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Chase You from the Dark

Chapter Text

“KATE! NO!”

It was too late.

Victoria couldn’t look away, even as she filmed. Dozens of voices crying out in fear. David Madsen charging towards the dormitory. Max reaching out but failing to interrupt the flow of gravity as Kate Marsh hurtled to the ground.

The memory burned into her irises the same way it burned into the LCD screen of her phone.

And it was that moment that all pretenses fell away for Victoria Chase.

 

Kate Marsh was dead.

-----

Christ. Kate Marsh… she’s gone.

Victoria lay against her couch, drained and dazed, a hand drifting through her pixie cut.

Fucking hell.

She didn’t need reminders from her friends and classmates, but they delivered to her anyway. Every cough, every stare on her walk back to her room. Everyone knew, with some degree of certainty, that the blame was to be placed squarely on Victoria herself.

The video that she had recorded of Kate at the Vortex party… her incessant bullying, the teasing and constant harassment of that girl, it had crushed her. Taken her to the brink, and then let her fall. She ruined another girl’s life. And all for some cheap laughs.

How was I supposed to know that video would… how was I supposed to know this could kill her… soil my reputation?

She cursed Kate. And then felt sorry for her. And then mentally kicked herself for thinking of her own reputation when someone else had died.

She felt sour in her throat, tears welling up in her eyes. She retreated to the corner of the couch instinctually, hands to her mouth, legs folded into her chest to support the heaves of her stomach as choked gasps emerged.

This was… my fault. I did this. I did this to her.

She was completely helpless. In an instant, connections and friendships she had formed for years had evaporated. No one would speak to her. The Vortex Club groupchat was silent. Classmates stopped texting. Not Juliet or Dana, or Nathan or even Taylor. Not even the groupie, Courtney. In fact, the only people she had heard from were the parentals, demanding an answer to the allegations that she had been the one to film the footage that drove Kate to her death. Investigations were already beginning and she knew that she would be sought out for criminal information eventually.

Fucking hell. What a shitty day.

 

Victoria pulled open her phone to check for texts. Finally, some messages.

“You murderer. I know you did this to her.” - Juliet Watson

“Stop pretending you care, you selfish bitch.” - Alyssa Anderson

“Fuck you Victoria” - Zachary Higgins

Victoria deleted the texts, then threw her phone to her feet. She deleted them impulsively, but she didn’t deny the hate coming her way. It was deserved.

She weeped a little longer, coughing and sputtering as tears were caught in her throat. Then finally, when the convulsions in her diaphragm had calmed down a little bit, she chanced a look out the window.

Dusk. Pale clouds turned hazy orange with the setting sun. A somber reminder of mortality, she thought. Gosh, I’m becoming such an emo. She sighed, and pushed open the window, letting a soft breeze enter her room. It was nice, feeling the cool air soothe her tear-strewn face.

A hovering, bright azure butterfly caught her attention by flying straight through the opening she had created, before settling on her plasma screen TV.

If Victoria had more energy, she’d shoo it out of her room, but she had spent it in mourning. So listlessly, she returned to the couch, engaged in a staring contest with the insect. The creature preened its legs, then, while remaining in place, it gave a few experimental flaps with its almost neon wings.

I didn’t know butterflies could be bioluminescent.

Almost calmed by the thing, Victoria turned her attention back to her phone.

If there’s one thing I can do for Kate, it’s taking this damn thing down.

Victoria opened her URoll channel. She went to the custom settings, scrolled until she found what she was looking for. Clicked the options. Hit delete.

And just like that, gone.

Only too late. I should have never put it up in the first place.

She breathed another sigh. Mentally kicked herself again.

I should sign up for the sport; it’s all I’m good at right now. God, I’m pitiful.

She went back to the menu. Pulled up her video tabs. Prepared to do the same thing with the original video on her phone.

She stopped herself short, finger an inch from the delete key.

 

Instead, she hit play.

 

She didn’t know what possessed her to rewatch the footage. But there she was, in the video, still alive. Drunk, kissing with football players and skaters alike, but alive. Nathan holding her up and asking if she was alright. Taylor ogling and urging her on.

Victoria felt a pit in her stomach. Kate clearly wasn’t doing well, but she didn’t even try to intervene. God, I was so useless. No, worse. I let this happen to her.

If only I could have stopped this from happening.

The video blurred and went fuzzy, and Victoria wiped her eyes to make sure there weren’t any tears fucking with her vision. It looked clearer again afterward. Probably an artifact from the recording itself.

The video ended with Nathan dragging Kate away, and Victoria cackling at the scene the church girl had left behind. The video froze at the end, Kate out of frame, Taylor’s arm and Courtney visible, heckling the girl.

Suddenly, the footage blurred again, before returning to focus.

That’s weird… a glitch? Victoria scrolled through her video to see if the glitch would stop. The footage continued to blur independently of the timeline. She scrolled to the beginning, hit play again.

It’s probably my brain and this shitty ass lighting, I think I just have to… she concentrated harder on the screen. Somehow, she thought she could hear the faint echoes of the dance music in her ears. Almost like she was in a bathroom in the middle of a house party.

She concentrated harder. The smell of jungle juice permeated her nose.

What… is going on…? She thought, but continued focusing.

The image suddenly became resplendently sharp, and soon the video seemed… larger. She felt herself slowly being sucked inwards, almost like she was being pulled into her phone.

What the fuck?! What’s happening to me? Victoria gasped audibly. She felt her stomach drop as her vision radially blurred. Soon, the video was all she could see.

 

Kate was all she could see.

 

-----

 

Loud music. Sweat and alcohol and the rising heat of bodies shifting in the Blackwell Swimming Pool.

Victoria felt dazed, phone in hand, extended outwards. A red indicator blinked on her phone, and she was recording…

Kate.

 

Oh god.


Kate was alive.

And she was kissing boys.

Victoria glanced around. It was all the makings of a Vortex Party. Streamers, a DJ on the far side of the pool, Blackwell students dancing and fucking around in the water. She stopped taping the video, went to her main screen.

October 4th. 11:45 PM.

The fuck? Did I just… did I just go back in time?

“HOLY SHIT KATE, FUCK IT UPPPP!” Victoria turned, spotting Taylor screaming into the folds of people in front of her. She and Courtney were cheering Kate on as she continued to kiss, eyes completely empty and out of focus.

Why am I here again? Am I reliving this bullshit? She checked her hands, pinched herself. She could move around; it wasn’t like she was dreaming vividly.

This was real. And in the moment of that awareness, one thought came to her head.

Kate. I have to protect her.

Victoria immediately rushed over to Kate, shoving the boy away, one of the skater boys. She didn’t grant him the privilege of owning a name in her head, and therefore felt quite justified in her actions.

“Hey, what the fuck!”

“Fun’s over, dipshit,” Victoria sneered. She turned to her two wing-women. “I’m going to take Kate back to the dorms. She’s clearly not doing well.”

Taylor had a confused expression on her face. “What did you say?”

“I said,” Victoria growled, more intense than she should have been, “I’m taking Kate back. She’s out of it and the last thing she’d want is to be kissing on boys she doesn’t know.”

“But… but weren’t you just…” Courtney started, and Victoria shut her up with a, “change of plans, Courtney. Don’t question me.”

She backed off, verbally and physically, and Victoria felt for a second that she was being too harsh.

 

Then the memories of Kate jumping from the roof flashed into her head, and she felt quite justified in everything she was doing.

 

It was at this point that Victoria felt another force tugging at Kate. “Here, I’ll take her to the ER,” a voice volunteered, the body accompanying the voice already lifting the church girl’s arm over his shoulder. Nathan Prescott.

Victoria glanced over, and sighed in relief. As crazy of a partier Nathan was, he could be the sweetest boy at times. Nathan returned a kind but urgent smile.

“You shouldn’t have to leave the party for this girl’s sake,” Victoria offered. “Let me take her there.”

“No, no,” Nathan pushed, “I’ll do it. It’ll be fine, trust me.” Victoria noticed his words were slurred.

He’s not good enough to drive, Victoria realized. But everything worked out last time. I guess I could…

She looked back. Taylor and Courtney, both clearly concerned, were sneaking looks every so often. She didn’t want to abandon her friends or the party. But Kate...

I did what I had to do. I stopped filming, and I’m not going to post the video. Things are going to be ok.

“You can drive safely, right?” Victoria said to Nathan. He nodded. “Kate’ll be fine. She’s a trooper. Besides,” he pointedly added, “your friends probably need you more than they need me.”

Victoria finally gave in. “You’re right,” she mumbled.

She let go of Kate.

As Nathan pulled her away, Victoria called after him. “Text me when you get her to the hospital!”

Nathan paused. He nodded, gave a thumbs up, and helped Kate out the pool.

Victoria sighed. It was over. She had done the right thing. It felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Her conscience was settled. She felt free. And suddenly, very, very tired.

“I think I need to go home too, guys,” Victoria simply said to her groupies. They nodded. “Let us know if there’s anything you need, Vic!”

She returned a curt smile, and made her way to the dorms. On the way back, she pulled out her phone, scrolled to the video she had just taken five minutes ago.

Hit delete.

No way is this getting leaked anywhere.

Not on my watch.

Chapter Text

“KATE!”

Victoria rose out of her bed in a cold sweat. Everything in her room glowed with effervescent gold, and she realized sunlight was streaming directly into her face. She winced, stretching, and pulled the covers off of her. They were practically soaked with perspiration.

God, I can’t even remember what happened last night… She shook her head, trying to concentrate. Her right hand listed towards her phone charging on the end table beside her.

October 5th. 11:02 AM.

Oh bother… she grumbled internally. I’ve been sleeping too long...

It took her a second longer before she could fully comprehend the information in front of her.

Wait… October 5th?

In a flood, all of her memories returned. Kate falling. Her watching the video. Her back at the penultimate Vortex Party. Her, deleting the video in a rage.

So she wasn’t dreaming. She had gone back in time.

And she had saved Kate Marsh’s life.

Well, at least she removed the video. And that had to be good enough for now.

Victoria sensed both awe and horror flood her body. She went back three whole days, and changed something that had gone wrong. And now… was she supposed to relive the next three days? Was she supposed to pretend nothing had happened? What exactly were the rules of time travel?

Another thought interrupted her pondering.

Wait, did Nathan get her to the hospital in time?

Victoria’s heart raced. She scrolled through her texts, looking to see if Nathan had texted her back. Are they ok? Fuck, I shouldn’t have let him go. Fuck fuck fuck…

Thankfully, Nate had sent her one while she was sleeping. It had arrived relatively late… somewhere around 2:40 AM, but the response was relieving.

<She’s going to be ok>

<Thank god> Victoria texted back. <Good thing you’re a good drunk driver>

A second passed. Then Nathan began replying. <Real :P>

Victoria smirked. <So when is she going to be discharged?>

<She’s actually back in the dorms now. She’ll be fine>

Victoria raised an eyebrow to this response. Usually Arcadia Bay wasn’t that good about getting people back to their residences this quickly after a blackout type of night. She knew this from experience.

That’s… convenient, to say the least.

Nevertheless, it was probably a good thing she didn’t stay overnight in the hospital. She could check up on Kate herself later today.

<Awesome. See you later tonight?> Victoria typed.

<Yep! Same place at the lighthouse>

<Got it>

 

Victoria got up, stretched again, and immediately felt unbalanced. Sharp head pains burrowed into her skull, and she uttered a cry, stumbling back into her bed. She touched her forehead; she was burning up, although she wasn’t sure if that was from going back in time, or from alcohol.

I’m still not entirely sure of what I did… did I have a groundhog day moment? Victoria shook her head, and decided to give herself a second or two to recover.

I don’t know exactly what happened… I was looking into my video, and things went blurry. Then I ended up… at the party. It was like… I walked through my own phone or something.

She pinched herself, testing to see if it was a dream. Nothing.

Damn.

She pulled out her phone, went back to her videos. Could any of these send me back to the time when I filmed them? She wasn’t sure what to make of this possibility. None of them seemed to have the same blurry, sort of glow, like before.

Victoria recorded a quick portrait style video, just surveilling her room. Finished recording. Opened up the video.

Then she stared intensely, watching her footage play. She replayed when it was done.

 

A minute passed. Nothing. Victoria sighed and deleted the video. No good. I guess I don’t know anything about how this power works, except that it doesn’t.

It’s probably for the best… I’m all the way back three days; I wouldn’t want to go back further out and have to relive some bullshit. I haven’t found a way to bring myself back to the present… or future…? Another wave of nausea struck as she tried to parse her own lines of thinking. This was all too confusing.

But at least… at least Kate is still alive this time. And my reputation is intact, too. I have to make sure I’m not so hard on her this time. Some higher power gave me a second chance, and I’m not about to ruin it.

She steeled her resolve with that thought, then grabbed her shower caddy. It was time to commence the post-Vortex cleansing ritual. And no amount of time travel could fix personal hygiene.

-----

Walking into the bathroom, she was greeted by a very disheveled Taylor.

“You look awful,” Victoria teased automatically, and her skin ran cold with a very strange sense of deja vu.

It was as though she had done this before… talking to Taylor the day after the party, in the bathroom. Starting with insults.

“And you still look wasted,” Taylor replied in jest. “God, last night was something, wasn’t it?”

Each word in that sentence was exactly the same as last time. Victoria couldn’t exactly handle the uncanniness of the situation, and decided to focus on cleaning.

“Yeah,” Victoria rolled her eyes. “A fucking mess.”

“That Kate girl… what a patron saint she was!” Taylor cackled. “Did you see her? Really putting the ‘spirit’ in holy spirit, if you know what I mean?”

“She certainly was… something,” Victoria murmured as she washed her face.

“...You seem distracted…” Taylor started. Victoria clenched her teeth. Was it that obvious? Victoria had always been particular about social interactions. It wasn’t normal for her to reveal any sort of weakness.

Perhaps time travel had been screwing with her more than she had imagined.

Taylor continued her thought. “What’s bothering you?”

“It’s… nothing…” Victoria responded dismissively. “I’m just a lot more tired. And I’ve got a horrible headache.”

“Ah.” Taylor said simply. Victoria could feel Taylor had a question coming.

“Let it out, Taylor,” Victoria compelled. Nothing bugged her more than a thought being held around her. As if she wasn’t deserving of it.

“...You sure it has nothing to do with Nathan?” Taylor probed carefully.

Victoria scrunched her face in confusion. “What are you implying?”

“Oh,” Taylor said innocently, “just the way that boy drove Kate from the party. Didn’t it make you jealous or something?”

“Kate needed help. It wasn’t anything more than that,” Victoria grumbled.

“But you saw the way Nate was looking at her, right?” Taylor continued. “He was totally looking to hook up.”

“NO way,” Victoria huffed. “She wasn’t in any state to-”

She paused. The implications of that statement...

“Nathan wouldn’t do that to her. He’s a good person. At least,” she argued, “he’s trying his best.”

“Yeah? Well…” Taylor quipped. “You might want to go ask Kate, then.”

“I will,” Victoria finished bluntly, making it clear she wanted the conversation to end.

Taylor took the hint. “Good idea,” she continued, then paused. “I’m sorry if I made you upset… I’m defs still hungover.”

“Samesies…” Victoria managed a smile.

“Let me know if you need anything,” Taylor offered, before stepping out.

“Au revoir,” Victoria called absently.

 

She didn’t like the seed of the thought that Taylor had planted in her head.

Nathan wouldn’t do such a thing.

Nathan certainly was a bit of a troublemaker, but that wasn’t his fault. Just like Victoria, he dealt with tons of pressure from his family. Having Sean Prescott as a father meant that Nathan could feel the paternal touch throughout all of Arcadia Bay.

It wasn’t a benevolent one.

Although the money gave him quite a bit of prestige, it also really stressed him out. Who wouldn’t be, with the family name plastered across the dormitory, the school, hell, all over town? Victoria thought that perhaps if Sean chilled a little on his expectations for his son, Nathan wouldn’t be so high strung all of the time.

The Vortex Club was, in many ways, a place for him to feel safe. He brought the funds for bomb ass parties and large amounts of weed, and they brought him company. And Victoria had always seen that as more than a fair exchange.

Still… Nathan texting her at 2 in the morning, a couple of hours after he had left for the hospital, was a little weird. Paired with Kate getting back by the morning. It wasn’t out of the question, but…

Victoria took a deep breath. I’ll just ask Kate if she made it to the hospital safely or not. It’ll be fine anyway. She’s still alive; I don’t have to care about her this much.

...But I do.

 

It was the echoes of the past. Or, rather the future. Or whatever the fuck she had seen before she jumped back in time.

That sadness in Kate’s eyes. The hopelessness, the fear, the angst. She hadn’t been in a good place at all. And for three days, Victoria did nothing but torment her to that point. Her mouth ran dry at the thought. That Victoria knew the gravity of the situation.

Victoria wasn’t the best at empathizing, but she couldn’t help but pity Kate. It wasn’t in Victoria’s plans to assist in someone’s suicide.

That was not the person she wanted herself to be.

And now, she had the opportunity to turn that around.

-----

After finishing her morning (or noon-ish) cleanse and putting away her caddy, she found herself in front of Kate’s door.

“Knock, knock,” she spoke, briefly after doing so.

No response.

For a second, she wondered if it would be intrusive to barge in, but just as she was about to touch the doorknob, Kate was there, holding the door about a foot open.

She was alive.

She looked like a damn mess. But fuck it. Upon seeing her, a surprising pulse of relief radiated from Victoria’s heart. Thank god.

She repeated the statement in her head.

Kate is alive.

It took her a second to leave this brainspace and return to her usual lines of thinking, but eventually, her social instincts took over.

Kate looked awful. Her hair, normally up in a high stacked bun, was completely down and rope-like in texture. Dark circles marked the bottoms of her eyes, and her clothes were the same outfit she wore to the party, her white collared shirt and black skirt all wrinkled. She probably slept in them.

Victoria almost wrinkled her nose in contempt, but controlled her face. I’d probably get karmic retribution for sneering at her after what I’ve seen , she rationalized.

“What do you want,” Kate said bluntly. She sounded annoyed, almost afraid. Tired.

Suddenly Victoria realized she hadn’t prepared a response for this encounter.

“I... wanted to check up on you,” Victoria started the best she could.

For a second, they simply stood in silence, both confused.

“...what?” Kate replied.

“I said, I’m checking in on you,” Victoria said, with more confidence. “Are you alright?”

Kate’s eyes narrowed. She glanced around. “Is this a joke?”

Victoria frowned. “No, Kate, this is not a joke. I’m quite serious about seeing how you are doing, especially after your performance last night.”

Ouch. That came out harsher than I wanted it to.

Kate looked at her feet, sullen. “I’m fine.”

“I don’t believe you,” Victoria blurted.

Kate looked up, confused. “What?”

Did that sound too eager? Dammit, Victoria, get your shit together.

“You look… seriously hungover, if you don’t mind my saying. Alcohol is tricky business, and someone who is out as badly as… well, that…” Victoria shook her head. “I get it, you know. Hangovers suck. I have a headache right now from last night’s party too.”

“Uh huh.” Kate replied simply.

“In general, it’s good to drink lots of water and take a warm shower so that-”

“I’m… I’m not hungover, Victoria.”

“Oh. Oh?” Victoria’s train of thought completely slammed the breaks. “Have you been… hungover before?”

Nice going, Victoria. Probing for way more information than I need.

“Not exactly, but…” Kate crossed an arm to her shoulder, withdrawing physically. “I… I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Fair enough,” Victoria sighed. She slapped herself mentally. Stop acting so pretentious right now, this isn’t helping. “Point is, it’s a good thing Nathan got you to the hospital, or you would’ve been in much worse shape this morning,” Victoria said.

“Nathan… I did remember him saying something about a hospital...” Kate said. She paused. “But I never woke up in one…”

“It was that bad, huh…” Victoria murmured. Then she frowned. “That doesn’t make sense. A hospital would never discharge you while you were unconscious...”

Perhaps Nathan had brought her to another clinic, and then returned her here because the hospital was full or busy or something. There had to be a good reason for it.

“Victoria… I appreciate that you’re… ‘checking in’ on me,” Kate muttered. “I really do.”

She really doesn’t. At all.

“...I’m very tired and I need sleep.” She started to close the door, but Victoria impulsively blocked closure with a fist.

“Kate, do you remember anything about what happened?” she asked, trying lower the biting tone of her voice.

Kate looked towards Victoria’s feet. A pause. She appeared to muster up as much courage in her fists before continuing.

“Why… why do you care so much?”

Now it was Victoria’s turn to think.

She wouldn’t understand… would she?

She suddenly realized how strange her actions must seem to someone like Kate Marsh. After practically ignoring the christian for several weeks, illicitly mocking her for her abstinence club, and even taking video of her making out with so many people, just showing a lick of respect must seem completely out of the ordinary.

She took a breath.

“I’m… I’m not the queen bitch of Blackwell 24/7,” she started. “I know when I see someone in serious trouble, and it would be extremely callous for me to ignore someone in need of assistance. That’s the short of it. The long of it is more... complicated.”

Victoria felt like she had done a particularly good job with her response. So she was surprised to be stonewalled.

“I’m not here to be your charity case, Victoria,” Kate finished, and closed the door.

For a moment, Victoria stood, dumbfounded, in front of Kate’s room.

 

She needs time. But how much? She returned to her room next door, letting out another heavy breath as the door closed. She leaned against the door, caressed her temples. It was surprisingly difficult to talk to someone in such a different social circle than her.

Is it even worth the effort to talk to her like this? I did what I had to do. That’s why I was sent back in time, right? She’ll be safe. As long as I’m not poking fun at her for the next few days, things will be fine.

She stepped to her couch, rested herself. Opened up social media, for starters.

God, everything was behind by three whole days. She had seen almost every single one of these posts before. She scrolled idly, watching new updates as they emerged.

It was just… weird. Knowing what people were going to write before they wrote it. It almost made Victoria feel like she had some superpower.

I just wish time travel was more accessible… like in Steins;Gate. She giggled, thinking of how silly it would be to control the fabric of time with a microwave and a text message. It was more absurd than what had happened to her. And yet, she felt like anything was easier to process than her current predicament.

She took her mind off of Kate and time travel. In their stead, she found her homework. Upon pulling her assignments up online, she unintentionally let herself smirk for a moment.

It was time to put her precognitive abilities into action.

Chapter Text

Saturday evening was spent at the lighthouse.

Victoria completed her weekend homework in record speed, fitting a weekend’s worth of assignments into a single afternoon. An advantage from knowing the answers three days in advance. With so much time saved, she ended up at the gathering impeccably timed.

It was as she had remembered. The usual Vortex club moot, with plenty of wine and weed. And a campfire to cover the smell, to boot. It was already roaring by the time Victoria pulled up in her car. The cliffside was well lit by the late afternoon sun, and the sparkling waves and faint crashing of the ocean against the beach calmed her. It was incredibly visually stimulating, and it would be a lie to say this wasn’t one of her favorite photography locations. She never got tired of the place, and it was why they gathered here frequently.

As she approached on foot, she recognized the usual suspects sitting close to the roaring flame, plastic beach chairs and beers in hand. Nathan, Taylor, Logan, and Courtney.

This was the place where I showed all of them the video. And then I got drunk and posted it.

Courtney looked super baked already, while Taylor and Logan were just tipsy.

“Victoria! Now this is a party,” Taylor called. “No offense to ya, Nathan.” She gave him a wink.

Nathan chuckled. “None taken. It’s never a Vortex Party without Vicky around.”

“You know it,” Victoria smirked. She took a seat by her friends. “So how’s everyone doing post-Vortex?”

Victoria starting drawing comfort from the fact that she could generally predict what people were going to say next. Knowing parts of her life ahead of time brought a surprising amount of security to her daily functions. Internally, she kept track of moments where the timeline started deviating; after all, things were bound to be different after removing the catalyst for Kate’s death.

“Bruh,” Logan raised his beer, “it’s been a fucking wash. Dana still hasn’t texted me back…”

“That’s your own damn fault,” Taylor chuckled. “You deserve to be dumped for not being careful.”

“I just gotta know what to do,” Logan grumbled. “I know I wasn’t super mature about things… but I still… like her, ya know?”

Victoria was more or less aware of the drama between the once-paired Logan and Dana, especially since living through their breakup. She liked to think of Logan as a sex-ed lesson for anyone joining the Vortex Club.

“Maybe try writing her a note or something?” Victoria rolled her eyes. “Try something, literally anything new. Dana’s clearly tired of the bullshit.”

As soon as those words left her mouth she cringed internally. That was probably very inconsiderate of me to say. I mean, it’s true, but… her tested social instincts were in conflict with her precognitions. I should spare words like these from people like Kate.

To her credit, Logan seemed to be too drunk to process her biting remarks. “Hey, that’s not a bad idea, actually,” Logan drawled, putting his bottle to his lips before continuing. “How would that… how would I do that?”

 

They bantered for a few minutes, Taylor and Courtney making suggestions, Victoria cracking open a bottle and sipping between her usual remarks. The minutes passed surprisingly fast, and Victoria soon noticed the sun dipping towards the horizon. The golden hour.

Nathan had migrated to the bench near the cliff of the hill. She got up to join him, noting this was a deviation from how she acted last time.

“Hey, Nathan,” she approached.

“Victoria,” Nathan responded, numbly. He looked either rather high or contemplative.

“This might be out of the blue to hear from me…” Victoria started. She hesitated.

“I don’t mind,” Nathan shrugged his shoulders and threw his arms over the back of the bench.

“It was… nice of you to drive Kate to the hospital,” Victoria said briefly. Nathan nodded.

“I made the decision rather early in the evening,” he mumbled, “to take care of anyone who wasn’t looking too good.” He didn’t make any eye contact with Victoria, but she nodded at him anyway. “In any case, she gave us quite a good show, so it was the least we could do, right?”

Nathan finally turned to face Victoria, and there was a faint grin.

She felt her stomach turn.

This is how I used to talk about her… we really didn’t think highly of her. She was entertainment to us.

Her uncertain expression caused Nathan to frown.

“What? You don’t actually feel bad about the church girl, do you?” he chuckled.

“I mean… she doesn’t mean anything to me…” Victoria lied. “I just don’t want people to be turned away from Vortex Club parties in the future.”

That was one way of putting it.

Victoria wanted to pretend that she didn’t know Kate’s fate, but she wasn’t sure how much longer she could hold onto the facade. She started growing more nauseous, becoming more and more aware of the dissonance between her knowledge of the future and the callous remarks of her friends.

“You’re afraid of some abstinence club prissy?” Taylor, overhearing the conversation, joined in on the tease.

“Not afraid...” Victoria muttered. “Just-”

“I mean, she was the one who whored herself out. Alcohol just lowers someone’s inhibitions, if you think about it,” Courtney mused. “She’s the one building the reputation for herself. It’s got nothing to do with the Vortex Club.”

The way that the Vortex Club members converged upon Kate started feeling disgusting to Victoria, exacerbating her nausea.

“Well, it was her fault she couldn’t handle the drinks,” Logan dismissively waved his bottle. “If she came to more parties instead of going to church every Sunday, she wouldn’t be so uptight and such a goddamn lightweight.”

Stop. Stop it.

“She’s a great kisser for a virgin though.”

“Tell me about it,” Nathan toothily smirked. “She’s probably got the Blackwell spit swapping record now.”

Salty saliva started collecting in Victoria’s mouth. She swallowed frantically.

“Hey Victoria, you should post that video that you recorded of her!” Nathan suggested. “Just to cement her legacy!”

 

On that phrase, Victoria doubled over, and with a wretch, the contents of her stomach had emptied into the grass, a gray gelatinous mess with mottled chunks. All four of her friends chimed in at once.

“Oh god!” “Bruh, are you ok?” “Do we need to call an ambulance?” “Did you drink too much?”

She answered with a few more heaves.

“I think I ate something bad for lunch…” Victoria eventually coughed. “I’m ok.” I’m not ok. I need to leave. Now.

“You sure?” Taylor pushed. Victoria nodded best she could. “I think I might head out. I’ve had a headache from the party and it hasn’t gone away…”

“We’ve got ibuprofen, if you want,” Courtney extended.

“I just want to spend some time alone.” Victoria breathed.

 

They let her go relatively easily, helping her by handing her paper towel and mumbling best wishes and “get well soon.” After saying goodbye, giving Taylor and Courtney hugs, and waving, she ambled back to her car. As soon as she closed the car door, she began panting, hyperventilating.

Christ, what the hell was that?

She knew that the Vortex Club had teased Kate quite seriously over the days leading up to her death. But it was too much for her to think about in the moment. This was why she died. This… attitude, extreme carelessness.

She placed a hand to her belly, as if it would help her with settling her breath and her now empty stomach. When she sufficiently calmed down, she started up the car.

I’ve gotta find a way for the Vortex Club to stop talking about her.

-----

She pondered this line of thinking all the way back to the dorms, despite her body’s pains and aches. Could she find a way to convince her friends to get off Kate’s back?

After returning, Victoria methodically executed her necessary evening procedure; face wash, toothbrushing, plugging the phone into the charger on the end table, picking up all the excess clothing on the ground. After a flurry of activity, she hit her bed at terminal velocity and began the final step of the process; staring at the ceiling in preparation for sleep. Lying supine on a comfortable surface was preferable to standing with such a debilitating headache.

She could feel her exhaustion creeping up on her.

She started to suspect that she was, at least, partly responsible for this level of toxicity in the Vortex Club. It wasn’t an easy thing for her to consider; she was already very critical of herself at all times. It was just another negative trait for Victoria to improve upon.

The only difference was this change was a life-or-death matter.

If they keep talking about Kate this way, she’s going to get bullied even without a video, Victoria realized. I’ll have to figure out something. Maybe have Vortex Club… maybe… she yawned. At the next… board… meeting…

Victoria drifted into a restless sleep.

-----

Victoria wades through the air, passing through some sort of garbage disposal area. Maybe it’s a junkyard. Maybe it’s a supply depot. Either way, it looks industrial.

“Kate!” Victoria screams. “Kate, oh god please be safe.”

A tiny swirl of dust and clouds flurries from one side of the area to the other, crossing Victoria’s vision. She floats towards it. The little dust devil flings bottles, car parts, and other various refuse through its top, comically. Finally, it spits out another object, the item soaring through the air until it lands squarely at Victoria’s feet.

She picks it up.

It seems to be a bunny doll.

“Kate, wake up!” Victoria shakes the doll quickly. She howls, and is greeted by the howls of at least a dozen other wolves. The dust cloud wails in response.

Suddenly, she falls. Falls quickly as the earth opens up underneath her. She can barely pinpoint a set of distinct lights below, before...

-----

“Ugh…” Victoria groaned in discomfort, her eyes flying open. She was awake.

No thanks to vertigo.

That was the worst feeling to her, that drop in the gut making it seem like the entire gravity of the world shifted. That instability was excruciating, and only further aggravated by being set back 72 hours. Or however long she had gone back in time. Both time travel and vertigo shared a similar evocation of helplessness in the face of a much larger and more powerful world. They both made her feel much more vulnerable. And Victoria didn’t do vulnerability.

She reached for her phone again.

October 6th. 8:02 AM.

It was a good time to wake up. Victoria rolled out of bed, unplugged the phone, and began scrolling through social media, as per usual. Sending likes to selfies, typing short, witty comments on text posts, sharing and swapping memes. Watching the short little videos that people shared.

Finally, she looked through her texts. A couple were displayed as banners on her screen.

<Get well soon Victoria!> Taylor had written, shortly after Victoria had left.

<Yo, want to study for Chemistry tomorrow?> It was Zak Riggins. Victoria rolled her eyes.

<Let me know if you need anything!> Courtney wrote. <Also, take a look at what we posted last night! XD>

<katesvid.com>

 

Wait.

No.

She clicked the link. It redirected a URoll video simply titled “Vortex Party - Kate Gone Wild!”.

No no no.

She opened the link. Her heart sank.

No, this isn’t possible, this isn’t happening.

Someone else had filmed the party that Kate had attended. A video of Kate kissing people. And put it up online.

How could I have forgot?! Of course I wasn’t the only one filming! I’m such a dumbass. Goddamnit!

 

Before Victoria could even think about what she was doing, she was slamming on Courtney’s door. “Open up!”

The girl opened up with a groggy, “hello?”, but upon seeing Victoria’s face, hers also turned serious.

“Victoria? What’s wrong?”

“Courtney, you have to delete that video.”

“What video?”

“Don’t play dumb with me,” Victoria pulled her phone up, and put it right up to Courtney’s face so there would be no mistaking it. “It says it was uploaded last night. Katesvid? The one you texted me.”

“Oh, that one…” Courtney yawned. “Yeah, one of us put it up after you left the bonfire last night. Is it super important? Why do you want it down?”

“Because that’s fucking rude!” Victoria raised her voice in anger, almost echoing down the hall. She pulled back a bit, and instead whispered aggressively. “It’s kind of a bitch move.”

“She was the one making out with people… I just took the video,” Courtney defended.

“Do you think Kate would like people to see her like that?”

“I mean, no, but… why do you care what she thinks?”

“It’s not about what she thinks, but about respect,” Victoria chastised as intensely as she could at a low volume. It seemed to be working because Courtney shrank back. “Nobody deserves to have a video like this publicized. Imagine if your parents found out what shit you do on the weekends. Would they let you stay in Blackwell? Who wants to go to a vortex party where you can get snitched on at a moment’s notice?”

“I don’t know.” Courtney threw her hands up as a barrier between herself her and Victoria. “I’m just… she’s a loser. She isn’t important… right?”

“Courtney, I get to decide who’s a loser and who isn’t.” Victoria barked, pulling rank. “Take. The video. Down. Or I’m cutting you from the Vortex Club.”

She could see Courtney freezing up upon hearing that. Good. She had gotten through somewhere to the idiot.

“I’m really sorry… I just thought that you were on board with all of this!” she apologized profusely, before elaborating. “I… I didn’t upload it. I just airdropped it to everyone around me. You’d have to ask around.”

Victoria didn’t realize how much she was leaning into the doorway until she was practically inside Courtney’s room.

“Why did you even share it in the first place?” she interrogated. Courtney gave another helpless shrug.

“It was Nathan’s idea. He said that someone should spread the video around, that Kate deserved to have the video uploaded, that she was a hypocrite with the abstinence club and all. It made sense to me then, but we were all drunk at the time… well I was high, but still…”

Victoria exhaled again. “Thank you anyway, Courtney.” The follower seemed to tense up. Victoria became acutely aware of the fact that she didn’t frequently thank Courtney for much at all.

“No problem, Victoria. Please don’t kick me from the Vortex club,” she said meekly.

“I won’t… I was just worked up…” Victoria broke eye contact, deep in her own thoughts. “I’ve gotta start my morning. You take care of yourself.”

“You too.” Courtney took a moment to consider something, then closed the door.

 

Victoria withdrew to her room as well, phone in hand, heart pounding.

“Shit. Fuck fuck fuck.”

Who would know how to put together a separate webpage like that?

Her thoughts raced. There was no way she could figure out who was responsible for the website unless she asked everyone at the bonfire. It wasn’t Courtney, so it was either Logan, Taylor, or Nathan. It sounded like the most plausible suspect was Nathan himself...

Victoria disengaged from her deductive skills, pulling directly into her feelings. It was easier to stoke outrage for some unknown person than for one of her friends. 

Whoever put this website up, FUCK YOU. Fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you…

She threw herself back onto her couch, sinking into the white cushions, head in her hands. She threw punches against pillows, tried screaming in fury. Instead, a frustrated sob emerged from her throat.

Victoria hated, hated, hated crying. Contempt and anger were her modes of function; she could navigate those emotions with impunity. Sadness was overwhelming, it was uncontrollable. It forced her body to shake, to make a party foul, a fucking mess of herself. She was never supposed to let herself show any weakness.

And yet, for the first time in two days, she was weeping again.

It doesn’t matter what I do, does it? Kate is going to kill herself again in three days…

Images of concrete and rooftops. Of limp hopelessness. Screams. The horrified faces. The shivers from pouring rain. Intrusive thoughts of Kate’s demise leapt into her consciousness.

Her breathing quickened, and she couldn’t focus. Her chest, heavy and pounding.

No. No no no no. I can’t let that happen again.

The universe was telling, no, screaming at her to save Kate. But they gave Victoria nothing but a second chance and a shrug.

It’s not fair!

“How... do I do it… can someone... show me how it’s done?” she choked out to the void.

The void answered with silence.

Victoria felt her blood boil at the void’s reaction.

There was too much damn silence.

 

Victoria knocked on Kate’s door with a fierce urgency.

No answer. “Kate! Open the door!”

She paced impatiently outside of her room, waiting. Noticed Kate’s whiteboard.

Nice job, slut, it read.

Victoria angrily wiped the whiteboard with her palm. That felt good.

Kate’s door clicked open finally, and a pair of reddened, teary eyes peered out.

“What do you want? You’ve hurt-”

Victoria must have had a very expressive face, because Kate stopped before Victoria even began speaking.

“Come with me, Kate,” Victoria said.

Kate looked especially confused now. It was like she had been briefly shocked out of her sadness. “W-what?”

Victoria didn’t waste a second. “We’re getting the fuck out of here. I don’t want to be here, and you don’t want to be either. Hence, we’re bailing.”

“B-but, it’s 8:30 in the morning-”

“Did I stutter?” Victoria threw her most intense gaze at Kate. She shrunk in response. Victoria exhaled, loosening her face up a little.

“Sorry… come with me. Please.”

Kate, stunned like a deer in headlights, complied.

“I… I’ll grab my purse…” she mumbled, going into the room, rummaging around for a second, before returning. As soon as she exited her room, Victoria got a better sense of Kate’s mental state.

She wasn’t dressed in much more than a camisole and sweatpants, which was surprising for someone who generally was well-dressed in modest clothing at all times. The dark circles under her eyes remained, and her hair was tied loosely into a ponytail. She had been clearly crying all night, and her face was still damp from tears.

Victoria let Kate close and lock her door, then, when she had finished, she snatched Kate’s hand and began pulling her out of the dorms.

“Where are you taking me?” Kate asked, stumbling as Victoria led her.

“I don’t know,” Victoria grumbled, “away from the dorm, away from Blackhell, away from the Vortex Club.” She was already compiling a list of locations for them to go. The lighthouse wasn’t an option for now; it was too tainted with the memories of last night. Downtown was crowded but had places they could duck into. The boardwalk was more public, but in the middle of October, it was usually unoccupied.

“...do you have anywhere you’d want to go?” Victoria asked, unrelenting pace of her walk pulling Kate into the bright morning air.

“I… I normally go to church on Sundays…” she began. “But… I’d rather not go today.”

“Then we’ve got something in common,” Victoria spoke through gritted teeth. “I’m ignoring all my obligations with the Vortex Club tonight.”

They were now halfway to the parking lot, making their way across the courtyard in front of the school proper, when Victoria felt serious resistance from Kate for the first time as she pulled herself out of Victoria’s grasp.

“Slow down, Victoria!” Kate panted, stopping in front of the school sculpture fountain. “Can we stop?”

 

Victoria huffed, but stayed patiently where she was. She waited until Kate recovered.

“What’s wrong?” Victoria asked, crossing back to her.

“You’ve been acting really weird lately…” Kate murmured. She went to go sit at the fountain, thumbs on her temples. “You’ve ignored me ever since I came to Blackwell. I don’t think we’ve even spoken more than four or five sentences to each other in passing before yesterday. Now you’re checking in and trying to… help? I don’t know? What’s going on?”

Kate dared a glance up from the fountain, and Victoria could see more tears in eyes.

“Is this some kind of prank?” Kate asked, hurt in her voice.

“No,” Victoria clenched a fist. “I don’t want to hurt you. On the contrary.” She sighed, and sat beside Kate. Together they looked out onto the street in front.

“You’ve probably seen the video by now, haven’t you.”

Kate glanced back to her shoes. Victoria took that as a yes.

“I’m not the nicest girl on campus. Everyone knows that,” she started, “but even I wouldn’t do something as cruel as that.” She bit her tongue. Now I wouldn’t.

“The Vortex Club is… it’s not me. I didn’t approve of what happened, and I swear to God that I won-"

“Don’t do that here.” Kate said firmly.

Victoria winced. “Sorry. I mean… I don’t approve. I’m trying my best to figure out who’s starting the drama.” She almost added “ this time ”, but caught herself.

Victoria’s muscles tensed up as she flared in anger again. “I hate it. I fucking hate this bullshit. I don’t want to be a part of anything that’s hurting you like this. I want to fix things. I want to find who made that video, then expose them as the coward they are.”

She then swung her intense eyes toward Kate. “But right now, I want to make sure you’re ok. You’ve been through a lot lately. I know the last thing someone would want is to stay in a place where they feel unwelcome.”

There was a breath of time hung between them as Kate made eye contact. She blushed, the first flood of color that entered her face the whole morning. Finally, her gaze escaped to her shoes again.

“...thanks…” Kate mumbled. “...I don’t know where this change of heart came from… but a good Christian is supposed to be able to forgive anyone...” She looked lost in her contemplation, trying to consider what to do next.

Victoria exhaled air from her nose in response. That sounds... good...?

“So… do you want to just drive around town for a bit?” Victoria offered, softening her voice up as much as she could manage.

“What can I do for you?”

The last question caught Kate’s ears. She glanced up again, eyes wide.

“...Let’s get out of here.”

Chapter Text

It was a pairing out of necessity. Kate wanted to ignore the party. Victoria didn’t want to even think about the Vortex Club.

Both of them needed the time away from their own problems.

Victoria was glad to see that Kate also found some kind of freedom in leaving campus. As Victoria drove, she peered over at her passenger every so often. At the beginning of the ride, Kate’s body language was entirely closed off, legs and arms inside of her frame as though she were preparing for the lap bar of a roller coaster. But now, fifteen minutes into the drive, she had loosened up just a little. Victoria counted that as a victory of some sort.

After a few minutes of coasting on ocean-side roads, Kate suddenly began speaking.

“This sounds like Max’s music,” she mumbled.

Victoria hadn’t even thought about the song they were listening to. Holocene, by Bon Iver. It was just part of an acoustic, dark indie playlist she had put together a few months before returning to Blackwell.

“It’s good driving music for the morning,” she dismissed. “Although I would be lying if I didn’t admit I sometimes search for the music Max listens to in her room.”

“She’s got good taste,” Kate hummed peacefully.

“Well, of course she does,” Victoria smirked. “She has quite a talent for photography, even though she still uses instant polaroids.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” Kate asked, giving Victoria pause. Kate and Max are good friends… maybe I should lay off on insulting her as well.

“Well… I guess I’m sort of disappointed by her decision, more than anything else,” Victoria shrugged, choosing her words a little more carefully. “Instant photography is fun, but you can’t get ultra high quality shots without a DSLR these days. To me it’s like handicapping yourself. You have to burn through so much cash for film, and everything is too… permanent.”

“I think that’s why Max likes it so much,” Kate suggested.

“I know that’s why she likes it. It’s just so… hipster ,” Victoria rolled her eyes. “I mean, you can get some enjoyment out of it, and I’m not going to say it’s an illegitimate form of art, but… you know. I think she’s really talented, and she’s really selling herself short by using inferior equipment.”

“You don’t think Max is intentionally holding herself back, do you?”

Victoria paused again, then gave a shrug. “I just dislike people who pretend they’re not as good as they are. She should know how talented she is, and just own it.”

“That’s… a really nice thing for you to say about her.” Kate shuffled her feet in the passenger seat.

“Please, I’m just stating a fact,” Victoria retreated, but gave a polite smile anyway. “I prefer to spend my time around people with high self-esteem. Not dickheads like Logan though. They take it way too far.”

Victoria could have sworn she heard a laugh out of Kate. When she turned to look at her passenger, she could see a faint smile.

“So, it’s like a Goldilocks sort of deal for you, then?” Kate was definitely smiling now.

Victoria nodded. “You could say that. Don’t have a big head, but don’t be a pushover either.”

“That… makes sense.”

Kate smiling was perhaps the first manifestation of warmth Victoria had felt towards her in a long time. She had one of those sublime smiles that seemed to welcome everyone who witnessed it. Victoria regretted having to turn her head back onto the road, and didn’t realize she was holding her breath until she exhaled, feeling relief in her lungs.

“Do I generally not make sense?” Victoria teased gently.

“Well,” Kate sounded quite thoughtful. “I guess I don’t know you very well. So in a way, a lot of you doesn’t make sense to me.”

“What? Am I too complicated for you?” Victoria taunted. “Is that it?”

“Too simple, actually,” Kate countered with a grin.

Woah, that’s the first time I’ve heard her stand up for herself.

“This whole month that I’ve known you, I figured there was something more to you than your involvement with Vortex, love for photography, and constant bullying of other people,” Kate blunty put.

“That sounds like most of my interactions with the outside world,” Victoria confirmed, struggling to hide a wince.

“So… why that last part?” Kate asked. Victoria took a breath. “Why are you so mean all the time?”

Victoria didn’t like to think about her shortcomings, but Kate asked a question, and she wasn’t going to ignore it.

“...I learned from the seniors a few years ago. And my parents. They’re involved in the real photography world, and… people can be vicious out there.” Victoria looked out into the winding road. “I feel like I have to show everyone that I’m not weak… and maybe that means I have to step on a few toes out there to prove that I’m strong. I know it sounds petty, but I feel like I’m in control when I do it.” Until I lose it. Like with the Vortex Club now.

“Like photography,” Kate murmured. “You like to be in charge of things.”

“Exactly,” Victoria approved. “It’s why I don’t like instant cameras. You don’t have as much purchase with the most expensive instant Polaroid as you do with even a basic Canon SL1. That’s a fact.”

There was an uncomfortable beat before Victoria continued. “I know that’s an awful excuse for being a bitch, though.”

“Yeah, it is,” Kate agreed.

For some reason it hurt more when Kate said it. She never expected Kate to jump to her defense, but Victoria was used to reassurances from her friends and acquaintances that she was doing her best, despite everything. For the first time in a while, someone agreed with her self-criticisms, and she was taken off-guard. It was almost refreshing to hear someone speak to her so frankly like that. Courtney and Taylor never dared say anything too critical, and Nathan just didn’t give a shit.

Huh, so that’s how that feels like.

“I appreciate your honesty,” Victoria said, after a minute or so of silent driving.

Kate went wide-eyed again. “What do you mean?”

Victoria rolled her eyes. “You know what you said. And you were very brave in doing so. I wish I could hear more of that from you. I like it when you stand up for yourself.”

“I’ll... do my best, then,” Kate replied simply. Victoria felt her lips twitching into a smile.

“Good.”

-----

Kate Marsh was still very unsure of Victoria.

Firstly, as though it couldn’t be stated enough times, she was confused. It baffled her to find a benevolent, yet still aggressive, version of the Queen of Blackwell attempting to befriend her. Something had certainly changed between the person who handed her drinks at the Vortex Party, and the person checking in on her the day after.

Kate pondered this for a bit. God works in mysterious ways . She rolled her eyes as her thoughts echoed the same cliche she had heard time and time again. Yet, it did feel almost like some sort of divine intervention. It was like someone had replaced Victoria with someone else, someone who somehow understood her needs in this moment. And Kate didn’t mind this part so much.

However, it bothered Kate that the de facto leader of the Vortex Club, the group responsible for ruining her reputation in the first place, would be comforting her at this exact moment. Logically, it made no sense. She had to have really fallen out with the club… or something to that effect. In that case, was Victoria trying to make up for her mistakes? Or just trying to get everyone on her side? She couldn’t help but feel as though she were being manipulated.

No, that part was a fact. Victoria was manipulating her. But Kate could not parse why she was manipulating Kate, of all people, and toward what end. But it wasn’t like she could see into the future. So she had no choice but to follow this interaction to its end.

It wasn’t as though she had anywhere else to go. She had already begun receiving phone calls from family and relatives demanding answers for the video. People like her aunt, who she already disliked, launching strongly worded attacks upon her. Her mother, suggesting that she should be pulled from “the pit of sin” that was Blackwell. And she couldn’t imagine going to church anymore after this. After trying to start an abstinence club in school, she would be absolutely ridiculed in any religious center of Arcadia Bay. Or shunned.

In the light of the people who simply began dropping her from their lives, Victoria, pitifully, was her only line left.

And Max, maybe. Reminded of her existence again, Kate pulled open her phone from her purse, and made sure to text her, just so that somebody knew where she was.

<Hey, Max, I might not be able to do tea until the afternoon> she wrote.

<I’m hanging on the boardwalk with a>...she hesitated. <friend>

<Ok cool! Let me know when you get back (^.^)/ > Max replied, after a minute or so. Kate smiled. Max is quite the sweetheart. I hope she gets with Warren. They’d be good for each other.

Max was certainly someone she could trust. Maybe, after this excursion was over, Kate could debrief with her about it.

Victoria had by now pulled into the parking lot of the Arcadia Bay boardwalk. Belligerently stopping at a spot, she rolled up the windows, then pulled the keys out with a satisfying yank.

Victoria is… just… so aggressive. All the time.

“You want to go for a walk?” Victoria asked, unbuckling her seat belt. “Or just sit here?”

But when she asks me questions like that… she’s a lot less so.

Kate liked the gentler Victoria.

“I don’t mind either way,” Kate wrung her hands.

“Well, you should,” Victoria sighed. “I’m doing this for you, you know.”

Right. I should be more assertive. “I… I guess we should leave, then. I need to stretch my legs,” she nodded to herself, like it would make her feel more confident.

“Good.” Victoria smirked, then threw open the car door, getting out.

-----

It was a surprisingly bright October morning. Besides the idle calls of seagulls and the calming crashes of the ocean meeting land, there wasn’t much in the way of company. Just Victoria and Kate, step after step on the old, battered boards.

Victoria had brought her camera along. Not that she wanted to necessarily distract herself from her guest, but just to put her mind at ease. She didn’t really know how to talk to Kate, and it was easier to do something, anything she was familiar with.

Kate had uncannily identified one of her favorite parts of photography. The absolute control of framing, of sharing the image that was exactly hers. Whenever there was an uncomfortable lull in dialogue, or some similar foul, Victoria chose to snap shots of the ocean. Several clicks, then they continued strolling.

“You’ve taken a lot of pictures of the bay,” Kate noted.

Victoria nodded. “Boardwalks, piers, rock outcroppings, they’re all very useful for framing objects. And the ocean… the ocean is incredibly liberating. You could take a million pictures of the coastline and they’d all be different.”

“Maybe that’s why Mr. Jefferson likes this place so much.” The two were approaching an offshoot of the boardwalk that led to a pier which jutted just a few yards off the beach. Victoria agreed. “Arcadia Bay’s got some beautiful forests and beaches. It’s a photography haven. Really, any place on the West Coast is.”

“I’m surprised that he didn’t choose to pursue a residency somewhere like San Francisco,” Kate added.

Victoria pondered this. “A fair point... he does have enough awards and famous shots to be able to score a position at a university easily. I suppose he just enjoys the small town atmosphere.”

“Yeah,” Kate beamed. “This place is nice… for a small town.”

That smile... It made Victoria’s heart shiver.

 

For a second, Victoria felt like maybe her and Kate really could have been good friends if she had tried harder. Kate was inquisitive, observant, and kind, and even if she was religious, she didn’t seem to bring it up a lot, like Victoria had originally believed she would. She wasn’t annoying about her Christianity, barring that one time. And that was Vic’s fault.

It was too bad they didn’t spend so much time together when they first met.

Victoria was well aware of the “ten minute” rule. Those first impressions were so critical. It was what her father had taught her - that if you wasted those ten minutes, you may as well give up on forming any meaningful relationship whatsoever. She knew her father was right, but… just a glimpse into the kind of friend Kate could have been filled her with more regret.

The fact remained that true friendship could never form with the fundamental differences between them.

Perhaps, if she had a chance, she wouldn’t mind going back all the way back to the beginning of the semester for Kate.

 

They reached the end of the dock. Victoria put her arms over the railings. Kate joined her, looking into the sea.

Ugh… even this place…

“We had a Vortex Club party here once, about four months ago. Nathan’s parents own a yacht docked somewhere close by, and we ended up spending the whole night hanging out. Just us, a few cases of beer, and the wide ocean.” Victoria breathed in, smelling the salty breeze. “It’s weird, feeling like I can’t spend any time around them anymore.”

“I get the feeling...” Kate stared out into the sparkling sea. “Friday’s party sucked. It really did. And that video made me physically sick... But it’s even worse when so many people that you think have your back suddenly just… turn on you. Because of something like that.”

Victoria bit her lip.

I isolated her. This is isolating her.

“I… I can’t spend time around Vortex Club while I know that they hurt you like this,” Victoria offered helplessly.

Kate gulped. “I appreciate that. I do. I just… now it feels like, no matter what I do, there’s a shadow following me.”

She turned to Victoria. “You have to find a way to get that video down. I can’t have this thing on top of me for the rest of the year. I… I can’t take it.” Her voice cracked, and she slumped down to the ground, back leaning against the railing. Victoria blinked.

Within a few seconds, Kate had broken down, sobbing into her own arms feebly.  

Victoria stared down each direction of the boardwalk, just to see if anyone else was around. Noting the coast was (literally) clear, she knelt down to join Kate at her level.

“Hey,” she snapped. But Kate couldn’t hear her through her arms.

“Should’ve never gone… to the… s-stupid party… this was all my f-fault…”

“No, it’s not.” Victoria tried comforting, but her words carried a hint of annoyance. “It really isn’t your fault at all. Don’t beat yourself up over this.”

“How c-could it not be? I’m the worst… absolute w-worst!” Kate moaned.

Why am I so bad at this?

Victoria took a breath, and reached out to pull Kate’s arms away from her. She seemed too tired to hold them against her body. With them out of the way, Victoria gently held Kate’s chin with one hand, nudging her gaze up slightly.

“Hey.” Kate, through her teary eyes, connected with Victoria’s. Good. She massaged softly with her thumb as she spoke, evened out her voice.

“Listen to me, Kate. I promise I am going to do everything that I can to get that video down for you. And I promise that I’ll do my best to keep them from bullying you anymore. Ok? I’m going to make things ok again.”

Kate, wide-eyed even as her rosy cheeks became wet, glanced away, sobbing. Victoria’s mind, against her wishes, snapped her mental camera.

Kate’s sadness, stored into her cranium.

She doesn’t deserve this.

She cupped Kate’s chin with greater urgency, regaining her eye contact. “I’m going to need you to make a promise to me, too…” Victoria almost felt her own voice crack, but she pulled through, looking towards the ground. “You have to promise to… not do anything stupid. Do you understand me?”

Kate sniffled, and looked away again. Victoria started to worry that she was intimidating her. She tried pulling back into her mellow voice, looked up again. “Can you… can you promise me this? Kate? You won’t hurt yourself over this. Please.”

Kate nodded just a little. That was good enough.

“And,” Victoria continued, without much thought. “I promise that, for each day I don’t deliver, you can punch me. For free! Right in my smug face if you want.”

This comment partially jolted Kate out of her stupor. “P-punch you? Why would I want to do that?”

“Come on, now,” Victoria teased a little. “I’ve spent enough time around Blackwell to know what people think of me, too.”

Kate began giggling through her tears, and Victoria felt her heart soar.

“A free *punch Victoria in the face card* is quite the privilege, Kate. Don’t take it lightly,” she warned, smiling.

“I’m going to hold you onto that promise,” Kate finally said. Victoria turned her attention back to the girl, noting a delicate smile upon her lips.

“First, though, I’d love to give whoever uploaded that video a piece of my mind…” Kate grumbled.

Victoria agreed, nonchalantly adding, “He deserves to have his dick torn off. Plain and simple.”

Upon saying that, Vic bit her tongue, worried Kate would not receive her vulgarities well. Fortunately, Kate, despite herself, began giggling even more.

“You’re sure it was a boy that put it up?” Victoria couldn’t help but scoff.

“Please. Women get the hint after the first time you tell them they’re doing something wrong. Men are pigs.”

Kate laughed a little louder, and Victoria discovered she liked it when Kate laughed. At least, preferred it to seeing her cry.

Victoria finally stood up, and offered her hand to the Christian, who, glancing up at her, accepted, pulling herself off the ground.

“Thank you, Victoria,” Kate mumbled, arm crossed and rubbing the the other. Victoria shot a smirk.

“Anytime,” she replied. “Let’s get back to the car.”

-----

It was already noon when they left the boardwalk, and as much as Kate enjoyed the impromptu outing, she had homework and wanted to grab tea with Max. So Victoria drove her way back to Blackwell, stopping by a McDonalds drive-thru for some quick brunch. It was no Two Whales, but she deserved fast food after such an eventful morning.

Kate had ordered the hash browns and an egg McMuffin, and Victoria ordered a sausage burrito and a Cold Brew Frappé. She considered taking just a coffee with her, but her hunger was killing her and she wasn’t about to try and confront Logan or Nathan on an empty stomach. As they rolled up to the pay window, Victoria wordlessly handed in her credit card for both of them before Kate could even unzip her purse.

“Thanks.” “It’s not a big deal.”

Kate ate mostly silently in the passenger seat the way back. When they had finally parked at Blackwell, Victoria checked in with Kate one last time.

“Are you going to be alright for the rest of the evening?” she asked. Kate had sobered up from her crying, but Vic could tell that the video had not left Kate’s mind.

“I’ll… I’ll be fine,” Kate eventually uttered.

“Okay. Do you want to exchange phone numbers? You can text me if you need anything.”

“Sure. That might be nice…” They traded phones. Victoria typed her contact info, then returned it to Kate. She did the same.

As they passed phones back to each other, Victoria found her hand reaching to grasp Kate’s.

“Remember our promise.”

“I will.”

Vic gave her passenger’s hand a gentle squeeze. She felt Kate return the gesture.

And in that moment, Victoria suddenly felt a thread form between them. A physical, invisible web. They had made a promise to one another.

If this is what it takes to keep her from dying...

Victoria let go.

“Good.”

Chapter Text

Sunday ended rather undramatically, thankfully.

After driving Kate back to Blackwell, Victoria had tried contacting Nathan, Logan, and Taylor, in that order. Nathan, unfortunately, was unresponsive to her calls for some odd reason, each call going to voicemail. Later in the day, Nate texted the VC groupchat that the Vortex Club meeting that evening was cancelled, and had to be moved to tomorrow. He was evidently busy.

Logan had answered pretty quickly. Ignoring the sound of dead weights, workout music and heavy breathing, Vic eventually gathered that he wasn’t responsible, and texted Taylor after that. She, like Courtney, answered with a definitive no.

Victoria ended the day with a sense of apprehension that Nathan was responsible for the video, and mounting anxiety about how she was going to confront her best friend in regards to the subject.

-----

Victoria forgot about how judgmental she became on autopilot throughout school.

Since returning to the hallowed halls of Blackwell, she knew it was important for her to maintain her social standing as much as she could, picking and choosing her audiences as well as her enemies. She was so used to metering her interactions that it was second nature, made social life at school easy to navigate. At least, normally.

Now it became such a standard of habit that her passive aggression started becoming an issue. Particularly when paired with the need to keep Kate safe.

The video still hadn’t been scrubbed from the internet, after twenty four hours, and Nathan’s silence was frustrating her to no end. Victoria had tried reporting the video through the URoll moderating system, but they probably weren’t gonna do jack shit.

So she had to intervene in person instead, as best as she could.

“So you weren’t the one who put the video up, then?” Zachary Higgins asked for clarification.

“No,” Victoria grumbled. “I have no idea who it was. In any case, it was a shit idea. I’ve gotta look out for the Vortex Club, and this is, like, the exact opposite of that.”

“Fair enough,” Zach responded. “But a lot of people are blaming you for it.”

“And I don’t give a fuck,” Victoria retaliated. “I know it wasn’t me. If it were, I would have taken it down by now.”

People didn’t seem to buy her excuses, for some reason.

“I dunno,” Dana dismissively replied. “Sounds like a total Victoria move to me.”

“We’ll figure out the truth shortly enough,” was Juliet’s response.

“You don’t have to lie to me like that, Victoria,” Hayden crooned.

Victoria wondered if damage control was even working at this point.

-----

“Alfred Hitchcock famously called film ‘little pieces of time’ but he could be talking about photography, as he likely was…”

Despite sitting in Photography, on of her favorite subjects, she couldn’t focus particularly well in Mr. Jefferson’s class right now.

It helped that she had heard this exact lecture before. The subject was an incredibly basic overview of photographic and pre-photographic history that Victoria had studied meticulously. During her junior year, she presented a project on photograms of the early 1800s, so her knowledge of ancient camera obscura was already strong. Going through the subject just felt tedious now after The Rewind.

The Rewind. That’s what she took to calling it now. The four day reversal that changed her life. The opportunity to save Kate from her untimely demise, dangled in front of her. And it seemed like each day since the party on Friday, she had to fight to keep Kate from drifting further into depression. But she had a chance to save her, and she was taking it.

Speaking of Kate…she looked exhausted. Victoria consistently shot glances at her through class, as though doing so enough times would help her gauge Kate’s feelings. The grey circles under her eyes had darkened slightly, and the way she was sitting, she appeared to be collapsing under her own weight. Poor girl. Wish I had more classes with her so I could look out for her.

Out of habit, Victoria checked her phone. After their morning on the boardwalk yesterday, they had exchanged just a few texts.

<Tea ended well? Max Clutzfield didn’t spill any on you, did she>

<lol> <No, she was fine>

Kate sent pictures of her rabbit, Alice, and a selfie of her tea hangout with Max. The two looked really happy together.

<nice rodent you got there. Also, Alice is looking nice :P>

When she had seen the image, Victoria felt a mixture of emotions. There was definite happiness that Kate had someone else to go to, which lifted a lot of stress from her shoulders. She hadn’t realized just how much pressure she was putting on herself to keep Kate safe.

Then again, most people didn’t have the burden of watching a person die, and then give themselves the goal of keeping them alive the next time around.

The second emotion was what caused Victoria to be staring daggers into Max’s skull when taking breaks from watching Kate. The way that they just seemed to passively enjoy being around each other… Victoria didn’t boast that sort of luxury, even after yesterday.

She’s just a dumb goofy hipster. She’s not threatening. That’s the reason Kate spends time around her.

It was silly. Max was nothing to her… nothing. And yet, for reasons Victoria couldn’t parse, she was… resentful of the hipster girl.

“These pieces of time can frame us in our glory and our sorrow; from light to shadow; from color to chiaroscuro…”

Yet another thing consuming her mind was Nathan’s recent behavior, which to her was nothing short of erratic. Well, more erratic than normal. Where did he disappear off to for long periods of time? For the last couple of years she’d known him, he never hid a single thing from her. And yet, now, he seemed to drift further and further away from everyone.

Victoria made a cursory glance at her phone, rereading the last text Nathan had sent them.

<Meeting cancelled tonight. Got some business to take care of. See you tomorrow!>

What was Nathan doing that made him so busy?

Victoria sighed. She was starting to worry that Sean Prescott had cracked him for good.

I just hope he’s alright.

With that, Victoria turned her attention back to the lecture.

 

“...an example of a photographer who perfectly captured the human condition in black and white? Anybody? Bueller?”

“Diane Arbus,” she answered nonchalantly.

It was kind of comforting, kind of creepy how Mr. Jefferson answered her the exact same as last time.

“There you go, Victoria! Why Arbus?” he questioned.

Victoria knew what she said last time. What if I responded differently…?

“Arbus was famous for her shots of a diverse cast of humans… it was people at their most grotesque, ugly, or surreal.”

“She saw humanity as tortured, right? And frankly, it's bullshit.” Interesting. Mr. Jefferson certainly had his own agenda with the lecture. “Shh, keep that to yourself. Seriously though, I could frame any one of you in a dark corner, and capture you in a moment of desperation…”

He continued to prattle on, but Victoria became distracted by a paper ball flying across the room, smacking Kate right across the face.

The perpetrator was Taylor. Victoria narrowed her brows.

Last time, I led the group to bully Kate like this. Why are they still doing it after the Rewind?

It seriously bothered her how little control she felt she had over the group anymore.

Victoria did the best she could, sending Taylor a biting text.

<Cut that out> she wrote.

<Cut what out?> Taylor responded.

<Stop hassling Kate> she wrote.

“Come on, girls, no phones, please,” Mr. Jefferson warned, snapping at the two, and Taylor shot Victoria a glare. Odd. Victoria returned a fiercer stare, and Taylor seemed to back off, looking back down at her notebook.

Victoria would have to have a talk with her after class.

“...who can tell me the name of the actual process that led to the birth of the first self portrait?” Jefferson quizzed.

Victoria raised an eyebrow. She knew the answer; it was obvious to anyone who had even a marginal understanding of the history of photography… The last time around, she had answered immediately; she hated awkward pauses in lectures while teachers waited for answers. But…

This time around, she simply sat back and waited. Just to see who would break the silence first.

 

For a while, the air of the classroom became thick as glass, and Tori wondered if the timeline was shattering around her.

Then, it did. Or rather, it flashed briefly. Ms. Chase almost hopped out of her chair in surprise. The flash was from none other than Maxine Caulfield’s polaroid. Vic took a deep breath, then shook her head, settling back into her seat. Maxine Caulfield, you oblivious oaf.

“Sh-sh-sh… I believe Max has just taken what you kids call a ‘selfie’,” Mr. Jefferson quipped from across the room, reminding Victoria of why she had such a crush on the man. He’s just as pretentious as I am. His knowledge on photography was a never ending fountain, and he never gave up an opportunity to flaunt it when he could, as humble as he was about his photography career. That courage, that confidence… that was sexy.

“...and Max… has a gift. Of course, as you all know, the photo portrait has been popular since the early 1800’s. Your generation was not the first to use images for selfie-expression.”

Mr. Jefferson gave a quaint glance to Max. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist.” Max blushed, and Victoria rolled her eyes.

Mark throws her a scrap of affection and the girl just gobbles it up, as always.

She simply listened as Max mumbled out a response to Mr. Jefferson’s question, which was either inaccurate or just off topic. His response was rather surprising as he snapped at the hipster. “You either know this or not, Max!” Although Victoria took satisfaction to Mark’s tone, it felt… misplaced. It was as though he had anticipated a better answer from the hipster. She almost felt a hint of jealousy for Max for that, but brushed it under her mental rug.

“Is there anyone here who knows their stuff?

He shouldn’t put his expectations of Max too high, Vic smiled smugly as she raised her hand to answer the question, like last time.

“Louis Daguerre was a French painter who created ‘daguerreotypes,’ a process that gave portraits a sharp reflective style, like a mirror.” She couldn’t help but tease Max after glowing in her success.

Turning to the photographer, she prepared to deliver the killing blow, when her eyes made contact with Kate, slumped over, too tired to acknowledge much of the class material.

Dammit…

She simply settled with an antagonistic eyebrow raise towards Max, and then turned back to the front of the class. To Max’s credit, she still took the hint, clearly too intimidated to return to her polaroid-mongering.

I can’t tease Max while Kate’s here.

“Very good, Victoria. The Daguerreian Process brought out fine detail in people's faces, making them extremely popular from the 1800's onward….”

 

The bell finally went off, sending a wave of relief through the entire class. Most of the students immediately evacuated Room 102 as though it were on fire, leaving just Max, Kate, and Victoria.

Victoria simply got up from her desk, walking over to Kate. Last time she had went straight to Mr. Jefferson, but now was not the time to fraternize with the teacher, no matter how attractive he was. She looked around to make sure nobody of importance was watching her, then moved to talk to Kate.

“Hey.” She leaned against the desk, arms crossed, pretending to be more casual about the check in.

“...” Kate’s sadness rippled from her. “Have you gotten the video down yet?”

“I’ve been trying my best, but…” somehow Kate looked even more downcast. “... I haven’t seen Nathan, like, all day, which is strange for him. He also hasn’t been answering any of my calls.”

Kate didn’t respond. Victoria sighed.

“Are you holding up? Anyone trying to fuck with you? Besides Taylor, I mean. I’m going to have some words with her after this.”

“People… have been staring…” Kate muttered. “But besides Taylor, no one in particular. I’m kind of glad I haven’t seen Nathan today. Thank you for noticing, by the way.”

“I always notice when they… step out of line.” Victoria scoffed.

“You talk about them like they belong to you,” Kate observed.

“They practically pledged their allegiance to me in the beginning of the year,” Victoria rebutted. “I had no part in encouraging any of that.”

“Maybe they’re less loyal than you thought. Maybe they’re independent humans who can do however they please,” Kate said coldly. She got up from her chair, and started walking out of the door.

“Wait! Where are you going?” Victoria tried following her, but Kate gave her a bitter look that stopped her in her tracks.

“Out.” Kate left the room.

Victoria cursed herself internally. Nice job, Victoria.

She sighed.

Fuck. I can’t just let her leave like that.

 

She whirled out of the classroom, spotting both Taylor and Courtney, gossiping in the corner near the science classroom door, as per usual.

She had to find Kate, but first, while they were here...

“Taylor, Courtney,” Victoria snapped. “We have to talk.”

“Now? Fine,” Taylor crossed her arms, leaning back against the lockers they stood beside. “You’ve been acting really weird recently.”

“It wasn’t my fault I threw up in the middle of the party,” Victoria retorted.

“No, that wasn’t the issue,” Courtney jumped into the conversation, “But you totally didn’t even respond to our texts after that. And then you started bugging both of us about Kate’s video. It’s, just, like, weird.”

“I’m serious,” Victoria sighed. “That video has got to come down. I really don’t think it’s good for the Vortex Club’s reputation.”

“I don’t think it’s affecting our popularity at all,” Taylor scoffed, and Courtney nodded. “Most people I’ve talked to are super entertained by Kate kissing on all of those boys, actually. I don’t see what the big deal is.”

“Honestly, I think you’re just overreacting, Vicky,” Courtney said. There was a hint of concern there, but Victoria picked up on none of that.

“Overreacting?! What happens when the principal finds out?” Vic sputtered.

“Since when did you start caring about what the principal thinks?” Taylor asked pointedly.

“I… I don’t want this to show up on anyone’s record…” Victoria pressed, but she could feel her argument failing on them.

“Ah, Ms. Goody Two Shoes Victoria is looking out for us, huh?” Taylor said with a smirk. “Listen, you were the one that told us that the principal is under Nathan’s sleeve. It’s going to be fine…”

“But… But Kate…” Victoria wasn’t sure what to think anymore. For the first time, she felt like she wasn’t going to win an argument with her friends.

“I don’t see why you’re so hung up on her these days,” Taylor rolled her eyes, “It’s like you’re obsessed over her. It’s pretty fucking weird.”

“I’m not obsessed!” Victoria groaned. “I’m just concerned about her.”

“If I didn’t know you were straight, I’d think you had a crush on her,” Taylor scoffed dismissively. Victoria felt her cheeks heating up. “Point is, we’re your friends and she isn’t. Why are you being so weird with us?”

Victoria hesitated. She had considered telling them about the Rewind, about her experiences seeing Kate commit suicide, and then everything that had happened since, but she didn’t want to get committed to a psychiatric ward. She had heard stories from Nathan, and she wanted to avoid that experience, if possible.

Keeping the Rewind to herself was the best possible way to avoid maximum social embarrassment.

Courtney interceded, interrupting her thoughts. “You’re pushing both of us away to spend time with a bible thumper. That’s kind of a bitch move, Vicky.”

Upon hearing her own insult turned against her, Victoria’s fury snapped.

That’s it.

“Ok. Both of you are bullying the shit out of a girl who’s done nothing wrong and you’re accusing me of bitch moves?!” Victoria exploded. “That’s rich . Literally fuck both of you.”

She almost didn’t care that her words attracted the attention of half of the people in the hallway. Of course, she couldn’t avoid her penchant for the dramatic. She pressed a finger into Courtney’s chest for extra effect.

“And for your information, my name is Victoria, Wagner .”

With that, she stamped away, feeling a little more satisfied with herself, leaving two very stunned Vortex Club members.

-----

I need to find Kate, I have to make things up to her.

Victoria figured that Kate was probably in the bathrooms. So she tried that place first.

She entered, checking each stall inconspicuously to see if she was in there. Nothing. She continued looking until she reached the last stall. The bathroom was empty.

It was almost a relief to be alone, without the social pressure of dozens of students watching her. Giving out an exasperated sigh, she finally gave herself a break. Victoria released the tension in her shoulders, and walked to the sink. She washed her hands, ignoring the graffiti in the sink in front of her. She didn’t notice until now, her face was burning up and flushed red from the confrontation, her breath heaving from frustration.

God… what did I just do?

She paced about in the bathroom.

Half of Blackwell just watched me fall out with my friends, with half of the Vortex Club. If I didn’t have any command over the school before, then....

She considered making things up to Taylor and Courtney. It wouldn’t be too difficult; just a reconciliation gift and a few hugs. But...

The more I do, the less I know what I’m doing. I don’t even know if I’m even protecting Kate right now, or if I’m hurting her more. Well… at least nobody thinks I’m lying about the video anymore...

V ictoria made her way to the back of the bathroom. She continued pacing, and finally rounded the corner, consumed by her thoughts-

When she came face to face with another student.

“Ah!” “Ah!”

Victoria stumbled backwards into the tampon dispensary, her heart skipping a beat. The other student retreated as well, bumping into the cleaning cart behind her. Her eyes adjusted to the light in the corner, and then... recognition.

Max?

“Victoria?”

“What are you doing-” “What are you doing-”

They both shut up at the same time.

“I was just-” “I was just-”

Victoria groaned. She hated awkwardness. And this fucking hipster exuded so much that it was getting both of them caught up in an awful faux pas.

“Listen here, Caulfield. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t give a fuck and move on, but you can’t be here right now,” she quickly muttered, judgmentally.

“I… I’m s-sorry…” Max replied, biting her lips. She was clearly nervous and just wanted to leave.

Before she could, however, Victoria heard the sound of the bathroom door opening.

God, what now?

She turned.

And Nathan Prescott, of all people, was standing in the girl’s bathroom.

-----

-----

Victoria stared Nathan down, not sure what to think. Fortunately, Nathan seemed just as stunned, and it gave her an opportunity to speak first.

“Wrong bathroom, Nathan. What are you doing here?” Victoria approached the boy. She glanced back at the corner. Max made a point of sequestering herself even further behind the janitor’s cart. She was uncannily good at making herself scarce.

“...not your business, Victoria!” Nathan angrily grumbled, pushing Victoria aside. She felt an energy bristling off of Nathan’s skin. Sweat covered his face. He hurried to a sink, just staring into the basin a bit. “You don’t belong here. Get out.”

“Hey. You’re being pretty fucking rude right now. For your information, I belong here much more than you do,” Victoria retorted. Then she chose to soften her voice. Something was fishy. “What’s going on, Nate? Where have you been?”

“Sorry… but this has nothing to do with you, Vic.” He looked into the mirror, and she could see his eyes were… unfocused. Crazed, almost.

“Are you… off your meds again?” Victoria interrogated. “Or are you on something right now? Because you’re acting really strange…”

“You should leave. This. Doesn’t. Concern. You,” Nathan’s final line shut Victoria down.

Or it should have. But Victoria Chase was not in the mood to listen.

“Nathan, seriously, I’ve been trying to contact you all day. And all of yesterday. You just ghosted me with no response. Just tell me what you’ve been up to.”

She could have sworn she caught the flicker of dull metal reflecting the fluorescent lights, wedged right in his back pocket.

What the fuck…?

“Holy shit, do you have a gun on you, Nathan?”

He spun around. “What the- how did you-” He appeared even more worked up, paranoid expressions flittering across his face.

Oh. God. Was he… he planning on killing someone? Victoria tried keeping the thought out of her head, and instead the discomfort settled into her lower body.

“Nathan, why are you carrying weapons into school?” Victoria stepped closer.

“Why? Why not? I have a right to self defense, don’t I?” Nathan stammered, backing up slightly into the sink.

Her face was buzzing with electricity, and when she spoke, she could hear the tension in her own voice. “I’m worried about you, Nathan. I have no idea what you’re doing, or why you’re here with a gun of all things. But don’t use it here. Please don’t.”

Nathan’s hand twitched. He tapped his thigh rapidly as he spoke. “I… I…”

“Nathan,” Victoria implored, almost begging.

Please, please, please don’t use that here. Christ, what is happening to Blackwell?

Their conversation was interrupted with yet another swing of the bathroom door. Victoria turned.

A blue haired girl stood at the entrance.

Chapter Text

It took Victoria a second.

Then it dawned on her.

That’s Chloe Price.

The door swung shut, and the bathroom went dead silent.

The tension befitted that of a Mexican standoff.

Standing at the door, Chloe Price, the dropout grunge girl in the flesh. Behind Victoria, Nathan Prescott, showing up in the girl’s bathroom with a gun after a day of ghosting. And around the corner, unbeknownst to either, Maxine Caulfield, probably still cowering behind the janitor’s cart.

“Chloe?” Victoria echoed her thoughts out loud. She was too shocked to say much else. “What-”

“Victoria? Figures. Should’ve known the Vortex Club was in on this.” Chloe passed Victoria without a second thought, pushing through stall door by stall door.

Whatever assumption Chloe was making, it pissed Victoria off enough to bring her back to the present. She had enough of people speculating about her.  

“In on what? You should know the Vortex Club would never have anything to do with you . I haven’t seen you in months,” Victoria retorted, strategically deploying words laced with venom.

“She’s not part of this,” Nathan barked, stepping between Victoria and Chloe. “Neither is the rest of Vortex. This is between the two of us.” Victoria cringed.

Nathan’s aggression… paired with that gun...

Chloe snorted. “I hope you two checked the perimeter, as my step-ass would say. Now, let’s talk bidness-”

“I’ve got nothing for you,” Nathan growled.

Victoria shook her head in disbelief.

What the hell is happening? Is this a drug deal or something?

“Wrong, you got hella cash,” Chloe retorted threateningly, approaching Nathan.

“That’s my family, not me,” Nathan menacingly stated.

Victoria was painfully aware of his twitching hand, working its way to his pocket… her throat tightened, and her fury was replaced by dread.

“Oh, boohoo, poor little rich kid. I know you been pumpin' drugs 'n' shit to kids around here…” Chloe edged herself up to Nathan’s face. “I bet your respectable family would help me out if I went to them.”

“Back the fuck away from him,” Victoria warned. She didn’t like Chloe, but she wasn’t about to let her give Nathan an excuse to shoot.

“Or what?” Chloe turned her attention to Vic. “What will two precious fucking rich kids do to me? Beat me up, leave me for dead?”

“What? No, listen, Chloe,” Victoria snarled, trying to take the heat off Nathan,  “I don’t know what the fuck you’ve been on about, but you really shouldn’t be threatening him right now.”

Nathan’s eyes widened, looking to Victoria, but Chloe didn’t seem to notice.

Victoria’s words, unfortunately, heavily backfired.

“Oh yeah? Can’t threaten the fucking Prescotts, huh,” Chloe exclaimed with contempt. “Family business just too powerful to be punished for gentrification, extortion, rape, and now, what? Murder? You can fuck right the hell off, Victoria! Their family’s dues have been a long time coming now.”

“Leave them out of this, bitch!” Before Victoria could even react to Chloe’s comment, Nathan’s gun was out and point-blank in Chloe’s face. “You don’t know who the FUCK I am or who you’re messing around with!”

“Nathan! No!” Victoria shouted. Nathan turned back to face Victoria briefly. Pure rage on his face.

Victoria’s hands defensively rose in front of her chest.

 

Time slowed to a crawl.

At a snail’s pace, Nathan had turned back to Chloe, in the process of pinning her to the door, gun beginning to extend towards Chloe’s chest. Chloe, terrified, protesting, demanding where he got the firearm.

Victoria instinctively knew that if she didn’t intervene, right now, someone was going to get hurt.

So she let her instincts take over.

She remembered pulling Nathan back with a weak headlock, forcing his gun arm away from Chloe.

She remembered a deafening gunshot echoing over the ceramic tiles, causing her ears to ring for hours.

She remembered the gun flying out of Nathan’s hands, under a stall, Chloe taking the opportunity to push both of them away and run outside.

She remembered the faint sound of glass shattering, the fire alarm going off. Nathan wrestling himself off of her, almost swinging punches to get back control of his body.

Time resumed at a normal pace, and Victoria almost felt physical whiplash from the change. Her body buzzed on adrenaline, and she felt like she had run a marathon.

“Nathan!” Victoria blurted out to the best of her ability, over the siren of the bathroom, over the tinnitus. “Please stop!”

If he had heard her, he willfully ignored her, shoving her with enough force to throw her against the opposite side of the bathroom. “Don’t tell me what to do! I’m SICK of people trying to control me!”

Victoria felt the breath get knocked out of her as her back slammed into the wall. She keeled over in pain, sliding down the wall.

“...Another shitty day…”

By the time she had recovered, Nathan was already out of the bathroom, pistol back in his pocket, door closing behind him.

Victoria panted for breath, still too stunned by the chain of events to really comprehend much.

“Are you ok?”

She turned her head. Max Caulfield, holding an emergency hammer. Beside her, the shattered glass to the fire alarm.

Max… She…

They wordlessly exchanged a mutual glance of shared misunderstanding.

“I’m… I’m ok… let’s get out of here, Max…” Victoria panted.

Max dropped the hammer, and offered her hand to Victoria.

She balked at the offer, before finally accepting, letting the hipster pull her up to her feet. She propped herself against the wall, just breathing for a bit.

Max waited around for her to recover, then they made their way to the door. She dragged the bathroom door open, and together, they stepped outside.

 

The hallways had entirely emptied out, leaving an empty husk of Blackwell. It felt eerily silent, besides the alarm, and Victoria almost made the mistake of relaxing when a gruff voice barked from beside them.

“Hey, did you two hear the fire alarm?” They both turned. A man in a security uniform approached them. “That means you should be outside!”

Victoria rolled her eyes. David Madsen. He was an unrepentant asshole; had been the moment he entered the school system.

“We were finishing up in the bathroom,” she huffed.

The office didn’t seem to buy it. “Girls always use that excuse,” he dismissed.

What is this guy’s problem?

“Excuse for what?” Max asked.

“For whatever you girls were doing in there.” He jabbed a finger. “Your faces are covered in guilt.”

“We were just… caught off guard, Mr. Madsen,” Victoria stated, as respectfully as possible. “Neither of us were causing any trouble; the alarm threw us off and were just on our wa-”

“Threw you off?” The security guard snorted. “What? Have you never been in a fire drill before?”

This new security guard is a real prick.

“I have,” Victoria turned her words against the officer. “What about you? Is it your duty to interrogate people in the middle of an emergency?”

“Listen here, missy. It’s not your place to say things-”

“Thank you, Mister Madsen, the situation is under control.”

The Principal had approached the three of them by now, and had taken on an authoritative tone.

Finally, the principal is doing something useful.

“There's no emergency here. Leave Miss Caulfield and Miss Chase alone and please turn off that alarm, since that's your job.”

The security officer let out a breath, then reluctantly walked away. Victoria resisted the urge to flip him off.

“You two alright? You both look twitchy.”

“We were just both surprised that it went off…” Victoria explained. I’m not entirely lying...

“Oh, I’m sure, Ms. Chase,” Principal Wells nodded. “I apologize for Mr. Madsen’s hostility. I’m sure you understand he’s new to the position. That being said…” he cocked his head to a side. “I’ve never heard an outburst like that from you before.”

“I’m… not in a good mood today,” Victoria relented. “It’s been a rough weekend.”

“That’s understandable,” Mr. Wells spoke, “but I’d rather you not take it out on Mister Madsen, if possible.”

Victoria tried her best to not roll her eyes.

“… if you two need anything, don’t be afraid to let me know,” The principal turned, paused for a second, and then returned to his office.

Victoria and Max let out a sigh together.

“Let’s go,” Victoria urged, and Max nodded.

 

As they entered the vestibule on the way out to the schoolyard, Max interrupted their escape.

“Wait…” Max said. Victoria turned, and she could tell annoyance had flashed across her own face. She suppressed a snarky comment, and simply said, “what do you want?”

“Uh… thanks…” Max wobbled, “for that…”

Well, that was unexpected. Gratitude from Maxine Caulfield, of all people...

“...It’s nothing…” Victoria replied. She thought for a second. “Thank you for setting that alarm off. I think it stopped Nathan from... “ she paused. “...doing worse things…”

Max nodded, although she clearly seemed just as confused whether Victoria’s compliment was genuine or not. “No problem… I just did what seemed... right… I have no idea what just happened…”

“Oh, believe me, I haven’t the faintest,” Victoria rubbed her forehead with an index finger, then pretended to check her fingernails. “Nathan’s been acting really weird… and seeing Chloe in there with her was even stranger.”

And what Chloe said…

“Chloe…?” Max whispered, almost to herself, as if she were remembering something.

“Yeah, Chloe Price. She went to Blackwell for a bit before she dropped out.” Victoria turned to face Max. “You know her?”

“...yeah… you could say that… if they’re the same person,” Max mumbled. She murmured something to herself under her breath, something Victoria couldn’t make out. Victoria consequently rolled her eyes.

She reflected on the incident a bit longer. Nathan pushed me. She started to consider that perhaps, Nathan might be drifting away enough to be a genuine threat to people. She had never seen him this bad before.

She realized she had to warn Max. Either way, she needed to shut her up about this, since it wouldn’t do anyone good if Max blabbed to the school about Nathan’s gun.

“...well, while we’re here, I need to ask you…” Victoria shifted her weight slightly. “We shouldn’t talk about… the whole bathroom thing.”

“Sure, I won’t…” Max affirmed, but Victoria pressed the point.

“Seriously. You don’t know how much control the Prescotts have over this school, over this town. If you want to stay here, it’s best you don’t mention anything to the principal. He won’t believe you.” Victoria looked into Max’s eyes with a certain urgency. “Do you understand me?”

“Y-yeah…” Max breathed in with her mouth, that nasty habit that had sealed the nature of Victoria’s relationship with her early on. She heavily resisted the compulsion to wrinkle her face.

“Good… we should get out of here,” Victoria suggested. “We don’t want to get caught loitering by Mister Brick up his Ass again.”

“Yeah,” Max agreed, almost giggling nervously.

They left the building together, somehow, without exchanging barbs.

-----

Victoria forgot how much of a social disaster Max was.

After exchanging a simple “see you… around?”, she simply wandered off towards the dorms, mumbling something about wanting to talk to an old friend.

Ugh. That girl needs to get a fucking spine. Still… smashing that alarm was pretty ballsy. Victoria smiled. She’ll get there eventually.

She decided it was a good thing she chose to warn Max about Nathan. The nosy person she was, it would only be a matter of time before she tried something incredibly stupid and inadvertently piss off Nathan’s family even more.

Her phone buzzed, and Victoria checked it briefly.

<Victoria, where r u> Taylor had sent. <class is cancelled bc fire alarm>

<In front of campus> Victoria replied.

<What happened>

<Max selfie set it off in the bathroom>

<Wow srsly?>

<Yeah. One thing the hipster’s done right this whole year>

<lol tru> <see u at Nates?>

<Ya>

With that, she put her phone away.

The bathroom incident was still fresh in her mind, and the physical aftereffects were hitting her as she descended from her adrenaline high, so Victoria took a second to sit down at the fountain. Even with so many people wandering around the campus, she needed to be alone.

Firstly, she tried to remember if the fire alarm had gone off before the Rewind. Monday wasn’t a particularly noteworthy day in comparison to Tuesday. She faintly recalled something to that effect, but by then she had already been outside… But would Max hitting the alarm have been enough to save Chloe? What would have happened if she hadn’t been there? Would Chloe still be alive?

Victoria hoped that were the case.

But she was glad to have intervened in that moment as well. Even if she didn’t really care about Chloe in the first place, she didn’t want to know the feeling of being complicit in another death.

The second thing Victoria chose to ruminate upon was the implications of this interaction.

Nathan clearly had something to do with Chloe.

But what were they meeting for?

And why isn’t Nathan telling me anything anymore?

It bothered Victoria that Nathan hadn’t even let her know about this interaction pre-Rewind. It was like a new window into his life, and a disturbing one as well.

Victoria shuddered at what Chloe had said. “Family business just too powerful to be punished for gentrification, extortion, rape, and now, what? Murder?”

Gentrification and extortion were clearly part of that social justice angle that Chloe used to approach things. She had always been a proud anarchist, outspoken about the supposed injustices that the Prescotts had inflicted upon the sleepy town of Arcadia Bay. It was almost admirable how vocal Chloe could be, if it wasn’t entirely at odds with Victoria’s political compass.

But that last statement… about sexual assault… made her stomach queasy. She didn’t want to associate Nathan, of all people, with the act of violating someone else on that level. She wanted to dismiss the accusation as Chloe being fired up… but Taylor had made a similar kind of allegation on Saturday…

“But you saw the way Nate was looking at her, right? He was totally looking to hook up.”

Gross.

Nathan couldn’t do that to someone.

Could he?

Well, he was about to kill someone in the bathrooms. If Victoria hadn’t intervened… who knows what would have happened to Chloe.

Speaking of… those final moments of the confrontation seemed out of the ordinary.

Victoria knew, faintly, about the fight-or-flight experiences that people often had. Stories of mothers lifting cars off of their children, of people surviving absurd injuries. And adrenaline had certainly rushed through her body in that moment. But she had never heard of stories where people’s perceptions of time had slowed down like that.

She wondered, briefly, if this phenomenon was related to what happened when she traveled back in time.

There was no use dwelling on it, though. It arose in an emergency, and she wasn’t even sure how she activated it the first time around.

Victoria put the idea out of her mind for now. She had to resume her search for Kate.

-----

She must be somewhere outside with that fire alarm.

After combing half of the campus, Victoria finally stumbled upon her quarry.

Kate simply sat at a bench near the dorms, doodling on her drawing board.

Victoria approached her carefully. She didn’t want to scare her away.

The approach did not seem to work effectively. Kate looked up, noticed Victoria, and huffed. “What do you want, Victoria?”

I want you to be ok.

“Hey, so I just wanted to ask… did I do something wrong?” Victoria asked, trying to look as non threatening as possible. “I really want to know. You kinda just walked out on me while I was checking in you.”

“It’s not always about you,” Kate retaliated. She was already putting her notebook away, eager to leave.

“I… I know. I’m sorry,” Victoria apologized. “I just want to be able to help you.”

“You still haven’t talked to Nathan?” Kate glared, eyes narrowing.

Victoria swallowed. “I found Nathan… well, rather, he ran into me. In the girl’s bathroom.” She paused. “He had a gun.”

Kate’s startled reaction prompted Victoria to intercede. “But I stopped him before he did anything crazy!” Victoria sighed. “He’s… he’s been acting really really weird lately. Like, he’s been actively avoiding me. It’s like he doesn’t want to talk about anything.”

Kate returned to her bitter tone, zipping her backpack up. “Victoria… I want to put my hopes in you, I really do. I just… I really can’t. I can’t trust anyone these days. Not even my own family.”

“No!” Victoria didn’t mean to shout, but she couldn’t help it. “You can trust me . You have to trust me.”

“Why?” Kate’s backpack was on now, and her gaze felt like lasers upon Victoria’s skin. “So you can disappoint me again?”

Because I know what happens to you.

Victoria’s thoughts almost left her mouth and instead she shut it, stammering out some sad excuse for words, one of the first times she had lost control of her vocabulary in front of someone.

“Goodbye, Victoria.” Kate parted from her bench and headed back towards the main campus.

Victoria groaned, regaining control over her body.

Kate is really pissed at me. Maybe I shouldn’t bother.

She sighed again.

God, what am I even doing? I’m not helping her like this.

I’m not helping anyone like this.

There was nothing to be done for now. If she kept chasing Kate around campus without finding a way to get that video down, there was no progress to be made.

That prompted her to check her phone.

Shit.

<meeting in my room in five> Nathan had sent to the VC groupchat about fifteen minutes ago. A flurry of sidechats were occurring in the group, but Victoria wasn’t in the mindset to read them right now.

The Vortex Club meeting…

Nathan was there.

Victoria really didn’t want to see him again today. After all that.

But… if she wanted to be able to talk to Kate, she had to do something.

-----

Victoria entered the meeting in the middle of discussions. Pushing Nathan’s door open, she took in the scene.

After the Rewind, it felt like watching the meeting from another angle. They had conducted the same meeting before, but Victoria had been sitting on Nathan’s bed.

This time, Taylor occupied the position, with Logan and Hayden lying behind her. Nathan sat in his office chair, and Courtney sat at the far side of the couch.

“Have we confirmed we’re getting DJ Doom yet?” Nathan asked. “I need to pay him by tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I think everyone was on board,” Taylor confirmed. “I mean, we put it on the posters.”

“Ok good, just had to make sure,” Nathan typed.

Courtney was the first to spot Victoria. “Hey Victoria! Come in!”

Upon hearing Courtney, Nathan swiveled his chair around to face Victoria. “Victoria… nice to see you made it…” he spoke briefly.

A distinct discomfort settled into the meeting, something Victoria was completely unprepared for. This space that Victoria was so used to organically suddenly felt... artificial. She had spent so many nights in this room studying, gossiping, just existing. And now…

She navigated her way to the spot on the couch closest to the door, and dropped her backpack beside her seat.

“Wasn’t about to skip…” Victoria leaned back against it. The leather felt cold and unwelcoming, which was why she generally didn’t sit there. “Sorry I was late though.”

Nathan yawned. Weird.

He was behaving as though she hadn’t just caught him in the bathroom with a gun just half an hour ago.

“It’s no worry. We’ve got most of the party committee set. As per usual, we sent the ad to Juliet so she can print the flier into the Totem. And Courtney’s gonna be in charge of the guest list.”

Courtney clicked a pen symbolically, and grinned.

“Always a pleasure,” she cooed.

“Logan’s running security for the event,” Logan saluted in response to Nathan, “and Hayden, make sure to bring as much weed as possible.”

“You got that,” Hayden nodded lazily.

“And finally, Victoria, we decided, if you’re down, you can do the decorations and shit.”

Victoria nodded. “Yeah, that’s up my alley...”

“For sure…” Nathan reclined in his chair. “Looks like we’re set.”

“Not yet,” Taylor teased towards Victoria. “I’ll bet Victoria has something to say about her new BFF, Kate Marsh.”

Victoria felt her cheeks flushing.

“Shut up!” she harshed through clenched teeth, but it was too late.

The floodgates opened.

“Hangin’ out with Kate Marsh ?” Hayden gave out a chuckle. “What’s up with you, Vic? Never thought of you as the holy type.”

“More like the unholy type,” Logan chortled. “Get it? Heh…”

Victoria attempted to burn a hole through the football player with her irises, but was distracted by Nathan’s comment. “Really, Tori? Suddenly got a soft spot for the girl? Weren’t we just making fun of her a week ago?”

She uncomfortably shifted. The leather couch was now starting to feel unbearably hot. “Maybe… but we’re taking it too far now. Especially with Katesvid. I would hate it if I had something as embarrassing as that up.”

Nathan laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous, Victoria. We’re doing her a favor, keeping it up. It’s sex-positive.”

“Actually, no, it’s not.” Victoria found her confidence again. “She wasn’t fully aware of anything happening that night. She wasn’t able to consent. Like, at all.”

“Oooh, Victoria’s become a dirty SJW,” Hayden chuckled.

Victoria wanted to punch that smug boy across the face.

“I don’t think consent counts as an SJW thing,” Victoria countered. “It’s… it’s a respect thing!”

“Listen, Victoria, if she really didn’t want to kiss them, she wouldn’t have come to the party. See? She brought this upon herself.” Nathan sighed. “You should just let it rest.”

“I’m not.” Victoria turned her glare at Nathan. “This is, like, serious harassment! I think we’re actually hurting her.”

Courtney puzzled. “I do feel kinda bad for the girl…”

Nathan snorted, and suddenly there was a bite behind his voice. “Nonsense. This is all bullshit. Victoria, don’t get mixed up with her.”

“What I do is my business, Nathan,” Victoria returned. “You don’t control me.”

Nathan pressed it further. “She’s not important. So what if she’s sad about this bullshit? How she receives the video is her business.”

“And what? We’re just gonna let her get depressed over something we put up?” Victoria stood up from the couch.

“She can kill herself if she wants to,” Nathan snapped back. “That’s not our problem.”

What… what the fuck?

Victoria’s vision went white hot with rage.

This boy… had the audacity to make a fucking suicide joke in front of her.

Before the Rewind, she might have forgiven him.

But here, now, this was the final straw.

“Oh, that is it .” Victoria pointed a finger at her best friend.

“Nathan, you are a complete and utter asshole.”

Nathan received the insult with a mixture of emotions. Shock, sadness, betrayal, in a flicker of an eye. The astonishment vanished in a flash, replaced with indignation.

The room went silent.

“What. Did. You. Say?” He scrunched his lip sorely, fists clenching.

Without stuttering, Victoria repeated herself, balling up her own fists. “I just said, Nathan, you are a complete and utter asshole .”

Victoria faintly recognized there were other people in the room. However, everyone else seemed too shocked by Victoria’s words to form responses as Nathan and Victoria began hurling insults at one another.

“Oh. Oh! Ok,” he rebutted angrily. “Just making sure I heard that correctly, coming from the Queen Bitch of Blackwell.”

“At least I own it, unlike you, you fucking hypocrite!” Victoria snarled.

“Aww, go fuck yourself, you backstabbing bitch!” Nathan left his chair now, standing up aggressively. “You feel bad for one girl and now you’re the goddamn one woman crusade, preaching moral authority like it’s your fucking birthright!”

“Oh, I’m a backstabber?! I don’t remember making an oath to King Prescott. You don’t own anyone.”

“Whatthefuckever!” Nathan screamed. “Fucking slut!”

“Bastard!” Victoria screeched.

“WHORE!”

“MOTHERFUCKER!”

Nathan was up and stepping towards Victoria, but Hayden, in a flash, caught him.

“Mom, dad, please stop fighting,” he tried diffusing with humor as he struggled to hold Nate back.

“Go… go sleep around with Kate if that’s what you want so much, you flaming dyke!” Nathan hollered, further agitated by straining against Hayden.

Fine! I’m leaving!” Victoria jerked her backpack off the floor, and turned towards the door.

“Hold on, girlie,” Hayden attempted to smooth. “Don’t be so mad-”

Victoria whirled to face everyone. “I’m not about to waste my time around people who won’t even listen to me when I have something important to say. Until that fucking video comes down, all of you can go fuck yourselves.”

Victoria narrowed her eyes at Nathan. “Especially you , Nathan. I know you posted that video. You’re a fucking psychopath.” With that, Victoria prepared to storm out.

“Hey!” Nathan roared from across the room. Victoria twisted her head to face him. He had broken free of Hayden’s grasp, but remained where he was.

“If you step outside of this room, you’re… you’re out of the Vortex Club!”

Everyone seemed to take a second to process the threat.

“What?” Taylor uttered. “Nathan, are you serious?”

“Yeah, chill out man,” Logan said. “What are you getting worked up over?”

“Fine,” Victoria flared. “I don’t need Vortex anyway.”

“Hey, now, we don’t want to do anything rash,” Hayden said, worry entering his voice.

“But.... you are the Vortex Club!” Courtney whimpered.

“No, she isn’t ,” Nathan growled. “We don’t need her. Get the fuck out of my room.”

“Fine!” Victoria screamed. She opened the door.

“Fine!” Nathan yelled.

As Victoria stepped out, Nathan continued yelling. “You’re making a mistake, becoming enemies with me!”

Victoria spun one final time. “With friends like you, who needs enemies?!” Victoria screamed, slamming the door behind her.

 

God that felt… like a lot.

Victoria raged out of the dormitories, stomping down the hall, before finally settling at the dormitory steps.

She sat with herself.

And she cried.

She cried for a good half hour.

Chapter Text

Victoria stopped sobbing as the sun began to dip towards the horizon.

Her crying wasn’t really out of sadness. There wasn’t anything sad about her falling out with Nathan. Disappointing, yes; they had been friends for years, and now he was turning his back on her like this… but the way he was acting, he deserved a time out in Victoria’s social life.

Victoria cried out of... frustration.

She had gone into the meeting trying to negotiate something, anything for Kate, and left as an ex-Vortex member.

Nothing she did was helpful. Nothing she did was beneficial to Kate.

She had failed. And there was nothing more frustrating to Victoria than failure.

 

Victoria needed more fresh air. The last thing she wanted was to stay around the dorms.

So she made her way to the main campus, crossing the diag and passing the strange Tobanga Totem on her way out. Maybe she could drive for a bit.

Turning the corner past Principal Wells’ house, she almost accidentally ran into Kate.

What the-

Kate seemed to be cowering from someone. Victoria pulled back to see clearer.

...Mister Madsen, security douche.

“-so don't think I'm blind! I see everything here at Blackwell! Do you understand what I'm saying?” He had now gotten right into Kate’s face, spitting words vehemently.

Is he using her as some kind of anger management? Asshole!

“No, and leave me alone!” Kate desperately shouted, stumbling backwards.

Victoria was 200% done with Mister Madsen’s antics today, especially after her furious yelling match with Nathan. This fucking officer needed to be taught a lesson in respect.

She stepped directly in front of Kate, arms crossed, before unleashing her vocal onslaught.

“Mister Madsen, could you do me a favor and fuck off?”

David turned, a little taken aback. “Excuse us, this is official campus business—” he started, but Victoria did not waver.

“Excuse us, you’re completely abusing your position here,” Victoria barbed. “Let me remind you that I’ve been here much longer than you have, and our previous security guards never made a point of harassing students in this way.”

David growled, stepping back, and Victoria took the opportunity to close the gap. She wasn’t willing to let him feel comfortable bullying people for another second. “You’re Victoria, right? The one I just talked to in the bathroom? Funny, that I keep running into you. You’re part of the problem.”

“Oh yeah, ya really busted us , Max and I were buying and selling drugs, obviously .” Victoria went on the offensive, filling her words with sarcasm. “Please, Mr. Madsen, pat us down right now if you’re so fucking certain we’re doing something wrong, since I’m sure that’s part of your goddamn job description.”

“You… You... ” Madsen stammered. He was now pressed several feet back, and was clearly ready to retreat. “I will remember this!”

“Good, I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Victoria failed to hide the smirk on her lips, but at this point, she didn’t care.

The security officer looked entirely stunned by Victoria’s verbal takedown. He attempted to enact several different thoughts at the same time, floundering physically and orally, before bitterly stepping away. Victoria experienced a rush of satisfaction.

That felt good.

She turned to Kate. “Are you ok?”

She was still doe-eyed, locked in a state of disorientation. Victoria reached out to touch Kate’s shoulders out of concern. The contact snapped Kate out of her trance, and she dropped her shoulders, exhaling.

“That was… great… ” Kate breathed. “Th… thank you, Victoria.”

“No problem,” Victoria grunted. “That asshole deserved it.”

Victoria took her hands off Kate’s shoulders, and returned them to her sides.

They sat in an awkward silence for a bit. Kate held her arms at her chest.

Victoria felt herself dropping out of her standard posture, letting it collapse a little inwards.

“I’m sorry…” “No I’m…”

They both went quiet.

“Are you-” “you didn’t…”

Victoria didn’t want to scare Kate away again, so she stayed quiet, crossing her arms and pretending to look elsewhere.

It probably would be best if Kate spoke first.

Kate scuffed her shoe against the pavement.

“I’m… I’m headed... somewhere.”

She shot a glance at Victoria, then back at her feet.

“Normally I’m alone for this, but…”

“I’m coming,” Victoria insisted. Kate looked up, blushing slightly.

“O… ok…” Kate led the way, stepping her way to the dormitory. Victoria followed cautiously. She did not want to run into any of the Vortex Club right now.

“Is it your room?” Victoria asked.

“N-no… somewhere else...” Kate mumbled, climbing the stairs.

Victoria raised an eyebrow.

-----

Victoria followed Kate.

Victoria followed Kate up to the rooftop.

Her gut fell as they climbed the metallic steps together.

Oh… oh god… this… place...

“Are you ok, Victoria?” Kate asked. Victoria found herself doubled over, leaning against the railing.

“Y… yes… I think…” Victoria lied. She tried not thinking about it. That made it worse.

No no no no… I can’t… this is…

Kate opened the door to the roof. “It hasn’t been locked in a while… I found out a few days ago…” she smiled timidly, stepping through. “I know it’s technically not allowed…”

“I don’t mind that part…” Victoria said, behind gritted teeth. Kate held the door open for Victoria, then walked out herself.

Please don’t go to the ledge please don’t go to the ledge-

Kate sat beside a ventilation shaft, and meekly patted Victoria a spot beside her.

“H-here… if you want…” Kate offered.

Victoria was so glad to be sitting down.

Oh god. Oh god. Oh fuck.

“May I… ask why you come up here?” Victoria tried her best to stabilize her breath, but she was already panting, her heartbeat slamming in her chest like a drum.

“I come up here because… I feel like people are always watching me. This is the only place I’ve ever felt any peace in a while…” Kate touched Victoria’s hand. “Are you alright? You look super nervous.”

“I’ve got… vertigo…” Victoria insisted. “You know… fear of heights.”

And… jesus. Jesus Christ what the fuck.

“Oh!...” Kate exclaimed, readying herself to stand up. “Um… we can go somewhere else if you want…”

“N-no…” Victoria managed to stammer out. “Just… as long as we’re sitting here it’s fine.”

I can’t take Kate away from her spot… but she’s… god, she… right here…

Kate looked perplexed, but sat down again.

Victoria couldn’t help the thoughts springing up in her head anymore.

“...I sometimes bring my bible up here. Do some readings.”

Concrete. Rain. Screaming.

She could almost spot the exact position Kate jumped from.

“It’s… kind of nice…” Victoria fibbed. “Nice place to do things… and stuff…”

Victoria tried taking large breaths, but they came in uneven and choppy.

“...You’re really afraid, aren’t you?” Kate whispered. Victoria tried to snark the best she could, but anxiety choked her throat, so she simply nodded.

But not for the reasons you think.

“...I’ve never seen you like this before…” Kate noted.

“I’m good at hiding things from people I don’t care about…” Victoria managed to say, a fake smirk plastered onto her face.

Kate didn’t seem to buy her facade. “It’s ok, you know. You don’t have to do that. Not here.”

“I’m…” Victoria sucked in another breath. “I want to be here, for your sake.” Victoria uttered. “And I get afraid that… people I care about... will fall if they’re too high up.”

“...Victoria,” she felt Kate’s hand interlace with hers. “It’s ok. I’m here.”

I know… that’s the scary part…

Despite Kate’s touch, Victoria couldn’t stop worrying.

“Hey… didn’t we make a promise?”

The statement jostled Victoria out of her anxiety attack briefly.

“Wh-what?”

“We made a promise. I promised… I promised I wouldn’t fall…” Kate tightened her grip on Victoria’s hand.

“Yeah, well I don’t trust you,” Victoria croaked, doing her best to inject wit and humor into her voice.

Kate smirked, “...fair enough…” but didn’t let go.

Victoria focused all of her energy into regaining some composure, which resulted in them sitting together in relative quiet, Kate squeezing Victoria’s hand every so often to pull her back into the present, which she really appreciated. Eventually, the Queen of Blackwell managed to settle back into a state of semi-calm. She could feel her body starting to loosen up as exhaustion hit her.

She really had been “on” for most of the afternoon. She had watched Nathan almost kill someone… run into and confronted David Madsen twice… got kicked out of her own club, and now, followed Kate as she led Victoria up to the very place she died, twenty four hours from now, before the Rewind.

This… this is insane… did this much happen last time I went through Monday?

“...so… you seemed worked up when you ran in to save me from Mr. Madsen…” Kate whispered, plucking Victoria from her thoughts. “...Thanks again for that, by the way.”

“No problem…” Victoria sighed.

“So… what happened?” Kate pressed.

Victoria wondered how to word her next sentence.

“I… got into a fight with Nathan.”

Kate’s eyes widened. “Over what?”

“I asked him to take the video down. He got all roided up, we yelled at each other, and he kicked me out of his room. So…” Victoria cleared her throat, “I’m, uh, kind of not part of the Vortex Club anymore…”

Kate gasped. “It was that serious?”

Victoria nodded. Her throat tickled, and she swallowed. “It’s just… god, so fucking infuriating how stubborn he is. And he’s being a complete ass. I really… really can’t deal with him anymore.”

“But… aren’t you the Vortex Club?” Kate nudged Victoria with a shoulder. Victoria huffed in response.

“Maybe spiritually, but Nathan’s got the money,” Victoria explained. “They can’t throw the End of the World Party without him, so…”

Kate squeezed Victoria’s hand again. “What about your friends?”

Victoria shrugged. “Who knows? If they stay with Nathan, they’re not really my friends at the end of the day.”

The rooftop started feeling a little more serene, after she had no more energy to be anxious. Victoria understood why Kate enjoyed it up here. The air smelled pure, and anyone could see the whole campus from there, as well as a decent portion of the forest.

It felt… liberating.

That must be the reason why Kate comes up here. Why she came up before the… before she...

Kate’s voice cut through Victoria’s ruminations again. “You didn’t… didn’t have to do that for me.”

She looked at her outstretched feet.

“It’s fine,” Victoria reassured. “I would’ve probably fought with Nathan at some point anyway. He’s been really weird lately. I don’t like it.”

“... as long as you don’t mind…” Kate exhaled.

“I don’t.”

They both relaxed in their shared silence again.

 

After a while, Victoria dared to speak.

“So… you read the Bible up here…?”

“...yeah…”

Victoria shifted her sitting position. “What’s your favorite section… of the Bible?”

“You mean passage?”

Victoria winced. “Yeah, that.”

“...Matthew, 11:28…” Kate whispered, after a second.

“What does it say?” Victoria asked, thankful that Kate didn’t press her on her lack of Bible knowledge.

Kate hummed. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

She gave a soft smile again to Victoria, and she could feel the heat radiating off of her expression of compassion. Finally, the tension started to melt away, replaced with a safe… vulnerability?

Victoria couldn’t process the paradox.

“I’m not a Christian,” Victoria said bluntly. “The verse is... nice, though.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about that passage lately,” Kate murmured. “Sometimes I even…”

She paused, peeking up at Victoria briefly.

“You what?” Victoria asked. Kate bit her lip.

“Nothing. I just… since Friday, my whole faith, in my friends, my family, even in Christ, has been… challenged. Yesterday I realized just how many people completely disconnected from me after that video came out...” Kate squeezed Victoria’s hand.

“...you and Max are the only ones who have been trying to look out for me, at all. But Alyssa… Stella… even Dana and Juliet haven’t said a thing. And that’s just my friends…”

Kate’s face took on a sort of resoluteness as she spoke.

“Christianity is about faith in God, and God lives in everyone…” she spoke. “That’s what my pastor once said, so why…” she sighed, “why is everyone losing faith in me?”

Victoria squeezed back at Kate’s hand. “Because they don’t understand.”

“I… I’ve been thinking I’ve sinned, badly…” Kate swallowed. “Is this what true sin feels like?”

“What you did was drink,” Victoria assured. “That’s not sinful. I don’t think at least; I’m not the resident bible expert.”

“I… I should tell you something…” Kate let go of Victoria’s hand. Victoria raised an eyebrow.

“I’ve had wine before. I’ve been to Communion. But I had very little at the party, less than at any church event, and it still…” Kate choked back a cry.

“I don’t remember ANYTHING, Victoria. Do you understand?”

Victoria’s eyes widened. Her words fell out of her mouth, without any foresight.

“You think you were drugged.”

“...you don’t believe me?” Kate was tearful again.

“No, I do!” Victoria groaned. “Fuck… it’s a lot, but that makes a lot more sense now that I think about it…”

Kate was drugged.

Jesus.

Kate was now looking entirely away from Victoria.

She was hiding something.

“There’s more, isn’t there,” Victoria stated, against her better judgment. Kate nodded.

She appeared to try and start her sentence several times. Finally...

“The only thing I remember now is…” Kate strangled out words. “N-Nathan… Nathan carrying me… d-doing… things to me…”

 

A section of the puzzle fell together for Victoria.

No.

God no.

She couldn’t believe it, but… she had to.

Kate herself recalling… Victoria had a sinking suspicion, but this confirmed a million things at once.

“Oh, Kate…” Victoria stifled a cry. “Oh… oh no…”

Kate’s hands were crossed against her shoulders; it looked like she was trying to disappear into her own body. “He… I woke up on the fl-floor…” she gasped, reliving parts of her memory. “He… oh god, V-v-victoria… he...”

“Shh shh shh…” Victoria clutched Kate’s hand with greater ferocity than necessary. “It’s ok. I’m… I’m here… hey…” She crawled over to in front of Kate as she broke down, tears and snot pouring down her face.

“I… I couldn’t… couldn’t d-do anything! He p-pinned me d-d-down and… oh god… g-god I’m awful...”

“Shh shh…” Victoria winced, grabbing Kate’s other hand. Neither of them wanted specifics, and it wasn’t necessary. Victoria believed her.

“...you didn’t want to tell me, did you…?” she murmured.

Kate barely nodded, hands in her face.

“You thought I wouldn’t believe you if… if you mentioned… Nathan… That’s why you’ve been hiding... hiding from me…” Victoria felt a cry emerge from her throat. “That must’ve been awful.”

Kate pressed her back into the ventilation shaft, weeping profusely, body shaking from her sobs.

“Oh… Kate…” Victoria pulled Kate into a tight hug. She accepted, limply pushing her body into Victoria’s.

“I’m s-so sorry… for p-pushing you away… I should’ve let… let you…”

“No, don’t apologize for that,” Vic reaffirmed, through strangled vocal chords. “I’m… I was a huge bitch to you. You didn’t have to accept my help…”

Victoria felt her own tears leave her face and drip into Kate’s golden hair. She hugged even tighter, pressing herself against the church girl, as though doing so could form a protective shell.

And suddenly, there was the paradox again.

A safe vulnerability.

On the roof of the Prescott dormitory, two girls, crying and hugging and hurting.

Victoria didn’t understand.

Kate was defenseless.

And so was Victoria.

Under the right circumstances, both of them could be utterly destroyed by the other.

They were both hurting.

But they were hurting together.

“...And… and… th-things have j-just been awful…” Kate miserably sobbed. “I’ve… I think… I think I w-wanted to… let go of e-everyth-thing…”

Victoria squeezed against Kate more, almost growling, “No. No! I won’t let you.”

“It… it w-would make things e-easier… if I just w-wasn’t-” Kate was looking down and away. “If I was-sn’t… so… s-s-sinful…”

“No! Don’t talk that way! I’d miss you.” Victoria insisted. She wasn’t sure if Kate heard; she hadn’t responded. She cupped Kate’s chin, pulled her line of sight towards Vic. “I’d miss you. I can’t lose you.” Not again.

Kate returned to crying, holding onto Victoria for dear life.

Victoria didn’t let go.

They sat there on the roof for some time.

Just existing.

 

That is, until the snow began falling.

It came down slowly, first, almost like fairy dust from the sky. Victoria had been holding Kate in her lap, protecting her in a soft embrace. Alerted by the icy kisses of snowflakes upon her arms, she looked up… she had no energy to stop herself from releasing a gasp.

It was like they were inside a snow globe.

“Kate…” Victoria shook her softly. She turned to look into the sky.

“Wh-what…” Kate muttered, eyes flickering open. Victoria watched as Kate’s irises adjusted to the flurries.

“W… wow…” she breathed.

“It’s not cold enough for snow… is it?” Victoria thought aloud.

Kate snuggled in closer to Victoria, and she felt a heat rising in her gut. Victoria did her best to shut the feeling out. They sat together, watching in awe as the snow twinkled in the dying rays of the sun for a minute.

Then, suddenly, both girls could no longer ignore the intimacy of their bodies touching.

“W-we should get inside,” Kate said hurriedly, pushing out of Victoria’s grasp. Victoria let go, a little shocked to be rejected so quickly.

…rejected wasn’t the right word.

Was it?

Kate offered a hand to pull Victoria up, and together they exited the rooftop.

-----

“I’m not terribly comfortable with leaving you alone after all of that…” Victoria said, as they reached the girl’s section of the dormitory again.

“That’s understandable…” Kate hummed. “But you do live next to me, so in a way, I won’t be so alone. Right?”

Kate smiled, that bright radiant look that drowned out all of Victoria’s sorrows for a second.

That smile was starting to steal her breath away.

“Sure, whatever,” Victoria dismissed, even as she couldn’t help her lips tug into a grin.

“In any case, I’m a little tired… I might want to just turn in for the evening…” Kate yawned.

“That’s real,” Victoria nodded. “You should drink lots of water beforehand though.”

“This isn’t the first time I’ve cried before bedtime, Vic,” Kate teased.

Victoria grinned, hardly noticing that Kate had shortened her name. “Eh, had to make sure, anyway.” She put her arms around Kate, and gave her a hug, as big as she could manage. Kate, to her credit, returned the gesture as fiercely.

They both held on for a second longer than necessary.

“Seriously, though,” Victoria squeezed Kate again. “Don’t hesitate to let me know if you need help with anything.”

“Sure,” Kate sighed peacefully, letting go. “And… you too?”

Victoria scoffed. “Like I said, I don’t need the Vortex Club. Things’ll be fine.”

“Still… please don’t be a stranger.” Kate entered her room, turning to bid Victoria farewell.  “Night… Victoria.”

“...Night, Kate.” Victoria smiled, waving until the door closed.

-----

Kate closed the door, and exhaled a large sigh, sliding down to her knees.

Victoria Chase.

For most of the day, Kate had fostered raw hatred for her.

Most of it was borne out of the feeling of betrayal, of hurt. The longer time passed, the more her memories returned, and the more bits and pieces she could recall… Victoria filming, Nathan’s kindness, followed by… periods of emptiness, then flashes of Nathan touching her… a needle… and not much else.

It was awful how little Kate remembered. It felt like she was going crazy.

She had recalled Victoria behaving quite rude and obtuse for most of the party. Kate couldn’t imagine her being the same person who had driven her to the beach yesterday. Kate was sure she had been tricked.

And yet, another memory she recovered, just before Mr. Madsen had intercepted her… Victoria stopping her filming to shove a boy off of Kate… It was as though, in that moment, Victoria had suddenly realized that she might have been in the wrong.

Kate frowned when that memory returned to her.

Was that the moment that began her change of heart?

It made Kate reconsider her anger and rejection of the Queen of Blackwell.

Victoria was quickly becoming something of a guardian angel. The way she completely took down the security officer… how she got kicked out of her own Vortex Club to defend Kate… it was incredibly brave and reckless of her to do those things. They were all so… unfamiliar.

And yet, they were everything Kate needed right now.

God must have sent her here for me.

Kate thought back to her exchange with Victoria on the rooftop. Their comfort talking about the most uncomfortable things… the feeling of shared helplessness. She hardly expected Victoria to show any hint of vulnerability, but she had proven Kate wrong, willing to defy her own anxieties for Kate’s sake, even joining her on the rooftop.

And when Kate felt comfortable enough to break her suspicion of Nathan’s atrocity... Victoria hadn’t pushed her away, but pulled her close, kept her safe on that roof for what felt like hours.

Kate took a leap of faith and was rewarded with… something special.

And at one point, a warmth had stirred within her, compelled her to crawl into Victoria’s arms, to accept her affection.

She didn’t quite understand it. Perhaps she could track the feeling next time they met up.

Kate shook her head instinctively, and recalled her favorite Bible verse.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

It was settled. Victoria was her guardian angel.

No more, and no less.

-----

Victoria lay in bed, sluggish and exhausted.

And that was it. Monday, over again.

Except…

...everything was different.

Or rather, everything felt different.

Victoria shifted around in her blankets. It was too hot.

I’m glad she trusted me enough to tell me… but… Christ… After what that girl’s gone through, I don’t know if I could have handled that…

She flipped her pillow to access the cool side. That might help.

Nathan… god… I don’t know how I’m going to confront him and Vortex again after today. He’s becoming something I understand less and less...

The pillow heated up almost instantly. Victoria groaned. What was the point of the trick if it didn’t even help?

Despite her best, she couldn’t focus on anything other than Kate. Her utter helplessness… how she had left herself so vulnerable, trusting Victoria with that much information. She hated how she couldn’t figure out how to resolve the paradox about feeling secure while both of them swam in rivers of insecurity, and how that somehow made both of them feel… better.

God, I’m thinking like a fucking hipster, aren’t I.

At this point, she had kicked her blanket onto the floor of her room.

She probably wasn’t going to get very good sleep tonight.

Today didn’t end horribly, but… I need energy for tomorrow… tomorrow I’ll know for sure, if things have changed at all...

Victoria, troubled, nonetheless succumbed to her exhaustion, falling asleep.

-----

Chapter Text

It’s too bright out.

White lights, but painting the sky, a limitless classroom. Which classroom? The Vortex Club classroom, of course.

And snow, too. So much snow. It’s a fucking blizzard, for christ’s sake.

“Victoria… I want to let go… please, let me go…”

Victoria turns. Kate. She’s standing on a cloud, in chains.

“What? No! I won’t let you,” Victoria shouts. She’s holding a keyring. None of the keys are for Kate.

“Why?”

“Because…” Victoria points. “You can’t.”

“You’re being selfish.”

“That’s ridiculous! I’m being… selfless!” Victoria looks around. Her arms are missing.

“I gave up my toes for you, Kate! Every single one, except the thumbs!”

“It’s not enough, Vic…” Kate waves. She’s a bunny now.

“I’m going to the Prescott fields. To eat some pesticide-ridden carrots. Au revoir!”

She hops away.

“You’re going to jail, missy,” Mr. Madsen yells, pepper spraying Victoria in the chest.

“Kaaaaaaate!” Victoria falls upward, snow and stars flying by her face. It’s clear now, that the moon blocks the sun. A tidal wave rises above both.

-----

Ugh…

My dreams are getting weirder and weirder.

Victoria fumbled for her phone.

6:45 AM. October 8th.

It was too fucking early.

And of all the things to dream about…

She scrolled. No new messages. Nobody, not from the Vortex Club, not from…

<You have been removed from “VC Chat”.>

...Oh, that was why.

She threw herself back into bed. Despite feeling tremendously exhausted, she couldn’t will herself back to sleep, no matter how hard she tried.

Her usual strategies, trying to induce slumber with her white noise machine, failed. She picked up the blanket she had kicked onto the ground, and snuggled into it, attempting to just let her mind wander until her eyelids got heavy again.

...Kate.

Her thoughts always came back to Kate these days. And as calming of a presence she had in person, thinking about her this early only generated anxiety, making it harder for her to sleep.

She dies today… unless… unless I’ve done enough. God, I hope she doesn’t still feel that depressed.

I hope she’s still fighting.

The more Victoria thought about Kate, the more she realized that she admired the girl’s bravery. She was taking everything in stride relatively well, minus last night on the Rooftop. Even then, it took her tremendous courage to even share the revelation about Nathan to Victoria…

Kate’s a warrior. She’ll pull through… hopefully.

She wasn’t about to leave it to chance, though. Victoria made a mental note to keep tabs on Kate for the next twenty four hours. Everything had to work out, or… she could lose Kate again. And she didn’t understand her Rewind powers enough to rely on another chance.

No… things have to be perfect.

She glanced at her phone again.

6:56 AM.

Chase decided to set up her Keurig; if she couldn’t get back to sleep, at the very least, she could get ready for the day. And she would need the energy to save Kate.

Waiting for her coffee to finish, she started her normal morning routine. Planning outfits, taking a shower, washing her face. Thankfully, nobody else was in the bathroom when she went. She felt dead as a zombie and could not deal with anyone this early.

 

Returning to her room with a nice cup of coffee already hot and waiting was one of the best feelings in the world. Grabbing her mug from the table, she lounged on her couch for an extended period, sipping casually and letting the heat seep into her fingers and face.

...more quiet is always a good thing. Yesterday was way too exciting.

Her phone buzzed.

<Hey> <can we talk later today?>

It was from Taylor.

Victoria hated messages that started with “can we talk?” It never implied anything good, and whatever remained unsaid and had to be bound until they met in person produced waves of anxiety without fail.

Victoria hummed annoyedly.  <sure. As long as Nathan isn’t around.>

<You won’t have to worry about that.> <I’ll be at my tabling shift until 11.>

<cool>

After a few minutes of simple relaxation, Victoria started feeling the effects of her dark roast coffee.

God, I feel like a real human being now.

With her newfound energy to socially engage with the world, she considered going next door to Kate’s just to check in, and see how she was doing after the conversation on the rooftop.

...it wasn’t weird for her to be thinking about Kate so much, was it?

No, Victoria justified in her head. I need to make sure she doesn’t die today. That’s all.

And yet…

...that strange sense of betrayal when Kate had shoved her way out of Victoria’s arms on the roof… that wasn’t…

...was it?

Victoria sighed, shaking the unspoken thought out of her head. You’re imagining things again, Victoria.

Kate probably was uncomfortable with that level of physical affection, after recovering from her breakdown. And why shouldn’t she be? After all she’s been through...

Besides, both of us are straight… I mean, she’s Christian. All Christians are straight, right?

Either way, Victoria didn’t want to leave things with Kate unresolved, yet again. She stood up, mug in hand. Now was a good time to visit.

And she would have, if she didn’t hear knocking upon her door.

 

It was Courtney.

Victoria was surprised to see her, until she suddenly remembered that Courtney had been coming over to do her homework every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the last few weeks.

“Oh, hey, Courtney… ” Victoria crossed her arms. She wasn’t sure how to approach this social dilemma. It felt as though Courtney was coming to her more out of habit than anything else.

Courtney smiled awkwardly. “Can I…?”

“It’s ok… you can come on in,” Victoria grumbled. Courtney obliged, taking a seat at the couch. Victoria stood a stretch away, watching Courtney as she settled.

“...so how are you?” Victoria pulled a rolling chair up to sit and crisscross her legs.

Courtney shrugged.

Victoria sighed.

Of course she’s upset. Of course everyone’s upset.

“Hey…” Victoria scooted her chair up closer to the couch. She mentally prepared herself to do damage control. “I’m sorry that things are so awkward… I didn’t mean to push everyone away like this…”

“It’s… fine…” Courtney said.

They were silent for a beat.

“...Nathan told me that we can’t associate with you anymore…”

Seems like he really took control of the club after I left…

“Honestly, I don’t care what he has to say,” Victoria rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t get to tell us that we can’t be friends.”

“N-no, you’re right,” Courtney shuffled her feet. “And that’s why I’m here. But I don’t… I don’t want to leave the Vortex Club either...”

That statement gave Victoria pause.

She hadn’t quite considered the ramifications of being removed from the Vortex Club. Despite its massive irresponsible parties, the club had a massive reputation for colleges and universities. The way Victoria understood it, many successful and famous artists from Blackwell had listed the club as an extracurricular, establishing high prominence early on. Vortex Club was just that, a vortex for talent, and previous students clearly endorsed the experience enough that most high level education systems seemed to just accept the prestige of the club up front.

But now that Victoria had been booted… she wondered if it would affect any of her college applications for next year.

Oh well. University wasn’t a necessary step for a photographer, just a convenient one. She had the grades, plus her parents were well off enough to pay for any school.

Not everyone had that privilege, though, and Victoria understood that.

“I wouldn’t ask you to leave for my sake,” Victoria promised. “You do what you have to do.”

This statement apparently surprised Courtney. “Uh, you sure?”

Victoria kicked back against her chair. “Yeah. I wouldn’t want to take the Vortex Club from you. I’d be a bad friend if I did.” She yawned. “By the way, if you’re too busy today, you don’t have to do my homework. That was already a really nice gesture the first couple of times you offered, but I’ve been a little more… on top of things recently.”

Courtney now looked thoroughly confused. “Th-thank you, Victoria.”

“I do want to meet up to study for Chem later today though. Don’t leave class without me!” Victoria smiled.

“Of course,” Courtney returned her smile, this one a little more genuine. “... I guess… I guess I’ll head back to my room and get ready for class.” With that, she got up from the couch and stepped to the door.

“Take care, Courtney,” Victoria waved lazily.

“I will! See ya Victoria!” And Courtney was gone.

There you go, Tori. Being less of a bitch today already.

Victoria breathed in her coffee fumes, and prepared to visit Kate.

-----

Victoria was surprised to find Kate’s door open.

Her room was a bit of a mess in comparison to Victoria’s. Clothes strewn about, a whole mess of items covering her couch, including her violin. It suddenly dawned on Victoria that she hadn’t heard Kate play in a while.

The room wasn’t in the worst shape possible, and Victoria didn’t want to judge Kate out of the bat, but… she could only presume part of the clutter had to do with the stress she was dealing with.

It sounded like Kate was conversing with someone inside. “I thought The Jar probably was the most disturbing story in the anthology…”

“...It’s definitely a creepy one...” another voice murmured, shallow and breathy.

Victoria recognized the voice with a frown. Max. Of course she’s here.

“...I personally am a fan of The Old Woman , though. Imagine, seeing death at your door and going, ‘hey, thank you, but no thank you’. Honestly reminds me a little of Seventh Seal .”

Victoria heard giggling from inside the room, and decided to knock before stepping in.

“Come on in!”

Entering, she noted that the other voice did, indeed, belong to Max, who was sitting on the bed. Caulfield looked comfortable enough in her graphic tee and jeans, but had nothing on Kate, adorably dressed in a white shirt and baby blue pajama pants. She already had her hair up in a bun, and had pulled her wooden chair up to the bed to chat with Max, thermos in hand, probably drinking tea. It was nice to see her smiling so much.

It wasn’t so nice seeing her smiling with Caulfield.

Noting how close the hipster sat by Kate made Victoria briefly reopen her grudge. After everything that happened, Caulfield was still a better go-to friend than Victoria, and it showed every time they interacted together. Marsh trusted Max, much more than she would likely ever trust Chase, even if she was a time-traveling protector from the future.

Kate finally noticed Victoria’s presence. “Oh, hey Victoria!” Kate waved, offering her an ottoman to pull up to the bed.

“Hey, you two,” Victoria smiled, trying really hard not to let her feelings show. “Don’t mind if I do…” she pulled the ottoman over and sat down.

“H-hey… Victoria…” Max muttered, clearly startled by Victoria’s entrance.

Kate smiled, sipping from her thermos. “We were just talking about the October Country.

“Oh, that old thing…” Victoria scoffed. “Bradbury’s alright, but his writing conventions... I prefer Philip K. Dick over him when it comes to sci-fi. It’s a shame we aren’t assigned better literature for this class.”

“...I agree... “ Max said hesitantly. “Ray’s certainly got some lyricism in his writing though; it’s not all bad.”

Without thinking much, Victoria took a large quaff of her coffee, shooting Max a look. “You’re right.”

Shit. I didn’t mean to do that.

Caulfield seemed to take the hint. “H-hey… Kate, I’ve gotta meet up with Chloe for breakfast soon. I should probably head out before she gets more mad at me...”

Kate hummed. “Ok. It was nice to catch up.”

“Let me know if there’s anything you need,” Max said softly, getting up from the bed.

As she prepared to leave, Kate went and opened the door for Max. “We have to all hang out sometime,” Kate suggested. “You, me, and Victoria. I think it would be fun.”

Victoria and Max shared another, more conciliatory look, and then glanced back at Kate. Marsh dazzled the room with another of her smiles, and Victoria couldn’t help but concede.

“Yeah, I’d be down,” Victoria said more than half-heartedly.

You just can’t ignore a smile like that...

Max gave a thumbs up. “S-sure, Kate.” She returned a look of confusion towards Victoria, before finally ducking out.

 

Kate closed the door, strode back to her wooden chair, and settled down into her seat with a sigh. “ Victoria… ” The way Kate said her name almost sounded like she was shaming her.

Victoria pretended not to pick up the queue, taking Max’s place on the bed. “What’s up?”

Kate shook her head and chuckled a little. “You know what you did.” Victoria blushed as Kate continued. “You know you can be quite intimidating sometimes. You scared poor Maxie away.”

That cutesy nickname made Victoria want to throat punch a cat or something.

“I didn’t mean to…” Victoria huffed. “It’s just… social instincts.”

“Well, that sounds like a problem on your end,” Kate said bluntly. Victoria winced.

Kate sure can be harsh when she wants.

“Kate, she wears graphic tees, listens to Alt-J, and uses a polaroid,” Victoria defended. “It’s like every hipster cliche rolled into one.”

“Sounds like you’re jealous of her aesthetic,” Kate teased.

Victoria flushed. “Uh? Why would I be jealous of Caulfield? I’ve already got my own style down, and I like it the way it is.” As if to demonstrate, she waved a hand through her short pixie cut.

Kate took another sip from her thermos, composed and unwavering. “Well, Max is one of my only other friends right now. If you want to spend time around me, it’s inevitable you’re going to interact with her a lot more. Neither of you have a monopoly on social interactions with me, so please don’t feel like you have to compete with her. This isn’t the Vortex Club.”

Kate was doing that thing where she uncannily analyzed and took apart Victoria’s behavior again. Victoria wondered if Kate had ever considered doing therapy work as a profession.

“Remind me what you were planning to apply to college for?” Victoria teased. “Psychiatry?”

Kate chuckled, waving her hand. “Nah, I’m still an art student by heart. Hoping to be a children’s book illustrator, actually.”

“That’s… really fitting for someone like you,” Victoria acknowledged.

So that’s why she’s drawing all the time.

“I’m glad you think so,” Kate finished her tea, and put her thermos aside. “In any case, could you try to not scare Max so much?”

Victoria conceded with a fake grumble. “I guess l’ll work on being less annoyed at her.”

“Good,” Kate smiled again, and Victoria felt warmth radiate through her body. She blamed it on the caffeine.

Spending time with Kate again felt nice. After yesterday, which mostly consisted of Victoria hunting for Kate across campus, it was nice that she trusted Victoria enough to hang out this morning.

What happened on the roof was probably helpful…

Victoria shivered unconsciously as she thought about the way Kate had cried on her. An unspoken level of faith had been bestowed upon Ms. Chase in that moment.

It was clear most of it had evaporated between last night and today, though. It made sense. She needed me then, but now that things are better, she doesn’t really need me anymore.

Victoria wasn’t sure if she were more relieved or disappointed that this was the case.

“So… how are you holding up?” she managed to say.

“I’m doing ok…” Kate began shifting to a more comfortable position on the seat. “Since I’ve been behind on a couple of assignments, I’ve been thinking of asking Mr. Jefferson for an extension on the readings we had to do.”

“That sounds like a smart idea,” Victoria approved.

“Mhm,” Kate took another breath, as if to steel herself. “Besides that… not much. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with all the stuff about… Nathan…”

The name triggered a feeling of anger in Victoria.

That fucking piece of shit.

Last night, she had been far too tired to process the news. But now that she was a little more rested, newfound rage swirled in her. If she could report him to the police and be done with it, she would have called in a heartbeat.

But that line of thinking crashed and burned when she thought about the Prescotts. No doubt they had liaisons in the police, or something to that effect. Not only would going to Principal Wells be ineffective, but going to the police could just tie up all their efforts and leave them feeling even more helpless than before.

“I asked Max for advice…” Kate mumbled, frowning. “She told me that it was a bad idea to talk to the police.”

Victoria was now glad she had talked to Max after the bathroom incident.

“She’s right, for once,” Victoria snorted, finishing her coffee. Kate smirked at her remark, but returned back to her glower.

Victoria continued, resting the mug in her lap, “trust me, the last thing I want to do is let Nathan off the hook for what he’s done. But we have no evidence, no trail to follow. It’s going to be difficult to build any case, especially if the Prescotts have people in the police.”

“So, what are we supposed to do then?” Kate crossed her arms. “I need some kind of resolution… we can’t just let him get away with this.”

“I know. We won’t,” Victoria promised, resisting the urge to reach out and physically comfort her. “I can try and do some digging on my own time… or, we could… try and follow a lead I have.”

“You have a lead? What is it?” Kate asked eagerly.

Victoria recalled her interaction with everyone in the bathroom.

Chloe Price and Nathan… fighting over something…

Chloe had said something about sexual assault at the time.

Did she know about what happened to Kate?

“Somehow, I know Chloe is involved in all of this,” Victoria grumbled.

“Chloe?” Kate repeated. “Max said she had a friend named Chloe… that they were going to hang out later today. Why is she important to all of this?”

“Well, remember when I said I saw Nathan in the bathroom with a gun yesterday?”

Kate nodded.

“Well…” Victoria crossed her arms. “It seemed like he was trying to settle some kind of dispute with her, and he had brought the gun for her. Whatever they were doing, it wasn’t just some kind of innocent interaction.”

“That definitely sounds suspicious,” Kate agreed. “I’ll have to ask Max, then. Maybe we can get a better idea of what’s going on after their hangout.”

Victoria sighed. “Sounds like a plan.” With that, she got off of the bed. “Anyhow, I think I’m gonna get ready for school. See you in Photography?”

Kate grinned faintly. “Sure, Tori.”

Victoria felt heat in her chest again. That was a cute name, Tori. Normally, she wouldn’t let someone get away with it, but…

...She caught one last glimpse of Kate’s tender face, and felt the heat enter her cheeks...

...She could make an exception for Kate Marsh.

-----

Returning to school was not as smooth of a transition as it could have been.

It was the little gestures that started throwing Victoria off as she paced the hallways of Blackwell.

First, being ignored by all the boys of the Vortex Club was… irritating. Not that they had ever been particularly important, but she wasn’t commanding the sort of respect she generally garnered when she walked down the halls. They either ignored her or made a point of looking away if they happened to make eye contact. Logan was definitely more awkward about it than Hayden. Probably because Logan is socially dumb as a pile of bricks.

What was more frustrating was the way that average students starting going quiet whenever she passed. She could tell. The gossip had spread quickly, and people made sure to fill each other in on Victoria’s ex-Vortex status, often right under their breaths as she passed by.

It boggles me why people try that bullshit. I can hear all of you, you know.

 

Between classes, Victoria finally had the opportunity to talk to Taylor, who was currently fiddling with a pen at the fold out table meant to advertise the party.

She looked really tired.

“Hey.” Victoria stood in front of the table.

“Oh, hey, Victoria…” Taylor shifted in discomfort. “Glad to see you made it, instead of running off to… ugh, nevermind.”

“...Taylor, I jus-” Victoria started, but Taylor cut her off.

“No, I get it. I really do, Victoria,” Taylor sighed, leaning back into her plastic seat. “We’ve all been feeling pretty guilty about that video, but you were the only one brave enough to do anything about it. Most everyone wants it down now, but Nathan doesn’t respond when we ask about it.”

“Sounds like stubborn old him,” Victoria snorted. “How are things with the Vortex Club otherwise…?”

“They’re alright…” Taylor fiddled with her pencil. “Between you and me… Not as interesting without you around…”

“That… sucks…” Victoria admitted. She almost worried that she had been missing out, but the way Taylor described it, it didn’t seem to be the case. “But I made up my mind, and I’m not going back.”

“And I don’t blame you…” Taylor sighed. “We’ve been trying to talk sense into Nathan, but he’s been finding ways to completely cut you out of the picture instead, such as assigning Sarah to party decoration duty. I guess he’s still hurt from the argument yesterday.”

“That’s frustrating…” Victoria groaned.

“Yeah, it is. Most of us are just carrying on like nothing happened, although Nathan told us we really shouldn’t talk to you anymore…” Taylor returned to messing with her pen.

Victoria chuckled. “I don’t think it’s a realistic suggestion to ignore the Queen of Blackwell.”

“That’s the Victoria I know,” Taylor jabbed in return, and they giggled a bit.

Ms. Christensen propped herself with an elbow as they chatted. “So… how is Kate?”

Victoria was taken aback. Do they actually care about her?

“She’s doing ok, but she’s really hurting, still…” Victoria muttered, leaning against the table for support.

She considered mentioning… what Kate had revealed to her yesterday. But it was a bad idea, and she knew it.

Kate doesn’t need more people knowing about her trauma.

“...for a number of reasons. She’s gotten pretty isolated from her family and friends. I mean, her only consistent friend is Max Selfie. Pitiful, huh.”

“And you, right?” Taylor added, giving a wink.

Victoria scowled and looked away. “Yeah, I guess you could say that…”

Taylor giggled, then hmmed. “Well, that still sounds rough… I wish we could help, but… we have no control over the Prescotts.” Taylor let out a scoff. “Imagine, I used to think it was cool they could get away with everything. Now…”

Victoria nodded. “That’s real. I’ve been feeling the same way.”

An awkward pause entered the conversation.

“So… we’re still friends then, right?” Taylor asked.

Victoria dramatically rubbed her chin, and donned a smirk. “Well… I’ll have to see whether you’re still within my inner circle, but…”

Taylor shoved Victoria playfully. “Oh, fuck off, Chase.”

“Right back atcha, Tay,” Victoria chuckled. “See you in photography later today?”

“Sure, if I don’t skip,” Taylor winked. Victoria edged around the table to give her a quick hug.

“Thanks for sticking with me,” Tori whispered. “Even after all this Vortex drama.”

“Now what friend would I be if I abandoned you over something like that?” Taylor replied. Victoria knew that sentence was a dig against her, but it was a relatively soft one, all things considered. “Now, get your ass to class before you ruin that perfect attendance.”

Victoria chuckled as they parted.

Even if things hadn’t returned to normal, she had friends back in her life again. And that felt good.

Chapter Text

Photography class arrived sooner than expected, much to Victoria’s chagrin.

Chemistry had gone by fast enough, with Courtney there to study and lab partner with. Ms. Grant’s quiz ended up being a softball, thanks to Victoria having lived through the experience twice now. Her memories of the future were particularly useful for school, allowing her to recall answers that she had already heard before.

In a certain way, Victoria probably grew too comfortable with her uncanny sense of premonition. The last four days, she could rely on her memories to give her an idea of how things would go. But she was quickly catching up to the moment of Rewind, and she wasn’t sure how she would adjust to living like a normal person again.

More importantly, this was the penultimate moment. Photography was the last class Kate had ever gone to. Victoria distinctly remembered Kate storming away from Room 102 following a conversation with Mr. Jefferson, agitated and distressed. Then, Zach had burst into the classroom a few minutes later, alerting everyone in the room about “the crazy shit going down in the girl’s dorms.” On that cue, the classroom emptied quickly, and...

Everyone stood in the rain, watching Kate consider the rooftop one last time.

Victoria winced. That memory had almost started inflicting physical pain on her, somehow. Perhaps that was how trauma worked, but she didn’t know. Either way, it would do her no good to keep recalling it.

Everything she had done to comfort and protect Kate up until this moment… was it enough?

There’s only one way to find out. Victoria gulped, as the bell rang and Ms. Grant dismissed the class.

Wordlessly, she picked up her things and got out of her chair.

-----

Victoria had just exited Chemistry and was on her way to Room 102 when she spotted Mark and Kate conversing in front of the door.

This wasn’t looking good at first; Kate had been talking to Mark just before she had run off. Victoria wanted to join the conversation, but it seemed as though they were engaged in some serious talk, and she didn’t want to intrude out of reverence for Mr. Jefferson.

So instead, she channeled her inner Caulfield, and snooped for a hot second.

“...I’m sorry, Kate. You have to see things from my position,” Mr. Jefferson offered apologetically, leaning against the door frame.

“I’m not asking for much,” Kate pouted, standing before him. “Just a short extension.”

“I know you had your fun last Friday,” Mark warned, “but that’s no excuse for shoddy workmanship.”

“That video…” Kate griped. “It’s the reason I’ve been so stressed out lately, Mr. Jefferson.”

“I’m not so sure,” Mr. Jefferson replied. “To me it seemed like some kind of publicity stunt. Was it so bad?”

Victoria froze in response to that line.

Who could think such a thing?

She wasn’t about to disrespect Mark Jefferson, the resident photography genius, but he really didn’t seem to have much sympathy for Kate. Which was strange considering she did so much assistant work for him earlier in the year.

Just as Victoria was considering whether to intervene, Kate had responded with a well-spoken defense. “Publicity stunt or not, I’m having an awful week. You let people have extensions for extenuating circumstances, right? Why doesn’t this fall into that?”

Mr. Jefferson’s phone rang, as if to cut Kate off from being answered. “Listen, just follow along in lecture today, and things will be fine,” Mr. Jefferson finished. “Sorry, I’ve gotta take this.”

Victoria intercepted Kate as she entered the classroom.

“Hey,” Victoria waved. Kate turned, her eyes brightening slightly.

“Hey Tori,” she replied, heading to her seat as they talked. Kate sounded… annoyed. But not agitated. So far, so good.

“Did you hear what Mr. Jefferson said to me?”

“I only caught the tail end of that… but that wasn’t very nice of him,” Victoria shot a glare at Mr. Jefferson, still on the phone.

“Yeah… it seems like he’s going through just as bad of a day,” Kate suggested, taking her backpack off. “Still, not an excuse to talk to your students like this. I get he’s an artist, but he should be a teacher first.”

“For what it’s worth, it sounded like you handled that really well,” Victoria congratulated, shifting her weight onto the nearby table.

Yeah… better than last time by miles.

“Thanks… I feel so much better, receiving compliments from the Queen of Blackwell herself,” Kate quipped as she sat down.

Victoria giggled a bit in response.  “Oh? Do I detect a hint of sarcasm from the innocent, pure Kate Marsh?”

Kate responded with a facetious scoff. “You could say I’ve been… inspired. Thanks to you.” Victoria grinned. I’m inspiring now, huh?

“Hey now,” Victoria joked, “it’s not like I own a copyright in bitchiness.”

Kate adjusted her seat. “...in all seriousness, I have been trying to stand up to people more. Like how you did with David Madsen yesterday.”

“That’s good,” Victoria beamed with pride. “Everyone should know how to take down assholes. You’re welcome, by the way.”

They giggled. The bell rang.

“Okay, I know you love me, but if you're not in this class, beat it. Everybody else, please sit down!” Mark announced, reentering the classroom.

Kate and Victoria held a gaze, then broke after a mutual nod. As Victoria sat down, she felt a wave of relief wash through her.

Things are ok. She’s so much better. I don’t have to worry anymore…

Although Mr. Jefferson had begun his lecture, something about chiaroscuro, Victoria couldn’t focus. The coffee she had chugged in the morning had run out of steam, and she was quickly dropping from the caffeine high. The only thing keeping her awake was the goal of keeping Kate alive, and now that things were fine, she could rest easy. Her eyelids grew heavy, and before she knew it, her head drooped towards her desk…

-----

Lightning. Thunder. The rain. The rooftop.

Now it is Victoria there, not Max.

“Victoria, I don’t care how hard you tried. It’s over for me.”

It’s too cold. Everything’s too cold.

“What? But I…” Victoria responds, confused. “I…”

“You think you can just become my friend and my depression is gone?” Kate laughs callously. “I’ve got nothing left to give.”

“I… but why?” Victoria begs. “You can still make it, Kate. Please, stay with me.”

Kate turns, eyes burning in fury. “Why would I stay with you?! You killed me.”

“No, that’s not… I didn’t mean to!” Victoria stammers.

“Goodbye, Tori,” Kate sobs. She jumps.

Victoria screams.

-----

“No!”

Victoria’s head snapped up.

The class went silent for a moment. Victoria felt crimson burning against her cheeks.

“Ms. Chase, nice to see you’re with us again, but try not to interrupt the lecture next time,” Mr. Jefferson teased. Victoria stared back, confused. Her head hurt, her eyes ached, symptoms of interrupted sleep.

It was just a daydream.... But it felt so real...

“...now, Leonardo Da Vinci was well known for his contributions…”

Victoria wildly glanced around. Most everyone just seemed confused, but thanks to Mark’s quick segue back to the lecture, the outburst seemed to be mostly ignored. The exception was Kate, who flashed her a look that betrayed concern of some form.

How long was I out?

Panting as quietly as she could, she checked her phone. Just a minute or so. A few minutes after class had started.

The same time Kate… that she...

She looked at Kate again, sitting only a few feet away. She seemed fine, but…

...but is she really? She could be dying inside, she could be having ideations, she could still… she could… She died in my dreams, that must mean something...

Even though her body felt tired, her heart began beating out of her chest. Her eyes darted back between her tablet, Mark, the windows outside, Kate. She began to feel sweat pooling beneath her armpits, but everything felt freezing.

Kate Marsh. In her memories, she was outside now, on the rooftop.

Of course it couldn’t be that easy. Of course she’s still depressed. Fuck.

She stood up from her chair instinctually and awkwardly. Mr. Jefferson raised an eyebrow.

“You alright, Victoria? You looked like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I need to… bathroom. Please…” Victoria’s words spilled out of her mouth. She could tell her social sensitivities weren’t exactly on point, but this was hardly the time.

I can’t stay here. Not while… Not while there’s still a chance… a chance for her to...

Mr. Jefferson hesitated, then waved his hand. “Go forth, Ms. Chase. I trust you’ll return soon enough.”

Victoria nodded, grabbed her things, and fast-walked out of the classroom, shoving the door open before storming into the hall.

She couldn’t stop feeling the pounding of her heartbeat, the sticky clamminess of her hands, the chills of early October. That was ok, though. It felt like raw energy. And Victoria needed that energy to make plans. To get Kate out of there.

I can’t… can’t take any chances. Not today.

She stabilized herself against some lockers. Thankfully, no one was around to see her as she was, since everyone was still in class. She sent a quick text to Kate.

<Come out to the hallway. Bring your things>

A few seconds, then Kate responded. <kk. Is everything alright?>

<just come, please> Victoria replied.

The longer she stays here on campus, the more likely she’s going to… and I can’t let that happen.

After a few seconds, Kate exited Room 102. In a flash, Victoria found herself collecting Kate’s wrist into a vice grip.

“Kate, come with me.” Kate looked shocked, red coloration flowing into her cheeks, but Victoria wasn’t in any headspace to notice.

“Wh-what? Right now?” she sputtered.

No damn way I’m letting Kate spend any time near the dorms right now. Fuck that.

“We’re getting the fuck out of Blackwell right now. Are you coming?”

“U-um… ok…” Kate joined her. “Where are you taking me?”

“We’re going… we’re going to get ice cream. You ok with that?” Victoria asked, more as a statement than a general question.

Kate nodded. “Sure. I just… should I grab my wallet?”

“No need. I’ll cover you,” Victoria growled, pulling both of them out of the school.

“O-ok.”

-----

As soon as Kate strapped in her seatbelt, Victoria pulled out of the Blackwell parking lot as fast as she could. Her thoughts still flooding her consciousness, leaving absolutely no room to talk, Victoria was silent. Thunder crackled through the air.

Keep… keep her alive… have to get away… get away from everything...

“Victoria… are you alright?”

Victoria didn’t answer. She couldn’t. She could barely hold herself together, lungs burning, chills shaking her body.  She noted her knuckles turning white from clutching the steering wheel so ferociously.

She can’t know. She can’t know that I was the reason she died... or she’ll hate me forever...

Without conversation, she made her way to the local Baskin Robbins. Thank goodness that even a shitty little town like Arcadia had a chain restaurant like BR to retreat to on a bad day, one with a drive-thru as well, so Victoria didn’t have to deal with confronting a line.

Rolling up to the order window, Victoria opened her mouth for the first time to speak since the ride began. “What do you want, Kate?”

“Um… One small mocha cone is fine.”

Victoria relayed the order to the microphone curtly.

“And for me, one cookie dough, and a scoop of green tea above.”

They received the ice cream without incident, and Victoria handed the bag full of dessert unceremoniously to Kate before stomping on the gas pedal.

“...Tori, what’s going on?”

I can’t tell you, Kate. Stop asking, please...

Victoria tried her best to keep a stone face, but her panic betrayed her. She could feel her face forming a grimace, against her better wishes. She could faintly tell, they were now driving on a coastside road, but where, she had no idea. For some reason, all she could hear were the droplets beginning to hit her windshield.

The rainstorm. Oh god, it’s begun.

“What’s going on?” Kate asked, seriously. “You’re looking really pale, and I’m really not sure where you’re taking me, or what we’re doing out here.”

Victoria gulped, eyes unfocused.

“You’re not the type to skip class, but you’re well enough to drive, so this isn’t a health emergency...”

We’re away from the dorms and she’s right next to me, but is this enough? Am I saving her? What if something bad happens when we get back? What if she decides to off herself tomorrow? What am I supposed to do? In a few hours I’ll be catching up to the Rewind… I don’t know anything that happens past now! What happens? What next?

“...Victoria, please, you’re scaring me. Please talk to me-”

A flash of a doe jumped into Victoria’s vision.

“FUCK!”

Victoria pumped the brakes, wrestling with the steering wheel to dodge the jumping animal. Her car, loyal enough to follow her instructions even upon a wet road, spun several donuts before easing into a stop.

With a lurch, Victoria and Kate fell against their seats. By some greater power, the airbags remained dormant.

“Holy… shit…” Kate panted.

Another thunderstrike brought Victoria out of her stupor.

I almost killed us.

Victoria realized in a single moment of clarity that she was very much not alright.

The sound of just Victoria and Kate heaving for breath slowly became outclassed by the thunderstorm, pouring rain scattering noise as it made contact with the roof of the car.

Victoria hit the hazards and drove to the roadside, putting the car into park. It was the last thing her willpower could let her do.

Small tears first, as she tried her best to hold it back.

“Victoria!” Kate sounded shocked. “What’s wrong?”

“I… I don’t know… know…” Victoria choked. That was a lie. “Fuck…”

I do know. But she… she shouldn’t...

Tears streamed down her face as pained sounds eked out of her throat. She felt adrenaline coursing through her body; it took on an icy feeling as she withdrew further into herself. Her chest started shuddering from the convulsions of her diaphragm.

“...you’re having a panic attack…” Kate murmured softly, but Victoria couldn’t hear her.

As she shook, Victoria was reminded why she hated crying so much. She was losing control in front of someone else. Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t… her body wouldn’t obey her. It was freezing up, frustrating her and intensifying her sobs.

“...Victoria, I’m here. Whatever you need… what do you need?” Kate tried. Her hand brushed against Victoria’s.

She flinched in response. If Kate noticed her reaction, she ignored it, grasping her hand and squeezing vigorously.

Victoria felt a sort of warmth spreading through her from the point of contact, a source of heat fighting the cold that threatened to freeze Victoria half to death.

“Please tell me,” Kate implored, hazel eyes scanning her. Victoria coughed and sputtered, helpless to her memories tormenting her.

The shrill screams, the turbulent rain, the brutal end of Kate Marsh’s life, stretched out into slow motion…

Victoria shuddered violently again in her chair. It was so cold…

“I… I need… I need to keep you… alive…” was all she could say, between gasps.

“What do you mean?” Kate grasped at the few strings she was offered.

“I don’t even... know where to start, K-kate…”

“Start however you like,” Kate murmured patiently. “I’m listening.”

Victoria swallowed. Kate was all ears again. Even her concerned face began warming her up. It was Victoria’s favorite thing about her.

Oh god… how do I even say this...

She opened her mouth, but instead of words, her body shook again from the cries leaving her body, rendering her more or less paralyzed.

In a few instants, Victoria discovered that she was no longer sitting upright in her driver’s chair, but with her back nestled against Kate’s chest in the passenger’s seat. One of Kate’s hand pressed into Victoria’s chest and another to her forehead, holding Victoria tight in an oddly specific embrace.

The contact against the girl circulated a fire that burned out Victoria’s chilling body. The action gave Victoria enough control to take in steady gasps of air.

“There we go… deep breaths…” Kate whispered.

Victoria nodded, without the energy to ignore her, obeyed. Her windpipe burned from her crying, and she felt her stomach ache tremendously from her sobs. But she was calming down… and that was all that mattered.

The two sat in the car, just listening to the rain fall, interrupted by the occasional sniffle and soft murmurs of Kate’s voice.

 

“Have you ever experienced… deja vu before?” Victoria spoke finally.

“Sure, Tori... Why do you ask?” Kate asked serenely.

“...I might have… experienced four days worth of it…”

Kate let go of her hands, removing their comforting presence, and Victoria wondered if she regretted saying anything.

It was too late, anyway. She couldn’t panic like this and not explain anything to Kate. It wouldn’t be fair to her.

“Can you elaborate?” Kate inquired.

Victoria took a breath, pushing herself up back into the driver’s seat. As unbelievable as it would all sound, she had to tell the truth.

“...Today was the day I went back in time. Sort of like… groundhog day. The movie…” she tried to explain.

“Went back in time?” Kate’s eyes widened.

“Yeah… I know it sounds crazy, but…” Victoria breathed. “I… I went back in time after I… after I saw you... I saw you die.”

“Wh-what?” Kate looked quite taken aback now.

“You jumped off the roof of the dorms… and you were... d-dead... and I felt awful, because, because I was the one who sent the video out,” Victoria could feel warbles of a cry exit her sore throat.

“Victoria… It must’ve been just a bad dream,” Kate whispered. “You don’t have to… gosh, I should have never told you and made you worry-”

“No, Kate!” Victoria grabbed Kate’s shoulders in a frenzy. “You don’t understand… I filmed you. And… and then I put the video online... bullied you until you were in tears… I watched you j-jump from the roof of the dorms. I… I saw you die... with my own eyes.”

Kate made eye contact. Her pupils widened. “You’re… you’re not kidding, are you?”

Vic nodded with a grimace. More tears rolled down her eyes.

“…did you use a time machine or something?” Kate asked.

“I… I don’t know!” Victoria yelped. “I don’t understand any of this! I was… I was in my room, watching the video I filmed of you at the Vortex Party, then I was… I ended up there, right when I finished filming, in the middle of the party like nothing had happened.”

Victoria gulped. It sounded like complete bullshit, the way she was explaining things. But her words had scattered from her, making everything sound confusing.

Despite that, Victoria could see the news dawning in Kate’s eyes. “If you’re telling the truth… That… that explains a lot…”

Victoria nodded. “… I decided I couldn’t mistreat you again… I deleted the video, thinking it would be over… but...”

Tori curled her arms over her head, burning up with shame.

“Fuck, I’m so sorry Kate I’m so sorry I’m s-so sorry...”

An veil of silence fell between the two of them. Victoria weeped.

She hates me. She’s going to hate me forever. It’s over-

Kate’s voice pierced through Victoria’s racing thoughts.

“...Victoria.”

Vic felt Kate’s hand grasp hers firmly again.

It was a lifeline connecting the two. Promises of Sunday communicated through contact.

Vic didn’t dare let go.

Kate didn’t seem to relent, either.

“It’s… it’s ok, I’m here now. You… you’re saving me now, right?” Kate offered.

“I d-don’t know… I feel like I’m stumbling… like I have n-no clue what’s happening anymore…”

“Victoria,” Kate’s voice sounded pained. “You’ve done so much for me! You’ve been nothing but helpful. Well, the last four days. I’ve just been selfish and judgmental and-”

“Y-you? Judgmental and selfish?” Victoria couldn’t help but cackle through her tears.  “You’re n-neither of those…”

“No, I am,” Kate said sincerely. “I was unfair to you, I didn’t let you help me at times. I’ve been abrasive.”

“It’s not your f-fault,” Victoria sniffled. “I was a bully and a bitch. I am a bully and a bitch.”

She shrunk into her chair.

“I’m... useless.”

“No…” Kate countered. Victoria looked up.

“You’ve changed. You’re a better person. You’re not who you were today… last time. If what you're saying is true, you’ve basically… saved my life.” She breathed, and Victoria could tell that Kate was processing that information for herself.

“It only took me another chance to be this way…” Victoria muttered. “Took you dying for me to change. I’d still be a pretentious asshole, I’m sure.”

“I don’t think so,” Kate said softly. “You’re… you’re a better person than you think.”

Victoria grunted, gripping Kate’s hand more gently.

“...I don’t know how I was sent back, but I promise to not fuck anything up anymore. I won’t let you die.”

“I… I’ll hold you to that promise,” Kate smiled.

Victoria stared at her feet.

 

The downpour from earlier finally slowed to a gentle sprinkle, drips twinkling against the windshield.

“... and now I’m... I’m just horrified because… I f-felt so confident because I kind of knew everything happening up until this moment. I suddenly have no foresight whatsoever. What the future brings.”

Kate brushed Victoria’s shoulder. She shivered. “But I’m alive. And you are too. And even if nothing else, we can handle the future together.”

Victoria covered the hand Kate had put on her shoulder. Her body flushed with warmth. And suddenly, she discovered a profound need in the moment.

She needed more.

“Is it ok if…” Victoria asked, surprisingly shy, “if I... can I… I mean, may I hug you?”

“Oh! O-of course!” Kate exclaimed.

They embraced. A pleasant heat spread through Victoria, and she lost herself in the feeling. Kate snuggled in closer, relaxed her muscles. Victoria felt the first surge of positive emotion since they had absconded from class. The safest trust in Kate’s arms, shared between the two of them.

Victoria held the hug longer than normal, and Kate seemed to reciprocate.

It was exhilarating. For all of her time spent with the Vortex Club, she had never gotten to know anyone on more than a superficial level. It was how Victoria operated; faith, she learned from experience, could only result in pain.

But with Kate, it felt like someone had opened a window into her life just has she had come into hers. She understood, now, the paradox. The closer and more attached she grew to this girl, the more liberated she felt.

Victoria squeezed Kate tightly.

“Thank you, Kate.”

Kate, tranquil and calm, nonetheless blushed.

“Thank you. For ice cream… and everything else.”

“Well, I wasn’t about to leave you in the dorms alone today after all the work I did,” Victoria teased.

“Understandable,” Kate answered sincerely.

She withdrew back to her seat, and for the first time in a while, Tori didn't mind that Kate had pulled away from her.

They sat together the rest of the evening, scooping up the remains of their ice cream in relative quiet, as distant thunder boomed.

Chapter Text

Although Victoria had finished panicking, she still dreaded going back to Blackwell. After Kate’s insistence that she wouldn’t harm herself numerous times, Victoria finally allowed them to return. On one condition, of course.

“Stay in my room tonight,” Victoria pleaded, as they pulled up to the parking lot. Kate looked surprised by the request, so Victoria elaborated. “For my sake. Just for today.”

“...ok,” Kate acquiesced. “I’ll bring my blanket and a pillow. And Alice, if you don’t mind.”

“Great!” Victoria exclaimed, but caught herself mid-celebration.

Do I sound too excited?

Toning her voice back, she cleared her throat and opened the car door. “So yeah. Let’s just think of it as a sleepover.”

“I haven’t had one of those in a while,” said Kate, getting out. “The last time was back in elementary school.”

“I haven’t either, although Taylor and Courtney come over all the time for movies. Well, they used to.”

A jolt ran through Victoria as she considered her request. Against her expectations, Kate agreed to spend a night with her. She had already become rather affectionate with Tori quickly, although that tended to be through circumstance. Almost every day since Friday, they had spent time crying with one another. Now, for the first time, they might actually relax and exist in solitude, even if it was under the guise of Victoria monitoring her friend.

I’m glad she trusts me this much to spend the night over… I’ll have to be as accommodating as possible.

“I can take the couch,” Victoria suggested, opening the dormitory doors for Kate.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” replied Kate bashfully. “I’m your guest. I’ll take the couch.”

“Are you sure? There’s some sweet memory foam over those shitty dorm mattresses,” Victoria pitched.

Kate waved a hand, walking through the door. “It’s fine. Besides, I sleep better closer to the ground.”

“...Fine, but you’re giving up some great real estate,” Victoria grumbled.

They were only a few steps into the hallway when she noticed something seemed off. Maxine Caulfield, unaware of their entrance, was poking her head into Victoria’s room.

That nosy bitch!

“Max?” Victoria uttered as they approached. As her name was called, the hipster turned, blushing as she was caught in the action. “What are you doing in my room?!”

“V-victoria? Kate?” Caulfield stammered.

“Huh, snooping around as usual,” Tori huffed, crossing her arms.

“Sorry… I was just peeking… I’m s-sorry…” said Max, meekly.

“You better be!” Victoria puffed up her chest, but Kate shot her a glare in response, causing her to daunt.

Right… I promised I wouldn’t scare the hipster anymore. Victoria settled for holding arms close to her chest, awaiting an explanation.

Kate stepped forward. “What happened? Were you looking for something?” she asked.

“N-no…” the brunette muttered. “I was napping, and I heard a bunch of sounds of things breaking in the hallway, and when I went to check it out, I saw Nathan leave Victoria’s room. I don’t know why he was in the girl’s dorms, but…” her eyes grew darker. “I swear… I swear I didn’t touch anything.”

“Nathan?” Victoria’s heart sank.

Oh god, he better not have...

----

If there was one thing Nathan understood, it was the art of intimidation.

This skill was reflected by the severity in which Victoria’s room had been vandalized. Posters torn, hanging unevenly from the walls. Drawers full of expensive clothes, knocked over. Her TV screen smashed, leaving glass all over her carpeted floor. Her many bookshelves, toppled. And to top it off, the words “DYKE”, written in white spray paint across her wall.

Jesus Christ… It’s like he left nothing untouched.

“Oh… oh my lord…” Kate whispered.

Max poked her head in again. “He really did a number… what happened between you two?”

Victoria couldn’t estimate the dollar amount of what had been destroyed, but it wasn’t small or insignificant. The clothes alone were once worth thousands. Most were salvageable, but not without hard work.

It was another question with the TV and the other broken furniture. She couldn’t allow Kate to stay at her place with dangerous debris lying around.

But even with all of this overwhelming damage, she wasn’t about to show her fear, especially around her new friends. She let an annoyed scowl dance across her lips. “Heh. What a pathetic loser.”

Her eyebrow twitched slightly. “If he thinks this is enough to scare me, then he knows me even less than he thinks he does.”

“I guess we won’t be able to do the sleepover here after all…” Kate shifted her weight. “Unless… you could stay over at my place instead?”

“That could work,” Victoria sighed. “I’ll bring my laptop and whatever hasn’t been broken. Nathan’s gonna pay for this.”

“He’d better…” Max frowned. “This is serious harassment. I’m going to brush my teeth and go back to bed, but let me know if there’s anything you guys need.”

“Ok, take care Max,” Kate said. Max nodded, then returned to her room.

Victoria knelt at her floor, picking up something that caught her eye. At first, she had mentally sorted the image amongst the scattered posters, but upon further inspection, it looked like some new art piece.

Victoria’s head, photoshopped against a hangman’s noose.

He even X’d out my eyes… what an edgelord...

“....Prescott, you morbid asshole…” she grumbled.

“What’s wrong?” Kate asked, trying to look over Victoria’s shoulder. Tori quickly folded and pocketed the picture. No use getting Kate to worry.

“Just a sentimental piece…” she mumbled. Kate looked unconvinced, but exited the room, turning at the doorframe. “I’ll set up over here for you. Gotta clean up the couch. Let me know if you want help fixing your place up.”

“I will. Tomorrow, probably.”

With that, Kate disappeared off.

Victoria gave her TV a wide berth as she began preliminary cleaning and preparations to move things into Kate’s room.

I’ll have to ask Samuel or someone else to pick up the glass...

-----

Kate entered her room feeling surprisingly exhausted. Victoria’s drama with Nathan had just escalated, and it was probably Kate’s fault. Victoria might’ve been sneaky, but she still wasn’t deft enough for Kate’s eyes. She spotted the photograph that Nathan had left for the Blackwell Queen. It was… disturbing, to say the least.

I really hope that Victoria means what she’s saying. That she isn’t so bothered.

Kate exhaled, set her hot pot on, and knelt to open Alice’s cage. The bunny eyed Kate with a bored expression, and crawled into the hands she had offered for her pet. Carrying Alice, Kate plopped down against her cluttered sofa, breathing softly as she petted.

Victoria’s breakdown from earlier weighed heavily on her mind, and now that she had a moment of privacy, she began seriously considering what Tori had discussed with her.

Victoria says she went back in time… what does that mean?

She wasn’t exactly sure what to think of it. Victoria wasn’t the type to spout nonsense in the usual circumstances. And she certainly didn’t sound like she was lying… unless everything that had happened between them was part of some elaborate prank. But that couldn’t be.

Kate had looked into Victoria’s eyes, searching for the truth in the moment she had confessed. And Victoria’s eyes betrayed no secrecy, no ulterior motive. Just fear, and compassion.

On top of that, Victoria seemed agitated enough about the whole thing. Kate had correctly identified the panic attack, and took direct action to intervene. It was just a simple technique she had picked up from volunteering at the hospital; positioning hands and applying pressure to the head and chest to induce a calming effect. Since it was effective at calming her down, it added credence to the fact that, at the very least, Victoria believed herself enough to feel like it was a risk to tell Kate.

I put my faith into Victoria. She’s my guardian angel , she reaffirmed to herself, remembering all of the things Tori had already done to help her: regularly checking up on her, defending her from David Madsen, driving her away from school (twice now) just to make sure she had space… those were incredibly kind gestures that proved Tori could make for a reliable friend.

Kate reached over to her side table to grab some dried radish tops. Idly feeding her animal companion, she continued ruminating.

It was hard to wrap her mind around the possibility of real time travel, though. She had read H. G. Wells before, and every teen in this day and age had ventured to the depths of Wikipedia for answers to questions they hadn’t had just a few minutes before. But despite having a basic understanding of the concept, she couldn’t just accept Victoria’s information as is.

Perhaps she simply had visions of the future… maybe she suddenly had a moment of empathy after a bad dream...

“Do you know anything about time travel, Alice?” she asked her pet point blank.

Alice, wise as a bunny could be, shook her fluffy tail in response.

“I watched you j-jump from the roof of the dorms. I… I saw you die... with my own eyes.”

If that was true… It would explain why Victoria had such a change of heart during the party.

Kate shuddered as she imagined what it might have been like, pushed to the edge such that death was preferable to life. She recalled her own conversation on the rooftops, where she had revealed to Victoria that she had thoughts of… ending things.

It wasn’t like suicide hadn’t been on her mind, but the level of sadness and isolation necessary to seriously consider it… Victoria must have witnessed herself behaving quite cruelly to “Past Kate” in order to drive her there.

The Victoria that Kate knew hadn’t exactly been kind to her before Friday, but she couldn’t recall any outright viciousness directed towards her. Most of it went to teasing Max for her selfies. But now, things were quite different... she had clearly taken some sort of fondness to the christian. And Kate reciprocated. It was the beginning of a possibly wonderful friendship, and even if Victoria had made such a damning mistake, some divine power must have suggested she was worthy of a second try.

If God brought Victoria back in time, He made the right choice… I think. Kate smiled. It sounded like an act right out of the Bible, a complete 180, just like the story of Apostle Paul’s conversion. If anything, the about-face just strengthened her convictions about Tori as her guardian angel. Perhaps Victoria had been called upon to save her…

Kate shook her head. What am I thinking? I sound like a total cheese ball right now. Despite her religious upbringing, she wasn’t about to believe in the literal miracles of Christ, and equating Tori to a biblical figure was screwing with her own intimate understanding of her faith. Victoria was more special than a televangelist’s dream guest.

She made a point to count her blessings, and put Alice back into her cage. Once the bunny had been properly deposited, Kate returned to the couch to shuffle items off.

She needed to be ready for her guardian angel to return.

----

Victoria hauled her evening shower caddy to the bathroom for a quick evening refresher. Nathan had been gracious enough to not fuck with her hygiene.

I’ll certainly give him a piece of my mind the next time we meet up though .

Victoria formed a fist around the caddy’s handle. That boy had clearly seen Victoria’s abdication from the Vortex Club as a sign of war, and wasted no time in launching the first assault. Victoria would need to find a way to counterattack, or she’d be overwhelmed.

Entering the bathroom, Maxine Caulfield also appeared to be getting ready for bed.

Victoria tried her best not to wrinkle her brow, but she nonetheless straightened her posture around the hipster, getting ready to brush her teeth.

Max seemed unshaken by Victoria’s gesture, embroiled in her own bitter battle against her acne.

The air between the two solidified a touch, lingering tension between the two as Victoria brushed calmly and Max massaged her face.

Max wants to talk to me. Good.

When Tori went to spit out her toothpaste, Max finally spoke.

“So what’s your angle, Victoria?”

Victoria drew herself back to full height. “What are you talking about, Caulfield?”

“I don’t understand…” Max prepared to floss her teeth. “You haven’t been acting normal this week. Like, at all. Looking out for Kate, leaving the Vortex Club… none of that is like you.”

“Says the shy insecure hipster herself,” Victoria retorted, preparing to rinse her mouth out quickly.

“...well, I guess my friends just rub off on me...” said Max, licking her teeth.

Her friends...

“You mean Chloe Price, delinquent extraordinaire?” Victoria spit her rinse.

“What’s so wrong about her?” Max raised her voice slightly. “She’s been through a lot. It’s not her fault she’s-”

“Hey, slow down there, Holden,” Victoria drawled, shooting Max a certain look. “You’re a little quick to defend that sapphic mess, aren’t ya?”

Max blushed in response. Victoria cracked a smirk.

Bingo. She’s gay as fuck.

“I-it’s not like that! We’re… we were childhood friends…” Max stammered.

“Hey, I don’t mind whatever you two are doing together. She not a bad friend to make, to be honest.” She gambled a wink at Caulfield. “Trust me, I heard all about it from Rachel when she used to hang around.”

Max glanced back at the mirror, red rushing through her face.

“How did you-”

“You think I’m deaf, Caulfield?” Tori chuckled absently. “Kate told me about you two planned to spend today together. You aren’t exactly subtle.”

“...neither are you…” Max warned. Vic felt her face heat up a little, but she did her best to suppress it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’re distracting me from my original question, Victoria,” Max pressed the attack. “What do you want from Kate?”

“Nothing but to reap her sinless virgin soul , of course,” Victoria rolled her eyes. “What do you think? Is it that strange I want to be nice to someone for a change?”

“Yes, it is,” Max aggressed, stepping closer. “You never behave like this unless you’re sucking up to someone.”

“Oh? Is that so? You’ve got me all figured out , huh Caulfield?” Victoria chuckled combatively.

“Yeah. You’re doing the same thing with her as you do with Mr. Jefferson, day in and day out,” Max spat. “And you think I wouldn’t notice?”

“You’re rich, Max Selfie,” Victoria countered. “As if you don’t put on your own act around Mark. Pot, meet kettle!”

The two stood face to face, inches away from each other now. Max stood firm, unmoving. Victoria couldn’t help but feel impressed.

Only one day with the dropout and she’s this full of herself? Not bad, Chloe.

“Listen, Max,” Victoria diffused with an exhale. “I’m not here to squabble with you. My goal is simply to keep Kate safe. That’s all. I’m sure you understand, if you’re running with Ms. Price, of all people. That girl’s been a mess and a half, and you’re a good person to reach out to her.”

As the words left her mouth, Victoria realized how true they were. Chloe might have been a reckless burnout dyke, but somebody had to sort through that mess. In that way, they weren’t really so different, Victoria and Max, Kate and Chloe.

“...” Max tried to start, but it was clear she was losing steam. “...just don’t… don’t hurt her, please.”

“I have no intentions whatsoever,” Victoria purred, checking her nails.

“O… ok.” Max went to leave the bathroom, but paused on the way out, giving Victoria a suddenly whimsical smile. “...good luck, by the way.”

“...On what?” Victoria called to her, bewildered by her expression.

Max simply winked. “You know.”

And just like that, she was gone, leaving Victoria stunned.

...that nosy bitch...

----

She might not have known it, but Maxine Caulfield unleashed a can of worms onto Victoria.

Because if Max Selfie, the most oblivious girl in the world, thought Victoria was crushing on Kate, then there must be some element of truth to it.

Victoria desperately searched her feelings, hoping against hope Max was just blowing smoke up her ass.

It was my fault for insinuating anything between Max and Chloe in the conversation to begin with… ugh… dumb brain. Shouldn’t have said anything.

She dreaded the thought her whole way back to her room.

It’s just Max’s gay ass rubbing off on me or something… I’m straight. I’m absolutely straight. I’m a heterosexual who likes boys and is totally not into church girls. I’m not into Kate Marsh.

She entered her dorm (still a mess), and dumped her caddy neglectfully on the floor. Grabbing her laptop, phone charger, and bed covers, she trampled her way into the hallway with her belongings.

I’ll prove that I’m straight. I’ll prove it right in that hipster dyke’s face with tonight’s sleepover.

She knocked, laptop under her arm and blanket ready to go.

Opening the door, a smiling Kate greeted her.

Fuck.

A shiver ran through Victoria, unprompted through anything… other than that wonderful smile, and those rosy cheeks, and wow her hair looks nice down-

No, get a hold of yourself, Victoria!

“Hey, Kate!” she said excitedly, despite herself.

“Glad to see you made it,” Kate beamed. “Come on in!” Her words shook Victoria down to her core, rattling her guts like a plucked strings of a guitar.

Okay, so it was undeniable now.

Fuck you Max Selfie… dammit! In only a few moments, Victoria suddenly discovered a vocabulary for the physical reactions she had been having to Kate’s warmth and inviting nature. It wasn’t revulsion or anxiety… it was desire.

“Um, I said you could come in,” Kate repeated.

“S-sorry!” Victoria mumbled, obliging.

The room looked rather nice, actually. The piles of clothes had been cleaned up, and the couch looked almost pristine. It was one of those foldable futons that doubled as a bed, and it was now set up, extended towards the middle of the room.

As expected from someone as perfect as Kate… Victoria caught her own thoughts, and almost vomited internally. What the fuck? Why the fuck is this happening? Why me specifically?

Kate broke through Victoria’s self-loathing thoughts. “I hope you like it. It’s not much but-”

“I love it,” Victoria replied without hesitation.

Real smooth, Victoria… gaaaaahhh… She felt like she was going to explode. Goddammit!

“Oh! Um, good…” Kate smiled, once again hammering Victoria with yearning thoughts.

For the first time, Ms. Chase begrudgingly admitted to herself that she had… “ feelings”, for Kate.

I’m not supposed to like girls… I’m not supposed to like Kate especially… Victoria inwardly groaned. How was she going to be able to protect this christian, of all people, while her goddamn stomach turned every time their eyes met?

“Tori, are you ok?”

Oh wow.

And that. That feeling whenever Kate called her that. Tori... God that’s amazing…

Victoria! She slapped herself a few times mentally. You absolute fuck. Stop it. Stop blushing, stop acting weird, just get the fuck to sleep and pretend nothing’s wrong. You can do this.

“S-sorry… I’m just spacing out. Long day.”

“I get it, honestly,” Kate sat down onto her bed, letting out a yawn. “I was hoping we could stay up and talk, but honestly I’m feeling some serious tiredness coming on.”

She was hoping we could talk… tonight… maybe...

“That’s good,” Victoria set up on the couch, lying through her teeth. “I’m… tired too…”

This wasn’t good. She had no idea if Kate really reciprocated, and based on Christianity’s historical track record, she wasn’t about to ask. Navigating her own feelings was hard enough, but navigating her feelings with someone who probably wouldn’t ever return them…

“Yeah, well… it usually takes me a few minutes to get to that point, ya know?” Kate hit the lights, shrouding the both of them in darkness. It was just in time to hide Victoria’s face, burning passionately red. Thank goodness for that.

“I feel you. I’ve been having trouble sleeping recently, too… It’s why I napped in photography, of all classes…” Victoria mumbled.

Kate giggled, causing Victoria to flutter with joy. I want to squash her… because she’s so cute...

“That makes sense. Anyway… did you want to say hi to Alice? She’s quite a lazy bun.”

“Um… If she’s sleeping, perhaps we could wait until tomorrow…” Victoria cursed herself for feeling so nervous.

It wasn’t appropriate, anyway. Like, how could they ever end up together? They were completely different people, pursuing different things… Victoria had always contemplated that, if she were ever to fall for a girl, that it would be someone intense, but put together, like Ellen Page, or Kristen Stewart, or maybe even Hayley Kiyoko.

...The fact she had been keeping tabs on gay celebrities probably should’ve been a sign. That, and listening to fucking Hayley Kiyoko.

Still, Kate Marsh… Kate Marsh couldn’t have been more out of the blue. Yes, she was certainly organized, and her strength and courage was admirable… but rather than intensity, it was something about her softness that threatened to overwhelm Victoria every time they locked eyes...

Stop. Stop with the gay shit, Victoria. You’re making it worse.

“Tori, can I say something?”

Victoria’s heart skipped several beats.

“S-sure!” Victoria stammered out.

Oh god. She isn’t going to… is she?

“I’m… honestly really glad that you’re here.”

Victoria remained silent. She was under her blanket now, trying not to make a fool of herself.

“Life’s been… a mess. And so many people have disappeared from it. But you’ve been an actual living anchor this whole time. That’s… kind of amazing, honestly.”

“I try my best,” Victoria eked from under her covers.

“Sure, and you’re doing really well,” Kate paused. “I… this might be silly for me to say, but… you’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had.”

Oh. Oh man.

Victoria’s chest somehow both sank and burned at the same time.

Kate really thinks we’re this close? After only four days?

“I know that’s sort of out of the blue, and I’m sorry if I’m rambling. I just… appreciate having you around tonight.” Kate almost sounded as though she were tearing up, as though she were crying...

In an instant, Victoria’s covers were off and she was by Kate’s bed.

“Are you ok?” she said. It took her a second to realize where she was. Her hand was already grasping Kate’s in a familiar gesture.

“Y-yeah…” Kate sniffled, wiping her eyes with her free hand. “I’m just really glad…”

“Happy tears?” Victoria asked playfully. “Haven’t we done enough crying for the both of us today?”

Kate nodded, a smile on her face. “Yeah. You’re right.”

Victoria lost herself in Kate’s eyes, even in the darkness.

“Hug me goodnight?” Kate whispered.

Victoria’s breath hitched.

“Absolutely,” Victoria breathed, and wrapped Kate in an embrace.

She felt herself glowing, even in the middle of night. Kate’s compassion stirred Victoria’s body, compelling her to do more. Fighting against that urge, Victoria simply held on tight…

...But god she’s so soft and cozy and I think I could die right now…

She almost fell asleep in Kate’s arms, only roused when she let go, giggling.

“You’re going to pass out on top of me, Tori!”

“S-sorry… I must be... really tired…” Vic chuckled nervously.

“No worries. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah. See you tomorrow.”

Victoria curled up into Kate’s futon.

What a mess. I’m so fucked.

“Good night, Tori.”

Victoria stopped breathing for a second.

“...good night, Kate.”

Dammit.

Chapter Text

Kate stands at the edge.

“Don’t jump!” Victoria yells. Kate turns.

“I can’t take it anymore, Tori!” Kate screams.

“I’ll do anything! Seriously!” Victoria flails. “Please don’t go.”

“Anything?” Kate repeats. Victoria nods vigorously.

“Y-yeah!”

“Kiss me.”

Victoria’s throat snags.

“Uhh… are you s-sure? I…”

“I double dare you, kiss me now.”

“I… Kate…”

Victoria embraces her, pulls her head close. Now that’s she’s here, she can’t help herself. She plants an innocent kiss against Kate’s lips, but a kiss nonetheless.

“Damn, Vic, you’re so hardcore…”

Victoria stops abruptly. Backs off to look at the target of her affections.

Chloe?!

“What the fuck?!” Victoria backs off. Chloe laughs, then taunts in a sing-song sort of tone.

“Maxine turned you gaaaay. Maxine turned you gaaay.”

“Shut up! Shut up shut up shut up!”

Victoria feels herself landing amongst the clouds-

-----

Victoria awoke with a groan, fuzz disturbing her nose. “Ugh…” She opened her eyes to pitch blackness. Something warm and fluffy was lying on her face.

What the-

“Rise and shine, Tori!” Kate’s voice proclaimed, and the object in question was lifted, revealing that a rabbit had taken up residence on her face.

“I didn’t mean to wake you with Alice ... but she decided to crawl up onto you when I put her on the futon. Um. Sorry about that.” Kate brought the animal back into her arms for a second, tenderly stroking the bunny.

“No, it’s alright…” Victoria said, if only because “Get that rodent away from my face” probably wouldn’t be the most prudent thing to scream in the moment. Stomaching her irritation, she made eye contact with the church girl, before breaking away and pretending she hadn’t. Her hair had already been placed back into her high bun (regrettably, she thought), and her austere outfit had made a comeback, her signature matching skirt and cardigan now in a deep maroon, cross necklace falling flush with her white shirt.

She’s already dressed… how long did I sleep?

Victoria groaned again, stretching herself to feel her joints and knuckles crack. As her body began to wake up, she found the energy to properly respond. “Nice to meet you, Alice.”

“She seems to like you.” Kate placed Alice back onto the futon, and Victoria reached out to pet the furry creature. The bunny simply snuggled up against Victoria’s thigh in response. In spite of her initial reservations, she felt strangely comforted by the animal. That must have been why Kate was so keen on keeping it around.

Alice… you are one lucky gal…

“That’s to be expected,” Victoria yawned, raising her nose flippantly. “It’s not like she knows about my track record as the Queen Bitch of Blackwell.” The act elicited a giggle from Kate.

“You’re right,” Kate replied, and turned to pick up her thermos. “...Do you want some tea? A good hot drink always gets me going in the morning.”

Victoria pushed herself up against the wall in a bid to wake herself, taking Alice onto her lap. The bunny, on its part, didn’t resist, nuzzling itself into her stomach. “That might be nice…”

“You got it. One tea coming up.” Kate said, shuffling through her closet. “Do you prefer a flavor?”

“Green or jasmine tea is fine,” Victoria answered noncommittally. “You can pick out something generic. I wouldn’t want to burn through whatever stock you might have.”

“Nonsense,” Kate dismissed, “besides, I only carry good teas. None of that Lipton crap.”

Kate’s words made Victoria bark out a short laugh. “I didn’t peg you for a tea elitist, Katie.”

The nickname slipped out of her mouth unintentionally, organically, too late for her to swallow back.

“It comes with the territory after a while. It’s more of an inevitability.” Kate winked, seeming to consider the name Tori had christened. Appearing to accept it for now, she flicked the hot pot on. Victoria realized she was staring again, and she tried her best to busy her eyes elsewhere.

Kate’s room looked a lot more welcoming with the warm sun streaming through the curtains. The navy blue of her carpet, the walls sparsely decorated with pictures of family and posters, her positively cluttered desk with a very healthy looking plant standing on top, the faint musk of rabbit punctuated with mint... It’s kind of endearing.

Victoria from five days ago, comparatively, would have found the room unsettling. Disappointing. Absolutely dingy. And too christian for her own good. But now… things were different. Kate was her friend, and she was her protector.

And that meant turning her world upside down. She had left the Vortex Club. Her friends, Courtney and Taylor, felt more distant, despite her best efforts. Nathan had become a bitter rival. And she had extended an olive branch to Max Caulfield, her longtime nemesis. Months of relationships, cast away because she knew. She saw with her own eyes that someone else needed her much more.

In the wake of so much that had happened, Victoria found that she quite preferred the intimate quaintness of Kate’s room.

“...wait, what time is it?” She patted around her for her phone, to no avail. It must’ve fallen onto the floor last night.

“Um… well, it’s almost 9…” Kate mumbled.

“9?!” Victoria nearly exploded from the futon, forgetting her company for a second, causing Alice to panic and hop off. “Shit! I’m going to miss class! I’m gonna be late to…”

“Hold on, Tori, wait... ” Kate brought her laptop over to Victoria. “You should read this…”

Victoria, forcing herself to calm down, accepted the computer with shaking arms. Slowly, she digested the newsletter in front of her.

----- 

“From: RAYMOND WELLS

To: Blackwell-Academy, Blackwell-Staff

Wednesday, October 9th

Dear Students, Families, and Staff,

We hope this email reaches you well.

Last night, during rounds, our security team found evidence that suggests a firearm had been discharged within the school grounds without our knowledge. As far as we are aware, no one has been wounded or injured, and the perpetrator is unknown. However, this is a grave violation of our code of conduct. We should not have to remind our faculty, students and staff that weapons, especially firearms, are not permitted on campus.

Investigations into the incident have begun. Due to the nature of these investigations, most school operations have been shut down for the time being. The buses which run from the dormitories into town are still chartered. We are still considering whether sports and recreational festivities are on track to continue.

We apologize for this disturbance and promise to return students to their classes as soon as possible.

Principal Wells”

-----

A wave of discomfort shifted through Victoria. They most likely stumbled upon a bullet hole or maybe even a casing from the altercation in the bathroom. She crossed her fingers, hoping the school’s “investigations” left her alone.

“…I see…” Victoria breathed, handing the laptop back to Kate as she returned from locking Alice in her cage. “Nathan certainly is in hot water now.”

“You mentioned something about how he brought a gun into a bathroom?” Kate asked. Her face then took on a cloudy demeanor. “He didn’t shoot at you, did he?”

“Not at me,” Victoria muttered. “Chloe forced him against the sinks, so he pulled out the gun to make her back off. He really wasn’t in a good headspace and I... stopped him from committing murder.”

Kate sighed in relief, handing Victoria a freshly brewed mug of tea. “So you weren’t kidding about what happened on Monday.”

“No… although I don’t think any of us thought things would escalate this fast,” Victoria murmured, tenderly grasping Kate’s offered mug.

Kate sipped thoughtfully from her thermos. “Even if they don’t suspect him, and even if he is a Prescott, it’ll be harder for Nathan to pull something like that again.”

“I agree… that asshole of a security guard, David Madsen, will be snooping all over the campus, even more than before. With how nosy he is, we might not need to investigate at all,” Victoria half-joked, sighing into her steamy drink.

Kate did not appear humored, glancing at her feet instead. “...I think we should still try to get into contact with Max and Chloe though.”

Victoria cringed internally. Oh gosh, I hope she didn’t think I was serious about that.

“Of course! I agree, we should still be on top of this,” Victoria stood up quickly, sloshing and almost spilling the hot liquid. “You should text Max and ask her if we can all meet up. It’ll be our best bet to dig up evidence to use against Nathan.”

Kate smiled faintly, and nodded. “Ok, I’ll do that.”

Placing her cup on a side table, Victoria rolled off the futon, standing up to stretch again. “For now, we’ll need breakfast. Is the dining hall closed?”

“Mhm. We’ll have to leave campus for food.” Kate bit her lower lip.

“Want to head to the Two Whales, then?” Victoria offered. “I’ll see what clothes I can salvage from my room, and then I can drive us there.”

“Oh wait,” Kate retraced, looking embarrassed herself. “I forgot that Nathan totally trashed your room last night… I’m sorry…”

“N-no, don’t worry about it,” Victoria assured, making her way to the front of the room. “I should’ve just picked up a few before I came over...”

Kate seemed to mull over a question, nursing her tea as she contemplated. “...do you want to borrow some of my clothes? I know they’re not as fashionable, but...”

Victoria turned beet red at the suggestion. “No, that’s not necessary. Thanks for the offer...”

“Ok! I just wanted to let you-”

Kate’s phone vibrated suddenly. She glanced at the contact, and then back at Victoria.

“I’ve got family calling. Sorry, is it ok if I take this?” Kate asked, shrugging her shoulders in apology.

“Yeah. I’ll take my leave then.” Stumbling out the door, she managed to mumble a quick “be right back” before sprinting back to her own room and quickly closing the door.

 

Jesus, Victoria. You are getting too flustered around her.

 

Stepping back into her room and reacquainting herself, Victoria almost felt nausea rushing through her body. Although the place still looked just as trashed as before, Victoria now felt lucid enough for her perfectionist personality to kick in. This time, the room was absolutely revolting.

Ugh… I probably would have felt miserable waking up in this hellhole. Props, Nathan. You really know how to hit where it hurts.

Despite herself, she couldn’t help but do a little bit of cleaning on her own, removing posters and uprighting shelves. The big challenge would be replacing the keurig, which had been knocked over and splintered into pieces. That, and the TV, of course. God, that was thousands of dollars of damage right there. Although she didn’t trust Samuel, that strange creep of a janitor, she wasn’t about to handle cleanup by herself. She opened her laptop and submitted a quick cleanup request to the dorm facility website.

I don’t know what I want to do about Prescott. I haven’t seen him in days, which is strange… although he does tend to skip class. The only place I’m guaranteed to find him is at the Vortex Club Party. But I don’t want to wait until tomorrow to find him.

Her closet seemed mostly untouched, minus the drawers which had been pulled out of the boudoir. Tiptoeing around the broken glass, Victoria managed to scoop together a decent outfit. Not anything particularly fancy, just a corduroy skirt, tights, and a mustard sweater, a nice autumn color. A good number of her shirts had fallen onto the ground, and Victoria didn’t want to turn herself into a glass pincushion.

Looks like I’m set… although the room is still too much of a mess…

Even though Kate’s room seemed just as disorganized as her own, she couldn’t help but think that it might be better to stay a few more days with the christian. Maybe it had to do with how disappointingly bare the room now looked.

Or maybe it’s because you liiiiiiiike her, a part of her taunted.

Oh, fuck off, me.

-----

Victoria fought an internal war over the subject of Kate Marsh as they drove to the Two Whales Diner.

I was really tired last night… and that fucked up dream really didn’t help. Do I really feel that way about her?

She chanced a glimpse over to her passenger, and her pulse quickened. The maroon shades she was wearing really flattered her in the autumn sun, particularly complimenting her rosy complexion. Only the necessity of watching the road pulled her eyes away from the girl.

Ok, fine… she conceded to herself. I guess I do have… something... for her...

But… do I have to act on it? I could just ignore thinking about Kate… and her comfortable, delicate face… and her gravelly but soft voice... and her resolute heart of gold…

She thought about the way Kate sprang into action to help Victoria through her anxiety attack. The way her hands knew exactly where to go, and she knew exactly what to say… it felt really… really nice.

Maybe that’s not the only place her hands know where to… OK, TIME OUT, VICTORIA! That’s taking it too far.

They stopped at a light. Kate leaning back in her chair, looking out the window. The sunlight caught her bun just right, making it look like she had donned a halo.

Victoria’s logical side wrenched her back into reality.

Listen here, Tori. You can’t try anything with that girl. She’s gone through enough trauma this week. She doesn’t need someone else pressuring her in this way.

She caved to her voice of reason. Yeah. She needs someone that can make her feel safe, not someone who’s uselessly thirsting after her. I have to be strong. For her.

“Tori… the light’s green.”

“Oh, right,” Victoria muttered, and pulled a left.

-----

“Hey there, Victoria. How are you on this beautiful mornin’?” The waitress, a natural smile plastering her face, leaned against the booth wall. “And who’s this delightful girl you’ve brought in?”

“I’m doing just peachy, Joyce. This is Kate, she’s a… friend." Tori responded awkwardly. “Blackwell’s closed for today, so that’s why we’re here.”

“Oh?” Joyce, intrigued, leaned in. “You’ll have to let me in on the juicy gossip sometime. For now, though, it looks like you two are about ready to devour a moose whole!”

She threw her head back for a quick chuckle, and Victoria couldn’t help but be taken in by the waitress’s warm candor. “So. What’ll it be, girls?”

Victoria motioned to Kate, letting her go first.

“Um, belgian waffles... with hash on the side... please,” she murmured.

Victoria inspected the yellowing menu with a shrewd eye. “And I’ll have the gold potato omelette with two sides of toast, rye or wheat.”

“Sounds good to me. I’ll be back before you know it,” Joyce drawled, taking their menus.

Victoria watched as she turned towards the kitchen, making her way around the counter, yelling over the din of the restaurant. “Number six with hash and number four, two rye!”

The Two Whales was probably one of Victoria’s favorite local restaurants, despite its beat attitude and myriad of strange and noisy patrons. The diner scene was a guilty pleasure of hers, although she would never admit to anyone in the Vortex club that she frequented this dingy hole. The wafting smell of burnt bacon and eggs never ceased to lift her lungs out of whatever shitty mood she inevitably entered the diner with. In fact, she favored the place so much that she had become a familiar face to their attending waitress, the middle-aged woman with the soothing southern tang.

The familiar booth she always chose (two spaces from the door) now felt slightly less so with Kate facing her. Victoria tried shifting into a more comfortable position in her seat and turned her attention back to her friend.

“...so, yesterday you said you used time travel to go back four whole days,” Kate started.

In all of the chaos of dealing with her own emotions, Tori hadn’t expected Kate to begin discussing the time travel thing. “...uh, yes. What about it?”

“How... exactly did that work?”

“I’m not sure what I did to activate it.” Victoria mumbled, leaning against her booth and returning to her usual crossed arms position, trying to avoid touching the greasy table until necessary. “The only circumstances I can guarantee is that it happened while I was watching a video. It was glowing all strangely, like a red hue extending out towards me. That’s... all I remember.”

“Have you tried recreating the effect?” Kate asked. Victoria thought back to Saturday morning.

“I filmed a short video the day after, but it didn’t work. Also, none of the videos that I looked at in my phone glowed the way that first one did. I… sorta gave up after that.”

“Hmm…” Kate looked deep in thought. “I have a few ideas about what might have happened.”

“Sure, go ahead,” Victoria conceded, crossing her legs. “You know as much as I do.”

“Idea number 1 is that you fell into a simple time slip, a... a single time jump,” Kate began to speculate. “A higher power sent you back. Or, maybe you were part of an alternate universe where you did have the powers, but traveling to this one made those powers go away.”

“The alternate universes explanation makes sense…” Victoria thought out loud. ““Except that if that were true, I would be able to see another me, right? But nothing was different between then and now, I don’t think, except for the decision I made Friday Night.”

“Hmm…” Kate rubbed her jaw. “It’s interesting that it was that particular video that allowed you to go back four days. Perhaps it could have something to do with the significance of the moment, or the video itself?”

“Perhaps…?” Victoria set her gaze out the window, watching a seagull tussle with a forlorn wrapper. “A lot of consequences were associated with me filming that clip. Instead of Nathan putting it up, I was the one to bully you. And because of that, you…” she stopped short.

Kate nodded slowly. “...I killed myself. Supposedly.”

“...yeah.” Victoria exhaled through her nose, clenching her jaw.

Gosh, I really don’t know if it was the best thing to have told her…

“...so, maybe that party was a critical point of divergence, then?” Kate asked.

Victoria blinked. “A what?”

“Oh, sorry…” Kate focused on her feet intently. “While you were still sleeping, I… I googled a couple of things about time travel, just to make sense of what you were saying… I’ll try to explain. A lot of people believe in Chaos Theory when it comes to this stuff.”

“I know what Chaos Theory is,” Victoria rolled her eyes. “It’s all about the butterfly effect. That thing where if you kill a single bug in the past, it could completely change everything in the present.”

“Yeah,” Kate’s eyes lit up, and she lifted her arms from under the table to sprinkle salt across its surface. “Imagine each salt grain as a separate, split hair decision in a given moment. This how a lot of people characterize timelines and time travel, that anything and everything can make a difference. On the other hand…”

She took a finger, drawing the salt into a few collected groups. “...some people believe that timelines are more robust than this, and only critical points of divergence in the past can cause actual changes in the present, rather than the small things.”

“You’re sounding a lot like Caulfield with all that science babble,” Victoria warned playfully.

Kate smirked. “Good. It means I’ve done my research.”

“Hmm…” Victoria recalled how time travel worked in Steins;Gate. She remembered at one point in the show, Okabe had been unable to successfully save his best friend Mayuri from dying, despite trying over and over in many different ways. “...So, instead of thinking of things as an infinite number of possibilities, you have to think about it as a set number of outcomes, right?”

“Exactly. If time travel works like that, then it makes sense why you can’t time travel on a whim,” Kate surmised. “You’d have to be filming during another critical point of divergence in order to replicate the effects.”

As she finished her thought, she beamed brightly, as though she had just figured out the secrets of the universe. Victoria couldn’t help but feel reverence for the girl in the moment. She had managed to pick up this much about time travel in only a few hours?

“When did you become a genius on the metaphysics of time travel, church girl?” she teased.

“I’ve... always been interested in the subject…” Kate confessed, blushing. “I don’t know… it’s just a hypothesis, but it’s the best I’ve got for now... A third possibility would be that the time travel powers take time to ‘recharge’, or something along those lines... We could have tested out all of our thoughts by pulling out the party video again, but you said you deleted it, so...”

“...damn. You’re right.” Victoria huffed. “Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hasty.”

“No, it’s fine…I’m glad the video you took is gone.” Kate relented. “I’m kinda just letting my thoughts run wild with this idea, I guess... It’s a fun thought exercise.”

“Yeah…” Victoria loosened her crossed arms. The way Kate said that disappointed her a little.

“You do believe me, right?” Tori asked. Kate looked up. “That… that I went back in time?”

“I’m not sure what to believe…” Kate put simply. “...if you could somehow demonstrate, I would be able to put more faith into your claim. I don’t think you’re lying, but… it’s just so far fetched.”

“I know…” Victoria pretended to check for dust underneath her fingernails. “I’m still not sure of it myself.”

She then narrowed her eyes at Kate. “...But it doesn’t matter, as long as I know you’re safe.”

“...thanks, Tori.” Kate played with the salt shaker. “...Whatever made you decide to change your mind about me, I appreciate that it happened-”

Her acknowledgement was cut short by a phone ringing.

“Oop! It’s… It’s family again…” Kate said bashfully. “Can I…?”

Sure, just interrupt your own concession of highest gratitude to your guardian and protector, Victoria Chase,” she smarmed, a grin nonetheless covering her lips. Kate giggled, then returned to her timid state as she answered the call.

“Hey mom. Yes it’s Kate... Sorry it’s so noisy… no, I’m at a restaurant…uh huh… um… yeah…”

Victoria pretended to focus her attention back out into the streets. The pacific ocean glistened not too far off, contrasting with the chatter of other patrons. Although everything outside felt serene, the way Kate’s voice strained over the din of the restaurant started concerning Tori more and more.

“I wasn’t there… I told you, I’m with a friend, I’m safe… please, mother… it was two days ago...”

It was almost surreal for Victoria to witness. Shoulders dropping, voice quieting down; all of the boldness of Kate Marsh babbling about time travel was disappearing in real time as she talked to her mom.

“Mother… I’m sorry… yes… yes, mother. I have to… ok. Love you mom.”

And with that, Kate sighed, putting her phone away. She placed her elbows on the table and propped her head up with her arms.

“Sorry about that, Tori…” she spoke through her hands. She practically looked deflated.

Victoria reached over the table to comfort her, touching a forearm. “Was that your mother?”

“Yeah…” Kate embraced Victoria’s hand, sending shivers up her spine. “She’s been… on my case lately. Ever since she saw the video of me Friday night.”

“Parentals are never fun to deal with.” Victoria squinted out the window, out at the circling gulls and waving flags of passing trucks. “The distance from family is one of the reasons I like Blackwell, even if Arcadia Bay is a mess of a town.”

“Well… I liked Blackwell for that reason too, at first…” Kate whispered.

“Right… sorry…” Tori exhaled.  

Now Kate turned her gaze out the window, allowing Victoria to not feel so guilty about watching her friend. “...I thought I could get away from them, if just for a little bit. Mostly my mom. My father isn’t so awful.”

“She isn’t one of those strict protestants, is she?” Victoria asked.

“Well… depends on what you consider a strict protestant…” Kate replied softly. “But… sorta.”

“That… sucks…” Victoria offered lamely. Without a proper counter, all she could do was sit in the depressing post-mother mood with Kate.

Thankfully, Joyce interrupted their moment with their orders. But even the smell of freshly cooked breakfast food radiating off the plates wasn’t enough to bring them back to full spirits.

“Here you are, girls…” she announced proudly, placing the meals on the table. Noticing their expressions, her face twisted into empathetic puzzlement. “Now, what are you two so glum for?”

“It’s nothing… thanks for asking,” Kate muttered.

“You sure? Both of you look pretty upset…” Joyce put a hand on her hip. “And I’m sure it has nothing to do with school being cancelled.”

“It’s just a personal thing. Don’t worry too much about it, Joyce, we’ll be fine.” Victoria dismissively waved.  

“Well, all right, I won’t pry any further. But you owe me. Now, I'll let y'all enjoy your food!” the waitress smiled sincerely.

“Merci beaucoup,”  Victoria called as Joyce departed from their table.

As she cut her omelette with a knife, Victoria contemplated the situation.

If she's upsetting Kate over the video Nathan put up... god, that's frustrating. How am I going to cheer Kate up after all of this?

Suddenly, inspiration.

I know exactly what I want to do.

Victoria put down her forkful. “After we’re done with breakfast, is it okay if I bring you somewhere?"

Kate considered her words for a second as she dumped syrup all over her waffles.

“Depends... Where would we be going?”

Victoria vaguely chewed her lip. "Someplace... special."

Kate gave a faint smile in reply.

"...Sure."

Chapter Text

As Victoria chauffeured Kate around Arcadia Bay for the third time in her fancy convertible, Kate wondered what her driver was thinking.

Is this how friendship works for her? Does she always whisk people away like this?

Victoria’s car smoothly traversed the coastline freeway, playing yet another indie acoustic song (probably the Lumineers), and Kate seriously considered whether she had ever met anyone who had tried this hard to please her. Nobody that could challenge her newfound guardian angel came to mind.

Victoria doesn’t want anything from me, does she? Despite having never shown an inkling of selfish intent since she had first knocked on her door Saturday night, Kate had residual hesitations. It was hard to drop the feeling that any moment, Victoria could suddenly abandon her just as quickly as she had caught her, or add stipulations, or what have you.

But… the way Victoria’s eyes watched her betrayed compassion. Perhaps it was an extreme kind, potentially motivated through the alleged supernatural means of time travel. It gave Kate shivers, just the potency of her glare. Tori had quickly become protective of her, and that level of passion both emboldened Kate, and also… made her feel strangely vulnerable. Even now, with Victoria driving, occasionally shooting a look towards Kate, she began noticing a pattern where her stomach would threaten to turn if the stare was intense enough… Maybe she was embarrassed by the attention.

Yes. That has to be it...

Nevertheless, the consistency of Tori’s gaze, and the intent behind them, were genuine enough for Kate.

I wonder if she ever wonders if I care about her...

The car dipped and swayed slightly as Victoria turned down a dirt path. Looking idly out the window, Kate watched as the shallow beaches made room for voluminous forest.

“We’ll be there in a minute,” Tori announced in her habitually resigned tone, which piqued Kate’s attention. Her voice felt almost out of touch, after everything they’d been through. Kate wondered why Victoria would be trying to put on her nonchalant act again.

Perhaps, Victoria was struggling to maintain her former identity as the Queen of Blackwell, drifting between periods of genuine kindness and sarcastic bloat. After yesterday, Kate’s understanding of the ex-Vortex member had completely shattered. Once perfectly preened and manicured, now breaking down with Kate as her only witness. The image of the queen bee was merely a front for a girl just as scared and confused as the christian herself. In the light of that revelation, Tori seemed profoundly human. A tad perfectionist, definitely elitist, and still snarky, but human.

Perhaps she’s just trying to figure out what’s comfortable for herself.

The bright bleep of Kate’s phone knocked her out of her thoughts.

Oh god, I hope that’s not from mother...

Thankfully, it was just Max, replying to her message back at the Two Whales.

<Ok. I’m currently wrapped up over at Chloe’s house, but we can meet soon. I’ll let you know where ASAP :)>

<For sure! Thanks Max> she replied.

“Here we are.” Victoria’s car came to an abrupt stop, braking a little less smooth than normal, threatening to throw Kate’s phone out of her hand. “Sorry… rough landing…”

“It’s ok,” Kate reassured, replacing her phone into her purse. She glanced out the window again, looking around to scrutinize the parking where they had stopped. A small dirt path led up a hill, and sitting atop, the unmistakable visage of the Arcadia Bay lighthouse. The dull hum of the engine gave way to the call of small birds as Victoria pulled the key.

Tori must be nervous about bringing me here, she thought.

But why?

-----

Victoria’s stomach bubbled as she inserted her spare key into the lighthouse door.

Perhaps it was food poisoning from the omelette (wouldn’t be the first time), or nerves from taking her crush to her sacred place. It could also have been the smoking remains of the campfire they had passed on the way up, a faint reminder of the Vortex Club get-together here just a few days prior. She wouldn’t have risked visiting at all, except for the fact that she knew Vortex only came here on Sundays. Hayden had found a copy of the guard shifts in the auxiliary building, and patrols only seemed to be scheduled for weekdays. But even then, security rarely patrolled this area of the park in the first place.

“Wow, Tori, I didn’t know you had a key to the lighthouse!” Kate basked in awe.

Victoria snorted dismissively, turning the key, hearing a satisfying clunk as the bolt gave way. “I had it made after we found the original in the maintenance shed. I paid extra to get the keymaker to keep quiet. I think the key’s been removed since, but they don’t know I’ve got a copy.” The door gently swung open as Victoria pulled out the key, and she replaced the item into her camera bag.

She beckoned quickly as she stepped in, faintly recognizing she was doing something illegal, or at the very least, unscrupulous. The last thing she wanted was her Blackwell reputation sullied for some dumb sentimental hangout. “Come on, let’s go, before anyone sees!”

Kate hesitated. “Don’t you have vertigo?” she worried. “You don’t have to stress yourself out for my sake again if you don’t want to.”

Victoria paused, then scoffed, shaking her head. “I… I may have lied about that. If only because ‘I’m afraid of entering the rooftop because I saw you die here’ would have sounded a little less plausible at the time.”

She internally winced as the words left her mouth. That was a little harsh...

“Oh. Oh…” Kate frowned. “That makes a lot more sense, actually… sorry.”

I hope she’s not too disappointed in me for lying to her.

“Don’t apologize. I appreciate your concern. A-anyway, let’s get moving, shall we?” Victoria offered, glancing down the path to make sure no one else was around. Kate nodded, and they entered the tower together.

The ground floor smelled of bitter rust and sweet cement. There was nothing interesting here, since the space had been allocated for the generator powering the lighting system above, with the remainder used as storage. A cobalt colored metal spiral staircase extended up the interior, complemented with a railing wrapping along the wall. Victoria hit a nearby switch, illuminating the dark and uninviting concrete room with ancient incandescent lights. The metal wiring protecting the bulbs cast long, thin shadows across the circular space.

The hike up to the top of the tower was always longer than Victoria remembered. Roughly about halfway up, she could feel her breaths coming quicker, and her legs feeling more tired. She could hear Kate panting similarly as they climbed the stairs.

Wow, I am out of shape...

“I… wasn’t planning on telling you about time travel at all,” Victoria muttered, muffled clangs reverberating up the building with each step. “I guess Tuesday was a bit of a… mistake.”

“I didn’t mind,” Kate replied, between breaths. “Although it’s still weird to think about. I understand why you couldn’t tell me... I just wish you could have been more comfortable with me in the moment.”

“In my defense, it’s not everyday that you talk about time travel powers, especially ones you can’t understand…” Victoria mused aloud. “Or demonstrate with any real validity.”

Kate nodded. “So true. I can’t even imagine- woah, shit!”

Victoria turned just in time to witness Kate, a few feet below, slipping on a metal step, a horrible scraping sound as she fell backwards.

Her heart skipped a beat. At this height, she could be severely injured.

“Kate!”

She threw both of her hands out in a desperate bid to catch her.

 

Time slowed dramatically.

Kate fell sluggishly, reaching out for the rail and missing it by inches. Victoria could see the terror in Kate’s eyes as she plummeted, back first, down towards the base of the lighthouse.

Fuck!

Without much thinking, Victoria descended as fast as she could, making her way down and planting her feet a few steps below Kate. Positioning herself right below Kate, she grabbed both the railing and the center post to brace for impact.

 

Time resumed at a normal pace.

“Oof!”

Kate slammed into the reckless human barrier, both of them lurching backwards slightly as Victoria carried Kate’s weight with her, straining her arms to keep both of them upright.

She held, just barely.

Kate’s arms instinctively wrapped around Tori’s body, a surprised yelp as she realized what had happened.

“Careful!” Victoria hissed.

Kate gasped lightly, body still tense from expecting to hit the ground. “Woah… S-sorry...”

“You’ve got to learn to stop apologizing so much.” Tori grunted, letting out her own surprised breath. Extreme fatigue struck her again, that odd feeling that she had spent the day working out.

What just happened? This was just like in the bathroom on Monday…

Victoria suddenly realized how intimately Kate was hanging onto her, and let go of the railing and post, blushing. Kate must’ve noticed as well, as she peeled herself hastily off of the girl before stepping away.

“…how did you… do that?” Kate asked carefully, red in the face. “You were way ahead of me just now… how did you get down here so fast?”

“If I knew, I’d use it all of the time,” Victoria gulped. “It… felt similar to the kind of feeling I got when I stopped Chloe from getting shot by Nathan… like time slowed down.”

Kate’s expression went from confused to incredulous. Victoria exhaled in exasperation. “Right, I forgot to mention that, didn’t I. I guess I can... slow time? Sometimes?”

“That’s…” Victoria watched a number of emotions pass through Kate, before finally settling on excitement, sparks flying from her eyes. “That’s incredible!”

Wow. That was really cute.

“It would be more incredible if I knew how to activate it,” Victoria mumbled. “It’s felt completely instinctual both times… like only when I really need it does it come out. I think I just hold out my hands like this and focus…” she demonstrated, pushing her hands out in front of her chest.

“Still, that’s ssssssuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-”

 

Time slowed once again.

Kate’s words stretched out like putty, unrecognizable reverberations echoing in the slow-motion air. Her passionate demonstrations of elation shifted into gradual, almost mechanical movements.

Victoria’s muscles ached, and her lungs burned. She put her arms down.

Time resumed.

 

“-per neat that I actually get to see your time powers in action!” Kate exclaimed. Her expression shifted to concern. “Woah, are you ok? You look exhausted.”

Victoria felt herself dropping to her knees, hands pressed into the metal grating for balance, gasping for breath. She managed to brace her back against the concrete wall to regain her breath. The taste of iron entered her mouth.

“Y-yeah… just… winded…” Victoria panted. “I feel like I spent the day running on a treadmill or something… I think it’s a side effect from using the power...”

“…Do you need help up?” Marsh’s hazel eyes darted over Chase’s body.

Victoria tried waving Kate away. “I’ll be fine…” she pushed herself onto her feet, but every step felt like a twenty pound weight had been tied to her legs. Kate helped prop Victoria with a shoulder, and together, they made their way up to the landing.

“This is unnecessary…” Tori mumbled, although she greatly appreciated the support.

You just saved me from falling down the stairs,” Kate replied, grunting as she lifted. “Consider it a way to return the favor.”

 

With the help of Kate and the railing, the pair reached the landing that preceded the lantern room.

The observation deck wasn’t anything particularly special, but certainly looked less sparse than the base, and much more cozy, probably due to the fact that the metal platform above was a mesh that allowed natural light to illuminate the room. As they crossed the room, Victoria noted the small brass plaque commemorating the structure’s heritage right above the end of the staircase. A small doorway led to the gallery outside, and sunlight streamed from the window on the opposite end of the room. An aged white wooden bench sat below the window, and Victoria eagerly accepted the seat, taking a reprieve from the climb up. From there she should see the window opened up to the ocean, bright blue glitters reflecting off its surface.

“We’re right below the big light,” Kate hummed in awe as she paced around the room. “This place feels really relaxing.”

Victoria looked up. “Yeah. It’s not the worst space to come to on weekends with no parties.”

“I didn’t think you’d be into abandoned old buildings like this,” the christian mumbled, studying the plaque.

“The space was only closed off to visitors about five years back,” Victoria replied. “They cited safety concerns and the like. It’s not that old.”

Kate shrugged. “Breaking into locked buildings just seems like something Max would do.”

“Hey now,” Chase bantered in return. “You’re not accusing me of being a lame hipster, are you?”

“I’m not saying it out loud…” Kate replied with a smirk.

“Well, if you think this space is vintage, you should check out the lantern room,” Victoria eased off the bench, back onto her feet. Her strength felt like it had significantly returned; perhaps the time-slow fatigue was temporal. “There’s a treasure trove of bullshit that I’m sure Caulfield would eat right up if she could come up here. Want to head up?”

Kate gave a nod. “Yeah, let’s do it.”

 

The pinnacle of the tower felt less spacious now that they had reached it; the bulky, rotating lantern at the top was off for the time being, but still claimed most of the upper floor. The dilapidated state of the room was a sign that no one had been regularly maintaining the space, as a few of the massive windows had been shattered, while others collected dust. The open sections of the lighthouse allowed wind to swirl through, creating a dynamic soundscape as gusts occasionally whistled in along with the calls of forest fauna. The exposure to the elements also had the effect of lowering the temperature by at least ten degrees. As Victoria stepped she distinctly caught the sound of crinkling glass below.

Good thing we decided to wear close-toed shoes here...

“Wow…” Kate inhaled the lightest of breaths as she held her arms, observing through a chalky pane. “I thought you could see all of Arcadia Bay from the cliff, but this… this is something else…”

Victoria leaned against the giant light, toying with her bag, considering whether she wanted to take her camera out or not. “It’s a wonderful place to take unobstructed shots of the bay. You can get good stretches with a telescopic lens, too.”

“I can imagine,” Kate whispered. “It’s beautiful.”

Victoria let out a contented sigh. Good, she likes the place…

As Victoria examined the interior in greater detail, she familiarized herself with the many graffiti markings that made the space so special to her. No spray paint messages; most were either scraped into the metal, drawn into unswept glass, or written in Sharpie. It was probably the most indie thing Victoria could admit to enjoying, but… there was something remarkably special, knowing how many other teenagers had retreated here, just like her. Maybe they, too, were escaping from family, or enemies, or other obligations.

Or maybe they brought their hidden crushes here too...

Kate seemed to enjoy reading the messages too, glancing at a few notes scribbled into a pane.

“ ‘Sherman plus Grace’ ,” Kate read out loud. “ ‘Rose was here…’ These are really cute!”

“We weren’t the first ones to sneak out here,” Victoria noted. “But most of these are from before they locked the front door.”

“Here’s another…” Kate scratched her chin as she scrutinized a message scrawled into a shabby heart. “It says… ‘Lucy and Darla forever’. Aww, they must have been best friends!”

Victoria froze in response to that comment.

When Tori had initially discovered that marking, she didn’t think much of it. But now that feelings abounded, that she was starting to be more sure about how she understood herself in relation to Kate… that sentiment had shifted, almost imperceptibly. Lucy and Darla inscribed their names into the Arcadia Bay lighthouse, just as dozens of couples before and after them, a sort of rite of passage for their generation of teens. Maybe they were best friends, but...

...she also could imagine Lucy, or Darla, or both, as they wrote their message with intention, a middle finger to a small Oregon town. Maybe they had hooked up immediately before, or after leaving their mark. Perhaps they used the space for nightly retreats, or getaways from unaccepting parents. What if they confessed their feelings here, in this very spot?…

...but despite the canon Victoria had run away with in her head, she couldn’t bring herself to counter Kate’s statement.

I still don’t know if she would understand…but this could be a chance to see how she thinks, right? Or should I just assume she’s straight from the way she judged that graffiti?

“Y-yeah, gal pals, I’m sure,” Victoria muttered, sounding rather defeated.

“Wish I had my drawing pad on me,” Kate murmured, distracted by her observations. “I’d love to sketch this space. It would be perfect for a children’s novel.”

Victoria let a smirk enter her lips. “You think?”

“Yeah! Kids love lighthouses,” Kate said, beaming. “I think there’s something really profound about being in old interactive buildings that have gone out of style, don’t you think?”

“Who’s accusing who of sounding like Caulfield now, hmm?” Victoria quipped with a sly smile.

Kate shook her head with a giggle, and leaned out one of the empty frames of the lighthouse, scanning the lines and contours of Arcadia Bay. The bright rays of the noon sun cast a perfect glow on Kate’s visage, making her silhouette that much more ephemeral. Victoria’s heart pounded as her photographic instinct kicked in, and before she realized it, she had snapped several photos of the church girl. The click of the shutter tipped Kate off, and she turned, recognition of what was happening as her cheeks took on a reddish hue.

“Tori, are you taking pictures of me?” she hummed.

Victoria urgently bit her lip.

Shit. Uhh, what do I say!? “Oh Kate, you just looked super cute in the sunlight and can I kiss you?” Ugh, no way. Think, Victoria, think!

She stumbled through her response. “Y-yeah… sorry… It’s just… the color you’re wearing… it really nicely contrasts with the bay. That’s all.” With that, she turned her head away, scoffing, although her eyes remained trained on Kate.

“Really?” Kate looked down at her outfit, and her blush grew more intense. “...th-thank you…”

The two stood silently for a beat. The call of seagulls nicely filled the void.

“You didn’t take me here to be your model or something, right?” Kate joked nervously.

“N-not at all!” Victoria retreated, fumbling with her DSLR as she put it back into her bag. “I just… you have a put together style. I was planning on just taking shots of the bay to pass time. This was improvisation.”

“...Mhm… ok.” Kate sounded hardly satisfied with the answer, angling back to the window. Victoria gave a frustrated sigh.

“Look, Marsh,” she drifted into her annoyed tone for a second before softening her voice again. “I just… wanted to do something nice for you. I promise you I don’t use shots of people for my portfolio unless they provide assent. It’s standard procedure for photographers.”

She then crossed her arms. “Besides, these weren’t for me…”

Kate shifted to meet Victoria’s glare, perplexed. “So… they’re for me?”

“Well, duh,” Victoria grumbled, regaining her confidence, waving a lazy finger in Kate’s direction. “Every artist needs a good cover photo for their resume, right? How are you supposed to advertise yourself without a couple of decent shots?”

“I guess I never thought about it like that before…” Kate huffed through her nose, intrigued. Victoria stomached the urge to blirt “of course you haven’t”, and subsequently cursed her inner bitch.

Kate took a second before asking, “Can you show me the shots?”

“Yeah…” Victoria brought her camera out, and Kate resigning herself to the photographer’s side, her shoulder pressed up against Victoria’s arm, sending a tingle down Tori’s gut. She hadn’t comprehended how chilly it was until Kate’s physical contact burned against her cold skin.

“Here…” She slowly flipped through images on her tiny preview screen, occasionally glancing over to see Kate’s reaction. Marsh appeared to be much more comfortable with the shots now that she could see them, smiling and admiring the better ones.

“These are really good pictures…” she murmured.

Victoria rolled her eyes and scoffed. “It’s been a while since I’ve worked with lighting this harsh. Honestly I could have done better with leveling, although I can always fix it in post.”

“You’re selling yourself short, as usual,” Kate grinned, snuggling into Victoria’s side and causing her to flinch before settling into the light smolder of her touch. “These are wonderful. Thank you.”

Gosh, she feels awfully comfortable with me right now… should I…?

Victoria brought her arm around Kate, drawing her into an awkward side hug. “You’re… you’re welcome.”

The two stood there, silent again, as another gust skirled through the lantern room.

 

“...thank you for bringing me here. It was a nice break from… everything. Again.” Kate smiled. “Even though you don’t always have your time travel powers to back you up, you seem to know when I need time away from things.”

“It’s been a hard enough week on you,” Victoria huffed. “I couldn’t let you deal with this on your own.”

“...You mean my family,” Kate whispered quietly.

Victoria nodded slowly. “I guess, maybe. What’s their problem, if you don’t me asking?”

Kate paused, and it sounded like something suddenly caught in her throat. “When my parents got the email about the shooting from Principal Wells... they started suggesting… seriously asking me about potentially unenrolling me from Blackwell.”

Victoria felt her eyes widening. “What?”

“It’s been something on their mind since the video got released…” Kate settled a little more into Victoria’s side. “When they heard about what happened… I tried getting them to understand, to explain it wasn’t my fault. Mostly my aunt and my mother… my father has been tolerant enough about it, but my mother… she just told me that I shouldn’t have gone to the party in the first place. And now she’s gone full helicopter mode again.”

“That’s bullshit,” Victoria snapped a little too venomously. “How could you have known? How could anyone?”

“I know…” Kate sighed, sinking back into Victoria’s grasp. “They’re just… very strict. They already disapprove of Blackwell, but the video was a whole other level to them. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard my mother sound so unhappy with me before...”

“Sounds more like they’re insensitive jerks,”  said Victoria sharply, a fist forming in her free hand. “Their opinion of you shouldn’t change just because you were caught on tape kissing boys.”

“They’re not the most supportive of every lifestyle…” Kate folded her hands together. “But I owe them for a lot. For bringing me into the world, for so many things... I mean, blood is thicker than water, right?” Kate glanced into Victoria’s eyes, almost turning the statement non-rhetorical.

For Victoria, she certainly interpreted it as such. “Kate, you don’t belong to them. You aren’t just their pet. You’re your own person, even if you share the same blood.”

Kate bit her lip. “But what if they’re right? What if it really was my fault? What if-”

“Fuck that. Seriously.” Victoria rubbed Kate’s shoulder. “You have a whole life ahead of you. It’s not fair they make you keep worrying about this one bullshit thing that happened.”

Kate’s eyes widened, but Victoria kept going. “They don’t know you. They know nothing about you. You’re going to break their expectations. So what? That’s what growing up is all about.”

Finishing her statement, Victoria noticed how worked up she had suddenly gotten. Feeling her breath surge through her nose, she let go of Kate.

“Sorry… I didn’t mean to…” Victoria winced.

Kate reassured her by putting a hand to Victoria’s side. “No, it’s fine. I’m not as fragile as you think. I know what you mean.”

Victoria scratched her neck. I just hope I didn’t say the wrong thing.

“Sometimes I just wish it weren’t so…” Kate sighed, looking absently into the distance. “I wish I had more people to lean on… then I wouldn’t be putting all of this onto you…”

“What do you mean?” Victoria turned to meet Kate’s glance directly. “You’re not a bother to me, like, at all.”

Kate wheeled to confront Tori with a frown. “Are you sure about that? You sound so frustrated sometimes. It makes me feel like... maybe I’m some kind of obligation to you? I don’t know, I just don’t want you to pity me.”

“No! Ugh…” Victoria groaned, facepalming. “I’m not mad at you… and I don’t pity you either.”

Kate pointed her solemn expression out the tower. “You’re just saying that, Victoria.”

“Are you kidding me?” Victoria let her own bottled up frustration explode, pacing aggressively towards Kate. “Do you know how ridiculously brave and amazing you are? I’ve never met anyone who’s gone through so much pain and bullshit and managed to get up in the morning to match their cardigan and skirt the way you do. That’s not an opinion, that’s an objective fact. You are so much stronger than you think you are.”

Kate had been backing up as Victoria approached. Now she had retreated up against another window pane, forcing Victoria to calm herself down with a bitter exhale. “...which is why I absolutely despise your parents for not recognizing the shit you’re putting up with and surviving. I’m angry that the world keeps putting you through trial after trial and never giving you a break. That’s not fair to you. So no, I don’t pity you. How could I pity someone as strong as you?”

Victoria caught herself glaring right at Kate, and angrily forced her grimace in every other direction. Letting out a big puff, she held her chest in her arms and sucked her teeth resentfully.

Great, I really fucked that up, Victoria thought. At least I won’t have to worry about whether she likes me back anymore…

 

...so she was startled to hear Kate giggling, a sharp peal that pierced the din of the windy tower.

“I’ve never heard anyone get angry for my sake before,” Kate sounded particularly pleased. “I suppose you’re awfully sweet in your own way…”

This prompted a scoff from Tori. “Well… get used to it. Hell’s fury has got nothing on me… shit, was that insensitive?”

“No!” Kate was now fully laughing out loud. “You’re fine, Tori. You’re so fine.”

“Good…” Victoria smiled, and paced about the room, just glad that the interaction wasn’t a complete bust. She finally leaned out another window, watching the circling gulls that were hardly specks off in the distance now.

“Sorry for sounding so frustrated all the time. I’ve just... got a lot to work through.”

Like the fact that I’m trying to protect someone I have feelings for. Yeah, that’ll be easy to explain.

Kate spoke softly, a few steps back. “What exactly are you working through?”

Victoria pretended to watch the waves of the ocean strike the shore. “Umm… nothing. Nothing serious. You don’t have to worry about it. It’s just a lot of personal… personal crap.”

She felt Kate’s hand grasp her shoulder, and sweet warmth seeped into Victoria’s core.

“That’s alright… Whenever you’re comfortable telling me, let me know. Is that ok, Tori?” Kate’s soft voice threatened to overwhelm her.

God, I just want to turn around and kiss her right now...

“Of course… thank you Katie…” Victoria eked, glad that Kate couldn’t see her burning up from the neck up.

“No problem, Tori.” Victoria felt Kate’s arms slide underneath her’s, hugging her midsection from behind. Tori let out the smallest of gasps as that electric feeling coursed through her body.

Kate… please stop. Or don’t stop. I don’t know. Fuck.

Instead of saying anything, she simply tried to focus on not tensing up so much. Kate’s head pressed into Victoria’s back, and she let out a contented sigh, raising the hairs on Tori’s neck.

They stayed like this for at least a good minute, Kate leaning into Victoria’s back, the two of them just looking outside, Victoria doing her best not to shiver for fear of making Kate stop.

-----

-----

A bright bleeping sound finally shook the two out of their moment.

Kate unraveled her arms from Victoria. “Let me see,” she muttered.

Victoria almost grumbled as Kate let go, turning to face her. “...who is it? If it’s your parents I will chew them the fuck out-”

“It’s Max.” Kate’s eyes narrowed. “She wants us to meet at… the junkyard?”

Victoria frowned.

“Then let’s get going.”

Chapter Text

The junkyard, with its dilapidated sign proclaiming “American Rust” in painted off-white font, withered uselessly as Victoria made her way into the parking lot.

Of course Chloe would want to meet somewhere ratty like this… Victoria rolled her eyes. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d been born here.

“I’m excited to finally meet this Chloe that both of you keep talking about,” Kate exclaimed as they parked.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Victoria muttered, getting out. “If meeting here is any indication.”

Kate giggled in response. “What? I thought you liked abandoned places!”

Victoria wrinkled her lip. “The lighthouse was a tasteful relic of Arcadia Bay’s past. This is just a disgusting mess.”

“Whatever you say, Tori,” Kate rolled her eyes with a smile.

Victoria smirked. The church girl was starting to feel more comfortable with the ebb and flow of their dynamic, which pleased her. Even though Kate wasn’t as assertive as Victoria, their relationship wasn’t strained by some sense of duty, like with Courtney, or by catty gossip-style conversation, as with Taylor. Kate was unique in this way, someone developing an equal footing with Victoria the more time they spent together. In fact, she never realized just how sociable Kate could be after just a bit of familiarity. This played in stark contrast to Victoria’s initial belief that they would both go their own way after they found a way to deal with Nathan.

She’s actually been a pretty good friend. I can’t believe I didn’t get to know her sooner...

 

They didn’t have to wander long in the junkyard before spotting Max, waving to them from an old building near the railroad.

“Hey Kate! Glad to see you made it!” she spoke in her usual breathy tone, and Kate smiled, moving to give Maxine a hug. Victoria felt a pang of envy shoot through her gut as they embraced. But before she could examine her feelings further, a familiar face poked out from behind the doorway of the little hovel, characteristic blue hair and all.

“Oh, so this is the Kate you’ve been texting instead of paying attention to me, huh?” the girl drawled.

Chloe Price.

Victoria hadn’t seen her since Monday, and the girl didn’t look any worse for the wear. As if that means much.

“R-right…” Max blushed. “Chloe, this is Kate Marsh. And Kate, meet my… friend, Chloe Price.”

As Chloe emerged from the building to give Kate a handshake, her eyes scanned over to Victoria, who was only standing a few feet away. Her eyes narrowed, and Victoria crossed her arms instinctively, letting out a sigh.

Here it comes.

Chloe spit a loogie into the dirt while making direct eye contact with her. “So who’s bright idea was it to bring the queen bitch of Blackwell here?”

Victoria rolled her eyes. “As if I wanted to show up to this dump on my own free will. I’m here because of Kate.”

That seemed to draw Chloe’s rage, the blunette marching towards Victoria with marked fury. “Listen here, you preppy little fuck. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

Victoria, done with playing games, stood her ground in response, refusing to budge an inch. “I’m sorry. Last I checked, I don’t take orders from high school drop out trailer trash.”

“OH, that is IT!” Chloe screamed, throwing off her black jean jacket to reveal her bare arms, muscles bristling in anticipation for a fight. “You wanna GO?”

Despite her usual ability to maintain composure, Victoria couldn’t help but slightly raise her arms out of position to brace for attack.

Max quickly stepped to intercept her friend. “Stop, Chloe! I told you not to start any trouble.”

The punk growled, trying to shove past the hipster. “That was before she insulted my sanctuary, Max! This is my place, my only escape from this fucking town, and this Vortex Club bitch has the nerve to pollute the space with her presence?!”

“I’m not the reason this place is disgusting,” Victoria sneered. As she turned to point, she caught a very disappointed look from Kate. She switched tactics accordingly. “I’m here to offer my help. Take it or leave it.”

Chloe shouted, as if screaming would convince Max to step aside. “How are we supposed to trust her?! She’s best friends with Nathan!”

“Making a lot of assumptions here, Price,” Victoria growled.

Max was now severely tugging at Chloe’s arm. “Chloe! You remember what happened in the bathroom, right? Victoria saved your life by pulling Nathan off of you!”

Chloe tried shouldering Max off. “I could have handled Prescock on my own!”

Victoria rolled her eyes again. “You have a lot of nerve saying that now. I remember the situation a bit differently when we were all there-”

“STOP!”

Victoria froze midsentence, blindsided by the raised voice of the one person who hadn’t said anything until now. Kate looked genuinely angry for the first time in a long time, fists at her side, shooting an indignant glare at Victoria. The intensity of her look forced Victoria to stand down, disarming her own dagger-like tongue and posturing her body in a much less aggressive stance.

Kate then turned her attention to the other two, who stopped squabbling with each other to listen.

“...I don’t know what you all have against each other, but we’re all here for the same reason.” Kate addressed Chloe directly now, turning to her. “Victoria might not seem like the type to do this, but she’s one of the only people that’s had my back this week. She’s done a lot to protect me and keep me safe.”

Kate’s slightly backhanded comment stung Victoria, but she kept it to herself. Chloe seemed unimpressed, but shifted her weight slightly to accommodate Kate.

The church girl continued. “I want to know what Nathan did to me. And I want that video of me taken down. Max said you guys were investigating. Victoria wouldn’t bring me here if she didn’t think it was worth her or my time. So please, can we just stop fighting?”

Marsh finished her rant, and exhaled, letting her shoulders drop with one last plea. “Please…”

Victoria realized her own jaw had dropped in the moment, and reasserted control over her face as she tried to process.

Kate had just raised her voice in front of other people. And used it to defend Victoria.

Am I influencing her that much?

Caulfield picked up where Kate left off. “Kate is right. Even though it sounds crazy, you and Victoria have something in common.”

“Oh yeah?” Chloe smirked, taking on a surprisingly playful attitude, after the outburst that had just happened. She crossed her arms. “Shoot.”

“We both hate Nathan Prescott,” Victoria answered nonchalantly, and she basked in the satisfaction as Chloe’s face contorted to surprise, then doubt, then feigned calm.

“Is that so?” Chloe bit her lip. Victoria nodded curtly.

“We had a falling out after I tried to get Kate’s video removed.” Tori rubbed imaginary dust off her fingertips. “He threw me out of the Vortex Club, for what it’s worth, so there’s no need to feel like I’m some kind of spy.”

This news actually managed to surprise both Max and Chloe, Victoria noting an almost physical reaction from the two.

“But… but you’re the face of the Vortex Club!” Max puzzled.

“Hardly,” Victoria quipped, sucking a short breath. “After a nice argument, they decided that I didn’t belong anymore. Not that I’d want to be after hearing about what Nathan did to Kate.”

There was a strange beat of awkward silence as the pair came to terms with the information. Victoria took the opportunity to say some choice things.

“Chloe, this is the only time I’ll say this, but you’re right for not trusting me. Under normal circumstances, I would have been the one to upload that video,” Victoria conceded, conveniently leaving out the fact that she had done so in another timeline. “But... things aren’t normal right now. Nathan’s hurt people. I believe that he’s unhinged and dangerous, and we have to find him and stop what he’s been doing. Unfortunately, you’re one of the only leads I have, so that’s why we’re here. I’m not here to insult your safe space. I’m here for Kate.”

Victoria haphazardly looked to see if Kate was ok with what she said. Kate seemed to approve, at least more than her previous statements.

“...fair enough,” Chloe grunted. “If what you’re saying is true...”

“Cross my heart and hope to die.” Tori couldn’t help delivering her words in a saccharine tone, motioning accordingly with her index finger.

Chloe clenched her jaw, and Max grabbed hold of her hand in an apparent attempt to calm her down. Victoria tried to pretend she didn’t notice.

So they’re definitely a thing. How cute.

“...Maybe our agendas align. For now.” Chloe finished.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Max chastised Chloe softly, before turning to Tori and Kate. “Our goals are the same. We’re all looking to stop Nathan, right?”

Kate and Victoria glanced at each other, before nodding.

“We want to help. However we can,” Kate stated meekly, in such a sweet manner that Victoria doubted if this was the same person who earlier had aggressively captured everyone’s attention.

Chloe motioned for them to enter the small building. “Come on in, then. Make yourselves at home.”

Kate stepped along with the other two, leaving Victoria to follow a pace behind. She briefly reflected on the earlier exchange, mostly on Kate’s actions. She seemed pissed off at Tori in the moment. Was that why she wasn’t walking with Victoria right now?

They all entered the hideout, a ramshackle brick structure filled with graffiti, outfitted with makeshift benches of wood, cinder and cushion that occupied the roofed corner of the building. Chloe and Max took seats around the small spool table. Kate settled into the out-of-place sofa, while Victoria simply leaned against the doorway, not about to make physical contact with Chloe’s precious space. It also had the dual purpose of maintaining distance from Kate, since she didn’t want to arouse any more of her temper.

“I know it’s nothing like what you’re used to, Victoria. This ain’t a Vortex Club get together,” Chloe drawled, noting Victoria’s general detachment. “You’re welcome to sit, though.”

“I’ll take my chances here,” Victoria retorted simply.

“Suit yourself,” Chloe dropped the topic flatly, and lit up a cigarette.

Max started, not waiting for Chloe to finish her smoke. “Before we get further into it, you’ll probably want to know why we’re after Nathan. We believe that he’s tied to why Rachel’s gone.”

“Rachel Amber… she’s the one on all the missing person’s posters, right?” Kate asked. “Do you really think Nathan’s involved with that?”

“No doubt,” Chloe snapped, frustration mounting in her voice. “He’s a psycho. If he pulled a gun on me… I can’t think about what he could have done to her.”

Max nodded. “The Prescotts have so much influence over this town, so we figured they would be related in some way… and we’ve been finding more and more evidence to prove it.”

“You’ll be glad to know that we’ve been doing some hardcore snooping on Nathan lately.” Chloe said, taking a short drag between sentences. “My step-dad, Mr. Madsen, has apparently been doing his own investigations-”

“Wait, hold on,” Kate paused the conversation. “The Blackwell security officer is your step-father?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Chloe frowned, releasing another breath of smoke. “Although if I had any say, step-fucker wouldn’t be allowed within ten miles of my mom.”

Victoria sniffed, waving the smoke away from her face. “He’s a real asshole. I got into two different fights with him this week. Your mother deserves better.”

Chloe seemed to have trouble registering Tori’s words, finally processing them as positive remarks.

“Thanks, Vic. Didn’t think a perfect student like you would attract David’s attention.” With that, Chloe blew another cloud of smoke, clearly aimed towards Ms. Chase this time.  

“Firstly, it’s Victoria for you,” Victoria grimaced, repositioning herself to look out to the train tracks (and avoid Chloe’s toxic cloud), “and secondly, it’s only because he went out of his way to hassle Max and me, then Kate.”

Chloe nodded vaguely, puffing again on her cigarette. “Yeah… he thinks he’s an undercover cop or something. A detective. Sounds like him.”

“For us, that’s turned out to be a good thing,” Max added. “We were able to access his files, and he’s been collecting so much information on Blackwell students. Which is useful for our own work…”

Her eyes darkened as she continued. “...But it’s a little disturbing. There’s records of traveling, pictures of car license plates, of kids… even pictures of you two. It’s pretty creepy.”

Kate looked away disgustedly. “That’s horrible. I can’t believe he’s been doing this...”

“Kate, remind me to punch Mr. Madsen in the face the next time I see him,” Victoria gnarled. Kate didn’t seem to acknowledge Victoria’s statement, still fuming on her own.

Ok, so I guess she’s still upset, then.

“We know,” Max said firmly. “It’s really not cool what he’s been doing... But for us, it’s at least been useful.”

Chloe continued for the both of them. “We’re combining the data with some stuff we found in Principal Wells’ office.”

Now Kate seemed curious, leaning forward from the sofa. “How did you two get into the principal’s office?”

“With the handy lockpicking skills of yours truly,” Chloe gestured dramatically, “plus some keys I stole from step-hole. We broke in last night. It was a hella good time, right Max?”

Max blushed. “I know it was illegal, but we had to try something.”

“Rules are meant to be broken,” Chloe huffed, taking another long drag. “Anyway, we’ve been putting together clues, but we need more to work with before we can get anywhere. We’re thinking that there’s two places we can find answers. One is in Frank’s RV, since Max seems to believe he’s connected to Rachel. The second place is Nathan’s room. He must have something at his place that could give more clues. There’s just too many coincidences with him to believe otherwise.”

Victoria mused. “So… you want us to break into Nathan’s place. Pull a Caulfield and snoop around?”

Chloe shrugged, putting the cigarette out in a small novelty ashtray. “It’s up to you how you want to handle things. But if you’re really not great friends with him anymore, that’s going to make things more difficult. You’re still Victoria Chase, though, so you’ve got to have some kind of ace up your sleeve.”

Victoria was already considering the possibilities. Nathan’s room… Nathan was perhaps one of the most put-together people she had ever met, with one of the cleanest and well-kept living spaces of all time. He really was a bit of a control freak in that regard, generally not letting people in unless he was studying or hosting Vortex Club meetups. Since Victoria wasn’t on the best of terms with him, this was becoming much more challenging.

The old Victoria wouldn’t even consider breaking in to Nathan’s place before. But now, wrapped up in some greater mystery that even extended to Rachel Amber’s disappearance… this could be serious. Although she didn’t think highly of Rachel, she still respected the girl for doing her own thing. It was the closest thing she had to a rivalry before Max showed up. Her own burning curiosity to know what happened was just icing on the cake for the quest to bring down Kate’s video.

“I’ll think of something,” she muttered finally.

-----

Victoria and Kate walked back to the parking lot, without many words. Kate wasn’t the most talkative person, but it was clear she was behaving differently. Tori didn’t want to press the issue until they were out of earshot.

Finally, when they both had climbed into their seats, Victoria opened her mouth to ask.

“Kate… are you alright?”

Kate studied her hands. “...take me back to school, Victoria.”

Victoria frowned. Kate did not sound happy.

“Katie-” she tried, but Kate interrupted her.

“Don’t ‘Katie’ me,” Kate snapped. She folded her arms indignantly.

Tori sighed. “Look, if this is about what happened earlier, I’m sorry. But it’s not my fault that Chloe started it-”

“You didn’t have to continue it!” Kate groaned. “Listen, I appreciate you and the things you’ve done for me. But we went in so that we could get information and you almost ruined everything! I just… I thought you changed.”

Victoria’s face shifted into concern, recognizing was about to be a deeper conversation then she had intended to start. “Wait, what do you mean? Of course I’ve changed. I’m way different than what I used to be. Just because I made a few remarks about the junkyard, which is a place where trash gets thrown-”

Kate looked out the window. “I thought you were becoming a better person. That you actually cared about people. But you just… you just went back to being you!”

“And what am I?” Victoria retorted. “A bitch? A prude? Some soulless rich kid? What?”

Kate hesitated, and a swatch of feelings poured out from Victoria before she had time to process them. “Do you think I don’t know how abrasive I can be? Do you think I mean to go out of my way to hurt people? I know that I said the wrong things, Kate! I wish I could eat my words, if I could. It’s just... hard to adjust out of old habits in the middle of a confrontation like that.”

“Then try harder,” Kate answered coldly. “Just try to shut yourself up the next time you have something mean to say. I don’t want to hear it.”

“I… I’m sorry…” Victoria capitulated, feeling her throat suddenly dry out a bit. This wasn’t how she planned the conversation to go at all.

Kate went silent for a bit. Then, she opened her mouth again.

“Take me home, Victoria.”

Victoria started the engine, giving Kate one more concerned glance before putting the car into reverse. “Ok.”

-----

Victoria and Kate didn’t speak a word until they had reached the Blackwell parking lot.

“Kate…” Victoria appealed to her passenger, as calmly as she could, after pulling the key. “...do you forgive me? I apologize for being so… not cool back there.”

Kate sighed. “I… I do, Tori. Sorry, a lot of the news Max and Chloe dropped was just… disturbing.”

“I know,” Victoria said, grinding her teeth softly. “It’s a lot to handle. I wish that this town would just leave you alone for once.”

Victoria allowed silence to fill the car again.

Kate’s voice broke the fragile peace. “I… I want to spend some time alone. To think about things.”

“Are you still upset at me?” Victoria worried out loud.

Kate, wide eyed, glanced back at Tori. “Not at all! What I said was really unfair. It was really mean spirited and I apologize for making my thoughts come out like that…”

Victoria internally breathed a sigh of relief. On the outside, she was still concerned. “So… why do you want to be left alone?”

Kate sighed, and studied the view out of the passenger window. “I’m thinking about what needs to be done about Nathan. Even though he’s done some awful things, to me and maybe Rachel…”

She turned to face Tori again. “I don’t want to break into his room. It just doesn’t feel right.”

Victoria raised her eyebrows.

“What do you mean, it doesn’t feel right? He drugged you!” Victoria threw her arms up, bewildered. “Isn’t this karmic retribution or something?”

“Yes, he drugged me, and did… worse things to me… and I have to live with that,” Kate bit her lip. “But can I live with committing an actual crime on another person? I might be breaking into someone’s personal things. I know what that feels like and I don’t want to be that kind of person!”

Victoria went silent.

In many ways, Kate had a compelling argument. The last four days had been hell for her, primarily on account of the numerous individuals who invaded her privacy and made her feel almost alien in her own body. The tape being the most egregious act, but David Madsen, and even Victoria herself, she surmised. She couldn’t blame Kate for wanting to avoid causing damage after all the trauma she had experienced.

But at the same time, Victoria already knew where she stood on the issue. She couldn’t let Nathan harm anyone else. If he had been involved in Rachel’s disappearance... then he needed to be taken down a notch. At all costs.

“...then let me do it. Alone,” she finally said.

Kate exhaled. “Tori, you don’t have to-”

“Don’t. It’s fine,” Victoria straightened her back. “I have to make things up to you somehow, right?”

Kate shook her head. “You’ve already sacrificed so much. What if someone sees you? What if you get expelled from school.”

Victoria grasped Kate’s hand firmly, and stared her right in her hazel eyes.

“You are far more important to me right now than my grades, or my enrollment at this school. I’m going to do it.”

A blush crept over Kate’s cheeks, and she bit her lip again. The two locked eyes, and a surge of emotions struck Victoria again.

 

As if by miracle, things clicked. Her thoughts and feelings fell into place with such clarity. Like the silence of the air following the shattering of glass, like feeling the ripples of a stone striking the surface of water.

I like her. I really like her.

She’s so beautiful.

Victoria Chase, ex-royalty of Blackwell, had grown fond of the girl she was protecting, and she was no longer going to deny that to herself.

A million thoughts flooded her head, aftershocks of her revelation. This was dangerous. This was unfeasible, unsustainable, untenable ground. But all of these thoughts were pressed aside as she imagined Kate being happy again. Kate, smiling and laughing and going to school like nothing had ever happened. Kate, drawing in her notebook while conversing with friends.

She needed to do this for her.

She needed to make things right again.

Kate deserved it.

And after all that, Victoria would ask her.

It was decided.

 

“Th-thank you, Tori…” Kate whispered.

Victoria smiled, drawing Kate into a hug.

“Of course, Kate.”

Chapter Text

Victoria studied the boy’s section of the dormitories through the glossy glass of the auxiliary stairwell door. Part of her wanted to imagine that she was an undercover agent like in Ghost in the Shell, or something to that effect, but she reminded herself that she wasn’t in an anime or a video game. This was real life, and she could have grave consequences for messing up.

For the last half hour, she considered a couple different approaches to infiltrating Nathan’s room. The simplest way would be to break in and search the place quickly, but that would leave evidence of her entry. Besides, there was no way to know whether he was inside or not.

The more complicated, and honestly less timely option was to confront Nathan directly. The problem with that approach was that Victoria and Nathan weren’t exactly on the best of terms, and so long as he had his strange vendetta against Kate, it would likely stay that way. Victoria hated to admit it, but she was also a bit terrified of the boy. She had seen Nathan pull a gun on someone, and he had shown no qualms in completely trashing her room. She doubted he would be willing to sit down and talk through their problems.

“You’re still Victoria Chase, though, so you’ve got to have some kind of ace up your sleeve, right?”

Victoria smiled as she recalled Chloe’s words.

Yeah, I’ve got something like that, Chloe.

 

“What is it you need me to do?” Taylor had reclined on her couch in her usual, laid-back attitude, almost as though she had predicted that Victoria needed her in the moment.

Victoria simply leaned against the doorframe. “Distract Nathan. I need to search his room.”

Taylor let out a low whistle. “You’re in luck. I’ve gotta talk to him about him about negotiating the Vortex Club party with Principal Wells since he shut down everything for that dumb investigation.”

Victoria gave a thumbs up as she stepped out. “You’re the best, Christensen.”

“I know,” Tay replied with a wink.

 

Reaching for her phone, she swiped to the text messaging app, and clicked Taylor’s contact image.

<lmk when ur ready>, she had sent a few minutes ago.

Victoria typed her reply, took a breath, and then hit the send button.

<Now>

Without much else to do in the moment, she stood at the door, watching Nathan’s door intently.

After a minute of near silence, she saw Nathan’s door swing open, and the boy himself stepping out.

Just as planned, Victoria thought, watching carefully as he passed. She held her breath and waited for any cue that he had left the building. Finally, she heard the front door of the dormitory slam, and Victoria slipped out from the stairwell to catch Nathan’s door. She felt a smirk tickle her cheeks she reached his room.

If I were Nathan, I’d use this opportunity to do some serious payback. Fortunately for him, that’s not what I’m here for.

Sliding inside, she took in the familiar room once again. Nathan’s characteristic projector seemed to be in the middle of broadcasting a slideshow of photographs and images.

German expressionism, her inner photographer noted. He’s always been a fan of the macabre; this is just par for the course .

Nothing much had changed between Monday and now, it seemed, but the room carried a kind of atmosphere that Victoria honestly wasn’t used to. Perhaps Nathan kept his room this moody whenever friends weren’t over, or he currently was not in the best of tempers. Either way, it was jarring her a little more than she had expected.

Her phone buzzed, and Victoria reached to see who had texted her.

<Knowing him, you’ve got five minutes.> Taylor sent. <You better hurry. Also, you owe me :P>

Victoria couldn’t help but smile. Even after everything they’d gone through, Taylor was still a reliable friend.

<Thanks, Tay>, Victoria tapped rapidly.

Five minutes . That wasn’t a lot of time. She pulled out her phone. 3:23 PM.

Quickly, she set a timer for five minutes out. Then, without much fanfare, she held her hands out in front of her and concentrated.

 

Even though there were no visual cues to indicate that she had slowed time, the ambient sounds of the room morphed into a sluggish drone, and the unmistakable feedback she was receiving from her body made it clear her ability was being used. There was no time to dwell on the feeling; she was still burning precious seconds.

She used the extended time to consider the room. Quickly, she divided the room into quadrants of interest. The computer was an obvious safe bet, and would likely occupy most of her time, perhaps two or three minutes… no, she had to be more precise than that.

Two minutes, top , she warned herself.

Searching behind the posters, all the drawers of the commode, under the bed, in the closet, and around the sofa would roughly take half a minute each. After that amount of time, she had to book it, whether she found anything or not. She didn’t even want to think about how to confront Nathan if she were caught.

 

She released her hands, feeling a familiar tiredness flow through her body, and she did her best to shake it off.

She started her investigation by stepping to the computer, sitting down in Nathan’s cushy chair. His screen mirrored the projection on the wall, and Victoria hoped to the Tobanga totem that the computer wouldn’t ask her for a password when she interrupted the screensaver. Moving the mouse, she sighed as the screensaver was replaced with a normal desktop layout. Thankfully, Prescott had not employed any cyber-security.

Maybe he just didn’t think anyone would try to hack into his stuff. Still, poor decisions, Nathan.

Scrolling through his browser, Victoria noted the various different emails that he had sent and received. She caught a particularly interesting message chain between Nathan and Taylor, discussing the party, among other things.

Victoria read the conversation in full.

-----

 

 

From: NATHAN PRESCOTT

To: TAYLOR CHRISTENSEN

Ready to get lit tomorrow? Excited to finally break out the good shit over in the VIP. Told my dad to keep the pigs off our back so we can do whatever we want. And now that Victoria’s out of the group, we can split it together instead of three ways!

Btw, let me know what you’re wearing so we can match.

 

From: TAYLOR

To: NATHAN

Fuck ya! I’m honestly so ready. Haven’t gotten high in a hot second. Feel a little bad for Victoria though.

 

From: NATHAN

To: TAYLOR

She was a bitch to both of us. She deserves to be left out. :P

 

From: TAYLOR

To: NATHAN

Sure. See you later tonight to finalize preparations!

-----

Well, at least I know where Nathan stands on me, Victoria rolled her eyes. Taylor’s responses intrigued her; Nathan really didn’t seem to notice (or care) that Taylor had reservations about excluding Tori. She does make for a convincing follower.

The rest of the messages didn’t seem like anything important. Conversations between Nathan and his father, and his sister. An Amazon shopping cart full of different kinds of over-the-counter medications.

One final tab caught her eye. A URoll video. Victoria bit her lip, and clicked.

Kate’s Vid came on the screen.

The one that Courtney had shot, the same one shared across the internet, the one following Kate like a cloud.

Victoria didn’t even have to think twice. She deleted the video from the account, then searched for the raw footage on Nathan’s computer. As she had expected, the original video sat in the downloads folder. She placed the file in the recycling bin, then emptied the thing. With an anti-climactic pop-up, “Trash has been emptied”, the video disappeared forever.

Let’s just hope there aren’t any more copies floating around for Nathan to reupload, Victoria thought, then glanced at her phone.

3:26 PM. Just like that, three minutes were gone. Shit.

 

It was time to search his furniture. The bed yielded nothing of importance, just pornographic magazines and old clothes. Similarly, nothing came up looking at either his posters or his closet.

It was only when she had moved onto the commode that she stumbled upon some pieces of evidence.

The first was a piece of torn note paper with scrawled writing.

----

“HEY ASSHOLE

we need to talk

or I’m going to tell

everybody what

you did

and you’re going to

pay motherfucker

----

The note was accompanied with a printed image. Victoria brought the picture out of the drawer and into the dim lighting of the room, and her stomach dropped.

It was a picture of Chloe. And she did not look well.

Curled up on the floor of Nathan’s room, Nathan presumably shooting from above. The implications of this shot… along with that note...

Jesus fuck. Victoria gagged just looking at it. What the hell is this…?

She thought she had known Prescott, but it seemed now like she had only seen the tip of the iceberg. Nathan was unstable. He was dangerous. He had...

Wait.

Was this why Chloe and Nathan had met up in the bathroom?

If that was true, then… Holy shit…

She shook her head. Now was not the time for rumination, she reminded herself, sneaking a look at her phone.

3:27 PM. She had less than a minute left.

Victoria stuffed the photo into her pocket, and moved onto the couch, the final area she had wanted to cover. Another strange clue caught her eye; a number of scratch marks against the floor of his room, clearly indicating that he interacted with his couch a number of times in a similar fashion. She pulled the furniture from the wall.

Bingo.

A plastic bag containing a phone and some strange pieces of paper appeared to be attached to the back of the couch. If there was anything incriminating, it would likely be in this sketchy device.

Victoria felt her phone vibrating, and she opened it up quickly. Her five minutes were up.

Quickly, she snagged the baggie, exiting Nathan’s doorway as quietly as she could and hoping to any higher power that Nathan wouldn’t be back yet.

Her prayers went unanswered. There were footsteps coming in from the direction of the building entrance. She could make a break for the auxiliary stairwell, but at that point she could get caught.

Or maybe… Victoria held her arms out again.

 

Her powers activated, and hearing the pace of the footsteps decreasing dramatically, Victoria moved towards the door. With some effort, she was able to make her way to the stairwell. She didn’t see Prescott or anyone else as she glanced over her shoulder, and closed the staircase door just as her stamina wore out.

 

Pressing her back against the door, she let out a quiet sigh.

God, that was too close.

“Victoria!”

Victoria’s eyes shot open. She looked up to where the voice came from.

Kate stood just a few steps above, looking rather concerned.

As much as Victoria was glad to see Kate, this was the least opportune moment to be meeting up.

“What are you doing here?” she hissed, now rather cognizant of the fact that the stairwell was not soundproof. “Nathan’s right out there!”

“Oh, s-sorry, I just wanted to check in…” Kate mumbled. “I felt bad about making you do that alone, and-”

“Sshhhh!” Victoria warned, but she could already hear Nathan’s footsteps approaching the stairwell. Her brain went into panic mode as her worst fears were confirmed.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck.

“Victoria?” Nathan’s voice emanated from behind the stairwell door.

“Go!” Victoria barked at Kate. “I’ll hold him off!”

Kate, dumbfounded, nodded slightly, and Victoria braced her shoulder against the door.

It was a futile effort. After a few forceful shoves, Nathan stumbled into the stairwell.

He looked pissed. That wasn’t good.

“There you are,” Prescott gritted through his teeth. Victoria’s heartbeat accelerated, and she felt her whole body freeze up.

“I know you were in my room, Vic,” he continued. “You’re not slick.”

“What are you talking about?” Victoria tried retorting as she backed up, hitting a wall only after a few steps. Nathan reached into his back pocket, and Victoria’s voice failed her as she realized what he was doing. She tried reaching her arms up to activate her power, but her body ignored her command, and a second later, she was staring down the barrel of a pistol.

Nathan, now in full control of the situation, puffed his chest up as he spoke. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“S-stop, Nathan. Think about what you’re doing…” Victoria palmed the wall she had been pinned against. Most of her focus was on the gun, though. All she could think about was Nathan’s trigger finger, the centimeter of distance between life and death.

“Knew you were plotting behind my back… knew it from the start,” Nathan raved with strained vocal pressure, face rather sweaty. “All of you were ready to betray me at the drop of a hat… well, I’m not taking it anymore!”

“Do you hear yourself?” Victoria pleaded. “This isn’t you! Please, let’s just calm down, and we can talk this out-”

“NO one tells ME what to DO!” Nathan shoved the gun closer and closer to Tori’s face, and she barely felt tears roll down her face as a hollow feeling carved through her stomach.

“LET HER GO!”

A blur of motion drove right into Nathan’s side, forcing him to buckle. Victoria scrambled to the side just as he squeezed the trigger, firing the pistol into the air. Clanging sounds erupted all around them, and Victoria’s recoiled, her ears ringing from the gunshot.

In the chaos, she saw the fluttering of Kate’s golden hair, fists and feet swinging across the confined floor. For a moment, Victoria was too shocked by Kate’s timely arrival to consider anything. Finally, she shook herself back to her senses, and tried to pull Nathan away, hopefully off of Kate.

As she lifted Nathan off the ground, another gunshot rang out in the closed stairwell. Kate let out a bloodcurdling scream, and something deep within Victoria snapped.

With unnatural strength, she shoved Nathan against the wall, face first. Without hesitation, she grasped his right arm at the wrist, then elbowed his back right in the shoulder joint. She was rewarded with a *CRACK*, then screams of pain, as the gun dropped from his hand. Victoria kicked the pistol away and used the rest of her strength to slam Nathan down the flight of stairs, watching him tumble until he crashed into the bottom landing. Without checking to see if he had been properly subdued, she turned to look for her friend.

Her heart stopped.

 

Kate clutched her stomach in a rapidly expanding pool of blood.

...No.

“Oh God, T-tori..” Kate looked stunned, struggling to push herself off of the ground, but Victoria knelt to hold her hand and steady her. “I’m shot…”

“Kate. Katie no. No no no no no...” Victoria eked, stammering for words, searching for something, anything to plug the wound. She settled for using her sweater, pulling it off and trying to place pressure on Kate’s stomach. Crimson mottled her mustard top almost immediately, and no matter how she tried, the stain only grew.

“It’ll be fine, Kate you stay right here, I’ll get you help right away, stay with me Katie please…”

“Victoria…” Kate smiled weakly, looking up at her friend. Victoria felt her heart crack. Even as she lay dying, she looked so peaceful. “Tori, it’s ok…”

Victoria shook her head, defiant, squeezing Kate’s hand. “No, it’s not. You need to stay alive. Kate please. Kate…”

Kate’s gaze burned into Victoria’s one last time.

Then her eyes glossed over.

“Kate. Kate!”

Victoria felt tears dripping from her eyes, but she couldn’t really acknowledge what was happening, even as she stumbled off the ground to witness the whole scene.

She absently stared at her bloodstained hands.

Kate.

Kate was dead.

She was dead, and it was all Victoria’s fault, yet again.

She was dead, and…

 

...Nathan.

 

Nathan Fucking Prescott.

If this really was it, if this really was how things were going to end, then she was going to get some fucking revenge.

Feeling a strange emotionlessness take over her, she walked over to the pistol, and picked it off the ground, taking in the hefty weight of the metallic weapon. The gun was power. Power, she understood. The Queen of Blackwell knew when to flex her sovereign right.

This was just another one of those moments.

Slowly, she descended down the stairs until she found Nathan’s body curled up in the corner of the landing. His legs looked rather unnaturally bent. Good, she remarked to herself.

Nathan glanced up at her, and they locked eyes. Nathan winced.

“V-victoria, please, I-I-I didn’t mean it,” Nathan stuttered, clutching his arm in a fetal position. “I’m s-sorry… I…”

Victoria raised the gun, pointing it directly at his skull.

“How does it feel?” she asked coldly. “How does it feel to be on the other side, Prescott?”

“P-please, Tori, I didn’t-”

“Don’t TORI me!” She screamed, delivering a swift kick to Nathan’s gut. He let out a yelp and curled up more. “Don’t you dare call me that again.”

“S-sorry… I’m s-so sorry…” Nathan moaned.

Victoria aimed down the barrel of the gun. “It’s too late for that.”

Her arm wavered, but her mind was clear.

I could kill him now. I could end his life.

I could do it.

I could…

I…

 

Victoria bit her lip harshly.

No. Not yet.

“What did you mean when you said you knew I was in your room, Prescott?”

Nathan’s cower faltered a little as he realized what was happening.

“W...what?” he whimpered.

Victoria repeated the question, her voice hoarse. “I said, what did you mean when you said I was in your room?”

Nathan groaned. “What does it matter… I’m going to die anyway...”

Victoria responded by tossing the gun away, the metallic object making a clanging sound as it fell out of sight further down the stairwell.

“Fuck you, Prescott.” she snarled. “You’re going to jail, you piece of shit. Now, tell me right now how you knew I was there.”

“I... I have cameras…” Nathan stammered finally. “Pointed at my doorway. Had them installed a few weeks ago…”

Victoria took a breath.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

With that, she kicked Nathan again. He let out another pained howl, but even before he had finished, Victoria had left the bloodsoaked stairwell. She glanced back at Kate’s body.

Hold on, Kate. I’m coming back for you.

Her heart pumping overtime, Victoria made her way back to Nathan’s room as quickly as she could. She could already hear sirens outside. It wouldn’t be long before Madsen or someone else showed up. She needed to act fast.

Opening up Nathan’s computer, she desperately searched to see if any surveillance applications were running. Indeed, something she had missed earlier, an odd “SpyGuy” app, was silently running as a hidden icon in the bottom left. She opened it up, and there it was.

Logs of every single time someone had opened Nathan’s door.

She looked through the directory, searching for the tape Nathan had used to identify her. The last file in the series caught her eye. It indeed was her, shot from the general direction of the commode.

Oh God, please let this be a critical moment of divergence , she thought. Please, let someone else’s footage work for me.

She opened the file up, and her breath caught.

A soft red glow shone around the video.

She immediately hit the play button, and focused as intently as she could.

The edges of the desktop screen slowly occupied her periphery as she stared, vision blurring as she watched herself enter the room. Distantly, she heard multiple footsteps marching down the hallway, David Madsen barking orders, but very quickly, all of it faded to darkness...

 

-----

 

Victoria pulled up her phone, ready to-

A heart attack almost overtook her as she realized where she was.

3:23 PM.

Holy shit.

She steadied her breath, leaned against Nathan’s door. She checked her hands. Kate’s blood was remarkably absent from her fingers. The familiar warmth of her sweater wrapped around her, no longer soaked in crimson red.

It actually worked.

She had done it again.

She had gone back in time.

 

There wasn’t time to reflect on any of this. She could do that once she knew that she and Kate were safe. Nathan would be back in five minutes, and she could not waste a second.

Recognizing this, she came up and executed a plan with mechanical precision.

She reached behind the couch, taking the plastic bag.

She went to the commode, taking Chloe’s picture with her.

She quickly turned to the computer, removing Kate’s vid from the internet and the hard drive.

Finally, she went to the “SpyGuy” app, and stopped the recording, deleting the video. She couldn’t leave any evidence that she was ever here, or things could get ugly again.

In the back of her mind, she registered that by deleting that video, she lost her ability to go back again, in case something else happened.

But it didn’t matter. It was too much of a risk to them in the present for her to try anything else.

It was 3:25 PM when she left Nathan’s room, using the thankfully Kate-less stairwell to traverse her way back to the girl’s dorms.

Oh, god, Kate, please be ok...

Chapter Text

*KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*

Kate awoke from her desk to the sounds of quiet rapping upon her door. She tried stirring herself, absent-mindedly wiping her face with a sleeve, and felt drool leave her lips and cheek. Ugh. I must have been out for a while.

Her laptop was on, absently displaying Victoria’s Facebook page. Kate noticed her drawing pad was sprawled out on the desk, and various sketches of Ms. Chase’s profile littered her page. She blushed. None of them were any good, but she remembered they were fun to draw. Something about her jawline… rather engaging. Pushing herself up from her desk, she shambled to open her door, thoughts a little too sluggish to consider anything else.

Opening the door forced her to quickly become lucid as the calm face of Maxine Caulfield greeted her.

“Hey, Kate.”

In the back of her mind, the illustrator had quietly hoped to see a familiar pixie cut poking in from the doorway. She nonetheless smiled faintly at her guest.

“Oh hey, Max. What’s up?” she said with as little exhaustion in her voice as possible, trying to ignore that Victoria was occupying her mind yet again.

Max continued, brushing her hair back. “Not much. Wanted to check in with you, if that’s alright.”

Kate gestured for her friend to come in, flipping her wooden school-supplied chair around to face the doorway. “I’m doing ok. Thanks for doing that for me though.”

Max smiled lightly, and took her usual seat on the bed. “It’s nothing. I know that we talked about some heavy stuff at the junkyard a few hours ago. It’s probably not easy to be dealing with so much. Not fair for you or Chloe.”

Kate tried her best to recall her interaction with Chloe and Max in the dumpster. Chloe and Victoria did not get along particularly well, although they clearly tried maintaining a level of cordiality towards the end for her sake, which was better than expected. Thinking about Chloe just reminded Kate of her outburst in the car with Victoria. She still felt rather awful, especially after seeing how hurt Victoria looked.

I’ll simply have to do something to make up for it, Kate affirmed to herself.

“She seemed to have a lot to be angry about,” she replied to Max.

The hipster nodded. “Yeah. She’s been through a lot. Her and the Vortex Club have had beef for a while. Also, she, uh…”

Her words drifted off, before continuing. “...she probably, definitely had a thing for Rachel. And she misses Rachel. A lot.”

“Oh. Oh…” A shiver went down Kate’s spine as she digested what Max was saying. Chloe liked that Rachel girl, didn't she? And more than just as friends. This information didn’t exactly surprise Kate; Chloe didn’t seem like the sort to adhere to any sort of boundaries for romantic relationships.

The more interesting facet of information could be gleaned by Max’s mannerisms, her hand wringing and resigned tone. Caulfield almost seemed… jealous of Rachel, somehow. Jealous either of the missing girl herself, or of Chloe’s attachment to her.

But that would make her… The christian blinked a few times, as though it would help her process the information better.

“Yeah,” Max sighed. “We found some stuff in Frank’s trailer after all. She freaked because Rachel and Frank apparently also had a thing, and Chloe… Chloe’s just pissed off at everyone right now.”

Caulfield kicked at her foot absently. “She won’t even text me back. It’s frustrating.”

“Maybe you should give her some time to cool off,” Kate suggested, not exactly sure who this “Frank” was, but not wanting to probe too much.

The photographer shrugged. “I know. But it just feels all… wrong, you know?” She gestured with her hands as if it would help.

“Sure,” Kate said in a way to indicate to her friend that she had heard her but did not quite understand.

Max took the cue to stop her rambling. “Anyways, that’s enough from me. I don’t want to be complaining at you too much.”

Marsh shook her head. “No, don’t. I can listen if you need to vent. And it seems like you’ve got lots on your mind, so go ahead.”

Max gave her a rather tender smile in response.

“Thanks Kate. I really do appreciate that.”

She took a breath, then leaned back onto her hands as she elaborated.

“We were like, best friends back when were kids, and now she won’t let me talk with her about her problems. I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve spent time in Arcadia, but… ugh. She’s walling me out and it’s hella frustrating.”

“If you care about her, maybe you have to let her go for a bit,” Katie advised.

“This isn’t some cheesy 80’s drama show,” The hipster rolled her eyes. “I don’t think that would work.”

Kate smiled patiently. “You misunderstand me. How long has it been since the last time you two met up?”

“...five years.” Max stated slowly.

Kate followed up with another question. “And how many days have you spent together since?”

“...two days…” Max mumbled bashfully.

Kate leaned back and crossed her arms, a mannerism she had unintentionally emulated off of Victoria. “Then that speaks for itself, doesn’t it? You might just need to give her time to getting back to thinking about you in her life.”

Her friend’s face contorted in a few different directions, first towards objection, then to consideration, and finishing with a dissatisfied smirk.

“You always put a lot of things into perspective, Kate,” she mused. “I appreciate that about our conversations.”

“Of course,” Kate returned a pleasant gaze, getting up from her seat to operate her hot pot. “Always happy to oblige. Want any tea?”

Max shook her head. “I’m good. Thanks though. Maybe another time.”

“Sounds good.”

Kate set the water to boil, then returned to her chair. Max shifted her weight on the bed.

“So… about Chloe… you don’t judge her for liking Rachel that way, right?”

Kate considered the question slowly. “Not really, no. I personally don’t consider it a sin, but I know some people in my faith who do…”

That was putting it lightly. Her mother had always been strict about enforcing the nature of heterosexual relationships. It was never really challenged by anyone else in her family; the way that her father went about in his sermons was that no good Christian would judge someone for being a gay, but that wasn’t exactly a form of acceptance either.

Ironically, it was the different church camps that she had attended where the perspectives became more liberal and welcoming. Occasionally, camps would be led by some gay or lesbian counselor, and nights in cabins frequently devolved into truth-or-dare sessions where someone would invariably come out to the group. Over exposure at her old high school, Kate had gotten used to the gays, although she never really knew anyone close to her who was. By the time she had accepted her offer to Blackwell, she had also accepted that there wasn’t necessarily anything morally wrong with liking other women.

Not that she liked other women, of course.

But Kate now had to contend with the fact that Max, one of her best friends here, might be gay too? But Max was rather normal, all things considered. This was odd.

 

“Oh… kay, good,” Caulfield exhaled, “Because I honestly… sort of, kinda like Chloe. Too.”

Her friend’s statement removed all doubt from Kate’s mind. She bit her lip as subtly as she could.

“I see,” Marsh said simply, then followed up with, “I don’t mind.”

Despite her initial wavering, Kate’s admission of tolerance seemed to welcome an unblocking of Max’s figurative floodgate.

“I dunno, there’s like a lot of feelings that I have to work through and stuff that’s from a long time ago, which I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with after my family moved to Seattle, but since I got back, things haven’t settled and I’m just so bad at talking about things and checking in with people, and then there’s Rachel, who I want to help Chloe find, but if we do find her and she’s alive then I might not get a chance to explain things to Chloe and they might go off and do their own thing and-”

“Slow down, Max,” Kate interrupted gently, as calmly as she could. “You’re losing me a bit.”

“S-sorry…” Max mumbled, laying down on her bed. “I, uh… I haven’t been able to talk to anyone about this. Chloe’s the only one I really trust right now, and she’s mad at me.”

Maxine revealing how she felt about her friend shifted several things into perspective for Kate. For one, she was being rather brave in telling Kate about things. Secondly, Kate now faintly realized that she had access to a unique perspective that she hadn’t had before, and she wanted to better understand it while she could. For now, though, she wanted to comfort Max.

“Max,” Kate reached her hand out to calm her friend. “You’ll be fine. Now, what’s bothering you most right now?”

“It’s just…” Max blushed, glancing at her lap. “Chloe dared me to kiss her this morning, and I… I did it.”

Kate’s cheeks flushed red, and she almost turned away so Max wouldn’t have to see. “O-oh…”

A faint hiss entered the air, and Kate realized it was coming from her hotpot.

Max continued rambling, not seeming to notice. “But I don’t know if that’s Chloe being Chloe, or if she actually wants something between us, you know? It just really doesn’t help that she won’t talk to me right now and I… I don’t know.” She finished, putting her fingers to her temples and rubbing softly.

Kate massaged her cheeks, trying to ignore the dirty thoughts that had just popped into her head. Max and that blue haired girl, kissing? As absurd as it sounded, she could almost imagine it happening: Chloe’s arm snaking around Max’s waist, a smug grin on her face as she swept her azure bangs aside with a free hand. Max reaching to grasp Chloe’s neck, eyes wide as always, as their lips met-

Kate shook her head. No! Bad Kate. Even as she tried to wrench her thoughts away, the image remained in her head. She concentrated on the steady bubbling, hissing noise of the hotpot. It didn’t help much.

“Uh… um…” the christian mumbled. “Maybe you should mention it. Your feelings. At a good time, I mean.”

Max paused. “That’s a very brave thing for you to suggest, Kate.”

“I mean, that’s just what I would do if I were in the situation,” Kate remarked, before biting her lip in fear. Did I just admit I’d confess my feelings to another girl? Kate felt her heart suddenly jump a bit.

“Uuuuhhh, I mean I-I-I would p-probably say something, provided they were a boy of course,” Kate hastily appended, hoping the boiling sounds of the hotpot would mask the nervousness in her voice.

“Sure,” Max said, but Kate could see that something in her eyes had shifted a bit. Some kind of curiosity…?

Stop freaking out, Kate, Kate tried to calm herself. You’re not a gay. And even if you were, it’s not like Max would mind...

“A-anyway, you’ll make it through this, and you can tell her when this is all over. If she’s really your friend, she won’t mind either way,” Kate finished quickly, nodding as though it would settle her rapidly beating heart.

“You make a good point,” Max noted.

Kate giggled nervously. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Caulfield shook her head. “No, that’s not true. You’re here to be you, Kate.”

Kate wasn’t sure how to respond to that. The way Max phrased that only further exacerbated that certain curiosity in her own mind, and she didn’t want to be awkward about it in front of her friend. But then how else was she supposed to deal with all of these thoughts? Ignoring them wasn’t helping at all.

Fortunately, she was saved by the click of the hotpot.

“Oop!” she squeaked. “Tea’s ready.”

Kate rose out of her chair and fixated on her mugs, biting her lip anxiously as she considered her thoughts.

Max had really become open about her sexual preferences, something Kate had never really tried for herself before. But… Max was normal, too. And maybe if she understood herself, she could help Kate understand too.

Kate cleared her throat as she began pouring hot water into one of her seasonal mugs, a nice maple leaf pattern painted on the side. “So, uh… if you don’t mind me asking, what made you think you liked women?”

The brunette looked oddly charmed by the question, giving Kate a warm smile. “I don’t mind the question at all, really.”

Kate watched as Max adjusted her position on the bed. “I don’t think anything ‘happened’ to me to make me gay. That’s not how sexuality works. You just feel what you are, and let things be.”

Kate nodded along slowly, taking a bag of passion flower out of her teabox. It would have to do for now, since she ran out of kava last week. “I see. Okay.”

“I consider myself bi, really,” the photographer continued. “It’s just… you can feel yourself being pulled towards someone, you know? That’s how I feel it, anyway. Like, with Chloe. She’s just hella awesome and just owns herself, and we vibe well together. But then there’s also Warren, and he’s goofy and sweet too, and we also vibe well. I don’t really have much of a thing for him anymore, though.”

“I see.” Kate bit her lip as she dipped her bag. The only person she had felt pulled towards recently was Victoria. But that wasn’t… attraction, was it? She had always assumed that, once she had matured more, she would be swept off her feet by a man. And that was still the prevailing thought, but she couldn’t think of any boys in particular that had ever made her “vibe” the way Max described it. Victoria was the only person who stood out, the only presence that felt extraordinary.

But that was just because Victoria was extraordinary. How could she not admire her friend, her time traveling guardian angel? If Max had a friend who could time travel, surely she would understand.

“Doesn’t being bi mean that you could cheat easier?” Kate asked.

Max shook her head. “It’s a common misconception. If you’re partnered with someone, it doesn’t matter what gender they have. Loyalty and trust is still more important at the end of the day. If I happened to get into a relationship with Chloe, I wouldn’t abuse her trust by dating or hooking up with anyone else, man or woman.”

“Huh,” Kate hummed. “That makes a lot of sense, really.”

“Yeah,” Max gave a wide smile. “Everything really started to feel a lot more organic and right when I started being okay with being attracted to all genders.”

Kate considered her friend’s words. She sounded so sure of herself, like she actually sounded happier now that she had explained herself. God couldn’t possibly be against gays if people like Max existed.

But then again, there was the question of celibacy until marriage. Kate had started the abstinence club, but mostly out of pressure from her mother, who urged her to start taking charge of the school’s religious affairs. But even if she truly believed in abstaining from sexual interactions… it would be impossible to get pregnant from another woman, so would it even matter for lesbian relationships?

She felt herself blushing again. She was getting ahead of herself; she wasn’t a lesbian, she couldn’t be. She simply admired Victoria. Getting to know her had completely changed her perspective on her. The Queen of Blackwell had a temper, yes, but she was also brave and passionate, kind-hearted and stalwart, not to mention incredibly fashionable. If Victoria was a boy, Kate probably wouldn’t be against suggesting that they go out. But she was a girl, and… well…

“So, why do you ask?” Max said, glancing patiently at Kate.

Kate gulped. She didn’t expect to be put on the spot. “I… uh… just c-curious. Th-that’s all…”

“That’s ok,” The brunette gave a toothy grin as she backed off the topic. “I’m always down to have conversations about this stuff.”

“Thanks, actually...” Kate sighed. “It’s a nice breath of fresh air after my family…”

Max nodded. “They’re starting to sound like the absolute worst. No offense.”

“None taken,” Kate replied, taking a sip from her tea. “And it’s mostly my mother. My father isn’t so bad. And I love my sisters.”

“Well, it’s good that someone’s on your side,” Max smiled. “And so am I, if you need.”

“I know,” Kate grinned. “Thanks, Max.”

Max is too sweet… I hope she finds what she’s looking for from that Chloe. Speaking of…

“I want to check up on Victoria, I think,” Kate organized her thoughts aloud. “She’s been gone for a while now.”

“Gone to do what?” the hipster asked.

“She said she’d break into Nathan’s and go find the evidence you two were looking for on her own…” Kate murmured. “I’m just a little worried because she’s off on her own, and we sort of fought too. Sort of like Chloe and you.”

Kate imagined Max and Chloe kissing again, and hastily clarified, “o-oh, but not because of relationship-y things… just cuz I was angry. And s-stuff.”

She brushed her hair to the side but left her hand as a useful shield to block her reddening cheeks.

“I’m sorry about that,” Max replied. “Well, I won’t keep you. You go and check up on-”

*BANG BANG BANG*

 

A more aggressive fist pounded her door, and Kate nearly jumped out of her chair. Is that Victoria? Hopefully it’s not Nathan.

She put her mug aside and went to receive the solicitation, glad to have a reason to avoid revealing her flushed face to Max.

Opening the door, she was greeted by one tired and worried-looking Queen of Blackwell, holding a plastic bag with a phone inside in one hand and a single photo in the other.

Kate first felt a strange joy, her heart lifting upon seeing Victoria, but that was quickly followed by surprise at the girl’s pale, strained expression. She looked like she had just seen a ghost.

“Katie.”

The name practically fell out of Victoria’s mouth, and Kate felt a jolt jump through her gut.

“...T-tori, are you ok-”

Before she could comprehend what was happening, Kate felt herself being swept up into a tight embrace, lifted up towards the ceiling by a pair of surprisingly strong arms.

A throaty gasp left her as she was spun around. “Whoa, Victoria!”

Kate’s feet touched the ground, and then Victoria’s arms surrounded her in a tight hug. “I’m so glad you’re alright. Thank goodness...”

“O-of course I am,” Kate replied, blushing profusely. “U-uh… why wouldn’t I be?”

Her stomach was starting to stir more and more as Victoria’s body pressed up upon hers. It wasn’t the most uncomfortable feeling, but it felt both alien and… addictive to her, and she struggled to process it properly. It reminded of the time Victoria had caught her in the lighthouse when she had slipped. Just the comforting, warm presence of Victoria surrounding her. She could feel her breath shortening, just a little, just enough, almost like she couldn’t help but hold her breath around Tori...

...Was that the vibe Max was talking about?

Oh dear.


Tori let go finally, and Kate almost felt a sense of betrayal, before wrenching her mind back. She realized that she had left her mouth wide open, and quickly shut her jaw to silence her breathing.

Fortunately, Victoria’s mind seemed occupied elsewhere. “I’ll tell you everything in a second,” Victoria said quickly, then turned to Max, shoving the contents of her hands into Max’s rather bluntly.

“Here’s your evidence. We have to go to Chloe’s as soon as possible.”

Max looked stunned. “Uh, thanks, Victoria. But uh, Chloe and I aren’t exactly-”

“Aren’t exactly what?” Victoria scoffed. “Seeing each other? Whatever you two are dealing with, this is more important. Now let’s get out of the building before Nate gets back.”

Kate couldn’t help but feel slightly amused at Victoria’s words. She really didn’t mince words.

Wait , she thought suddenly. How did Victoria guess that they were… a thing? Was that obvious?

Max, blushing, conceded. “Uh… ok.”

Victoria nodded, and almost looked ready to push Max through the door. “Grab whatever you need for the night, and head to the parking lot. Wait by the pink convertible. We’ll be right out.”

Kate watched in awe as Max left, Victoria closing the door before turning back to face her. Part of her started feeling rather tingly as she realized that they were in the room together. Alone.

“Um…” Kate mumbled. “Uh…”

Kate! Your words. Just use them, you dork!

“Are you sure you’re okay, Kate? You sound rather nervous.” Victoria asked, returning to her concerned tone. “You weren’t trying to come after me, were you?”

Kate tried to play it off the best she could. “I-I just was worried. About letting you do the thing on your own. That wasn’t very nice of me-”

“Mmmmno no no no.” Victoria breathed, cutting Kate off. “You were safer here, you don’t have to feel bad. You’re safe and that’s all that matters, okay?”

Kate suddenly noticed, as her thick cloud of strange new alien thoughts dissipated for a second, that Victoria was behaving quite unlike herself. In fact, the vocal pressure behind her voice was really starting to sound more like how she was on Tuesday, when she told Kate to get in her car and almost got them both killed…

Victoria sat down on Kate’s couch and let out a heavy sigh as she slumped over, letting gravity take over as her body slid down. Kate felt a groundswell of concern hit her.

“T-tori, are you okay?” Kate reached for Victoria’s hands, and to her surprise, Victoria took them.

“I’m alright,” Victoria squeezed Kate’s fingers, spreading warmth between them. She suddenly sounded very, very tired.

“Just… found a lot of things I didn’t expect…”

Kate frowned. “That’s ok, we don’t have to talk about it now, just… are you hurt? Anything I can do to help?”

Victoria’s eyes now were half-lidded. “We...  have to get out… of the dorms again. It’s not safe.... Nathan around.”

She grunted as she tried to push herself back onto her feet. With a huff, she let Kate help her up, and proceeded to collapse onto Kate’s bed a few feet away with a dull thud.

Kate let out an audible gasp and rushed to help.

Tori mumbled into Kate’s pillow. “… does Max... know how to drive?”

“I don’t know. Maybe?” Kate replied, putting her hands on Victoria’s, trying to get a good grasp again. “Tori? Please tell me you’re okay.”

“Cuz I don’t… I don’t think…” Tori mumbled sleepily, giving a big yawn.

“Victoria?” Kate tried shaking her. “Victoria please, don’t go!”

Despite her best efforts, Victoria looked like she was about to pass out. “Driving… good idea… sorry…”

And like that, Tori’s mumbles stopped abruptly.

“Tori?!”

Victoria didn’t respond.

Kate quickly scrambled to see if Tori was alive. She grasped the Queen’s arm, feeling for her heartbeat. A weak pulse presented itself. Kate waited to count beats.

12 beats in 15 seconds. This was the slowest she’d ever heard from anyone. And Tori wasn’t an athlete.

A few tense seconds later, Victoria let out a loud snore, and Kate let out a sigh of relief.

She must’ve really strained herself in Nathan’s room with her power , she reckoned.

“Hey Kate, you ready to…” Kate heard Max step through the doorway before a gasp left her hipster friend. “...oh dear.”

Kate turned to her. “Uh, um…” She fumbled for words, before finally finding a few.

“S-she passed out in my bed.”

Max nodded incredulously. “Uh, okay then.”

Kate slapped herself mentally. Nice job stating the obvious, Kate. Think! What would Victoria want me to say?

“You should probably take whatever Tori found to Chloe’s," she said. "I’ll stay with her until she wakes. You can take the bus, right?”

Max gave a thumbs up. “Yeah, that works too. She going to be okay?”

Kate looked back at Victoria. She almost looked serene, her sharp jaw softened by her sleepy expression.

“I think so,” she answered.

Max hovered in the doorway for a second, seeming to look for words herself, then left.

Kate sighed again. She got up to close the door, and used the latch lock to keep it shut. If Nathan was a danger, she couldn’t be too careful. Deciding that that was enough security for now, Kate grabbed her mug and sat beside Victoria in her chair, just watching.

Her guardian angel was vulnerable. Maybe she could repay her debt.