Like smoke scattering on the breeze, Max felt every bit of herself being spread across the universe, through the omniverse, and beyond the veil of reality. Every last particle rejoined the energy source that provided a sense of structure to existence; except one.
The final undefinable, intangible crumb of Max’s essence that contained her conscious thought remained intact. It was securely protected by her wife’s profound love and Pearl’s life-restorative ability, keeping her from slipping away. Not unlike her first trip to the Watcher’s realm, she reminded herself of the highest truth she could grasp.
“Cogito, ergo sum. I think therefore, I am.”
Max understood the simple fact that if she could identify her own sense of self, she hadn’t fully passed on yet. She never wavered because of fear or weariness, holding onto the idea that she still existed for a purpose.
Tiny slivers of rational thought were peppered in-between abstract and incomprehensible concepts.
In a flash, transcendence revealed itself to her. Max suddenly understood the difference between the ideas of heaven and hell. The cosmic meaning of life was to filter out the positively contributing particles from those that functioned in a harmful, or negative, manner to the universe like a well-oiled machine. She felt joyful that hers were on their way to being returned to the source of positive energy. She was headed towards heaven; all except that one particle.
An abrupt, direct connection to the main line of energy linked directly to Max’s last remaining speck. The bond was one of the most pleasurable sensations she had ever felt; though it paled in comparison to the pure joy she experienced when she and Chloe connected.
She heard a voice that sounded like her own, yet disconnected from herself in the distance.
“Max, thank you.”
“Who’s there?” She didn’t see anything but a welcoming bright, white light. The intoxicating sensation of its warmth was all encompassing, if addicting. She temporarily fell into a trance-like state, which focused her thoughts on nothing but the light. Her mind couldn’t differentiate between what were formerly her five senses. Everything was experienced as a singular awareness.
“Perhaps this will make things easier.”
Suddenly, the white light receded, and Max was sitting in one of the back booths at the Two Whales Diner. She looked down at her hands and arms. The silicone bands she wore as a teen were around her wrist, and she was wearing her old Jane Doe shirt and grey hoodie. Nobody else was in the diner, yet a steaming cup of coffee sat in front of her on the table.
Just to feel the sensations of real life again, she picked up the mug and brought it to her lips. She sipped in a small trickle of coffee, almost burning her tongue in the process.
“It feels real, yes?”
Across from Max, another individual materialized before her, or maybe she simply hadn’t realized of the other’s presence.
“I have been known by many names, but nobody gets it right. I am more of a matchmaker than a god or something to be worshipped.”
Max scanned the being sitting across from her. The girl was the mirror image of herself at eighteen-years-old.
“You look like… me.”
“I do not have a structure that would make sense to you, so this is the best way for us to meet. I simply reconstructed a copy of yourself as you were when you received the power I sent.”
“So, you created my rewind power? Are you God?”
“As I stated, I’m no deity. Some would probably describe me as God-like, but again, that determination lacks context and experience. I’ll try to explain…
“If you all could observe the energy particles of reality with similar match-rates in the manner which I can, maybe discovering a magnified resolution to see beyond quantum particle pollution, you could probably even become… well, you could become me. Alas, every road has a beginning and an ending; regardless of how many other branching paths emerge. Evolution and innovation do not even come close; not in any form of reality. I determined there was a need to supply your people with powers you did not have and could not create by yourselves. It functions as a sort of carrying capacity control for the good-to-evil ratio.”
Looking into a set of eyes that looked like her own, Max searched for the words to say to alleviate her confusion.
“I don’t really understand. But… why me?”
“Humans could never get there on their own. Maybe I did not do it in a way that makes sense to you, but the balance between good and evil was perfectly weighted with my approach. The three Watchers understood that fact until the first two grew mad and corrupt, desiring control. They were never designed to control anything, but acted as a conduit for my comprehension. The final Watcher, Rachel as she was named to you, recognized this, feeling the negative side starting to influence her choices. She discovered a way to transfer the role to your daughter in a manner I never contemplated.
“Nevertheless, everything had been working well until you came along and broke down barriers I didn’t even realize existed. It was why you were chosen, sweet girl. My system was flawed, and I noticed the massive amount of energy you and your wife shared, even when you were apart. The term ‘soulmates’ does not even begin to illustrate the connection between you two. I chose to have you reunited in a spectacular way, with the power allowing you to save her life. While unpredictable, you two proved how amazing a decision it was, with how special you are to one another.
“I would love to confidently state that I am the most powerful source of energy that has ever existed. However, your love for one another, well… your love, quite frankly, kicked my ass. I have never seen anything like it.”
“Oh, Chloe!” Max thought of her soulmate and a feeling of dire concern washed through her. “Is-Is Chloe… okay?”
“I could tell you myself, but you will have a choice to make in a few moments. Your lifeline is being held together by a single particle in order for us to have this conversation. It was the least I could do for all you have done for me. I feel terrible you had to go through so much pain and deal with such unfair pressures. But you have come out successfully. You rearranged my design in a way that makes everything much better for everyone.”
“I-I don’t know what to say.” Max wasn’t afraid. She was just having a totally mind-blowing experience that she knew was hers and hers alone.
“Well, Max, do you have any questions for me? You are the only person who has ever had the opportunity to meet me like this, and most certainly the last.”
Max thought about it for a couple of seconds. Being face to face with her creator wasn’t something she experienced every day. She only wanted to make sure she didn’t mess anything up.
“Call me selfish, but I don’t really have anything to ask. The mysteries of the universe don’t seem too daunting from my perspective. It doesn’t really matter how much shit I had to go through to get here, I’m in love with my best friend. We have an amazing life together. Chloe and Des are my world.”
“Ah, yes. Love is beautiful; an extreme care for someone other than yourself. The energy of love is the only thing that could ever rival my power.” The Matchmaker smiled.
“Actually,” Max began, “I do have one question. I guess I understand what my power is, but Des can fully time travel. She can go anywhere she wants. I know how her power was created, but can you tell me why?”
“Time travel isn’t as mysterious as it seems to your people. It is merely the act of sorting through sub-molecular specks and finding matches. That is a simplified description of how you do what you do and how Destiny does what she does. You, then, observe the transfer of energy between the matches and the observer is sucked along for the ride. Not much to it besides that. I suppose the ease of usage between individuals differs based on their experiences.
“Destiny is a perfect mixture of you and Chloe. She is the physical manifestation of your love, and there is nobody even remotely like her. Some cultures have a decent understanding of opposites and their unique relationship to one another. Though they could never comprehend the perfect yin and yang that makes up your daughter’s being.”
Max thought for a second. “You didn’t answer my question, did you?”
The Matchmaker laughed. It sounded the way Max imagined hers would to someone else. “Even before you discovered your confidence, you were always perceptive. There’s a link between intelligence and meaningfully observing the world around you. Even if standardized, human-designed tests never showed it, you were always one of the most intellectual people of your time.”
“You still haven’t answered.” The entire experience was surreal, yet Max felt The Matchmaker was purposely leaving out something important, hoping she would forget what she asked.
“I have not. Let us just come to an understanding that Destiny and Pearl have a little more work to do. I promise not to ask you and Chloe for any more of yourselves. You have given so much already; more than I should have asked, though you handled it better than I could have predicted. Which brings us to the final choice I’ll ever ask you to make at this grand of level. First, are there any further questions for me? We will not meet like this again after you make your choice, though I believe I already know what your decision will be.”
Max puffed her chest. “I have no other questions.”
The final choice was presented, and Max chose exactly how The Matchmaker expected.
One month later
The hospital was quiet except for the steady beeping and buzzing of medical machinery that Chloe learned to tune out during the past four weeks. In typical Chloe Caulfield-Price fashion, she made Max’s room into her own, and if it weren’t for the help of Des, Pearl, Victoria, and Kate, the place would have become a pigsty. Sure, the hospital provided routine floor sweeping and mopping, however, those closest to Max and Chloe assisted with laundry, bringing food, changing out pillows and clothing, and any other task that needed completing.
Over the course of the thirty days Max was in a coma, many visitors made their way into her room. They brought flowers, cards, balloons, and all of the typical “get-well-soon” items one would expect. Chloe ensured, when her wife awakened, she would be surrounded by the love her many friends and photography fans had showered her with while she was away.
The amenities the hospital provided weren’t very comfortable by themselves, so Chloe, using other furniture pieces, created a nook that even impressed the medical staff. She wanted her spot to be as pleasant as it could be during her time there since she never planned on leaving Max’s side even for a second.
Being cramped up, away from home, didn’t bother Chloe. The most annoying moments came when top hospital administration wanted to discuss paperwork and planning. She nearly punched the Director of Patient Experience in the face when he began lecturing her about coma victims and the odds of regaining consciousness. He even had the audacity to bring up do-not-resuscitate orders, suggesting she give the authority to pull the plug if Max’s condition didn’t change within the next few weeks. It took Des’s and Pearl’s determined intervention to hold her back from ripping the man a new one.
Following the events in Marzanna’s realm, Pearl was finally able to successfully pull Max’s spirit away from crossing over. Chloe knew in her heart that her love functioned in a way that enhanced Pearl’s ability. After rushing Max to the hospital, dealing with ICU, and finally getting her settled into her own recovery room, Chloe was able to sit down with her daughter and catch up on the things she didn’t know.
She also had the opportunity to actually meet and get to know Des’s new friend. Chloe and Pearl hit it off immediately. During their first real conversation, Chloe joked about Des’s weird obsession with dragons when she was a little girl, making Pearl giggle and ask for more stories– which Chloe eagerly obliged.
More importantly, the trio discussed time travel, Pearl’s phoenix-like abilities, Marzanna, and Rachel’s final moments. After entering the mindspace to try and find Max with no success, Chloe begged Des to continue tapping into her new Watcher power, but the red-streaked blonde still couldn’t see Her mom’s branching probabilities. She spoke about the limitations on seeing time through the Watcher’s eyes. Since Max’s future was directly linked to Des’s decisions, she was unable to see anything.
Additionally, Des mentioned the fact that the power felt much weaker than it had previously, like it was fading away. She didn’t know much about how it actually functioned, but she said she suspected the Watcher’s realm acted as an insulated structure, keeping the energy from dwindling. As she recalled to Chloe, the area had fallen apart just after she and Pearl escaped.
After catching up with everything and learning more about one another, many silent moments passed by. It didn’t matter, though, everyone was gathered together for the same reason. Supporting Max never felt like a burden or a chore. To Chloe, it was just a matter of time before she would hold her wife again and have a dorky conversation about nothing in particular.
It was still early, non-visiting hours, so Des and Pearl hadn’t arrived yet. They fought with the hospital staff when Max was first admitted, trying to convince them to allow more than one person to stay overnight. Unfortunately, policies and procedures outweighed any of their attempts.
On this particular morning, Chloe was sitting on her makeshift recliner-bed in the corner, kicked back reading a scientific journal from her handheld device. A typical Seattle thunderstorm was passing through while she sipped hospital coffee from a paper cup beside the large-paned window. The blinds were cracked just enough to allow small bars of early-day sunlight into the room, and she had angled them as to not let any shine directly on Max’s face.
Lightning flashed and thunder cracked in the distance, a couple of miles from the hospital but easily seen from Chloe’s location, drawing her attention from her reading. She had been mostly calm and patient as she waited by Max’s side the past month, but something about the moment made her feel anxious and lonely.
She pulled the sheet off her knees and torso, pivoting her body around and placing her bare feet on the cold laminate floor. Chloe approached her wife and looked down at her body. She scanned the tubes and machines that were hooked to Max. Needing to feel a physical closeness with the brunette, she gently moved her body a couple of inches in the bed then laid down on her side next to her. She placed her free arm on top of the woman and buried her face in brown hair, taking a deep sniff.
“I know you’ve only had sponge baths lately, but I still love your smell, Maxter.” She shifted around and placed her lips on Max’s nearest cheek. Letting herself linger in the moment, she let her puckered mouth lay on her wife’s skin for several seconds. With a tiny smack, she pulled back and nestled in for a cuddle.
She must have dozed off because a sudden, bright flash of white light and booming thunder abruptly startled her awake. Her body jerked and she knew that lightning must have just struck close by. The next thing that happened was surreal.
The weight distribution in the bed slightly shifted. It wasn’t much to notice, but something under the covers definitely moved. Chloe’s eyes slowly made their way from looking down the sheet near the foot of the bed, up towards her favorite person’s face. As her glance landed on her spouse, she noticed a set of blue eyes tenderly looking back at her. Chloe’s breathing caught and her heart fluttered in her chest. Tears filled her eyes and her lip uncontrollably quivered.
Reality bled away from her peripherals and all that existed were Max and Chloe. An entire lifetime lingered between the pair as if they were simultaneously reexperiencing each moment together.
(Two preschoolers barely old enough to carry on a conversation.)
(Two pirates digging in the dirt in the backyard.)
(Two teenagers reconnecting after being tragically separated for years.)
(Two young adults healing together and traveling.)
(Two lovers saying their vows at their wedding.)
(Two women welcoming their beautiful daughter into the world.)
(Two partners growing their business and raising their family.)
(Two perfect matches staring at one another in a hospital bed.)
Max fumbled around as she slowly reached up and removed the oxygen mask that was on her face. Chloe helped her get the bands from around her head so it would be fully removed.
“Hey,” Chloe said first, swallowing hard to force the tears away, overjoyed by Max’s return.
Max tried to speak but no words came out. Her lips were slightly chapped and her mouth was dry. Finally, she was able to find her voice again after several attempts.
“I chose you, Chloe. It was always you.”