Click, said the camera, followed shortly by a flash.
Jefferson, with a wicked grin and manic eyes and a needle on his arms, loomed over her. He looked at her as though she was a prized possession, a piece of art to be glued to the walls of a museum.
His muse was what he’d called her.
A muse. An object. A thing to play around with.
And for one sick, sick moment, she felt like one, too.
“Innocence,” he rasped. She could still see his face in every little detail, even when darkness covered him. She’d come to recognize it as much as she recognized her own face. “You. Innocence. Bloom.”
Max sobbed, not only in fear, but in exhaustion. She wanted this to be over. But this hell had no end, and he made sure of that, with his perfect teeth and perfect hair and perfect eyes.
He radiated a dark perfection while she, filled with an unpleasant, nauseated feeling, as though she’d been bound, chained down to the earth, at the darkest pits underground, unable to get up, or scream for help, drowned in muteness.
“When will this end?” she wished to say. Yet her mouth wouldn’t move. Her body wouldn’t move. She was paralyzed. Frozen. Stuck. Under his gaze. Under his drugs. Under him.
Click, the camera spoke again, its flash stronger, harsher, and more menacing.
Her wrists and ankles, tugged down by duct tapes, ached. Her frail, lithe, weak body, merging with the metal chair, was limp.
“Corrupting the innocence. Innocence. No longer.”
Click, click, click.
A pair of hands, rough and calloused, hovering near her face, staying there as his unblinking, twitching eyes stared down at her, making her feel exposed.
It was as though he had drained her from everything she held dear, every bit of life she had. It - he - made her feel dirty and naked.
“Maxine. Never Max.”
And the darkness was no more, as the storm made its appearance; the swirling vortex, the black hole, the consequences of her actions, of her playing with power, with time, with reality.
It crashed, never without a chaotic kind of grace.
Jefferson stood in front of her, and kept looking at her, even as the destruction made its way towards him, towards them both.
He chained her down with his stare.
“Maxine Caulfield. Arcadia Bay. Death. Destroyed. Destruction. Innocence, no more.”
His words shouldn’t make sense, but they did.
Click, the camera spoke, one last time.
There was a blindingly white light that engulfed her vision.
And it wasn’t just Jefferson who towered over her, she realized as she opened her eyes again, despite the hot tears and the pain. It was everyone. Everyone in Arcadia Bay. Everyone she knew. Everyone she sacrificed. Everyone she murdered.
“Why would you kill us, Max?” whimpered Warren.
“I thought we were friends,” mulled Kate.
“I know we had our differences, but…” Victoria.
“Why would you make this kind of a decision?” Juliet.
“You know I didn’t mean to, Max.” Nathan.
“Please, dear.” Joyce.
“I had a whole future ahead of me.” Evan.
“You took my life from me, my future.” Daniel.
“I don’t want to die.” Someone.
“What did I ever do to you, Max?” Another someone.
She couldn’t- she couldn’t tell -
Who was this someone?
She didn’t care. She just wanted out of this nightmare she called her life.
She wished to fight no more. She wanted out.
Max, in Chloe’s arms, finally jolted awake, tears in her eyes, sweat covering every inch of skin, her hair damp, and her mind clearly elsewhere.
It would take a lot to calm her down.
Chloe was prepared for this, though.
After all, this wasn’t the first time this sort of thing happened.
Chloe cupped Max’s cheek and steadied her by holding her hand, careful not to touch the wrist. Never the wrist. Never where he duct taped her into a chair, never to see the light of day. “Hey, hey. Max. It’s only a dream. Only a dream.”
Chloe balanced the dazed Max on the bed, in the dark, in the loneliness of the night, with only the small night lamp and the moon’s light, filtered by the window curtain, being their dim lightsource.
“Hey, hey, go back to sleep, ‘kay. I’m here. I’m here with you, Max.” Chloe balanced her thoughts. Chloe grounded her, pulled her back into reality. Chloe let Max curl into her, and hid her face in Chloe’s chest as her forehead rested on Chloe’s collarbone. Max wept. Chloe didn’t.
A sniffle and a choked, “I thought you were gone.”
“I’m not, Max. I’m here.”
“I killed them. I killed everyone.”
Chloe wanted to say that it was she who killed them by being alive, by surviving and living and being with the girl she’d always loved while the rest of them were rotten corpses on the ground, soon to be soil.
“You didn’t, Max,” Chloe said, instead.
Max calmed down, after a long while. Chloe was patient, though. She didn’t use to, but after everything that happened, she needed to learn the art of patience, more for Max’s sake than her own.
She waited until Max was, once again, limp, and no longer fully awake, no longer filled with panic.
They lay, side by side. Max still hid in Chloe, too scared to ever face the world.
“I thought I was better,” mumbled the delirious Max.
It was a lie, and Max knew so too. She chuckled and nuzzled deeper into Chloe and wanted escapism from the world. “It’s been a year, and I still can’t function without you.”
The day was the 6th of October, 2014. Or night, she supposed.
364 days since it all began.
Not that she was counting, or anything.
“You’re getting better.”
A bitter chuckle. “Sure I am.”
Soon, Max was deep asleep, and Chloe was left to stare at the clock on her phone who taunted her with the time - 23:57.
It reminded her that it had been almost a year, exactly a year, and here they were, in Seattle, in Max’s parents’ house, and Max wasn’t in school, she couldn’t, because schools reminded her of Blackwell, and she couldn’t hold a camera, much less take a picture with it.
At least Ryan and Vanessa were gone on a business trip, meaning they wouldn’t have to worry about why the fuck their daughter kept getting nightmares.
It was only the two of them. It had been the two of them for a long, long time.
Because Max would feel like Jefferson was behind her, and she couldn’t be away from Chloe too much, for too long of a time. Because then she’d think that something had happened to her, and Chloe died again, and she had to save her again, but she couldn’t, couldn’t use her powers because of chaos theory, the butterfly theory, whateverthefuck theory-
11:53, the clock reminded her with disinterest.
Chloe eased herself from Max, stood up, and looked down at her. She bit her lip and, with no hesitance, plucked away the blanket from under Max to tuck her in.
She looked at Max. Sweet, little Max. The innocent girl. Only, she wasn’t so innocent, anymore. No. Wait, no. Max was innocent still. She was just broken. Broken by the weight of the world on her shoulders. Broken by the overwhelming power she had. Broken by the ghosts of Arcadia Bay, by Jefferson, by Rachel, by everyone.
Chloe leaned down and pressed a kiss on her temple. Her fingers brushed a brown strand away from Max’s face.
“I wish you knew it was never your fault.”
Because why should it be? There was no real evidence that the storm that totalled that shitty town was the direct result of Max screwing around with her time powers. Even if it was Max’s fault, it just wasn’t. Max hadn’t known what screwing around with time would cause. It was never her fault.
The deaths, the destruction. Chloe had a hard time believing any of it was Max’s fault.
Max kept thinking of it as sacrificing Arcadia Bay from Chloe, but Chloe knew better. Max hadn’t make a choice. She’d been frozen, unable to make a choice. And this was the result.
Because Chloe had been a fool for believing Max was able to make the choice, for insisting that Max had been the only one who could.
And as Chloe went outside to smoke and get some alone time, away from Max, to grief and to smoke and drink, she saw a deer.
Max spoke of a deer, many times. Too many times for it to be a normal deer, for her to be normal, for it all to be normal. (Hmm… Normal. Now, since when had that word and their lives ever met?)
A deer that only she could see. A deer she believed to be a spirit animal, who’d guided her away from danger many times.
Max believed it to be her saviour, her guardian angel.
Perhaps the deer might’ve had something to do with Max’s powers.
Sometimes Max spoke of it as though it were Rachel herself.
Chloe was no Max, and Chloe knew better.
It didn’t matter what or who the deer was. What mattered was that it ruined both of their lives.
The deer must had been the one to give Max these powers, these curses, and the burdening, suffocating responsibilities that came along with it.
The deer was no angel, and looking at it brought anger.
“Why the fuck are you here?”
The deer gave no answer, because it was a fucking deer. It didn’t twitch. It didn’t blink. It was as still as a statue.
Yeah, what a magical deer, this piece of shit was.
Chloe scowled and stomped on the grass, barefoot. It was the middle of the night - or minutes away from it - and she was on the Caulfield’s backyard and she was pissed. She did not want to deal with this right now.
“Scram.” She stomped again, and gritted her teeth when it garnered no reaction from the shitty herbivore. “Leave us the fuck alone!”
Because Max had started to talk about the deer again, and not just the deer, but her seeing visions of it, recently. Max had started to see many visions again.
And Chloe had ignored her, because she needed to. They had been striving for something normal for a year, and they had been trying to forget.
Neither of them needed anymore supernatural bullshit, least of all Max.
“Are you happy now?! For Max to be sick! To have a goddamn PSTD or whatever the fuck it’s called! For her to be-" Chloe stopped herself at that. She didn't want to say it. Didn't want it to be true. Her sobs made her choke. "She’s never gonna pick up a camera again because of you! Even looking at one makes her want to throw up!”
And Chloe struggled not to cry, because photography has always been a large part of Max, what made her so amazing, so special, what made her Max, and now Max was no longer Max, and Chloe was no longer herself, because neither of them could stand to be apart from each other, and neither of them could sleep well, and neither of them were fine.
“Is this what you want?!”
The deer moved. It gave a simple twitch of the ear. Chloe gasped and stumbled back, clutching at her chest, realizing that the world was too still, too quiet, and no leaves swayed and there was no wind and no one had come to check on what the ruckus was about and the deer was looking right. At. Chloe.
Time stood still.
Chloe, powerless, helpless, and so, so tired of having to take care of Max, having to see the girl she loved reduced into such a mess, gave in, dropping to her knees, looking down at the grass with blurry eyes.
“She was just a kid… A fucking kid.”
Chloe ran her fingers through her strands of hair, now grown and touching her shoulders down to her arms, only the lower part of it having any semblance of blue. And even then, it was a faded, worn blue, old and no longer bright.
Chloe hadn’t dyed it yet, even when she had the time. She never really gave her hair much thought, or anything, really. She had a hard time mustering the energy to give a shit. Why should she care? Nothing really mattered.
Nothing, except Max, and how broken she was, and Chloe, unable to help her.
Chloe looked up.
“What do you have to gain from tearing her apart?”
The deer ducked its head, as though it was solemn, saddened by the outcome as well.
Chloe was inches away from hysteria. Here she was, talking to a motherfucking deer.
“It shouldn’t have been her.”
At that, the deer’s head jolted up, its doe eyes looking straight at Chloe, waiting, encouraging her to continue. Or maybe Chloe was projecting.
“You… Max has a life ahead of her. A good life. And this-” Chloe gestured to the deer, to the world around her that had stopped, to everything “-this… ruined her. And Arcadia Bay is gone because you fucking let her handle it when she couldn’t even handle handing in a fucking photograph for a fucking contest. She can’t handle shit! She’s too good !”
Chloe, dazed and not in her right mind, stared at the deer in disgust. Or was she staring at the reflection on its eyes, the blackened, mirrored image of herself? Hard to tell.
“It shouldn’t have been her. She’s… good. She’s too good.”
And that was a problem. Because good people cared about every single life on that shitty town, even the lives of drug dealing pedhophiles like Frank Bowers and creepos like Nathan Prescott and even burn out nobodies like Chloe fucking Price.
Because Max was too pure of heart to not feel guilty of every single life and to not hold herself accountable for what happened.
And that was the problem.
That had always been the problem from the start.
The deer walked to her until they were face-to-face, its elongated nose hovering over Chloe’s forehead. Chloe stared at it, too much of an emotional wreck to wonder what it was doing, wishing for some way to help Max, any way.
And the deer nuzzled its nose onto Chloe’s forehead, and Chloe found herself inside her truck, in broad daylight, in Arcadia’s Bay parking lot, and on the handicapped area, no less.
It was 00:00, the start of 7th October, 2014.
And it was noon, 7th October, 2013.
The start of that fateful week.