Author's Note: I'm sorry to say that this story is unfinished. I wish I could've given it my all, but I've got other projects to work on, and to be perfectly honest, I wrote this to exorcise all my feelings about the finale for Life is Strange. I'm grateful to the readers I got for this story and for anyone who started following my work.
In the meantime, if you're a big LiS fan like me, might I suggest you read my last complete story, Persistence of Vision? It has a happy ending for everyone and does a better job of dealing with some of the themes from Episode 5: Polarized.
Four: Going Backstage
"You're looking well, sir. I trust your new bodyguard meets to your satisfaction?"
"So far, yes. But I'm not pleased with the news about my son."
"My apologies, sir. Nathan took a rash course of action. We would have already wrapped up this loose end had he consulted me first."
"Another loose end? You're getting soft."
"It won't happen again. Nathan is safe with me, and I have only a few more pieces to collect before we can move forward with the plan."
"I trust you to keep a tight rein on my son. If he proves to be a liability—"
"Of course, sir. It'll be clean, just as promised."
Inside the main dining hall, the atmosphere was electric with a thousand conversations. Max tried to keep her head down, but that didn't deter the occasional odd glance thrown her way. Almost everyone snuck a peek at her, but it was her teammates that captured their interest and drew the most chatter.
"You really gotta hand it to Beacon," said Chloe. She paused to grin and shoot one curious classmate a thumbs-up. "News travels fast here."
"Yeah," Max answered. "Too fast."
She sat with her friends at one of the long tables near the western end of the dining hall. It had been Warren's suggestion that they stick close to the nearest exit if necessary. Of course, the longer Team MCKW enjoyed their meal, the more they realized that Team DJLN hadn't shown up. Ever since Nathan Prescott's disappearance two days earlier, the three remaining members of his team were showing their faces less and less. Someone would spot Dana Ward or Juliet Watson in class, but that was it. Rumor had it that Luke Parker was delivering or cooking up their meals in their dorm just to avoid a public spectacle.
"Hey, Max?" Warren leaned to the left, glancing past Max's shoulder at the table behind her. "If I were you, I wouldn't turn around. You-Know-Who might vaporize you with her laser eyes."
That dread in her stomach grew worse with each word. Max picked up Chloe's unused spoon and polished it with her napkin. Lifting it to the level of her eyes, she risked a quick glance at her reflection in the metal.
Victoria Chase was staring daggers at the back of Max's head. The tray of food in front of her had barely been touched, even while the rest of Team VYLT were enjoying their lunch and gossiping. For a moment, Max half-expected to see Victoria's eyes turn red and to feel the back of her head burst into flame. But when the miracle of combustion didn't occur, Max dropped the spoon back on her table and lowered her eyes to her half-finished sandwich.
A hand slid itself across the bench next to Max. She looked over and saw Kate beside her, offering a gentle smile. Max smiled back and squeezed her hand, her veins flooded with relief.
"Don't let Little Miss Rich Thing get ya down," said Chloe. She took a long, exaggerated sip from her soda can, then paused to burp into her fist. "Urp. Anyway, it's not like Vicky's gonna lay a finger on you. We got the ear of Ozpin, Goodwitch, and about half the police right now. She tries anything, and she's toast!"
"And that's also why we need to keep a low profile," Max replied. Meeting Chloe's gaze, she pressed her lips together in a grim line. "I know you want to do some more digging into Rachel's case—"
"And Kate's," Chloe insisted.
"—But like you said, we've got too many eyes on us right now." Max paused to look at each of her teammates, meeting their eyes with a calm stare. "We've all worked hard to get here. And we're going to stay successful if we don't draw the wrong kind of attention to ourselves. Nathan going after Kate the way he did was a fluke. We don't have to antagonize other people if we want to become one of the top teams at Beacon."
She felt Kate's hand tremble at the mention of Nathan and gave it another squeeze. Meanwhile, Warren looked between Max and a still irritated Chloe, giving the impression of a lost puppy.
"So…" He rubbed the back of his head. "Does that mean we're not looking into Kate's case? Like, at all?"
"Ozpin said it himself. Let the police handle it."
"Yeah, but Nathan's protected, you know?" When everyone stopped to look at him, Warren returned a sheepish grin. "I mean, if I had his family fortune, I'd be holed up somewhere that wasn't my daddy's estate. That'd be the first place the cops would look, right?"
"Well…" Max fumbled, trying to come up with a reasonable excuse. The only trouble was that she couldn't.
Warren was making too much sense. As usual.
"C'mon, Max." Chloe leaned across the table, giving her partner a mischievous smile. "You can't tell me you're not the least bit interested to see where this goes?"
"It's not our responsibility—"
"Yes, it is." Chloe leaned back in her seat, all signs of playfulness suddenly gone from her face and her voice. This was Chloe in Battle Mode, the girl who took down Grimm and sparring partners without breaking a sweat. "Max, it's our responsibility to look out for Kate. The cops have her statement, but they're not gonna go against Sean Prescott's Club for Millionaires. They'll just say Nathan is missing and make it a cold case, end of story."
Max wanted to rebuff her reasoning, but she was finding it difficult to do. The more she listened, the more her inner adventurer wanted to get involved. To go traipsing through the wilderness outside Vale or down a back alley in search of clues, with her whole team deployed in concert.
What Huntress wouldn't give her left arm for such an opportunity?
She looked at Kate and softened her tone. "You've got more stake in this than any of us, Kate. What do you think we should do?"
Kate fiddled with her fork full of leafy greens, keeping it close to her plate. When she looked Max in the eye, her face was lined with sadness. "Max, I'm scared. I'm terrified about what happened to me, and I don't want it to happen to anyone else." She swallowed. "Especially if Nathan is out there somewhere, doing to someone else what he tried to do to me."
"See, Max?" Chloe gestured at Kate, patting a spot on the table in front of her. "Even she's onboard. So how about it?"
Taking a moment, Max closed her eyes. She retreated to that little black corner in her head where she weighed all her decisions. An invaluable space to have as a team leader, especially before heading out into danger.
Rachel's disappearance. Her sighting in the woods. Kate's incident at the off-campus party. Nathan's attempt at kidnapping. All of it had to be connected, somehow.
Go for it, her hindbrain whispered.
Danger, her frontal lobe insisted.
Opening her eyes, Max saw Chloe staring at her with a guarded expression. Beautiful, strong Chloe, who had no reason to lie to Max when she claimed to saw Rachel Amber in the woods. The same girl who'd fought by her side all the way from Arcadia Bay to Beacon Academy, never daring to leave her behind for someone else, even when Rachel had caught her eye on the first day of training.
"Okay," said Max. She looked down at her hands, now clenched into fists as her heartbeat rose.
Chloe grinned. "That's my Super Max. Now, tell me you've got a plan."
"Not yet, but I will by tonight…"
Halfway across the city of Vale, just down the block from the Simple Wok noodle shop, was one of the hottest nightclubs in town. On the outside, it didn't look like anything special—an ordinary obsidian building with a velvet rope over the front door. Not even a sign to mark its existence to the public.
But then, it wasn't catering to the public. Only the elite few.
Max didn't mind any of the stares she got when she and the rest of her team joined the dozens of guys and girls waiting in line. She knew she wasn't on the list; Victoria Chase had ensured that. And as they got closer, the bouncer at the end of the line didn't appear any friendlier.
Still, she'd told Chloe she had a plan. And she was going to prove it in a few seconds.
"Max, I appreciate the support," Kate was saying, "but you could've left me back on campus."
"You'll be fine, Kate. Just remember to keep your hood up." Looking over her shoulder, Max took a moment to confirm that her teammate was, in fact, concealing her rabbit ears beneath the hood of her cloak. In any case, Warren was close behind her, ready to cause trouble for anyone who got too close.
Whatever Nathan had pulled wouldn't happen on Max's watch. She gripped her left hand into a fist, feeling that raw scarlet energy trace its way through her veins. Her Semblance came to life right when she needed it.
"Uhh, Max?" Chloe leaned over Max's shoulder, nudging her with the tip of her chin. "At what point do I need to bust that dude's face up? Because the scowl he's giving me is asking for it."
"It's cool. We've got this." Max let out a short breath and looked the bouncer in the eye. She waited until the group of kids ahead of them passed through the open doors and into the club. Then she took a step forward and cleared her throat.
The bouncer stared back with a scowl, his arms crossed over his chest. "Give your name or show me your pass, I don't care which."
"Max Caulfield, party of four," Max replied in a more respectful tone. "I'm sure we're on the list."
With a grunt, the man reached into a pocket on his suit and pulled out his Scroll. He flipped his thumb over the surface and glanced down at the screen. Then, with a curt shake of his head, he eyed Max over the rim of his shades. "Sorry, no Max Caulfield. Better luck next time."
Max clasped her hands together. "I'm sure there must be some mistake—"
"Oh, there's no mistake, Max!"
On the heels of that sharp voice came a young woman about Max's age, dressed in a black-and-white striped dress. She walked with an aristocratic gait, but with the poise of someone who learned it by rote instead of being born to it. When she laid eyes on Team MCKW, her glare was no less frosty.
"Your little geek squad doesn't belong anywhere near the Atlesian Royals," said Courtney Wagner. She mirrored the bouncer's pose, arms crossed over her chest with a sneer pointed downward. "And even if you did get an invite, there's no way Victoria will ever honor it. Not after what you did with Nathan."
"That wasn't my fault—"
"Yeah, you wanna blame somebody? Try me!" Chloe shoved her way toward Courtney, towering over the girl by a full foot. Courtney backed away as Chloe's hand dropped into her jacket, obviously going for the outline of her weapon concealed underneath. "I mean, I'm the one who scared his scrawny little butt away from Beacon!"
"D-don't you come any closer!" Courtney ducked behind the bouncer for cover. "For goodness sake, don't let them in!"
"Now, see here, Missy—"
The bouncer's words died in his throat when Chloe's fist connected with the underside of his jaw. He flew up into the air by a few feet, just long enough for Chloe to reach through the space he'd vacated and yank Courtney toward her. The impact dislodged something in the other girl's clutch bag, allowing Max to see a gleaming gold insignia stamped on a velvet black card.
Bingo, she thought.
Out loud, she said, "Excuse me, I'll be taking that."
Before Courtney could react, Max had reached into her purse and snatched the velvet card. Sure enough, it was a gold facsimile of the Atlas Academy emblem on the front. A literal calling card for the Atlesian Royals clique, and a guaranteed pass to the club's VIP section.
And away we go. Max lifted her hand and watched as the commotion at the entrance played itself in reverse. Chloe dropped Courtney back onto her feet as the bouncer landed in between them. After taking back some choice words, Courtney slipped back inside, and the bouncer stopped to look back at his Scroll. When Max saw the Scroll disappear, she released her hold, pausing to clutch at her head.
When this night is over, I'll go to Pyrrha for some aspirin, she thought weakly.
"…Give me your name or show me your pass, I don't care which," the bouncer was saying. He threw an unpleasant glance toward Kate but said nothing. Max found it suspicious, but not enough to pursue at the moment.
Instead, she met the older man's grim stare with a smile. Without a word, she flashed Courtney's VIP pass in front of his eyes.
She relished the tiny chuckle that Chloe uttered behind her.
"Okay, you're in." As the bouncer lifted the velvet rope away from the door, he pushed up his glasses with his other hand. "Just so we're clear, keep your weapons concealed, your money on hand, and any beef with the other guests to yourselves. We clear?"
"As crystal," Chloe remarked. She shot a wink at the other girls behind them in line before following Max inside. As the doors slid shut behind the four of them, she spun around and hugged Max around the waist. "Girl, you are magic! You gotta tell me how you pulled that off!"
"Later," said Max. She nodded toward the staircase that led down into the club interior. "First, let's enjoy the party."