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Another Version of the Truth

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In spite of current popular opinion about him, James Amber did indeed love his daughter.

He was not a perfect Father. Oh, he had to present that face for the people of Arcadia Bay, but under the surface which the outside world got to see and judged accordingly, was a man who lived in constant doubt and fear of what would happen when his secrets got out; and last night thanks to the resourcefulness and sheer guile of his daughter and her… friend… his most potentially damaging one was now being aired out publicly in his family… for Rachel.

… And for this Chloe Price as well…

He had done some background digging into Chloe Price after the meeting with Ray Wells over Rachel and her skipping school. While he had lost his temper on the girl – for which he fully intended to apologize for - she was still a troubled girl, with justifiable reasons to look at the world in such a pessimistic fashion. She had lost her father, William, in a collision with a semi-truck. It wasn’t long after that that everything went off the rails for the girl. Now here they were. She was expelled from Blackwell, apparently deep into recreational drug use and was now the center of fascination for Rachel.

Center of fascination… an understatement to be sure. A euphemism he was using so that he didn’t have to think too much about what their actual out of left field friendship was.

Or the noises that came from Rachel’s bedroom last night.

James exhaled as he mentally bleached his fleeting thought of the unspeakable. It wasn’t some panic over his daughter being apparently gay, it was the fact she brought someone she was seeing (apparently) and did things in his house… in her childhood bedroom.

Sure, he might have done the exact same thing when he was her age… Okay, he did do those things… but this was different. This time he was the father of the girl in question!

When he dealt with this Sera situation, he supposed he was going to have to sit Chloe Price down and have the same conversation he would have to have in her place. Girl or not, it was only right she got to endure the scrutiny of a disapproving father.

Hell, it might even be fun...

Closing the car door behind him with one hand, the other pushing his hair back, James stepped casually towards the somewhat run down Price home. It had the potential to be a fine house in itself, but it was clear to him whatever pride they had in their home was diminished at the loss of William Price. It was an understandable state of affairs.

The familiar hum from his smart phone caught his attention briefly. He grabbed it from his jack and tapped the message service.

Rose - James, Rachel is still at home. What are you doing?

You - I'm dealing with the Price situation right now. Talk soon.

Turning his phone off, James stepped up to the front door and stood there for a moment to recollect his momentum. To give himself a moment to figure out just how he was going to present himself to the Price household: concerned parent, or DA.

With that, James knocked on the door and dropped his hand back to his side.

It only took a moment before the door opened. Standing there in front of him was a middle aged woman whom he had met the day before in Ray Well’s office. Joyce, if he remembered clearly. She dressed in her work clothing and looked exhausted; her eyes were puffy and red from spending last night crying. For what reason, James certainly already knew. He could appreciate the sentiment; it had been a rough evening.

Silently James watched as an understandable flash of annoyance cut through Joyce’s miserable expression and streaked over her face as she stood in the doorway. Her arms crossed over her chest as she looked him over. She was angry, but too prideful to admit that to him right off the bat. James could see why she harboured this feeling for him. He did not foster good will from her for his apathy to her daughter’s plight and his natural inclination to defend his daughter from any and all accusations levelled at her.

While that was the case less than 24 hours ago, recent events made it clear that Rachel was to blame for the school ditching, and that Chloe Price made it her business to protect Rachel from punishment. It was very… noble… stupid, no doubt to place your education so low in favour of another person… but it was very noble of the girl.

It was clear to James now that Ray was a serious opportunist. He walked into that meeting with the sole intention to weed out a troublemaker, even if it meant believing the utter bullshit Chloe Price fed him. Ray was, at his core, a good guy but he overinflated his position and worth; and while Ray was well within his rights to boot Chloe if even a quarter of his suspicions were rooted in fact, but surely he should have been able to see the girl needed help and display of some compassion.

As the two of them stared at one another in silence, James stepped forward. His had extending out to the woman. He decided there and then he would be the concerned father this time.

 “Mrs. Price?” he spoke to her in an upbeat tone. “Yesterday we met under difficult circumstances, so please allow me to reintroduce myself; my name James Amber.”

 The woman remained locked in place for a good long moment as she observed the DA standing in front of her with his hand still outstretched. James had to admit to himself that he was impressed. She’d make a fine police interrogator.

“Well, you can call me Joyce,” she stiffly returned. Her hand reached out and shook his for a moment before dropping her hand to her side. James said nothing as he noticed the woman wipe her hand on her skirt.

“Joyce…” he repeated once again as bright as he could produce. “Well then, I insist you call me James. I can see you’re heading out, so I apologize for waylaying you. I was hoping to have a chat with your daughter, Chloe. But it is good to catch you here as well.”

Looking at James wearily for a moment longer, Joyce stepped out of the doorway and gestured the man to step into the home. Offering Joyce a half smile, James stepped into the home and watched as Joyce stepped past him and planted herself in front of the staircase.

“Chloe Elizabeth Price! Get down here!” she hollered up stairs.

A string of profanity erupted from the bedroom, and Joyce rolled her eyes. Silently she gestured James to follow her, which he did down the hallway and into the small living room. As Joyce took a seat at the dining table, he did as well. The two of them remained locked in a state of silence, the only noise was the sound of boots stamping above them.

A door slammed and then the boots came down the staircase and through the hallway and sure enough standing there was none other than the object of his daughter’s affection, Chloe Price. She looked as though she had something smart to say to her mother, but the moment it was obvious just who her mother was keeping company with she froze, her mouth slightly agape as she stood there.

Silently James took in girl. She was different than the day prior, more denim, a beanie and peculiarly, one of her bangs was streaked with blue. James exhaled and remained steadfastly silent as he looked at the walking stereotype. One night with his daughter and… this happened.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she demanded as soon as she found it in herself to speak, her arms crossing over her chest as her eyes narrowed at James like he had already done something offensive.

“Chloe manners…” Joyce immediately snapped at her daughter as she too stared at her daughter’s transformation. “… and what did you do to your hair?”

The girl did not reply to her mother. The girl did not so much as offer a glance to her mother. After last night, it was clear Chloe was in the ‘fuck James for lying’ club of which it seemed everyone in his life was a member.

Whatever… he could work with that.

“Chloe, could you please join us?” James requested, gesturing to the seat next to Joyce.

It did not take long for the combined pressure coming from both Joyce and himself to collapse upon Chloe. Rolling her eyes, Chloe stepped forward and slumped down into the seat next to her mother. She still made it a point to remain lock eyed with James. He had to respect the sort of strength this had. Few people ever could look him straight in the eye; came with his position.

Lacing his fingers together as hands rested on the table top, James turned his focus to Joyce, who sat there completely at a loss of words for why it was he was here.

“First, Joyce, I wanted to apologize for any undue worry you might have had for your daughter,” James spoke to the mother in a steadied tone. “I do not know the extent of what she told you, but she was at our home having dinner with us. She helped mitigate an unfortunate incident, and my wife and I are very grateful to have had Chloe here helping out Rachel out through this issue.”

Stunned by what she had heard, Joyce turned her focus to Chloe who conspicuously become bashful at James’ not exactly true version of events.

“Oh, Chloe, why didn’t you say something?” Joyce breathed to her daughter. “You could have at least texted."

Unable, or unwilling to look her mother in the eye, Chloe could only shrug.

"I know…” she said as she decided to play along with James. “It wasn’t in my place to talk about it...”

“Do not understate the importance you had on getting Rachel through last night,” James faux chastised her for being modest. He turned to Joyce and added. “Your daughter did something very sweet in staying with Rachel as she did. Rose and I greatly appreciate her for being there.”

Joyce looked to her daughter, and for the first time since this little meeting began, Chloe looked at her mother. The expression on her face was locked in a state of neutrality, like she did not want to be this much of a focus in the first place.

What was much more important was Joyce’s reaction. For the first time pride seemed to registered on the woman’s face. It was exactly what James wanted right now.

“Well, that’s my Chloe… apparently…” Joyce spoke, still a little startled. She turned back to James and added. “May I get you a cup of coffee, Mr. Amber?”

James brought a smile to his face once again.

“I believe I said my name was James; and yes, thank you very much. Black, one sugar,” he spoke with a casual lightness that earned an easing laugh from Joyce. “Your daughter and mine have become quite fast friends; as such I think it’s only right to invite you over to our home one night for dinner with both families... I imagine it might be something they would want, right Chloe?”

The inference was obvious to all parties but Joyce, who had retreated from the kitchen to pour the two of them a cup of coffee. It gave James a moment watch in silence as Chloe shifted uncomfortably in front of him. She finally seemed to get that whatever going on between Rachel and she was far more obvious than they thought it was. That the man sitting across from was the father of the girl she was… interested in.

Yes… It looked like she was going to get dad interrogation one of these days. Female or not, he would not be deprived of his right as a father.

“Well I possibly couldn’t come empty handed…” Joyce’s voice spoke up, cutting through the tension she did not notice. “You have your wife tell me what I should bring and I’ll bring it.”

As Joyce approached the table both of her hands clutching coffee mugs, James offered the stunned Chloe a smirk before he wiped it from his face and accepted the coffee mug Joyce had extended out to him.

“Thank you…” he said as he sipped the drink before setting it down on the table. “For now, just bring your daughter and that smile of yours. This is our gift to you for your part in helping our daughter.”

As Joyce sat down, James once against folded his fingers together and directed his complete attention to Joyce.

“My daughter suffered a stress induced panic attack last night, Joyce,” James spoke his half-truth to Joyce. “It has been quite some time since one happened, but it happened last night; between the fire and Principal Wells’ meeting… I’m afraid she’s not in a healthy place emotionally anymore. This is a cylindrical cycle… but it has never been quite this bad before.”

Joyce winced at James’ observation. He had broken through any barrier of mistrust she held for him and connected to her parent to parent; and judging on her own relationship with Chloe in the wake of her husband’s demise, this seemed to have hit closer to home than he anticipated.

“Oh dear…” she murmured softly, to which James nodded. Shifting in his seat, he turned back to Chloe.

“After the Wells meeting, Rachel told me that you took the fall for her… all to keep her place in the play,” he asked the teenager. “May I ask why?”

James tilted his head to one side as he sipped his coffee and watched in renewed silence as Chloe struggled to find the right answer she could use without admitting she was head over heels for Rachel in front of both her mother and Rachel’s father.

Bowing her head, Chloe rubbed her neck.

It… didn’t seem… right… that she had to lose something she loved… because of a day away from school,” Chloe confirmed the truth to James. “I had to do something to… protect her from Wells.”

James arched his brow. He was probably more confused than before. What she was saying was going well beyond teenage short-sightedness. This was edging into martial sacrifice territory. How was that even possible in a child?

“You would protect her happiness, even at the expense your education?” he inquired, carefully keeping his inability to process this out of his tones and words.

Staring at James for a moment, Chloe shrugged.

“I wasn’t using it anyway.”

Judging from the expression of displeasure that tore out of the good nature Joyce was emitting, it seemed that wasn’t exactly the answer she wanted to hear. It was an amusingly deceptive answer.

“Well, I’m certain Rachel said… thank you last night…” James spoke slowly, deliberately, watching as Chloe squirmed in her seat as she tried not to just break down right there. “But I want to express it as well. Wells… overreaches at times, and in your case, he overreached. He clasped at whatever excuse he could find, and got rid of a – in his opinion – problem.”

James reached and briefly clasped his hand onto Chloe’s forearm. His never left hers. Perhaps it was a bit much, but people like Chloe… they rarely got this sort of attention people outside their immediate circle.

“But you’re not a problem Chloe Price; and I feel I should pay your kindness back,” James stated firmly, feeling the girl tremble from the reinforcement. “Come hell or high water I’m going to get you back into Blackwell Academy.”

Joyce’s eyes bulged out at James’ promise, her hand unconsciously snapping up to cover her mouth. She looked as though she was about to faint. Chloe glanced away from James and instead directed her attention to her mother, who looked moments away from weeping. She grabbed her mother’s shoulder. Joyce immediately pulled her hand away from her mouth to cover Chloe’s hand.

Chloe looked back to James. It was clear she was not entirely thrilled at the prospects of returning back to Blackwell.

“You would…” Joyce breathed. “…you world do that for us? For her?”

Finishing his coffee, James solemnly nodded for Joyce.

“Yes I would Joyce,” he returned. “Chloe deserves a proper education, I don’t think that anyone in this room, nor Rose and Rachel would want to have Chloe fall behind… and for the first time in a very long time, I feel like my Rachel has a friend… a genuine friend.”

Allow a small smile to cross onto his mouth, James turned back to Chloe.

“Chloe, you deserve… all the opportunities in the world open to you, and my wife and I would like to help you see to that,” James directed his words to the stunned teen. “I suspect the suspension will stand, but I’ll convince Wells reverse his decision. On Monday, I will pick you up bright and early and we’ll deal this problem out together, okay?”

Joyce pushed back her seat, dabbing her tear stained eyes briefly before forcing herself to emit a weak sounding chuckle. James followed her cue and held out his hand to her with a smile. Joyce bypassed it completely and pulled the District Attorney into a crushing hug, making James wince and freeze as he found himself looking at the slightly smirking Chloe.

Not entirely certain he was liking being in bed with the Price family, he ignored the worry and silently exhaling, James slowly wrapped his arms around the woman as well, giving her a professional pat on the back.

“Thank you for this opportunity, James,” Joyce muttered into his chest. “I don’t know what to say… Chloe would thank you as well, but she’s too inclined to like being expelled."

It was James’ turn to chuckle. He pulled himself out of Joyce’s vice grip and rearranged his jacket.

“An understandable feeling for someone her age,” James said as he emitted as he looked Chloe’s way. “But education is important and this is the least I can do for her.”

Exhaling, James stepped back from Joyce.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to keep you any longer then I already have,” he finished. He paused and glanced again to Chloe and added. “Chloe, could you walk me to my car? There are a few things we should discuss, if that is fine with you?”

The second part was addressed to Joyce, but she was still numbed by what he had offered to do for her. Slowly the mother nodded and smiled. James returned it with one of his own and made his way to the hallway, pausing to allow Chloe to push by him and trudge towards the door.

“And Joyce?” James said as the door slammed behind him. “That was a damn fine cup of coffee.”

 


Leaned up against the side of the house, Chloe Price stood there in a state of stupefaction from the pile of shit that Rachel’s dad could summon in a few moments. As much as she did not like him, she had to give him some credit for it. If she thought she was the master of the bullshit, James Amber was next fucking level.

The door opened and out stepped Mr. Amber, he glanced at her, and with a smirk that chilled her from just much Rachel was in it, he gestured her to follow. He even moved like her, like there was a slink in his step, as though he was taking some sort of personal victory lap.

“You’re an… awesome actor, Mr. Amber…” she said, finally finding her voice as she trailed off after Rachel’s father. “I see where Rachel got it from.”

James emitted an appreciative chuckle.

“You are talking to a man who has had to spend fifteen years being minimum three steps ahead of a human snake,” he said casually as they both crossed the street to his car. “There are some things you cannot unlearn. And for obvious reasons, I’m going to assume you will want to give me a little leeway about this, being Rachel’s father and all…”

Chloe closed her eyes and exhaled. Yes, she supposed she did have reasons to want to stay on James’ good side. She still thought this was some sort of bullshit. It wasn’t like her and Rachel was together… sort of… if last night actually happened, then perhaps they were. She would need to get a definitive answer sooner rather than later.

Fuck, James was right; he did have reason to think he would have a little leeway to work with Chloe. Did the whole bullshit ‘interrogative dad’ act apply to girls interested in their daughters? She supposed she would have to ask Steph that question, if she was still speaking to after what happened to Mikey.

“Do you have a cigarette to spare?” James gruffly requested, his hand outstretched to her as though he already knew the fucking answer.

Chloe rolled her eyes and withdrew her pack of smokes and placed one in the palm of James’ hand. As he placed it between his lips, he tilted his head. Realizing he did not have a lighter, she reached once again into her pocket to grab hers and in silence she lit the man up. Somewhere in the back of her head she wondered if this was an act of dominance… forcing her to submit to his demands without complaining.

“Thank you,” James said as he took a drag. “Rose doesn’t like them, so that means I don’t like them by default…”

Slowly exhaling smoke out of his nose. James fell silent as he quietly examined the teenager.

“Last night was a mess,” he admitted to her. “Cards on the table, I had the notion – only for a short time – that I should make Sera disappear. Have the local dealers run her out of town and be done with her. A stupid thought… something some dipshit crime writer would only think of.”

Chloe was about to laugh at the thought of James doing something as drastic as that, but stopped herself as she noticed that there was no trace of dark humour in his words. She wasn’t the most socially apt person, but even she could notice this was a serious consideration made by a man who put Rachel’s safety above everything else.

“For what it's worth to you, I want apologize for my behaviour... calling you a broken girl at dinner...” James pressed on. “I was scared and on the defensive… and I took it out on you for doing the right thing, by standing by a friend-“

“Ugh, Forget me you dumbass!” she snapped at him, cutting him off and completely forgoing any niceties she should have for Rachel's father. “You still fucking humiliated her by keeping all this Sera stuff from her! Rachel deserved so much better from you!”

Mr. Amber seemed genuinely surprised by the insult, or was it bemusement? She was a little too baked to tell right now. Whatever it was, at least he did not appear outraged. If anything he seemed to feel almost bad about it; but with the acting ability the man possessed, she wasn’t about to make a judgement call just yet.

“I did humiliate her… and I will have to live with that for the rest of my life…” he said lowly, tapping the tip of his cigarette. “But what I did… it is nothing compared what could unfold now if it is left unchecked.”

There was a note of honesty Chloe could hear in the way he spoke. It was something she remembered the most about her Father. The sincerity of concern for the child he loved, and in spite of all the lies and shit… there was still something fundamentally loving in which James regarded his child. He needed lessons in not being a total fucking asshole, but he wasn’t a Sean Prescott tiered motherfucker.

“I am not about to fuck up what I have with her for you,” she spoke to the father, her head bowed as she shook it. "It’s too new… fragile, I nearly fucked it up a few days ago. That’s not happening again.”

James leaned against the side of his car, inhaling his cigarette as he looked over Chloe as though he was examining her resole behind her statement.

“I understand, Chloe. She is your friend. A significant other if you’d have your way…” he murmured idly, watching her reaction carefully.

So, it was now out in the open. James and Chloe both knew exactly where each other stood. Both of them were fighting for the affections of the same girl, but coming from different sides. She had honestly expected James not to be okay with this. He carried himself as a man who could not have a lot of controversies in his life, and she imagined having a daughter who had a girlfriend would not exactly be great for his image.

Finding her spine, Chloe stepped forward and joined James, pressing her back against his car as well. She reached into her jacket and grabbed a cigarette for herself and silently the father and his daughter’s prospective girlfriend smoked in quiet. It was… nice. James didn’t try to dominate the conversation or force small talk like Step-Douche did. It was… kind of like standing there with an older male Rachel. Like he was there, but he was thinking about things several steps ahead.

“I… do not disapprove of you as much as I thought I would have when we first met, Chloe,” he said, breaking the silence with the same ease as the transition from night to day. “You’re far smarter than I thought to be honest with you. You understand the world better than she does. I… think you would be good for each other.”

Chloe rolled her eyes as she took a drag.

“Wow man,” she muttered, rubbing her neck. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

A smirk spread over James’ face. He seemed to see some humour in it.

“I know I’m on the top of everyone’s shit list right now, but I’m still her father, and I’m allowed to be leery when my only daughter brings home someone she likes,” he reminded her firmly, glancing her way for a moment. "Especially when she's... let's be honest... troubled. Fractured... but standing tall in spite of everything, which I admire..." 

James rubbed the bridge of his nose, inhaling deeply.

“What I’m trying to say, is that I feel you’re mature enough to get a more definite response then what I gave you the other night,” James pressed on, his tone straining. “I want you to swear off any attempts at contacting Sera; and before you call me a ‘motherfucking asshole’, I want a chance to explain myself.”

Chloe narrowed her eyes at the motherfucking asshole. She’d hold off on calling him a motherfucking asshole for the time being.

Motherfucking asshole...

"Chloe, Sera… Sera is a poison to everything she touches…” he started again, an edge in his tone that testified how much he resented the woman he once loved. “In hindsight, her heroin addiction was only the last straw…”

The man rubbed his forehead as Chloe took in the clear anger the father felt for the woman who gave him Rachel.

“Rose and I have done everything within our power to set Rachel up for success,” James spoke finally as he dropped the last of his cigarette to the ground and stepped on it. “Rachel has inherited a trait from her that I cannot deal with on my own. She’s… whimsical…”

“She…” Chloe started to defend her, rubbing her neck. “She likes to live in the moment.”

“She’s whimsical and I suspect that you are very aware of how much danger that can be,” James snapped firmly back. “You know it loses its charm when you step back and objectively ponder the amount of shit she has probably put you through. She will try to convince you to set up a meeting with her… that is if she hasn’t done so already.”

Chloe remained silent. Everything James had said more or less struck her directly, but she was never going to admit it how much he may have been right. She was on the verge of calling Frank about Sera when Mom called her down.

“I told you I’m never going to lie to her for you,” she mutinously muttered.

James nodded.

“I want the opposite. I want you to be her truth, her moral compass, her guardian angel, whatever it takes,” James replied immediately. “My daughter is not speaking to me now, and I want you to convince her it’s in everyone’s best interest I get to.”

"Why in the fuck-”

"Because I’m going to give her everything what she wants… like I always do,” James cut her off gruffly. “I’m going to give her the meeting she desires, I’ll even let you two run off for the summer. But before anything happens, it has to be done with all four of us - Rose, Rachel, you and I -agreeing to it; and I need to be working in closer proximity with you. The only way we can keep her safe is if we work directly together to see that goal through.”


The teen and the parent stared at each other as James’ words lingered between the two of them. She really could not believe just how much the man seemed to have known, and that now after a sleepless evening, he was now ready to agree to Rachel’s demands with conditions. By far the most curious was just how…adult, she was being treated by him. There was no patronizing, or quiet submission like last night. He had a genuine interest in working with her.

In the deepest depths of her heart, she wanted to take the deal. It just made so much more sense than snooping around, fucking with Frank and his boss/pal Damon… and what was this about him being fucking cool with them escaping Arcadia Bay for a time?

“She’ll hate me for this,” she murmured to herself. She felt a little sick by all of this. All of this deception James Amber played in.

“No,” he said as he shook his head. “She’ll hate me when she realizes I used my authority and your possession of illegal substances over you to get this meeting.”

Without bothering to ask permission, James reached into the pocket Chloe had stashed her pack of cigarettes in, and pulled out the small dime bag of weed she bought from Frank the other day. She stood there, face frozen in fear as she became acutely aware that she was standing with the Arcadia Bay District Attorney.

James Amber stood there, the baggie still outstretched in front of the two of them. He looked at her with almost bored expression, like for him kids with pot was not something new. Chloe supposed that was true, but she was not about to admit that she was a fuckin’ cliché.

“You can relax… I’m not going to bust you over a dime bag…” James said as he handed the baggie back to Chloe, who snatched it and immediately pocketed in case her mom was watching. “Now you have something else to throw against me for her to hate me. So are we in this together?”

Chloe watched in silence as Rachel’s father pushed himself off the side of car and took a step in front of her. Silently he extended his hand out to her. Looking at it for a moment longer and silently hating herself for it, Chloe extended her own out and took his hand.

“For Rachel… I’ll work with you…” she murmured, dropping his hand after a single shake. “But if this goes sideways, I’m going to find Sera myself and we’ll deal with this our way.”

James emitted a small laugh. It wasn’t obviously fake; in fact he seemed genuinely amused by this.

"Your loyalty to her is admirable. Rachel would be a fool not to see the extent of how you feel about her…” James said, clasping his hand Chloe’s shoulder. “So take my advice on one thing: Make it clear to her. I’ll be in contact, Chloe… and you can get off my car now, thank you very much.”

Gesturing to his vehicle Chloe was still resting against, James remained silent and still as Chloe pushed herself off as he had. She watched as James climbed into the vehicle and closed the door behind him with a loud thud. As the engine ignited, James rolled down the window.

“Blue hair… cool move; she’s going to eat that up…” he observed gaily. “And just so you know if you hurt my little girl, that’s basically game over for you.”

With that final strike against her, as well as a final wave in her direction; James pulled his car off the curb and drove off, leaving Chloe speechless. She stood there silently watching the Amber car drive off down the road as an alphabetical list of terms she wanted to use against James Amber ran through her head.

Realizing she was far too late for any of that, she sighed and took a drag of her cigarette. As she did her free hand reached into her jeans and pulled out her phone. It was time to get Rachel involved. As much as she wanted to see her face again, she wasn’t exactly looking forward to the conversation where she told Rachel her Dad cornered her.

Then again, maybe she did… James had set up a situation where the only one who was at fault was him…

You - Rachel, you there? Chloe typed into her phone.

It only took eight seconds to get the response. Chloe counted each one of them.

Rachel – Just thinking of you.

Her chest tightened up at the simple statement. There was no fucking way digital letters should have been able to do that to another human being. Chloe took one last drag of her cigarette before dropping it, her eyes never leaving the screen.

You - We got to meet something came up

Rachel - Sounds ominous.

You - Depends on how you react to it. It involves your mom

You- Birth Mom

You - Fuck this is so weird

Rachel - Hella fucking weird. I’ll meet you at the junkyard asafp.

Chloe was about to pocket her phone and walk back to the garage when the phone buzzed again.

Rachel - Chloe.

Rachel - I’m so happy we’re in this together.

Rachel - As much as I want to meet her, you mean more to me than anyone else.

Rachel - And if you were to ask me to get something to eat, take in a movie or even watching paint dry as a date I would love to be there with you.

Chloe stared silently at the screen, her mouth slightly agape. This was really happening. Shit… she had to be her coolest now. She had to have the most perfect, most suave response she could give to Rachel. It had to be cool and flirtatious, but not creep level.

You - Paint drying sounds good.

Chloe mentally screamed.

Fuck.

Rachel - That’s my Chloe. Fuck yes to that. You bring the booze, I’ll bring the paint.

Rachel - And just so you know.

Rachel - My birth mom isn’t the only thing I want to discuss with you.

Rachel - So come quickly.

Rachel - Totally don’t take that as innuendo.

Rachel - But that could totally be my job one day.

Rachel - See you soon XX

Lost in her thoughts, Chloe pocketed her phone finding that she was completely unable to get rid of the stupid silly grin that overwhelmed her senses. It wasn’t the innuendo that put her in this state of giddiness (although that was fucking cool), or even the promise that they would sit down and discuss what they had together was. It was two simple words that left her breathless.

My Chloe.

That… that had a hella nice ring to it…

Chapter Text

 

"Stupid fucking carburetor!" Chloe Price, amateur engine mechanic and professional shit disturber shrieked. "One day I'll figure out to go back in time and strangle the motherfucker who made the internal combustion engine!"

"But then how else are we going to poison the earth?"

Chloe bounced her head off the hood of the truck and yelped out a string of 'fucks' and 'cunts' in her standard elegant prose. She pulled her head out of the engine block and found Rachel standing there, a small smile resting easy on her tired face. Between the events of last night involving Sera and the events of last night involving… well, the two of them, she hadn't take much time to catch up on her lack of sleep.

In spite of her exhaustion, Rachel looked good. She was dressed in a dark, heavy jacket, ripped jeans and a band tee. She looked like she was ready to kick some asses; namely anyone who stood in the way of her meeting Sera.

Chloe did her best not to think that it was going to be her who held her back from the reunion which Rachel was so desperate to have.

"Well…" she returned as she watched Rachel step forward towards her with her arms still crossed. "Without car exhaust we could always double down on CFC based aerosol spraying. Eat the Ozone layer away and torch this fucking planet to a cinder."

Chloe watched stunned as Rachel emitted a giggle at her stupid attempt at being charming. Deep in the back of her mind constantly nagged at her if any of this was real, if Rachel really thought she was funny… if the girl even liked her at all. Even with all those texts, and the fact that her mouth was still sore after last night's back to back make out sessions. How could she know it was real for certain?

It meant that she had to trust, and as much as she trusted Rachel, she still could not help but feel like she just had to hold back… just in case she was disappointed as usual. She wouldn't let herself be hurt.

Not again…

"Edgy…" she almost purred to the tall girl. "But I guess I should expect nothing less from a blue haired punk girl… holy shit, Price… that looks so good on you..."

As Rachel ran her slender fingers through Chloe's blue fringe, she wanted to relish in this attention for as long as she could. She wanted to slam shut the truck hood and plant Rachel on top of her and just kiss her… ruin her…

But she couldn't. Not when she was weighed down with her alliance to the one person Rachel seemed to hate the most at the moment.

So as she pulled back out of Rachel's reach, Chloe spilled everything to her. That her father had come to her home and cornered her, that he more or less entrapped her by using her mother's desperation for her daughter's future as a means to further his own agenda, that he wanted her to help control Rachel's reunion with Sera. Everything of importance James Amber had told her, Chloe relayed to the increasingly horrified Rachel.

By the end of it, Rachel couldn't even look her in the eye. She had turned away.

"So… Your dad pretty much covered all his bases, he came to my house and made my mom promises that he would get me back into to Blackwell," she finished softly. "The one thing that would get her and step-douche off my back, and he just fucking zeroed in on it like a cruise missile or some shit. So I'm telling you this because what other choice do I have?"

Rachel remained silent, her armed folded in front of her. There was a lurch in the pit of Chloe's stomach that filled her with fear. Fear that Rachel was fitting the pieces together and was drawing a conclusion that her Father and Chloe were closer together then what was actually going on.

She was right; Rachel was going to hate her for this.

Chloe pushed herself off the grill of the truck and step forward, her hear racing as she ignored the sick feeling bubbling barely controlled under the surface. She stepped out in front of Rachel and took in the anger the shorter blond wore on her expression, her eyes focused on her feet. It didn't take long before Rachel realized she wasn't alone, and looked up, her hazel eyes staring intensely up into the taller girl blue.

A wave of discomfort washed over Chloe. She took a step back and adverted her eyes away… like she didn't deserve to look at her.

"I'm sorry that it seems like I'm siding with him," Chloe murmured to the silently observing Rachel. "He's a liar and nothing he does is going to change that, but I think he's trying to do the right thing… in his own sleazy way… and I know that's not something you want to hear right now given everything, but I think he genuinely gives a fuc…"

Chloe trailed her ramblings off as she felt Rachel reach up and pressed her palm onto the side of her cheek. Chloe felt her legs unconsciously buckle and so silently, she willed herself to remain upright.

"Look at me please…" Rachel whispered to her.

Like Ariel commanded by Prosperia, Chloe looked up and found Rachel was smiling gently… reassuringly… just for her.

She never wanted to be out of this position.

"I don't blame you, Chloe… I could never blame you," Rachel reassured her, her tone not permitting this to be up to any sort of debate.

Exhaling, Rachel reached out and took both of Chloe's hands.

"This is my Dad's machinations. He's made you as much a victim as he has to me," she continued, her voice hardening. "He's used his promise of Blackwell readmission to sway your mom. What a total, fucking bastard…"

Falling silent, Rachel walked the two of them back to the truck. Rachel sat down, pulling Chloe down with her, her hand never letting go. Together both girls sat in the silence as Rachel appeared to be back deep in her own thoughts. Slowly, her frustration was bubbling back up to the surface.

Feeling lame as all fuck, all Chloe could think of doing was to stroke the top of Rachel's hand as she had done to her only as few days ago on the train. What she really wanted to do was start last night up in earnest again and be enveloped by the fire of Rachel Amber, but it just wasn't the right time for that.

No matter how much she wanted to tongue wrestle her right about now.

"I don't know what we should do," Rachel spoke, her voice small, and for the first time, extremely uncertain. Looking up to meet Chloe's gaze, she added. Chloe what do you think we should do? You said you knew people who know Sera. Wouldn't that be easier than dealing with… him?"

Whimsical… impulsive… as much as she hated to admit it, Chloe knew James was right about Rachel. She was dangerously naïve if she thought somehow dealing with the likes of Frank and by extension Damon Merrick was preferable to sitting down and having another uncomfortable conversation with her father.

It was clear now why James was so… okay with her. She was in a position to check Rachel's darker impulses. If it meant working with the damaged girl to keep her from doing crazy shit, then James was willing to make that leap out of a comfort zone.

With Rachel watching her with a devotion she never had directed to her before, Chloe chose her next words carefully.

"If I'm being… honest, I think that after yesterday… what happened to Mikey while I was working with Frank… I don't think I want to get involved in that shit ever again," she admitted to Rachel, lowering her eyes to look at her lap. "Buying pot off Frank's one thing, but working for Frank means working for Damon Merrick, and I don't ever want to work with that total prick ever again if I have to. If we talk to Frank, Damon could start pulling shit, and put us back into that situation… or worse."

Chloe felt Rachel's hands grip hers tighter. Rachel bent down and forced Chloe's line of sight to focus on her again.

"Chloe… And I don't ever want to see you hurt for my benefit," she reassured Chloe gently. "You've done so much for me. If you think it's safer to talk to my Dad, I'll be with you…"

She paused and allowed a small smirk to cross on her face.

"You'll have to do all the talking, though" she tacked on. "I don't think I'll have much to say to him."

Chloe arched her eyebrow.

"I'm your Spokeswoman?" Chloe said lightly. It earned her the smallest of shoves as Rachel stood up tall - for the time being – above the sitting Blackwell dropout.

"I trust you to speak for me… only you," Rachel airily retorted as she extended her hand out to help lift Chloe out of the dirt.

Chloe took her hand, and Rachel gave a heavy yank, pulling Chloe right up until she collided into the smaller girl. The two of them laughed it off, but neither of them dared to move. Chloe bit her lip as Rachel looked up to her still amused. She did her utmost not to draw attention to the fact that Rachel's hands pulled away and wrapped around her back, but only for a moment.

They slid lower and lower until each of her hands slipped into Chloe's back pockets. Chloe emitted a sharp inhale. Rachel remained silent. She continued to stare up at the taller girl unblinking, coyly. There were thoughts shared between the two of them that were going unaddressed…

"So…" Rachel spoke, breaking through the thick sexual tension she caused. "I decided coming over here that I didn't want to come home tonight. I know I'm being presumptuous and all, but since you got to spend the night at my place… maybe I could spend the night at yours."

Her mind locked up in stupid mode, all Chloe could do was blink and try to be smooth for Rachel.

"I… don't know," she said, causally stringing Rachel along. "Are you going to be handsy like late night… or now…?"

Standing on the tips of her toes, Rachel surprised Chloe with a kiss on the edge of her lips.

"A little bit," Rachel returned as she pulled back, her hands sliding out of Chloe's pockets and rested again on each side of her hips. "Mostly I'm a little clingy tonight. I got… all this shit going on and only one person in my life who understands me, and as fast as… this…might seem… it just feels… right… right?"

Pursing her lips together, Chloe nodded to her, her hand flying in the direction of the truck.

"Alright then… but first, come on over here and help me," Chloe spoke to her as she made her way back to the truck. "I want to see the Princess of Blackwell grimy and sweaty… and not only because of me…"

A protesting cry came from behind her.

"Me?" she protested, her hand flying to her chest as she looked at Chloe like she was losing it. Like she thought that she had no business getting her hands dirty. Chloe nodded firmly. No amount of puppy dog eyes was about to dissuade her now.

"Fuck yeah you, drama queen. You're going to help me," Chloe playfully snapped back at her. "If we're going to escape the Bay, I shouldn't be the only one putting in all the work… right?"

If Rachel was about to argue, she caught herself and clamped her mouth shut. If they were going to get the fuck out of here one day, then they both had to put some fucking work in.

...


If Rachel was being honest with herself, she was still locked in a daze from the events of last night.

Working on the truck was a welcomed distraction, and she got to learn something new. Chloe, it seemed was far brighter than she was ever willing to let on, and a better teacher as well. Chloe didn't lose her shit a single time when she screwed up. Instead she patiently explained all that she knew to her and helped when she was asked for help. It took until sunset before the truck was in good enough condition to get it limping to the Price residence.

She was asked to wait outside for a moment or two by Chloe. Apparently she wanted to make sure it was okay with her mother that she could spend the night, and Step-Douche wasn't going to cause any problems for either of them. She pretended not to notice anything, but she knew it was probably involving the visit her dad had with Joyce and Chloe. So when she was invited in, Rachel put on the act to keep Joyce at ease. Joyce looked at Rachel as though she was a moment away from exploding thanks to Dad saying she was emotionally damaged.

She had to hand it to Chloe. When she spilled her guts, she didn't leave anything off the table. At least, that was what she had come to expect from a paragon of honesty like her.

Dinner was a thankfully quiet and humble affair. Chloe's mother's boyfriend was there. David, she recalled his name being. He attempted to break through Chloe's wall of silence by talking about the truck Chloe and she had brought to the Price home. Beyond single syllable answers, he did not get much.

In some ways Rachel felt a little bad for him. He was intruding into regions Chloe had reserved for her father, and her father alone. David would be locked in an uphill battle for a very long time if he continued on like this.

Chloe herself was also quiet also. She seemed almost… embarrassed by everything, like she wanted to present something better for Rachel. Between the peas, mashed potatoes and leftover roast, she just seemed like it was something to be ashamed of. She would not look her in the eye and ate in grudging silence and seemed to want dinner to finish as fast as possible.

So Rachel did her a favour, she finished quick as she could, thanked Joyce and before long, she had been dragged out of the living room/dining room and up the stairs. Rachel was an observer, and so she could not help but notice the transition from public to private. As they started to climb, the grip around Rachel's wrist weakened and slid down until fingers entwined.

"Welcome to Casa de Shithole," Chloe announced as she led her guest into her bedroom, her hands spreading dramatically as she looked back to Rachel like she should have been amused by the self-loathing.

She wasn't.

Rolling her eyes, Rachel stepped forward underneath Chloe's outstretched arms; one of her hands reached out and dared press against Chloe's side, her fingers tracing the sides of her bra through her shirt. Her hand glided low on her finger gripped the waist of her jeans.

"Simmer down, Edge Queen…" Rachel retorted, curling her words as she felt Chloe shiver from her touch. "Self-deprecation will only get you so far into my heart. Your confidence is so much hotter…"

Listening to Chloe emit a soft exhale as she let go of Chloe's taut body, Rachel chalked up a victory in her books and stepped by her. Silently as she wandered into the whirlwind of Chloe's life and took it all in carefully.

Throughout the mess and chaos, she could begin to see a pattern. Everything Chloe didn't give a shit about was tossed around with no care or concern. Everything that ever mattered to her was almost enshrined and meticulously well kept. So far the only thing that mattered was pictures. The memories of the past were the cornerstones of Chloe Price's reason for continuing.

As had been the case at dinner, Chloe stood there nervously at the door, watching breathlessly as Rachel inspected her room. It seemed to her that Chloe had tapped into some sort of mindset that she was just going to up and flee when Rachel realized they weren't in the some socio-economic class, that she might have been slumming it with the older girl.

Chloe was brave and proud, but mixing shame into it would be a dangerously volatile. The only way for this to go well was to ease her concerns and address them patiently as they came up from here on no. Chloe was long term investment she was ready to make.

Long term investment… That's something he would say.

God, she fucking hated how much she sounded like her dad. She hated to think just how much of him rubbed off on her. All the pieces were falling into place now. After learning about Sera and the extent of his deceptions it all made sense why she was such a chameleon, why she could blend in perfectly with everyone but never felt she had much of a life of her own.

Well that stopped here and now, and Chloe would help her be who she wanted to be.

Strong.

"Is everything all right?" Chloe spoke, her voice shaking slightly as she seemed to have been waiting for Rachel to say something awful. "I guess this room could use a vacuuming… or a pressure washer."

A small spread over Rachel's face as she stopped in front of Chloe's desk. She found herself staring at a photo of a young, happy Chloe standing there with a tall, handsome strawberry blonde haired man. In her hands she held some sort of science fair award.

She told the truth, she loved science at one point of her life. She wasn't sure why it touched her but it did. Two Truths and a Lie translated to Three Truths for Chloe during their railway escapees. She had expected her to play along, but she had survived her in the best way possible.

It was in that moment that she knew that she would implicitly trust this girl with everything…

"No, Chloe. It's perfect. This room is you… and I kinda envy it," she admitted to Chloe. "You have no idea how much I envy free expression… and you… you get to be just who you want to be."

Delicately, Rachel reached out and took the photo off the counter. She glanced at Chloe and noticed she was taking small step forwards to join Rachel in front of the window. She seemed almost worried that Rachel had pulled the picture out of its place.

"This is your father, right?" she asked the approaching taller girl. It was such a stupid question, but sometimes stupid questions were the quickest ways to spark the conversation.

Chloe reached out, her finger touching the frame Rachel held. Melancholy painted over her expression as she looked on her father with a reverence that physically hurt Rachel's heart to observe.

"Yeah… that's my dad," she breathed as held her eyes on her father's image as though there were a chance the image might come to life. "Fuck… I wish you could have met in person rather than a picture. He was coolest fucking guy ever. Christ, he made country music seem cool."

Rachel didn't doubt that observation for a moment. Rachel wished she could have met him as well. She wished she could thank him for his role in making Chloe who she was.

"You have his eyes…" she whispered to Chloe, glancing up to her. "…and not just the colour, you have the same warmth…"

Chloe tore her eyes away from her father to look at Rachel as though Rachel had had said. She seemed to be searching for some sort of hesitation or falseness for which she could latch onto; but she had meant it, and so Chloe was apparently left even more confused.

"Warmth?" she repeated, searching Rachel's expression still.

Rachel pressed the photo back into Chloe's hands. She reached up, her fingers cupping Chloe's cheek until they reached the yellow and purple tingeing of the bruise around her eye socket. Chloe winced, but only for a moment.

"You can be a cynical badass bitch all you like to your Mom, David and the rest of the world, Chloe Price, but you can't hide the warmth from me," she faintly spoke to her. "I won't let you hide it."

Pulling her hand away slowly, Rachel kicked off her shoes (in spite of the state of the bedroom, she wasn't a complete animal) and stepped onto Chloe's bed. She dropped down onto her ass, very much aware of Chloe staring at her a little dumbfounded.

Apparently Rachel Amber, Queen of Blackwell, spread out on her bed was still sort of a shock. If it hadn't been for the Sera revelation, she supposed she too would have been in more of a shy state if she found Chloe Fucking Price spooning her in her bed.

Rachel rolled to one side and found another photo of Chloe and her father. This time however they were outdoors having the time of their lives, and with them was another girl. A little smaller than Chloe, a brunette cutie with freckles and the largest, goofiest grin on her face she had ever seen.

Rachel turned back to Chloe and found she had put the photo of her father and her back right in its original spot. That reverence which she had hypothesized earlier. Everything else could burn, but those she loved were held with the purest of reverences.

Deep down, she hoped she would get that treatment one day as well.

Raising her index finger, Rachel smirked and silently gestured Chloe to join her. She watched as Chloe winged her hands for a moment before she finally stepped forward, pausing only for a moment to kick off her shoes. Silently she joined Rachel open the bed. As she did so, Rachel leaned back and touched the photo as she had done before.

"… and this… this must be Max, am I correct?" Rachel inquired, touching the brunette carefully. "She was your world once."

Chloe remained facing away from Rachel, away from the picture. She instead chose to stay locked into state of silence. It was obvious to her that she touched a nerve in the usually tough punk girl. For now she would not push the envelope any further; but she did have more to say on the subject. She did not know why, but she just felt… compelled.

Silently, Rachel pulled herself up and wrapped her arms around Chloe. As Chloe stiffened, she gently shushed the girl until she finally relaxed a little. Rachel rested her chin on Chloe's shoulder, her check nuzzling Price's.

"With everything you've done for me, maybe this could be my thing… my way to help you…" Rachel murmured into Chloe's shoulder. "Whether it's a reunion... rekindling a friendship or even helping you close the book on this period. I know it clearly still bothers you, and you deserve to have some sort of affirmation where you two stand, or… or at the very least closure."

Pulling back to plant a kiss on Chloe's cheek, she reluctantly untangled her arms around Chloe and took a dramatic sweep of the room. She paused and could not help but giggle.

Of fucking course Chloe Price had a Pirate hat. How fucking rad was that?!

Rachel scooted over the bed and stood up just long enough to scoop the pirate hat off the full length Mirror and planted it on her head. She turned back to Chloe, truly smiling for the first time in what felt like forever. Rachel found Chloe appeared to be amused as well by this.

"The Captain's Hat is for the Captain's only, newbie," Chloe still managed to snap out sarcastically.

Rachel smirked again and climbed back onto the bed, she collapsed next to Chloe and bumped into her accidentally… well, totally on purpose.

"Then I suppose this is a mutiny, then. Comes with the whole Captain/First Mate dynamic," she sighed dramatically. "… buuut I suppose you wouldn't have known that… something about this Max girl tells me she never mutinied against you before."

Chloe issued a small shrug.

"Max was best First Mate a Pirate Captain could ask for, then," Chloe murmured back to her. "She mutinied at the right moment."

Rachel winced as she pulled off the pirate hat and handed it to Chloe. She knew the second she spoke she had said the worst possible thing to her. She watched as Chloe moodily examined the cap before she tossed it out into the sea of clothing and mess.

She didn't mean to fray the fragile connections she had to this Max girl… not until the issue was solved once and for all.

Biting her lip, Rachel bowed her head and remained silent. Together both girls sat there on the edge of the bed, apparently waiting for the other to find the nerve to speak about something, anything, before the inevitable conversation came up.

It was not that she did not want to have this conversation. She had spent months ready to just be Chloe's friends. She did not think that in the two… almost three days that they knew each other, they would be locked into a course leading to them becoming…. them. This was completely uncharted territory, and not just for her. Chloe too seemed almost scared by this.

Fuck, she scared about it.

She had never trusted anyone before beyond a few vapid things. School appointments, hanging out, simple things that would not intercede into her personal life and cause her any amount of pain. She always had to be on the offensive and never placed on the defensive. She had always wondered where this distance had come, and now that the whole Sera thing was out, she knew finally where she had inherited her mistrust from.

Now here she was, three days into a new friendship and all she wanted was to be open for this virtual strange. Vulnerable, vulnerable as Chloe was willing to be within hours of knowing each other. Sure, standing up to assholes was brave, but it was this that really left her breathless and in awe of Chloe Price.

… If she could even be as half like Chloe, she would never be afraid of anything again…

A small smile crossed back onto her lips as she felt Chloe tentatively reach out and slide her arm around her waist. Glancing at each other for a moment, Rachel pushed herself a little closer to Chloe. She reached out and gripped the top of Chloe's free hand, intertwining her fingers into Chloe's.

She would have to be bold, and brave. Chloe deserved nothing less than that.

"It's a little soon to be girlfriends… even if that's something I want…" Rachel gently breathed to Chloe. Her pulse raced out of fear her words would be misconstrued as rejection or delayed rejection. She was not just kicking the issue down the field. She did want this…

Rachel watched as Chloe rolled her eyes and squeezed her grip on Rachel a little tighter.

"Please, I like you, but I'm not that desperate jump right in," she retorted, her tone lighting up somewhat brighter in the aftermath of the Max mutiny fiasco. "We've known each other for three days."

Rachel faked a stink-eye.

"What?" Rachel sighed in a faux breathless tone. "You don't wanna mash the clams?"

Rachel did her best not to laugh as she watched Chloe turn fucking red right in front of her eyes. She appeared to be struggling at maintaining her cool as well.

"What? Gag on your Vag?" she managed to get out through her urge to giggle.

The two girls collapsed onto each other as they exploded into a fit of laughter.

"Oh my god," Rachel somehow got out as she flattened herself on the bed next to the giggling Chloe. "You are literally the most disgusting girl I've ever met… and I fucking love it."

As their laughter died, this time Chloe and Rachel were fortunate enough to find themselves in a much more comfortable silence before. The two of them laid their together, bathing in the setting sun pouring through the window. Rachel found her smile unable to leave her face as she laid there with Chloe in a state of total bliss.

This… this was something that she wanted…

Next to her she felt Chloe move. Like she was going to get back up; Rachel wrapped an arm around her possessively. Chloe stopped moving, and instead shuffled her arm out and nestled it behind her head as a rest. Rachel relaxed even further, turning slightly so that she would have the opportunity to look at Chloe making a point to stare at the ceiling. She was smiling, but it was only surface level. She seemed deep in her own thoughts.

Chloe was going to say something, and spare Rachel from having to be the one to take the dive.

That was all it took to motivate her.

"There's no rush… but it's something I do want to have with you," Rachel started uncertainly, a strange shyness washing over her. "The connection we have… I have never felt this way for anyone else before; and I don't delude myself to think it will be perfect, because right now, it would be so easy to do that. We'll have our issues to sort through… but I just think we need a strong foundation to build… us… before we dive into this for real…"

Rachel trailed off for a moment and looked over Chloe to make sure she was following. The older, taller girl was now propped up onto her arms, looking down on the blond girl with a hunger in her eye that made Rachel quiver, her knees squeezing together as she suppressed the urge to moan.

"Do you... do you get where I'm coming from?" she said weakly, her eyes hooded as she took in Chloe's head tilt to one side. "Am I making any sort of sense?"

A small smile crossed onto Chloe's mouth as she gave Rachel an equally smile nod.

"Perfect sense…" Chloe murmured.

Rachel bit her lip as she found herself staring at Chloe's cracked lips as Chloe pushed herself off her elbows and sat up properly. They were almost as bruised as her eye. There was no lipstick or Chap Stick or balm. They were lusciously natural, and that was Chloe in a microcosm… unvarnished, imperfect, yet perfect to her.

"… But to make things crystal clear, I don't want to just be your friend, either," Rachel continued as Chloe leaned in. "Not after last night... not after the things you can do with that tongue of yours-"

Chloe's lips touched hers and gently she worked her mouth open. The anticipation had nearly driven her nuts, stretching seconds into minutes. Rachel laid there, open, vulnerable to the desires of Chloe Price. If Chloe had said one word, she would have given herself to her willingly, eagerly.

But Chloe was not like that. The words were spoken, and Rachel knew that Chloe was too noble, too sweet to break the promises so soon. There would be plenty of time for that anyway, all the time in the world…

"That said there is something I want to give you something, Chloe Price..." she breathed into Chloe's mouth.

Kissing her once more, Chloe pulled back from Rachel's face, but only enough to give her space to move. Rachel pulled herself up and quietly sat there with Chloe. Unable to tear her eyes away from Chloe's soft eyes, she gently pulled her Bracelet off. The one she had since she was a child.

The one her birth mother had given her.

The two girls stared at it for a moment before Rachel took Chloe's arm and gently she slid the bracelet around Chloe's wrist. She felt… naked, not having it, but looking at Chloe and seeing sheer… reverence and awareness of what this meant, made it all worth it.

"This is my promise to you," she breathed to the taller girl. "You have stood with me in spite of all… all of this shit… and you need to know no matter what Chloe Price, I'll stand with you."

Chloe did have words to speak. Considering this was Chloe Price, and that alone was startling. All she could do was sit there and look at the bracelet around her wrist. She looked at it as though it was an improvised engagement ring. Perhaps it was in some high school way.

Now all they needed to do as make it Facebook official and they were officially teenaged brides…

As light as she wanted to be about this it was the expression Chloe wore that made all of this far more meaningful. Chloe was clearly a girl who spent the past few years locked up inside herself, hidden away and isolated behind barriers so that she never had to risk anything to anyone ever again. Now here sat someone who held not only the keys to her heart, but to her very destruction.

Gently she pressed her hand to Chloe's cheek, bringing Chloe's attention back to her. There, laid bare, she could take in the shimmering of tears coating Chloe's eyes. Tears which Chloe's willpower alone refused to allow fall in front of the younger girl.

Smiling reassuringly, Rachel leaned forward, her mouth gently touching Chloe's again. As Chloe would protect, her, Rachel knew she too would protect Chloe just as fiercely.

Pulling her lips back reluctantly, Chloe exhaled, emitting a small laugh in order to break the tension. Her fingers grazed the bracelet for a moment before she pulled herself out of Rachel's arms and stood back up. She turned her back to Rachel so that she could pretend to have some sort of privacy to wipe her eyes.

Rachel reached into her jacket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and her lighter. She lit one up and threw the pack and lighter in Rachel's direction casually as she bent over to search for something. Taking the pack, Rachel removed one and followed Chloe's lead, leaning over the bed to grab the ash tray she noticed.

Well, when in Rome after all…

"So, are you still in a clingy mode?" Chloe asked brightly, trying to re-establish a jovial tone in her voice, her cigarette dangling from her lips as she searched through a pile of junk.

Rachel lit up her first cigarette ever and took a small inhale. It burned like fuck.

"I might be," she said, attempting to not show off the fact she had virgin lungs. "You got something on your mind, Pricey?"

Rachel inwardly winced. Not a very smooth pet name. She would have to work on it. Right now she was just grateful Chloe hadn't noticed.

Chloe did not answer her directly but emitted a string of profanity and then a final triumphant 'ahhh fuck yeah Steph'. She pulled out a disc and as she pulled off her jacket, she waved a dime bag in front of her with a grin.

As Chloe brought out an old TV and DVD player from the closet and set on the edge of the bed, Rachel mentally scheduled Chloe and her a visit to Mikey North, and by extension his brother Drew and Steph Gringrich. His condition was partly cause by their impulsive decision to skip town with little to no preparation. Being an emotional mess seemed to lead the two of them to ruin. She would have to check herself in the near future.

The DVD now in the machine, Chloe dived onto the bed, dived onto Rachel in fact. As they collided, Rachel brought her hands down and the two of them shared a tobacco flavoured, long kiss. As Rachel released her control, Chloe took command and kissed her again. It left her flustered by the growing confidence in Chloe's actions. She was starting to get over the nervous guilt which held her back. It was… interesting…

"I was thinking of smoking the last of this, and watching Blade Runner. You game Amber?" Chloe asked as she twisted her body off Rachel and kicked the play button before spreading out next to her.

"Only if I get to be your Rachael and you be my Deckard, Price," she bartered casually.

Chloe seemed to ponder it carefully.

"I'll be Deckard, but I don't know about you being Rachael…" Chloe said as she turned to look up at Rachel sitting over her. "Priss does try to crush Deckard's head between her thighs. I think I might rather want you to be her."

Rachel rolled her eyes.

"A lewd, but reasonably logical position to take," she coyly admitted, stroking Chloe's arm. "But appearances can be deceiving, and maybe you just haven't gotten to see what Rachael can actually do with Deckard in the film… a Rachael might even be more fun than a Priss."

Leaving Chloe intrigued by a thought she clearly never pondered before, Rachel settled into Chloe's shoulder and as she watched Chloe light up their joint. This was nice, this clam before the storm that would about to crash onto them tomorrow. For now neither of them had to think about her father, Sera, Blackwell or anything else. Tonight was just for them.

This would hopefully be the first of many nights like this…

As she settled in, Rachel decided there and then that Max and Chloe could keep their pirate games. She would be far more content playing Blade Runner with Chloe…

Chapter Text

 

At 7:30 in the morning a hail of guitars and drums woke Rachel from her sleep to find that she was blinded by a tussle of blonde hair and her arm numbed by the girl she was currently spooning.

Between the weed and cigarettes they had smoked, Rachel had been left cotton mouthed and clouded with thoughts. A perfect sort of numbness that made her only vaguely aware that today was Monday, and that it was time to go to school, and that her father was coming to pick Chloe and her up for a meeting with Wells, the first encounter she would have with her father since Saturday.

So this is continuous happiness…
…You know, I always imagined it something more….
With the right drapes, the right paints, the right frames, this could really work…
…What a great day to spend indoors…

She didn't want to do any of this. This quiet moment was too good to just up and end. But the world was calling for Chloe and her to join it once again. Exhaling, she closed her eyes again and breathed in the smoky scent of the girl she clung to. A few more minutes couldn't hurt the two of them.

This was some sort of strange new world she inhabited in. A week ago, if she thought she would be here, lying in Chloe Price's bed after a smoke session… Sera… if she was being honest, she wasn't entirely sure she was ready to face this reality she now had to navigate through. She had so much she had to rethink. From her relationship to her father, to how in the hell she was going to look at the woman she called Mom for as long as she knew in the eye and figure out where they stood, to Sera Gearhardt.

IN A HAIL OF SPARKS
AND A TANGLE OF WIRES
EVERYTHING WENT WRONG

A small part of her heart still wished she and Chloe were doing this on their own, without the interference of her Dad. The thought of having to be dependent on the promises of a liar made her sick to the stomach. Chloe had contacts, but after the initial shock, was no longer willing to use them. As understandable as it was that Chloe hated the idea of working close to this Frank and Damon ever again, it was still a little… disappointing

Rachel silently checked herself. She was asking others to put themselves in danger for her own desires. In spite of her own troubles, it just wouldn't be fair to put Chloe in that sort of position as she already had done inadvertently. They had made their promises the other night. They would have each other's backs from here on out. Her enemies were Chloe's and vice versa.

Soon the world wouldn't be ready for the two of them on the loose and on even footing.

So where has all the day gone?
And why are my lungs aching when I breathe?
Is there something wrong with the heat?
Why am I so cold?
And my heart feels sick
And it hurts when I speak
And this is not what I hoped for

Rachel gingerly brushed some of Rachel's locks out of her way to reveal her neck. Slowly, she dragged the tips of her fingers in a slow loop. She smiled slightly at the small exhale she got. Although her fingers were numb, she felt the tingling sensation of Chloe's fingers gripping them.

"How long have you been awake?" Chloe sleepily murmured to her, her elbow rising to wipe her eyes.

Rachel remained silent for a moment. She answered Chloe with a kiss on the back of her neck. It earned her a tired little laugh.

"Only for a little while…" Rachel returned as she pulled her lips back. "I'm still pretending the world outside this bed doesn't exist."

The mattress shifted slightly as Chloe rounded around to face her. It gave Rachel the opportunity to free her arm. Chloe smirked slightly as Rachel shook some life back into the numbed limb and immediately settled back down.

"You're making me swoon over here, Amber," Chloe muttered to her, Resting a hand underneath her head as she looked Rachel over. The sunlight radiating over Chloe's hair illuminated the touch of red interlocked in her dark blond hair.

She looked so sweet in this sunlight.

"Well…" she murmured back, a little too struck for her own good. "You're… worth the effort, Price… even if it's too early to be this charming…"

As reality slowly seeped back into her, she was once again not feeling well. Rachel clamped her mouth slow and nestled in closer to Chloe, who seemed a little startled by it at first, but relaxed into her role as comforter. With great care, she wrapped her arm around Rachel's shoulder, her chin touching the top of her head as the smaller girl listened to Chloe's pulse throbbing.

She hated doing this, being this clingy; but she couldn't bear to think about what would be unfolding over the next few hours. She didn't want to face her father... She just couldn't stare into the face that lied to her for her entire life.

"Please… Chloe… Tell me everything is going to be okay today…" Rachel moaned into Chloe's skin. "Tell me my Dad isn't going to throw any more of his shit our way and just expect me to just be… okay with it…"

Chloe remained still over her, like she seemed to be weighing the best sort of response she could give to Rachel asking her to give merit to her desire to be deluded.

"We won't… let him fuck with your head anymore. I promise I won't let him. But I don't know about it being okay," Chloe murmured softly. "It's… so easy to pretend… but it's going to be mess for a very long time... perhaps even forever. We just got to deal with it."

In a sea of lies Chloe was the one rock of truth. And yes, much of a fucking cliché it sounded like, that was the plain truth. Chloe continued to prove her inability to lie, or allow even allow Rachel to lie to herself. They had to remain clear and honest about everything, otherwise they would get end up making the exact same mistakes her parents had made before her.

"I hate him… so much…" she breathed out loud.

Chloe remained silent, her fingers tracing a symbol she of peace which Rachel could feel through her shirt.

"Your Dad…" Chloe slowly spoke. "He fucked up big time; but I think he's trying to do the right thing."

Rachel frowned moodily into Chloe, thankful she could not see. The thought of Chloe buying into his shit… no, that was wrong at a basic level.

"Only after all else failed him," Rachel moodily muttered into her friend… whatever they were. "He's in damage control mode. There's nothing more to it."

Chloe emitted a half-shrug.

"Damage control is just what a parent does," Chloe reminded her, still maintaining her neutrality. "It's not limited to just your Dad. You don't have to scorch earth him over this."

But she did have to go scorch earth on the fucker. It was the only way for him to understand the anger she felt at the mere passing thought she had of him. Every moment in her life was now haunted by the lie, and it was his entire fault.

The basis of his argument was not unreasonable. Sera was sick for an extremely long time. But she was better now, and he had tried to conceal that.

He should have told her sooner. He should have known this was inevitable. The fucking bastard probably did it keep his career from having a heroin addict stain running right down the middle.

"I cannot even begin to imagine how you're feeling about this," she said. "I'm not… telling you to forgive him, or even trust him, because he doesn't deserve that. But he should be allowed to at least try and make up for this shit."

Chloe's words died in her mouth. She emitted a small exhale and swallowed audibly.

"…the day will come when he won't be there for you; and it has to be so much easier when everything is settled," she tacked on. "Leaving things unsaid… hurts, so fucking much."

"Personal experience?" Rachel's monotone answered her.

Chloe released her grip of Rachel and sat up completely, breaking Rachel away from the comfort and leaving her alone. Without the heat of Chloe on her, it had already left Rachel slightly cold, and alone.

"I'm sorry…" Chloe spoke, unable to meet Rachel in the eye anymore. "I'm not… trying to make this about me… just forget it…"

As she too sat up from the bed, Rachel felt the guilt creep up.

The words 'Sad Chloe is fucking sad again' had come back to haunt her.

Chloe had her own problems, arguably far more significant than the problems she had. After seeing the shrines she had to her father around her bedroom, it became so much clearer the pain Chloe was in. A year and a half was hardly a great amount of time to heal the gaping heart torn through Chloe's heart.

At least Rachel had the opportunity to reconcile with Sera. Chloe would never be afforded even a final goodbye. She just had to limp on, and the people around her seemed perfectly fine with telling her to just fucking process it like it was no big deal. Even with three quarters of a bottle of wine in her, her violent dismissal the other day screamed loud and clear that Rachel's needs took priority over Chloe's.

This was a mistake that Rachel decided there and then she was going to fix. That she needed to fix.

"Chloe, please…" she softly pleaded the older girl to settle back down. "I want to hear what you have to say…"

Rachel sat down next to Chloe, who appeared to be embarrassed again, that her problems had seemed to be pushed back to the forefront. They were, but these were the things Rachel needed to know. Chloe had experience in world shattering events. Lessons she definitely needed to learn.

If they were in it together, then Chloe had every fucking right to talk about her problems as Rachel did with hers.

Rachel dropped a hand on Chloe's, which were folded in her lap. Chloe looked up and glanced to the younger girl.

"All I'm saying is that the love you have for Dad is still there deep inside you," Chloe said, her voice uncertain. "He's still the same man who carried you down Mt. Hood. He's still the same man who was so cool and collected and soothing to you even as you were in so much pain… It's just… we have insane expectations of parents, which are... honestly fucking impossible to maintain. No one can be, perfect. Not even them… and on occasion their fuck ups are… hella epic."

Rachel remained silent as she processed what it was Chloe was saying. She didn't to admit that Chloe right, and it took a lot of effort to not get misty eyed over good memories with her father. It was just so much easier to be mad at him.

"Chloe?" she nearly croaked to the blue haired girl. "Did you ever blame your dad for the crash?"

She wasn't sure why she asked Chloe the question. It felt wrong, perverse even. If there was one thing to have taken away from her experiences with Chloe in her bedroom, it was just how much unconditional love she held for her father and even for her old friend Max Caulfield, whom Rachel hypothesized Chloe held a little more in her heart for this Max then a simple childhood friendship.

When Blade Runner had ended, a very fried Chloe ended up regaling all sorts of stories to the equally stoned Rachel. This sort of vivid recollection led her to a conclusion, these were things Chloe had obsessed on in order to be never placed into a situation where she would forget. She cherished every moment she had. Meanwhile Rachel didn't even remember the last time either of her parents had a moment of genuine laughter.

Rachel glanced over to Chloe. She was silent and obviously feeling some sort of shame for what was asked.

"No…" she murmured, unable to look back to Rachel. "…I blamed my Mom…"

Rachel squeezed the top of Chloe's hand as she attempted to process what she stated. Chloe emitted a small huff, like she couldn't believe she was saying this out loud to her.

"For the longest time, I… hated her for calling Dad for a ride that day," she continued her confession, her voice shaken as she glanced Rachel's way. "I thought… it was all her fault that he was gone. Because of her, I don't get to hug my dad, or tell him I love him, or ask him if it's… he'd be fine with me liking… well… you."

There wasn't as much shame in the way she spoke that last line. She just seemed extremely uneasy to voice what was written on the wall. One moment she had that weird Elliot guy worshipping the very ground Chloe Price walked on, the next here they were in this quasi relationship; a friendship with all the markers of it being something more. They were both wandering into territory they never thought they'd end up, so it was only natural to have some reservations of voicing such a huge thing.

Fuck, maybe Chloe and her did need therapy and not truck ranting, where the Rachel learned how thick Chloe was when she decided to use Rachel's lap as a leg rest instead of her head, the cute, painfully thick dumbass.

"But I don't get to have any of this things answered by him," she heard the girl next to her breathe. "And as much as I fucking hate to admit it, I still blame her for it…Don't get me wrong. I love my Mom, but I'm still… still angry with her… deep… deep down…"

Rachel didn't what to say or do, but listen. Maybe that was all that was needed. Someone who could sit there and just let Chloe air all her deepest, darkest thoughts without interjecting or telling her that she was wrong to think these things. Rachel would be the bearer of her secrets.

"Fuck, I try not to think about these things… Self-destruction is so much easier…" she admitted to with a short hallowed laugh. "I'm sorry if it seems like I'm being preachy about forgiving your dad. I just… don't want you to become a resentful, petty bitch like I am."

Rachel gave her a small chastising bump. It was enough to startle Chloe a tad.

"You're not a resentful bitch…" she gently refuted. "You're hurting, and that's okay to feel like that."

Rachel fell silent and turned away as her thoughts drifted back to her own situation, only this time they were heavily muddied by Chloe's words. At the end of the day, her dad was still her Dad. In spite of all the shit that had happened in the last 48 hours, if something were to happen… if he died… She'd probably never forgive herself if she had Chloe's personal experiences on hand, but failed to apply it.

"I-I don't know if I can forgive him, or trust him… ever again…" she managed to get out, feeling Chloe's arm wrap tightly around her waist. "But I'm going to try to stop hating him…. But that might take a while…"

They returned to a state of natural feeling silence, clutching each other's hand and only faintly aware of the radio playing. There was a soft gentleness in the way Chloe sat there that she silently observed. It took all her efforts not to just lean over and kiss her as they had done the day before. That sort of intimacy had to be carefully dished out if they were going to be friends first.

Rachel gave her head a metaphorical shake. She had to cool the fuck down.

"So… do you have plans for today?" Rachel asked her… friend.

Chloe issued her a sidelong glance and a small smile.

"Unless your Dad ropes me into something, I'm going to pick my cash up from Frank," Chloe informed her. "Then I was thinking of combing the junk yard for better parts for the truck, and if there's time I'll fix up that little shack. We'll have somewhere to chill out away from shit."

Rachel nodded, she liked the idea of the junk shack more and more. It would be a quiet place to just get away.

"Sounds like a plan," she agreed. "How about you pick me up after school and we'll stop by my place. I'm sure my fucking Dad has some insulation we can use. Get it ready for winter and make it habitable. Plus… I should… you know… talk to my Mom… I've been avoiding her like Dad, and I really shouldn't be."

Wincing as she wonder just how she was going to deal with that, Rachel patted Chloe's thigh and pushed herself off the bed and did a small twirl so that she was facing her again. It was time to change the subject.

"So… is Chloe Price going to let me raid her wardrobe for something to wear?" Rachel asked coyly, her hand resting on her hip "I know you're all gangly, but I think I could pull off some of your clothing."

Throwing her hand in the direction of the dresser casually, Chloe stood up as well.

"Yeah, sure, I owe you anyway…" she said as she joined the shorter girl. "I think the bottom drawer still has clothing from when I was fucking 13… might have something that fits you."

Giggling, Rachel reached out and gave Chloe a hard shove before she silently scoured the drawers and closet. She made it a point to not to look at Chloe as she pulled off her shirt and started scouring through a box marked 'William's stuff'.

Under any other circumstances, she'd ask to hit the shower first, but fuck it. She wasn't going to fucking be herself today. With routines and perfumes and her daily make up ritual. She was fucking over it for now. Another way to tell her Dad she wasn't going to play to his expectations any more.

Not to say she was giving up basic hygiene, just today just felt like a zero fucks sort of day.

Finding a pair of skinny, frayed black jeans (as much as she hated to admit it, they were located in Chloe's 13 year old clothing drawer) she tugged them on, next came unmatched black and white socks. She was just going to settle on the shirt she slept in but paused as she noticed the pile of old clothing at the front of the bed. Sure enough there was Chloe's white wife beater with the Illuminati symbol she doodled on the front.

She looked to Chloe, who had tossed on an old plan white t-shirt and a black and blue lumber jacket. Chloe turned and looked her way as well, her eyes settling on the shirt she hadn't washed yet in Rachel's hands. She appeared a little confused.

"Dude, that's old… that's gotta be kinda rank…" she warned.

Smirking slightly, Rachel bent forward and inhaled the scent on the shirt. It was a mixture of stale cigarette smoke, weed, wine and sweat.

It smelled like her Chloe; it was perfect.

"…I guess that's why I'm choosing it," Rachel returned, tugging off her shirt as she remained locked on Chloe's widening eyes. "Gotta… mark my territory, I suppose…"

As the long undershirt came down over her, Rachel held her hands out to wait for Chloe's judgement. She watched in silence as Chloe stepped forward. There was a growing ache as she found herself buckling under the tremendous pressure that was Chloe Price's longing. She stood there, her height difference so much more pronounced now.

She seemed to have been holding herself back, playing the exact same worries Rachel had; figuring just where to draw the line. Right now, for Rachel least, that line was blurring to something indistinguishable for the two of them.

"I told we're not just friends, Price," she murmured up to Chloe. "You can kiss me, if you'd like-"

And so Chloe did just that.

Chloe's lips slammed against hers, hurting in a good way. It was a force that banged Rachel back against the dresser, and it wasn't before long that she had found herself sitting on top of it, her arms wrapped tightly around Chloe's neck as she desperately tried to kiss back. Her brain was so overloaded that she had to manually remember to breathe.

Reaching up, Rachel pushed her hand through the back of Chloe's hair, her mouth hanging open as Chloe withdrew, her mouth instead wrapping around the front of her neck. It was again a good sort of pain, and knowing that this was how fucking Hickey's happened, Rachel found herself not giving a shit. She'd be happy to walk around in Chloe's clothing, with marks on her body, and have every fucking person in Blackwell draw their conclusions.

Chloe had taught her to stop giving a fuck, so that was what she was going to do…

"Chloe are you ready?!" Joyce called from downstairs, breaking their concentration. "Rachel, your Father is here!"

The two of them looked at each other, and even in the face of having her father downstairs, Rachel could not help but laugh as she reached out to cup Chloe's face and kiss her properly once again.

"Now you look punk rock…" Chloe said into her lips, pushing back Rachel's bangs tenderly as she stepped back.

Exhaling and eyeing up her punk girl one more time, Rachel pushed herself off the dresser and took Chloe's hand with one of her own, her other hand reaching up to muss her mane of blond hair for good measure. Grinning like a couple of idiots, the two of them grabbed their shoes and marched out of Chloe's bedroom on a mission.

They would be back here sooner or later.

 

 

Chapter Text

Sitting with Rachel and Chloe in front of Ray Well's empty office, James Amber had found his daughter far angrier with him than he had anticipated.

He had expected sound and thunder, he had counted on it. The past few days he had been playing conversational scenario after conversational scenario to be ready to counter anything she might be able to throw at him. It reminded him of the old days, during the darkest days with Sera in her downward spiral.

Unfortunately for him, there was an old saying that he had failed to take heed to, but it turned out to apply perfectly to his new situation: Generals prepare to fight for the last war. For Rachel, Rachel operated her rage in a way Sera never could.

Her rage was in her literal silence.

Standing in the doorway to the Price home, James watched Chloe lead her down the stairs. She looked rough, wearing clothing that clearly belonged to Chloe, she only spoke to Joyce to thank her for her hospitality, and pushed by James without uttering a word, without even sparing him a glance. She refused sit in the front, and the only acknowledgement of him was that she demanded Chloe to join her in the back seat.

He was a ghost to her. It had… hurt more than he had anticipated.

It gave him time to take in her appearance. She was a physical mess, her hair frayed and messed up, her make up smudged from tears, her clothing was too big for her, they had been clearly raided from Chloe's dirty clothing as they stunk of mildew, cigarettes, pot and alcohol. Worse yet was the giant hickey forming on the front of her neck, marked with teeth.

The moment he took in that, he had to glance up to look Chloe dead in the eyes. At least she gave him the courtesy of truth. It came in a guilty look and a shrug. That pretty much marked Chloe down as more than a friend to his daughter. Next time she was over, he supposed he would have to sit down and talk about it.

Preferably this would happen as he was cleaning a shotgun and drinking something with a little more kick than sherry.

As he glanced again at Chloe, who shuffled in her seat still very much aware that of him knowing about where she stood with Rachel, James silently marked 'buy one shotgun' in his list of things had to do today.

The door open behind them and Ray Wells entered his office. James stood immediately up from his seat out of respect and offered his hand to the man. The girls, on the other hand, remained locked in place. It was probably for the best, it drew Well's attention away from the silently fuming Rachel.

"Principal Wells," James greeted Ray by his title. A little jerking off another man's ego went a long way.

"Mr. Amber, how may I help you today…" Wells returned, shaking James' hand briefly before looking at the audience.

His attention flickered from Rachel to immediately Chloe. Any warm reception he had for James vanished as he found Chloe Price staring back at him. He looked annoyed at her, like she was a pest that he could never seem to just get rid of.

"Chloe Price, I cannot seem to shake you," Ray spoke, his tone edged with elitist sardonicism at the sight of the child he booted from the school forty-eight hours prior. "I do suppose I should thank you for your role in saving the school play. If only you had taken up hobbies and participated in school project before your expulsion."

"You're welcome for the save, Ray, and for the cash flow that came instead of refunds," Chloe snapped right back. There was no fear or hesitation or respect for the older authority figure. She was a girl with nothing to lose and clear burning hatred for the man who had humiliated her in front of her friends and her mother.

It took all of James' efforts not to grin out of admiration. The gall this girl possessed at her age was absolutely astounding.

"I came here on behalf of Miss Price here and her mother, who unfortunately could not make it," James interceded so that Chloe didn't meltdown and go wild. Enjoyable as it might have seemed, it was better to keep the ball rolling.

Ray turned back from Chloe. He looked ready to continue his fight with the girl, but James' words had caught him off guard just enough to keep the fray from turning into a full-fledged conflict.

"It is unfortunate that you have wasted your time in this understandable endeavour," Wells informed James as he took a seat behind his desk. "Miss Price has flippantly thrown out all her many opportunities she was granted in light of her… tragedy. Considering the financial… difficulties, not only did we show compassion, we are certain Chloe would be better suited for public education or applying for her GED through online or community college courses. To be honest, Miss Price was never Blackwell material to begin with-"

"You're a total bastard..."

The outburst had erupted from Rachel, who for the first time since James was in her, had spoken to someone outside of Chloe. She was shaking with righteous anger in defense of her friend from the passive aggressive insults issued by the educator.

"Rachel," he warned his daughter.

Just as it was a first time she had been willing to speak in front of him, it was the first time she had looked at him. Rachel looked at him like she was ashamed to be his daughter.

Swallowing the knot in his throat, James reorganized his himself and directed his focus once again to Wells, who was staring almost fascinated by what he was witnessing between father and daughter. You didn't get to his position without first obtaining a decent skillset of observational awareness.

"Please… excuse my daughter's outbursts," James apologized on her behalf. "She's upset for a friend, it's only natural for outbursts like this."

Wells laced his fingers together. He looked from James, to the girls. His eyes stopping at Chloe, who sat there looking like she had wanted to call him something awful and perverse, or perhaps a combination of the two.

"Then perhaps she needs to find a better friend," he stated simply.

Rachel and Chloe shared a look.

And just like that, James forgot all his niceties and good nature. The gloves were coming off now. No more dancing around, it was time to get to the heart of the issue, because if he stayed he was liable to hit the man across from him.

"The way I see it, I see it you have two option," he informed Ray, his voice tinted with falsified humour. "Option One: You drop the expulsion in favour of a suspension, place her on probation for next year and we all walk away from this with mucking up everything. I'll pay for her entrance fee, no harm, no foul…

Wells, as expected, was not particularly thrilled by Option One.

He would just have to learn to accept it. Option Two… Well, it really wasn't the option a man in Ray's position would want to take a chance on.

"And option two?" Wells asked, leaning into his chair, so far unimpressed.

Gathering up the briefcase he had brought, he placed it in his lap and unlocked it. Pulling out a police file, he dropped it in front of Wells, who stared at it blankly. After a moment, he reached out and opened it, revealing several mug shots and documentation.

"My office has been keeping tabs on a Damon Merrick and his associates," James introduced the leader to Wells, his fingers tapping the sneering mug shot staring back at the educator. "Mr. Merrick is a bit of an entrepreneur; and one of his recent ventures is running controlled substances into Blackwell Academy for the expressed purposes of distribution to the athletes."

Chloe shifted nervously next to him. Yes, he was well aware of her one time job for Frank Bowers. His informant had said as much. In the grand scheme of things, he knew this only came about due to Rachel's insistence they flee from Arcadia Bay; and he didn't need an informant on that. Between their declaration on stage and Chloe's attempt to deescalate Rachel's rage at dinner the night his world got torn apart, he knew exactly what was happening to force Chloe into that desperate move.

As far he was concerned, Chloe had nothing to do with the matter.

"Tell me, Ray, since you're the professional educator here," James continued, twisting his metaphorical knife deeper and deeper into the Principal. "How is it going to look when your star athlete Drew North is busted for his part in an oxycodone smuggling ring? I'm going take a stab in the dark and assume that it's not going to go over well."

James fell silent and allowed Wells the opportunity to stew in all the awful implications and outcomes that would arise if James went in gang busters and knocked the ring down from the ground up rather than the careful neutralization of the organized ring's leadership. Blackwell Academy's reputation destroyed, all under Wells' watch.

"My office has no real interest in arresting children. Our focus remains entirely on Merrick and his partners," James assured the numbed principal. "However, that being said, illegal distribution of a controlled substance is a serious offense, especially within school grounds. One which would not only destroy the reputation of this esteemed school, but would jeopardize it. Imagine the outrage that would ensue to a doping scandal. Your competitive licences would certainly be revoked pending the investigation and hearings. Financial backers of the team would bail… but then there are the Prescott's..."

The mention of the wealthy patrons of Blackwell was enough to force Ray to look back up to the DA. He was shaking in unspoken rage at being placed in this sort of position; but it was no one's fault but his own. Ray skimped on security and got exactly what was bound to happen: Chaos.

"I know you Ray," James spoke, his tone dropping the edge in favour of sympathy. "I know you'd rather drag your dick through a mile of rat traps then get into bed with the Prescott's any more than you already have to be; they would pick up the financial slack and seize total financial control over this institution. You don't want that, and I know that I don't want that."

James emitted a small sigh, if only for dramatic effect.

"But I guess all of that wouldn't matter, would it?" he pressed forward. "Once the first arrests are made, inquires will be made into your competence in providing a safe environment. You would be out of a job, or you will be placed on leave, never to educate again, which would be a shame, considering your illustrious career so far."

James leaned forward, allowing a knowing grin cross over his face. He was pulling no punches; he hadn't the time for any of this. He had a busy schedule and this glorified secretary was the smallest concern on his list at the moment.

"So here's what's going to happen," he said, his hands lacing together as the rested on Ray's desk. "You're going to place Chloe Price on suspension for the rest of the year, you'll hand her reapplication papers to sign, which will be approved come September 1st of this year. You will take my goddamn money. Or else on September 2nd, I come here with a search warrant and burn your career to the ashes."

The cards were on the table now. Ray remained locked in an intense staring down from Ray. If they had been friends once, then those days were long over. He also knew this was a potentially career ruining move, but he knew Wells would stake the reputation of the school over calling a bluff any day of the week.

"Girls, could you please wait outside?" James requested, unblinking as he stared down Wells'. "I think Principal Wells and I need some time alone now."

Rachel and Chloe glanced at each other for only a moment before they flew out of their chairs to leave James staring down the fury of Ray Wells. They did not need to be asked twice.


The yelling between James and Wells only got worse and Chloe could not help but grin ear to ear after watching Wells get hella fucking owned by Rachel's dad.

Rachel had wandered off to the bathroom, leaving Chloe behind to wait and take in the sweet moment of victory she felt. Whether she had to go to the bathroom, or just didn't want to listen to her dad any more than she had to was up for debate.

While she had been looking forward to her escape from Blackhell forever, and while the idea that she would be back in school sucked, at least it seemed more than likely that she would be back in school with Rachel again, only under vastly different circumstances now. For now all cared about was listening to Wells holler at the top of his lungs.

Cracking her neck she glanced away from the office and took a look at the students passing by. Some of them curious by the noise, but in large part they remained apathetic. None of them mattered to Chloe, so whatever. At least that was the case until she noticed Steph Gingrich at her locker, one of her arms was pinned down by half a dozen books. She appeared to be in the process of opening up the one next to her, which of course, belonged to Mikey North.

Pushing herself off the wall, Chloe crossed the hall and slammed her back into the locker on the other side of Steph's. The bang earned her an annoyed look from some rando couple. Chloe made a point to ignore and looked to Steph, who had turned and issued a small grin to exiled Blackhell inmate.

"Yo Steph, what's shaking?" she asked her, grabbing the arm load of books out of Steph's grasp.

"Thank you, Calimastia," she spoke gratefully as she focused on opening the locker properly. "I'm just picking up Mikey's assignments for today. I'm going to be his scribe. Hey… is there a Battle of Helms Deep re-enactment going on in Wells' office?"

She could not stop herself. Chloe issued Steph the widest of shit eating grins.

"Oh yeah, my Lawyer is in there ramming his fist, fuckin' straight up Wells' ass at the moment…" Chloe waved off. "It's looking like you're not going to be the coolest kid in Blackwell for much longer."

Steph arched her brow as a small horrified expression emerged at the graphic depiction of Wells' current status as James Amber's bitch boy.

"…then I'll have to savour every last moment before your return from exile," she replied. Steph paused and glanced at the blue fringe.

Cool hair by the way," she added. "I won't ask if Rachel Amber's was the inspiration…"

The small knowing smirk on Steph's face did more damage to Chloe's cockiness than she had ever anticipated. It became painfully clear that she was standing in front of probably the only person she had ever met who was clear minded about her sexual attractions on the same sex, and there Steph stood, gently poking holes through Chloe's armour.

Sooner rather than later, she was going to have to take Steph up on her offer to talk. There was only two other people in her life she'd fee she could talk about this. One was the object of her attraction, the other was gone and never coming back.

"Well… yeah… maybe…" she said, knowing how stupid she must have sounded as she rubbed her neck, which only made things worse, because it gave Steph the opportunity to look at Rachel's bracelet which still store wore.

The smirk washed away from Steph's expression. Her small warm smile had thankfully returned as she closed Mikey's locker.

"Mikey told me what happened the other day, that you stopped that Damon guy from beating up Drew," she said, changing the subject, but not entirely for the better. "That was really cool of you, Chloe."

Chloe eyed Steph wearily as the guilt of what had happened on Saturday returned to the center of her mind. She had actually thought that there was an appeal to crime; on first contact she had seen what her actions had done. All they did was hurt people who didn't deserve it.

"He doesn't blame you for what happened, Chloe," she gently reassured her. "You giving the money to this Damon asshole was the best move."

"I keep hearing that, but it doesn't make me feel any better…" Chloe muttered back. It didn't matter how much reinforcement she got, she was still going to feel like shit over this whole awful thing.

Steph reached out and took the hold of Chloe's forearm, the touch surprising her. She looked up and met Steph sharp blue eyes.

"It wasn't an easy thing, but Chloe… you did the right thing," she stated to the taller girl. "Drew was desperate, and desperate people do stupid things like jump in bed with drug dealers, then not give up the money they owe to said dealers. He made a mistake, and he was lucky as hell you were there… I mean, if Drew had lost his scholarship…"

Steph trailed off, her head gently shaking as though she was attempting to purge the thought out of her mind. Chloe rubbed her neck, she got it. Drew had painted the picture clear about the state of his family. The North family needed him to carry them, which was a responsibility no one Drew's age should have been forced to have to do.

"If I'm being honest… if I was in the same situation Drew was, I might not be too proud to do that as well…" she murmured to Steph, shrugging.

"Yeah, me too," Steph agreed with her. "If there was one person who needed a punch in the dick, it's this Damon guy."

Chloe did a double take at the slightly smirking girl.

"In the dick?" Chloe faintly repeated.

Steph nodded gravely.

"Right in the dick," She confirmed, offering no wiggle room on the subject. "No one hurts Mikey ever again, not on my watch."

Chloe looked on Steph with a deeper respect for the girl. Chloe didn't know much in life, but she now knew that she would never want to face down a pissed off Steph Gingrich.

"I take it back," Chloe said, impressed by her. "When I get back into school, you can keep the Coolest Person in Blackwell title."

As Steph looked close to blushing, down the hallway the girl's bathroom door opened and out stepped Rachel, her hand running through her mused hair again. She had paused for a moment to take in her surroundings and paused as she noticed Chloe standing by Steph next to her locker.

Steph looked dumbfounded. Rachel really must have been quite the sight to see, considering how put together she usually was. There was, standing there in same clothing Chloe wore last Friday and Saturday, her neck marks left by Chloe now officially visible from the fucking International Space Station…

In spite of this, Rachel still stepped forward confidently as she approached Chloe and Steph, who looked somewhat flabbergasted as she seemed to be working the pieces out by herself. Steph rounded on Chloe for a moment. There seemed to be a mixture of awe and shock in her eyes.

"Hey Steph," Rachel greeted as she stood next to Chloe. "How are you doing?"

Glancing to Chloe for a moment, Steph exhaled and turned to face slightly smirking Rachel. As calm and collected as she might have seemed, Rachel looked close to melting down. Chloe could see it in her eyes. They darted in the direction of the Administrative offices. It would not be long now before James came out.

"Fine," Steph broke the strained silence. "We're just talking about… stuff…"

"Mikey stuff?" Rachel inquired, her voice growing concerned in spite of never speaking to the boy before. "God, what a fucking thing to happen to him, he's seems so nice. Would it be too much for the two of us to drop by the hospital and check in?"

Chloe watched as Steph smiled widely and nodded. She ignored the small surge of jealousy that washed over her for a moment. She wasn't going to play that game with Steph. She was too sweet.

"Not at all, Mikey would love more visitors," Steph said excitedly. "Why don't you two drop by after school sometime? There's a D&D scenario I've been working on the past couple days. I'm calling it 'Escape from Fortress Laitosh'. Elamon is trapped in prison after killing Duurgaron. I got Drew recruited to fight to free Elamon as a Paladin named Kalerius the Unbroken. Mikey and him have been building his character for days, and he's totally into it. You two should totally come and join the game. I… might just know a spell that brings Callimastia back from the dead…"

"Fucking sweet!" Chloe exclaimed, for getting that strange flash of emotion as her fist pumping outwards. She froze as she noticed Rachel looking up at her with her brow raised.

"I mean… sure, whatever… nerds…" she lamely for good measure.

Emitting a small huff, Rachel swung her hip and checked Chloe hard enough to stagger her slightly.

"Don't deny what you are, Price," she teased Chloe before turning back to Steph. "Never table topped before. We'll be there, if you're gentle on me…"

As Steph blinked and nodded, the administration office doors opened and out stepped James Amber. He was looked well beyond agitated. He only spared Rachel, Chloe and Steph a parting glance.

"Girls, parking lot right now." he commanded before he stepped heavily towards the nearest exit he could find.

The three girls shared a look. Steph stood there, her eyes wide as tracked James until he had left the school. Rachel exhaled heavily.

"Sorry Steph, DA Fuckface is calling us," she grumbled mutinously. "I'll see you in class?"

Steph nodded blankly, and with one final parting glance and smile to Chloe, Rachel followed after her father. Probably the last thing she wanted to do, but there she was doing it anyway. After two days of silence, she was going to finally talk to her dad… all for Chloe's sake.

As soon as Rachel was out of earshot, Steph rounded back to Chloe.

"So... let me get it straight," she spoke, her voice barely more than a whisper as she looked at Chloe incredulously. "You're basically with his daughter, and he's already getting you out of trouble you pretty much brought on yourself? How in the hell can you get that lucky?"

Chloe cleared her throat dramaticly

"What can I say?" Chloe retuned as she handed the pile of books back to Steph. "Trying to tame a dragon has its rewards."

Clasping Steph on the shoulder Chloe followed after Rachel, leaving the Queen of the Indoor Kids still in a state of growing confusion and perhaps some unintended envy.


Trailing a good twenty yards behind her father, Rachel Amber tried her utmost to remain as cool as she could in the face of the overwhelming desire to go to war against her own dad right in front of the entire academy.

Right now, nothing outside the tension between father, daughter and her new best friend mattered.

She was only vague aware that she had walked by Victoria Chase, looking ravished, and clinging onto Chloe's hand as she walked like a zombie in the direction of the parking lot. She didn't pay attention to Eliot Hampden as he looked at her like she had kicked his puppy.

She didn't care about the rumours that would spread faster than the fire she had started. The only thing that mattered now was what she would say to her Dad. That was if she even wanted to talk at all. She had only promised Chloe that she would listen what he had to say.

Perhaps that was all she should do. Listen and bide her time until she could properly string together coherent sentences of how betrayed she had felt. She didn't want to stand there and babble out a string of nonsense to her father. He needed to know exactly what she felt. How much his lies had destroyed the world she had known.

Chloe's warning about unsaid things came back to her thoughts. Dad had attempted to explain, why he did what he did, but she was barely coherent to pay it attention. Now that she had a few days, it might have been time to actually listen. The last thing she wanted was for things to be left unsaid. Even if it meant having to listen to him attempt to somehow justify his actions.

Here are your papers, Chloe have them notarized by yourself and your mother and deliver it to me. The second is a contract pertaining to your probation period which will last all next school year before it is lifted. Wells was insistent on you taking up certain… academic activities to help motivate your success. So I signed you up for Drama class.

Noticing Chloe was looking back; Rachel turned and found that they had been tailed by Hampden. Chloe looked frazzled and nodded her head in an attempt to shoo him the fuck out of their business. An unnatural fury at the intrusion startled the smaller girl. What in the fuck gave him the right to casually creep into their business?

As her dad turned back, he too had noticed the boy. He pushed by Rachel and Chloe and stared at him.

"Can we help you?" he inquired, breaking the silence.

"Can I… ahhh… talk to Chloe for a moment?" Eliot spoke up, his voice was friendly but here seemed something… off about it.

Turning away from the teen, Dad glanced at Chloe. Chloe was red in the face and unable to look up from her shoes, as though she was ashamed or something. She emitted the smallest of head shakes. Rachel stepped closer to Chloe and gripped onto her arm properly, giving her a reassuring smile. In spite of the reassurance, Chloe remained locked in place. Was it guilt? They had been close.

Whatever it had been, Rachel knew she didn't like it.

With the discomfort in Chloe this palpable, Dad stepped directly in front of Chloe's line of sight with Eliot, shielding her away from the strange gaze of the boy.

"No, you may not," Dad replied in a calm but authoritative voice. "Could you please allow us some space for a private conversation? We would appreciate that, thank you."

Smart enough to know not to push it any further; Hampden attempted to get one last glance at Chloe by tilting to his left. Dad mimicked him, his expression hardening as he continued to shield Chloe behind him.

"I'm so sorry…" she whispered to the shorter girl. "I gotta fix that mess soon…"

Rachel squeezed her hand tightly.

"You have nothing to be sorry about," she reminded her, looking to her father.

Dad was still standing there, watching the Hampden boy retreat to a safe distance, Dad looked like he had something to say. Instead he dug into his briefcase. If he did, he chose intend to keep it for himself, or save it for later when she wasn't around. Rachel wasn't sure if she liked the silence he held, but she did… appreciate what he had done.

"Here are your papers, Chloe. Have them notarized by yourself and your mother and deliver it to me," he said as he handed a stack of documentation to the girl. "The second is a contract pertaining to your probation period which will last all next school year before it is lifted. Wells was insistent on you taking up certain… academic activities to help motivate your success. So I signed you up for Drama class."

Pausing for a moment, Dad looked over Chloe examining the papers.

"I'm required to take personal responsibility for your actions," he added, catching Chloe's attention. "So please… try not to push them too much."

Chloe remained focused on the papers. There was the strangest mixture of resignation and relief written on her face. She had spent the weekend writing off her educational future, but now here she was, about to be reenrolled back into school from the actions of the man standing in front of her. Chloe was a proud person. She didn't take perceived hand-outs lightly.

She looked and found the Ambers looking at her. She emitted a small grin as she looked from Rachel, to Dad who thankfully wasn't being smug about what he had done. Instead, all that he did was quietly wait for Chloe to say something, anything.

"I… shit, thank you Mr. A," Chloe spoke in her standard elegance. "You came through… You know you're basically going to be my Mom's favourite person from now on, right?"

Dad allowed a ghost of a smile to cross over his mouth.

"You'll find your tuition cost has been cut in half, I did some digging last night, and found you were eligible for a scholarship, which you failed to apply for," he spoke up, breaking his silence. "With everything that happened, it's understandable why you didn't see to applying for it. I filed the paperwork this morning, and I am more than certain you'll get it."

Chloe remained silent, shifting in place as she seemed at a loss of words. She could not even look at Dad. Both Ambers knew the reason why. This would go a long ways towards getting the Price family out of the grips of financial strain from school costs.

Rachel wanted to be as happy for as she deserved, but she couldn't. Not totally, not with that nagging voice in the back of her head telling that this was not nearly as altruistic as it appeared. It seemed to her that her Dad was just tying the noose around the Price family's neck, forcing them more and more into his sphere of influence. This sort of control was far reaching. With Rachel so close to Chloe, it was inevitable that she too would get tangled up in this.

This was exactly what he wanted; a quiet reestablishment of control over everyone in his life in light of the unforeseen discovery of Sera. It was so fucking typical of him.

"Mr. Keaton is going to freak he's going to get a new star…" Rachel spoke up finally, looking to Chloe as hatred for her father ebbed back into her heart. "Maybe we could bully him into a production of Blade Runner…"

Chloe made a face and rolled her eyes at her. Even now she was still pretending like she hadn't enjoyed her new stage career.

Breaking up the moment was a cough. Rachel and Chloe turned and found Dad standing there, looking like he was ready to get to the business at hand. Chloe remained locked in place, her expression hardening as she stared at Dad as though he was being room.

Rachel felt her heart flutter. In spite of the generosity shown to her by dad, Chloe still stood by her. Dad could have given her the world, and she would be shaken from her support. This raised her spirits for a moment, only to be crushed by the guilt that she actually thought that for a moment Chloe would do anything less.

Reaching out, Rachel touched her Chloe's bicep. The taller girl looked back to her, and Rachel emitted a smile stained by the guilt and shame she felt.

"It's okay Chloe…" she reassured her gently. "I got this."

Chloe looked her over carefully, as though she was looking to see if Rachel was actually ready to do this. She wasn't, but she had come to terms with that. Exhaling and making a point not to look to Dad, Chloe leaned in and brushed her lips on Rachel's forehead before she turned back.

Dad stepped out of way and impassively gestured to the car, a silent offer to the girl for a ride back to her home. Chloe stepped by him and walked off, leaving Rachel alone with her father for the first time in what felt like forever. It was certainly the first time in her new reality.

The two remained silent, neither of them knowing just where to start. She watched as Dad stepped past her and took a seat on the steps. He looked up at her, his hand patting the concrete step he sat on.

Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, Rachel obliged him and took the seat he had offered.

"Is there actually a scholarship for her?" Rachel started first, her voice neutral as she examined her father impassively.

Dad did not look at her. His eyes remain distant, like he was at a state of attention.

"Does it matter?" he asked her just as impassively as she had.

"It does if you're buying off my friend for your own goals," Rachel fired back right away.

Dad remained still and silent as he watched Chloe climb into the front seatg and closed the door behind her.

"I know her better than you think, Rachel…" Dad murmured. "She's… all too familiar…"

Breaking his distant stare, he turned his attention back to Rachel. His expression was far sterner than it had been.

"This is a hard fact to swallow, but everything I do doesn't have to revolve completely around you," he informed her piercingly. "But go ahead, Sunshine. You go ahead and tell her that the scholarship comes out of my pocket. You'll get to watch from the front row as she throws it away, and then her second chance at an education as well. For you, she would give up everything and anything…"

Sunshine. She hadn't heard that childhood nickname in years. It only made things worse. She felt sick as her dad's assessment of Chloe Price was brutally spot on.

Silently, Dad reached out and took her right hand into his.

"I need you to understand the power you have over that girl, the length she could go for you with just one word from you," he pressed on, unblinking as he held his eyes on her. "Loyalty is one of the rarest gifts on this planet, Rachel. That girl will discard everything away for you if you were to ask it. If you care for her, you won't treat it like its blasé."

He trailed of as his rant simmered down and was left lurking now in Rachel's thoughts. Satisfied that she seemed to have gotten the message, Dad let go of her hand.

"I… hurt you in a way that you will never heal," he said in a smaller voice. "Don't make that same mistake with her…"

Looking at her Dad and the expression he wore. There was visible shame in every facet of him. Although she could never express it, there was a small part in her that… might have believed he felt this strongly. That maybe this lie had hurt him as much as it had hurt her. She could not imagine what it must have been like spending 13 years in fear that the truth would come out.

"I'm meeting Sera tonight," he announced, thankfully breaking Rachel away from the growing doubt. "We'll discuss the conditions to how she's going to slowly reintegrated back into your life."

Rachel looked away from him and nodded stiffly. Chloe had already made it clear this was what he wanted to do. This was just a confirmation.

"I need you cool your expectations of this as well," he spoke again as he looked away from her as well. "A recovering addict is one bad day away from a relapse, especially for someone newly sober. Sera must be handled delicately by you. There will be ground rules and supervision, and I do not want you to be under the impression you're getting unlimited access to her because this is happening. One day perhaps, but now is not the time for that."

Running her hand over her face, Rachel pushed herself off the steps and swiftly moved away several paces from him, her arms crossing over her chest as she looked at Chloe sitting in Dad's car, pretending not to look their way.. The conversation was done in her opinion. Sera and she were going to meet. That was the end of it.

"I don't expect your forgiveness, Rachel…" she heard her Dad admit as he stood up. "But I don't want to go the rest my life knowing I did nothing when something had to be done. Everything I ever did was meant to protect you from her demons, but all it did was hurt you that much more."

The pain in the pit of her chest had returned, She looked at Chloe, who was looking her way. What she would do to just be back in Chloe's bed again, pretending the world didn't exist…

"If I could do it all again, I would have told you five years ago… but I can't," he continued on as Rachel held her back on him. "I just have to limp on knowing how much wrong I have done to you, and that things between us will never be the same. The girl, who'd drag me out of my work so we can act and play together – and these moments might not have much meaning to you, but for me they were the only things that kept me from getting lost in all the shit my job entails - is never coming back to me; and I'm going to miss that so damn much…"

Rachel turned back to face her father, who was standing there, his mouth pushed together like he was struggling to remain his composure. She wanted to leap forward and hug and cry and hit him, and tell him that she loved him with all her heart in spite of all this shit that had gone down. He was still her dad, and she would never stop loving him.

"I think I want to move onto campus full time," she said instead.

There was no malice or spite in her words; it was just a tired recognition that everything was broken between them. For her, this was as close to divorce as she could come up with sort of emancipation. She didn't want that sort of finality. There was still chance, but she just needed to get away out of arms reach of her parents.

Dad stared at her like his heart had been broken right in front of her with such a simple request. It was the worst fucking feeling Rachel had ever had in her life. The lie was one thing, but standing there was man whom she shared her entire with… and she had told him she was just... done.

"If that is what you would like, I'll… look into it," he spoke in a slow monotone.

Silence returned between daughter and father. Rachel felt ill, she just wanted to walk away, but the idea of her dad standing there alone reeling from this was too much to handle, too much of anchor to keep her from fleeing back to school.

"Are you coming home tonight?" he quietly asked her.

Rachel looked at him for a moment before she nodded stiffly.

"I will… but I'm inviting Chloe over to stay the night," she returned, unable to look him in the eye. "I want to know about Sera… and not just the bad things."

"If Chloe's mother is fine with this, then of course," Dad allowed. "After dinner I'll tell you everything you wish to know."

With that, Rachel nodded and stepped back to the stairs so that she could head back to school and reorganize herself for tonight. But before she stepped by her Dad, he reached out and grabbed her by his arm, bringing her to a stop.

"Look…" he said to her, his tone lightening up somewhat as he nodded in the direction of Chloe.

Rachel eyed him with a scrutinizing expression for a moment before she decided to look Chloe's way. Silently she looked at the girl in the front seat, fidgeting like mad, like she was worried to be left alone with James Amber.

"See that face?" he spoke again. "That's the expression one gets when they're aware they're about to get reamed by an interrogative father. I should know, I had that look on my face more than once at her age."

Rachel closed her eyes and groaned. Although she wanted to get honesty from her dad, she really didn't need to know that much about him.

"I know you're just friends, but is it too early to insist we make up the guest room for her tonight?" he went on without missing a beat.

Dad gestured to the mark Chloe left on her neck.

"That right there would be an assault and battery charge in most cases. Do you think I should go that angle on her tonight?" he asked her, his grin widening. "I could mention it tonight at dinner. We could watch her squirm for our dining entertainment…"

In spite of everything, Rachel could help but emit a laugh. Chloe didn't deserve that sort of teasing… not yet, at least. It should have to wait until the friendship they were investing in bloomed into something more. The last thing she wanted was for Chloe to get scared off now.

"I got you to smile…" Dad murmured as he released his hand off her arm and stepped out of her way. "I'll take that small win."

Rachel nodded to him; it was a small acknowledgement to that. With a final look to Chloe, she turned away and headed back to school, her thoughts racing with everything that was spoken between father and daughter. Perhaps one day things would get better, but that day would not arrive for a very long time.

There was still a lot of healing left to do first.

Chapter Text

 

She was here, and he shouldn't have been as nervous as he was.

Fifteen years after the collapse of their marriage, James Amber still found himself high-strung about her as he slowly approached Sera Gearhardt. It was a strange feeling, about to get even stranger as he ran through just how it was he was going to work her back into his life after spending so many years keeping her far away.

Now here he was, openly discussing her with Rachel; and Rose somehow finding the dignity and strength to let him interact with Sera without fearing the marriage would collapse. He loved his wife dearly for her continued trust in him. After the kiss… he wouldn't do that ever again. He had screwed all of this up enough already.

Sera was sitting at the end of the pier, wearing a black and white polka dot dress, her hair pulled back in a loose pony-tail. She was watching the Bay as several fishing boat left dock, steaming towards their fishing sites.

Clutching onto his carry-out tray, James approached Sera, whose back was still turned to him, still sitting there basking in the warm late spring sunshine. She seemed so… at peace with everything, the conflicts she battled inside her were just… gone.

He didn't know why after all this time he still felt like a damn kid approaching the prom queen. It was… some unusual sway she just possessed, and not the passage of time, or her substance abuse problem had done a thing to lessen the effects. It was the sort of radiance she must have certainly passed on to Rachel. The charm and natural charisma which Rachel possessed… well… she certainly didn't get that from him.

Wood creaked under his pressure, causing Sera to break her silent observation of the bay. She turned back and found James just standing there, suddenly at a loss of words as his ex-wife quietly examined him.

"James…" she breathed, her weary eyes looking at him with an understandably high amount of suspicion after their previous encounter.

No longer able to put it off, James gathered his senses and stepped forward towards Sera. She remained completely motionless as he approached her. Her hands were folded in her lap as though she was sitting, waiting for a verdict. There was a trace of rage in her expression, which was tempered by the curiosity she had when he called her this morning.

"Sera, I'm sorry that I'm late," he returned, finally finding his voice. "I brought tea… Darjeeling with lemon… and one golden sugar, right?"

As James pulled her tea out for her and extended it in her direction, Sera blinked. In spite of her anger, a ghost of a smile slowly crossed over her mouth.

Silently, Sera took her drink, her hands shaking. Briefly he wondered if it was out of her sobriety, or out of fear of the man standing over her. He did not know which was worse.

"I..." Sera murmured, her hand digging into her pocket. "Brought the cigarettes, if you still smoke that is…"

As James did with the tea, so too did Sera with the open pack of cigarettes in her hand. James looked at it for a moment, before he reached out and took one from her pack. Sera smiled again and looked away from him, her hand reaching out and patting the spot next to her on the bench.

Looking at it with a moment's hesitation, James accepted the invitation and silently took a seat next to her, pulling his earl grey, milk and two sugars out of the tray and took a sip. Sera dug into her purse and withdrew her lighter, flicking it alive so that James could light up.

The two of them remained silent, looking out over the bay. James inhaled a mouthful of smoke as Sera carefully sipped her tea. He glanced her way to see that she was returning the look.

Her smile spoke volumes to him.

"I… can't believe you remembered after all this time…" she observed, almost amused by the fact.

James shrugged as he swallowed a sip of his own tea.

"Imprinted memories, I suppose…" he speculated for her. "I find that these… little things are hard to forget."

Sera nodded and sipped her tea again as she pulled a cigarette out for herself. She lit it up casually between her fingers before she placed it in her lips. Her eyes fell to her lap as she seemed to be in the middle of debating saying something. James remained silent; he would give her any opportunity she needed to say what was on her mind.

"I think of those days still… that's not to say I'm living in the past, but I do allow myself to think of our good moments," she confessed, looking up his way. "Living in our little loft in Santa Monica, drinking tea, smoking cigarettes... me, just finished working some shit job. You, a bright eyed law student, working early mornings, coming home from UCLA every night to our slum, beaten down, exhausted, yet still believing you could change the world…"

James could not help but chuckle. It was hard to believe those days actually happened still. That there used to be a good era for Sera and James; but there were good times. Perhaps he tried his best to erase these things. The pain of remembrance of these happy times was so much worse than devoting a decade and a half seething with anxiety, fear and loathing for when their relationship finally collapsed on itself.

It was this that gave him an enemy and hatred to fuel his resolve to never return to her, to never allow their child to be harmed by her.

Now here he was… sitting with his worst enemy; his first love. Years of isolation destroyed because of two snooping teen girls.

"Yeah… funny how it goes…" James spoke up, tapping his cigarette. "You think you can do good… but in the end you just contribute to the decline. Look at us; we ended up as Gen-X stereotypes... go figure…"

The pair of them shared a small subdued self-decrepitating laugh as they lapsed into surprisingly good natured silence. James had to admit it was so much easier this time around then it had been last Friday. Between the secret being out, and knowing where each other stood, it made this… smoother.

As they smoke and drank their tea in silence, James found an overriding sense of… duty, he supposed to Rachel. She needed to understand the gravitas, her heroin addiction had had on his, life, on Rachel's, and that a year of sobriety and the subsequent rejection of his money didn't amount to much in the big picture. The rejection of her daughter had to be at the forefront of everything from now on. If she wanted a place art Rachel's side, this had to be.

Reaching into his pocket, James removed his wallet. He opened it to pull out an old photograph of Rachel in a white tutu, her hair pinned back by a clip. Looking at it for a moment, he offered it out to Sera, without looking at her.

"This was when she was 11," he spoke out loud, unable to Sera in the eye. "She had it in her mind she wanted to be a prima ballerina when she grew up. She was… well… objectively, she was awful."

Out of the blue, he felt Sera smack his arm. Rubbing his arm dramatically, he looked and found the woman almost outraged at the suggestion Rachel might have been terrible at something, which she certainly was. The girl was all knees and elbows at that age, and terribly clumsy.

"How could you say that about your daughter?" Sera said, barely able to conceal a grin. She looked like she wanted to laugh at the perfectly reasonable statement

"Well, you didn't see her try ballet," James pointed out as he brought his cigarette to his lips. "I love her, but she was terrible."

The two of them laughed and like porcelain, Sera gingerly placed the new memory of Rachel into her purse. Her hand rose up to briefly cover her mouth. She looked up and turned to James.

"…Thank you, James," she whispered to him. "For this… glimpse…"

As James nodded, Sera turned away. Her hands gripped onto her purse tightly as though she unconsciously feared he would have second thoughts on his small gift and reach over and snatch the photo away from her. He could understand why. He had to set himself up as a gatekeeper, and main function of a gatekeeper was to keep out those who were unwelcomed.

… Like he had to do to Sera for all these years…

"I was… surprised that you called me," she admitted as she raised her cigarette. "I didn't think I would be getting a response from you ever again… at least not without litigation."

Litigation, this was probably the most driving factor to this change in Sera policy, only second to that of Rachel. Sera's presence was only going to bring about a storm of controversy. In a small town, it was to be expected. When he went to bed on Sunday morning, he had decided there and then he needed to get out ahead of it, and for starters a civil case had to be avoided at all costs.

"I know we didn't end our encounter on Friday the best way," James admitted as he gripped his tea. "I'm… sorry that it ended the way it did."

Sera nodded plainly, her eyes lowered again to her lap.

"We did it the wrong way," she agreed as she looked up to him. "I was… angry that you kept blocking me this past year. I should have seen you were… scared of me, scared of everything you built… just crashing down on you. I do get it, James. It's just, I get so impatient with everything and I forget… I forget I'm not in the best position to make demands…"

James huffed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he quietly contemplated and smoked.

"I was scared of you… and I am of scared of you still," he confessed to her. "To cut the long story short, Rachel knows about you. She tracked us down to our meeting, she saw the kiss… she thought you were my mistress, and I told her the truth about who you were to her."

The truth was out now. Sera now knew Rachel was very much aware of just who she was. He glanced her way and found her eyes were wide, her mouth slightly hanging up as she looked at James like she feared he was lying to her. He wasn't. He wished he was, but it was the truth.

"How… did she take it?" Sera breathed slowly, her words were carefully camouflaged with neutrality, so that she did not get her hopes high.

James flicked the cigarette butt into the Bay.

"How do you suppose that she took it?" James muttered as he straightened himself up. "It broke everything she's ever known. She… doesn't trust me with anything, anymore. I don't know if she ever will again... so, Rose and I agreed that for everyone's sake, you will be permitted to be in contact with her."

"But… you don't want it..." Sera correctly guessed, holding her cigarettes back out to him.

Eyeing it carefully, James took another one and let Sera light him back up.

"What I want is no longer relevant. I don't have much of a choice anymore," he said, exhaling a plume of smoke out of his nostrils slowly. "One way or another, Rachel's going to see you. It's in her nature to game the system until she gets what she desires…. So I think it'll be better I try to make it… sterile… and safe."

Sera squinted at him through their combined cigarette smoke.

"Do you… actually think I'll do something to her?" she asked him, clearly attempting to displace her growing anger with curiosity. "James, I would never hurt her..."

James nodded reassuringly for her.

"I know that, at least that is what I would like to believe. I know it wouldn't be intentional," he said softly. "I'm not just looking out for her, but you as well. If she loses her temper, it might lead to… old familiar feelings… and despite what you probably think, I wouldn't want you to slide back… not now…"

He trailed off for a moment as he let her contemplate this.

"Rachel is…" he started, struggling to find the right words. "Rachel is by far more… dangerous then you are, because she has me in her as well."

Leaving that observation hanging between the two of them, James cleared his throat. He had to return back to a state of professionalism. It was the only way he felt he would be able to convey what needed to get across to Rachel's biological mother. She needed to understand that there could not be any sort of circumvention for the time being. If she was serious about her efforts to end this peacefully, and see her child again, it had to be agreed upon here and now.

"So here we are now. Rachel knows, and we have to come to an agreement," he summed up, his district attorney professionalism etched back into his words. "I promised Rachel that I would make the arrangements, and Rachel has conceded I am within my rights to relay certain and reasonable… conditions you must meet and maintain. Are you willing to hear me out?"

Sera looked at James dead in the eyes and nodded gravely. There was no hesitation he could see.

"I am."

James held his gaze on her a moments longer before he continued.

"First, your sobriety is a given, but there are others," he started, unblinking as he turned in place to face her fully. "Your visitations are supervised and scheduled so that Rose and I are ready to receive you. If you want to spend some alone time with her in our home, we won't barge in or interfere, but ultimately the environment must be under our control."

Sera did not protest, she sat there quietly, her hands folded again in her lap.

"Next, you cannot run with the Merrick crew anymore," he pressed on, noticing Sera wince slightly at the idea that she had been caught in the act. "No more going to their parties, no more interaction with any of them from here on out. If you want a place in Rachel's life, you're keeping your activities clean, and not just your body."

In spite of her guilty expression, she wordlessly inclined her head. James could not help but feel relieved. She wasn't beating herself up over her lapse in judgement.

Maybe there was hope for her.

"If you are going to stay here, you'll need employment, actual employment," he continued, his head shifting to one side.

Sera emitted a small chuckle.

"I don't know where I would start to get that…" she murmured uncertainly, her tone filled with shame for not having that. "I don't have a resume or anything, and I have record and people aren't exactly looking to overlook that…"

"I'll help you get a job, if you are agreeing to this," James interjected, holding his hand up and hoping to sooth some of Sera's trepidation to the task. "I know a few places and people; we'll sort this out together. Your first meeting with Rachel, I'll let the employment clause side, but after that…"

Sera smiled and looked at him she was starting to get the picture.

"I understand James…" she spoke breathlessly, as though it was starting to all come together now. "I would like your help, please."

"Well… you have it then, Sera," James promised her.

His conditions were spelt out, allowing the two parties to return to some measure of relaxation. James and Sera returned to their cooling tea and cigarettes, silently watching the Bay again. James wasn't sure why he never paused to do this before. It was a nice distraction from everything. He supposed it had something to do with hi keeping his nose down in his work until everything else in his life imploded around him.

"Hard to… believe our problems from a decade and a half ago can still bubble back up and destroy everything we know," Sera murmured next to him as she tapped out her cigarette. "If I could do it over again…"

James smirked as he rested one leg over the other.

"I blame the grunge scene…" James said as he exhaled smoke. "God, the early nineties were so fucking awful."

Sera squinted at him for a moment before she emitted a small laugh.

"It wasn't all bad," she countered with a smirk of her own. "Lots of cute guys came out of that scene."

James rolled his eyes.

"What, I wasn't cute enough for you?" James asked, eyeing her with an amused expression which he was unable to be kept off his face. "Besides, Nirvana was pretty fucking overrated. What was so cute about watching a 90 pound millionaire spouting fucking gibberish? Did he think he was being profound? He wasn't. He complained about his shit, but he didn't bother to fix anything and left his daughter fatherless… and I sound like I'm old again..."

Sera sort of grinned as she turned away. She didn't seem to want to confirm this unfortunate reality.

"Staley… well… can't crush on him for obvious reasons," Sera said causally. "Cornell was… is gorgeous… Corgan was pretty cute before he went bald."

James leaned back into his own seat. Corgan was alright until he went up his own ass.

"I always thought Reznor blew them all out of the water…" James admitted to her. "Honestly, it's hard to believe that guy is still alive... kind of reminds me of you, actually."

Sera looked over to him.

"What, that he got better looking with age?" she retorted. Sera paused and seemed to think about it before adding. "You know what… that is a good choice. If Rachel is being angsty, I'll just get her The Fragile… works like a charm for me."

The two of the chuckled as their note comparisons drained up. They turned away from each other. Sera drank the last of her tea and straightened out the hem of her dress as James checked his phone for any messages from Rose or work. As nice as it was there was still a level of discomfort he felt as he sat here with her. It shouldn't have felt this natural to click back with Sera Gearhardt. Not after everything they had done to each other.

"God, Sera, I have tried to hate you for 15 years… I tried to treat you like poison… because that's what you were. Not just to Rachel, but to me personally," he broke the silence, his voice straining as he struggled to keep his feelings in check. "I loved you with everything I had… but everything I ever did… it was never enough for you, and I still… don't know why it wasn't…"

James felt Sera's hand reach out and squeeze his.

"I know, James… I don't know why, either," Sera whispered, looked just as troubled by the past as he felt. "God, I thought it was only your fault until I sobered up. Since then, I see now everything I did to you… to Rachel; and it's so awful to think about. Everything you did, you did for her, and yes, it was the right thing cutting me out."

Exhaling, Sera shuffled closer, her hand squeezing his tighter.

"But I'm healthy now, and I don't ever want to return to that self-imposed hell, and I want to try James… I want to be better then what I was," Sera pressed forward, her eyes darting back and forth. "I know I can't be her mother. That would be so incredibly unfair to your wife; but I want to be there, and I want to know her. I want to help her understand why what you did was necessary."

For the first time in what felt like forever, James found himself stuck in a quandary with her. The way he heard her speak, the clear denunciation of who she was… it was hard not to think that Rachel was right on Saturday night, that maybe she was indeed getting better. If this was truth, then maybe there could be something more between them than the Gatekeeper and the Damned. Maybe there was a chance for a friendship with her again…

After all these years, to get back his friend… it was unbelievable.

As powerful a feeling as this was to have, he could not forget everything. She was still sick, and a liar, an ex-criminal and recovering addict. Just because there was a good couple moments in the here and now did not mean they erased her past. If she was committed to change, she would get her forgiveness… but now… now he had to be realistic.

"Okay then…" James agreed as he stood up. "I'll be in touch about the meeting…"

Sera launched herself out of her place on the bench, her hand gripping onto his jacket as she looked up to him.

"Could you… help me get a job… like… right now?" she asked him, her voice small and almost desperate now. "I'm not… trying to score points and get an early meeting. I just… James, I've done the wrong things for so long in my life, and now… I've wanted to turn it all around, but I still have no clue how on my own... sobriety is a start, but you're right, there has to be more."

James stared back at her for a moment. The desperation and heart break in her eyes… it was something he just couldn't ignore. Not now.

"Alright then…" he repeated his affirmation. "I'll call into the office, cancel my afternoon appointments. We'll arrange something."

James reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved an envelope. Sera froze and looked at it. He didn't need to say anything; in his hand was the 12 months of cash which she had been rejecting all this time.

"James, I don't want the money," she stated. She looked offended by its very presence.

Unblinking, James pressed it into the palm of her hand.

"I realize that you don't want it; but it's your fresh start start-up fund," he proposed. "We'll find you somewhere nice to rent out; get you out a motel and settled into town. If you want to pay me back, that is your prerogative, but you're going to take the money and get on your feet properly with it."

He stepped back, leaving her staring at the envelop clinched inside her hand. She looked up at James. He watched as the shame and embarassmnt gave way for something new, and something better; a small smile slowly crossing back on her face.

It wasn't just hush money anymore.

It actually meant something to both of them now.

"Look at us… getting along…" she contemplated gently. "We were so ready to destroy each other, weren't we?"

James looked back at her for a moment as he absorbed her casual comment. Yes they were ready for a war… but it was closer and far more ruthless than she would ever have expected. He would have done everything in his power to destroy her.

"Yeah… classic us…" he returned sardonically as he gestured for her to follow her back to his car.

The two of them walked in silence for a bit. James silently wracked his mind for employment opportunities for Sera. One kept coming back again and again. The Two Whales - that small diner downtown. He imagined he probably had a lot of pull with the head waitress of the establishment these days.

He'd have to speak to Sera first about not letting slip just who her biological daughter actually was; but Sera would probably be fine with that for the time being if she was serious about making these changes.

"So… I have a question…" Sera spoke again, breaking him from his contemplation.

James looked to Sera. She seemed confused, and strangely… amused.

"Okay, so who in the hell is that girl Rachel got on one knee for in front of an entire audience for? Because of that wasn't any sort of Shakespeare that I remember…" she asked James. "Is… is Rachel… well… Is she?"

James looked at her with widened eyes. Sera had been to see The Tempest? She actually saw the tantamount of a proposal issued by Rachel, with the agreed intention to flee Arcadia Bay soon? That had been easily the most confusing thing he had seen in quite some time, at least until this morning when he found his daughter voluntarily assaulted by Chloe Price…

James emitted an audible groan and shook his head.

"God, I don't know. She's Rachel… until she says something definitive… I'm just not going to assume anything," he spoke to the biological mother of his child plainly. "I'll try to explain the Price girl to you. I guess you're… going to have to deal with her quite a bit from here on out as well…"

James step walked, leaving poor Sera even more confused than before.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Objectively speaking, wearing Chloe's clothing was probably not the finest example of Rachel's decision making abilities.

In a matter of a few short hours, she was officially back at the top of the rumour mill of Blackwell. Now, this was not a new thing for her to experience. Her… popularity meant she would draw the attention and ire of her fellow students who did not know her, and usually did not even attempt to know her. They based their rumours on the assumptions half-truths they heard, and in turn they spread their own rumours based on this. At this point she had a running list of titles. The latest being dyke, but the classics were easily whore, anorexic, manipulative, teacher's pet, little miss perfect...

It might have been hard to believe, but that last one actually hurt the most...

All of these titles were false, but would never be shaken from her reputation for the duration of her stay at Blackwell. All she could do was carry on and pretend like none if it bothered her, even though she was bugged by them. Even if more than once she ended up hiding in the bathroom, at home or school crying as she tried to swallow all the shit she dealt with back to a supressed state. The only way she could survive this constant torment was to pretend to be things she wasn't.

It was probably one of the reasons why things between her and Chloe had jumped leaps and bounds beyond her original envisioning of their friendship. Chloe didn't just give a shit about all the titles and rumours she undoubtedly heard about her. Chloe had helped her overcome so much of the bullshit she was hung up on. She had someone at her side who gave zero fucks about anything, and for the first time in her life, Rachel had felt unrestrained by the expectations.

For the first time in very long time, she was finally free to just be herself.

Stepping out of math class, she paused only long enough to wave and smile to Justin, who was red eyed and squinting as he seemed to be looking for his skate group. If he was less stoned, he'd have noticed Trevor was just across the hall from him trying to wave him down.

She started to walk, her hand running through her fucking awful hair. She ignored the looks she got to the best of her ability. She was so over today.

"Rachel, hey! How are you doing?!" a bubbly voice called behind her

Rachel slowed down as Dana's huge strides blew by her. For a girl of her height, she was extraordinarily graceful as she seamlessly transitioned to walking backwards.

There were few people in Blackwell, whom Rachel held any sort of real attachment for. Dana Ward was one of those few people. More than once she had gotten Rachel through a crying session in their junior year, and for that Rachel never forgot it or her. She could be a little… well… bubbly, but it was a quirk that she was happy to live with. In spite of her friendship with Juliet Watson, she was probably the only other person she'd trust with the knowledge of Sera Gearhardt to.

For now, however, it was just nice that at least one other female student at Blackwell didn't actively harbor ill will towards her. Well, except for Steph Gingrich; but judging from this morning, there might have been motivation why.

Inwardly, Rachel couldn't help but find it adorable to have seen the reaction Chloe tried to hide this morning from her; it was as though Steph had for a moment become competition. She had dealt with the rivalry before, but for the first time in her life, it was from someone who actually mattered...

"Hello Dana, I'm fine," Rachel returned as she drained those thoughts out of her mind. "You were wonderful on Saturday, by the way. I am sorry I left so soon after the performance."

Dana flashed Rachel a radiate smile.

"Chloe sounded serious in her texts that night," Dana informed her. "I tried to call you about the after party, and got a hold of her after the tenth time. I hope everything was alright."

Rachel nodded immediately. She wondered briefly why Chloe hadn't told her about, but she supposed she wouldn't have cared, and with everything that had happened, how heavy it had gotten that night between them as they tried to push away the inevitable world shaking consequences of Sera Gearhardt existence. Parties for plays had been forgotten.

"Oh yes, it was fine," she lied, feeling actually bad for doing so to Dana. "Chloe and I were just… hanging out."

Dana stopped moving, forcing Rachel to a stop least she collided into the tall girl. She eyed Rachel, like she had just known that was a pile of shit.

"Yeah… okay…" Dana teased, her mouth half smirking as she placed her thumbs in her jeans. "Because all of this is something that happens when two friends hang out," her hand gesturing to Rachel's neck. "They wear their friends clothing and bite each other. That's totally a besties thing, right?"

Pressing her hand to her neck and willing herself not to blush, Rachel remained silent for a moment. What was she supposed to say here?

If she denied it, not only would it dig her into the rumour pit deeper, but it would feel like a fundamental betrayal to the absent Chloe. Like, she was ashamed to admit that something special was brewing between the two of them which they were exploring as they built on their connection. But if she were to confirm Dana's suspicions, all she would be doing was potentially opening up questions she had been trying to avoid herself for the time.

"Chloe's… a real sweetheart," she gently murmured to the wide eyed cheerleader observing her carefully. "Next party you throw, you should totally invite her and you'll see yourself. I think you could end up friends with her as well."

"Nice idea," Dana agreed happily. "If you want me to vet your friend, you just had to ask. I'm totally on it!"

Rachel cracked a small smile. She had to hand it to her persistence's. It would pay off one day, but for it would have to wait. The two girls heard "Dana!" get called and found Taylor Christensen and Juliet Watson calling her name. They both were trying not to stare at the sight of the disheveled Rachel.

Dana rolled her eyes and giving Rachel a small hug, she pulled back and walked quickly to join the other girls, all three of them collapsing into deep conversation.

As narcissistic as it might have seemed for her to assume it, it was still in all likelihood involving her.

Sighing, Rachel decided it was probably wise to text Chloe and see if she had got her badass scrap heap truck running so that she could get a ride. Last thing she wanted to fucking do right now was call her Dad for a ride. She'd call her mom… but then conversations would happen that she was still trying to wrap her mind around would start before she was ready.

The Amber family was all fucked up now, and the most unspoken aspect to it so far was easily her mother… or was it step mother? Adopted mother? This was such a shit show.

However this meeting with Mom today would go down, her Dad would be right about one thing at least: she would always be her mom. Sera would never be able to replace her.

As she dug through her school bag to look for her phone, she paused as she felt something thin and plastic that wasn't in there usually. Frowning, she removed both her phone and the foreign object. She found herself looking at a small plastic ziploc bag. Its contents were a lighter, three cigarettes and a folded up piece of paper.

Tilting her head, Rachel opened the bag and removed the folded piece of paper and found herself looking at chicken scratch writing.

The Rachel Amber Blackhell Survival Kit

Directions:

Step one: Smoke often to deal with bullshit people

Step two: Fucking repeat.

-three guesses who

PS: It's Chloe not some random freak. they are totally safe to smoke

PSS: 70 percent sure

Even with all the shit that was on her mind, she couldn't help but smile at the note. There scrawled in the corner of the note the words 'We shall fly beyond this isle - the corners of the world our mere prologue'.

Chloe Price, the sentimentalist.

She was too cute for her own good at times.

Her phone beeped in her pocket. Rachel felt that familiar flutter in her pit of her stomach as the thought of Chloe already messaging her so soon after school caught her off-guard. Four days in and they were already reading each other's thoughts.

She reached into her jeans and tapped the screen.

Rachel emitted a groan at the picture of the pixie haired blonde girl smiling on her screen. This was the last thing she needed right now.

Oh for Fuck's sake...

Victoria Chase -  Rachel Amber

Squinting at the message for a moment, she looked up and found none other than Victoria Chase standing way the fuck down the hallway near the science labs. She looked… well beyond pissed. The only reason she was texting and not screaming at her was she was still jockeying herself as the leading girl of Blackwell, and no one ever got to that position by being a screaming, spastic mega bitch right out in open public. Cutthroat behavior was saved for the digital world.

If she was supposed to feel bad about Chloe swapping the tainted tea, then she must have missed the memo. Everything that happened to her was a long fucking time coming.

Looking back at the screen, Rachel smirked as she started to type. She supposed she could play along for the time being.

You -  Victoria Chase

You -  how are you feeling?

That… well, that was probably not the wisest icebreaker she could have used...

Victoria Chase -  Watch your fucking back.

Victoria Chase -  You and that punk bitch Price are fucking done from now on.

Rachel blinked and glanced up to see Victoria was burning a hole through her. That escalated quickly. She supposed that the fact Victoria Chase was lucky that she didn't shit herself while being that stoned on muscle relaxants was probably a primary motivation for the rage.

You -  I think you're greatly overestimating how much I actually give a shit.

Victoria Chase -  You should.

Victoria Chase -  I'll fucking destroy everything, you have you dyke bitch.

You -  Who was the one who spiked the tea again?

You -  You realize that's criminal right?

She watched as Victoria's face contorted into an expression of guilt and shame, if only for the briefest of moments. Knowing that she had only a limited window before Victoria pressed, Rachel twisted the knife.

You -  Victoria

You -  If you want to be pissed, be pissed at me

You -  fuck all knows why

You -  Leave Chloe out of it

You -  She was protecting me

You -  One day I hope that you find a friend like I found one in Chloe.

You -  Someone who doesn't take you and your rising alpha bitch status at face value

You -  someone you can be vulnerable with and know that your deepest fears can be safe with someone else so you don't have to feel so alone all the time

You -  Being the Queen of this school isn't going to make your loneliness go away

You -  But you can try, I guess. Good luck.

Victoria seemed almost… petrified, her mouth was hanging open slightly as though Rachel had somehow pushed through the bitch barrier just enough to startle her confidence, as she had with the tea comment. Rachel knew Victoria very well. Victoria was easily something Rachel could have ended up being if she only thought about her life one year at a time.

She was not going to fucking peak in high school, like Victoria seemed all too willing to do if she didn't back the fuck up and stop playing the game.

Rachel exhaled and slung her bag back over her shoulder. That would have to be enough for today. She didn't have time for this schoolyard bullshit at all-

Her phone lit back up.

Victoria Chase -  fucking stop texting me at any time cunt.

Victoria Chase -  Go find your bull dyke and do whatever the fuck you dykes do.

Victoria Chase -  Teach the bitch to shave her pits

Victoria Chase -  be her weight spotter

Victoria Chase -  whatever

Victoria Chase -  This school is mine now

Victoria Chase -  Thanks for destroying yourself for me, you grimy dumb bitch

Victoria Chase -  K love you bye!

Rachel pocketed her phone and exhaled. As she had to pass by Victoria to, she bit the bullet and with her head held high, she stepped forward towards Victoria, who remained still, her armed clutching her books as she glared at the girl who had played a role in humiliating her on Saturday in front of the entire drama club.

With very little difficulty on her part, Rachel forced a bright smile for Victoria and gave her a wave.

"Hey! Have a good day, Victoria!" she greeted the total fucking cunt with as much of her malice for the girl channeled into a warm and friendly tone.

Victoria returned the smile with one just as horrifically fake and forced as her own.

"Oh you too, Rachel!" Victoria spoke just as sunnily and just as loud back. "Say hello to your expelled girlfriend for me! You know, she's so cute for a gangly, butch, poor person!"

The immediate vicinity surrounding Victoria was composed primarily of Jocks and cheerleader; all of them members or prospective members of the Vortex Club, and all of them very much curious to hear Victoria's opinion on the subject of Rachel Amber and Chloe Price. Next to her was Courtney Wagner, who was trying not to laugh at Rachel's expense.

Inside the group of Cheerleaders were Dana and Juliet, both of them looking like this was the last place either of them wanted to be.

Ignoring the urge to punch her in the mouth for slandering her friend, Rachel instead widened her smile. She stepped forward and clutched onto Victoria's shoulder.

"She is a keeper, I'll make sure to collect my bet from her," Rachel returned, unblinking as she spoke with a voice she only reserved for stage. "I know she won't be happy, but personally think it's so good of you that you didn't actually shit yourself in front of Drama Club on Saturday night. Boy... that would have been reeeally embarrassing!"

Patting the mortified Victoria's arm gently as the gathering broke down into laughter; Rachel stepped back and pushed her way to the exit. Right now she was very grateful for Chloe's care package.


Chloe -  runnin late. Went 2 the 2 whales to tell mom.

Chloe -  Shes flipped shit excited

Chloe -  b there in 15min k?

You -  Not a problem. Mom pride is the worst. Mom everything is the worst, really.

Sitting next to the Blackwell swimming center, and inhaling a mouthful of smoke as saw Chloe do many times, Rachel choked and silently cursed herself for being too prideful to ask Chloe how to smoke.

It seemed so simple; fucking breathe in and out, but even after last night, it still felt like she was breathing in fire every fucking time. And probably the worst part of it was that Chloe probably knew exactly she was screwing up, but wasn't saying anything just to be polite. Maybe it was a private joke, the clever, lovable bitch.

For now she was just going to have to trial and error. After Victoria more or less forced a sort of abdication on Rachel's position, all she wanted to do now was just get out of here. Under any other circumstances, she would be able to deal with the shit that was Victoria Chase. She had been doing it for a long time now, but that was before all of this was dumped on her.

Silently, Rachel watched as Nathan Prescott walked by her. He did not spare her more than a glance. He seemed focus on the small girl sitting under a tree. She believed her name was… was it Samantha? Whatever it was, she was seemed like a genuine cutie as she looked up and scooted over so that Nathan could join her.

Good for him Rachel thought. It was nice to see Nathan trying to step out of the shadow of his father's expectations. Maybe it would help bring him out of that winded up state he was always in. He needed all the help he could get, and if this Samantha girl could play a part, then she fully supported it.

Taking another drag, Rachel stood up and slung her bag over her shoulder. She'd re-situate herself in the parking lot. That way Chloe didn't have to do a lot of waiting, and they could continue their day together. Fuck, it was hard it believe it was still only Monday.

The feelings of the past few days were creeping back into her thoughts again, eroding her motivation to do the basic things she wanted to do with Chloe: Fix up that shack, play table top with Steph and the North's, see Chloe's inherent dorkiness flourish…

It just felt… wrong to want to do simple things when so much was left unsaid. Mom needed to know that she loved her, Sera needed to how fucking angry she was that she wasn't good enough to be her daughter. That the drugs had precedence over her up until a year ago, and a year ago wasn't a lot of fucking time. Her Dad had been the focus of her rage for so long, that she hadn't really put a lot of thought what she would say to her biological mother; because as much as she was mad at him, she was madder at her.

Dad was a piece of shit for lying, but at least he had had his reasons, and Sera was a total piece of shit as well for not even trying until now.

"Hey Rachel," a masculine voice spoke behind her. "Can I talk to you?"

Quickly wiping her eyes, Rachel rounded back and found the last person she wanted to deal with right this moment. Victoria Chase she knew how to handle, Eliot Hampden, however, remained a total mystery, except for one primary motivation she knew and absolutely hated the boy for having.

He wanted Chloe for himself.

She wasn't sure still why that was so infuriating, but as Chloe had been with Steph, so too was Rachel was with this Eliot, but this was something altogether different. Chloe knew how to control her feelings, but with Eliot, Rachel could feel her control slipping through her fingers. Perhaps it was because it was a different thing altogether. Steph was only a potential problem in Chloe's eyes, and Steph seemed to understand and respect the boundaries of others, even if she was nursing a crush.

Eliot was a long standing problem to her and had no understanding of boundaries.

Months now as she worked up the nerve to approach Price, she had seen the boy clinging onto Chloe like they were something official. It was made all that much worst by just how clearly uncomfortable Chloe was to be around him. Like... she thought that she had no one else and just had to settle on him hanging off her every move.

For the longest time, she had sort of felt this awkward mixture of surging anger, and sadness for the boy. He got Chloe, but he never got Chloe.

"Eliot… right… what can I do you for?" Rachel spoke, her resting bitch face mode activated as she continued to walk.

"Have a good time with Chloe last night?" he asked her, without missing a beat. "Or was it the whole weekend by the looks of it… might need to get a tetanus shot."

Rachel remained locked in silence as Eliot gestured to the mark on her neck. She didn't like the implications he was making. Like he thought that all they did the whole time was fuck or something. She especially didn't like the fact that he had sounded personally offended by it, and was attempting to mask his contempt for her with light humor. Like he thought it was cute or something.

"Hey, I'm sorry for this morning," Eliot continued, sounding like it had been rehearsed instead of holding a genuine desire to reconcile. "I was just hoping to talk to Chloe, didn't mean to be strange or disruptive or anything. Your Dad is pretty hardcore protective though."

Rachel nodded, her lips curling into a small smile in spite of the company. Watching her Dad stand there and blow this kid off like he was flicking away a bug was definitely a high light to her day. As mad as she was, she was grateful that he was so quick to intercede and protect Chloe. More people needed to protect Chloe more often. She deserved that.

If it was genuine, if Dad actually wanted to stand by Chloe…then perhaps that would go a long way towards their reconciliation... eventual reconciliation.

"Yeah, that sort of comes with being a District Attorney seeing a young teen girl get that uncomfortable," Rachel spoke, forcing her annoyance out of her voice. "What is that you want to talk to Chloe about? I'll relay it for you."

Next to her, Eliot sort of shrugged. Telling her was clearly the last thing he wanted to do.

"Just a few things," he said as casually as he could."She's… blowing off my texts."

Rachel eyed him for a moment before she brought her emergency cigarette to her lips. What a real fucking shock right there, a real headscratcher why she'd do something like that. If Chloe Price was ghosting him, then something wrong had to be happening on his end.

"Just a few things…" she repeated as she stepped down the stairs to the parking lot proper. "I take it I'm involved in that just a few things?"

Eliot jumped down two steps, and stepped out in front of Rachel, making her come to a full stop only half an arm's length in front of him. It was much too close for comfort.

"Sort of; you can't deny this is all strange," he argued, a smile which never met his eyes crossing onto his mouth. "You just dropping right in front of Chloe, inserting yourself into her life like you always belonged. Her just… eating up everything you say without questioning it… doing all that you say. It's … weird that you took an interest in her."

Rachel narrowed her eyes up at the boy, her fingers tapping her cigarette.

"This might come as a surprise, but Chloe is allowed to choose who she wants to hang out with. She's allowed to have friends you know," she snapped back at him, losing any politeness she was trying to maintain.

If the boy wanted a war against, he would get it.

"Yeah, and friends are great, but not in the way you're trying to be friends with her," he returned. "She doesn't belong to you as your latest plaything."

"And… what… she belongs to you?" Rachel said, unable to keep herself from laughing at the madness of them. "She's her own person, allowed to make her own choices. Why the fuck do I need to explain such a basic concept to you?"

Taking one last drag of her cigarette, Rachel dropped the cigarette between the two of them, and inadvertently swallowed the mouthful of smoke. Her eyes watered as she felt sick, but she refused to acknowledge her fuck-up.

"Eliot, do yourself a huge favour and take a hint… I don't think she likes you in the way you like her," she got out through her queasiness. "I think that… whatever you had with her was nice for you, but maybe not what she wanted. If she wants to be your friend, that is up to her, but Chloe Price is moving on, and maybe you should follow her example, now… if you'll excuse me…"

While she was done, Eliot wasn't. As she tried to blow by him, Eliot reached out and grabbed Rachel by the risk. He turned in place, almost pinning her against the cement wall.

The two of them were silent. Eliot's expression was empty as he stared frightfully hard at Rachel. Rachel, on the other hand, felt a current of fear as the grip on her wrist seemed to slowly tighten. She did not give voice to her fear. She was far too proud for that.

"Chloe doesn't deserve the humiliation of your eventual boredom," Eliot stated, unblinking as he held her wrist over her head "Please… go back to your own little world before someone gets hurt…"

Rachel exhaled unsteadily as the adrenaline started coursing through her body. Her expression contorted into rage. Tilting her head, she leaned in closer until they were almost touching noses.

"I'm going to tell you this once: get your fucking hand off me Eliot" Rachel growled lowly back, her body shaking with her open fury. "Walk away now and pretend we don't know each other from now on. And if you ever come around Chloe again without her expressed approval, I'll make sure that whatever you think you're going to put in Chloe will probably never work again."

The rumbling of a truck screeching to halt behind them averted the response Eliot was going to have to the threat. Rachel looked up and nearly sighed in relief of the sight of the rusty yellow shitheap truck that had screeched to a halt right onto the curb. The door flew open and out climbed an extremely filthy looking Chloe Price, fresh from another round of truck maintenance.

The anger in Chloe's face was easiest the hottest expression Rachel had ever seen in her life.

"The fuck is going on here?" Chloe all but roared at Eliot.

With a short stride, Chloe maneuverer herself in between Rachel and Eliot; her hand gripping the front of Eliot's shirt as Eliot had Rachel's wrist. With her free hand, she pushed back Rachel enough just in case a fight broke out between the two taller former… whatever they were.

"Eliot was just leaving, right?" Rachel spoke to Chloe, still staring up at Eliot defiantly.

Eliot did not answer her. He looked at Chloe with a faint smile, like none of this was particularly wrong. He just seemed… happy to have Chloe in such close vicinity as him. It took all Rachel's efforts not to go violent. She was not about to risk Chloe's return to Blackwell over this fucking asshole. No matter how much she wanted to kick his head in.

"Let go of her, right fucking now…" Chloe spoke again, her voice shaking as she continued to shield Rachel.

Eliot held firm for only a short while longer before he slowly released his hand off Rachel's wrist. Rachel stepped back, rubbing her bruising wrist, but Chloe remained still, her body still shield Rachel from Eliot's line of sight.

Not that Rachel mattered anymore to Eliot. He had gotten the attention of the only person that seemed to matter to him.

"She's a lie, Chloe, and that's all she will ever be for you: a lie," Eliot replied. "Its nice feeling, but she's just here to toy with you until she gets bored and finds something new. Someone else who'll further her agenda. All you are to her right now is her vicarious rebellion. She'll get bored of it sooner than you think."

The words were a lashing that actually hurt Rachel to hear. Eliot had swallowed all the stories about her, and added a new dimension. That she was some sort of parasite, who would latch onto others for her own survival. That wasn't who she was at all. That was the last she would ever want to be for anyone... especially for Chloe.

"-She'll hurt you in ways you cannot begin to imagine," Eliot continued on, like he was trapped in a daze. "It's not even her fault; it's just in her nature to destroy others…"

Rachel shook her head in furious, but futile denial. She knew the boy would never sway.

"You don't know a goddamn thing about me…" Rachel breathed quietly.

Thankfully for her, it seemed as though Chloe wasn't buying that. Looking at Eliot like he had lost his mind, Chloe released her hold on Eliot's shirt. She stepped back; her hand reaching back in Rachel's direction. Rachel took it gratefully and squeezed it with both of hers. She tried pulling Chloe back to the truck, to no avail. Chloe had planted herself in place like she was ready for a fight.

"Dude, I don't know what exactly you think we are, but I know for fucking certain I'm not your girlfriend, and I don't need you saving me," Chloe informed the boy, before she turned back and added. "Rachel, forget him. Get in the truck."

Ignoring the tinge in her stomach at the soft, but commanding tone Chloe possessed, Rachel nodded and released her hands off Chloe's; she stepped back slowly until she bumped into the side of the truck.

"I forgive you, Chloe," Rachel heard the bastard say as she climbed inside. "I get it's hard to see anything but her… When you wake up and see her for what she is… I'll be here for you."

Chloe took another step forward, her finger pointing Eliot in the chest.

"Eliot, I'll make this clear: we are so fucking done in every fucking way that matters," she heard Chloe reply. "You were a friend… but that's fucking over now."

Chloe retracted her finger and stormed around to the driver's side as Rachel slammed her own door shut. She could see Chloe's eyes were full of tears. She refused to acknowledge Eliot as he stood there motionlessly watching as Chloe revved the truck back to life and pulled it out of the Blackwell Academy parking lot and sped off.

The two of them remained silent for a while, their encounter with Eliot still in the forefront of their thoughts. They both knew it would be awkward bad, but they hadn't expected it to be that borderline stalker bad. Maybe it was time to get her Dad officially involved. She really didn't want to go to him. She was trying to cut herself off from the temptation of running to Daddy the moments things got hard.

All that she knew for certain was that they definitely would have to do that if they had another incident. Maybe Eliot was just having a bad fucking day like she was. She didn't know a damn thing about the boy to know if that sort of intensity was a commonplace.

She would have asked Chloe, but as came to a red light, she looked and found Chloe still threatening to cry. Exhaling, Chloe turned to face Rachel. She was bleary eyed and physically shaking. Still, she refused to cry, like it would be a weakness she wasn't allowed to have... or show.

"I'm so sorry about all of this," she struggled to speak, rubbing her eyes furiously. "Eliot… fuck, he was a strange circumstance. I was mad and alone… Eliot was nice to me. My Dad... he just died, and I thought that it was just something girls ended up doing... pairing off with boys and just moving the fuck on. I … never understood why I didn't like him, like the others. Then there was you…and... And I didn't think he was… this... I don't know what..."

Unable to find words, Rachel instead looked up at the devastated looking Chloe. She gave her a small smile and tapped her forehead. It was enough to get a laugh from her. Chloe sort of snorted and thankfully got the hint. She leaned forward and pressed her lips against Rachel's forehead.

Smiling slightly wider at the small affection that made her feel so much better, Rachel pushed her head into Chloe's side; her hand squeezed Chloe's tighter. They would have to solve this Eliot problem as soon as they could.

If it were up to her, she'd bury the bastard in the junkyard.

 

Chapter Text

 

The eventual arrival to the Amber home was a quiet one for Chloe and Rachel.

With the Eliot encounter weighing heavily on their minds, both girls decided to cancel their Junkyard time and made their visit to Mikey North a short one. They blew off the role play session for later, much to Steph and Mikey's disappointment (and her own, to be honest), but telling them that they had to deal with parental bullshit was enough to convince them to reschedule for the following week.

By the time the two girls got to the home, they had noticed Mr. Amber's car was already waiting for them. Judging from Rachel's frown, that must have been relatively peculiar for him to be home this early. Deciding it wasn't a good idea to block either of the Amber vehicles; Chloe pulled over on the curve and turned the engine off, and together the two of them sat in complete silence without the noise of the Engine disturbing their quiet.

Neither of them spoke, their only movements were to remove their seatbelts off them as they continued their unspoken tension. As she stretched out, Chloe glanced to her friend who was staring at crooning bobble head. There seemed to be a mixture of humiliation and resignation that remained fixed since the Eliot incident.

She was waiting for Rachel to make a move first, but it was obvious Rachel was far too fearful to enter her home right away. She couldn't blame her for feeling that way; she could only imagine the surrealism of finding out her Mom wasn't actually her Mom, and then having to come home and face down this reality after spending so long trying to avoid it.

As much shit as she put on her Mom, Chloe could never be able to imagine a world where that basic knowledge was suddenly wiped out.

Chloe blinked and looked down as she found Rachel's hand rest on top of hers. She opened them and allowed her fingers into the spaces left behind. Still Rachel remained motionless as she continued to stare ahead, even as Chloe gently squeezed the digits.

"What a strange… fucking day…" Chloe broke the silence between the two of them.

It was enough to elicit a small nod from the other girl in acknowledgement.

"Tell me about it," Rachel finally spoke, her tone weak as she rested her head on the back of the seat. "I handed everything over to Victoria Chase and the whole school thinks I'm gay for you now…"

Chloe arched her brow at Rachel's casual statement. Rachel went to school decked out in her clothing and somehow was surprised to have garnered that sort of response. She had been hoping James' assessment of Rachel had been false, but it was growing realer with every passing moment they were together. Rachel didn't think before she jumped into situations.

As for Victoria Chase... well… fuck her. Even if she was ordained the future of Blackwell, that wouldn't be the end Rachel's popularity. If anything, Bitchtoria would be ruling the school without any teeth. The school would still love Rachel regardless, and Rachel would come to see this soon. And if that wasn't the case, well Chloe would be back in school next year ready to crack dissenter's heads and put her fucking Queen of Blackwell back on top, old school regicide style.

"What?" Chloe's sarcastic tone called back to her. "Wait a second, you aren't gay for me?"

Rachel looked over to Chloe, her eyes examining Chloe in a way that made her shiver and left her shy. It was sort of like Rachel was appreciating the sight of some plain looking girl sitting next to her. The way those softened hazel eyes were looking at her… there was still a very large part of her that felt... unworthy to be the focus of this sort of attention.

She knew it was a stupid thing to feel, and if she voiced it, Rachel would smack her around for being this way, but that didn't just erase the uneasiness she felt.

"I don't know what I am… I don't want who I'm attracted to be my identity… like I need a label to hide behind...if that makes sense," Rachel said as she lingered on the other girl. "But… yeah… I may be a little gay for you… you've been making it pretty hard not to be, to be honest."

As Chloe's face heated up, the two girls broke down into their first laugh together since this morning. It was a nice feeling that in spite of all of this, the two of them could still do that. Rachel shuffled a little closer to her, their thighs touching as she rested both of their hands on her lap.

It was comfortable, it was sweet, and Chloe hated that she felt obligated that she had to ruin the peace.

"Do you think we should tell your Dad?" Chloe asked her, carefully stepping into the minefield. "I mean… about Eliot… he hurt you."

The softness in Rachel's eyes vanished in half a second. She turned away from Chloe, her eyes narrowed into a glare that stated very clearly, she wasn't interested in the conversation; but like it or not, they were going to have the discussion. This wasn't the Sera situation where Rachel led; this involved both of them. They would have to come to an agreement on where this had to go together.

"No he didn't," Rachel muttered mutinously, dismissing the concern like it was nothing.

The frustration by Rachel's defiance to the truth was almost unendurable. Chloe raised Rachel's hand and turned it around to reveal the purpling bruise forming on her arm. Rachel looked at it causally, but did not seem interested in it.

"That's a fucking bruise, Rachel," Chloe reminded her, putting a commanding tone back to work. "We need to tell someone about this."

Rachel yanked her hand back and laid it flat on her lap again so that the mark was covered back up.

"Fuck that," she snapped right back. "I'm not scared of him, and I refuse to give him the impression I am by running off to Daddy because of a little bruising."

Rachel shifted her body around until she was properly facing Chloe. Her eyes narrowed at her as she reached out and took both of Chloe's hands.

"I know how close you are with my Dad now, and I understand why you are, and I think it's good that you're being a conduit between us; but if you have any trust in me, you won't get him involved," she requested, her voice softening as she held her intensive eyes on Chloe's. "If he does get involved, it's just going to make everything that much fucking worse… and I really can't deal with a worsening Eliot situation on top of Sera, and my Mom and Dad and all of this…"

Every instinct told her not to obey Rachel's request. She had promised James she would do her part in keeping Rachel safe, and yet here she was being asked to not to the very thing she swore she would do. But here she was, looking into Rachel's pleading eyes, and slowly, she exhaled and nodded curtly.

Eliot was shit… but maybe Rachel was right, and throwing a DA at the boy would only cause more problems than it solved.

At least Rachel appeared relieved. It meant that she didn't have to go to her Dad for help. The sort of thing Chloe would kill to have right about now.

"Well, again I'm sorry…" she murmured to Rachel, as shame washing back over her for her major role in this mess. "Like I said, it as a weird time for me, not knowing my place... but everything he said was… complete fucking bullshit."

Eliot Hampden… she actually liked him. Perhaps not quite in the same way as Eliot apparently liked her; but he was great fun. Enjoyed a good show, and was just a nice guy in general to her right up until Rachel entered her life. He was one of the few people in her life that didn't treat her like a total head case after Dad died. It was a nice feeling to have that feeling of normalcy, even if it never felt… quite right; and that wasn't a vibe she got from Eliot, but instead from herself…

Now, with all of this… she wondered how it was that she could have misjudged someone so terribly. She probably could have made things a little clearer, but his reaction so far was so fucking weird and went well beyond jealousy. He looked at Rachel like she was a mortal enemy, like she was evil or something, which was so far from the truth it would have been laughable if the bastard hadn't hurt her.

Chloe felt Rachel lean into her, her hand reaching out to cup her Cheek. Rachel's expression was ethereal as her fingers gently etched into her skin sending shocks through her body with only this small touch. No one should have had the power Rachel seemed to possess over her with something as simple as a touch.

"Eliot is hardly the first person to say these things about me," Rachel whispered to her. "He's just the first person to say these things to someone who actually matters to me."

Chloe eyes widened, as the words resonated in her. She wanted to get confirmation, she wanted to know if Rachel had actually meant that; but she was too much of a coward to form those words. So there she sat, staring into Rachel's steady gaze, her fingers now tracing along her jaw. She pulled her hand back and smiled slightly as she rested herself against the older girl.

"I'm not actively going out of my way to manipulate or deceive people for some greater goal," she continued on, her voice small and very uncertain. "I have spent so long learning to see through the bullshit of others from my Dad that it fucking freaks everyone into thinking I always have an agenda, and that I always know the right thing to say at the right moment. All I'm doing is paying attention to the things people say to me, or act around me. It's not some great conspiracy."

Chloe reached out and wrapped an arm around Rachel's waist, startling her slightly. She quickly relaxed, one hand touching against the intruding arm.

"I guess…" Chloe started, not wanting to fumble over herself. "I guess we're all so fake and alone and disconnected and so… lonely… that when someone is being genuine... it's… hard to contemplate it was anything other than an agenda."

Rachel squeezed her arm a little tighter. Although her back was turned, Chloe could detect the hint of a smile.

"Kind of like you and being honest…" she murmured as she nestled into the nape of Chloe's neck. "Look at us… you can't tell a lie and I pay attention to the details. Quite the pair we make..."

Chloe shrugged, feeling Chloe move alongside her on her chest.

"I think it's kinda cool to have principals… I guess," she said, feeling hella stupid to say something like that.

Thankfully for her, Rachel didn't let Chloe's rare display of cheesy introspection slip.

"Well… that's because you're a total dork too," Rachel teased half-heartedly.

Chloe rolled her eyes. It took all her restraint not to find out if Rachel was ticklish.

"Damn, and here I was trying to be nice to you…" she muttered at Rachel "…fucking ball-busting bitch..."

The two of them broke back down into laughter at Chloe's mock outrage. As the laughter slowly subsided, Rachel again shifted in Chloe's arms, slowly rotating herself around until she was lying in her lap and facing up to her. She reached and lifted Chloe's arm. Her fingers gently touching the bracelet she had given her last night.

"Chloe, I didn't just give you this bracelet for the fuck of it," she breathed as she clutched onto Chloe's hand. "You're my friend - as fast as it might seem - you're my best friend, and I'm never fucking abandoning you ever, and I will never lie or trick or use you, because I'm not my Dad. I'm not Eliot, or Victoria, or anyone else. I just want to be me, and what I want to be is loyal to Chloe Fucking Price, just like you've been to me. The world can fucking distrust me all it likes, but I'm never leaving your side…"

Chloe reached out, her fingers cupping Rachel's cheek. Rachel emitted a sharp exhale as she looked into Chloe's eyes, like the only thing that seemed to matter to here and now was that her words had gotten through to Chloe. That she meant every word, and more importantly, that Chloe believed it.

But Chloe did believe them, and perhaps one of these days, Rachel would understand that didn't have to reiterate these promises over and over again, like she was afraid Chloe was going to just forget it. All of this showcased just how terribly insecure Rachel was. Years of lies, of high standards, of maintaining an image for everyone in her life had left her in a permanent state of fear.

But that fear was so unnecessary when it came to Chloe, because Rachel had Chloe's implicit trust, and Chloe was never going to abandon her. She didn't need the affirmations, she didn't need the vows. Rachel had Chloe's love… in whatever way she wanted to interpret that, and no matter how things turned out between the two of them, she would have her love until the bitter end…

"Rachel… I'm touched… but that's kinda dramatic, even for you," she gently needled the girl in her arms, deciding to lighten the mood a little. "But… you know you convinced me days ago, right?"

Rachel huffed and choked back a small sob, her hand reaching out to cover Chloe's face and give it a small, playful push.

"You bitch... I was being serious…" she pouted as she rolled back to her original position. "And yeah, I'm dramatic… so fucking sue me, Price."

Chloe and Rachel lapsed back into silence, far more comfortable than before. With one arm tightly wrapped around Rachel's waist, Chloe reached up with her free hand and pushed her hand against the back of her neck and worked them slow, methodological circles. She Rachel's body pulse at the touch, a sharp intake of oxygen on her part only encouraged Chloe's touch as she felt Rachel push herself backwards into her.

She wondered if Rachel knew how much of an inadvertent temptress she was. Chloe knew that she was not going out of her way to seduce her; but she couldn't deny how Rachel could take simple movements and raise Chloe to a state of near self-immolation. She wanted Rachel so fucking bad right now, but the delay was necessary.

Stupid fucking her for agreeing to them... if she knew Rachel could make her this vulnerable with just the simple things…

"Thank you for the emergency cigarettes…" she heard Rachel murmur to her. "Full disclosure, I'm… kind of new to smoking… well… new as in had my first cigarette yesterday…"

Thankful for the distraction, Chloe grinned inwardly. Yeah, she thought that was the case. It was kind of funny to watch Rachel turn pale at her first drag. Not that she would ever admit that.

"Plenty of time to practice…" Chloe spoke as casually as she could. "… Would you like to... I don't know… train your endurance…?"

Rachel emitted an extremely undignified snort, and if that had been Chloe's opinion, then it really was something to witness.

"You're shameless; anything to shove your tongue down my throat, hey?" Rachel teased her, her hand gripping Chloe's wrist.

Chloe replied by bumping her forehead into the back of Rachel's head, as the blonde reached behind her and held onto the back of Chloe's head, keeping the girl pressed against her, keeping them attached to each other's heads.

"Well… plenty of time for that if you're spending the night with me," Rachel breathed shifting against Chloe. "Can you just… just hold me right now?"

Chloe nodded, that was certainly something she could do.


It took a good forty-five minutes before Rachel had finally found it in her to withdraw from the safety of Chloe's arms and their shitheap truck; and in silence she led her friend towards the home that no longer felt like a home to her. For her, it was just another place that lied to her.

Perhaps Chloe was right, perhaps she was being dramatic, but could not deny that her home felt wrong… tainted… by the lie.

The wounds were still so raw, and it would probably remain so for a long time if Chloe's assessment was even half right. She had to get out of here, and the Campus of Blackwell felt like the perfect place to do that.

As she looked to Chloe, clutching her hand, she idly thought about seeing if Chloe would move on Campus as well when she was placed back in the school. They could be neighbours, and hang out whenever the fuck they wanted. Chloe would probably smuggle a saw in and cut a nice little hole between the connecting rooms.

Okay maybe she wouldn't do that… Probably anyway...

There was another motivation to this desire as well, and that was the well-being of Chloe. She could only imagine the sort of loneliness which Chloe must have lived in: surrounded –trapped - by her past, alone in a home where her mother was in the midst of a new relationship with a man she clearly was uncomfortable with. David Madsen might not have been a bad person at the core, but even if he had been the most likeable person, Chloe would still mistrust him. The idea of a replacement must have been terrible to contemplate.

It was clear to her that in spite of this development, Chloe loved Joyce and would never stop loving her. But maybe it was better for all parties if Chloe got to stretch out her wings, to have a little freedom where she could just be herself instead having to shape herself to the expectations her mother and soon-to-be step father had. They were dead set on trying to make her just forget William, like his presence was a problem, and Chloe wasn't ready to give him up. If Joyce and by extension David, could not accept that, then there was no way Joyce and Chloe would find their even footing again.

For now it was just an idea she would run by Chloe. With her 'scholarship' it would ease the burden on her enough to rent a dorm… or perhaps she could double check it and see of the money would be able to cover the on campus living expenses as well as the tuition. She imagined it wouldn't take much to twist the donators arm for a definitive answer.

There was no sight of Mom as the two of them entered the home, but of course there was Dad, tapping away on his laptop. As the door closed, he looked to the two newcomers and closed the lid. He stood up and approached the two girls, making a point of not looking at Rachel's grasp on Chloe.

"Hello girls," Dad addressed the two of them, but maintaining his eyes on her. "Good day, I hope?"

She felt Chloe's hand tighten significantly at the question Dad had asked. Rachel glanced at the out of the corner her eyes to her. It was no secret that Chloe was on the verge of telling her Dad about Eliot Hampden, or at least really wanted to. Rachel jerked her arm and issued Chloe a silent plea to not do it.

None of this was missed by Dad, but he did not speak a word. He seemed to be coming to terms that he was going to have to oblige her desire not to spill to him at his beckoning.

"When do I see her?" Rachel addressed him, turning back to look him in the eye as before.

Dad blinked at the curt question. It was all she was willing to spare for him.

"She'll be here this Thursday at 6pm," he informed them. "I presume you will be joining us?"

The question was directed to Chloe. Chloe did not answer one way or another; she instead waited for Rachel to express whether or not she wanted the outsider involved in the family affairs any more than she already was. Dad got his answer the moment Rachel looked Chloe in the eye and nodded. There was no one she would rather be with for this.

Footsteps from the stairs caught Rachel's attention right away. Sure enough, Mom appeared on the final steps.

Mom was always an extremely put together woman, who did not wear her heart on her sleeve. There was something very dignified about her, which Rachel had always sort of been in awe of. It was sort of like she was a blue blood, or some sort of noblewoman; but she was from a modest Midwestern family. It seemed like emotional responses were below her.

So to see her now, her eyes red from crying… she had been so strong the night of the revelation, but now between the new reality settling in, and Rachel's avoidance of her, it seemed to have finally broken through the barriers. Seeing her like this… was so much harder than she had ever thought.

"Rachel…" Mom spoke finally, her voice shaken as she took in the sight of her grimy daughter. "I'm so happy you're home..."

Washed in guilt for contributing to her Mom's state, Rachel glanced back Chloe for a moment before she let go of her hand and took several baby steps towards her Mom, who was off the stairs now and approaching her as well.

"I'm so sorry I've been avoiding you like this," she finally spoke, unable to hide her shame. "It's just been-"

Rachel did not get a chance to finish her words. Not when an overwhelming force of her Mom wrapping her into a tight hug pretty much silenced everything she wanted to say to her mom. From the anger of her complicity to the lie, to just telling her how much she loved her.

"An unbelievably difficult adjustment…" Mom finished for her. "It's okay to feel like this… I love you… we love you so much."

Rachel buried her head into her Mom's shoulder and squeezed back. She did not want anyone to see her cry.

"I've… been thinking about things I wanted to say to you for so long now, but I think the only thing that needs to be said is that you're my mom, you'll always be my Mom," she managed to get out, choking back the sob from out of her voice. "I want to meet Sera, and maybe we'll hit it off… but she'll never replace you; and I love you so much… so much."

Mom pushed her head up and removed her hands from her shoulders; but she remained locked in place by Rachel's grasp. She wasn't about to let go. Sniffling, Mom softly wiped her daughter's tears from off her cheek with a weak smile.

"I never would doubt that for a moment," she softly reassured the teen. "Having you… has been the greatest joy in my life. I've been so blessed to have you to myself."

With another burst of tears threatening to spill, Rachel buried her face again into her Mom and cling to her even tighter than before.

"Come on, Chloe…" Rachel heard her father mutter to Chloe. "Let's give them some space…"

For the first in a while, Rachel was grateful for her Dad as he led Chloe in the direction of his study. She needed this moment alone with the greatest woman in the world above all else right now.

 

Chapter Text

 

Sera Gearhardt was a very deliberate woman these days.

She had to be a deliberate woman. As a recovery addict, she needed structure above everything else. The chaos of unpredictability, to her, was probably the largest unknown which she had feared. For her, sustaining her sobriety meant that she had to keep everything organized; from her thoughts, right down to how she moved. After years of self-abuse, the last year was spent learning to be normal again, and learning to love herself again.

Something she had not anticipated was how much re-education actually went into the recovery process. Getting sober didn't just solve everything. It was a learning process. Basic things had to be retaught. Her voice, a weak, hollow shell of what she once had, had to be strengthened again so that there was life in her words. Her hand-eye coordination was awful, basic skills like handling utensils were a difficulty. She even had to teach herself how to walk again so that she didn't come off as a recovering addict zombie immediately in the eyes of others at first encounter.

These were little things many never paid much attention to, but for her, they were great personal victories.

…She absolutely hated that she had to take pride in it…

Another new aspect to her life was that she had everything planned out. She had back up plans if the original plans fails. Again, spontaneity was the biggest devil to the addict. At least that had been the case until Monday when James called her and more or less reinserted himself back into her life.

Now she was in a world where all her plans amounted to nothing.

In a single encounter with him, Sera had found herself becoming an official citizen of this sleepy little Oregon town. She had a very nice little two bedroom rental home now, and a job interview tomorrow morning at a diner called the 'Two Whales'. Apparently it was just a formality, the head waitress there was a friend to James or something. Nothing short of Sera shooting up in front of her interviewer would apparently lose her the opportunity.

James was so… very different then she remembered. Her sobriety had made her realize he wasn't the monster she had painted him to be.

For years, James had been the enemy; the man who somehow was the root cause of all her problems. Years she resented him, hated him for everything, from taking Rachel and running, to the money he sent. She absolutely hated being bought off; the money seemed to be like James contribution to fuelling her disease. Thanks to him, she never had to whore herself out like others she knew, never had to sleep on the street or go hungry to fuel the addiction. Every month her account had money, her addiction fuelled and James' life unimpeded upon.

With her sobriety came the cold reality. The money James was sending wasn't meant for the drugs, it was meant for her to just… live. She just co-opted the money's purpose to fit her narrative, and continued to use him as the reason for her suffering. He was a man, who still loved her, still wanted to help her, but he was a father above all else, and had to place Rachel first.

Pride and good intentions had a funny way of keeping everyone in the dark.

Even with this knowledge at hand, there was still a small part of her that resented James for taking Rachel and leaving her; but this was the leftover selfishness of her old life. She was strong enough to ignore that, and she was self-aware enough to know that James still did not trust her in spite of his attempts to aid her in rebuilding her life, in giving her roots. It would be an extremely long time before she would be in a position where he could place any serious amount of trust in her.

While it was a mess still, for the first time in her life Sera felt brave enough to be ready to pay this much time to a cause.

If only she was brave enough to make the final steps to the Amber house.

Sera thought, she would be ready, but here she was struggling to make the final few yards up to the front door as the weight of abandonment really started to hit her. She could feel that little black tar stain calling to her as it did every other hour since her sobriety; calling her back into its safe, familiar arms.

It would be so easy to seek out Frank or Damon and get a hit right about now…

Exhaling, Sera dropped her cigarette and stepped out from across the street towards the house, past a beaten up old truck that was extremely out of place and onto the walkway to the front door. She felt as though she was in a trance as she approached the house. She made it to the front door and without giving her an opportunity to chicken out; she pressed her finger on the doorbell.

She didn't have to wait for long. Like on cue, the door opened and she found herself staring up at the tall imposing figure James held himself as. It took all her effort not to laugh as memories of them in the past flooded her thoughts. Gone were his grunge days, he had traded it in for a tucked in olive shirt and dress pants.

It was official, James Amber was old. He was in full Dad mode.

Sera absolutely fucking envied it.

"James… Hello…" she spoke to him, her voice a little shyer than she wanted it to come off as. Call it pride, but she did not want to show any sort of weakness around James.

James remained silent for a moment as he seemed to consider her; there was no trace of warmth was extended to her. It was painfully evident that he wasn't fan of this. It was one thing to be a little light hearted in a neutral place as he was on Monday, but here she was standing on his doorstep, officially entering his world now.

"Hello Sera," he returned after a moment. "How are you doing tonight?"

A small smile crossed on her face. She felt completely out of place.

"I'm doing well," she spoke, unable to hide her uncertainty. "Am I too early? I could… sorry, I could… come back another time…"

As she started to take a step back, James reached out and clasped his hand onto her shoulder. His expression seemed to soften slightly. Sera could see now she wasn't the only one affected with uncertainty. She could see the fear in James' eyes; fear of her. She had to remember that one good day together didn't constitute an end to the war, or even a ceasefire.

As much as this was reconciliation between Rachel and her, it went double for James and her. As much pain as she had inflicted on Rachel in the past few days since she learned her true heritage, she never knew the misery James endured in their final year together.

"I'm sorry, Sera. I'm being… defensive again… it's like I said about imprinted memories…" he confirmed her suspicions as he let go of her and stepped out of the doorway to allow her to come inside.

Exhaling, Sera nodded and summoned what was left of her courage to enter the home. Silently she took small steps, trailing behind James as she took in the well-kept and tastefully decorated (she supposed it was she wasn't exactly up snuff on these things) home which the Amber's called home.

As she turned her head she froze as she found herself looking at another woman standing there, her hands folded together in front of her as she wearily looked at Sera. She was wearing dark slacks and a cashmere sweater, a delicate string of pearls around her neck.

So… this was her… this was the woman who had stepped into repair the damage she had left in her wake.

"Rachel's in her room. I'll call her down in a bit," James addressed her, breaking Sera from her focus on the woman. "This is Rose, my wife. Rose, this is Sera…"

The unspoken phrase 'ex-wife' hung between the three of them. Rose hadn't moved, she hadn't even blinked yet as James looked at both women he stood between. Deciding to do him a favour for a change, Sera pushed her nerves to the back of her thought and smiled; she stepped forward towards Rose and extended her hand to the motionless woman.

"It's nice to finally meet you," Sera spoke to Rose. "Thank you so much for agreeing to this…"

Sera kept her hand outstretched as she watched Rose slowly soften her stance just enough to take the hand and briskly hold it for a moment before letting go. A new complication had presented itself, which Sera didn't want to cause, but knew better then to expect anything else. It was Rose's clear antipathy for her.

"Can I get you anything?" James spoke up to her, "We opened a bottle of wine…"

Rose and Sera simultaneously turned their heads to face the man who had just asked the recovering addict if she wanted alcohol. Although drinking wasn't her vice, even in the lowest throes of her addiction, Sera was committed to sobriety. Nothing stronger then caffeine and tobacco was going to enter her body from here on out… no matter how she would have killed for a joint and a drink.

"Right… sorry about that…" James apologized, his hand rubbing his neck. "Would you like a tea then?"

Sera smiled and nodded, doing her best not to notice Rose staring between the former spouses as though it were a private joke that she wasn't made aware of. With a final look to his wife... current wife, James disengaged from the two of them, heading to the kitchen to leave Rose and her alone with one another.

Rose stepped forward and held her hand out to the direction of the open living room.

"Care to take a seat?" she inquired, her voice carefully maintained.

Sera smiled again and in silence she followed Sera to the living room, and took a seat on the couch which Rosa gestured to her. Rose sat across from her, her hands folded in her lap as she maintained an expression of resignation on her face. It was clear the only reason Rose was agreeing to any of this was because Rachel needed this.

Rose… Rose was a real mother. Not like her. As much as she envied James, it was nothing compared to how she felt for the woman across from her; the woman whom she still had to swallow her pride and submit herself to for her approval.

She could only imagine the level of loathing Rose must have felt for her presence here, interrupting her life and completely destroying the illusion Rachel held for her.

"I wanted to say thank you," she spoke, carefully speaking so that the heroin slur in her voice was pushed out. "Being there for James, being the Mother to Rachel that I could never be. I wanted you to know that I don't intend on causing you any sort of problems. I know what I am, and I know what I forfeited. If you are at all uncomfortable with this, let me know and I'll back off… it's understandable if you hate me for this-"

She was rambling, she knew it, James, who was probably listening from the kitchen, knew it, and Rose definitely knew it as she raised a single finger to silence her without another word.

Taking the hint immediately, Sera clamped her mouth shut and watched as Rose shifted in her seat. Rose looked extremely uncomfortable with all of this. It seemed to her like Rose was more than toying with taking Sera up on her suggestion about asking her to leave.

She watched as the mother pushed herself to the edge of her seat.

"I feel... a lot of things about all of this, and about you for everything you did in the past… but I don't hate you, Sera," Rose spoke delicately. "…how could I hate you, when you gave me Rachel?"

Ignoring the little black stain in the back of her mind, telling her that the words were false, that Rose was just going through the motions to avoid any sort of incident, Sera chose instead to believe that the words were sincere. That Rose and her were having a moment of understanding between them. She did know what to say.

Thankfully for her, James was by her side, a mug of tea in his hand; Darjeeling, lemon, one sugar. She smiled to him and accepted it, watching as James walked over to Rose's side, his hand touching his wife just behind her neck.

Rose glance up to her husband and issued him a smile that hadn't met her eyes. It was obvious that the situation between them was frayed by all of this. James had obviously confided to Rose about Sera, but Rose probably lived under the assumption she would never be placed in this sort of position; playing host to the heroin junkie and having to be nice about it. There was no denying that Rose still had all the horror stories James taught her, firmly stuck in her head.

Imprinted memories were a hell of a thing.

The three of them returned to silence. Sera spent it sipping her tea, her eyes travelling around the home. She paused and noticed sort of a trophy case, of which she assumed were a collection of Rachel's accolades. She would have to check it out after dinner if that was permissible. She was popular around Rachel's age, but she never was very interested in academic achievements. Not like James was.

If James was right and Rachel was a real combination of the two of them, then she was going to be a very dangerous girl indeed.

Sera was about halfway through her tea when she heard it. It was two pairs of feet stepping down the stairs. She watched as James and Rose cease their near silent chatter and looked in the direction of the stairs. Sera set her cup down on the coaster in front of her and stood up and turned around to silently gaze at what the Amber's were looking at.

Standing there sure enough were two girls. The first girl was standing a step in front of the other girl. She was taller, her hair fringe tinged with blue dye, one eye yellow and purplish from a blow to the eye she took. She was staring at Sera like she was a bodyguard.

This one was Chloe Price, the girl James told her about. She and Chloe had met once before, or rather encountered each other, locking eyes after she met up with Frank Bowers on Saturday.

She had wondered why the girl looked at her so significantly at the time, and now she knew why.

The second girl, who was clinging to Chloe's hand, was about a head shorter than the Price girl. She was a blonde hair, hazel eyes girl. She was dressed in a plain grey open front cardigan, white blouse and black slacks. She looked extremely uncomfortable being there, but Chloe leaned towards her and whispered something presumably encouraging. It was enough for her to step down the final stairs.

The fear that girl possessed did not phase Sera at all.

To her, Rachel Dawn Amber was like an angel.

Sera was not a particularly religious woman. Religion as more her Mother's game, and it wasn't in her recovery program; and even if she was religious, she'd have felt that God wouldn't have time to save a wretch like her. But that was what Rachel looked like to her: an angel and she dared anyone to challenge her on that.

While this was the first time they interacted, this was not the first time that she saw her (not that she'd admit it to James and Rose). She had seen Rachel a couple times over the past month; mostly around Arcadia Bay, at the Firewalk show, The Tempest performance, but always from a distance and never very long to arouse her suspicions.

These stolen glances sustained her as tried to get James to meet her about an official meeting. She would cherish the details she could notice. The single blue feather ear piercing, her smile; Sera felt her heart jumped out her chest when she first noticed Rachel was wearing the bracelet she had made her all those years ago. One of the last few things of her James was willing to hold onto and pass on to their child.

Sera's eyes flickered to her wrist. She wasn't wearing it anymore.

For a brief moment she wondered if it was because of her, but that was when she noticed it. The bracelet was now wrapped around Chloe Price's wrist instead. The girl noticed the attention to bracelet and turned a pale pink, her teeth jutting out to clamp on her lip.

Huh. That was something she was going to have to ask about.

She looked to Rachel and took a single step forward before she stopped herself. The movement earned her a small frown from James. It was a little too soon to be affectionate.

"Hello Rachel," she said, attempting to hide the shame building in her voice. "It's been… such a long time."

Rachel remained silent, quietly observing her biological mother with no small amount of skepticism. Sera could not help but be reminded of James – a consummate observer – which left Sera that much more weary. There was something else, however, like… she seemed to be conflicted.

That could be very good or very bad.

"I don't... really know what to say to you," Rachel spoke finally, her voice delicate and uncertain. "I thought that I would… but I don't…"

Sera smiled, inclining her head in acknowledge at just how overwhelming this all was. She tried to pay no attention to James and rose as they seemed to withdraw to a respectable distance, so that while they were observing, they weren't interfering. Sort of like prison guards during visiting hours.

"There's so much to talk about, that finding somewhere to start is impossible. I have had so much longer to think on these things then you have, and I still find it to be difficult," Sera returned, her hands fidgeting at her sides. "If you want to forgo the small talk… and if you're up for it, I was thinking that if you had things to ask - Anything at all - that I would answer you."

She fell silent, waiting on Rachel's judgment as she seemed to consider this. She still hadn't let go of her friend's hand. Chloe seemed to be the last comforter she possessed now.

"And how would I know you're telling the truth?" her daughter asked, her voice twisting out of the soft, shy voice she possessed as she seemed to find it in herself to add in the accusation.

Sera rolled her shoulders back and shrugged.

"You don't, you can't trust a single thing I do or say, but… for what little it is worth to you, I'll answer you honestly anyways. If you don't want to believe me, that's entirely fine…" Sera returned, attempting to hide the note of disappointment from her voice. She had expected it to be hard in theory, but practice was all the more difficult.

She glanced to James for a moment. He sort of nodded, which was encouraging. Having James' approval…That… had meant more to her then she had expected.

She turned back and saw Rachel disconnect from Chloe and quietly, she slumped down into the couch. She held her eyes ahead. She refused to direct her attention towards Sera.

"What… what did you hope to accomplish by seeing me now, after so long?" Rachel spoke, her words growing harder… more James-like.

Sera inched closer until she reached the other end of the couch. She took a seat, flattening out the hem of her dress as Rachel continued to stare ahead at the opposite wall, her eyes narrowed.

"I suppose I wanted to start the process of bringing closure to an era where I hurt the most people," she returned, her hands folding onto her lap.

Rachel directed her expression of frustrated annoyance to Sera directly. Realizing she was about to get hit on this, she pushed on.

"I'm not delusional enough to expect your forgiveness. That is not something I have the right to seek, it is yours alone to give," Sera pressed on, elaborating before Rachel got upset. "I… want to help you understand. I… just I will have to ask you to be a little patient if your question wants specifics…. as you can probably imagine, my memories of the past beyond 2008ish are… difficult to remember."

She allowed a trace of humour to colour her words on that last part. Self-Deprecation was a survival tool in the face of judgement, and with Rachel sitting across from her, she had to utilize this coping skill. Judging from expression on Rachel's face – a look of revulsion – she wasn't having any of this at all.

"I suppose that's what happens when you spend your life as a fucking self-absorbed junkie, right?" she snapped back viciously.

It was almost like a slap across the face. As much as she anticipated the rage, it didn't hurt any less. Funnily enough it was Rose who seemed ready to come to her defense. Whether it was out of genuine concern, or the fact a guest had been insulted by her daughter in their home, Sera wasn't entirely certain. Whatever it was, she held up her hand to the real mother.

"I deserve that more then you will likely ever know…" she gently permitted the teenager.

Rachel rolled her eyes and launched herself out of her seat. She started pacing, looking as though she was going to snap. She paused though, her back turned to Sera and the rest of her family and her friend, her head hanging for a moment before she turned back to face Sera, who sat there in silence, ignoring the gut wrenching she felt at the sight of her child looking so… hurt by everything she was hearing.

It was difficult to think that this was only the start of it. If Rachel was willing to commit to a reconnection to her, she would only continue to be hurt by her biological mother for the foreseeable future. The stories Sera could tell, the pain she forced on her father. They had loved each other deeply, and for James to have killed their relationship to protect Rachel… that was a love Rachel needed to understand.

Sera felt nothing but utter hatred for herself right about now for all of this pain she could see her daughter was now going through because of her. She knew she had to do this, and it was the right thing to do; but that didn't stop her from hating herself for this mess she created and refused to fix until now.

"Did you think about me at all?" Rachel asked, her hand rubbing her neck as she finally looked at Sera again. "In the last thirteen fucking years before you got clean, was I even an afterthought? Or did the addiction come first?"

Sera remained silent for only a moment. In utter shame, Sera shook her head.

"The addiction came first. It came before everything else in my life," she admitted, unable to look into Rachel's inquisitive eyes. "I destroyed my marriage, I destroy my relationship with my parents, and worse I threw away my chance at having you as my child… all to sustain this craving. Heroin was my best friend, and my worst enemy. It killed everything I cherished, and yet it always somehow numbed that pain. It hurt too much to think about what I lost… and when I thought about you, in those rare moments… all it did was worsen the state I was in…"

Exhaling, Sera turned away.

"Heroin is… self-sustaining misery…" she commiserated.

"But what changed?" Rachel asked without missing a beat. "What made you decide that you needed to get clean and see me?"

And there it was… the golden question. The one question she didn't want to answer, but knew she would have to if she even wanted a chance at

"I overdosed a year and a half ago," she answered simply, biting the bullet. "I took a bad hit and I… well, I died for six minutes. The attending physician said that if it wasn't for a Good Samaritan who found me I'd have…"

Sera trailed off and nodded. She didn't really have to finish that sentence off for the people who were looking at her in a state of horror. Swallowing the knot in her throat the only face she looked at was James. He looked… visually upset by the information. Like in spite of everything… in spite of all of the shit she had put him through… he still sort of cared about her.

These were strange days for her to see that.

"I woke up in the hospital with my stomach pumped, shot up with Naloxone and sober for the first time in a very long time, and realized that I had no one," she continued in a monotone. "I would have died and had no one there for me, and I knew that was the last time I was going to use… The first months trying to clean were marked with failure… but then… the thought of you came back while I was cleaner then I was, and I knew then I needed to fight this."

Sera fell silent and focused her gaze back to examine Rachel staring at her wearily.

"So… all of this was entirely motivated by your own self-centeredness…" Rachel concluded. She looked so utterly disillusioned by all of this discussion.

Once again, Sera nodded.

"I'm a recovering heroin junkie, Rachel. Selfishness is in my nature," she reminded the girl, struggling to smile in the face of this. "This time that selfishness was, for the first time, constructive. I wanted to get clean, I wanted to pull myself out of this endless hell; and I wanted to one day stand before you like I'm doing now, having to answer for all the terrible things I did to the one person that I failed the most."

Rachel threw her hands up and backed away from Sera.

"Fine, you needed to be selfish to get better, good for fucking you," she growled at the older woman. "But do you see that woman?" she added, her hand gesturing to the silent Rose standing next to her husband with a mask of collected calm. "She's my mom, Sera. Not you."

Sera blinked; her mouth opening for only a moment before she closed it again as she watched Rachel took her place next to Rose.

"Just because you're here doesn't give you any right to replace her in any way," she continued, her voice growing higher. "She was there for me when she didn't have to be. She chose to marry my Dad and be Mom, and for thirteen years she lived with the truth to keep me from knowing anything else…"

Rachel trailed off. She turned away from Sera and focused on Rose instead. She reached out and gripped her arms.

"Mom, I was so mad about the lie, but I'm grateful you did that for me," Rachel spoke to Rose as though she was the only person in the room. "You taught me just about everything I know; and just because she's here now... it changes nothing at all."

Rachel's hands slid down Rose's arms. She turned back to face Sera, with an expression of regret. Like, she had to tell the truth, no matter how devastating it was.

"I'm sorry, Sera…" she murmured. "But you're nothing compared to my Mom…"

Silence returned in the household as everyone seemed to be waiting for her response in the face of this clear rejection. Sera forced a smile back onto her face yet again as she bit her bottom lip to keep it from visibly wobbling. Again, she had expected this, but the overwhelming sense of futility made it all that much worse.

"I know…" she spoke, straining her voice of any stray emotion. "I told your father about this first, and then I told Rose, and now I'm telling you. I have no intentions on luring you away from her, replacing her in any way. I just want to get to know you, and what our relationship is defined as is totally up to you."

Rose stepped out of Rachel's shadow and stood at her side, her arm wrapping around the girls shoulder. Rachel stiffened at the touch and looked up to her Mom. Rose smiled slightly, breaking her cool reserve which she had held since Sera entered her home.

"Rachel, this unfolded in a very… unpleasant way; I can appreciate your anger, and I love you so much for defending me," she gently tried to convey to her angered child. "But Sera trying to change and that's something to be commended. I am not threatened by Sera, and I trust you enough to be able to not just maintain a relationship me, but work something out with her, if that is what you want."

Rose trailed off for a moment as she looked to Sera properly. It was hard to believe it, but even after she had intruded into Rose's life, into her motherhood, it appeared as those she was still willing to give her a chance. Even in spite of a past that screamed she did not deserve that.

"She's… your mother as well," Rose spoke carefully. "It may not feel like it now, but she should have her chance to try and prove it to you."

A cough interjected over the two… technically three Amber women. They turned to find James was standing with Chloe Price, whose mouth was sort of scrunched up watching the three of them. It seemed to Sera that Chloe was preparing to intercede if it all fell apart.

"How about we have some dinner," James suggested tacitly. "We can continue this later, if you'd like."

Rachel, Rose and Sera glanced at each other for a moment before they silently came to an agreement. There was all the time in the world to debate whether or not Rachel had any sort of obligation to make nice with Sera. If there was an argument though, the Sera hoped it would happen on another day.

That way she knew she'd get a second opportunity to see her child. A desperate move… but she'd take it.


Dinner was held in the living room instead of the dining room.

Rachel had apparently destroyed their dining table in a fit of rage, which sounded unbelievably nuts. Their new table was in the process of being crafted in Seattle, so Sera, the Ambers and Chloe Price ate their Gazpacho as carefully as they could.

While the Amber women and Sera had been silent, that was not the case between James and Chloe. They were adamantly discussing that beaten up old truck that was ridiculously out of place in front of the Amber House. James didn't like to advertise who he was before he became a lawyer, but his father was a mechanic and that made James an amateur one by default.

Chloe seemed to be digesting everything James said and suggested. Sera silently wondered if it was genuine interest, a desire to be able to talk about something outside the elephant in the room, or that Chloe was attempting to win of the father of the girl she was… friends with, by… well, doing what James did for Sera's own father: kissing ass hard.

Whatever the case was (Sera was leaning towards theory number three),Chloe did attempt to bring Rachel in on the conversation, saying she played a part in getting the truck operational, which impressed James greatly.

Rachel didn't say single word.

It physically hurt to see Rachel's continued rejection of James. Even in the face of everything, the lie that had protected her had left her jaded that there seemed to be nothing James could do to erase the fact. After everything he had done for her in the past few days, Sera felt obligated to step in on his behalf. So, if Rachel decided one evening with Sera was enough, she'd bring it up. If Rachel decided to keep in contact, she would save it for another time. She did not want to stir up things too much if she had time to build something with her daughter.

For now she was sitting in the backyard of the Amber home, smoking a cigarette with an old mug as an improvised ashtray given to her by Rose. With the forest fire raging in plain sight, it was understandable why Rose would be concerned for this. Rose didn't seem to be the sort of woman who'd approve of smoking under any circumstances though.

The sliding door opened behind her, catching her attention. Standing in the frame briefly before stepping out onto the deck, closing the door behind her was Chloe Price. She smiled faintly to Sera, which Sera returned with one of her own. She watched in mild amusement as the girl forewent the comfortable seat and instead slumped down onto the steps.

Chloe reached into her jacket and produced her cigarettes and lighter and lit up. Sera ignored the natural instinct to chastise her, but she was in no position to do that. The only way she'd ever be able to do that would be if she caught Chloe and Rachel smoking Meth, Krokodil or Bath Salts. In the hierarchy of narcotic use, Heroin had long since lost top position of shame over those ones. Opioid abuse was just the American way these days…

Exhaling a plume of smoke as she realized how old she actually was, she held her eyes on Chloe, who was turned away from her as she smoked. She… seemed very sweet; very… attentive to Rachel. There was an underlying sadness about it though, but she did not draw attention to it. In these turbulent times, Rachel could not have asked for a better friend to see her through them.

…or whatever they were…

Chloe shifted around somewhat, enough so that she could take in the silently smoking and observing biological mother of her friend (or was it girlfriend? Fuck, these girls were confusing) Sera smiled again as she took another drag.

"So…" Chloe spoke awkwardly. "Cool… tattoos…"

Sera glanced at her sleeve of flower tattoos with a small smile still etched in her face. She had gotten them in various states of heroin addiction over the years. Once marks of shame, they were now a reminder that she had somehow survived the self-imposed slow death she was ready to endure.

"Thank you," Sera murmured as she tapped her cigarette into her mug. "Would it be much of a stretch to assume you're going to want to get some work done?"

A small grin formulated onto Chloe's face. She nodded.

"Yeah… been sort of designing a sleeve myself," Chloe admitted as she pulled her cigarette back from her mouth. "I'm going to wait another year so my Mom doesn't have a huge fucking freak out."

Sera folded her hands into her lap, a knowing smirk crossed onto her face.

"Good girl, better to be original about it then get something out of the tattooist's book," Sera praised the girl lightly. "If I see another girl with a Barbwire or butterfly tattoo, I might liable to kick someone's head in."

As Sera hoped that Chloe hadn't noticed the butterfly tattoo she openly wore, Chloe barked a laugh out at the sort of joking comment, which felt good. Getting that sort of response after this evening gave Sera a little hope for the future. It was sort of like getting Chloe to laugh meant she could get Rachel to laugh in some sort of convoluted way. Still... she could not help but feel a little... concerned. This was not the first time they had met, after all.

"Can I offer you a word of advice?" Sera spoke again, her voice shifting back to a formal state.

Sera watched as the good nature washed away from Chloe's expression. She looked almost weary in a way she had seen in Rose.

"Three hours into knowing her and you're offering advice to me?" Chloe asked as she too tapped her cigarette, but onto the step like a good punk girl.

"Not about Rachel," Sera spoke, unblinking as she stared into the soft blue eyes of Chloe Price. "It's advice for you."

Silently, Sera pushed herself out of her seat silently she walked closer to the girl, leaning against the railing as she breathed both another mouth of smoke and Chloe's as well.

"I understand the urge to get high. Being a teenager sucks, and I am in no position to deal out advice in that field," Sera spoke down to the still sitting girl. "But I do know Frank Bowers."

She watched as Chloe stiffened in her seat. Chloe looked up to Sera looming over her for only a moment longer before she too stood up and joined Sera. Resting her own back into the railing as she seemed to now be very attentive to what Sera had to say.

"My advice is this: Do not mix your life up with his. Buy your weed if you must, but keep out of his way," Sera warned the young girl. Her voice lowering as she watched James and Rose speaking inside the house. "He's not charming, or likeable. He's just a kinder face to worse men. I would rather you not risk yourself over him and by extension..."

Sera trailed off, leaving Rachel's name unspoken. She felt a little guilty, like she was only watching out for Chloe for Rachel's sake. She looked to Chloe, who seemed unbothered by this. Perhaps she was being too self-critical.

"I'll tell you what I told James: I'm never going to let Rachel get hurt…" Chloe murmured to Sera.

Sera actually believed that.

A small smile crossed back onto to Chloe's face as she looked back into the house. Sera looked and found Rachel had marched by her parents towards them. Silently, the girl stepped out of the house and joined Chloe and Sera. Sera straightened up and ignored the small build-up of jealousy as Rachel leaned up against Chloe.

"Can I have a drag, Chloe?" Rachel asked her friend, her hand extended out towards the girl's cigarette.

Chloe glanced to Sera for a moment almost as if she was not entirely comfortable with giving a cigarette to Rachel in front of her biological mother; but in the end she placed the cigarette in between the tips of Rachel's fingers and watched as the girl gently took small puffs. It was clear to Sera that Rachel was new to this, which sort of made her feel better about it.

As Rachel handed the cigarette back to Chloe, she gave the Price girl a soft smile and a pat on her face before she directed her attention to Sera properly.

"Dad said he'd drive you back to your place if you'd like," Rachel broke their silence. "It was nice to meet you…"

She trailed off, like she hadn't meant to say that so quickly.

"I'm… sorry back there for being such a bitch, if you thought that's what I was being…" she murmured, her smile vanishing before Sera's eyes. "But… it's just… I needed answers first... and you had to understand you couldn't just come into my life and just fucking interrupt it because you thought you're entitled to that, since you birthed me…. because that is so unfair."

Sera nodded, no matter how much it hurt, she could appreciate the stance Rachel had taken.

"You are right to be angry with me. I know… loyalty to family is important, and I promise you I'm not here to insert myself into your life without you having a say," Sera assured the girl, hiding the growing fear of rejection out of her words. "Whatever happens next is entirely in your hands. I'll be in Arcadia Bay and you can choose how you want to handle this."

Rachel crossed her arms over her chest and seemed to be in the process of considering it.

"I... don't know if I want to call you mom... I've having difficulties calling my Dad 'Dad' these days and he didn't run off on me," she admitted to Sera. "But… I would like to get to know you more. Would that be okay with you?"

Exhaling sharply, Sera rubbed her forehead as she nodded.

"I'll take it…" Sera agreed, setting her cigarette into the mug. "It's all I ever hoped to have with you."

Rachel reached out and stole the cigarette from Chloe's lips, earning a protesting 'What in the actual fuck, Amber!" from Chloe. She took another drag before she handed it back to the girl had stolen from.

Then Rachel did something Sera hadn't expected at all. Rachel stepped forward and launched herself into Sera, her arms tightening around her back, her hands reaching up to grip the older woman's shoulders as she buried her face into the shoulder of Sera's dress.

It took a full moment to process it. For a moment, Sera thought her mind was playing tricks on her, like it was some sort of delusion she had; but it was real. She had her daughter in her arms for the first time in a decade and a half. Slowly, uncertainly, Sera moved her own arms up and wrapped them around her child as she stared ahead, as she attempted not to break down and scare off the girl clinging to her.

Through the glass door she could see James now, his hands in his pockets as he watched his daughter and ex-wife embrace. She did not know if he seemed happy or not, but what he felt did not even register to Sera.

All that mattered now was the girl in her arms.

The hug lasted only a few moments longer, but Sera relished in every second. As Rachel pulled back, it took all of her efforts to remember her place and release the teen girl out of her arms. Rachel stepped back, tucking her slightly frazzled blonde mane back behind her ear as she glanced briefly to Chloe.

"I just wanted to try that out at least once..." she admitted to Sera softly, stepping out of Sera's way so that she could join James for the ride home.

Sera smiled openly. It was probably the only thing holding back the tears.

"Of course, Rachel…" Sera said, using her daughter's name gratuitously, solely out of the desire to make up for all the time she spent never using her name in her daughter's presence. "But… if you're ever in the mood to hug me again… I really wouldn't hold it against you."

Deciding she had reached the high point of the evening and that anything else she would say would only ruin it; Sera silently stepped by her daughter and entered the Amber home. She took her place with James and only allowed herself part glance back to Rachel and Chloe before following James's lead to the front door. Rachel was clutching her hands on each of Chloe's arms and talking animatedly.

Was she… was she actually excited?

Whatever the case was, all Sera knew for sure was that this had to have been the best few moments of her life. She had her first taste of motherhood, and she was already hooked.

 

Chapter Text

 

June came faster the Chloe had anticipated.

With the first awkward meeting with Sera completed with a certain amount of success, it gave way to a decision made by James and Rose for Sera to meet with the Ambers twice a week. Chloe tried to make every visit, but she still had her own thing going on with an increasingly curious Joyce and the douchebag she was sleeping with.

This softening of the tension between James, Rose and Sera had also led to an increasingly more vibrant and outgoing Rachel. Like, she finally understood her place in everything after the truth came out. Each interaction with her birth mother seemed to explain little things she did that she didn't get from James or Rose.

As for Sera, Sera was… well… she was sad at her core. After all she did to others and herself, Chloe couldn't imagine anyone not being that filled with regret. Yet in spite of this, Sera did seem to be coming out of her self-imposed punishment; at least during her visits with Rachel. She'd try to keep the conversations current as much as possible, attentively hanging off every detail Rachel had of the day's events, no matter how mundane. She'd sort of inch forward, gently prodding into Rachel's youth as well to varying degrees of success. Rachel would usually indulge her, and Sera always seemed so… engaged, to digest what Rachel told her.

For her part, Sera was a little more hesitant. She had good reason, of course and she never refused a question Rachel asked her. It was just a much more painful experience to dive backwards. Rachel and Chloe both anticipated the discussion of Sera's self-imposed hell would be hard, but the good memories seemed especially difficult for the mother to convey. Like, thinking about all the love that she gave up voluntarily was incomprehensible.

One of the oddest things about it was that Sera had not once cried in their prescene. Mothers tended to do that, and that was an awful thing, but Sera was something entirely different. They spoke about some heavy, dark shit that left Rachel in tears, but Sera… she just spoke like it was something mundane to her. It hurt, but she was so exhausted by it that she physically couldn't tear up. So there she sat, talking about the times she nearly died like she was discussing the weather.

With all of this happening, there was a persistent question which ate away at Chloe's confidence, at least in the first few days. With Sera and Rachel united and hashing shit out, and James now holding a firm hand over the interaction; Did Rachel still even need her? Did James?

These things were left unanswered because she did not ask them. Although so far that wasn't the case, fear that one day Rachel was going to wake up and realize that she didn't need Chloe anymore kept her… worried.

Fuck Eliot for planting that seed of doubt. Thankfully the asshole had more or less fucked off. He was hanging with some junior named Warren or something along those lines. He'd look hers and Rachel's way every so often if Chloe was dropping or picking Rachel up from school, but that was about it.

"Chloe!" she heard called from downstairs. "Get your breakfast!"

Packing the last of the spare change of clothing, and paint rags to wear for their work into the duffle bag Rachel had loaned her, Chloe zipped it up, pushed her fear to the back of her thoughts and left her room.

It was Saturday, and Rachel and she were going to spend the night at the Junk shack. Between the excitement of Sera's re-entry into the Amber life, and school, they had been putting off chilling there and fixing the place up. Now with the forest fire now under apparent control, it was safe enough to go there with having to worry. The truck was packed with spare wood, insulation and paint collected by both girls over the course of the past few weeks and now all that was needed was the labour.

As Chloe reached the stairs, she paused and glanced at her mom's open bedroom. She set the bag down and entered the room, glancing around at it.

It was official now: David was squatting in her house. She was not fucking having it. It had become a point of contention which was now spilling out of her hands and reaching into the Amber domain. Rachel wanted to move to the school dorm, and she was gently pushing Chloe to do the same so that she didn't deal with the shit. She didn't know how she'd afford that, but Rachel was adamant that the scholarship would more than likely cover that expense. It was a tempting idea.

She even talked to James about the David situation. James had insisted on taking her the DMV to get her truck street legal before she continued to operate it (go figure). She wasn't sure why she did talk about the douche. Perhaps it was out of boredom, perhaps it was because for the first time in a long time, there was someone in her life that didn't either look down on her, attempt to coddle her nor did he outright dismiss her either.

True to her image of him, James didn't do much to alleviate her concerns. He didn't say to respect him like David would say and he didn't dismiss it like Mom often said she should do. Instead he looked her dead in the eye as he explained the aptly named 'Cinderella Effect', and trotted out the statistics on the elevated risk of physical and sexual abuse step parents had against their step children. He stated it was a contested theory, but he would sooner have her be safe than sorry.

Chloe doubted David would ever do something like that, he was a douche bag, but would he actually hit her? When she said she didn't think it would happen, she quickly found out that this was a subject which James Amber didn't deal with in hypotheticals. He took her phone and added his office number to her contacts.

"Even if you're acting like yourself, if he lays a finger on you and/or your mother, you call me and I will deal with it…" he said to her flatly.

So, armed with the proverbial nuclear code that was the full power of a DA, Chloe silently stepped into her mom's room and without lingering for much longer opened the drawer to her Mom's desk and silently she dug around until she felt something metallic.

She paused her searching and pulled out an old metal strapped watch. Quietly, she looked at the old time piece, a faint smile on her mouth as she examined it. After a moment, she pocketed it and closed the drawer. With Mom moving on in her life, she doubted very much that she would have a need for another relic belonging to William Price.

Grabbing the duffle bag again, Chloe stomped down the stairs and entered to kitchen to find Mom was hovering over the stove, cooking up a couple of eggs for the douchebag, who was making a huge fucking racket in the garage and yelling incoherently to himself.

She reached placed one arm around her Mom's shoulder and kissed her cheek. Today was going to be too good a fucking day to be too pissy in Mom's presence.

"Well now, I know you're up to something," Mom muttered as Chloe pulled back. "Let me guess, Rachel is coming over and you're going to raise all sorts of hell?"

Chloe rolled her eyes as she grabbed a pancake off the stack and leaned her back into the counter. A loud 'dammit, where is it?!' broke out from the garage.

"We're a regular Thelma and Louise duo," Chloe returned obnoxiously as she ate and talked at the same time. "Don't worry; we won't use our one phone call to bug you or the boyfriend. What's up his ass, anyways?"

Mom did not chide her like usual. She just sort of shifted in place, like she was uncomfortable with something.

"Oh… he misplaced something. His move in has been difficult," she dismissed the question in a way Chloe usually did. She glanced to her daughter and added. "I got something I wanted to ask you about Rachel's father… and I hope you will keep it to yourself."

Scooping a handful of hot bacon, Chloe nodded to her Mom. She was good at keeping things to herself.

Usually…

Generally…

Fuck… okay, so if Rachel were to ask her, she'd tell her exactly what Mom had said word for word… unless she really wanted to impress Rachel, then she'd be proactive and blurt it out right away. She loved her Mom, and Mom was great and all, but she didn't have the unique potential rewards which Rachel was a little more than willing to bestow. Honesty being a huge fucking turn on for the lioness of a girl.

Yeah, yeah… loyalty to family was an important thing, but she was still a 16 year old who thought with her vaginal brain from time to time. Fucking sue her.

"Ever since James Amber asked me to put in a good word the new server, he's been coming in often like he's checking up on her. They have long and serious conversations," Mom pressed on, nearly making Chloe choke on her food. "I don't overhear them, but it's obvious. I like James, don't get me wrong. Everything he has done for us, for you… that scholarship he found for you, I will never not be grateful… but I'm… concerned."

Chloe blinked. Mom had hired Sera? Sera had mentioned that she had gotten a job, but she seemed to be vague about where it was. It had been quite some time since Chloe went to the Two Whales, especially after starting hanging out with Rachel. Too much shit to entertain themselves with.

Chloe put the pieces together. Sera had a job working with mom, and James was making a habit to going to the Diner. Chloe always sort of thought that wouldn't be his thing. He was nice, but she figured, like, he had too much money to slum down with the blue collar slobs; but it did make sense why he would be there.

While she completely understood where her Mom was coming from (as it had been Rachel and hers assumption at one point as well) It made sense to Chloe why James would be checking up on Sera as often as he was. James was not about to just up and forget the decade and a half of Sera's failures in a month. Not only was he going to keep an eye on her, he was going to be a fixture to ensure that Sera's remained firmly fixed on the path of recovery.

"Oh my God, he's so not banging Sera," Chloe blurted out, a little more dramatically then she probably meant to be and definitely not meaning to use those words.

Mom narrowed her eyes at Chloe for name dropping Sera. Chloe winced. She probably should not have done that.

"Wait a second. You know her?" Mom asked her curiously.

Averting her eyes, Chloe continued to chew on her bacon. It was clear Mom didn't know the truth, and as much as it sucked… she couldn't betray the Amber family's trust this soon into everything. The secret would come out in due time, but now was not the right moment.

"The night I went to go to that show… Firewalk… she… well, she's the reason why I only ended up with a black eye. She kept Rachel safe also," Chloe carefully edited the truth for her inquisitive mother. "She had… has heavy personal problem. James decided to help her out for what she did for us. So… can you just be cool with her, okay?"

Chloe was proud of herself for the choice of words she used. Technically speaking it was Rachel who saved her ass; but without Sera there would be no Rachel and no Rachel meant no aforementioned ass saving from those dickholes. It was a convoluted truth, but it was a version of the truth she could give to Mom.

Mom smiled as she dished up a plate for David. Apparently the idea of Sera protecting Chloe was an idea Mom clearly could live with, and if that little lie could help Sera out, then all the better for her. Fuck knows she could use all the help she could get.

"Chloe, I am the original model of cool," Mom cockily announced as she set the spatula down. "Besides, I wouldn't cause her any trouble even if she did save you; she seems like a genuine sweetheart..."

Patting Chloe's cheek, Mom lifted the plate full of food and went off to go feed her pet walking vibrator. Gathering a couple more pancakes, Chloe backed out of the kitchen. She was late and Rachel was gonna get hella pissy about it.


Rachel Amber had an inhuman work ethic and Chloe just fucking knew she had to put a dent into that.

The moment the girls arrived at the junkyard, Rachel went into full blown professional mode. There was no time for jokes or slacking off, she had taken command over Chloe and put her to work. Chloe found herself doing grunt work, clearing some of the scrap metal away from the shed, filling in holes with plywood. As she did this, Rachel was inside the shed, cleaning out every crack and crevice and working in insulation inside the walls.

Neither of them really knew if they were doing it right, but it seemed like it was being done right so fuck it. If it wasn't it wasn't like they had to hang out in the junkyard during winter or anything. Rachel was convinced she'd be in the Blackwell dorms by Fall so they could chill there. She made mention that there was an empty double dorm room which was a very unsubtle hint. She would have to have a talk with Mom about it, but… she was coming around to the idea of living in Blackhell…

After a lunch consisting junk food and energy drinks, the girls broke out Chloe's painting clothing and went to work covering the place up. Rachel looked particularly funny wearing clothing that was too big for even Chloe. They didn't have a particularly large quantity of one colour, the shack was a hue of white, crimson, brown, green… it was a fucking mess, and they were mostly just doing it for fun.

After about two hours of work, they decided to call it quits. The first and only coat was applied and silently, the girls moved everything back into the shed and took in their surroundings. Chloe looked to Rachel, and she seemed immensely… satisfied by all they had done. It was hard work, but well worth the effort in her eyes. Chloe's as well.

She liked to see Rachel like this, smiling and just... at peace with everything. Rachel was such a storm about everything, so to see her settled and relaxed was a real treat.

As Chloe approached her to make a totally PG move on her, Rachel rounded back on her and ran the red paint coated roller right up Chloe's chest, making the older girl freeze up. Rachel goggled, as though she had pulled off the cleverest fucking thing she had ever done in her life.

"Ohhhh you are sooooo dead!" Chloe growled playfully.

She watched as Rachel's eyes widen as she quickly ducked out of reach and ran from the shack emitting a hilarious mixture of a scream and a laugh as Chloe bolted after her, scooping up her own roller coated in white paint. She chased Rachel, who was looking like she was going to seek sanctuary in the truck. Unfortunately for her, while she had speed, she lacked the stride Chloe possessed and it wasn't long before the huffing and puffing Price girl ran her paint roller up Rachel's back.

Rachel screeched and bounced forward, startling Chloe momentarily. She turned around and tackled the stunned Chloe to the ground. With one hand she pinned both of Chloe's into the dirt as her other hand ran through her hair. Chloe pretended to struggle. She'd easily break Rachel's grip… but this was not exactly a position she was going to try to fight too hard to escapee from.

She cursed her false submission, what she would do to snake her fingers up the curves Rachel's paint gear hid…

"You better not have gotten paint in my hair, Big Blue!" Rachel complained like she was the victim of the paint attack in the first place.

"That nickname better not fucking stick, Drama Queen!" Chloe hissed right back, exploding into wild laughter.

Rachel stopped searching, seemingly satisfied that Chloe's paint counteroffensive hadn't touched the mane of blonde hair. She smiled again as she remained straddling Chloe's chest. She bent down and gently touched the tip of Chloe's nose with her lips; briefly they grazed her lips as well. It was not a traditional kiss, it was just two pairs of lips sharing the same air.

Rachel pulled back; smirking at the stupid expression etched on Chloe's face and released her grip on the girls' wrist. She rolled off Chloe and sat there in the dirt, quietly contemplating the shack they had spent the past eight or so hours fixed up.

"Hmm…" Rachel breathed as Chloe sat up next to her. "You know, this place went from rat infested shithole, to a shithole. A couple more days of hard work, it'll be a liveable shithole. I think this calls for a reward…"

Rachel clambered up to her feet, her hand touching Chloe's shoulder for a moment before she walked towards the truck. In a moment or two, she came back and took a seat next to Chloe, her backpack in hand. She unzipped it and removed a 40 of Sambuca. She jiggled the bottle in front of Chloe, who reached out and snatched it from her hands. She opened the bottle, breathing in the faint scent of liquorice before she took a sip.

Swallowing the mouthful of alcohol, she handed it over to Rachel who took a drink as well. They were both in silent agreement that they would pace themselves so that they didn't end up like they had the last time they got trashed. The two of them remained silent, their focus back on the shack. Rachel fastened the lid on the bottle and leaned into Chloe, her head nestling into her side.

"Look at us," Rachel murmured to her. "Didn't I say something about watching paint dry with you?"

Chloe smiled slightly and wrapped her arm around Rachel. Rachel did always find a way to honour everything she said.

As they remained connected to each other, Chloe came to a decision. Rachel had every right to know what she knew about Sera's employment. Together they'd be able to come up with some sort of plan; if there was a desire on Rachel's part to do something of course. Sera and Rachel were still on shaky grounds. She would not poke and prod into Sera's business unless Rachel made it crystal clear that it was something she'd like.

"So…" Chloe started, attempting to be as casual as she could. "I got interesting news."

Rachel looked up at Chloe curiously.

"Chloe Price has interesting news?" she repeated sarcastically. "Colour me surprised, usually she's such a bore!"

Chloe pushed her lightly.

"Well then, I guess you don't want to know where Sera is working these days," Chloe replied, faking a sense of casualness.

That was all it took. Rachel pulled herself away from Chloe and silently she examined Chloe as though searching the other girl for any trace of deception. Her expression had hardened somewhat. It was sort of as though this was something she both wanted and didn't want to hear about. She did not tell her off, so Chloe assumed it was the former.

"Your Dad talked to Joyce and got her a job at the Two Whales," Chloe informed her silently staring friend. "I thought you'd like to know... maybe we could drop in for an off the book visit?"

Rachel did not answer. She was contemplating whether or not it was the right thing to do. Both girls were painfully aware at James' insistence that Rachel was not to be in contact with Sera outside the regular supervised visits. While his trust for Sera was still low, his compassion for the woman seemed to steadily growing. It was less about Rachel's and more about Sera.

As strong as she may have seemed, it was obvious that Sera was in a very fragile place in her recovery; both girls were fully aware of this now that they had quite a few interactions with her under their belts. She seemed to be getting better each time, but there was no denying she was in any sort of position to be responsible for others. Risking that would be a pretty selfish thing to do.

Maybe it was a stupid thing to bring up to Rachel. She should have just kept it to herself.

"Maybe you could do that…" Rachel suggested lowly, her hand reaching out to take Chloe's. "I… well… it's draining still to interact with her within the allotted time… but if you were to drop by on her shifts, maybe you could get her to drop her guard?"

Chloe snorted as she snatched the bottle out of Rachel's hand.

"Me?" she said as she took a drink. "Get her guard down?"

Rachel nodded slightly, her hand squeezing Chloe's tightly.

"You are a remarkably disarming girl, Price," she buttered Chloe up, her smile widening. "My Mom… Sera… I think she's trying to be at her best around me… Maybe you could see if that's what she's doing. I want to trust her… but after everything she did… I don't want to get fucked over like that ever again."

Chloe nodded, understanding Rachel's dilemma. It was a rare thing to get Rachel to call Sera her Mom. She didn't use it around James and certainly not Rose, and consistently called Sera by her first name whenever they were together. It seemed as though Chloe was the only person she'd use the title around.

Deciding something should be done; Chloe reached into her paint stained pants and retrieved her phone.

"Tell you what, I'll hit up my Mom to see when Sera works next," Chloe murmured as she started typing out a text to Mom. "If it's tomorrow morning, I'll go to town, pick up some breakfast for us and see if I can talk to her."

The kiss Rachel planted on her cheek was a good sign she was going to have a great evening…


With her head swimming with almost half a forty of Sambuca flowing through her veins, Rachel felt her mind was adrift and at peace as she laid there resting in arms of her Chloe; both of them bundled up in blankets which she had brought from home.

Together they were stretched out together in the truck bed, gazing up at the stars, and speaking about everything and nothing. Sometimes they'd lapse into long protracted silence, but it was never uncomfortable. For Rachel at least, this month together without the spectre of Dad's lie or Sera's existence haunting them had been eye opening.

While there was developments with her family, it was Chloe who had surprised her the most. With Chloe in her life, it felt like a piece of her that was missing since forever had finally been reunited with her. It was sort of was like they were two damaged souls which had interlocked and together created a single mended one. Admittedly, this was sort of a dramatic thing to suggest, and she would never admit it allowed, not even to the girl next to her, but it was just something she felt.

It was just that everything just felt as though it all finally fit together. She knew where she came from. It was Chloe who had helped to put all the pieces back together. Dad was now being honest with her (trying to anyways) and although she was still extremely upset with him, it felt that he was genuinely making a conciliatory move. Mom and she were closer than ever now. Rachel understood the sacrifice and effort it must have taken for her to step into a marriage with a child that was not her blood; but she had done it and did it in such a way that showed so much unconditional love to her. For the years of motherhood and unconditional love that her adopted Mom gave Rachel, Rachel would never forget them.

Then there was Sera.

Sera was a challenge the likes of which Rachel had never known. She was quiet and enigmatic, and not in a charming way. It came off as that of a tired and sad person, weary and damaged from the pain she had caused and ceaselessly endured. Getting to know her had given Rachel the impression that Sera more or less a one woman anti-drug PSA; which was a good thing she supposed. Still, she was trying her hardest with Rachel, and she did appreciate that effort. It must have been a difficult thing to do… transitioning out of the drug culture and into another person's life.

There was still so much she wanted to know, so much she wanted to say, wanted to be able to say. But neither of them was ready for that. That was something that scared her the most: never being able to say these things. As much as the abandonment had hurt when the truth finally revealed itself, as much as she loved Rose for becoming her Mother, there was a desire building Rachel to be able to sit Sera down and tell her that she loved her.

Perhaps that would be years off. Perhaps it might never happen, but still the temptation remained. She couldn't deny that there was something deep inside which was telling her that maybe if she said those words; it would be enough to break Sera out of her self-loathing and help her learn to forgive herself. Instead of picking up the pieces, what Sera her might have needed was a hard reset. The two of them starting from scratch if that was at all possible.

Next to her, she felt Chloe shuffle and sit up, unceremoniously pushing Rachel off her human pillow and lying flat for a moment. She looked up to Chloe, who through the camp fire they built a little ways off from the truck looked pensive and drunk. Her hand ran through her hair as she turned to face Rachel.

"Hey…" Chloe spoke as Rachel sat up as well. "… So I got you something… and don't make a big deal out of it."

Making a point not to make Chloe any promises, she watched Chloe reach into her pocket and took Rachel's hand. Silently she produced something metallic and pressed it into the palm of her hand. Rachel examined it through the fire light and found herself staring at a vintage Swiss mechanical watch. The watch dial was not moving, it was permanently stuck at 4:47.

Rachel looked up and found Chloe to be extremely nervous and conflicted, like she thought she had made a mistake and wanted to snatch it back from her.

"A broken watch?" Rachel inquired curiously, trying to lighten the mood. "Are you trying to say something?"

Chloe shook her head quickly. The attempt to lighten the mood that only made the girl appear even more upset by the words Rachel had offered up. Rachel did her best to ignore the pang in the pit of her heart that told her how much she fucked up.

"No Rachel…" Chloe returned, sounding unnaturally quiet. "This was my Dad's watch…"

As she put the pieces together, Rachel was left speechless. That was a mistake, as she watched in silence as Chloe rolled her eyes, her frustration growing obvious.

"No, I'm not morbid enough to give you something he was wearing when he died…" she needlessly had to say as Rachel held her gaze on her. "He was wearing the watch in the delivery room the night I graced this world with my presence. He pulled out the spring, so that he always had the moment in his hands… at least that was what he said to me when I asked... and I asked him a lot of times about it."

She paused for a moment, her hand rubbing the back of her neck.

"I just… figured that since you've entrusted me with something that means the world to you… I should return the trust," she said, gently touching Sera's bracelet wrapped around her wrist. "You keep making me these promises about sticking by me… and I think I need to say it out loud. I care about you, Rachel, and no matter how all of… this… turns out, you're going to always have me in your corner. Even… even if you fucking hate me one day and want to leave me behind, I'll help you escape the Bay… I'm always gonna have your back."

The words reverberated in her mind as Rachel felt the full weight of what this was. Chloe had entrusted her with one of the relics of William Price. Chloe didn't part from her past easily, and yet here she was looking at the watch her father wore the moment Chloe entered his and Joyce's life. She never expected something so personal offered up. Hell, she had never even anticipated this was even possible…

Rachel looked up and found Chloe watching her carefully. With a single gesture, Chloe had told her she had loved her without uttering the word.

"You… really know how to sweep a girl off her feet…" Rachel breathed back to her. "This… this is too much… this is far too personal for you to just give to me."

Chloe reached out and wrapped Rachel's fingers around the time piece.

"It's why I want you to have it," she insisted, unblinking as she stared into Rachel's eyes. "I've had a lot of time to think, and I think my dad would have thought you were great… and that he'd love you like you were one of his own. So… please will you take it?"

Rachel tore her eyes away from Chloe's soft blues reluctantly. Examining the watch for a moment longer she nodded and as though the watch was glass, she gently wrapped it around her wrist and fastened it. She looked up and found Chloe at peace with everything. It was such a good look on her. Nothing troubled her or brought her down. She seemed content.

Wanting to experience that feeling first hand, Rachel leaned forward and captured Chloe's lips with her own for a moment before she reluctantly pulled back, her fingers intertwining into Chloe's.

"I'm never taking it off, Chloe Price…" she promised the girl across from her.

Chloe huffed a small laugh as she shrugged.

"Well, I think you should every so often..." she suggested to her. "I like you wearing it, but I also don't want you to get gangrene or some shit…"

The two girls shared a soft laugh. A thrill rushed though Rachel as Chloe reached out and pushed her hand through her hair, bringing the short girl close to her again. They kissed, deeper this time, but Chloe found enough restraint to pull back slightly.

"Are we being too sappy?" Chloe spoke, her forehead still touching hers.

Rachel shrugged and leaned back in so that's she could kiss her Chloe again.

"Perfect sappy…" she amended as she rested into Chloe's arm. The only noise being made was that of the crackling of the campfire.

Chapter Text

 

With the clock on the wall flashing 8:17 am, Sera sighed as she cracked her neck.

Most people didn't like to work graveyard shifts, but she did not mind them at all. She didn't sleep regular hours, so it seemed only fitting to take those shifts whenever they came up. The work was relatively quiet, and she got to take a break to watch the sun rise over Arcadia Bay, which was always a nice half an hour or so to decompress.

Having spent much of her adult life roaming from city to city, she had thought she would never be able to stand a small town again. She swore up and down that she would rather be dead before she returned to one in her youth; a promise she had uttered one night drinking hard with James, who made her a promise that they'd run and never return to a population with less than a few hundred thousand people.

Now look at them: James was voluntarily living the small town life, and now that she had experienced actual physical death, she decided she'd give small towns another chance.

Honestly, she had sort of come to appreciate the charms of this sort of life. Things were quiet and went at a slower pace, which she welcomed. The people were a lot friendlier and didn't seem to know what Sera was… still technically was; and if they did, they were far too polite to care.

A rather strange development which had come up was that she had sort of made friends here at work, which was a really peculiar thing. She never had friends in the past fifteen years; just a series of people who would try to use her for the constant financial support she had coming in. She was far too strung out to care they were using her. They alleviated the loneliness to a certain extent, feeding their addictions was a small price to pay.

But no one used her here. Everyone was nice to her and patient if she messed up, which was prevalent in the first weeks. Joyce Price in particular was quick to cover her. Although she couldn't say she knew Chloe, it was obvious to see where the loyalty to Rachel had come from. She was a tired and proud woman, who Sera had come to envy for her strength.

Last night was different between them however. Joyce was waiting for her as Sera started her shift, a smile and a hot plate of pastries and tea waiting for her. Apparently Chloe had not only said she knew her, but that she had been saved by her from Damon Merrick's pissed off goons. It wasn't true, but she was not about to say anything otherwise. Chloe probably had to lie when Joyce got too close to the truth.

So, when the doors to the Two Whales opened and in swaggered Chloe Price like she owned the place, Sera was not surprised in the slightest. Well, perhaps she was a little surprised by her presence. Any self-respecting teenager would not be caught dead awake at eight in the morning, and yet here she was.

Chloe scanned the room and as soon as she noticed Sera she stepped over causally, her hands in her pockets, her bracelet still dangling there like it was a fixture to her now. It was a stark reminder who how attached the two girls were. Sera found herself tempted to look out the windows to see if Rachel was out in the truck, but she remembered her place and merely issued the tall girl a warm smile as she slumped down in the stool next to her.

"Hello Chloe," Sera broke the silence first. "How are you?"

Chloe sort of grinned.

"Fine, fine…" Chloe half-hearted said as she dug into her pocket. She pulled out a handful of change and a crumpled bill and slapped it on the counter.

"So, random question, I got five dollars and thirty-two cents and I need to feed two people," Chloe continued, much more lively as she turned to face Sera. "I mean, I can't promise Rachel is gonna get to eat, but I'll try to be considerate; do you have any ideas?"

Shaking her head slightly, Sera reached over the counter to retrieve a menu and placed it down in front of Chloe.

"Save your money. Pick and choose…" she answered the girl. "That is, so long as you do feed Rachel."

Chloe's face brightened up like she had hit a jackpot. She pocketed her money and grabbed the menu.

"That's fucking cool, thanks Sera! In that case, Rachel gets to eat!" Chloe spoke happily. "Mom doesn't let me use hers often; something about running the Diner out of business or some shit."

Sera smiled, she somehow doubted that Joyce wasn't far off from the truth. She remained silent, watching as Chloe took her obvious bribe unquestioningly as she scanned the menu and listed off a variety of waffles, pancakes, eggs and bacon to go from the morning server, Erin.

Standing up, Sera reached out, her hand pressing on Chloe's shoulder. It caught the girl's attention. She gestured to the open corner booth. It was probably better for the two of them to speak with some measure of privacy. Chloe nodded and slid off of her stool and followed Sera's lead.

"So get this," Chloe spoke as she slumped down into the booth as Sera stepped out of her way. "Yesterday, I'm minding my own business when I find out my Mom had her arm gently twisted into hiring you from James… why would you ever work this place?"

Sera didn't answer her right away. She ignored the slight tingeing of anger she felt that the teenager was deriding the place that was keeping a roof over head. That feeling actually made her pause… usually she thought she was cooler than that.

Perhaps this was what maturity felt like…

"Not too many people are willing to hire people with drug possession charges and lack of steady legitimate work," Sera answered finally, her fingers lacing together as she glanced out the window. "I kind of like it… it gives me some sort of direction… like there is purpose outside of reclaiming everything I threw out."

Sera softened her slight frown back into a careful smile. She wanted nothing more than to ask the girl where Rachel was, if she was here. She could feel her anxiety growing for an answer, the little black tar stain calling her back into a relapse as she watched Chloe drum on her lap and look away.

Damn it. She needed a cigarette badly.

"I suspected it would not be long now before I would run into you here," Sera broke the silence deciding the conversation was a distraction she needed right now. "It's… good that you did not bring Rachel. As much as it would have been nice, I would rather honour any agreements I'm holding myself to."

She paused and examined the girl. Chloe seemed somewhat despondent, like she was gearing up to lay into Sera with a series of uncomfortable questions that Rachel would be the ones asking. So this was how it was. Chloe was serving as a proxy to her daughter. They had thought her to be completely subservient to the girls simply because of how much she had fucked up.

Perhaps it was time to turn it on its head… Show Chloe where the fire actually came from… just a bit… even if it was just embers, so utterly overshadowed by her child.

"For a month now I've been answering a lot of questions, and I have accepted that Rachel would have this level of curiosity," Sera spoke up before Chloe, her eyes unblinking as she stared at the girl. "I have torn old wounds open just to explain myself and I am willing to do it again and again and again until Rachel and I are on the same page. I do not expect you to understand the misery this has been for me, but I do hope you can understand why I will not fall into your trap."

She remained stone faced as Chloe processed the fact that she was no longer the spider. She was the fly in the web.

"That's not to say we cannot talk, because I have a lot of things I've want to ask my daughter… and I see now that it might be better to ask you things instead," Sera pressed forward slowly, meticulously. "There is much I need to say to you, and I don't have to restrain myself quite as much around you, now do I?"

""You consider her your daughter?" Chloe blurted out. "Even after everything, you still think that?"

Sera felt her heart lurch as an almost insurmountable anger rose into her chest. Exhaling unsteadily through her nose, she leaned forward, her hands gripping the edge of the table as she glared at the noticeably shrinking child who had just realized how terribly she had just fucked up.

"Because she is my daughter; I carried that girl in my womb for nine months, and endured every bodily horror that came with it. The joy of pregnancy is a lie. It's a horror show, and I put myself through that so you can have her, just like your mother did so Rachel could have you…" Sera growled lowly, an undercurrent to her cold tone. "I know Rachel will never call me her Mom, and I do not contest that I will ever replace Rose Amber, but I do get to have some sort of claim in her. Even if the connection is only through blood, I will take it. If she is uncomfortable with me calling her that, I will live with that, but I will call her my daughter on my own time and since here you are intruding on my time I won't let you question that. Understood?"

Sera blinked and pried her head back to look at the officially submissive Chloe Price.

She hadn't meant to get that bitchy, but she had so little left in her life, that even the slightest attack on her validity was grounds to burn down everything. It was what nearly led to the huge blow up between James and her before James came back to the table in a more conciliatory mood.

While it was sort of reasonable for James and her to fight like this, her reaction to a 16 year old girl ignorantly pushing her buttons was not. She had done too far.

Chloe was right…she was not exactly a mother in any sense of the word.

"I'm sorry, Sera... I worded that wrong. I got a big fucking mouth and it gets me into trouble," she heard Chloe speak guardedly, as though she was prepared to go to war like her, but was making a last ditch effort to reconcile. "It's just… you seem so aloof with her… like you're keeping a distance."

Sera couldn't look her in the eye. This had been a humiliating moment for her. She should have been better than this. She had no business snapping at the child sitting across from her.

"Because I am keeping a distance," Sera spoke, keeping her eyes fixed on her lap. "Not just out of respect for Rose, but because I'm living in constant fear that Rachel will stop wanting to see me, or that James will just shut down the meetings. A month of this doesn't even begin to put a dent in what I had done."

She heard Chloe snort derisively.

"He wouldn't do that," Chloe reminded her. "Rachel and James aren't okay, and she would have his head if he did something like that."

Sera emitted a humourless chuckle. As much as Rachel resented her, she still in-explicitly resented James even more. She had been gently approaching the subject, but Rachel would shut her down every time. She either had to hammer it hard, or just let Rachel come around to the conclusion on her own. Sera was leaning more towards the former.

"I know… and I'm sorry as well for my anger," Sera replied, finding the courage to face the girl again. "I was a teenager once, I sometimes forget that teenagers have deep thoughts, and strong opinions... but have a lack the words to articulate them..."

The two of them remained silent looking at each other. Sera watched as Chloe struggled to remain straight faced. She failed and broke down into laughter. Sera chuckled along and leaned back into her seat. It was nice to get along with Chloe…

…even if it was obvious this girl wanted to fuck her daughter into the ground…

She wondered just how was it James could handle that thought in the back of his mind. He was very close to Chloe beyond the excuse of working with Chloe Price to keep Rachel safe. He seemed to hold a genuine affection for her. Contrast that affection with the fact that these days Rachel and Chloe always seemed to have matching love bites in obvious (and possible unobvious) places. They hadn't stepped their relationship up, however. She was a shitty Mother, but she knew when people were sleeping together.

When she brought this quasi relationship up to James and Rose, they had both been talking about it and had decided the Chloe would need to have The Talk, but only until they made things official. They didn't want to freak out Rachel's best friend; and now that Sera had found a place into Rachel's life, it was decided by Rose and James to include it. A 'triumvirate of concerned parents' to handle this as Rose called it, to which James looked amused and so Sera had to nod and look that word up on her phone while they were not looking.

She really should have went to school… or at least took the school did go to more seriously.

"I would not be stretching much in assuming that you and Rachel are together," Sera asked delicately, her hands folding back together on the table top.

She took in the sight of Chloe tingeing a dark red at the statement she had made. It was rather sweet to see the girl, who had come across as shamelessly brave get this flustered at the merest hint that the secret Rachel and her were trying to keep from her was not a secret at all.

"We're… friends…" was all Chloe could get out.

Sera lips slowly formed into a smile.

"Sure, friends like James and I were friends at your age…" Sera softly teased the girl who was shifting uncomfortably in her seat. "Unless Rachel more or less High School proposing to you in front of the school is a new millennial thing to do… and yes, I was there."

Chloe's mouth was slightly unhinged as she realized Sera had seen the production that veered way off course at Rachel's design. Although she was a little stiff up there, Sera thought that Chloe had done well, and that her improvisation in the face of Rachel's unpredictability was quite a talent in itself.

"That was… Rachel, just being Rachel…I think…"Chloe attempted to explain away. "We've sort of talked about it every so often. We decided to see if we're capable of being friends before we started… something else."

Sera exhaled and nodded. Starting a heterosexual relationship was difficult by itself. She could only imagine the challenge it must have faced for both girls to take that final sort of plunge. Even voicing their feelings must have taken no small amount of courage to admit feeling something as overwhelming as love to someone of the same gender. She also didn't know how friendly their peers would be towards it. Even a whiff of homosexuality back in her high school days warranted a swift 'corrective' beating.

That was just how it went in her youth… but things changed… perhaps it would be better. Besides, if Rachel had to deal with anyone, at least she would have a girlfriend right next to her to provide support and the occasional as kicking… defensive as kicking.

Falling in love ultimately required unbelievable amount of courage regardless of who it was… and sometimes all that was needed was a gentle outside push in the right direction; and maybe Sera was the right person to do that.

"And now you're friends…" Sera inched her plot forward. "…Isn't it about time to be a little brave for her?"

She watched, hiding her own satisfaction as her words hit the mark and Chloe Price pushed herself back into her seat small grin crossing on her face as though she had just had an epiphany. As soon as the grin appeared, it had vanished back into a pensive expression as she turned back to look at Sera again.

"You're… okay with it?" she asked, a note of disbelief in her voice.

Offering the girl an encouraging smile, Sera nodded firmly. She had no say or right even to interfere in the affairs that were solely Chloe and Rachel's, but if the girl wanted reassurances that there would be no interference on her part, then God knows she deserved it.

Chloe smiled, but it was still… off. Like there were still many unspoken fears she held about this.

"It's just… James is really fucking weird about it," she murmured as she pressed her back into the seat again. "He's cool with me at least for now… but it's like he's okay with her and me in principal, but you just know he's not…"

She trailed off, allowing Sera to absorb the inference she was making. There was a strange feeling brewing some where in her. Like…she had to defend James from a child who didn't really mean to harm his character. It was a very peculiar thing.

"As far as I can tell, that isn't a homophobia thing if that is what you're implying," Sera answered Chloe's unspoken accusation. "Consider for a moment that his only daughter is attracted to someone and he's a father. Of course he's going to be weird about it… especially when he genuinely likes you."

That caught Chloe Price off guard. She stared at Sera stupidly and just sort of blinked.

"…he does?" she said incredulously. "Rachel figures he's… investing in me. I don't know what I should believe. He's… great, but I don't know if I should trust him."

Staring at the girl for a moment, Sera stood up from her seat and slid into the same booth as Chloe. She didn't want to be overheard before, and now she definitely didn't want to be overheard.

"Rachel's anger makes her assume the worst in him," she started. "When James looks at you, he's looking into a mirror into his past. He sees the exact same doubts and uncertainties in you that he had himself, and more dangerously, the passion you have."

Sera emitted a small hallowed out laugh.

"James was…" She paused, and shook her head. "Oh god, James was so passionate about everything; especially for those he loves. You can see it in his love for Rachel and Rose. That… desire to protect what is his."

"And you," Chloe pointed out.

Staring at the girl next to her, Sera nodded curtly.

"And me…" she amended. "James and I… for a while we were great together - Ying and Yang – I think I loved him the moment I first laid eyes on that… that total dork. He had such big plans, he wanted to take that passion and idealism and do his part to save the planet: environmental lobbying work, endangered species protection, the whole nine yards. He was convinced he was going to change the world."

The smile which had formed on her face caused by the wave of nostalgia died.

"All those years we were together, he showed me nothing but unconditional love and devotion…" Sera spoke slowly in a slight daze. "And… and… God it was never enough, and to this day I'm… I'm still trying to find an answer to give him about why it wasn't."

She looked away from Chloe. She was far too ashamed as she pushed her hand through her hair.

"I wish… I wish Rachel could understand the amount of pain and suffering James went through to destroy his love for me in order to protect her. We were each other's worlds for such a long time," she continued, staring down at the table. "He didn't lie to hurt her. He hid the truth because pretending I didn't exist was the only way to protect his heart. If he didn't do that, he probably would be a far more distant man to her. His heart mended. He fell in love again, and for fifteen years Rachel has had a father who may have to work too much, but ultimately loves her before everything else… a family even."

Sera paused only long enough to breathe and reorganize her thoughts. Everything was so fuzzy; she could feel the little black tar stain in the back of her mind calling yet again.

"But it came at a sacrifice: his passion for the outside world. He's tired and jaded and doesn't put his trust or faith in others easily as he once did," Sera continued, struggling to maintain her tone from collapsing into a raspy weep. "He had to cut everything else he loved out to protect Rachel from what I was… and that's how I destroyed him. I ruined him right to his core, and I have to live with the fact that I killed the beautiful soul of a man I absolutely adored… adore."

Sera ceased speaking and collapsed back into a self-loathing induced silence, staring off as she returned to an old familiar place.

This time, however, was different. The only thing that kept her steady, kept her from going back was the tentative hand of Chloe Price pressing onto her shoulder. She looked over to the girl and smiled slightly. She was a sweetheart.

She was a sweetheart, and she needed to be saved from herself.

"My point is, is that you look the part of a tough girl, and sometimes you act it, and that was James too…" she continued, finally gentle Chloe's gentle gaze. "And just like James, you wear your heart in the open for Rachel... and that sort unselfish love someone else is a beautiful means of self-destruction."

Chloe squinted at her, her hand dropping off Sera's shoulder.

"You want me to protect myself from Rachel, like she's dangerous like you were?" she asked the older woman disbelievingly.

Sera shook her head, daring to reach out and take her hand.

"No Chloe, I want you to protect yourself because you have just as much right to put yourself first as you do for Rachel," she murmured back to the teenager. "You can't… keep living like this; with this gaping wound your father left behind…"

Sera watched as the girl recoiled, but Sera clutched onto her hand still. Chloe seemed surprised, but it didn't take much to put everything together. Well… all it took was overhearing a call to her boyfriend, and a question levelled to James to get a clear picture.

Chloe's face contorted out of shock and into anger. She wrenched her hand away from Sera and stood up. Sera stood as well and moved out of her way. She did not want to cause a scene.

"Only warning: don't talk about my dad like that," Chloe growled under her breath.

The older woman nodded. She had taken it a step farther then she should have; but at least the cards were on the table. At least Chloe would have something to think about and perhaps she would learn from the mistakes made by both James and herself.

Perhaps Rachel and she could survive…

"I am sorry. My only intention was to warn you… and not to offend," Sera attempted to elaborate for the fuming Price girl. "If you can't let the past go, you may never find peace and happiness, and I believe that you deserve that after all you've done for my daughter."

Sera paused and exhaled.

"I don't want you to be a different version of me…trapped by a past which determines the future," she finished, somewhat exhausted by this ordeal of a conversation.

Chloe stood there silent as she seemed to be in the midst of judging her friend's biological mother. She glanced at the counter and noticed the several Styrofoam food containers waiting for her. Sera nodded to them, and with that Chloe turned and gathered them under her arm and turned back.

"Thanks..." she murmured. "For the breakfast… and what you said."

Sera nodded and allowed a thin smile for the girl.

"I would be grateful if you kept all that to yourself. It's something I need to explain to her first hand…" she gently requested. "But please Chloe, could you tell Rachel I say hello?"

Chloe hesitated for a moment before she nodded as well. With a wave she turned around and started her journey towards the exit. But then she stopped as though she as conflicted.

Slowly, Chloe rounded back to face Sera again and joined her again.

"Look, Sera…" Chloe spoke, her voice almost guilty. "She'll never say this out loud, but she does call you 'Mom'. She won't say it to you, or Rose or James, but she does when we're together... and it's obvious to me that she trying to love you."

Sera could only blink. Rachel called her Mom? 

She wished she had something to say, something she could do, but she could only stand there and watch her future daughter-in-law rub her neck like she was questioning whether or not it was right to say it.

"I'm not betraying her trust lightly," she murmured. "I just... thought you should know."

Sera smiled brightly, her hand rubbing the back of her neck as she struggled to continue the foreign sensation of joy washing over her. Rachel called her Mom. Her daughter called her Mom.

Still processing this new reality, Sera nodded firmly.

"I'll keep it to myself," she assured the girl. "Thank you Chloe… you cannot know how much this means to me."

"I don't, but I know it has to be hard," Chloe returned as she backed away from the elated mother. "Don't… you know…give up, will you?"

Through her watery eyes, Sera shook her head.

"Never," She swore.

Sharing one final look, Chloe left, leaving Sera to process the news and not break down into happy tears in front of the customers and her co-workers.

 

Chapter Text

 

True to her word, Chloe did not go beyond the surface of her conversations with Sera at the diner.

She knew that she had to give something to Rachel. She had to have something if Rachel had encouraged the meeting; so she chose to only talk about Sera's apparent interest in how the two of them were defining themselves. That Sera was interested the affairs of the girls beyond that of a woman trying to reconnect with a child she lost.

Strangely, Rachel seemed almost pleased by this lack of answers she had sent Chloe out to answer on her behalf. She never passed up a good opportunity to tease Chloe, and so to find out her biological mother was like this as well, it must have brightened her up.

To be quite honest it must have been breath of fresh air.

With most of the interactions between Sera and Rachel an almost masochist affair, to find out Sera was capable of light conversations must have been refreshing. It seemed to give Rachel hope for the future. That they could one day just sit down once all the shit was squared away and just talk about things that weren't an exercise in self-destructive misery.

In the back of her own mind, Chloe wondered if that was Sera's plan all along: Offer her plausible deniability so that Rachel could have something to focus on while she and Chloe could keep the real conversation focal point to themselves. If that was going on, then there was a real spark of cleverness that had somehow survived though that hell she survived.

If she was being completely honest, she wasn't entirely certain if that was a good or bad thing. For now she was just grateful to be witness to a happy Rachel.

They arrived back to the Amber home that evening after a day spent chilling out and roaming Arcadia Bay like the listless teenagers were… or at least trying to be. The two of them had spent the time teasing, flirting and talking about anything and everything. Most notable of their conversations was travel.

They were both aware that they couldn't just fucking run off together like they thought they could. That was the end goal still, but the two of them came to a reluctant acceptance that the Bay was going to be the fixture of their life until they were out of school properly. When school was finally done fucking so long Arcadia Bay and hello to the next era of fun and excitement in the outside world, an era free of all the expectations others held for them.

While they were resigned to seeing through the last years of their prison sentence, that didn't mean they couldn't escape on a short term basis. They had agreed forever ago they'd open road it, but that didn't seem what Rachel wanted anymore; because Rachel now had a new fucking goal for them that Chloe really sort of wanted no part in.

Seattle.

As in Max Caulfield's Seattle.

Okay, so technically it was the same city, but in it still resided the one person that she didn't think she was capable of seeing. Yet here they were, discussing going to see her to try and settle things and make things right between them.

Rachel seemed hell bent on trying to fix Chloe's hang up for Max. "Renewal or closure" as she would put it; in her mind everything needed to be wrapped up neatly so that Chloe didn't have any sort of lingering doubts. In a few years they would escape, and they needed to have closure on everything. No matter how it turned out, Rachel said she'd have her back. She even offered to kick Max's ass if she got the word from Captain Chloe.

She wouldn't issue that order… but Max and Rachel catfighting… it had an appeal all in its own.

In spite of her… hesitations, Chloe felt a small… hope for encounter should it happen. Maybe things between Max and her could be fixed. The idea of Max, Rachel and her just chilling out and catching up was a growing fantasy she was having. She dared not speak about it in case it didn't turn out though. Life seemed to be a series of disappointments sprinkled with the occasional bright spot, which brought your hopes back up long enough just to plunge you back down into the shit.

Chloe gave her head a mental shake as. As Rachel put it, she was being an edge queen again.

For now, they had to focus on the day to day. Rachel was apparently talking to her Dad about leaving during the summer. With James making Chloe a promise that he would help expand on his daughter's freedom of movement, Rachel was going to start seeing just how committed he was to that promise; but with James helping her get the truck to street legal status, it seemed to her that he was coming around to that promise made what felt like an age ago.

Another aspect that hadn't been discussed was Sera. Rachel bailing for the summer meant the visits would have to be suspended. This was a factor Rachel hadn't factored in beforehand Chloe had brought it up.

Sera and Rachel had just started their reconnection, and the idea of just… suspending it seemed wrong to Chloe, whom Sera had only hours earlier told her that she feared Rachel suspending their encounters; but she had no say in the matter. Sera was fighting tooth and nail to have a small place in her daughter's heart, and she just had to respect that in spite of everything she did. She just hoped Rachel could appreciate that. If Rachel wanted to leave, then she needed to let Sera understand why.

Setting the peeler down, Chloe grabbed the kitchen knife off the cutting board and chunkified (Not a real word, whatever) the carrots for the green salad she was making for dinner. Rachel was upstairs, doing last moment studying for her finals, and with Chloe not having to deal with that, she intend volunteered to help Rose with dinner prep. It was kind of nice to be honest. With Mom, you just sort of got sick of the dinner style cooking after a while. Rose either took classes or had come from a family that passed these skills down... probably both frankly.

Rose had been the real eye opener in grace, patience and most of all humility. She had spent such a long time rueing the day Sera showed up on her doorstep. This much she had admitted to Chloe; but on the day of arrival, Rose took a step back and just accepted Sera entering their lives with little to no resistance (perhaps there was some resentment, but it was never openly expressed) and instead, she seemed to try to empathize where it was Sera was coming from. She didn't pity Sera, but she was instead attempting to understand, and that was all Sera seemed to need.

God, Chloe hoped one day she'd have that sort of strength. Although, with the way things were going with Rachel, it was looking like kids were not going to be a sticking point like it was for James and Sera, unless Chloe went out of her way to have one.

Probably not though; kids were terrible, and she would be a shit tiered mom.

The peace between Rose and Chloe was broken as outside the sound of her truck's horn being honked broke the silence of the evening. Chloe snapped her head up and looked at Rose, who was looking through the blinds.

"Were Rachel and you expecting a visitor tonight, Chloe?" Rose inquired curiously, a small frown forming on her face as the horn sounded again.

Chloe shook her head, her mouth curled up in a grimace. No… they weren't. It was just supposed to be a quiet night recovering from a heavy drinking session. Certainly not one where someone was in her vehicle hitting the fucking horn.

That was when a voice put a chill down her spine.

"Chloee..."she heard called out. "Chloee, I know you're hereeee!"

It was Eliot.

Eliot was here at the Amber home attempting to make some sort of scene.

Chloe was ready to kill the motherfucker.

Chloe slammed the kitchen knife down on the counter. As much as she wanted to bring it out there with her, she didn't want that mess against her name. She'd talk the fucking idiot down instead.

Fuck her pride and fuck Rachel's pride as well; it was time to get James involved in shutting this shitass down for fucking good. She fucking took pictures of Rachel's bruising from their last encounter while she was sleeping one night. It was a shady thing to do, but she watched enough cop shows to know that that was the only way to get someone to believe her.

"What's happening?" she heard Rose call to her as she stormed out of the kitchen.

"Rose… could you please call James?" Chloe called back to the Mother without looking. "I'll sort this out but there's shit we need to talk about."

Ignoring the fact she had forgotten to put on her shoes, Chloe pried the door open and stormed down the front steps to where sure enough Eliot Hampden was waiting for her by her truck. He was wearing an open dark wind jacket and jeans. He was dishevelled and swaying slightly with a stupid grin on his face like he was so fucking proud of himself. In other words, Eliot was hella fucking trashed and looking to start shit with her.

Or worse.

Rachel.

It had become evident over the past month that Eliot was the gasoline to Rachel's fire. The mere presence of him near either of them would set off a chain of events none of them would be able to walk away from unscarred; and that wasn't even factoring in James Amber, who was probably on the phone with Rose right now.

Chloe could only imagine the amount of shit James was going to pile on this little dumbass when the truth finally came out. James was ready to hurt his ex-wife to protect Rachel from even the wisp of a challenge from Sera, what in the fuck would he do to someone who physically assaulted his daughter?

"Eliot… what in the fuck are you doing here?"she hissed at him as she came to a full stop a few feet away. She didn't want to get any closer.

"Heyyy…" he sort of slurred back. "I… thought I'd drop by to see my old friend Chloe. Another school year down, not that it matters to you. Not that school ever seemed to matter to you."

There it was already; that condescending attitude, like he knew better for her than she did. Like as though somehow he was the only one looking out for her best interests.

As Eliot stepped forward, Chloe took a step back. She didn't want to look weak, but she wasn't going to be fucking stupid about it. All she had to do was hold him off long enough until James got home, or Eliot left. This was his last harassing her. Everything was going to tumble down on him soon enough.

Her real concern was Rachel.

She would be out here soon enough and the problem right now would escalate tenfold. Rachel would start in on him and know all the right buttons to push to drive Eliot in the state of rage. She was the consummate observer after all. By her own confession she admitted to watching his movements almost as much as she had Chloe's in the months leading up to them finally meeting officially.

It was, in her word, a 'fascinating study in beta orbiter habits'. Once upon a time, she might have thought that was a shitty thing to say about him, but after the parking lot incident, fuck him.

"I'll be back in school next year," she muttered back to him.

"Oh, hey look at that how generous she is!" Eliot said chuckling. "Amber must have really cried up a real storm. I guess eventually she tries to do the right thing after she exhausts everything else… or gets her daddy to do the hard work."

Like on cue, Rachel was standing in the doorway before Chloe could retort, her face contorted into an expression of terrible rage. She slammed the front door shut behind her and stormed towards Chloe and Eliot. It was enough to make the boy step back as Rachel planted herself next to Chloe.

"Get the fuck out of my yard, Hampden," she growled at him. "Didn't I say something to you about leaving her alone unless she says otherwise?"

Chloe stepped forward and placed herself back in front of Rachel, unblinking as she stared at her former friend. She was not about to risk the girl she… cared about.

"Rachel, get the fuck back into the house," she ordered the girl behind her. She wished she didn't have to be so terse, but it was the only way she could think of to drive the message hard into Rachel. If Chloe was issuing a command, then she was meaning business.

But Rachel wasn't having that. She remained locked in place, glaring at Hampden like the boy was nothing more than a disobedient rat… nothing more than human vermin. She looked ready to launch herself out of Chloe's way and at the guy. Eliot too looked around Chloe and examined Rachel carefully.

"Rachel, I'm actually… glad you're here," he admitted to her, squinting to focus on her. "You see… I've been sort of thinking things through and… I want you to know that I don't hate you. I kind of feel bad, really. You're fake but you clearly haven't had much of a choice about that. Have you?"

That was all it took. Rachel launched herself at him, but Chloe was too quick for her. She intervened, grabbing Rachel tight around her body and stood there like a stump as the smaller girl struggled against her. The struggling ceased a lot faster than she expected. She felt the girl just sort of freeze right up in her arms. She was almost... limp.

Chloe released Rachel, who was wide eyed and turned back to find herself staring down a pistol Eliot clutched in one hand. Silver, black grip revolver. It looked like something out of fucking Dirty Harry. Well… maybe not that big.

The revolver was shaking in Eliot's hand. Like he was having second thoughts but he was committed to this.

"Dude…Eliot…" Chloe breathed faintly. "Why do you have a gun?"

Eliot sort of huffed out a small laugh.

"All... all the part of the plan, Chloe."

Eliot shifted himself taking a shooter's stance, or at least it seemed like that. Guns were never really her thing beyond a couple video games she played when she was young. This was real. This was so real she felt physically sick as Rachel and she were now silently staring at the weapon in the drunk teen's hand. Just dangling there at his side like it was a casual fucking thing.

"See... I got this… plan to prove it to you," he started to elaborate. "Chloe, I love you… I-I fucking love you, and I… get that you don't love me… and after tonight, you'll never probably want to see me again… but I don't want to see you hurt by her. So I'm here to prove everything to you."

Rachel took a step forward. Her rage was gone, replacing it was an expression of almost… compassion for the guy she resented so much. She did not know if it was real or an act, but whatever it was it startled Eliot. Chloe reached out to try to stop her from moving forward, but Rachel batted her hand away and issued her a warning look.

"Eliot, please listen to what I have to say to you," Rachel spoke slowly. "I respect that you want to… protect… her. I'm not a saint. But I'm not going to hurt Chloe either. I'm never going to hurt her."

Eliot shifted his weight to his right leg, the revolver now aimed squarely at Rachel's chest. He honestly looked half asleep. He certainly seemed sleep deprived.

"You will hurt her though… don't you get it? It's just what you are. It's what you come from," Eliot murmured back, almost sympathetic to her. "I know your secret you two have… You watched me for such a long time, so I returned the favour. You spend your days hanging out with a junkie mom and you still try and pretend to think that the sort of disease she is hasn't just been passed down to you? Like… intergenerational rot…"

Eliot shook his head sadly as the girls processed Eliot admitting to stalking them perhaps the whole past month. He… knew about Sera? What in the fuck was Eliot Hampden up to? How long was this going on for…?

"No…" he said, breaking them away from their combined focus on his implication. "Self-preservation is in your blood. It's who you are. You won't risk yourself…. and I think I know how to prove it."

Eliot directed the gun at Chloe right between her eyes. He looked… awful. It was as though he genuinely didn't want to do this… like he thought that there was no other option but to do this. The alcohol flowing him only fuelled his twisted conviction that somehow he was going to save her from Rachel. None of this made any sense to anyone but him.

Rachel didn't even hesitate. She stepped forward, pushing Chloe back, one hand gripping on the front of Chloe's shirt as though seeking support. She stood there silent as the grave as she looked at the Eliot, waking for him to finally see that all of this was so fucking pointless.

As fearless as she seemed, Chloe knew otherwise. She could feel Rachel's shaking through the hand that gripped her. It reverberated through her body. Rachel was terrified, and Rachel was proud. Two things that shouldn't mix were combined and they were fuelling her determination not to take any shit from Eliot Hampden. She was a paper tiger; but she was still technically a child. Chloe was in no better position than she was. Rachel and her were only standing up thanks to the adrenaline and fear flowing through them.

Eliot blinked as his fucking stupid plan started tumbling down around him. He pulled the hammer back, the click made Rachel visibly twitch in spite of her stance. He didn't take pleasure in it. He looked almost as troubled as the girls he held at gunpoint.

It was a detail that did not go unmissed by Rachel even in the state of her absolute fear she was in. She leaned forward, her teeth gritted, her forehead nearly pressed against the barrel of the revolver.

"Fucking do ittough guy…" Rachel egged him on.

That was… not quite what either Chloe or Eliot had expected…

"What did you hope to accomplish here? Prove she was bad by being worse?" Chloe cut out in front of Rachel, hoping to curtail her from further escalation. "Just… give me the gun… and fucking leave. I have to tell James about you being here, but we'll hide the gun… this part of the conversation will be like it never happened, right Rachel?"

Rachel didn't answer her at all. Although she didn't read minds, it didn't that to know that Rachel was plotting murder against Eliot.

As furious as Rachel was, Eliot seemed to slowly come to his senses, and even as fucking drunk as he was, he was not stupid enough not to realize Chloe was offering him an out to this mess. Chloe meant it too. She had enough on him to get him booted from school if James did the right sort of arm twisting. Having the boy sent to jail… seemed overkill.

All it would take now was to get Rachel onboard. An impossible task now, but once Eliot just fucking left, she would settle down… hopefully. In spite of this entire mess, seeing Rachel standing there in front of her, protecting her… it was so fucking hot in a pissing your pants sort of way. She would never forget this and never want to have it happen ever again.

Hesitating for a moment longer, Eliot lowered the gun, leaving it dangling at his side. He did not hand it over, but was a start.

"What the fuck am I doing…? Why did I think some fucking dyke was worth this…?" Eliot spat out, his hand rubbing is face furiously as he laughed in incredulously. He glanced to Rachel and added. "I wish you the best of fucking luck with the used and damaged goods. You're going to need it."

That was all it took. Rachel fucking snapped.

They say that time slowed down as the adrenaline overflowed. Not for Chloe, it was all a blur that was barely coherent. She was frozen in place as she watched Rachel strike out, kneeing Eliot hard in the stomach. She shoved him backwards. He stumbled back, raising the gun again.

The door opened suddenly, surprising Rachel and Chloe.

Worst of all startled was Eliot. The heavily intoxicated and winded boy swung the gun wildly and fired a single deafening shot off in the direction of the door.

As the shot rang out and all the hatred between Rachel and Eliot ceased in that moment as the three of them looked, deafened by the shot, all them strained by the smell of gunpowder flowing from the barrel of the pistol. Eliot had lowered to his side as a grotesque expression of horror crossed over his face.

There, lying in the doorway was Rose Amber.

Motionless…

Silent…

Gone

That was when time seemed to take a terrible lurch. It took what felt like forever as all three of them attempted to process what had just happened. What they were looking at was an end. It seemed so impossible… so fucking unlikely… But there it was…

There she was…

It was Rachel who came around first of the three of them. She screamed the most terrible high pitched tone Chloe had ever heard in her life. She broke out of Chloe's grasp, ignoring gun and Eliot as she clambered away from them and towards Rose. Her legs buckled and failed on her. Rachel collapsed into the hard walkway, face-planting the concrete and splitting open her forehead. She ignored it as she stumbled forward, forcing herself back to her feet until she could finally collapse where her mother lain.

With her own rage boiling over her limits of self-control, Chloe turned back and tackled him to the ground, wrestling the pistol out of his grasp. Eliot did not offer up any sort of resistance. He was in a state of absolute shock as Chloe scooped up the pistol and held it over the boy. She did not even know if she was doing it right, but it felt right.

"I'm sorry…" Eliot sobbed the wave of guilt washing over the teenager. "I'm so sorry, Chloe… I just wanted to scare you… I just wanted to show you-"

He wasn't apologizing to Rachel.

He was apologizing to her.

"FUCK YOU!" Chloe shrieked at him, kicking the bastard in his side as hard as she could.

Pain shot through her body as she felt her bare toes crack against Eliot's ribs. She ignored the pain the best she could as she fell down and pushed the pistol into the back of Eliot's head.

It would be so fucking easy…

She looked up to see neighbours approaching. A middle aged man and his wife came running from their house towards them, screaming something that wasn't registering to her on any level. Where in the fuck were they moments ago when they needed them?

She calmed down just enough to stop contemplating shooting him.

"CALL 911!" she screamed at them like a girl possessed as they ran over to her over. "FOR FUCK'S SAKE CALL 911!"

As the woman got out her phone and the man dropped his full weight down on the boy, Chloe stumbled back in a daze, the gun dangling limply between her fingers, watching as Eliot sobbed incoherently as he realized his life was never going to be the same. This was fucking… how…fucking how could this have happened…

"CHLOE?!" she heard cut through the incoherence of her own thoughts. "CHLOE I NEED YOUR HELP!"

Rachel…

Dropping the gun in the grass, Chloe hobbled as quickly as she could, ignoring the crunch inside her foot as every move elicited more and more pain shooting through her. Fuck pain… and fuck her.

She fell down next to Rachel and took in the sight. Rose laid there in a pool of murky, almost black blood, her smart phone still in hand, her eyes half open and her mouth agape as though she was locked in a permanent state of surprise. Blood was trickling out her mouth, nose and ears. Like her heart had stopped pumping and what was flowing was just leftovers.

She was dead.

It was a fact Rachel refused to believe.

Rachel was just fucking… out of it. She was dazed, confused and even almost hopeful as though she thought she had a handle on it. Both of Rachel hands were covering the Rose's face, in an attempt to stop the bleeding from the wound. Her hands and arms soaked in her mother's blood. Her face was stained as well, like she had been hugging her mother.

Rachel leaned forward, her sweat drenched forehead touching against her mom's as she seemed to whisper incoherent encouraging words in an attempt to wake up. There was no way Chloe could say anything that would make any of this better.

Instead, Chloe reached out and pressed her hands against Rachel's back. Rachel stiffened up and turned back to look at her.

Gone was the hope and delusional optimism. There was no word that Chloe knew that could describe the devastation Rachel wore on her face as she turned back and looked up to Chloe with pleading eyes. Looking as though Chloe could somehow fix this like she had in the past.

"Chloe…" she begged her friend, her entire body quivering as she struggled to keep her voice clear and coherent. "You gotta tell me what to do… Please, she has to be okay… please help me... help her… you know what to do.... I need her so much, Chloe… I-I can't lose her… I love her… I love her, I love..."

Rachel grabbed Chloe's hands, revealing the quarter sized hole that had been punched through just below Rose's right eye. Blood and skull fragments pushing out of the wound like a vacuum. Ignoring it the best she could, Rachel brought Chloe's hands down over and together they clutched onto the wound. Rachel and her did everything together… why should this have been any different?

Together they were stained in the blood of a mother who had died for no reason other than their fucking pride. Her blood was on their hands in every fucking way that mattered. Chloe remained still for a moment, before she wrenched her hands off Rose.

Ignoring the urge to get sick, she wrapped her bloodstained hands around Rachel and wrenched her off, eliciting a howling shriek that brought tears immediately to Chloe's eyes. As she continued to scream, she forced her friend's head into her chest so that she couldn't look at her mother anymore. Chloe ignored the fists striking her in vain as she held the girl back.

"I'm sorry, Rachel… I'm sorry…"  was all Chloe could breathe to the friend now trapped in a waking nightmare.

All Rachel could do was scream her desperate hopelessness into the night.

 

Chapter Text

 

James Amber had heard his wife die.

It had been a peculiar phone call to start with. Rose called him, asking him to come home. Chloe Price had been in some sort of a panic and had asked Rose to call him in order to get him home as soon as possible.

The last thing she said was 'I'm going to see what's happening, I'll tell him to leave. Deal with it when everyone has cooler heads.'

He heard the shot only a few moments later. He heard her fall, he heard his daughter scream, he heard everything Rachel pleaded as she struggled to save her Mom, he heard Chloe screaming for a paramedic, he heard Rachel screaming even harder as Chloe tried to comfort her. In a few short minutes he heard the death of his wife and the death of what innocence his daughter and Chloe Price had left.

As the report of a shooting came into the DA's office came in, the building got eerily silent. It was as though everyone was drawing straws to come into James' office and tell him what they knew, when he already knew and probably knew more than they had. He had only lingered long enough to collect himself. He knew what he was walking into, and he had to be stronger than most.

In the end, it was his ADA Lauren Tomlinson who came in to give the word that there had been a shooting. He watched her face contort into horror as all he said was: "I already know Lauren, thank; I heard Rose die…" in a tone that was almost as though he was discussing the weather.

He hated that it must have sounded heartless, but he couldn't just break down and weep. Being a machine was the only coping mechanism that worked for him. It worked when he had to fall out of love with Sera, it worked when he tried murderers and child rapists and it would have to work now as he came to terms with everything that had happened... after he failed to protect his own family.

Tomlinson insisted on driving him over. That was fine; James wasn't sure if he exactly remembered how to drive at the moment. His brain overloaded with so many questions and regrets which he would likely never get an answer to. He remained silent as the grave as Tomlinson attempted to convey the grief she held for the situation. She and Rose had been friends since Tomlinson had joined the office. That was Rose, always able to make friends…

The house was chaos as they arrived. Neighbours were gathered around behind yellow tape, all of them looking to him as he bended under the line silently made his way up to the front door, where Rose lain covered up in a tarp. His eyes flickered to the gun and to the Police car where the shooter sat.

Sitting there being processed on the scene was the boy he had seen the day he got Wells to reinstate Chloe Price into school.

He should have… should took it seriously.

He had to turn away as the boy started to weep. He had to ignore the urge to grab the gun he left behind and fire every round in the chamber into the kid's chest. He instead directed his attention back to his wife and the one thing he needed to know the most: Where was Rachel and Chloe?

The answer became obvious the moment he stepped over his wife's body and examined the house. Just about everything that could be broken, was broken; ransacked by Rachel in a fit of utter rage. He couldn't blame her.

James noticed the blood trail and asked the first officer on scene… Berry something… he said that Rachel had accidentally slashed her wrist open with a porcelain shard of a vase she had broken with her arm. Rachel now in the hospital getting stitched up and placed observation, which was just a polite way of saying suicide watch. Chloe also was there for three broken toes and a twisted ankle she sustained cracking the Hampden kid's rib. She had stopped Rachel's bleeding and raised a furious hell at the attending physicians to keep her from being separated from Rachel.

James had never felt more grateful in his life to have a pissed off semi-punk girl on his side.

He didn't go to the hospital right away. He instead lingered until the county medical examiner came to pick up Rose. After getting the all clear from the detectives, he pulled the tarp off his wife and sat there quickly in the doorway in the pool of blood with her, his hands clutching onto her cooling bloodstained hand. He felt as lifeless as Rose was, and yet somehow he lingered on. Everything he had built had been destroyed by a child with a gun and a stupid, chilish plan that somehow made sense to him.

How did it come to this?

Answers were important, but it was something he could not focus on for long. Not when he was so close to tears in the plain view of the ABPD and his neighbours. So he instead spoke to her as much as he could without breaking down, but mostly he remained silent until the examiner arrived. He helped the doctor move his wife and held onto her hand as long as it took to get his Rose into the van.

Changing his blood drenched trousers out of professional courtesy; James got a ride from Officer Berry to the hospital. ADA Tomlinson wanted to give him a ride, but she was in charge of the case, and she had a job to focus on. Besides, he didn't think he could handle anymore of her attempts to console him.

When he arrived at the hospital, he had already gotten a mob of people waiting for him. Some were from the local and state news, but more importantly then the vultures were the dozen cops and countless firefighters - who were attempting to control the forest fire which had caught a second wind and roared back to life - at his side. All of them were attempting to convey their loyalty to him and to Rachel through this terrible time.

As touched as he was by it, he just couldn't give a shit about it. His wife was dead and nothing these well intentioned men and women in uniform could say would help him.

Although he had to recuse himself from the case and let ADA Tomlinson take the over the investigation he was thankful to find that the people in his office were not jerking him around too much. They kept him updated minute by minute as he asked. It kept him busy as he sat outside Rachel and Chloe's hospital room, letting his daughter and her friend sleep. No detail of the case thus far was spared as far as he could tell, but the details were steadily more and more disturbing as the life of Eliot Hampden came to life for him.

On the surface, the boy seemed a straight arrow. A top tier student on a full scholarship ride; but a search warrant executed within an hour of the shooting had already turned up a trove of disturbing writings involving an obsession for Chloe Price and growing hatred for Rachel's new place in her life.

It seemed Rachel had come to be his greatest obstacle between Chloe and his friendship. Her mere presence had, in his mind, had driven a wedge between them apparently. For Hampden it was unforgivable that Chloe Price was into someone. He did not want to share her, as though she were his property.

From what he saw of the pictures his guys sent him, the literature Hampden was writing was grim; each piece of writing somehow more disturbing than the previous. They started as odes to obsessive love and by the end turned into murderous fantasies.

It wasn't long before they shifted away the focus from Chloe and instead onto Rachel. All of them involved steadily more menacing fantasies of the brutalization and slow death of his daughter in her role for the disintegration of his relationship with Chloe.

As bad as it was, as much as he already wanted to bury the little shit somewhere out of the way, finding out that the boy was breaking into the Price house somehow found a way to make it worse.

The extensive search of the dorm uncovered a trove personal effects belonging to Chloe of all shapes and varieties. The little creep had stolen back the notes he wrote to her, ticket stubs to concerts they went to, junk that seemed to have no significance beyond something he found in Chloe's room, and then they found her clothing… her undergarments... it was so unbelievably fucking weird…

It was about three hours into the investigation before the DA office got a visitor. It was Terrence Albright, a local defense attorney that Hampden's family had already hired.

He wasn't a slimy defense lawyer who crawled out of the woodwork like a cockroach; he had a reputation as someone who was realistic to his clients. He informed the office his client was prepared to take a guilty plea to avoid a potential twenty year sentence he was up for when the charge of first degree manslaughter was handed out. As much as he hated the little fuck, he hated the idea of having to have Rachel and Chloe called before a judge to testify. He just wanted the sentence passed down quick and quiet.

With Albright and the DA's office agreeing on figuring out a sentence plus whatever the Judge would add on, Albright did give up one caveat of information which saved the team the effort of tracking the serial number on the .40 calibre Smith & Wesson revolver used in the shooting.

The weapon belonged to one David Madsen: an out of work Iraq War veteran and was currently residing in the Price household as Joyce's boyfriend.

Madsen was been brought into the station for questioning as per SOP. He had all the legal paperwork for a concealed carry licence, so there was no reason to hold him. He was apparently distraught as his weapon was brought out and the situation was explained to him. He explained that the weapon had gone missing on Saturday and had assumed that it had been Chloe who had taken it once it was clear it was missing.

Hearing that… James was prepared to go down to the station and kick his fucking teeth in. Or at least try to. Madsen was the combat vet, not him.

It wasn't like he had to wait for long to see him though. Joyce had come to the hospital to see Chloe. She was red eyed from crying. She spoke to him but he was in autopilot mode. He was capable of issuing basic responses to her, but he had no focus to pay attention, but he would at a later date. For now the only thing he could notice was Madsen being unable to look him in the eye. While he might not have played a role in the death, he provided the means.

With all this information now out in the open and Rachel and Chloe next on the list to be questioned, he asked Lauren to hold off bringing in Chloe to talk about Hampden. He felt a certain… obligation to her to explain the situation. She deserved to know how it all unfolded in a safe environment and from someone who she knew. Fucked if he knew just how to explain it to her though… sixteen year olds shouldn't have to witness murders, and on top of that have a stalker who committed the act.

Chloe was in a place no better than Rachel was having watched Rose die as well, with her being the primary motivation of the Hampden boy's actions. Worst yet was the way he heard his daughter beg her as though somehow she held the answers to save Rose. In her grief, Rachel unbeknownst placed an unbearable burden on her friend.

Chloe… needed to know this was not her fault. She needed to have that sort of absolution because Rachel was going to need her in a way James would never be able to provide to her.

"James?"

James looked up from the floor and found the small form of Sera Gearhardt standing several feet away. She looked as though she too was barely composed. Although she might not have spent a significant amount of time with, Rose she too could feel grief for the woman.

Rubbing his face, James pulled himself out of his seat and slowly approached his former wife. Sera had become the biggest question mark in the life he was slowly attempting to salvage in the wake of what had happened. With Rose gone, who did Rachel have left to fill the void? Should it even be filled? Would Sera understand that Rose's death changed nothing about their arrangement?

While every sense in him told him he was correct in not feeling obligated to expand her role in Sera's life, a growing thought was taking form. Maybe… maybe it would not be so bad to expand her role. Only if she was ready for it; she might have had her problems, but she had experiences that he could never begin to have.

"I'm sorry I did not come sooner," she said as she stepped forward towards him, her hands fidgeting. "I had a graveyard shift and… and… James, this shouldn't have happened... certainly not to her."

James nodded curtly. He couldn't find any words to offer her; but thankfully Sera did not seem to mind. Instead she took another step forward and tentatively reached out to touch his forearm. He remained silent as he looked down at her.

"How are you doing…" she continued, her voice gently prodding him to reply. "Rachel isn't the only one who matters in this…"

He could not look at her in the eye. Her eyes held sway over him even fifteen years later and all the pain they inflicted on each other. One look from her, and James would spill everything he needed to say but couldn't. He laughed privy to the fact at how absurd all of this was.

"The only way I'm coping is trying to be a DA… then I remember I'm now on the other side of the justice system, and I start to have a goddamn panic attack…" he admitted, still adverting his eyes from her silent inquisition. "I don't… know what I'm going to do, Sera… I haven't felt this out of control since…"

The words remain unspoken, but Sera and James knew exactly what he was referring to. His life after Sera had been one of careful control and managing. His unspoken partner in this was Rose, who had the exact sort of drive and ambition as he had. Now that she was… was gone, he was all alone again, and there he was standing in arms-length of the woman who brought Rose and him together.

"I... I need to get some fresh air..." he muttered blankly. "C-could you… you know… go and sit with her?"

He looked as Sera cast her eyes at the hospital room Rachel and Chloe were asleep in. She bit her lip and nodded before she turned back to James. Silently, she dug into her purse and retrieved a pack of cigarettes and lighter and offered it to him.

James stared at them for a moment before he reached out and took them from Sera. As much as he wanted to honour Rose's distaste for smoking, he would hope she could forgive him for this lapse. He just… needed to decompress.

"Thank you…" he murmured to her as he slipped the pack into his pocket.

Sera nodded and the two of them remained still. He did his utmost not to pay attention to Joyce Price sitting a ways off with Madsen, just silently watching the interaction between Sera and him. It wasn't helped when Sera stepped forward and pulled her ex-husband into a tight hug. It was so different from how it was in the past. Age and regret hade turned her furious passion into a timid fragility.

She let go of him and stepped back. Silently she brushed by him, her fingertips touching his wrist as she approached the hospital room, leaving James alone.

"James?" he heard her call out towards him.

James turned back and found Sera looking at him carefully, her head sort of tilted as she seemed to struggle with just what to say to a man who inadvertently fuelled her misery for so long.

"I'm… not just here for Rachel. I'm here for you as well," she reaffirmed to him gently. "If you need anything at all, I want to be there to help you."

Grateful for the offer, but too numb to offer his gratitude, he could only stand there. Sera seemed to understand, she issued him a small smile and turned away and entered the hospital room.

James returned back to his lonely isolated misery.

Just as he deserved.


Chloe was back in her dreams. Sitting alone in the back of Dad's old car was a dead giveaway.

Usually in these chats he was there, driving along the same stretch of highway she had come to hate. But instead, the car was parked outside of the Amber house, which was in flames. Chloe climbed out of the car and slowly made her way up to the front steps. There was no heat or smoke radiating from the fire as she approached the flames. It was unnatural and ferocious, and so utterly unstoppable.

Sure enough, he was there. There sitting on the front steps, unperturbed by the fire was her Dad. He was not alone by the looks of it. Unlike how he always seemed to be waiting for her, he was in a deep conversation with the second figure.

She walked up the front steps in an utter daze, following the trail of blood leading to the two apparitions. The scent of iron and death caught her attention and she looked down to find her clothing drenched in blood. It ran down her shirt and stuck to her like she had jumped into a pool with her clothing on. It weighed her down and made each step agonizingly heavier.

Yet still she marched on like a good soldier to face her judgement.

There were other figures that faded into this dreamscape. Shapeless wisps of smoke. The only one to take shape had been her father but she felt like these forms were watching her. She had to wake up; she had to wake up as soon as she could.

As she approached her Dad, she listened to him chuckle to the second person before he finally redirected his attention solely to his daughter. Dad smiled that smile which always made Chloe feel better; but not this time. She didn't want to be here. She wanted to be awake and at Rachel's side. She wanted to be able to sleep without these horrors casually playing inside her mind.

"Hello sweetheart. It's been a while," Dad greeted her with the warmth that sent a shiver through her. "I almost thought you might have outgrown your old Dad…"

Chloe wiped the mist out of her eyes and shook her head furious at the suggestion.

"Never," she reaffirmed. She knew he was teasing, but even a joke was impossible not to feel so strongly about.

The second figure pushed back her long, bloodied dark hair and turned to face Chloe as well. It was Rose, her skin grey and pallid from being drained of her blood, her face hideously twisted and broken from the bullet Eliot had put through her, Her eye socket was unnaturally pushed to one side and was hanging lower than the other.

Like Dad, Rose too was smiling comfortingly. Her blood stained teeth bared as though everything was okay.

But everything was not okay.

Chloe was not at all fucking comforted right now.

"Well Chloe," Rose reverberated out, her vocal pitch strange and off. "Now is it this super awkward?"

"Rose… I'm so sorry," she sobbed out. "Dad can you… fix her face…?"

Dad sort of smiled like it was an amusing suggestion.

"Only you can do that if you feel you're able to forgive yourself."

She couldn't forgive herself. She had been the cause of this insurmountable grief inflicted against Rachel and James. She knew that there was something wrong with Eliot, that he had already hurt Rachel, and yet she held off until the last moment to get the proper people involved. She allowed her devotion to Rachel, her desire to please her get in the way of the right thing and now Rose had paid for it.

She didn't deserve forgiveness… she didn't deserve the friendship had with Rachel. She didn't deserve Rachel period.

"Pride and ego are a dangerous combination, Chloe Price," Rose spoke, her words stuttering and broken. "I hope that this real life lesson will be the shock the two of you need right now. Death has a way of bringing about a renewal; with… vigilance further death could be averted. I am the warning shot across the bow, I am chemotherapy. I am the near unendurable scorching agony that averts the slow rot of cancer. My death must be the vehicle of change. Or the cycle will repeat, and you will be the next victim to this..."

Chloe didn't understand a single word, everything was a vague mess of things, but she supposed that was what her mind must have been right about now. A collection of fractured thoughts and fuelled by a terrible concoction of guilt, self-loathing and grief. Still, perhaps there were answers to be had… from a more reliable source.

She turned to face her dad again.

"Why did this happen, Dad?" she pleaded him weakly, her voiced so she did not cry. "You gotta know... I should know."

Dad nodded.

"You do know," he confirmed for her. "The answer is in you right now."

"Buried deep…" Rose echoed.

"…Forgotten in your loss…" Dad continued. "A treasure hidden by little pirates what feels like so long ago."

Dad gestured off to the front yard. Chloe turned and found two figures materialized before her eyes. Standing there was her… her at 14 years old. She was looking down on a second figure; she was sitting on the grass crying, her hands covering her eyes.

Chloe felt her stomach lurch as she stepped forward towards Max Caulfield.

As she tried to approach her, Chloe only managed three steps before her legs locked. She gasped and tried to move. She needed to see Max; she needed to speak to her childhood friend now more than ever. She needed to hear her voice, she needed to hug her and ask her to be her friend again. Whatever she did to cause Max to ghost her, she was utterly sorry for. She didn't know what she did, but she was sorry for it regardless.

But she couldn't have that chance.

Instead she had to feel the overwhelming jealousy as he younger self stepped forward and helped Max up to her feet. They shared words Chloe could not hear; they hugged and held onto each other that twisted a knot into her stomach. She needed Max. She needed her first mate more than ever. She hated her younger version. She was so ignorant, so blind to the truth. She had to only look over to Chloe to see what she would be come.

"Words they say are cheap," she heard her father speak behind her as Chloe held her eyes on Max and her younger self. "But words that are meant –words which are truly abided to - have a power that can affect the entire world; and there are words you once heard that you have held yourself to ever since Rachel entered your life…"

Another figure took form. Leaning against Dad's car was James, a cigarette between his fingertips. Chloe knew he was just an apparition, but that didn't make her feel any less ashamed at the widower her inaction had created. He stared at her impassively, like he seemed to be inspecting her. He seemed to be judging to see if she was worth his time.

She wasn't worth his time. All his painstaking efforts to save her had led to the death of his wife and the destruction of his way of life. She deserved only his bitter scorn from here on out.

It was all her fault…

James took a drag of his cigarette and silently he approached Chloe and the ghost adults.

"Holding yourself to promises has consequences, Chloe Price…" James warned her softly, that steady tone of his freaking her out more than anything else in this lucid dream.

"Every action…" Rose interjected.

"…A magnificent and terrible reaction…" Dad interjected over her.

Chloe felt a heavy hand fall on her shoulder. Dad was standing up now. It was enough to force her attention away from the sobbing figure of Max Caulfield, who remained in her best friend's arms. Chloe looked up into his serious eyes.

"Everything teeters on the edge of collapse, Chloe," Dad spoke again. "Everything in our lives is so fragile that even words you hold yourself to can lead to total shifts in everything."

"Destiny is a lie. Predestination is a ruse. There is no set course," James continued over her dad. "These silent vows you have committed to have seen to a change your path, but there are always-"

James was cut off as a wispy apparition formed right in front of Chloe's eyes.

Standing there now in front of her was Sera Gearhardt, in the deepest throes of her heroin addiction. She was an emaciated looking skeleton, her hair limp and patch, skin covered in scars and burns and track marks with gangrene forming around the holes. She opened her mouth to reveal a set of rotten and missing teeth.

"Unforeseen variations," Sera rasped to her, her boney sickly fingers gripping Chloe's skin. "These are terrible unknowns that come from such drastic alterations."

Chloe wretched her head out of Sera's grasp and took a step back from the three newcomers.

"What the fuck am I supposed to do about this, Dad…" she murmured to her dad.

"That's a dollar in the swear jar!"

Chloe turned around and found her younger self was standing there with a stupid fucking smirk on her face like she was just so fucking clever. She wanted to smack the Max hogging stupid across the mouth. Gritting her teeth at the cunt, Chlow turned back to face the four adults.

"Are you speaking to Rachel?" she pointlessly asked her own manifestations like somehow the girls shared a link.

James naturally was the one to step forward past both his wives.

"Rachel dreams of fire and death now…" he stated to her. " You must play a role in forcing her back."

"You must be brave. Braver then you have ever been before," Sera spoke next.

"Resist following down her downward spiral; pull her back from this abyss. Show her life can be beautiful again," Rose pleaded, hers touching Chloe's shoulder.

"Resist the beautiful self-destruction she can wrought on you," Sera spoke again. "Love yourself enough to say no to her."

The sound of a semi-truck horn blasted out of nowhere. Near the still sobbing Max, the final spirit materialized.

Standing there was Eliot Hampden engulfed in fire and armed with his revolver. He staggered forward, his eyes locked on Chloe's with a mania that reached an inhuman evil. Eliot paused, only for a moment. He raised the gun and executed Max Caulfield on the spot.

Even if it was all inside her head, even if she knew it was a dream, she screamed out as she watched her friend die. Undisturbed by the execution, Dad stepped forward to her. He was smiling as he reached out to touch his horrified little girls' cheek.

"Save her to save you, sweetheart…" were his final words to her.

He let go of her silently walked away past Eliot who stood behind the Ambers and quietly shot Rose, James and Sera in that order. Each body collapsed and bled out. Chloe tried not to watch, but she could not help herself. She looked up and found her Dad leaning against the car, smiling as bright lights hit him

"Dad… I need to go... I need to wake up now… Please just let me wake up!" she pleaded him as the horn rang out again. It was much closer this time. "I need to fucking wake up… I can't see this again…"

Her request was denied by him. The semi-truck came roaring out of know where, tearing her father and the car apart in one swoop. She stood there, too stunned to scream or cry. She was just… dead to all this misery.

At least until she heard a small laugh behind her. Chloe rounded back and found younger Chloe standing there, grinning like she saw the funniest thing ever.

"Too bad about that idiot," younger Chloe giggled. "But you still owe another dollar in the swear jar!"

True to her word, Chloe reared her hand right behind her head and brought it down hard onto the child, back handing her younger self's mouth so hard the girl fell to the pavement in front of her.

"SWEAR JAR THAT YOU STUPID LITTLE USELESS FAILURE OF A HUMAN BEING, FUCKING BITCH!" she shrieked at herself. Her words expelling so hard out of her that they burned her lung and throats as if she had swallowed a lit cigarette.

The child looked up at her. She did not speak or smile. Standing over her was Eliot. Young Chloe seemed almost… happy. Like the others, Eliot fired a round through the top of young Chloe's head, her orifices exploding out a geyser of murky blood.

It was just burning Eliot and Chloe now amidst the bodies. Eliot looked… satisfied through he flames that engulfed him. Chloe was all his now, no one was left to get in his way. He leaned inwards, his lips nearly touching hers.

"It was all you, Chloe," he breathed to her. "It was only for you…"

Eliot raised the pistol placed the barrel into his mouth and leaned in nice and close.

Without further hesitation, he squeezed the trigger.


Chloe woke up with a violent heave.

It took a moment to realize she was back in the real world again; but as reality returned to her, she didn't know if that was better or worse. Rose was still dead, and she was in a hospital bed next to Rachel, who was currently in a drug induced sleep, and the blame was still squarely on her.

She rubbed her eyes and tried not to think of poor Rose, the woman whom her inactions had killed. She should have done something, said something… but she didn't and now she was gone and it was her fault.

"Bad dreams?" she heard from the corner of the hospital room.

Chloe rolled her head and found Sera was sitting there, her expression exhausted and upset by the situation. Chloe nodded as she sat up from her bed and pulled herself to the edge so that she could stand up and get some blood back into her legs.

"The worst," she confirmed to her, her voice miserable. "…I'm happy you are here though, Sera…"

She wasn't lying or trying to boost the older woman's ego. She was genuinely happy to see Sera. She was probably the only person left who probably understood the amount of pain she was in knowing that her deceptions had destroyed this family again. She was happy to see Sera healthy as opposed to the horrifying visage of her dream variation. She could not wish that on her worst enemy.

Well, except for Eliot…

"Likewise, Chloe," Sera agreed, breaking her from returning back into a state of self-perpetuated hatred. "For you and Rachel to be unhurt… it's a miracle. I wish I had a better word, but it's all I have."

Unable to feel the same, silently, Chloe hobbled over to the edge of Rachel's bed. She reached out; gently pushing Rachel's mussed hair back behind her ear. In her sleep she looked so peaceful. She was not dreaming of the day's events.

Chloe supposed that she would have her nightmares come to her in reality instead…

Ignoring the rules Rachel and her had about keeping their public displays of affections on the down low; Chloe leaned forward and kissed Rachel twice. Once on her forehead, the other on the edge of her lips in full view of Sera. She tried to ignore the growing fear that his would be the last time she would get to do this. Once Rachel woke up and realized this had all happened because of her, she would never trust Chloe again…

"James is outside, so is your mother and her boyfriend," Sera spoke up again as her guilt returned in droves. "James needs to speak to you. Do you… need anything first?"

Chloe turned back to face Rachel's last mother.

"Take care of her, Sera… she going to need you so much now…" she requested, to which Sera smiled and nodded.

Chloe paused for a moment.

Might as fucking well…

"…and I could use a hug," she amended quickly to the woman. "Rachel keeps fucking bragging you give comfy hugs… and I want to try it out…"

A small smile broke out on Sera's pained expression. She stepped forward, her arms outstretched to the girl.

Chloe bit her lip at the unconditional offer of affection even in the face of her own failure and launched herself word. She buried her head into Sera's shoulder; her arms grabbed the older woman by her waist. Sera chuckled softly as she placed her own arms carefully around Chloe's back.

"…Consider yourself on the Sera hug list, Chloe," Sera spoke idly as one hand reached up to stroke her hair. "Whenever you need one, I'm happy to oblige…"

Letting go of Sera, Chloe wiped her eyes and nodded. She stepped back and silently pushed herself slowly to the door. She glanced back and found Sera was sitting on the edge of Rachel's bed, gently running her fingers through her daughter's hair.

Sera was going to have her work cut out for her. Chloe hoped she was ready… and of she wasn't Chloe would help her all that she could. Rachel needed all everyone now.

As soon as Chloe closed the hospital room door behind her, a flash of reddish blonde hair which blinded her as Chloe's body stopped belonging to her. Chloe had found herself now being smothered to death by her openly weeping Mom. Douchebag was a ways off. He looked as though he was unable to look her in the eyes. She didn't give a fuck about him and preferred his distance, but something was… off about it. Dickhead usually got up in her shit at every opportunity.

"Chloe… oh thank God, sweetheart…" Mom mumbled into her. "If I… If I lost you…"

Chloe didn't have the energy to greet her or sooth her fears. She just stood there in her Mom's arms and simply looked at the man standing on the other side of the hall. James Amber, the man who she needed to save her energy for. There was so much he needed to hear from her…

Chloe gently broke her way out of her Mom's tight grasp. She did it with a kiss on her cheek. It was enough to start the waterworks in her. As Mom stepped back, Chloe hobbled towards James. He looked… awful… lost. Rose had meant everything to him... and… and...

Chloe shook her head and stepped forward and wrapped her arms around James. The man froze up in her arms as she had for her own mom. He seemed unsure if he should return the gesture.

"James… this was my fault… all my fault…" she mumbled to him, struggling not to cry, struggling to be as strong as he was. "I should have told you... I shouldn't have…"

Her words snapped him out of self-imposed apathy. He reached out and placed his arms around her as she had done. Like Sera, he too touched the back of her head as though she was one of his own.

"Listen: this was not your fault Chloe..." he firmly reassured her, his voice rumbling through his and shaking her. "If you need to blame someone, there are only two who are fault: the one who did this and me for failing to recognize the signs the boy shown. I saw your reaction to him the day of the Wells' meeting. I just… assumed it was teenaged issues… but it was more, and I am sorry I failed you."

Chloe pulled her head back and shook her head. She wasn't getting off the hook that easily. She had destroyed the Amber family ad here James was trying to forgive her… it was wrong. It was so fucking wrong.

"He physically hurt Rachel, and I didn't tell you. I have pictures on my phone…" Chloe informed him, her voice strained and watery. "I-I wanted to tell you so badly, but she didn't… she didn't want to…"

James pulled back slightly and disengaged himself from the hug they shared. His expression narrowed. It wasn't anger, it seemed like he was back into a state of professionalism.

"It's still my fault. I created a situation where Rachel didn't trust me with what happened. The blame is mine alone, but this is a conversation for later," he said as his tone turned into something much more official. "For now, I need to speak to you in private. There's more to Eliot then I think you may be aware of."

Staring wearily at Rachel's dad as he seemed to return back into his District Attorney mode, Chloe nodded curtly and in silence, she followed his lead to a coffee break room where several police officers were standing around.

If she had thought her day couldn't have gotten any worse, she was about to be in for a surprise.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ignoring the heat and pain shooting through her wrist, as well as the blathering of Principal Wells behind her, Rachel Amber inspected Dorm 228 in silence.

She wasn't entirely sure why she was here. With finals this week, she came fully intending on completing them. She needed to feel normal, but her arrival was greeted by Wells, who promptly informed her that she was excused from the one thing that would take her mind off all this for at least a few hours. So instead she brought up living on campus, and here they were Wells was talking and she was pretending to be silently listening to what he had to say.

After what had happened there at her home, she just couldn't just be in the house anymore. She couldn't even roam her home in peace anymore; not with the flurry of activity. People from Dad's office, funeral planners and worst of all, the constant flow of neighbours attempting to convey their sympathy though home cooked meals as though that was supposed to ease fucking everything.

Dad… he was a fucking machine about everything. It was almost though he had to shut off the love he had for Mom in order to operate though this. Rachel supposed that this was an old trick for him. He had to do it in order to end his relationship with Sera. Probably was expected of him to do the same thing to Mom…

Silently, Rachel chastised herself for being a bitch about this. She might have had her problems with him, but Dad loved Mom; and Mom… Mom was his everything. She did a lot of background things to make his life easier - from cooking to raising their daughter so that he could focus on building his career to the point he was today. She never complained, never raised her voice even at the sacrifice of her own dreams. Rachel was not even her blood, and still she did this with the same love and devotion like she was. This was a well-worn out topic for her even long before what happened to her Mom, but it never really failed to astound her.

With her moving to Blackwell… it was probably for the best. It would be one less person Dad had to devote a lot of time on.

In his own grief, Dad seemed to be loosening the rules around Sera. Or perhaps more accurately, the conditions he imposed were something he didn't really give much of a shit about anymore. Sera had stayed for the duration of the hospital stay, but she wasn't brought over to the house after Rachel was discharged, Rachel did get a flurry of text messages from Sera, which was never the case before when… when.

She pushed that thought out of her head. She couldn't think about her too often… it hurt too much, and she just fucking knew it was only going to get worse from here…

"Miss Amber?" Principal Well's authoritarian tone directed its attention back to her.

Rachel turned around and found Principal Wells standing there with his arms behind his back, just staring at her like she was something to be pitied. She couldn't blame him. He was in a position where a student he admitted had…

She couldn't even finish that thought as she gripped her throbbing forearm. Nearly any thought that in involved him and her together were near heresy…. Eliot Hampden didn't deserve to be spoken in the same sentence as her Mom. Mom was a fucking saint, and he was trash. Sick trash her fucking Dad seemed fine with accepting a fucking guilty plea to.

"I'm going to be honest with you, this is highly unorthodox for two students sharing a dorm room," Well spoke to her. "But in light of recent events…"

Rachel exhaled unsteadily, her hand flying up to silence him.

"I just need a room, and having a roommate in Chloe Price will mean I can keep a short leash on her for you. I'm doing you a favour," Rachel cut him off, offering opportunity to hold a debate with her over it. "Accept it or not, I don't really give a fuck."

Under any other circumstances, Wells' would have admonished her. Thankfully he chose to instead quietly abide her language choices. As dedicated as he might have been to his position, there was indeed a human underneath it all, and he seemed to have an understanding of her silent grief. She hated saying that about Chloe, but it was the only way to twist him to her direction.

"You… do make an excellent point. I… suppose that we can get this room ready for the fall," Wells slowly agreed with her. "I, on behalf myself and the rest of the staff of Blackwell Academy would like to convey our heartfelt sympathy for the tragic loss your family has endured."

Wells' paused for a moment. He seemed a little off from his usual self.

"On a personal note, I… do regret accepting the admittance of Mister Hampden. I regret even more that I did not notice his behaviour towards Miss Price," he continued, the mere mention of Chloe enough to send a shiver up her spine. "I suppose that in my own… prejudices, I had failed to see a threat which had formulated right before my sight… and you paid for it dearly. I will... strive to do better in the future."

Rachel nodded, she wanted to wanted to explode on him for his admittance that he was a total fucking bastard to someone she cared about… but she couldn't, she had to keep him pacified for the time being. So instead she managed to force a weak smile on her face, and with that, it did go towards easing some of the tension in the Principal. Perhaps that was enough. The war could be postponed.

"Thank you, sir…" she murmured back to him, not really meaning and feeling sort of bad she felt so… ambivalent towards him. "May I… have a moment…?"

Wells' considered the request for only a moment before he nodded curtly.

"Take all the time you need," he allowed as he backed away from her.

As the door closed behind him, Rachel stepped forward and slumped down on the edge of the nearest bed. With thoughts of…her off limits and thanks to Wells, her thoughts had lingered on to the other victim in this huge fucking mess; the victim in this who she had created through her own actions, her inactions, her own follies and worst of all, her damn pride.

Chloe Price.

It was only two days since she last saw Chloe. She was in a narcotic haze for much of yesterday, but now with the drugs worn off the full implications of the past few days dripping back into her thoughts, she was painfully aware of how empty everything had felt without Chloe there by her side. Dad had said he had to go out of his way to get Chloe to go home to get some rest. It was hard to believe that Chloe had broken bone protecting her. That was pretty fucking badass to hear that.

But that was days ago, and since then there had been a steady silence between the two of them. Not on Chloe's part, but on hers….

She… just didn't know how to face Chloe after all of this. It had been her who caused all these events to transpire as they did. She had ignored Chloe's blatant pleas to go to her father. Her pride and inability to speak to her Dad about any of this had allowed Eliot a month to brood and simmer in his growing, unchecked hatred for her. His attraction to Chloe turned into a twisted obsession and led him to her home that night.

Worse still had been horrible whispers which she had overheard over the last day. That Eliot had been breaking into her home, stealing her things, cumulating to the theft of David Madsen's gun. The gun used to murder her mother.

She could not begin to imagine the sort of place Chloe was in, having that man living in her home. His carelessness had given him the means to kill her. Getting this dorm was probably the right move… that was if she would want it.

A new knot of guilt had built up inside her now. It was more… insidious then he loss. She might have been in Chloe's place this time around, but Chloe was a victim in her own right, and right about now Rachel was being a brand new Max Caulfield. It only compounded the guilt that she felt knowing that Chloe was still actively trying to get a hold of her.

She couldn't keep doing this anymore to others. She couldn't keep being this stupidly selfish; not when Chloe had shown her nothing but love… unconditional love and support through this horrible nightmare... and yet here she was… treating her like wasn't worth the effort back.

But Chloe Price was worth the effort. She deserved to know that, and for her not to do that, even in the depth of her loss was a crime in its own right.

As her stomach twisted into a knot, Rachel dried her eyes and left the dorm room she had hoped to share with Chloe. With her breath caught in her throat, she fumbled into her pocket to retrieve her phone as she left the room, pausing only for a moment to close the door behind her. With her head bowed as she looked at her screen, she did not notice the door opening up behind her as she made her way out of the dorm, or the footsteps that stepped out behind her.

"Rachel?" a voice called out to her.

Rachel closed her eyes and exhaled. That… she did hear.

Reluctantly, she turned and found standing there was Victoria Chase, flanked by Taylor Christensen and whoever the fuck the other girl was… that one who always looked pissy at her… Courtney… Courtney Who-Gives-A-Fucking-Shit.

It appeared as though Victoria was settling into her new position quite well. Rachel couldn't have given less of a fuck right now. It was something that might have concerned her once, but those days were long gone now.

As Victoria stepped forward towards Rachel, the shorter long haired blonde shifted from side to side as she struggled not to just break down and cry in front of the girl probably looking for something, anything to use against her. As devastated as she was, she did recognize that she still had several more years at this fucking school and weakness would only help the fucking bitch looking at her like she was ready to pounce at her.

"Victoria… Please… not right now…" Rachel begged the wealthy younger girl, her pride broken as she kept her eyes averted. "We hurt each other so much, I know that, I am sorry for my part, and I wish I had it in me to hear you call me a fucking bitch, or whatever amuses you today… but I really don't think I can deal with it… so please… just don't do it today..."

Victoria remained still and silent as she inspected the broken girl standing across the hall from her. Rachel forced her head up and looked directly into Victoria's direction. Victoria looked conflicted by Rachel's request; Taylor looked like she was close to tears herself and Courtney just sort of glared.

After a moment longer of deliberation, Victoria stepped forward, closing the gap between the two of them. Taylor and Courtney stepped forward as well, but Victoria shot them an expression that told them this was just between Rachel and her. Although she had seemed aloof from a distance, up close was a different story. Rachel should through the carefully applied makeup that shocked her.

Victoria had been crying…

The idea of Victoria feeling even a smidgen of empathy had actually sort of surprised Rachel. After a month of near constant insults to everything from being a basic whore to being a dyke whore from Victoria had left her fairly certain the girl was an irredeemable fucking bitch… but... there did seem to be more to her then what had met the eye. It just fucking sucked it took Mom dying for Chase to understand that Rachel Amber as every bit as fallible as anyone else.

The girls stared at each other for a moment before Victoria stepped forward and reached out, her hers gripping each of Rachel's forearms gently.

"I'm going to hug you, Rachel…" Victoria murmured awkwardly to her grieving rival. "So… please don't freak out or anything…"

Rachel didn't really have much of a say in the matter. Victoria stepped forward and wrapped her armed around her. Together the two passive aggressive enemies stood there with Taylor and Courtney as their silent witnesses to a 'hell freezes over' microcosm.

Deciding against resisting or showing any sort of resentment, Rachel uncertainly reached out and returned the gesture. She remained silent, feeling Victoria's heart beat against hers.

"I know you probably have been getting this a lot, and I know you probably don't believe it from my lips with all fucking school drama and whatever… but I am so sorry for your loss, Rachel…" Victoria breathed softly into Rachel's ear. "Rose was… always very nice to me… to everyone helping with the production this year… she always seemed so… sweet… unlike you… and… I'm just… sorry…."

Rachel closed her eyes and emitted a small chuckle at the barb Victoria may or may not have meant to issue her… it wasn't perfect, but from Victoria and taking into account their sordid encounters at each other's throats, it must have been hard for her to say all of that and mean it.

Rachel decided that in the interest of peace and expedience, she would just have to take what the other girl was offering. The sooner Victoria was pacified; the sooner she could focus on what was important: chiefly calling Chloe.

"Thank you, Victoria..." Rachel murmured back to her as she remained still in Chase's arms. "After everything… it feels more real hearing it from you than from a lot of other people who've done so already… and maybe… maybe next year we could try being friends. We don't... have to destroy each other…"

She meant it as well. Every word spoken was a desire she honestly found herself wishing for. There was something in Victoria's effort to empathize that struck a nerve compared to a lot of other people. She had no reason to be nice, yet here she was being just that.

Rachel felt Victoria nod apparently agreeing to the idea, or at the very least they would try to. For her and for now that would be good enough.

Pulling back slightly was enough to break the stillness between the two of them. The moment between them where Rachel Amber and Victoria Chase had forgotten who they were seemed to be over. She watched for only a moment as Victoria turned away and joined her friends and nodded as she say Taylor mouth out 'sorry' to her.

As the girls retreated back into Victoria's room, Rachel quickened her pace out of the dorms, turning on her phone and dialled Chloe's number with trembling hands. She didn't have it in her to issue a text message. It would just be cold and impersonal compared to hearing Chloe's reassuring voice.

As the phone rung, she brought it to her ear and paced on the front steps of the dormitory. She refused to make eye contact with any of the people out on the dorm grounds… she wanted to hear Chloe… she needed to hear her. It really was like she was one person in this world who would bring about any sort of clarity back to her. Someone who understood completely what had happened.

It took two rings before the phone line connected.

"Rachel?" she heard Chloe speak breathlessly. "Are… are you okay?"

Rachel choked back the sob that had built up as the thought that she would never hear from Chloe again had been irrationally forced into her mind. Her heart was beating so much faster than it should have been. She wondered how it was that this girl – who in the grand scheme of things she barely knew – held so much sway, so much power over her.

All the pieces, the confusing feelings… it all made sense.

This was the moment Rachel Amber knew for certain that she was in love with Chloe Price.

"Chloe…" she breathed to the girl she loved. "I fucked up so hard… I'm so fucked up… Could you come to Blackwell? I want you here. I need to see you…"

There was a silence, but it was only for a moment.

"Well you're in luck. Someone tipped me off where you were…" Chloe replied back. "I'm at the front of the school, but come quickly... I'm about to get swamped by people…"

Nodding as though Chloe could see her, Rachel stepped down the steps and quietly moved as fast as she could to the front. Through the sea of agonizing loss she was trying to navigate though, the one bright spot was guiding her in the horizon. It offered her refuge and safety from the storm. It never wavered, never lied, it was never was not there for her, even in spite of how shitty she was in her grief.

Rachel would remain focused on her North Star.

Her Polaris.

Her Chloe.


True to her pleas, it didn't take long to spot Chloe Price as Rachel thought it might have.

Chloe was there, in a foot cast and was currently surrounded by a group of Blackwell students who were clearly aware about her part in what had happened, chief among them Dana, Steph, Juliet Watson, Mikey and Drew North. She looked uncomfortable and silent as the group seemed to be trying to engage her in conversation.

She hesitated as a wave of shame washed over her; but it did not last for long. Not as a strange overwhelming jealousy that washed over Rachel as she watched Dana pull Chloe into a tight hug which seemed to drown and startle Chloe. Seeing that… affection from the tall, gorgeous cheerleader… that was all the motivation she needed to get her legs moving forward towards the only fucking person who mattered to her.

That was her place to be, her place in Chloe's arms, and not Dana's…

Yes… she was being foolish, and she was hypocritical; but quietly she hoped Chloe would have felt the same at the sight of Victoria hugging her. Scratch that… she knew Chloe would be annoyed. The question was, whether or not it would be jealousy or steadily rising hostility toward Victoria for being… well… Victoria.

The gathering of students noticed her approach towards them, and much more importantly Chloe noticed it. She looked embarrassed by the affections of the very affectionate Dana and carefully disengaged herself from it as the shorter girl pushed through group and stopped in front of Chloe.

"Rachel…" Chloe greeted her, her voice weak and miserable.

Rachel remained silent as through her blurry sight she observed Chloe carefully. She watched as Chloe's stance sort of slouch as her confidence withered and died in front of everyone. It became clear what this reaction was to Rachel as she held her eyes on Chloe as she became guiltier each passing moment.

"Are you standing there thinking that I somehow blame you for… this?" she asked Chloe one simple question.

Chloe's lack of answer had spoken volumes to her. There was a surge of anger that blindsided her simply because Chloe would feel like this situation was something she had a hand in. She did nothing to warrant the obsessions of that bastard… she tried to do something… say something… and every time she brought it up, it was Rachel who had shut all conversations down. This happened because of her fuck up.

Mom had died because of her.

Rachel reached out; blinking back the tearing once again forming in her eyes as her own guilt ate away at her resolve. She took both of Chloe's hands. Chloe stiffened and glanced around at the people watching. Rachel didn't care. She didn't care one bit about the people in close proximity. Witnesses or not, there were things that needed to be said. These were feelings which had to be expressed.

Feelings that had to be spoken allowed...

"It was my fault," Rachel refuted, taking a step closer to her Chloe. "You tried to get me to go to Dad a month before this happened. You tried to talk Eliot down and I … I attacked him and he… killed… You're always doing the right thing, and I'm always finding a worse way to fuck everything up…"

Chloe wanted to interrupt, to somehow find a way to shift the blame so it fell back into her lap again in some masochist way.

"And you know what the real fucking kicker is?!" Rachel exclaimed, forcing Chloe back from her attempt to pull the blame back down on top of herself. "Here you are, willfully ignoring that you were always right, yet instead you're blaming yourself for what I did and blaming yourself for the obsessions of a fucking stalking piece of shit. Someone who thought that you belonged without even consulting you about it…"

Rachel trailed off in to silent tear dripping fury. Talking about Eliot drove her rage back to the near unmanageable levels. She wanted to tear the fucking flesh off him. Hurt him the way he hurt her mom and Chloe. She had never hated anyone else more in her entire life than him…

Rachel exhaled unsteadily, sniffling as the thoughts of her seeing her Mom in her final pose haunted everything; it tainted all the happiness and love they had together, ripped away because a boy thought he could own a girl. Everything was just fucked… so irreparably fucked. She made no fucking sense, yet here she was trying to operate in the world so soon after losing her.

"I need you to get this through you fucking thick head, Price," she pressed on. There was no malice in her words, just an exhausted echo staining them. "This was on me. It's not your fault, and I'm never going to abandon you, or blame you, or hate you… and… and…"

She hid the urge to softly whimper as Chloe pulled one hand out of hers and carefully wiped the tears rolling freely down her cheek. The lines between plain grief and unconscious arousal from a simple touch had blurred to a near single indistinguishable one. With a single graze something had happened for the first time since Sunday.

She had actually felt something.

Rachel exhaled sharply as tears flowed again. She looked up to Chloe, and in spite of everything that had happened. The nightmare they both were trapped in, and the fact that she was never going to see someone she loved so much ever, she somehow found it in herself to smile.

She was only scarcely aware of the guys and girls watching their interactions with baited breathes. None of them even registered in comparison to the majesty of the girl smiling reassuringly to her, smiling with that unconditional compassion. That unconditional, unspoken love…

Yes, Chloe was her North Star, her Polaris, and here she stood leading her home to her embrace.

"…And I love you, Chloe Price... I fucking love you…" she confessed to the girl across from her. "And this isn't because of what happened, this isn't because Mom died and everything has gone to shit. I have loved you for a long time now, but I've been too much of a coward to say it; and I am so sorry if you thought I was leading you on, or stringing you along, because I wasn't… I just… I love you, Chloe."

The words had been spoken. They were out there, and not just for their ears only anymore. Surrounding them were a group of stunned faces looking at them. The only unsurprised was Steph Gingrich, who instead looked a little smug by the turn of events. The only sound any of them uttered a tiny 'holy shit' from Dana, who was immediately nudged by Juliet, who looked sort of impressed.

None of their reactions mattered much to Rachel. Not as she took in the sweet small smile Chloe radiated.

"You love me?" she repeated.

Chloe's voice was almost worried, like she did not want to read too much into it in fear that she had misheard it. Considering Rachel had stated flat out she loved was kind a worrying response. Exhaling, Rachel reached out, her hands pulling back out of Chloe's so that she could wrap them instead around her hips.

"No… I said I fucking love you, Chloe Price…" Rachel answered her back, a little more firmly than it had been before. "I kind of thought I made that clear enough..."

As she seemed to process the affirmation that this was not some sort of false proclamation, Chloe ran her hand along the back of her neck and tried to take a small step backwards. Unwilling to give her that space, Rachel followed her with her grip on Chloe firmly placed on her hips.

Chloe glanced at the group pretending terribly to be causal about this confession which they had gotten to witness.

"Yeah… it's just that I promised Sera that I would be brave enough to say how I felt to you," she explained, her voice lowering at the mention of her biological mother. "I think she's under the impression I'm somehow the guy in this… or something…"

Even in this mess, Rachel could not help but smile. It hurt, thinking of a life past all of this… but she still did it. Thinking about Sera… she lost a mom, and then already had another in her life… fucked up was everything, anyways?

"Well that's tough shit, Price," Rachel informed her, attempting to inject some sort of humour to cover up heartache. "You were the one who was brave enough to admit that there was a spark… so it's my turn to be brave enough to say the words."

A small blush washed over Chloe's face as Chloe's desperate wine empowered confession drifted back to the forefront of their minds. It felt so long ago… she wanted those days back. Back when she thought her Dad was just a cheating sack of shit and she had only one mom who was alive… but now…

Rachel's mind went blank as Chloe's arms wrapped around her. Sensory overload as her strong arms enveloped her completely. It seemed like she seemed to finally get it through to her. Quietly Rachel wondered if Chloe had bought that Eliot fucker's lines… that she wouldn't care for her… that the feelings she felt were one-sided… or worse… something to be ashamed of… something to hide away from the world; the popular girl falling for the social outcast… and an impossible dream which Eliot tried to plant into her head.

She… hoped this would clear the last of the doubts…

"You know what though? I guess you could be the one who gets to kiss me first in front of all these people pretending not to watch us…" Rachel murmured to her…love.

Love…

Holy shit… this was real…

Rachel watched her love silently, her lips parted and numb as Chloe seemed to hesitate; but that hesitation was only for a single painful moment. She watched, stunned as Chloe lowered her head and connected her lips to Rachel's. They had kissed before… they had kissed a lot… but this was different. This was sweeter and gentle… romantic…

…and unfortunately for poor Chloe, Rachel wanted more...

Rachel pushed back as hard as she could against Chloe's mouth, fingers snaking through Chloe's hair, catching the tall girl off guard. She parted Chloe's lip, the tip of her dancing with Price's. She could feel Chloe start to Buckle, so Rachel reached out and stabilized her.

She ignored the sad smile on Steph lips as she pulled slightly back. She ignored Drew covering Mikey's eyes up, and the ensuing play fight that followed, she ignored Juliet looking like Christmas had come early and Dana quietly watching, almost… entranced. She paid no attention to Steph as she stepped forward and sort of ushered everyone away so that Chloe and Rachel could have the privacy.

The only thing that mattered was the fire of Chloe's mouth touching against hers again, how unperturbed and unafraid they were in the presence of others...

This was their moment.

Pulling her mouth off of Chloe's and exhaling unevenly, Rachel tucked her head into Chloe's collar, her arms gripping onto her as tight as she could without hurting the girl. Her mind as punch drunk as it was, could not help but return back to what was about to come…

"I'm not going to be okay, am I?" she murmured into Chloe's shoulder, her lips grazing against her skin.

Chloe remained silent, her hand reaching up to touch the back of Rachel's head. Rachel already knew the answer Chloe had waiting for her. She still needed to hear it…she needed to know from someone who travelled down this route before.

"Not for a long time…" Chloe murmured above her. "But I'm here for you, and so are your Dad, and Sera… and a lot of people who love you…"

Rachel pulled her head back to properly look at Chloe. She understood what Chloe was saying, and even at some level… she wanted to believe it; but even now, even after everything, she couldn't just accept that anything had really changed. Dad was still a controlling liar who had just gotten his world kicked in and Sera's recent devotion to her hadn't made up for the decade and a half of abandonment in favour chasing Heroin across the country. A year of sobriety was fucking nothing. She was in a far too fragile a place to place any sort of real trust or confidence in. Maybe one day a long time from now things would be different… but not now.

No… at the end of the day, she only held that trust for Chloe and Mom… and Mom was gone…

"You're still the only one of them I trust," Rachel mumbled as she looked down to rest herself back into Chloe. "I feel… sick and wrong… I don't know how I'm going to handle the next few days, let alone the next years. I only came here because… I didn't know what else to do, and I was too ashamed to call you…. and…"

As Chloe's lips touched the top of her head, Rachel ceased her ramblings. She stood there, being slightly swayed in Chloe's arms. She felt warm, protected… she felt alive….

"Take it from someone who sort of been where you are… do what you have to do to survive," Chloe whispered above her, stroking her hair gently. "I'm going to be here right beside you… because I fucking love you as well, Rachel Amber…"

Chloe didn't need to say the words, but Rachel did not deny there was a wave of relief to hear them spoken.

Nestled there in her arms, facing away from the terrible unknown, Rachel liked that comforting reassurance. With Chloe at her side, the future would be a far less frightening one to stand up against.

 

Chapter Text

 

For the first time since Dad's death, Chloe had found herself in a dress and at another one. While she was not exactly a fan of them, Rose Amber was worth all the effort she could give.

It was a real testament to Rose's life as Chloe took in the sight of easily two hundred or more people who had shown up for the ceremony. Local and state politicians had shown up, along with various members of law enforcement had shown as well. People from all walks of life and corners from Arcadia Bay made their journey to pay their final respects to a socially active woman who had apparently touched many lives through volunteer work and her general good nature.

There was so much Chloe had not known about Rose and it hurt so fucking much to think that she never bothered to go into much detail about Rose's life. Her ignorance was brought on by the constant procrastination and assumptions. Procrastinating by saying there was always more time and assuming there would always be another tomorrow.

Well there wasn't any more time for that. Rose was gone, and so to was a life time's worth of experience, ripped away because in a large part of her failure to not act until it was too late. Rachel could try to excuse her all she liked, but she knew better. She recognized she was not completely to blame, but Chloe knew her role in this.

Well… she would find a way to make up for it. For her crimes, she would learn every detail she could about Rose from those who lost her. She would be the receptacle of their memories of her. The life of Rose Amber would not be forgotten, nor overshadowed by her death.

As Chloe looked around, she took in the fact that Rose's funeral was by far a more extravagant affair compared to her Dad's. James Amber had pulled out all the stops and spared no expenses. Caters were brought in from Portland for the upcoming wake. Yet despite all the money he had put into her send off, thanks to that bastard Hampden there was no open viewing for her friends and family. There was no way not to minimize the facial trauma she had endured.

While this no viewing was the case for most, it was not in Rachel's nature to just lie down and take no for an answer. Rachel asked her to run interference on James and others, so that she slip behind the scenes to open the coffin in private and whisper her last goodbyes to a mother she had loved so much.

As Rachel took her final steps with her mother, Chloe could not help but reflect on her own. Currently she and her walking dildo accessory to murder (in her eyes) were blended somewhere into the crowd. She didn't know where exactly and right now she wasn't sure if she cared.

To say that there was a blowout between mother and daughter was an understatement. The accumulation of tension caused since the moment David Madsen had entered their lives finally reached the explosion as James – a man clearly on the brink – had sat her down and explained what Eliot had confessed to doing, and that the gun he used belonged to David.

She got sick as she heard and saw the images of things which were stolen – clothing, junk, her fucking underwear - but it was finding out that he had brought a gun into their home without consulting anyone was what pushed over her the edge. To make matters all that much worse, that stupid bastard who not only brought a gun into the house had the fucking gall to justify it with the tired recital of the fucking second amendment.

She didn't need a fucking reminder of the constitution; the mother of her friend… her girlfriend's mother was dead.

It only fell apart more from there on out. Unable to explode in front of the obviously hurting James, Chloe instead stormed clear out of the hospital, ignoring protocol, and they spent a good half an hour screaming at each other… well… she was screaming, Mom was just taking it clearly filled with a mixture of shame and devastation as she tried to reconcile that someone was breaking into their house to fuel a horrifying obsession with her only daughter and that she had willfully lied to her about.

They had another fight the night she came home from Rachel's at James's request. Mom had seen the iPhone 3GS James had given her after Chloe had to surrender her old phone to the authorities so that the evidence of Rachel's injuries could be filed.

Mom freaked out at the sight of it, like she had thought that James had bought it for her brand new (she wouldn't mention the implication that she had somehow was exploiting a grieving dad) and so Chloe had to remind her at the top of her fucking lungs that she had to had her phone over for a murder trial.

After all of this, she couldn't believe it but she was actually eager for school to start in September. Mom could finally be alone with the one she actually wanted to be with, and Rachel had gotten them a double room on campus, which would offset the cost. They couldn't exactly push the beds together, but they could always have impromptu nightly battles over who was the master of the single mattress.

Of course, she hadn't told Mom any of this yet… soon, but for now fuck it. Fuck Mom… Joyce and fuck David. She had made her choice and reset how they were together.

As the Pastor recited a passage from the book of… well, she wasn't sure what… Chloe tentatively reached out and placed her hand on Rachel shoulder. She was sitting in front of her next to her father. Like him, she too was stone faced. As much as tried to dismiss the influences her father had over her since the reveal, it was obvious how much strength she drew from the man.

Diverting her eyes away from the casket, Chloe took in the crowd on the opposite side. There were few familiar faces. Wells was there, the drama teacher Keating was with what appeared to be his boyfriend, and a few students had made it there. Steph and rest of the drama class were gathered, and most curiously Victoria Chase, her hands folded in front of her.

For a moment the two girls locked eyes. Victoria looked tired and upset, as though she was genuinely upset by this. The sight of her like this made Chloe soften her eyes. If that was the case, then she would go easy on her. At least until she acted out.

Chloe turned away and took in another sight that warmed her heart. Standing there behind a couple of older people was Sera. Like Chloe, she wore a long silky black dress and wore heavy aviators as though she didn't want to be recognized. Considering some of James and Rose's family had flown in, she probably had a good reason to be concerned about being identified.

Although her eyes were hidden, the glasses did not hide the desire to rush over and embrace her child by any means. Sera did not move, and it was for the best. The thing Sera and James needed was a scene here of all places; there would be plenty of time for her and Rachel in the future. Sera's role in her life was about to grow even larger.

Chloe felt a hand belonging to Rachel reach back and grab hers, gently squeezing it in a desperate need for her support. Chloe could feel her shaking as they listened to the pastor speak of the resurrection, that the separation they would have with Rose was a temporary state and soon they would all meet again.

Chloe didn't know if there was a God. While she was leaning towards no, she couldn't quite commit to that. What she could commit to was that if there was a God, then he was cruel master who thought it was a reasonable thing to have a selfless and loving mother to get gunned down in her own home like it was a casual fucking thing.

Ignoring her flaring rage, Chloe inched closer to Rachel, her free hand touching her bicep. Rachel glanced back to her as the sensation surprised her. She might have been a stone, but her red and bloodshot eyes told a different story. She turned away, the back of her head leaning back to rest against Chloe's stomach.

Chloe wanted to reach down, to hold her in her arms, to kiss her and show her how much she loved her; but it didn't seem like a very funereally thing to do. Besides, the pastor was looking right at them. She took a wild stab and assumed what was going on between Rachel and she would not be particularly welcomed… you know… a damned to hell sort of thing.

"We commend unto thy hands of mercy, most merciful Father, the soul of this our sister departed, and we commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; and we beseech thine infinite goodness to give us grace to live in thy fear and love and to die in thy favour, that when the judgement shall come which thou hast committed to thy well-beloved daughter, both this our sisterand we may be found acceptable in thy sight. Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, Mediator, and Advocate. Amen."

As the gathering collectively murmured 'Amen', the Pastor closed his prayer book, he emitted a small empathetic smile, first directed to James and Rachel, but then he directed it to the gathering as a whole.

"James and Rachel have asked for the opportunity give a final farewell to our sister, Rose," the Pastor addressed the mass. "At this time, a celebration of Rose's life shall be held at the Amber home. You are welcomed to the home to remember, to laugh, to grieve; and most importantly, to heal."

The crowd obeyed the request made by the man leading the ceremony. They slowly broke up and moved off down the cemetery hill towards the parking lot. A few of them pausing to shake James hand and issue their condolence to Rachel. As the crowd's lightened, Chloe noticed Joyce and David. David was in full blown tears and Joyce had to lead him back to the car.

Chloe swallowed any pity he might have felt for him and turned away. She noticed Sera hesitating to leave. Sort of going through the motions of the Pastor's request, but she was going to probably double back.

Remembering that in spite of everything, she was not a member of the family she stood with, Chloe let go of Rachel and stepped back and started to leave so that James, Rachel and eventually Sera could have their privacy to reflect.

As she started to move away, she was stopped by a heavy hand that grabbed her by her sleeve of her dress. It was James. He did not look at her as he held his attention on the casket; at least not at first. He turned his head and looked at Chloe properly. He was exhausted in every possible way, but in spite of it, he remained firm in his grasp.

"The priest said I'd like the immediate family to stay behind," James stated, softly dazed as he held his eyes on her. "You are our family, Chloe."

Chloe felt her stomach bottom out, her legs grow weak at the affirmation James had made. She looked at him, expecting to see a trace of deception which Rachel spent so long insisting was there. There was none that she could see. James didn't blink, didn't look like he had any sort of hesitation of second thought.

James wasn't just offering an empty platitude… the meant it.

Chloe looked to Rachel, who had turned back as she too heard what her father had said. Although she was in tears, she nodded furiously. For the first time in a long time, it appeared as though father and daughter had finally come to a unanimous agreement.

She reached out, wrapping her arms around James. It took a moment for him to process it, but he hugged her back, but only briefly. He pulled back after a moment and led Chloe to the seat he had been sitting in and sat her down next to Rachel. As she sat down, Rachel reached out and took Chloe's left hand into hers.

As the last people made their way down the hill, Chloe looked and noticed Sera was there, lingering alone halfway to the parking lot. Without anyone watching, she silently took small steps towards them until she was back at the grave site. While Rachel remained ambivalent to this, James appeared… almost grateful she was here. Chloe merely offered the woman a smile, which returned as she pulled off her glasses and joined James at his side, her eyes lingering sadly on the coffin.

The four of them remained locked in silent reflection as they held their eyes on Rose's final resting place. Sighing Rachel leaned her head towards Chloe and rested it against her shoulder.

"Could I… say something?" Sera spoke up suddenly, breaking the through the void.

Sera looked to James as though she was looking for his approval. After moment of lingering on the casket, he turned to look at Sera and he nodded. With his permission, she looked to Rachel to wait for hers. Rachel lingered a little longer, but she allowed a small nod to be seen.

With permission from the Amber's on hand and a smile Chloe emitted for her, Sera exhaled. Her eyes lingered on the coffin she stood next to.

"I didn't know Rose well. We didn't talk a lot for obvious reasons," she admitted to the ones who were watching. "She had built a life for herself… for the two of you, and I shook it up. She had every reason to hate and despise me. Yet, she never expressed a hatred for me, never showed her suspicions when it would be so easy, she never judged or pitied me. That was the sort of respect I never thought anyone would grant me. Yet she gave that to me freely. She gave me access to her life, to you, and I cannot imagine many mothers willing to place that sort of… trust in a stranger."

Rubbing the back of her neck, Sera audibly swallowed.

"I watched her from afar over the past month, and I was so envious, and it not in a bitter way," she continued. "She lived with love and strength and she I saw how she would drop everything to see to the happiness of the two of you. That was who she was, a fountain of devotion to the ones she loved. Everything she ever did, she did believing in it wholeheartedly. She had a contentment I think few of us will ever achieve; and she loved you both with unconditional devotion even fewer have. She took a leap of faith into this broken little family, and she became the glue which fastened everything together."

Sera paused to reorganize her thoughts. Chloe sat there, quietly stunned watching the woman poor her heart out. She watched as Sera rubbed her mouth before she finally turned her attention to James. Their eyes were locked on each other now.

"James, she taught you to open your heart up; she showed you how to trust and love again," she spoke to him, her voice firm and inflexible, as though she needed him to understand. "The last thing she would want is for you to just… shut down like before. It would be so easy to just… look at the world as a mess, unfixable and no longer worth your efforts; but she would not want that. She loved you so much, and to return to whom you were because of… this. It would be such a disservice to her efforts. You need to understand that we'll be here for you every step of the way because we owe you that much… because we do love you, even though we don't say it."

Sera turned away from the stunned looking ex-husband, and turned her attention to her daughter.

"Rachel, I will never be able to express how grateful I am to her for being your mother, because everything good in you came from her…" she breathed, taking a step towards the sitting girl. "For the longest time during the early days of my sobriety, I held nothing but hate in my heart for her, and her decision to join James and you. I thought that she was trying to erase me from you. But that hatred faded as I watched you from afar and saw things I never had radiate from you. Artistic passion, ambition, bravery… loyalty to those you believe in… that was all her, and when I met her for the first time I wished I had the courage to tell her that she was the best thing to happen to you… the absolute best thing…"

Next to Chloe, Rachel renewed her stream of tears as her biological mother spoke of her mother with such unimpeded warmth. There was not a single note of resentment. Sera smiled slightly for her child and glanced back to Rose.

"There was a grace to her which at first I thought I could never achieve… but now I see that it was something none of us could," she continued lowly. "The three of us are fractured. Damaged by a war James and I waged against each other and you, Rachel, an innocent victim in all of this. Rose was the one who saw the good in you two and brought about a change... healing… and together you both survived and flourished, and I will never not be grateful for her compassion. But now she's gone, torn away from you two; and already the fractures are revealing themselves. We can't fight each other like this anymore. It will kill us. Everything she did to save you both would be in vain, and we all owe her to be better than our base instinct to destroy each other."

Sera closed her eyes for a moment before she averted them.

"We're never going to be the same, and we can't fix everything overnight; but the three of us… four of us…" she amended, looking Chloe squarely in the eyes. "We all need to figure out a way to survive. We have to survive for her."

As Sera lapsed back into silence, Chloe pushed her hand up and wiped any mist build up in her eyes. Next to her, Rachel was shaking again, her head bowed as she covered her mouth as James rested his hand on his daughter's shoulder. The rare display of confidence Sera had held herself to eroded right there on the spot. She looked worried that she had overstepped her boundaries.

"Anyways… I'm sorry for that… rambling…" she murmured as she seemed to return back to her usual demure, self-deprecating self. "It's just… I don't know if there is a heaven; I never asked her if she believed… but right now I hope there is, because Rose earned her wings a long time ago and without her here… we are so much poorer without her…"

Rachel stood up as Sera trailed off again. She stepped forward slowly towards her, surprising Sera and pulled her into a hug. Safely buried into the nape of Sera's neck, Rachel allowed herself to softly cry. Sera remained still, her hand tenderly rubbing the back of her daughter's neck as she looked from James to Chloe, hoping that they were in agreement that something had to change.

A smile formed on Chloe's face as she stepped forward, her fingers grazing the top of the casket. It seemed as though Rachel and Sera were on the same page now. There was no way Sera could fill the hole Rose left in Rachel, but there was a place for Sera regardless. It was okay to allow yourself to be open to love as Sera was offering.

She hoped that Rose would approve of this.

No, she knew Rose would approve of it.

Next to her James stood. He bent forward, his lips touching the casket. He still hadn't cried or shed a tear. He was far too broken up by this if he couldn't properly process his grief. It… sort of reminded her of herself after Dad died. It took a long time for her to come to terms with it. Perhaps James was like that as well; whatever the case was, she would offer her help to him as she did to Rachel.

Slowly, reluctantly, Rachel pulled back from Sera, one hand gripping her hand, as the other wiped her eyes. She broke the connection and stepped towards Chloe.

"Dad… Sera… I'm going to go home with Chloe…" Rachel managed to murmur out thickly, her voice affected by her snuffed nose. "We'll be there soon, okay?"

Sera and James shared a look before James nodded. James stepped forward towards Rachel, not entirely certain what he wanted to do, or whether or not he was right to expect to be allowed to hug his daughter or not. The relationship between them was still too fragile to expect anything.

But the question was answered for him. In spite of her mistrust and anger, Rachel launched herself into her Dad's arms for the first time in a very long time. She did not sob or cry, but she remained firmly entrenched in her Father's arms. Above her, James emitted an unsteady exhale which was mixed into an unconscious sob.

Rachel pulled back out of her Dad's arms quicker than she had Sera's and joined Chloe's side, her fingers subtly folding into her girlfriend's. James looked from Rachel to Chloe and nodded. Touching the coffin one final time, he silently made his way down the hill, Sera at his side.

With them out of earshot, Rachel turned to Chloe, her eyes wet. Chloe reached up, her fingertips wiping the tears staining her cheek. Rachel smiled slightly and stepped forward to nudge her in an effort to be a little playful. Rachel leaned forward, her lips touching the tip of Chloe's nose.

"Would you like to go and see your Dad, Chloe?" she asked plainly. There was no delicacy to her words.

Chloe blinked at her, the question catching her off guard. Even in the face of… all of this… Rachel seemed to think that Chloe mattered in all of this. This day was supposed to be for her, not for digging up the old ghosts which haunted Chloe even to this day.

Still… she wasn't going to pass up a visit to her Dad. It had been awhile, and she supposed it was as good a time as any to introduce him to her girlfriend.

As Chloe's slowly nodded Rachel emitted a half smile and went to her Mom's casket. As her Dad had done, she placed her lips on the top and stepped back, pausing briefly to gather a half dozen lilies and roses which the mourners had left behind for her Mom.

"We can't go visiting him without bringing something, now can we?" Rachel asked her quietly.

Chloe nodded, forcing her watery eyes to remain just that. She planted her lips on Rachel's forehead and together in silence Chloe took the lead on the familiar route to final resting place of William Price.


"You know… you look really good in a dress, Chloe…."

As Rachel and Chloe wandered up the pathway towards her father in virtual silence, the compliment Rachel had issued was both a surprise an a little flirty.

As Chloe looked over to Rachel and found the girl holding her hand tightly, she had found that she was smiling for the first time today. She ignored the little voice in the back of her head, telling her that Rachel was just saying it, that she didn't actually mean it. Chloe felt stupid wearing it; it should have her lanky form for others to see. She did not look anywhere near as elegant as Rachel did, and Rachel blotchy faced from her mourning.

"Disclaimer: I'm not really a dress wearing sort of girl…" she tried to brush off as casually as she could.

Rachel rolled her eyes and looked up at her.

"You weren't much of a showering type of girl when we first starting hanging out either..." Rachel shot back at her, her head bowing as she struggled not to laugh as Chloe bounced her hip against the smaller girl's to throw her off balance.

"Bitch…" Chloe playfully growled back.

Regaining her footing, Rachel managed to crack out a strained grin. It was an expression Chloe had come to miss so fucking much over the past few days.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to try and change you…" Rachel murmured a promise to Chloe. "…but I would not be too terribly upset if I caught you in one every so often. One day soon it might even be a little fun."

For the first time ever, Chloe was glad to have reached to her Dad's final resting place. Rachel had turned the flirting up to fucking 11 in a single sentence. Fighting back her blush as awful thoughts of what she wanted to do with the girl streamed through her mind, she instead nudged her girlfriend and gestured to the gravestone which stood there in front of them. There was some ivy growth on it, the sight of it made her feel a little guilty. Rachel sort of tinged pink slightly and sniffled as she read the name on the stone and looked up to Chloe. She extended the flowers to Chloe, who gently reached out took them.

She stepped forward, releasing her grip on Rachel's hands as she carefully lowered herself onto her knees. She sat there for a moment, staring the weathered stone, somewhat ashamed at her inability to visit more often than she did.

Exhaling, Chloe set Rose's flowers down against the stone.

"Hey, Dad…" she spoke out loud, her hands working the ivy off. "Sorry I haven't come in a while… It's easier to pretend you're with me without going to this place…"

As she started pulling the strands at the root, she felt a hand graze up the curve of her spine. Chloe looked and found Rachel was in the grass next to her.

"Can I help you?" Rachel asked delicately, not wanting to intrude. "I'm certain I'm going to be here often… I might as well practice."

Chloe nodded without even a pause, and together the two of the worked the ivy and weeds away from the gravestone and the grounds. Rachel, of course, worked quicker than Chloe. She had disclosed weeks ago that when she was younger Rose had taught her how to garden. One of the many skills the mother had bestowed on her daughter.

"The day my Dad died, I had Max Caulfield over for a sleepover…" Chloe murmured next to Rachel.

She wasn't quite sure why she spoke. It just sort of spilled out of her. With the two of them standing over the grave, and Chloe intimately aware of how Rose had died, it just felt… right to let her know something that she had buried deep inside her for the past two years.

She watched as Rachel paused her rooting. She looked up wearily at Chloe, like she wasn't sure if this was going to be a particularly nice memory.

It wasn't.

"We were making breakfast with him, when my Mom called from the grocery store," Chloe continued on, aware that her audience was barely breathing. "When my Dad left, I found Max just… sitting by the phone. She was… almost hysterical, just crying her eyes out."

Chloe rubbed her wrist; Rachel's eyes were narrowed as she appeared entranced by the secret Chloe was sharing.

"I asked her what was wrong… and she just looked at me in a way that I never saw her look at me before," Chloe spoke, unable to hide the wobble in her tone. "I just… she was already acting weird right before Dad got the call. She was pale and sort of sick… but this so fucking different. I can't even really describe what it now. It was just this… terrible pain. Like she had done something and she couldn't forgive herself…"

The thoughts of that final day were too much. Chloe dragged her dress sleeve along her eyes and looked to Rachel, who was still staring at her. She looked awful as she seemed to digest this final day Chloe had with her dad. Chloe reached out and squeezed Rachel's hand.

"And she said: 'I tried to make things different for you. I did try… I'm sorry. Listen, whatever happens, I want you to be strong. Even if you feel like I was never there for you… because I will never abandon you, Chloe. I'll always have your back, always…'"

That was word for word what she said. It was so… creepy and prophetic that she just couldn't forget it even if she tried. The dream… that terrible dream had brought it all back to the fucking surface and she just had to tell someone. Someone who wouldn't just fucking laugh in her face at this.

Someone who she knew loved her enough to listen….

"But she left you, didn't she?" Rachel spoke softly, not wanting to jockey herself against the girl she didn't know. "She left you alone to deal through your dad by yourself, and even if she had no choice in that, she still ghosted you."

Chloe nodded firmly. Yeah… that fucking sucked.

"Yes she did… but it's also why I haven't let go of her…" she confirmed for Rachel slowly. "It's like…somewhere inside me there's like… an echo that I cannot get rid of. An event or something significant that both happened and didn't happen, which made a 13 year old girl to speak like she was an adult with some serious regrets; and I asked her about it before the funeral, but she didn't remember saying it. I thought she was being a bitch or mean or something… but now that I'm older… there just feels like more to this… and maybe one day I'll get an answer."

The question now not only fresh in her mind, but officially panted into Rachel's as well, Chloe turned to her girlfriend. Rachel's head was bowed. She seemed to be trying to work the puzzle out as well already. Perhaps she would. If there was one person who could do it, it would be Rachel Fucking Amber.

Chloe scooted closer to Rachel and wrapped her arm around Rachel's waist. It was enough to break Rachel's focus; she pushed herself closer as well, resting her dirty hand on the hem Chloe's dress.

"So… I want to make you this promise," Chloe spoke solemnly. "Everything Max said to me, applies to us… It applied the moment you told me about your concerns about your dad being unfaithful. I want you to know I will never abandon you, Rachel Amber. I'll see you through this, and I'll be with you every step of the way because I know how it is to go through this, I went through this alone, and I won't let you go through that... and I know we made each other a lot of promises, but I mean every last one of the-"

Rachel leaned forward, her lips pushing against hers. It didn't go anyway. Rachel seemed to be acutely aware that they were sitting six feet above her girlfriend's father. They might have been dating, but they should at least have a little respect…

"I know Chloe… I do…" Rachel spoke, her lips remaining close to hers. "… and you still have… no idea how much I love you for that…"

Chloe sort of chuckled and nodded as Rachel pulled back and leaned against her, a slender arm wrapping around her waist. She exhaled and looked again at the mostly cleared gravestone.

God… she missed him so much…

"Anyways Dad…" Chloe spoke up, clearing her throat and blinking in quick succession. "This is Rachel Amber, and she's pretty much the best thing ever. I know shotguns and angry dads are mandatory dating hazards… but don't like… come to her in her dreams and haunt her or anything."

Although Rachel and Chloe laughed at the thought, Chloe hoped that he wouldn't…

"Hey, Mr. Price…" Rachel joined in, her head resting on Chloe's shoulder. "Please don't worry about your girl… I'm always going to protect her."

Chloe would probably have laughed a little at the sweet and protective way the short girl had spoken. Then she saw the look on her face. It was clear that she had meant it. After everything that had happened. Rachel had no plans on letting the past repeat itself.

Planting a kiss on Rachel's cheek, Chloe leaned back and placed her back against the tombstone She parted her legs a little and allowed Rachel to crawl over and rest her back against Chloe's chest. Together they sat there in the sun, Chloe's arms wrapped around her Rachel, an earbud a piece as Chloe's mp3 player emitted soft and grim music which Sera had directed them to what felt so long ago.

They would have this quiet moment together before they had to return to reality.


 

Highly recommended for Chapter 

Nine Inch Nails - Lights in the Sky

 

Chapter Text

 

The sun was about to rise, and so that in her mind she had to hurry.

Feeling sort of a bit of badass as she clambered over a rotten cedar tree which fell probably a decade ago, she fell down into the dew soaked grass and ferns and mud which coated the damp Pacific Northwest forest floor with a small 'ugh' which escaped her lips as pain shot through her ass from the fall she took. She pulled herself up and carried onward up the sloping embank, taking in the dark woods which were starting to lighten after spend an hour and a half trekking through.

As she pushed herself further up the ridge towards her final destination, she emitted a small cough which sent a raven scampering overhead, unseen in the dark skies over her head but heard by its call. She sighed miserably. It seemed as though she somehow had gotten a cold in the middle of June and she wasn't entire sure that happened. Totally unfair, but whatever… just had to take the ups with the downs, she supposed.

She paused to lean against the nearest cedar tree. With the sharp scent of the tree permeating in her nose, she reached into her bag to withdraw a bottle of water. Without any sort of grace she squirted a blast and looked around at the dark woods. She had been making good time and she still had a good thirty-five minutes before she reached her destination.

She was going to owe her Dad something good for Father's Day for waiting up at 1am and driving her to the edge of the forest. She was not entirely sure what he would like, though. He was a man who had everything. As long as she didn't get him a damn tie or something, he'd usually be happy. But really, this was super nice of him to do for her.

Placing her water bottle back into her bag, she pushed onwards through the rolling mist permeating over the forest floor.

She walked on in virtual silence, not thinking of anything in particular unlike usual where she was constantly in the process of overanalysing absolutely everything. It was rare for her to get these quiet moments. It seemed every day she got older her life got louder and louder, until it left her dazed and lost and even lonelier then before. Worse still there seemed no answer, no magic fix to this… simmering loneliest she had been ensnared in, which she feed until it became a self-perpetuating monster.

Looking at her phone and reading the time was 4:51am, she quickened the pace up the final route to the ridge overlook. She stepped on a branch, cracking it. She froze as she heard the sound of bushes rattling. She could make out the outline of a doe fleeing. She wished she could pause and trail it to see where it ended up, but she had places to be as the animal had.

As she stepped out of the tree line, muddied, a little battered by the brush and her nose running, she paused to take in final destination, a small smile crossing onto her lips.

The sun was rising over Mount Rainer.

Quickening her pace she made her way towards the overlook and paused as soon she reached the edge. In the face of black mass of isolated misery that filled her, she felt… good as she stood there watching the golden hour make it's final approach. It was like everything was right where it belong; like she found a place to belong, if only for the moment.

"Wowser…" she whispered to no one except for herself.

Pulling off her beanie to allow a tangled mess of chestnut hair to fall in her face, Max Caulfield shook her head and reached into her bag to retrieve her camera for her naturalist photo shoot. She brought her hand over her nose and gently wiped it. She was about to put it away when she noticed the small stream of blood running from her nostril.

How… very strange. She was fairly sure that this was her first nose bleed since she was 13ish…

As strange as it was, Max dismissed it easily redirected her focus back to gathering her bearings. A little blood was worth the sacrifice to be standing here overlooking this vista.

Max looked out on the valley between the Cliffside she stood on and the mountain far off from her as a small sprinkling of rain fell over her. As alone and as scared as she was here in the middle of nowhere; the world was silent and still, just as she always liked it; and soon this moment - easily washed away and lost forever to the endless march of time - would be captured by her and her alone.

Exhaling as pushed her isolation aside, Max raised her beaten up vintage camera and started her work. The only real friend she had in this life.


At seven in the morning, the alarm in Dorm 228 came in the form of a wailing synthesizer and the sound of a man chanting like a maniac. It was enough to drag Rachel Amber from out of her deep sleep.

Oil remove
Shred and tear
Radiation vapor air
It's the fear
So unclear
Man in motion
Going nowhere
In our homes
Stuck in the face
Spread the dirt to populace
Yellow journal yellow journal
Set the pace feel the rage
Manifestations of a sort
So insidious off the point
Simple solution
Never confusion
Sport a gun
Kill a cop
Crazy world of weary thought
So receive me
I've had enough
Lock me up
LOCK ME UP

"Rot and assimilate!" Rachel heard Chloe mumble over the next line from underneath her.

"Hot to annihilate!" Rachel echoed her immediately like it was fucking second nature.

Together the Queen and Queen Consort of Blackwell Academy broke down into wild fit of laughter. They had rotted their mind getting stoned and listening to Skinny Puppy for the past month and now pretty much every line Nivek Ogre shrieked and drone was firmly entrenched into their young, brutalized minds. With everything that had happened even so long after the fact, she supposed that they needed outlets.

Pulling head out of Chloe's comfy as fuck tits, Rachel blinked rapidly and examined Chloe who was willfully keeping her eyes clamped shut so that she could try to catch as much sleep as she could.

With a small smirk, Rachel yanked the blanket off Chloe, revealing her black sleeping shirt and plaid boxer shirts, and her long legs.

"Oh look, more plaid," Rachel gaily observed, snapping the waistband to annoy Chloe. "My girlfriend, the uber lesbo stereotype…"

That earned her a closed eyed middle finger and a muttered "Eat me, Gaychel."

As she pushed herself forward and sat on the edge of the bed, Rachel laughed slightly and pushed her hair out of her eyes as she figured out what there Sunday would entail. They had some serious prep for next weekend. The two of them would be throwing a Party at American Rust. They would also head to a couple thrift shops she'd been scoping out for. See if there was anything there worth picking up.

They were out of weed too, so it would be off to a visit with Chloe's dealer, Frank Whoever-The-Fuck-He-Was, with the cool dog, and that creepy fucking borderline pedophile stare he'd get whenever she was around.

Chloe said he was alright, but she didn't trust him. Then again, she didn't really trust anyone who was outside this bed. Rachel usually gave Chloe the money for drugs and waited several yards away and ignored the stares he sent her way.

It was sort of an affirmation that she was not the only one bothered by Frank though. Whenever Chloe and she hit the Two Whales with Sera working and Frank was there, she always noticed her Mom's attitude shifted. It was sort of like Sera was ready to destroy Frank for unknowingly getting too close to her world. Chloe had confided into her that Frank and Sera knew each other, but Sera hadn't willfully discussed it in detail. They were former associates as Dad would put it, and neither of them was pleased with each other.

Speaking of Sera, with shopping down and drugs acquired, it would be time for lunch at the Two Whales. Sera would be working this afternoon and with Chloe and her ready to hit the road, she was attempting to get in as much time as she could in with Sera. Sera was nearly three years clean now; stronger then the frail women she was when they first met. Still she was shy, and very insecure, but she was very much on a skyward trajectory now and that in Rachel's opinion meant she'd have to pick something nice up for her.

She might as well splurge a little. Money was no problem for them these days.

Mom and Dad saw to that with a six figure life insurance policy each they took out on each other. It was just the typical highly organized and financially responsible shit parents did. For Dad, however, it was blood money which he didn't want to touch. So he put it into a trust for her which she had a certain amount of freedom to access it. With Chloe and her plan to hit the road this summer now back on track and her birthday approaching, dad was on the verge of signing the account over to her completely. Of course she had to promise to be responsible with that.

At the risk of sounding like a fucking cliché, she'd have preferred to have her Mom back.

She fucking missed Mom so much, but the only thing keeping those thoughts to the back burner was remaining locked on the future. The money, as far as she was concerned, was Chloe's and hers, used to survive the bay for the duration of their stay and the rest going into their escape. They'd get a nice little place in Santa Monica, find some stupid little jobs and look for what they wanted for the rest of their lives.

With a hella amount of luck together, they would achieve the dream.

What was happening here was well beyond some high school romance. She felt it, Chloe felt it. Rachel's hypothesis of two damaged souls coming to together to form a single perfect one seemed to be truer each day. It just felt right… like they belonged together. It was like a 'no Rachel without Chloe and Chloe without Rachel' sort of deal.

That was not to say that there weren't tense moments between them. They both had tempers, were stubborn and when angered hard to get off that train of thought. As bad as it got, Chloe and her would always back down and find a way around their fight. If it was them against the world, it didn't help either of them to be fighting too long and too seriously. Fighting Chloe sort of like fighting herself… it was just unnatural.

Quietly Rachel examined the still sprawled out Chloe appreciatively. Ignoring her more mediocre fashion choices, Chloe was in the midst of a transformation of sorts. Gone was the lanky sort of underdeveloped tomboy figure Chloe possessed when they first met and replacing it was curves – beautiful curves - a washboard flat stomach and a modest increase in breast size which made everything all the more comfortable. Her hair was grown out a little more and gone was any trace of her natural dirty blonde. She had gone all out and dyed all her hair blue.

Well, almost all her hair was blue. Rachel tried to convince Chloe to dye a landing strip blue as well; for the efforts of her creativity, all Rachel got was a smack on the tit.

God, Chloe could be a real bitch. It was just an idea

Leaning forward over her girl, Rachel leaned forward, her hand running through Chloe's hair, earning her a sweet smile. Even with after two months of getting used to it, Rachel thought it was the fucking hottest thing ever. She was half tempted to dye her own hair, but she decided she'd leave that as Chloe's thing: the vibrant industrial punk girl with the brooding natural girlfriend… The patron saints of the Dead Parent Club.

Okay... so that got a little dark… She had taking up Chloe's habit of going to places that didn't need going to.

As she continued to hold herself over Chloe, she looked her in the eye and saw the expression of lust dripping from her. She watched as Chloe's legs parted and closed… parted and closed. Her breathing was shallower as she held her eyes on Rachel as one hand pushed lower and lower until it was on her visibly twitching pelvis. Just from seeing Chloe's flushed cheeks, she was radiating heat.

Rachel smirked and leaned in for a kiss. It didn't take much to realize where this was going; but if Chloe was game… so was she…

Contrary to popular opinion of Blackwell Academy; Chloe and she weren't fucking up a storm in their shared dorm. That was not to say they didn't when the urge overwhelmed them and they had the time; but in general the two of them tried their best to behave as neither of them wanted to return to their respective home unless they had to. Rachel's being haunted by the ghost of Rachel Amber and lonely father, and Chloe a newly remarried mother, whose new husband played had an indirect hand in the death of her mother.

They had both heard all the stories pervade around the school usually by the guys who thought it was hot that they had hot lesbians at their school that dyke out on a moment's notice. As rude as that was, they did totally do that, just not at the whims of others; ad Chloe wasn't helping with how perverse she could be about it. As sure as the sun rose in the east, Chloe Price was going to relay every lewd and salacious rumor she heard to Rachel to test the waters.

Besides, they had plenty of places to do each other off campus. They went to her house if they wanted to romantically made love, they went to Chloe's house when they wanted to fuck and smoke up, they had the truck for quickies and they went to American Rust if they were in the mood to fuck each other into the ground. Sometimes, they just wanted to get a little perverse.

Call the two of them whatever the fuck you want; but you couldn't say they weren't organized…

It had taken just over six months of dating before the two of them remembered, or rather, voiced the unspoken sex question. Between the loss of her Mom still being so fresh and the fact that Chloe's last sexual liaison had been with the one who did that. Chloe's apt description of "the lamest eleven and a half seconds of her life" was the icing on that cake.

As awful as Chloe made it out to be, even that description was not enough to stem any sort of anger Rachel felt for not having her first. Nothing short of visiting Eliot Hampden in jail armed with a slotted screwdriver to jam into his fucking face would satisfy that anger, so she pushed it back out of her mind. Rachel supposed she was just looking for any excuse to shove something sharp through his fucking eye.

So between their hang ups the two of them just sort of avoided it altogether until one night they stopped avoiding it and Rachel Amber lost her virginity to Chloe (literally) Fucking Price in the bathroom right in the fucking middle of an evening dinner with Sera and Dad. One moment she was passing her Dad the salad and the next she was dragging Chloe away and the next moment after that she was propped up on the bathroom counter and being eaten out by Chloe. It was perfect… but she had to admit now it was strange how things went.

Holy fuck… poor Chloe though… she looked like she was going to faint every time she had to talk when they returned. She was worried she wouldn't be able to get the scent of Rachel's sex on her breath even after chugging a quarter of a bottle of mouthwash. She was convinced James and Sera would somehow catch a whiff and that would pretty much make her a marked girl from then on out.

That, Rachel reflected, was a pretty fun evening.

Pulling back from the deep kiss she had pulled Chloe into, Rachel pushed one hand lower, gripping the waistband of her boxers. She took in the delicious sight of Chloe's eyes dilating as she realized what she was wanting, she was going to get. As though there was still a possibility Rachel would ever say no to fucking the hell out of Chloe. It was nearly two years into their relationship, and Rachel still felt like Chloe appreciated every moment they had.

Fuck, it really was love…

"Say it, Price…" she toyed with Chloe her lips still so frustratingly close to the girl who she held a dominant position over.

The physical dominance Rachel now held over her girlfriend was fleeting power. She knew that at any moment Chloe could flip the script and push Rachel down into submission and fuck her brains out. She was being generous, that girl was a quick, consummate learner and she could get Rachel twisted right around her index finger… and middle finger… and ring finger… and thumb… but that thumb was always in a support role. All it took was an expression of dark lust on Chloe's face, and the next moment Rachel would be face down in the pillow and dumbstruck as she tried to figure out how she ended up there.

This time it seemed like she would not be at a risk of that happening. It was early morning and Chloe was in a nice sleepy and lazy mood. It meant Rachel got to play with her favourite toys.

"Fuck me…" Chloe groaned out, her pelvis pushing up upwards into Rachel's cupped hand. "…really?"

Unable to contain herself at the sight of her perfect little mess, Rachel smirked even wider as her slipped her hand inside Chloe's boxers and held it there. Her fingers pushed into her lips, her thumb resting against a nearly solid clit. She took in the expression of bliss which she wore; and she could feel Chloe already on the verge of gushing all over the palm of her hand.

She loved that word: gushing.

It was so unbelievably lewd when you used it in this exact context. It was Chloe's best state of being while they fucked; it was the perfect affirmation of Rachel's hard work and endurance. If she wasn't gushing, then Rachel knew something was wrong. Sex was a perfect gauge for Rachel to see where Chloe was emotionally. Both of them were fucked up messes and needed to monitor each other carefully.

There appeared to be some defiance on Chloe's part as she refused to say the words still. Both of them did that when they were placed into a situation where control was being lost. Rachel pulled her lips away from Chloe's and wrapped her mouth around the side of Chloe's neck. She felt Chloe jerk as she gnashed her teeth into skin ass her tongue gliding in circles. Sometimes they broke each other's skin, bleeding each other as they fucked.

...Pain and pleasure had a way to break down resistance...

For the record, they were not into some fucking bullshit dominant and submissive thing like that bullshit book millions of Mom's across the world rubbed their gashes raw to. They just liked to play and mix the roles up. Spontaneity was the fire that drove Rachel Amber's desires for her Chloe; and nothing was more amusing then the usually confident bordering on cocky Chloe Price brought to her fucking knees with simplest but most intimate of touches.

"I want you to moan it for me, Price," she growled lowly as she retracted her mouth and returned back to her place hovering over Chloe's lips. "You made me say it last time; it's your turn now."

It didn't just take much to break Chloe's sleepy resistance. She just had to push the right button in the perfect way.

"My…b-body is an extension to yours. Yours to do as you want…" Chloe could barely gasp out as Rachel thumb ran in slowly methodical circles into her twitching clit. "Everything I have is yours… Everything I am yours… Please, Rach… just don't make me beg anymore…"

Perhaps it was a little cringy to the outsider looking in, but it was their affirmation that they were each other's and no one could break that. With the magic words had been spoken; the girl underneath her knew her place this morning and would not dare to question it. Rachel now had a free hand to do as she pleased to Chloe Price.

It was so perfect.

Snaking her free arm between the mattress and Chloe, Rachel pushed her fingers inside Chloe at an agonizingly slow speed. She savoured ever nerve in Chloe tighten and contract, every jerk in Chloe's body, the way she tried and failed to supress the gasp, the lulled tongue which Rachel planted her mouth over to sloppily kiss. She felt Chloe's thighs close on her as Rachel reached the limits her fingers could.

She pulled out to the surface as she pushed back inside, fingernails scrapping alone the rigged walls inside her. She watched in sweet satisfaction as Chloe melted in front of her and around her fingers. Every moment Rachel reached the limits, she jerked a little deeper, a little further inside. She could feel the shaking Price emitted and the whimper which escaped her lips.

"Don't… stop, Angel…" Chloe sobbed out as she managed to form her thoughts into stuttering words. "Don't you dare fucking stop…"

But Rachel had to decline the request.

Although Chloe was too fucked up on hormones to notice, the hallways of the dormitory had gotten loud with the sounds of their classmates. She could hear Victoria Chase only a few feet away giving her minions shit. Rachel had come to love the way she beat that Courtney bitch down. She could hear Steph was playing something loud on her PlayStation and Dana somewhere out there talking loud to Juliet, and Rachel just fucking knew that one fucking slip up from the girl moaning underneath would mean they'd be the talk of the school yet fucking again. It would of course not be anything new, but it would be an annoying way to end the school year.

She could not help but smirk as she toyed with the idea of making Chloe cry out. Dana would probably kick in the door and beat Rachel senseless for what she was doing to her friend. That, or join in. That girl was surprisingly ambiguous and was growing harder and harder to read even for Rachel.

Feeling bad she started something without letting Chloe get to finish, Rachel found an evil little plot brewing in her brain as an inevitable result. It was a new little game the two of them could play, and if there was one thing Chloe and Rachel liked; it was the games they played together.

Pulling her mouth away Chloe's, Rachel guided her tongue down Chloe's exposed stomach. She could feel Chloe's hand in her hair, trying to push her down lower and lower. Finally, as she looked up at the flustered blue haired girl above her, Rachel dragged her tongue painfully slow down her clit a single time. A taste… a tease for the little game she had in store.

She pulled her head up, pulling her fingers out of the shocked and obviously disappointed girl.

Rachel leaned in and planted her lips against Chloe's. She could see the steady anger in her eyes at the interruption. She felt the small nip Chloe gave her on her bottom lip a warning that there was going to be hell to pay for this. It was exactly what she wanted.

Pulling her lips away from Chloe's, she slowly lipped her sex stained fingers.

"Don't bathe, and don't clean yourself. I want you to stew in this…" Rachel commanded her girlfriend as she pulled her fingers out of her mouth. "This was a preview for later… we'll finish this properly tonight, right Chlo?"

When Rachel used Chlo, Chloe knew her girlfriend had meant business.

Chloe in no position to agree to anything right now; she was in a physical and mental mess at the moment. She was sweat stained and oozing sex right now. She had had an adorably stupid dopey grin which was completely endearing. Slowly, her heaving, Chloe nodded, one hand resting against her breast as she seemed to be tweaking herself for a little extra stimulation. Rachel pulled her hand away and dragged her up to a sitting position. As fun as it was to watch her play with herself, they had shit to done first.

"Fu-fuck me… o-oh my God… You're the fucking devil, Rach…" Chloe muttered to her, leaning into Rachel's neck to plant her lips on her skin.

Rachel nodded, offering her broken girl the most devilish grin she could just for good measure.

"I am, yes… and the only soul I want to possess is yours…" Rachel shot back, tapping Chloe's soaked boxer crotch, and watching in great amusement as Chloe yelped and bounced in place.

As Chloe rolled her eyes, Rachel could not help but blush. She… probably took that a little too far.

"Too cheesy?" she asked her girl.

Pushing her sweaty blue hair out of her face, Chloe eyed Rachel with a small smile and shook her head.

"Perfect cheesy," Chloe reassured, her voice jittery.

The girls laughed and the two of them shakily got up from off the bed, their minds drunk on endorphins and lust as they directed their attention to getting dress and the occasional lapse into grab-ass as they prepared to face the world yet again.

It was Sunday, June 10th 2012 and Chloe Elizabeth Price and Rachel Dawn Amber had a fucking Bay to conquer today.


Song Credits go to   Skinny Puppy - Assimilate

 

Chapter Text

 

"So… rumour has it Steph asked you to help her study for finals."

"Yeah..."

"Think it's another elaborate rouse to get you to fall madly for her?"

"Yeah..."

"She's aware I still exist, right?"

"Yup!"

Taking a drag of her cigarette, Chloe glanced to Rachel as she too smoked in relative silence and looked away from her girl.

The pair of them was leaning against their truck just outside the Two Whales waiting on that shitty RV belonging to Frank to pull in. Chloe gave a second glance to Rachel and found her smirking as though it was pretty amusing for her to listen to Chloe's creeping work around to see if Rach was aware of guys and girls who were sniffing around her girl.

It was hard work, protecting her Queen, but someone had to do it. She was just glad she wasn't alone in having this protective nature. Rach had a temper that dwarfed fucking anything she could ever have. She'd seen the flare ups whenever she spoke to Dana, which was hella weird. She was pretty flirty, but it all seemed like her personality.

"She's thirsty as fuck... I swear if she wasn't so cute, and wasn't so good to us in the early days I'd probably punch her in the box… well… maybe…" Chloe complained out loud as she exhaled a plume of smoke. "Think we can turn a Blackwell girl gay for a night just for Steph in time for the rager?"

Tapping her cigarette, Rach ran her hand through her long blonde hair which she had pulled back in a loose ponytail today. Quietly Chloe inspected her best friend and love appreciatively. Gone was the short stuff cutie she got to lord her height over. She had a serious growth spurt the past year and now Chloe only had maybe an inch on her. She was in model range now; if that was even something she still wanted to do these days. Since Rose… priorities had a way of changing. Expectations lowered and ambitions as well.

It wasn't just physical in which Rachel had changed. There was a much more… serious air to her. The outsider apparently saw the same old Rachel. The beautiful mystery, the riddle they could never quite solve. Chloe, however, knew the truth. She knew it was just a mask meant to hide behind now. She and Chloe had seen the ugliest human nature could offer and they were never going to be the same after that night.

"I bet if we tell Courtney we'll put a good word in for her, she'll do it," she heard Rachel next to her say as she smoked. "God bless gay-for-pay."

Chloe eyed Rachel with a slight grin. One of these days she was going to have to ask Rach what the deal was with her hate for Courtney Wagner. For now, she couldn't care as she noticed Rachel's mood shift cold just as the two of them watched Frank Bowers RV pulling into the parking lot.

Just because Chloe told Rachel she thought Frank Bowers was a good guy, it did not necessarily mean that Chloe liked being around him.

Outside of Joyce, Frank Bowers was one of the last real connections to the 'isolation days' as Chloe had come to call the days between Max's departure to the day she met Rachel. The only thing that got her through those lonely years was being in various states of being stones, and that meant she ended developing the quasi dealer-buyer friendship with Frank.

She didn't really need to do this anymore as Rachel reminded her. The Vortex Club was fighting tooth and nail to claw Rachel and by extension Chloe into their ranks. As fucking awful as she thought a club was, they had all the connections they needed to the Arcadia Bay drug scene and none this weird face-to-face interactions.

For now, she tried to make the deals on her own. Especially when his object of fascination, as Rachel pointed out within their third meeting was Rachel herself. Call her a prude all you would fucking like to, she really didn't care. The fact was Frank was thirty-something year old man was ogling a at the time 15 year old girl, and Chloe wasn't going to act like it was somehow a okay fucking thing.

With this creepy encounter so soon after the whole Hampden ordeal, Chloe was not exactly in the mood to let either of them ended up getting potentially hurt again. Even if Frank was a softy deep inside, she was just not going to chance. Keeping things hidden was what got Rose killed, and Chloe was determined never to let something of that magnitude happen to them again. Not if she could do something.

So with that in mind, she went to see Sera about it alone.

Sera was not Chloe's first choice in adults to go to about this. No, her first choice was going straight to James; but after she cooled down a little and had a chance to think over the matter, she decided on Sera. Given Sera's history with associating with him, it felt like an act of good faith in Frank's intentions.

Maybe she was just being paranoid with Frank; but who the fuck knew exactly what went on in Frank's head. If she took her concerns to straight to James, he'd go ballistic and start a witch hunt and that would mean weed would be so much harder to find and a fuck ton more expensive. That would hella suck.

While Sera didn't have that sort of power, she did keep her ear to ground and knew the right moment to intervene. She flat out told Chloe that Chloe's ability to get weed came dead last in priority to keep both Rachel and her safe, and that the moment she didn't like any of this she would go straight to James. There would be no room for arguments, the only reason she did not do right off the bat was out of respect of Chloe's vigilance.

So, just like that Chloe had obtained a second mother. That was kind of a nice turn of events.

It didn't take much to convince Frank to sell to them within a stone's throw of the Two Whales. It just took Sera to name drop that there was a growing popularity in chilli and it became a place Frank spent a lot of time at. Convenience was a drug dealer's friend apparently, and with that, the buys Chloe made with Rachel were held while Sera could keep an eye on it.

A gentle nudge caught her attention from Rachel. She had dropped her cigarette and had a wad of cash in hand outstretched towards Chloe. She was making a point not to notice Frank was out of the van and approaching the pair of them, a small bag in hand and that stupid obvious look on his face he had as he noticed Rachel was there.

"Hey... I'm going to go get a table for us and bug Sera, alright?" Rachel spoke uncomfortably as Chloe took the money.

As soon as Chloe nodded, she had earned a swift kiss on her cheek from her girl, and with that Rachel shoved her hands in her pockets, nearly marching off towards the entrance, leaving Chloe and the now despondent Frank alone.

Chloe turned back to face Frank and wondered why Frank never hit on her. She wasn't interested, but it was a curiosity if he was into young girls. She probably gave off a super gay vibe. If that was the case, she probably didn't even have to come out in front of Joyce and David on their wedding rehearsal day in front of Dickhead David's crusty old homophobic (at least that was what she assumed, she never got a straight answer) family.

Of course Rachel was there as her guest/date, and of fucking course she found a way to make it worse. That day she pretended that Chloe's outing was the first time she heard about it and decided to confess her own love with her right then and fucking there. It was a good thing Joyce, and surprisingly the douchebag were cool with it, or at least knew better than to argue beyond the obvious disruption they made.

Now that was a fun day. 

"Frank, my main man," Chloe greeted as brightly as she could, holding out her hand to high five. "What's shaking, dude?"

Frank, it seemed, was not in the mood to high five. He was never in the mood to high five. Shame, she was a hella high fiver. She had good fucking references and everything.

"Price, you got what I want?" Frank demanded.

Chloe resisted the urge to smirk and say 'Yeah, Rachel' before she remember he was still a required service. In the same way you didn't piss off the mailman, trash men or firefighters, you didn't piss off Frank for his weed access. At least not until an alternate source had opened up.

Instead Chloe flashed the money causally.

"You got the quarter?" she called back to him as he reached out and took the cash.

She watched silently as Frank counted out the handful of ten dollar bills. Appearing to be satisfied, he nodded, pocketing the money and handed quarter bag over to her, which she immediately shoved into the front of her pants much to Frank's chagrin. Chloe winced. Their weed now smelled like sex. Gross…

Chloe inwardly grinned. Maybe Chloe flavoured weed might be a huge aphrodisiac for Rach… God, what the fuck was wrong with her?

"Living large on the rich girl's money I see. I guess it's better than you beggin' me for freebies..." Frank muttered to her as Chloe straightened herself up.

"Still taking money from teenagers I see. Hella hardcore, man. Everybody watch out for fucking Scarface here…" Chloe shot back at him.

Frank narrowed his eyes, but he did not fall for the obvious attempt to get a rise out of him.

"Speaking of which, I heard you're on campus now. Heat's cooled down after North graduated and we're reorganized and looking to enter that market," Frank spoke again as he tilted his head slightly. "Are you both interested in making some cash on the side? Might be good for you... not having to leech off that girl."

She knew what this was. Classic attempt in twisting about the insecurities she had to use against her. Chloe already had enough issues as it was, she wasn't about to let her fucking dealer make her fall right into her pocket using pride against her.

Nope, that wasn't happening here.

"You still work for Merrick, and even if you weren't no fucking way," she attempted diffuse the conversation. "Besides, work would totally spoil our friendship, Frank!"

Frank's expression soured, his unspoken motive to actually make the offer was left lingering unspoken between the two of them. Chloe did not blink, did not offer any chance to Frank for exploitation. After a few moment moments, Frank shook his head and took a step back from his client.

"Fine by me," he growled dismissively as he turned away. "You Blackwell brats are a dime a fucking dozen anyway… just thought I'd offer my best customers first."

Watching as Frank retreated back into his RV, Chloe pulled her phone out and slowly made her way to the diner, her fingers tapping out a message.

You  - Heads up frank just made a job offer 4 Rach n me.

By the time she reached the door, she got a message back.

Sera - I'll handle it when he comes in. Thanks.

Glancing back to see if Frank had left his RV yet, Chloe exhaled and stepped into the diner. She could only hope Sera could handle it, but she had James's contact info highlighted just in case.


Scanning the to-do list she had started writing out in April, Rachel checked off camping gear. They were now one step closer to their Pacific Northwest tour.

The taste of freedom which had lost all its appeal the previous year was back on for them. With their hearts sufficiently healed, the urge to leave had returned; and so since late April Chloe and she had been preparing for the trip. There was far more to it then they originally thought there would be back when they first met. With age came more realistic expectations and a better understanding that even a few months away took a bit of planning in advance.

As excited as she was, there had been some challenges. They had no challenges with the means or the financial aspects to it, but instead it came from worse difficulties outside of material need: family.

For Chloe, her Mom was a real source of resistance. Nothing Chloe could do or say was approved of by Joyce, who insisted they wait until next year. 

Despite Chloe thinking she was being a 'domineering fascist'', Rachel didn't see it that way. Joyce was a mother who was watching her daughter fleeing the nest, and regardless of Chloe and Joyce's situation, Joyce was never going to not love her. Rachel genuinely liked Joyce, she was a sweet, devoted woman who had would stop at nothing to protect her own, and that was something she had to respect. She probably could have done better in the new husband department though, but no one was perfect.

At the end of the day it took her Dad of all people stepping in to alleviate the concerns Joyce and David had for the journey Chloe was about to embark on. He confirmed that the truck only looked like a piece of shit, that they had money to get home in a pinch and all the communications they needed to keep in contact. The fact that Dad was willing to stand in the same room as David Madsen spoke volumes, and with the reassurance of James Amber given freely, some of Joyce's concerns had been cast aside… at least some of them anyway.

After all, Mom's would be Mom's…

As for her situation, well it was a little easier to process for all parties. Dad was well aware this was coming since before Mom had died and was prepared to let them go then. Now he had time to process it and had come to accept this desire. He probably didn't like this, but he was okay with it. In the past month he had been pulling Chloe aside for 'talks'. Chloe, not one to keep things from her explained that they were mostly just him dumping his concerns out in the open and Chloe trying her best to sooth them. He wasn't just interfering, he was just… scared; and when James Amber was scared, Rachel knew it meant something.

Sera had been a similar story as Dad was, but it seemed as though she was much more… cowed by the past to speak out. Rachel honestly wished Sera felt comfortable enough with expressing how she felt, but even years into their growing relationship, Sera still thought she had no right to dictate what Rachel wanted to do. For the most part she was right to feel that way; but that didn't mean the daughter wanted to not hear what her biological mother needed to say.

Rachel had genuinely come to love this woman in a way that was unique and didn't have to replace her Mom in anyway. It seemed so impossible, so unlikely in the aftermath of what happened to Mom; but she knew her Mom and she knew with Chloe's help that Rose Amber wouldn't want her daughter to just give up on the blossoming reconnection she was building with Sera.

It was as Chloe had put it: "You have to learn to trust again, so why not start with Sera?"

For a blue haired mouthpiece, Chloe Price was a real softy.

Rachel was well aware of the experience Chloe had in the field of parental loss. She had talked Rachel out of some very dark places, and the promise she had made never wavered. Not once did Rachel ever feel alone, or isolated, and she adored her girl for that.

This love was another motivation why they were back on with the trip. Unspoken between them was that they would end up in Seattle. With everything that Chloe had done for her these past years, Rachel knew it was time for the same sort of healing Chloe had offered to her, had to be passed back. So the friendship between Chloe Price and Max Caulfield had to finally be addressed.

She had heard the many stories from Chloe, and it filled Rachel with a certain sort of envy. She moved around a lot as a child. It came with the job her Dad had. She never got to plant her roots long enough to form a friendship in a similar vein that Chloe and Max got to have. With everything she had been told Rachel found that for the first time in a long time the opinion of a stranger someone else actually mattered. She hoped Chloe and Max could reconnect, so that Chloe could have another best friend back in life, and perhaps Rachel could have a chance at gaining a friend out of this encounter as well.

After the Caulfield dilemma was put to rest, Rachel had another goal for the coming school year: helping to mend what was broken between Chloe and Joyce. They both needed each other, and it was wrong to see them like this. It was never that great between them, even in the lead up to David's gun being stolen.

She didn't know William Price well, but she knew enough to know what was going on between the two great loves of his life was the last thing he'd ever want for them.

Watching Sera as she refreshed another customer's coffee, Rachel tilted her head as she heard the door jingle open. In came Chloe, that bright confident smile of hers making her melt a little. Noticing Rachel watching her, Chloe widened her grin and put a little swagger into her step.

God, she was such a fucking cutie.

As Sera too looked Chloe's way, Sera smiled brightly for her daughter's girlfriend. They honestly had a very sweet sort of relationship in their own right. Sera would call her 'daughter-in-law', which always managed to put a blush on both their faces at the almost convinced way she spoke. It almost always put a smile on her Dad's face, so it was worth it.

"Well if it isn't Sera, my other main girl. How are you today?" Chloe greeted Sera with a side hug.

"I'm doing fine, sweetheart," Sera greeted Chloe warmly as Chloe let go and slid into the seat opposite of Rachel. "Let me guess, Clubhouse, side order of fries and coffee?"

Chloe only smiled as a confirmation.

"Can you add a Sprite to the order?" Chloe politely requested.

Sera nodded and with a smile to Rachel, she left the girls to their own devices. Chloe stretched out, resting her legs on the opposite seat next to her. Her face sort of scrunched as she seemed to be thinking on something which Rachel knew was only a matter of time before she said it-

"Are we really inviting Vicky and her cheer squad for next weekend's rager?" Chloe suddenly blurted out.

Sipping her tea, Rachel looked over the brim to take in Chloe's natural mistrust of Victoria Chase. To say they had a confrontational relationship was drastically understating it. The only reason Chloe wasn't tormenting Victoria was Rachel's request to keep the peace and that Chloe was still under probation from Wells'. She never quite forgot that Victoria had tried to drug her girlfriend at the play, but she certainly overlooked she swapped the tainted tea.

It was silly anger, but she supposed everyone had that one person they irrationally hated. Rachel knew she had that in Courtney Who-Gives-A-Fuck…

"Yes, Beth," she said, smiling as she watched her girl cringe at her official pet name. "She's been… surprisingly good to us last year. It's better that we end the year on a good note so that we don't start the next one with her breathing down our necks."

"But why would she want to come?" Chloe asked out loud. "Junkyards aren't clearly her thing."

Chloe was right, they really weren't and that was kind of the point.

"The idea is to extend an olive branch to her. If she doesn't want it, she cannot stand there and say we did not offer the invitation," Rachel answered her with a small smile spreading. "Besides, the Vortex Club is coming and she'd be committing social suicide if she didn't show up."

Chloe sort of frowned at the idea of the Vortex Club being there. Having spent so long as an outsider, she was still getting used to the idea that she was officially a popular kid. She could hang out with Justin and skater bros as well as Steph and Mikey roleplaying all she liked but at the end of the day she was still going to be held to a higher standard because of who she was seeing. She literally had the rising star of the cheerleaders Dana Ward Juliet Watson hanging and off her as a friend.

Rachel reckoned that was all part of her charm. Chloe wouldn't just change who she was even if her situation had changed. It was something else Rachel sort of came to envy in her girlfriend. She felt so… fake in comparison.

"Win-win, I guess," she heard Chloe cut threw her self-doubt.

Rachel looked back up to her and smiled.

"Chloe Price, my eternal optimist..." Rachel lightly teased her. "That's something I never thought I'd hear you say."

Before a smart-assed response could be formulated and allowed to escape Chloe's lips, Rachel leaned over the table and planted a small kiss. She smirked at the silence she made and slumped back into her seat, her hand reaching out to rest on her outstretched legs.

Smiling briefly at Chloe, Rachel looked up and noticed her Mom… Sera… no… her Mom was returning to them, a plate of fries in one and her chicken salad sandwich in one hand and a coffee pot clutched in her other.

"I'll have yours out in a bit, Chloe," Sera spoke as she placed Rachel's lunch in front of her and poured Chloe her coffee. "So… when are you two leaving? I haven't gotten much of a definitive response from anyone… and I would like to be able to see you off."

Rachel ignored the small guilt twisting inside of her. Yes, she had been pretty vague to Sera about the date in an attempt not to cause her problems. She still had to manually remember that Sera was not as delicate as she was when they first met. That she wouldn't just blow apart at the seams over something like this. She had her shit really together now and she deserved a lot of respect for that; certainly enough to treat her like a proper adult.

Chloe exchanged a knowing look with Rachel before she turned to look up at Sera.

"June 30th if it all goes to plan," Chloe announced to her as she snatched a couple fries off her plate. "You're gonna be a great summer. It's two months without having to deal with the biggest pests in your life."

Sera sort of nodded half-heartedly, audibly exhaling. Like James and Joyce before her, she too was worried about this trip, but she couldn't exactly express this feeling. It must have been a terrible feeling to have. Wanting to say something but not sure if she was in the right to say it.

"Well, perhaps I've grown fond of both of you girls being annoyances…" Sera spoke back quietly, sort of teasing. She glanced to Rachel and added, "… and if I say that I will miss you both terribly, would you reconsider?"

Sera paused and clamped her mouth shut. She looked sort of ashamed she had voiced her thoughts. She sort of laughed and shook her head.

"I'm sorry, I'm not sure what came over me," Sera amended ruefully to the girls. "I don't intend on stopping you, but I hope you won't blame me for…well, I guess I have some reservations."

Rachel reached and took Sera's hanging free hand.

"It's okay to feel that," Rachel reassured her with a soft tone, squeezing her fingers gently. "We'll be back, I promise, Mom."

Although she stiffened a little, Sera smiled at the title her daughter had used for her. Rachel had been carefully testing the waters with that word over the past few months. Sera had put in so much time and devotion to mending everything left broken in the Amber family in the wake of Mom's death. It just seemed wrong for Rachel to not acknowledge it, and to not to take steps in her direction as well.

Perhaps… Perhaps it was okay to feel she could have had two mothers…

With Sera sort of pacified, Rachel released her grasp on her hand. A singular thought was running through her head now, and she just… had to ask.

"Hey… So can you do me a huge favour?" she asked her carefully. "Please feel free to say no if you can't deal with it…"

Looking very curiously at her daughter, Sera nodded without even a moment to consider it. Rachel exhaled and glanced to Chloe who drinking her coffee and clutching a couple new fries. She was pretending not to be part of the conversation.

Rachel turned back and looked up at Sera, who looked like she was now standing on ceremony.

"When we leave, can you… could you please check in on my Dad every so often?" Rachel requested of her. "He doesn't have many friends outside his office and… I hate the idea of him not having a barrier between his work and personal life, and I know it might not seem like it, but I don't like to see him puttering around the house all by himself…"

Rachel felt Sera's hand touch against her shoulder.

"He knows you love him, Rachel… even if you have problems relating to him," she firmly reminded the teen. "…but what do you think I should do about it?"

"I can't say for sure," Rachel shrugged as Sera's eyes' burned into hers for an answer. "Just… I don't know… get him out of the house; keep him away from work as much as you can. Do what you do when you're at our house seeing me, only without me there. He needs a friend, and I… I just think you just have a lot in common…"

The doors to the diner opened, catching both mother and daughter's attention. Quietly entering the diner was Frank. He glanced there way for a moment before he trampled off to take his place in the opposite end of the diner.

Almost like clockwork, she watched Sera's eyes narrowed at him. Rachel glanced over towards Chloe for a moment, and noticed she had remained unnaturally still as another server approached to place her lunch in front of her. Like she was sitting on a secret she actually didn't want to share with her.

It didn't take much for Rachel to know something was going on.

"I should get that," Sera spoke straightening her outfit. She looked to Rachel and added. "I'll reach out to James, when you leave… but it's all up to him… okay? I have no right to force him to do anything he isn't okay with."

As soon as Rachel nodded to her terms, Sera stepped back and silently made her way over to Frank, leaving Rachel to turn back to Chloe who was now focused completely on eating.

Rachel narrowed her eyes at her girlfriend. She had a new objective: whittle down Chloe's resistance until she said what the fuck exactly was going on between Frank, Sera and Chloe at the moment.


By the time Sera had reached Frank, Laura had finished taking his order; and it took away her only real excuse to be approaching him. As soon as he handed the menu back to Laura that he was staring right back at her, as though this was the last place he wanted to deal with one of his former associates.

Sera didn't hate Frank Bowers. In fact it was quite the contrary. In the sea of Damon Merrick's shit, Frank was the one sane refuge. He was a guiding voice of reason to the Merrick enterprise; he kept Damon's head on straight and was one of the few who could countermand Merrick's more drastic orders. Frank had her back on more than one occasion, and she would never forget it.

But while Frank was better than Merrick, it didn't make him a saint; and as much as she had some respect for him, it was not nearly enough to even chance her daughter on his good nature. The moment Chloe told her what was going on, that maternal instinct she kept dealing with in small flare ups suddenly and violently kicked into overdrive. This job offer to mule for Merrick was just the straw that broke the camel's back. She couldn't let that slide even if she wanted to.

"Afternoon, Frank," Sera greeted the dealer as came to a stop in front of. "How is everything?"

Small talk was not one of his favourite activities. Frank instead narrowed his eyes at her. He was trying to read her, to see if something bad was coming his way.

"Hey Sera…" Frank spoke finally, still very much on guard. "Yeah, it's all good, you?"

"I'm well, thank you," Sera returned with as much warmth as she could produce in the face of her growing desire to destroy him. "I'm going to take my break; would you mind it if I sat with you for a bit?"

Frank hesitated for a moment before he relented with a small nod. Sera emitted a ghost of a smile and took a seat. Sera sat down across from him and to two of them remained silent as Laura came back with a coffee pot in hand.

"You know, I'm kind of surprised," Frank admitted as soon as Laura left again, leaning backwards into his seat. "Damon was convinced this whole honest work and clean living Miss Arcadia Bay Junkie thing was a pile of shit that wouldn't last. That you'd hit him up for another hit any time… "

Sera folded her fingers on the table as the passive aggressive insult hit her in the face.

"There was a couple times I had weak moments… but I had motivation," she found herself confessing, deciding it was better to own it then retaliate. "Forget what Merrick thinks, what did you think I'd do?"

Frank grunted non-committedly.

"Can't really say I care one way or another," Frank stated curtly as he rolled his shoulders back. "You're free to do what you want. Open a track mark or keep it closed, I don't really give a shit. The only thing I'm wonderin' right now is why the fuck you're here sitting with me, when you've been glaring at me for two fuckin' years like I'm some sort of a stain."

Sera sort of smiled at his biting comment. This was classic Frank was on display. His inability to take a position was why he was still Merrick's second. He couldn't be bothered to have a position. Positions meant you had to stand for something, and Frank could not be bothered with anything that morally taxing. But he did have a point. She had been like that to him for quite some time now.

Sera folded her fingers together on the table. She continued to stare at him, silently observing the man for a moment prior. She noticed his eyes flickering off to one side. She glanced that way and noticed Chloe had just made Rachel laugh.

"You always were nice to me… even when I was using," Sera spoke again softly. "That's why I want to do you a huge favour… that girl you keep eying over there, laughing with her girlfriend. She's off limits, Frank."

Frank's brow furrowed as Sera nudged her head in the direction of her daughter. He was not someone who liked to be told 'no'. Not without good reason. Well, Sera certainly had some good reasons.

"Yeah and why is that?" Frank asked; clearly amused by the remark the former addict had made.

"A multitude of reasons, really…" she returned, forcing the anger back inside her so that she didn't just explode like the urge told her to do. "Let's start with the obvious, she's a child and you're a 30 year old drug dealer, or how about because she's seeing someone already and that's shady thing to do. Or most importantly to your bottom line, because her last name is Amber and I want you to rack your brain real hard about why that surname should mean something to you."

Sera fell silent and watched as Frank seemed to think about it hard about what she had said. It took a few moments before he paused and squinted at her like it was insane to think that Rachel Amber and District Attorney James Amber were one in the same. The emotionless face Sera returned sort of dropped the amusement Frank might have held.

"What's this concern to you?" he demanded. "What does some rich kid with daddy issues have to do with some trash ex-junkie?"

Sera shrugged in an effort to remain as causal as she could. As much as she wanted to say what stake she had, because if Frank knew he'd more than likely back off. It was just not… wise.

"The Ambers have been good to me. Her father has been a good friend when I needed one. The Sera you see, is because of him giving a shit," Sera explained her altered version. "Believe it or not, I kind of like you Frank. Enough to warn you that James Amber isn't someone you want to deal with. He's dangerous."

Sera fell silent as Laura brought Frank his bowl of chilli. Frank did not acknowledge it. He just stared at Sera, his mouth open revealing his teeth. Once again he clearly thought this was all just some big joke.

But it wasn't a joke. Not in the slightest. James Amber's mild and monotone being was the greatest trick he had ever conceived. The man she once loved had a great capacity to destroy if he just put his mind to it; and the moment he heard what was happening, it would not be hard to kick that trait back into gear.

"Dangerous?" Frank spoke finally. While he thought it was amusing, Frank was not an idiot. If someone he knew was saying this, he was going to take it into consideration.

Sera leaned in closer, her fingers gripping the edge of the table.

"Yes, and if you keep this up, I'm going to have to let slip to him just what seems to be on your mind these days," she warned him, her voice dropping an octave. "And one day not long after this warning is ignored, you're going to be minding your own business when you're going to get picked up by a couple of nice police officer and driven out to a nice dark place in the woods. You'll be put on your knees and there you'll see him standing over you. Just you, him and a nice deep, damp grave he dug just for you..."

The rage was back, and it was fuelled by an instinct she had long suppressed for self-preservation. She watched as Frank looked completely astounded by what she was saying. Like Sera had lost her mind. Perhaps she had; but for the first time in a long time she felt like her old self; before the drugs, before the post-partum depression which sent everything into a tailspin. She didn't raise her voice, her words were still just a whisper, but that whisper was enough to convey to Frank that she was not the woman he knew since before she got clean.

For in this moment at least, she was back.

"You'll beg and cry, swearing up and down that you'll leave town for good. But none of that will save you, because you presented yourself as a threat to the safety of the last person on this world he loves," she pressed on, twisting her words far crueller, and far more vicious than ever. "You'll get two rounds in the back of your head for that, then you'll get buried and you will be forgotten by everyone in a heartbeat… because that's what you are, Frank: forgettable trash, just like I am..."

She blinked and remaining leaned close to the startled man for only a moment longer. She came back to reality.

What she said had been mostly for show… mostly. James was not someone to mess with, but would he take Frank somewhere quiet and execute him? That was up for some debate, but Sera knew James, and James was frankly prepared to do anything to keep what he had left safe. He had said as much to her that he was willing to destroy her years prior. For her, however, the only thing that mattered was that Frank got the message, and by the looks of it. He got it loud and clear. He remained still and silent as he weighted the warning with great care.

Sera allowed the anger to erode from her face. She gave him a small smile instead. Perhaps it was time to take James up on extending the family counselling to her as well. She felt like she was bi-polar or something. She was too old to collapse into a rage that made her daughter's look tame in comparison.

"But it doesn't have to be this way, Frank…" Sera broke the silence as she leaned back into her seat. "So this is your one warning: continue to sell to Chloe if you must, but Rachel is off fucking limits. Are we on the same page?"

Frustrated by how this turned out, Frank threw up his hands.

"Jesus Fuck, Gearhardt… yeah I get it... getting shot in the back of the head seems unlikely, but I'm not going to gamble on that..." he finally conceded to her.

Sera inspected Frank carefully to see if there was any sort of deception. She didn't see anything of the sort. Frank number one priority had always been self-preservation from all things law enforcement based. If something could burn him in that huge a way, he wasn't going to take the risk.

She would have to trust he would hold himself to the agreement. If not… well… James could always finish what she started.

"Thank you, Frank," she said, and genuinely meaning it too. "You're a decent enough guy, but for God's sake please find someone in your age range…"

With what she needed to get off her chest spoken, Sera smiled as she pushed herself out of the booth. Frank continued to stare at her, but it was… different this time. Frank coughed, catching Sera's attention.

"Hey, so… random thing to ask… but… when do you get off work?" Frank asked her, a small grin appearing on his face as he looked her over. "Honestly, it was kinda hot to see you get this worked up like this. I'm glad Damon was wrong about you, sobriety suits you…"

Sera blinked as her brain blanked out. She was not quite sure what to make of this new situation she had stumbled into.

"Flattering… but you're a dealer and I have an addictive personality; the Fates are not aligned for us," Sera spoke as straight as she could without laughing. "Besides, I don't date that young and neither should you."

Patting Frank's arm sympathetically, Sera left his to his cooling chilli and tried her best to make peace with the idea that Frank Bowers now wanted to sleep with her instead of her daughter. It was only confirmed when she glanced back and caught him looking at her.

As much as she might have disliked this, as much as she wished she could just bleach her brain, she supposed this was just one of those things a parent would do for their children. One of those parental sacrifices she heard so much about…

Parenting, Sera decided, was decidedly could be a pretty fucked up thing at times…

 

 

Chapter Text

Wrapping herself tightly up in her bath towel, Rachel Amber stepped out of the dorm shower, her fingers unconsciously running along the jagged scar running along her wrist and forearm.

It was her imperfection, her permanent reminder of her failures. She hated and honoured the mark. It was the lasting reminder to the dangers of acting without thinking; and nearly every time she looked at it, Rachel silently vowed she would never do something as foolish as that for as long as she should live. Not when she knew the stakes.

She exhaled unsteadily as she recognized that she was in a melancholy mood right now. It was part of the grief process she learned from her occasional meetings with the Councillor she went to from time to time. It was to be expected to be like this around this time of year.

It was two days until the anniversary of her Mom's death and she was about to go see her Dad without Chloe. It might come to others as a surprise, but Rachel was capable of doing things without her. It was just that sometimes she just needed to have these private one on one's with her Dad, so that she could properly figure out where he was actually at in his grieving. With Chloe around, Dad always did his utmost to come off as nothing was wrong. It was sort of a Stepford Dad bullshit thing. He didn't want to look weak; he was sort of okay with that in front of his daughter, but definitely not in front of Chloe. It seemed as though the two of them were still in a phase where they felt they had to impress each other, which was annoying.

But what Dad never seemed to understand was that Chloe was not dumb; she was just polite (yes, Chloe was able to be polite) enough to let him play his games and hold up his public face. Chloe was just as aware what was going on as Rachel was. The art of suppressing though ignoring the pain was an old hat for Chloe. It was how she processed the loss of William, even to this day.

Perhaps it was just what happened when you had your heart so shredded apart.

Rachel didn't have the luxury of cool, simmering grief like Chloe and Dad had. If she didn't express it, it built up and she did bad things… mostly to herself. She had nearly failed school this year. None of it seemed to matter to her and worse yet she knew Mom would be furious that she was doing this to herself.

Chloe by comparison had flourished. She had gone from total schoolwork apathy to reaching a fucking 3.0 GPA in their last report period. After getting her second chance, she seemed to have really taken it to heart. Honestly Rachel was pretty proud of her for that, but she definitely was surprised to find out Chloe was a secret nerd. Well, maybe she was not that surprised. It was no secret that Chloe had a passion for academics; but between her grief for her father and image as a delinquent it could easily lost in sea that was Chloe Price.

Wrapping William's stopped wrist watch around her scarred wrist, gathering her clothing and throwing a second towel around her shoulders, Rachel left the bathroom breezing by Samantha Meyers with the briefest of smiles. The girl sort of blushed at the sight of Rachel. She averted her eyes from the older girl as though she had no business to be in her presence.

Samantha Meyers was a sweet girl but plain girl without a bad bone in her body. She didn't draw attention to herself and in turn no attention was drawn to her. Rachel liked her because she didn't play the drama game; she didn't engage in rumour mongering or draw conclusions. She was at school to learn, and Rachel really had to respect the drive she had. She wasn't bogged down by anything, or at least that was what she seemed on the surface.

But as she learned long ago, everyone wore a mask, Samantha included… it was just a matter of time before Rachel figured out her as well.

"Hello Samantha," Rachel greeted Samantha as a performance smile came to her face for the smaller teenager. "Hey, so did you hear that Chloe and I are throwing a party this weekend?"

Looking at Rachel suspiciously, Samantha scrunched up her button nose like she was uncomfortable with the question she had been asked.

"I did hear of it…" Samantha spoke slowly, uncertainly. "But I-I thought it was a Vortex Club party only..."

Rachel blinked as a small chill ran through her stomach. Why would Samantha or anyone for that matter be under the impression that was the case? It wasn't going to be some rich kid circle jerk. Both Chloe and she had made it a point to advertise that the party had no restrictions. Everyone got their chance to have an invite.

It didn't take long before Rachel had a couple theories of who was behind this disinformation campaign. At this point all she needed was a confirmation. She narrowed her eyes at Samantha and remained steadily silent as she watched the girl grow more nervous with every second she had the attention of the Queen of Blackwell's complete and undivided attention.

"Who said that?" Rachel flatly asked her.

Rachel watched as the girl's entire defense just crumble down in front of her. She didn't take joy in it, but she needed to get to the bottom of it and she had no time to ease an answer out of Samantha gracefully. She would find a way to apologize later.

"A couple of girls in my grade… Danica Sedgwick and Lauren Wilson were talking about it," Samantha informed her, clearly frightened by the staring older girl. "Courtney Wagner told them they weren't invited, that it was the Vortex Club and potential members only… I'm not really Vortex Club material…"

Courtney Wagner.

She was right at the top of her list.

In an effort to please Victoria, Courtney was proactive in enforcing whatever she assumed would be Victoria's policy on anything. She was a weak little follower who craved more power, but she would never be able to wield it. So she utilized what she got by picking on those lower down the social totem pole for the approval of Victoria and her betters; and for the most part Courtney would get her approval because Victoria was a bitch who liked to throw her weight around.

What Courtney didn't know was that Victoria and Rachel had come to an agreement at her Mother's funeral wake. Victoria would not interfere into the affairs of Rachel and Chloe, and Chloe and Rachel would not go to war against Victoria. So far both sides had honoured the agreement for the most part; there was a lot of sniping, especially between Chloe and Victoria, but nothing blew out of hand.

So with that history in mind, Rachel took a small leap of faith in the case of Chase. Victoria knew that this party was Chloe and Rachel's; she knew that and would not attempt to alter the parameters. This was an act committed by someone outside the unofficial pact of Chloe, Victoria and Rachel. Taylor was snippy, but she was a sweetheart at her core, and so that left Courtney exposed.

Rachel stepped forward towards the younger girl, her fingers gripped Samantha's shoulders, making the smaller girl go rigid in some sort of weird hybrid of gay panic and social anxiety. Deciding to go easy on her, as she allowed a smile to return back to her face as Rachel leaned in.

"I'm going to let you in on a secret, Samantha: Fuck that bitch, Fuck the Vortex Club and fuck their stupid exclusionary games," she said firmly, watching as Samantha's face brightened. "Rachloefest is for anyone who can make it, Samantha. Chloe I would like for you to be there if you can."

Samantha blinked.

"Rachloefest?" Samantha inquired, looking both amused and confused.

Rachel emitted a small laugh, her fingers rubbing the back of her neck as she nodded at the awful name.

"Yeah… Chloe came up with it…" Rachel informed her lightly. "Could you go and speak to Danica and Lauren as well as any of your friends Courtney shut down and have them meet me for lunch tomorrow? Chloe and I would like to personally re-invite them to the party."

Samantha's mouth formed into a dazzling smile.

"I'll let them know," she said excitedly. "Thank you Rachel… You-you're really nice to us; and you don't have to be."

Samantha was sure as hell right about that one…

"You have nothing to thank me for, Samantha," Rachel dismissed as she stepped back from the other girl. "If you need a ride there, you let Chloe or I know and you'll be our plus one."

Exchanging goodbye waves with Samantha, Rachel in silence watched as Samantha retreated into the bathroom, leaving her alone to simmer in her rage. As soon as the door closed behind her, Rachel's hand formed into a fist as a surge of violence crossed into her thoughts.

It was looking as though she had a bitch to knock back down.

In dead silence she started walking, ignoring Alyssa Anderson and the next girl on her list, Stella Hill who talked behind her back and was clearly under the delusional impression Rachel wasn't paying attention to her. All this time and people still thought she wasn't taking notes… that somehow losing her mother meant that Rachel was somehow quicker to shrug off the rumours still being spread.

She would probably do the right thing with Stella though. She was young, and probably didn't know better. She would issue her a warning and figure out what the hell was her problem…

She'd probably have to ask Stella why she thought taking Speed was a good idea…

Yes, she was always watching everyone. They could have their lies and slander against her, but Rachel found the truth far more interesting to command.

It wasn't long before Rachel was standing outside of Room 221. She could hear the sound of conversation on the other side. What she actually heard was Victoria talking and two girls agreeing with that ever she had to say.

Rachel raised her fist and knocked twice.

The room went silent and Rachel remained still as she heard footsteps approach the entrance. The door opened and standing there was Victoria Chase, her mouth clamped shut as she inspected the sight of Rachel in only a couple towels. She looked as though she had something caught in her throat.

"Rachel Amber..." Victoria spoke pleasantly enough as she found her ability to speak. "You're kind of underdressed…"

Rachel smiled as politely as she could for the obviously curious girl. Victoria had grown up as well; her cheek bones more defined, and easily a head taller. It seemed as though Chase was finally growing into her ice queen persona. She would be a real heart breaker soon enough.

"Hello Victoria, thank you for the interest…" she returned without any sort of care. "I'll make this quick. Is Courtney in there?"

Sure enough at the sound of her name, Rachel noticed Courtney step out of the shadow as too did Taylor, but Taylor wasn't her focus for today. Courtney was and right now she was attempting to look innocent, and in doing so more or less confirmed her guilt.

"Hi Courtney," Rachel greeted the other girl with a smile. "So basically if you show up at Chloe and my party, I'm going to kick your face in."

Victoria's eyes widened at the promise Rachel had made, as too did Courtney naturally. Having Rachel Amber threatening her openly was naturally a shock. Rachel didn't entirely mean it, but she was not going to back down now. Chloe and she were trying to have an event where no one was left out, and here was some bitch trying to alter its purpose to fit the agenda off someone who probably didn't okay it.

"Ah, what are you talking about, Rachel?" Courtney inquired, like she was Miss fucking Innocent.

Rachel stepped past Victoria and forced Courtney's back into the door. She hadn't touched the girl yet. All it took was the implication of danger for Courtney Wagner to do all the work for her. What the hell was Rachel going to do, fight in a towel?

It didn't matter. Courtney was a bully. She was a weak person, and weak people were easy to knock down with the right amount of pressure.

"You had no right to scare people off from my party," Rachel nearly snarled at the brunette. "The only reasons I'm not beating you down or calling Chloe out here to make this so much worse is out of respect to Victoria. I got enough shit on my plate without you adding to it."

Rachel was very aware she was making a scene right now,but she just did not care. There were a dozen girls out in the hallway silently watching in amazement as Rachel Amber had just torn into one of Victoria Chase's underlings and instead of defending one of her own, Victoria stood there just watching it unfold carefully. Victoria and Rachel were locked in a Cold War. It did not take much to start the war full on.

There was good reason why this hadn't escalated into a showdown right here, right now: Rachel had used the right amount of respect on Victoria. It was enough respect to acknowledge her place in this matter, but not enough to come off as condescending or like a kiss ass.

It was as her Mom once said when she was younger: 'It was easier to get what you wanted when you managed to win the obstacles over to your side.'

"Excuse me," Victoria snapped as she stepped back next to Rachel, her arms crossed over her chest. "What in the fuck is this about?"

Glaring at Courtney a moment longer, Rachel finally blinked and redirected her attention back to Victoria. She noticed there was no anger in Victoria's expression, just a resigned curiosity. She was resigned because Victoria knew full well that Rachel wouldn't make a scene like this unless one of her friends had seriously fucked up.

"Victoria, if I were you, I would be little tighter on the leash for this one," Rachel spoke, flattening her tone out to something a little more friendly. "She's under the impression that she speaks for you, and I am seriously hoping she is mistaken…"

Courtney tried to sputter out a defense, but was silenced by Victoria's sharp inhale and her hand being raised in the air. It collapsed any effort Courtney was about to make, because she knew the adults were talking now. Neither of them had the time for any of her shit.

"Shut… the fuck… up, you stupid bitch…"  Victoria spoke to Courtney with nothing but malice in her words. She lowered her hand and added. "Rachel, she doesn't speak shit for me. Was she trying to co-opt your thing?"

Rachel didn't even have a chance to answer when Victoria drew her own conclusions.

"Never mind, of course she was," Victoria muttered to herself. Rachel could not help but notice that the anger in her tone wasn't put on.

Victoria shot Courtney a withering glare before she turned back to face Rachel, her arms crossing over her chest. She looked uncomfortable, which was expected when Victoria was about to admit she had not her hand over her people as strongly as she should have.

"Courtney still seemed to forget where she is in her social standing. That's the problem with poor girls flying too close to the sun…" Victoria spoke, to Rachel, her words biting and clearly directed towards Courtney as much as they were to Rachel. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I promise you, I'll deal with her."

Rachel remained motionless for a moment. As much as she wasn't a fan of Victoria's financial bullying, but she knew that was as good as she was going to get from her school frenemy. After another moment of silence between the two of them, Rachel finally nodded, accepting the word of Chase as genuine.

Rachel glanced around Victoria and directed her attention back to Courtney.

"I'm going to be issuing an apology and another invitation to the students you ostracized at lunch tomorrow, and if you know what is fucking good for you, you'll make an appearance as well," Rachel informed her sharply. "Mess things up for me again, and being Victoria's friend isn't going to save you."

"She'll be there grovelling before you even arrive…" Victoria assured her, earning a small smile from Rachel and a nod. She liked the sound of that.

With her business with Victoria complete, she started to head back to her room when she felt an arm reach out and lock with hers. It was Victoria, and she carefully led Rachel a few steps away from her door towards Rachel's dorm. Rachel glanced at the crowd now breaking up and noticed Samantha standing there, a little confused, but mostly very pleased.

Rachel allowed her a small smile and a wink before she followed Victoria down the hallways.

By the time the two of them reached halfway to 224, Victoria slowed down to a standstill and turned to properly face Rachel's weary eyes. She allowed a small smile to cross onto her face for the Amber girl.

"I know what time of year it is for you… Chloe as well…" Victoria spoke, her voice a little strained as she looked back to see if anyone was watching. "It may not seem like it, but I am thinking of you and your father."

Of all the things Rachel hypothesized Victoria was about to say, she had to admit she wasn't expecting that from her. It was… sort of a nice reminder to have of a Victoria Chase not many got to see. There was a vulnerable side underneath it all… something Rachel could be properly friends with if Victoria only let her try…

Victoria's expression of sympathy left her toying with the idea of inviting her along to a visit to mom on Wednesday, but two facts stopped it from being voiced.

First it was kind of random invite someone to see her Mom's grave, especially when Rachel was not close to her at all.

Second, Chloe would spend the entire time looking for an open grave to toss Victoria into.

It was one thing for Rachel and Victoria to make peace, it would be quite another thing to have Chloe and Victoria reconcile. That act would take a miracle not even she could make happen.

"Thank you, Victoria..." she finally said as the short haired blonde released her hand on Rachel's shoulder. "I'm… glad we could work through this…"

With a thin smile, Victoria nodded once and silently turned away; leaving Rachel to ponder what a proper friendship with Victoria Chase would be like.

An impossibility, but it was a curious idea to think on.


Closing her door behind her and dropping her towels in order to search for clothing, Rachel couldn't help but look over her Chloe Price.

Chloe was currently in the middle of a nap on Rachel's bed; because of course she was. That was just how she rolled. It was little wonder why Chloe didn't rush out the moment the moment Rachel started arguing a few feet away. When Chloe slept, she was out like a light.

Watching Chloe sleep was always sort of freaked Rachel out. Okay, it was one of the few things that definitely freaked out.

She never knew what she was going to get from watching it. More often than not she would be peaceful as she was right now, but Chloe's nightmares were wild to witness. She would talk in her sleep. Mostly – Rachel assumed - was to her father, but it was nothing which Rachel could grasp. Other nights she would jerk around like she was having a seizure. She would wake up shaking and in a sweat, and no matter how often Rachel would ask, she would never get a straight answer. She would instead just lie back down and push herself closer to Rachel as though she was the end all solution.

Well, if that was how Chloe felt, Rachel would do her utmost to be that for her. For now she was just gratefully Chloe was having a good, extra comfortable sleep, laying on her chest and snoring lightly.

As comfy as Chloe looked, Rachel managed to battle off all the instincts telling her to forget getting dressed and instead snuggle in bed with her.

She still had places to be, Dads to check up on. So with that in mind, she managed to convince herself to get dressed, throwing on a mixture of her clothing and Chloe's (thankfully clean) combat jacket. As soon as she was properly dressed for an outing, Rachel collapsed onto the bed next to Chloe and nipped her neck.

It was enough to stir a groggy reaction out of her girl.

Moaning gently, Chloe reach up and cupped Rachel's head so that she remained locked on Chloe's flesh. Rachel looked down and noticed Chloe's bare toes curl.

So… she was in that sort of mood… This was an interesting turn of events. She would not deny that her argument had left her a little flustered and in need of an outlet. It was something to keep in mind later though. It was something to look forward to when she got home…

"Price, where are your keys?" Rachel breathed into her as she pulled her mouth away from Chloe's neck. "I gotta borrow the truck for the evening."

Groaning, Chloe rubbed her eyes and rolled over onto her back and quietly inspected Rachel, a small smile forming on lips.

"Hot date tonight, Amber?" she teased Rachel.

Rachel could not help but smirk, her fingers reaching out to pat her girlfriend's cheek.

"Yup," she played along, her eyes hooded as she grazed her finger tips along Chloe's cheek until they reached her lips. "I figured it was about time to find some side girl; but don't worry. If I like her, I'll bring her home for the two of us…"

Rachel felt herself get hit by the pillow Chloe had suddenly pulled out from under her head and causally threw at her. She rolled back onto her stomach. Amused by her heated reaction, Rachel pushed herself a little closer, her fingers reaching out to glide along the back side of Chloe's leg.

"I'm going to visit my Dad," she informed her. "I figure I'd check in on him as much as I can in the next few weeks. Talking to Sera the other day got me thinking… and I've been sort of avoiding him."

Rachel watched as Chloe pulled herself up from her comfortable position. She placed herself against her, her arm reaching out and wrapping around the smaller girl's waist. Chloe remained silent, giving Rachel time to focus on her steadily increasing guilt over her relationship with her Dad, which felt like it was in a nose dive these days.

She wished it wasn't this way, but she couldn't help it that everything about her Dad reminded her about her Mom, and every single reminder of her found a way to hurt her even more. She hated that she felt this way, because her Dad deserved so better than that sort of avoidance from her. But the pain of losing Mom hadn't mellowed out; it only grew more pronounced, more potent and difficult to manage, and she hated how far seemed to be from a recovery.

"Yeah… I know that," Chloe agreed softly, gripping Rachel a little tighter against her. "It was… hard to face my Mom, even after I met you… and now… I hate that my Mom felt obliged to marry that shithead. Worst part is she still holds onto a belief that I want to be his stepdaughter; I don't need him… I don't want him. I have a Dad… and James is really cool to me… considering I'm smashing his only daughter and all…"

In spite of every miserable thought she had roaming through her head; Rachel could not stop herself chuckling softly as she rolled her eyes at the last part of her statement. It almost made her miss the bitterness Chloe was obviously still feeling with the fact that her mother was now a Madsen.

"God, if you're talking to my Dad about that, I'm so not going to be impressed…" Rachel tried to lighten the mood.

Rachel trailed off for a moment.

"Why don't you check up on your Mom, Chloe?" she suggested, hoping it didn't spark anything. "You can drop me off at Dad's and go see her. You'll have the truck so you can leave anytime you start feeling uncomfortable."

Chloe shrugged and examined Rachel closely. She had things on her mind but knew better then to act on them.

"I don't go because David is there… because Joyce thinks me leaving town is some great fucking betrayal…" she confessed as she averted her eyes in order to look out the window. "Mostly because I don't know what to say to either of them anymore; I haven't known what to say for nearly two years now. It's all fucked up right now, and I don't see how or why this… fake fucking family unit should be allowed to exist…."

Rachel remained silent as she considered Chloe's opinion on the state of her own family. Although Rachel and Joyce were one decent enough terms, there was not even an attempt at a connection to David Madsen. Rachel treated him as though the man did not exist beyond name only. He might have been innocent in the eyes of the law, but he had destroyed her life through carelessness.

As angry as she was with David Madsen… as much as she hated the man to the point where she had to pretend the man didn't exist, looking at Chloe now and seeing the obvious pain she was in from missing her mother was enough to make her push the hate and resentment aside. If she could do anything to ease the quiet agony Chloe was silently submitting her to in order to spare Rachel during her own grief, then it was the least she could do. They were partners in everything after all.

"We'll figure out a way make it right together… I never… wanted you to feel like your mother is an enemy, Chloe…" Rachel promised her, interlocking her fingers into Chloe's. "We'll figure this out. After everything you've done… God, I owe you that much..."

Chloe looked at he, her expression was strange. She seemed to be genuinely at a loss of words; which was a real rarity for Chloe Price. Rachel felt Chloe tighten her grasp.

"You don't owe me anything, Rachel. You never did…" Chloe assured her with a serenity Rachel rarely heard echoed out of her girlfriend. She watched Chloe's lips quirking upwards.

Rachel leaned in towards her girl, her fingers running through Chloe's hair as pulled her into a gentle, passionate kiss. She loved the little gasp Chloe emitted, the way she sort of melted into it, trusting Rachel with just enough control over her body. She loved the way Chloe's long fingers gripped the front of Rachel's shirt keeping her close.

Rachel pulled her mouth away from Chloe's and smiled.

Most of all, she just loved Chloe Price…

"Keep talking like that and you'll make it harder for me to leave..." Rachel murmured her nose touching Chloe's. "…I'd take you along-"

She didn't have to finish her wish. Rachel trailed off as she felt a finger touch against her lips. Chloe shook her head with a half-smile and produced the keys to their truck. She placed them into the palm of Rachel's hands and folded her fingers over them for her.

"He needs to see his daughter, Rach; and you need to see your dad," Chloe reassured her girlfriend. "It's…probably better it happens without this one girl sexy distraction keeping you flustered…"

As Chloe gestured to herself with both of her thumbs, Rachel couldn't help but laugh a little and Chloe joined. Rachel rest rested her head on Chloe's shoulder, wiggling a little closer.

"Understatedly sexy..." she whispered into Chloe's ear, her fingernails pushing into Chloe's neck, causing a visible shiver in her girlfriend. Reluctantly, she pulled back from Chloe, allowing one added kiss on the end of Chloe's nose before she stood up and stretched out.

"I should be back before 9," she informed Chloe as she placed her thumbs into her jean pockets. "I'm probably going to need a hella cuddle session, so pick out a movie… and make it something that you won't fall asleep through, though…I know it might be asking a bit much, but we should try..."

Rachel grinned as she watched Chloe pump her fist theatrically.

"Pornhub, here we come!" Chloe announced excitedly.

Whether or not Chloe had meant that innuendo, Rachel wasn't entirely sure. Usually Chloe was pretty proud when she did something clever. She time Chloe was just plain excited. Whatever the case was, all she could do was roll her eyes at Price.

"I said a movie you don't fall asleep during. Not one where you rub one out and fall asleep fifteen minutes after..." she replied, sarcasm dripping from her words as she reached out on grazed her cheek.

Rachel watched Chloe chomp down on her bottom lip. It didn't take much to get her ready… All it took were the right words to get her there.

"I don't do that… often…" she murmured, a little flustered by the observation.

Chuckling slightly, Rachel leaned in once more time and placed her lips over Chloe's for a fleeting moment. She wanted more. Every instinct had demanded more

It was an instinct she would have to deny … at least for a few more hours…

"How about you rub one out now and have another nap. When I get back, we'll see where tonight leads to…" Rachel suggested coyly as she pulled back. "I will see you tonight, Chlo…"

"You are literally the best fucking girlfriend ever, you know that right?!" Chloe informed her excitedly as Rachel made her exit. "I'm not even going to use the internet. It'll just be you on my mind!"

Rachel smiled and allowed Chloe to watch her hips roll as she strolled out of their room.

She didn't need Chloe's confirmation. That was just an irrefutable fact.

 

Chapter Text

 

After the incident between Rachel Amber and Courtney, Victoria Chase couldn't figure the Blackwell Queens out at all.

It was not for a lack of trying. She got the picture in general, but the end game was something which only they knew. Rachel Amber and Chloe Price operated on an entirely separate plane altogether. Together the two of them glided their way through the social hierarchy in both directions seamlessly.

It wasn't hard to figure out why the two most sought after candidates for the Vortex Club were throwing this party which had the entire Academy whispering for the past few weeks. They were consolidating the outcasts under their control in an attempt to maintain their undisputed positions at top of the food chain. It was… a clever move to make and it told her just how seriously Rachel and Chloe were taking the invitations to the Club.

They just didn't give a solitary fuck it at all. All they were doing way stringing the Club along.

And why should they give a shit when they had the entire school population already eating out of their hands? They had the underclasses as a base and the senior grades entranced. Ultimately the two of them had transcended the need for belonging because for them, they were each other's worlds. Everything else was just white noise, little annoyances that stood between them and their lives together, and would blame them. Chloe Price's boyfriend, or whatever the fuck he was murdered Rachel's mother and proved how fucking shit everyone was to them.

But still, Victoria had prided herself as an observer. She was not without a few breakthroughs. On outward appearance, it seemed as though Rachel was the one in charge. Like she was guiding Chloe Price through her world and Chloe was just sort of along for the ride. This was what the world saw, and understandably so. Rachel Amber was a beautiful girl, and the world reacted more to that then the rougher vibrancy Price had.

But between the two of them, it was a whole separate matter. Whenever the two of them were alone and seemingly away from others, their demeanour shifted to something far more serious and it seemed as though Price was the one doing all the talking. Like, she was some sort of guiding force to Amber. Sometimes it seemed as though Rachel was… almost paralyzed without Price there. Victoria chalked this up to Rachel losing a mother and Price having already gone through this sort of loss.

If rumours were to be believed, they'd be on the road by the start of summer, doing God knows what. Probably some sort of super gay adventure. Victoria could not think of anything more lesbianish than two gay girls on the road driving around in that old ass truck they were so fucking proud about. Dana Ward and Juliet Watson were both convinced that the two of them would be heading north… Washington or Canada and obtain a marriage licence in the summer. They were taking bets on who would take whose name.

Dana and Juliet - Victoria determined - were in need of some hobbies.

Then again Victoria wasn't much better than those two ditzy bitches were. Here she was thinking about Rachel and Chloe and watching as Chloe Price charmed the school burn outs with her skateboarding abilities. It was just as she thought. Rachel and Chloe were consolidating the various communities and junior grades against the Vortex Club, with Rachel more or less dividing the Club with her own charm campaign from within. It was fucking devious and it impressed the hell out of her. At least… that's what she saw.

Fuck… why was she even thinking about any of this still? Why and when in the fuck did everything suddenly start revolving around those two? She had her own fucking problems. She had fucking Courtney getting out of control, to a point where she needed to retrain her or risk open conflict with Rachel and Nathan was getting more and more despondent to everything. She knew he was using meds, and they sure as fuck weren't prescribed to him.

With Nathan on her mind, Rachel and Chloe on her back and a cigarette between her lips, Victoria scrolling her phone as casually as she could as she realized that Chloe Price had seemed to have gotten into an argument with the security guard Skip… whoever. She had broken off from the Skateboarders and was heading in her direction, like Victoria, she too had her phone in her hand.

At first she figured she was texting her girlfriend, but there was an expression on her face that told her she was not in conversation with probably one of the only people who could make the sullen punk girl smile. Instead Price stopped walking and sort of shifted foot to foot. She looked… hurt as she texted. Victoria could hear the keystrokes from where she sat and much more curious was the the utterance of 'fuck you, David' she muttered.

Victoria furrowed her brow at the name she heard. Was Chloe seeing someone on the side? No… That was pretty unlikely considering how much a mega lesbo Chloe was. She was a one woman Saemangeum Seawall… World's Largest Dyke… God, why the fuck was she such a nerd… she needed to stop spending so much time on Wikipedia.

While she was probably not in a relationship with the man, whoever this David was, Price was furious at him. Whatever was happening, David was probably lucky as fuck he wasn't within fifty feet of her.

Price looked up and found Victoria had been observing her. It was obvious that the last thing she wanted right now was to deal with Victoria, but with Victoria sitting on the trail to the quickest route to the Dorms, it was an inevitable confrontation. She watched as Price kicked up her skateboard, her free hand pushing back her beanie and revealing more of her grudgingly attractive blue locks.

As the punk girl approached, Victoria took a drag of her cigarette and put her phone away into her purse. She looked up to the Queen's consort and offered the tall girl a faint smile which did not reach her eyes. Try as she might, Victoria did not like Price. They had nothing in common.

"Chloe Price. It's so nice to see you, and not be able to smell you from here!" Victoria greeted before clamping her mouth shut. She hadn't meant to go from 0 to 100 that fast.

Price looked at her. She was more amused than she was angry. If this as several years ago, the anger would be fast, but Rachel Amber's personality had rubbed off onto her. The bitch just fucking smiled exactly like Rachel would have. Like Victoria was just a fucking tick or a leech to burn off.

Victoria inwardly glowered, she fucking hated feeling like she was out of her depths, especially when it was fucking poor white trash getting pitied fucked by a virtual goddess who could probably edge her out without trying very hard. Not when Price had her natural spine, and two years of learning Rachel's linguistic ability to fucking destroy others with only a few words spoken at the exact right moment.

That was probably what scared her most… that Chloe Price had the potential to be so, so much more dangerous than Rachel.

"Vicky… It's always a pleasure when you decide to call me by my first name instead some charming variation of bitch…" Price returned as she stepped forward towards Victoria. "Where are your minions tonight? Finding you an unspoiled virgin to bathe in their blood?"

Victoria bit back the urge to say something that would only escalate it. That was when she noticed just how prepared Price looked, as if she purposefully attempting to draw Victoria out into an argument. No, she was not going to be lured by this walking trash human being.

Permitting a false smile to curve her lips Victoria just shrugged.

"Taylor is out doing whatever she does and Courtney is preparing for tomorrow's apology as your girl demanded," was her only response. It was refrained and casual. There was nothing which Price would be able to use against her.

Still though, Price raised her brow at the reference to Rachel which it appeared she wasn't privy to. Victoria allowed her smile to reform into a smirk at the sight of the older girl looking confused that she was completely out of the loop here.

"Oh, your girlfriend didn't tell you?" Victoria asked, her voice growing to simpering mocking. "Courtney was trying to hijack your party for Vortex Club. Rachel came to my room a few hours ago and was about to call you out to kick Courtney's ass… but I guess that everyone has their secrets they keep. She didn't want to trust you with that, so who am I to judge?"

She knew she said the right thing to inspire Price into fury. She just wasn't entirely sure she was happy to do that.

"You know, it's not too late for that ass kicking..." Price hissed, her arms crossing over her chest. "You fucking people, you just have to shit on everything you don't control, don't you?"

Flicking her cigarette onto the concrete, Victoria stood up and pushed herself right into Price's personal space.

"I'm just pushing your buttons, so settle the fuck down, you gangly bitch!" she snapped right back at Chloe, giving her a hard shove. "I had your girlfriend's back, but I think I'm starting to regret this fucking arrangement!"

Price looked ready to knock her out. Her hand had been pulled into a fist; but before that could go down, Trevor Yard blew by the two of them, Justin Williams in hot pursuit.

"Cat fight, Cat fight!" Trevor called as he passed by the girls. "Yo Justin, Chloe's gonna smash that gash!"

Victoria slapped her hand on her face. Guys were fucking disgusting.

"I'm telling Rachel, Prrriceey!" Justin added just as gleeful. "Wait 'till she finds out her Beth is trading her in for a younger mode-"

As Justin tried to get around Chloe and Victoria, Chloe rounded back and kicked the skateboard out from under Justin, sending the teen tumbling into the grass with a yelp. In spite of her antipathy for Chloe Price, she did have to laugh at the burn out dweeb she had harmed.

Rolling her eyes at Victoria, Chloe walked over to where Justin was sprawled out. She bent over and offered her hand to the skater. To her credit, Price didn't take any pleasure from it.

"Weak sauce, Price!" Justin said as he looked up at Price now looming high above him.

Price latched onto his hand and pulled the skater back up to his feet in one solid yank. There was a small grin on her face which Victoria refused to acknowledge the fact she thought it was charming… sort of.

"The fuck did I tell you about using Rach's nicknames?" Price warned, slapping him on the back and grabbing his skateboard before handing it over.

Victoria expected a fight. Instead Justin Williams laughed and together the two of them bro-ed out with a fist bump. She watched, slightly stunned as Justin limped away towards the waiting Trevor who was in the process of laughing at Justin as well. There was no malice in any three parties, there was no anger or even acknowledgement that Price had knocked the hell out of Justin and humiliated him in front of one of the most popular girls in school.

How in the hell was that possible?

Victoria shook off the shock quickly and turned to find Chloe's back was turned to her. She had dropped her skateboard and was reading another text, her free hand rubbing her neck. That expression of anger and disappointment had returned to her.

"So…Beth..." she spoke, her words softening. "How are you both doing? I mean, I imagine maintaining a relationship hard work, and considering you're the only openly gay couple in Blackwell, it's gotta be extra hard.

Emitting a groan, Price pocketed her phone and turned back.

"This was your one warning, Icky Vicky..." she informed her scathing and close to snapping. "What are you even doing? Asking for dirt, or are you thinking about a serious life change?"

A cold chill ran through Victoria. It was a feeling that she wasn't allowed to have.

"I'm not… like you…" she quietly refuted. She tried to ignore Price's face contorting into a smirk. There was no way she was buying it.

"Yeah…" Price retorted right back, her sarcasm thick. "You keep telling yourself that, you charmless Ellen DeGeneres knock off."

Again Price rolled her eyes.

"Whatever, are you coming to the Rachloefest next weekend or not?" she asked, leaving Victoria grateful for the conversation shift. "I'd like to know so that I'm prepared enough to be polite. Rachel is convinced you being a bitch is not who you actually are, but I'm a little more willing to believe you."

Victoria could not stop the audible 'ugh' noise from escaping her lips. She stepped forward and stood only inches away from the suspicious Price girl. There was no way to intimidate Price, even if she tried. Not after the Eliot Hampden incident. All Victoria could do was show the bitch that she was not scared of her.

"I haven't done anything to her in a long time," Victoria reminded Price, her teeth gritted as she glared at her. "We all agreed to peace after what happened to Rose, and I have abided it. I don't see why you think I am still fucking with her like before."

None of that mattered to Price. Not the truce, not the promise Victoria made and kept to Rachel in the midst of her grief. It didn't matter because Chloe Price never trusted her to begin with. She stood there, looking at Victoria as though she had lost her mind. She stepped back, a confused looking grin crossing onto mouth as shook her head.

"No, you're doing something worse. You're not letting her know what you stand for," Price snapped back even harder. "At least when you were openly hostile, she knew how to treat you. Now you're going around, not as a friend and not as an enemy and she has no idea where you are at, and it keeps her on the fucking edge. Wagner may not have gotten the order from you, but you sure as fuck set the scene for that to happen."

"Fine, I'm suspicious of her! Happy?" Victoria interjected, unable to refrain herself. "I'm suspicious because I don't what she is, and I'm an excellent fucking judge of character. I know that's she's popular and loved, and it's not normal how she's capable of being this natural at it. I can't be her friend because I can't figure her out and it scares the hell out of me! I'm trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, but she does nothing to prove me wrong!"

The truth was now on the table for Chloe Price to digest. Victoria wasn't being mean or cruel, she was voicing an opinion -an uncomfortable one apparently – but an opinion nonetheless gathered from literal years of watching the way Amber operated. She was holding back on her more biting thoughts out of respect to her situation, but she the jest of her views were being aired now.

Price stood there, stupefied by what Victoria had said. It took a moment before she gathered herself enough to take a step back her hand pushing off her beanie as she shook her head incredulously. Like she refused to believe what Victoria was observing. Chloe was not objective. Victoria knew that none of what she said would be weighed and judged accurately. It was stupid to have even tried.

"I am so tired by this stupid fucking idea that Rachel is somehow fucking puppet master of this school. That she just sort of glides on in here, lures everyone into her orbit and keeps them as her little soldiers…" Price spoke, her voice growing louder and louder. "…Rachel, believe it or not, is a 17 year old girl who watched her Mom get murdered right in front of her. Rose was killed by a piece of shit who believed that exact same fucking shit you subscribe 's not untouchable; she's fucking scared of everyone here. It's not a game she's playing with you for control of the school or for popularity; it's a survival mechanism, you fucking self-absorbed,narcissistic…CUNT!"

The silence left at the collapse of Chloe Price's rage was somehow both deafening and devastating. Price looked like she was ready to have a fit, and Victoria had to force the self-loathing back down inside her as Price systematically alluded to her as being no better than the murdering piece of shit who killed Rose Amber. The same murdering piece of shit who tried to use this exact same line of logic to convince Chloe that she was in need of his protection…

To say she fucked up was an understatement. What a shit show… she needed a drink or something and forget this had happened.

"I… really shouldn't be talking about her behind her back…" Price finally muttered, a rueful smile touching on her lips. "It's just… it's just that you're such a fucking bitch all the time... I feel like you need a kick in the head… but Rachel won't let me do it, fuck knows why."

Victoria did not reply to Chloe's confessions for violence, or the fact that the only thing stopping her was the apparent command issued by her girlfriend. All of this didn't change anything, it just… couldn't. She was Victoria Chase and they were Rachel Amber and Chloe Price; the best any of them could do was tolerance. Rachel's insane concept of friend was just that… an insane pipedream. Victoria knew that, and so too did Price.

So why was Price still supporting Rachel's illusions if she knew how hopeless it was? Was that what a relationship was? Supporting the delusions of your partner? Was that what love was to be? That was flat out madness.

"What do want out of me?" Victoria finally asked the glaring older teen. "I'm tolerating her; I can even be nice… but… I can't just be friends with her… It's not that simple."

Price groaned as she leaned down to grab her skateboard from off the pavement. She looked like she wanted nothing better than to end this conversation, which was fine by Victoria.

I don't give a fuck, anymore, but for the record. It's not that hard," Price spoke up as she turned back to Victoria. "If you want to be a friend to Rachel, then be a fucking friend. It's that fucking easy. If you don't, then have the guts to tell her so she at least knows to stop trying… but what would I know, just dumb trash compared to the two of you."

Closing her eyes as Victoria pondered the expression of where Chloe Price's actual self-esteem was, Price rubbed the bridge of her nose as she murmured 'I can't believe this bullshit…' under her breath.

"Okay… I'm… going to try to be nice to you…" Price spoke out loud, now directing her words to Victoria again. "For Rachel's sake, I'm going to invite you to our room for a serious smoke session and binge watch Kitchen Nightmares… maybe that will help ease this feeling I need to punch you in the throat… you coming or not?"

Victoria blinked at the invitation for a smoke session with Chloe Price inside the Amber and Price love nest. Not a lot of people were invited into the place where the Blackwell Queens bunked. Now here Chloe Price was offering to get her high… it was not a bad way to patch things up.

"Can I contribute?" Victoria volunteered, feeling a certain obligation not to be cheap. "I got an unopened bottle of Kahlua if you're game."

It took a moment to process this, but Victoria watch as for the first time a genuine smile crossed onto Chloe Price's face. Gesturing to Victoria to follow her, she started off in the direction of the dorms. Victoria only two paces behind her.

"Yeah bring that… and bring munchies as well…" she requested, earning a nod from Victoria. She paused and a small amount of hesitation dripping from her words, she added. "Forewarning I stuffed the weed down my pants after a smash session with the girlfriend. It's gonna taste like… stale me. Don't fucking judge free weed, 'kay?"

Victoria scrunched her nose up as she followed after Chloe Price and her confession. She really didn't need to know that…

 

Chapter Text

 

With another melancholy journey home under her belt, Rachel tiredly made her way up the front steps dormitory.

Rachel didn't like the solo trips home. With Chloe there, the ghosts of her mother seemed to be further away. She had a hand to hold, a body to hug or kiss. It lessened the thoughts that ran through her mind as she walked through the home which her mother had so violently died in. Jesus, it took until 6 months ago before she was even comfortable walking through the front door alone. Before that, she always opted using the back door instead… it always seemed wrong to walk on the spot where she died.

With this ghost haunting father and daughter, the best thing about Chloe or even Sera coming with her on these visits meant it forced her Dad to be social. He would talk and interact, even smile on occasion; but she always knew it was a show because of these solo trips. When they were alone, he'd barely utter a word to her. Like, the idea of speaking to her would somehow invoke the ghost of Rose Amber and bring up all the pain he had spent so long trying to suppressing order to function.

Probably the absolute shittiest thing about this whole affair was that in spite of the loss they shared, in spite of years of him being clean and up front with her, Rachel was still mad at him. That by itself drove the guilt in her to even lower places. What gave her the right to still resent him even after all this? Both Sera and she were capable of maintaining a relatively normal relationship and she spent much of Rachel's life strung out, but she was mad still at him for not telling the truth.

It just seemed to her that feeling like that for him was so unbelievably fucking wrong; but no matter what her brain told her, her heart demanded to hold onto his betrayal even closer.

The closest thing to an answer to this insanity had come from Chloe. She figured that the total failure of Sera as a mother amounted to nothing because Rachel hadn't didn't know Sera at all, because for her entire life she had a mother who loved her in Sera's place. Dad, at the end of the day, meant more to Rachel than Sera ever did up until that point. Losing that idealism and idolization of a father who was there was what made the lie feel so much worse.

Smart cookie that girl of hers; Rachel appreciated her opinion probably more than Chloe would ever be able to understand.

"She's in the rest room, and her restaurant is in the shitter… skulking precious princess…"

In spite of everything she had to deal with this evening, Rachel had to smile privately. The sound of Gordon Ramsey screaming at people from behind her dorm room door had meant that Chloe was stoned, and a stoned Chloe was always good for a laugh. That was something she really kinda needed at the moment, a little lightness to shake off the miserable feeling bubbling in the pit of her stomach.

Well… what she really needed her Blue Goddess for was a cuddle session first and foremost, and she wouldn't say no to some good oral, but laughter was definitely in the top three things she needed to just forget.

But as she opened the door to their dorm room, Rachel was greeted to a sight she never thought she would ever witness. It took a moment to even begin to process it.

There, sitting on Rachel's bed with her back against the wall was Chloe and curled up next to her was Victoria Chase, her head resting on Chloe's lap.

Chloe seemed at a loss of words. So too was Rachel. The two girlfriends just sort of stared at each other for a moment; both of them trying to figure out what was on each other's minds before they voiced anything. It was obvious nothing happened, because if something had happened the room would have reeked with hate sex.

Sort of amused, Rachel placed a hand on her hip. She decided she would be cool about this. Besides, it gave her a little extra dirt on her quasi-rival.

"Made a new friend, I see…" Rachel was the first speak as smooth as she could manage.

She watched as Chloe lowered her eyes to look at the passed out rich girl using her as a head rest.

"Yeah… smoked the peace pipe and had a few drinks," Chloe told her plainly, devoid of feeling to show off her indifference. "We made peace, at least for this week…You know me, anything for my girl."

Rachel remained silent as the words Chloe spoke warmed her up more than she had expected. It was always nice that Chloe was attempting to take a step towards a permanent peace.

Standing there in silence for only moment or two longer, Rachel retrieved her phone and silently took a picture of Victoria passed out in the lap of her most mortal of enemies. There was nothing quite as usual as having physical evidence of affection from an ice queen to lord over. Especially when it was with the one person she fought the most against.

Pocketing her phone with a small grin, Rachel climbed onto the bed next to her stoned and drunk angel and pushed her head into Chloe's shoulder. Idly she debated kicking Victoria out here and now, but she had no desire to kill the quiet mood so soon. Plus it was kind of nice to see Chase be this vulnerable. She was starting to wonder if vulnerability from Victoria ever existed at all.

"How's… James doing?" she heard Chloe murmured as her arm wrapped around Rachel's waist.

Rachel exhaled and grabbed the remote next to Chloe, turning the volume down on the monitor. Chloe already knew the answer, but still she felt she needed to ask.

"You know him, drowning in his work…" Rachel sighed as she ran her fingers along the Chloe's forearm. "I spent three hours making one sided conversation… ended up having to clean out his fridge… I doubt he's made himself anything to eat beyond coffee and basics in a while. It's not that he doesn't know how to cook, Mom taught him… he just doesn't do it…"

Chloe winced.

"Lots of take-out, I guess?" Chloe guessed out loud, her voice clearly worried as she was looking for ways to erase Rachel's conscious. She couldn't, but it was nice of her to try.

Rachel closed her eyes.

"God, if only… no… my Dad just doesn't eat regularly period…" Rachel replied right away airily as though it was no big deal. "I remember he had that dad belly starting… but I swear he's lost minimum 30 pounds… God, what a shit show…"

Rachel trailed off as her pushed herself closer to Chloe. Silently she folded her fingers into hers.

"I didn't… really think it was that bad," she whispered to her, her eyes falling to Victoria. "Usually I'd be meeting him at work or at the cemetery… I'm probably going to have to call Sera up and expand on that favour and… and… what are you doing… are you… are you petting Victoria's head?"

Chloe rounded back guiltily. Sure enough there she was running her hand through Victoria's platinum blonde hair as though the girl had become some sort of pet or something to amuse her. Chloe, as Rachel had to remember, was too drunk and stoned off her ass to hold much of a serious conversation.

"Yeah, she's sort of like a feral cat you calm down just long enough for her to be cool with petting," Chloe remarked after a moment, her words slightly slurred. "It won't last long, but you don't forget the moment… you should try it…"

Frowning, Rachel hesitated for a moment before temptation broke her willpower. She reached over and pushed her hand into Victoria's unnaturally soft mop of short blonde hair, making Chase stir and mumble in her sleep. Chloe was right, there something soothing about it in a taming a wild animal sort of way.

The two of them remained silent, occasionally catching each other's attention and smiling. Chloe passed over a pit bottle of Kahlua, which was just over two-thirds empty. Not one to pass up washing way her own issues, she took a drink and silently observed her girlfriend. She took in the sight of Chloe, her head was lowered, and she was no longer smiling anymore.

It was very easy to get ensnared into her problems, and not come up and see that others who mattered had their own issues they battled. It was especially easy for that to occur when Chloe had made it a point to hand hold Rachel every step of the way through her grief. She rarely tried to draw attention to herself. It was easy to forget that Chloe needed a hand too.

Setting the bottle down in her lap, Rachel reached out and pressed her index against Chloe's chin. She pushed Chloe's head until she was once again looking into her gentle, sad blue eyes. Gently she moved her fingers up, pushing into the small crease in Chloe's furrowed brow, running up and down as soothing as she could be.

"What's the matter, Chloe?" Rachel broke their silence between the two of them. "Are you okay?"

Chloe remained locked in silence. She averted her eyes from Rachel's, as though she were too ashamed to speak up and tell that there was something bothering her. After all this time, somewhere deep inside Chloe she didn't seem to think that what bothered her were inconsequential in comparison, when nothing could be further from the truth. That she was still somehow lesser than Rachel…

Keeping the flash of anger from being shown, Rachel continued to push her fingers in slow circles along Chloe's temple. Rachel knew that she didn't have to utter a single word. Chloe knew from heart what her love would demand from her. Chloe exhaled and pushed her head forward to against touch Rachel's.

Victoria mumbled and rolled over; her face was now resting flat in Chloe's crotch.

The girlfriends looked at each other with small smirks and so with the two of them in silent agreement Rachel grabbed her phone and took another picture.

"Skip isn't coming back next year... Pisshead just got signed," Chloe informed her, a note of amusement streaking her words as Rachel tossed her phone on the other side of the bed. "Deputy Dipshit just put in his resume for the position… and apparently been going to the main offices every day this past week."

Rachel felt her heart lurch at the mention of David Madsen and the idea of that asshole wandering around campus, bringing his overcompensation problems to the students of Blackwell.

But all of this went beyond simple animosity. The simple fact was that Joyce was not a wealthy woman, and a second stable income was inevitably going to be needed. If David Madsen was good at security, then it only seemed right for him to make the applications. It was the right move to make for his wife… even if Chloe had found a way to resent him even more than she already had.

Rachel left her one lingering question unspoken: Why would Wells hire someone who was involved in the murder of Rose Amber? Considering he misplaced a gun and didn't know that a teenager was breaking into his home for a month, the idea that he would get on at Blackwell seemed like a genuine impossibility without some serious references.

"What do you want to do?" Rachel asked her girlfriend carefully, not wanting to provoke her.

Chloe shrugged her shoulders.

"I have a few ideas…" was her very vague reply to the question. "It's…nothing I want to say in front of Icky Vicky, just in case…"

Smirking as she decided to take away her girl's one legitimate excuse not to answer her, Rachel brushed her lips against Chloe's before she leaned down and nearly pressed her lips against Victoria's ear.

"Victoria?" she gently breathed, allowing a solo sultry note permeating through her words. "Victoria, sweet poison, it's time to wake up…"

Victoria's eyes flew open and she retracted her head as soon as she realized someone had invaded her personal space, which had undoubtedly violated Chloe's personal space. Red faced, Victoria looked from Chloe to the girlfriend whom had had been inadvertently violating. It did not take long for her understand that her two school rivals had her in a very vulnerable position.

"Rachel…" was all that she could get out; but it was enough to make Rachel widen her smirk into a full blown smile. Rachel reached out, extending her hand to cup the still stoned Victoria's cheek.

"Hi," Rachel greeted her as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening. "How was your nap?"

Victoria did not reply. As she struggled to get up, she found out the hard way that Chloe was too quick. As Victoria removed her head off of Chloe, Chloe wrapped an arm around Victoria and brought her down resting into Chloe's bicep, leaving Victoria frozen.

With the game now agreed upon by the girlfriends, Rachel pursed her lips together to give the impression she was mad.

It was enough to make poor Victoria widen her eyes.

"I know she's wonderful and unusually comfy, but could you maybe give me my girlfriend back?" Rachel asked, dropping her tone to a low dangerously jealous one. "I'll be glad to help you find one for yourself if that's something you need help with..."

Chloe rolled her eyes and eyed up Victoria hungrily.

"It too late for that matchmaker, she's mine now, so why don't you make like a tree and get lost, Gaychel?" Chloe cut in, gripping onto poor Victoria tighter. "Victoria told me how she feels! How can I say no to that face?"

Rachel and Chloe looked at Victoria and found her both confused and angry. Chloe being attracted to that sounded about right. It took another moment before Victoria finally struggled enough to free herself from Chloe's comfortable grip on her. She launched herself back up to her feet and attempted to fix the hair which the girls had mussed up as she slept.

"Whatever, you two are so fucking awful… thanks for the sess, Price…" Victoria muttered at them before she straightened out the hem of her skirt and stormed out of the dorm room, leaving both girls in a fit of wild laughter at her expense. Rachel collapsed into Chloe, as the laughter coursed through her.

This was exactly what she had needed. She was so very grateful for Victoria Chase right about now.

As the laughter simmered, Rachel took over Victoria's place, resting her head in Chloe's lap. She looked up at the smiling girl above her, her expression not quite meeting her eyes. She was being thoughtful again. Rachel reached up, her fingers grazing against her girlfriend's chin.

"What is on your mysterious mind, Chloe Price? … Let me into your secrets…" Rachel asked out loud, her voice gentle in its prodding.

Chloe remained silent for a moment; but she did look down on Rachel. She offered her a half smile as she ran her hand along Rachel's cheek.

"What I want is to skip out of town, never look back; and not just for the summer," Chloe said as she found her courage to speak, her voice was low and neutral. "I sound like a cliché, or like when you were younger… but… maybe you were on to something… maybe you were right all along. I don't… like being here. Think about it. We could do the Santa Monica plan. You and I could enroll into Santa Monica Community and finish school there. We can start our lives and not have to deal with any of this fucking shit… and I realize how fucking selfish it sounds with your Dad, and Sera and my Mom…"

Rachel reached up and touched Chloe's lips to silence her. She completely understood where Chloe was coming from. It was exactly how she still felt. It was so gratifying to know that Chloe was so eager… and so heartbreakingly painful to deny her this. As much as Rachel wanted to run, as much as she just wanted to start living a life without the ghosts of Mom and William and all the shit that came from it haunting the two of them, she just could not do that so freely.

As soon as she may have wanted this, it was not something they could just do now… not in the precarious state her Dad was in. She might still have resented him, but to seem him this unstable bothered her enough to feel obligated to at least help him find his footing.

Chloe, I… want that so much too…" she breathed up to her, trying to keep her emotions in check. "But... after everything, it's just not… right to abandon the others… not right now..."

The two of them lapsed into silence as guilt ate away at both of them. For Chloe it was the guilt of just wanting to leave as the two of them planned to do for so long now. For Rachel it was the guilt of wanting to stay, not wanting to further hurt those who were in their lives.

Rachel couldn't help it… she emitted a small laugh out of disbelief.

"Look at us…" she said to herself. "I'm becoming you, and you're becoming me…"

She thought that she was able to control herself. She thought she could be as mechanical as her father. But she couldn't and so Rachel felt the tears rolling down her cheek. She tried to blink them away so that Chloe didn't notice them, but it was far too late.

So she owned them, she sat up and buried her head into Chloe's chest, allowing Chloe's arms to immediately wrap her tightly in her embrace. The tears weren't for her Dad, or even for her Mom… they stemmed from an old guilt which had rushed into her mind.

"The night of the Tempest play, you said you couldn't just leave your Mom so suddenly, and I was… so disappointed in you for that moment…" Rachel admitted to her. "I get where you're coming from now, and I feel like a total bitch when I think about it… I'm so sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable… you deserved so much better than that."

As she trailed off, Rachel could not help but exhale a small whimper as Chloe pushed her hand through her hair to grip the back of her head. She felt… so incredibly safe like this…

"That was so long ago…" she heard her Chloe murmur just above her head. "You remember that from two years ago?"

Rachel nodded into Chloe's chest. Reluctantly, she pulled her head back so she could look up into those delicate baby blues eyes.

"Of course I did, Chloe…" She solemnly reassured Chloe, a smile returning to her mouth. "I remember every word we spoke; I remember every stolen touch I took from you… I remember our kiss… I remember the bliss I felt, I remember you pushing ash out of my hair as though it was ruining the moment… I remember it all. Every moment of that night will be with me until the very end. It's the first time that I actually believed true love was possible between two people… and here we are… still strong after everything."

Falling silent as a wave of insecurity hit her as Chloe sort of looked at her funny, like she was reconsidering everything. Chloe smiled sloppily, her intoxication was evident as she leaned in and kissed her.

"I love you, Rachel Amber…" was her simple affirmation. She paused and coyly added, "…but…you ever notice it seems like we only ever talk about serious shit?"

The tension broke and Rachel laughed, wiping the last of her tears from her eyes. She allowed her hands to reach outwards to grab onto Chloe's.

"I guess we just have serious shit to contend with… we don't always get to be cutesy and light…" she sniffled, still smiling for her stoned girlfriend as she climbed into her lap. "This summer we won't think about any of that… we'll chill out and roam the Pacific Northwest, it'll give us a chance to prepare for next summer in Cali… I just... I want to make sure my Dad is on both feet first, alright?"

Chloe nodded; there was no hesitation to it. It just seemed as though Chloe had wanted to express her growing frustrations with everything which kept piling on her… on them. At the end of the day, however, she was going to stand by Rachel and face whatever hurdle and detour together.

Rachel could not have asked for a better partner to have...

"Alright," Rachel spoke up quietly, attempting to keep her voice dry. "So running away forever is back off the table for the time being; do you have a second idea for Madsen?"

Chloe remained still for a moment before she nodded reluctantly.

"Yeah… but I hate it so much," she muttered mutinously. "… Because I'm going to help that fucking dipshit get a job here."

It was Rachel's turn to be stunned.

Chloe looked as though she was going to be sick from the mere thought of committing an act of good will for Madsen. Rachel could not blame her for feeling that way. Not a small voice told her to tear that man to shreds every time she went over to Chloe's home. It was hard to forget these old, cold hates simmering inside of her. His irresponsibility could not just easily be forgotten by her.

"Helping him is the last thing I want to do… but… I do have a Mom I need to think about," Chloe attempted to rationalize her decision. "She can't just keep being the only pay check coming into their home; and that Fuckface does need to start contributing to the household as soon as possible… so if he's that eager for work, might as well do it for her."

Rubbing her face, Chloe emitted a groan at the thought of Madsen working where they went to school. It would seriously put a dent in their activities if not properly dealt with.

"I guess I could probably organize the skaters to raise some serious hell..." Rachel heard Chloe ponder as she too thought up a plan to help Chloe. "We could force Wells to drop the hammer on us and make him take campus security seriously."

Rachel bristled at the idea. This was classic Chloe: force people's hands by making herself the scapegoat. Risking Chloe was the last thing in the world which she ever wanted. Not when she had a better and simpler alternative right in the palm of her hand.

"Interesting," she said attempting to sound like she put serious consideration into Chloe's idea. "Or instead of risking your place here, you could save yourself the hassle and ask my Dad to put in a good word in for him."

At the mention of her Dad, she felt Chloe stiffen into her. Rachel understood where she was coming from. The idea of her Dad voluntarily wanting to help Madsen seemed completely far-fetched… but Rachel had certain… evidence to contradict that.

"I can't imagine him wanting to help David…" Chloe voiced the obvious and reasonable question.

Rachel nodded curtly as she once again brought her hand up to touch against Chloe's forehead.

"Neither can I, but I can imagine he'd want to help you… and don't give me that look, Chloe…" she warned her girl in a mock chastising. "Two years in and you still can't comprehend that he might actually love you like one of his own?"

Chloe rubbed her eyes tiredly and dropped her body down flat, taking the younger girl with her.

"I'm not exactly fond of the incest undertones right now…" she declared out loud as she wrapped an arm around Rachel to keep her at her side.

"Then fucking put a ring on it…" she suggested as she rolled off Chloe and instead took her place.

Rachel took a small mental victory lap as she watched Chloe tint pink at the mere mention of what their future might possibly hold. Still, she retained her composure as she fastened her grip onto the shorter girl.

"It's a little soon for bending our knee for either of us," Chloe spoke over her head in barely more than a mumble. "How about we start by getting some ink first?"

Rachel felt her heart soar as she nestled into Chloe. It sounded like a damn fine idea to her.

Chapter Text

 

It was Friday night, the eve of Rachloefest and both Chloe and Rachel were eager to get it over with.

It was becoming a serious logistical nightmare, making sure everyone invited was on the same page, making sure there was enough food and non-alcoholic drinks for those that didn't drink or needed something else than alcohol in them. This became especially necessary when Rachel had to go out of her way to invite the junior grades in order to wrestle control back out of the hands of the Vortex Club… or rather one particularly awful bitch who would remain nameless, but it was fun to watch her apologize nonetheless.

With everything prepared as best as they could, they ended the day by going to American Rust and installed locks on the entrance to the junk shack. American Rust might have been designated party zone for the students of Blackwell Academy, but the shed was for Chloe and Rachel.

Tonight, however, was going to be a little more serious. Joyce and Douchebag had insisted on her coming home for a nice home cooked meal.

With how rare it was for her to come home these days and the knowledge that Douchebag was sniffing around Blackwell for a job. Chloe and Rachel decided to plot and combine both their problems together. While Chloe's problems were Joyce's husband, for Rachel, her problem was her Dad. It wasn't his past that troubled her as much as how much of a social hermit he had become.

So tonight was about getting James out of the house, eating a half decent dinner and interacting with Joyce, who was a relatively good friend to even before what happened to Rose. James needed a friend outside of a teenager dating his daughter and an ex-wife who he was still conflicted over, and Joyce had the potential to fit the bill well. Especially given she knew where James must have been in his grief.

On top of this, it was decided by the girls (well, arbitrarily decided by Rachel) that after dinner, Chloe would pull James aside and see if he would be willing to help her Step-Douche get the position at Blackwell.

That was not a conversation she wanted to have with Rachel's father. Not when she could see the contempt for David in James' usually composed state at the mere passing mention of him. All that Chloe wanted was to maintain a positive relationship with Rachel's father, and honestly it felt like she had asked so much from him already. Yet Rachel kept insisting that it was alright. She believed that her Dad needed these sorts of challenges to help drag him out of his routine and force him to confront what had happened head on, and David Madsen was one of those issues that had to be dealt with.

For now, both Rachel and she were too busy enjoying the proverbial calm before the storm. Sitting on her bed, sharing cigarettes with Chloe propped up against the wall and Rachel sitting between her as they watched David Lynch's Dune. The most interaction they had done with Joyce was to help with dinner. It was an awkward mess full of Joyce raising Chloe for how well she had been doing in school.

It was not a conversation she wanted to have, because she just knew the fucking implication Joyce was making; that her surge in marks had been because she was getting over Dad or something. It wasn't a recovery that had motivated Chloe's marks; it was her desire to get through the year with as little incidents as possible and to remain in the same classes as Rachel, which was getting easier as she seemed to be sputtering as she had shortly after her Dad died.

Like Chloe before her, Rachel too had come to the realization that grades meant nothing at all in comparison to a loved one lost. Chloe was doing all she could to help Rachel through these dark moments, but it was not something someone could just talk someone through. This was a vicious psychodrama which both girls just had to go through to reach the other side... so that they both could come back into some sense of peace and normalcy.

Chloe watched as Rachel's hand unconsciously reached back and wrapped around the top vertebrae in her neck. Dad's watch – a permanent fixture now to her fashion – rolled right to the bottom of her palm, revealing more of the lines of vicious looking scar tissue that had healed over her wounds. It was a terrible and rarely talked about reminder of that night.

Everyone remembered what had had happened to Rose of course, but no one but her bore witness to the absolute rage and fury Rachel flew into in the minutes after her murder. She broke fucking everything she saw. Even after she slashed her wrist and arm open she kept going, the blood splattering across everything she hit and wherever she stumbled. It took a serious amount of blood loss before Rachel had slowed her fury just enough for Chloe to finally tackle and subdue her, all of this while she had a freshly broken foot.

As bad as it was, it was what had happened next that scared her more than the fury. She just sort of collapsed into a state of what Chloe could only have described as catatonia. She just went limp and unblinking, the only thing she could do was breathe. It was probably the second scariest fucking thing she'd ever seen…

But that was the past now. An incident which neither girl dared to even breathe to each other; and as for the scars, Rachel had been toying with adding another tattoo to the list she had in mind for when they got out of Arcadia Bay and found somewhere to ink them without hassle. Something to honour Rose with; not that Rose was a particular fan of tattoos.

Chloe ceased her thoughts. As they watched Paul Atredes teach the Weirding Way to the Fremen, Rachel stretched out over Chloe's form like a sunbathing cat. The movement allowed her tight black shirt to ride up, revealing her midriff and the faint outline of pink boy shorts she was wearing underneath her short as fuck shorts.

A small awful sort of grin slowly formed over Chloe's mouth as she took in all the skin revealed, which was begging for the affection from her. Rachel paid no mind to the obvious. Judging from her inability to look back at Chloe or even acknowledge what she was doing, she fucking knew exactly what she was doing. It was a weird little cue which Chloe always fell for.

Chloe wrapped her arms around her girl, forcing Rachel to emit a small pleased sounding sigh. Still she focused on the movie as intently as she could, but Chloe watched in silent agony as Rachel's legs opened and closed slowly. It was the lure which could not be avoided. So Chloe refused to pretend there was a choice. They'd be cutting it a little close… but she wasn't about to turn the invitation down.

With her left arm still tight around Rachel, her free right hand was allowed to push itself lower, her fingers grazing Rachel's exposed, taut abdomen, inching lower and lower, forcing Rachel's body to stiffen. Chloe could see from the corn of her eye that although she remained firmly fixated on the movie, Rachel's mouth had opened, only for her to clamp down on her bottom lip as Chloe's fingers gripped the edge of her boy shorts. Chloe felt the grip Rachel had around the back of her neck tightened.

Rachel leaned back, gently nipping Chloe's ear.

"As much as I enjoy your instant gratification streak, I think you should delay your playtime until later…" Rachel breathed into Chloe's ear. "Besides, there's another reason why we installed deadbolts on our shed…"

Still gripping the hem of Rachel's shorts and underwear, Chloe emitted a small playful groan at Rachel's denial had only fuelled her desires even more. Reluctantly she released her grasp on her under and allowed Rachel to roll over, her shit eating grin now driving Chloe nuts.

"You're killing me here…" she mumbled to the girl in her arms.

Rachel gave a small amount of pity on Chloe and leaned in, her lips pushing against Chloe's. For a fraction of a second Rachel's tongue touched her before she pulled back, their lips only barely touching each other's.

"Under any other circumstances, I wouldn't stop you… but the last thing we need is being obvious in front of the old people…" Rachel spoke into her lips. "Besides, now we get to play one of my favourite games: Entice the Price…"

As if on cue the two of them heard a knock on the front door, and a 'CHLOE, COULD YOU GET THAT?!' shouted below them from Joyce. Rachel emitted a small playful pout, pausing the movie as she pushed herself off her and offered a hand out towards Chloe.

"So it begins…" Rachel murmured as she pulled Chloe off the bed and into her arms with a small giggle.

Ignoring her sexual frustration to the best of her ability, Chloe nodded and silently she allowed herself to be dragged downstairs by her box tease of a girlfriend.


Her heart was pounding in her chest, but regardless of that internal pain radiating through her body, Rachel Amber still led her Chloe out of the bedroom and towards the stairs.

She knew her Dad would be on his best acting game while in the presence of someone else's home – he saved his brooding for when he was alone - but this was different. He was at the Price-Madsen home while David was home… and to say Dad wasn't a friend to David was an understatement.

Like daughter like father, Dad too generally ghosted the man whenever he could, but Dad was a ticking fucking time bomb. He wasn't afforded the outlets Chloe gave to her through drugs, drinking and wandering off to isolated junkyards to smash the living fuck out of inanimate objects.

Now here they were, about to ask her Dad to help Madsen get a job… God, this had disaster written all over it. She could only guide Chloe to seeking out Dad's help, but she could not speak for her. That was up to Chloe, and Chloe was not exactly a bastion of subtly. It was something she thought was endearing, but not playing anyone any favour today; but while Chloe lacked grace, she would trust Chloe to speak from her heart, and hopefully that would be enough to convince him to help.

It probably would… in a weird way, Chloe was sort of the son he never had… which was fine by…

As Chloe opened the door, Rachel felt her brain shutdown and all the thoughts ceased, because there standing in the doorway next to Dad was Mom… well, Sera...

Sera stood there, looking extremely conflicted by being here as much as Rachel had been. For all intents and purposes, Sera was just a colleague to Joyce. For the past two years, the truth of the nature of Rachel and Chloe's relationship was that they were friends in the eyes of Joyce and other outsiders.

If she recalled correctly, Joyce thought that Sera and Dad were having an affair, which was apparently about to be proven half right in a hilarious twist of fate.

As stunned as she was, as she looked to Chloe, she noticed Chloe wasn't bothered at all by the development. If anything she seemed pleased that Sera was here. Perhaps it would help ease the tension between David and James to have a relative newcomer step in.

"Oh look, your Dad went ahead and made this night even more awkward…" Chloe spoke happily. "Sera... get over here, you cutie."

Sera didn't get to move because Chloe stepped forward and enveloped Sera into her standard bone crushing hug which she gave to Sera nearly time ever since she got her hugging privileges granted. There was a time where Rachel thought Price was going to break her, but these days Sera seemed to have adapted.

"Very funny…" Sera spoke up as she returned the gesture. "But I think you're giving Rachel impressions…"

Releasing Sera from her hug, Chloe maintained her grip on Sera's shoulder as she turned back to face Rachel whom had raised her brow as she observed the affections between her girlfriend and her biological mother. Sure enough, Sera's observations were on point as a fucking weird tinge running through her had caught her off balance. It was a stupid illogical feeling she got on occasion.

"I can't help it, Rachel. She's just cute as a button! If the stars are aligned I'm gonna have hella luck when you get old!" Chloe gushed playfully as she released Sera finally, unaware of the annoyance that streaked through Sera.

Deciding not to give any more credence to her irrationality and start shit with her own biological mother, Rachel smacked Chloe's arm directed her attention to her silently observing father, who was carrying a bottle of wine and a tin of pastries for Joyce. He seemed extremely uncomfortable about being here, yet resigned to face the Price-Madsen's after so long of avoiding interactions with both of them present.

"Hey, Dad…" she greeted him with a small smile. "What's exactly happening right now?"

Dad and Sera shared a look, like it was a matter that they had been discussing together for some time now. They did not need to voice the answer because Rachel already knew. With the two girls leaving in two weeks, it seemed inevitable that Joyce needed to be aware of the truth.

Chloe and she might have had an agenda of their own tonight, but Dad and Sera seemed to have an agenda as well.

Rachel stepped back into the Price house and allowed Dad and Sera entrance, with Chloe trailing behind them. She seemed just as uncomfortable about this as Rachel was, but had managed to keep it under wraps so far. Quietly the girls followed the former couple down the hall and into the living room where David was setting the table. As David glanced up and noticed James was standing there, he nearly fumbled the plate.

"Mr. Amber…" David managed to get out, uncharacteristically fidgety as Dad remained silent for a moment longer.

"Mr. Madsen," Dad spoke curtly. "…You're doing well, I trust?"

Rachel glanced to Chloe who had grabbed her hand and looked almost gleeful at the position David was in now. It was clear that there was no love lost between her and the man who married her mother, but Rachel felt a small trickling of sympathy for Madsen. There was no real right answer he could give to the question. Not with the clear antipathy radiating from her Dad.

Luckily for David, he was spared the impossible answer to give Dad as Joyce appeared bringing in a bowl of stringed beans. Knowing Joyce she was intervening in the nick of time. She seemed ready to greet Dad, but as soon as she noticed her co-worker standing there in the dining area, like David before her she too had to pause at the sight.

"Sera?" Joyce spoke up, uncharacteristically confused by Dad's plus one. "It's always nice to see you, darling but... is everything alright?"

Sera smiled and nodded.

"Everything is fine, Joyce," she reassured. She turned to David and added. "David, it is nice to see you again."

As David nodded curtly to Sera's greeting while Joyce had an unspoken question on her lips, the air in the room went thick with unresolved tension created by Sera's mere presence. Rachel squeezed Chloe's hand for support as she watched her Dad turn around and directed his attention to his daughter fully.

"Rachel, would you like to clear the air, or should I?" he carefully prodded her.

Looking from her Dad to Sera, who was sort of smiling thinly. She looked almost petrified herself. Rachel exhaled and let go of Chloe's hand. She took her place next to her biological mother and took her hand as she turned and looked Joyce right square in the eye.

"Joyce… You know Sera already…" she said, gesturing to the woman next to her. "But Sera is my birth mom."

Rachel's utterance of the truth only made Joyce blink. She appeared far too flabbergasted to do much of anything else. She turned her eyes from Rachel to Dad and Sera. Both of them stood there just as silent as the implications became clearer for Joyce and David.

"You… two… you both were together?" Joyce asked the two of them in a daze.

Rachel felt her Dad's hand fall on her shoulder and found her herself gently led back to Chloe so that the formerly married couple were properly standing together. With Rachel next to them for a moment, they almost seemed like a proper couple; A strange little family of sorts...

Above her Dad nodded, confirming Joyce's question.

"We're sorry to have deceived you for so long," Dad addressed the shocked mother and her husband. "More importantly we're sorry that we had to swear Chloe to secrecy for as long as she did."

"I'm sorry for omitting the truth, but I wanted to respect the wishes of James and Rose…" Sera added almost over top of Dad. "After what happened… it didn't feel right to talk about it until James and Rachel were ready."

At the mention of Chloe by Dad, Joyce had redirected her attention to her daughter. Chloe stood there, knowing full well of her part in keeping the truth hidden for as long as she did. She did not seem ashamed for the deception she played a role in, but she seemed to recognize that her mother was going to be understandably upset.

"Chloe… you once said Sera protected you," Joyce recalled, her voice strained she struggle to maintain her self-control. "Was that the truth? Or was just part of the deception."

Biting her lip, Chloe rubbed her neck.

"Well…If it wasn't for Sera, Rachel wouldn't exist and be around to save my ass…" Chloe spoke up, her mouth forming a small grin in spite of everything. "It's the truth… in a roundabout way..."

As Rachel took Chloe's hand again, smirking slightly at the somewhat smartass answer she had provided to Joyce and everyone, Dad could only snort.

"I think we have a future corporate attorney in our presence…" he muttered out loud as Joyce stepped back and gestured for them to join her at the table.


Dinner was interesting to say the least.

Mom… Joyce had a shit ton of questions for Sera and Rachel. She had years to catch up ahead of her. To her credit, Sera answered everything she was asked with the same sort of patience she had shown Rachel years prior. Thankfully Mom's questions were not nearly as intimate as Rachel's were. She didn't need the picture painted as much as Rachel had needed. She probably picked up more than a bit from Sera's past over the few years they had been working together already.

As Sera, Rachel and Joyce spoke, the other dinner guests ate in silence. Dickbag David would occasionally look up to see if James was watching him; but his paranoia was unfounded. James ate in silence, only occasionally acknowledging Sera and Rachel if they spoke about him.

This silence gave Chloe a chance to figure out how to swallow her pride and help Dickbag David out with his employment woes or at least try to. So as soon as she noticed James was mostly done with what as in front of him, she gently kicked Rachel's ankle. It caught her attention and she watched Chloe glance to her Dad. Rachel smiled for her, her hand reaching out to squeeze her knee in some sort expression of luck.

Setting down her fork, Chloe exhaled and tapped James's shoulder. The man stiffened at the touch and turned to face her.

"James, could I speak with you… privately?" she requested, pursing her lips together, her eyes flickering to the women chatting, two out of three.

James frowned slightly, but he nodded curtly and pushed back his chair as she did. Silently Chloe took the lead, the only other person at the table noticing other than Rachel was David; but neither of them acknowledged him.

In silence, Chloe led James up the stairs towards her room. She thought about taking him outside, but decided against it. There were too many ways for David to eavesdrop on them when they were outside; and he knew fucking better than to approach her room whenever she was home. It was the quickest way to start a fight, and David knew that any fight he had with Chloe would collapse into a bloodbath.

She opened the door to her room and silently ushered Rachel's Dad in. The smell and haze of cigarette smoke and weed hitting the two of them immediately. James could not help but chuckle as he glanced around. No doubt he had seen pictures of her room in the police reports, but this was his first time inside… as far as she knew.

"This room is very… you…" James levelled to her.

As he turned back face Chloe, he got to watch as Chloe scooted by him to sit down on the edge of her bed where Rachel had left a pile of bras and underwear. It was an action not lost on James, who crossed his arms over his chest.

"I'm going to assume those are yours, don't break the illusion," James added on, his voice surprisingly light all things considered. "Now what did you need to see me about?"

Lacing her fingers in her lap, Chloe looked up at him. It was now or never.

"I need to ask a favour from you, James," Chloe bit the bullet. "It's an awful thing to ask, but David is trying to get a position in Blackwell's campus security and I would like it if you could put in a good word in to the hiring people."

James remained motionless as he seemed to be processing the request Chloe asked from him. Any of the good humour he had had hardened in his eyes at the mere thought of helping David Madsen. He stepped forward towards her computer desk and slumped down into her chair, his eyes never leaving hers. It felt as though James was back in his work mode, a cool analytical expression had erased all his humanity.

"The man couldn't protect you or Joyce. Why would I want to entrust the lives of numerous students to him?" he asked her pointedly.

"He…" Chloe started, unable to believe what she was doing for that moustached dickbag douche downstairs. "David made a mistake…"

James, however, was not nearly as forgiving.

"No, this was carelessness at its best, incompetence at its worse," James interjected, his eyes narrowing at her. "No way will I give him my blessing to protect students without some serious changes on his part. Not when he has obvious unchecked mental health problems…and if even if half the things my daughter told me he's said to you in the past few years are true, I wouldn't expect him to understand how to keep his behavior in check…"

Chloe had to avert her eyes from James gaze as his revelation that Rachel had told him about every fight, every argument, every insult she witnessed came to light. Chloe always assumed that when it came to David, it was in one ear out the other for Rachel, but no. Rachel was listening and she was keeping James informed the entire time. Under any other circumstances, she would love to know Rachel was this protective of her, but right now it was not helping win David James support.

"It was nothing…" Chloe spoke up, fighting the shame out of her voice. "David and I fight… it's nothing at all."

Clearly not buying anything she was attempting to play down, James slid the chair closer to her. He leaned forward to get himself down into Chloe's line of sight.

"It not nothing, Chloe; we had this conversation an age ago. You knew you could have told me," James reminded her, his voice softening somewhat. "Everything that affects you matters to Rachel… and to me..."

Chloe looked up to see if James was just offering a platitude, but the small smile he wore told her that as usual he was not just saying something to ease her conscience. Chloe reluctantly nodded, deciding to trust James again.

"James, David got serious fucking problems, and I'm not asking you to forgive him. I don't forgive him, and the last thing I want is for him to be up in Rachel and my business at school," she finally spoke to him. "…but I'm not asking this for him. I'm asking this for Joyce. I mean take a look around, we aren't poor as dirt, but we're close to it. We don't have your pull; if it wasn't for you, I'd be sitting around here doing nothing… but I'm going to school now and I'm doing better than I thought I would be. That's because of you."

She didn't know if she was making sense at all, she probably wasn't, but James wasn't angry anymore. He seemed to be listening, and that was a good sign.

"I know I have no business asking you for more then you've given, but my… mom… she deserves a little less burden on her then the shit she's been dealt," she continued, Rachel's father listening closely. "That scholarship for me was a start, but David needs regular work... and I feel like a total bitch for saying this… but if I matter to you at all, then Joyce has to matter to you as well… as much shit as I give her… I still love her."

Her piece was said and silence fell between James and Chloe. James continued to stare at Chloe, as though he was searching her soul. He barely blinked, he barely moved. Chloe sat there her, hand in her lap as she waited for the completely understandable refusal. Below them, the two of them could here Rachel, Sera and Joyce laugh about something.

James reached out, her fingers gripping hers.

"You're not a bitch for saying any of that," James finally said, his fingers squeezing hers. "You're a good daughter, Chloe Price. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise…"

With a final squeeze and shake, James let go of her hand and pushed his chair back, leaving Chloe somewhat embarrassed by the praise, she fought the small blushing forming and rubbed her eyes as she stood up from her seat.

"So…" Chloe spoke as she quickly threw all of Rachel's underwear underneath her bed covers. "Will you do it then?"

James scrunched up his face at the question. It was enough to make Chloe smile as she watched Rachel's father nod, his hand outstretched to her.

"Give me your cigarettes and send David up here…" he requested from her. "I want to talk this over with him… alone."

Relief flooded over her, Chloe nodded and bent over the side of her bed to retrieve her pack of smokes and ashtray and handed them both to James. Her cigarettes were a tax she was more than willing to pay for her Mom's financial relief.

"Really though… thank you, James," Chloe sighed, exhaling heavily as she added. "…and please, this wasn't my idea… okay?"

With one final nod from James, accepting that Chloe didn't want to be seen helping Deputy Fuckface. Chloe left the room to James, trying not to burst into a happy little skip at the thought that she had perhaps done something really fucking good for someone else for once…

 

Christ, David had better not fuck this chance up...

Chapter Text

 

Victoria Chase stood there together with the Vortex Club, yet alone. Out of everyone with her, it seemed like she alone could not fucking believe she was about to party in a literal junkyard.

She had the better part of a month to digest the idea but standing here now she felt unnaturally nervous; because even if she had time to prepare, she was still stepping into uncharted territory. This insecurity was probably the worst feeling she could have right now. Especially when she knew that the hosts of this gathering would be buzzing around her, showing her that they were so much better at hosting these sorts of affairs then she could ever be.

The party had seemed to have started hours ago. Rachel was true to her word had managed to relay dozens of junior students from Blackwell to the Junkyard apparently called 'American Rust'. Numbers of nameless kids were there in various states of intoxication. All of them watching as the Blackwell Elite approached through them towards the centre of the party. All of them mistrustful of them after the Courtney incident and the Rachel clean up.

Only one member of the Vortex Club was missing and that was Nathan. He had been summoned home by his Dad for a dinner party. It wasn't just a family thing though; Sean Prescott only summoned his son when it was in his interest to do so. It was all very hush-hush but apparently they were courting the famous photographer Mark Jefferson into taking up a teaching position at Blackwell.

Mark Jefferson… If the Prescott's pulled off this coup, it would greatly increase the visibility of both the school and her own chances of making her fledgling talent into something on a professional career course. It was a real chance to finally step out of her parent's fucking shadow and into something she built for herself.

"Damn, those two actually pulled it off... Impressive" Victoria heard Dana Ward speak approvingly as she stepped by Victoria,

Dana was being trailed by Zach and Logan, one or both of whom she was no doubt was going to fuck tonight… Or she'd try her luck with Juliet… honestly Dana Ward was a confusing mess these days thanks to Rachel and Chloe making it chic to be out in the open. Dana Ward had turned into an ambiguous wildcat on the prowl. Victoria supposed a ho would be a ho regardless.

The fire had to be huge, because the sky was a brilliant red, clashing with the neon green and blue mood lights and the seemingly endless strings of Christmas lights which flickered on and off like cheap strobe lights. It was total punk trash chic, but somehow fit into the theme this party was. She had expected that the party would be nothing but that droning noise that blared from their dorm every morning, but instead very entrancing Autechre.

That was when Victoria and by extension the Club saw them; because they had become neon angels.

Rachel Amber and Chloe Price were wearing torn vintage wedding dresses, drenched in glowing neon paint. Chloe's was a little less girly. Form fitting, but conservative… but it was a dress nonetheless. Victoria could only imagine the fight Rachel must have had to get her in it; but it worked. Rachel was far more decked out, her wedding dress frilly and long dragging in the mud.

In exchange of the bridal veils, both of them were wearing fucking funeral veils. It was a creepy fucking contrast of vibrancy in the colour, love in the dress and death in their head wear which brought Victoria to a cold understanding that they weren't just throwing this party for the fuck of it.

Today was the anniversary of day they had buried Rose Amber.

If that was the reason they through this celebration, no one knew for sure. Most were watching as the two of them were ritualistically dancing around the massive bonfires, waving blue road flares high over their heads. Chloe surprisingly moved more fluid of the two, while Rachel was more violent, more explosive. The smoke of the flares followed their movements like shadows and engulfed them as though they were the sources, as if they were the fire.

Occasionally they collided into each other, their bodies touching, their lips meeting; unabashed and unashamed in their public affections. After all this was their party. Everyone else was just tourists, venturing into their private world for the evening.

The first ones to make a noise was Logan and Zachary, both of them wolf-whistling leeringly at the sight of the girlfriends as their bodies pushed together and moved in perfect harmony; Chloe, calming Rachel down and Rachel firing Chloe up until they both met in the middle. Through the fire and smoke Victoria could see the huge grins on their faces as they pressed their noses together and moved back and of them cared for Zach and Logan, or anyone for that matter. In their world, everyone else was just a bug to step on or a pawn to play with.

Rachel was the first to look their way. Chloe was too busy sucking on Rachel's neck. She did not move out of her girlfriend's grip but instead through her flares into the fire. A move imitated by Chloe so that she could wrap her arms around Rachel's body.

"Welcome, dearest Vortex Club to this, our humblest of festivals!" Rachel greeted in a high pitched stage voice as she struggled to stay in control with Price's lips wrapped around her neck. "Please help yourself to refreshments and whatever you find edible. Please keep any sexual activities consensual because my lovely Chloe reserves the right to take a fucking crowbar to anyone's knee if you act out against this rule in particular!"

Price pulled her mouth away from Rachel's neck, and then it was Rachel's turn to latch onto to Price, it was far more aggressive, from here Victoria could see teeth; it actually made Price's legs quiver.

"Consider yourselves lucky, Rachel talked me down from genital swipes," Price managed to echo out to them. "Second, you will not liquor up the junior partyers any more than they already have. They drink and smoke what they bring, and you drink, smoke, pop and snort what you bring. And what do you suppose will happen if you break this rule?"

"Let me guess. You take a crowbar to our knees!" Hayden Jones shot out as though it was a competition.

Chloe blinked at the answer she got and looked to Rachel, who was smirking.

"Nice initiative, Hayden, but no. What do you think I am… a maniac?" Price spoke again, a little surprised. "No… you get sent off and any party in the future we throw, you don't get the invite!"

Price rolled her eyes as if Hayden had been completely off the mark. It was probably bullshit on her part; she just didn't want to be upstaged by a guest.

"Final rule: Stay the fuck away from the shack!" Price pressed on, gesturing to the run down painted old garbage shack. "That is an officially designated Rachloe zone. If I catch any of you fuckboys or fuckgirls peeping, that's when I get to take the crowbar to your genitals-"

Rachel reached out and pressed her hand against Chloe's mouth and allowed a dazzlingly false smile for all of them to take in.

"Other than that, please have fun, get lit and dance the night away!" Rachel concluded, stepping the two of them out of the way and gesturing the new guests to come in and co-mingle with the younger and less prolific Blackwell students.

As the gathering of Vortex Club kids broke apart into their various subgroups, Victoria naturally standing alone with Taylor at her side. Taylor herself was looking around incredulously, and obviously impressed at how they turned a literal junkyard into something almost liveable. It had been strange but it seemed as though Taylor was gravitating more and more into the orbit of Chloe and Rachel, or at the very least she decided to be friendly to them, which as probably more likely. Taylor was very much into the Vortex Club scene.

Victoria looked around as the theory she was toying with was becoming true. In her and Nathan's efforts in driving out the less savoury elements out of the Vortex Club to make way for rich and ambitious, they had left many at the sidelines. Followers, poor people, losers they may be, but all of them were looking for a guide. A guiding force which they found in Rachel and Chloe.

It now appeared that Amber and Price had effectively placed the entire school population minus the Vortex Club under their dominion. The worst part… the absolute worst part was that somewhere in this sea of juniors were future Vortex club members, who would take what they learned from Rachel and Chloe's shitty fucking theme of inclusivity and re-fucking-apply it back into the Vortex Club, effectively nullifying everything Nathan and her had achieved.

Victoria wanted nothing more than to rip the fucking flesh from the two smug cunts standing in front of her… but she just couldn't. She had to hand it to them. Whether they knew it or not (Rachel probably, but Price was a bit more short term) they had out played her, choosing to take short term losses in high profile positions to Victoria to achieve a total victory in the near future.

…And here Victoria was fucking helping them celebrate their win!

The bitches deserved to burn… but not tonight.

"Hello Victoria, hello Taylor," Rachel finally greeted the two of them, breaking their silence. "We're glad you both managed to make it."

"Thank you for the invite…" Taylor spoke suddenly, startling the three social superiors she stood with. "After what happened I thought-"

Rachel raised her hand up to silence her, a drunken smile was on her face and it shone for Taylor.

"Welcome to the party, Taylor," she reiterated as she reached out and dropped her hand on Taylor's shoulder. "Courtney's shit does not reflect on you."

Next to Rachel, Price nodded her head up and down sloppily.

"You're cool as fuck, when you want to be…" Price added in her two cents because of fucking course she had to. "You keep it up and you'll overshadow certain people who start with V and end with ictoria Price."

Furrowing her brow as Taylor shot them a dazzling smile, Victoria stepped forward towards the two hostesses. Rachel had the good enough grace to look at least somewhat genial, but Price… Price looked triumphant. She had Victoria Chase in a subservient position and she was only too eager to assert her dominion over her.

She remained silent, only glancing to Taylor for a moment to suggest to her that it was in her best interest to leave right now and give Rachel, Price and her some room. Taylor thankfully obliged and ran off to join both Dana and Juliet who were currently chatting with a reject in a beanie. The mega dyke who was too open with her nerd passions and never got a girlfriend of her own, primarily because she set her goals too impossibly high to achieve.

Victoria turned back and was nearly startled by how close both girls were into her personal space. It was obviously that they were both drunk and stoned off their asses already. The liquor and weed could be smelled now wafting off them. She ignored their stupid smiles through their veils, she ignored Price's narrowed, luscious baby blues and the fiery hazel of Rachel's as she seemed to inspect Victoria standing there before them in a blouse and slacks. Completely out of place for a low class party like this, but neither of the wedding dress wearing lesbo girls seemed to mind.

Blinking as she averted her eyes from the two girls across from her, Victoria inwardly cursed herself. She would not be entranced, not by the likes of them. She was not like them. Not at all; and she would keep telling herself that until it was irrefutable. She exhaled and forced herself to get a fucking grip and swallow a lot more than just her simple pride.

"Rachel, Price… this is honestly the weirdest fucking party location I've ever been to with easily the weirdest fucking hosts…" Victoria spoke slowly as she looked back to the quasi rivals. "…but… it's not bad for a couple of fashion disasters."

Rachel crossed her arms over her chest. She glanced up to Chloe, whom had clamped her eyes shut. She reached out and gently nudged her girlfriend

You hear that, Priceless?" Rachel said without missing a beat. "She hates our outfits… now you got to like wearing it."

Rachel glowered and moodily pulled at the gown she wore. She could hate it all she wanted, but that punk trash could really pull off a dress if only she tried…

Victoria gave herself another mental shake. These were those thoughts she was not to have.

"Well, we'll take that as a compliment," Rachel said on behalf of herself and her silent companion. Her hand reached out and grabbed Price's shoulder as she added. "We really are glad you made it, Victoria… You've been a very good… egg to us and neither of us have forgotten our secret frenemy status."

"The Rachloe love nest is now open to one very, very special pixie secret girlfriend…" Price immediately added. "No homo, of course… unless you're ready to drop the fuck charade-"

Chloe's thoughts were brought to a standstill as Rachel reached up and kissed her deeply. Victoria winced at the wet sound she could hear from where she stood. She was just grateful the fire was so massive that the heat radiating off it could mask the embarrassment brewing in her.

"Let's not scare her off too fast…" Rachel breathed to her as she pulled back.

Price glanced to the obviously discomforted Victoria and nodded, leaving Victoria scrambling for a distraction… which thankfully she had been provided by an absent friend.

"Oh…" Victoria said as she opened her purse and fumbled inside. "Nathan sends his apologies for not making it, and has offered a gift."

Feeling a small baggie at the bottom, Victoria pulled it out flashed and flashed the small baggie with a half dozen circular pills inside. She stood there, expecting that the girls in front of her knew exactly what they were looking at. It was something Nathan had to name before she understood; but neither of the girls seemed to know for sure, they had their guesses and they didn't seem too particularly thrilled by what they were looking at.

"Molly? MDMA? I'm sorry I figured you burn outs would know right away," Victoria haughtily explained as though she was an expert just to rub their ignorance in their face; it was a small victory of the Neon Angels, but she would take it as she added. "They're uncut... apparently. He figured it was only right to offer up a small token of apology."

Rachel and Price looked at each other, wordlessly debating whether or not they wanted to do it. Victoria crossed her arms over her chest and puffed herself out more than she usually had. In truth she was no less nervous than they obviously were. This was her first experience and from the written instructions Nathan had left her, she was a little worried. He suggested that she only take half a pill and the pop the other half thirty to forty minutes later. It was a lot more complicated than sitting around getting drunk and smoking up…

Rachel turned back, radiating a small little smile for her. There was obvious refusal was in her face, but Victoria decided against teasing her over it. They had every right to be as worried as she was.

"It's very… tempting… but can we rain check the E trip, preferably at a time when we aren't hosting a party in the middle of nowhere?" Rachel said causally. "We have to be relatively sober for this hosting. In a few hours the kids are going to really feeling it and we need to be alert."

Price stepped forward, one arm still gripping her woman's waist. She snatched the baggie out of Victoria's hand and carefully examined it.

"Why don't you give it a test run and we'll take care of you," she said as she handed the bag back into the waiting hands of the slightly glaring Chase. "We'll drop some next week before you fuck off back to wherever you're from. We'll watch anime which isn't entry-level bullshit like what you watch, cool yeah?"

Deciding against saying where she was from in case Rachel and her Price showed up on her doorsteps with that rusted out piece of shit truck and in need of a place to stay for the duration of the summer, Victoria bit the proverbial bullet and opened the baggie. Without blinking, she snapped a single pill in half and dry swallowed the half pill powder. It was a bitter mess but she was in no position to chicken shit out now.

Looking up as she swallowed, she noticed triumphantly as Rachel and Price blinked as if they were impressed by the rash action. In spite of her incoming head trip, it was another small victory she took.

"You're on, bitches…" Victoria capitalized on their stunned shock. "But… you two… better take care of me, right?"

Blinking, Price was the first one to turn back to look to Rachel. Rachel turned back to and in silence they debated the request Victoria had made. She wasn't sure if the pill was already kicking in or her own paranoia overwhelming her, but she could have sworn she heard one of them say 'We'll play it by ear, okay?'

The girls sealed whatever they were thinking with a kiss and with a final smirk; Rachel turned and waved goodbye to Victoria.

"I suppose we'll have to see, Icky Vicky… see you later!" Rachel taunted her, using Price's fucking nickname.

Victoria blinked as she watched the two of them walk away hand in hand, leaving her with no definitive answer and minutes away from experiencing her very first exploration into the wild world of amphetamines alone. Swallowing the knot in her throat and determined not to do this alone, she moved as swift as she could to find Taylor and see if she'd join her in the trip.

Behind her she heard Price laugh. Whether it was at her or in general, she did not know. All she knew for sure was that she really did hate those two fucking bitches right about now…

 

Chapter Text

 

Her head was a blur in a way which she had never felt before. She had hangovers but this felt so much… lighter… like she was floating above regular consciousness… if that made any sense.

She looked around and could not believe where she was… she was in some sort of… a shack? Was this even real life? Whatever it was it was low class, a collage of magazine cut outs of models and bands, pictures of people… notably Rose Amber with Rachel. The words 'CHLOE WAS HERE' and 'RACHEL WAS HERE' was screeched on the wall in marker.

It was little wonder why this place was off limits by the hosts of the party. It felt like it was a sort of shrine to the two of them.

Rubbing her eyes, Taylor Christensen laid back down on the bundled up paint sheet she used as a pillow and attempted to recollect herself.

With the shack maybe half the size of her dorm room, Taylor turned her head from side to side and immediately found the other occupants of the shed. Cuddled together on the beaten up old couch was more than likely Rachel and Chloe. On her left and lying next to the door on her side, using a jacket that looked like it belonged to Chloe as a pillow was Victoria, probably still fast asleep.

She didn't remember much of last night. She did a lot of dancing with Victoria, Dana and surprisingly Steph Gingrich, who was kinda cooler than she had been led to believe. She drank a little but the Molly she took more then took care of her intoxication needs. She remembered she was pulled aside by Chloe or Rachel on occasion and they would force her to drink water or takes breaks. It was sort of a buzz kill at the time, but it was greatly appreciated now that she was waking up in a relatively okay state.

As she prepared to face the day, a ragged breathing and a small whimper caught her attention from the couch.

Taylor knew exactly what it was, she wasn't a fucking moron, but like a car crash, she just had to look. When two people were obviously banging, who in their right mind didn't look?

So she did just that…

Taylor turned her head and took in the sight of Rachel laying there, covered in blankets with only her head exposed out. Her eyes were thankfully closed. Around where her waist was the blank was budging from Chloe Price's form. She was hunched under the blanket clearly doing… whatever it was gay girls did. She watched in silence as one of Rachel's hands gripped the arm of the couch, the other gripped the bulging blanket… probably Chloe's head. Still she was breathing sharply, holding herself back…

This was really happening. Victoria was passed out next to the door and the Queen of Blackwell was getting eaten out on her other side, the words 'baby, you're doing so good girl' escaping Rachel's lips only added to the awkwardness even further. Neither of them seemed to care that there were other occupants in their shed.

Fuck her life; fuck everything about it right now. She had no idea what else to do but lay there and pretend to be asleep and listen to the Punk girl desecrating the Victoria's rival. Slightly revolted by herself, Taylor opened her eyes. She just had to look again. Call it a curiosity; she doubted something like this would happen again.

Taylor looked over and found Rachel had rolled her head to one side and was now looking down on the frozen voyeur. She did not look mad or even annoyed. She instead appeared to be amused. Her chest was rising up and down as she seemed close. Her hand clutching Chloe's blanket covered head pushed Chloe hard into her pelvis.

"Morning Taylor," Rachel breathed to her, her eyes hooded as she looked Taylor dead in the eyes. "Did you have a good time? Must have… you have Victoria's lipstick on your lips…"

Taylor instinctively rubbed her mouth. Sure enough Victoria brand lipstick had graces hers. Heat rose back to her face, hotter than that off a girl getting oral just a few feet from her. Those pills must have really loosened the two of them up, or Victoria in particular.

"Nobe fuggin wae!" Taylor heard from under the blanket. It was Chloe and apparently she still had a mouthful of… well… Rachel, judging on the way Rachel gasped and jumped slightly.

Rachel recollected herself and pat Chloe's blanket covered head like a pet.

"Baby, swallow before you speak…" Rachel teased her girlfriend before she turned back to the numb Taylor and smiled as she sweetly added. "Say, could you do us a huge favour? Could you, like, collect Victoria and take off? Kind of making up for a missed opportunity here… hosting Rachloefest was a time consumer for us."

Taylor could not have been happier to have an out granted as quickly as this. It would certainly be a story to tell Vic… eventually. Ignoring the dizzy spell that washed over her, she launched herself up and collected her things.

"Sure… yeah… bye…" she mumbled out as she stood up straight again… poor choice of words right now but what fucking ever.

Taylor watched in a mixture of amusement and horror as Chloe's hand shot out from under the blankets and gave her a thumb up. As Rachel looked away to focus on the girl under her sheets, a stupid smile resting on her mouth, Taylor shuffled over to Victoria and knelt down beside her.

"Victoria…" she said, pushing her friend back and forth gently. "It's time to wake up…"

Taylor knew this would awaken the beast that was a hung over Victoria Chase, but at this point she didn't know how long before Rachel started making noises and she needed to get out of their with Victoria before it got really awkward. She didn't want to do it, but she had to risk it for both their sakes.

But something was different. Victoria usually snapped her eyes up and shot her a withering glare and a string of angry words spoken at the top of her voice. This time… she was still and at peace. The only thing that happened was Victoria raising her hand lazily to push away Taylor's hand.

"Fu…ck of…" Victoria slurred, her head rolling to rest her cheek flat on the shack floor.

Taylor tilted her head as an uneasy feeling washed over her. This was not a reaction that was typical at all.

"Victoria?" she called again. As she placed her fingers on Victoria's neck, the heat billowing off her was unnatural.

Undeterred by Victoria's slurring's, Taylor rolled Victoria over and found her drenched in sweat, her eyes attempting to look at Taylor, but they were unfocused and dilated and blinking in quick succession. Her teeth were clenched and her right hand was gnarled up like she was attempting to. She looked like a total physically haunting wreck.

Horrified, Taylor forced herself to look up and direct her attention to Rachel and Chloe.

"I think there's something really wrong with her!" she called out to the other girls.

"Yeah she's a bitch, what's new…" Chloe muttered from under the blanket, very much distracted with the body she was toying with.

Rachel didn't even bother to look. She had good reasons to be apathetic by the looks of it. Taylor stood up properly.

"SERIOUSLY, GET THE FUCK OVER HERE AND LOOK AT HER!" Taylor screamed at the two of them.

She was done fucking around, and if she had her way, so would they.

Chloe erupted out of the blanket. Sweaty as she fixed her shirt rolled up sleeping shirt over her tits. She looked ready to kill Taylor and Victoria until she noticed Victoria lying there completely dazed and out of it. As soon as she took in Victoria at Taylor's feet, her anger melted away into shock.

"Holy shit..." Chloe breathed uncertainly. "…is she…"

As Chloe moved to Victoria, Rachel rolled over and pulled herself together. Like Chloe before her the apathy vanished. She fumbled under the blanket for a moment and rolled off the couch wearing unbuttoned short shorts. Chloe sat down next to the barely conscious Victoria, who was sort of drooling and snapped her fingers. Victoria barely acknowledged it. Like Taylor before Chloe, she weakly batted the fingers out of her face.

"Something is wrong…" Chloe announced to the others. "Rach, we need to get her to the hospital!"

"Oh, fuck that!" Rachel snapped out, startling the other two lucid girls.

"Rachel this is serious, there's something wrong with her!" Chloe argued back, her voice edged with an uncharacteristic anger directed at her girlfriend.

Rachel utterly dismissed Chloe's concerns. She redirected her eyes to Taylor. All the mysteriousness and good nature she had only known before this moment was erased. Replacing it was a rage and intensity in Rachel Amber's eyes that dwarfed anything she had ever seen from Victoria in her absolute most pissed off moments, even more fury then any male in a middle of a heated primal tirade. Rachel just looked ready to kill something.

"You only took the one capsule, right?" Rachel asked her, her hand reaching down to pat Victoria's cheek as though she was giving something for Victoria to pay attention to; to focus on instead of falling backwards into her intoxication.

As Taylor nodded, Rachel reared her hand back and slapped Victoria hard on the mouth. Taylor was about to launch herself at Rachel, but the action put Victoria in a significantly more lucid state than prior. Rachel had given Victoria something to hate, and hate had a way to put life back into someone.

"That's so fucking typical," Rachel snapped, rolling her eyes as she turned back to Chloe. "Chlo, we take her to a hospital with an apparent overdose and all three of us will kiss Blackwell goodbye, our summer plans goodbye. We're so fucking close, and I'm not fucking it up because Victoria overdid it a-fucking-gain."

"Well, what the hell do we do?" Taylor interrupted Rachel.

Slapping Victoria hard once again and getting a guttural noise from her rival, Rachel turned away and went searching for something on the cable spool turned table.

"I have an alternative…" Rachel answered as she knocked a pile of clothing off and went digging through it. "We know someone who knows some shit and knows discretion…"

Next to Taylor, Chloe looked as though she was about to have fit.

"What?" Chloe said, her eyes widened like Rachel had said something unbelievable. "No, no, no, no… You can't be fucking serious, Rach. Vicky needs a doctor, not a recovering addict!"

Rachel turned back in her hand was her phone. She joined them, standing over the two girls tending to Victoria. She jabbed her foot into Victoria's side. At this point Taylor couldn't tell if it was meant to help, or Rachel was taking some satisfaction in this. It got a weak 'bitch' from Victoria, so Taylor decided to give Rachel the benefit of the doubt.

"Chloe, Taylor we need to calm the fuck down and think this through," Rachel spoke to the two of them as though she was a mother. "She's breathing, she hasn't vomited, she isn't convulsing. She's just out of it hard. It's eight in the morning and she could have easily have taken another dose at any point last night or early this morning. Out of the three of us, the only one who will get away with it is Chase. None of us have her kind of money and this will completely fuck my Dad over. We take her to my Mom, she'll assess the situation. If we need to take her to the hospital, we will, but if she's with us it'll look better. I bet she's had to do it loads of time… does that sound like a plan?"

Taylor blinked as she looked up at Rachel curiously. What did Rachel mean by take her to her Mom?

Looking from Chloe, who seemed to be just as startled as Taylor was, she shared a look with the other girl for a moment before they turned back to look at Rachel, who seemed to come to a realization of what she had said. Exhaling, Rachel shook her head as though she dismissed it and turned back to the other girls.

"Chloe help Taylor with moving Victoria, I got to make the call…" Rachel said as she tapped her phone touchscreen.

As Rachel pressed her phone to her ear, Chloe stood up. She reached out and pulled Victoria up by her arms. Taylor helped by holding Victoria steady and watched as Chloe scooped Victoria up in her arms bridal style. Chloe emitted a small grunt, like she was startled or something by Victoria's surprisingly heavy frame.

"This is so fucking bad…" Chloe muttered as she pressed the limp girl into her chest. "Goddammit Vicky… if you fucking die on us, so be it… but if you shit yourself like you almost did last time, I am sooooo not forgiving you."

Victoria's wild eyes attempted and failed to look at the punk cradling her.

"Shu… the…puck up, funk..." Victoria managed to mumble out to Chloe.

As annoyed as Chloe was, Taylor and the older girl took a little solace that there was still some Victoria Chase inside there.


A knock on her front door made Sera jump out of her seat and nearly drop the cigarette she was smoking.

It had been about ten minutes since she got a frantic phone call from Rachel. The reception was bad. All that she could make from it was "Victoria… Drugs… I'm coming over" before the phone line went dead, leaving Sera with her heart racing in a way she hadn't felt in a very long time.

At nearly a run, she made it to the front door in record time and pried the door open. Standing there side by side was Rachel and Chloe, both of them looked like a mess; hung over did not even begin to describe them. Their hair as a sticky mess, their makeup smudged and their clothing hastily thrown over them. It did not take an expert to know what they must have been doing probably only half an hour or so prior.

"Rachel… Chloe? Are you girls okay?" Sera spoke instead of dwelling on those thoughts. "Your call made no sense..."

Rachel tried to smile, but she was clearly shaken.

"Sorry to barge in on you like this…" Rachel was the first one to speak. "It's just… we need your help on the down low…"

Rachel gestured back to the truck pulled almost clean up onto the sidewalk. Sera peered over her shoulder and noticed two figures sitting in the passenger seat. Chloe left Sera ad Rachel and walked back to the truck as the door opened. Sera watched as Chloe and one of the occupants pushed out the second into Chloe's arms.

The pieces quickly fell into place as to why Rachel and Chloe were here. The girl, about Chloe's height with a short blonde hair could barely function. Her head lolled from side to side, her eyelids flickering rapidly. She was leaned up against Chloe as the second girl climbed out. She was a leggy girl with blonde highlighted bangs and an extremely distressed expression etched into her face. Like the other girl, she had a small stumble coming out, but she was considerably more sober than the first girl. Together Chloe and the second girl walked the stoned blonde to Rachel and her.

"Sera, this is Taylor and the one hella fried is Victoria…" Rachel made the introductions.

Sera stepped out of the way and gestured to the direction of the living room. The girl called Taylor was not nearly as dumb as Sera wanted her to be. She looked from Sera to Rachel, and Sera knew that the child had already connected the dots. Rachel had probably title dropped in her panic. Whatever… they would deal with it later.

As Chloe and Taylor sat Victoria down on the couch, Sera took a seat next to the girl and carefully examined her. Like second nature… that black stain took back over like it was second instinct. For the first time in over three years, she was channelling her inner paranoid junkie. This time it was for good, which was a strange thing indeed.

"How much ecstasy did she take?" she inquired, her finger waving in front of Victoria's eyes to see if she had any sort of significant reactions. She was… there for the most part.

"She said it was straight up MDMA…" Rachel spoke to her mother, like she was in trouble. "She said one as far as I know, but that was like, 12 hours ago… she had a decent amount on hand so we don't know if she had more."

Sera sighed and looked up to the three girls watching her with baited breath.

"Well, she has popped more than that..." Sera confirmed to them, trying her best to keep her growing anger and disappointment from bubbling over. "She's not overdosing, but she's coming down really hard though…"

Sera trailed off and pressed the back of her hand on her forehead head. Victoria was hot and clammy.

"She's burning up… was this her first time using?" she asked to no one in particular.

The girl named Taylor stepped forward.

"Yes it was," she confirmed, looking extremely frightened as Sera directed her full attention to her. "She was nervous about them the entire time we heading to the party. She said it was pure grade…."

Pure… that was the oldest lie in the dealer's book. A dealer rarely sold his product pure. Not when they were in it to maximize profits, like most of them were. A stimulant like MDMA didn't fuck with motor functions in the way this was Victoria, newbie or not. They didn't burn a body through a heat stroke, quite the opposite.

Sera had some theories brewing in her brain, none of them she liked.

"Where are the drugs?" Sera directed to Victoria's friend.

Ignoring Rachel's eyes widening as her junkie mom just ask for MDMA, she instead watched as Taylor dropped the purse she was holding next to Sera. Sera reached in and immediately pushed her hand into the plastic bag, pulling out a single capsule for inspection.

Sera narrowed her eyes at it as her blood ran cold. She had seen these capsules before.

She had seen them because during her early days in Arcadia Bay she ran drugs for Frank and Merrick to help pay for her stay. MDMA was never her scene… honestly she felt people who used it on a regular basis ere insufferable douchebags. But when it came to keeping herself fed and in her motel watching Rachel from afar, she swallowed her pride and helped them get their high. As soon as James helped her find stable employment, she stopped.

But was it uncut? Fuck no… Merrick cut it with an assortment of shit, and having seen the effects of GHB before used on a friend or two during her junkie days, and Chase's reaction had some of the same trademarks. A MDMA/GHB mixture was a dangerous combination, but people aware of the danger would find it created a cool effect acting as a stimulant and a depressant. Still, GHB was a delicate drug to voluntarily take… you couldn't mess around with it and take more than a few millilitres, or in this case milligram, at a time.

If Victoria Chase had taken a pill then another one, then she would be in this state for at least another 8 to 12 hours… following that she'd be needing days to recover fully from this… it was a stupid mistake on her part, and a deadly mistake on the part of who ever gave her the pills without warning her about the added ingredient.

Ignoring the urge to test drive the concoction Merrick as brewing, Sera put the pill back in the bag and looked up to her daughter.

"Rachel, Taylor, could you go get the bath running. Down the hallway, second door on the right," Sera addressed the girls without looking to them. "Keep the water warm but not scalding… we'll keep our eye on Victoria."

Rachel hesitated, looking from Victoria, to her mother and finally to Chloe, who nodded. Together, Rachel and Taylor left Victoria with Sera and Chloe. The two still coherent occupants in the living room remaining silent as they watched Victoria nodding in and out.

As soon as the door to the bathroom closed, Sera directed her stern gaze up to Chloe, who had become uncharacteristically petrified by the sight of Sera dropping all her niceties.

"This is why I told you not to fuck around with Bowers and Merrick," Sera addressed the frightened punk girl with as much calm as she could produce. "Now, is it safe for me to assume that you're going to tell me everything you know…right?"

Chloe nodded firmly and in unblinking silence, Sera watched her daughter's girlfriend spill her guts about absolutely everything.


Today had been an eye opening experience for Rachel when it came to Taylor Christensen.

Rachel had always assumed that Taylor was just another working bee for Victoria's benefit. In comparison to Courtney, she was very pretty and quite a bit more personable, but at the end of the day she was still just another drone doing the will of Chase.

That all changed from what saw today went up and beyond a simple master serf relationship. She had managed to convince Victoria to get into the bathtub without protest, she helped her vomit when she needed to and for the past few hours she had been sitting at the side of Victoria's bed, keeping her from sleeping by reading to her and making conversation with relative ease.

Rachel hoped that Victoria was paying attention to this. What Victoria needed wasn't another drone, but a friend, her very own Chloe. Not necessarily for romantic reasons, but instead for Victoria and Taylor could have someone to confide in without fear. Victoria needed people in her life to help her understand she did not have be insular one hundred percent of the time. It was something neither she nor Chloe could be given their history, but Taylor… she had an in.

If something good came from this bad day, then Rachel sincerely hoped it was that. A silver lining was important right about now. Whatever the case was, it was decided Rachel would see about bringing Taylor into their loop as a new friend.

As Rachel glanced around the spare bedroom, a strange sort of guilt washed over her. Clearly Sera had put a lot thought into the room, making it extremely clear that she had thought she may one day get an overnight stay with her daughter. In the past two years and a month, that never happened. It only happened if they were both over at her house, but never at Sera's.

She knew it wasn't her fault; at least not at first. Dad would have had a fit in the first year, but this year was on her. Dad had eased the restrictions and she was turning 18, and seeing where Sera lived never seemed appropriate or even really crossed her mind. Now here she was, her first visit and it was only because she needed something from her. That was probably the worst part of the guilt she felt. She didn't want her mom misconstruing this as her only being there when it was convenient for her.

Patting Taylor's knee, she stood up from her seat on the bed next to her.

"I'm going to go check on them," she told Taylor.

As Taylor smiled and nodded before turning her attention back to Victoria, Rachel glided out of the room, closing the door behind her and she silently walked towards where she heard the sound of Chloe and Mom talking. As soon as she entered the living room, the two of them went silent and looked up to her like she had been intruding on them; the two of them smoking cigarettes.

Deciding to not acknowledge their conversation she had apparently interrupted, Rachel sat down between the two of them, grabbing Chloe's pack and lighter off the couch arm and lighting a cigarette idly. She tried her best to ignore the look Sera was giving her as she took her first inhale.

"You shouldn't smoke," Sera finally murmured as she tapped her cigarette. "Neither of you girls should smoke, really."

Deciding this was a conversation that would inevitably lead to an argument, Rachel chose instead to steer around it.

"Nice spare bedroom… were you expecting company or something?" she spoke, a trace of coyness entering her words as she changed subjects.

Sera blinked and turned away. She took another inhale and held the smoke in her lungs longer than usual. Next to Rachel, Chloe took Rachel's hand, which Rachel immediately squeezed back. This Victoria business was a fucking strain to say the least.

"I had this silly idea that one day you may want to… I guess… spend the night or weekends with me," Sera admitted as the cigarette smoke rolled gently from her mouth. "That was a few weeks after we started seeing each other. As you can probably guess, I'm rather impulsive."

Rachel nodded and took a drag from her cigarette as well.

"I wish I came here under better circumstances, not just because I was making you do something for me… I'm sorry…" she apologized to her Mom. "… and I would like to do that… stay with you from time to time, I mean… after Chloe and I get back, and school starts up."

At the mention of the road trip, Sera's expression darkened. Even though her cigarette was only a quarter smoked, she stubbed it out into the ash tray and stared unnaturally hard at her daughter with a look she had only up to the is point had seen from her father.

"I have a mind to put my foot down and say no after this…" Sera admitted to the two of them.

Rachel blinked, startled by Sera's statement. She knew she opposed them leaving… but this felt different. Like she was ready to put her foot down when she had no fucking business doing so.

"I said no to the offer, Chloe too!" Rachel tore right back into her.

Sera didn't even blink.

"You said no because you had a party to run. What about next time?" Sera immediately countered. Her ability to just sit there and stare was still unnerving for Rachel to witness.

Looking to Chloe, who was silently allowing both mother and daughter their moment, Rachel clamped her mouth shut. Yes… she supposed she was very prepared to use the Molly at a later date when she didn't have any personal responsibilities weighing on her. Not that she would ever admit that. The only option she had now was silence.

She simply stared at Sera and watched as her Mom looked like she was close to having some sort of break down. This was a place that Sera probably didn't want to be back in, watching as her only daughter fell into the same sort of routine which had drawn her into. Sera's addiction traits passed down to her daughter at a genetic level.

Sera rubbed her face and shook her head.

"I'm not… trying to stand in your way. God knows I have no right to lecture you about what you put inside you," Sera spoke up after her long silence. "But I have a role in your life now. I have experiences to draw upon and I have a responsibility to keep you safe. I don't know this Victoria girl, but it could easily just be you in that stupor or… or worse… and I can't live with the thought that losing you like that was possible."

As Sera trailed off, the guilt returned back to Rachel tenfold. It became extremely evident that this had woken old wounds back into Sera's into her mind. Fifteen years… she could not even begin to imagine the amount of people who probably died in her life to this sort of shit. Going in for a high and coming out dead on the other side.

Silently, Rachel watched as Sera redirected her attention to Chloe. She smiled and reached over, patting her knee.

"That goes for you as well, Chloe…" she included. "I… love both of you so much… anyways…"

Sera lapsed back into silence and turned away, leaving both younger girls with things to ponder.


Victoria had no sense of what time it was, or even what day it was… she was that far fucking down the line right now.

The high was gone, in its place was just a miserable aching pain throbbing in every corner of her body. She did not know how she could endure this, but she was. She asked Taylor for some Advil but she got no commitment. Apparently they were trying to work the drugs out of her system naturally. She didn't know what the big fucking deal was, it was just Advil. They weren't the fucking ones who had ingested a couple extra Molly and fucking ended up in this mess. That was her and her alone, and it was up to the others to keep her safe from herself…

Damn… now she was in the res with people she didn't want to owe favours too…

The door opened, distracting Taylor from her read and Victoria from her festering self-pity. Victoria looked up towards it and felt a strange plummet inside her. Like her insides gave out and collapsed.

Standing there was Rachel, but not quite…

This Rachel was older by decades, and infinitely more worn down than Rachel was. Her eyes were hawkish as she looked from Taylor to the now alert Victoria She was wearing jeans and a black short sleeved shirt revealing an entire sleeve of tattoos. In her hands was a glass and a blender pitcher filled with an orangey liquid.

So… this was the woman who owned this place. The one who Taylor swore up and down was a blood relation of some sort to Rachel Amber. The idea that Rachel had another Mother was absurd; she thought Taylor was still stoned or something; but with the woman standing there in front of her, she could no longer deny how hauntingly similar she was to Rachel; certainly more so than Rose Amber had been.

"Taylor, the girls are making dinner breakfast. Why don't you go and help them. I'll keep an eye on her," the woman spoke, her voice was low, uncertain as she held her eyes on Victoria with an uncomfortable amount of consideration, like she was already trying to get a read.

Rose Amber was a kind woman; never in any of her interactions with Rose did she have the same sort of plotting nature which Rachel had possessed. For the longest time, Victoria figured it was a personality trait she must have inherited from a lawyer father, but looking at this woman now… she fucking knew exactly where it came from.

Taylor smiled from her place on the bed and dropped her phone next to Victoria in case she needed to use it. Patting Victoria's arm, Taylor pushed herself off the bed and left, leaving Victoria silently looking up at the woman now standing over her.

"You have a good friend in her… and I hope I'm not the only one who is thinking that…" the woman addressed her as she set the glass down on the table by the bed.

Victoria shifted uncomfortably. Taylor's loyalty to her was not lost on her… it ever was. She just wasn't very good at expressing these things. She lived in a continuous competition with everyone; even against people who she had no reason to fight. It wasn't something that she could just turn off. It was just… in her nature to be a bitch.

"I made you a recovery drink," the Rachel doppelgänger spoke again as she poured a thick gloop of liquid from the pitcher and into the glass to its brim "Blended oranges, banana, apple and squeezed lemon... I always found a super dose of vitamin C helped clear the mind, or at least eased the tension."

The woman grabbed the glass and offered it out to Victoria, who just stared at it, her mouth slightly open.

"I'm not hungry, thank you-" Victoria started.

"Sera, and yes you are," the woman named Sera interrupted her without pause. "You'll be feeling it soon, trust me you want to ride through the detox well fed… you might vomit again, but it's better to have something to throw up then stomach bile by itself."

Victoria stared up at Sera... as awful as that sounded there was a lot of merit to what she was saying. She took the glass from Sera and quietly tilted the glass into her mouth, looing away from Sera as she continued to stare at the still very stoned Chase.

"I suppose Taylor had to tell her suspicions to someone…" Sera accurately guessed.

Swallowing the last of the contents of the rather delicious concoction Sera had blended, Victoria nodded.

"I would have squeezed it out of her at some point sooner or later," Victoria muttered, devoid of any emotion as she allowed Sera to refill her glass. "We won't tell anyone if that's what you want… God, I feel like fucking shit…"

For the first time, Sera allowed a ghost of a smile at the statement Victoria issued.

"Good… that means you'll survive," she pointed out to the teen. "If you didn't feel anything, you'd be in trouble…"

Victoria tilted her head slightly, her brow rose as she eyed the woman carefully.

"You sure you're Rachel's Mother?" Victoria asked her, looking away as she sipped her drink. "You're not a back talking bitch like she is."

Victoria winced. Once again she let her words escape her mind without much of a filter in place. She supposed she could have called Rachel a passive aggressive cunt, but she did not. There was indeed a filter in place. Still, she had expected the woman to probably get angry or pissy, but instead Sera merely chuckled.

"She gets that from her father," Sera spoke as she turned back to Victoria. "She got her far more insidious traits from me. Thankfully they so far have failed to manifest."

The smile that formed as she laughed slowly vanished. Her face reverted back to an expression of serious contemplation as she examined Victoria.

"If you want to use again, you tell your dealer or connection the next time you get Molly, you don't want it cut with GHB," Sera warned her, devoid of judgement or feeling. "You can have a good time high on GHB by itself, but the wrong amount and you're on a one way trip to a stomach pump or a toe tag... Do you understand?"

Victoria nodded blankly. She… she had been told by Nathan that the Molly was clean… why in the fuck did he lie to her? She gave some to Taylor; she was going to give more to Rachel and Price. She might have had her issues with those two, but she was going to give them fucking tainted drugs…

"Anyways…" Sera spoke again, breaking Victoria from her collapsing chain of thought. "Would you like to get up and try to walk around? You've been in bed for 14 hours… the girls are making something greasy to eat. Interested?"

Swallowing her growing anger with herself and Nathan, Victoria nodded and allowed herself to be helped up by the woman who was apparently Rachel's mother. There would be plenty of time to beat herself up over this later. For now she just had to focus on getting through the next day or two.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Today was the day. She had to pinch herself on a metaphorical level, because Chloe Price could still not believe that after all this time, Rachel and she were now only a few hours away from their escape.

She supposed that they could have left at any point between when the last exam was taken and now, but they stuck to the plan. Not so much out of last days jitters, but obligation. Joyce wanted to try and spend what time she had left with Chloe as though it would somehow make up for all the time she spent with her walking vibrator. She hated it and she hated him. Moving out into the dorms was the best idea Rachel had... well… it was in the top five at least.

Rachel had her own problems. It seemed Sera was getting a little moodier. This was a woman who had shown great restraint over the past few years. For them to leave… even with all the promises they made to her… it felt like she was being abandoned again. It was a little silly, but Sera had fears were rooted in her past. She was too weak (in her mind) to have the sort of freedom Rachel yearned for. Life now had to be meticulously scheduled. The incident with fucking Clitoria Chase only served to kick Sera's fears into overdrive.

Then there was James. The past few weeks, James had seemed to force himself out of his stupor. With Rachel leaving, he seemed to be taking sort of a page out of Joyce's book and was getting steadily more hands on after countless attempts made by Rachel to get her Father feeling better. But he was not nearly as sentimental as Joyce was being about the trip. Instead of talking about the past or being sweet, he was asking for itineraries and shit. As if the girls had some sort of plan they were sticking to.

The only set in stone plan was that they would be in Seattle late July, early August to... well… shit… see Max Caulfield.

Chloe still didn't know how to feel even years after Rachel first introduced the idea to her. Angry, scared, hopeful… excited. All were valid feelings she felt about this. A part of her wanted to shout and yell at Max for leaving, that only a small part of her. Now… all she wanted to do was hug her old best friend. Nothing had to be said, there wasn't a need for an explanation or excuse or whatever… she just wanted to see her again.

Thankfully for her, helping Rachel through her own loss had given Chloe the opportunity to supress and force her own feelings back down so that it wasn't something which she dwelled on. While she didn't mind having something to focus on, Rachel genuinely hated that and made it known every time the topic was even breached. She was always trying to get Chloe to open up. She used to wonder if it was out of annoyance of having Chloe up in her shit as much as she was, but a three hour screaming match an age ago had cured that insecurity. Chloe was in it for Rachel, and Rachel was in it for her… all the way.

While it was sort of… embarrassing to drag up the past when Rachel had so much more shit to deal with , it was nice to know that she cared, even if Dad died and Max left such a long time ago. It made her feel love and protected by Rachel.

Rocking her body gently until she could prop her on an elbow; Chloe sort of brought her body to an upright position and had managed not to disturb Rachel who was still fast asleep. Her arm was draped around Chloe's body, her face unceremoniously planted into her chest, which was pretty much standard operating procedure for her. In silence, Chloe held herself over Rachel and carefully brushed the hair from out of her eyes.

A few hours to go now and soon the two of them would finally blow out of town and take their first steps out into the wider world waiting for them. Holy shit… it was actually happening now.

A small moan caught Chloe's attention. Rachel was stirring back to consciousness, or least was close to. It was… honestly adorable. It was sort of like watching a kitten struggle to wake up after a particularly long and comfy nap. She made all the cute noises and everything. There was a crazy idea planted in Chloe's head to use 'Kitten' as a pet name, but strangely enough Cats or Dog person was never brought up in all their time together. Perhaps it would be a wedge apart. Man's Best Friend versus… well… a cat.

Chloe, as if it needed to be said, was defiantly a dog person.

"What are you doing?" she heard Rachel murmur into her, her words vibrating into her skin.

Still stroking her fingers through Rachel's hair, Chloe shrugged, watching as Rachel moved along with her.

"Admiring the gorgeous girl in my bed," was Chloe's answer, feeling sort of fucking suave right about now.

"That's pretty self-absorbed of you…" Rachel shot back mildly.

As Chloe's face heated up at the implication Rachel had made about her being gorgeous washed over her senses, Rachel pushed herself up a sleepy grin resting on her mouth. With the two of them at eye level, Rachel quirked her lips and leaned in, pressing her mouth against Chloe's before she pulled back and sat up properly, leaving Chloe slightly dazed as she watched Rachel push herself clean out of bed.

"And where are you going this early in the morning?" Chloe managed to get out without stuttering as Rachel pushed back her hair and pulled on a pair of Chloe's boxers underneath a long sleeping shirt Rachel had conned off of Chloe.

Chloe scrunched her nose slightly as she continued to stare. For a girl with her sort of personal and family wealth, Rachel sure did jack a lot of free shit from the poor girl. Not that Chloe minded too much… it always seemed to look better on her.

"If you really need to know, I got to pee, Price… God, perv much?" Rachel replied as she turned back to face Chloe, still walking backwards towards the door.

Chloe could only grin as she checked the time. It was about nine and Joyce would be up making breakfast… If Rachel was going to be up… she might as well make herself be useful. That was what good girlfriends did right? She just had to say it the right way to get what she wanted.

"Dude, could you like bring us up some breakfast so we can eat and pack shit?" she blurted out.

Okay… so that could have gone better. She would have to chalk this up on the sight of Rachel standing there in a thin shirt… her clothing. Even now, it still broke her brain at the sight of the gorgeous girl so... dedicated to her.

Rachel's hand resting on her hips as she eyed Chloe like she was an insect. When Rachel broke out her arrogance, it was like… the hottest fucking thing ever; because at the end of the day the arrogant girl got fucked to jelly by poor old her.

"Dude?" Rachel repeated, switching to a dudebro tone as she added. "No problem, brah, anything else you want, how bout good old fashion gal pal head! No homo though…"

Rolling her eyes, Chloe stood up on her bed, only to fall to her knees. She knelt in front of Rachel, her hands raised in front of her like a prayer.

"Honey bunny, love of my life, my guiding star…" Chloe sappily pleaded to her, her eyes as wide and as innocent as she could make them. "Could you pwetty please get us some fuckin' grub…"

Rachel stared at her a little longer before she looked satisfied with the sight of Chloe on her knees. She nodded to her, her expression smug as she silently decided that was the right tone for her girlfriend to take.

"Wash your hands will you?" Chloe called after her.

Rachel did not turn back; she raised a middle finger at Chloe. It was arguably her favourite finger Rachel possessed. It just had a little more reach then the index…

"I will, thank you for the reminder!" Rachel replied haughtily. "Shower more than once a week, will you? One of these days I want to be able to take you out somewhere nice and not have to wonder if you're going to get us busted for smelling like a grow op!"

As Rachel left the bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her, Chloe collapsed back onto the bed into the spot here Rachel had been sleeping, a stupid silly smile forming onto her face.

Fuck, she loved that girl… This summer was going to be their best one yet.


Stepping down the final steps, Rachel allowed herself to be washed over the familiar and wonderful scent of Joyce's traditional breakfast. It would definitely be one of the few things she would miss when Chloe ad her left.

They would be taking off from here in only a few hours from now. They would finish their packing and loading their shit into the truck and would wait on Dad and Sera to show up before they left. Thankfully for Chloe, she would only have Joyce seeing her off. David was already out of town, running himself through a security course so that he was a proper guard when it was time for school in the fault.

Fuck… Madsen was actually going to be at their school next year…

Rachel had to hand it to her. If she was in Chloe's position she would probably never even attempt to help him out. That was even after disregarding his part to play in what had happened to Mom. He was an abusive relic of a bygone era, someone who just needed to assert himself in a leadership role in a family that wasn't his place to take. Even if he had a full time job, that role would remain firmly in Joyce's hands, as it should be.

As she entered the kitchen, she found Joyce standing there, mixing a bowl of pancake batter. She looked up as soon as Rachel approached her, a strained sort of smile crossing over her lips. It was an expression she had gotten used to, but it was obvious that Joyce was not particularly okay with her.

That was not to say Joyce was not a nice woman - far from it in fact. Joyce was nice and very kind, but there was an underlining distance between Rachel and her. It went beyond the obvious marrying David Madsen. It was sort of like she didn't think Chloe should be so close to her. She doubted it was homophobia thing and more 'not good for my daughter' thing. Apparently the goodwill she felt for James Amber did not extend to his daughter.

Perhaps she thought it was all just a fling, that it was just simple teenaged love or something. Perhaps she just thought it was a phase for Rachel… something that would inevitably lead to Chloe getting hurt or rejected. When Chloe came out, she came out in typical Chloe fashion: hard and in your face. Perhaps Joyce thought that Rachel being less abrasive meant she wasn't committed enough…

Whatever, she could believe whatever she wanted. Rachel loved Chloe Price, and Joyce would just have to fucking deal with it.

For now, she was not about to voice anything and create a bad send off for her Chloe. This was a matter to be addressed once they got back, once the two of them got their breather from Arcadia Bay life. For now she would just grin and bear the uncomfortable tension between the two of them.

"Good morning, Joyce," Rachel greeted the mother with a smile.

"Good morning Rachel, did you sleep well?" Joyce replied gently, her voice startling bright in spite of Rachel's doubts.

Rachel shrugged and stepped towards her.

"Plenty of time for that, I suppose," Joyce pressed on as she poured out the first batch of batter into the hot pan. "I imagine you're too excited to sleep… you and Chloe both… I guess that this has been your girl's big goal… leaving everyone behind to explore."

Rachel looked on Joyce curiously. It seemed as though both she and Sera were doing more than working together. They seemed to be sharing notes on their displeasure of both Chloe and hers imminent departure. Unlike Sera, however, Joyce didn't have nearly the amount of baggage which Sera had to deal with. Sera could only dance until she eventually accidentally on purpose broached the topic she really wanted to discus. Joyce on the other hand could more or less cut through to the heart.

"We'll be back, but I won't deny that were excited," Rachel replied as leaned against the counter next to her. "We're definitely going to miss your breakfasts, though… we've been practicing, but we'll never quite reach the standards we're used to."

Joyce arched her brow for a moment before she murmured "flatterer" and flipped the first pancakes over. As she did so, she slowly exhaled, her amusement vanishing from view. The two of them remained in silence as Rachel wished she could have had something else to say.

"You know after all this time, we never really had a lot of time to just sit down and get to know each other…" Joyce said as she turned away from the stove and rested next to Rachel. "After what happened… I can imagine you have come up with a lot of reasons why to explain why you and I never seemed to click."

Joyce gripped the counter behind her. She looked extremely off. Like she was realizing Chloe's absence was now locked on course and standing next to her was the reason why this was so.

"You have a lot of influence over my daughter, Rachel," Joyce pressed on. Her tired old observation making Rachel's blood run cold. "You might not mean to do it, but that influence is still yours to manage. God knows you have all the reason sin the world to hate David. Chloe… loves you, and your feelings have a way to wash off onto others. The people who you care for… she cares for… the people you hate…well…"

Joyce trailed off as she looked at Rachel properly and must have immediately noticed that the good mood Rachel was in no longer existed. If it was anyone else making this tired argument to her, she would be liable to lose her cool. First it was Eliot, then Victoria, and now Chloe's own mother… all to support fucking David.

Of course this was what it was… Joyce was insecure as hell about her marriage, especially when she had to look into the eyes of someone irreversibly affected by one of Madsen's fuck ups just about every day, whether it was Chloe for failing to protect her, or Rachel for… well…

"You got my hatred for David Madsen all wrong," she said as she idly picked at one of the pancakes already stacked. "I don't hate David for his role. He's not worth my effort. I just feel absolutely nothing for him. Chloe has her own reasons to hate David. After a few years of him treating her like some sort of problem he can solve by shouting at it, should you really be that surprised why she hates him?"

Chewing the piece of fluffy pancakey goodness between her fingers, Rachel swallowed and sort of smiled a humourlessly thin smile.

"That's why I hate him," she said, staring off ahead of her, unable and unwilling to look at the mother next to her. "I hate him for the way he treats Chloe… I hate him for everything I've seen from him... how could I not hate him for that?"

Rachel glanced back to Joyce, who looked weary. It was a hard thing for her to have to listen to, but it was absolutely necessary. Chloe wasn't one to admit these things and David absolutely was not about to talk about the fact that he spent years verbally abusing her. Rachel decided to show a little mercy and not say that everything she knew, her Dad knew as well, and James Amber was by far a better Dad to Chloe than David could ever dream to be.

"And sure, maybe I do influence Chloe in some ways… " she added on, her words strained at her acknowledgement. "But it's a mutual thing… sort of comes with the whole dating thing, I guess…"

As Joyce nodded, Rachel turned away and listened as the coffee peculated in the machine. Running her hand through her tangled hair, she tried her best not to look at the woman who was watching her.

"This trip wasn't about me… it never was. It's for her," she continued, her voice drained of feeling anything to off put any risk of tearing up in front of Joyce as she added. "It was for her to see there is something more out there than just this. It's to help her find peace with everything in her past. Chloe has been stuck in a nightmarish limbo state for so long. If it wasn't for what happened to Mom, we'd have done it sooner. Chloe has so much pain in her, and if I can help her let go of some of it... it…"

Rachel's words died out as she felt a weird sort of embarrassment wash over her. Perhaps she had blurted a little too much out. She didn't like a lot of people muddling into her thought process. There was only person she usually allowed in.

As Rachel turned back to Joyce, she found her looking at younger girl curiously. It was far less distant… in a way that was sort of as though she was seeing Rachel for the first time. That couldn't have been far from the truth if she was being honest. Mom died and a lot of Rachel's niceties and charm sort of vanished overnight.

Perhaps this was all a part of the healing process...

"If you don't like me, that's fine… I get it," she pressed on, a small urgency in her tone. "But I think you like my Dad enough to be a friend. So I want to ask you to… well… I guess I would like it if you could talk to him over the summer. I already asked Sera to look out for him while I'm gone, but… you've been in his position before. You know the sort of feelings he going through, just as Chloe knows how I feel."

Rachel winced at the request she had suddenly made. It was very spur of the moment; but as she stood there with Joyce, it because so clear at how much Joyce could do to help her Dad. Sera was great and Rachel had really come to... well... love her. However in spite of that feeling, there were places Rachel feared for Sera to approach simply because of the accumulation of years of horror stories her biological mother had been forced to tell her at Rachel's insistence.

Sera had a self-described self-destructive personality. Diving too fast and too deep into the grief which a man she once love had might do harm to her far greater than the help she could give him. It was a balancing act and it was this reason which made Rachel the most leery to leave each other in only their company. With Rachel in their lives, they had a common goal towards good relations. What if something set them off and she wasn't there to keep them from going back to war against each other. Sera spoke often of ending the conflict, but she also admitted to poor impulse control. How long would it be until that happened and escalated Dad's grief into anger?

This was what made Joyce such an important new factor. Joyce's presence in this could be the new sort of peace maker or filter for both of them. She was friends with both of them by the looks of it. Sera for sure at least, and at the very least she had a certain amount of pride for helping her out of a tight spot. If there was one thing a Price woman did, it was hold onto their pride stubbornly.

"I've always wanted to talk to him about it…" Joyce admitted to her. "…but with everything that happened…"

Rachel shook her head. She reached out and grabbed onto Joyce's arm.

"No, my Dad never blamed you or even David for that matter," she reassured Joyce with a slight smile. "He's kind of a by the law sort of guy when it comes to what happened. The dipshit who pulled the trigger is who he blames. He'll probably be a dick about it at first… but you just tell him I sent you and he'll know better than to dismiss you-"

Without warning, Joyce enveloped Rachel into a crushing and overwhelming hug. In these display of affection, Rachel had learned just where Chloe's crushing hugs seemed to have come from. She followed her standard procedure operating and relaxed herself, moulding herself inside of Joyce's grasp. Like daughter before her, the move seemed to work on Joyce.

"I never… I never had a problem with you, Rachel…" Joyce spoke over Rachel's head in a soft, vulnerable tone which surprised Rachel by its sheer earnestness. "When you two get back, I would like to get to know you for real… just the two of us if that is something you'd like."

That was actually something she would have liked.

As Rachel nodded into Joyce, Joyce pulled back, her hands still on Rachel's shoulder. She was smiling again, and this time, it appeared much more genuine.

"I'll try to talk to him… but I can't promise you results," she murmured back to her. "But I want you to do something for me as well. You watch out for my little girl, okay? Make sure she doesn't do anything overtly wild… please?"

There it was again… the same sort of mannerisms Sera had. 'Go out and enjoy yourself, but don't get too wild…' like they were too untrustworthy or something. Still… the incident with Victoria had sort of tempered the two of them. Perhaps Mom and Joyce made a little sense about being guarded.

"Joyce, I love your daughter. I will always protect her," she reassured Joyce solemnly.

Rachel had meant every word she had said. Chloe was her number one priority over everything else in this world. It was as that old song went: nothing compared to her.

Joyce let go of Rachel's shoulders and stepped back. After a moment of deliberation, she nodded, accepting the answer. Perhaps for the first time she was seeing what Chloe saw in her. If that was the case, then it was certainly a good start to the next phase of their relationship.


It was around noon before Dad and Sera had shown up to the Price-Madsen residence. Both Chloe and Rachel were in the process of packing in their last bags before they noticed the two of them in conversation with Joyce who until up until their arrival had been helping them.

The three of them conversed quietly to each other. Joyce had watery eyes and Sera seemed stone faced, as was Dad, but for another reason altogether although the sentiments remained the same. Both of them feared to be unrepressed. Emotions made everything complicated, but her Dad was not about to renege on their deal. He knew better than that. As for Sera, her reasons were long since obvious. Of the two, she was much more resigned to everything being well out of her control.

As the two girls finished tying their shit own in the truck bed, they clambered over the sides of their truck and squeezing each other's hands, Chloe and Rachel separated, both of them splitting up to face their respective parents. Rachel could not help but watch in amusement as Chloe went red in the face again as Joyce swallowed her baby up in one of her crushing embraces as she issued a laundry list of demands from her child to follow.

Rachel turned back to find that her father still hadn't moved… which was typical she supposed. Next to him was Sera who was significantly warmer compared to him, but she was still not sold on the trip. Rachel didn't really care though that she felt that way. She was just happy that Sera did not make do on her small threat to report what had happened at Rachloefest to Dad. She was just happy Sera was here to see them off.

"Hey Dad, hey Sera," Rachel greeted the two of them as sweetly as she could manage as she approached them. She watched – a little surprised – as Dad smiled for her.

"Well now, Sunshine… here we are," Dad was the first to reply. "Are you nervous?"

Ignoring the urge to squirm at his nickname for her, Rachel shrugged idly, hoping to be as casual as she could about her nervousness. For years she had wanted this, but only now was she feeling the overwhelming pressure that was leaving everyone in her life behind to venture out into the waiting world.

"Only a little, to be honest; I'm more... I guess jittery…" Rachel admitted to him, returning his smile with one of her own. "Thanks for agreeing to this… I know that I can be awful, but you still put up with it..."

Dad shrugged his shoulders.

"Well it's all part of the job…" Dad returned, his words tainted with amusement as he dropped his hand on her shoulder. "…and I'm still expecting for you to have to experience this trouble yourself… the two of you can decide how to go about it."

His glance flickered to Chloe and instantly Rachel's face went red at the implication. Chloe and her as parents... the poor world would never be able to handle that. Not that she particularly cared what the world thought ever. Maybe it was something… if they survived their teens and early twenties… it would be something to consider…

Sera stepped forward; it was only now that Rachel had noticed the large bag in her hand. It was a large blue bag with a Red Cross mark on it. Rachel looked up from the first aid kit ad back to Sera, who smiled nervously, as though she feared that Rachel would hate her for what she was giving her.

"I got you a little something…" Sera explained, her words very shy as she held the bag out. "I figured since you don't like hospitals… it might be good to be prepared..."

Rachel narrowed her eyes at Sera in protest, her eyes flickering towards her father in fear that he already knew about what had happened. Although he looked curious, it seemed as that that wasn't the case. For her part, Sera seemed apologetic for slipping that last line out.

"I'm sorry; I was trying to lighten the mood," Sera said as she took Rachel's hand. "I have reservations, but I trust you enough that should something happen, you will do the right thing… we both trust you, right?"

Next to Sera, Dad nodded at the last remark and the weird little Amber and Gearhardt family watched as Chloe and Joyce joined the three of them. Joyce had an arm around an obviously flustered Chloe, she was red eyed and teary as it was clear that Joyce was not handling this departure well at all.

"Hello Joyce… you're looking how I'm feeling..." Dad greeted Joyce before directing his full attention to Chloe and added. "Chloe, I am expecting you to take care of Rachel. Rachel, the same goes for Chloe as well, alright?"

As both girls nodded at Dad's words, another round of hugs came in hard from Joyce and Sera. As they pulled back, Dad stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his daughter only for a moment before pulling back and placing himself in front of Joyce and Sera. It was a move to give Chloe and Rachel a chance to step back and move to the truck without having to drag their respective Mom's all the way. Still Joyce and Sera said their goodbyes and offering reminders, which they did their best to placate even as Rachel clambered into the passenger seat and Chloe into the driver's.

As Chloe slammed the door shut behind her, she immediately ignited the engine. She looked a little dazed and twitchy, like she couldn't believe this was actually happening. Rachel was no better than she was right now. She leaned over Chloe and rolled the window down.

"See you later! We'll see you in September, and we'll keep in touch!" Rachel promised them, unable to contain her giddy excitement now. She waved and watched as Chloe looked at the three of them.

"Don't call us, we'll call you!" she added as she pulled back the clutch and shifted into drive.

Giving their parent's one final wave, the girls pulled out of the driveway and into the street. Destination: Anywhere but Arcadia Bay. As Rachel slid into the seat right next to Chloe, Chloe turned back to face Rachel. The tension and the nerves had been broken in her. All that was left was pure elation.

"Holy shit, Rach…" she giggled nervously. "We're actually fucking leaving…"

Rachel could not help but laugh lightly as well, Chloe's grin was contagious and too cute to not leave unrewarded. As they reached their first stop sign, Rachel pressed her finger into Chloe's chin and turned her girlfriend's head to face her properly. She leaned in, kissing Chloe softly.

"That we are, Chloe…" Rachel confirmed, as she pulled her lips back. "I think this is the start of something unforgettable…"

It was a cheesy line perhps, but fuck it. It was all that her brain could come up with right now.

As they kissed again, the car behind them honked its horn, breaking their concentration on each other. The two of them laughed and directed their full attention back to the road. Rachel's hand rested on Chloe's lap, watching as Chloe focused her attention on getting the two of them out of town as soon as they could.

While it was probably wiser to save their celebrations until after they were far enough from Arcadia Bay for it to mean something, but either of them could not deny relishing in their first steps towards full independence.

 

Chapter Text

 

Ignoring the stares of a mother and her daughter watching the blue haired girl pushing her shopping cart along, Chloe tossed in a two boxes of double stuffed Oreos to help them through their inevitable smoke session into the cart; adding to the pile of supplies which now covered the cart's occupant, Rachel Amber's legs.

Chloe hunched back over the cart and stared at her girl. Rachel was currently resting with her back turned in the direction of which Chloe was pushing. She was wearing aviators and licking a lollipop idly as she held on her phone which was locked on Google Maps just not giving a single solitary fuck what anyone thought of her.

In spite of her raging hangover, Rachel she wore a smile on her face which she was currently directing at the little cutie clinging onto the hand of her mother and was probably wondering why someone on the verge of legal adulthood was riding in a place a kid usually did. If she was being honest, Chloe was wondering that as well. Chloe was arguably still drunk from last night. Why did Rachel get the free ride?!

Kind of annoyed at being a pack mule, Chloe glanced at the woman looking curiously at Rachel and then to Chloe. As though she was attempting to decipher them and exactly they were.

"Is there something the matter, ma'am?" Chloe asked her, her voice biting. "My daughter has a rare disease; you ever see that Robin Williams movie "Jack"? Kind of like that except she's not cute."

Rachel looked away from the child and turned her attention to her girlfriend.

"That's so rude! I am so cute!" she pouted, playing along with Chloe's little game, like they were indeed mother and daughter.

Chloe grinned… okay… maybe she was pretty cute. That was beside the point… maybe.

While the two of them laughed the woman did not seem amused, she reached out and grabbed her daughter's hand and picked up the pace, leaving Chloe and Rachel in the dust. The little girl looked back and waved Rachel's smile widened and she waved goodbye as well before she raised her phone again.

Eight days into their journey and they had made it to Port Orford, and it was about this time that the two of them had realized much of America would be like this; Small towns doting the major populace centres. This seemed especially the case in the Pacific Northwest. Chloe was in favour of picking up the pace. Head north to Portland, chill out in civilization, take in a concert; find the two of them tattooists who wouldn't give them a sanitation disease or something.

Rachel, on the other hand, really seemed to have taken to this on the open road mentality which they had discussed for so long. That was not to say she didn't want to head south to Cali (Chloe felt the same), or to Seattle to meddle around in Chloe's relations (Chloe was a little more reluctant for that) but the idea of the two of them alone on the open road, camping and roaming through the wilds of the Pacific Northwest had a charm which the nightlife of the cities could never hope to achieve.

Still… there were some annoyances. People in these small towns seemed to always be watching them. She suspected it was the same in Arcadia Bay, but that was home grounds and the two of them together was something the locals more or less got used to. Perhaps it was as Rachel said: "They never were graced with two girls as hot as them around."

"Holy shit…" Chloe spoke as she swerved Rachel and the cart around the corner and ignored a couple more stares. "I think we found an even smaller Arcadia Bay…"

Rachel pulled her lollipop from her lips, her mouth curved into a smile as she showed the screen of her phone to Chloe. If she was excited, then that meant Rachel was about to drop a left field suggestion to Chloe and at this point Chloe knew better than to stand against it.

"I had this crazy idea, and feel free to tell me to shut up; but what if we headed inland?" Rachel suggested to Chloe, her voice high and excited. "I always wanted to see the desert. We could totally east for Alvord Desert for a day or two and check it out."

Chloe arched her brow at her girlfriend. Who in the hell ever wanted to go to the desert of all places? God, it sounded awful. Give her Arcadia Bay any day of the week.

Still, the expression of hopeful urgency on Rachel's face was hard to avoid for very long. It was pretty much inevitable that she'd get what she desired.

"Whatever happened to finding a different beach to walk along every day?" Chloe asked her as she leaned forward over the cart.

Rachel carefully shifted her weight; pushing aside some of the bags of bread and other provisions so that she could lean up and press her lips against Chloe's. Unlike Chloe, she was far less bothered by the stares of the random people she was being pushed by.

"Alvord desert is practically one giant beach…" Rachel pleased as she pulled her mouth back from Chloe's. "Pretty please can we go… for me?"

Rolling her eyes as Rachel used the magic phrase 'for me' on her so blatantly, Chloe nodded and watched as Rachel slumped back into her original seat, giving a victorious fist pump. Years into them being together and Rachel still took the time to celebrate all her victories.

"Dude, you're the one financing this trip," Chloe reminded Rachel of their unspoken wealth gap. "I'm basically just the chauffeur, bodyguard and sex toy here. "

Rolling her eyes, Rachel turned herself around and pressed her back into the cart seat. Her hand reached up behind her and rested on the Chloe's. The disparity of wealth was still a bit of a sticking point for them.

"And you're doing a fine job on all three accounts…" Rachel reassured her softly, her fingers dancing along the joints in Chloe's hand. "…now if you learned how to cook…"

Chloe abruptly stopped the cart and started walking again almost immediately, watching as Rachel yelped and nearly fell forward. She turned back, her eyes flashing white hot with rage.

"Hey fuck you, Chloe Elizabeth Price!" Rachel snarled in spite of the stupid goofy grin she wore.

"No, I won't fuck you if you keep putting that domestic shit on me, Rachel Dawn Amber!" Chloe growled right back.

The two girls held their stare as that familiar warm feeling bubbled inside of Chloe. Rachel nodded, there was a knowing smile as though she too understood exactly what Chloe was feeling. With the two of them in unspoken agreement of where they had to take this, Chloe directed her attention to getting to the cashier as soon as possible. They had some serious tension they needed to bang out as soon as humanly possible


Walking in silence with The Chase Space as she occasionally glanced at her phone for new messages, Victoria Chase was currently in a state of limbo. She had a month to kill before she finally got out of Seattle. Destination: Bordeaux, France.

Paris was an overrated tourist trap; she would be spending the month traveling through South France with her parents, taking in the region for all it was worth. There was some talk that Dad wanted to go to Italy. She was pretty stoked if that was actually going to happen. Anything that got her out of this cultureless country sounded good to her.

In the meantime outside of her social media, she was all alone.

After what had happened after Rachel and Chloe's party, there had been sort of a falling out between Nathan and her. Nothing serious, but getting told the drugs she took were pure, when they were tainted had done a number on the implicated trust she once had for the closest thing to a brother she ever had.

Nathan wasn't even mad at her. For some reason or another, his anger had been directed to the 'fucking dyke whores' instead at her for telling him off. It didn't even make sense. If it wasn't for their intervention, she might have been in trouble. Still, that was enough to stem off him off. Strange considering that Nathan and Rachel were on good terms for a while… at least before the Eliot incident.

Taylor was also absent as well. She was spending the summer with her chronically ill Mother. Victoria was loathed to admit it, but Rachel's biological mother had given her good advice on valuing her friendship with Taylor. She had made strides in that, bringing Taylor into a position which rivalled Nathan. She poked and prodded herself into opening in up and trusting Taylor with her more intimate of thoughts. Sort of a Chloe to her Rach-

Victoria gave herself a mental shake. Why in the fuck was she drawing examples from them. If she didn't know better, she might have actually thought that she was friends with them. She wasn't sure which was worse to be friends with: her rival or the total Punk bitch that went out of her way to agitate her.

As she glanced around at the dozens of patrons and guests to the Afghan War photographer Sarah Michelle showing, she paused noticed something which had caught her completely off-guard.

Standing there in front of Victoria was someone who looked like she was around her age.

Much more surprising was that she did not seem bored as fuck by being there in a gallery. She hadn't been dragged in, from the way she looked up at the portrait of a mother carrying her dying child she seemed completely entranced by the suffering in black and white.

Victoria stepped forward, making a point to close her mouth as she stopped next to the girl. She seemed completely obvious to the company she now had. Victoria did her utmost to pretend that the photograph on the wall was all she was focused on. She tried to maintain that illusion, but she failed because every time she tried to, the gentle fragrance of lavender caught her attention and inevitably made her look at the girl.

Fashion-wise, she was very plain looking. She wore a simple grey jacket, a button down blue and black checker shirt and black tight jeans and Converse oxfords. She sort of gave Victoria a weird hipster vibe, like fashion meant nothing to her. Under any other circumstances she dismissed the hipster lifestyle as tacky and formulaic… but this time the lack of proper fashion only bothered Victoria for one reason alone.

It only served to conceal the stunning beauty she had possessed. Victoria looked past the outer layer and found herself looking at the girl behind the layers of poor people clothing.

Her neck length chestnut hair was tied back, but her bangs breezed freely over her eyes. She had luscious lips and a field of fucking stunningly adorable running from cheek to cheek. Her make-up use was limited to a little eyeliner, which only served to accentuate her gentle doe eyes. On her lips wore an expression of sorrow for the picture… she was an empathetic soul by the looks of it, finding pity in a decade old photo as though it was happening before her eyes.

For a moment – only for a brief moment – Victoria Chase had felt herself unworthy to speak to a pure being like this one. Her heart slowed down, giving off these paining throbbing beats, the likes of which she had never felt before. She tried to experience youthful attractions to…well… the proper gender… but it never seemed to take hold. It was sort of like she was going through the motions.

Never before had she felt this sick and scared to speak to a complete stranger… She was usually much more confident, but standing here next to the short teenager as she desperately fought against the unnatural feelings she was having had altered it altogether.

That unnatural feeling wasn't solely based on gender. It did play a role in why she felt so strange, but it was just falling heads over heels for someone Period. It was a feeling she never really believed in. It felt like a cliché. It was something that certain other Queens of Blackwell did. They fucking leaped in heads first into declarations of feelings for each other long before they actually really got to know each other.

It was mushy fucking garbage and Victoria had sworn she would never be so pathetic that she would allow a rando to have that much fucking sway over her. Yet still here she was. She was still very much intrigued and very much wanting to push her luck.

In spite of her nerves, in spite of her growing desire to run the other direction and pretend this angelic girl in flannel and out of fashion jeans didn't exist, Victoria had to know more. She was Victoria Maribeth Chase, standing in her parent's gallery. This Hipster girl was on her domain, and as such Victoria had every right to speak to her!

So that was exactly what Victoria did.

"Like this place? I own it," she blurted out in a snottily boisterous tone before she could even filter her words.

She couldn't fucking believe that she had just said that. It had to be a nightmare because Victoria Chase didn't just blurt shit out like that like she had no cool. Sometimes she flaunted her money, but that was primarily a school thing and usually was to assert her power, but she was alone now on her home territory, and had just done it to a random pretty girl she was totally not into right now.

As Victoria stood there, she watched in horror as the girl blinked, breaking her attention from the photo and directed her full attention to Victoria. She did not seem impressed; if anything she looked like that was the last thing cared about, but was too polite to justifiably tell Victoria to fuck right off.

God where the fuck was Chloe Price when she actually needed her… She'd probably beat Victoria up for the girl.

"…Okay…" the girl said to Victoria, her sweet tone strained as she looked at Victoria like she had lost her goddamn mind. "That's… good to know… I guess."

The girl turned away from her and Victoria mentally screamed at herself for her behaviour; yet, while the girl had turned away, she did not move, and there was a strange expression which had crossed over her face. It left Victoria even more curious because it seemed as though she was amused by Victoria's foul up much more than she was offended.

Perhaps... perhaps the girl was offering her a second chance… and that amused expression she wore… it was a minor victory in itself.

So with that in mind, Victoria recollected herself, reorganized her approach and steadied her breath. She felt unbelievably stupid right now. God it would be so much easier to go back into her total bitch mode.

"I'm… sorry about that… total bitch thing to say, I guess," Victoria restarted with as smooth an apology as she could relay. "That was… not a good first impression. My name is Victoria Chase."

Victoria watched as the girl turned back to face her again. This time Victoria got to properly see the other girl. She inspected Victoria, taking in the sight of the obviously discomforted girl standing across from her.

"Victoria Chase?" the girl greeted, her tone nearly gasping. "You mean as in the Chase Space? The place you bragged about owning like twenty seconds ago?"

Wide eyed at the sarcasm used against her, Victoria and stared at the other girl, her humiliation bubbling up to the surface. Her hands formed fists as she wanted to do nothing more than to storm off and hide somewhere until August and/or drink until she forget that any of this had happened at all.

That was when the girl broke down into a small laugh. She… wasn't being serious… at least she hoped that was going on; the way the girl carried herself, like she was genuinely amused was enough to relax Victoria enough.

Like the girl opposite of her, Victoria allowed a small laugh and a smile to escape. If she was being honest, she could understand why it must have been amusing. It was sort of an insane choice of words which only deserved nothing but their combined mocking.

As the two of them lapsed back into a now strangely comfortable silence, the smiled properly and tentatively offered her hand out. It was visibly shaking. It was as though it was a confirmation to Victoria that the nerves she felt were not just completely hers alone.

"My name is Max Caulfield," she introduced herself…

Max. Her name was Max.

Was it short for something? If it was short for Maxine then Victoria just had to know why she would short such a beautiful name into something so simple and masculine when in spite of her attempts at the contrary, she was a gorgeous feminine girl. Victoria fought against the heat rising to her face. She was gushing… God she hoped it wasn't so fucking obvious.

A surge of self-doubt washed over her as reality set back in. If even one of her friends was here, she would probably tear her down and just like that, Max and she would never reach this point. Fuck… if Max Caulfield knew even a tenth of her real personality, she would up and leave. None of this was right, so why did she continue?

Well… she had a reason… she just wasn't sure if she was ready to process it for serious deliberation… for now… no one in her life outside of her parents were with her physically, and she would only be here for another month and two days. What exactly was the harm to try something new like make a friend without any sort of expectations which all of her previous friendships minus Nathan seemed to have been.

Realizing Max's hand was still offered out to her; Victoria immediately reached out and took it as gently as she could. She was smaller, and seemed a little more… frail. She was delicate, like a songbird. She took note of it for the future.

"I'm Victoria…Chase…" she started before remembering she had already made her introductions moments prior.

Max nodded sympathetically, as though she was humoring a stupid person. Apparently because she was humoring a stupid person.

"Yeah…" she said slowly. "You made kind of a big deal about it. I promise I remembered."

Realizing she was slipping, Victoria quickly found her foot as Max stared at her, obviously amused again by this

"You're a photographer, right?" Victoria decided to inquire. "Most people walk in and take in the images with stupid, glazed over look, or turn into a pseudo-intellectual trying to impress the people they came with. You haven't moved from this picture in twenty minutes."

Victoria watched as Max made an expression that was clearly confused. She crossed her arms over her chest, her head tilting to one side.

"…And how would you know that?" she asked Victoria curiously.

Thankfully for Victoria, she was spared an explanation as Max relaxed her stance and nodded.

"But yes, you're right…" Max confirmed lightly. She paused and rubbed her neck as she added. "Well, I wouldn't say I'm a photographer per say… I guess that I'm aspiring to be one…"

Victoria nodded curtly as her lips curved up. Her hand reached into her purse as she attempted to push back the urge to compete and show off the best that she could. She would not revert into competitive Victoria so quickly. Still, a little show of her shots wouldn't hurt… So long as Max agreed to getting completely shown up.

Yes, she wanted to try to do this different than most, but she couldn't just shut herself entirely down to impress a girl she was totally not interested in, in any way beyond their shared passions in photography.

"I totally get that. Do you have any work with you?" Victoria spoke as she waved her phone back and forth in front of Max, "It be kinda cool to sit down and talk shop with someone on the same page."

Victoria's initial enthusiasm dried up as soon as she saw the hesitation in Max. She seemed almost like that was the last thing she wanted to do. It was a stupid idea, and Victoria had been far too forward, far too fast.

"I would like that…" Max said slowly as she spoke before Victoria could rescind the offer. "But I... well; it's just that I do my work with a Polaroid Camera, which means all my work is at home. I guess I just like working with something physical, over the digital domain… I'm not meaning offense or anything. I've seen some very beautiful work with digital, and I would like to see what you have… and I'm rambling."

As Max went silent, all Victoria could do was blink. She dressed bad and she had a love for using antiquated technology for her work… It seemed as though her initial appraisal was correct. Victoria felt a small grin formed unconsciously as she noticed the shorter girl grow a little more nervous.

"Holy fuck, you're a total Hipster…" Victoria teased the girl as gently as she could.

Victoria watched as the girl in front of her got flustered Her freckled cheeks tingling a soft pink as she looked like she was about to get a little angry. As Max looked from side to side, her hand pushing a loose strain of hair behind her ear, she turned back to Victoria and shrugged.

"Yeah… I guess I am…" Max resignedly acknowledged the taller girl's observation. "Does that mean we're not going to talk now?"

Victoria smiled and shook her head. She might have been a hipster, but her erratically pounding heart was pretty much screaming at her to overlook this small detriment. She ignored the voice in her brain this time; it told her that she was making a huge mistake…

Perhaps… slipping up from time to time was okay…

"I frequent this coffee shop a couple blocks from here," Victoria said as she gestured to exit. "Would you like to-"

"Yes… I mean, I wouldn't mind seeing your work, if you don't mind…" Max interjected, nodding her head as though she needed to issue a confirmation.

Victoria put her phone away and silently, she and her new acquaintance headed for the exit. Victoria in a daze and Max Caulfield looking a little surprised by the looks of it…

Hopefully it was a good sort of surprise.


It was late afternoon before the two of them were in solid enough condition to make their way through Paradise Point State park towards the beach.

With Chloe looking for somewhere to change or something, it was left up to Rachel to pack all their shit down to the beach and start the small beach fire she was in the process of making. She didn't mind doing it, Chloe did a lot of the heavy lifting and it was only right that she took some responsibility as well.

As she fed the fire and took in the warm looking Pacific Ocean, Rachel's mind could not help but wander back home. Dad seemed to be respecting her wishes of radio silence, but then again that was how he was anyways even before Mom died. Sera, on the other hand, was quite content with blowing up her phone with texts every so often. Rachel was lenient and kept her up to date.

In all likelihood, Sera was not the only one asking these questions. Joyce undoubtedly had found a way to reach Chloe without reaching her directly. Chloe more or less disabled her phone and was completely off the grid. Rachel had to hand it to her; it was obvious that Chloe was trying to make this trip 110 percent about the two of them.

It was this sort of dedication that… well… it did things to Rachel. It put thoughts into her head that she had been toying with for a couple months now. As silly as it sounded, two years in and what they had together… it felt far and away from the teenage romance most people around them seemed to label it. Why was it really so bad to feel like that there was something more to this?

Chloe was 18… she was nearly 18… She knew for a fact that people intertwined their lives at even younger ages in years past. Why was it so bad to think about it nowadays? She heard the rumours around school about them… was it really so taboo?

With her thoughts drifting towards her true feelings, she looked up and noticed Chloe was walking off of the sandy path leading back to the parking lot and towards her. She was wearing a large black Ministry tee. One shoulder was riding low revealing a blue bikini strap. Rachel had fully expected her to be wearing jeans, but instead like Rachel she was wearing black short shorts, which sort of gave the impression she was using the Ministry shirt as a dress.

Rachel bit her lip for a moment before she gave her a wolf whistle. Chloe was going to look fucking killer when she got her ink.

"Goddamn Price, you're pale as fuck!" Rachel observed loudly. "That's it, you're wearing short at every opportunity. I want to see those legs every day!"

Rachel smirked as she watched Chloe's movements grow bashful. Even from where she sat, she could see her cheeks go a little red. The nearest people were hundred yards away yet still Chloe ducked her head and trudged over to her girlfriend, slamming herself down onto the blanket next to her.

"I'd rather they'd be for your eyes only…" she grumbled out, her hand unconsciously touching against her exposed legs.

"Oblige me," Rachel requested, as she eyed her. "I just want to flaunt my girl off…I think I would be flattered."

Faking a yawn, Rachel stretched her arm out and lazily dragged it around Chloe's shoulder as she watched the small fire crackling and dancing in front of the couple. From the corner of her eye, Rachel took in the relaxed smile that formed for Chloe.

"You'd think I get bored of this… but I like this, Rach," Chloe admitted to her.

Rachel knew how she felt. It was not far removed from their home, but Arcadia Bay was haunted for them. The sort of warmth they may have felt for the Bay was tainted by the memories they had gathered over the years.

"Must be the company, I guess," Rachel said with a shrug as she looked out on the ocean again. "I can't think of anyone else I'd like to share this with…"

The words hung between them as Chloe and Rachel lapsed into silence. She did not look as Chloe took her forearm and squeezed it. She did look; however, as fingers not belonging to her gently stroked her scar tissue covered wrist. She looked at Chloe properly and found her gazing back.

Smiling faintly, Rachel leaned in and kissed her. As she deepened the embrace, Rachel slid up until she was sitting properly in her Chloe's lap.

"So, random as fuck question, but there was this rumour going around about us… that we were going to get married this summer…" Rachel spoke up as she pulled her mouth back. "You didn't start it, did you?"

Through her hooded eyes, she watched Chloe widen her eyes at the question. She opened her mouth and closed it several times as she seemed to struggle to find the right thing to say. Rachel already knew where that Blackwell rumour came from, but she might as well use it to open the dialog.

When it came to love, all weapons had to be used. Their survival depended on it.

"No… but why, is that too presumptuous?" Chloe finally managed to form a coherent thought into words. "Or… are we too cool for that?"

Longingly staring at the girl underneath her, Rachel shook her head. No, they certainly weren't too cool to not make that sort of life commitment.

"I'd be upset if you didn't ask me first…" she easily teased Chloe, draping her free arm around Chloe's neck now.

The reaction which Rachel got from Chloe was not exactly the reaction she had wanted. She watched Chloe, her heart dropping to the pit of her stomach as Chloe laughed off the idea like it was all a big joke. She supposed she could not blame her. It was a pretty random thing to bring up, but that didn't just settle the small part of her that was a little outraged that someone whom she loved –unconditionally loved – had brushed off a not so crazy idea as a crazy idea.

"Chloe I'm being serious, what if we do it?" Rachel demanded, failing to keep the anger growing in her voice in check. "I turn 18 in two weeks. What if we got married for fucking real this summer? Would you do that?"

The humour Chloe had for the idea died right in front of Rachel. She looked at Rachel as though seeing her in a new light. It was a strange expression. It was sort of as if she wanted it, but was too frightened to take Rachel's declarations at face value.

Rachel supposed she could not blame her. She made a lot of declarations in the past; but none of them made her feel like this one.

"We still have school," Chloe attempted to rationalize. "You don't think it's weird at all to be talking about this?"

"We've been seeing each other for two years - longer than a lot of couples who get married," Rachel immediately pointed out to Chloe. "My Dad and Sera got married at 18. Your parents got married hella young too. When exactly did this become such a weird fucking thing?"

Chloe just sort of stared at her like she was trying to process this still. It was obvious that the idea Rachel had planted in her head was already starting to blossom.

"That early marriage didn't turn out well for your parents," Chloe faintly reminded her. "…and I'm fairly certain he'd kill me if we came back hitched."

Rachel rolled her eyes. If anything Dad would be the first one in her corner.

"But we're different then Dad and Sera. We are so much better for each other than they were," Rachel nearly cried out in her growing frustration. "We've seen their mistakes and we're not going to repeat them… are you really this against us taking us to another level?"

That was a cheap shot, Chloe know that and Rachel definitely knew it. This just… she just thought it was the kick in the ass she needed, even if Chloe was being the obviously rational one about this.

Without warning, Rachel found herself lying flat on the blanket with Chloe now dominant over her. As Chloe pinned her arms over her head, Rachel unconsciously interlaced her legs around Chloe's.

"I'm not against any of this, Rach," Chloe spoke down on her, her voice earnest as she held her lips inched from Rachel's. "If there is one person who I can imagine I'd like to spend the rest of my life with it's you… It's just… I hate to be seen as a cliché high school sweetheart's thing."

Rachel tilted her head against the light blanket, her senses overloaded by the familiar pressure building inside her as Chloe's sharp blue eyes pierced through hers. It was time to put the cards down on the table. Irrational as it might have seemed, it was still a feeling she had to get out.

"You are Chloe Fucking Price, babe. You giving a shit about what other people think goes against everything you are," Rachel reminded her. "Fuck what everyone else thinks. I fucking love you and you should fucking marry me when I turn 18, and we'll spend the rest of our lives officially doing cool shit like this together-"

Chloe leaned down and shut Rachel up with a kiss. It lasted just long enough to cease her ramblings. She pulled back, her fingers gently grazing her cheek.

"I'm not… saying no to you, but I don't have a passport for a run to Canada, and a marriage won't be legal in Washington State until Decemberish or something," Chloe stated to her. "Can you… like... cool your panties down? I know I'm prime real estate but goddamn."

Rachel blinked; and just like that reality had hit her.

As odd as it might have seemed, Rachel had never really subscribed to the notion of being in a gay relationship. For her, it was much simpler: She was in love with Chloe end of discussion. But marriage was a label, and that inevitably led her back to gay. Her desire to want to marry Chloe added a new dimension of complication. It wasn't legal in Oregon, it wasn't legal in California, and it was not ratified into law for Washington State beyond a civil partnership.

Rachel emitted a soft side and turned her head to one side. God damn… this really kinda sucked… She wasn't exactly used to being fucking excluding from things.

"Fair enough, I suppose. It was a stupid idea anyways" she murmured, attempting to hide her simmering disappointment. She breathed out hard and put as much warmth as she could onto her face.

"You're not mad?" Chloe asked her, a little startled by Rachel's ability to turn off her excitement for something so quickly.

Rachel shook her head. A little disappointed, but no she was not mad. Chloe was her guiding light, her steady grip on reality. So long as Chloe wanted to be her wife, she would be fine whenever it happened.

"Nah…" Rachel reassured her with a small grin. "Now you have plenty of time to work on your proposal. If I'm not crying, then I'm going to make you wait a whole three minutes before I say yes…"

Rachel planted a kiss on the corner of Chloe's mouth and broke herself out of her grasp. She stripped out of her shirt and bolted towards the beach with Chloe following after her as she struggled to take her long ass shirt off her body.

Enough of the future planning, it was just time to have a little fun.

 

Chapter Text

 

Stepping off the bus that had taking her to Discovery Park, Max Caulfield slung her pack over her shoulder and waited until the bus had sped off before she sprinted across the road, dodging oncoming cars Frogger style. She probably should have walked the ten yards to the crosswalk, but whatever, it was over now.

Recollecting herself from her death-defying feat of agility, Max walked at a striding pace. She was about twenty minutes late and from everything she had gathered from her brief interactions; Victoria Chase was an extremely particular girl about common courtesy things like arriving on time. She'd probably overlook this, but Max would make sure to do better from now on.

Victoria was…well… she was easily the closest thing to a perfection Max had ever encountered in her short life, and just more beautiful than Max ever could dream of being. She had these hauntingly sharp green eyes that could act as a force multiplier to her words. She was several inches taller than Max (then again who wasn't?) She had an athletic physique, yet she seemed to show little interest in the subject.

Then again how would she know Victoria was not into athletics?

Max had only known her for about thirty odd hours and this was their second physical encounter; but in that time, it seemed as though all the two of them did was text each other. Sometimes it was serious questions, meaningful learning about each other, but mostly the two of them just chatted about whatever they were doing. One driving the conversation, the other inserting a joke or thick sarcasm and it would turn Max into a laughing mess.

It had been a while since she had a taste of this… not since… well… Chloe.

Max exhaled unsteadily as she forced the guilt of her thought for her old friend back into the depth of her mind.

As for Victoria, no one should have been such a perfect mixture of snarky, awkward, snobbish, sweet and earnest as Victoria was. To say it had left Max a little shaken up was an understatement.

The fact of the matter was she didn't exactly know how to define this strange little feeling brewing somewhere deep in her, but it was something she supposed was to be expected she felt for a boy she liked or something. She had an idea what it was, but she was far too frightened to voice it, let alone act on it. She wasn't like that… she assumed.

Okay, so maybe it went beyond a feeling. Perhaps Max might have been a little… smitten by Victoria Chase.

It was an old fashion choice of words, but it didn't diminish the strange feeling she got as she watched Victoria spend an hour talking about Richard Avedon's work with Gia Carangi and her failed 1982 photo sessions with detail she never knew existed. The way she could seamlessly segue between her topics and anecdotes and then change course to her personal life was astounding in the level of confidence and grace she had after her initial social fumbling. If Victoria and she remained friends, she hoped some of that confidence rubbed off on her. Maybe not the snobbery though. That Max could do without. She simply didn't have the money to back up that state of mind.

The grace and the intelligence was something which Victoria strived to have at about the same level as her ambition, but with her ambition the cracks in her image of perfection became all the more apparent. As Max looked at the pictures, Victoria maintained a running commentary on her work. Nearly of it extremely critical, like everything she did was not at a professional level. Max had to pause a few times to remind Victoria that in spite of her beautiful amateur work, Victoria was still just that an amateur like her and that the two of them would need a great deal more time before they could achieve any measure of serious professional success.

That seemed to work to relax Victoria, or at least Victoria had decided to shut up and let Max examine her digital gallery.

From what she saw in her, Victoria was sort of a machine in her work. She preferred in the moment work opposed to using models. They captured the life of Seattle and wherever else she shot, but there as a strange sort of coldness to her work. That was not to say her work wasn't beautiful, because it was. On a technical level Victoria dwarfed her. But that coldness… it felt as though Victoria was holding back. Like she feared investing a piece of herself into the work she took.

With that in mind, here they were now at Discovery Park for a photo session. Victoria wanted to something more downtown, financial district oriented. She wanted to capture the collapse of relaxed Seattle life in favour of the city's growing corporatism. Max wanted to go into the suburban jungles, taking candid work of life in suburbia. After two hours of arguing, the two of them settled on urban wildlife.

Honestly it was a little nice… perhaps even thrilling to have someone actively challenge her. It had amped her expectations of a photo session significantly having someone who not only had the shared interest (her friend Kristen had sort of a fleeting interest) but was actively pursuing a career just like she was. It had all the markings of a rivalry minus the bad blood. Perhaps as this friendship grew they would be able to push each other to get better and better.

For now, however, they would have to focus on the personal side. If they jumped into the deep end… well, it probably cause a strain before their relationshi- friendship was solidified enough to withstand it. She would probably have to explicitly point this out to Victoria. Max doubted very much that Victoria eased into anything in her life.

There sitting on the hood of a Mercedes C-Class sedan which Dad would probably murder Mom and her to have was Victoria Chase, leaned back, she was clearly bored as she scrolled through her phone with one hand and a cigarette in the other. She was apparently waiting for her. Max watched in silence as the wind ran through Bangs pixie cut, billowing her side swept bangs gently.

She was not at all dressed for outdoors in a park. Honestly Max doubted Victoria had ever been out in nature at all. She was wearing a black skirt and tights with a light white knit and dotted undershirt. She looked like she was dressed for a gallery opening. She was dressed in a similar fashion on the day they met, but Max had assumed that was just for then. Apparently Victoria liked to dress a decade or two older then she actually was.

… Not that Max minded… she looked… well, stunning.

Ignoring the small bundle of nerves forcing her to remain locked in place, Max exhaled and stepped forward towards Victoria. She would be cool and collected. As charming as Victoria was the other day. Victoria Chase wasn't the only one who could be cool.

"Hey Victoria!" she blurted out, waving her hand wildly as she instantly regretting just how stupid she must have looked.

Victoria looked up from her phone. She thankfully had missed Max's… well… Maximum Dork Mode and issued the red tinted girl a small, almost predatory grin.

"Hello Max," she said as she pushed herself off her car, her phone returning back to her purse. "Did you have trouble getting here?"

Her tone was not judgemental or upset, but there was a question Victoria definitely wanted to have answered after being stood up for nearly an hour. Sighing, Max joined Victoria, who immediately flicked her pretty much unsmoked cigarette to the ground and stamped on it as though she feared Max's judgement, or perhaps (off chance) the health of Max's lungs.

"Yeah" Max sighed as she stood next to the tall girl who was tilting her head down on her. "… I missed the bus so I got delayed, I'm sorry about that."

Victoria blinked once, her brow arching as she seemed unable to process the idea of having to use public transportation. Max had her licence, but Mom and Dad weren't exactly okay with her using their cars whenever she liked. So it was bus life for her.

"It's fine, Max," Victoria dismissed with a wave of her hand. Max watched as a small frown formed on Victoria's mouth as she gestured to the car.

"You know you can call me up or whatever when we got plans to chill. I have a car; and there is this great new invention; it's called a passenger seat," Victoria added, her voice now growing a little shriller. "You see, having a passenger seat means I am able to carry more than just myself in it… like, I don't know… perhaps a hipster who would rather get shuttled around in a stinking bus packed full of people and make a trip that takes five minutes last forty-five minutes."

Not exactly sure where the biting sarcasm ended and the humour began; all Max could tell for certain was that the small smile Victoria had held no resentment. It was just Victoria breaking her metaphorical balls.

"Yeah… I guess I could," Max shrugged casually, deciding not to let Victoria go unchallenged. "It's just I wouldn't want to cause you any sort of inconvenience. Rich girls have such busy lives; what with you owning an entire gallery all by yourself and all."

Max's heart skipped as she watched Victoria flush pink at the mention of her fumble the other day. She watched –silently celebrating her small victory - as the tall blonde crossed her arms over her chest and lightly tapped her foot on the pavement.

The embarrassment vanished off Victoria face. She uncrossed her arms and stepped closer to Max, and she only stopped moving until she was well within Max's personal space. She reached out, gently touching Max's forearm as her smile returned. There was something different this time and Max wasn't entirely sure that she liked it.

"If we're going to be friends, you've got to be comfortable asking things from me," Victoria informed her in a low, breathy voice. "… Because I promise you, I'll be undoubtedly asking things from you…"

As the two of them stood there, Max willed herself not to turn away from the extremely confident platinum blonde whom had effectively cowed her into a state of shocked silence. Her bright emerald eyes gleamed as Victoria refused to blink.

"… And exactly what would you like from me?" Max had to ask her, unable to hide the small tremble building in her voice as an alien sort of feeling washed over her and lead her to thoughts which Max never had before.

On the surface, Victoria appeared to be unmoved by her question, but the hand that still gripped her forearm told a different story. It tightened a little and she could feel a faint shake being transferred into her body from Victoria. As Victoria bit her lip slightly, she leaned in closer.

"Your portfolio for starters," Victoria reminded her finally, her eye brows raised as she nodded to Max's shoulder bag. "I showed you mine, it's time you stop holding out, Max."

Max blinked as Victoria released her grasp on Max's arm and the tension in her chest relaxed somewhat.

"Oh… right," Max mumbled as she reached into her bag and desperately tried to push aside the thought that had stormed into the forefront of her mind. "It's nothing special; I think I have a ways to go-"

Victoria snatched the portfolio from out of Max's hands before Max could finish dismissing them on the spot and walked back to her car. She once again sat down on the hood and gingerly opened the folder.

As Victoria's amused expression died and an expression of thought inspection took over, Victoria patted the hood of her car next to her without looking up to Max so that Max wasn't standing there on ceremony for her. Swallowing her growing fears she stepped forward and took a seat next to Victoria.

In silence she waited for Victoria's judgment. She fought ever urge to be like Victoria was prior overly self-critical. Instead she locked her mouth shut and decided that she would just let Victoria examine her work without the critiques which might influence her as Victoria had tried before. She was just an amateur after all. If she was willing to dish out that advice to Victoria, then she had to follow it as well.

"This is…" Victoria spoke suddenly, looking up to Max finally. "Max. You got the gift. Don't you ever… ever fucking squander this talent."

Max blinked and looked for any sort of deception on Victoria's part. She could have easily been humouring her. If she had been, she probably would have taken the platitudes regardless; but instead there was a genuine honesty in her eyes which Max could not help but trust.

The honesty Victoria radiated was not necessarily a warm reception. Instead it was envy, and perhaps even a little jealousy. Why Victoria felt that, she was not sure. They had none of the technical prowess she had. For Max it always felt like trial and error and a hell of a lot of luck. Victoria and her might have been blossoming friends; but that wasn't about to stop Victoria from feeling like she had to filter her agitation.

If anything that was the last thing Max had wanted.

If Victoria felt this way, the last thing she wanted was it to be supressed. Suppression inevitably led to resentment… and since meeting Victoria Chase, the last thing Max wanted was to ruin this friendship simply to feel safe from Victoria's inevitable desire to one up her. As Victoria closed the portfolio and handed it back with a smile returning to her face, it seemed as though the envy had passed.

"I'll take a closer inspection later," she said as she slid off the car hood and turned around. "Come on I need to see you in action, even if you use dead technology like the hipster trash you are…"

Max remained on the hood and silently gave Victoria a sharp look. She watched, her heart rising inside her chest as Victoria's small smirk formed into a widened smile as she extended her hand out to Max. Max exhaled and took the hand felt the strong grip of Chase yank her clean off the car and right into her, staggering both girls and making them laugh.

They stood there; hands still latched to each other and allowed their laughter to die between them, leaving Max grinning and Victoria strangely nervous, perhaps even regretful for her semi-insult.

"Totally teasing, I promise…" Victoria breathed down to her.

Immediately accepting the apology which Victoria did not need to issue her, Max nodded, gently relaxing her hand enough so that she could slip out of Victoria's grasp. There was a flash of strange hurt, or disappointment that crossed onto Victoria's face, but she immediately squashed.

Max was grateful for that. This entire encounter with Victoria so far was starting to eat away at everything she had ever known. While it was thrilling and awesome, the last thing she needed right now was to have some weird identity crisis right here and now.

"Come on," Max spoke up to her new photographer partner as she cleared her throat. "We got work to do, right?"

Seeming to be just as grateful for this escape as she was, Victoria nodded blankly and together the two of them headed towards the nearest trail. The two of them came to a non-verbal agreement to attempt not to making this session anymore thrillingly awkward than it already was.

Wowsers, they were going to fail hard at that promise.


Driving through the Seattle suburbs gave her time to think. That time to think had helped her come to a conclusion. Victoria Chase might not have believed in a God, but she knew for a fact that Max Caulfield was the fucking devil.

Max had the raw talent, the looks and could drive Victoria to the fucking brim of babbling like an idiot with just one word. Fuck, just one look. Yet unlike others approaching her, she didn't seem to abuse it or use it to her advantage. She just kept her nose down in her work and everyday life without using it to advance any sort of personal agenda beyond her long term goal of making a career out of her photography work.

Max was not a very technical artist. In fact quite a bit of her work was hit and miss; but what she hit… it was like she had captured perfection in a single photo; but even in Max's worst work, there was more life and earnestness than anything Victoria could dream of having.

Yet, while she might have envied the ability Max shown, Victoria didn't hate it. She didn't fear it or even want to destroy Max so she came out on top out of the two of them.

Instead, she wanted to nurture it… to help Max hone that raw talent into something perfect.

For the past day and a half, there had been words spoken… or rather texted to her years ago that Victoria had tried her hardest to forget which had bubbled back up into her thoughts. Words that destroyed her when she was younger because it was something she had doubted she would ever find, but two years later and here she was driving the silent Max Caulfield to her home, her heart swimming in her chest at the merest glance to Max and fucking Rachel Amber's prophetic text barrage haunting her thoughts.

'One day I hope that you find a friend like I found one in Chloe. Someone who doesn't take you and your rising alpha bitch status at face value, someone you can be vulnerable with and know that your deepest fears can be safe with someone else so you don't have to feel so alone all the time.'

Was this what Rachel had meant? Was what was going on with Max and her that similar to that of how Rachel and Chloe felt for each other? With Max she felt safe to just be herself… whatever that was. She had spent so long living an image that not even the occasional time with Chloe and Rachel could separate the real Victoria from the image. Yet here she was, unafraid to be herself with Max, yet completely terrified by this sway Max clearly had no idea she held over the Chase girl.

"We're here, you can park behind them if you would like."

Max's gentle words broke her out of her musings. She looked to Max briefly before she examined the house Max was pointing to. Max was by no means a poor hipster girl. It was a nice modern two story home, with a cherry red Dodge Ram and a blue Kia Optima in the driveway.

As Victoria put her Mercedes in neutral, she leaned back into her seat and turned to face Max. There was a small smile resting on her lips. She seemed to be lost in her thoughts as she held those gentle doe eyes on Victoria's. She looked so serene in the fading sunlight hitting through the windows and illuminating her chestnut hair to almost an auburn colour.

Exhaling, Victoria could not help but return her smile with one of her own. She did not know how she could make her feel this giddy, but Victoria was not about to question it now.

"Today was a lot of fun, Max," Victoria spoke first, deciding to be honest rather than guarded. "Keep this up and I may have to drag you out more often. At least until you get bored."

Max shook her head, her lips still curved as her hand grasped onto her shoulder bag. There seemed to be a sudden bout of nervous energy that hit her. Fuck… it really hit the two of them if Victoria was being honest.

"I'm getting to do something I love with someone who shares the passion," Max returned after a moment in a shy tone. "I'll never get bored of this… or you…"

Max fell silent, giving the two of them a moment to stew once again in their strange vibes. After a second or two longer, Max, unfastened her seatbelt and opened the door. Instead of stepping out of the car, Max instead paused and turned back to look at Victoria, a curious sort of smile returning to her face as she seemed to inspect the blonde.

"I was thinking… Would you like to stay for dinner?" Max invited, her voice slightly edged to convey her sincere interest.

Victoria pursed her lips together. It was tempting; it meant she would get more time with Max, and with her Europe trip inching closer and closer, she was starting to see the ramifications of having started a summer… friendship when she only had one month window for it.

"I… I wouldn't want to impose-" Victoria started. She was silenced by Max. With a small smirk she leaned forward and pressed her hand against Victoria's mouth.

"Victoria, If we're going to be friends, you've got to be comfortable asking things from me, because I promise you, I'll be undoubtedly asking things from you." Max said back, throwing Victoria's words tight back into her face.

Max withdrew her hand. She looked close to having a fit of laughter at her expense. Victoria rolled her eyes as she attempted to reorganize what was left of her dignity.

"Fuck it," Victoria sighed as she pulled the keys from the ignition. "Well, lead on Hipster Trash."

"As you say, Ritchie Vic," Max called back as she stepped out of the car.

Victoria lingered for a moment before she too stepped out of the car and slammed the door shut behind her as she followed Max up the driveway towards the house. Right now she was just hoping to God that fucking nickname Max had just used would not stick.

Before the two of them could reach the front door, it opened, startling Victoria. She watched as out stepped huge man built like a football player closed the door behind him. His hair was buzzed short but compensating was the huge Hipsterish beard covering much of his face. Like Father, like Daughter Victoria supposed.

As the approached the two of them, Victoria could see that Max's Father had giving her those kind eyes Victoria had come to sort of admire. She watched as Max's face lit up as her Dad approached them. Victoria on the other hand felt herself nervous in a way she had never felt before.

She suppressed her fear and watched as the man gave Max a side hug.

"Hello Maxine," he greeted his daughter as he let her go. "You're just in time. I was about to send out the police for you."

As Max rolled her eyes, Victoria could not help but smile. So, Max was really a Maxine all along. She fucking knew it.

"Jeepers, you're funny for an old guy," Max said in faux annoyance. She turned back to Victoria and with a smile, she added. "Dad, this is my new friend Victoria Chase. Victoria, this is my Dad."

As Mr. Caulfield directed his full attention to Victoria, the nervous instinct brewing inside of the Chase increased. Victoria smothered her fear and offered her hand out to the father of her new friend as well as a smile that took more effort than she thought it would take.

"Hello Mr. Caulfield, it's a pleasure to meet you," Victoria greeted Max's bemused father. She watched as Mr. Caulfield took a single striding step forward towards her.

"Please call me Ryan, and Maxine's mother, Vanessa," the man named Ryan requested as he shook her hand. "It's nice to finally meet you as well. Max here has been gushing over you at least a day now."

Letting go of Ryan's hand, a much more confident feeling took root inside of Victoria. She turned and found Max looking up at her Dad as though she had been fundamentally betrayed by him. Ryan, on the other hand, was completely disconcerted by the reaction he had gotten.

Victoria decided she could play with this. She crossed her arms over her chest.

"She has?" she echoed as she turned back to stare at the suddenly bashful Max once again. "This is an interesting turn of events."

Across from her, Ryan laughed. It seemed as though he was ready to play along with her in making poor Max squirm. She may have only known Ryan Caulfield for about 45 seconds, but she liked him already.

"It is, isn't it?" Ryan played along with her. "Anyways, I'm grilling tonight; I gotta run to the store for some Kaiser rolls because someone who will remain nameless and certainly not your mother forgot to go… be back in ten."

As Max nodded, Ryan pecked the top of Max's head and with a smile for Victoria, he stepped by the two of them, leaving the pair of back in a state of awkward nervous energy. The two of them remained this way until Max's Dad had pulled his Ram out of the driveway. As soon as he did, Max reached out and rubbed her neck.

"Is it too late to rescind my asking you in for dinner?" Max asked Victoria, her voice attempting to achieve some measure of casualness.

Victoria smirked properly and shook her head.

"Totally too late now, Maxine…" Victoria teased her, just having to twist the knife in Max. She watched curiously as Max winced like the name was some sort of burden.

"Ughhh… My Dad and Mom are usually the only ones to use my full name. I don't like it very much," she admitted distasteful at even the thought of her own name. "It just feels so… I don't know… prissy or something…"

Victoria shook her head. Sure, Max was entitled to have an opinion, but so was she and Max not embracing her name felt so wrong to her.

"That's too bad," Victoria quietly murmured back to Max. "Honestly, I think that Maxine is such a beautiful name. I think that it could definitely suit you."

Victoria went silent as she watched Max shift in place as she seemed to contemplate what she had said. She held her soft eyes on Victoria's as though she was digging in deep to find any sort of deception or lie. She would not find one. Maxine was a beautiful name and Victoria thought that Max deserved the proper recognition.

Running her hand over her face, Max slowly nodded.

"Well I still prefer Max," Max murmured lowly as she looked back to Victoria properly. "But I… suppose I would not mind it terribly if you wanted to use Maxine if you would like…"

As their eyes locked on to one another, Victoria nodded blankly and allowed herself to be led up to the front door by Max… Maxine. This was an offer she was not about to pass up.

 

Chapter Text

 

For the first time in her life, Sera Gearhardt had voluntarily walked into a Justice Department building without being dragged in by cops..

To say that this was well outside of her comfort zone was an understatement. Last time she in a place like this, she had been picked up for a possession charge and got put on a 14 month probation sentence. She had to manually remind herself that she was not in trouble as she approached a cop for directions and the cop only smiled and helped her instead of giving her the third degree. She wasn't quite the stringy skeleton of a junkie anymore. She could now more or less fit in with normal society, even if it felt so weird to do so.

Being here, surrounded by lawyers and cops was not exactly her ideal place to meet James Amber, but it was the only option she seemed to have right now. She didn't want to disturb him on his time off, he did not answer her calls, and so she texted Rachel about what she should do. The message she got back was short and completely devious.

Nothing backs my Dad into a corner quicker than approaching him at work.

As much as Sera did not want to put James on the spot, she still had made a promise to her daughter that she would try to pull him from out of his self-imposed hell. She did not know if she was the right person for the job, but she had to at least crack the door open.

If James let his guard down just enough, she could lure him into a situation where she could involve Joyce, who Rachel had also apparently asked for help from. For about a few hours or so, Sera had felt a small jealousy towards Chloe's mother; how dare that Rachel had asked Joyce to help. It felt that perhaps Rachel hadn't trusted her as much as she had thought. However after a bit of time to contemplate, she understood why Rachel did it. Joyce and James had a very similar situation, and Rachel was not proud enough to ignore another resource to help him through his grief.

So with that in mind, Sera was ready to work with Joyce, contrite for her unfounded assumptions.

She paused her walking as she noticed James Amber – District Attorney emblazed on a solid looking oak door and approached it, ignoring the two cops sitting on a bench outside, drinking coffee and glancing up at her. She exhaled and knocked on the door for a moment.

"Enter!" she heard James brisk voice boom from inside the office.

As the cops looked away from her as they too heard James Amber, Sera opened to the door to the office and stepped inside. Ignoring the small rumble inside of her, Sera looked at James sitting on the couch, working on a laptop. He looked beaten down, like he had been at work overnight. She doubted very much that Arcadia Bay and the surrounding region were in need of its district attorney that much, so it had to be him.

As she nearly glided towards his desk, James looked up and shut his laptop. He looked rather startled or weary perhaps at the sight of her standing in his office, examining a family photo he had of Rachel when she was about 13ish if she used her own collection of Rachel photos as a point of reference.

"Sera," he said behind her, his words struggling to remain level. "You look… grown up."

A smile formed privately on her face at the observation. Yes, she supposed she had forgone her standard t-shirt and jeans or summer dress, replacing it with a light grey wool knit sleeved dress which covered her body art nicely. Still clutching Rachel's photo, Sera turned back and immediately noticed that James Amber, a man who had spent years hating her and two years carefully holding her at an arms-length out of suspicion had been checking her out.

She did not know exactly what to make of it. Perhaps she was just making an assumption. She was in a foreign environment and was with a man who was in a tangible position of power over her. Perhaps she was overvaluing her attractiveness. Still… the thought of James looking at her in any way other than a pest had left her feeling… thrown out of a comfort zone.

In her mind, it was far easier to live with his mistrust then it was with this lurking… old feeling that the two of them had long thought was dead and buried; because as she set the photo of a smiling tiny teen Rachel back down on the desk and looked at James, whatever it was he was feeling as he looked at her had popped up in her and it scared the ever loving hell out of her already.

"Thank you, I guess…" Sera murmured as she pushed all the fear that she had out of her voice and stepped towards him slowly. "I figured I should dress up if I was coming to a government building not in handcuffs…"

That was meant to be a joke – an admittedly awful one – but a joke nonetheless. James, however, was not laughing. He looked far too worn out to do anything so basic. So there he sat, looking up at Sera like he was staring at a pest which he did not know whether to exterminate or embrace. Sera watched as James visibly swallowed before he gestured to the spot on the couch next to him.

Sera obliged her ex and sat down on the edge of the couch. She straightened out her hem briefly before she crossed one leg over the other. She allowed James a slight smile as she watched put the laptop on the table next to his couch and turned back to face her.

That old familiar coldness was back; but it was not directed at her. It was just how he looked at others these days. Everyone was subject to his careful scrutiny. If he had his way, he would never let his guard down again, which was an insane way to live and coming from the likes of her, that must have said something.

"What are you doing here, exactly?" James asked her, his eyes searching her face as though he was worried. "Is everything okay?"

Sera nodded quickly and ignored the small flutter in her at the concern he had unexpectedly displayed. It was sort of like a crack through his defenses which she got to see the man she once loved, the man she had come to befriend again in the month that led up to the loss of Rose Amber.

She missed it, and she would relish ever second she got to see it.

"Yes everything is fine, James," she gently reassured the father of her daughter. "I just… thought I would come and see if you were busy."

James quirked his mouth upwards as he examined her.

"I'm at work, I think it should be obvious," was his curt reply. He exhaled and as he rested his arm on the couch arm, he sort of smiled as he added. "Well… out with it then, what's the latest word from Rachel and Chloe?"

Sera shifted uncomfortably in her seat at his question. Under any other circumstances she would be happy to switch the course of the conversation to their one constant connection, but that was before she got the call from Rachel this morning.

Usually Rachel texted to her updates on the trips rather than get hanged up in phone conversations which every party involved knew Sera would attempt to drag out as long as she could just to hear her voice. So whenever Rachel called Sera, she just knew that those girls were up to something. After what the two girls had told her what they planned to do and advice they attempted to get from her. Well… it was so much more then she had expected.

"They are heading to Alvord Desert for a couple of days," Sera informed James slowly. "Rachel… may have been asking me if I knew anything about Peyote. Apparently they are interested in the full desert experience."

Judging from the horror that spread over James' face, her attempt to ease him into the knowledge did not exactly work as she had wanted. To be fair, it wasn't far from the reaction she had when she first heard their plans.

"What did you say about it?" he breathed.

Sera bit back the small annoyance that crossed into her feelings. She shrugged and pushed herself back into the couch.

"This might come as a surprise, but I'm not nearly the one woman narcotic playbook you two make me out to be," she snapped back, unable to hold back her bristling anger for much longer. "All I told them was not to go in it with a bad vibe, and that's only because you took me to see Young Guns when we were still just babies!"

Sera went silent and the two parents of the fledgling pyschonaut stared at each other as the absurdity that Sera would recall that date from 1988 so unexpected seemed to simmer some of the anger that was brewing in James. It was obvious he hated the idea of Rachel doing something as mind bending as messing around with hallucinogenic plants… but what could he exactly do? By the time she got home, Rachel would be an adult. Free to do as she pleased.

Sera exhaled. Perhaps it would just be the one time. Although this couple with the whole Victoria Chase incident three weeks ago and the dalliances between Rachel and drugs – whether intention or not – was an uncomfortable thing to think about. All that she could do was trust in her judgement… and trust that Chloe Price would do the right thing.

Ext to her, James loosened his tie and like her, he too attempted to settle into the couch again. Sera glanced at him as he looked away, clearly lost in his thoughts and fears. Sera could only hope that James, like her, would trust in Chloe's judgement. So far it hadn't failed them. Perhaps there were an occasional lapse, but they were young and that was to be expected. This however… this was something no doubt Chloe would be on top of.

At least that was what she hoped…

"Is this why you're here?" James asked her, turning his attention once again back to her.

Sera shook her head. It wasn't, and she supposed it was about time to get back to her reason for being here. With the eyes of a District Attorney searching her for some sort of hint as to why she was sitting here in his office, Sera exhaled and smiled at James once again.

"I… just I was just wondering if you'd like to hang out with me some time…" she said to him as she twisted her body to properly face him.

James just blinked at her.

"Hang out?" he repeated, incredulous at the idea Sera had suggested.

Sera nodded curtly, smiling a little wider now that it was out in the open. It was really all that she could do as the cogs in James' head seemed to be turning, debating whether or not this conversation was actually happening.

"Yes," Sera replied, folding her hands on her lap. "As far as I know the kids are still doing that these days; why not us old people?"

Accepting that this was actually happening, James narrowed his eyes.

"And do what exactly?" he asked, his words carefully spoken as though he had stepped into a minefield accidentally. She supposed considering their history, it was not far from the truth.

Sera gave him a small shrug. She hadn't really gotten that far into the idea to have any sort of details or plans she could give him.

"I don't know for certain," she admitted to him as she slid a little closer. "We could walk the boardwalk, eat something, smoke and be cynical Gen-X losers attempting to recapture lost youth. You know… hang out."

James continued to stare for a moment before he turned away from her, leaving Sera apparently the only one left in this conversation. She ignored the urge to just stop trying and instead she pushed herself closer to him.

"You know, I'm taking a big risk here, asking you to do stuff without a plan to it," she said, attempting to instill some humor into this. "I keep everything organized, everything meticulous so that I am rarely left with facing an unknown to trip me up. Yet here I am, sitting in your office in disregard of a working policy to be here with you."

James did not acknowledge her, instead he pushed himself off the couch and silently walked over to the edge of his desk and sat down, his eyes locked on the door as though he either wanted nothing better than to escape this room and Sera as she continued to look up at him with a patience that barely masked her growing fear. She wondered if James understood the power he still had over her, and just his political pull. He still knew all the right things to say that would completely destroy her on the spot.

That was the trouble with opening your heart to another… they would learn the perfect means to destroy you at your core.

"Is sitting in the same room as I really a relapse trigger for you?" he asked her, his focus still not directed to her.

Sera shook her head. That wasn't what she was trying to convey… not really… She was trying not to make it about herself, but she was such a champion at screwing up that it was hard not to bring it back around to her.

"No, I'm saying that I'm trying here," she refuted his assumption. "I'm stepping well outside my comfort here and for your sake you need to try as well; because all of this… you drowning in your work, losing a ton of weight not taking care of yourself... we have our differences but I still care for you, and I don't want to see you… languish in this."

She stood up as well and approached him, keeping a relatively respectful distance between her and James, his intense glare at the door sent a shiver up her spine. It was a feeling she didn't have time to feel.

"You still have people who love you, and you throwing those people away for a ghost is not doing anyone any favours, and certainly not you," she pressed on, evincing as James stiffened. "I don't know where you're coming from, James. I cannot imagine how it must feel to have lost someone I loved like you and Rachel have… but believe me when I say that as low as you think you can get, you can always sink lower."

She knew full well how insensitive she must have sounded, but truth trumped comfort at the moment. She didn't know Rose well, but Rose was certainly not a woman who would want the man she loved to just lie down and die alongside her in spirit as he was only too happy to do.

James looked away from his focus on the wall behind Sera, and instead directed his attention to her,

"And what are you hoping to accomplish, exactly?" James spoke back, his voice slightly quivering with repressed fury "Rachel undoubtedly asked you to do this, right?"

Staring back at James, Sera took another tentative step forward; her heart was beating in overdrive as his intense focus was now completely devoted to her.

"Rachel provided me the justification to being here, yes…" Sera breathed out as she took another step forward. "…but… if I'm being honest, I have wanted to try this for some time now. I… thought we could try to be friends again."

The anger in James eyes somewhat faltered as the truth Sera wanted to say for a year and a half finally came out in the open. He just sat there looking at Sera and the mixture of earnest hope and utter embarrassment for being so open about what she wanted. In spite of her embarrassment, however, she stood by it. She locked her mouth shut so that she did not say anything stupid.

"I… thought we already were…" James asked out loud, the anger replaced with a curiosity.

He furrowed his brow as Sera shook her head lightly.

"James, we both know that the only thing keeping us together the past few years has been Rachel," she reminded him as she laced her hands together. "I appreciate everything you've done for me and for the trust you shown… but at the end of the day it doesn't just… make us friends like that. I got the chance to start again with Rachel, and now I want to start again with you as well… I want to help you properly… without all the baggage we have."

Sera closed the gap. She hadn't blinked as the height difference between James and her become much more pronounced. Breathless, she extended her hand to reach his wrist. James was quicker; he batted her hand away and stood up straight, adding several more inches to his height.

"Is this some sort of pity thing? I'm not… I'm not interested in it, Sera..." he asked, his voice was incredulous sounding as he looked down on her.

Again she shook her head. Undeterred by his reaction, Sera reached out and grabbed his wrist again. This time he did not resist. The two of them stood there in a locked silence as Sera remained a calming sight as James looked like he was trying to regain control over his feelings.

"This is not pity. I want to be your friend James," she reaffirmed with as much strength as she could produce. "Before we… fell for each other, you were my best friend. You were the only person in this world that I trusted implicitly. Falling for you was the easiest, most natural thing I had ever felt in my life… and then I lost it…"

Sera paused and allowed him a smile.

"I never thought I would get an opportunity to be in this position again, but here I am and I want nothing more than to have my best friend back," she pressed on, unable to hide the note of desperation any longer. "I want to be there completely for him, especially when I see him in this much pain and thinking he has to do this alone. Because you're not alone, and I want to help you see that. You have spent your entire adult life helping others, protecting others…would you please let me help you now?"

Sera breathed out unsteadily as finally had to blink. As she lowered her eyes and did her utmost to ignore the self-doubt now eating away at her, she felt James' free hand reach out, and in a surprising display of tender care for a former love, turn enemy, turn whatever they were now, James pushed back her loose bangs back from out of her eyes.

Sera looked up immediately as another old familiar warm feeling broke through the layers she had built up around herself for her interactions with a man whom she loved… whom she still loved in a way that she shouldn't have. Her mind could give a million reasons why James Amber and her could never happen again, but her heart… it leaned towards the illogical desire that had hit her as she stared up at him.

"Fine," James agreed in a lower tone than usual. "We'll try this your way. I'll be on call tomorrow… so we can try this… hanging out thing then… okay?"

Sera smiled and reluctantly released her grasp on her ex-husband. As Sera took a step back, she could not help but slightly feel dazed by the small grin he wore. He seemed a little impressed that Sera had talked him into this.

"So…" James said to her, causal humour etched into his tone. "…a couple of Gen-X losers recapturing youth?"

Sera ran her hand over the back of her neck.

"Not everyone gets to run across the Northwest taking psychedelics with their blue haired vixen, but I think we can manage," Sera assured him. "We could meet at The Two Whales and we'll have breakfast first."

James nodded, apparently unaware that Two Whales meant Joyce, and Joyce meant Sera would have the opportunity to enact phase two of her plan in easing him out of his state. With her goal achieved, Sera stepped back from him and headed to the door, James following after her.

As they reached the door, Sera turned around and looked up at James once again. She wasn't exactly sure how to finish this conversation.

"Alright then, I will see you tomorrow," he said, doing her a favour and initiating their farewell for her. "But I'm warning you right now: If you make me listen to any more Riot Grrrl music I'm cancelling the whole thing."

Sera could not stem the laughter that erupted from her. She had almost forgotten about that. Playfully she rolled her eyes at him, her hand shoving his shoulder as her grin widened.

"Come on, you can't sit there and tell me I didn't rock your fucking world listening to L7," she blurted out, forgetting completely to filter her words

The two of them froze at Sera's confident statement. Sera could feel the heat overwhelming her senses as she stood there staring at the dumbfounded James. She wanted to die or run away from this room and hide for the next few days as she watched James reach back to run his fingers along his top vertebrae. She watched in numb surprise as James properly smirked.

"Okay… perhaps that was a good time," he admitted coyly as Sera pried open the door. "You know what though, wasn't that how Rachel was concealed? It would explain everything, or at least why she's with Chloe. I'll see you tomorrow then, Sera…"

Unable to provide a proper verbal response, Sera nodded and left the room mortified and perhaps a little surprised that she had gotten that much out of him. He was mourning, but he was still alive and still a man. Sera sighed as she forced herself not to sprint towards the nearest exit. If the path to heel was paved with good intentions, then she was dangerously close to trailblazing her way straight into her personal devil's bed.

If she was going to just be his friend, then that was all she was going to be. There couldn't be any room for anything else…

Maybe…

 

Chapter Text

 

Clutching tightly to her car's steering wheel, Victoria Chase looked up at the Caulfield home with that familiar sense of uneasiness. It wasn't supposed to be like this. She wasn't so supposed to be this much of a mess. Over a girl no less!

To an outsider, Victoria's thoughts must have sounded like a broken record, but since all of this… started, it was really the only thing that she seemed to think about. Her excitement for her European getaway was pushed to the back of her mind, even the prospects of Mark Jefferson being her teacher next year was nothing compared as the doe eyed vixen had pretty much forced her to be her one constant thought.

The only thing she could take consolation in was that whatever this was, it wasn't nearly as pathetically fast as it had been with the only other couple who she had known to be in this sort of situation. From the stories she totally did not listen to, Rachel and Chloe were making out by the end of The Tempest like they had known each other for months. It was sickeningly sweet, and a total fucking cliché which Victoria went out of her way to insult in the early days.

She did not know why she did it. Smart money was on she just didn't want to… acknowledge something was also off with her as well, but the whole thing seemed like such a fucking joke. Like it was a means for both girls to rebel against their parents or some shit. The moderately wealthy and insanely popular girl was hooking up with the poor punk trash… it was not something to take serious.

Yet, here she was hanging out outside the Caulfield residence, and the same sort of shit she insulted Amber and Price for it was all she seemed to have wanted with Maxine Caulfield. Like the two of them and their lovey dovey shit, all that she wanted was to watch her smile and laugh, to rest in her arms, completely vulnerable and knowing that she would be safe. She wanted to taste those sweet looking lips, to hold a physical dominance over her, or even allow her to take command of her body.

Victoria gave her head a metaphorical shake. She was getting way fucking ahead of herself again. It seemed as though right now she was living in this weird place between accepting what she apparently actually was, and what she still wanted to be, or pretended to be. Being gay… it just seemed so fucking more complicated and much more of a hassle.

As insane as it must have seemed, there was a small part of her which resented Maxine for her role in this. The power Maxine held over her was obscene –whether she knew it or not. It was a worrying delusional of her to blame her for this. It seemed as though one look from her and all the illusions Victoria had desperately held onto as close as she could had receded and with that, it forced her to look at herself properly and objectively for the first time in years.

Unfortunately, honesty had a way of being brutal, and as she took stock of herself unfiltered and with clarity she now had, she did not like what she saw.

Hating the feeling of being in the dark, Victoria pulled off her seatbelt ad stepped out of the car. For a moment, just a brief moment she considered texting Rachel about it. Ask her for… advice on this matter. Then she remembered who she was asking, and who she was basically attached to. There was no fucking way was she divulging anything to them. They might have been on good terms, any weakness, any hypocrisy shown and Amber and Price would leap to use it against her, and make next year worse.

With that sort of dread brewing in her thoughts, she would just have to do this alone as usual. So to ease her discomfort, Victoria did her best to rationalize her fears back into deepest recesses of her thoughts. Max wasn't like Chloe Price or Rachel Amber. She didn't seem to have an ulterior motive with her, nor would she go out of her way to insult or anything like that. She was far too sweet to be.

Fuck… Maxine probably wasn't even into her. Victoria was probably making a huge fucking assumption which would inevitably lead to a terrible end for the two of them. If she said something, anything, Maxine would reject it and that would be it. Her summer friendship would be over just like that.

As Victoria knocked on the door, she exhaled and forced herself relax. Perhaps it was better to just forget these stupid notions of someone like Maxine liking someone like her.

The door opened and there stood Vanessa Caulfield. She was a spitting older image of Maxine, but unlike her daughter she had the age and experience which seemed to erase all of her doubts. Maxine was very shy and indecisive if backed into a situation she wasn't prepared for. She preferred to weigh her options before leaping into anything. Vanessa was a little bolder, a little more like her strangely enough. Not in a snobbish bitch way, but she was willing to speak her thoughts.

With that in mind, it was not a surprise that was no hesitation on her Vanessa's part to allow Victoria in. There was no need for a second to consider the tall blonde's intentions as she took in the sight of Victoria standing in front of her. She didn't even have to bother with the 'hello' that Victoria was about to give Max's mother.

Instead, Vanessa smiled brightly and stepped out of the doorframe and ushered her daughter's new friend into the home.

"Victoria, how are you doing?" Vanessa asked her as the mother closed the door behind the two of them.

Victoria smiled genuinely as she turned back to face Vanessa properly. The bitterness she felt for Maxine being obviously uninterested was once again back in her control. She could continue her illusion that there was still a chance at a friendship that expanded outside the boundaries of a friendship. She refused to use the right definition.

"I'm doing well, thank you Mrs.… Vanessa…" Victoria spoke, catching herself before she could use a title. "Is Maxine home? I'm here to ruin her day."

Vanessa's laughter for Victoria's self-deprecation was light as her eyes. She seemed to be genuinely enjoying Victoria's presence, which was a rarity in itself. Then again, it was rare for Victoria to set herself up as anything other than a dominant snob. She was trying something different and it seemed to be paying off, at least in the eyes of the Caulfield family.

"You're going to fit in well, here," Vanessa observed, obviously unable to notice the fluttering in Victoria at the acceptance. "Do you two have big plans for today?"

Victoria could only shake her head at first as she tried to digest Vanessa's care.

"No, not really, as far as I know," Victoria replied as she glanced at the staircase which she knew she would have to climb to Maxine's as of yet unseen bedroom. "We're just going to hang out…"

Vanessa arched her brow, as though she seemed to doubt Victoria's words, but it was the truth, the two of them only had plans to hang out and play things by ear rather than have some elaborate plan they had to stick to.

"Really now, she's been running around the house like a chicken with her head cut off getting ready for you all day, telling me not to be embarrassing," Vanessa observed, her voice curious as she examined Victoria. "I expected you would be coming over with some big scheme for the two of you, not just hang out…"

Vanessa trailed off. A strange sort of expression washed over her face. It was sort of like she seemed to be finally reassessing her now; but it wasn't in bad way. At least that was how it felt to Victoria. It seemed as though something had just sort of clicked together for her.

"Is everything okay, Vanessa?" Victoria inquired forcing back the small sense of fear she had trickle back to the surface as Vanessa stood there with a smile and soft, thoughtful looking expression.

Vanessa broke her focus and smiled again as she nodded.

"Yes… yes I am fine, dear," Vanessa replied, her voice quivering. "It's…well, it's just been a while since I've seen Max like this… totally enthused about someone. Between you and I, I think you're about to get stuck with a wonderful friend."

Vanessa's words drove a blow right through Victoria's already fragile barrier between how she felt and how she presented herself. She stood there, physically affected by the words Vanessa had spoken and unable to form the right words. So… as she opened her mouth to speak, she just knew she was about to fail.

"Well, if there is anyone I want to get sticky from…" she blurted out to Vanessa, the horror rising in Victoria as she heard it be spoke by her.

The mood shifted between the mother and the blonde as both remained locked in place and staring at one another. Victoria just wanted to bolt from the house, find a quiet spot and die just so that she didn't have to look at Vanessa, whose eyes widened Victoria's one hundred percent truthful greatest desire had been announced to her.

Victoria laughed out suddenly; it was less of a laugh and more of a nervous ticking stutter as she felt every cell in her body go into fight or flight mode. She must have sounded so fucking stupid, so completely obtuse.

Judging from the half open mouth and dumbfounded expression Vanessa had, she was probably right.

"That... really didn't come out right," she acknowledged to Vanessa in a higher tone. "Could you maybe just forget that and send me off to her room for both of our sakes?"

Vanessa closed her mouth and nodded quickly. Only too happy to end this new awkwardness before Victoria did or said something to push the fucking envelope even further, Vanessa gestured to the stairs and Victoria walked briskly away from Maxine's mother, her hand covering her reddening face.

It was decided. Victoria Chase would never speak to Vanessa Caulfield alone ever again. They would just pretend that they didn't exist to each other.

Perhaps forever was a bit much… for now they would just try that silence at least for this morning. They'll have to play the whole eternity thing by ear.


It really didn't take as long to recollect herself after that fiasco with Vanessa as Victoria thought it might. She was going to go lock herself in the upstairs bathroom for a while so that she could recollect herself, but as she heard the gentle generic hipster music streaming gently from Maxine's room, all of her embarrassment simmered back down. She still could not fucking believe that she said that, but with Maxine being within a door's open, she would just have to forget it.

Inspecting her make up carefully to make sure she hadn't smudged it, Victoria, snapped shut her compact and dumped it into her purse. She reached up and knocked on the door.

"What's up?" Victoria heard from the other side of the door, it was, of course, that sweet honeyed tone of Maxine Caulfield. She sounded like she was distracted, but Victoria savoured the words anyways.

Victoria ignored her nerves and cleared her throat.

"Max, its Victoria... can I-"

Victoria did not even get a chance to finish her question. The door was pried open and before she had a chance to take in the sight of the short brunette girl, Maxine had reached out and pulled her inside the bedroom. As Maxine closed the door behind them, the two of them remained locked in silence. Maxine's hand was still wrapped firmly around Victoria's forearm as she stood there, unblinking as she looked up at Victoria, a small smile resting on her lips.

Victoria had a million thoughts and things she could have said right now, but she chose silence. The last thing she needed was blurting something foolish. She had already met her idiot quota for the day. She instead took in the sight of Max in a thin white tee and upper thigh length black running shorts, her face was a little sweaty. She could see the faintest outline of a pink bra through the shirt.

Victoria maintained her eyes on Max's, she would not acknowledge it, but she could not deny it was a good look for her.

"Your second visit and you're already making yourself at home? Max addressed Victoria; her voice was that agonizingly sweet teasing she had perfected. "I sort of figured you'd be a little more on ceremony… you know…standing at the front door waiting for me to come down and invite you in?"

Much to Victoria's disappointment; she watched as Maxine let go of her arm and turned away from her, walking back over to her desk. She took a seat in front of what appeared to be a dissembled camera she was attempting to fix or something.

"What can I say? When I like something, I like it," she said boastfully in a desperate attempt to get some praise, or a comment.

Fuck hell… she would settle for just one look from her.

Victoria's heart was pounding in her chest as her words earned her a turn of Maxine's head and a smile.

She felt sick from something as simple as Max just walking away from her. God… she hadn't turned into the next Rachel Amber – falling for someone in record time - Victoria had instead been reduced to that of Price… the lost little puppy looking for her constant validation from a beautiful girl. Either way she was pathetic, but this was so much worse. She was well beyond the simple worry of being marked as a cliché.

Ahhh fuck it… she was done worrying about that. It was the only way she could progress from here.

"What are you doing? " Victoria eagerly asked as she stepped forward, looking for something, anything to take her mind off this.

"Delicate work," Maxine murmured softly worked a screw out of the Polaroid camera. "I dropped my Camera shooting a vista session this morning... hoping beyond hope this isn't on its last legs right now."

"You know, maybe it's time to upgrade?" Victoria idly suggested attempting to keep her sarcasm levelled to a minimum. Maxine looked up and squinted at her as Victoria had continued their private good natured argument.

The two of them had spent an ungodly amount of time in real life and in text messages arguing the merits of digital technology and photography; and the two of them were on opposite sides of the spectrum completely. Victoria would call Maxine a dinosaur and Maxine and would start saying Victoria's latest purchases were already obsolete and it was time to upgrade.

It was fun in a strangely heated argumentative way. She was sure that there was a German word for it out there.

"So..." Victoria changed the subject as she placed her hand down on the table and leaned against it. "You didn't think to call me and we could go shooting together?"

Max twitched her lips and turned away from Victoria, her attention returning to working with her camera.

"I did, but I didn't want to disturb you," she quietly admitted, her eyes locked on her camera so that she did not have to look at Victoria. "I imagine hanging out with hipster trash is pretty exhausting. They make you do all sorts of weird, thankless things and they don't do common courtesy things like say thank you."

Victoria looked away from Max, her eyes focused on the wall of Polaroid's she had on the wall next to her bed. She could have called her any time for a session and Victoria would have fucking dropped everything to be there with her.

"It is pretty tedious…" Victoria said, hoping to look like she had some measure of cool still. "…but I admit I'm getting used to the eccentricities."

Max broke her focus on her Camera, a small mischievous grin crossing back over her luscious lips.

"Oh yeah?" Maxine spoke brightly as she eyed up the blonde sitting over her like she was attempting to read her. "Would you have agreed to it even if the aforementioned hipster trash calls you up at 3 in the morning to shoot sunrise over Puget Sound?"

Victoria blinked as she silently took in Max's display of personal commitment to her craft.

"God, that sounds terrible… fuck that…" Victoria answered her truthfully.

Together both of them broke down into laughter.

Victoria was, of course, just as committed as Max was to photography; but nothing and no one disturbed her between those hours. Not even Maxine Caulfield and her insatiable desire to hone her craft.

God at least that was how she thought would happen in theory. If Maxine showed up in front of her house at 3 in the morning with a thermos of coffee and a desire to shoot, she did not know exactly how it would go down; but one of these days, she would probably have to find out first hand if that feeling held up. In the back of her mind, she knew she would probably adhere to Maxine's wild requests, but she would not be too enthused about it.

As their laughter subsided, Victoria decided to stop being a fucking creeper and pushed herself off the desk to give Max some room to work in peace. She reluctantly turned her attention to the bed room which she had left mostly ignored in favour of her friend. The bedroom was in a weird sort of cross between adulthood and childhood. It was tastefully decorated and painted a soft beige tone, but there were a lot of childish knick knacks including a one eyed teddy bear propped against the wall.

The walls themselves were plastered with a variety of photographs that were not included in Maxine's portfolio. They were all nicely shot, but the portfolio was definitely her hall of fame in comparison. The wall pictures seemed more like spur of the moment captures. The room, in a way was sort of like her personal art gallery.

As Victoria's eyes scanned across the room, she paused on one singular irregularity of Maxine's art gallery. Every single photo on the walls was unframed, unprotected. These were pictures of landscapes, people, her parents, her friends. All of them unprotected from weathering and time but one.

There, sitting on the top of a dresser was a photo of two girls. One wore an eye patch, and mess of freckles which covered her face, the other wore a pirate hat and was winking. She had her arm locked around what appeared to have been a child version of Maxine Caulfield. There was… something off about the strawberry blonde girl Maxine stood with… It was a familiar feeling that she neither could place her finger on nor shake. The eyes… the shit-eating smile she wore

"Maxine Caulfield, did you play pirates as a kid?" Victoria asked, finally managing to look away from the picture.

Maxine looked up from her work and tilted her head, looking adorable as fuck as she took in the sight of Victoria clutching the photo frame. A crooked smile spread over her lips as she nodded.

"I did, got a problem with it?" Maxine playfully challenges as she pushed herself out of her seat and stepped towards Victoria. "If you do I might as well send you off right now. Anyone who hates pirates is clearly not cool."

Victoria shook head as Maxine trusted her with the truth. If she could do that, so too could Victoria.

"I'm in no position to judge your piracy days, not when I used to play Dragon Balls in elementary school," Victoria I had marked tennis balls and I tried to turn into a Super Saiyan in the middle of class when I was nine, and I… may have gotten sent to the school shrink for an evaluation for that."

Max laughed out at the confession Victoria had offered to her. For a moment, that familiar humiliation washed over her; but it was gone only moments later and she too allowed a laugh to escape. Maxine was not the Vortex club; she was not like Courtney or to a lesser extent Taylor and even Nathan. Max did not laugh out of judgemental derision or because she now had something to use against her. It was a genuine amusement which she would never weaponize and deploy against her.

Trust… it was such an amazingly precious thing these days…

"God, you're an anime hound as well?" Max asked her. As Victoria nodded, she added. "Well, we gotta watch some, sometime. You could spend the night tonight and we'll watch Final Fantasy: Spirits Within. It'll be fun!"

Victoria forced herself to remain calm It was not the offer for a sleep over that had caught her off guard (not that she did not mind it) it was the fact that Max unironically stood there and had suggested a garbage attempt at capturing the Final Fantasy world without even approaching its neighbourhood. This girl clearly needed to know why it was so bad.

… But it was a lesson she was not going to teach, not as Victoria took in the clearly enthusiastic girl she was totally not crushing hard on.

"That sounds fun," Victoria replied, biting back the urge to be a total snarky bitch about Maxine's plebeian status. "Maybe I could introduce you to some anime that isn't western tiered entry level… What?"

Victoria fell silent as she looked at the strange expression Maxine wore. At first she was going to apologize for being a little snarkier than she had intended, but it was clear that Max wasn't mad. It was not far removed from the expression that Vanessa had earlier.

Watching as the mixture off curious and thoughtfulness Max wore dissipated; the brunette smiled and shook her head dismissively. She reached out towards Victoria, taking the picture frame from her hands so that she could hold the frame close to her.

"Nothing... It's fine…" Maxine murmured, still looking at the smiling strawberry blonde. "It's just… you just… for a moment you sound like my Captain. She always teased me about my anime tastes as well."

Victoria smiled and took a step forward.

"Well now a girl after my own heart," Victoria returned. "What is yonder Captain's name?"

Max looked up and sort of half smirked at Victoria's lame a fucking hell and already regretted attempt at pirate speak. Still, Maxine seemed a little elated by it, so it was worth the added humiliation. She looked the photo once more before she gestured to it.

"This, Deck Hand Chase, is Captain Chloe Price..."

If Maxine was speaking, Victoria was not paying attention as the name burned a hole through her thoughts.

There was no way that this world could be this small. There was no way that sweet, wonderful Maxine Caulfield not only knew the Queen Consort of Blackwell but was childhood friends with her. It seemed like such an oil and water mixture. Chloe Price, the conniving violent cunt who… well… was the closest thing to an honest and objective friend she ever had gained during her time in Blackwell.

Suddenly everything that was going on... everything that Victoria and Max were playing with… there was no longer a distance between who she was in real life, and who she was in the here and now during this summer. Everything was real and dangerously close to blurring the lines she had hoped to keep distinct from each other.

Yet, as she looked into Maxine's eyes… she wasn't afraid of this as she should have been. In the off chance that there was something… more to this… it did not frighten her in the way it did at the very beginning. She watched, silent as Max rubbed her neck and turned away, still holding the photo of Chloe in her opposite hand.

"I fucked up with her so bad," she admitted, her voice drained of emotion. "If I do the same to you, you have my permission to kick my ass."

As Victoria watched Max slump down onto the bed, she felt her insides lurch as Max looked up at her and patted the place next to her. She obliged her friend and sat down next to the brunette who had turned her attention back to the photo of the girl.

Silently, Victoria looked at it as well and took in image with renewed interest. With the knowledge that this was indeed Chloe Price, she could now see her properly in this image captured long before she was turned into what she was now: a punk who was navigating an unimaginable mount of loss and guiding another girl arguably more dangerous and damaged through her own.

Damn did life have a way of making everyone its bitch…

"Would you like to talk about it?" Victoria broke their silence.

Max held onto the silence for a little longer. It was obvious that she wanted to speak, to finally have an opportunity to open up about something that she seemed to keep bottled up. She sighed and looked up to Victoria.

"I'm from Oregon. A small town called Arcadia Bay," Max told her, not paying attention to how unsurprised Victoria looked. "Chloe is… Chloe was my best friend, attached to the hip. You could never ask for a good a friend from someone. My Dad… he got a job in Seattle and so we moved. Chloe and I were going to keep and touch. We were hanging out… sort of a last hurrah I guess."

Max paused and looked briefly at the ceiling as she tried to find the right words to tell something which Victoria more or less already knew.

"Chloe's Dad went out to go and pick up her Mom… and he was killed," she pressed on. "We only stayed a little while longer after that… Chloe… tried to stay in touch… she didn't have to but she did. I… I just... I blew her off at every turn. I couldn't talk to her, I didn't know what to do, what to say…"

Max swallowed thickly, her head shaking as she unconsciously rubbed her eyes, even if there were no tears which had fallen yet.

"If that's how I respond to something like that…" Max continued miserably. "I don't see how I ever deserved to be her frien-

Victoria reached out; her index pushing against Max's lips to bring silence to that fucking bullshit line of thinking Max was brewing. Although Max had fallen silent and still, she could feel Max's lips quivering. She looked close to breaking down into tears for a friend she had wronged so long ago.

She wouldn't tell Maxine not to cry. She had no right to shame her for what she felt, but she couldn't just sit here and do nothing. If she cried, she would cry, but not without Victoria at least trying to stem it.

"Maxine, you were so young. You can't just expect to know what to do. Maybe you could have handled it better, maybe you could have kept in touch, but you didn't and that's just something you have to live with, otherwise the what-if's will just tear you up. The past is just a series of regrets and what-if's, and the more deal on it, the more power you give it over you, and then you then it because… fucking impossible to just… find peace and let go."

Although Victoria removed her finger from Max's lip, Max was too quick for Victoria. She took Victoria's hand and folded it over hers. They remained in a strange silence as Maxine attempted to digest Victoria's words. She seemed almost… comforted by what she had said. It was like Victoria was some sort of guiding voice.

While she may have felt that the Chase woman was pure in her motivations, Victoria felt a guilt bubbling up. She held all the answers Max needed, and yet… she couldn't just… bring herself to answer the questions Max didn't know she had about her friend Chloe. Telling the truth, admitting that she not only knew Chloe but was in a quasi-friendship with her would have made everything that much more complicated. It brought Max into her world, and if Max knew the truth… she wouldn't stay for very long.

Who would?

Victoria bit back her self-loathing. She was a terrible, selfish, hypocritical bitch… and already she had damaged whatever was going on between Maxine and her…

"Who knows… maybe Chloe has found some measure of happiness now," Victoria spoke, allowing a little shred of knowledge be shared as a hypothesis rather than a fact. "Four years is a long time to nurse a broken heart. I doubt she would be mad for very long if you were to… I don't know… give her a call…"

Taking the photo from Max's hands, Victoria paused and swallowed her pride as she examined the smiling bright face of Price. She would have to say something nice about Chloe Price… Thank fuck that no one would get to hear it except Maxine.

"Something about her… she seems like someone who if you're friends with, you're stuck with her. You think it's over, but there she is again…" she managed to say out loud through gritted teeth. "She's probably sort of like… herpes...yes; you know now that I think about it, I'm quite sure this Chloe Price is exactly like herpes…"

That back handed compliment about loyalty was enough to get Max to choke out a laugh and give Victoria a gentle slap on the shoulder. It helped to greatly improve Max's move, so Victoria took the attack as a small punishment as a good thing.

"That's so gross, Victoria. For cereal…" Max complained through her laughter. She emitted a disgusted noise and shook her head as she added. "I got pretty heavy there, I'm sorry Victoria. This sort of baggage should be a little further down the road, right?"

Victoria shrugged and allowed her a faint smile. She had just done something far worse than Max did in the past.

"At this point I'm throwing out the whole rulebook… you should as well…" Victoria returned.

As Max nodded, the two of them went quiet again. They were still holding each other's hand, both of them seemingly unable to look at each other. Occasionally green eyes would meet blue and the two of them would sort of chuckle as their nerves got the best of them.

There were… thoughts… forming in Victoria's mind which she could not fight for very long. Things she wanted to do. Things she couldn't do. Sitting here was an agony she had never quite felt before in her life.

"I don't… know if I can fix my camera…" Max thankfully cut through the tension. "I sort of have an idea, but… I'm mostly just winging it with Google, Wikipedia and prayer right now."

Reluctantly releasing Max's hand, Victoria stood up and tried to block out her lurid thoughts. Getting that camera fixed was now her focus, and it was an infinitely preferable thing to focus on right now. Over the fact she was lying to Max about not knowing a girl she clearly cared for still, and especially that dirty little instinct screaming at her to something to the girl, who probably didn't think of her that way...

"Pack up your ancient tech in a box or something, then," Victoria replied. "We'll take it to a repair shop then."

Max frowned.

"I don't have that kind of money-"

"I guess it's a good thing that I do then," Victoria interjected over Max's dismissal as she went to grab her purse. "We'll make a day out of it. I haven't hit the Bouquets in a few weeks. We're going to have some fun and you're going to stop moping. Find you some actual clothing to wear instead of you raiding your mom and dad's closet with the occasional thrift shop splurge."

The banter may have been a thing, but that was all it was: banter. If anything, the idea of going out with Max doing random teenaged shit rather than them being super serious taking photos and analyzing each other's work was appealing right about now. She just… needed an exit, and if she couldn't get it through drinking or getting stoned, then she would just have to do it with the thrill of the almighty dollar.

She turned back and found Max was standing. She looked… conflicted over this. She was obviously interested in the offer she was making; but the modesty, the apparent doubt she seemed to have prevented her from reaching out and seizing the opportunity she was being presented.

"I can't…" Max started and then immediately stopped as she searched for the right words. "Victoria, if you're paying to repair my camera, then I won't be proud…I can pay you back for that, no doubt… but I can't just take clothing from you as well."

Victoria pursed her lips together. She stepped forward and laid her hand down on Maxine's shoulder.

"Maxine, stop being so fucking modest, stop thinking the world only turns if you put yourself behind others," Victoria spoke in a low, almost rumbling tone she once heard Chloe Price use on Rachel and watched it turn the usually unconquerable Rachel to mush. "We are going to go out, and we're going to shop, I'm going to buy you a couple outfits, because I got money and I have no one worth spending on until… well, you came along."

As it had on Rachel, it worked on Max as well.

Victoria watched stunned as Max just sort of stood there open mouthed and astounded. All of her protests vanished before Victoria's eyes; and instead of continuing to fight against her, Max just sort of nodded, numb as she stood there looking up to the taller blonde.

Chloe Price, as it turned out, was a fucking macking genius. Victoria gave her head a mental shake. Now she fucking had something else she owed to the punk.

"I'm going to go downstairs, you're going to get dressed into something halfway presentable and then we'll head out," Victoria continued to the attentive brunette. "If it makes you feel better, you'll pay for lunch and I won't buy you anything super expensive. Is that fair to you?"

Max nodded seemingly accepting the compromise Victoria was willing to provide; and with the two of them in an agreement, Victoria let go of Max's shoulder and stepped backwards towards the door. There was a flash of a feeling… the reaction she had gotten… perhaps the idea of Maxine Caulfield was interested in her far more than she was assuming.

"Okay then… that was a good talk…" Victoria said as she opened the door and forced the happy concept back inside her. "Don't worry about the cost, Max. There does need to be a fashion gap between us after all. I can't let you hog my spotlight, now can I?"

Victoria stepped out of the room and closed the door behind her. She did her utmost not to fist pump as she heard Max on the other side of the door seemingly thud hard down onto her chair. She turned her focus back to the Chloe Price- Maxine Caulfield connection instead.

God… this was going to get so fucked up, so fast…

 

Chapter Text

 

It was early morning when Rachel woke up from her stupor.

Jesus Fucking Christ, all that she wanted right now was to go back to sleep for the next three days...

The girls backed down on the whole 'let's take a peyote trip in the desert' idea that Rachel had pushed. Sera started sending them a series of passive roundabout pleas for them to back down as well as a couple of videos of the after effects of Peyote on a person, so in they instead traded hallucinogenic drugs for a bottle of legal poison (aka tequila) which they polished off and spent the night utterly plastered, which Rachel supposed was more or less something they did all the time.

Although they were in a desert, she could feel the cold air coming through the cracks in the window of the motel room they had rented so that the two of them did not have to sleep in the truck or set up camp somewhere intoxicated. She sighed and pushed herself deeper into Chloe's chest; one finger reached up and gently worked its way into one of her stray locks.

Rachel Amber was kinda angry.

Her anger (annoyance was probably a better word for it) was directed at the conversation Chloe and her had had about a week ago in Port Orford. That marriage was a remote chance for them even after she hit 18. It was a wake- up call about what she was and she just could not quite shake it from her thoughts. Sure, she thought men could be attractive, but nothing about them came close to what she had felt for Chloe.

With that attraction, with the love that she felt for Chloe came all the titles she had more or less avoided using to describe her and what she had with Chloe. Notably was that what they had was pretty gay. Two years into them being together and only now she was trying to rectify what they were together and what people were probably calling them behind their back

God… she was too drunk for these thoughts right now. Her point was that she wanted to get fucking married anywhere she pleased and not have fucking fucks tell her no, but no one fucking said no to Rachel Fucking Amber; especially not when it involved shit that no one else had a say in it.

Now, she accepted Chloe's argument about waiting, no problem. Rachel was willing to admit that they were young as fuck to just up and get married, and after what happened to Dad and Sera. Dad and Sera was the clearest cut example why you don't just jump head fucking first into matrimony, because not everyone was lucky to have a parent like Joyce had in William Price. Chloe could have been a carbon copy of patient, steady William, but she would still have to deal with Rachel's temperamental nature.

Another aspect which gave Rachel pause was the shit show that inevitably would have entailed. She had promised both herself and Joyce that the two of them would try to work on being friendlier with one another; and she doubted very much that would happen if she came back with Chloe after a whirlwind trip to Massachusetts or New York with all the proper paperwork.

But while she might have accepted logic to postponing, she did not like being disallowed from something she wanted and didn't harm anyone. It drove that little part of her mind that made her crave what she could not have to take what she wanted and fuck all the consequences. Christ… she had to check that indulgence to stir shit… she would end up like her mother… biological mother.

Noticing her phone tangled in Chloe's cleavage (her phone holster from time to time) she slipped her fingers forward and tapped the screen. Sure enough two unread messages awaited her, but she squinted at the name of who had sent them.

Victoria Chase.

Rachel racked her brain. She could vaguely recall that Victoria had spent the better part of a month bragging to whoever would listen that she would be sojourning to Europe for the summer, which she conveniently dropped on them when Chloe and her road trip plans were leaked by Juliet Watson. Chloe spent a good week ready to fight Victoria on the grounds of stealing their thunder.

Victoria Chase –  You there?

Victoria Chase –  Pick up the fucking phone there's shit that needs to be said

God, what in the fuck could she have wanted?

Rubbing her eyes, Rachel bit the bullet and tapped the call button. It was better to just get it out of the way while Chloe was asleep and unable to insert her commentary which would in-fucking-evitably lead to a big blowout. She didn't have the mental strength nor had eye coordination to type anything legible, so fuck it, she'd call.

The phone rang three times, before the line was picked up on the other end.

"Make it quick Victoria," Rachel immediately spoke before Victoria could talk. "I'm drunk as hell and you're disturbing my sleep."

At first there was only a brief silence before she finally heard it.

"Hello, you have reached Victoria Chase," a very gentle sleepy voice which wasn't Victoria's voice in the slightest greeted her. "I'm afraid she cannot come to the phone right now as Her Majesty is in disposed. Would you like to leave a message?"

Rachel checked the time. It was only 9 in the morning and the girl on the other end of the line was not Taylor or Courtney or anyone from the Vortex Club. In fact as a rule, no one got to use Victoria Chase's phone fucking ever; and now on top of that, whoever this was, it as though she seemed brave enough to dismiss any sort of reputation Victoria Chase had made for herself.

…or perhaps she wasn't aware of it at all in the slightest…

All of this peaked Rachel's curiosity far more than she was prepared for this early and this intoxicated to handle this right now. The only thing she wanted to know was just who in the hell was this girl?

"Her Majesty…" Rachel repeated, placing a small tired chuckle into her words. "Wow, someone out there who calls her out too and you have access to Victoria's phone… and why, may I ask, do you have access Victoria's phone?"

"Oh, mostly because Victoria is supposed to be getting us breakfast and she's a slowpoke," the girl replied back before adding. "… coincidentally that's her favourite Pokemo-"

"OH MY GOD, SHUT UP!" Rachel heard the familiar shriek of Victoria Chase.

From the sound of it, there was a fumbling battle for the phone going down. The girl on the other end was fighting back and laughing; but what was much more strange, was that so too was Victoria. Rachel could not imagine any situation where Victoria would allow herself to be dragged down to any position lower than what she built herself up as. Whatever this was… it had captured her curiosity for real now.

Damn... Rachel kind of liked her already…

"Yeah, who is it," Victoria demanded, having apparently won her little battle against the girl she was chilling with.

"It's Rachel… you texted me…" Rachel reminded her. "…who's the girl?"

Rachel knew better than to get an answer, and she was right. Victoria blew over that part. She could hear the sound of footsteps on the other end as Victoria apparently went to go and find somewhere quiet and out of the way to talk. Rachel idly wondered if Victoria was shrugging off her obviously self-hating ways, but right now she just didn't give that much of a shit to push for anything of substance.

"I can't talk for long," Victoria replied briskly. "Look, I owe you two for what happened. If you two are in Seattle anytime soon, you both can crash at my place or whatever... There's some… weird shit I need to talk to you about in person."

Chase was opening her home up for the two of them? What the hell was going on in her mind right now? Wasn't she supposed to be getting ready for Europe? None of this was making any sense. It probably would have if she was sober, but right now it was mostly just a tiring blur and all Rachel wanted as to go back to sleep. As before, she just didn't give a single solitary fuck anymore.

"So… Victoria Chase is a Pokémon Master, hey? Please thank that girl for me, will you? I was always partial to the red one with a fire tail myself…" Rachel replied as she attempted to use her limited knowledge in the subject. "Come on Vickie…. who is the girl-"

"Yeah, fuck you too, Rachel!" Victoria interjected and hung up on her.

Happy that disturbance was dealt with for the time being, Rachel grinned and threw her phone on the counter and pushed herself back against Chloe, closing her eyes. She had a plan for today, but for now they another three hours or so before they would have to check out. It would be plenty of extra rest for the drive chauffeuring Chloe on.

"Whozzat about…" she heard coming above her.

Chloe had been stirred awake by the conversation. This was the last thing she had wanted to do. Rachel sighed and leaned forward, kissing what skin she could reach with her limited mobility. In this case it would be Chloe's right breast, which suited her fine. Any excuse to kiss some Priceless Tits, was an excuse she would not pass up.

"Victoria being fucking Victoria again…" Rachel mumbled as she pulled her lips back from Chloe's revealed cleavage. "…you know I think she may like us. You're not going to believe this, but I think Victoria might be into someone... a girl no less…"

Rachel smiled as she felt Chloe's hand reach out and run through her hair soothingly. It was a massage which helped ease some of the tension brewing in her head. Reaching out, Rachel snaked her arms around Chloe's waist and drew herself closer so that she could listen to Price's strong heartbeat.

"You're right, I don't believe it," Chloe murmured back sleepily as she nestled the top of Rachel's head with her chin. "I'll eat my fucking beanie the day Victoria Chase descends from her perch, stops being a self-involved closeted bitch and tries to love someone else for a change."

Rachel breathed a small sigh. Chloe was very logically cynical about Victoria Chase. This was rooted in deeds accumulated through the years. Rachel could not fault Chloe for that policy, especially when Rachel as a rule subscribed to it as well. While that was the case, there was definitely a part inside of her that wanted Victoria to find a modicum of happiness as well. For her to find someone she could trust. Judging from what she heard, it sort of seemed like she had finally found that in someone. If that was what was happening, then all she could do was hope for the best.

"…and what if I'm right?" Rachel decided to pursue.

Chloe sort of grunted as she pressed her lips against Rachel's forehead.

"If you're right, we're going to have to pre-emptively kick a rich girl's ass before she says something awful… just in case…" Chloe replied without hesitation.

Rachel smirked and nodded at the predictable but perfectly reasonable answer to the question. Yes, she supposed that asskicking would have to be an inevitability.


Chloe Price was not scared of much in this world. But there was one thing that terrified the hell out of her the most: Rachel Amber driving.

Rachel had the basics down no sweat. Her problem was that she was not timid behind the wheel, or safe. Instead she drove like a demon out of hell down these busted ass Oregon back roads, quickly getting frustrated by other drivers and swerving around them. If Rachel was in a sports car or something a little more finesse, she would be at home, but this was a mid to late 1980's truck they found in a fucking junkyard.

Perhaps this was why she did not mind being the driver of the two of them. Every time Rachel drove for her, she was God's biggest fan.

As worrying as it might have been, Chloe was still somewhat curious as to why Rachel was in such a hurry to leave desert lands and head north. Even in the face of a terrifying hangover, somehow Rachel could have plans brewing in her mind. Not that Chloe minded of course, it kept her on her toes.

There had also been some talk of moving on, heading north to Portland before they crossed the border into Washington State. This was something she both dreaded and looked forward. With Rachel's birthday fast approaching, Rachel wanted a little class. They would rent out a nice place, eat at nice places, and find a nice tattoo artist to get their long anticipated Tats. It would be a nice, classy week or so in America's premiere hipster city.

As fucking cool as it be to finally get to Portland and as neat as it was to venture through regions of the state neither Rachel or her had been to before, the two of them were inching closer and closer to Seattle; closer to her encounter with Max Caulfield; even with literal years of build-up… she wasn't ready for this.

She had no fucking clue what she was going to say or do about it. She was settling somewhere between screaming and hugging the ever loving fuck out of the girl. Considering just how much Chloe may have discussed her history with Max to Rachel, Rachel unsurprisingly suggested giving her a big old sloppy kiss. It wasn't some jealousy thing, at least not anymore. Rachel loved to push the boundaries and the buttons of other people. It was a shadow of who she used to be before all the shit that happened.

Rachel's recommendation... well… it might have crossed Chloe's mind on more than one occasion. There was a history to Max and her that she could not ignore. She would just have to wait and see. It was quite possible that Max had long since moved on and Chloe was now just grasping for a friend she no longer had.

Chloe glanced to Rachel, who was adorable as fuck at how focused on the road. The truck bounced underneath them as Rachel had taken them off the road and onto to a dirt road leading to what appeared to be an improvised parking spot. Chloe noticed the sign they past ready Crooked River Observation Point. Chloe looked back to her girl, wondering again just what was going on in that head of hers.

As Rachel brought the tuck to a stop, she turned the key and pocketed them. She turned back, smiling as she pulled off her seatbelt. She leaned forward, kissing Chloe's cheek briefly

"Come on, Priceless, we have places to be!" she announced as she pulled back and opened the door.

As Rachel stepped out of the truck, Chloe unbuckled herself and slid across the truck bench seat and squinted as the sun hit her eyes. Rachel closed the door behind them and took Chloe by the hand, not allowing her a moment to collect herself.

As they walked Chloe took in her surroundings. There was nothing particular to note, if you didn't count the fact that the two of them were standing on the edge of a canyon gorge which had a railway track bridge running from one side of the canyon to another. Chloe wouldn't have been particularly interested in it had Rachel not been dragging her up the manmade embankment to the bridge.

"You... took us to a bridge?" Chloe could only voice the obvious.

Rachel nodded as they made it up the embankment and found themselves standing on wood, steel and iron. She turned back to Chloe and grinned even wider, as she reached out and looped her arm around Chloe's waist. She was the cat to Chloe's canary apparently.

"This is the only river gorge bridge I could find in the vicinity," Rachel spoke up as she walked Chloe along the train tracks, "I always wanted to go and stand in the middle of one. Don't ask why, the reasons are non-existent. I have ideas and you know me…"

Rachel trailed off as the two of them reached the edge between safe ground and the drop to the winding shallow river below. She turned back and arched her brow at Chloe who remained locked in place several steps behind where she had stood.

"Chloe Fucking Price, if you're going to tell me you're afraid of heights I am so not going to be impressed with you for the next 12 seconds!" Rachel teased her, her hands jutting against her hips.

Chloe Price was not afraid of heights. She was not a fan of being in the dark.

"I want to know what's going on first," she called to Rachel, squinting back at her as her head throbbed from last night's overindulgence.

The confusion of Chloe's refusal to blindly follow washed away from Rachel's expression. She slinked forward; her eyes were hooded as joined her girlfriend again, her hands slipping into the waistband of Chloe's shorts as they stood on the edge together.

"You're less than two hundred feet away from learning what's going on..." she salaciously breathed to the taller girl. "… Are you really going to back away now?"

Chloe remained silent as she gently grasped Rachel's feather earring, the small tug earned the smallest of gasps from Rachel as she in turn tightened her grip and pushed herself even closer until body meshed into body. As Chloe nodded, Rachel stepped on the tips of her toes and sunk into Chloe's giving her a deep, sensory numbing kiss.

"My brave girl…" Rachel whispered throatily as she pulled back. "I'm so proud you're mine…"

Releasing her grasp on her waist, Rachel captured Chloe's hands and took slow steps onto the bridge proper; Chloe now entranced enough to follow her along without any further complaint. She had gone from being curious to officially intrigued by just what it was her girl had in store for them.

As the two of them reached the middle of the bridge, Rachel let go of Chloe and took a step away. She glanced over the edge, a sly grin crossing over her mouth as she gestured Chloe to follow her. Chloe obeyed and silently looked over the edge. She really fucking wished that she hadn't.

"I've been thinking a lot the past few days about our talk…" Rachel spoke up over the loud wind gusting through them. "I've thought about how we're too young to get married, and the whole 'we're gay for each other and America is apparently still a fundamentalist country that has to stick its nose in our shit' thing and I know you're right, but I was wondering if you would like to bind yourself to me…"

Chloe blinked as she watched Rachel dig into her pocket. What in the absolute fuck was she talking about?

"What… the fuck are you talking about?" Chloe asked her blankly, "… and why the hell do you have a knife?"

Her eyes fell and looked at the switchblade held firmly in Rachel's hand. She looked up and directed her curiosity to Rachel, who looked somehow defiant and needing validation from Chloe for her decision to carry a fucking weapon on her. Like… wasn't it fucking illegal?

"I have a knife because I can't buy a gun yet, and I'm not going out into the world without something to protect us… protect you," Rachel replied as though she had rehearsed it "… and what I'm talking about is you and I bonded by blood."

Chloe rubbed her face and turned away. If she was going to bring a fucking weapon on this trip, the least she could have done was tell her. Chloe wasn't about to sit here and deny it was not the right move. They had seen how bad shit could get and if she could get access to a gun, then the knife was the next logical step.

As for this bonded by blood thing… well, Chloe had no fucking clue what to chalk this up to. Rachel was always sort of into mysticism like astrology and horoscopes, but it was less so these days after Rose. She always seemed to want to be facing firmly towards what was directly in front of her rather than focusing on the background world.

This sounded something which Chloe would have thought up with Max, which they did do at one point… with a thumbtack, not a knife. Neither of them could break the skin… but this was something on a whole other scale.

"Dude, how drunk are you still..." Chloe attempted to lighten the mood.

Rachel's smile vanished off her face. This was not one of those light moments. This was something well past serious.

"I'm not drunk, Beth," Rachel replied, using her pet name. "I just… Chloe Price you're my best friend, my one love; and all I seem to think about these days is pushing the boundaries, to push what we are into what we can become. That conversation was a drop in the bucket compared to the thoughts that swim in my head whenever you're in my thoughts, and lately you are always in my thoughts. I want you to be my forever Chloe, and since I can't have that for some time, I want to do the next best thing. We'll be together in a way nothing and nobody can stand against."

Rachel went silent as Chloe went over what she was saying. She wasn't sure why… but there was some sense in it. It was love, love from Rachel to want to make such a sweeping potentially embarrassing disaster, and love from Chloe that made her want to say yes to this romantic - albeit odd – request.

"It's… kinda badass… sorta…" Chloe admitted to Rachel, a small disbelieving grin crossing over her mouth.

Rachel arched her brow; she was obviously thrilled that Chloe seemed to be on the same page.

"Hella badass," Rachel said as she offered the knife out to Chloe. "You cut me, I'll cut you next."

Looking at the knife in the palm of Rachel's hand, Chloe snatched it up and flicked the blade open. Rachel had not taking back her hand. She held it out in a display of sacrifice for their commitment. Exhaling Chloe gripped Rachel's wrist and brought it close to her face.

Chloe looked up and met the expression of determination written in Rachel's face. She was committed completely.

"It's okay baby…" she breathed to Chloe. "…a girl's first time is supposed to be painful…"

Biting back her smirk, Chloe nodded and pressed her lips against Rachel's palm. She pulled back, and without any pause, she ran the blade along her flesh. It was deep enough to leave a mark. As the blood started to flow, Chloe watched in amazement as the only noise Rachel made was a sharp inhale and an abrupt snorting noise.

Taking the knife from her, Rachel pressed her lips against Chloe's and pulled back as she raised Chloe left hand and immediately ran the blade along the exact same spot. Chloe grunted as the nerve ending s in her hand fucking screamed throughout her entire body.

Rachel threw the knife off the bridge and stepped forward, placing her bleeding hand into Chloe's. Together the two of them watched as Rachel pushed their hands out over the edge and allowed their intermixed union of dark sanguine roll off their hands and trickled into the river below their feet.

"My blood and my life, your blood and your life... it's one in the same now, for real," Rachel gasped out through her growing pain. "You are everything to me, my Chloe Elizabeth Price."

Rachel fell silent and looked expectedly up to her new blood wife. Chloe could only emit a shit eating grin. This wasn't exactly how she thought the day was going to go. She had no words prepared… all she had was one absolutely stupid thought running through her head that she knew she shouldn't voice, but fucking did anyways.

"You do realize you stole this whole thing out of fucking Natural Born Killers, right?" she blurted out. "Blood bonding on a bridge so that the blood goes into the water... you're such a dork."

Rachel sort of squinted at her… it was not exactly what she had expected to here, but she was not about to argue the point. Not when the small grin she had clearly recognized Chloe was not far from the fucking truth about this whole thing. They had become Mickey and Mallory Knox without the body count… God, she was a secret nerd…

"Other than that… I'm with you… until the end…" Chloe added, leaning in to kiss her forehead.

Rachel smiled properly as the two of them leaned against each other, their hands painfully gripping each-others to compress their self-inflicted injuries. Chloe was put on the spot and she seemed to be factoring that in.

"Good save, Priceless-"

Rachel was cut off by the sound of a whistle blast from the other side of the river. They looked and noticed a loaded freight train rolling their way. The two of them broke apart and ran at full tilted towards back towards the truck, sliding down the embankment.

As Chloe stood up, pulling Rachel with her, she unconsciously wrapped her hand in her shirt as they walked and limped towards the truck. Perhaps running like that was a little dramatic considering the Train was rolling along with a dozen plus boxcars, but Chloe Price didn't fuck with trains. She watched too many Liveleak videos.

There was a small slap on her shoulder.

"Come on, don't use your shirt, you savage!" she heard Rachel cry out to her. "We got a first aid kit, remember?"

As Rachel threw her the keys, Chloe emitted a dramatic sigh.

"Goddamn… five minutes into ritualistic blood marriage and you're already fuckin' naggin' me…" Chloe muttered theatrically behind her as she went to open the truck up.

Rachel rolled her eyes as the blood continued to clump in the dirt she was standing in.

"Bitch." Rachel called out to her.

"Double bitch." Chloe snapped back.

"Victoria."

As soon as Rachel dropped the V bomb, it was all over. She supposed it was their first argument and the wife, of course, won it.

Knowing there was nothing in the world that could count Victoria Chase's cuntery Chloe threw up her hands in surrender and reached into the glove compartment, pulling out the slightly ill-fitting bag which Sera had presented them the day they had left. Taking a seat on the edge of the truck bench, Chloe dug through the bag, finding a small bottle of antiseptic, medical tape and fabric bandaging,

Chloe was about to fasten the bag up and join Rachel when she noticed something peculiar. Strangely, there was a small second black bag buried in the bottom of the kit. She unzipped it and stared at the contents for a good long moment, not entirely sure what to make of what she was staring at.

"Rach," she called out to out, unable to break her attention from the contents of the second bag. "Why are there drugs in the first aid kit?"

Rachel snapped her head back; all the good humour was lost as the implication became clear. As she stamped towards her, Chloe only had a long enough amount of time to reach in and remove a small note written on paper before Rachel snatched the bag out of her hands and removed the strange sort of injectors.

"What in the fuck…" Rachel muttered to her, looking up from the drugs to Chloe as Chloe read the note left for them.

-R&C

You're going off into a world that can be exciting wondrous and frightening. You may end up in absolutely beautiful places, and you may end up in the seedy North-western underworld as well. Wherever it may be, I only want you to be prepared for anything you may encounter during your journeys.

In this kit are Naloxone nasal sprays as well as the proper instructions of how to administer the shots. Naloxone is an anti-opioid used to block the effects of an overdose. You are heading into Portland and Seattle, both of which have a huge drug culture, and I will not pretend that you won't be close to that scene. If you are to witness an overdose or god forbid have one, it is better you are prepared instead of waiting on an EMT who may or may not have a spray on hand.

If you do witness an overdose, do not hesitate with it. You could change the life you have saved. It was a stranger who saved my life with a Naloxone shot, and that encounter gave me a second chance to turn everything around, a second chance to finally be with you, Rachel as well as an opportunity to make a wonderful new friendship in you, Chloe. For this, I ask you to pass on this second chance to someone else should the need arise.

Until then, I love you both and I look forward to your safe return back home.

Love,

Sera <3

Chloe looked up and noticed the anger mounting on Rachel's face. Realizing she was making an assumption. Considering the sordid past of her mother, it was an understandable flare up, so Chloe quickly pressed the note into Rachel's hand.

"Dude, your Mom gave us anti-heroin drugs and made it hella fucking cute," she remarked brightly, hoping to ease out some of the tension growing in Rachel. "You know, I might have to marry her instead."

Rachel did not look up at the remark; she carefully was reading the note.

"My mom is straight…" Rachel reminded her as she held her eyes low on the note between her uncut hand.

Chloe smirked.

"Yeah, she's straight up for my pussy…" Chloe retorted without a pause.

That was all it took. Rachel immediately snapped her head up ad shrieked incoherently at her new blood bride. In a mixture of laughter and screams and their injuries almost forgotten for the time being, the smaller girl chased after the taller one with murder in her mind.

Well, that or something close to it.

 

Chapter Text

 

Victoria Chase was late and Max could not wait to hold that over her annoyingly punctual new friend.

Standing outside the Variety Theatre, Max paced back and forth, doing her best to ignore the bubbling nervousness she felt as Victoria Chase was now fashionably late. During their first day's hanging out, Victoria tried to text and drive when she thought she was going to be a few minutes' late, and Max admonished her for it. She even had gone full PSA, Saturday morning special and left Victoria obviously annoyed.

But as annoying as it must have been, Victoria had actually listened to her. She no longer texted from the road (at least she did not do that for her) so now, thanks to that little victory, Max was now left in the dark until Victoria actually arrived.

She supposed she was happy she was being safe. Victoria could be very fast and loose about her behaviour on occasion. She did not want to lose Victoria to a car accident like what had happened to William, who was basically like her second Dad in her Arcadia Bay days. Not that she had any right to own any of that loss after all that she had failed to do for Chloe.

Thankfully Max was not alone as she waited. Sitting against the side of the theatre watching the carts pass them by was Kristen Anderson and Fernando Galvez. Both of them were well beyond bored as they seemed to be watching their pacing friend as their only source of entertainment.

Having spent much of the past few weeks with Victoria alone, she had decided it was time for Victoria to take another step into her world and meet her two closest friends. This was probably another factor in her nervousness. Privately, Victoria was very similar to Kristen and Fernando, but this was not private and they were strangers to Victoria. The likelihood that Victoria would slip back into her armour would be very high. It would be up to her to show that there was nothing to be afraid, because despite everything, Victoria was very easily afraid.

Max had noticed it when she had answered Victoria's phone and spoke to that slinky toned girl that had sent a shiver right up her spine. Her name was Rachel, and although the phone marked Rachel as 'Conniving Bitch' instead of her name.

Thinking about it only raised more question: most notable of which was just how was it this girl spoke only about a hundred words to her and Max had not only spilled things Victoria told her but had left Max ready and more than willing to inform her about her own affairs.

As curious as she may have been about this Rachel, it was nothing compared to seeing what a voice on the phone could do to Victoria. She watched as Victoria rush out of the room and speak in a whisper to the other girl about owing her something.

Victoria might have thought it was private, but she wasn't yet properly introduced to Max's nosey side just yet.

Wowser, Victoria was going to hate her when she realized just how actually uncool she must have been.

She couldn't even properly listen to Victoria when Victoria was teaching her Advanced Fashion 101. She was too lost in Victoria's charm and grace to pay attention and now here she was standing in a mixture of Victoria's handpicked white summer slacks and a pink tee, and she just knew Victoria would look at her like she was pathetic or something and that was the last thing she wanted, because Victoria's opinions were important to her in a way she had never really felt before.

It was a pretty strange time to be Max Caulfield, especially when it involved the Victoria. There was a time where the use of 'Maxine' would drive her up the wall if anyone but her parents uttered it. Now she waited in anticipation to hear her name breathed out of Victoria's soft looking, luscious… kissable lips. They tempted her with ideas she had only ever entertained a long time ago.

Would it be so bad if she turned her head in the theatre and kissed her in the dark? A kiss didn't necessarily have to mean anything… Friends kissed all the times. Girls apparently kissed all the time. Why did it have to be misconstrued as something if Max just wanted to lean over and press her lips against Victoria's, or pull back and nibble on Victoria's hand. Maybe it would be okay to allow her hands to roam free over Victoria's tight lithe body. There was a thought brewing. A thrill of sorts which left her feeling a little warm… but what if she could get the normally reserved Victoria to gasp-

"-Can't believe you talked us into this movie when Spider-Man is a thing," Fernando complained loudly, breaking Max out of her mental zone.

"Yeah, I was kinda hoping to see The Amazing Spider-Man as well," Kristen agreed. She eyed Max and added. "…but if it means meeting the mysterious Victoria…"

Max ignored the implications. Yes, Kristen was right she had been devoting a lot of time with Victoria, but Victoria and she had a fleeting time together. Victoria would be off to France and heading back to private school out of state by the end of the summer. Then Max would be stuck in the internet friendship with her until they next met.

As for the movie, well… Max would have probably wanted to see Spider-Man as well, but… she might have wanted to impress Victoria and come off as a little more sophisticated as she was. Still, considering that Victoria actually borrowed her old Gameboy Colour and Pokémon Blue then perhaps she wouldn't be adverse to a superhero movie-

Max's mind went blank as coming around the corner was Victoria Chase. She wore a flowing white knee-high summer dress and clutched her purse in one hand, her phone in the other as walked towards Max. Her expression was her 'resting smug face' as Max called it much to Victoria's chagrin. This only lasted until she noticed Max, her lips curved up slightly her cheeks inexplicably turned pink.

"Here she is... you'll both like her…" Max assured them as she turned back to them. "She's very… kinda… she's Victoria…."

Max exhaled and broke off from Kristen and Fernando. It would be easier to pre-introduce them to Victoria before the actual introduction. Kristen could be a bit much and Victoria could be very flighty and defensive if put on the spot. It would inevitably lead to a bloodbath which Kristen would not survive. Tough as she was Victoria would probably run circles around her.

"Hello Victoria," Max greeted her as she approached Victoria. "We'll just pretend you're on time this once."

Clearly ignoring her urge to snap something out that would put Max into a tailspin, Victoria pushed her lips together instead and smirked again. Victoria stepped forward and consumed the smaller girl into a nearly crushing hug. Through her thin dress and breasts, Max could feel the throbbing in Victoria's chest faintly against hers.

"Hello as well, Maxine… I guess I'm a little late…" Victoria finally spoke over her head.

"Yeah?" Max spoke up, attempting a little levity in the face of this overwhelming sense of closeness she was in. "You mean to tell me that those new-fangled cars get stuck in traffic and there's nothing the rich girl can do about it?"

Victoria pulled back from the hug, but she maintained her tight grip to Max's waist as she examined Max, her head tilted, her mouth still smirking, like she was sort of impressed with her. God, why in the hell did she want to impress Victoria so much, why was she being like this? It was just getting embarrassing now!

"Now you're just being a bitch, but I guess I'll let you have that one…" Victoria simpered out with a strange prissiness. "… and may I ask why are there are a couple of nerds gaping at us?"

Max gave Victoria a small shove on her shoulder and broke out of Victoria's arms. Ignoring the small peculiar disappointment, she rolled her eyes and looked to Kristen and Fernando. Sure enough, Victoria wasn't lying, she was pointing out the truth. The two of them were blatantly staring at them; Fernando had his mouth hanging up slightly.

"Be nice; they aren't nerds, they're my friends…" Max defended her friends from Victoria's observations. They weren't being nerds, they were being total dorks instead. There was a difference.

"Oh, I guess I stand corrected," Victoria sighed as she turned her attention back to Max. "You are, after all, the bastion of cool…"

Victoria gestured to the two of them, a silent prompt to get the introductions underway. With that, Max led Victoria towards Kristen and Fernando, both of them standing up and brushing themselves as they found themselves now in the intense focus of the tall blonde girl. There the four of them stood. Victoria on one side, Kristen and Fernando on the other and Max in the middle, who noticed that Victoria had already grown several shades more colder as she looked at the two people opposite of her.

Max cleared her throat.

"Victoria Chase, these are my friends Kristen Anderson and Fernando Galvez," Max broke the silence as carefully as she could. "Kristen, Fernando, this is Victoria."

Victoria blinked, the challenging expression she wore faded back into a smile as she extended out her hand to them. The smile did not quite put anyone at ease. She might have been making an effort for Max, but she wasn't about to just drop her guard.

"It is nice to meet you both," Victoria addressed the two of them. "Anyone who is besties with Max is a friend of mine."

Kristen and Fernando glanced at each other and Max ignored the small annoyance she felt. She loved her friends, but they were hipsters and hipsters who sometime liked to be kind of mean to people they perceived as plastic. Words like 'besties' was one of their conflict points.

While this might have been the case, the two of them seemed to forego teasing. She hoped it was because they were being nice, but she wouldn't be surprised because Victoria was as tall as Fernando and didn't hold herself quite like anyone else they would usually tease or make fun of in school.

"It's nice to meet you as well," Fernando was the first one to speak, taking Victoria's hand immediately. "Max has pretty much spent the entire day talking about you."

Victoria arched her brow and glanced over to Max, she felt her face burn up in under a second. It was a hot day; it was not for any other reason. Certainly not because of the way Victoria was looking at her.

"She has?" she almost purred, sending a shiver up Max's spine. "So Max, what are we going to see?"

Happy to take the out she was given, Max smiled to Victoria, giving her a small shove.

"It's called Farewell, My Queen," she informed Victoria. "It's about the last days of Marie Antoinette. It's a French language movie, so I was thinking that maybe you would like to practice your French… since you're… you know… leaving."

The smile on Victoria's face faltered somewhat. For the first time since Victoria had told her about her excursion a few weeks ago, Victoria's departure had been brought up between the two of them. She looked almost… bothered by it. Like leaving to the South of France was somehow some sort of burden or something.

Max didn't mind that she would go on the trip…. What she didn't like was what came after that…

"That's really thoughtful of you…" Victoria spoke quietly, her voice was strained. She coughed and added. "…but are your friends interested in it? If there is something else, I wouldn't say no…"

Fernando was ready to give a resounding 'fuck no' to the foreign film, but Kristen nudged him hard in his ribs.

"Yeah, we definitely are interested in this movie! We won't take no for an answer!" Kristen happily announced as she looked from Victoria to Max.

Max smiled to Kristen, grateful for her support and turned back to Victoria - who for the first time since they met - had offered an actually friendly sort of smile for Max's friends; and potentially her new friends as well…

"Well… thank you…" she murmured to Kristen and Fernando before she turned back to Max and added. "Well, lead on Mad Max, I am looking forward to your obviously superior tastes… I wouldn't want us to watch something that might be entertaining, like Spider-Man or something… but, no, let's watch a movie about a mother who gets beheaded for no fucking reason other than guilty by association… but, yay it's a French language movie so we're going to have fun!"

Victoria pushed by Fernando and Kristen, leaving the two of them gaping at Max and Victoria's total bitch flare up. Max sort of grinned at them and followed after Victoria. Max knew better then to take it as an insult. This was to be expected on occasion.

"Mad Max?" Max repeated as she joined the tall blonde again.

Glancing back to her, Victoria nodded. She eyed Max with that smug expression that had sort of really grown on her.

"Your name is surprisingly fun to play with…" Victoria sighed as she opened the door to the theatre for Max. "… and I wouldn't want to call you Maxine in front of your friends."

Ignoring the wave of nostalgia, Max remained silent as they approached the ticket booth. She would not bring up what it had reminded her. She had such a little amount of time left with Victoria and far too much guilt to dive into right now.


So… as it turned out, Farewell, My Queen was the gayest movie Max Caulfield had ever seen in theatre… and she let Kristen drag her to a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show last Halloween.

Now under most circumstances, she'd be fine with that; but here she was sitting next to Victoria Chase, who looked just as lost by the movie's undertones as she was. Neither of them moved as they watched Diane Kruger slink across the screen, tempting poor Léa Seydoux who was her personal reader.

Kristen and Fernando were here… she supposed… she really lost track on them even if they were seated in the row right in front of them. She probably would have questioned it, but she just didn't have the reasoning in her mind working right now. Not as the faint scent of expensive perfume wafted into her mind, kicking the pleasure centres of her brain into overdrive and drowning her brain in dopamine.

Max remained locked in place, glancing out of the corner of her eye as Victoria sat sort of captivated by the period drama unfolding. It would not be hard to imagine her in it as one of the nobles, relegating her every desire and whim to those in her employ but as wild as it might have been to imagine Victoria in period outfits, she liked her here and now.

She didn't know who she was anymore… not now, not as Victoria gently nibbled on a single popcorn kernel as her gaze lingered on Diane and Léa were locked intense conversation which Max could not only could not understand, but the subtitles stopped registering to her. She was in the zone.

This was probably the worst position a girl whom had been spending the past week or two questioning herself to her very core could ever be, and worst yet it was entirely self-inflicted.

The small girl crush she had for Victoria, primarily based upon their shared interest and Victoria's technical brilliance had grown and evolved into something far different, far more serious, and she had tried hard to avoid it whenever possible. But sitting here now with the object of her growing affection in the dark, within hands reach… nothing about this had made sense, but that was perfectly okay to her.

God, she wondered how it was Victoria was always so cool about everything. Max always felt like she was about to lose herself in Victoria's radiance, but Victoria not only could keep her wits about her, but stay crystal clear and focused.

Max rested her head against the back of the chair and stared off at the darkened rood only illuminated by the glare coming off of the screen. Even then without looking at the screen, none of the tension vanished. If the movie distracted her enough to not feel the way her heart pumped in her chest. It felt harder throbbing, her stomach was not much better as it twisted and turned inside of her.

She had always assumed this was a cliché, but it turned out a cliché had to be grounded in reality to become that.

Max turned her attention back to the film and drew a breath. She once again glanced to Victoria again, hoping to steal a glance at her; but she froze as she noticed Victoria was fully aware of her again. All she could do was laugh nervously as she took in just how shy Victoria looked as she averted her eyes back to the screen.

Max focused on the film as well, feeling embarrassed and ashamed that she had laughed and Victoria could have easily misconstrued it as it being a slight against her. God, maybe it was a good thing Victoria was leaving and would probably not see each other until the winter. It would help give her time to forget these stupid feelings that were obviously one-sided. Victoria obviously had no interest and was probably really uncomfortable with this whole set up now.

At least, that was what she thought before she felt a soft hand gently rest on top of hers.

Prying her eyes from the hand resting on hers, Max looked back at Victoria. Victoria wasn't acknowledging what she was doing. She remained focused on the film, but it was so obvious from the way her face looked so conflicted through the light of the projector that something was going on in Victoria as well.

At first she figured it was an accident and now Victoria was just being nice and not moving it out of pity or something. That thought was instantly erased as she felt Victoria's fingers gently part Max's fingers without any resistance and worked themselves into the gaps.

The grip tightened and Max and Victoria were officially holding hands. How… in the hell did this happen?

Still Victoria remained locked on the movie. There was a half-smile resting on her face, like she had done something that she was sort of proud of doing. Max turned away from Victoria and looked up at the film as well. At least long enough to reorganize her thoughts and absorb this new situation she was in.

She wasn't sure what motivated it. Perhaps Victoria's soothing grip on her hand had instilled a sense of confidence. Whatever the case was, Max lifted their hands up and brought her lips to the top of Victoria's hand.

That finally did it. Victoria's focus on the movie was broken, and she turned to face Max properly for the first time. Her eyes were wide and searching Max. It was as though she was looking to see an ulterior motive, or if it was all just a trick Max was playing on her so that she could have something to laugh at with her friends.

It wasn't a trick. Max would never harm Victoria like that, never mishandle her trust… She had learned from her mistakes, and she would never do it again… Not with her.

Max leaned forward, breaking through Victoria's personal space. Victoria did not complain and she made no move away from Max. She sat there, and remained both still and at peace as Max carefully pressed her lips against the corner of Victoria's mouth.

Victoria's scent was an intoxicant and she drew it in directly with the kiss. Max lingered for a moment longer before she pushed her lips against the same spot again, lingering a little longer before she drew back. The realization had hit her and she felt both ashamed for doing it and yearning to push what she did even further. She had to calm down and take baby steps… this was all so very much…

"I'm so sorry…" she started to whisper to her.

Victoria pushed her free hand immediately against Max's mouth. Max obeyed and looked into Victoria's sharp green eyes, still very wide as she registered what had happened. She was not mad or upset. She seemed… content. It was sort of like she had found a peace which wasn't there before. For as short a time as she knew Victoria Chase, that seemed like such a rare treasure for her to have.

"No, Maxine…" Victoria breathed out, her words uncharacteristically stuttering as she shook her head. "Don't you… ever… apologize for that."

Max blinked and nodded wordlessly. Nothing about it was something she would ever regret.

Still clutching onto Max's hand, Victoria leaned her head down and nestled it into her shoulder. Together the two of them settled back in and watched the rest of the film, their growing tension had been sated enough for the time being.


Maxine Caulfield had kissed her twice, and she had absolutely nothing to answer to it.

Victoria's mind was swimming as she walked Max up towards Max's house. She had dropped Fernando and Kristen off at a Taco Bell to 'get their dinner on' as Kristen put it. Max wasn't feeling it and neither was Victoria, so they all said their goodbyes, the two of them graciously allowing Victoria even more time alone with their friend. She would have to find a way to thank them later.

For now all that she could do was not freak out openly in front of Max, who was currently holding her hand as they made their way up the front door. Thankfully it appeared that both Mr. and Mrs. Caulfield were out of the house, which eased the fear she had of being public in being affectionate with her friend.

Friend… whatever that they were calling it since this afternoon it sure as hell wasn't any sort of friendship she knew of….

As the two of them made it to the door, Max turned back to Victoria. Victoria thought that she would pull back from the grip Victoria had, but she did not. She remained locked in the embrace, her gentle blue eyes looking up at her, radiating right through Victoria as usual. How was it she could be so adorkable and cool at the same time? She always seemed to have it all together.

God damn, the sheer amounts of time she looked at Maxine throughout the movie was embarrassing… perhaps more so when she was finally caught by her. How she could so easily laugh it off like it was all good was astounding.

As they stood there in silence, Victoria exhaled.

"So…" she started the conversation with nothing but her best awkwardness. "…That movie was a lot gayer than I expected…"

Max nodded, she seemed a little embarrassed by it as well. That or she was taking pity on her.

"I swear to Dog I didn't know," Max promised her, her sweet voice a high trill. "Next time I'm going to IMDB it or something."

Victoria arched her brow at the hipster speak which Maxine just had to engage in. She said nothing; the mood didn't feel very ripe for a lot of banter between the two of them over her verbal ticks. Victoria looked down, her eyes averted from the girl. She felt… unworthy to even be here with her… especially with everything that was about to happen… and what she was holding back.

"You know… we haven't really talked much about what's about to happen… me spending August in France, then going to school… " Victoria spoke up, her eyes continued to remain locked away from Max as she ignored the ill feeling brewing inside her. God, she couldn't even say Blackwell.

Maxine inched herself forward, her head twisting and forcing Victoria to look at her properly. She was smiling, like she was not nearly as worried about the future as Victoria was. Why and how, Victoria would never understand. Perhaps it was just all part of the hipster chill she could maintain even now.

It would have certainly explained how she so effortlessly seduced her in the movie…

"You're worried about us just… ending this friendship because we're not going to see each other the rest of the summer?" Maxine softly probed Victoria for an answer.

She might have been curious, but Victoria could hear the obvious hurt she had at the implication. She knew exactly the source for it as well. Everything seemed to fucking find its way back to this Chloe Price debacle… God, she tried to solve it but that bitch Rachel more or less told her to fuck off. What else was she supposed to do, just fucking interfere?

"No… that's… no… I… haven't exactly had a friendship like this is before," Victoria spoke finally, forcing herself to choke back her guilt as she looked at Max. "I have friends and all, but it's always so… mutually beneficial or a matter of maintaining a social standing. I never had anyone who just… lets me be myself… and I don't want this to be some stupid summer thing that is never spoken of again-"

It was Max's turn to bring a silence to Victoria. She pressed a finger against her lips long enough to bring Victoria to a silence.

"Victoria, it's the 21st century. There's such thing as Skype, Face Time, Facebook… a fax machine… whatever your poison is… I'll use it for you," Max lightly teased her, her mouth curving back into a smile. "I know I don't have a good track record… but just because we don't see each other doesn't mean what we have is just… over."

Maxine trailed off as she looked over Victoria. She seemed to look like she had more to say as she squeezed Victoria's fingers.

"You know… you don't have to be worried about the opinions of others," Max pointed out to her. "The Victoria that you are to me doesn't have to be an exclusive thing. You can be a warm and funny and… darkish as you want. Screw anyone who thinks you have to change for them."

Victoria smiled at the thought of her dorking it up at Blackwell. She imagined Being nice to others just because, forgetting the Vortex Club and their soul crushing agenda agendas. With it would inevitably come a properly defined friendship with Amber and Price due to their lack of competing spirit between the three of them.

But that was impossibility now. She couldn't just drop everything she had built because Max naively believed in her. She was not a good person, despite how much Maxine might have believed in her. Her cowardice not telling Maxine what she knew about Price only proved that further.

"What if…" Victoria struggled to say with a steady voice. "What if I just want this Victoria to be only with you?"

Her words seemed to disarm Max and divert her attention. She smiled brightly; Victoria could see Maxine blush at the idea thrown out through the fading sunlight.

"I'll cherish it for sure…" Maxine assured her, still grinning at her.

As they stood there, Victoria watched as the smile Max wore faded into a frown.

"I really wish you didn't have to go… but that would be pretty selfish… Maxine confessed out loud to Victoria, looking sheepish and guilty for having such a thought.

Victoria ignored the tightening in her chest become nearly unbearable. In their silence, she summoned whatever bravery she had and allowed her free hand to reach up reach up and pushed some of Maxine's bangs behind her ear. She watched, eagerly, as Maxine shivered against her touch, her head pushing against the hand nuzzling it.

This was one of those perfect moments she waited for. She could lean in, capture Maxine's lips right now… but she couldn't. Not everyone could be quite as brave as Maxine Caulfield could…

"If there was one person who could convince me not to go…" Victoria murmured to Max. She meant it too. It wasn't an empty platitude, Maxine had the power to say one fucking word and she would tell her parents that she would not go on the trip. She doubted they would have minded too much…

Maxine frowned; she was not upset by what she heard Victoria say, if anything she looked more than a little tempted to take her up on it. There was nothing Victoria wanted more for her to take up the offer… but instead she just sort of shook her head.

"I couldn't do that to you, Victoria. I couldn't make you cancel your plans all because you made a new friend," she finally spoke, her tone low and shy as finally looked back to her. She shook her head and added. "I'll be fine; I'll be right here waiting for you. In the meantime… make every second count?

"Absolutely!" Victoria immediately blurted out. She paused, mentally screamed at herself for having no chill and added. "I mean… lots of photo work for us to still do… and stuff…"

Maxine smiled and nodded, she squeezed Victoria's fingers as Victoria pushed back the desire to kiss her. It was unfair that Max got to do it, and she hadn't….

"Yeah, and stuff…" She repeated to Victoria in a sweet-tempered voice. "Would you like to come inside and we can watch something a little less gay? I mean, if you don't have any plans..."

Victoria huffed, her free hand reaching up to rubbed the back of her head. At this point the two of them could binge watch The L Word and Victoria would be thrilled to sit through it so long as Max was there.

"You know you're making it impossible to leave?" Victoria asked her tacitly. She watched mesmerized as Max's small smile widened before her eyes.

"Good, then my plan is working!" she cheekily replied. "How about we watch The Fifth Element?"

Victoria rolled her eyes. Of course that would be her selection for this evening's follow-up.

"Why am I not surprised you'd want to watch that?" Victoria droned out, attempting to pretend that she was apathetic, when she was actually a little excited. Milla Jovovich was top notch in that flick.

"It's a French directed movie too," Max pointed out, laughing merrily at Victoria's attempt to look unimpressed. "You know I think you would look good with dyed hair… not Leeloo orange… but maybe… blue? Obviously you would have to brown your hair first or it would turn gree-"

Victoria cupped her hand right over Max's mouth, forcing her to be silent. At least that was what it was intended to do. Max broke out with a muffled laugh as she weakly attempted to break Victoria's grasp so that she did not go into detail about shit that reminded her of Chloe Price.

She inched a little closer as she released Max's hand and instead wrapped it around her waist.

"Let's go in... before I decide to book an earlier flight, okay?" Victoria suggested to Maxine, her words dripping with sarcasm.

As Victoria pulled her hand away she found Max was smiling. Silently she nodded, and grabbing onto Victoria's hand, she opened the front door and dragged her friend indoors for another night of comfortable –and undoubtedly cosier due to this afternoon – fun.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Stepping out of the taxi cab, Rachel leaned back inside of the car and swiped her debit card over the driver's card reader momentarily before slamming the door behind her, joining Chloe on the street corner. As she joined Chloe, Rachel looked up at the girl who seemed to be taking in their surrounding with a mixture of weariness and anticipation.

They made it to Portland. Finally.

This was a good and bad thing. Good that they made it after so long of the two of them skipping from county to county, but it was bad under the circumstances in which they got there. The engine seized up 40 minutes out of Portland and it was beyond Chloe's ability to fix. So they tow-trucked it to a shop on the outskirts of the city, where Chloe and the mechanic spoke at length about what the fuck was going on without Rachel understand much other than they were speaking English still.

With the proverbial dick measuring over and done with, the girls got a time and cost estimate of about a day a three digit cost and the recommendation of a Café to get a bite to eat; they took all the shit that they would need and taxied into the city, undeterred from reaching their goal in the face of the downturn in their luck. The two of them laughed and flirted all the way into the city. Neither of them were about to let that bullshit drag them down. They were having too good a fucking time.

"So," Rachel spoke as they walked slowly together as they took in the neighbourhood feel of the district "First time in a big city?"

Chloe's vengeance fuelled response came swiftly to Rachel; she reached out and yanked on Rachel's ponytail, making her yelp and hop forward, earning one or two looks from passer-by's directed to the obvious newcomers to their city.

"Dick!" Rachel announced to her, scowling as she rubbed the back of her head.

"Bitchface!"Chloe snapped right back. "I'm a small town hick, but I'm not that much of a hick."

The two of them laughed and Rachel pushed herself back into Chloe's side, her fingers folded into hers. Together they walked in silence. They had long since evolved past the need to fill the silence in with words at all the time. There was a comfort now in their shared silence… well… so long as the two of them were not fighting over something silly. Leos and Pieces had to be constantly in communication. They'd destroy each other if they didn't.

God, everything felt so… right again since they had that little ritualistic bloodletting. Call her dramatic, you could call her whatever you wished, it was just something that had to be done. After acknowledging what she was (she still refused the label) and the limitations that came with that, she just needed a serious 'fuck you' to that.

It was a little extreme perhaps, and she hoped Chloe wasn't hurting too much from it still. She knew for sure that her hand was still throbbing from the pain, but it was so worth it to her. Everything just felt… different between them. It was like it was actually real now; like nothing could stand in their way anymore. That two damaged souls coming together as one theory she had when they were younger… it felt securely bonded now. When she looked to Chloe, all she could see was her better half, and it made all the hurt, all the little bouts of sadness that caught her off guard just go away.

She had always felt this way with Chloe, but now it was different. Now it was Like Chloe Price was actually her wife…

As Rachel mused about the implications of all of this, it wasn't long before the two of them found Dahlia's, the café which the mechanic had recommended because his sister had worked there once. It had a very low key feel on the exterior… sort of like The Two Whales, only much more aesthetically pleasing. It was simple brick and mortar, no tacky billboards, just a name on a side of the building.

Was it… strange that she sort of missed the diner? Probably just the staff though… her Mom… even Joyce… Goddammit, if she was getting homesick for fucking Arcadia Bay.

Perhaps they just had to keep moving. Keep the momentum of their journey going and push this stupid feeling side. Perhaps they would only stay in Portland for as short amount of time as possible. Long enough to get their body art completed. Then they'd push north, get to Seattle. If Victoria was still in the city perhaps they take her up on the offer she made. It would be kind of nice to see how the rich lived, even if it meant hanging out with fucking Icky Vicky.

After that, then came Max Caulfield; and holy fuck what a mess that was going to be. Rachel had half a mind to find out what she could about Max Caulfield. Get her email or phone number and warn her about the impending visit. So that she didn't say some shitty thing to Chloe or something. Honestly she had no idea what to expect and she tried to ignore the small inkling of conflict that rose to her chest every time she thought about the girl.

She had brought Chloe so much joy and her silence, so much pain. Even after years of endless Max Caulfield stories, and years of watching Chloe smile and laugh, and just when she fell silent unvoiced, but obvious hurt would drown her and there was not one fucking thing Rachel could do to fix it. It was like Max Caulfield and William Price were two pieces missing from her heart, and no matter what Rachel did or said, there was just nothing that could fix it. She reckoned Chloe had to deal with it as well though with what happened to her Mom.

But here they were a week stay and three and a half hour drive north and perhaps Chloe could have a piece of her heart returned to her. So this discomfort would be worth it. Chloe… Chloe deserved only the fucking best in this world after spending so long getting shit on; and Rachel was absolutely determined to make sure that she would receive that. No matter the cost…

Rachel pushed all that aside as Chloe opened the door and held it for her like she was chivalrous or something, which was the last word she'd use to describe her girl… she was more like a swashbuckling Westley from Princess Bride type than anything.

Rachel thoughts on Chloe came to a screeching halt as she took a look around. The first thing she noticed was how… gay everything was. The customers consisted primarily of women of varying degrees of femininity. Most of them appeared to be the hipster vegan types who looked up with a mixture of curiosity and distain at the two outsiders that were intruding into their space.

She probably should have guessed by how gay friend looking Burnside Triangle district was that Chloe and she had been directed to the hub of Portland gayness by that dickbag mechanic. Jesus fucking Christ were the two of them really that obvious to even a random fucking guy? Why did everyone just sort of assume two girls out on the road made them obviously gay?

Rachel would have to blame Thelma and Louise for this one.

"What the shit… That prick sent us to a hipster coffee shop!" Chloe announced next to her.

Rachel ran her hand over her face and looked to Chloe, who had clearly not realized yet just where in the hell they actually were.

"Look around, Chloe…" Rachel answered her girlfriend… wife… whatever. "…I'm fairly certain this goes well beyond a hipster café."

Even with the massive nudge, the head nod to the material on the wall and the verbal cue it took another moment or two before Chloe fully registered that they were in the middle of the largest gay communities in Oregon. The two of them had spent so long in a small town (with exception to Steph and a few obvious closet cases) that they had gotten more or less used to being viewed as different and that what they did wasn't exactly something to be advertising openly.

So… perhaps this was a culture shock… whatever… they would have to just adapt.

Approaching them was a Barista approaching middle age. She was thin, short brunette woman, her hair tied back. The lines on her forehead said that she had lived a hard long life; but that wasn't what interested Rachel. What interested Rachel and Chloe was the absolutely intricate tattooing she possessed. Each arm was sleeved all the way up to her neck.

As they shared a look, the girls knew that they would have to ask to see if it was a local artist. Off chance, but fuck it…might as well.

"Hello I'm Dahlia," the woman introduced herself as she retrieved her pen and pad. "Here or to go?"

Dahlia the barista had turned out to be the owner of the place. She looked expectedly at the two girls in a manner not dissimilar to that of Joyce whenever they were harassing their Moms at The Two Whales. It must have just been a service industry look.

"Here… but first you can tell us where it was that you got your work done," Rachel replied for the two of them as she gestured to the art on the woman's body. "Is it local? We've been interested in getting some work done for quite some time now."

The woman stared at the two of them wearily. Yes, now this was like getting a dirty look from a much gayer Joyce alright.

"You want to mark up that baby skin of yours?" she said, looking at the two of them incredulously. "Girls, do yourself a favour and take an old woman's advice: order something here and don't get tats.

Rachel and Chloe did not protest or speak even. They just stood there, silently staring at the woman trying to impede on their poor life choices as though she had any right to.

"Fine, it's not like my experiences count for anything for you little girls," she said resignedly as she wrote down an address on her notepad. "Ask for Karina Andressen, tell her Dahlia sent you and she'll treat you decently. Come on you love birds, let's get you seated."

The owner handed the piece of paper over to Rachel, who pocketed it immediately. Rachel exhaled at the last comment and took Chloe's hand; together they followed Dahlia to their table.


With her breakfast only consisting of two cups of coffee and a bowl of fruit salad (the only thing on the goddamn menu that looked edible) Chloe Price felt her stomach grumble as Rachel and her entered Brand 94. When they were done speaking to this Karina the Tattooist, she would have to con Rachel in hitting up a Sonic's or somewhere that didn't think vegan food was somehow a suitable substitute to actual food.

Until her hunger was sated, she would have to distract herself with looking around at the wall hangings in the tattooist parlour consisting primarily of past work the tattooist had done. It was all a brilliant collage of colour and design. Chloe looked to Rachel and notice too appeared entranced by the work. It looked as though the two of them had found their artist.

They were about to sit down when the back doors opened, a burst of Alice In Chains rocketed through the girls ears as out stepped a woman wearing a tank top and jeans with blonde hair and jet black highlights streaking through. Strangely enough she did not have any tattoos at all, well at least none that they could see. It sort of ran contrary to the image of a tattoo artist, but whatever…

Rachel glanced to Chloe for a moment before she stepped forward to the woman who was looking at the two of them, her phone in one hand, a pack of cigarettes in the other.

"Hi," Rachel started, her confident smile returning to her face as she stepped forward to the woman. "We're looked for a Karina Andressen?"

The woman squinted at Rachel for a moment before directing her hard dark eyes to Chloe as she too stepped forward and joined Rachel.

"You got her," the woman named Karina Andressen answered curtly; there was a strange accent in her voice which Chloe could not quite guess.

Rachel smiled a little wider as she went into... well... full Rachel mode.

"Hi," she repeated as she laced her fingers together out in front of her. "We're looking to book a fairly heavy job for you. We saw your work on Dahlia and wanted to see if you'd be the right fit."

Karina the tattooist narrowed her eyes at the two girls. Apparently she was not a particularly big fan of being ordained as good enough by Rachel. Chloe shifted in place next to her girlfriend. Sometime Rachel needed to come down from that perch… especially around strangers.

"The right fit…" Karina repeated plainly, her voice nearly amused by Rachel's attempt to assert herself. "You know I got a call about two baby lesbians raising a stir, and I just fucking knew I had to get you in as clients… talk about a bad run of luck, hey?"

Rachel and Chloe shared a look of confusion.

"Dahlia called you about us?" Chloe spoke up finally, earning a sharp look from the older woman, who nodded.

"It's a small community, word travels fast about newcomers," she explained. The Tattooist paused and sighed, adding. "Well, that, and she's my goddamn wife trying to drum me up some business."

As Rachel and Chloe shared a look at the revelation about Karina's marital status, the woman set her phone down on the counter and finally stepped forward to join her potential new clients. She looked between the two of them inquisitively, sort of like she was attempting to figure them out.

"Is this your first time in a community of like-minded individuals?" she finally asked, a small grin crossing onto her mouth as it became so obvious. "You two got the small town, baby lipstick lesbian vibe going on, and yes you too, Blue," she added before Chloe could protest. "Pretend to be the whole 'Look at me, I' m so punk and androgynous! I'm special!' all you like, Blue but you're girly as fuck compared to a lot of people who you think you fall into. I mean, you obviously don't bathe, but... you shave… you're wearing makeup… and I'm sure this cutie is kind of happy for that."

Biting her lip, Chloe glanced to Rachel, who looked like she wanted nothing better than to laugh, but couldn't out of respect. Still, she was shaking as she struggled to remain in control.

"She's…" Rachel started, struggling with keeping her tone neutral. "She might be right about you. Just a little though… totally not dead on or anything… Did I mention that I love you, yet?"

"Shut up," Chloe snapped, nudging Rachel before turning back to the Tattooist who had turned away to walk to the nearest seat. "…and it's not Blue, It's Chloe Price."

Karina waved her hand behind her head at the two of them dismissively. It was obvious that she was not in a particularly caring mood right now. Chloe reckoned they were sort of interfering with her smoke break. That would probably piss her off as well.

"Yeah sure thing, Blue," the woman said as she sat down and refocused on the girls. "Don't look so smug about what I said. I'll be making fun of you next… and you are?"

"My name is Rachel Price," Rachel answered without batting an eyelash. "Mrs. Rachel Price."

Chloe's heart twisted inside of her chest as she heard Rachel's declaration. It became suddenly impossible to breathe. She looked at Rachel, as if she needed a confirmation. Rachel however remained locked in her stare at the tattoo artist, who looked bemused herself at the declaration Rachel at made. There was a pink tinge on her cheeks, as though she had meant it, but perhaps only at this moment had understood the full ramifications of her words.

The blood thing, the words she had spoken on the railway bridge... she had meant. She had meant all of it; and now here Rachel stood, a Price in all but legal recognition. Rachel Amber… the newest Price woman… fuck it was going to take some time for Chloe to wrap her mind around this.

"Married…" Karina broke through the silence as she looked at Chloe for a moment before shaking her head. "Jesus, you two are babies… fucking kids these days… so fast to grow up… Dahlia and I were in our thirties before that conversation even got going…"

Rubbing her face, Karina leaned forward, resting her hand on her chin as she looked up at the two of them. As far as she was aware, they both were a properly married couple.

"So, you liked my work…" she went on, gesturing towards all of the art spread out across the walls of the parlour. "Do you have any ideas what you want? And just for the record, if you so much as browse that fucking sample book, I'm booting your ass out. I don't need to be doing yet-fucking-another barbed wire tattoo or Chinese symbols. You have an original idea or we're not working today."

As the Tattooist patted the spot next to her on the waiting room couch, Rachel stepped forward and took a seat as though she owned the place. Chloe lingered, but stepped forwards towards them. The pouch bag she had brought along weighing heavily against her side.

"Yeah… Chloe and I have been doodling…" Rachel started before shutting up. She clamped her mouth shut for a moment before she amended herself by adding. "Well, what I mean is that my wife has been drawing out and I've been dictating what we wanted to do for the past few years… Babe, could you show her?"

Wordlessly, Chloe reached into her bag and grabbed her old journal detailing all of the work the two of them had spent the past few years designing. Rachel's choices were relatively simple, but Chloe had wanted a sleeve, and after a couple consultations with Sera, the two of them figured out the perfect design. Flowers and skulls… butterflies… death, life and a beauty which was fragile and fleeting. Everything the two of them ever seen, brought together in a single image.

At least that was Rachel thoughts on the art they created. Chloe just thought it was cool as shit to look at.

"Already taking credit for your wife's work?" Karina observed as she snatched the journal from out of Chloe's hands. "Wow, you're really are a married couple, my condolences Blue…"

The woman fell silent as she quietly scrolled through page after page, examining the work Chloe had spent years sketching out and evolving as she grew more confident. The base annoyance the Tattooist wore for her potential clients vanished. She became much more thoughtful, perhaps even sort of impressed by what she was looking at.

"Shit kid…" she breathed as she looked back up to Chloe. "You did this?"

Chloe rubbed the back of her neck. It really wasn't anything that special. It wasn't much better than the shit she tagged back home.

"Yeah… they're just stupid little scribbles…" she attempted to deflect the praise.

"Stop with the fucking modesty," Karina interjected over Chloe's attempt. "Are you still in school?"

Chloe looked away from the impressed Tattooist and attempted to focus on Rachel, who had crossed one leg over the other. Like Karina, she too was looking at Chloe as well, but there was an uncomfortable level of pride radiating out of her demeanour. Rachel's pride always made Chloe breathless even now.

"Yeah… never really took any art classes," Chloe shrugged as she looked away from the two pairs of eyes staring up at her. "Kinda more interested in science once upon a time so I didn't focus on that too much when I was young. Now I'm just banging through school so I get it done faster. Start our lives proper, you know?"

Karina nodded thoughtfully as she thankfully directed her eyes back to the improvised art in her hands. She may have looked away, but Rachel hadn't. Her mouth moved upwards into an adorable little smile just for her. It was the sort of look at that made Chloe want to take Rachel back to the truck or the place they had rented out and do all the unspeakable things.

Chloe silenced her desires and plans as Karina closed the art book and looked up to Chloe once again. She nodded in apparent approval.

"Well, when you go back to school, you should take some art classes. You got serious raw fucking talent there, Blue," she suggested as she leaned back into her seat and passed the book over to Rachel. "If you sharpen this skill, you bring your ass back to me in a year or two and I'll teach your how to use the Tattoo machine. Then you can go out into the world, spreading your art and those drunken mistakes to the masses."

Chloe exhaled and allowed a small shy grin to spread over her face at the flattering offer the woman had just made her. She hadn't really thought about her future beyond sharing it with Rachel. Now an offer had been extended… and it was an interesting one. It was something which in spite of her artist's end game, she never really considered until right now. She supposed she had to talk it over with someone in the trade to get the idea.

"You think so?" she asked, feeling a little struck in spite of her attempt to remain cool.

"You know for a punk girl, you really are insecure," Karina pointed out, a smirk forming on her face. "Did I fucking stutter? You can also be an artist or whatever, but you should have a trade to pay the bills. Something about that Princess wife of yours screams 'Look at me, I'm expensive!'"

The tension broke in Chloe; she could not help but laugh as the opposite was true. All of this was paid for by Rachel, not her. She was the expensive one… the burden in this relationship, and she really ought to have been doing more to pull her weight. Rachel could say she did not, mind, but Chloe did.

As though she could read just the sort of tangent Chloe was veering off into, Rachel reached up, her hand taking Chloe's. It was a silent reminder that this wasn't something which Chloe had to get worked up into a frenzy, which she had done on more than one occasion.

She just… She just didn't like the idea of being useless in this relationship beyond moral support.

"So if this sleeve for you, Blue; I'm thinking we start right away," Karina spoke up as she opened the book once again. "We can do this in three parts over a few weeks… and what does the missus want?"

"We're only here for a week, we'll deal with the pain," Rachel countermanded the woman's leisurely approach as she reached over and turned the page. "… I want that hella rad dragon on my right calf. I want that star… right here…"

Rachel gestured from the page to her inside of her left wrist, which was where she wanted her second piece of work done. As Karina nodded, Rachel glanced up to Chloe and smiled before she twisted herself properly to face the woman. She held out her right wrist, and pushed back the bracelets and Dad's watch to reveal the long jagged scars. She reached into her short pockets and produced a piece of paper filled with her drawings.

"I was thinking both the Leo and a Pisces astronomical symbols intertwined on my wrist, covering up this scar tissue if you can," she said as she handed over the paper to Karina with a small smirk, she added. "As you can see, the Leo is fucking the Pisces... well… to pieces…"

As Karina looked away from Rachel, she turned to face Chloe. The heat rose back to Chloe's face as the woman looked somewhat impressed by the growing sexual tension between the two girls in her shop.

"I'm assuming she's the Leo?" she guessed, pointing to Rachel as Rachel produces a second piece of paper. It was just as crumpled as the first note she presented.

…and I've been designing this," Rachel added as Karina took it. "It's not as good as Chloe's work… but…"

She trailed off as Karina inspected it, her brow arching as she looked up and inspected Rachel curiously. Chloe stepped forward, her hand extended out to the tattooist. She needed to see this for herself. Karina passed the piece of paper up to her and quietly, Chloe took in the drawing Rachel had done.

There on the paper was a rough human outline, the back facing the observer. Running from its left hip were three spiny stems, covered in thorns. It was a rose stem streaming up Rachel's back and ending at the base of her neck. It had no flower head; it just sort of ended, as though going back into the way through her spine.

Chloe looked to Rachel, who stared straight ahead. Her mouth was pushed together as she appeared to struggle to remain straight faced in the midst of her growing grief. Rachel had talked about getting work done to honour Rose… but Chloe did not think it would be this extensive.

Finally Rachel looked up; she could no longer hide the tears building up in her beautiful hazel eyes. They were eyes which had shed far too many tears in her short life.

"Mom was a gardener, and I am one of the Roses she bloomed…" Rachel softly justified to Chloe. "…and I thought…"

Ignoring the fact that a virtual stranger was watching this all unfold, Chloe reached out and pulled Rachel into her arms. Rachel remained silent, aloof even as she clutched onto Chloe's back. As the girls hugged, Karina stood up, stone face and clearly uncomfortable being in the same room as the two of them, especially without any details to understand the context to any of this.

"Okay… I think I can get the Dragon done in one session, how about we do that on the second session with Blue. We'll finish our work with your Rose stem," she suggested, to the two of them. "Today I can bang out that star and the Zodiac fuckfest for you, then Blue's sleeve underway. Sound cool?"

Rachel snapped herself out of her state. She looked over to Karina and emitted a watery smile at her attempt to elicit some humour out of the awkwardness that formed from this.

"Hella cool," Rachel replied as she released Chloe. "Well, let's get this going!"

Karina sighed as she grabbed her phone. Shaking her head, she backed away towards the front door.

"God damn, you girls are in for a world of pain," she warned the two of them. "Alright, we'll discuss payment after I have a smoke, you two go on in back and settle in. I don't keep cash on the premises, so don't, like, rip me off or anything…"

Gesturing to the open door on the opposite side of the room, Karina gave them a smile and left, leaving Chloe alone with Rachel; her smoke break seemed to evolve into giving the two of them a little space, which as Rachel collapsed back into Chloe's arms, Chloe was glad to have received that small mercy from the shop owner.

"Look at you... Mrs. Price," Chloe spoke, resting her chin on the top of Rachel's head. "Being all hardcore and shit… you know you might end up giving Joyce a run for her money someday."

Rachel pulled her head back and kissed Chloe's chin.

"I thought I would give it a test drive," Rachel answered coyly as she tilted her head at Chloe. "If your Mom is going to take the Madsen name, then someone has to replace her. There should always be two proper, unblemished Mrs. Price's. And your Dad… your Dad deserves to have his name carried on through by both of us."

"What about your Dad? You don't think he wouldn't want his name carried on?" Chloe asked her. "Chloe Amber has kinda a nice ring to it. What about a hyphen? Price-Amber… Amber-Price? Amber-Price… Jesus Christ, that sounds like an internet shipping term fan girl's use. Ugh, never fucking mind."

As Chloe rolled her eyes at the idea of people shipping them, and that Max Caulfield had fucking introduced her to shipping in the first place, Rachel reached up and placed her hands on each side of Chloe's face.

"Amber... Price… Price-Amber or Amber-Price…" Rachel listed with a shrug of her shoulders. "It doesn't matter to me, so long you're mine."

Eyeing Rachel for a moment, Chloe smiled and leaned into to press her lips against her blood wife's. It really didn't matter either. All that mattered was that they were here together, checking off another promise they had made to each other.

Rachel pulled herself out of Chloe's arms, her hand reaching out and onto Chloe's.

"Now come along, Mrs. Amber," Rachel said to her playfully. "Let's go and do something hella fucking stupid!"

Chloe smirked as the new surname experiment rolled of the tip of Rachel's tongue as Rachel walked the two of them towards the back room. Today was a good day to spend in enjoyable agony.

 

Chapter Text

 

As cliché as it was to say the phrase Cheshire cat grin, it was the only description which Victoria Chase could describe Maxine Caulfield whenever she got the look on her face she was currently emoting.

That grin screamed to Victoria that the world had to watch out because Maxine had plans on her mind and inevitably those plans would somehow involve her, which she would drag her feet on but no matter what her protest, she would cave to whatever Caulfield had on her mind, because she was far too sweet to ever deny her anything short of criminal.

Well… maybe. Max never asked her to kill a guy yet so Victoria couldn't definitively give an answer to whether or not she would. She'd like to say she wouldn't, but honestly she couldn't say that.

Pushing aside the theoretical questions she held about how her morality was tied to the whims of the girl sitting next to her on Max's bed, Victoria directed her attention back to catching her 27th Slowpoke in Pokémon Blue. It wasn't her fault really, she was going through the Seafoam Islands and every fucking time one jumped on the screen, she just had to fucking catch it. At this point she didn't know what in the fuck she was doing anymore.

Next to her, of course, was Maxine Caulfield. She was currently watching Friday the 13th Jason Takes Manhattan because of course she fucking was. But much more thrilling to her was the little face that she was snuggled right up next Victoria, her head using her lap as a pillow and fuck, Victoria was glad that she wore slacks today and forewent her original plan to wear a skirt.

All of this… well, it was a new unspoken development since they went to the movies. Neither of them addressed the fact that Maxine had kissed her, or that Victoria held her hand through most of the move and the rest of that day. They just sort of… went with it. Playing things by ear, both of them seemingly to scared to define whatever the fuck was going on between them. All that Victoria knew for sure was that didn't want to go back to what they were before. It was nice to have a friend, but it was much nicer to have… this sort of friendship.

So there they sat, in some sort of gay limbo as Victoria tried her best not to start petting Maxine's head like a cat (Hence why she was probably so devoted to playing Pokémon) as thoughts about the one sided kisses she received once again seeped into her thoughts, and just how it was she was going to answer it, and more importantly, could she answer it?

She wasn't… brave. Even now with a beautiful girl using her as a pillow, her hormones raging and wanting nothing better than to pin Max down and kiss her, it was just hard to just… accept that she had these feelings in the first place.

No one taught her to fear this sort of orientation, but she spent a full month attacking a couple gay girls at every opportunity because she was Victoria Chase and they were her enemy so she went for the throat. As much as she hated to admit it, Price was right about her and she had spent such a long time pretending everything was fine and that she was just a normal girl despite never.

"So, I've been thinking…"

Victoria decided against saying anything snappy. She instead saved the game and turned the Game Boy off and dropped it at her side. As if on cue thanks to her lack of distraction, her hand immediately fell on top of Maxine's head, her fingers pushing between her soft chestnut locks as she stroked her hand through her hair.

She felt Maxine stir and exhale sharply as she seemed to nestle in place. Victoria would have done a small victory dance as she noticed the brunette's hand grip onto the bed sheet. Fuck, she was going to have yet another thing to thank Chloe and Rachel for. Pretending to be asleep as she listened to Rachel and Chloe talk about heavy shit while they pet her like a cat really caught her off guard with how nice it was, and to see Max react like this… was just as, if not even more nice.

"I… I was thinking that since we started hanging out, you have more or less made yourself at home here," Maxine pressed on, a small stutter in her tone. "I mean the great Victoria Chase slumming it with middle class folks is astounding, but I think it's time I get to see how the other half lives."

Victoria halted her hand for a moment before she continued again, as her mind started racing with the idea that Maxine had. She would not deny that bringing Maxine home with her was not something she didn't want. It was perhaps her greatest wish right now… taking her up to her bed room… laying her out on her bed. Perhaps engage in that kiss which she was struggling to find a perfect time and place for… Together they could push the boundaries as far as Maxine was willing to explore.

As much as she wanted this, the desires were dampened by the simple fact that with Maxine at her home, it meant it would come with the inevitable… meeting. Something had wanted to push to another time… preferably never.

"You want to… come over to my place…" Victoria repeated above Maxine, attempting to hide her nerves.

Max did not move her head as Victoria continued to stroke her hair. She seemed almost worried that if she moved she would spook Victoria into stopping. As though that would ever happen; the feeling of Max's heart beating against her thigh was intoxicating. She watched, longingly, as Max's hand tightened and released on the sheets.

Fuck, the things she would do to the world to get to make such a begin gesture so much more lurid.

"I do want that," Maxine confirmed, her voice soft, almost shy. "I would like to see just how it was they managed to produce such a snobby, elitist, egotistically stuck-up, but extraordinarily sweet daughter."

Victoria bristled under Maxine's teasing. She always found the right combination of detractions to make her blush, or twist her up into such a state that the war of words would be on. If it was anyone else but her, she would probably destroyed the person, or at least fought to the bitter end to do so. With Max, Victoria had learned to temper the instinct to attack and kill at the smallest criticism or comment.

"No… you don't really want that," Victoria corrected Maxine's mistake. "You just think you do, but trust me meeting them is not going to paint you a clearer picture."

Disappointment which crept into Victoria as Maxine pushed herself off of Victoria washed away quickly as the girl in question crawled fucking nearly on top of her. She wasn't sitting, instead her legs were spread out over Victoria's frame and resting on each side of the bed. She pushed her face close… much, much too close for it to be a platonic thing.

Did Maxine understand what she was doing to her? Fuck, she hoped she didn't. If this as all just a deliberate thing specially designed to turn on Victoria, it fucking worked.

"You do know how reverse Psychology works, right?" Maxine breathed, lips achingly close to hers ad tilted as her head was. "You say no to me and and I'll just want it even more…"

Victoria's felt all her senses and resolve slip from out of her tight grasp as she stared up at Maxine. It would be so easy to just lean, kiss her and change their blossoming friendship into something different all together.

But she couldn't. As it turned out, not everyone could be as brave as Maxine Caulfield.

"W-what would you like from me?" she asked, daring to hope that perhaps Maxine could do the work for her. If Maxine just asked for a kiss, it would be all that she would need to be able to do it.

But life was never that convenient.

"How about a sleepover at your place tonight instead of here?" she instead asked "I won't embarrass you or anything… unless I'm not exactly what your parents would want you to be friends with. I just… you know about me far more than I know about you."

Victoria pressed her hand against Maxine's mouth in order to silence her foolish train of thought. She might have had her problems with her parents, but she doubted very much that they would up and tell her that she was not allowed to be friends with Maxine. They didn't need to lord wealth when they were awful in their own unique way.

As Victoria pulled her fingers away from Maxine's lips, she took in the radiant smile the brunette possessed.

"Please Victoria?" She urged her gently. "…for me?"

As Victoria took in Maxine's adorable, will shattering little smile, she closed her eyes and exhaled loudly.

Un-fucking-believable.


Max smiled as Victoria pulled up the long winding drive way leading to her massive manor home. It was sort of a startling thing to see just how much pull she could have on someone else.

It was a power which she would attempt to not abuse; with great power comes great responsibility and all that.

Victoria, as it turned out lived on Mercer Island. There was rich, like… wealthy, which Max had expected, but then there was Western Mercer Island rich which she hadn't anticipated. Sitting there in the passenger seat as they waited for their gated home only drove the point home even further that she was entering a world extremely foreign to her own.

The entire time they drove from Max's to Victoria's, Victoria had spent the time chattering away nervously. Her only focus seemed to be dedicated to bringing Max up to date on her parents so that there wasn't a lot of 'dealing with their complicated shit' as she put it.

Damien Chase – Victoria's father- was a corporate raider in the late 1980's to mid 1990's and made a ton of money breaking up companies and crushing little people for the pay. He was good at it… obscenely good at it, and was noted for his particularly ruthless nature. He would destroy people's livelihoods with a single fax and then go to a charity function a day later and make up for his action like he had been just washing his hands. Nothing fazed him about his activities. It was all just a game where at the end of the day he was going to win and he was going to get paid for it.

Damien wasn't always like this though. It was something he just became without batting an eyelash. He was born dirt poor in the Rust Belt and after watching his mother break at the news of the death of his eldest brother in Vietnam, he swore that he would never continue the cycle started two generations prior; decaying away clinging onto the old values of honour, humility and respect for others… getting stepped on by everyone and dying for a country that didn't give a fuck about him.

So Damien - again according to Victoria - seemed to have modelled his rise after that old Peter Gabriel song 'Big Time' and was ambitious enough to achieve it. So when he turned 18 and was given the fabulous choice of working in the dying manufacturing industry or the Army, Damien chose option Three. He bolted and never looked back; the only thing he took with him was the thousand dollars he saved, the cloths on his back and years of built up rage and humiliation in his heart.

Max imagined that if you were to spend your entire life watching your parents and grandparents get humiliated at every turn, you learned how to do it better and with far more lucrative results; and from Victoria's stories, that was what motivated his quick transfer from investor to a destroyer; and by the time he was in his mid-twenties he had a seven figure personal bank account and constantly growing. All of it made off the backs of the unfortunate wretches who trusted their futures to a shark.

The day was August 17th, 1994 when he had a revelation. He was minding his own business, crushing companies like the morally bankrupt cut throat he was… and then he met Sienna Halford and everything just changed.

Sienna Halford was a socialite from a wealthy family, running her life contrary to Damien. Victoria called it 'story book nonsense that came true'. Uninterested in wealth, she directed her attention to modelling, art, activism for the marginalized. They had met at a gallery showing, a charity auction for HIV/AIDS during the apex of the crisis.

One encounter at a gallery and Damien just… started to lose the desire to keep up his work. By the time the two of them decided to get married, Damien liquidized his assets and started fresh with Sienna. Now they did whatever they wanted. Their latest venture was running a gallery. A far cry from the old days, but from the way Victoria spoke about her Dad… it was sort of as though she figured who he was, was still in there waiting to come out.

If children emulated their parents, then Max could only imagine the struggle going on in Victoria between these two. On top of that were Victoria's desires to just be her own person and trying to juggle whatever she thought she had to be and who she wanted to be.

As Max was about to open the door, she found that it had has already been opened for her by Victoria. Victoria refused to acknowledge the pink tinge blooming over her face. Max smiled and was about to reach over and take her hand when the front doors to the manor home opened and out stepped a man in a tuxedo and a woman in an elegant black cocktail dress. They were both tall and blonde, and they both paused for a moment as they noticed their daughter was not alone. Victoria batted Max's hand away; her expression flickered to an apologetic one.

"You're home early, and I see you brought a friend," the man known as Damien Chase was the first to speak.

As Victoria and Max walked towards the house, Victoria's parents walked towards the waiting Bentley luxury car and somewhere in the middle the two of them met up. Both the father and the mother appeared to be grinning as though they were amused to see that Victoria had brought someone home. Apparently it had to have been a rarity.

As both parties came to a stop, Damien extended his hand out to Max.

"Damien Chase," he introduced himself to Max without a pause. "And you must be Maxine Caulfield. Or is it Max? Victoria here seems to be of two minds about the name choice."

Max glanced up to Victoria, who had gone from pink to red as her father seemed to be toying with the two of them. Max could not help but smile at Victoria, who continued to stare ahead of her parents. She remained locked on the doors behind them.

"She is?" She inquired coyly as she let go of the father's hand.

Next to Damien, Victoria's mother nodded, confirming her husband's assessment. Both of them appeared to be amused that Max was already in on the 'annoy Victoria' game they played.

"If she's annoyed with you, which usually only if you call early for a photography session. The rest of the time it's only Maxine," she said to Max, her accent was rich and aristocratic. "Hello, I'm Sienna, Victoria's mother."

As Max was about to say something to Sienna about her little revelation, Victoria immediately launched herself back into the dialog between her parents and her friend.

"I invited Maxine to spend the night," she informed them, not even offering them the illusion that there was a choice involved.

If she took up that tone with her own parents, Max and her parents would be having a long talk about respect. Sienna and Damien, on the other hand, was unperturbed by the combative nature their daughter had. They just sort of stared in amusement.

"Probably only fair, considering you seemed to have moved in to her home," Damien addressed his child. He directed his attention to Max and added. "Are your parent's sick of her yet?"

As Victoria bristled, Max immediately shook her head as a strange surging desire to protect Victoria washed over her. She knew it was a joke, she could see Damien smirk had no malicious intent, but still she had to do something, say something on behalf of her silent friend.

"No, not at all," Max denied, raising her voice a little. "Victoria is… Victoria is great friend. You're lucky to have her."

Max watched the smirk drained away from Damien's expression. That was not say he wasn't amused, it just seemed as though he was much more thoughtful about it. He seemed to be much more… reflective as he looked from Max to Victoria, who had shifted tin place. She remained unable to focus on any of the people around her but she seemed almost… elated to hear Max's words.

"That we are," Sienna spoke on behalf of her silenced husband. "We have a function tonight for the Grace Hospital, so I'm afraid we can't properly receive you. That is, unless you both are interested in coming along."

"We really aren't," Victoria answered her plainly. It was a little rude, but Max had to agree with the underlining sentiment. She wasn't so sure formal affairs were her thing.

Victoria's father nodded. He looked a little bothered by the dismissal, but he seemed unwilling to address it. The last thing he probably wanted was to fight in front of a virtual stranger.

"Alright then; we should be home by two in the morning," he informed the two girls. "Maxine – or Max, you haven't given us a preference - it is a real pleasure to finally get to meet you. We'll have a proper sit down tomorrow at brunch. As you have opened your home to our Vic, so too is our home open to you as well."

Max could only nod. She had thought from the way Victoria had spoken about Damien Chase, that his words would not match his true feelings for it, but instead what Max saw was a earnestness in his words. He didn't change his tone or look at her like she was underneath them. He just seemed to be… genuine.

As Damien pushed on by his daughter and her friend, Sienna paused to give Victoria a kiss on the cheek before she turned to Max and took one of her hands into both of hers. She held her eyes on her husband until he entered the car before she directed her attention back to the two girls in front of her.

"It's a genuine pleasure to meet someone who makes Victoria smile. That is a rare thing these days… a teenage thing, I suppose," she spoke to Max, her mouth forming into a smile. "Well, until tomorrow then. I shall have to remember to break out Victoria's baby picture."

As Max let out a laugh and a nod at the idea Sienna had suggested, Victoria groaned. Taking an immense pleasure in embarrassing her daughter, Sienna smiled to the two of them and went to join her husband in the back of the Bentley.

"Fucking shoot me…" Victoria muttered out loud as they watched the Chase's pull out of the driveway.

Max remained silent as she watched Victoria slowly turn back to face her. She looked well beyond annoyed by this, and was now staring at the source of her annoyance. The two girls stared at each other as Victoria's annoyance started to melt, but it did nothing to stop her obvious embarrassment at the hands of her parents.

"So…" Max started, struggling to maintain her control over her urge to laugh. "I make you smile?"

Victoria rolled her eyes as she retrieved her phone from her bag.

"Ugh," she spat out. "Just... just shut the fuck up and tell me what you want for dinner."

Max's small smile widened. She stepped forward and cozied up next to Victoria, their shoulders touching together.

"I thought you told me to shut up."

Victoria rolled her eyes and gave Max a small shrug before she wrapped an arm around Max's arm and dragged her into the house.

Max laughed the entire way.


Maxine wanted Italian, so Victoria ordered Thai instead.

It was, perhaps, a bitch move on her part, but Victoria felt it was a suitable punishment for teasing her. Max moaned a lot about it, but as it turned out she hadn't had Thai food before, so it became a fun little experiment for the girls and it wasn't long before Maxine had charmed her once again.

Naturally it was taking some time for Maxine to get used to the home she was now apparently completely open to her after her first encounter with father. She supposed she really hadn't had a reason to be surprised.

The two of them were so far removed from being typical parents that to interact with Ryan and Vanessa Caulfield, was a culture shock in how parents ought to behave. Instead Mother and Father just sort of treated her like an underage adult. Freedom was nice, but freedom wasn't nearly as warm or reassuring as the love and guidance they didn't offer. Freedom didn't pick her up and tell her everything was going to be okay if she failed. It just made her… harder… angrier, and more inclined to hurt others because fuck them. She had survive above all else.

That was a mindset which protected her for such a long time, and now here she was sitting next to a girl she had come to…. God, she didn't know exactly what it was she felt. Was it idolization? Adoration? Obsession?

Shit… was it love?

While the each description had scared her, it was that last one scared her the most. All that she about being in love was the extremely vulnerable two people had to show each other. The idea of handing Maxine her heart – and yes, that was cheesy as fuck – was getting harder and harder to resist every day… every hour to be quite honest.

She looked to Maxine. She sat there on the couch; her feet pulled up and curled underneath her. Her shoulder pressed against Victoria's as she watched some movie Victoria was not paying attention to at all. She stared at the soft small hands resting on Maxine's lap. It was agonizingly close to her, just begging to be just held. She wanted to cling onto her hand tightly as the thrill of their fingers intertwined ran through her like a frayed nerve.

While they might have held hands often enough, this time just felt… different for some reason… more intimate. She just had to be smooth… really smooth. Say something witty or cute, something that would turn that sweet smile Maxine wore into something so much brighter.

"You know, you can hold my hand now if you wanted to. I wouldn't mind it," Victoria blurted out.

Quietly, Victoria wondered just what was the quickest and easiest way to kill herself in the next thirty or so seconds.

Maxine turned and directed her eyes to Victoria as the thoroughly embarrassed taller girl attempted to calm herself down. Although she smiled, she turned away and did not take Victoria's hand. Instead she laced her fingers together and directed her compete focus back to the flat screen.

Victoria turned away and ignored the flash of anger and irrational jealousy she felt at the sight of Max holding her own hand. It was sort of like having a job she wanted stolen away from her. Seizing on her annoyance, Victoria scooted closer to Maxine and took her hand. The act stiffened the Brunette up, causing a small gasp to escape from her.

Maxine bit her luscious bottom lip as she turned to face Victoria again. Her body pushed little closer to Victoria's.

"I like that, you know? You being forward with me… not dominant, but confident," she confessed to Victoria softly. "If there's something you want… well, I want you to take it, or at least try. It's very… attractive-"

That was all the confirmation Victoria had needed. She leaned in and kissed Maxine as hard as she could.

Maxine didn't kiss her back.

Instead, Maxine froze up as Victoria's lips had missed hers completely and instead they touched against her teeth.

Victoria pulled her mouth away and stared at Maxine. Mortified, she looked at the blank expression the girl had kissed wore.

"You kissed my teeth…" Maxine pointed out the obvious. She now looked close to just breaking down and laughing.

Victoria threw her hand up and covered her face. This was such a fucking shitshow now.

"I really, really didn't mean to do that!" She attempted to apologize to the girl she had just humiliated herself in front of.

"You kissed my teeth…" Maxine repeated once again; her tone still dull and taunting to Victoria's ears.

Victoria pulled her hand away as a small bout of fury came back into her.

"I fucking know that, you smug as hell fucking adorable Hipster trash!" Victoria nearly screeched at the still grinning idiot sitting nearly on her lap. "If you'd just shut the fuck up and let me try again, I swear I'd do better!"

The grin on Maxine's face vanished as she noticed the fury and the determination coursing through every fibre of Victoria's being. Victoria watched as Maxine's pupils dilated, her breathing came to a standstill. After only a second's hesitation, Maxine nodded her head.

Victoria leaned in towards the girl nearly on top of her, this time capturing Maxine's lips with hers. It was a soft connection of lips, which parted allowing the tips of their tongues to meet for a briefest of moments. A spark had ignited but in spite of the overwhelming urge to drown in each other, the girls mutually broke apart.

Victoria became aware that Maxine was gripping the front of her light sweater. Her eyes were hooded. She was much more satisfied this time around.

"Wowsers… holy… God… Much better…" Maxine breathed to her, unable to clearly offer anything really coherent.

Victoria didn't let Maxine finish as she pulled her back into their kiss. She didn't need her validation. She damn well knew it already. Fuelled by approval and success, Victoria ignored the little frightened voice in the back of her head, telling her this was wrong and deepened the kiss, her hand snaking up to push through Maxine's hair and cupping the back of her head.

They paused only once to catch their breath before they met again, and this time the two of them remembered to breathe through their nose, eliminating the need to break apart. Victoria pushed Maxine back gently, laying her down flat on the touch and climbing on top of her. Her hand reached out and grabbed both of Maxine's pinning them high over her head.

Unable or unwilling to escape, Maxine stretch out as Victoria broke the kiss and moaned as Victoria nibbled gently against her skin. It took all of Victoria's strength not to just clamp her jaws around her skin and bite until Maxine finally moaned out. At least that's what she had hoped would happen. Maxine seemed to be locked up in herself. It was sort of like she was almost scared to let herself be free. It was understandable if this was her first time with a girl. Her stolen kisses with Taylor Christiansen were a source of panic and repression for her as well.

Her chest heaving as she dragged her mouth up Maxine's neck and placing them close to Maxine's lips once again, Victoria lingered just out of reach of the girl she laid on top of. She watched, thrilled, as Maxine pushed her head up and kissed her properly. She cut it short and pulled back, her gentle baby blues looking up into Victoria's green.

"Have you…" she started, breathing hard. "Have you ever done this before?"

The answer she had was a confusing mess. She never really placed herself in this situation before. The rumours of course were to the contrary and always were about guys around Blackwell, but beyond a few uninteresting make out sessions with a guy or two, not much ever really happened. This sort of intimacy was not something she was really something she was looking for.

At least not until now…

"A couple times…" she admitted to Maxine. "Never sober though, and never with someone I… kinda like in this way."

Maxine blinked and a small smile formed. She wanted to move her hands, but Victoria grip was a vice. Instead she leaned up, and like at the theatre, she kissed the corner of Victoria's mouth. As the Blonde released her hands, Maxine reached up to cup each side of Victoria's face. She kissed her properly this time, chaste and sweet. It was enough to make Victoria's stomach jump into her chest.

"I kinda like you too, Victoria…" she confessed back, a growing note of shyness forming in her words. "But I mean…. look at us; this is a little fast, don't you think?"

Victoria blinked and turned her focus completely towards Maxine's state, she was red faced with thin layer of sweat had formed over her exposed skin. As much as Victoria wanted to push, to show just what she actually desired from the girl underneath her, her conscience told her not push her luck any further. Good things came to those who waited… At least that was what she heard. Victoria was much more a girl in favour of action; especially now that the ice was broken between the two of them.

As Victoria nodded and tried to detangle herself off of Maxine, the girl underneath her wrapped her arms around her waist and forced their bodies to collide once again. As Victoria looked at her questioningly, Maxine shook her head.

"Please… please don't move," she almost pleaded. "We'll sort everything out later…for now, could you just lay here with me?"

Drowning herself in the tender sincerity of Maxine Caulfield, Victoria nodded and laid down on her side next to her, unable to hide the please look as the girl in her arm's pressed her lips against her forehead. Whatever they were now was could no longer be defined by what the two had once called a friendship. It was new and exciting and possibilities seemed so completely endless.

But the best feeling was already happening right here, right now. Lying in Maxine's arms, feeling her soft breathe touch against the nape of her neck, Victoria felt nothing but the foreign sensation of peace and contentment. Nothing that she held herself to; not the impossible standards she set upon herself, not her parent's successes', not eve her social standing at school. It all had lost its relevance.

For the first time in her short life, she was no longer afraid of herself.

Chapter Text

 

For the first time ever, James Amber had not put in an appearance for his daughter's birthday.

That was not entirely true. Between his work prior to losing Rose, and the past two years he supposed that while he made a physical appearance, he did not exactly make an emotional appearance for her as well.

James reckoned it just got harder and harder as he watched his daughter grow up into an amalgamation of both her mothers.

Looking at Rachel these days, the line began to blur between the two women. Before Rose died, she was Rose's daughter through and through. He may have been drowning in his work, but James never failed to notice just how popular was. She had the same sort of ambitious drive Rose possessed; it attracted others into her orbit.

These days, his greatest fears had come true in spite of the interventions of a reformed Sera and a genuine love from Chloe Price, Rachel had long since incorporated the furiously blind destructive nature of her birth mother during her most dangerous moments when they were together. Now she was out in the wide world, dragging that poor Chloe along. He could only hope that they were both being safe together.

As he pushed his worries aside, he looked at himself in the mirror once again to make sure he was wearing his dark navy blue blazer and white plain T-shirt looked alright. Under most circumstances, he would not have been so fussy, but he had Sera coming over in a short while and an inexplicable desire to impress had left him confused and very self-conscious.

These were strange days to be James Amber and Sera Gearhardt. The two of them had voluntarily started taking steps back to a road of friendship after so many years hating each other, then two years of respectful interactions. Now here they were spending all of their free time in each other's company. They spent many hours talking about the old days; James relayed countless stories about their daughter to Sera as Sera served as confidant to James's grief. And there was tea; lots and lots of tea.

It was a strange place to be in, where Sera was the guiding hand to him through his situation. She was right that she hadn't experienced something like what James had, but she had an acute awareness of the path he was leading himself down on. He was glad to have had her experience, but it also made him upset to think that Sera had not only gone through this, she had gone through it alone and dragged herself inch by inch from the abyss by herself and one end goal.

It was an end goal which he was prepared to kill her over.

The shame he felt for that was overwhelming at times. Sometimes it was even more debilitating than his failure to protect Rose. As much as it hurt, Rose was gone and there was nothing he could do to change that. But Sera was still alive, his part in her misery was also in the past but she was still alive and he could still see what giving up on her had done to a woman he once loved… still sort of loved, a woman who she had given the world to in the form of his daughter. Even now she was so brittle, like a hummingbird.

Exhaling as he heard a knock on the door indicating Sera was being her usually punctual self, James grabbed his phone off the counter and left the bathroom, his eyes focused squarely on the chat screen to his daughter, her avatar had been changed from a selfie with Chloe to a raw looking sleeve tattoo that put Sera's to shame.

As James typed a message to his daughter, he hoped to God that it had belonged to Chloe.

You  Thinking about you on your 18th birthday, Rachel; I hope you and Chloe have had a good and safe day. - Dad

Putting his phone away as he opened the front door, he found Sera standing there. She was wearing an open long white jacket, a black dress ending at her knees, high heels which added an extra couple of inches and black tights. She looked… a little uncomfortable by the get up.

He could not blame her for feeling that. For the first time since they started hanging out, he had managed to convince her to do something within their age bracket. Namely go to an actual restaurant and not the Two Whales. The Two Whales was fine, of course. It just wasn't quite what he had in mind, and considering Sera dragged him there whenever they had to eat, he thought it was only right that he got a say in for tonight.

As for Sera… well… she looked really good.

"Hello, Sera," James greeted her as he stepped out of the house and locked the door behind the two of them.

The worry seemed to vanish and Sera smiled as she allowed him room to step by her.

"Hello, James," she greeted him back. "Are you ready to…?"

Sera fell silent and narrowed her eyes at the man. The strange annoyance she wore surprised James enough to squint right back at her as he pondered what was it bothering her. His confusion was heightened even more as Sera stepped forward, her hands gripping each side of his shirt.

Time felt like it froze as he drowned in her presence.

"Ah… Sera… what are you doing?" he asked her out loud, doing his utmost to ignore that old feeling.

"You know, I have been trying very hard to make you look like less of an old man," Sera complained as she yanked the tucked in shirt from out of his pants. "You're not making it easy for me, are you?"

As she smoothed the edges out, she smiled again and looked up at him; the expression she wore was a flashback to their best days. Where Sera was willing and able to wrap his teenage self around her little finger and he was only too happy to let her. Now here they were in their forties and it was starting all over again.

James had thought he had the ability to turn off his feelings for her, but he hadn't He could suppress them, he even was convinced he had stopped loving her in their 15 years of silence; but now here they were. Sera was sober and responsible, and James was a lonely widower and standing in front of him was a woman who had retained much of his heart even after fucking everything.

Sera dropped her hands to her side and looked satisfied by her work. As responsible as she had become, she still held onto her youth, but now it was matured, more refined.

"There we go…" she murmured gently as she inspected him. "So much better now…"

James was spared from a response. His phone beeped and James immediately went for it. Sera sort of frowned as James inspected the text, apparently a little annoy he hadn't reacted to her in a way she preferred.

Dawn - We are. Thank you, Dad. Give Sera my love. She might have played a role in this birthday thing as well. XO

Thanking Rachel for the distraction, he handed his phone over to Sera for inspection as Sera reverently read the message her daughter had left him, she allowed James to guide her to the car and enough to time to clear his head for tonight.

At this rate he was going to need every lapse such as this to make it through the night.


As the Molly haze overtook her, all Rachel could do was come to hate this community that expected her to be a member of.

By principal, Rachel Amber did not march to anyone else's drums but her own and Chloe; and having spent the past week and a bit soaking in just how insecure the gay community actually was, Rachel was itching to move on as fast as she possibly could.

She had no problem with the community in a traditional sense. No anger or hatred for any of them. If what they did helped them, then who was she to judge; but nothing about them was helping her, and so her interests in the community had worn thin. Especially as they always seemed to have a cause they were trying to get Chloe and her involved in, meanwhile the two of them already had enough shit on their own plate as it was.

That was not to say she hadn't met interesting people. While they might have been paying her, Rachel had come to appreciate the hard fought nature of Karina Andressen. She had left the relatively safe haven of Norway to follow her heart and dream girl, Dahlia Hunter back to the United States in the early 1990's during what she called 'the golden age of American homophobia'. In her mind, the Americans were too polite to treat her like shit, but too scared of her to treat her like one of them. So those years were spent dancing and weaving through the passive aggressive conflicts, the AIDS crisis stigma and the occasional rape attempts meant to cure her gayness.

It clearly wasn't an easy life, but Karina got through it relatively unscarred. She definitely encouraged Rachel's growing desire to protect Chloe and her, though, which as nice to see someone else understand self defense wasn't something to scoff at. When they got home, Rachel decided, she was going to get a gun and a conceal carry permit.

Between losing Mom and wanting to protect her Chloe, she was not going to let either of them end up on the wrong side of a gun ever again. After everything that had happened, it just seemed like the smart move. If it bothered Chloe like it had with the knife she tossed… well… they would just have to talk it out. Like couples did.

This subject was not birthday thoughts, and certainly not while high on MDMA and drunk with an equally intoxicated blood wife waiting for her. With that in mind, Rachel stepped out of the bathroom stall and ignored the two girls making out on the counter in between bumps of what appeared to be cocaine as she washed her hands.

Her body felt like it was on fire, and it wasn't the drugs or the dance music pounding into her skull. It was the many need tattoos and her hand wound which burned. As Karina promised, the two of them were indeed in a world of pain, but damn did they look hella cool. The black ink of the astronomical symbols hid the scars almost perfectly. There was something about the work though… it just made her feel… different.

Adjusting her cleavage to an appropriately lurid level, Rachel glanced at the duo making out and decided she was going to get laid on her birthday as soon as she could, and thankfully she had a blue haired Amazonian fucking goddess waiting for her. She was just one command away from turning Rachel into a heaving, sopping mess.

So with that in mind, Rachel left the bathroom and pushed her way through the crowd, ignoring the glances and the eyes following her. They could look all they wanted, but she belonged to the only person in this club that meant anything to her.

Who, as it turned out, had become an involuntary social butterfly.

Chloe stood there at the bar, her back turned to her a drink in her hand as she bobbed her head to the beat of the IDM. Tonight she opted to out of her frayed up denim for a skirt, and Rachel didn't even have to politely suggest it. The Club was a little higher end and had an unenforced dress code, so she appeared to be making an effort for her.

She looked hot... and currently frazzled.

Next to her there was two guys by the look of it, both of them seemed to be trying to catch her attention. Talking to her, they were edged in close. Chloe kept her head low just as one of them put his hand on her shoulder.

That was fucking that. Rachel's brain went on automatic, with visions of Eliot Hampden running through her thoughts. It didn't matter that she saw Chloe shove the guy off her. He had no business touching her in the first place. She picked up her pace, brushing right through a dancing couple and ignoring their calls of 'bitch' at her.

Okay… so perhaps this reaction was probably a reason not to get a gun.

Her approach was immediately noticed by the guys. Like the disgusting pervs they were, the presence of another girl was enough to draw their attention away from the literal perfection they were trying to pick up only moments prior. Rachel reached out and surprised Chloe with a back hug, her arms wrapping tight around her hips. Chloe stiffened out of the shock.

Keeping one arm wrapped around her and ignoring the onlookers, she reached out and gently brushed back Chloe's hair, revealing her ear properly.

She had a new improvisation game to play now.

"Excuse me, miss," she luridly breathed directly into Chloe's ear. "Are these guys bothering you?"

Chloe glanced at the men for a moment before looking away to slam the last of her Vodka shooter.

"Only for the past ten minutes… didn't even bother to give me a name…" she answered Rachel, her voice biting as she tapped her glass to catch the bartender's attention.

The man who had led the attempt at picking her glanced back at his friend.

"My name is Eddie and this is-"

"I didn't give a fuck from the start," Chloe snapped back.

Inwardly, Rachel grinned and pushed her mouth forward, nibbling on the back of Chloe's ears. Her eyes never left the faces of the two red faced and extremely confused and awestruck men.

"Ten minutes is such a long time," Rachel spoke again, dropping her tone as she pulled away from Chloe's ear. "Hmm, tell me something, angel. Now that you had such a long introduction to these fine gentlemen, would you go home with them? Or would rather try your luck with a voice in your ear for about 20 seconds…"

Chloe slammed her drink again and directed her attention towards the men as if she was seriously considering what Rachel had said. It seemed as though she too liked their little game. Especially as they both watched the guys attempt to present themselves as much cooler than they were.

"Tempting offer, boys," Chloe finally addressed them without insult. "…but I think I prefer the mystery prize."

With that spoken, Rachel released her grasp on Chloe and stepped out in between the men and her girl. Ignoring the urge to say something offer to the two of them, she instead smiled for them. It was probably the only thing keeping her from losing her cool.

"Well, it's been fun, but you heard the vixen," Rachel told the guys, wrapping her arm around her shoulder. "Back off, this sweet thing is mine. "

It took a moment or two before both the guys recognized that there was no way in hell Rachel was about to back down before they stepped back and went further down the bar, probably scoping for a new victim. With the threat of them gone, Rachel rounded back to Chloe, took her refilled shooter and slammed it down.

"So," she said, slamming the shot glass back down on the counter as she grinned up to Chloe. "What's a fine piece of ass doing in a place like this?"

She watched amused as Chloe attempted to be casual in her shrug. Oh, that girl could pretend all she liked, but like it or not Chloe had become a damn good drama student over the years.

"Waiting on my girlfriend, I suppose…" Chloe informed her, feigning boredom as looked back down on Rachel. "Blonde, hazel eyes about your height and tattoos… she says and does a whole lot of crazy shit, but I love her. Fucked if I know why-"

Chloe inhaled sharply and went dead silent and still as Rachel had stepped closer, pushing her body right into Chloe so that no gap existed between the two of them. Rachel allowed her hand fall between Chloe's legs, pushing under her dress and cupping her sex. She smiled even wider at the sight of Chloe's eyes dilating. She bit her lip as though struggling to remain in control.

All it took was Rachel pushing her fingers upwards to break the will of her Blue haired temptress. She slide inside her panties and pushed across her almost bare Mons until her fingers were pressed against her lips. Chloe's face lit up at the daring exhibitionism she was partaking in.

The two of them shared a look. Chloe bit her lip and nodded.

Rachel plunged her fingers inside, Chloe and pushed her lips hard against Price's.

Tongues met as Rachel rocked her fingers inside her. There was nothing sweet or romantic about it. Neither of them was looking for that. Not when the two of them were standing there surrounded by dozens of club patrons. This was a drug induced act of indulgence. It was a daring act of spontaneous sexual relief between the two of them. Thinking about, it was her birthday, and it really ought to have been her receiving this, but she was a generous girl.

Besides, Chloe was worth the efforts. Plus listening to the little gasps and filthy as hell utterances of 'holy shit' or 'fuck' made it all worth it. The girl knew how to come and Rachel enjoyed listening to it almost as much as the act.

Pulling her mouth back from Chloe's she ran her tongue up the length of her neck before pulling back. She pushed in as deep as she could and watched in delight as Chloe shuddered and fell down into Rachel's waiting arms. Her chest was heaving as she struggled to fight the urge to come right on the spot.

Rachel smirked and pulled her fingers out of Chloe's body. She leaned to her side and gently kissed the mouth of Chloe's skill tattoo. It was enough of a preview for the time being. They would continue this in privacy. After all she was still a respectable girl.

"Your girlfriend sounds like a loser, Blue..." she breathed to the gasping taller girl. "Well, why don't we go out and dance, or you can take me to somewhere private and properly thank me for saving you."

Chloe was always a smart girl, in spite of her being fucked stupid in front of others. She reached out and snapped up Rachel's hand, grinning as she led her towards the exit so that the two of them could celebrate her birthday alone, as it ought to have been.


Walking up the steps with James at her side, Sera could not help but feel a little please by how well the evening had gone.

The waterfront bistro James had booked them was nicer than she had expected, but she supposed she was never a high society type as the self-made man James always sort of vied to be. It was bustling with the more upscale citizenry of Arcadia Bay, and they all seemed to know James. They were probably interrupted a half dozen times by several parties. One of which was none other than Sean Prescott, who introduced a Mark Jefferson to them. He was apparently going to be a new teacher at Blackwell at the start of the new school year.

She thought about texting the girls, but decided against it. The last thing they would want right about now was the reminder of school.

Probably the best part was that James did not seem to shy away from her with all these rich and influential people. He introduced her by her name and informed them that they were old friends. It was obvious he could not exactly tell the full truth, but she was happy enough with the enormous amount of faith he had put in her now.

By the end of dinner, James was actually laughing and having a good time and Sera really did not want to see an end to this. Not when they covered this much ground. So foregoing taking James to a bar and letting him have a drink or two, Sera suggested they go see a movie on her instead. James was in too good a mood to disagree, so the two of them returned back to the nineties by going to see Oliver Stone's newest film Savages which was a classic Stone violent, sexual clusterfuck.

Now here they were, standing on the doorsteps leading to her home and she was staring stupidly up at him, with her thoughts racing in a million directions and yet all of them were leading invariably to one single destination. All of those… stupid little feelings she tried to ignore. Well they built up into sometime potent; and meeting James at his home, looking smart (if old) in his clothing had finally kicked the feeling into action.

Sera stiffened at sensation of James hand gripping her wrist. She looked at it numbly for a moment before she refocused on the man once again.

"I had fun tonight. More fun than I have had in a while…" he admitted to her. "Thank you for that, Sera. Thank you for everything you've been doing for me… don't… think for a moment I don't appreciate it, because I have… even if you're quick to make fun of me."

The two of them shared a comfortable laugh and silence fell between the two of them Sera felt… from the expression of appreciation James confided. It felt nice to be wanted. Something she hadn't really felt often in her life. Soon this evening would be over and Sera had no idea what tomorrow would bring, and how James would be. It could easily be months before they were like this again.

It was a terrible unknown, and Sera hated that.

It was that fear which finally pushed her over the edge? It was time for her to swallow her worry and step up. After all, what was the worst that could happen?

Sera exhaled and stepped towards James. She felt her lips curve upwards.

"Would you like to come inside?" she invited, struggling to keep a straight face at the entendre. "We could have tea... or more… or… you know… both."

While the smile remained locked on James face, James's eyes widened as he attempted to process just what it was Sera was offering beyond tea. Sera did not know just how else to voice what it was, beyond going the obvious route and telling him that she wanted him to bang her into the ground like the old days…

"What are you…" he started to say.

Reaching into years of daring she had been storing up, Sera reached up and pressed her finger against his lips.

"James, you're a man. I'd say good and decent, but I'm not about to forget what you planned for me; but I'm no saint either so we're on a level footing here," Sera spoke again as she leaned in closer to his face. "So… let's just say, you were my man at one point; and I know how lonely you are. I'd like for you to come in if you feel comfortable with that."

Sera withdrew her finger from his lips and leaned back normal so that she didn't come off as more of a crazy person. She stood there, silently watching as the cogs turned in James' head as he struggled to process what he wanted to say (and more importantly do) to her.

"Sera… I'm…" James started, his eyes falling away from hers. "Sera, I'm sorry again for what I wanted to do to you back then…"

Sera smiled thinly and shrugged. It hurt to know that he was prepared to destroy her life, but she had long since come to terms with it. The past was never really in the past; especially not when it came to James and her.

"I know you are," she reassured her Ex. "You are a lot of things, James, but you'd only do something like that unless you were terrified, and I know that I was a terrifying unknown back then."

Sera tentatively reached outwards to take James hands into hers.

"I know that you love Rose, and I will not pretend that I knew Rose well; but I knew enough of her to know she would not want you to just… shut down your entire life until the day you join her again," Sera spoke slowly, deliberately so that her words could not be misinterpreted by him. "This month has been great. It feels like… us again and I don't want it to end just like that. I want us to be some form of what we once were…"

"And us… used to sleep together," James finished for her.

Sera nodded and allowed James to pull his hands out of hers. He ran his hand over his hair as he turned away to think over just what it was Sera was offering him. She was not attempting to get back together with him. She knew better then to think that was possible. But… why couldn't the two of them go all the way with their return to the old days? After all, it was just a little sex…

It was perfectly harmless…

"Look, I haven't… in years…" he rambled out a confession of his lack of sex life to her. "…and you... I don't…"

Sera blinked as James went silent once again and looked at her apologetically. She knew exactly what this was about. Honestly she was surprised that the topic hadn't been brought up before, but she supposed neither of them had this conversation before.

"What year is it?" Sera asked him plainly.

James tilted his head, clearly confused by the seemingly random question.

"It's 2012-"

"It's been fourteen years since I've had sex," she interjected over him.

That really taught his attention. Sera took in James dumbfounded expression with mild amusement. She wasn't exaggerating or anything. She had no reasons to lie. That was the dead truth of the matter; and now that she was sober and starting to remember something she had thought she had lost all those years ago. She was finally coming to terms with just long a dry spell she had been in.

"Heroin always dwarfed sex for me, and I never had to…" she trailed off as she struggled to find the right words. She looked up and added. "I never had a need to sell myself like others I knew back then… that was one of the better upsides to your money. I could just… stay high and not deal with the hassle. I never had to worry about infection or disease because I could afford to be hygienic and…"

Sera allowed James' finish the thought off for himself. The two of them talked about her problems too much as it was. Right now it wasn't exactly a turn on.

"Anyways, I don't have that anymore, and no one ever interested me in my sobriety, and no one around these parts is interesting either except for you," she pressed on, tilting her head. "I'm lonely, and so are you… and it doesn't have to be anything beyond that."

That was when James surprised her. She felt both of her both of James' hand rest on her hips. She paid full attention to uneasiness on his face. He had his issues, but he did not exactly appear to be totally against the idea. She hid the urge to react. James was fragile about this. She… had to be cool. Let him come around on his own time.

"I mean, we just started to be friends again," he attempted to rationalize. "You want to… what? Be fuck-buddies all of a sudden? This is like a first date sort of thing."

Sera could not hide the grin. She reached up and cupped his face.

"Oh, James...  oh for Christ's sake, we had a child together! It's her birthday today!" Sera gently teased him. She raised her eyebrows and added. "You know, 18 years ago you put me through over ten and a half hours of hell? The least you could do is make up for that now…"

Sera shut her mouth and chastised herself as she looked up to James. Thankfully he seemed to see the humour in all of this.

"Sorry, ignore that last part, no pressure. No means no, of course…" she muttered to him. "So… I'll ask you again. Would you like to come inside?"

As Sera looked back up at him and found James was looking thoughtfully to her. She ignored the urge to celebrate as she watched as he nodded. She instead exhaled and nodded back. With him in agreement,  she pushed herself up onto the tips of her toes and carefully pressed her lips against his. 

It wasn't an explosion like the old days. A heated explosion of raw passion which made them both forget whatever troubled them. They had a long way to go to go back to that. Instead it was more... murky... both parties were concerned about protecting themselves from the other. Still in spite of this, she felt something that she thought she would never have back.

Sera pulled back and smiled properly. She reached out and took James' hands and led him into her home. They didn't have to rush into anything. They had all night to explore this old familiar feeling.


Wave goodbye
To what you were
The rules have changed
The lines begin to blur
She makes you hard
It comes on strong
You've finally found
The place where you belong...

Nine Inch Nails - With Teeth

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty Three: Her Center

Sitting at the Breakfast nook overlooking the estate grounds, Victoria moodily picked away at her soft boiled quail egg moodily as thoughts of that stupid brunette hipster flake.

Maxine had blown her off for today which had probably been the sole reason to Victoria's inability to find an appetite right now. She supposed it wasn't quite as bad as she was making it out to be. Maxine had a surprise family visit and Maxine wasn't able to make it to their session at the Space Needle.

The two of them had settle on doing something they mutually were annoyed at, but Maxine suggested: touristy things. It was the sort of an irony thing Hipsters were always into. It was that hipster quirkiness Maxine radiated off naturally, of which Victoria could never begin to replicate. It was cutesy…adorable... random hipster stuff which she certainly had no reason to enjoy….

Well, other than those cute little noises she made when their kisses got too intense for her… which as it turned out was every time they explored each other. Maxine was sweet and sensitive. God, how Victoria was able to not sink to her basic instinct and simply throw her down and force Maxine to make the noises she had to hear coming from Room 228 was beyond her.

As mind-blowing as it may have been, it was making each passing day that much harder for Victoria (and hopefully Maxine as well) Soon they would be separated by oceans and no amount of Skype calls would be able to replicate the feeling of their lips touching. Compounding that was, of course, school... the continuation of her real life, which, thanks to Maxine, she as realizing hit had become more lie than the truth.

As she tried to push the sick feeling festering away in her, she looked up and noticed her Father was sitting across from her, am iPad in his hands and wearing his reading glasses and was reading something and totally pretending to not be silently watching and judging her every moment. Just like every other day they spent in each other's company.

"Would Her Grace permit me a presence at her table on this fine morning?" Father spoke up, putting on his best fake English accent he ripped off of mother.

Victoria squinted at her father and did not answer his request.

Taking it as permission from her, he set the tablet down on the table and leaned back into his seat.

"You've been avoiding us, Victoria," he observed the obvious. "I suppose that isn't new. You want your independence, and that is fine. It just feels different this time around…"

He trailed off as Victoria once again refused to speak. He didn't seem to mind her treatment. If anything he loved the challenge. He loved to probe her for weaknesses with questions, comments and observations meant to catch her off guard. It toughened her up, made her who she was… before Maxine entered into her life and showed her another way.

"I like your friend, you know? Max Caulfield…" he pressed on as he removed his glasses. "I always wondered why you never brought home any females friends. It's certainly a nice change up from that Nathan Prescott."

Victoria bit her lip at the mention of Nathan and Maxine in the same remark her father had made.

"Nathan and I… had a falling out…" she spoke up finally, deciding to admit without explaining why it was so. "I don't really… know… I have no clue what's going on in his head anymore."

Although Father nodded, he still seemed sort of uninterested, which Victoria supposed was just how he usually was when it came to her personal life.

"You're lucky to have had an insight for as long as you did," he replied after a moment more of silence. I've met him before; and I know his father. It's a miracle the kid is even able to function normally at all. If he's bothering you, just… be careful around him from now on."

Victoria nodded; it was sort of what she had planned to do anyways. After what had happened, she would lessen Nathan's presence and replace it with school, the Vortex Club, Taylor and now keeping in touch with Maxine whenever she could.

Maxine might have been able to blow off Chloe Price, but she had no clue what she was dealing with when she had Victoria as a friend.

"Max Caulfield though… now she's a step in the right direction for you," Father continued, his voice lightening into a somewhat wistful way. "Her work is fabulous as well. You know you could learn a lot from her. She understands you don't need a ten thousand dollar camera to capture a perfect image-"

"Would you please just shut up about Perfect little Max's work, for fuck's sake!?" she snapped at him without hesitation.

She fell silent as the awkward tension between the two of them grew exponentially. Father just sat there, staring curiously at his daughter. Victoria rubbed her face and turned away. She felt like shit, talking about Max that way all because of a stupid insecure bout of jealous had hit her over her father trying to compare and contrast two entirely separate photography methods as though one was better than the other.

If Maxine was here, she'd probably roll her eyes, call her stupid and defuse it altogether with charm and grace, but that was Maxine; she was always the peacemaker. Always able to just let things slide even in the face of insult.

God, she was so fucking perfect, and that was the most infuriatingly thing about her. She couldn't compete with that… all she could do was hang on and hope that at the end of the day Maxine would not see how awful she was.

"Why are you doing this, anyway?" Victoria spoke again, looking back to her father once again. "Why are you pretending to be interested in any of my shit?"

All he did was smirk, completely unfazed by the anger she displayed.

"I'm your Dad for starters..." he reminded her.

"Some fucking job you're doing," she bit back, trying not to pout but failing completely as her father's blue eyes never blinked.

It was humiliating how well he controlled everything. Her father had long since earned his confidence… in comparison she just had to fake it.

"I give a shit because long ago I swore that any child of mine wouldn't have what I had for a father," he replied, his tone unaltered in spite of how much agitation Victoria had dumped onto him. "Your Grandpa came back from three years in Korea with nothing to show but his pride. He ended with a wife and four kids, always a pay cheque away from destitution. He was a mean drunk, and he wasn't shy to take out his issues on us. It motivated me to obtain… all of this…" he gestured to their home as a whole. "Off the backs of the painfully naïve; I don't regret it, in fact I would do it again for you, but cutting other people's throats to save my own was all I ever knew-"

"Then you met Mom and everything was fucking easy sailings for you," Victoria interjected once again, reciting his old autobiographical examination of his past. "Blah, blah, blah… rose from nothing… woe to me… oldest fucking story you have… is there a point to any of this?"

Father sort of grinned at her annoyance and stood up, quietly approaching her and slumping down in the seat at her side. It really was the oldest story he had. She ended up relaying it to Maxine because she knew next to nothing else about her father to explain. Father didn't know how to get mad