Chapter 1: Binary

‘Max… It’s time…’

Chloe lost herself in Max’s eyes. The rain was pouring down around them, the wind tugging on their clothes. But the taller girl didn’t really notice, nor care. There was only Max and her resolve to end this. She meant the things she said, this week had been the best week in her life and having been able to reconnect with Max was really the only thing she wanted for all these years. It had always been about Max. The death of her father was made so much worse when Max left. Not hearing from her for five years tore a hole in her heart. The complex and confusing relationship she had with Rachel was, in the end, only to fill the emptiness that Max had left. And all of that had become undone in only a few days. Granted, it took unexplainable time manipulating powers, alternate timelines and a lot of drama, but it all ended up with them being together. It was all the redemption she needed. Now it was time for her to make things right and set her best friend free.

It took a moment before Max could break her stare after being locked onto the eyes of the young woman standing in front of her. Chloe was soaked and strains of her blue hair stuck to the side of her face. How much she loved that extraordinary face, those electrifying blue eyes that seemed to pull her in every time she looked at them. Her characteristic smirk that always was more present when her best friend was plotting something devious. The way she smelled of cigarettes, weed and a mixture of soap and Joyce’s laundry detergent. Max knew that she could never forget that smell. It made her feel so at home.

These five years apart had taken their toll on her blue-haired punk. She had only seen a glimpse of it this week, but she could tell it was a lot. Chloe wasn’t the one to let anybody see what was really going inside, but Max knew. She could see. Her stomach started to tie itself into a knot, the uneasy feeling of nausea started to creep in. The soothing traces of love, of comfort, started to fade slowly only to be replaced by increasing waves of guilt. They had been apart for five long years. Five long years that Max didn’t write, didn’t call or didn’t text. All the excuses she made for herself sounded so futile and silly right now. And the waves got bigger. Leaving so soon after William had died, leaving a devastated family behind. Leaving a devastated Chloe behind. And the waves got bigger. Finding Rachel’s body and seeing how deep the feelings of her best friend ran for the other girl. That she had to be with someone else then her to make her feel wanted, make her feel appreciated, make her feel safe. And the waves got bigger.

Max stood on the edge of the abyss, about to lose herself in an endless spiral of self doubt, insecurities and failure. An image started to slowly materialise in her mind, gaining focus and clarity. Something grabbed her throat and made it harder to breath as she recognised Chloe’s care-room from that alternate reality. She remembered the unbearable pain she felt when she turned up the morphine drip. How empty her life became the instant she increased the flow and saw Chloe slipping away. Max fought back the tears welling up in her eyes.

It didn’t matter. They were both here right now and she wasn’t going to let Chloe go for a second time. After finding themselves back together, this week almost completely erased those five years apart. Her mind started to flood with all the memories they had made together. Saving Chloe, again and again. Breaking into Blackwell’s pool and ending up in the same bed. The dared kiss, Chloe’s reaction and of course finding Rachel. Every moment they shared this week had etched Max’s love for her blue-haired angel deeper and deeper into every fiber of her being. She needed to be there for her, to help her heal. Not to let her bleed out on a cold bathroom floor at the hands of Nathan Prescott, thinking she was all alone in this godforsaken world. Abandoned by everyone she ever loved. Max took a step back and turned away from Chloe.

‘Not anymore.’

With a love-fuelled resolution and without hesitation Max tore the picture in half, letting the pieces be picked up by the gusting wind. Fragments of that blue butterfly drifted up into the air, back to the center of the storm. As if the universe itself confirmed the choice she had just made. The brown-haired girl followed the remains of the polaroid higher and higher after which she shifted her focus on the unnatural tornado that was raging in front of her. She turned her head slightly and ultimately fixated on the small town on the ocean shore. Debris was flying all over and it would only be a matter of minutes before the devastation would hit with full force. Although she didn’t see Chloe, she felt that her friend was moving closer to her.

‘Max… I’ll always be with you.’ the punk said as she walked up next to Max.

‘Forever.’ answered the smaller girl, her gaze still frozen onto Arcadia Bay.

They stood side by side as Chloe reached for Max’s hand, looking for a way to brace herself for the impact of the storm. To find some sort of comfort in the horror of all of this, but mostly to let her best friend know that she was there for her. That she did not have to face this alone. They would carry the guilt and the burden together. Forever. A cold and wet hand grabbed hold of her, answering the invitation. Max could feel a warm glow emitting from Chloe’s hands, or maybe she just imagined it. It gave her a sense of hope. Even if it was just a tiny speck.

And then it happened. The inevitable. The storm that had been building up for so long, that slowly moved in on the unsuspecting town, it made its way onto the beach and into Arcadia Bay. The storm that she had foreseen, maybe even caused herself, but definitely the storm that she didn’t stop, tore up everything in its path. It wasn’t that Max had second thoughts. Chloe was and always would be her number one priority, but she did feel the guilt building up inside of her as she watched all the destruction laid out in front of her. It didn’t feel fair at all that both of them would be safe here by the light house.

Not able to face it any longer, Max shook her head as I she were trying to get the images out of her head. To forget what she was witness to. She turned to the taller girl and placed her arms around her, burying her face in Chloe’s neck. The punk wrapped her arm around her friend’s shoulder and pressed her firmly against her body.

All of a sudden Max felt something shift ever so slightly deep inside of her. As if a tiny cog in an elaborate machine moved a single position forward. Then there was nothing but darkness. A desolation manifested itself at the center of everything, followed by anxiety and despair. Panic vigorously grabbed hold of her all of a sudden. Clenching her throat and making it hard to breath. It burned as her chest felt tight. Her skin was tingling and the muscles of her entire body started to randomly contract. Heat started to spread from behind her eyes into the rest of her head. Thoughts were racing through her mind, but she couldn’t make any sense of them. Pressure was building up as a dull pain started to form. At first behind her temples, but slowly spreading throughout her entire body. She could feel the energy draining and the pain increasingly getting shaper. Focusing on a spot somewhere between her eyes. A warm fluid made its way from her nostrils onto her upper lip, onto her mouth and down her chin. It came gushing out. She could taste the blood, that horrible metallic taste. And then there was absolutely nothing anymore.