attention was pointed to the ring on her finger.
"Well," one said with some surprise. She was pretty sure it was the one with Rainbow hair. "Is that from… Chloe?"
She nodded proudly. "Well, technically. I paid for it. She thought of pretty creative ways to thank me, and even more ways to pay me back." Her eyes sparkled. "I'm glad I'm in a room full of confidants. This would be really embarrassing otherwise." She frowned. "Unless all of this is an elaborate trap, and Area 51 sent the Illuminati after me. I could be in some kind of glowing slime-filled tube, with receptors in my brain… uh, too much?"
"The thought crossed my mind," Rainbow Max agreed. "Well, Chloe's mind. It's funny; of all the conspiracies I'm pretty sure she thinks about my origins – me joining my extraterrestrial counterparts, or activated by some Russian codewords – Illuminati was something she had little faith in. Apparently, my power goes bigger than a worldwide conspiracy."
Max shook her head ruefully. "This was sparked by weed?"
"Mine was sparked by a bullet."
She narrowed her eyes at Jane, who smiled politely. That girl knew what she was doing. "Any other volunteers?"
Another one raised her hand – incidentally, it also had a silver band adorning it. "I'm curious – all of us seem to have made the same choices, up to a fault. Where did our paths stray from each other?"
Everyone eyed each other, unsure.
"We all stopped Chloe from dying," Max, from the highest seat, said confidently. "When our powers were activated. At least once. I'd say all of us saved Chloe at least three times. Somehow."
"And that should've been enough," another confirmed, her red flannel shirt making it clear to them what time she was from, but she was oblivious to the attention. "But we kept going, testing our power."
"Kate?" One blurted out, leaning forward - the one with the silver band. "What happened to her? Did you save her?"
Most of them nodded. Some were too ashamed to shake their heads. "It was possible?" One asked, her voice breathy.
The one who leaned forward bit her lip. "I found that a good friend should apparently invade her privacy like no one's business, to help her. She didn't want any help, she felt so alone – I had to force it." She slid back in her seat, sighing in resignation. "I guess it's going to get out somewhere in this whole thing, so I think it's time for some disclosure. I think I know where I differed from you guys. I saved Kate from that rooftop, and we got closer."
Signs of recognition came from her reflections. "So, you and Kate…"
"Yep." She returned the stare of all the blue eyes on her, and it was somewhat intimidating to see all those identical eyeballs centered on her own. "And before you ask - because it's what I would've asked - yes, I've been going to church with her, and no, we didn't bother waiting 'til marriage for, well, that." Her cheeks burned, and she turned away, crossing her arms. "You better believe it took a while for her to convince me to go back to church. I know it's irrational, but… we were fucking cursed. You can't spin that any other way. The shit I went through that week, to be told that in the end I shouldn't have done anything with my power to begin with, messes with one's faith in anything … but it makes her happy." She looked around her. "We're gonna have a long talk about this, however, when I wake up…"
Some chuckles followed, before one of them noted, "Yeah, Kate's accepted that I won't join her. She's even slowed to just Sundays for me."
"Oh, you're with Kate, too?"
"Wow," Max noted, blinking in astonishment. "I didn't know how many of you chose Kate in the end." Granted, it was only four of them that spoke up so far, but that was an astonishing percentage compared to her own expectations. "So what happened to your Chloe?"
Max (Ring and Kate, Max categorized in her head) looked downcast. "Well, after Chloe got pissed at me, again, I went to check on Kate at the hospital. She encouraged me to lie next to her and cry on her shoulder, and things just… happened after that. I spent so much of my power trying over and over again trying to convince her parents to keep her at Blackwell. That went a long way with Chloe - she knew that I was literally trying everything in my power not to move away again, and abandon her." She sniffed with disdain. "So I jumped back one last time, to warn Kate not to go to the party. Then I asked her out. Then I, uh, told her everything; after she said yes, of course. I mean, if she started out open-minded, why not tell her the rest?"
"Everything?" Max asked in astonishment. "Like, everything, everything?"
"I told her enough for her to know that we shared a night of intimacy that I would never forget, but she would never remember. I told her about her unofficial first children's book that she's hidden back at home, her verbatim prayer that she recites before she sleeps, and the prayer she muttered before she tried to jump off the roof. She was thoroughly convinced. And she somehow convinced me to use her to entrap Nate at that party."
"You entrapped Nate? How?"
"She pretended to drink whatever he snuck in her root beer. Then she 'stumbled' into a room David and I were already in. Victoria recorded him spiking the drink."
"Oh, right, I should probably explain that. I made a bet with her that if Nate wasn't a fucking creep, I'd drop out of that stupid contest." She rolled her eyes, and the memories clearly disgusted her, going by the scowl. "A moot point considering I was aiming to cancel the contest, too. I would've given the police the Dark Room right then, but I wanted to see if Nate did the right thing first. He would've gotten time off if he gave up Jefferson. He didn't. So I did."
"For someone who's married to the sweetest girl in the world, you're a little badass."
"Max fucking Caulfield, Time Lord," Max said absently. "It's acts like those that make me believe that."
Kate-Ring-Max – Kate's Wife, she only just realized – grinned. "You should've seen me trying to introduce myself to her parents. That's a confrontation I could've held off forever. Didn't feel like a goddess then."
The Max in the highest chair, self-dubbed Time Lord – because someone should have that title by now – seemed to remember something. "So we all figured out that Mark and Nathan did it, right? There's no serial killers loose waiting for us when we wake up, right?"
There were varying degrees of nods, but no one shook their heads. She let out a sigh of relief. "And, I guess I should ask this – who else tied the knot at this point?" Only five of them raised their hands, including the two she had heard from earlier: one to Chloe, one to Kate. "To whom? We all look about the same age. Why so young?"
"Life is short," one of them explained, "as you well know. Even in a world of infinite resets, I'm tired of missed chances." She held up her silver ring. "I found myself in a world where William was still alive, but Chloe ended up in a car accident." She looked around and, getting some understanding nods, she continued. "I knew there was only one way I could gain her confidence, trust, and give her the will to live back. I marketed my powers. I outted myself on the news as a time-traveler. It's a lucrative business, is what I found. It gave me the money I needed to get Chloe the best care in the world. I still thought she was on borrowed time, so I proposed."
"Huh." The thought had literally never occurred to her to go to television with her power. "And you haven't been, like, probed and stuff?"
"Surprisingly, no. The powers faded on their own one day. I just… couldn't do it anymore. Thankfully, I wasn't in front of an audience when it happened."
"So, it sounds like some of us jumped back a final time to try to fix our mistakes," the Max that was first recognized as the one who married Chloe, or at least engaged, pointed out. "After the storm passed, we drove down to my parents, and I found a selfie of my first day in Seattle. I used it, and I called her." She wiggled her finger, and the ring glinted in the bright room. "We kept in touch. And when I got to Blackwell, she was waiting for me, right across my hall. I just… I was so happy, I kissed her."
"Wait." Rainbow held up her hand. "I'm sorry, I just, I see a pattern here. You didn't fast-forward? None of you auto-skipped?"
That gave the room pause.
"Okay, so we have a theme, here. Our power stopped."
"No one here has the power anymore?"
"I guess not," Time Lord Max concluded. She refused to change her self-appointed name, however. "So – we don't have powers, and we've all met up here? Is that a bad sign?"
"A very pleasant alternative to that nightmare, though."
Max spotted herself in a familiar outfit from a familiar timeline. "You never got to that point. I guess you're one that saved William, too?"
The corners of her lips twitched upwards. "You guys sound like you've been through all kinds of hell after you returned." She tugged at the cashmere jacket that hugged her slight frame. "I didn't want to abandon my best friend again. I know it doesn't make much sense, but it felt like going back to a healthy, miserable Chloe who already blames me for everything, well, it's just another thing she could have blamed me for if I re-murdered her father. She might've never known what I did, but I knew. So I gave her what she wanted, and she wanted William back. Nothing else really mattered at that point, and that really hurt me. The seven extra years she had with him saved her life in a way I didn't ever think I could've. Even in the end…"
She wiped at her eyes with the expensive-looking fabric. "I stayed behind, to make Chloe happy. Even if it didn't work out well, it was the outcome she would've wanted. She died happy, and loved. Even when she was mad as hell at me for not stabbing Morphine into her arm. I got to tell her I loved her, and everything that would've happened otherwise. She was more forgiving after that, but… I didn't think it would've led to a relationship." She nodded at the married one, who smiled back. "I always thought the resentment was still there, and I didn't think of revealing my powers to anyone, or making a profit. I wish I thought of that. I assumed I bought as much time as I could…"
"Really?" One of the Maxes questioned, awe in her voice. They had wondered how long Chloe would have gone when she chose not to get the morphine. "How long did she – I mean-?"
"Two Years," she answered quickly. "After that October day. And she couldn't have even lived that long without Victoria's help." Her lips curled into a smile at the memory. It was a subtle smile, but it was like she knew the biggest secret in the world. "I was a bit of a dick in that timeline, but when people found out about Chloe, it turned around a little. I tried threatening Sean Prescott, but the fucker gave up his own son for the murder of Rachel, just so he wouldn't give a single penny. But when Victoria found out, she, um, sold her camera for me."
There was an audible gasp in the room.
"I know, right?" she laughed. "It barely made a dent in the bills, but I was thankful, nonetheless. I bought her a new camera, eventually. But I was so fucking grateful for the gesture. And I made sure, to, um, tell her that. And when Chloe found out about that, well, she almost rolled out of bed to hug me. She practically gave me away. Hell, before she died, she actually gave me away." Looking up, she saw blank faces around her, and she blushed. "Chloe gave Victoria her, um, blessing. They didn't bother telling me until a few weeks before her twenty-first birthday. I-uh, I mean, by that, Chloe watched as she got down on one knee." She looked back down, but the smile didn't descend any further. "It was like they were both proposing to me at the same time. Chloe said she loved me so much, she refused to leave me unless she knew I was cared for. So, she came with me and dad down the aisle on my wedding day, her birthday."
"Wait," one of them gently interrupted. "She gave you away? You married Victoria?"
Max nodded vigorously. "I became a Chase on Chloe's birthday. Two events I'll never forget on a date I'll always remember. We gave her everything she needed – she even got to see me smoke some of her medical shit with her. Victoria and I keep up that tradition, which is how I got here. She… passed peacefully in her sleep the next month." Her eyes were watery, but the smile on her face was genuine. "No regrets, here. I couldn't have made her as happy as I wanted to, then. It was too late. But at least she's with Rachel."
"Victoria," one of them muttered again, shaking her head in disbelief. "I mean, I thought that we could have been great friends, but… I guess stranger things have happened. Like right now. Wowsers."
'Pricefield' – The one with the ring and the Jane Doe shirt – crossed her arms. "Actually, I'm best friends with her in my timeline. She's not evil, she just needed to be in the right company. She's so used to being the best, our fucking psycho of a teacher started looking at me instead of her – she couldn't handle it."
"Oh!" One exclaimed, suddenly remembering. She turned to Max Chase. "What happened to him? In your timeline?"
"After Tori won that contest – What? She likes the name. – Anyway, after she won, we decided to go back to the dorm. We took a quick stop by Nathan and Warren's dorm – yes, it's exactly what you think, and I have no idea how the fuck that happened – and we were walking across the parking lot when Jefferson caught up with us." She sniffed. "My guard might've been lowered, and I didn't know about him or Nathan yet, but I'm not a fool. We were coming from a crazy-as-fuck party, wearing nice dresses, heels, make-up and out-and-about lesbos – and considering what Kate told me what almost happened to her, were it not for Tori watching over her, I wanted to be prepared."
"Holy shit, did you shoot him?" One of them asked after a prolonged pause.
Max gave her a look. "No. I pepper-sprayed him. He made a grab for Tori first, assuming I was the weaker, slower one. Still, she kicked him in the balls and punched him in the face. We both admired the guy, but still. We always thought he was a creep. He pestered us both a lot about that silly contest and always wanted to talk to us after class."
"Wow," One of them exclaimed, incredulous at the chain of events. "You mean Kate was never attacked? And Nathan was never a part of it?"
She shook her head. "It was Kate's first party, and instead of Victoria being there to take pictures, I asked her to keep an eye on her. It was Jefferson himself who attacked us, and he was working alone. He was a bastard, but he was never able to take advantage of Nate's sickness. I think his sister had something to do with that."
"I'm glad that it worked out in some capacity for most of us," Pricefield continued, before she thought of something. "By any chance, are there any here that managed to save Rachel?"
"You know," one of them commented, "I once had a theory that Rachel might've been another version of me trying to change Chloe's past, and Frank was another version of Nathan, or Sean Prescott, trying to sabotage us. Then I got lost somewhere around the theory of Jefferson being another version of Warren… it's all just so wrong."
Rainbow shook her head. "Jefferson's too attached to photography for it to be Warren. Makes more sense for him to be Nate."
Pricefield chuckled heartily. "Warren looked pretty broken when I told him about me and Chloe. But I don't think he would have tried to kill us over it."
"He does seem to have an affinity for the gory murder revenge movies," one of them countered. "Ones where the monsters are portrayed as the victims, even. I actually thought he might've been the one that made Rachel disappear, the first time around. I mean, I heard he had a crush on Rachel, too."
"Everyone had a crush on Rachel," Chasefield rolled her eyes. "Tori eventually told me that she had a crush on Rachel. Hell, I never met her, and I had a crush on her."
"Still; before we knew it was Jefferson and Nathan, my best guess would've been Warren and Nathan. Like Scream; two angry teens against the rest of the world."
Some of them nodded along, while most of them hummed in agreement.
"Wait," one of them suddenly exclaimed, and Time Lord recognized her as the one that explained to the rest of them what the multiverse was – and she didn't know how she knew more about it than the rest. She looked a bit more timid than the others as well. "Am I… am I really the only one that actually likes Warren?"
Oh. Both questions asked and answered.
"Of course not," Pricefield replied heatedly. "What made you think that? I think most of us, at the least, care about him. I considered him a good friend at some point – "
"No! I mean… you know… more than a friend. Like, you know, my choice."
The silence was deafening in her ears, and her eyes shifted unsurely. "Really?" Pricefield inquired, genuinely confused. "I mean, I appreciate him and all, but I wouldn't have called him a real choice."
"Not a completely serious one, yeah," one of them agreed. "I mean, he was somewhat obsessed with me, if I recall. He really liked looking forward to getting me alone."
"Which only gives proof to my theory," Another Max mentioned. "If a girl goes missing, why would you take another girl somewhere nice and quiet? The dorm room isn't enough, so we need to go to a surely abandoned drive-in theatre, with obscure horror movies weeks before Halloween in your brand new, probably unregistered car? Creepy. As. Fuck."
"I guess all of us couldn't have been gay," another returned to the topic at hand, though she didn't seem all that sure. "In a world where Chloe didn't choose us. Or Kate. Or Victoria, even."
The girl – labeled "Warren's Max", because no one else seemed to be vying for that title, shrugged helplessly. "I don't know, I just assumed none of them were interested in me like that. But I never thought I was particularly gay. At least enough to try exploring it."
Maxine tilted her head. "Well, that's bullshit. All of us thought about her curiously at some point, before we even came back to Arcadia. It crossed our minds at some point, and she wasn't subtle about reminding us. You mean she didn't confess her love for you or anything at the lighthouse during the storm? No kissing dares in her bedroom?"
Warren's Max blinked owlishly. "So that's what all of you did? I thought she was joking! I mean, she just dressed me up as her last girlfriend, for crap's sake! I… chickened out."
Several snorted, while others shook their heads in disbelief. "Well…" one of them followed up with the obvious question. "What happened to Chloe? Did she find someone?"
"I bet it was that skater bro," Jane grimaced. "I'd rather it be Victoria than that poser."
Several chuckled, until they noticed that Warren's Max seemed eerily silent. "Oh, God," one of them whispered urgently, "is it skater-douche? Victoria? Did she… did she get paralyzed again?"
She shook her head. "Sometimes, I wish. It took a while for me to get over her death, but even if he didn't know it, Warren was there for me – "
"WHAT?!" Most of them began to yell, until one of them clarified. "You chose Warren and sacrificed Chloe? That is literally the worst decision you could've made!"
"But…" she stuttered, almost indignant at the state of herselves at her decision, "she's my best friend, and I'd do anything for her. She wanted me to let her go – "
"And you listened?!" She didn't know which one replied, but by the varying degrees of shock around her, she was sure it was a widely shared sentiment. "If we learned anything, it's that she's not good at making decisions without us!"
Jane looked furious. "I wanted to sacrifice the rest of the town," she yelled at Warren's Max, "but she was too goddamn noble to let that happen. So I did it her way. I went back. And I fucking took a bullet for her. I'll always take a bullet for her! I can't even imagine a version of me that didn't!"
Max Graham, another title that no one else claimed, clenched her jaw. "I did what I did because I loved Chloe. Like a Sister. Don't make it sound like I loved her any less than any of you did! We all went through so much, and we all knew she was right in the end!… Right?"
"She wasn't, though." It was Rainbow who spoke, and she looked none-too-happy about Max Graham's choice. She crossed her arms and leaned back in her seat. "I sacrificed the whole goddamn town, and tried not to look back. But neither of us could get over it."
"Exactly," Graham replied, staring hard at all of them. "It couldn't be stopped. Our power, our town, nature, was out of control. I did what I had to do."
"But. I tried. Again." Rainbow continued unabated, seething with every word. "I grabbed the poster board we drew when we were eight, and I started all over again. I reset the fucking clock and tried to fix everything. And I did."
The room turned to Rainbow who, to her credit, didn't flinch from the unblinking eyes. "I took everything to my advantage and made a few choices, some investments, and made some interesting friends. I think I'm the youngest of you all, physically, but I've lived twenty-six years. I got to live with her. I got to save William. I get to go to high school with her. I get to take her to prom, and if I can help it, I get to live the rest of my life with her."
"And if you can't help it? If it all gets swept away? If the storm decides it's not finished with either of you?" Rainbow didn't have to look up to know who asked that question.
"Then I do it all over again, Miss Nobility. In a fucking heartbeat. Chloe has made a few bad choices in her time. We're all witness to that, and we've seen the consequences. But my Butterfly –" Her voice caught. "Our Chloe, long before this mess… we remember her before William died. And, if we're all completely honest here, we wish we could get a glimpse of the strawberry-blond-haired pirate who's always fought with us. We didn't fall in love with her cigarettes, and her tats, and her piercings, and her fucking depressing ramblings, and her hatred of life in general. Those are constant reminders of the girl we all failed. We fell for the girl that had our collective back. The one who would keep us up all night, laughing at our corny jokes and making us laugh in our little forts in the attic. We fell for the girl who had a happy family, a best friend that saw her every day, and didn't know how to not smile. And when we saw glimpses of that, it reminded us all over again what we fought for. It just took us a while to figure it out."
She looked pointedly at Warren's Max. "We once told her - ALL of us, at some point - that we would always have her back. We told her we would never leave her again. I fucking killed her, voluntarily, once, when she asked for it on her deathbed. And that was the biggest fuckup we made together in that past life. I'm not fucking doing it again. A boyfriend wouldn't change that."
"For the record," Kate's wife, Marshfield, felt the need to clarify. "The fact that you're dating Warren isn't why she's being hard on you. I think."
"I loved Warren," Rainbow said quickly. "He was one of my best friends once. He had my back, just like Chloe did. And you made a choice that sacrificed your best friend. You've known him for two fucking months."
"I loved Chloe," Max Graham argued, just as vehemently. "And I never stopped loving her. How I loved her doesn't change a thing. I wanted to save her. I wanted to save the town. I couldn't see a way to save both. Besides - she wanted Rachel, not me."
Some had the decency to look away. "Maybe," Max the Time Lord mused. "But Rachel died. Unless… someone managed to save her?"
"I never met her," Rainbow muttered, pointedly looking away from Warren's Max. "She never showed up. Or Frank."
Max Chase licked her lips nervously. "I never saw her, either. Tori's told me about her, but my Chloe's never met her. But I guess most of you know that when I saved William, they never had a chance to meet."
"She never met Rachel when William died in my time," Pricefield mentioned. "But I kept in contact with Chloe, so she was never really alone that time."
"I met Rachel." Their eyes turned towards the only one wearing a red flannel shirt. "She's alright." The glint in her eyes and the smirk on her face told them much more.
And to believe they had assumed that the shirt came from Chloe's closet.
"This shirt came from Chloe's house," she quickly reiterated, correctly assuming their assumptions. "She got it from Rachel. They both liked it on me." She licked her lips. "They especially like taking it off."
"Dude," Marsh breathed out, "Chloe and Rachel?"
"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Rachel was there for Chloe, and I wasn't. So I saved her, and I told Chloe how I felt. We all came to an arrangement." She smoothed out her skinny jeans, squirming under everyone's gaze. "Turns out I'm really into Rachel, too. I love Chloe, but I guess we forgot how similar our tastes were." They sat, enraptured, waiting for her to continue. "Uh, sorry, that's pretty much it. We're still feeling things out, so to speak."
"That's… probably for the best," Max Marsh admitted. And Time Lord agreed; she was running out of names to give everyone. "I think my brain is fried as it is."
"At some point, we all lived relatively normal lives."
"Well, I got shot."
"Except for Jane, who got shot," Rainbow continued smoothly. She looked around the circle of thrones. "What does this mean? Is this like some kind of rubber band effect? Are all of us going to disappear and converge into one?"
"Actually, that's not what that means…" Max Graham's words died in her throat and she withered in her chair as several glares were turned on her.
"So, who's left? I mean, no one's dating Nathan, right? Daniel? Dana? Courtney?" She ticked them off, but no one raised their hands. "Good. I think. I guess this meeting is… adjourned? Do we just wait for a trigger or something?"
Someone sniffed. Another pulled at her sleeve.
"Could we all be in a coma?" Jane asked the room.
Time Lord Max, Max Marsh, Kate's Wife (who she categorized as two different people), Rainbow, Warren's Max, Max Chase, Chasefield, Max-who-was-dating-Victoria-but-not-yet-married, flannel-wearing Threesome-Max (because she was totally losing track with these names, but she was considering calling her 'Maximum Capacity'), Pricefield, Blue-Beanie Max, Caul-Price, the other two who were dating Kates (one with a Crucifix necklace, and the other with a bunny pajama shirt), and the one who'd been eerily silent since the beginning of this entire – Nightmare? Dream? Limbo? – all sighed. In unison. It was in perfect harmony, kinda beautiful, and creepy as fuck-all, at the same time.
"So, what's your story?" Max Marsh gestured to the one in the bunny pajama shirt.
"Oh! I, uh, don't really have one. I left with Chloe after the storm. We're still friends, of course, it's just – we have a lot to deal with, you know? Kate's parents picked her up that afternoon before the storm, and she reached out to me in Seattle. We Skyped with each other until I came down to visit her in Oregon. We finally went out for that tea, and I broke down and told her everything. She believed me. She barely goes to church anymore. She's slowed down to Sundays– wait. I think I told you that already. Uh, Chloe approves," she finished lamely.
Mrs. Marsh nodded. "I like to go sometimes, for her. Having mystical time manipulation powers and believing in God aren't mutually exclusive. Or so she tells me."
"Harder to defend when you're directly responsible for an entire town's destruction and the killing of hundreds of people." Bunny grinned wryly.
And Wowsers. Max figured she might have to rename that one.
"All the more reason to pray about it," Mrs. Marsh smiled, not missing a beat. "I know we were never really religious at all, but it doesn't matter, not really. She prays for me, and I don't want to take that for granted. I've seen my demons. So I believe in something, that she can never convince me to rid of, otherwise. So why try to take that belief from her? Besides, at least she can believe in angels."
"You've got it bad for her."
She blushed. "What can I say? I love my Marshmallow." She smirked. "Which, incidentally, is the name of the strain we had. Marsh Mellow."
Bunny smiled charmingly – well, it was charming in everyone else's opinion, anyway. "I'll consider it. But I think I introduced too many demons into Kate's life with my past."
"Max, look around you – apparently, it's never too late."
Blue-beanied Max examined Crucifix necklace-wearing Max. "And you? Do you attend?"
She shook her head. "Kate bought this for me as a thank you gift, but I'm not with her. I'm – not with anyone, really. I mean, we're all close. Chloe," she nodded towards their respective partners, "Kate, Victoria, and even Warren. I just… I guess I'm not actively looking for someone. I mean, it's only been a few weeks, in my timeline, since we caught Jefferson and Nate. I think I'm allowed to relax and not be worried about a relationship." She tilted her head and pondered. "I mean, I think Brooke might be interested, if that counts."
"She is," Max said easily. "She just doesn't know how to show it."
Wait. Max said that? Which one? She swore that she had everyone labeled, except – oh. The one that had been quiet this whole time.
Unaware of the scrutiny by Time Lord, Max – "Just Max" – continued. "No offense to the one dating Warren, but Brooke wasn't mean to you because you're dating him. She's mean to you because you chose him. Go on more drone dates with her, if you're interested."
Crucifix Max, indeed, looked very much interested. "Oh! So you're dating Brooke, then?"
She bit her bottom lip. "I mean – I guess? I wouldn't say we're dating. We've hardly gone out."
Bunny frowned. "You're friends-with-benefitting? Didn't think I was the 'Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma'am' Type."
"You're not, I promise; I'm just not very good at labels."
"Fiancée. Wife. Girlfriend. Best friend. Benefits. I don't think it gets much more complicated than that."
She huffed. "Fine, then. Boyfriend." 'Just Max' chuckled at the lost faces, while Time Lord narrowed her eyes.
She remembered, now. This Max had spoken earlier, and had kept her mouth shut ever since. She'd just been fidgeting in her chair, listening patiently, hoping no one would have noticed her slip-up.
"…I swear I'm not even pulling out, next time."
"Maxine Caulfield," Time Lord slowly drew out, her tongue clicking at the end. "What did you do when you went back?"
She crossed her legs demurely, smoothing her pants with her hands. "So, I uh, kind of fucked up." More confused stares. "I, uhh…" she coughed. "I went back a little too far."
Max Marsh leaned forward. "How far?"
She cleared her throat. "I lived a full, long life, I think. A lot of friends, a lot of relationships. Chloe and I tried a thing, for a while. But we still needed time to heal, you know? Then I caught up with Kate." She nodded towards Bunny, "But I guess our paths diverged at the part where Kate asked me to marry her. Word of advice – say yes. I've regretted my choice, that's for sure. She didn't take it well."
"You turned down her proposal?" Bunny and Mrs. Marsh looked mortified at the thought.
"It was… during a crisis. I just didn't have room for anything in my life right now. I was really selfish at the time. It wasn't until I started dating Victoria – "
" – that I realized what was wrong with me." She grimaced. "Bad phrasing. I wanted to make a major change in my life. Different life experiences I guess, I don't fuckin' know. And even Victoria couldn't handle my decision. So I was packing my shit to leave, ready to go make a life-altering decision alone, and I found an old picture of Mom and Dad."
The next words seemed difficult to her. Everyone waited patiently, most of them leaning precariously over their chairs. "I guess I was feeling a tiny bit nostalgic. Mom was a little pregnant at the time of the photo. I guess I just stared too damn hard at it."
Butterfly's mouth flapped open. Mrs. Marsh's eye twitched. Warren's Max leaned forward so much, she straight up fell from her chair.
Max the Time Lord looked down at the floor – only to realize there wasn't one. Warren's Max kept falling, falling… gone. "Huh. I think I found a way out of – "
"YOU SKIPPED BACK TO THE FUCKING WOMB?!"
'Just Max' winced. Oddly, that outburst came from Mrs. Marsh herself. "As much as I remember. By the time I was ten, I gained full knowledge of my past life, and by then, Chloe was already calling me a psychic. I knew things before anyone ever said them and I didn't know why. Chloe was my girlfriend by the time I was twelve, which under the circumstances – " she squeaked a little, running her fingers through her shoulder-length hair. "Well I'm grateful. I didn't come back the way I left. I was… reborn."
"I'll fucking say," Marsh whispered, leaning back in her chair.
Mrs. Chase inspected her closely. "You don't look like a man, though."
Just Max's eyes glanced around the room nervously, while Bunny blinked. "What? I missed something. Did I just have a stroke?"
"I know Tori," Mrs. Chase continued. "Better than anyone, I think. Victoria never liked dating guys. She was Nate's friend, but they were never more than that. She might've had to put up appearances in high school, like Trevor and such, but that became a major fear for her after Jefferson. You said she broke up with you because you made a life-altering choice? I can't think of a bigger one – one that she just couldn't bear, even from me."
Just Max crossed her arms, suddenly feeling self-conscious. "I really don't know how it happened. I mean, I didn't even have the goddamn surgery yet! But I wasn't born Male. Not… completely."
"Holy shit, you have a dick."
The ever so angelic Maxine Marsh didn't scream this time, it was barely a whisper. Everyone heard it, though; the silence in the room accompanied the revelation.
"It's an extra appendage. I still have boobs. I still have a… you know, underneath." Her cheeks were red with embarrassment. The others could sympathize; they blushed easily in the worst times. "I'm not used to explaining this. Chloe's so much better than me at hyping this."
"What?" She wasn't sure who voiced that question. It might've been an echo, or everyone asking at once.
She sighed tiredly, and Max was beginning to realize why she was so quiet in the first place, even around herself. "Virility issues. We have an arrangement. Chloe, Rachel, Kate… Brooke, Dana, Juliet, Taylor, Courtney, Steph…Kristine, Alyssa, Stella. Yeah, I think that's it. Chloe loves to advertise."
"And when you say 'virility issues…'"
She rolled her eyes. "I have too much. Doy. I'm not proud. Chloe is, but hey, you know Chloe, amirite?" She shrugged helplessly. "Victoria doesn't mind much if there's just one stray appendage, to answer your question. Otherwise, I think I'm all girl."
"Unbelievable. As in, I literally can't believe me."
She waggled her eyebrows. "Would you like to see it?"
Bunny tried to speak, but her words caught in her throat.
"I mean, technically, it's just masturbation. You gotta admit, you know how good I am when we're really into it."
"Okay," Time Lord held a hand up. "Please. Stop. I don't think I can take any more."
She hummed to herself leaning back and uncrossing her legs. More than one glanced down curiously, but they saw no hints at what lie beneath those skinny jeans. "Not the first time I've heard that today. Or yesterday. Or whenever the fuck we are."
She pointed below them. "As I was saying – I think I found a way out."
"…Jumping down there?"
"To certain death, I'm sure."
She tilted her head back and forth, contemplating. "Wouldn't be the most dangerous leap we've ever taken."
"Quantum Leaps don't count, bro."
"I think we need a therapist."
"We hella need a therapist."
Max slowly blinked her eyes open, before realizing that something was blocking her view.
The hot washcloth on her forehead felt exquisite, and she breathed deeply, relishing in the comfort. "You know how to care for a girl."
"Oh, thank God!" she heard, before she felt a presence at her side. "You know how to make a girl worry."
She sat up with ease, surprising her wife. "I'm okay," she swore, feeling a hand against her back.
"You're not okay when you fucking collapse on cannabis," she countered, gently rubbing her back in circles. "I'm not gonna let you be the first in recorded history to die by pot, Maxine."
She removed the washcloth and opened her eyes fully.
Victoria's green eyes held nothing but concern, scanning her face. "You're really okay?" She asked, in a small voice that was so unusual for her.
Max nodded wordlessly, seeing how truly worried her wife was. Swinging her legs over the side of their bed, she held out her arms.
Victoria didn't pause, slinging her arms around her back and lifting her up, making the brunette squeak in surprise. "Tori!"
"What?" she grunted, burying her face in her hair. "You said you were alright."
Conceding, she wrapped her legs around her beloved's slim waist, kissing her neck. "I had a dream last night."
"Lucky for you – I didn't sleep." She pulled back, looking her over again. "Was it Chloe?"
She almost nodded, but decided to shake her head instead. "Not really. It was… trippy."
"I'm throwing that shit out," she growled, turning herself around to plop on the bed, her wife in tow. "You fell asleep and you didn't wake up. What was I supposed to do in a situation like that?"
Max leaned forward and claimed Victoria's lips. "Trust me," she whispered, pulling back slightly. "And love me. I'll always wake up if I've got you to wake up to."
Tori sweetly blushed when Max stroked her short-cropped hair, and she felt the warmth when she touched her cheek. "You are such a hippie."
"I think a hippie would have handled her weed better. If anything," her blue eyes sparkled, "that makes you a bigger hippie than me."
The blonde tried to frown. "Take that back, or no presents."
"I apologize. Hipster Trash."
"That's Missus Hipster Trash to you," she quickly corrected, an unrestrained grin quickly reforming.
"'Til Designer Labels do we part," she muttered amiably, claiming her wife's lips again.
Max slowly blinked her eyes open.
The lights that lined the ceiling told her that she wasn't home, and she quickly – groggily – shuffled to her side.
She looked so peaceful, when she slept. And granted, she looked peaceful all the time, but Max really appreciated the care-free, responsible-free, contented smile of her amazing wife.
Carefully leaning forward, Max pecked her on the nose.
The hands that were holding on to her left gripped tighter, before she began to wake up. For a few seconds, the blonde blinked in confusion, before she smiled.
It was a sight that Max never took for granted.
"Merry Christmas, Missus Caulfield."
"Max," she whispered, raising her hand to kiss her knuckles. "I didn't – I had no idea what to do when you collapsed. Chloe told me you were just sleeping, but…" she sniffed. "I needed a second opinion. Not the best way to start our first Christmas with a mortgage, huh?"
"Kate; look around."
She blinked slowly, questions dancing in her eyes. She furrowed her brow, before a look of recognition creased into her features. Max, as a photographer, really appreciated the range of facial expressions her wife had. "Oh. This is like when we first – oh!"
"Kissed, Kate." She moved her other hand to cover Kate's. "Our first sleepover. First kiss. You comforted me that night in the hospital, Kate – even though it should've been the other way around. You let me cry on your shoulder. We gave each other hope. I can't think of a better Christmas with you, sharing it like this." She waggled her eyebrows at the suggestive way the blonde was biting her lip. "Which part are you trying to remember, Marshmallow?"
As she saw her wife's nose begin to glow (like a memorable doe), she knew that it was going to be embarrassing to admit. "After the sadness passed, you kissed me. And then you told me to think about it; about us. I did. And I…" her voice dropped to a whisper. "That night was my first… naughty dream."
Max's eyebrows rose to her hairline. "Woah! Really?"
The blush began to spread to her cheeks. She gave a tiny nod. "In case you ever wondered why I was a … shifty sleeper, that first night."
"Let's get out of here." It was so sudden, the way she scooted out of the hospital bed, thankful that Kate had dressed her in two gowns, back to front. "Let's go home. Let's throw away that bowl of whatever skunk was in there and – "
"Already done," she gave her a deadpan look. "Of course I threw it away. You collapsed, dear."
"Fair enough," she gave her a gentle smile, offering her lady a hand. "Didn't we miss early morning service?"
"There's always the New Year." She chuckled. "And I think I'm looking forward to our midnight kiss. Or at least, the reaction."
She smiled brightly, gathering Kate into her arms. "I've got a story to tell you when we get home. After we Christen our home for Christmas, of course."
She wiggled her cute nose at Max's pun. "Well, I know you can't be a hundred percent. That wasn't a good one."
Maxine Caulfield pouted cutely, and Kate Caulfield giggled, before kissing her.
Max shot out of bed in a panic.
"Ah! What?! Wait! Did I…?"
Warren turned next to her, yawning. "Mhm. Morning."
She glared at her boyfriend. "I dropped out too soon! I need to know how the story ends!"
"She doesn't die," he muttered sleepily. "They need her for the sequel, and she hasn't asked for more money yet."
"Dude, what the fuck are you talking about?"
"Hm?" He turned his head back at her, before leaning up on his elbows. "What are you talking about?"
"My dream. Multiverse theory. It's totally not a theory anymore."
The way his eyes lit up made her laugh. He really did look like a child on Christmas morning. "No fucking way! Really?" He sat up against the headboard, and pulled his knees to his chest. "Ready to talk?"
"I see you're ready to listen." She poked him, before leaning against his shoulder. "Hey, tell me something, and be honest; On a scale from Prince to Queen, how gay am I?"
Max slowly blinked her eyes open.
"Hey." A curtain of pinkish blond halo'ed across her vision, and a friendly face greeted her in the world of the living. "Merry Christmas, baby."
She grinned, leaning up to kiss her favorite girl. "Merry Christmas, Chlo- ohhhh~~~"
Chloe giggle-groaned, rocking her hips against her lover. "I see you're into the – ah! – Christmas spirit."
"I see you've been naughty."
"Didn't need to check twice for that." She wiggled against Max further, cuddling into the crook of her naked girlfriend's neck. "But God, this dick is the best present ever."
"Don't forget to share," Max gently reminded her, her member twitching inside her for emphasis.
"Rachel and Vicki's coming over soon with presents." She breathed, nibbling at her best friend's earlobe. "But I think they're gonna do some goofy shit like wear lingerie and trench coats and put bows on their head."
Max giggled, reaching down to grab Chloe's rear, but doing nothing to control her lover's pace. "They slept under my tree last Christmas. I don't mind re-wrapped gifts." She frowned in concentration. "Chloe – where's that weed?"
"In the kitchen – why?"
"We're burning it all."
She lifted her head off her shoulder, confusion in her eyes, before she grinned ferally. "I like the way you think, Caulfield," she huffed, lifting up her rear before easing back down.
"That's not what I…" she paused, shuddering at the way her tight walls clenched around her member. "Chloe…"
"Hngh~~~!" Chloe whined beautifully, twitching on top of her. "Shit," she squeaked, leaning back fully, and Max leaned up to capture a pale nipple in her mouth. With heavily practiced ease, she lifted the girl up and slammed into her, bouncing on their bed with renewed vigor.
If that strain made her that sensitive, then Max would happily keep her mouth shut about the side-effects. She wasn't likely to forget that dream, anyway.
But for now, she had a reputation to uphold.
She grinned to herself – she hadn't forgotten the promise she made earlier about not pulling out, and she looked forward to cultivating their little Christmas miracle.
Quickly flipping her first girlfriend over (much to Chloe's delight) Max Fucking Caulfield, as she was known, got to work.
One by one, the Maxes dropped down from their seats, and disappeared into the blinding, infinite abyss.
Then there was Time Lord Max, and Rainbow Max.
They eyed each other curiously.
"You were the first one here," Rainbow noted, looking up at her, from her relatively high seat.
She shrugged. "But the last to wake up."
"But the first one here," she repeated. She clicked her tongue. "And you didn't tell us your story."
"Not much of one to tell. I'm with Che, if that's what you're asking."
"We both know that's not what I was asking." She tucked a few red strands behind her left ear. "I saved Chloe. And I said I'd do it all again. But you're the reason I only had to do it One More Time, aren't you? You stopped my power. The time-skips. All of it. Didn't you." It wasn't a question. She'd learned to trust her instincts, and right now, it was telling her that this reflection was something more.
Maxine Caulfield; Time Lord, smiled easily. "I figured one of us had to get to the bottom of this. Correct the universe, the balance, all that. I guess they only needed one sacrifice, and it made more sense that it was the one with the anomaly. Jane – the one that got shot – she was close, but she'll live. She'll be as happy as all of you will be. I guess I'm happy, too, seeing how things turned out for each of us."
Her eyes shifted, before she eventually nodded. "Everyone seems to have a different story after some point. My story ended at the beginning. The bullet hit my heart. It was instant." She looked around, and the empty thrones began to lower. "Then I was here, in this… this ethereal plane. Doing whatever. Sometimes I wonder if I'm dreaming or living in another universe every day. Somewhere, Che's waiting for me to wake up, and we're on an actual pirate ship."
"You get to live your dreams," Rainbow smiled.
"We all do," she countered, easily. "There are so many choices I could've made, and so many I didn't. I… don't know how that Warren girl slipped through, but I'm happy for her, too. We gave her a hard time, yeah, but she's made peace with her decisions, and they're hardly the worst ones. Chloe made her choice, same way I did. And Warren's a good guy. I trust at least one of me with him."
Rainbow chuckled. "Thank you," she muttered sincerely, scooting forward. "Thank you for everything. I'm taking my girlfriend to prom because of you. I've got this whole, beautiful night planned, the first of many, and I get to remember every second of it, because of you."
"That's what I'm here for," she nodded, her chair now level with the girl across from her. "I think. Have a wonderful night, Doe-Eyes."
A flicker of surprise crossed her features, before she grinned.
She'd made a good choice.
Author's Note: "There was an idea…" – Samuel L. Jackson, 2012
So, I wanted to write a simple one-shot, about Max/Victoria first, since I've grown an unbelievable attachment to them, thanks to the works of jensening and Sunsetter and SloanRisette and Nothing_You_Can_Prove (really, just visit my favorites archive at (s dot rihaansfics dot com). But the idea of writing Max/Kate sounded so sweet. And not having a Pricefield reference in there seemed too scandalous for me. And yes, there were not-so-subtle references to One More Time, my other LiS fic, starring Rainbow.
Basically, this one-shot is where all of my dead dreams get stitched together into a Frankenstein's monster of a tale. Less a crack-fic, more of a… joint-fic.
(Fuck yeah, nailed it. Pun City, Baby!)
Thank you for reading. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Have a Happy New Year!