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Dreaming Awake

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Dust my feathers
I'm praying on my knees, cause I want to fly
Daddy can you change the weather?
Show me when the raindrops turn to life

Get up, get up, get up, feather
Be free

Now I'm flying and everything feels so free
Take me higher, take me
Now I'm flying, and with these broken wings, take me higher
Be free
~Meg Myers - Feather~

You live in an impossible world.
In your impossible world everything still seems just outside your reach and yet, the thing you want most in the world is holding your hand. You lay your head in her lap and she strokes your hair, and in this chaotic and impossible world, you feel calm for the first time in a week.

It's been the longest week of your life and that's not just an expression, it's the honest truth. You've lived these days over and over again trying to make everything right. If there were another way, you're positive would've found it by now. And then once you decided to allow yourself to make the only choice you could live with, she went and changed everything. She wants to give herself up for the good of a town full of people who could never see her the way you do. She's rare, your Chloe, loud like she's confident even while she's blaming herself for things she never had any control over. You've made your choices (so, so many choices) and you don't think you'll ever be able to tell her about it… but you've already tried it her way.

There's always a storm.

There's always a choice.

Chloe tells you that the only way is to let her go, that you never should've saved her in the first place. But everything you've done in the last week is because of that first choice. You saved Chloe before you even knew what the two of you would become, before the choice to save her was a selfish one it was just the right one. It's still the right one now.

The first time you stood here, you were lost. The storm lay just out of reach and yet you felt it deep inside your body, like you were made of it. Your body ached at the sight of it. It was almost too loud to hear Chloe over the sound of the wind. The first of your many regrets: having to yell over an impossible storm to tell your best friend you can't let her go. Instead of fighting the storm you wanted to give in to it. You wanted to give into Chloe too though, and when she pulled photo of a blue butterfly from her pocket you couldn't help but go along with whatever she asked of you. She's strong, your Chloe. It's not just a part she plays when she knows she's being watched. There's a fire deep at her core, and when she looked at you with the picture in her outstretched hand it was that fire that pulled you in. You took the picture, you nodded and you cried and eventually you did exactly what she asked you to do. You've never been very good at saying no to Chloe.

Chloe is close, her nose is so very close to Max's that they're nearly touching and somehow Max hasn't yet surrendered. It's a game with Chloe, she thinks, pushing and pulling at Max to find out where her boundaries are, where she's set the limits of their friendship. This is no different, Chloe's body nearly screaming at her with its warmth. Chloe smirks, lips moving with only a whisper, "Kiss me."

There's only a split-second of hesitation as Max considers whether or not Chloe is serious before she closes the distance. She decides she doesn't care if Chloe is serious or not, she has to move one way or another, and she chooses Chloe. Her lips are soft and there's a breath passed between them and Max reaches out with a hand to steady herself on Chloe. The both rock slightly but Max doesn't take more than she's been asked to. She pulls her hand back, mustering control and forcing both her hands into fists at her sides. But it's Chloe that pulls out of the kiss first, head shaking.

"Well," Chloe breathes. "Didn't think you'd actually take me up on it."

With the picture in your hands, you had nowhere else to look but down. The image looked different that you remembered it, wishful thinking on your part you realized. You wanted it to be wrong, you wanted so much for it to somehow be a different polaroid, a different butterfly, a different second of time that would take you literally anywhere else than that horrible bathroom. You wanted to imagine a scenario where somehow Chloe got her hands on a different butterfly and maybe if you used that one instead there'd be a new option you somehow missed before.

You never thought you'd ever pray to a butterfly, but a lot had happened in the last week. That was hardly the most strange.

Chloe's stared at you while you made your decision. You could feel the warmth of her and somehow too, the cold hole in your heart her absence was going to make when this was over. You put a hand to your heart, expecting to find it there already. All that was left to take the leap.

Chloe grabbed your other arm, your free hand a fist and you looked up at last, tears already in your eyes.

Max turns over in the middle of the night, asleep but not completely soundly so. Her eyes flutter open, but not long enough to adjust in the darkness. Not long enough to see Chloe watching her in the dim moonlight.

"Max?" Chloe slides her head forward on her pillow, presses a heel into the mattress to manuever closer to Max. "Are you asleep?"

"Hrmm?"

"I can't sleep." Chloe's arm reaches between them, pushing some of Max's hair from her face. The moonlight barely carves out her cheeks in the middle of the night, but there's a light there, a trace of highlights on all the places Chloe's fingers long to touch.

Waking enough to register an unspoken request, Max rests her arm on Chloe's waist. She slides closer and pulls Chloe against her. "Sleep, Chloe," she mumbles. "I'm not going anywhere."

You kissed her.

She kissed you back.

If you'd had any questions about what your choice should've been, they were answered the moment Chloe's lips came to yours. She wanted you, but she wanted to save the world too. And you could only give her one or the other. For her sake, you weren't willing to try things her way. Not first anyway. But your Chloe, she had other ideas and no reservations. Truthfully, it's not like you knew where the other option would lead at the time. You chose this because Chloe asked it of you and her kiss sealed the deal. There was no stalling after that. She pulled away - pushed you back - and gestured to the image in your hands. God forgive you, but you looked at it. You focused on that butterfly and waited for the spinning to stop.

The photo album lies open between Chloe's hands. Max tries to look over them, craning her head around to the right angle. She grins at an old image, the two of them with pirate swords and red bandanas. Their younger selves grin at the camera, swords crossed in the forefront as though they'd been interrupted in mid-battle. Max's fingers taps the image.

"I remember that day," Max chuckles. "Your mom brought home those bandanas for us. Tied them around our heads."

"Yeah," Chloe says, voice breathy and rasping. Next to the bed the machine whirrs and clicks. On the other side, a drip courses down through the IV tube. Already her eyes are a little heavier than they were before. "I remember you were going to ask your mom about matching striped shirts."

"She said no," Max adds with a smile up at Chloe. Her eyes are watering as she looks up at Chloe. "Can I ask you a question?"

Her response is slow but Chloe half-grins and says, "Time's running out for that."

"Can I kiss you?"

"I thought you'd never ask."

If you weren't about to watch your friend die, again, you would've said getting here had been a nightmare. There would still be creepy-crawly shivers down your spine at the way Mr. Jefferson called your name in those never-ending hallways. The way Warren had turned on you and was hunting you down along with the rest of them. The way Frank talked about you, about Chloe, about Rachel Amber. Getting through that maze had been the toughest thing you'd ever done, and you'd already stared death down for Chloe's sake.

Perhaps it'd only been inevitable that the universe had to step up its game. Powers like yours feel massive and uncontrollable, even now that you're getting a handle on them, but in the face of your feelings for Chloe, its nothing.

You come out the other end of that picture in the bathroom, a blue butterfly on your camera screen and there before you, resting on the lip of the bucket. Déjà vu has nothing on you.

Nathan is curled up on the floor, crying for the future he's about to lose as he stares at wound in Chloe's chest. She's on the ground too, blood pooling on the tile beneath her. Her eyes go wide at the sight of Max, or perhaps it's only the dilation of pupils staring into the lights of the ceiling. But when she breathes, Max's name comes on her exhale.

"Don't talk," Max says. She lowers herself to the floor, nearly covering Chloe's arms and shoulders with her own torso. Chloe's awkward to hold but Max manages somehow, through the tears.

"Don't talk, Chloe," she whispers. Her head is so close to Chloe's but she's upside down, staring into her best friends right side up gaze. "I'm so sorry, Chloe."

"Max…" Chloe's voice trails off, her eyes close and there's only a breath or two left between them.

Watching Chloe die when you knew you had the power to stop it was worse than you could've even imagined it would be. You tried not to think about her standing on that hill, telling you this was okay. You tried not to think about all the things you knew would keep her alive, all the alternative lives she could be living in that moment. Her life didn't just slip away, you let it go, and it tore you apart.

You didn't feel very super after that. You felt small and weak and more alone than ever. There was this whole world, multiple lives or possibilities or whatever they were, and not only did you know there wasn't a soul you could tell about them, you knew that no one would believe you if you did. Too scared to try your powers again, afraid they wouldn't work (or that they would), there was nothing to do but wait for the storm to come.

Of course it rained the day of her funeral. It always rains on her funeral. It's like even the sky can't seem to have her hidden away in the ground. Not that you can blame it.

There you stood, looking at a box that wasn't fit to hold a wildfire like your Chloe. People stood around and looked solemn and sorry about her death. They looked at her mom with pity in their eyes. You felt like you might burst for all the tears you were holding back and no one even spared a glance your way. No one but Joyce even understood why you were there and she didn't even known the half of it.

And then it came.

It was pouring and in the distance, a siren sounded and on Chloe's casket, a blue butterfly appeared. The whole world might as well have caught on fire in that moment, you were already on your way out.

"What if someone finds us?" Max's voice wavers, eyes darting down the far end of the pool . "What if--"

"Forget what if, Super Max. How about now?" Chloe paddles slowly forward and waits at the base of the ladder into the pool beneath Max's wary gaze. "Why don't you think about yourself. You and me." She grins, cocking a brow before gesturing at the pool. "And now."

Max is already giving in, stripping down to her under clothes. Chloe moves away from the ladder, but Max side steps it and crouches down. "Look out," she says. It's the only warning Chloe gets.

A moment later Max is jumping up and landing in the pool, splashing Chloe who pushes water towards her in a futile attempt at retaliation. Max pops up only inches away, grabbing Chloe's hand to help steady herself. When the water settles, they're both smiling and tiny giggles escape from them without warning.

Everything goes quiet, save the soft motion of the pool and the buzz of the overhead lights. Chloe leans back into the water with a sigh, turning enough to keep an eye on Max.

"Thanks, Max."

"For what?"

"For this. I needed this." She sighs again and stares up at the lattice work of the building's ceiling and skylight windows. "I just really needed this."

Max grabs Chloe's hand, fingers sliding between Chloe's with an intimate comfort. "Me too."

This week has a thousand variations, more or less, not that you've ever stopped to count them. But you know the important moments by heart and they're not the big choices, like saving Chloe from her own bad luck on the train tracks, and not a single one of them has anything do to with Nathan or Mr. Jefferson. None of your options let you go back to save Rachel Amber, or change what happened to Kate, or any of the girls… though you tried so many times to make them right.

No, the moments that you can't escape are the quiet ones with Chloe. They always come and you're always at a loss for what to do next. And it's not her fault you so often choose poorly. It's not like she's trying over and over and over and over. She's just, being her, doing what Chloe does best. Except when she can't do anything at all, like when she forced your hand and forced herself into that casket.

You've never felt so stupid, or so lost, and if Chloe isn't here to call you out on it, you don't know how you'll get through another week. Not when you couldn't even stop the storm. There's always a storm.

There's always a choice.

And it doesn't matter if you lose your powers but you know you can't let them take Chloe away from you. What's the point of having them if you can't use them to save the one person that matters to you? It shouldn't matter how many times you do it.

The storm agrees, you think. Or it wouldn't keep coming.

Chloe digs in the pocket of her jacket with one hand. It only takes a second before she's pulling it out again, clutching a polaroid photo. Max shakes her head when she sees it. She frowns and Chloe thrusts the picture at her again.

"No, Chloe. No, I can't."

"Can't what, Max? Save the world? That's what you're supposed to do? It's me, I know it is! If you just let me go, just let me go, Max and the whole town gets to live. That's the trade, right?" She stops and looks out over the cliff at Arcadia Bay in the distance, the tornado spins in the middle distance and the waves crash onto the beach below.

"My mom's down there, Max." Her voice is low and pleading and Max can only just barely hear it over the wind. "Please. It's okay. It's okay." She's crying and her head shakes as she whispers "it's okay" again and again.

"Chloe…" Max can't finish what she needs to say and instead reaches out for the polaroid. With her other hand she clutches Chloe's arm. And then she's leaning in, pressing her lips to Chloe's and letting the storm fall away behind them to lose herself in that kiss.

Chloe doesn't push her away but rests herself in Max's kiss, in Max's embrace, and she's crying before she can even help herself. When they need a moment to breathe, she wants to whisper, "Please, Max. Let me go." But the words don’t come out and there's barely a breath in her before Max kisses her again.

It's Max who eventually pulls away, the polaroid in one hand, crushed in her palm.

Afterward it seems like such a silly thing to even question. As if one person's life could change the pattern of a storm?

It's Chloe… you love her… but alive or not, the storm still comes. Even you have to admit to it, you've seen it all. And you'll tell her, maybe, eventually, so she understands why you had to tear up the picture. That's a talk for a later day though. Right now is just about you and Chloe and a storm.

You want to pull her away from the cliff as the storm hits the bay but she refuses to go. You pull her to the ground and you both fold your legs and clutch each other's hands and stare into the tornado on the coast. She's uncertain, she's crying and you don't even know where to start to explain it. You suppose it's not something you can really explain while it's still happening. When it's over, you promise yourself, you'll find a quiet place away from the bay and you'll… try, and keep trying, to make it right.

"Promise me something, Max." Chloe's grip on your hand is tight, clammy and warm but it doesn't loosen as she turns to look at you.

"Chloe?" You don't want to promise her anything as the remnants of your childhood homes are still being torn apart at the seams and tossed into the sky, so you just watch and wait.

"Promise me this isn't the past, Max."

She's gripping you hand so tightly you can feel the strain in your forearm. You want to laugh or at least to smile, to comfort her in a way that doesn't remind her that her mom is still in Arcadia Bay, that the only place she's ever lived - where she grew up, where she met Rachel Amber, where she met you… again - isn't about to fall into the ocean.

You lean to the side and give her a solemn look, grabbing your clasped hands with your free one and trying to loosen her grip so you can hold her. She relents but slowly, waiting for your answer with fear in her eyes.

"This is now, Chloe," you say quietly. "Just now."

"What's that mean, Max?"

She's a little selfish, your Chloe, and you can hear it even as her voice wavers. She wants to live.

Your arm slides around her back, your hand settling on her other hip. She's watching you with guarded interest when you lean in and kiss her. It's soft but needy, her lips are salty and wind-chapped and she doesn't smell like herself, unless you've forgotten the difference between her and the storm. And maybe you have. Either way you're holding her close and tight, and scooting closer still, until you're half up on one knee and pressing your body against hers because you can't wait. She wants to live and you want to stop messing up all your chances with her. To tell her why you've done everything just this way, for good this time.

The storm rages behind you and the wind sucks up the sound so there's nothing but you and Chloe, green grass and trees and a lighthouse on this side of the bay. Chloe pulls you to the ground and even if in your kisses she's forgotten her question, you haven't.

Just a little more than a whisper, your lips brushing the curve of her ear as you speak you say, "It means I love you, Chloe." She's starting to turn her head at the sound of your voice when you continue. "It means I'm here and I'm not giving you up, Chloe Price. Not ever."

A smile ghosts across her lips and then she's saying, "Kiss me again."