After a few hours through busy traffic, they arrived at Victoria’s place, which already surprised Maxine. She had half expected her to be dropped off at her own place. After all, after what she’d put Penny and V through, she wouldn’t be surprised at Victoria needing some distance. But if Victoria was going to make the leap of faith, then so was she. It was a hard step to make, accepting that she didn’t deserve to be punished or left behind or anything like that, but she made it. With a little nudging from Penny. Only a little.
Victoria opened the door and let Max in, who sort of awkwardly wandered into the apartment. There was a pregnant silence. She didn’t know what to do. What was allowed and what wasn’t. She leaned awkwardly against a couch, head down. A part of her was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, for it all to come crashing down and get taken away.
Hey, Penumbra said. Just talk. Say what you think. Show her… show us that… that you’re ready to accept help. The question, of course, was how. That’s up to you. Max suddenly got an idea, got her phone out of her pocket and sent a text. She was really, really hoping to get a quick response, and after only seconds the reply came, with a little smiley face. Max took a deep breath, and called the number in the text. Phone to her ear, she made eye contact with Victoria, who raised her eyebrows but stayed quiet. After a few seconds, the phone was picked up.
“Hello? Yeah, I was wondering if… yeah.” Maxine smiled sheepishly at Victoria, who was setting tea and pretending not to pay too much attention. Curiosity was more than understandable, but Max preferred to take the step first before talking about taking it. “Max. Maxine Powers. Yes, I can do Monday. Yeah, that works. Thank you. Yeah, I was refer--” Maxine laughed, and again Victoria couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. “Yes, that Max. No, it’s Maxine. Yeah. Thank you. Thank y-- Thank you. Bye. Thank you.”
“That was a lot of thank you’s,” Victoria said, sipping her tea, and offering Max one as well. “Who was that?” Max pocketed her phone and gratefully accepted the mug.
“Remy’s psychologist,” she said. “They were okay pencilling me in next Monday.”
I’m proud of you. Then Max felt Penny ever so gently enveloping her mind, like a hug that wrapped itself around her very core. She couldn’t help but smile, especially when Victoria softly clinked their cups.
“Thank you,” Victoria said. Maxine blinked a few times and returned the little gesture. Victoria sat on the back of the couch next to her. “So… now what?” Max did not have the answer to that. Had no idea where to go from here in the slightest.
“No clue. I have a lot to figure out, I think. I’m not in here on my own,” she said, tapping her head. “And I want us to exist here, ethically. I’m sure there’s resources out there for people who are… well, not singular.” She paused and looked at Victoria. “And I need to learn and unlearn a lot of things.” Victoria nodded and put a hand on Maxine’s back.
“Do you want to be alone while you learn them?” she asked, then bit her lip. “You… I’m here. If you want me to be.” There was a short pause, but Max got the distinct feeling that Victoria wasn’t quite done yet. “We’re gonna take it slow, okay? I have to… I have to consider myself, too. But if you’re taking the therapy thing seriously, then… then I’d like it if you stayed here.” Maxine looked around the apartment with an unspoken question, and Victoria smiled. “I didn’t mean literally here, although you’re… you’re welcome here. But I meant... with me. I want to give us a try. On one condition.”
“Say it. You mean a lot to me, Victoria. I want to put the work in.”
Victoria raised a finger and waved it in front of Maxine’s face playfully. “You don’t get to doubt the fact that I want to be with you,” she said. “You did something really stupid, you hurt yourself, but I’m here for you and I’m here with you. You don’t get to tell me you’re not good enough for me, because that’s not up to you. Deal?”
Max nodded eagerly. “Deal.” She felt Penny ‘look’ at her sideways and she nudged them softly. “Promise.” They sat there in silence, quietly drinking their tea. After a minute, Victoria scooted just a little bit closer so their shoulders were touching, but shot her an exaggerated ‘This-doesn’t-mean-anything’ look that got them both grinning. Maxine enjoyed the closeness as they just… existed in the same space. Penny, too, was relaxing, apparently enjoying the warmth of the tea as much as she was. After both of their cups were empty, someone did have to move or say something, and Victoria was the one to take the plunge.
“So how are you feeling?” She paused. “Both of you.” Max pushed herself off and rinsed out her cup, thinking about what to say, and conferring with Penny in their head. For the most part, they found themselves agreeing. The relationship between the two of them was healing quickly, especially now that Max was actively trying to help Penny drive off the negative thought processes and downward spirals. She invited Penumbra to help her figure her feelings out, not so much stepping aside to let them take control, but taking them by the hand to have a look out of the proverbial front window. Then they both looked at Victoria, and they agreed on the deepest, most profound of levels, what was truly important to them.
“Well,” they said, and then stopped, clamping their mouth shut. Victoria cocked her head and looked at them, then stood up, walking a little closer.
“What are you doing with your voice?” She studied their face more closely. “Penny? Is that you?”
“Yes,” they said. “And no. We…” They raised a hand and looked at it like it was the first time they’d ever done so. And in a sense, it was. They’d never seen the world this way. “We’re here. Both of us, we think. This is… very strange.” They looked Victoria in the eyes and smiled. “Right now, we think there’s no real distinction. We just… are. Together.” Victoria smiled back and touched their face softly.
“Well, it’s definitely new, but I think we can make this work. And I owed Penumbra this, so I think you’ll both appreciate it.” Very softly, she pulled their face closer, and kissed them ever so softly. Their synapses, human and other, exploded like fireworks. Their minds and bodies were one and the experiences of both were more intense than they’d ever been in singular. When she pulled away, it was like the world lost a colour, but the memory would remain. Even now, their experience of the world was more powerful. There was the observation of everything around them, the knowledge Maxine brought with her, but there were also the waves of light only Penumbra could observe. The range of light, motion, even heat, was almost overwhelming. Almost. Together, it was manageable. “So,” Victoria said, and they focused on her again, “do you have a name, when you’re… like this? Merged?”
“We thought of Spite, at first,” they said. “It doesn’t fit. Not anymore. It’s not a… healing name. We aren’t Maxine, although she’s here. And we’re not Penumbra, although they’re here too. We… don’t know yet. And we think that’s okay.”
Victoria smiled and pulled them in for another kiss. “Yes. That’s very okay. And… for what it’s worth, I’m glad you two found each other. Penny is a much better fit for you than me.” She grinned as she pulled away.
“How did that go, by the way?” Maxine asked, and then blinked when she realized she was no longer co-piloting. Victoria smiled when she recognized the voice. Penny seemed to have happily taken a step back again, to give Max a little space.
“It went... good. It went well, I think. Penny is a better fit for you, I think. They’re… how do I put this… I’m worried I might dominate the conversation a little bit.” She winked, and Maxine felt Penny… well, the closest comparison was blushing. “They’re absolutely wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But you two belong together.”
Agreed. Though it was… interesting. Maxine felt them be bashful for a moment, like the familiar fluttering of butterflies, but in her hindbrain. She wondered why they were being so shy, and then realized as soon as they did. I got to kiss you. Oh. Yeah. That was a thing that happened. Maxine blushed. Victoria raised an eyebrow, noticing her reaction.
“The kiss. The, uh… the transfer one,” Max said, her face practically glowing.
“What about it?” Victoria asked innocently as she cleaned out her own cup.
“It was good,” they said, their voice very small in the best way. Victoria grinned.
“You two are cute when you’re thinking the same thing,” she said. They glared at her playfully, and then closed the distance, softly grabbing her by the hips and pulling her closer. “Oh,” she said, a surprised smile on her face.
“Well,” they said. “In that case we want you to know that we care for you very deeply, Victoria.” They looked her deep in the eyes, those butterflies back with a vengeance. “In fact, our feelings for you are unanimous, and our thoughts are one.” They kissed her, a little bit more powerfully this time, and she melted in their arms. Standing there for what felt like an eternity, they revelled in her, in the feelings, how weak and powerful she made them feel at the same time. At some point, breathing had to be done, and they finally broke apart, panting ever so slightly.
“Do, uh, hum, do you want to go and get something to eat?” Victoria asked, pretending like she wasn’t trying to compose herself. “It’s been a long morning.”
“Yes please,” they said.
“I could go for some coffee,” Maxine said, or would have, if Penny hadn’t tried to speak at the exact same moment, exclaiming an ‘I would love some waffles right now’. Both of them trying to talk at the same time led to a mashup of syllables that was completely unintelligible. Max and Penny ‘looked’ at each other for a minute, and then both burst out laughing. Victoria couldn’t help but giggle along when she picked up on what had happened. Finally, Max got a handle on things. “Coffee and waffles, we think,” she said.
“You two are okay?” Victoria said, still smiling happily. She gently touched Maxine’s arm and looked up at her.
“Yeah. Yes,” Max said, smiling back. “We’re okay.” Penny confirmed as much in her head. “Are… are we okay? You and me, I mean?” Victoria nodded and pulled her into a hug.
“Yeah. Like I said, we’ll take it slow, but yeah.” She looked up at Maxine’s face and studied it. “You know, it’s been a few hours since you two have been back together.”
“Yeah,” Maxine said. “I’m very glad. I think we both are, to have each other again.”
Can confirm, Penny said with a little smile.
“That’s not what I meant,” Victoria said and seemed to scan Maxine’s eyes, as if she was looking for something. “You two have been together for hours. Penny, have you… had to push back? Has Maxine been fighting you? You haven’t… turned back yet.”
“I…” Penny hesitated after Maxine gave them the driver’s seat. “Not for a couple of hours. I think it was there at first, but no. I don’t think… Max isn’t fighting me anymore.” They blinked, and then Max was fronting again. I’m proud of you, Penny added, just for her.
“I’m proud of you,” Victoria echoed unwittingly. She took Maxine’s hand and squeezed it softly. “Do you want to grab a coffee?” She paused. “With waffles.”