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Saving Victoria Chase (again and again and again)

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The first incident happened while Max was waiting outside of her English class for the substitute teacher to hurry up and teach already. It didn't seem like the kind of day weird things could happen on (it never did) - the kind of day that slowly stretched out under the sun and stored heat up to release when night came, the kind of day when light was sluggish and heavy like syrup, when nobody had much energy, when it seemed that the whole world was asleep despite being awake.
Life had been quiet, for a while. Chloe was still the same old rebellious teenager. Guns had been floating around vaguely. The time powers were definitely still in action, but that was also growing into something resembling normal.
All the drama, all the strangeness and the weirdness: it all seemed very far away at that moment.
Max felt sleepy in her spot in the queue by the door to the classroom. She felt like she could lean her head back and sleep rough against the wall - as did a few of her classmates, who looked just as exhausted from the gentle warmth of the corridor. Arcadia Bay was incubating, slowly languishing under a heat lamp. The corridor was quiet and breathless. There was a respectful hush.
Until the doors at the far end of the corridor opened with a snap.
"- think he is," rang Victoria Chase's distinctive voice down the corridor. Max frowned a little and tried to sink further back into the wall, sleepy mood banished, as she walked closer and closer accompanied by her two cronies. "He can say all the shit he likes about me. He must just be really desperate from all the action he isn't getting - no wonder he's so jacked up all the time when he can't get it together long enough to-"

What happened next was a complicated mess of circumstance. Max nearly blinked and missed it.

Victoria tripped over a seemingly normal patch of linoleum, a bottle of water she had been carrying flying out and shooting an arc of water while she herself fell to the floor in a mess of limbs and Louboutins, the water hitting the girl beside Max and soaking her top so, reflexively, her elbow came up and away and towards Max's face -
Impulsively, Max raised her hand to shield herself from the elbow and -

<<<<<<<<<<<

Until the doors at the far end of the corridor opened with a snap.
"- think he is," rang Victoria Chase's distinctive voice down the corridor. Max swore under her breath as she realised what had happened. Right, Victoria tripped and some water spilled, resulting in a little accidental rewind due to an automatic face block. Pros: no black eye or bleeding nose, and she could save the girl next to her from becoming soaked.
Cons: Max now had to stop Victoria from tripping up. Damn.
(Okay, that was a little cruel... while Victoria was an ass, she didn't really deserve any purposeful bodily harm.)
Now Max saw the bump on the linoleum caused by an air bubble which would unbalance Victoria if she came closer, which she was indeed doing. Running out of ideas, Max did the first thing which came to mind, which was jump out in front of Victoria and try to warn her.
"Wait, Victoria, don't walk over that spot - it's dangerous."
Victoria, somewhat understandably, fixed Max an incredulous glare so withering that Max was sure she felt the paint peeling off the wall behind her.
"Um, right," said Victoria, looking at her cronies - Taylor and, uh, whatever her name was, shit Max good job at remembering names - "I'm sure. Like what, are you that hung up on trying to become friends with me that you'd warn me about some little snag on the floor? Can anybody say lesbian? Looks like desperation is a contagious disease around here. Move it, Caulfield."
Victoria stepped around Max, shouldering her roughly as she went past, and Max stood in the same spot feeling the eyes of her fellow English classmates fixed on her cementing her humiliation. Fuck. That had not been a good plan - there was no way Victoria would just accept Max's help like that.
With a deep frown, Max raised her hand.

<<<<<<<<<<<

Until the doors at the far end of the corridor opened with a snap.
"- think he is," rang Victoria Chase's distinctive voice down the corridor. Max moved back to her spot in the queue and did the second thing which came to mind, which was to "accidentally" drop her folder over the bump and then bend to pick it up, effectively preventing anybody from tripping up over it. It was a foolproof plan, and Max silently congratulated herself over it as she gathered papers back into her folder -
Or it would have been foolproof, if Victoria had been looking forward when she was talking to her goons.
"-long enough to-" she was saying, before she tripped over Max who was still crouching on the floor. "What the fuck-!"
Victoria went sprawling, but this time her waterbottle soaked two more people who both glared at Max, and Victoria was sprawled on the floor clutching her wrist and giving Max an enraged glare, and now her goons had tripped as well over some of the papers Max had dropped in a train wreck of an ungainly mess of limbs and it was a disaster and everyone was mad at her and -

<<<<<<<<<<<

Max pulled a "wet floor" sign out of the cupboard and placed it over the bump in the linoleum just as the doors at the far end of the corridor opened with a snap.
"- think he is," rang Victoria Chase's distinctive voice down the corridor. Max let out a sigh and watched Victoria notice the sign and walk around it, resulting in no trips, no spills, and no accidental face elbows. The job was done, and with a lot more effort than she had originally intended to expend. At least now the worst thing she got off Victoria was a curious glance and then a savage eye roll, which was a lot less painful than being accidentally walked on.
Max slumped against the wall, glad it was all over.

Or so she thought.

///

The sun was still just as warm at lunch time, so Max took her lunch outside to eat on the grass - the picnic benches were full of cliques she didn't have the confidence or ability to penetrate, subtle interconnecting circles of she-said-this and he-did-what, webs from which there seemed both no entry and no escape - and besides, Max was okay with eating alone every now and again.
Maybe Max was lonely. It wasn't anything new - this invisible wall between her and everyone else, like somehow everyone knew she was different and marked and unfriendable. Not offending people or not seeming weird was like a constant board game where everyone else seemingly knew all the rules already and had been winning their whole lives, whereas Max kept getting sent back to the first square after rolling wrong and fucking up and doing something... something dumb, something that had seemed arbitrary but ended up being important.
It could be so many things. Not making eye contact. Making too much eye contact. Not rambling. Not muttering. Somehow knowing what to say to someone to amuse or comfort them, and then once you had worked out which lines to say, you still had to figure out how to deliver them - it was all so complicated and stressful and overall tiring that sometimes, even when Max felt so horribly achingly lonely, she still preferred eating alone.
But the time powers had changed things. Social interactions were no longer life or death situations. There was a real life undo button, and Max was beginning to learn how to salvage a conversation even without raising her hand, and it was paying off - people had noticed new Max, talkative Max, some of them waving, some of them even yelling out a greeting like they'd always been friends.
No invitations to lunch just yet, but maybe it was just a matter of time.
Lord knows, Max had enough time to spare.
She almost felt content as she sat back in the grass and did a little cloud watching, the gentle hum of a student body at ease washing around her. Almost.
Until Victoria Chase's voice pierced the atmosphere like an flaming arrow through butter.

"Ugh, I hate it when it gets this hot and I have to tolerate people who don't use deoderant properly," she said, throwing a dirty look in the direction of some seemingly random victim. "Do people just decide to ruin the day of everyone around them with their gross barnstink?"

Max watched Victoria walk past on her way to a lunch table. She had left her customary designer sweater (Max had noticed it was an expensive maroon this morning) by her friend Taylor who was sat on the grass, and was almost floating ethereally towards a table in the light of the sun. With her golden hair haloed by the glare, she would have looked almost classically beautiful if it were not spoiled by the noises coming from her mouth.
"Do you think some kids are so stupid that they can't figure out how to use the shower properly? Durr, turn the knob and drown yourself under it. Idiots."
Max rolled her eyes as she watched Victoria's other crony - the nameless girl, fucking hell Max remember her name already - laughed in a rehearsed, fake kind of way.
And then, quite suddenly, a football was hurtling over Max seemingly almost at the speed of sound. It hit Victoria's bag straight on with a shattering noise, Taylor jumping in surprise next to it, and Victoria turned around with an expression somewhere between irritation and then, quickly, pure horror. She ran to the bag and opened it, making small distressed noises.
"No no no no no," she was saying, as Max sat up in alarm. "No no my camera... oh no." Shards of glass were visible poking out from the bag. It might have been a camera before, but now it was just junk. "Fuck... fuck! That had a whole roll of photos in there! They're all fucking ruined!" Victoria turned to Taylor in disgust. "My project! Why didn't you stop that ball, Taylor, you idiotic fucking bitch! You useless piece of shit!"

Max didn't particularly like or dislike Taylor, but she didn't really deserve this stream of vitriolic abuse. Besides, Max was a photographer at heart, and just seeing someone else's baby get killed so mercilessly by a careless jock made something deep within her protest loudly.
Super Max to the rescue. Yes ma'am, I'll save your baby from the evil sports.
Max raised her hand.

<<<<<<<<<<<

Until Victoria Chase's voice pierced the atmosphere like an flaming arrow through butter.

"Ugh, I hate it when-" she began, but Max didn't listen. She was busy waiting until Victoria had moved away a little before she stood up and sneaked across the path to where Victoria's bag was. Maybe nobody would notice if she moved it to the left a little?
Max grabbed the handle of Victoria's bag and her sweater too, and was well on her way to putting it somewhere safer when Taylor looked up from her phone and saw  her in a slightly compromising position.
"Hey, stop, are you - are you trying to steal Victoria's bag?" Taylor looked both shocked and angry. Max paused.
"No, I'm just moving it-"
"Victoria! Victoria, Max is trying to mess with your stuff!"
Shit. Victoria turned around rapidly and started marching towards Max with a vicious look in her eyes.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing? Are you seriously stealing my stuff? Are you kidding me, are you really that poor? Oh, I am going to fucking-"
The football hit Victoria square on the side of her head, and she fell to the ground in a sickeningly loose way which made Max's stomach turn.
For fuck's sake, she thought in a panic. I've killed Victoria Chase.
Max raised her hand.

<<<<<<<<<<<

Until Victoria Chase's voice pierced the atmosphere like an flaming arrow through butter.

"Ugh, I hate it when-"

Max ran and grabbed her bag, emptying it of anything valuable or breakable (which wasn't much). Out came her camera and her journal, and the rest was just inconsequential schoolbooks. Then, she ran back across and stood a little ways in front of Victoria's bag, spotting the two dudebros throwing the ball at each other in gradually bigger and bigger arcs before finally, one of them slipped and the ball was flung directly at Max's face at a frightening speed -
Max held up her bag and used it to catch the ball, bracing herself against the impact, just as Taylor looked up and spotted her.
There was a stunned silence, before one of the bros yelled "sweet catch, dude!" in an obviously impressed tone. Max let her bag drop and picked out the ball, which she examined sullenly. Football needed to be banned forever. It caused more trouble than it was worth. She threw the ball back at the dudebros, who just looked stunned.
"... holy shit," said an awed voice from somewhere just behind, and Max turned to see Taylor looking up at her with wide eyes and an open mouth. "That was incredible. Thank you so much for catching that - Victoria would have killed me if that had hit her stuff."
Yeah she would, Max thought grimly, before shrugging and shooting Taylor an apologetic smile. "It was nothing. I just saw it coming and... I was afraid it might hit you or something."
Taylor's expression melted into pleasant surprise. Evidently that had been the right thing to say. "You know, I thought you were a shallow asshole, but you're not really that bad. I'll let Victoria know you saved her shit, by the way. You must be so lucky to have caught that."
Max looked up at Victoria to see her watching Max with an unreadable but very thorough expression.
"Yeah," she said dryly. "Really lucky."

///

By the time the third incident happened, Max was nursing the beginnings of a burgeoning headache, a real marching band pattern just ever so slightly throbbing in the space behind her eyes, and she was forcing her way through it via some serious relaxation music through her earphones (some Jack Johnson, a little of the quieter end of Radiohead's discography) on her way back to the dorms.
Just as "Let Down" was beginning to segue into its first chorus, Max turned a corner and stopped suddenly. There - of course, why wouldn't she be there on a day like this - there, inevitably, was Victoria Chase, talking into her phone in the middle of a conversation which sounded more like a heated debate from where Max was.  Victoria clearly wasnn't getting her way, if her posture said anything: hunched shoulders, huge frown, eyebrows knit together and her fingers clenched in the material of her sweater tightly. She was sat on the steps up to the dorm (having not learnt her lesson from the paint incident apparently), almost looking as if she wanted to curl into a ball and disappear.
The little patch of grass in front of the entrance was empty for once. Students were either out enjoying the sun down by the sea or were escaping the heat indoors where the AC worked, if only intermittently. Max was unsure of how to proceed. Victoria looked vulnerable. She looked as if she was hunted, hounded, and Max didn't want to embarrass her by letting her know that she knew that - okay, this was getting confusing.
A bird sang. Max watched a pigeon land just above Victoria's head on a stone jutting out from the wall above the entrance.
"... Yeah, I get it. Look, I'm not in trouble. Seriously. The teacher's just being a stupid little... no, no, not Mr. Jefferson, my other... no, look. That bad report was him just having it in for me, okay? He hates my guts. No, I don't know why! No, don't - ugh. No. Fuck," she said, the person on the other end having evidently hung up and left. When she rubbed her nose and curled in a little more, Victoria looked exhausted and miserable, and Max found herself pitying this spoilt little rich girl. It was strange.
The more she saw Victoria in private without her followers, the less scary she seemed. It was like she put up a vicious act just to hide how upset she was. (Maybe that was what she did, Max realised with a jolt. No... no, it wasn't possible. Victoria was just a bitch through and through... right?)

The pigeon cooed above Victoria's head. With a whirr of its wings it flew off - but not before leaving a little gift behind. Max watched in fascinated horror as a huge dollop of bird shit landed right in Victoria's hair, and she raised a hand to feel what had hit her - bringing it down in disgust and trying to shake it off her hand.
"Great," she said, sounding close to tears, "fucking great, more people shitting on me-"

Max sighed in a longsuffering way, and pulled an umbrella out of her bag. She would likely get no thanks for this, but wasn't doing a good deed every day meant to be in the girl guide promise? This was her good deed. A selfless act, even if it was for a snobby bully.
She raised her free hand in the air.

<<<<<<<<<<<

Just as "Let Down" was beginning to segue into its first chorus, Max turned a corner and opened the umbrella, ambling across the courtyard leisurely (and ignoring her now immense headache). Now she had time to notice how the sun was slowly, slowly beginning to creep to the horizon, ever so slightly, shadows lengthening away and across the grass into the wild. She thought about the deer she had seen, and meeting Chloe, and being nice to Victoria, and she thought about how sometimes when she had been sad or confused she had snapped out instead of being mature and civil.
She thought about Kate Marsh, tired and hit by a crumpled note from Taylor's hand, and she thought about how weird it was that there were such strong lines between cool and uncool - maybe not all the time, but it really did matter when you were at the bottom of the heap. School, college, it was so rigid and unfriendly, so full of bullies and cliques and people who didn't seem to like each other very much, and now she wondered if maybe it was possible to change that. Just a little, just enough. Could anyone change it with time powers available?
Victoria was just about finishing up her stressful phone conversation, so Max walked over slowly, making little noise. Victoria rubbed her nose, looking just as vulnerable, but this time shooting Max a suspicious glance - noticing her for the first time.
The pigeon cooed, and Max held the umbrella above Victoria's head.
"What are you doing, you weirdo-" began Victoria, but then the splatter of birdshit hit the umbrella (and with no bad side effects this time, hooray!) and she just looked speechless.
Max took out her earphones - goodbye Radiohead - shook the umbrella off into the grass and dropped it, knowing she could clean it with the sprinklers later.
"Did you just-" said Victoria, sounding dumbfounded. "Did you really just protect me from... some bird shit?"
Max nodded and looked away, examining her own shoes. "Yeah."
"But how did you know it would...?"
Max hummed a little, inspecting her nails for dirt, before looking up at Victoria and finally saying, "it just looked like it had a load on its mind."
Her feeble joke was greeted with silence, and Max at first felt disheartened - but then Victoria burst out a short, sharp bark of laughter, a shocked and incredulous sound which wasn't wholly cruel. Max found herself giggling a little too.
"Max Caulfield," Victoria said, "you fucking witch. Are you secretly psychic? Can you tell the future too? I saw you protect my bag earlier from that ball. You didn't just do that spontaneously - you took stuff out of your bag, I saw it on the grass. Your journal and your camera. I saw them. You knew."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Max, face heating up. Shit, she was a terrible liar. "I'm just in the right place at the right time."
Victoria eyed her shrewdly. "Apparently so."
There was a moment of silence. It was a little awkward, yes, but Max didn't find it stiflingly so. It was fluid. It was moveable.
Victoria broke it first. "Thank you. For saving my bag, and my hair. You didn't have to do that."
"It's nothing. I didn't want your camera to get hurt - those things are expensive and you have a really nice model." It really was. Max was so jealous.
Victoria preened a little. "I could have gotten another one, but thank you. At least now I don't have to ask my..." She stopped herself, before shrugging. "Yes. Well."
"Was that who you were talking to just now?"
Victoria stiffened. "Why do you care?"
Max shrugged it off. "You just seemed really tense and upset. It can get really stressful talking to parents sometimes, I know."
"What do you know," Victoria said viciously, the hints of a sneer appearing again. "It's none of your business."
Shit, shit, wrong thing. Max considered rewinding but then Victoria spoke again. "So are you trying to be nice to me or are you just being nosy again."
"I'm not nosy."
"Yes you are. You only ever speak to people to find out gossip, and you pry around their rooms - that's what people are saying about you."
Okay, maybe Max WAS a little nosy sometimes. "I don't do that! And I speak to people because I care about them too. I know I'm quiet in class but I do care, okay? I like helping people."
Victoria clearly wasn't buying it. She looked doubtful, but Max laboured the point. "I helped you today. Not because I'm nosy - you're right, the phone call is none of my business - but just because it's a nice thing to do."
"So you're trying to suck up to me?" Victoria glowered.
"No!"
"Why are you trying so hard to be my friend?"
"This is just normal interaction!"
"Is it? Is it, Max? So you're just doing your duty? Oh, how wonderful, Blackwell Academy's very own Everyday Hero! Now I get it, you're trying to suck up to Mr. Jefferson and win everyone around for the photo competition-"
"Victoria," Max said, holding out her hands in a gesture of helpless appeal. "Being friendly isn't sucking up to someone, even if I don't do it as much as I should. Being friendly, that is, not sucking up. I'm just trying to make friends, okay?"
Victoria was quiet for a very long time. She scrutinised Max with that unreadable, systematic expression which was starting to become very familiar - as if she was trying to analyse what Max's motive's were, what her dreams were, what she was thinking. Max could almost believe that Victoria had somehow mastered the art of Legilimency from private lessons with Professor Snape if the mental image of Victoria draping herself all over the greasy figure from the HP series wasn't so utterly horrifying.
"Do you want to be my friend?"
Max froze. She wasn't sure about her answer. If she said yes... then wasn't she giving Victoria a weakness to exploit? Wouldn't Victoria call that a sign of weakness, make a big deal out of it, bully her worse?
If she said no... she might offend Victoria, but that was unlikely, because Victoria clearly didn't like her very much (right?). No would be the more sensible option. Max should say no.
"Yes," she said, her time-travelling hand itching to rise up. Shh, down boy. Not yet.
Victoria went quiet again.
A little more time passed.
"Whatever," she finally said, standing up and brushing her skirt off. "I guess I can afford to be civil to you, or something. I mean, I guess you did save me a lot today. So... thanks."
And then she smiled at Max, a quiet smile which turned her mouth upwards at the corners - yes it was a little uncomfortable, like she hadn't done it in a while, but it was genuine. Max stared in shock and resisted the urge to rewind time just to see it again.
"Alright, well," said Victoria, looking around with an air of finality, "see you around, I guess. I suppose we can talk later. If I feel like it."
"Yeah," Max replied, still a little dazed, "talk later. Later, Victoria."

And like that, it was over, and Victoria was spinning around and heading to her own dorm, and Max was sitting on a wall clutching her head and wondering which alternative universe she had just ended up in where Victoria Chase was actually decent.