The exhausting, large-scale photoshoot came to an end yesterday, and, after a nearly six-hour flight from Atlanta to Seattle, then another hour of driving, Max and Chloe finally made it home. They unpacked, showered, then passed out in each other’s arms in the living room. It was a tiring, yet fruitful, business trip, and it was the final shoot for Max’s newest collection that would be exclusively shared at The Chase Space.
“Get your ass up, love.” Still in her pajamas, the blonde stood from the married couple’s oversized loveseat where they were cuddled most of the morning and early afternoon. Finally having a free day away from work, neither were in a rush to get up. Upon standing, the shared blanket was inadvertently dragged to the floor, leaving Max’s body exposed and earning Chloe a disapproving, squint-eyed glance from her wife.
“Nuh uh, I just got comfortable again.” Max tugged the blanket back over her legs and torso, tucking the top fray just beneath her arms. She snuggly repositioned herself beneath, drawing a playfully annoyed grunt from the tall woman standing over her. Swaddling her head and most of her face like a makeshift hoodie, Max taunted Chloe with eyes sillily crossed and a gamesome tongue vibrating outward.
“Dude,” Chloe began, head cocked to the side. “We can’t just spoon and watch movies all day, though it has been nice. We should go out for a late lunch date. I’m thinking Tex-Mex. I could really use some chips and salsa right about now. Throw back a few margaritas, come home, and… ya know… fool around a little.” She bounced her eyebrows up and down a couple of times and bit the underside of her bottom lip. To her surprise, there was no response, only quiet breaths below.
Gripping the thick, silken blanket in both hands, Chloe glanced inside, meeting beautifully piercing blue eyes that were peeking out from their cloth cave. She shifted her weight and readied herself for a good pull, an impish smirk tightening the skin on her cheeks. “Goddamn you look cute in there.”
“Don’t you dare,” a soft voice came from inside the pile. “I’m not going anywhere, babe.” Max sank further away, face completely disappearing deeper in her burrow.
“You have two options, Maxi Max. Are you planning to come out willingly, or are you gonna resist me? Be careful now, this action will have consequences.”
Silence briefly fell between the married couple; the only sound was the distant fan blades of the outside condenser unit switching on and the cool air sliding in and out of the pair’s nostrils and mouths.
Finally, a barely noticeable, muffled reply was uttered from somewhere down below. “I am the resistance!”
Instinctively responding, Chloe beamed, a mischievous smile forming below her crinkled nose. “Oh, now you’ve asked for it!” With a strategic yank of the blanket and an exaggeratedly maniacal cackle, the girl beneath came rolling out with a yelp, landing on her butt on the floor. “There you are, my love. I’ve found my treasure.”
Before Max could react, her assailant dove towards her, perching in a straddle on top, knocking her to a laying position. With knees on either side of the brunette, Chloe continued her attack. She took her wife by the wrists and pinned them down above her head.
“No, Chloe. I…”
“Oh, don’t look so pissy, Maxter.” Chloe cut her off before she could finish. “You’re gonna enjoy what comes next.” She inched downward and grazed the tips of both lips against her favorite person’s exposed stomach. She started moving in a zigzag around Max’s lower ribs and bellybutton, enticing a tiny giggle from her partner. When she pulled up after a few seconds, the look of anger on her lover’s face had been replaced with one of love and contentment. “There’s that beautiful Maxine Caulfield-Price smile I love so much.”
Keeping one hand against Max’s wrists to hold her in place, Chloe slid the other down to the waistline of her wife’s pajama bottoms, teasing the area. She marginally slipped her fingers under the band before quickly bringing them back up. The yearning in the younger girl’s eyes informed her soulmate that she was quickly preparing herself for whatever came next.
As soon as Chloe leaned in to twist her lips around Max’s, the front door swung open with a crash and their daughter stepped in causing the romantic moment to be stolen away. The couple abruptly moved from on top of one another to an awkward sitting position.
“Dammit, guys!” Des shut the door behind her then turned to face the opposite direction. “Are you literally about to bang on the living room floor? Gross. You know I have to walk around in here too. You have your own bedroom for that shit.”
“Well, we WERE,” the oldest of the three huffed, placing a specific emphasis on the last word. “Thought you were gone all day.” Max and Chloe shifted around and returned to the couch; disappointment still obvious in their expressions. The pink in Max’s cheeks could have equally been from embarrassment or from the intensity of the act that was beginning to take place before the interruption.
“Keep it in your pants, Moms. It’s gonna have to wait. You won’t believe who I just ran into; well, almost ran into. I mean it, I almost crashed the fuck into her. She was literally standing in the middle of the road.”
“Oh, gosh, Des,” Max concerningly asked, a dampness in her tone. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m peachy, Mom.” The girl shrugged and returned her mother’s concern with a polite curling of the sides of her lips.
“Tell us! Don’t make me wait. Who is this ‘she’?” Chloe’s elongated facial features mirrored the eagerness in her voice.
“Rachel.” Des raised an eyebrow, awaiting a response that was sure to be lively.
“Wait… What?” Chloe stood and took a step towards her daughter.
Max joined the standing women and crossed her arms at her chest. “I thought she was in The Watcher’s chamber now.”
“Yeah, me too, Mom, but she somehow got out and found me.” Des swept her bangs from in front of her eyes, tucking the longest blonde strands behind her right ear. She had recently recolored the streak on the opposite side, a vivid scarlet almost radiating with boldness.
“Are you sure it was her?” Max asked, standing to her daughter’s left side. “I didn’t think she could leave.” The brunette reached up and touched the recently dyed strands, marginally nodding. “Your hair looks nice, Des.”
“Yeah, of course,” the youngest of the trio responded. “I wouldn’t make something like that up. She said she needed my skills one more time, or something like that. Then, poof… she was gone.”
“Fuck,” the other woman disbelievingly blustered, drawing two sets of eyes in her direction. She pivoted around, dramatically walking away from where they were standing and turning back. “If this is some sort of timey wimey, multiverse bullshit, count us out. We’re done messing with space and time. Fuck that.” Chloe placed her hands on her hips, chest puffed in a stance of defiance. “I’m putting my foot down here. We’re out; I’m serious.”
“If Rachel found a way out of the Watcher’s realm, it must be important, babe.” Max took a few steps forward and approached her wife. She slowly snaked her arms around the woman, tiptoeing to kiss her on the cheek. “Whatever she wanted, we can handle.”
Des plopped down in the hardly-used recliner and swiveled around towards her moms. “She couldn’t stay long, or maybe… she didn’t know how to?” Again, the girl pulled her shoulders up in a shrugging motion. “I dunno. It happened so fast. Plus, I was still shaken up because, well, ya know… I almost fucking died.”
Chloe dropped her hands from her hips and angled towards Max, throwing her arms around her wife in a sort of semi-hug. “We can do anything as long as we’re together, Max… I know. That’s not the point, though. I like what we have. Life is perfect how it is, and we deserve to be happy without anymore crazy shit. Ya know? Is that too much to ask?”
“No, but you understand how this works, babe. If Rachel needs help, we have to try and help her.”
“I dunno, Max. Doesn’t there come a time where we just say, ‘we’re too tired’ or ‘not this time’? Why are we not allowed to decide?”
“We always have a choice, Chloe…”
“Jeeeeez,” Des cut her mother off. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” The girl rolled her eyes and spun the recliner away from the group. “She didn’t even mention you two… just me. Last I heard, she sorta claimed she wanted to protect you and shit. Maybe she purposely left you out of it so you wouldn’t be involved. Who knows?”
“If you’re involved, we’re involved; Rachel knows that.” Max slipped out of her partner’s embrace then gripped the chair backing with both hands. She swiveled it around, back towards the interior of the room, and leaned in close. “We’re in this together.”
Des stood to her feet, pushing past her mom, and turned back. “Look, she didn’t contact either of you for a reason; she reached out to me. Who the hell knows why. But if this is a journey I have to take on my own, I think I’ve more than proven I can handle my shit. Don’t you?”
“Fuck. Des.” Chloe spoke up. “You were still surrounded by different versions of us. You didn’t do it all on your own. Don’t forget that shit.” She waggled an outstretched finger, pointing towards her daughter then left the room heading for the kitchen.
“Ugh! She gets on my damn nerves.”
Max placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “You gotta understand. You mean so much to her. She just doesn’t want anything bad to happen to you. We’ve all been through so much shit. Yes, it was always our fate to get through everything together, but we were lucky soooo many times. Your mom’s worried that one day our luck will run out.”
“Look.” Chloe insisted, stomping back into the living room area. “Forget everything else, I need you to do me a favor, okay? Kate has something for you to pick up from the university. Think you can do that for me today? Shouldn’t take too long. Should be back before it gets dark.”
“Hell yeah,” Des smirked. “Gonna take the backroads. There’s a straight mile stretch that’s perfect. Might see how fast I can get my bike; never opened her all the way up.”
“I hate when you say things like that,” Max interjected. “You are just like your mom, a damn thrill seeker. But please, please, please be careful.”
“I will, I will.”
“Oh, when you’re on campus, call Kate ‘Professor Marsh’. Especially if students are around.” Chloe beseeched her daughter.
“Yeah. Please, Des,” Max urged. “Now that she and Vic both teach at the same university, it would go a long way to boost her confidence. She’s still trying to find her own voice.”
“Fine.” The girl strolled to the front door, opened it, and disappeared as it shut behind her.
Once their daughter was gone, Chloe assertively clutched her wife’s hip with one arm while placing a hand on the back of her head. She pulled her soulmate in for a lengthy kiss then excitedly led the pair towards the couch. “Let’s worry about the Watcher shit later.”
“We started something I plan on finishing. Are you ready, love?”
Without hesitation, and with a growing eagerness in her voice, the brunette responded, “The readiest.”
She ran her fingers through long, black hair, staring up at the large frames on the stone wall where past archbishop portraits hung high in the shadowed gloom. Starting with the first, Simon Giora, she scanned the pictures of the generations that came before her. The girl looked each man in the eyes, one by one recalling the history lessons she had been taught since she was a little girl. Being the first female bishop in The Order, Esther Nilin felt an added pressure the men on the wall would never have understood.
She stopped as her gaze reached the end where her father’s face glared back. He passed away a couple of years prior, and it was tough for her to forgive him for leaving before completing his life’s mission.
Proudly considering himself a zealot, and sharing the first name with the man at the other end of the wall, Simon Nilin ensured his only daughter would follow in his footsteps and eventually be anointed as his predecessor. His mission, still being incomplete, now fell on her to finish so her father’s name would be honored at the highest level for all time.
Esther knew the man loved her mother before she died, as he often spoke about choosing to be with her over honoring the celibate calling those before him took. She was too young to even remember her mother’s face, but she regularly wondered about the woman. Simon established The Order after her death, which allowed for families to be brought into the fold, splintering off from the ancient Roman rules those before him held in high regard.
Esther was poised to move up in the ranks, becoming the first female archbishop. Her trajectory was set, and, if not for her young age, most felt she would already be in the powerful role. For now, she had her orders. Her obligation was to finish what her father started and find the abomination, eliminating it from the world before the prophecy could be fulfilled.
The group was previously led to the Pacific Northwest in search of the one that would bring death to the world. Scientists and engineers working for The Order crafted a mechanical device that measured seismic time stream data. Eventually, the machine indicated a specific area where Esther’s father was certain the abomination would be birthed. He figured he and his group could locate the creature and track it. As soon as they confirmed it to be the abomination they sought, he could destroy it and fulfill his destiny.
He and his team searched the hospital but came away empty handed. He blamed himself for putting his faith in the machine, and nearly destroyed it during a fit of rage. It was one of Esther’s first memories of the man and would vividly stick with her forever.
“Sister Nilin,” a man’s slightly muffled, gruff voice came from the adjacent room. “It’s finished.”
Reality swirled back in and Esther shook away her thoughts, the stone walls and portraits coming into focus once more. “Let me see it.” She stepped down from the dais and walked around the ornate, if not gaudy, furniture that formed a semicircle around the room. The upholstered chairs and couches had been refurbished from ancient days, yet still smelled musty and dank.
As she rounded the doorframe, she noticed a radiance of sepia light shining from the device’s underbelly. “Ah, so… was I correct about the iridium? Does it work?” Esther squinted, as her eyes focused on the item in the center of the table.
A balding man with a long white beard, several hair ties and bobbles holding it in place, stepped from behind the table. He nodded in confirmation and waved an open palm towards the device. Two other men in low-ranking, drab robes backed away, bowing as they departed the room. They shut the door behind them, giving the two high officials privacy for their discussion.
The perimeter of the dim room was lined with candles. Rippling light danced across the surface of the uneven, stone walls. Being several stories beneath the church had its advantages for privacy, but the building’s antiquated infrastructure only allowed for one connection to the power source, which was currently being used to charge the machine.
“Your dad would be proud of you, Esther.” He slowly bobbed his head up and down. She noticed his gaze fixed on the semicolon tattooed on her wrist. “He never understood why it worked, just that it did. Your research on universal vibrations and precious metals has been exponentially valuable. You’ve come so far, Sister.”
“Don’t mention him.” She raised her arm, hand facing outward indicating her desire for the man to stop. “He’s gone and this is my mission now.” Her words were direct and filled with passion.
“My apologies. I miss him dearly.”
“I know you were… friends, Father Isaac.”
“We loved each other,” the man corrected, voice shaken and scratchy from old age. “He was so much more to me than a friend or colleague, but you won’t find that written anywhere during your studies.”
“I know that, too.” She sighed and stepped in towards her closest confidant. Placing a hand on his shoulder, Esther looked into the elder’s eyes, alternating between the two. An affiliative grin courteously formed, a look of empathy floating across her face. “He was old fashioned, yet he honored those he loved.”
“That he did.” The man held silent, allowing a quiet moment to pass in order to honor his fallen comrade’s memory.
“The machine.” Esther softly mentioned, gently breaking the moment of silence so they could focus on their work. “Has it been tested since we brought it back online and added the upgrades?”
“We need the abomination to manipulate time again to truly know. Once it happens, we should be able to track the exact location. As far as upgrades, we created a handheld instrument that uses cell technology to ping the machine. Essentially, it’s now portable; almost like a metal detector. If your father could have pinpointed locations like this…”
Esther slammed two balled fists onto the wooden table causing a thunderous boom that shook and rattled the machine nearly sending it crashing to the floor.
“I am not him! The next time you bring up my dear dad… you’re done!” She close her eyes and took a deep breath. Upon reopening them, she noticed a fearful look on the old man’s wrinkled face. His hands were still on the machine, positioning it back in the center of the table, but his eyes were wide with fright.
“Don’t you get it? He represents failure. He failed at his mission, and he failed ME with his death. Until I’ve redeemed him, you’ll keep his name off your lips. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sister. Forgive me.” Father Isaac bowed but knew better than to look up at that moment.
“You may go now.”
Esther waived him out of the room and returned to the machine. She looked down at it, a smile of satisfaction stretching her cheek muscles, and ran a finger along the length of the longest middle portion. “We’ll have our redemption soon, Dad,” she whispered. “Soon.”