When Warren wakes up, it’s with a jolt that sends him upright. It’s with blurred vision, gasping breaths, and hands that clutch the front of his shirt, wet with cold sweat.
When Warren wakes up, it’s from a nightmare, one where he’d been killed. Smashed within the walls of the Two Whales, a diner down the road from the Academy, along with a handful of others trying to stay safe from the raging winds just outside. Along with the entirety of Arcadia Bay, crushed and blown away by a massive storm they’d been warned of in apocalyptic signs but still didn’t see coming.
When Warren wakes up, it takes him a long time to calm down from the nightmare he feels like he’d lived through. To convince himself that, even though it felt so real, it wasn’t. That he was alive, he was in his dorm room, and—from the thump of something hitting the wall and the sounds of someone yelling outside his door—everyone was still in one piece. Arcadia Bay was still in one piece.
That everything was okay.
He eventually calms down, but even as he gets ready for the day he has ahead, he can’t shake the feeling that something is very wrong, and that forgetting the nightmare was one of the worst things he could possibly do.
The feeling haunts him throughout the rest of the day.
Déjà vu. Déjà vu, déjà vu, déjà vu.
Again. Again and again and again.
At first, it’s little bits. Small pieces of the day or sayings that make him feel like he’s been there, done that before. And, in a lot of cases, he has. He has.
It’s in chemistry, when he’s mixing a combination of chemicals he knows he’s mixed a dozen times before. It’s when he meets up with Max and gives her a flash drive chock full of movies and she grins at him and makes his insides go gooey and light like they always do when she smiles at him, like they did the last time he’d given her a flash drive with things for her on it. It’s when he walks through the door to the boy’s dormitories and trips over Nathan Prescott’s shoe, pointed just so, and Nathan and Victoria and Taylor and Courtney laugh at him and call him Gayram and tell him to watch where he’s going. It’s when he scowls up at them and decides not to make a come-back, because confrontation really wasn’t his thing, and he really just wants to get back into his room and take a shower.
Because these are things that happen more than once, things that have repetitive tendencies attached to them. They’re things that have happened before, at least once, and will probably happen again.
But with the déjà vu comes an increase in the foreboding that continues to haunt him since he woke up that morning, and he tries to chalk it up to the scare the nightmare gave him. At least, for the first few days, he does.
Then things are repeating themselves—actually repeating themselves, they have to be. How does he recognize a blue-haired girl named Chloe when she shows up out of nowhere and starts roaming the halls of Blackwell Academy, pasting posters wherever there’s room? When Nathan Prescott starts looking sullen and dark, starts acting more violent than he’s ever been, like he’s got demons and they’re suddenly reigning in? When Kate … when Kate looks like she’s about to break, and when Max starts acting really, really strange?
When Warren knows Chloe’s name before he’s even formally introduced to her via Max? Before he even hears her yelling Chloe’s name in surprise just after Warren picks a fight with Nathan, who head-butts him in a move he vaguely knows is coming but doesn’t move fast enough to avoid and ends up on the pavement in pain?
Why does it only get worse as the weeks goes on?
Why—even when he goes along with it all, despite knowing some of the things that come; even when he doesn’t try to avoid anything; even as he lets it all play out just as he saw it would in his nightmare—does everything just repeat itself?
Some things—some things are a little different. Just a sparse amount. At least, that’s what Warren thinks. Just enough things for the déjà vu he keeps experiencing to keep from lasting the entirety of the day—the week, two weeks, the near-month that it does when it comes over and over and over again. Like a movie Warren has seen over a dozen times but can never seem to memorize because of those small differences that always catch him off-guard. He’d seen that before—heard this, said that, done everything before and again and why does this all feel like he’s done it already? Why?
You’re supposed to forget ninety-percent of your dream after waking up from it. Didn’t that count for nightmares, too? Shouldn’t he have forgotten more of this?
Why did it feel so real?
It can’t have been. It was just a nightmare. Nothing but a vivid nightmare.
But then Kate’s falling from the roof of the girl’s dormitory, and Warren isn’t quite as shocked as he knows he should have been.
And then he’s beating up Nathan until he breaks, and each punch feels like a memory, each word Nathan cries like a rhythm Warren already knows.
And then he’s at the Vortex Club party, drinking more than he knows he should, asking Max for the picture he knows she needs before she vanishes with Chloe and the wind starts to pick up in her wake. The snow had come, the eclipse had passed, and now the wind was coming.
Just like in his nightmare.
He doesn’t have time to think about it when he suddenly realizes he remembers everything that comes along next. From the sudden change in temperature to the scramble to the Two Whales Diner for safety, to the howling train-like noises that echo around them as they try to stay safe behind the makeshift barricade Warren knows won’t save them—he isn’t given a clear moment to think. Because this can’t be the same as his nightmare, it just can’t.
But something is wrong. Something is so very, very wrong. Warren knows this, just like he’s knows how it’s all going to end.
Something is coming, and something is going to kill them all.
Max shows up, just as Warren knew she would, but he doesn’t think of that until she’s there in front of him, relaying her story and dripping all over the tiles of the diner, hoping he’d understand. He knows what he must say to her, and he says it. He does what he knows he’s supposed to do, give her the picture she wants despite knowing she was going off without him, and then she’s gone.
And then the winds pick up and the scream of the train comes closer and the roaring in his ears overwhelms him and he’s thrown face-first into the cold surface of the diner’s bar, sending him into a dark, numb place faster than he can think to even cry out—
—And then he’s waking up again, jolting up with a scream this time, head spinning, shirt drenched, breathing borderline-panic-attack, and the feeling of outright doom engulfs him.
This time, Warren doesn’t give himself time to calm down. He rips the sheets he’d tangled himself in off his legs and launches off his bed, scrambling for his calendar hard enough that he rips it from the wall. When he realizes the date, his vision goes white, and before he knows it he’s on his knees with the calendar splayed before him and his hands shaking so hard he can’t pick it back up.
“What the fuck?” he chokes.
What was going on? Could this be an elaborate nightmare? Why was it happening?
Was—was he still in it?
The thought terrifies Warren, and he startles hard enough to upset his nightstand and send a glass crashing down when something knocks into his door. A loud yelling—playful arguing, probably between Trevor and Justin—follows the noise. Warren scrambles to get back on his feet, hissing in pain when he presses his palm into the broken glass, his mind still buzzing with fright and confusion.
“Shit,” he hisses, clutching his bleeding hand.
He had to get ahold of himself. The nightmare was elaborate, that was all. His imagination was overactive, probably from all those movies he watched in preparation to give Max a decent array on that flash drive. What else could it be?
A premonition? But why would it happen twice? Within the same nightmare?
Was that even possible? Was anything that just happened even possible?
He couldn’t dwell on it. It was a nightmare, a real nightmare, and the fact he was in his bedroom, bleeding, was proof he was awake this time, and that things were already starting differently than they had before.
It had just been a nightmare. Just a nightmare.
That’s all it had been.
But then things keep happening again, again, and halfway through Warren realizes he can’t escape what’s going to end it. Because everything is foreseeable, predictable, and, while he can’t recall every little detail of the near-month that passes him by, he knows what happens next. He knows. And he can’t stop it.
He tries. He takes different walkways, goes to class a few minutes late—a few minutes early, skips one entirely. But things still happen like clockwork, even if they’re a little distorted from before. It’s not enough for things to change. But he can’t stop.
He keeps trying. When he first sees Kate, crying and huddled in a corner he hadn’t passed by before, he stops, asks her if she’s okay.
“Does it look like I’m okay?” she says bitterly, wiping her face. “Why do you even care?”
Warren hesitates, because he can’t exactly tell her the truth. He’s not even sure if it is the truth. “Because I don’t like seeing people upset,” he says instead, and she looks up at him curiously, as if this was an answer she had never gotten before, and Warren realizes his chance.
“Kate, right?” he tries.
“Yeah. You’re Warren. You know Max.”
Warren can’t help but grin like he always did when Max’s name came up. “Yeah, she’s awesome.”
“She is,” Kate agrees softly. “She’s a very kind person.”
“Have you talked to her lately?” Warren asks, then holds up a hand when Kate looks suspicious. “You just look like you could use a talk, and Max is a good listener.”
“Max has enough to deal with, she doesn’t need me and my problems.”
Her words are bitter again, and Warren, surprised he had even gotten where he was in the first place, starts to flounder. “No, no. I’m sure she’d—”
“No, I don’t need to. I’m fine. Nobody needs to listen to me.” And then she turns away from him and she’s gone, and, even when Warren calls her name a beat too late, she doesn’t look back. Warren’s heart falls straight into his stomach.
He tries to tell Max to talk to Kate, but Max tells him she’d tried, and Kate wouldn’t give.
You need to keep trying, he texts her. Because she’s in class and she’s hard to get ahold of otherwise. Chloe’s going to show up soon, and Warren knows it’ll only get harder from there.
I will, she assures him, and Warren decides to trust her. It’s the most he can do for this part of the scenario, because he didn’t know where else to go or what else to do for Kate, and he wasn’t even sure if she’d cooperate if he took it further.
He doesn’t touch Nathan and his issues. The guy’s a jerk and punching him feels so much better than talking to him, so Warren decides to let Nathan handle Nathan until it’s Warren’s time to save Max when she needs him. He does, however, suddenly notice more about Nathan’s whereabouts as time passes, much like he does everyone else.
Nathan’s not at the Vortex Club party just before the storm comes, and Warren doesn’t see him at the diner, either. He doesn’t know where he goes, but Warren knows Nathan isn’t saved from the storm, because no one is. There’s no possible way anyone could survive what they had coming, not that Warren could think of. Nathan suffers the same fate they all did, just as he deserved. Nathan, at least, got what he had coming to him in the end.
Even death? a small voice whispers in the back of Warren’s mind, and memories of the fight that will come, the one where Warren will punch the shit out of Nathan and let himself go alpha on his ass, deliver the beat down he’s wanted to give Nathan since he first started to pick on Warren and his friends, echo in his mind. But it’s not enough to justify the death Warren had just previously thought was Nathan’s justice. Nathan was fucked up, but maybe death wasn’t really the answer to that.
Not death, he responds to the whisper, and then realizes how crazy that makes him feel. Wasn’t that a symptom of psychosis?
Was he just going insane?
God, what was happening to him?
Kate still falls.
Warren’s attempts at helping her had failed.
There’s no surprise that follows the third time he sees it happening—it’s one of the only memories from the nightmare that is ingrained in his brain like a movie, one of the only ones he remembers so clearly, he could recall it perfectly if he needed to. Because nothing about it changes.
He still holds Alyssa; she still trembles in fear and horror at what happens. He still hears Max’s scream through the rain, like he was up there with her and not looking up at the way she clutches the edge of the building Kate just stepped from.
He doesn’t look away this time, even as Kate’s body hits the ground, though he can’t see the actual impact from where he stands. Because that’s something different from the nightmare. That’s something he hasn’t done before, and he craves different. He craves breaks from cyclical hell he’s living through, as small as they may be when they happen, because it keeps him grounded and keeps him alert.
He still beats up Nathan when he pulls the gun out on Max and Chloe, still makes sure he’s whimpering and hurt and regretting his decision. But this time, instead getting to his feet and walking away when Nathan curls up into a ball on the floor of the dorms crying for mercy, Warren drops to his knees, stops the punches, and makes Nathan look him in the eyes.
“Look, you megalomaniac piece of shit,” Warren insists when Nathan refuses, his hands covering his face and his repetitive murmur of “I’m sorry” continuing. Slowly, it stops, and Nathan realizes Warren isn’t going to leave. He looks at Warren sluggishly, his hands curling by his bloodied chin, and his eyes are blazing with anger and hurt and things Warren couldn’t name if he tried.
This is what crazy looks like, Warren thinks.
“Why?” Warren asks him, not because he really wants to know, but because he now wonders if he shouldn’t have been questioning everything that happened in his reoccurring nightmare. If that was why he kept living it—like in the movies when something was wrong and the main character had to figure it out to break the cycle—because he wasn’t finding the ending he needed in order to live. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because,” Nathan whispers scathingly after glaring at Warren with those blazing eyes long enough to give him chills, and a tear rolls down the side of his bloodied face, “Nothing else matters, and I don’t know what to do.”
The storm comes, and Warren knows he messed up. He follows the steps he had taken previously, because now he’s afraid of breaking them so close to the end when the outcome was so obviously the same. He’s sent to the diner with the others like he always is, and he stands in the same spot he always does, and waits for Max. He waits for Max, and he waits for his end, and he prays, this time, he’ll get to go back and do everything again. Do everything right. Figure out how to fix the things he keeps doing wrong.
Max comes, Max explains, and Warren gives her the picture she asked him for, and then she’s gone. She’s gone for good, like she always is. And Warren doesn’t stop her. He never does.
The train howls as it hits, and this time Warren finds himself staring at a man with a dog, sitting in Warren’s favorite booth, just before he’s knocked from his feet and the numb darkness engulfs him.
When Warren wakes up, he’s crying, and he only needs to glance at the calendar to confirm the date he already knows it is. He doesn’t startle when a thump echoes from down the hall—maybe physics wasn’t always exactly the same each time, or maybe small inconsistencies didn’t matter, as long as the end result was the same—nor does he think about it for longer than a moment. The difference doesn’t comfort him. It’s not enough. It won’t save him; he needs something bigger. Something of a catalyst. He needs more.
He needs information. He needs to start digging.
Careful digging—he didn’t want to change things yet, not until he was sure he’d survive—but digging all the same.
With this resolution manifesting in his mind, Warren wipes his eyes with his sleeve and pulls himself from the bed … and then does something different.
Without bothering to change his wardrobe despite the cold sweat he once again woke up in, Warren leaves his room and knocks on the door opposite his own—Nathan’s.
When Nathan opens the door, his hair is sleep-ruffled and his eyes squint at Warren, the annoyance plain on his face. “The fuck do you want, nerd?” he asks, voice coarse and low.
Warren doesn’t answer him. Angered by the silence, Nathan throws his door open wider and grabs the front of Warren’s shirt, “Hey, shithead, I asked you—ugh,” Nathan grimaces, dropping the shirt immediately and looking at his hand like it had been scalded. “Gross, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Do you have a gun in there, Nathan?” Warren asks quietly, like he’s asking if Nathan knows what temperature it is outside. Nathan’s head whips up, suspicion deep in his expression. Fear flashes in his eyes, just for a moment. Warren’s caught him off guard and at a moment when he maybe shouldn’t have, not with the way Nathan spooks so immediately to the question, but it’s too late to back down now. Warren needed information, and he needed it as soon as possible.
“What?” Nathan gasps out, suspicion growing as he regains his verbal footing.
“I asked if you—”
“Get the fuck away from me,” Nathan spits, but Warren can see he’s panicking. Warren stumbles when Nathan’s hand shoots out and pushes him away, and then the door is slammed in his face. Warren clutches his chest where he’d been shoved, staring at the closed door.
That wasn’t quite what he’d been expecting to get, but it was more than he thought would happen. Maybe there was something to Nathan … or maybe Warren was overthinking this.
“Hey, Graham, watch out!” Warren only has a moment to react to Trevor’s warning before a football nails him in the head, sending him flat on his back and knocking the air from his lungs in one fell swoop.
Well, Warren thinks as he chokes for air on the floor of his dormitory, at least this is different.
“You look like hell,” Max remarks a few hours later, accepting the flash drive from Warren when he holds it out for her.
“Yeah, getting hit in the head with a pig-skinned rocket will do that to a guy.”
Max laughs. “At least they got in trouble for it.”
“Yeah, no kidding. Wells was furious. We’re not supposed to play with that shit inside, but no one ever listens.” Warren sighs, his fingers gently probing his skull where the ball had made contact. “I’m going to have a headache for days.”
Max pats his arm soothingly, and Warren decides maybe the trauma was worth it.
“Hey, why’s Prickscott giving you the stink-eye?”
Warren looks, and sure enough, Nathan’s leaning against the lockers down the hall and glaring daggers at Warren.
Warren shrugs. “I think I cut in front of him this morning for the sinks. He’s probably holding a grudge.”
Max rolls his eyes. “Guy needs a chill pill.”
Nathan’s eyes flash in Warren’s mind, boiling with fury and regret. “Needs a whole lot more pills than that,” Warren mutters, his gaze straying over to Nathan again, and Max gives him a curious look.
“Do I want to know?”
Warren shakes his head. “Nah. Don’t worry about it.”
But Nathan’s wariness of Warren follows him, and Warren’s startled to realize that one comment was enough to change so much. It’s enough that Nathan pauses before initiating the head-butt in the parking lot two weeks later, and that allows Warren to prepare and lessen the blow when it comes. He doesn’t dodge it, unsure of what kind of beat-down Nathan would unleash if he did, but it hurts far less this time when it happens. So do the punches that follow, like Nathan’s uncertainty has him holding back for a reason Warren can’t think of.
Nathan isn’t the only one acting different, though. Warren knows he is, too, and Max questions him about it one of the days before Chloe makes her grand entrance and Nathan slams his skull into Warren’s with that small hesitation added in. He tries to brush it off, fake it as a lack of sleep or sudden illness, but she doesn’t buy it even once. Warren wonders later if it’s because her time powers have started up by this point—he had never asked when they’d started, exactly—and they’ve caused her to be suspicious of everything and everyone, but by the time Chloe shows up, Warren’s strangeness is pushed to the side, and she doesn’t ask him again.
He doesn’t let that get to him, because he doesn’t want to tell anyone about what’s going on, and lying to Max just hurts him.
With the worry of everyday mysteries now no longer a part of Warren’s daily life—he’s lived through all of this three times now, and even if he still can’t remember every little detail, he gets the gist of it all—he starts noticing things he didn’t before. Things about Max, about Kate and Victoria and even people like Hayden, and he starts asking questions.
He asks lots of questions, mostly to himself.
He doesn’t do anything too crazy—Kate’s suicide never becomes a topic when he talks to her and tries to get her to talk to someone who can help (she doesn’t, she still kills herself); Max’s time-travel shit is never hinted on from her directly, even though he knows she has them at some point (because she’s sloppy and she says things he knows he didn’t say, but he plays it off and doesn’t let her know he knows)—because he’s too afraid of messing everything up. Not with how Nathan acted when Warren mentioned the gun. He wants to break the cycle, but he doesn’t want to die when it ends.
He has a feeling that the thing causing all this to happen is the fact Max can’t stop the tornado, but he’s not sure enough to do something that could cause it to end, permanently, with the death of everyone in the bay.
He hates how confused it makes him. He hates his uneasiness and fear and uncertainty about everything. This was too far from the way the movies made it look like it should be; there was no path he knew to follow, no guidelines to help him find out what decisions were the right ones. He had nothing but his own gut feeling and memory of past events, and he wasn’t sure enough in either to let them lead his every move.
Nothing really changes. He gets some answers, but more questions arise with each one, and he can’t seem to get anywhere no matter what he does.
That is, until he asks the right question. Or, at least, what he thinks is the right question.
“Asks” being a more metaphorical sense, since Warren more stumbles upon what he didn’t realize he needed than actually manages to intentionally do something himself to find it.
But, really, he was taking what boons he could gather, even if they were pretty purely accidental.
When the storm comes this time, Warren doesn’t stay at the diner with the others. He’s ushered there like always, but once the medical supplies are gathered and Joyce is distracted with helping everyone, he slips around the barricades to the front of the diner and out the door, knowing it was too late now to stop anything anyway. He leaves the picture he knows Max needs on the bar where she’ll find it, but he doesn’t wait for her. He’d been good about following the steps up until this point, but now the end was certainly coming, and he wanted to break the cycle that was driving him insane just before he potentially lived it all over again.
While he’s outside, he can’t hear himself think. He can barely see though the raging winds and the pouring rain, and he’s nearly knocked onto his ass when someone barrels past him in a blind panic. It turns him around, he’s pretty sure, but he can’t do anything about it. Not when he can’t see. So, instead, he pushes on, whittling what little time he has left.
The wind picks up further, making his ears pop and his nose run, his eyes water and sting where he can’t protect them with his arm. When he stumbles across a car that’s unlocked, he throws himself in it, knowing that he can’t keep walking or he’ll be blown away. The wind wails around him, and he knows he doesn’t have much longer before the town gets ripped apart.
“Fuck,” Warren whispers, pressing his wet head back against the headrest. He still didn’t know what he was doing wrong—if he even still was. Maybe this really was the end this time. He’d only know when it was all over. All he could do now was wait.
Warren looks around the car to distract himself and finds a cell phone on the flat of the center console. A cell phone that … looks familiar. Frowning, he picks it up, then realizes with surprise that it’s Max’s phone. How the hell did this get here? Max didn’t have a car, and this wasn’t Chloe’s car.
Did she drive here with someone? Why did she leave her phone behind?
Well, he’d never know now. Maybe she does it in every line, and maybe Warren can remember to ask her, but he doesn’t think he will. It’s not that important.
Warren unlocks Max’s phone, typing in the code he knows she always uses, and aims to play some music to help the time pass along, but hesitates when the lock screen opens to her voicemails. The most recent one is from a number he doesn’t know; one Max hadn’t bothered to name. He plays it and puts it on speaker, ignoring the niggling feeling of guilt that rises at the invasion of her privacy, because someone talking would be more comforting than music. He only hopes it’s a message from someone nice, and not some telemarketer or an angry Chloe. That would suck to die to.
The last thing Warren expects, though, is for Nathan’s voice to be rising through the speaker.
Max it’s … it’s Nathan.
Warren stares at the phone. Why the hell was Nathan calling Max? To cuss her out? Tell her she’s a dead woman walking for letting Warren beat him up? Threaten her, despite the fact they were all going to die anyway?
With Nathan, nothing really seemed impossible.
I just wanted to say … I’m sorry.
Except … that.
Oh, no. Oh no, come on. Nathan is an asshole, Nathan is a chaotic evil piece of crap spawned from the unholy earth itself. He probably had Klingons for cousins. He was not apologizing. This wasn’t happening.
But it was. And Warren couldn’t handle the surprise. He couldn’t handle the fact Nathan sounded sincere.
I didn’t want to hurt Kate or Rachel, or … didn’t want to hurt anybody.
Kate. Had Kate killed herself because of Nathan? Warren knew about the video from the party, but was that Nathan’s doing? Nathan had taken part in the ridicule that followed, was that what he meant? And Rachel, what? Rachel had gone missing months ago, she was connected to Chloe, not …
… Was she?
“Nothing else matters, and I don’t know what to do,” Nathan had said, covered in his own blood and curled up on the floor in a ball. He’d sounded sincere and broken then, behind his anger and his pain and his regret, and he sounded sincere now. He sounded sincere and broken and lost … and nothing else. The fierce, hateful anger that seemed so ingrained in everything he did was there before is gone, and now there’s only pain.
Everybody … used me.
“Shit,” Warren hisses. Outside, pieces of debris have started to fly directly into the car. Something heavy thumps against the door, nearly drowning out the sound of Nathan’s voice.
Mr. Jefferson … is coming for me now.
All this shit will be over soon .
Wait a minute, what?
Watch out Max … he wants to hurt you next.
Suddenly, Warren can’t think. Had he heard the message wrong?
Mr. Jefferson? Their teacher, Mr. Jefferson?
The message ends and the train hits before Warren can pull himself back from his bewilderment, and this time he wakes unable to breathe.
This time, Warren spends the whole morning in his room. He doesn’t do more than sit up in bed and hold his head for a long time, replaying the final moments of his most recent nightmare, because he can’t think past what he’s learned.
This isn’t right, he thinks. This can’t be right.
Mr. Jefferson? Used Nathan for something? A teacher, a Blackwell Academy teacher, was using a student to … to do what?
Nathan had killed Rachel. Right? And Kate? How involved had he been in Kate’s suicide?
How the hell was Mr. Jefferson involved in this?
How the hell was Max involved in this?!
“What the fuck is going on?” he whispers into his hands, because nothing makes sense anymore. He’d thought he’d been on the right track to things, but now everything has been scattered right before his eyes, and he’s not sure what to do about it.
Warren doesn’t know how long he spends sitting on his bed, trying to make sense of everything, but it’s long enough for his phone to ring with a call from Max, asking him where he’s been.
“Woke up nauseous,” he answers, and it’s not a total lie. He’d dry-heaved a few times over the side of his bed the moment he’d gotten his breath back after waking up, sick with horror. He still didn’t feel right, but something tells him he wasn’t going to feel right again for a long time.
“Oh no, is there something going around the school? That’s just shit-tastic.”
“I might have just eaten something bad.” Or heard something bad.
“Do you want me to bring something by? Meds or something?”
Warren hesitates, because he doesn’t know if he’s ready for anything after what he’s learned, but then realizes he’s going to have to live this again, and this time he’s going to get answers.
“Yeah, that’d be great,” he agrees. Then, “Hey, uh, what do you know about Mr. Jefferson?”
Max pauses. “Is that a trick question?” she asks, suspicious. “He’s the reason I applied here. I know, like, everything about him.”
“No, like,” Warren holds his head with his free hand, don’t ask her if he’s a serial killer, “anything bad about him? At all?”
Max’s confusion is palpable through the phone. “Noooo?” she replies slowly. “Why would the school hire him if he had a bad record?”
“Good point,” Warren mumbles.
“Jeez, looking for a reason to get him kicked out of Blackwell?” Max asks, and her tone is only slightly suspicious under the amusement.
“What, no, I just think all teachers have a dark side, you know?”
“Psh, yeah, and Ms. Grant is secretly a stripper by night.”
“Oh, yuck, did not need that picture invading my mind space.”
“You’re welcome,” Max says cheerily, then hangs up on him, and Warren stares at his phone before sighing and setting it aside.
Max wasn’t involved in whatever was going on yet. And he wasn’t about to go asking Nathan or Chloe (was Chloe involved? She had to be, if Rachel was) for information, because that could only end badly. His only option was Max.
And that meant waiting for Max to have the information he needed.
With another heavy sigh, Warren finally pulls himself from his bed. It was going to be a long three-ish weeks, but, this time, he was going to dig. He was done fucking around.
The wait is hard. The inability to dig up his own information was harder—though that didn’t stop him from continually trying where he could, as few opportunities as those were. He still couldn’t change much, too worried about ruining everything and ending on his own death, but information was something he could try to gather, as long as he was sneaky about it.
And yet, even where he looked, he couldn’t find anything. Jefferson had a record squeakier than his own, which only confused Warren further and further into how Mr. Jefferson could have a part in this. He had to have, why else would Nathan have mentioned him so specifically in the voicemail to Max? There wasn’t another Mark Jefferson around (Warren checked), so it had to be him.
The hardest thing was trying to stay normal during it all. Warren did most things the same—he still messed with the options here and there, but the same result always came about regardless—but, with all the questions and confusion swirling around in his brain, not to mention the fact this was the … fourth? time he’d lived this, he wasn’t up to his usual spirit. And Max, being the friend that she was, unquestionably noticed. At least for a few days.
“What’s up, Dr. Graham?” Max asks one afternoon, sliding onto the stool next to him in the science lab. Warren looks up from his notes—his shorthand is getting better, at least, when he can remember exactly what it is he needs to write down for his classes (why couldn’t he have had any tests during this span of time?)—and musters up a dopey grin.
“Science!” he exclaims, but this time he doesn’t reach for the chemicals. His mind is elsewhere, he shouldn’t be messing with things when he can’t focus.
Max smiles back, but she doesn’t look convinced. “You’ve been a space case lately, what’s going on?”
“Got a lot stored in this big brain,” Warren says slyly, tapping his forehead with his pen. “Things are happening.”
Max rolls her eyes. “Okay, Big-Brain, what’s been occupying your lobes lately?”
Warren opens his mouth, ready to spew forward a chunk of nerdy gobbledygook to get her off his trail, when he decides maybe he shouldn’t lie so much. He really hated lying to Max, and having to do it over and over about more and more things just made this whole situation worse. “I’m worried about Kate,” he says instead.
“Kate?” Max repeats, surprised, then nods. “I’ve been worried, too. She’s really been down lately. I asked her if she wanted to go out for tea later, but she told me no.”
It had started, whatever had happened to Kate. Was happening to her. The party had been during the past weekend—when the incident had occurred. Warren wanted to stop her himself, but he was an outlier. Nothing more than a spectator during the incident, and if he changed it, would that end it all? He’s almost sure this … time loop, Warren thinks it is, isn’t directly connected to Kate (though not solely Mr. Jefferson or the storm either … he thinks), but he’s not positive. Does he risk it? Would they still die if he did?
“Maybe you should keep trying to,” Warren suggests. “I saw her crying the other day, I’m getting really worried.”
He hadn’t actually, that had been one of the other times, but he didn’t think it was necessary to be that explicit. It had probably still happened, Warren just wasn’t there to see it this time.
Max nods slowly. “Yeah, you know, I think I’ll go visit her room in a bit. Maybe she wants to do something else. I still need to give her book back anyway. Couldn’t find it this morning.”
“Cool.” Warren grins, genuine this time. “Tell her I said hi.”
“Will do,” she says, sliding off her seat. “Talk to you later, dude.”
“Later,” Warren says, and watches her leave the room, hoping that time will pass faster so he can figure this all out sooner.
Warren should have known. He should have known.
A single action can change things. It just has to be the right action, and he doesn’t necessarily have to be the one to execute it.
He should have figured this out sooner. Maybe Kate could have been spared her death more than once if he had.
“Oh my god,” Warren whispers. Alyssa looks up and shrieks in his ear. Warren can’t believe his eyes. He can’t breathe from the shock of guilt that spikes up his throat as he watches Kate fall … into Max’s arms and out of view.
She didn’t die.
Kate didn’t kill herself.
It was different this time.
Cheers erupt from the crowd around them as Kate is helped from the roof and to the safety of the bottom floor, her arms around Max and Max holding her with an iron grip. Max’s face is pale, her freckles stark against her skin, and she looks like she can’t believe what she just did. She looks at Warren as they pass him, but Warren can’t erase the shock on his own face.
He can’t believe it was different this time.
He should have figured this out sooner.
Kate was alive. For the first time, Kate was alive.
He doesn’t question Kate when he visits her in the hospital. He doesn’t want that to be the reason he sees her. He’s not even sure she can help, because word is she was talking to Mr. Jefferson before she made the choice to climb the dorms. Something tells Warren she wouldn’t have done that if he had been responsible for what happened to her.
Which leaves Nathan as the culprit. Warren really didn’t expect anything else.
His visit with Kate is nice, and he leaves feeling a little more hopeful about the whole situation he was stuck in than he ever had previously. He doesn’t think this means the loop is fixed—it wouldn’t have lasted to the touch-down of the cyclone if it had been about Kate—but it’s still nice to know he can help save her the next time he goes through this.
Which makes Warren feel like he’s been punched in the gut, the idea of having to go through it all yet again. He needs to keep digging, to keep looking for all the information he can find, to end whatever it is the universe is trying to get him to finish.
It might be the only way out of this hell.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t hit the jackpot until the very end. Like he had initially thought, Max was the fountain of information, and she’s far more involved with Mr. Jefferson than he had realized, even after hearing Nathan’s message.
Max is startled when Warren refuses to hand the picture over, asking first for a load of material he’s worried he won’t be able to get in time, but something like understanding crosses her face, and she tells him everything without asking anything of him in return. Finally, finally, things start to fall into place.
Mr. Jefferson is a serial killer.
Mr. Jefferson is manipulating Nathan.
Mr. Jefferson is planning on framing Nathan for Rachel’s death and Chloe’s death and Victoria’s death. Or, was, but Warren doesn’t correct Max when she reaches that point. She doesn’t need to know what she won’t remember when everything loops again.
Mr. Jefferson is behind it all, and Max had only just found this information out before he had killed Chloe and taken her … somewhere. A dark room? Max stumbles over herself, but there’s a distinct howling starting up outside the diner, so Warren pushes her to continue, telling her the detail didn’t matter, and she moves on.
Warren’s head spins with the information Max feeds him. He feels sick, furious, and irrational. He feels alpha, and he feels angry.
Rachel is dead. Chloe is dead. Nathan was manipulated and used and is probably dead, if the message he had left Max was any indication.
Mr. Jefferson needed to be caught, is what Warren gets from all of it. Before anything can happen. Before Nathan can be used to the point of breaking and Max and Chloe can be tricked into their own fates, before Kate can be pushed to the edge and over. He couldn’t save Rachel—his loop reset after she was already gone—but he could save the others. Warren could catch Mr. Jefferson and turn him in to the police.
Maybe that would fix the world. Maybe that would save Warren from this hell he couldn’t escape.
All he needs is the evidence. And he knows where he needs to start.
When the train comes this time, Warren doesn’t even flinch.
When Warren wakes up, it’s in the same cloud of the adrenaline he left the last loop in, and he’s left the rational part of his brain behind in the nightmare. He knows he has, somewhere in the back of his mind, behind the haze of rage and renewed determination, because he’s launching himself from his bed and tearing out his door to pound on Nathan’s forcefully, ignoring he way the hallway goes silent as all its occupants stare at him.
Nathan doesn’t even look at who’s at his door before yelling, “What the hell is wrong with—”
Warren cuts him off by pushing his way in, kicking the door shut behind him, and grabbing Nathan by the shoulders to keep him from having the chance to turn away.
Nathan is so caught off guard that he complies easily when Warren pulls him where he wants him, blinking rapidly even in the low light, his expression uncomprehending.
“You were framed,” Warren gasps, digging his fingers into Nathan’s shoulders with urgency. He’s definitely gone crazy now. He feels crazy. He probably looks it, too, if the way Nathan was still blinking at him was any indication.
Nathan stops blinking and stares at Warren for a beat, lost, and then, like a switch being flipped, he’s back to himself and he’s shoving Warren off of him. “Freak!” he spits furiously, looming over Warren where he falls from the shove. Nathan curls his hands into fists and raises one, the fight evident in his eyes. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! I’m gonna fucking murder—”
“Jefferson!” Warren yelps. His breathing is erratic and he’s panicking. There’s no room for rational thought, and there never was. Not this time. It was all instinct and adrenaline for this scenario to operate on. Nathan starts at the name and freezes, gawking, and Warren takes the opening. “Jefferson framed you!”
Pure fear breaks across Nathan’s expression before he closes it off in fuming anger. His mouth works and his eyes blink, but he doesn’t say anything, and he falls into a wariness Warren has never seen in him before. Warren picks himself up off the ground slowly, carefully, and Nathan stumbles away from him.
“How—How the fuck do you know about Jefferson?” he asks, sounding more terrified than he looks. Faking the aggression overlaying the fear in an attempt to scare him off, Warren thinks.
I just wanted to say … I’m sorry.
“I know about everything,” Warren rushes out, even though that’s not really the truth. There’s so much he’s still missing and so much he still doesn’t know, but he had to get Nathan on his side. Nathan was the easiest route to Jefferson, and Nathan would know the most. He needed Nathan for this. “I know about Rachel and Jefferson and the drugs and Kate—”
“Kate?” Nathan shakes his head in confusion, and Warren suddenly notices Nathan’s hand is trembling from where it’s still fisted by his side. It clicks something like confusion in his brain, because why would Nathan have a reaction like this? Who really was Jefferson to him? “I didn’t do shit to Kate! I only—I didn’t mean to hurt Rachel, I didn’t!”
Right, Warren thinks, and his heart plummets straight into his stomach as he realizes his mistake. The Vortex party hadn’t happened yet. Kate was still safe. Nathan hadn’t done anything to her, not yet.
Shit, Warren! You did not just waste an entire three goddamn weeks just to fuck it up on the first day back around!
“You didn’t,” Warren insists. He takes a step closer to Nathan, but Nathan backs up again. “Jefferson framed you, that’s what I was trying to tell you.”
“What the fuck are you—”
“Listen,” Warren hisses angrily, cutting Nathan off easily. Surprise flashes across Nathan’s features at his transformation, and Warren can’t blame him. He’s not who he was before. To Nathan, he’s not who he even was yesterday. “You think you overdosed Rachel, but you were drugged, too, weren’t you?” Warren asks. Nathan slowly nods his head after a beat, and Warren pushes on. “Right, so you don’t even know if you did. But framing you for this would be the perfect start.” Warren turns around, looking for bottles. He spots them on a far desk and maneuvers around to them.
“Hey—” Nathan protests.
“Have you been taking these?” Warren asks sharply, holding up one of the prescription bottles. He doesn’t wait for an answer. “You haven’t, have you? He’s been telling you to cut them, because then he has more reason to get everyone to blame you. There are more victims planned—Kate, Chloe, Victoria, hell, he’s even planning on killing you!”
Nathan is stunned. His eyes stare unblinkingly at Warren and his mouth remains open, despite the lack of words coming from it. “How do you—”
“That’s not important! Who cares how I know!” Warren sets the bottle down harder than he means to, but he’s already pushing himself back across the room, and the sharp noise of it hitting the surface of the desk barely registers at all. Nathan backs away from him until his back collides with some sort of fancy furniture Warren can’t name, but Warren closes in until he’s caging Nathan in his own room. Nathan looks back at him with a mixture of fear and confusion, telling him that Nathan thought Warren had gone crazy.
He has gone crazy.
He has gone alpha.
He’s no better than Nathan now. No better than the scare tactics and the wild heat and the ruthless aggression Nathan was known for.
But he is, isn’t he? He has to be.
This wasn’t him.
“Something terrible is going to happen,” Warren whispers, low and urgently. “Everyone is going to die unless we can figure out what’s going on. You need to stop listening to Mr. Jefferson before he plays you to your death. Something is happening, and Mr. Jefferson is a part of it, and you need to stop listening to him.”
Nathan doesn’t say anything. Nathan doesn’t move, his wide eyes staring unblinkingly at Warren like he’s just waiting for Warren to come back from his psychotic breakdown. It’s Warren who moves first, slowly backing away, but even then Nathan doesn’t pull himself away from the furniture he’d been confined against. He watches Warren like he’s an escaped caged animal and Nathan’s the handler that didn’t sign up for this. Something lodges in Warren’s throat, and Warren ignores the fact it’s a sob and shoves it back down.
“Please,” he says softly, his hands loose fists at his hips. The anger has left him, suddenly and draining, and now he’s just scared of reliving the loop again. Scared he had just messed everything up, and now he had a month of hell before he could go back and try all over again. “It’s going to happen again.”
But Nathan still doesn’t react. And Warren doesn’t know what to do. He waits.
And he waits.
But he can’t force Nathan to react, to say something. Warren handled this wrong, and now he might have to wait to do it all over again. If he even could do it again. If what he’s just done didn’t completely ruin it all.
The word snaps in Warren’s brain, and for a moment he feels utterly unhinged.
“FUCK!” Warren curses loudly, turning away from Nathan and towards the door. He thinks about just leaving and dealing with what he’s done, but a crash behind him has him turning back around again. One of Nathan’s lights is knocked over and Nathan is facing him, pointing a shaking gun at his face.
Dammit, Warren thinks almost nonchalantly. He had forgotten about that.
“Sit the fuck down,” Nathan starts, gesturing to the couch with a nod, his voice wavering, “and tell me everything.”
Warren tells him everything.
Everything. Pretty much.
He spares no details aside from Max’s specific powers, and it’s not just because there’s a gun pointed at his face. Halfway through, the gun is lowered, because Nathan’s hands start trembling too hard to hold it, but Warren still doesn’t skip anything. Why would he? If he’s messed up, why not push it further? Did Warren really have anything to lose anymore?
You could die permanently, the voice whispers, but Warren knows it’s far too late to worry about that anymore.
It feels like a weight the size of The Blob is lifted off his chest as he speaks, and he doesn’t stop until he’s told Nathan all he can.
When he reaches the end, he lapses into silence and waits for Nathan to react.
For a long time, he doesn’t. He stands there and shivers, muttering something to himself. It sounds like arguing, the times when it’s loud enough for Warren to hear.
Then, he laughs in a huffy, almost relieved sort of way. Warren can’t suppress the look he gives Nathan, because what the fuck? Laughing might have been expected, but not that kind of a laugh. Mocking was more up Prescott’s alley, so what the hell was this?
“I thought I was psycho,” Nathan mutters. He’s not looking at Warren, but it’s clear he’s in disbelief. The relief, wherever it’s coming from, is tangible.
Warren clears his throat. “Uh, you are. You’re medicated for it.”
Nathan’s eyes flick up to Warren and he glares. “No, asshole. The fucking storm. I saw it.”
Warren startles at this information, his mouth dropping open. Max, him, and now Nathan? What the hell was going on? “You saw it? How?”
“Like, visions, or hallucinations or something. It’s a big fucking twister, right? Bigger than any you’ve ever heard of?”
“And you’ve seen it? In your hallucinations?”
“I don’t know if they’re hallucinations, all right?” Nathan says callously. “I mean, I thought they were; I’ve got a pretty fucked up brain, but now I’m not sure.”
“But you’ve seen them,” Warren insists, and the nod Nathan gives him is firm. He looks almost … happy about it. Has no one ever validated anything for Nathan before? Told him that not everything happening in his head wasn’t real, wasn’t a figment of his fucked-up imagination? Given him some reason to think it wasn’t all about his mental illness?
Told him that there was more to him than the pills he took and the person he was when he didn’t?
Maybe that’s how Jefferson got such a strong hold on him. Maybe that’s what Jefferson had done for him.
“When did you start to see them?” Warren asks, pressing a hand to his forehead to quell his thoughts for a moment.
Nathan hesitates, then sits down heavily on the table, his hands in fists in his lap. “When Jefferson first arrived at Blackwell.”
Jefferson. It had to be him, why else would all of this be happening now? He was the catalyst. He was the reason all of this was happening.
“Jefferson is the loop,” Warren mumbles to himself, like saying it aloud would make it true.
A silence lapses around them. Warren doesn’t notice it, too lost in his own thoughts again, until Nathan speaks up. “What are we going to do?”
Warren looks at him. Nathan looks hollow, the dark circles under his eyes stark against his pale skin and the hair that curls messily across his forehead. He’s skinnier without his jacket on, Warren notices offhandedly. He wonders how much presence Mr. Jefferson has in Nathan’s life right now, but thinks it can’t be much, not with the guilt of Rachel still plaguing him. Not yet. That manifests over the next few weeks, when Nathan is convinced to take another victim—Kate. Maybe Warren is at just the right time to change that.
“You believe me?” Warren asks, warily, because this was Nathan Prescott. Everything was a struggle with Nathan Prescott. “Everything I said?”
Nathan looks at Warren a long time, then shrugs. “If I’m batshit, then you’re even worse. Either this is really going to happen or we’re both going down this crazy rabbit hole together. I can’t win either way, but at least this way I’m not at risk of being framed. You’re too much of a pussy to pull that shit.”
Together, he said. It’s the word that snags in Warren’s mind. Together.
Warren only blinks. It seems to make Nathan uncomfortable, because he squirms after a second, scowling. “What? What’s the fucking look for?”
“It’s just—That was way easier than I ever thought it would be. It’s not like we’re friends, so I expected more of … a fight, I guess.” Lashing out, maybe. Screaming. A physical fight of some sort. Rejection. Complete, utter rejection.
Warren received none of that.
“I’ve got brain problems, I’m not a fucking idiot. You know things no one should know, you’ve seen things I’ve seen, and if you’re saying Jefferson is going to ruin me then maybe you’re right.” Nathan huffs, then picks up the gun he’d set down before. Warren’s heart jumps for a second before he realizes Nathan’s just putting it away.
“You should get rid of that,” Warren says once it’s gone. “Pretty easy to frame a guy who has a gun.”
Nathan looks at Warren curiously. As he does, his neck tenses, then his shoulder twitches. Warren wonders what meds he’s on, and if that’s a side-effect. Warren’s seen him do it before. “Nerd’s got good ideas,” he remarks.
“Comes with the title.”
“So, we have to get Jefferson arrested, right?” he states once he’s settled back on the table across from Warren’s position on the couch. “Won’t that get me in trouble, too?”
Warren doesn’t answer immediately, and Nathan’s face freezes up. “Forget it, then,” he hisses. “No fucking way, I can’t get in trouble for this. My dad would kill me, bet he wouldn’t even break me out of jail for that one. I’d be ruined.”
“Whoa, whoa, hold on.” Warren holds his hands up. “Chillax. Jesus. You were a victim, dude. You fucked up, big time, but you didn’t kill anyone. He’s the serial killer here, and serial killers can manipulate people. He manipulated you. Pulled a bunch of fancy mind tricks to get you to bow to him. You’re lucky I got here before you took it too far.”
“And I do take it too far,” Nathan asks. He doesn’t look at Warren. He knows what he’s capable of, and suddenly Warren wonders if maybe that scares him and that’s another reason he’s so willing to go through with this with such little information to go on. He’s scared of what else he could do if he’s already done this under Mr. Jefferson’s thumb.
“Yeah,” Warren confirms. “He had a really good handle on you, you did everything he wanted you to.”
“He hurts Victoria?”
“She’s … next on the list, yeah. I don’t know how far he got, but she was a target.”
“Fuck,” Nathan murmurs. “Okay, need to stop listening to that bastard, immediately. Need to remember he’s lying about—about …” Nathan trails off, his lips pressed in a line. Warren doesn’t know what it is Mr. Jefferson told Nathan to keep him in his hold so well, but it worked. Nathan would have to fight that.
“Just remember, you didn’t kill Rachel. He did, but he blamed it on you.”
“You have evidence of that?”
“No,” Warren admits, “but I bet he does.”
“How are we going to get any of it?”
“I’ll tell you how. Perfect plan.” Warren grins. “You, my dude, are going to be a double agent. No—A Charlie’s Angel! Break out the leather cat suits, you’ve got some prowling to d—!”
Warren cuts himself off to lurch sideways on the couch, just barely missing the punch Nathan throws at his face.
For the first time since Warren figured out how to save Kate, things start to go differently.
Not a little differently, like they had before. Vastly differently. Whole events are skipped, new ones are put in their place, and, now, Warren doesn’t see everything coming. The first day, the day Warren talked to Nathan, goes much the same, with Warren scrambling out of Nathan’s room to find the hallways of the dorm barren and both him and Nathan twenty minutes late to their first class. But then things start to shift. Just a little, at first.
Nathan continues to be an ass to Warren, but he tones it down. Despite his initial reaction to it, Nathan seems to take his double-agent status seriously, though Warren still can’t quite fathom why. Maybe the fact he legitimized something Nathan had thought was a product of his mind was all Nathan needed to trust someone, which … would have been impossible otherwise, right? So maybe that makes sense.
Yeah, Nathan continues to be an ass, but at least he’s nicer about it. Being an ass was just in his nature, Warren decides.
Now, Warren notices Nathan walking near him, a few steps behind, sometimes in front of, as Warren walks around Blackwell with Max to and from their classes. Notices him cutting Victoria off when she goes to make a comment about Warren’s shirt, notices him ignoring Mr. Jefferson when he calls him from down the hall.
All in a single day. And the days that follow are the same, even to the point of Nathan nodding at him in acknowledgement when it was just the two of them crossing paths.
Once again, Warren can’t understand exactly what is going on, but this time, at least, it’s in his favor.
He seriously hopes he’s making the right decisions, because he did not want to go through that morning all over again.
Nathan stops Warren during one of his breaks, catching him alone just outside of the Academy and hustling him around the side of the building before Warren has a chance to even protest it.
“Jeez, dude,” Warren complains, brushing his shirt where it had been crumpled in Nathan’s fist. “You could have just asked me to move.”
“Yeah, right, because I’d do that normally.” Nathan makes a face. “Victoria’s over there, I don’t want her to get suspicious about the fact I’m suddenly being buddy-buddy with Nerdgasm.”
“Would that really be such a shock?” Warren asks, and Nathan gives him a look. Okay, yeah, it would. Fine.
“Stay in your dorm tonight,” Nathan tells Warren curtly. Warren frowns at him.
“Like I was going to do anything else? There aren’t any movies on tonight that I haven’t already seen. It’s me and a hefty amount of scouring around for Jefferson research tonight.” And maybe time-loop research, even though he could only study that in spurts before it started to get to him. And homework, though now he could get through that in a fourth the time he did previously, because the answers never changed and he knew all of it almost by heart at this point.
“Shh,” Nathan hisses, punching Warren in the shoulder harder than necessary. Warren grunts in pain, and Nathan glares at him. “Don’t be so obvious about it. Jefferson is everywhere. Call him ‘J’ or something.”
God, he was pushy. And paranoid. Warren rubs his smarting shoulder. “All right, fine. Whatever. Why do you want me in my dorm tonight? Is something happening?”
“I was going to go to the bar tonight,” Nathan says. His eyes flick around, even though there’s no one else there. “But I’m ditching that idea. I want you to tell me more about the storm.”
Warren frowns. “The bar? How would you even get in there? You’re, like, eighteen.”
“I’m nineteen,” Nathan responds, aggressively, because it’s like he only has two modes and aggressive is the one he’s in most of the time, “and I have connections. They’re shit at carding you at the one down by the pier.”
“Huh,” Warren says. Useless information for him, but interesting all the same.
“Come over to mine tonight. Nine o’clock.”
“Wait, what?” Warren blinks, caught off guard. “Why?”
“I just said, open your damn ears. I want to know more about the storm.”
“Wh—” Warren starts, but then shakes his head. “It’s a big-ass cyclone that destroys the whole bay. What more is there to say?”
Nathan looks disgruntled. “I want to know more about it.”
Because he thought it wasn’t real and it is? Warren wonders (man, he’s been doing a lot of wondering) what that must have been like, to have visions of incoming Armageddon and everyone telling him it was all in his head. Warren had proof the storm was coming, he didn’t need anyone telling him he was right. But Nathan didn’t have that. At least, he hadn’t until Warren.
Ugh. Why did the asshole have to be the seriously misunderstood one? He was still a massive dickhole.
“All right, fine,” Warren agrees. “Nine. Don’t expect a thesis on it, I never got to see it for what it was. Every time I get killed, I’m somewhere where I can’t see it coming.”
Nathan flinches over the word “killed”, but Warren ignores it.
“Whatthefuckever. Information is information, and I want it.”
Nathan doesn’t wait for Warren to respond, and Warren watches him stalk off to his next class, still wondering if this was the wrong decision.
Only one way to find out, he thinks.
Nathan is fascinated by the information Warren feeds him, and the night where Warren was only going to tell him more about the cyclone becomes the night where Warren spills all his theories and inconsistencies to Nathan’s surprisingly eager self.
It’s when he reaches the parts about Kate that Nathan suddenly switches back to aggression mode, and Warren realizes his mistake a beat too late.
“She’s saved in the last loop, the one I was just in, so I know how to save her if I need to,” Warren says hurriedly, even though he’s not completely sure that’s really true. He’s not completely sure about anything, but he has to go on what he can. Nathan doesn’t look comforted by this.
“I’m the one who does that to her, right?” He doesn’t look at Warren.
“I’m not sure, but, from what I was able to figure out, yeah.” That’s a lie. He’s more sure that Nathan’s behind Kate’s suicide than anything—because Nathan himself confessed it. Then again, he thought he’d killed Rachel, so who actually knew how much of a hand he really had in it in the first place. “You were a part of it,” he says truthfully. “I know that much.”
“Shit,” Nathan responds softly.
“You’re going to keep taking your meds, though, right?”
“Took ‘em after you left this morning,” Nathan says begrudgingly. “But you don’t get it. It’s not just that. He’s got this … way, or something. When he talked to me that first time and told me about his work, I thought …” Nathan trails off, his eyes closed shut and his lips crushed in a scowl. “And I still want to. I want to keep listening to him and doing what he does, it makes me feel … I don’t want to kill Kate,” he corrects hurriedly, looking at Warren just as Warren’s expression drops to one of horror. “Fuck, I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just … you don’t get it.”
Warren didn’t. He probably never would. But the important thing was that Nathan wasn’t going to follow the same footsteps he was going to before.
“He’s tricking you,” Warren reminds him. “He’s going to use you to get out clean so he can do it again somewhere else.”
Nathan glares at Warren. “How do I know you’re not tricking me, too?”
“Loop,” Warren replies simply. “What would be the point of tricking you if I’m after Mr. Jefferson? I need your help, I can’t do it alone. Besides,” Warren grins, “I’m too much of a pussy, remember?”
“Yeah,” Nathan agrees begrudgingly, slumped against the armrest of his couch. “That’s for damn sure.”
Nathan gets rid of the gun, thank god. Panders it off to some guy he says is named “Frank”, and Warren struggles to remember who the hell that is. He thinks he might know, but no face comes to the name when he tries to recall it.
Nothing really happens for the first two-ish weeks, because that’s the slow section of the loop, the weeks Warren wasn’t really understanding the presence of—at least, not before Nathan had become involved. Now, if he’s right in this, the slow weeks, the ones where he’s learning about Nathan and pow-wowing his theories against him, makes a lot more sense. He just hopes he’s right.
Nathan still talks to Jefferson, but he doesn’t go along with more of Jefferson’s schemes. It upsets Jefferson, but Nathan says he won’t do anything drastic. Not yet, anyway. They still have time.
“He thinks I’m still off my shit,” Nathan explains during another night of discussion. They don’t happen every night, because sometimes Nathan is out with Victoria and Warren is out with Max or Brooke, but there are more than a few times they converge and talk about some of the things Warren isn’t sure about or Nathan wants to know. Warren almost always does most of the talking, and they very rarely get anywhere new when they talk, but it eases something in Warren to be have someone to talk to in the first place, so he agrees every time Nathan shows up at his door or tells Warren to come by his. “Pretty sure he thinks he just has to be patient with me. Thinks I’ll snap and ruin everything, because I’m the psychotic fuckhead teetering on the precipice of a complete breakdown. One from more and,” Nathan mimes pointing a gun to his head and pulling the trigger, “gone goes the big buckaroons. And him with it. Shit!”
“Maybe you did this before,” Warren says, fiddling with the volume controls on his phone so he doesn’t have to watch Nathan miming his brains being blown out all over again, like the first performance hadn’t done the scene justice. “Tonight’s the Vortex party, the one where you … er, Kate—” Warren stops, struggling, then settles for a shrug.
“Where I really start this whole fucked-up cycle,” Nathan offers. He reaches behind himself and pulls out a long, oblong-shaped glass thing. A bong. Warren groans, regretting the fact he agreed to going to Nathan’s and didn’t insist on his own room. It wasn’t the first time this had happened.
“Dude, put that away. I don’t want to walk out of here smelling like that.”
“Fuck off, Gayram,” Nathan responds, but it’s not malicious. “You want me chill? You have to let me be chill.”
Warren scowls and makes a mental note to shower after he’s done. If he went to bed smelling like that, it’d take weeks for the smell to completely dissipate. “Anyway, the party. You’re still going?”
“Not going to fuck with Kate,” Nathan promises, lighting the glass thing with a lighter he pulls from the pocket of his jacket.
“Yeah, I know that. But can you, like, watch her? Or something? Not like a creep,” Warren says when Nathan raises an eyebrow at him. “Just make sure no one drugs her or puts her in a compromising position.”
“Compromising position?” God, he can sound sleazy when he wants to.
“Just do it, Prescott.” Warren coughs at smell of the air Nathan breathes into his face. “I’ll handle the rest when it comes to her.”
Nathan’s nonchalance over everything worries Warren, but, surprisingly, Nathan apparently does his job, because Kate comes out of the night looking just as happy as she had going in. Which wasn’t that happy—Kate must have been struggling with some depression before the incident—but it wasn’t the dark sadness she’d developed in the previous loops, the same encroaching sadness that was only pushed farther by the way she was treated when the incriminating video went viral. Warren would consider than a win, but he’s still going to keep an eye on her. Just in case.
Nathan, full of surprises as he’s turning out to be, does the same, just from more of a distance than Warren. If Warren hadn’t started paying as much attention to Nathan as he had, he never would have even noticed—but Nathan does, in his own small ways.
It’s weird, this person Nathan is turning out to be. It’s still Nathan, but not the Nathan Warren was used to. Or, maybe, just the Nathan Warren had never known.
The really weird things, though, start the week Warren is expecting Chloe to show up. The posters are still lining the halls, and new ones still show up frequently where old ones have been taken down, but, for some reason, Max doesn’t know what Warren’s talking about when he mentions Chloe in the parking lot the day he takes back his flash drive from her.
“Huh?” she says in confusion, giving Warren a smile that wasn’t filled with comprehension. She had no idea who he meant. “What are you talking about?”
“Blue-haired girl?” Warren repeats, his confusion at Max’s only growing. How did she not know? Didn’t Chloe show up around now? Before now? Was his timing off? Did he—Did he mess it all up? “You don’t know who I’m talking about?”
“No? I don’t know anyone with blue hair.” Max’s bemused smile drops into a frown, and she’s looking at him closely like she’s suddenly worried he’s sick. “Are you okay, Warren?”
No, Warren is not okay. This is not how it was supposed to go. He doesn’t understand what’s happened differently to cause Max to not meet—re-meet? —Chloe. Was it Nathan? Was it Kate?
How the hell was he supposed to figure this out if everything was changing now?
Warren hadn’t thought this all through. He hadn’t honestly thought he’d get this far.
This is not how it all was supposed to end.
“Warren?” Max snaps her fingers, and Warren blinks at her in surprise, pulled from his thoughts.
“Sorry,” he apologizes hastily, waving a hand as if he could dispel her confusion physically. “Brain things. I just … thought you’d know her.”
So, if Max didn’t know Chloe, and Nathan was on Warren’s side now—well, obviously Nathan wasn’t going to come and kick Warren’s ass over Max’s, so that was a perk, but Max wasn’t going to be saved by Chloe. Did that mean Chloe was out of danger from Mr. Jefferson? Or did it mean she was an open target now? Was he supposed to keep an eye on her now, like he was with Kate? Or was she safe to be left to her own devices?
God, this was all so fucking confusing.
“Dude, you are spaced-out right now.”
Warren grimaces and tries to look apologetic, which isn’t hard. “I’ve got a lot on my—”
“Hey!” A loud shout from across the parking lot cuts Warren off, and both he and Max turn towards the noise. Nathan’s standing some ways away from them with something crumpled in his fist, and he’s shaking it at someone concealed by a truck. Chloe’s truck, Warren recognizes suddenly, noting the less-than-pristine condition it’s in the second he really sets eyes on it.
Ah, well. Shit.
“Hey,” Nathan yells again. “You! Are you the one putting these up?”
“So what if I am?” A feminine voice responds, and a blue-haired head emerges from behind the car, stalking towards Nathan and his shaking fist. “The hell’s it to you, punk?”
“Oh, no,” Warren whispers. Max gives him an odd look, but Warren’s already scrabbling away, towards the two teenagers now yelling obscenities at each other.
“She was my friend, too, you bitch,” Nathan is spitting at Chloe just as Warren is closing in on him.
“Like hell she was! I don’t see you looking for her.” Chloe reaches out and rips the paper from Nathan’s grip. “No one in this shit town is looking for her! None of you care!”
“Nathan—” Warren tries but doesn’t get farther.
“They closed the case, you stupid shit!”
“Chloe—” Warren tries again.
“They’re all fucking morons, they shouldn’t have c—” Chloe stops short and turns to squint at Warren, immediately suspicious. “Who the hell are you? How do you know my name?”
“Chloe?!” Warren winces, and Chloe turns to look just behind him, where Max has approached and is now in shock over Chloe’s existence. Probably. Warren can’t actually see her. She sounds shocked.
And there’s that déjà vu. Not quite the same as it usually was, but Warren had wondered when it would show up again.
“You’re the blue-haired girl?” Max is asking incredulously just as Chloe is saying, “What are you doing here?”
Warren and Nathan, caught by the sidelines as the two girls talk over one another in haste to answer, just look at each other.
“No, what the hell?” Chloe pushes around Warren, and he stumbles out of the way. “You can’t just show up out of nowhere! You didn’t even tell me you were here! How long have you been here, Max?”
“I—about two months,” Max admits guiltily. “I didn’t—I wasn’t sure how too—I’m sorry, Chloe.”
“Sorry isn’t good enough,” Chloe says, obviously hurt and furious, and turns to stalk off. A split second later, Max is rushing forward to grab Chloe’s arm and yank her back.
“Chloe, look out!” she screams, just as a car skids past on a sharp turn, inches from where Chloe now stands, going way too fast for a parking lot.
Chloe stumbles back further, stunned, while Max stares down at her now-shaking hands in disbelief.
Ah, Warren thinks, so it begins.
“How did I,” Max whispers to herself just ask Chloe is echoing her, “How did you …? Holy shit, Max, you just saved my ass.”
Max looks up at her, still shaken, and gives her a slightly-hysterical laugh. “Forgive me?”
“Fuck no,” Chloe says instantly, but it’s clear the incident has shaken her, too. “But,” she amends immediately, “it’s a start. Jesus, assholes need to watch their speed.”
“No shit,” Nathan mutters. Warren starts—he’d forgotten Nathan was even here. But when Warren looks over at him, he’s frowning down at the poster of Rachel on the ground, so Warren decides now is not the time to disturb him.
Chloe ambles off again, more carefully this time, but not before putting her number in Max’s cell phone and promising to text the next day. Max is still not back to herself by the time Chloe is gone, and she keeps glancing down at her hands. And, then, it occurs to Warren that maybe another big change is needed, and he hopes he’s not pushing things too far with what he’s about to do next.
“You just did something,” Warren whispers to her, out of Nathan’s earshot, and she looks up at Warren with a startled expression. “To save Chloe, you did something.”
“I—How did you …?”
“Did you see it? The cyclone?” Warren asks a little louder, sparking Nathan’s interest. He looks up from his poster and watches Max and Warren. Max hesitates, her eyes glancing over in Nathan’s direction, then she nods.
“In Mr. Jefferson’s class this morning.”
Warren’s heart catches. There’s no way this was a coincidence. That settled it.
“Max,” Warren starts slowly, “we need to talk.”
It was time to tell Max the truth.
“Any particular reason Nathan’s here?” Max asks once they’re standing on the beach—one of the most secluded places they could think to go to that wasn’t the dorms. Warren didn’t want to chance being interrupted with everything he was about to lay down. He had actually planned for the bench up on one of the overlook pathways farther away, but Nathan had launched himself out of the bus and headed straight for the sand before either Max or Warren could say anything, so Warren decided to go along with it. It works all the same.
Nathan sticks his tongue out at Max, the pinnacle of maturity. “Shut the fuck up, Cockfield. I’m involved.”
Max looks to Warren, both her eyebrows raised, and Warren shrugs. “He speaks the truth.”
That only increases the severity of the dubious expression on Max’s face, so Warren decides to launch into the story—the same one he’d told Nathan, but with bits added in involving Max and her powers. At first, Nathan barely pays attention as Warren speaks, too busy drawing things in the sand with the toe of his shoe and looking out into the ocean, but when Warren hints on the parts where Max starts to get involved with more than just her normal abilities, Nathan switches his attention strictly to Warren. It was information he hadn’t been given before because Warren hadn’t thought it was necessary.
Max, despite her dazed expression, takes it all pretty well, and Warren is starting to wonder where this luck is coming from. Nathan handled it easier than Warren was expecting, which was a blessing in itself, but Max wasn’t having too much trouble accepting this, either. Was it really all just the fact they wanted relief from the strange things happening to them?
Maybe. Warren can’t say he’d be any different if the shoes were on his feet.
Then, she starts asking questions. Questions Nathan had not asked, and Warren starts to sweat. Questions about Chloe and Kate and things more directly related to her than to him. He didn’t remember every detail of his loops, and he didn’t ask all the questions he could have as he tried to make it through without interfering too much, so he doesn’t have all the answers she wants. This frustrates her some, but she doesn’t take it out on Warren. He promises himself that he’ll look into all the things he managed to miss if this didn’t work and he was thrown back to square one again, so that maybe he’d have more to give her the next time he has to do this.
Assuming he’s even thrown back again. Assuming he was wrong in all of this, and he was doing nothing now but making a big, big mistake.
God, he really hopes he isn’t. There are only so many times a person can handle having to relive the same month over and over again, and Warren could feel his sanity slowly unraveling more and more the longer he had to go through it all for the nth time.
The question of if he hadn’t already lost it completely was already up in the air, but he tried his best not to focus on that whenever it popped up in his mind. If he had truly lost it, he hadn’t accepted that yet, and he wouldn’t for as long as he could continue to operate without doing so.
Max glances at Nathan again, and he gives her a glare for her efforts. “And you’re sure Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Jefferson the teacher, is behind all this … bullshit you say is going to go down?”
“If I had any sliver of proof to give you right now, I’d give it, but all I have is my word. I swear, Max, I wouldn’t lie about any of this. I’m too scared of going through the loop again, I just want to stop it.”
Nathan’s eyes flicker to Warren. He doesn’t say anything, but the tips of Warren’s ears burn momentarily all the same at his confession and the attention Nathan gives him because of it. Max looks at Nathan once more, then sighs, throwing her hands up in a shrug.
“Okay. Well, if Nathan’s going to defend you so strongly, then I have to believe you, because I’m your friend and I should believe you when you tell me things. I trust you not to lie to me, and Nathan gives a pretty decent argument, creative swear words aside.”
Warren frowns and looks over at Nathan, who looks just as confused as Warren feels.
“The hell are you talking about, Caulfield? I didn’t defend shit.”
Max smirks and Warren feels his eyes roll. “You rewound,” he says. It’s not a question.
“I may have tested the boundaries of this power while also testing you. You passed, and your attack dog over there firmly believes in you.”
Nathan looks away, back to the ocean, but Warren can tell Max has embarrassed him. At least he doesn’t lash out over it.
“Good to know,” says Warren. “Anything else you want information on?”
“I think I’ve got it.” Eyes on Nathan’s back, Max steps forward and tilts her face up to Warren’s. Warren’s heart skips a beat or two before he realizes she’s just whispering to him over the wind. “And you’re positive he didn’t actually kill Rachel?”
“I don’t have the evidence, but if you heard him, you’d know it was killing him to think he did. I think Jefferson framed him for that, first, and was going to put the blame for the rest of it on him, too.”
“And that’s what I told you?”
“Yeah,” Warren confirms. “You were dead set on believing Jefferson did it all. You told me he killed Chloe, remember? You must have had a solid reason for accusing him of that.”
Max nods. “Okay. Then we have to stop him.”
“Hey, stop sucking face over there!”
Max and Warren pull apart, the former with a look of annoyance and the latter with a face that was steadily growing bright red. Nathan throws a handful of sand at them, but the wind catches it before it can reach them.
“We weren’t doing anything,” Warren mumbles, knowing Nathan can’t hear him. Max doesn’t need to know that Warren wishes they were. She already knows. Everyone already knows. If there was anything the constant loops had assured him of, it was that Warren’s crush was no secret to anyone. It, unfortunately, didn’t stop him from having it.
“Chloe would be a good place to start,” Max says, directing Warren’s attention back on her. Nathan’s back to staring at the ocean, too far away to hear them as he shuffles his feet through the sand towards it.
“I don’t know about that.” Chloe didn’t know Nathan was involved with Rachel’s death, and if she found out and ruined everything … well, it would just be better if Chloe had nothing to do with anything and was just kept safe from Jefferson.
“No, she would,” Max insists. “She’s David Madsen’s stepdaughter, right?” Warren frowns. Had he told her that? Or had she rewound and retained the information? “And Madsen’s the one who started gathering info on Jefferson first, right? So, Chloe can help. She lives with him, and she’s probably not afraid to break a few locks to get what she wants.”
Max has a point. It would be easier than the rest of them trying to convince Madsen to help them or breaking into the house themselves. “Okay, but absolutely no telling her about Nathan and Rachel. Not a word. She can’t know Nathan was directly involved in Rachel’s murder. Who knows what that could trigger.”
Max purses her lips, but seems to decide Warren’s on the right track, because she agrees. They know Chloe said she was going to text Max tomorrow, and, with that, it was where everything was going to begin.
And, hopefully, bring a start to the end of everything but Arcadia Bay.
“The fuck?” Nathan, closer to him than he’d realized, jerks Warren’s attention away. Warren turns to see what it is Nathan’s cursing about this time when a fleck of white catches his eye. More flecks follow before Warren has a chance to realize what the first one is, and then, suddenly, it clicks.
The snow. Warren had nearly forgotten that was supposed to start today; he’d been so wrapped up in everything else that had happened.
“Snowflakes?” Nathan continues, face upturned like he was questioning the sky for its meteorological error. “What the hell?”
“It’s, like, eighty degrees outside,” Max says in amazement, lifting her hands up to catch the snowflakes. “How is this possible?”
Nathan looks at Warren, mouth set in a grim line and dread clear on his face. He understands what it means, and he understands what was to come. Warren can only shake his head solemnly as the warning sign falls around them, horror and panic kindling a cold fire in his chest.
The storm was coming, and time was now a race.
The next day, Warren wakes up obnoxiously early. He assumes it’s because he went to bed early the night before, worn out from discussing the snow with an astonishingly demanding Nathan (who might not have fully believed Warren prior to the snow, but certainly believed him entirely now), but he’s still surprised to see weak rays of morning light filtering through his blinds when he first opens his eyes instead of the full blast of sunshine he usually witnessed first thing in the morning.
It’s strange, how quiet the halls are when everyone’s still asleep. It’s a still sort of silence that Warren thinks the halls of the dead might sound like. Warren rubs his eyes for a moment, enjoying the strangely calming of the quiet, then slides out of bed.
He knows neither Max nor Nathan will be up this early (or, if Nathan is, he’s busy doing something else instead of bothering Warren), so he settles for planning out the day ahead, wondering how much will be the same now that he’s royally jacked everything up. For fun, he tries to come up with different scenarios of what could happen, but they quickly start to pull on his anxiety about the fact he was still doing everything wrong, so he stops before he gets very far in the endeavor and instead tries picking at the past, where he can’t mess up because his loop either remained the same in the aspect or just didn’t stretch that far back.
He loses track of time, caught up in his own mind and the notebook he uses to scribble out ideas and memories and bits from the previous loops in order to better understand them, and the next thing he knows the sun is streaming into his room and voices are echoing outside his door. Warren looks up from his writing, eyes unfocused, then realizes someone’s knocking—erratically, almost a pounding—on his door. Two guesses who.
It’s Nathan, surprise, already fully dressed and looking annoyed at the day ahead. He doesn’t bother with a greeting, just pushes his way in without waiting for Warren to get out of the way.
“Hey!” Warren protests. Nathan ignores him, dropping down on Warren’s bed and leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. Irritated, Warren shuts his door. “You don’t own this room, dude.”
“I own the whole damn building, Gayram,” Nathan corrects him. Right. They were the Prescott dorms. Stupid accusation.
“What do you want? I have to get dressed.”
“The eclipse is today, right?” Warren looks at Nathan in surprise, pausing in his quest for a suitable outfit to take from his closet. Nathan really did pay attention when Warren had relayed everything that first morning, because he hadn’t talked about the eclipse at length since he first mentioned it almost in passing. “Tell me what happens. The whole day,” Nathan demands when Warren nods the affirmative.
Warren, after glancing at his calendar, then hesitates for too long, and Nathan catches on after a moment. “Oh,” he says quietly. “It’s D-Day today, isn’t it?”
Warren frowns in confusion. “D-Day? No one’s getting invaded.”
“Is that what that means? I meant D for Death. As in Kate’s.”
“Wow. You are one insensitive prick, Prescott.”
“Whatever.” Nathan shifts, leaning back on his arms as Warren pulls jeans and a shirt from his closet, then hunts for clean boxers in his drawers. He needed to do laundry. “Nothing happened at the party, so she’s not going to crack and jump this time, right?”
That was the plan, but the uneasy feeling the day brings doesn’t go away despite the reassurance that there was no video in existence to humiliate Kate.
“Maybe I’ll send Max a text to talk to her or something, just in case.” Warren sets the clothes down next to Nathan on the bed and grabs his phone off his desk, typing out a message in his usual short-hand to Max.
Check up on Kate today? Warren texts. Max responds within the minute.
Deffo. Chloe wants breakfast first, but I’ll check her up before I go to class.
Good, Warren thinks, setting his phone down again. That’ll be a relief. Now just have to keep someone out of—
“Do you actually think this is a good outfit to wear or do you aspire to be a tragic clown every damn day of your life?” Nathan says waspishly, holding up the shirt Warren had decided on. It was a good shirt, it had the Tri-force symbol integrated with the Deathly Hallows and a Lightsaber. He liked that shirt. Warren rips it out of Nathan’s grip, which only makes him laugh.
“Fuck off, Nathan. And get out so I can get dressed.”
Nathan smirks—the only warning Warren gets before he realizes Nathan’s coming to his own conclusions. “Ooh, homoliscious vibes from Gayram, huh? Afraid I’ll swing the other way just by watching you? Dream on, fag.”
Warren’s face heats up from Nathan’s taunts. They were empty, even Nathan was fully aware of how much of a crush Warren had on Max, but it was still annoying.
Nathan’s laughs echo out the hallway as he leaves. Warren throws his pants at the door after it closes, just for good measure.
The day, thank god, goes on without a single interruption. Warren hears back from Max throughout the day, telling him that Chloe was completely up for sneaking around on her step-dad despite not even knowing all the details Max was planning on giving her and that Kate was a little down, but no more than usual, and she was going to have tea with her later. Chloe possibly in-tow. It was good enough for Warren, and that fear that the day had carried finally faded away.
Nathan spends his mostly with Victoria, and Warren is left to his own devices. He uses the time to do the same thing he’d done that morning: scheme. It gets him nowhere new, but he feels better about himself each time he does it, because at least if he didn’t last through this loop, he was starting to catch on to more inconsistencies and connected similarities than he ever had before. For all he knew, that could end up meaning the difference between a failed loop and a saved one … if there even was such a thing as the latter. But Warren chose not to focus on that. Not today.
His classes go slow—they go slower each time he has to relive them, which is increasingly annoying—but at least they’re not being interrupted, and then cut short, with a student’s potential death. Small blessings amounted for a lot in this hellhole. A big blessing, like Kate’s survival was, just renewed hope in Warren that he was maybe doing the right thing.
A text from Nathan comes in near the end of the day as Warren is getting out of his final class, telling Warren to meet him on the west side of campus. Warren asks him why, but he doesn’t end up responding.
Turns out, though, Warren probably should have worried about that a little more than he did, because Nathan’s holding himself and leaning against the wall when Warren finds him, looking nervous and restless. He stands up when he sees Warren and shakes his hand by his side, like he was trying to release built-up energy.
“J is getting annoying,” Nathan tells Warren before he can say anything.
“J?” Warren repeats in confusion, then it clicks. “Oh, shit. Right. Codenames. What is he doing?”
“I don’t know, he’s just—he pushes me, and then he—he tells me things, things I want to hear, and I just.” Nathan breaks off and scrubs a hand across his face. He emanates a jittery nervousness that grinds on Warren’s newly-found anxiety, and Warren has to breathe slowly to counteract the feeling Nathan’s movements gives him. “I fucking hate how he does this to me. He’s going to screw me over! I keep telling him no, but he’s starting to not take it. I think he’s planning something soon, but I don’t know what. He won’t share any of the details when I’m backing off like this.”
Warren chews on his thumbnail, directing his attention away from Nathan’s person for a moment. “By now the shitball has started to tumble, but that was because of you. Maybe it’s meant to start anyway. We need to work fast.”
“What if—” Nathan slumps back against the wall, his arms crossed and his head down, leg jiggling against the bricks. For some reason, that specific motion spikes Warren’s anxiety in a way none of the other tics did, but he does his best to ignore it. “What if he decides I’m not worth it and tries to kill me? That’s a thing he’d do?”
Warren grimaces. Nathan had a point. Jefferson was fully capable of simply offing Nathan and making it look like he merely disappeared or ran off, like he’d done with Rachel. Warren’s sure Nathan has enough issues with his family for that to seem like a conceivable thing.
But Warren wasn’t going to accept that.
Reaching out, Warren grabs Nathan’s shoulder and squeezes, only feeling a little awkward at the way Nathan jumps and then stares at Warren like he’s some sort of alien and the touch was an offering of impregnation to save his clan from— Stop it, Warren. “There’s no fucking way we’re going to let him get you, dude,” Warren promises, pushing away the derailment. “It’s not going to happen. I swear. I didn’t fuck up this entire loop just to let you still fall to Jefferson’s devices.”
Nathan blinks slowly and, for once, doesn’t seem to have a retort for Warren. Warren nods in what he hopes is a reassuring way, squeezes Nathan’s shoulder one more time, then lets go and takes a step back. Nathan looks away, lips pressed so tightly in a line that they disappeared altogether.
“We’ll figure something out, okay?” Warren’s phone goes off before Nathan can give a response, if he had one at all, and Warren starts digging around in his bag for it. It’s Max, no surprise. Warren has to smother a laugh when he reads what she’s sent, which causes Nathan to look up curiously.
“Chloe’s making the tea session Max set up with Kate into an interesting affair. I think she regrets her rash decision. I guess it’s too late to rewind.”
“She would,” Nathan mutters loud enough for Warren to hear. “Fucking dyke.”
“Dude, can you not?” Warren shoves his phone away in annoyance, his previous mood gone. Why did Nathan have to be like this? “She’s helping us big time. Who actually gives a shit if she liked Rachel? You did, too.”
“Everyone liked Rachel. That doesn’t mean Price deserved to love her.”
Warren sighs, bringing a hand up to his forehead. Sometimes, being a teenager with other teenagers that had typical teenage problems was more exasperating to deal with than dying several times over. “Here’s a clue, man. You don’t always get to pick who you fall in love with. Leave her alone about it. So she cared about Rachel. She still does. We’re using that to our advantage right now and picking fights with her and calling her names isn’t helping the cause.”
“Guess you would know, wouldn’t you,” Nathan says. It’s without his usual venom, but it still pings a spark of aggravation in Warren. He resists the urge to throw the comment back in Nathan’s face. He was above that.
“Are we done here?” Warren asks, unable to keep his irritation out of his tone. “I’m going back to my room.”
“No, you’re not,” Nathan declares, pulling himself from the wall. He looks considerably less shaken than he did when Warren had first found him. “You’re coming with me to the diner.”
“No, I’m not,” Warren protests. “I want to go back to my room. I don’t feel like going out. I’m tired.”
“Too bad.” And before Warren can start walking away, Nathan grabs the strap of his bag and pulls, guiding Warren in the direction Nathan wanted him to go. Warren tries to protest, but his stomach grumbles at the mention of the Diner’s Belgian waffles, and it settles the argument before it can even really begin. Nathan wears a triumphant smirk the entire bus ride there.
Warren decides he doesn’t regret letting Nathan drag him to the Two Whales, because his waffle is delicious. He does, however, regret eating it with Nathan himself. Not because Nathan is nasty to the waitress, Joyce (surprisingly, he’s downright civil to her, and Warren thinks he might never see this side of Nathan in any other instance), but because Nathan decides eating together is the perfect excuse to ridicule Warren’s crush on Max.
“Everyone can tell she’s just leading you on,” Nathan says around his forkful of omelet. “Should start calling her ‘Max Cocktease’ instead.”
“Shut up, Nathan,” Warren mumbles, sawing his knife into his waffle. “Why do you have to bring that up as the conversation topic? I don’t give a crap what anyone thinks.”
“It’s an interesting subject. We all have to watch you fawn over her and follow her around like a drooling puppy, just for her to reject you completely. I bet she’s going to screw Chloe. You don’t play for her team, that’s the problem.”
“Fuck off. You don’t know that.” Warren spears a portion of his waffle and crams it into his mouth. It keeps him from being able to say more.
“I think I do.” Nathan leans forward, dropping the volume of his voice. “Price is the biggest dyke in the town, she’s probably all over Caulfield when we’re not around.”
Warren’s teeth gnash his waffle to mush and he swallows. He refuses to look at Nathan, but that doesn’t deter him at all. It’s clear he’s getting off on Warren’s reaction.
“I bet it’s hot,” Nathan continues, and Warren sorely wishes he still had the opportunity to beat the shit out of him at least once in this loop, but he knew it was unlikely. He was starting to miss the chance. Greatly. “Dykes do it best. Aside from me, of course.”
“Nathan,” Warren warns, but even he knows there’s no point.
“What? It’s good fantasy material. Man, even better, since you’re busy lusting over Cocktease anyway. Bet I can get some physical shit, if you’re willing to shell out.”
Nope, Warren’s had enough. He shoves the last bite of waffle in his mouth and digs out enough money to pay for it, then slams the bill down on the table and vacates it without looking at Nathan once. Nathan makes some sort of protest—which mostly consists of taunts and name-calling—but Warren ignores him and leaves the diner to stand at the bus stop, wishing he had pushed the argument they’d had over whose car to take instead of offering a compromise of the bus. He hopes it’ll come before Nathan emerges, but he has no such luck.
“What the fuck was that?” Nathan spits when he comes out of the diner a few minutes later, a bill—Warren’s money? —clutched in his hand. Warren doesn’t grace him with an answer, so Nathan shoves him and he stumbles. “Hey, I’m talking to you. Answer me.”
Warren glares at him, rubbing his arm where he’d been pushed. “Fuck off, Prescott.”
“No, you fuck off, Graham. What the hell is your problem?”
“What the hell is my problem? What the hell is your problem!” Warren throws his hands up incredulously. “Why the fuck can’t you just leave me alone?”
“Uh, because you dragged me into your time-loop bullshit!”
“You know that’s not what I mean.”
“Oh, I’m so fucking sorry, was it really too much to tell you the truth about your poor precious Max?”
“Yes!” Warren yells, louder than he’d risked before. The word punctuates the air like a slap. “Why is it so fucking wrong for me to have a crush on her? No one knows who she’s actually interested in! I like her, okay? I like her a lot! If she doesn’t like me, then fine! I can handle that! But you don’t need to rub it in my face.”
Nathan’s expression is one of fury, but he doesn’t say anything back. Warren presses both hands to his face and smothers a noise that he wants to make sure sounds nothing like the angry sob it was. Sometimes, things were just way too much. Like many others along the loops he’s had to live through, right now was one of those things and one of those times. He just wanted to go back to his room.
“I told you,” Warren says slowly, quietly, without removing his hands fully, “you can’t always help who you have feelings for.”
Nathan still doesn’t respond. After a moment, Warren hears the sound of shoes on pavement and knows Nathan has gone. When he drops his hands, he finds the money he’d left for the diner at his feet and realizes Nathan must have paid for his meal.
Despite everything that just happened, that makes him feel kind of bad.
The eclipse happens right on time, and Warren witnesses it alone. He knows Max is with Chloe and maybe Kate, but he has no idea where Nathan has gone off to. And, frankly, he doesn’t even care. With a flare of annoyance at himself, Warren realizes that, despite the ire he feels towards that absolute shithead right now, he trusts Nathan not to turn his back on him. Warren seriously hopes that it’s not misplaced, because he couldn’t afford that, but something in him keeps the trust firmly embedded and the worry at bay.
Warren stays outside, watching the sky, for far longer than the eclipse lasts. He only goes inside once it starts getting dark out, thinking about putting a random movie on and … doing something. More scheming, maybe. He did have Jefferson’s potential plan to add in, and that could take a while to get down on paper. Yeah, that would work for a start.
He doesn’t get as much down as he’d like before his phone is pinging with a text from Max about Chloe having Madsen’s keys into Blackwell. A second text pings in as he’s reading the first, telling him to meet them outside, and the rest of Warren’s night is decided. No way was he going to let them have all the fun.
Even if this kind of fun made him a little nervous.
Feeling like stealth was a good thing, Warren picks out his darkest clothes (which, really, is only a black shirt with a meme on it, as he doesn’t have another color of jeans besides blue) and changes before leaving his room. The idea of letting Nathan know what he’s about to do doesn’t even occur to him until the devil himself is coming out of the bathrooms, just as Warren’s passing them, and the realization that he probably should have said something hits him like a brick wall.
“Where are you sneaking off to?” Nathan calls out. Warren shushes him, using his hand to gesture him closer.
“Chloe got keys into Blackwell,” Warren whispers once Nathan’s closed the distance between them. “We’re going to do some digging around.”
“Without me? What the fuck, I want to go.”
Warren is about to protest that four people is too many, but Nathan’s already striding towards the doors before Warren can say anything, and Warren has to scramble to catch up with his surprisingly long gait.
“Where are they waiting?” Nathan asks once Warren’s caught up to him. “Outside?”
Warren doesn’t answer. He pushes past Nathan in the doorway instead, ignoring Nathan’s grunt of annoyance, and leads the way to where he knows Max and Chloe will be waiting—because there’s only one way from the dorms to the main building. Really, it wasn’t rocket science.
Sure enough, they’re right where Warren is expecting, chatting quietly about the eclipse that had happened earlier that day.
“It was some freaky shit,” Nathan chimes in once they’re close enough to catch full parts of the conversation.
“No kidding,” Max agrees, raising a hand in greeting. Chloe’s eyes narrow as she sizes up Nathan, and Warren prepares for the worst.
“Why’d you bring him?” Chloe asks, and not nicely.
“Because I’m a part of this,” Nathan replies venomously, stance shifting into a defensive one, like he was expecting Chloe to fight him.
“Doesn’t mean you needed to come this time.”
Nathan’s lips purse. “I can go to whatever I damn well please.”
“No,” Max cuts in just before Chloe gives a retort with her teeth set in a snarl-to-be, bringing her arm up between the two, “we’re not doing this right now. We don’t have time to waste on arguing, we have to get in and get out. This is our one chance, you can battle it out later. Right now? We’re in super stealth mode. Got it?”
Somehow, that mollifies them both (She rewound until something worked, Warren thinks to himself), but they manage an exchange of “Bitch” and “Prick” before Max ushers them towards the Academy, rolling her eyes in Warren’s direction. Warren decides he agrees with that and trails along behind her.
Getting into the building itself is the easy part. Getting into the Principal’s office? Not so much.
It takes some cursing, some searching (for both keys and pipe bomb materials once Warren suggests the latter), and finally some undetected time-rewinding before Max ends up opening the door for them—from inside the room. Warren decides to analyze that later and focuses on the task at hand, because they couldn’t spend all night on this, and he’d have plenty of time to once they’d recovered the information they were after.
Of course, everyone snoops in each other’s files. Comments are made from all parties on every single file they pull up, but eventually they find some things on Jefferson and any previous commentary is forgotten in the wake of excitement it brings. Warren volunteers to take pictures of what they find while Chloe goes to sit in Principal Wells’s fancy chair and click around on his computer. She doesn’t get very far before an envelope catches her eye and gains her attention fully. Max ends up having to talk her out of taking it, and the money in it, with no help from Warren. Or Nathan, who’s too busy snooping around Principal Wells’s cabinets to care about the money Chloe is trying to take. That is, until she mentions the Frank guy. Then the commentary starts, and Warren doesn’t understand any of it. He’s pretty sure Max doesn’t either by the looks she gives him as the two argue.
“Nathan,” Max says sternly after another unwanted comment leaves Nathan’s mouth, “if you don’t stop, I’m going to rewind this whole thing and make sure Warren doesn’t bring you along.”
Warren is pretty sure she can’t actually rewind that far back without serious consequences, if she even can at all, but he doesn’t say anything. It shuts Nathan up, though, which is fantastic. Warren wishes he had that kind of leverage to use himself, but all he has is a stupid fucking loop he can’t even really control.
Life sucked, sometimes.
Information gathered and door to the office shut behind them, Warren, Max, and Nathan start to head for the exit, only to find Chloe isn’t quite following them when they make it back to the front entrance. When they look back, she’s hesitating by the hallway that leads to the school’s pool, and she’s got a grin worthy of a shark on her face.
“How about a little splish-splash for all our hard work?” she sing-songs slyly.
“The pool?” says Max, frowning. “Chloe, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”
“Oh, come on, Max,” Chloe pleads, grabbing Max’s hand. When Warren looks away from the gesture, it’s decidedly not in Nathan’s direction. “We deserve a little fun! Just a quick dip in the pool. We’ll be out and gone before anyone even notices!”
Max worries her lip for a moment, then agrees despite Warren’s silent hopes she wouldn’t, and the two start off towards the changing rooms with a gleeful squeal courtesy of Chloe. Warren, unsure of what else to do, follows them. Nathan isn’t far behind, but Warren isn’t sure if that’s because he wants to go swimming, doesn’t want to be left out, or just wants to see what happens. Warren figures the latter of the three, but he’s been wrong before.
They find Chloe and Max stopped just outside the section of wall where you pick a gender, and both girls only spare Warren and Nathan a set of smirks before slipping into the boy’s side of the decision. Warren and Nathan glance at each other, then go for the girl’s without discussion.
It’s not much different than the boy’s—a little cleaner, maybe, and a little nicer-smelling, but not by a large amount. Locker rooms are locker rooms, no matter which side you’re changing on. This doesn’t seem to deter Nathan, who’s busy rifling through lockers that had not been locked properly.
“Do you have any concept of property?” Warren says drily, craning his neck to see around Nathan’s back as he pilfers what looks like a photo from one of the lockers.
“Do you have any concept of minding your own fucking business?” Nathan retorts, glancing over his shoulder at Warren. “This is Vic’s. She’s not going to bust my ass over a stupid picture.”
“Then why aren’t you just asking her for it?” Warren mutters, but Nathan only throws him a dark look before moving on. With a sigh, Warren leaves him to his own business. In the end, traversing the girl’s side ends up being way less exciting than Warren had been expecting, and he wanders onto the main pool area just as someone turns the pool lights on.
“Yes!” Chloe whoops, running to the side of the pool. Warren has to cover his eyes when she immediately starts stripping down without warning, embarrassment rushing up the back of his neck like a hot wave.
“Price, the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Nathan’s voice comes from behind Warren, from the entrance to the girl’s locker room.
“Uh, duh, can’t swim in jeans!” she replies. A splashing noise hits Warren’s ears a moment later and Warren takes that as a hint she’s in the water. “Come on! Don’t be such little pussies!”
Warren peeks through his fingers and, sure enough, Chloe’s down to her bra and underwear, neck-deep in the pool. Her clothes lie in a pile some ways away from the edge.
“What are you, five?” Nathan accuses as he pulls Warren’s hand away. “Oh, don’t tell me, you’ve never seen a girl naked before.”
“He’s only sixteen, Prickscott, give him a break,” Chloe shoots back. That makes Warren’s face heat up red-hot. He wasn’t a child.
Warren tries to tell himself it’s not to prove a point when he starts stripping down, too. Nathan backs up a step, eyebrows raised, and Chloe whistles as he goes until he’s only in his boxers and he’s throwing himself into the water.
“Fuck yeah!” she hoots when he breaks the surface and shakes the water from his face. “You’re next, Max, come on!”
Max, who apparently had been there the entire time Warren had been stripping, hesitates, glancing at Nathan and then Warren. Warren understands and swims in a circle until he’s not facing her.
“Prickscott,” Chloe calls, catching on, “turn around! Be a damn gentleman for once in your life!”
“She’s going to be just as naked once she’s in the pool, what’s the fucking difference?”
“The difference is: you’re a creep and no one wants a creep watching them undress!”
“Fuck you, Price!”
The argument stops there, replaced by more whistling from Chloe, so Warren assumes Nathan must have turned around. Which is … decent of him. Warren was still mad at him, though. A splash tells him Max has entered the pool, so he turns to greet her, trying his best not to look down in the water.
“Otter in the water!” Chloe announces, then splashes water in Max’s direction. Her aim is off, so it hits Warren mostly in the face instead of anywhere near Max. Warren splutters.
“Whoops, sorry, kid,” says Chloe, once she’s had a laugh. The term causes heat to return to Warren’s face.
“Hey, I’m not a kid. I’m only, like, two years younger than you guys.” Less than, if the months the loops had amounted for could be counted, but Warren was decidedly not thinking about that right now. If only for this moment, Warren doesn’t want to think about his problems at all.
Chloe snorts. “Two years is a jump when you’re a teenager.”
“I’m not a kid,” Warren insists.
“Let him go, Chloe,” Max says, and Chloe does with a knowing smirk, which Warren pointedly ignores. They all turn to look at Nathan, who’s still by the side of the pool and watching them, fully-clothed.
“Hurry it up, Prescott, we’re not getting any younger here.”
“Screw yourself,” Nathan hisses, crossing his arms across his chest. “I’m not getting naked with a bunch of homos in the water.”
“Oh, yeah, because we’re all just itching to rub ourselves all over your wet, exposed bod.” Chloe rolls her eyes, tipping herself to float on her back. “Okay. Whatever. Scared is scared, whatever you want to call it.”
It’s so juvenile that Warren is surprised it works. Nathan’s posture straightens.
“What did you just say?”
“That it’s too bad you’re scared to swim with a bunch of homos,” Chloe taunts, swimming lazily around Max and Warren as they tread water, their eyes flicking between Chloe and Nathan with apprehension. “Which, you know, if all three of us are gay, then only Warren would care that you’re naked.” She looks to Warren. “And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give a shit.”
He doesn’t, but Warren doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say anything, because Nathan’s taken the bait and is already pulling his clothes off and throwing them to the side. Living in a dorm with a shared shower room means Warren’s seen far too much of the male student body—in both definitions of the word combination—than he ever really cared to see. Nathan’s wasn’t going to be a big difference from all the others, so Warren didn’t really think much of it. And, as a bonus: he’d still have his underwear on.
Once he’s done, Nathan stalks to the pool’s edge with clear aggression and bends down to use the edge as leverage for his fluid jump in. He barely even splashes, and he bobs up to the surface with his brownish-blonde hair looking nearly the same wet and slicked back as it had dry.
“Lame,” Chloe comments, faking a yawn, then yelps when she’s splashed with a wide arc of water. “Oh, fuck no, you didn’t just.”
“I did,” Nathan replies cockily, and then the war begins.
At first, Warren and Max are just innocent bystanders, but this status doesn’t last long once they’re pelted by splashes from both ends of the pool as Nathan and Chloe take sides. Completely soaked, they join in the retaliation, and it’s not long before it’s unclear who’s where in the flying water that surrounds all of them. No one even notices when one source of the splashing suddenly stops, not until a shriek rings the air and a second source stops. With no targets aside from each other, Max and Warren stop, too, and find Nathan and Chloe wrestling under the water.
“And she called me the kid,” Warren mutters, watching them writhe in their underwater battle.
Max smiles at him. “They’re having fun, right? Or, you know. As much fun as two people who kind of hate each other’s guts can have.”
Warren glances at Max. “They’re not going to kill each other, right?”
Max’s smile droops, then turns into a frown. “Probably not.”
Nathan breaks the surface first, gasping and pushing wet hair out of his eyes, and Chloe bursts up a second later to do the same. Warren expects them to go at it again, but they only bob there, breathing heavily and exchanging glares. Nathan moves away first, kicking over to the side of the pool and hooking an arm on the edge.
“Have fun?” Max asks, and both Nathan and Chloe respond with an eye roll. They don’t see each other doing it, but Max and Warren do, and they both burst out laughing after exchanging a glance.
“What?” Chloe asks in confusion, but Max only waves her off.
They spend some time swimming around the water relatively peacefully after—there’s a splash here and there from various contributors, but that’s to be expected from a pool filled with teenagers—and talk about things unrelated to the mess they’ve all gotten themselves into. Hobbies, food, homework—extremely mundane things, but it makes Warren feel hauntingly normal and gives him a sense of peace he hasn’t felt since before his loops had begun. As expected, Nathan offers up the least amount of information out of the four of them, not so much engaging as he is spectating, but no one pushes him for more. When they start to get out and pull their clothes back on, they do so quietly and relatively calmly, though for a moment there’s a spike of tension when they realize their splash war had gotten at least one article of clothing per person wet. For Warren and Nathan both, it’s their jeans. For Warren, it’s also his shirt—but that would be his luck. It brings a sympathetic laugh from Chloe when she realizes, though, and they fall back to quiet as they continue getting dressed.
There’s a peace around them that Warren tries not to think of as a calm before the oncoming storm, not when he can enjoy it for what it was, for as long as he could.
That is, until a flashlight shines in through the window at the far side of the pool, and his stomach drops with panic.
Someone had ratted them out.
“Shit!” Chloe hisses just as Warren’s pulling his shoe on. “Security. Run!”
No one needs be told twice—they all bolt into the locker rooms and into different directions, and Warren focuses so hard on getting out of there without getting caught that he doesn’t realize he hasn’t seen anyone until he’s hiding in the bushes right outside the building and Nathan practically falls in next to him.
“Nathan!” Warren exclaims, louder than he means to. Nathan slaps a hand over his mouth in response.
“You’re a colossal idiot, you know that?” Nathan tells him harshly, only removing his hand when he’s sure Warren got the point. They both peek out of the foliage, and Warren tries to look for the two missing from their group.
“Fuck, where did they go?” Warren hisses, looking around from his crouched position through the leaves that surrounded them. He can’t see Chloe or Max anywhere, and he hopes they’re not still in the building. Getting out was the hard part, though staying hidden from the roving flashlights had not been the easiest thing Warren had ever done in his life.
“Who cares?!” Nathan responds callously. His eyes flick around the darkness wildly. “We’re surrounded! How the fuck are we going to get back?”
As if to answer Nathan’s question, a loud screech of tires echoes from the parking lot, and the guards rush to swarm the area. Seeing the opportunity, Warren jumps to his feet, yanking Nathan up in the process. “Let’s go!”
The scramble back to the dorms is harrowing, but the distraction is a good one, and they make it in just before another flashlight swings around the area. Once inside, they both pause in the hallway, breathing heavily. Warren clutches the front of his wet shirt as he gulps down air, adrenaline buzzing through him. Nathan is crouched, his hands on his knees, but when he looks up to peer at the door Warren can see from the way his eyes are widened that he feels the same rush Warren does.
“Holy shit,” Nathan offers, and Warren decides he has to agree with that statement wholeheartedly.
“I’m soaked,” Warren complains once he can breathe again. “I don’t want this shit anywhere near my room. It’ll stink to high heaven once it dries.”
Nathan cocks a brow in Warren’s direction. “Don’t even fucking think about it. I have things in my room worth more than your tuition. No one’s going in there wet.”
Warren waits for the sexual joke, but it never comes. Then, he has to give himself a physical pat on the back for accidentally making his own in his head. Nathan just gives him a weird look.
“The showers, then,” Warren offers. “To wash the chlorine out in the sinks.”
This seems to strike Nathan as a decent enough idea, because he stands up and starts to lead the way without comment. Warren follows, his shoes squelching grossly as he goes.
Once inside, they both start to strip again, quickly removing all the clothing that had come in contact with the pool water—or, almost all of it. Nathan glares at Warren in warning the moment his jeans are off, but Warren holds his hands up in defense once his clothes are stored in one of the sinks. “I’m not going there, calm down. Boxers are staying on.”
“Good,” Nathan replies gruffly, and flips the faucet on. Water starts running over his clothes, and he shoves his hands into the pile to help it along, like the background people Warren sometimes saw in video game villages that washed their clothing by hand. Warren follows suit, wondering idly if he can douse himself in the shower with his boxers still on to clean them of the chlorine they’re still completely sopping with.
He doesn’t get a chance to share this idea with Nathan, however, because the heavy sound of the entrance door shutting echoes down the hallway. Without missing a beat, Nathan throws his head in Warren’s direction in panic and lunges to shut the lights off, picking up his drenched clothes and moving to toss them up onto one of the shelves they reserved for cleaning supplies. They land with a wet slap, but they stay where they are, hidden from view. Before Warren can do the same, Nathan is doing it for him, then roughly grabbing his arm and shoving him into the shower stall farthest from the door.
“What are you doing?!” Warren whispers fiercely as Nathan pushes him father into the space just covered by the open shower curtain and crams in next, pressing his cold, wet shoulder right into Warren’s sternum painfully. Warren grunts in discomfort, which earns him a glare from Nathan. “They’re going to see us,” Warren protests, his voice just barely still a whisper.
“No,” Nathan says, and his voice is no louder than Warren’s. It’s nothing more than a breath. “Trust me.”
Like he has any other choice.
They enter the bathroom quietly, probably looking to catch the intruders—them, though they technically weren’t intruders anymore—unaware, but Warren can still hear the sound of their shoes tapping on the tiles of the bathroom floor. He can’t see shit, not with how dark it is, but the issue of Nathan’s head being right in his line of sight also poses a problem. Since when was Nathan taller than him? That’s definitely Nathan’s jawline Warren is eyeballing right now, which shouldn’t be possible if Nathan was Warren’s height, like Warren had originally thought.
Sure, the guy slouched, but Warren hadn’t thought it was that noticeable. Was it?
Suddenly, Nathan’s shoulder jerks into Warren’s chest, cutting off his train of thought completely, and Warren has to gulp down the alarmed noise of pain that threatens to emerge. Surprisingly, Nathan is looking at Warren when Warren opens his eyes again, and he mouths something slowly, just barely moving his lips. It almost … looks like an apology. Nathan hadn’t meant to jab Warren with his shoulder?
He twitches, Warren suddenly remembers. Warren had become so used to it that he’d forgotten. Warren inclines his head the tiniest of amounts, keeping his eyes on Nathan’s, to show he understands. He doesn’t know if Nathan understands in turn, but it’s the best he could do with the guards still prowling around.
Speaking of the guards … they either choose not to search the showers or they decide the fact that the curtains were technically open on all of them was enough to see everything inside, because the shower they’re in only lights up momentarily before the beam of the flashlight drags away, leaving Nathan and Warren, somehow, uncaught. The guards’ steps slowly recede, and then they, along with the sole source of light, are gone.
Still, Warren refuses to breathe. He’s pretty sure Nathan isn’t breathing, either, but it’s too dark to see much of anything. His eyes catch the dark holes that he knows are Nathan’s eyes, but neither of them move, even after the guards have been gone for what feels like a few minutes. From a distance, he hears the metallic click of the door being opened, and Warren’s lungs scream for air just as the sound of the door shutting again hits his ears.
Like a switch being flipped, they both burst from the shower, Warren grappling on Nathan’s arm as he fumbles for the light switch. Light floods the room, blinding them both, and Warren falls back with a cry. When he can see again, he finds Nathan clutching the sink and watching the door through squinted eyes, his knuckles going white around the porcelain rim and his chest heaving. Warren shakes where he stands, both from the additional adrenaline and from the cold, and his hands fly to his face. For a long moment, only the sound of their combined breathing fills the air between them.
“Oh my god,” Warren whispers after a long time has passed. His hair is nearly completely dry by this point, and it sticks to his face from the adhering effect of the dried chlorine. “How did that work?”
“The corner where the curtain is, that’s the most shadowed part of this shithole,” Nathan explains, still breathlessly, as he releases the sink and shakes his hands out. “You can’t see anything without light, and they would have had to shine their flashlights directly into the shower and around the curtain to see us, which they didn’t.” Nathan shakes his head, scrubbing a hand through his once-perfectly-styled hair and pushing it out of his eyes. “Fucking amateurs.”
Warren blinks at Nathan. Twice. Nathan doesn’t pay him any mind, too busy recovering the clothing piles from where they’d been hidden. “That was amazing,” Warren says, taking his wet clothes from Nathan as he pulls them down, before Nathan has the chance to drop them on the floor. “That was so cool!”
Nathan gives Warren an amused smirk, which is about as close as he ever got to outright smiling at Warren. It was acceptable, and Warren takes it as a small victory.
“How did you know about the shower corner thing?” Warren asks as he starts wringing the water from his jeans.
“You think this is the first time I’ve snuck back into this place?”
“Oh,” Warren replies meekly. “I guess I didn’t think about that.” He doesn’t ask where Nathan would go, because, really, he doesn’t want to know. Nathan is a big enough handful as it is. Warren only wanted to save his life, not be his keeper, and that was a fine line to tread. He’d stick his nose elsewhere, thanks.
After they’ve wrung as much of the water from their clothes as much as they could, they creep out the shower room door in their underwear quietly, neither of them wanting to get caught together in their state, guards or not, because the last thing they needed were those kinds of questions being raised. When they reach their respective doors, though, they hesitate; Warren with his hand on his door handle and Nathan with one bare foot already over the threshold of his, like he’d been about to enter and then thought better of the idea.
“Hey—” Warren starts, but is stopped immediately by Nathan speaking up.
“I’m sorry about what I said before,” Nathan says, almost in a rush, without looking up at Warren. Glaring at the door must make the action of apologizing easier, but Warren is too stunned it’s happening to even really notice. “It was fucked up of me to push you like that. Even if I’m right,” Nathan adds on, which jolts Warren from his surprise enough to scowl at Nathan. Nathan, finally glancing over at Warren, only shakes his head once. “You should find someone who will give you the time of day. You can’t do that if you’re always drooling over Max.”
And then Nathan is absconding into his room before Warren has a chance to realize what Nathan’s telling him, leaving Warren outside his own door in relative confusion. That was beyond unexpected from Nathan, but … it wasn’t like he was wrong, which Warren thinks might be the worst part of it.
Sure, Warren still wasn’t sure what kind of romantic intentions Max had towards anyone, but he knew it would be stupid to forever pine over her. He was only sixteen, though. He had a long time to change.
Besides, he still wasn’t positive she had no feelings to speak of for him. She always agreed to go to the movies with him in the past loops. Well, most of them, anyway. That had to count for something, didn’t it?
With a sigh, Warren pushes open his bedroom door and decides to call it a night. He could start thinking again in the morning.
Warren runs into Nathan yet again as he’s leaving one of the showers the next morning, but, really, but this point he’s so used to it that he doesn’t really think about it. Nathan, though, looks surprised to see him, like he had forgotten Warren also went to bed covered in chlorine the night before. They don’t exchange words, because Hayden and Daniel are present, even if they’re not paying attention, but when Nathan bumps his shoulder into Warren’s in what looks like an aggressive way as he passes, the blow is much gentler than expected. Warren takes that as a sign they’re still on good terms, and that Nathan wasn’t going to turn around and bite Warren’s head off.
Well, not immediately, anyway. There was no telling the future with Nathan. But, for now, it worked okay for Warren.
When he gets back to his room, he finds a response from Max to the text he’d sent her the night before, after she’d told him she and Chloe had escaped safely and were hiding out in Chloe’s house.
Tell me what you plan on getting up to, he’d sent her, hoping she’d keep him in the loop.
Snooping! she’d replied, then, Gotta see what Madsen’s got on Jefferson. He’s anal about this shit.
Good, Warren thinks. Maybe that’ll make things a little easier for him.
He gets a text from Nathan while he’s getting dressed, telling him to haul ass over to Nathan’s room, ASAP. Warren does.
“Man, they get to do all the cool shit,” Nathan complains once Warren’s settled on his couch and relayed Max’s texts.
“You just snooped around last night,” Warren points out.
“Yeah, and it was great. I want to do it again.”
Warren scrubs a hand down his face with a sigh. “You literally ask for trouble at every turn.”
“It’s what makes me who I am,” Nathan says, and Warren’s surprised to notice he can tell Nathan doesn’t believe that. Nathan’s eyes stray towards his dresser, where he keeps all his pill bottles, and Warren struggles not to follow the gaze.
I don’t know what else to do.
Warren jumps when the memory slams into him, Nathan’s voice, gruff from crying, sounding in his ears.
Right. Today was the day he normally beat the shit out of Nathan.
“Jesus,” Nathan says, bringing Warren back into reality. He realizes he’s staring at Nathan, and now Nathan’s looking at him apprehensively, misunderstanding the situation. “You just whitened five shades. I’m not going to do shit, I keep telling you that.”
“No,” Warren replies hastily, shaking his head. “I know. I don’t know what came over me. I know you’re not going to do anything, I’m fine.”
Just remembering what it felt like when the skin of your cheek split under my knuckles, is all, Warren thinks and grimaces. Nathan doesn’t look convinced. He doesn’t push, though, and Warren is thankful for that.
They discuss Jefferson and look over the pictures Warren took of the files, of which he’d made sure to send Max and Chloe’s way, puzzling over the black marks and strange sections on some of Jefferson’s pages. There was nothing to convict him, but it was weird how some things tried to fit together—because they just didn’t. It was like parts were made up and slotted in, but didn’t have enough truth in them to work. Warren doesn’t know enough about systems to know how this was possible, but he’s pretty sure whatever happened here wasn’t legal.
Nathan paces ruts into his carpet as they shoot theories between them, back and forth and around the table, then to his bed and back to the couch. Warren is able to tolerate it for a while, but eventually he has to reach out and snag the sleeve of Nathan’s jacket to get him to stop.
“You’re making me jittery by doing that,” Warren complains. Nathan scowls at him, yanking his arm out of Warren’s grip. “Sit the fuck down, at least for a minute. I need a break from your pacing.”
Nathan mutters something demeaning, but drops onto the couch all the same. Before they can get back to discussing, though, Nathan’s phone starts to ring, and the look he gives Warren before he answers it tells Warren it’s Jefferson. Warren holds his breath.
“What? … Now? But I’m busy. With … Victoria is there? Why is Victoria there? … Ugh, alright, fine. Whatever. Hold your fucking shit, I’ll be there in a second.” And then he hangs up. “I gotta split,” Nathan gruffs, like Warren hadn’t been able to come to that conclusion himself. “Something about a project for Victoria, she wants my input. I want you back here when I’m done, ya hear?”
Warren makes a show of sighing and rolling his eyes. “Aye, Captain Doucheshit. Just text me or something. I won’t stray far.”
Nathan doesn’t offer a response, and Warren doesn’t realize until later, when Nathan’s knocking on his door a little more frantically than usual hours after he’d first left, that it was because he was worried. About Victoria. Warren barely even turns the handle before Nathan’s bursting into the room and slamming the door shut behind him.
“He’s going to go after her,” he says in a rush. He’s right up in Warren’s face, clutching Warren’s shoulders, eyes wild with panic. Warren doesn’t have the quick reflexes needed to realize Nathan is way too close before he’s already pushing Warren away. “I went to the Room after, Victoria was still talking with Jefferson about some bullshit project and he wasn’t going to get out of that fast, so I decided to jump on the chance,” Nathan rushes out before Warren even thinks to make a noise of confusion or question. “I think—I’m pretty fucking sure he’s going after Victoria. He’s got all this shit—the binders he uses and new drugs and I saw him talking to her today before I came in.” Nathan groans in frustration and grips his head. “I can’t let that shitlord get her. I can’t. Victoria is too important. She’s not worth this!”
“Nathan,” Warren finally says, reaching out to grab Nathan’s elbow. “Nathan, holy shit, calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” Nathan spits back, whipping around hard enough to jostle Warren’s grip away. “Victoria is in danger! Because I refused to listen to Jefferson’s crackshit demands!”
“Freaking out isn’t going to save her,” Warren says as calmly as he can manage with his heart thundering in his ears. He watches as Nathan furiously paces around Warren’s room, his nerves jangling with the movement. They were so close to the end, this couldn’t happen now. “Calm down so we can think of a plan,” Warren pushes, turning to face Nathan each time he passes. “I’ll call Max and Chloe over, they can help. You can’t do shit if you don’t calm down.”
Nathan whips his head around to Warren, but his mouth is pursed, and, after a moment, he drops to the floor and cradles his head in his hands, muttering to himself and taking measured breaths. Warren couldn’t really hear what it is Nathan’s saying, but he assumes it’s one of his ways of coping and knows, from experience, that interference is not allowed. Instead, he decides now is a good time to alert Chloe and Max that they’re needed in Warren’s dorm room, so he digs his phone out of his sheets and sends Max a message, knowing she was almost certainly with Chloe.
She is, and they respond a few minutes later, saying they’ll be there soon. Warren relays this to Nathan, who’s calmed down considerably by now and is sulking on his carpet.
“We’ll figure something out,” Warren says reassuringly. Nathan’s chin is pressed against his chest and he doesn’t look at Warren. “I didn’t go through all of this shit so far just to let Jefferson win. I swear, we’ll keep her safe. I’ve got your back, and I’m really fucking hard to get rid of.”
Nathan’s eyes glance up at Warren without moving his head and, after a moment of consideration, he lifts his head and nods once.
It’s good enough.
When Max and Chloe arrive, Warren surrenders his bed to them and sits next to Nathan on the floor, and the planning begins. Ideas are shot every which way by all participants, but most are thought up by Warren, and most are shot down (aggressively, without mercy) by Nathan. He wants a fool-proof plan, one that keeps Victoria out of harm’s way without question, and none of them can think of one that he can’t find fault in. Before long, they’re all tense with frustration and out of ideas. Chloe looks ready to rip her hair out.
“It has to be one of them,” Chloe pushes. “You have to pick one of them, Prescott, or we don’t have anything.”
“Bullshit,” he spits back. He’s on his knees next to Warren, a notepad covered in scrawled-out plans in his hand and a snapped pencil on the floor below him. “They’re all shit ideas, we need something better.”
“We don’t have anything better!”
“Then we’re not thinking hard enough! You,” Nathan turns to Warren and points his finger at him accusingly. Warren leans away to avoid being jabbed. “You’re the super special whiz kid here, why aren’t you thinking of the perfect plan?”
Warren, offended, holds his hands up. “Uh, excuse me, I’m a scientist. I don’t spend my days figuring out how to keep people from getting killed. That’s not my Track.”
“That’s a load of bull,” Nathan spits and gives him a disgusted look, missing the reference completely. “You’re smart,” he insists, “start acting like it!”
“Hey, leave the kid alone, he’s—”
“Wait,” Max says suddenly, her arm snapping out to cut Chloe off. “Me!”
The three other party members just look at her in confusion.
“Nathan can tell Jefferson I’m his next target, and we can fake the whole process,” Max explains.
“Oh, hell no, Caulfield,” Chloe protests immediately.
“No, Chloe, stop. This can work. I can rewind if anything goes wrong and fix it. This can work! While Nathan and I are distracting Jefferson, you and Warren can get Victoria somewhere safe and then get David! We can catch Jefferson in the act!”
Chloe looks appalled at everything Max is saying, and, frankly, Warren thinks he probably does, too. The thing is, her idea is sound, and not even Nathan can think of a solid enough reason that it won’t work.
“That’s the plan, then,” Max says firmly when no one can think of a protest other than “I don’t like it” against her idea. “Nathan, you know what to do. And you know what I need to do. Tell me everything. Chloe, Warren, as soon as Nathan gets started, you’ll take care of the rest. Got it?”
Warren digs his nails into the palm of his hand hard enough for it to hurt. “Affirmative,” he croaks out, and Nathan and Chloe follow with some form of agreement.
Warren doesn’t know what it is Nathan texts Jefferson, but Nathan’s certain it’s the right start to this hellish plan Warren can’t believe he’s going along with. Warren notices Nathan’s complexion is a little green when he shoves his phone—black? Wait, wasn’t Nathan’s phone silver? —back in his pocket and declares Jefferson hooked.
The rest of the plan started that night, at the Vortex party. They had approximately four hours to perfectly construct their plan of action, and then it was into the lion’s pit.
“It’ll be okay,” Max promises them gently. None of them looked convinced, but Warren hopes to whoever’s controlling this hell ride that she’s right.
When the party rolls around, Warren is nothing but nerves. Saying goodbye to Nathan and Max as they part for their separate stages of the plan is almost harder than waking up after a loop, and the hug he gives Max before she leaves lasts long enough for Nathan to decide a wolf whistle is necessary.
“Be careful,” Warren tells Nathan quietly when Chloe takes her turn hugging Max.
“I’m not an idiot,” Nathan retorts acidly. He fidgets where he stands, eyes shifting between Max and Chloe and Warren. “I’ll be careful,” he promises in a hushed tone after a beat.
Warren gives Nathan a shoulder-squeeze, which causes him to sneer, just before they part, and then Max and Nathan are gone.
“Oh, god,” Chloe whispers next to Warren as they approach the Vortex Club party’s location.
“It’s go time,” Warren says, and it’s the weakest “go time” that’s ever been said, but it makes Chloe laugh.
None of the tension leaves him as they enter and, by the time they’ve made it to the VIP booth in an attempt to find Victoria within the party, Warren thinks his teeth might be cracking from the pressure he’s putting them under.
All they had to do was get Victoria out and then get David in, and they had an hour to do it. They had the easier part in this—they could do it. They had to.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the girl manning the booth says scornfully, looking at Warren and Chloe with narrowed eyes as they approached. “Can’t you read? VIP-only.”
Shit. What was her name? Stacy? Star? No—Sarah. Sarah?
“We need to talk to Victoria,” Chloe says, taking over for Warren while he’s busy puzzling out the girl’s name.
“Wow, that sucks. You can’t go in.”
“We just need to for a second and then we’ll go,” Warren says. “Come on!”
Warren looks at Chloe. She smirks back at him.
“Go, Cracker, I’ve got this one,” Chloe announces, then launches over the booth and waves Warren through. Warren scrambles in through the curtain, ignoring the protesting shout of “Hey!” from Sarah(?), and immediately starts scanning around for Victoria.
The area isn’t very big, and Victoria is easy to find.
“Victoria,” Warren calls urgently, rushing up to the blonde. She takes a step back from him, recoiling.
“Oh, it’s you,” she says wryly, looking down her upturned nose at him. “Nathan’s flea. What do you want? Nathan’s not here.”
“I know he’s not. He’s in trouble,” Warren tells her, because Nathan had said cutting to the chase was best. Trying to smooth-talk her into listening, like Warren would even be able to attempt at that in the first place, would be useless. “He told me to tell you to go back to your dorm.”
Victoria’s expression falls. She rushes forward and grabs the front of Warren’s shirt in a vice grip Warren doesn’t see coming. “Where is he, you little shit? Where’s Nathan?”
Warren curses. He didn’t have the knowledge of how to do this right, and Nathan had only said to tell her the truth right off the bat. But he couldn’t tell her that truth. “I can’t tell you that,” Warren says through clenched teeth. “I can’t!” he insists when she gives him a shake. Damn, the girl was strong. She was making his brain rattle. “He’d kill me faster than—Victoria!”
“Start talking, flea, before I give you a reason to regret ever getting involved with us.”
Already there, Warren thinks. His hands are limp by his sides. “Someone’s after you, someone dangerous, the same person that went after Rachel Amber.”
Victoria’s face turns to confusion. “Rachel Amber? She went missing, like, forever ago.”
“That doesn’t matter! Nathan’s doing what he can to keep you safe, but he sent me to tell you that you need to go to your dorm room.”
Victoria frowns. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
Warren refrains from making a noise in frustration. “Why do you people always think I’m lying about shit? It’s ME!” Cramming his hand in his pocket, Warren pulls his phone out and opens the thread of text messages between Nathan and himself, then turns the screen towards Victoria. “Here. Proof we’re actually on good terms.”
Victoria takes the phone and scrolls through it. When she looks at Warren again, it’s with apprehension, but she doesn’t look like she doesn’t believe him anymore.
“Okay,” she says slowly. He takes the phone back when she holds it out. “He wants me back in my dorm? Now?”
“Now,” Warren confirms. Overhead, the music cuts off, and Jefferson’s voice sounds across the speakers to announce the Everyday Heroes Contest winner. Victoria turns her head up excitedly. “Now, Victoria,” Warren pushes.
“After I hear my name.”
“NOW!” Warren yells, causing a few people to turn to him in confusion, but it works. Victoria gives Warren an alarmed look.
“Okay, okay. God.” Pushing around Warren, she sizes up Chloe as she passes her, and Warren and Chloe follow her out. “Is Nathan going to be okay?” she asks once they reach the dorms, standing at the entrance to the building.
“Yes,” Warren promises. He doesn’t care if it’s a lie, because he’ll make it the truth if it’s the last thing he does. He’s tired of everyone getting hurt. “We’re going to him next.”
With Victoria secured, Warren and Chloe head to Chloe’s house next.
“Shit,” Chloe curses in a hiss once they’re in her truck. “That took longer than it should have. We’re running out of time.”
She hits the gas before Warren can say anything and they speed all the way into her driveway, nearly taking her mailbox with them as she careens up the pavement. Warren almost falls out of his seat when he trips over himself trying to keep up with her, because she’s already running to her front door and Warren’s barely touched down on the ground.
“David!” Chloe yells the moment she steps over the threshold. Warren rushes up behind her and just about smacks right into her. If this were a cartoon, his shoes would have made breaking noises. “DAVID!” she calls louder, frantically, and then, “STEP-FUCKER! HEY!”
“What the hell, Chloe?” Rapid stomping pounds from the second floor, and David Madsen appears on the stairwell, looking furious behind that mustache Warren never liked. “What did I tell you about calling me—”
“Max is in danger,” she tells him desperately, and if she’s faking the panicked tone in her voice, she’s doing a damn good job. Warren decides this is her time to shine and keeps his mouth shut, letting her handle it.
David looks surprised. “Max? What’s going on, Chloe, how is Max in—”
“She was taken at that Vortex party! She’s not answering her phone and she’s not in her room.” Chloe scrambles for her phone, pulling up the staged message Max had sent her. The address of the barn, somewhat broken in form but legible to someone who knew the area, and the Dark Room beneath it. She shoves it at David when he reaches the bottom of the stairs. “She sent this, but she won’t answer my calls or my texts. That Jefferson creep is missing, too, no one knows where he went.”
That gets David’s attention. His head snaps up from the phone. “What? Jefferson? You think he took Max?”
“Yes!” Chloe grabs David’s sleeve and pulls. “We have to hurry, he might be hurting her!”
“Chloe, stop, wait.” David moves his arm out of her reach. “I need my radio. Move.”
They both move out of the way and David thunders past them, snatching his radio up and saying something into it that Warren doesn’t understand. When he notices Chloe trembling, he touches her shoulder lightly, and she glances back at him for a second before David calls for their attention again.
“All right, I’m on it. Go up to your room, Chloe and … whoever you are,” David says, gesturing at Warren, “I’ll handle it from here.”
“No,” Chloe says immediately. When she reaches to take her phone back, David moves it out of her reach, and she makes a noise of frustration. “I’m going with you,” she pushes. “This is my friend, David! I have to go.”
“Hell no you don’t, you’re staying here, where it’s safe.” David shoves Chloe’s phone away, then starts grabbing his things. “You’re not going anywhere near that psychopath.”
“Like hell I am! She contacted me! I need to be there!”
“Your room, Chloe—Chloe! Get back here!” But Chloe’s turned heel and run out the door, and Warren can only chase after her, lest he wants to be stuck with David alone. Shouting from behind them tells Warren David’s angry, but seemingly not in pursuit, thank God. He follows Chloe as she scrambles back into her truck with speed and grace Warren doesn’t possess and then tears out of the driveway before Warren can even fully shut his door.
Chloe’s knuckles are white as she grips the steering wheel, fuming. Warren can’t think of anything comforting to say.
“He has your phone,” Warren says instead. “Max didn’t send me the address and I don’t know how to get there.”
“I can find it,” Chloe assures him, her voice clipped. “There’s no way I’m not going to be there.”
Warren watches her quietly. She doesn’t look at him; her eyes are staring ahead and her expression is hard.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you and Nathan,” Chloe cuts Warren off, still looking at the road before them, “and I don’t understand anything beyond Max’s time shit, but I know you guys are keeping things from me. I’m not blind to your little silent stints that happen when I’m in the room sometimes.”
Warren works his mouth, but no words come, because his brain has momentarily flat-lined. She was right, but how was he supposed to tell her that?
“I get it, okay? I’m not supposed to know everything, and maybe you don’t know anything either! Maybe it’s all Max here and you and Prickscott have your own little secret club that I can’t know anything about, but Max told me her side. That makes her my responsibility. She’s the one I know about, and she’s the one who trusted me. I can’t let anything happen to her.”
Her words hit Warren in the gut. They sound too familiar to him, and they scrape far closer to home than he’s comfortable with. Not once had he really had the chance to know Chloe before this loop had manifested, but now he feels as if that had been a major loss on his part.
She wasn’t the enemy here, and he knew that. She had never been an enemy. Nathan’s words had only been a mask to what was really important to Warren—getting out of this alive and being able to live past the day the storm came. Chloe had just become another pawn for Warren in his quest to right everything, as much as he hates himself for thinking of it that way. But she wasn’t against him, because Max’s affections had never been a real goal in any of this for him, and he wished now he had bothered to talk to her more. Because she got it. She understood him, even if she didn’t know it.
“We’re all each other’s responsibility now, aren’t we?” says Warren, twisting his hands in his lap. Chloe, finally, pulls her eyes from the road long enough to glance at him. “We’re hardcore in this as a single entity, right?” he continues. “Not literally, but, like. We should be watching out for each other equally and shit, because now we need each other to do this right.”
Chloe’s silent for a moment. “I guess you’re right there. As much as I don’t want anything to do with Nathan and his crazy ass antics, right now I can’t exactly throw him to the curb and walk away. He’s protecting Max right now …” Chloe trails off, but Warren knows there’s a “at least, he’d better be” tacked on the end of her words. Warren has to squash the sudden, fierce urge to correct her unspoken statement.
Warren trusts Nathan, even if Chloe doesn’t. Which, honestly, is the last thing he would have expected out of this insane experience he’s been put through, but he trusts Nathan fully, at least in this moment. He believed Nathan would keep Max safe from Jefferson until they got there, or as long as he could.
“We need to hurry,” Warren pushes quietly, glancing at the clock on his phone. Chloe clutches the wheel hard enough that Warren hears the material squeak under her grip.
“I know where I’m going,” she insists. “We’ll be there.”
But Chloe’s not as sure as she sounds, and it takes them longer to find the barn than it does David. When they get there, David’s car is already outside with another cop car, lights flashing, and a pair of cops are pushing their way into the barn. A light drizzle has started up, and Warren feels disaster closing in quickly. Chloe curses and throws her car into park. She’s out the door once again before Warren can even unbuckle his seatbelt.
“Max?” he hears her calling desperately just ahead of him when he descends the stairs into the room, and he nearly falls into her when she reaches the threshold. “Max!”
Max is tied to a chair when Warren and Chloe burst in, and one of the cops is sawing through the layers of duct take that trap her arms and legs. Chloe doesn’t hesitate; she runs across the room and throws herself at Max, and Warren doesn’t take long to follow.
“Oh, god, fuck, that was scary,” Chloe mumbles into Max’s hair. Her arms are tangled in Warren’s, all four limbs securely around Max’s trapped form, and the cop has given up trying to get to the duct tape with the bodies in the way. When Warren pulls back, he realizes Max’s nose and lip are bleeding, and around one of her eyes a bruise is slowly forming.
“What happened?” he asks in disbelief, but Max smiles.
“Jefferson’s a smart sonofabitch, but it would have been worse. Nathan took the brunt of it all when Jefferson figured out we staged everything and went apeshit.”
Nathan. Oh, fuck. Nathan.
Warren jumps away from Max, looking frantically around the room, and first spots Jefferson face-down on the floor with his arms locked up in handcuffs against his back, completely unconscious. David’s crouched next to him, talking to the cop that had given up on freeing Max and shaking his head. Warren tears his eyes away just as the other cop pulls his radio from his belt.
In his frazzled state, it takes Warren longer than he likes to comprehend the things he normally would have noticed easily. Finally, in a corner, he spots the crumpled form of Nathan being hovered over by the other cop. He hadn’t recognized him at first—his jacket’s missing. He doesn’t remember Nathan wearing a black shirt. Was he wearing a black shirt under his jacket? Why hadn’t he thought to look?
Warren hurries over, his heart catching in his chest. How much of an asshole was he to forget Nathan could have just as easily been harmed in this as Max could have been? He had trusted Nathan to keep Max safe—but he hadn’t thought of the costs.
“Is he—” Warren tries to ask the moment he reaches Nathan’s side, then finds, just like in the movies, he can’t finish his sentence. The cop looks up at him from where he’s crouched over Nathan.
“Just unconscious,” the cop tells Warren reassuringly. “Caught the dirtbag whaling on him, but, aside from some bad bruises and maybe a bruised rib or three, he’ll be okay. A medic is on their way, they’ll be able to look over him as soon as they get here. It’s harder for that big truck to get back here in the rain, so they’re coming the last stretch on foot.”
Relief floods Warren’s senses and he drops to the ground to cover his face with his hands.
“Friend of yours?” the cop questions, pressing a hand to Warren’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” Warren agrees without looking up. “A good friend.”
“He’ll be okay. Don’t worry.”
The EMTs come in, drenched from the rain outside, and Warren has to move out of the way to give one of them room for Nathan. Max and Chloe are on the couch—with the absence of Warren, the cop was able to return to freeing Max from her duct tape chains—and Warren hovers anxiously in the corner as the adults do their job. The EMT confirms that Nathan is going to be okay, though he has a few bruised ribs and a sprained knuckle—probably from punching Jefferson—and will have a mess of a face for a few weeks. Nathan comes to as the EMT is finishing up, all curses and confusion, squinting and turning his head this way and that. The EMT explains to him what happened and where he’s injured, but Nathan’s too busy pulling himself up and looking around the room to listen. His eyes lock on Warren when he sees him, then switch off, probably looking for Jefferson, who’s already been taken to a cop car. When Nathan can’t find him, he looks back to Warren in panic.
“Where is he? Where’s Victoria?” Nathan rasps, cutting the EMT off mid-sentence.
“He’s in handcuffs and Victoria’s in her room,” Warren replies, and Nathan slumps back down in relief, allowing the EMT to finish what they were saying. Warren tries to stay where he is as long as he can, reveling in the relief he feels that they’re all okay for now, but the wind starts howling before too long and the rain comes down hard enough for them to hear it even in the room they’re in, and Warren decides he wants to see the cyclone this time. He wants to face it head on.
Warren waits until Max and Chloe are distracted with talking to the cops to leave. It’s pouring outside already when he reaches the entrance of the barn, and the sky is dark and ominous. Warren steps out, using his arm to shield his face from the rain, then notices a car hidden just on the side of the structure. It’s one he recognizes.
Jefferson’s car, Warren realizes. It was Jefferson’s car Max took.
Jeez, now that seemed so obvious.
The keys are in it when he opens the door and slides in, and he starts the car without much thought. His mind is on the oncoming storm, trapped in the dread that he hadn’t been able to stop it and the growing fear that it was either all over now or it was about to begin again. Before he can put the car in drive, the passenger door opens and Nathan’s tumbling into the seat, wet already from the rain and hissing obscenities under his breath.
“What are you doing?” Warren asks him in surprise and slight panic. Nathan gives him a patronizing look.
“Going to the same place you’re going, obviously. You’re going to the storm, right? Well, I want to see this big bitch in the flesh.”
“What? No, no way. It’s not safe, you can’t—”
“I’m going to get killed by it anyway, right?” Nathan says, cutting Warren off. And, well, he’s right. “Well, I want to see it coming. Chop chop, fag. You can stare at me when we get there. Let’s do this.”
Warren stares at him, willing an argument to come and get Nathan to go back with everyone else, but nothing comes.
“Don’t call me that,” Warren grumbles instead, defeated, then puts the car in drive and heads towards his end—the overlook, right where the storm meets Arcadia Bay.
“Are you sure about this?” Warren asks Nathan as he drives them through the pelting rain. Nathan makes an annoyed sound at the question.
“Holy shit, Graham, yes. I’m sure. If you think I’m going to let you face this by yourself, then you think I’m a much larger asshole than I really am.”
Warren makes a face, because Nathan is that big of an asshole in the other loops, but saying that might tick Nathan off, and he didn’t really want to do this alone. Not if someone was volunteering to watch him go.
“I don’t know what’s going to be there,” Warren confesses.
“I know, you already said you die before you see it. How do you know what it looks like if you’ve never seen it?” Nathan asks, sounding suspicious, and Warren can see him squinting at him when he looks out the corner of his eye.
“Max told me,” Warren replies quietly. “She always told me right before she left.”
“Max isn’t going anywhere this time.”
Nathan’s words send a spike of panic up the back of Warren’s throat, and he can only whisper in response, “I know.”
“You’ll get me in the next loop, too,” Nathan tells Warren, cutting into the silence. “If there is one.”
“If that’s what I’m supposed to do, yeah,” Warren agrees.
“No, you will. You have to, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
He sounds so sure that Warren has to dare a look at him, despite the fact he was driving in rain and knew that looking away from the road was immensely stupid. Nathan’s looking at Warren when he does, and Warren doesn’t think he’s ever seen the expression on his face before.
“If this bullshit flips over, then you have to get me on your side again. Swear it.”
“Nathan, I can’t just fucking—”
“Swear it, Graham,” Nathan insists. His hand is clutching Warren’s shoulder, and the sudden contact startles Warren. Luckily, he’s already pulling over by the time it happens, because they’ve reached where they’re supposed to be. Warren, once parked, looks at Nathan fully. “I need you to swear it,” Nathan tells him firmly. His eyes burn into Warren’s.
“You really think this isn’t the end of it?” Warren asks instead, but his voice has a warble he hadn’t been expecting, and it sounds downright pathetic to his ears. He winces when Nathan’s expression changes.
“I don’t know what to think,” Nathan admits. “I just know I’m supposed to be in this.”
Warren chews his lip, listening to the increased beat of the rain of the car. “Okay,” he says finally. “I swear it.”
“Good,” Nathan says with a sharp nod that Warren returns, and something seems to settle between them.
Without another word, Warren opens his door, and together they throw themselves into the pelting rain.
The rain falls in sheets, harder and stronger in waves even in the time it takes them to climb the hill pathway that leads to the overlook, and Warren feels like he’s drowning above land as he pushes on. When they reach the crest of the hill, Warren rushes ahead of Nathan, mind spinning with regret and dread, all the things he thought he did wrong this time clamoring around in his head alongside his promise to Nathan. He thinks he starts crying at some point, but he can’t tell with all the rain running down his face.
The moment he reaches the bench, he freezes to a stop with his sodden arm thrown over his eyes, breathing in gasps and readying himself for what he’s about to witness. His whole body buzzes with the fear and adrenaline, torn between readying himself for his end and simply running away, despite knowing there was nowhere to go.
Warren clenches his teeth and wills himself to get it over with.
Like ripping off a Band-Aid, Graham, Warren tells himself. A big, scary, monster-sized Band-Aid. Off your dick. Yeah. Ouch.
With a final gulp of air, Warren rips the arm he’d thrown across his face away and looks out the overlook to see … rain.
Lots and lots of rain.
But no cyclone.
Just darkness and rain.
There was no cyclone.
Did that mean the loop was broken? There was no cyclone. There was no cyclone.
“It’s gone,” Warren whispers. Nathan struggles up beside him with his arm clutching his side, squinting first out into the rain beyond the overlook and then at Warren in confusion. “Yes!” Warren screams, arms thrown wide into the frigid air. The cold rain freezes him to the bone. He feels numb. He feels free. His knees jar with the impact of him falling to them, his head tipped back and his mouth open with a screamed sob of relief. “YES!”
Nathan is standing next to him, soaked thoroughly, and looking down at Warren with an expression that assures Warren he’s cracked. Warren doesn’t care. Warren grabs Nathan’s arm and yanks him roughly off his feet, surprising him enough that he crashes directly into Warren, who slings his arms around Nathan’s shoulders and grips him in a hug. “We did it,” he yells over the pelting rain, over Nathan’s aggravated yells and struggling. Warren doesn’t let him go. “It’s gone, Nathan. We won! WE BEAT THE FUCKING STORM!”
Nathan winces hard, pulling his head away from Warren and his screams as far as he can, but he’s stopped struggling. He’s stiff as a board beneath Warren’s arms, but he’s not trying to twist away anymore. Warren’s too overcome by everything to care. Warren leans his weight into Nathan, making him need to shift to keep from falling over with the added bulk, and starts laughing into Nathan’s shoulder, which turns to a combined sobbing almost immediately. Nathan’s shoulder’s bunch up beneath Warren’s face, but Warren doesn’t move.
Oh, he’d get so much shit for this later, but right now? Right now, he couldn’t move if he wanted to.
For a long time, it’s just Warren sobbing into Nathan’s soaked shirt—his jacket is long gone, left behind in the Dark Room for reasons Warren hadn’t thought to ask about—and Nathan unmoving where Warren has him rooted. His shoulders have relaxed again, and Warren’s face has shifted in position, but neither of them have moved. Nathan doesn’t hug him back, but, eventually, Warren feels the pressure of hands on the sides of his upper torso, and is suddenly aware Nathan’s going to shove him away any second. But Nathan doesn’t. His hands stay where they are—not a hug, but contact, which Warren decides he appreciates all the same. He’d say something to him, but he can’t seem to get enough air to speak.
It takes a long time for Warren to finally calm down enough to move, but when they both start shivering hard enough for their teeth to clack together in their mouths, Warren releases Nathan and shifts away into a heap on the soaked ground. His movements are stiff from the numbing cold as he slowly wipes his hand over his face and gets to his feet, and Nathan’s no better. He’s staring at Warren, but he doesn’t say anything. Warren’s too cold, too exhausted and shaken from his own emotions, to give a shit.
They make their way back down the path, slowly, because Warren fully wipes out not too far into the trek and has to deal with mud smeared all over his face until the rain can wash it off. Somehow, Nathan’s far more agile than Warren is despite his injuries, and he only trips a few times down the path where Warren almost manages to wipe out a second time four instances over, despite his increased attempts at careful walking. Just as they reach the bottom where Warren had parked Jefferson’s car, a truck pulls up, water spraying from its wheels to cover them. Before they can recover from spluttering, Max launches herself out of the passenger’s side and into Warren’s arms.
“You’re freezing,” Max gasps, her warm clothes soaking with the wet from Warren’s body. “God, Nathan,” Max says when she pulls away again, her hands still wrapped around Warren’s shoulders firmly, to look over at Nathan, “your lips are blue. Your face is blue.”
If Nathan has a comment for this, he doesn’t offer it. His eyes are on the distance, and his teeth chatter visibly despite the fact his mouth is closed.
“Get in the car,” Max insists, pushing Warren towards the truck. “We brought blankets. Get in.”
Neither of them need to be told twice. Warren stiffly slides into the car, finding Chloe at the wheel with a stack of blankets on her lap, one of which is already spread out on the seat of the truck. “It’s going to be a tight fit with your fat asses added in,” she tells Warren as he slumps into the seat, throwing one of the blankets over his shoulders and cranking the heat on full blast, “but we’ll just have to live.”
Nathan climbs in next to him, and Chloe doesn’t hesitate to lean over Warren and hand him his own blanket, which he wraps around his shoulders without a word. He shivers next to Warren, curling in on himself in his blanket, his eyes set on the rain pelting against the window shield. Warren realizes with a start that Nathan’s face is blue. He can only imagine what his must look like.
Max gets in next, pushing Nathan into Warren and Warren into Chloe to make room. It’s a snug fit, for sure, but they manage to get the door shut and Chloe revs the engine before throwing the car into drive and hitting the gas.
No one speaks as they drive. There’s only the noise of the rain, the hot air blasting out of the vents, and the engine of the truck. It’s so silent that Warren thinks he imagines it when Nathan’s voice mumbles out of his blanket prison.
Chloe glances over at Warren from the corner of her eye, but Warren shakes his head and looks to Nathan. Max is already looking down at him, slight shock on her face.
“Well, shit,” says Chloe after a long moment of uncertainty has passed. “Don’t mention it, Prickscott.”
Though Nathan’s eyes harden in his face, he doesn’t say a word in return.
The girls drop Warren and Nathan off at the Academy, telling them to keep the blankets as shields from the rain and refusing to let them out of the car until Nathan’s lips return to a normal color and Warren stops shivering. Nathan says something along the lines of, “Stop telling me what to do,” under his breath in retaliation, but he doesn’t make a single move to go against Max’s and Chloe’s orders.
When they’re deemed acceptable, they’re released, and they run through the rain with a burst of renewed energy to the dormitories. Without a word exchanged between them, they both head straight for the shower room, which, like the rest of the building seems to be, is completely empty. Warren assumes everyone’s back in the main building, riding out the storm and the probable tornado warnings that came with it in the safest part of the school, wherever that is. Warren didn’t know—he’d always been sent to the Two Whales.
Slowly, Warren peels his sopping wet clothes off, letting them drop to the tile floor with wet smacks. Nathan’s undressed way before Warren is, and he jumps in the shower to warm up, boxers and all. Warren only pauses for a few seconds when he’s finished with his clothes, but it’s long enough for the clusterfuck of emotions to ride up his throat, and he has to cover his face with a hand when tears leak from his eyes.
God, this was embarrassing. Now he felt like a kid.
He doesn’t even hear it when the shower curtain screeches open. “Are you—oh, for fuck’s sake.” Nathan’s warm hand wraps around Warren’s clammy bicep and tugs him into the shower, directly under the spray Nathan vacates. It feels like stinging needles all over his body at first, which has him gasping, but it quickly turns to a heat that warms him slowly. “You’re a goddamn mess,” Nathan mumbles from where he stands in the corner, watching Warren with crossed arms. His hair is flat to his skull and there are bruises forming all over his face, not unlike the time Warren himself had tried to smash Nathan’s face in.
“Yeah,” Warren agrees without bothering to hesitate, pushing the memory of the fights away, because Nathan was right. “I’ll be better tomorrow.”
If there is a tomorrow for him. It’s unspoken, but they both think it, Warren can tell from the way Nathan’s expression changes. Strangely, that thought doesn’t get Warren’s eyes leaking, but it does get Nathan to feel something, because his hand is suddenly on Warren’s shoulder.
“I’m only going to help you tonight,” he tells him. “Tomorrow, you’re on your own again.”
Warren nods, because that was fair. Anything more and he’d be worried about Nathan’s well-being.
“And only because you’re being pathetic as fuck right now, and it’s making me feel guilty. I hate feeling guilty.”
Ah, yes. There was the Nathan Warren was used to.
“Whatever, Prescott,” Warren says, then focuses on enjoying the warmth of the shower.
They don’t have towels, so they each take a shower stall and strip out of their wet underwear, wrapping the damp blankets around themselves and deeming it good enough. No one else is around, and it wasn’t like they weren’t going to risk seeing the other naked, so who cared? Once wrapped, they pick up their respective clothes and make their way back to their rooms silently.
Warren shoves his wet clothes into his hamper as soon as he’s in the door and exchanges his blanket for a clean pair of underwear. A knocking at his door tells him Nathan’s back just as he’s pulling his boxers up.
“I’m not naked?” Warren offers tentatively. The door opens and Nathan slips in, already in his PJs, which wasn’t anything more than a shirt and long pants. That would explain how he got dressed so fast.
“Are you secretly The Flash?” Warren asks him while he looks for his warmest shirt to pull on. Nathan’s on his bed, flipping through one of the comics that had fallen off to the side, and he looks up in annoyance at Warren’s question.
“Don’t be a dumbass.”
“Just asking.” Warren pulls the sweatshirt he’d settled on over his head, huffing when it squashes his wet hair flat to his scalp. “You get dressed faster than anyone I know.”
“It’s called efficiency.”
“It’s a superpower,” Warren insists. He walks over and drops to the floor in front of his bed, watching Nathan read a random page in the book. The moment he gets settled, a blanket of exhaustion settles over him, along with the weight of the day. He struggles not to let it get to him again and turns the action into a yawn, which Nathan echoes.
“Shit, I’m tired,” Nathan mumbles. He flips another page.
“Yeah, being a double-agent can do that to you.”
“Getting the shit kicked out of you can do it.”
“That wasn’t part of the plan.”
Nathan shrugs, then winces. It’s a small enough action that Warren wouldn’t have even seen it if he hadn’t been looking right at Nathan. His ribs, Warren guesses, which he undoubtedly aggravated with his rough hug back in the rain. Whoops. “Maybe we should just go to bed,” Warren suggests.
Nathan hesitates. “I don’t know if I could sleep soundly after that,” he admits. Warren refrains from giving him a sympathetic look, because he knows it wouldn’t be appreciated.
“Are you asking to stay?”
“No,” Nathan says quickly. “I can stay awake in my own room.”
“Well, I feel like I could sleep forever,” Warren says, standing up, but Nathan doesn’t move. He’s too busy with the comic book. With a sigh, Warren rolls his eyes. “Take the book. Just give it back later.”
Nathan pauses, a page of the book between his fingers, then decides the idea’s decent enough and shuts the book. It’s clear his ribs are hurting; he sits up gingerly at first, slowly moving off the bed. As if expecting Warren to say something, he shoots him a glare, warning him not to. Warren mimes zipping his lips, then takes the vacated space Nathan leaves behind, pulling the covers securely over his body. Nathan doesn’t offer a good night, he just goes right for the door.
Something about this causes Warren’s insides to seize up, and he doesn’t quite think about what he’s doing.
“Hey,” Warren says suddenly, stopping Nathan just as he’s crossing the threshold. “Not to sound completely out of line and everything after you just said no, but. Since you’re not sleeping,” Warren hesitates, and Nathan just waits with an eyebrow cocked. “Will you stay? Tonight? In here?”
Wow, Warren’s brain supplies helpfully. Wow, that was so bad. This loop thing has seriously fucked him up.
Nathan stares. Then, “When I said you needed to get over Max, Dr. Dipshit, I didn’t mean so you could move on to me.”
Well, that wasn’t quite what Warren had been expecting. Actually, it’s not even remotely what he’d been expecting. It takes a moment for Warren to understand.
“It’s not like that,” Warren protests, sitting up fully again. “It’s—I sleep here alone, you know. Because it’s my room. And it’s hard to tell when something’s the same or different when the loop resets, because I’m still in the same place. I only want you to stay so I can see, like, when—”
Nathan cuts him off by throwing his comic at him. Warren splutters, nearly hitting his head on his wall when he recoils. “Jesus, and I thought you were annoying when you spoke normally,” Nathan says, stepping back into the room and shutting the door. Warren glowers at him, but takes the fact Nathan’s looming over Warren’s bed as his answer. “One night. And absofuckinglutely no touching me.”
Warren grumbles something under his breath, then raises his voice when Nathan gives him a dangerous look, “Don’t flatter yourself.”
“I do what I want. Move.”
Warren did. It was a bad fit, but they weren’t the biggest of humans, so it worked. Warren couldn’t avoid the shoulder-touching, even when he was on his side, but they were comfortable with their backs to one another. With the comfort of something different directly within reach, the pure exhaustion of everything takes Warren over, and he falls asleep within moments of closing his eyes.
Chapter 7: Epilogue
When Warren wakes up, it’s slowly, tentatively, and with a sudden feeling of everything inside him crumbling to pieces. Nathan isn’t there, and there’s no sign that he’d been there in the first place when Warren sits up to look, which causes the kernel of panic that had been curling in Warren’s chest to burst forth. Gingerly, Warren lies back in his bed and stares up at his ceiling, then covers his face with his hands. He’s afraid to look at his calendar.
He’s afraid of what might have happened.
He’s terrified of the truth.
He spends what feels like a long, long time lying there in bed, paralyzed by the terror that engulfs him and trying desperately to will up the courage he wanted to have. He doesn’t want to look. He needed to look, he’d have no choice but to at some point, but each time he tells himself he’s going to, he doesn’t move.
He doesn’t look at his phone, either, but he hears it go off with received text messages. He can’t remember how many he gets in that morning, and he suddenly hates himself desperately for not remembering that detail. How could he not try better to remember the things that happened that morning? For more ways to tell if it was starting over again?
Maybe, all along, he knew he wasn’t going to get out. Not really. This was his fate, and he was doomed to live it.
A thump at his door startles him, just like it did once before, but before Warren can even begin to panic about that fact, another thump follows. And then another, and another. And then, “Did you up and die in there, Gayram? Get out here. The whole campus is flooded. They’re saying it was a freak monsoon. All classes are cancelled.”
A Monsoon? The warning signs had done nothing but end in a monsoon?
That was Nathan. That was Nathan, yelling at him through his door, and not in a nasty way.
Oh, god. The loop was broken. Warren was free.
He shoots up into a sitting position and dares a glance at the calendar, barely making it past the month at the top before he breaks out in broken gasps of relief yet again. It’s unflattering, but at least he wasn’t crying this time.
There he goes.
“The hell are you even doing in h— Fucking again, Graham?” Warren looks up, smearing wetness across his face with his arm, to Nathan in his doorway, half-disgusted at the sight of Warren on his bed, weeping, and half- … worried? Wow. “Why are you crying this time?”
Warren shakes his head, willing himself to calm down, and stop fucking crying, but it’s a hard battle. He’d never live this down, that’s for sure.
The idea of being able to have something to never live down and have the consecutive days to never live it down just brings about another round of relief in Warren, and he chokes when it surges up his throat. The door clicks shut, and Warren almost thinks Nathan’s left before the bed sags with added weight.
“That loop really fucked you up good, didn’t it?” Nathan asks him, but something tells Warren it’s not actually a question. “Think you might have PTSD after it?”
Warren shrugs, because how the fuck does he know? All he knows is he can’t stop crying, and that’s just from the relief. He’s pretty sure that was a normal reaction to surviving a time-loop (if there was such a thing as a normal reaction to something like that), but he didn’t care enough to wonder past that. It didn’t matter.
“I can’t believe I still believe you after there wasn’t even a damn twister in that storm,” Nathan starts, “but you were right about Rachel. And, I guess, since the loop broke, there wouldn’t be a cyclone. Still,” Nathan sighs, leaning back on his splayed hands, “pretty fucking disappointed I didn’t get to see it in the flesh.”
“I never got to see it either,” Warren reminds Nathan. “I just got to die from it four times before getting it right.”
Nathan’s lips purse as he stares straight ahead, then, softly, he corrects him, “Five. You died five times, dumbass.”
“Oh, pardon me for not keeping strict count,” Warren drawls sardonically. “Reliving the same month of your life because you keep screwing up messes with your ability to count things correctly, apparently. Especially the traumatizing things.”
Nathan snorts and pats Warren on the back. “I’d hate to be you.”
“I hated being me.”
The confession, as easily as it slips from Warren’s lips, is heavy. It gets Nathan to shut up, just for a moment, in acknowledgement.
“Yeah,” he agrees. “I can understand that.”
Warren, really, doesn’t even doubt that once. He can’t—not with the person he’s seen Nathan become. No one who didn’t hate themselves at least a little could fall so easily into the trap Jefferson had created. Warren will never know exactly all the details that led Nathan to the life he lived in the previous loops, but he’s not so sure he could handle them even if he could.
Nathan combs a hand through his hair, which somehow doesn’t manage to mess it up (if anything, it looks better), and sighs, tilting his head to look at Warren. “So, it’s really over, right?”
Warren turns to look out his window. The blinds were still up from where he’d opened them the day before, and the sun was shining in that way it always did after a particularly bad storm had hit. “Probably,” Warren says, because there’s no way to be sure. “I’ve never lived this day before, so I think I can take that as a hint it’s done.”
Nathan scoffs. “I guess I need to do some sappy bullshit thing about thanking you for keeping me from becoming Jefferson’s pawn and throwing my whole life right down the great big shitter of bad choices.”
Warren tilts his head, pretending to consider it. “Nah,” he says. “That would tell me you’re off your meds. Or being mind-controlled.”
Nathan punches his arm. Warren grunts in pain, then laughs.
“Get dressed,” Nathan tells Warren, bouncing off the bed. “After last night, I’d kill for some waffles.”
“You need to work on what you consider to be a good way of wording things,” Warren replies. He stands up and scrubs his hands over his face, feeling the grit of dried tears scrub across his cheeks. Ugh.
“Fuck off,” Nathan tells him, but when Warren drops his hands and looks at him, he’s smiling a genuine smile, and Warren’s chest thumps his retort away.
Warren watches Nathan leave his room and call out to Hayden, who must be loitering the hall. Warren can hear scraps of conversation echo into his room before the door shuts, and it sounds like everyone’s talking about yesterday’s freak storm. His hand clutches the front of his shirt even after Nathan’s gone, his mind fumbling around in recovery.
Well. That was one way to start the rest of his life.
Yeah, Warren decides later, as he washes his face in the sink on Nathan’s demand—because, according to Nathan, he looked like a disgusting mess and no one wanted to eat with that—while listening to the rude commentary Nathan is giving everyone just behind him as he waits, I can roll with that.