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Party Police

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Max has been at a party for nearly twenty minutes, and hasn't panicked yet.

It's a personal best.

She's the most recent arrival at a house party being hosted by Dana Ward, even though Max is fairly sure that this is not Dana's house.

Max is, perhaps inevitably, in the kitchen. She's holding a bottle of beer -- correctly, she hopes -- and enjoying a quiet conversation.

Courtney Wagner, a brunette malevolence who blights Max's days in school on a part-time basis, says, "I just worry sometimes that no one sees the real me, y'know?"

Max nods sympathetically. She can relate.

Courtney is swaying a little. She's been at the party longer than Max has, and apparently has done some damage to a bottle of vodka. "There's more to me than just being Blackwell Academy's leading fashionista..."

Max makes a slightly less sympathetic face.

Juliet Watson, who represents the entire staff of the school paper, says, "Right? There's so much pressure to present the perfect public face. It's such bullcrap."

Max agrees. Not out loud, though. She isn't taking part in the conversation. She's standing in the corner, to one side of the fridge, apparently unnoticed.

Courtney sighs, "I'm glad it's not just me...sometimes it's all too exhausting, y'know?"

"Yeah. It must be tough on you, especially when you're trying to keep up with Victoria..." Juliet says, in what she must imagine is an innocent tone.

Juliet isn't bad, but she's a full-time gossip with delusions of journalism. And clearly she's setting Courtney up to get dirt on Blackwell Academy's elite students.

Max should maybe intervene.

Courtney sighs. "This is what I'm talking about! Victoria's such a sweet person. Like, she had Taylor and I over for pre-party cocktails!"

"Aw, that is sweet," Juliet lies. "Though I think maybe she had a few more than you..."

Max puts down her beer. She psychs herself up for interrupting.

"Oh, Victoria's fine!" Courtney leans in towards Juliet, swaying a little. "Hey, did you know she gets super cuddly when she's high? It's so cute!"

Max blinks. She settles back against the counter. After all, maybe she shouldn't be rude and butt into someone else's conversation about Victoria Chase being cute and cuddly?

Victoria Chase is Courtney's friend and infernal overlord. She and Max got off to a bad start when Max insulted Victoria by showing up at the same school as her this year. Their relationship has only gone downhill since.

Maybe it's because they both want to be photographers? Max doesn't think of them as rivals, though. They have different styles, and different attitudes. Besides, Max is a shy, tomboyish nerd with no social skills and Victoria is a beautiful, stylish socialite with a razor-edged tongue.

But there is an overlap in their interests, and Max wonders if that's why Victoria's been so keen to put her down at every turn.

Or, following the Chloe Price school of thought, maybe it's because Victoria is a bit like a t-rex with a money fixation. She can only see people as people when they're wearing outfits that run to a minimum four figure price tag. Everything else around her only registers as something to be stomped on or eaten.

Or both.

Cuddly Victoria is simultaneously a terrifying and weirdly...intriguing prospect.

Max only realises quite how much she's zoned following that line of thought when someone opens the fridge door and her nose gets slightly squished.

"Hey!" Max protests, weakly.

Justin Walker, who isn't hosting the party even though Max thinks this is actually his house, peers round the fridge door and says, "Hey back atcha! Just chillin'? Cooool! Later!"

He tugs a few bottles of beer from the fridge, collects a kilo of Doritos from a cupboard, and wanders off.

He's too high for Max to maintain any outrage over any of it.

Max suddenly becomes aware of an intense silence. She looks round to find Courtney and Juliet glaring at her.

Courtney snaps, "Oh my God! Eavesdrop much, Maxine?"

"Uh...hey, Courtney. It's Max, actually. Um...I was here when-"

Juliet shakes her head. "Max. This was a private conversation. You better not repeat anything you've heard."

Juliet, who is standing just outside Courtney's field of vision, winks ostentatiously at Max.

Max says, "Look, I wasn't eavesdropping. I was here already. I said hello when you came in?"

Courtney scoffs. "Whatever. Just get out of here, Max. I can't believe you!"

"Yeah, uncool Max!" Juliet mouths an apology to Max, before grabbing her arm and hustling her out of the kitchen.

She pauses long enough to whisper, "Chasing a story, Max. Sorry!"

Max says, "That's kinda unscrupulous, don't you think? She's drunk!"

Juliet groans. "I...shit. Fine! I'll treat the whole incident as off the record, okay?"

Max opens her mouth to argue further.

"Enjoy the party, Max!" Juliet closes the door in her face.

Max sighs. She checks her phone.

Still no sign of Chloe.

Max shivers. It's cold. Maybe because Juliet has shoved her into the backyard, instead of the hall.

Max slumps.

It's November, and chilly, so no one else is outside. Which is a relief, if anything.

Max could leave the yard by the back gate, and walk round to the front of the house, but she decides to hide out for a little bit.

Max only agreed to come to this party because Dana cornered her in the showers one morning and refused to leave Max alone until she agreed to show up. But said agreement was conditional on the attendance of Max's best friend, Chloe.

Who is running insanely late, even by her standards.

Max likes some of the people at the party. Especially Dana, who has been almost merciless in her efforts to befriend Max. Dana...is actually kinda sweet, and Max is grateful for her friendship.

But Dana is also relentless in her matchmaking efforts, and Max is worried that if she runs into Dana without Chloe as backup, Dana will throw Max into a room full of single people and not let her out until Max is a significant other.

And that's stress Max doesn't need in her life.

Not when reconnecting with Chloe is proving stressful enough.

Chloe's amazing, even though she's changed so much, but she's also...angry.

Max abandoned her for five of the toughest years of Chloe's life. Max can't blame Chloe for being angry with her. Which means she just has to...not really deal with it. Which sucks, obviously.

Max wishes they were just...united again, already. As friends, of course! Because Max definitely does not have so much as the lukewarms for her once and hopefully future best friend.

Nope.

She wishes Chloe was here.

She's also kind of glad she's got a bit more time by herself, though.

In a dark part of the yard, a small point of flame glows briefly.

Max is not alone, after all.

Faced with the choice of inside, with Courtney and Victoria, or outside, in the dark with a shadowy stranger, Max makes what she thinks the Chloe decision would be.

She approaches the smoker. "Um. Hello? You hiding out, too?"

"I'm not hiding. An'...who...the fuck...actually says, 'um'?"

A girl pushes herself off the fence and staggers into the patch of light spilling out of the kitchen window.

The first thing Max thinks is that the girl is pretty. Then Max realises that she's pretty drunk.

The girl fully enters the light, and Max realises that it's Victoria Chase who is looming over her.

Max gapes in horror, panics, and tries to remember how to run.

Before she can, Victoria clamps her hand on Max's shoulder.

Victoria Chase is very drunk. Her hair is somehow still immaculate, as is her makeup, and she smells like a well-behaved summer meadow.

But her steps are uneven, her eyes are bleary, and her breath is redolent of cigarettes and not long-departed cocktails.

Her grip strength would put a Sumo wrestler's to shame.

"Maxine? Fuckin'...perfect. Jus' what I need...ugh. You're so dumb, Maxine. You're so dumb. An'...an'...you're stupid, too."

Max sighs. Her shoulder is pinioned. There's no escape. She just has to weather the storm.

Victoria studies her intently from an approximate distance of much too close. "Like...your...your face ."

"Right. My face is dumb and stupid," Max says, hoping to speed things along.

Max digs her phone out of her pocket, and tries to text as best she can with one hand and a face full of Chase to contend with.

Victoria tosses her cigarette away. She pokes Max in the cheek and snarls, "Bull. Shit."

High Victoria is, reputedly, cuddly. Unfortunately, drunk Victoria is even angrier than sober Victoria.

Max flinches. Victoria sways, almost bringing them both down, so Max listens to one self-preservation instinct while fighting down another and puts a steadying hand on Victoria's side.

Victoria, stabilised, pokes Max's cheek again. "Your fuckin' freckles...they were...like focus-tested, weren' they?"

Max squeaks, "What? What does that mean?"

Victoria scoffs. "Puh-lease. Y'can't fool me. Got you all figured out, Max...ine."

Max says, carefully, "Victoria, maybe we should get you inside..."

She stops talking when Victoria starts clumsily stroking her cheek.

Victoria runs her fingers down Max's cheek, to her jaw. She traces Max's jawline. "You're so...your face is sculpted. Your face...isn' dumb as the rest of you."

Max had a suspicion, when she first saw Victoria emerge from the shadows, that she would die tonight. This isn't the way she pictured it, but the way her heart is hammering, like it's going to burst, makes her think death is still likely.

Max tries to think of something to say. She says, "Um. Thanks...? Also, could you stop that?"

Victoria pats Max's jaw a few times. "Hey..." Victoria frowns. "Are you feelin' me up, Maxine?"

Max yanks her hand away from Victoria's side. Victoria sways violently, causing them both to stagger. Max quickly grabs Victoria again. She tries to ignore how warm and soft Victoria's body abruptly feels under her hands.

"You're a fuckin' perv, Max," Victoria says, but she doesn't exactly sound angry. She blinks and adds, "Uh, Maxine. Maxine."

Max blurts, "I'm not trying to...I'm just trying to make sure you don't fall! There're some chairs over there. Let's get you in a seat. Okay?"

Victoria shakes her head. She makes an effort to enunciate clearly. "I...am...fine. Max. Maxine, fuck."

"I prefer Max, so, um...just, call me that?" Max tries to steer Victoria towards the garden furniture.

Victoria huffs, and lets herself be turned, but she doesn't budge from the spot, and she doesn't let go of Max.

"You think I give a shit? Maxine ?"

"I guess not." Chloe would have punched Victoria by now, Max thinks. Max just tries to gently tug her shoulder free. Victoria grabs Max's other shoulder.

"Could you just...wait...are you calling me Maxine because you know it annoys me?"

"Noooo, Maxine. I wouldn' dream of annoyin' you, Maxine."

Max is slightly tempted to just shove Victoria off her and run. She wonders how much Victoria will even remember tomorrow, anyway.

But...Victoria is staring at her, and she's making a weird face, a sort of softer version of her habitual scowl.

Max groans.

Victoria is a jerk, but she's also wasted, and Max can't in good conscience leave her alone.

Assuming Max could even break Victoria's grip in the first place.

Max says, "Victoria. I'm going to sit down over there. Come with me, or let me go."

Victoria peers suspiciously at her. "You're gonna ditch me."

If there was one remark guaranteed to hit Max square in the guilty conscience, that would be it. And not just because Max was thinking about running for it.

But looming larger in Max's mind is the whole matter of the five years of near total silence between her and Chloe. Which Max initiated, after she moved away.

Chloe's letting Max back in, at least. But she also pulls shit like tonight, where she arranges to meet Max, then leaves her waiting for hours. Sometimes she doesn't show up at all.

Max is...not happy about that. She isn't sure how to handle it, though. Any more than she knows what to do with Victoria in her current state.

But...she can generally try to do better.

Max takes a deep breath, and says, "I...I promise I won't ditch you. Just...we're going to fall over, Victoria!"

Victoria considers this. "I won't. You might, though. You're clutzy. Clumsy? You're so clunky, Max. Maxine. Maxiiine."

"Would you please stop calling me that!"

"Fine! Go away, then. Don' like you, anyway."

Victoria pouts and turns her face away, even though it's obvious she's watching Max out of the corner of her eye.

"Uh, if you really want me to go, you'll need to stop gripping my shoulders like a trainee Vulcan."

"I don't get it, Max." Victoria says, plaintively.

"Yeah, it's a Star Trek thing. Mr Spock used to-"

"I don't get why we aren't friends," Victoria whines.

Max has little choice but to stare into Victoria's eyes right now. She appears to be sincerely puzzled.

It takes Max a few goes to make her voice work again.

"Victoria," Max says, gently. "You've been unrelentingly mean to me since we first met. You pushed me into a locker yesterday."

Victoria shakes her head. "Noooo. Did I?"

"Yeah. For the third time this week."

"I'm...hazing you? So...you should have figured that out? Get..." Victoria stumbles. "Get your shit together, Max. Ine. C'mon! Let's be buddies. I'll...buy you a new locker, a nicer one!"

Max gapes at Victoria. "The...quality of the locker isn't really the issue here..."

It's while her mouth is hanging open, with Victoria leaning towards her, gripping her shoulders, that the kitchen door opens.

"Oh! Max, I didn't realise you were out here!"

Max looks round. It's Dana! Sweet, saintly Dana come to rescue her!

"Dana! Could you maybe-"

"Fuck off?" Victoria suggests, not entirely pleasantly.

Dana's eyes widen. For a moment, Max thinks that Dana's offended.

Until Dana all but purrs as she says, "Well, I'll...give you two some privacy, then! I'll let everyone else know that the yard is off limits"

She mouths the word, 'Scandal!" to Max, and winks at her.

Dana leaves, taking Max's last hope with her.

Max groans when she remembers that Dana is Juliet's best friend. Soon, everyone at Blackwell is going to know that she and Victoria were being scandalous.

Even if Max isn't sure how this is a scandal, exactly.

Victoria says, "Was that fuckin' Dana? Shit. Shit. This is your fault, Max. All your fault. Gonna...shave your head. Can I shave your head, Maxine? Your hair's sooo bad. Can we fix it? Pleeeease?"

She pokes Max in the cheek, and giggles.

Max groans again, and begins trying to wrangle Victoria into a chair.


Chloe is late.

It's beyond fashionable, and leaving rude, and heading towards people wondering if you are even still alive territory.

This is not...entirely intentional.

Chloe's just been smoking in her room, listening to chill music, and trying to find even a sliver of fucking chill for herself.

Chloe's been so busy stressing about this whole party and hanging out with Max thing that she hasn't noticed quite how much time has slipped away.

Not until her phone buzzes with a new message from Max.

Chloe picks up her phone, sees the time, and mutters, "Fuck! She'll be so...not even mad. Just fucking repressed and shit. As usual."

Maxine Caulfield. The prodigal best friend.

Max is the real reason Chloe's been dragging her heels tonight.

True, it's slightly daunting, the prospect of hanging out with a Blackwell crowd after getting expelled, and the more recent Rachel And Chloe Have A Screaming Argument In Public Over Her Having Sex With A Skeevy Drug Dealer Behind Chloe's Back incident.

Which was followed by the Rachel Moving To Fucking Paris For Nine Fucking Months Before They Could Patch Any Of Their Things Up incident.

Blackwell assholes are the kind of awkward Chloe can handle, though, especially when there's free booze on the table.

But Max...Chloe has no idea what to do about Max.

Max being back in Arcadia Bay, trying to repair their friendship, it's all...too much for Chloe.

Max is trying so hard. And she's not only every bit as kind, funny, dorky, and sweet as Chloe remembers, she's a hella cutie, too. Chloe isn't even sure what way she likes Max these days. Only that's a lie, because Chloe is sure. She just doesn't want to admit quite how immense the PSI of her crush is to anyone. Even herself.

So, of course, Chloe hasn't been making it easy on Max. No, Chloe's been pushing her, if not quite pushing her away.

And that's dumb, probably, but...how the fuck is Chloe supposed to feel about having Max on tap again after all these years? Chloe can text Max, and she'll answer. She can take Max to the lighthouse, or the Two Whales, and just...have her best friend again.

Max is back, and it's real, and it's too fucking much.

Max won't ever get that, though. Chloe can't possibly explain it. Not in any way that would make sense to Max, and wouldn't hurt her.

So Chloe's just...letting her endless capacity for fucking up have free rein.

Maybe she should try to curb that impulse, show up, and try apologising for being a complete brat to Max.

Chloe grinds the heel of her hand into her eye. She isn't going to apologise. Not until Max makes her.

Which is the same as saying never.

But she can at least show up tonight.

Chloe stubs out her cigarette, gets her shit together, and heads out.

It's only when she's outside that she thinks to check what Max's message actually says.

Chloe's brow furrows when she does. "The fuck, Max? What are you even...oh, fuck me."

Max's text reads: Hekp Chkpr voxtira chsae hss me tbi k jn gijbg to die

It takes Chloe a minute to decipher Max's panicked message, but once she unscrambles 'chsae', it all falls into place.

Victoria fucking Chase. Entitled bullying asshole.

There's not much Chloe can do about Victoria giving Max endless shit on Blackwell's campus. But there is no fucking way Chloe's going to let it go down anywhere else in the Bay.

Whatever else is, or isn't, going on between them, Chloe is always going to have Max's back.

Chloe texts back: Rescue inbound. She climbs into her truck, and roars off to Justin's place.

When she gets there, Chloe just barges in and starts hunting for Max.

She searches Justin's house, anger and worry roiling in her gut, until she runs into Dana. Dana giggles, and sends Chloe outside.

Where Chloe finds Max shivering and hugging herself in Justin's backyard.

For a second, she thinks Max is crying, but no. She's just cold because she's only wearing a t-shirt.

She's sitting on a white plastic chair. She's hugging herself with one arm. She's not wearing her ubiquitous hoodie.

There is a reason for all of these things, and she's drooling on the surface of a white plastic table.

Victoria Chase is sitting across from Max, with her head on the garden table. She's wearing Max's hoodie, holding Max's hand, and snoring blissfully away.

Chloe takes it all in, and snorts. "Only you would actually volunteer the shirt off your back to a bully, Max."

Max looks at Chloe, and her face lights up, and it's too much, even before she says, "Chloe! I'm s-so glad to s-see you! More than normal, I m-mean."

Chloe shrugs off her jacket, and says, "Here, idiot. Maybe try not to freeze to death? For the sake of a mean girl wearing a fucking cashmere sweater?"

"She was c-cold."

And Chloe sort of wants to slap her, but mostly she wants to kiss her. She settles for saying, "Take my jacket. C'mon, you know I've got dragon's blood in my veins."

"Thanks, Chloe."

Max smiles at the memory of the dumb games they used to play, like Chloe hoped she would. She takes the jacket and drapes it over herself awkwardly, never letting go of Victoria's hand.

Something ugly stirs in Chloe. "Max, for fuck's sake, you begged me to rescue you, and now you're-"

"She won't let go of me! She's being really weird, Chloe. But not...bad. Not really. She...said she wants to be friends." Max purses her lips. "She's...kinda-"

"Shitfaced? Yeah, not a shocker. Little Miss Chase has always been a lightweight." Chloe suppresses a shiver. It's getting cold. "Max, just leave her. One of her cronies can scrape her up later."

Max ducks her head and squirms. So Chloe knows she's going to love this next part.

"I...was hoping we could give her a ride to Blackwell? I think her friends are...shitfaced, too."

"That's a fair assessment. And an unfair, nay, fucked up request. Max, you can't seriously expect me to give Victoria fucking Chase a ride. I hate her. I hate how she treats you. I hate this whole conversation, Max!"

Max sighs. "Sorry, Chloe. I..." She shoots Chloe a nervous look. "I promised I'd look after her, though. So...I'm going to take her back. I can get a cab, or something."

Which plunges them headlong into the territory they usually avoid. Well, Chloe usually avoids it.

This is a five years gone thing.

Max has promised Chloe she'll be keeping all of her promises from now on. She's trying to prove she's a better person now, or that she's sorry, or that she won't leave Chloe again, or some shit like that.

Chloe doesn't want Max to constantly offer her acts of contrition, though. But she hasn't figured out how to admit what she does want, and Max keeps uselessly trying to fill the chasm she thinks is between them. She's bleeding herself white, and it's for no good reason, and Chloe hates it, and maybe loves her, and it's too fucking much.

And right now, Max will feel like she's betraying Chloe if she doesn't look after Victoria, because she made a promise. Max almost certainly feels like she's betraying Chloe for helping Victoria, too, based on the nervous squirming she's doing.

Or maybe Max always feels guilty, because Chloe is always taking Max on guilt trips.

Chloe sighs. "Fuck, Max! Fine, she can hitch a ride. But if she pukes, you're cleaning it up!"

Max smiles, and Chloe isn't sure she deserves it, but she still wishes she saw that smile more often.

"Thanks, Chlo. Um...I guess we should tell people we're taking Victoria home?"

Chloe folds her arms. "Yeah. You go do that, then. I'll keep watch over Sleeping Bully."

"Oh...uh..." Max darts a glance at Victoria.

Chloe rolls her eyes. "Maaaax."

Chloe strides over to the table, grasps Max's chilly little hand, and pries it loose from Victoria's.

She finds herself holding Max's hand, and every bit as reluctant as Victoria was to let go.

Max looks up at her with those fucking baby blues, and there's something tender Chloe can't afford to trust in her face.

"Um, I should go inside?"

"Your hand's cold. Heat up a bit, first."

Which makes no fucking sense, given it's cold here and warm in the house. It's one of the dumber things Chloe's ever said.

But Max blushes, and squeezes her hand. Chloe's heart kicks things up a notch.

"Oh...okay." She huddles under Chloe's jacket, and smiles at Chloe.

Chloe smiles back. "I...I suck at saying it, but I'm glad you're back, Max. Seriously. I'll try to be...you know."

Max sighs. "Am I back yet, Chloe? I don't...feel like I am."

Chloe opens her mouth, and nothing comes out.

Max smiles, sadly. "I'll go find Courtney. Uh...actually, maybe Dana, instead."

She squeezes Chloe's hand one last time before she pulls away. She doesn't offer Chloe her jacket back, and that gives Chloe hope.

And an odd little thrill when Max puts it on.

Chloe watches Max go into the kitchen. She gives it another minute, to be safe, before she searches for and steals Victoria's cigarettes.


Victoria wakes up abruptly, and in pain. "What the fuck?"

Her right earlobe hurts, like someone just pinched it really hard.

An unsympathetic, voice says, "Oops."

There's a girl with blue hair watching Victoria. She's sitting where Max was sitting when Victoria fell asleep, smoking a cigarette.

Victoria is drunk. Definitely not at her best. Maybe that's why she admits to herself that the girl with blue hair is hot.

Maybe it's why she blurts the first thing that occurs to her when she fully takes in her surroundings. "Max...ditched me. We were holding hands..."

She feels betrayed, by her own drunk mouth, and by Max.

The strange girl says, "Oh, fuck me. I thought I had it bad."

The thing is, that's not a stranger's voice...

Victoria squints, and hunts through her memory. "...Kari?"

"Close, but neither of us gives a fuck, huh?"

"I...why are you here?"

"I'm your ride. I'm taking you back to Blackwell."

"Are you kidnapping me?"

"I'm chauffeuring you, idiot. Because Max asked me. She's got a knack for getting me to agree to things I don't like. Like drinking green tea, eating vegetables, and not kicking your ass."

Victoria scoffs, because there's no one crazy enough to actually mess with her.

Except...wait...no, it can't be...

"Chloe? Chloe fucking Price?"

"Ding!"

Victoria straightens up in her seat and tries to appear less drunk. Victoria's mouth says, "You dyed your hair. It's...actually less horrible this way."

Chloe laughs. "Why thank you, your Chaseness."

It's gorgeous, in fact, and something Victoria could never pull off, and when did Chloe Price get this attractive, and why did Victoria drink so much tonight?

Oh, right, because she knew Max would be here.

Victoria groans. She wipes some saliva off her chin and tries to fix her hair.

Chloe laughs again. "Don't worry, you're still annoyingly pretty."

Victoria huffs, and tries not to squirm in her seat. "I don't need your...approval. Or whatever the fuck. Ugh. Fuck...I feel sick..."

"Go ahead and pick any bush you like! I'll probably wait."

Victoria shakes her head. The nausea passes after a minute. "I'm...going back to the party."

She pushes herself up from the table, wobbles, and sits again. "In a minute...going back in a minute..."

Chloe sighs. "Look...Max is letting people know you're going home. She'll be back soon, and then we're going to Blackwell. You wanna ride? Fine. You don't? Even better!"

Victoria tries to think. She has a horrible feeling she's said too much tonight. She's made herself vulnerable. To Max, and to Chloe. She should go inside. Do damage control. She should...

"Max didn't ditch me?"

Victoria should never, ever drink again.

"No, she didn't ditch you ," Chloe says, bitterly. She grunts, and stubs out her cigarette on the tabletop. "I guess she reallly didn't ditch either of us."

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

Chloe leans across the table, and starts to say something.

Victora cuts her off. "Oh, noooo! Turns out...I don't care."

She's ready for Chloe's anger. But what she gets is Chloe's pity.

Chloe says, "Stop picking on Max, dumbass. You're a photography nerd, like her. Maybe helping her would be a better way of getting her attention?"

"I'm not...don't want her attention," Victoria lies, stubbornly.

Chloe's eyes harden. "But you are going to stop picking on her, aren't you?"

Victoria studies Chloe's expression. She nods, carefully.

Chloe leans back and lights up another cigarette.

"Can I have one?"

To Victoria's surprise, Chloe passes her the fresh lit one, and sparks up another. She wants to protest; the filter, having come into contact with Chloe's lips, has a certain ick factor, after all.

But she craves nicotine too much. Victoria puts the cigarette to her lips. She inhales her brand of smoke, which is a pleasant surprise, and a faint trace of peach lip gloss.

Which...is not an unpleasant surprise.

Victoria smokes, and stews, and slowly sobers up. A little.

Chloe mutters, "Come on, Max."

Victoria frowns, and asks, "How are you fucking it up, then?"

"What?" Chloe sounds startled.

"Max. Who you've got it sooo bad for."

Chloe glares at her, but Victoria's done being intimidated for one night. "You fucking said it, Chloe! Not my fault I was listening."

Chloe shrugs. Her shoulders are bare, Victoria realises. She must be freezing.

Which is something, at least.

"C'mooon, you owe me!"

"How the fuck do you figure that?"

Victoria grins. "These are my cigarettes, you thieving bitch."

Chloe laughs. "Fair enough. You're not getting them back, though."

"Keep 'em. But spill."

"Victoria...fuck it, you're not going to remember, anyway. Max and I used to be best friends. Until her family moved, and she stopped talking to me for five years. And now she's back, and..."

"You want to kiss her, and drag her to bed, and...and improve her wardrobe?"

"That's...oddly specific, Victoria. And scarily accurate. But...fuck, I have to make everthing harder than it needs to be. I forgive her, y'know? I just...don't trust her. Not yet. But that's because...I haven't really given her a chance."

Chloe looks away, out into the night. "I'm scared," she mutters.

"That's because you're dumb," Victoria points out, sagely.

"True dat, Vicky." Chloe laughs. "Not in any way helpful, but true."

Victoria bristles. "Do I look fucking helpful to you?"

It's mostly reflex, and doesn't make sense, but Chloe doesn't seem put out.

She snorts, smiles, and says, "Christ! Please don't make me start to actually slightly like you, asshole!"

Victoria tries to say something mean, but laughter spills out of her mouth instead.

Chloe grins at her, and it's weird, but not a bad weird, so Victoria decides to just go with it.

"Gimme another cig. This one's...uh, running out."

"Get your own, Vicky."

"Fuck you, Kari!"

"Only if I was as drunk as you are!" Chloe considers her for a second. "Well, maybe I'd just need to be slightly drunk."

Victoria chokes on a lungful of smoke and hopes Chloe will put down how red she is to not being able to breathe.

Chloe gives her a weird look. "You okay...?"

"Uh, hey guys..."

Because of course she'd reappear right now. The tiny, frizzy-haired, hipster trash with the impossibly blue eyes and the voice that sounds like how it would feel to have cookie dough poured directly into the pleasure centres of Victoria's brain.

Victoria wishes no one was paying attention to her as she coughs and sputters while frantically trying not to think any carnal thoughts about anyone in her general vicinty.

When she's recovered enough, Victoria looks up again.

Max is wearing a leather jacket, slightly too big for her, and it's fucking adorable, and really confusing because wasn't she wearing a cheap, ugly hoodie earlier?

Chloe says, "Hey, Max. And, uh...welcome back. Home, I mean. I should've said that much sooner."

She says that last part softly, and it makes no real sense to Victoria, but Max practically melts where she stands. She grins her biggest, goofiest grin.

Victoria hates how beautiful Max is, almost as much as she hates that no one's paying attention to her.

"Thought you weren't coming back, Maxine. Uh, Max. Sorry."

And now they're both staring at her, incredulous.

"What?" Victoria asks, defensively.

"Did you just apologise?"

"Did you just call me Max?"

Victoria huffs, and struggles out of her seat, and snaps, "Are we fucking leaving or...shit!"

Her legs are apparently drunker than the rest of her. She stumbles, but grabs the table before she can fall. Max is right there, suddenly, slipping an arm around her waist and propping her up.

"Come on. We'll take it slow, okay?"

Max steers her towards the garden gate. Chloe follows them.

Victoria groans. "I hate all of you. I want you to know that."

Max laughs. "Guess I'm not getting a new locker, then?"

"What are you talking about, Maxine? Uh, Max."

Chloe chimes in, "Yeah, what the fuck?"

"Oh, Victoria tried to bribe me with a new locker in exchange for my friendship."

Chloe bursts out laughing as Victoria's ears begin to burn. "Bullshit! I did not! Did I?"

Max peers up at her, smiling. "You totally did. But you don't need to bribe me. We can be friends if you want, Victoria. Just...stop being an ass."

And there's an excellent chance that Victoria's going to say something shitty in response, but suddenly Chloe's on her other side, bumping her hip and slinging an arm over Victoria's shoulders.

They all stagger, but somehow they don't fall.

"Hey!"

"Jackass!"

"Don't worry, Vicky! We can all be hella best friends forever!"

Chloe sounds sarcastic, but Max giggles, and says, "Maybe that wouldn't be so bad? Victoria likes getting high, and she's said to be a cuddler, too!"

Victoria gasps. "How...who the fuck told you those...those lies?"

"Holy shit! Yes, we should all get hella blazed together!"

Victoria's heart is thundering, and she's bright red, and she blurts, "No fucking way! Uh...really?"

Max just laughs, but Chloe gives Victoria a quizzical look which morphs into a wicked grin.

Victoria flushes, and clamps her mouth shut. She vows to never drink again.

That's when she notices that she's wearing Max's cheap, ugly hoodie.

"What...who put this...thing on me?"

Max giggles again, and it's such an infuriatingly pleasing sound.

"You were cold! So...I loaned you my hoodie. You put it on."

Chloe laughs. "Shit, we should take a picture of you two! You know, document your outer layer snaffling ways!"

"Shut up!" Max's tone changes from giggly to concerned. "You're not cold, are you? Do you want your jacket back?

Victoria doesn't like the sound of that, because then she'd take her arm away from Victoria. Abruptly, Victoria realises she's not sure which 'she' she's thinking of.

Both, she supposes.

Before Victoria can start hyperventilating, Chloe says, "I'll be fine. You okay, Victoria? Not cold?"

And with Max holding her, and Chloe draped over her, she's not cold. Quite the opposite.

Victoria relaxes. She slips an arm around each of them. "I'm okay," she says.

She finds she means it.

They pile into Chloe's truck, with Max in the middle, and even though they aren't really, it feels like they're all going home.

On the drive to Blackwell, Victoria leans her head on Max's shoulder, lets her cheek rest against Chloe's jacket, and tries to stay awake for as long as she can.

Before she drifts off, Victoria feels Max gently take her hand.

Chloe says, "You're such a fucking sap, Max."

But she says it fondly. Proudly, even. Like being a sap is the only thing in the world worth aspiring to be.

"Shh. I think she's asleep."

"You know you're never getting that hoodie back, right?"

Max laughs. "That's okay. It looks good on her. Oh, and did I mention someone really cool gave me this sweet new jacket?"

"Oh, so that's how it is? You're lucky you look cute."

Victoria drifts, until Max switches on the radio.

She and Chloe sing along to something soft and accoustic.

Victoria wants to sing, too, but instead she falls asleep, with a smile on her face.