Chapter 1 - Trail
The warmth had passed. Things were...colder that afternoon.
Even the rays of the midday sun, seeping through the truck's window, pressing against Max's cheek...it wasn't warm enough. Chloe's coat, encasing her, didn't seem to be helping her warm up, either. Fuzzy, wispy vocals from an indie band she recognized but couldn't place the name of...all it was doing was irritating her. Even Chloe's face seemed...warmer than it ever had somehow, and yet Maxine couldn't bear to look at her as they cruised down the highway.
Maxine still felt cold.
Still felt the stinging ice of raindrops pelting her face.
Wet hair clinging to her cheeks.
Damp clothes heavy on her shoulders, yet feathers compared to the real weight.
Shadows and light, tip-toeing around each other with caution.
Voices shouting, screaming, yelling her name.
Maxine felt so cold...
She was having trouble remembering, in the panic of the tornado, the slamming rain, the fires sizzling through it all...
Which people had she saved?
Which people had she let live, and which had she let die?
Which people had she saved, then un-saved?
Some 'Everyday Hero' she'd turned out to be.
It was all a blur now. Only a day later...not a single rewind since. It felt like an eternity given the past week. Pff. A week. Felt a hell of a lot longer than that...
Maxine was having trouble remembering which people were still alive, and which ones were dead. Her stomach lurched at this realization. The gut punch hit right then.
Was Kate still dead?
Oh, God, Max thought in a moment of terror. Kate...
Maxine had been so fixated on saving Chloe, so muddled in time, she couldn't-...She didn't know, even, if Kate was still alive in this...this reality.She had no clue.
Death had somehow lost its edge recently. That kind of happened when you could just fucking undo it, like mopping up milk with a paper towel.
Whoopsie, I spilled your fucking life on the floor.
Let me just clean that up.
All better now.
No use crying over it.
Dead and back again.
How many times had Max watched Chloe die by now? A few. More than a few.
Hadn't Chloe shot herself by accident one of those times? Jesus.
What about Frank? How many times had she watched Chloe shoot him?
Or watched Frank kill her?
How many times had she watched Mr. Madsen get shot in that bunker?
And yet, with Kate...she only had the one memory of that.
Kate jumped off that roof, one time, and it was over.
That was reality, then, wasn't it?
Shit was supposed to happen once, and that was supposed to be it. That was how reality worked.
So when you could mess around with that shit, what the hell was reality anymore?
That was why Max had to tear that photo. Stop using her powers.
If she didn't stop, reality would...cease to fucking exist, wouldn't it? Or at least, a reality where she wasn't alone.
No more photos of the past to toy around with. They'd all been left behind in Arcadia Bay. And Arcadia Bay was gone. Fucking destroyed, more or less.
Tearing that photograph of that butterfly, letting the tornado swallow it up...that had sealed things.No temptation to go back and try fixing shit.
This was reality now. A reality where a entire town was eaten alive. Eaten alive by a stupid fucking girl messing with shit she shouldn't have been.
Maxine wasn't going to play with time anymore. She'd decided that the moment she tore that last photograph in half.
What if something happened to Chloe? What if...Chloe was still meant to die?
She'd rewind then. Only then. Not for anything else.
And doom some other fucking town through some cosmic bullshit? Wasn't one town enough? Who was she to be making decisions like that, anyway?
But if she didn't, then wouldn't it mean Arcadia Bay was in rubble for nothing?
Max's shoulders shuddered a bit from the chill seeping up her spine. She wormed her arms around her abdomen, nestling her head against the window of the car door. The trickle of sunlight heating the glass paled in comparison to the chill.
She couldn't keep her eyes open...
The voices from that horrible nightmare bubbled around in her brain.
“Holy shit, are you cereal? I'm you, dumbass. Or I'm one of many Maxes you've left behind.”
“Max, do you really think she has any feelings for us? You're just another puppet. Man, you are soo stupid.”
“Why hang out with Max, huh?”
“Boredom. Plus, she's like my personal puppet.”
“Chloe does a better job of guilt-tripping me than you do.”
“Because you let her bully you. It's called 'Stockholm Syndrome.' But you didn't do that homework. So you'll have to learn the hard way. Like Rachel...”
“You've left a trail of death and suffering behind you.”
“You fucked up space and time for your precious punk, Chloe. You think she's worth all that?”
“-...ax? Fuck, shit, arghh...No-no, wh-...?” Chloe's voice was bleeding through the red and black haze.
“Mmph?” Max struggled to pull herself back to the present.
Right? The present.
On that cliff, in the rain, the tornado fucking destroying that shit hole town full of assholes. Fuck their selfies. They could die in fires. Literally. She would watch, with Chloe by her side.
That wasn't the present. That was the past. Wasn't it?
Erhh, no! Hold up. Max hadn't wanted that shit. She'd wanted everyone to be safe.
Sure you did. That's why you ran the fuck away. Real heroic.
I had to save Chloe! I had to get her out of there...
Because that selfish bitch was worth all of this?
I never said that!
You didn't have to. We both know it's how you feel. You caused that storm. You let it happen.
I didn't know! I didn't-...I didn't choose that! I didn't want to cause that fucking storm!
You chose to run away, though. Sacrificed Arcadia Bay. Real fucking convenient that it wiped away everything that would've caused a problem for you. Everyone. Now you and your precious fucking punk princess can ride off into the sunset. Like you always wanted.
I did not want all this. And you don't know everyone's dead!
Ha! Oh, sure. Sure. What's the difference between half the town being dead and the whole town being dead? You still caused it. You still killed people.
I didn't kill anyone.
Do you need more psychology lessons from yourself? Denial's a stage of grief, but you're skipping the other steps. Or maybe it's because you just don't give a shit.
The past week has torn me in pieces, you...monster.
Pot, meet kettle. Actually, my bad. Pot, meet fucking pot.
You got torn into pieces? Did you forget all that rubble you drove through on your way out?
All of that power, and instead of saving Arcadia Bay...-
Ohhhh, Chloe, you're my buh-buh-best friend! It's destiny! We're destined to be together~
I'll save you from everything~
You're my top priority~
You're alllll that matters~
Look, I didn't ask for this shit. If it's not destiny, what the fuck would you call it?
I'd call it you being so fucking pathetic, so goddamned desperate for attention, that you'll take it from someone who's just been using you this whole time. You two went separate ways. You go to get an education, and what does she do? Obsesses over some attention whore who didn't even love her back. Gee, sound familiar? Then Rachel goes missing, and she finds out you have fucking super powers and then suddenly you're worth her time again? What do you know?
Do the fucking math, Max.
Chloe was after Rachel, not you.
You're just the consolation prize.
And you're so fucking eager to be that 2nd place that you let all those people die. For this selfish, bratty, childish, self-absorbed bitch. Fuck it, you two deserve each other. Deep down, beneath the red and blue surfaces, you're both the same: selfish kids.
And even now, after all that? Watching Arcadia Bay get ripped to pieces, knowing you saved her life over and over, knowing how much you worked, sacrificed, just for her fucking sake...And did she confess anything to you? Huh? Did she even kiss you like you were hoping she would? Hell no. You're so naive. And you don't even have the fucking guts to do anything yourself. You keep waiting on her to make the move. Like she will. Like she gives a rat's ass.
We've just been through hell. We need time to...deal with-
Time! Ha! Fuh-...Christ. You need time, huh? That's hilarious, coming from you. Time doesn't heal all wounds, Maxine. You dipshit. Where the hell do you think scars come from? And shit like what you pulled? All those dead people? That's a pretty nasty fucking scar you've left. Was it worth being Chloe's consolation prize?
Shut the fuck up.
'Hella' powers you had. Destroyed a whole town without even trying. 'Poor thing.'
Why are you doing this? Why won't you leave me alone?
Be honest. You were glad to find out Rachel was dead, weren't you? You could have Chloe all to yourself. Super Max to the rescue. Save her life a few times, be a shoulder to cry on...Find out 'whodunnit,' watch him get a bullet in the brain. That'd sure make Chloe happy, huh? Hell, Chloe used to joke about burning Arcadia Bay to the ground, and you managed to actually make that fucking happen for her! Bravo, Maxine.
Shut up. That's not how it happened...Please, fucking please, just...-
What if you could've gone back to save Rachel? Maybe you could have. You didn't even fucking try. Did you? It was way more convenient to let that one stay in the past, wasn't it?
Fine! It was all Max's fucking fault! Max was a murderer, Max didn't give a shit, Max was selfish, Max abused her powers...
That was in the past, it was done. And it was shitty. And Max was shitty.
The present. Max needed to be in the present now.
You think it fucking matters what point in time you're in? Anymore? After this?
You left me – us – to die.
What do you think happened to the Max that killed Chloe?
The Maxes that watched Chloe get shredded by a train.
What about the Maxes who watched Chloe shoot Frank?
Or the Maxes who watched David Madsen get shot?
The Maxes that Jefferson had his way with? The Maxes Jefferson killed?
Fucking hell. You didn't just destroy Arcadia Bay. You didn't just play with people's lives. You killed yourself, too. So many fucking times. Sado-masochism plus superpowers equals you being fucking psychotic.
I undid all of that.
Did you, though? Or did you just leave it behind? Either way, Arcadia Bay is gone, and you don't seem to give a shit.
I don't have to listen anymore of this bullshit...
Uh, doy? Of course you don't. That's what's so sad: I'm you, dipshit. You want to listen to this, or else I wouldn't be saying it, would I? How fucking sad! You can't even talk with her about it, so instead you're just yelling at yourself in this hellhole you call a brain.
That's why you like that shirt, you know. With the skull-faced moth on it? That's me. You get that, right?
That's me reminding you that no matter where you go, Death follows.
You think it's some coincidence the bitch in the blue hair wears skulls on her shirts and bullets around her neck?
Maybe we've had it wrong all along. Maybe Chloe's not the one surrounded by death. Maybe you are, and she's just a catalyst. And you're keeping her around? Wow.
What makes you think this is over?
Because I'm fucking done playing games. I'm done playing with time.
You are so naive, Max Caulfield.
Leave me alone...Please.
God. Fuck. Please, just...leave me alone...Please-please...I can't...-
I didn't want any of this. I just wanted to help. I just wanted to save Chloe.
She's all that matters to me. It took all of this crazy shit just to get me to realize it, but...-
“Dude, do not even fuck with her head!” Chloe? “She knows what we went through together this week, and you don't.” Chloe's voice, shutting her up, just like before. “There's no way you can break up our team! This is reality!”
Maxine's mind was finally quiet after that.
Was it over? Could Max finally wake up?
Everything was shaking.
Everything was...getting warmer.
“-...the fuck up, already, wh-...?”
Coughing, sputtering, choking...the taste of blood in her mouth, on her lips...Shit, another nosebleed.
“Jesus fuck, Max...” Chloe's voice was desperate, sighing out relieved swears. “Oh, thank fuck...shit...ugh.”
Max propped herself up from the warmth she'd been pressed against. She realized it had been Chloe's lap. The truck had stopped. As Max's eyes readjusted to reality – it was reality this time, right? – she noticed that Chloe had pulled them off the highway. Cars were periodically whizzing past on the left.
In a daze, Max looked down at herself, realizing splotches of red were all over her clothes...like film melting, bubbling away...
Chloe's hands were clamped against Max's shoulders.
“You with me?” Chloe asked, still in a panic.
“Gughh...-” Max tried to reply, but her throat caught. She coughed some more. Ow. Damn, that hurt.
“Hey-hey-hey,” Chloe whispered shakily, pounding Max's frail back a couple times. “Breathe. Breathe...” The forced back-patting was hurting more than helping, but Max managed to clear her chest.
Max's chest burned. Her head was throbbing. She turned to face Chloe, her sight still a bit fuzzy. Chloe's hair was a mess, her hat off, forehead riddled with acne and sweat. Her eyes were bloodshot, bags hanging under them. Maxine figured she probably looked even worse. The past day had been...rough.
“You promised me you wouldn't do that shit again,” Chloe sighed out, her tone mixing relief with fear.
“Sorry,” Max croaked., rubbing at her ribs, her lungs stinging from the coughing.
“What happened?” Chloe asked after a pause. “You didn't...fuck around with...-?”
“No,” Max said firmly, shaking her head slowly, carefully. Her head felt...wobbly. “No more time travel, I told you...Fucking swear.”
“Not just a swear,” Chloe muttered darkly. “Pinky swear. Pinky swears are punishable by-”
But Chloe's attempt at levity was met with Max whimpering as a wave of aching washed over her, and another dribble of blood slid down her nostril.
“Shit,” Chloe gasped through clenched teeth, scrounging up another stale napkin from the glove compartment and stuff it in Max's face.
“Sorry,” Maxine groaned, her tone turned nasally from pinching a musty napkin into her nostril.
“How long has it been since you last rewound time?” Chloe checked.
Max shrugged up the shoulder that wasn't being used to level a napkin to her nose.
“I-I don't know, a...day? I guess? Back at the...fucking Vortex Club party...Chloe, I'm telling you: this is the longest I've gone without using it.”
“'Kay...” Chloe sniffed in a deep breath, gripping her steering wheel tightly. “I believe you.” The engine was still running. The hum of the truck was more like a raspy rumble. Suddenly, Chloe prodded, “Dude. Is your nose still...-?”
Maxine pulled back the red-tipped napkin from her face. She dabbed at her upper lip, confirming that it wasn't damp. She cautiously rubbing sleeve against her nostrils. Some dried blood flaked off. It wasn't running anymore, at least.
“Mm-mm,” Max hummed with a slight headshake.
Chloe drummed her fingers nervously along the steering wheel, watching a van pass by.
“So...You, uh, need a minute, or...-?”
“I'm fine,” Max lied. “Let's just keep going.”
“Right. Sure,” Chloe mumbled. “You got drugged, kidnapped, bent space and time just to get my sorry ass out of that piece of shit town, watched that town get torn apart...and now you're covered in your own blood.” Chloe started up the ignition, adding bitterly, “But you're fine.”
“OK, I'm not,” Max grumbled testily. She chewed and licked dried blood off her lips warily.
“Is this nosebleed shit something I should be worried about?” Chloe asked, changing gears and getting the truck on the road again. “Wh-...? Is there anything else I should be worried about?”
“Look, I don't know,” confessed Max. “Can we try to not...worry about anything right now?”
“When should I worry about all this?” Chloe snapped, her voice cracking slightly. She cleared her throat, tweaking the position of her rearview mirror. She mumbled, “When your...brain fucking hemorrhages, or...-?”
“We've got bigger problems than fucking nosebleeds, Chloe,” Max snarled, letting loose some of her bottled up frustration.
Damnit, Max, Chloe's totally worried about you. And you don't even get to appreciate it, after everything that's happened.
Chloe's lips pursed fretfully. She re-gripped the steering wheel, shuffling her position in her seat.
“Yea,” she agreed solemnly. “You're right.”
A heavy pause.
“Did you call Joyce yet?” Max groaned out, desperately wishing she could shake the bitchiness off her tone.
“...Not yet,” Chloe confessed. “She, uh...she called me, though, so...she's...-” Chloe trailed off, shrugging up a shoulder.
“When?” Max demanded. “When did she call you?”
“This morning,” Chloe explained. “I don't...-” She sighed. “Haven't worked up the guts to...call her back.” Chloe caught Max's impatient glare, and she defensively lashed out, “I don't see you fucking...checking in, either, Max.”
Max seethed steam through her nose. After everything, Chloe was still being...such a...fucking child. Always with the redirects. Always buffering shit off of her, projecting it on someone else. It was always someone else with her...
At the same time, Chloe was right – Max had yet to call her folks, either. Or anyone, really. Her phone had blown up with texts and missed calls, which were all going ignored. She was afraid. Fucking terrified. She didn't want to know who made it out, and who didn't. She wasn't ready for that shit. Not yet.
It was all her fault, after all.
In a stroke of sympathy, Chloe seemed to pick up on Max's downtrodden vibes.
“Uh, sorry,” Chloe breathed out, shaving the edge off her tone. “Just...having trouble wrapping my brain around all this...crazy shit.” She took in a deep breath through her nose, then scratched at her jaw a bit. A moment’s consideration later, and she offered, “I could...call 'em for you.”
“Your parents. Yea. Yea, yea.” Chloe nodded to herself, her hands flicking around with an eager attempt to alleviate things. “Let me call ‘em. Give ‘em the heads up that we're on our way. I could totally cover for you. You, uh...hit your head. Or...-” She sighed, tilting up a wrist before letting it smack back against the steering wheel. Max’s bloodshot eyes were giving Chloe a disparaging look. Chloe replied, “I get it, OK? You must be...hella fried right now. I know I don't really have a right to say it, but...I'm hella freaking here, too.” Her voice was shaking a little. Like it did the night before, in the rain.
Max's nose wrinkled, her brows curved, her eyes flickered on the edge of tears.
An entire town got destroyed because of them. They'd have to live with that, carry that...
'Hella fried' and 'hella freaking' probably summed it up well enough.
“It's over,” Max whispered under breath. That was the one solace she could find right then.
Chloe's head twisted slightly, curiously, then she redirected her attention back on the road. Maxine continued, rubbing her fingers at her nose, dusting off the caked droplets of blood that lingered.
“It's all...fucking over. How am I...-? All those people, and-...What...-? I-I couldn't not-...But...what if...-? How was I supposed to choose th...-?” Her brain was tumbling a load of dirty, filthy, self-deprecating thoughts in a wash of cleansing realization – that she was selfish.
“OK. Max? Slow down,” Chloe eased. Max could pick up that tint of doubt in Chloe's voice – that 'OK whoa I don't know how to handle it if you lose your shit 'cuz my shit's already lost right now' kind of feeling. “Don't...overthink this. Shit happens.”
“Shit...happens? Animals don't just fucking up and die like that, Chloe. You saw the whales. And the birds? I knew the tornado was coming. The whole time. I could've...warned everyone, I...I could've stopped it from happening.” Max sucked in a fierce breath, on the verge of hyperventilating as her mind ran circles around itself.
Instead you just focused on trying to impress Chloe.
Shut up, go away...
“Shit happens,” Max repeated, her intonation more desperate. “Rewinding time, watching a tornado that you caused destroy...all the people that...-” Max choked on a sob, covering her mouth as if to prevent the guilt from leaking out.
Chloe bit her lip, eyes wide, fingers slowly drumming along the wheel.
“You didn't know how things were going to turn out,” Chloe insisted in a sterile, self-convincing way. “Even-...OK.” She took a second, took a breath. Steadied, she cited, “Even if that storm happened because you...fucked with time? Even if! How the hell do you know if you could've stopped it at all? What if-...? I mean, what if going back to the beginning, what if that would've still counted as, ya know, screwing around with shit? What if the very first time you rewound time – to save me – I mean, what if that sealed it? What if all that shit was gonna happen either way? Right? You don't know. You can't stop a fucking tornado, Max. Even with your rewind.”
Maxine wanted to let Chloe's theory make things feel better.
It did not make things feel better.
“I couldn't stop fucking anything with my rewind...”
“You stopped the assholes that killed Rachel,” Chloe practically hissed with spite. “That killed Kate. They were ruining people’s lives, and you stopped them.”
“Didn't stop them soon enough,” Max gloomily dismissed. “Kind of defeats the point of time travel, doesn't it?”
“Look, look, OK, but you did stop me from dying,” Chloe desperately pointed out. “And after everything that happened, I'm still here. You're still here. We're still together. This is some fucking Fated-To-Be shit, right here. And I fucking promise you, we are always going to be together from now on. So...-” Chloe swallowed, trailing off. They were getting back on the highway.
“Together,” Max sighed tiredly. Her tone lacked passion, but beneath the surface she was bitterly simmering in a stew of dissatisfaction.
A few seconds slipped by. Chloe cleared her throat, then turned the radio on. She bitched under her breath about how 'her station' wasn't coming in, then gave up, leaving it on a station playing Queen, which was apparently a fine alternative.
A passable second place. Runner up. Consolation prize.
“You hungry?” Chloe asked, noting an upcoming exit.
“Sure,” Max mumbled. She sighed a cloud of vapor into the window her head was pressed against, watching it quickly vanish.
Maxine let the music fill the pores of her brain for a minute or two as Chloe took them down a highway ramp. They stopped at a crowded red-light. Max's cold fingertips were startled by a stroke of warmth. Chloe had briefly squeezed her hand while waiting for the lights to change. Their hands lingered, loosely together, for a couple of seconds. Max glanced at Chloe, who was occupied with her rearview mirrors.
The delicate contact easily disconnected as Chloe took to the steering wheel again. Max scanned Chloe's profile. Chloe opened her mouth, as if to speak, then didn't. This happened a second time as she made a turn.
“What?” Max bluntly wondered, her voice groggy. Swallowing saliva to whet her throat, she watched Chloe's brows raise slightly, then furrow.
“Huh? Nothing,” Chloe muttered vaguely, shaking her head slightly. She pulled them into a parking lot.
It was some kind of trucker diner.
Max's stomach lurched. Flashes of the Two Whales exploding. Pulled apart. The people inside, all around, all hurting...Joyce had been stuck in that place all night. Frank and Warren, too. None of them deserved to sit through that.
“Hope you're in the mood for greasy-ass burgers,” Chloe grunted playfully, switching off the ignition. Max was so familiar with Chloe's voice by now that she could smell the desperation. Chloe was trying to get things back into their 'Max & Chloe Good Times' vibe. Chloe rubbed Max's left shoulder roughly, pinching it in a way that hurt a bit. “You've earned some comfort food, am I right?”
Chloe popped open the driver side door, flipping her legs out and springing upright. Max just sat where she was, staring at the diner.
Watching it get destroyed in her mind's eye.
Hearing all those voices from petrified forms taunting her in her mind's ear.
“...Max?” Chloe was tilting over, popping her head back into the truck.
“Chloe, can we...go somewhere else?” Max requested shakily. Her fingers were clenching across themselves in her lap. Her whole body felt taut and tight.
Chloe glanced over to the diner quickly, as if expecting to see something wrong or out of place, then paused, lingering in thought for a second before re-entering her car.
As soon as she was back in the driver's seat, Chloe swiped up Maxine's hand again.
“What's wrong?” she asked with some suspicion. Her voice got quick and quiet – excited, almost, but in a serious way. “What happens in there? Did you just rewind? Did you see some kind of shit go down wh-”
“No,” Max sighed. She'd already told Chloe she was done with the rewind. Chloe didn't believe her?
Chloe seemed baffled. Skeptical.
Max explained, “A place like that is just going to...bring back...-” She trailed off, her voice losing its strength as she rubbed her haggard fingers across her face. “It’s reminding me of…-“
“Shit,” Chloe sighed to herself. She gripped Max's hand tightly.
Ever since they'd held hands in the face of that storm, Chloe had rapidly adjusted to administering little gestures like this. Max wanted to appreciate that, to let that excite her, but...-
“This have to do with yesterday?” Chloe asked solemnly.
Max nodded. Chloe nodded in understanding, glancing out the vehicle's windows as she released Max's hand.
“Got it,” Chloe muttered. “Well...We, uh, we need to get some food in us, so-...Where should we grab some grub?” Chloe was twisting her abdomen, spinning her head around her neck as she scanned for any nearby options. She mumbled in slow, casual syllables, “Commandeth thine loyal servant, Master Maxine.”
When Chloe shot her a sly little smile, Max’s face contorted into a reciprocal smirk. Seeing Chloe smiling – trying – seemed to be enough to keep Max afloat, despite how heavy her heart was.
“Anything that isn’t fast food around here?” Max wondered. She didn’t bother trying to look around.
“Uhh…There’s a Dutch Bros. across the way,” Chloe mumbled warily. “That count?”
“Sure,” Max decided with apathy. Some coffee and bagels in a low key coffee shop would probably suffice.
“Let’s Bro it up, then,” grunted Chloe, settling back in the driver’s seat and twisting the ignition key.
As they rolled out of the truck stop diner's parking lot, Max considered checking her phone for the first time that day. Her phone had blown up so much it was going fucking nuclear. Wowser. A couple dozen texts she had yet to read...probably ten or twenty more she'd read but been too chicken-shit to reply to.
Max sighed quite audibly, not opening a single text as she dropped the phone back into an empty cup holder.
“People lighting up your phone?” Chloe idly asked.
Max nodded, rubbing at her eyes.
“That, uhh-...That's good,” Chloe asserted some relieved but hesitant optimism. She nodded slowly, hunched over the steering wheel as she pulled them into the coffee shop lot. “Right? I mean, if they're texting you, then...people are...around, right?”
Max shrugged her shoulders uncertainly, resuming her drooping pose against the truck window. She had indeed seen a couple of Blackwell faces in there, but it was looking mostly like relatives. Probably had seen the news, freaked...
“When you said 'what,' um...-” Chloe had parked them, and had taken a somber tone. Max furrowed a pair of puzzled brows. Chloe clarified, “I was going to say something, back at the red light.”
Max nodded, sitting upright as she awaited Chloe's elaboration.
“I said 'nothing,' 'cuz...-” Chloe inhaled carefully, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel. “I was going to ask you, like, 'Max, hey, you OK?' but, just...-” Chloe shook her head, letting her chin sag against her chest with self-afflicted bitterness. “I realized what a stupid fucking question that was.” She ran her hand across her matted hair, then met Max's gaze. “So I didn't say anything.”
Max swallowed the lump that had gathered in her throat as she absorbed Chloe's softened stare.
“Thanks,” Max mumbled, not really sure what else to say. She pushed stray hair behind her ears as the two of them glanced off to the coffee shop.
“I'm fucking freaking,” Chloe mumbled doggedly, scratching dust from her eyelashes. “I don't know...what to do for you right now,” she confessed, her voice getting raspy and wispy, choking on her own uncertainty.
Max's chest swelled at Chloe's earnest fretting. As if to avoid looking too pathetic, Chloe reached up and over her seat to retrieve her hat.
“It's OK,” Max croaked out in assurance. “I don't know, either...”
“Uh...” Chloe shoved her hat on her head, pushing grease-slicked bangs of blue out of her eyes. “We'll...figure it out. We'll, uh, get some brunch, call our folks, and...play it by ear.” Just before she went to re-exit the car, she gave Max's arm a brisk rub. “Your sidekick's got your back, Super Max. C'mon.” Chloe exited the truck with the same vigor she just had across the street. With that same shaky, 'I'm trying, here' tone, Chloe proposed, “We could...both use some goddamn caffeine, am I right?”
Max nodded, finding the strength to pull herself out, as well.
Max felt stunned to be standing on her own two feet after the day – or was it days? – she'd just been through. She watched Chloe scamper around the truck, pressing her blue-nailed fingers against the hood, pushing herself around its corner. The sight brought some levity to her weary soul.
Chloe grabbed Max's hand, tugging at her arm to snap out of her stupor and follow along.
Max nodded complacently, but let her hand slip from Chloe's grasp. Stuffing her fists into the pockets of the leather jacket she was borrowing, Maxine walked behind Chloe toward the coffee shop entrance.
“Max, do you really think she has any feelings for us?”
“Because you let her bully you. It's called 'Stockholm Syndrome.'”
“Now you and your precious fucking punk princess can ride off into the sunset. Like you always wanted.”
“You've left a trail of death and suffering behind you.”
“You think she's worth all that?”
I fucking hope so.