Chloe Price was going to die.

It wasn't how she envisioned the morning ending. Not when it had started off with such a simple plan: she needed cash, several thousand bucks to be exact. Money she had spent trying to get her truck roadworthy again. Money she borrowed from the wrong person, at the wrong time.

And Nathan had more than enough of his own.

She should have known better than to put herself in debt to Frank; things had never been the same between them after he stood up to Damon three years earlier, throwing himself into harm's way so that she and Rachel could escape.

He nearly died protecting them both.

Which is why it struck her as perverse, the way Frank derived pleasure in holding the debt against her; she'd spent years owing him money more often than not, but this was different. And it wasn't just the amount of money involved either.

I mean shit, it's mostly about that but…

Nathan had the cash, and Chloe had the means to blackmail him. She'd figured he'd collapse like wet cardboard - like he always did, when push came to shove - and then her troubles would be over. Part of her felt seriously slimy, leaning on the asshole like that, but it was either his skin or hers.

She knew which team she was rooting for.

Looking back on it now, she should have realized that Nathan was a powder keg long past the point of detonation. She knew he was little more than just a creepy, spoiled, twisted rich kid whose Daddy opened every door and provided every opportunity Nathan enjoyed at Blackwell, but in the back of her mind she failed to fully acknowledge how much of a victim he was in his own right. Not until it was too late.

In one terrible, crystallizing moment, she could see it all so clearly.

She'd seen enough, heard enough over the years; the way his father treated him. Beaten him, with words and fists, and God only knows which of the two did the most damage in the end.

She thought back to the day she overheard the two of them talking in the hospital - when she happened to be walking the halls after Rachel was stabbed - and how the doctor in the room pleaded for the younger Prescott to get the treatment he so obviously needed for his mental illness. How his father cruelly refused to be anything more than a vile megalomaniac who didn't care a damn for his son, past how the younger Prescott reflected on his "good family name". Not to mention the night Nathan was playing Caliban in The Tempest, when Victoria tried to drug Rachel and take her place on stage, and fate conspired to put Chloe in the role of Ariel, if only for a single act. She was too busy swooning over Rachel going off script to give much thought to the abject humiliation he endured that night.

Oh. Rachel…

"You're gonna get in hella more trouble for this than drugs!" Chloe spat out lamely, closing her eyes in fear despite the attempts to conjure up her best bravado.

Rachel, I'm so sorry! I hope you're safe, I hope you're in a better place than this fucking shithole fishing town! I'm sorry I'll never get a chance to see you again…

Adrenalin burned through her veins like white-hot fire. Primal instinct took over. The will to live completely short-circuited any rational thought in her brain; the sort of strategic thought process that would caution her against trying to push the gun out of his hand, that such an action was much more likely to end with her bleeding out on the bathroom tile than living to see another day.

"No!"

Chloe opened her eyes at the sound of another voice; female, but not her own. Time slowed to a crawl, and she vaguely wondered how this new girl had made her way into the bathroom without being noticed.

And why...why did she look so familiar?

The other girl - with short, sandy brown hair, wearing a pink t-shirt - reached out, as she tried to wrench the pistol away from Nathan. The struggle was short; by the time Chloe gathered her wits to help, the fight was over, its ending punctuated by a short, deafening roar. One which reverberated off the tile floors and walls.

Chloe looked at Nathan.

Nathan looked back at her.

His shaking hands and designer clothes were spattered with fresh blood.

The gun rose up. He took aim at her. For one long, terrible moment, Chloe thought she saw the conflict in his eyes. The terrible ethical calculus, the question of whether or not it would make a damn bit of difference at this point: that shooting two girls was equally as bad as shooting one, so maybe Chloe's death would be little more than a moral 'freebie'.

But the gun slowly fell to his side. He spoke, voice cracking, eyes welling up with glistening tears, "I….I didn't…..I didn't mean…" He looked back down at the other girl, now lying helplessly on the floor, as hot crimson pooled underneath her.

He shambled towards the door, languidly at first, until he suddenly burst out into the hall. His voice took on an increasingly panicked tone, as he tried to convince anyone within earshot…

"I didn't mean it...I didn't! I…"

Nathan's desperate pleas, the eventual screaming that soon followed from the hallway, the pounding of feet running away from him, and the feet that were running towards him: it all became a singular din in the background, one that Chloe could barely perceive. She slumped to her knees and then crawled towards the girl whose blood sacrifice could barely wash away her sins. The innocent wretch who'd bought Chloe's life with her own.

"Oh God...oh, Jesus fucking...h...hey! Help! Somebody help! Please! He shot someone!"

"Chloe…" the other girl rasped out.

Chloe snapped her head down, intently studying the form sprawled out before her. Like a buckle clicking into place, she finally realized why the brown-haired student was so familiar.

"M-Max? Max Caulfield?!"

Dimly, Chloe had known the other girl was back in Arcadia Bay since at least August. Hell, she still occasionally stalked her on Facebook and Twitter, so it was hardly a surprise. Once or twice, she had even considered reaching out to her. But five years worth of hurt feelings and righteous indignation ultimately upended any thoughts of reconciliation at the time. Up until this moment, she was still smarting from the way Max told her goodbye in a tape recording, on the day Chloe's father was buried. And smarting from the way Max ghosted her, finding excuses not to contact her, even as Chloe desperately reached out for support in that first year.

None of that mattered anymore. In this moment, all was immediately forgiven.

"Chloe…I'm so sorry." Max said, reaching up to cup her face. The blunette could feel the warmth ebbing from her old friend's fingertips, a deathly pallor whitening the other girl's cheeks as she gave Chloe a sad, pained smile.

"Don't….don't talk. Just lie still okay?! Lie still and...hey help! Help! HELP!"

Chloe screamed, her voice rising to a shrill pitch as she attempted to clamber to her feet, only to find a hand gripping her wrist with surprising strength.

"Too late…" Max hissed out, before spitting out a mouthful of blood. "S'okay though. 'm happy...you survived." She tried to laugh, obviously thinking better of it as her face contorted into a mask of pain. "All that lost time. Five years. It's my fault. But...you're alive. You're still alive. All that matters." Her breathing was becoming increasingly labored, eyes losing their focus.

"It's okay, it's okay! I promise...don't….now's not the time to talk about it." Chloe insisted, gripping Max's hand, trying to speak as soothingly as possible. "You're gonna pull through this, okay? You're gonna survive! And then you can spend the rest of your life apologizing to me." She gave a strangled, abortive laugh, and then shook her head. Her voice was wet and rough with agony as she said, "No...no, if you make it, you never have to say a single fucking sorry ever again! So please hang on, Max. I'm gonna get help, but you have to hang on!"

"Live."

Chloe nodded with frenetic, disjointed energy, as she tried again to move towards the door.

"You're gonna live. I promise!"

"No." Max sighed softly, as her hand dropped to the ground. "Live, Chloe. Just...live." She curled her lips into a small, hopeful smile, glassy eyes staring out into the distance as she took one last phlegmy gasp of air, letting it all out in one pointed, pleading sob.

She died so peacefully that almost ten seconds passed before Chloe realized Max was gone.

Chloe didn't remember reaching out to close her friends eyes, nor could she recall rising to her feet. All she could feel in that moment was a small but fiercely blossoming fury. Like a chip in a windshield, the tiny crack that inexorably spidered out to mar the otherwise smooth surface.

"Why? WHY?!" she roared in grief and frustration.

Why didn't anyone come and save her friend?

Why was she still all alone, here in the bathroom? Couldn't they hear her scream for help?

And why...why not me? Why didn't you take me, God?!

The only answer she received was a second gunshot ripping through the air, somewhere beyond the bathroom door.


FIVE YEARS LATER

"Can't believe you still haven't asked her out on a date, Chlo. Christ, what's it gonna take to crack that frosty heart of yours, sheila?"

Chloe paused for a moment, carefully pulling the needle gun away from the skin. She didn't want to deal with this while simultaneously trying to focus on freshening up the ink on Dirk's Tank Girl bicep tattoo. She prided herself on her fastidiousness and professional attention to detail, and God knows she didn't land the job at Steel Rails - one of the premier body modification shops in Las Vegas - by acquiring a reputation for fucking around and making casual mistakes.

She sighed hard through her nostrils, ran a hand through her hair - short, spikey black and blue feathers, with the back and sides buzzed - before tilting her head, and said, "Jesus. You ask me that...like...all the fucking time. With every halfway attractive woman who walks in here. And I get that you're all totes-adorbs into lesbian love, but man…it's getting old." She punctuated her point with a soft stab against his arm with her fingertip, enough to make it uncomfortable without hurting too much. It wasn't something she'd do to most customers, but Dirk had been one of her regulars for the better part of two years; she knew she could get away with it.

The muscled, blonde Australian biker yowled and gave her a melodramatic show, complete with puppy dog eyes. Chloe shot him her best "Not Buying That Today" look, then moved to return to her work. She blinked in surprise when he gently grabbed her wrist to stop her.

"Yeah, okay, right, fair dinkum. But Capella is honestly into you, mate. No foolin'. I know because she's tending bar at Glaze, most of the same nights I'm there bouncin'.. Always asking me about you, and your schedule. You know that tramp stamp she just had you do? Could have gotten it a month or two back, but she kept holding out for an opening where she could have you do it."

Chloe gave a nonchalant shrug. "Not the first time I've heard a story like that. Maybe it's news to you, but I kinda got a reputation for weaponized awesomeness." At this, she gave a rare smile. "Even Brie Larson waited three months for me, and she's gonna be super-hot shit in a few months when that new movie of hers comes out." With that, she continued applying ink to skin.

Dirk rolled his eyes and blew a few errant bangs away from his face as he a faux-petulant tone, "She was showing you the goods, babe. I mean hell, she wanted that tattoo, but it was a total advert for her brand, too. All for you, and you alone. Cor, she's got it bad, hand to God."

"Neat." Chloe murmured flatly, eyes squinting in focused concentration. "Still doesn't mean I gotta play The Game though. She wants to try and jump on the Priceline Dating Experience, she can straight up ask. And then I can shoot her down, quickly, efficiently, but with a tenderness that some would dare call maternal."

Chloe pulled back in time, correctly anticipating Dirk's reaction as he jerked up to a fully sitting position in response. "Seriously?! Ye fucking kiddin' me? You would say 'no' if she offered drinks, dinner and a private lap dance for dessert?"

She closed her eyes and sighed.

Gotta admit, she's a drink of water in the fucking desert. Been a long time since I had a taste...

And yeah, maybe she did take a few long, lingering peeks at the other woman's backside. Capella was a dancer, in a city filled to the fucking walls with them. Chloe saw a lot of ass in her career, but even she had to admit this one stood out.

Easily top ten material.

She bit her bottom lip for a moment and wondered. Maybe…

...maybe this is the day you try? Maybe this is the day you stick a finger out in the wind and…

No.

Definitely not.

Especially not today. This week, this month.

She knew better than that, knew better than to let herself think that allowing people to get close to her wasn't doomed to failure of the worst sort.

Pushing Dirk back in his seat so she could finish her work, she muttered grimly, "Yeah. I'd say no. Life's about more than just getting laid, or...or settling down, or whatever the hell you think you want me to have. 'Happily ever after' is nothing more than a marketing slogan the Man pushes to sell you shit you don't actually need." She turned away, forcing herself to carefully put the gun back in its holding bracket. "Got too much going on in my life anyhow to deal with relationship shit." she lied. "But ah…" She bowed her head for a moment, and mouthed out. "Thanks."

Whipping her head back up, she added, "You know the drill, wound care, keep it clean, call me if your fucking arm falls off, blah blah blah."

Dirk gave a distracted nod as he tilted his arm up to get a better look at the finished product. "Well, hello gorgeous! Looking ship-shape and Bristol fashion, are we?" he asked the drawing of the spikey-haired comic book icon. He then reached into his wallet, extracted a few bills and handed them over. "I'll go settle up with Tanya for the damages...here's your tip."

Chloe casually snagged the money, and nearly proceeded to tuck it into the breast pocket of her flannel shirt until she realized how much she'd been paid.

"Jesus-fuck, Dirk! I mean…" she swallowed for a moment. "...I mean thanks, but that tip was probably twice as much as the whole fucking job!"

He jumped up to his feet and smirked, playfully ruffling her hair. "Had a lovely bit of luck at the El Cortez last weekend. Me Mum always told me to never spend winnings on anything practical. 'Sides, you look like you could use a fun night out." At this he looked at her with concern, giving her bicep a familiar, familial squeeze. "Really."

"Yeah. Well. Thanks. Bye." she said, turning away as he headed off to the front desk.

Ah God...Dirk. You fucking magnificent bastard.

She'd been saving up for her annual alcohol-soaked bacchanal of personal misery, and God knows the Benjamins nestled in her pocket would help with that. I didn't seem right though.

Ought to put it aside, save it for something good. Make a nice story to tell Dirk about, 'cause he's clearly gonna ask the next time he sees me. And you know, maybe I could...maybe I could call Capella up and ask…

There was that familiar knot in her chest - hard, wooden, obdurate. That wall she could never get herself to push past, climb over, or walk around. An eternal reminder of the inescapable truth Chloe was forced to embrace a long time ago.

No. Fuck no. She can do better. Hell, I'm doing her a big damn favor, making sure she doesn't get dragged down. Still, probably oughta tell her she needs to give it up and find someone who'll appreciate the effort.

With her final client of the morning taken care of, she tidied up her work area and then aimlessly drifted towards the tiny compartment that served as the office of the owner, Roy Bjornsson. Steel Rails was originally a place called Black Spade, before he bought the old owners out and renamed it, but the layout was still the same: a converted caboose and box car, both of which had been permanently moved to the back end of Container Park in the downtown Arts District.

Knocking on the half open door, she stuck her head in and and saluted the older gentleman inside.

"Hallo, jarl minn." Chloe said, a playful smirk drawn across her lips. She knew it was the sort of thing that irritated Roy's egalitarian Icelandic sensibilities, but she was also aware of the tremendous privilege she possessed in being one of the only people in the world from whom he would take that sort of crap.

"Hmph. If it isn't the daughter of Loki himself. Time for my daily reminder, why hiring you was such a miserable mistake?" Chloe always appreciated the way Roy could give as good as he took. Truth be told, she thought the world of him. Putting aside the fact that he was an awesome boss, he was probably one of the finest tattoo artists in the country, if not the world, and yet he contented himself with owning only a couple small studios in one city. She was already an up-and-comer when she managed to weedle him into giving her a shot, but the things she learned about her craft once he took her under his wing?

I'll never be able to pay him back.

She tried not to dwell on how much he meant to her; especially not on this day.

"Nah, even worse than that. Just wanted to tell you Dirk's done, so I'm off for the rest of the day. And then I'm taking next week off, remember? Put in for it like a year ago."

He narrowed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, an antique of rough steel and polished oak that groaned under his large viking-like frame. He steepled his hands together and nodded. "Ya. Just like the year before. Third time in a row now, always October. Never seems like it's for anything good though…"

Chloe frowned, giving a dismissive shrug of her shoulders.

"I won't ask…" he added.

"Cool, 'cause this isn't gonna be the year I start talking. I mean, it's not like you're…" she bit her tongue back, before she could finish. "Shit, look at it this way, Roy: what other employee is polite enough to schedule her massive benders in advance? She rolled her eyes and added, "Really, you should be thanking me; it's not like I spend my ETO on anything else."

"Ya, but that's just you taking advantage of a foolish old man's generous policy for cashing out unused vacation time at the end of the year." he snorted.

"Yup. I'm a baaaaaad bitch." She threw up demon horns with one hand, and waggled out her tongue, but her heart wasn't really in it. Turning away, she said, "Anyhow, see ya next Monday, I guess."

Roy paused overlong, and she was nearly out into the hallway before he said, "Just make sure you're ready to catch up on all the work that'll pile up while you're gone."

"Always do." she replied.

Not like I got anything else going on.


Chloe stepped out into the bright sunshine and pleasantly dry, 80 degree air of Las Vegas in the early autumn. She took a deep, cleansing breath, then paused to take in the tranquility of Container Park.

Mmmm. Another day in paradise.

Technically speaking, Paradise was a few miles south, an unincorporated township in Clark County where the airport and the Vegas Strip could be found. Downtown Las Vegas proper, and the Fremont Arts District that dominated it, were still the true, authentic heart and soul of the city. As the name implied, Container Park was a miniature village composed of a large number of repurposed and refinished shipping containers arranged in an enclosed square the size of a city block. But it was so much more than the mere sum of its parts; a curious melange of art, consumerism, and family entertainment, dominated by pop-up galleries, bars, restaurants, unique shops, and even its own tiny little wedding chapel tucked away on the top floor. The wide, open courtyard hosted a multi-story play structure that Chloe would have sold her two front teeth for when she was a kid, and the small stage near Steel Rails hosted any number of concerts, plays, and small shows.

The Arts District was one of the first places that Chloe visited when she first moved to Las Vegas, and the moment she spotted the fifty-foot, fire-breathing steel animatronic praying mantis guarding the entrance, she knew she was in love; being hired by the tattoo parlor in the rear suddenly became a burning goal, in a life that was largely bereft of any, beyond "Keep pushing air past your teeth" and "Try not to choke on your own vomit when you get blackout drunk."

The Park was bright, clean, well maintained - honestly, it was almost too perfect; if it weren't for the character and utter lack of chain stores, Chloe would probably despise the place.

Trotting up to the second level, she immediately plopped down at one of the stools of her favorite chill spot, Doctor Dunsel's. Not only did they have one of the best views of the park - ideal for people watching - but some amazing hot dogs, coupled with top shelf booze, including concoctions that she wasn't sure would be legal to serve in many places outside of the state of Nevada. Chloe would have been embarrassed if forced to admit how much of her paycheck was usually spent there.

Regardless, it was the perfect spot to start her week's retreat from humanity.

She uselessly fiddled with her menu while waiting for her order to be taken, and closed her eyes, as she allowed herself a rare moment to look straight into the cold, dark lump stuck in the middle of her chest; the great mass of mental scar tissue that never managed to heal right after the continuous chain of events that still haunted her to this day.

Arcadia Bay. October. 2013.

If it had only ended with Max's tragic murder, that would have been bad enough.

But it didn't. Not by a long short.

And here she was, barely five years later. She wondered when it would start getting easier, dealing with the pain. She came to Vegas hoping to leave all of it behind, that time and distance would allow the healing to begin.

She was still waiting.

Chloe wondered if Vegas was far enough, if there was any distance she could put between herself and her place of birth that would make any of what happened easier to live with.

She groaned silently as the ebon shell of her emotional trauma tightened around her, blocking out the warm breezes and and soft music that drifted nearby. A panoply of memories and impressions built slowly but surely to an increasingly intolerable din in her mind.

"My little girl! My angel! My baby!"

"Y-you were an innocent little girl, and I'm s-s-so sorry…"

"David? Am I a good person?"

"God, I could really use a drink!" Chloe hissed angrily to herself.

The sound of a throat being loudly cleared jerked Chloe out from the edge of the abyss. She looked up and gave a weak smile to the bearded, heavy-set African-American male in his late fifties. He was clad in a loud Hawaiian shirt and blue velvet fez. He drummed his fingers against the bar for a few seconds, then removed a large, chunky vape pen from his breast pocket. Taking a long drag, he slowly exhaled, as hash and coconut oil scented vapor pooled around his head like a halo.

Jim - just Jim, Chloe never bothered to learn his last name - was the host and proprietor of Doctor Dunsel's. A transplant from the Northeastern US, he spoke with a clear, vibrant baritone tinged with a New England accent, "Welcome, Madame Artiste. What can I get for the Lady of Pain today?"

"Hola, Kahuna. Uh...I'll have the triple Bhagczech dog, with a little of the ghost pepper sauce, and a large order of the waffle fries. Oh, uh...make that a double. The hot dog I mean, holy shit not the fries. Two dogs. And a large Rocket Fuel, grape flavor."

Jim leaned in, resting heavily against the bar with his forearm. He fixed a steely gaze on her for a few seconds, then pointed over his shoulder. "My Lady, you may be unaware of this, but Doctor Dunsel's is an establishment of class and repute. Now what does the clock on the wall read right this second?"

Chloe shifted in her seat, uncertain as to what the problem was. She glanced over in the direction indicated.

11:59:47 AM

She blinked, gave a clipped, hard sigh and slumped with disbelief. "Wow, Jim. Fucking really?"

"Fucking really." he repeated, before punctuating his next statement by waving the vaporizer as if it were a conductor's baton. "If there's only one rule I hold to here, it's this: no ETOH is to be served before the noonday hour." A few seconds later, he looked back over his shoulder, nodded once in self-satisfaction, and then said, "So. You want it in your usual mug?"

"God, yes!"

"While you wait, madame."

With that, Jim handed her his pen, from which she took a few long, greedy pulls as she waited for her order, grateful for the opportunity to quickly sand down the worst edges of the existential anxiety pressing in around her. A moment's false peace ensured, and she spun around to take in the view behind her: children laughing and chasing each other around the playground, couples holding hands, throngs of women showing off what they'd just purchased, people eating lunch…

...life being lived.

Ah fuck. Max….Rachel. You would have loved this place. You would have loved this shitty, awesome, horrible, insane, crazy city. Why the hell aren't you here? Why aren't either of you here?

Chloe knew the answer.

It was because of her. All of it.

A throat was cleared again, and in one single motion Chloe spun slowly around and handed back Jim's vape. "Thanks." she whispered.

He laid down a large tray filled with food, along with an oversized black ceramic mug with the words "QUEEN OF FUCKING EVERYTHING" stenciled on the side in pink filigree script; it was a perk of an exclusive private club that she and a few other privileged patrons paid a yearly fee to be part of. And for that nominal fee, they got heavily discounted drink refills, served in personalized mugs that were otherwise held in the back of the bar for them.

"Looks like you've got a lost weekend planned, so I'll leave you to it. Just let me know when you want to leave so I can call a Lyft driver who won't cop a feel when they're driving your drunk white ass back home," Jim murmured, before sauntering off to take another order.

That was the trait Chloe appreciated the most; his uncanny ability to know when she wanted to talk, and when she wanted to be left the fuck alone so she could booze out in peace. Well, that and the fact he knew how to take care of his customers, when they didn't feel like taking care of themselves.

She looked down at the cold, purple slush. A mixture of grain alcohol and powdered drink mix forced to freeze with judicious application of dry ice, Rocket Fuel was, by far, Chloe's favorite alcohol delivery method. Delicious as hell, it packed a wallop, delivering a giddy, happy euphoria unmatched by most other cocktails. Not that Chloe could ever be described as giddy, happy or euphoric these days.

Especially today.

Need all the help I can get.

Chloe took an over-sized bite of her hot dog and chewed hard. As the spicy sauce burned her mouth, she added a sizable mouthful of the slushy concoction, trading a hot mouth for brain freeze. She struggled to swallow as quickly as possible as she reached for the fries out of habit, but then paused…

...she knew there was an emptiness inside that alcohol and junk food weren't going to fill. But damn if she couldn't figure out how to stop trying the same thing over and over, hoping for different results.

Rising up from her seat, Chloe drifted over towards the far edge of the tavern, up to the fencing where she could see the rest of the Arts District beyond the confines of the park. Glancing forlornly at her drink, she took another long, frosty pull, and then poured a little out over the side, watching as chunky purple droplets spattered the sidewalk below.

"You have a reason to be wasting perfectly good booze?" Jim quietly asked, coming up from behind her.

Half laughing, half sobbing, Chloe said, "As a matter of fact, I got two. Two people who got the fucking shitty end of the stick from the universe. All because…all because they made the biggest mistake of their lives."

"Oh? Sounds pretty egregious. What might that be?"

Chloe turned to face Jim, a sour expression of self-loathing twisting up her face. "Being my friend."

She downed the rest of what was in her mug, and gripped hard at the railing with her free hand as she did her best to endure the sharp, nearly blinding stab of pain it produced in her forehead. She started to rub instinctively at the roof of her mouth, but forced herself to stop, preferring instead to absorb the full brunt of the sharp ache as long as possible.

She hadn't realized her eyes were wet until she felt the tears land on her fingers.

Holding out the mug to Jim, she hoarsely whispered, "Hit me." The two of them locked eyes, and for a moment she thought he would turn her down. She started psyching herself up for a fight, as part of her wondered what would happen if he said no. Would she make a fuss? Would she push him around? Would it get violent, and would she end up getting thrown out?

Much to her relief and disappointment, the older man simply took the mug, favored her with a bland, inscrutable expression, then turned and left.

Chloe drifted back to her seat, and in stark, grim solitude, polished off the rest of her meal in silence. October was always a difficult time: haunting and hateful. A week where she did her best to scourge her brain clean of any functional neurons, in a desperate, frantic attempt to find some measure of peace, a means to soften the blow, even if just for a few days. She'd always been told it would get easier, that time would dull the sharp roughness of the wound. But if anything, five years on, the pain felt like shrapnel, buried deep inside. Worming its way ever closer to her heart, as if heralding the slow but inevitable demise that waited for her.

How long could it go on like this? Another five years? Ten? Maybe this would be the year where she'd finally pass out - after guzzling down her entire liquor cabinet - and never wake up again. The notion held no small amount of relief, and the most disturbing thing about it to Chloe was how, little by little, the idea became less disturbing to her.

After three mugs of Rocket Fuel, and another couple of hits from her own vape pen, she staggered out across the park and into the car waiting to take her back to her apartment. As short-term memory fuzzed into oblivion, Chloe was struck by a brief but singularly overpowering mental image: herself, trapped in a sealed room, one slowly filling with water. For the moment, she'd managed to stay afloat, keep her head above level. But sooner or later…

...what happened when the room was full? When there was no air left to breathe?


A/N: Is this thing on? Holy hell how...how do I upload and publish again? Seriously, it's been almost a year. Oh..oh THERE we go.

*ahem*

Hi kids! It's been a while, but I'm back.

Sooooo...this story is something new for me, in that it was written from start to finish before a single chapter was published. It took me 9 months to complete, and staying motivated was very difficult at times, but being able to go back and re-read the entire work, and correct for continuity glitches and add in new bits has been utterly fantastic. It has allowed me to avoid all sorts of pitfalls I ran into with a lot of my past stories, where I was writing "on-the-fly" chapter by chapter. Especially large epics like Black Swan and Once More Unto The Breach.

What made me decide to go in this direction? I took inspiration from one of, IMO, the finest writers in the community, TomorrowHeart. While Ouroboros is a great work, his greatest story was one done with MaiQueti, Play Crack The Sky. An 80k long written out entirely over six months before being published.

Holy shit. I cannot...CANNOT...say enough great things about this work. It is powerful, it is riveting, it is probably the best post-Bay story ever written. Tom has incredible writing instincts. He knows exactly when to chase the characters up the tree, and how to keep throwing rocks at them instead of letting them down. So naturally, when the time came, and I wanted to write my next story, I reached out to him (we'd already struck up a friendship over PCTS) and asked if he'd be interested in brainstorming the plot and beta-reading my output. I am so ultra-fortunate he agreed to both. He was a lodestone (heh) helping to reassure me I was on the right track, and helping me figure out the initial kinks in my story concept and plot overview. A million-and-one thank-yous to him, for all his help, motivation, et al! I realized that if I was going to grow as a writer, I needed to be able to take this challenge on. I'm rather pleased with myself that I succeeded. ;-)

There is also someone else that I want to thank: Leosch. He first caught my attention when he managed to find a whole crapton of mistakes that slipped past my editing when I was doing Grande Dame. I always remembered his critical eye and thorough attention to detail, and the fact that he's a non-native English speaker meant that he has a much sharper grasp of proper grammar and structure that I sometimes take for granted. I am excessively fortunate that he's agreed to proofread this story, and I will be publishing chapters as he hands them back to me.

Also: yeah. More Las Vegas. People who know me know I have a tremendous love/hate relationship with the place. But Container Park? OMG, it is so awesome, and very real. You need to check it out if you are ever in LV.

Sooo...so yeah. It feels really good to be back, everyone. Writing these notes now, I realize how much I missed you all. Some of you who know me on Twitter and Facebook know that 2018 has been an extremely eventful year: I came out to a lot of people as trans, I very nearly got divorced, I fell in love with an amazing woman who continues to be the light of my life, grew close with another amazing woman as well, and I've started HRT. As you can imagine, this all slowed up the pace of my writing a little. ;-D But thank you, to all my friends and loved ones, for helping me through hard times.

See ya'll soon!

P.S. If you've enjoyed this work, or my others, and you want to help me buy a dress, some foundation, or a book, feel free to donate to my

Kofi! /lytaherself