Life is Fluff: Everyday Heroes
Art by iminchains
Chasefield Fluff in the AU where Max turns in her photo.
“Now, I know this isn’t how any of you wanted to win or participate in this contest. You may feel that an opportunity was taken from you among the struggles our campus has undergone this week. But I just want to thank each and every one of you for participating in the Everyday Heroes contest, for representing yourselves as well as Blackwell Academy. It is with great pride that I see how you have continued your academic pursuits while supporting one another through turmoil. As the principal of this school, I would like to say that you are all every day heroes, and you all show a potential that fills me with pride for this school and its students.”
Principal Wells was not many extraordinary things. He was not a great administrator. He had not been a great husband in either of his two marriages. He was not a particularly great man. But he was quite a decent speaker, for though the class of eight photography students knew this was a pre-designed speech for the school and city newspaper, many of them did stand up straighter to hear his acceptance and appreciation, his eyes bouncing around to settle on each and every one of them for a brief moment, never letting them wander onto Juliet’s camera or the journalist on the other side of the room from her.
“But now, I think it’s time to announce the winner of this contest. I hope we can all accept this personal victory as a communal one as we send the winner to San Francisco this Friday.” Principal Wells took an additional moment to look at everyone briefly one last time. “The winner of the Everydays Heroes Contest for Blackwell Academy is Maxine Caulfield. Congratulations, Max.”
Max’s eyes widened in shock, and the applause began before she even had the chance to take a step forward. On the other side of the arc of students was Victoria, and Max saw her lips purse into a fine line as she followed Daniel and Kate’s lead and began to clap. Then, she stumbled forward, removing her hands from the pockets of her hoodie, and found Principal Wells’s hand outstretched. She fit her tiny hand in his for a brief moment, and he guided her to turn towards the cameras to smile for a moment as they shook.
Michelle Grant took a few steps forward, and offered Max a rectangular frame wrapped in loose brown gift paper, which she gingerly accepted. She peeled off the paper, taking sure to dispose of it by handing it over to Wells, who dropped it onto Jefferson’s former desk before the two both held the frame, revealing the print of Max’s photo to everyone.
More camera flashes, and more applause. And Principal Wells was speaking more, something about Max, or the contest, or something, but now it was Max’s eyes that flickered around the room, watching everyone’s expressions.
Kate practically cheering.
Hayden just sort of grinning, clearly not very invested.
Taylor clapping loudly, then quieter when she realized Victoria probably wouldn’t want her to be too excited.
Stella clapping regularly, and being one of the first to cut off.
Alyssa smiling like she rarely smiled the whole while.
Victoria’s lips slowly curling into a bit of a smirk the longer the clap continued, but clapping as long as anyone but Kate.
Juliet pausing from taking shots to give Max a thumbs up.
Daniel clapping slow, as if he were uninterested, but still smiling supportively the whole time.
Principal Wells was done speaking, and handing off Max’s photo print entirely to her. “Thank you so much, Principal Wells,” she said, and bowed a little, not wanting to hold the photo with just a single hand, and held it out to be clearly viewed a moment longer before stepping back into the crowd of her peers.
In the minutes that followed, virtually everyone in the room stopped by to talk to Max individually - not so much about her photo, but about going to San Francisco. Yes, I was am so excited! No, really, I thought you were going to win, I loved your piece Taylor - and fellow tardy assignment doers, right? Oh lord, Kate, no, I couldn’t do any of this without you, you’re an actual hero.
But there was one person who stood near the corner of the desk closest to the door, leaning on it and watching this little procession while talking to Wells, or Juliet, or whoever was close, shooting Max direct looks and smirks when she could. Victoria, of course. They weren’t threatening, exactly, but they made Max a little uneasy. At least … well, they made her nervous. But she was too flushed with victory to let it get to her.
When Victoria finally turned to leave, alone even, that made Max especially nervous, and she broke away from her friends with a, “I’ll be right back, I just wanna talk to Victoria for a sec.”
She saw Victoria several steps down the empty hallway, and hurried after her, calling, “Hey, Victoria, wait.”
Victoria turned aroundfolding her arms over her chest, face already stuck in its smirk. “Oh, hey there Max,” she said with no hint of actual surprise. “Congratulations on your win, though I’ll still contest that it has more to do with your whole involvement in taking down a serial killer than your photography, but I suppose if you hadn’t, I might have won and been going to California with a serial killer, so I guess I’m all right with you getting this one.”
Max just chuckled, aware of this rumor, though pretty sure there was no substance to it. “I don’t think they were influenced by school rumors - at least, I hope not. I just, um. I wanted to see how you were doing. I know this could have been a big break for you, and we both know you really deserve one.”
Now Victoria’s hands fell to her hips instead. “Oh, well, how considerate of you, Max Caulfield. But my work will be in a gallery without school sponsorship soon enough, don’t you worry about that. In fact, I need to go check on a possible deal via e-mail, if you’ll excuse me,” she replied, turning to stride away.
Max made a quick step, reaching up to grab Victoria’s shoulder a little, not sure how to properly communicate what she was doing, but it was enough to get Victoria to turn around, really confused and a little unnerved.
“I really like you,” Max blurted out.
Victoria blinked. Many, many times, her head shaking minutely as she tried to process what she’d just heard. So she tried to clarify aloud, “Um, what?”
Max froze, realizing how fucked she was. So she just went with it all the way. “I. Uh. I think your photography captures an artistic rendering of yourself through its symbolic self-projection. I look at your subjects and I think they are beautiful, not just because they are, but because you captured them in a way that reflects your own beauty and vulnerability. You are strong and smart and really goddamn funny, even when you’re kind of being mean. And when you’re not being mean, or just playing at being nice, I think you are wondrous, and I really like you.”
Victoria took a long, quiet moment to process, to collect herself, just to find words. But when they came out, they were almost scripted, or rehearsed in some way. “When I look at your photos, I know, though maybe half of them actually feature you, that they’re largely meditations on adolescence, and chaos, and all sorts of pretentious bullshit you pretend you don’t subscribe to. But you capture them as if they are not the focus at all, like you’re ironically pointing out one’s vanity and self-centeredness amidst something so confusing and powerful, like you are the fool, or the vanity, but you’re actually the wise man. And I think that is unique. I think you have a gift. And I admire you. And I’m so glad that you choose yourself as a subject, because I think you’re beautiful, and I like that you give me an excuse to look at you and get to know you all at the same time, because if I looked at you half as much as I’ve looked at your photos, you’d know how I felt about you.”
Max was crimson by this point, so confused on how to express anything more that she began to go further and further off script. Not just her verbal script, but her total script for behavior. She offered out her hand, palm upward, and looked up at Victoria’s lips for a moment before nervously looking away from even that closeness.
She was amazed when Victoria’s hand settled over hers, her wide, warm fingers over Max’s wrist.
“So, do you want to tell me how you feel now?”
Victoria nodded, the word small between her lips, “Yeah.”
And she took that step still between them, and bringing a hand behind Max’s neck, and pressed her lips to Max’s. Max’s hand turned so her own fingers could lace with Victoria’s, and she stood on her toes to make kissing Victoria easier, her other hand reaching up into Victoria’s hair.
So, understandably, Max was a little stunned when Victoria pushed her back a little, taking a moment to understand that this was playful. But Victoria was grinning. “I feel like I really fucking like you, Max Caulfield, and like you should find some showy way to ask me out again so I can make out with you some more.”
Victoria turned and started down the hall.
Max sputtered, “I could turn back time, kiss you right in front of Jefferson, take a picture of it, and turn THAT in for the contest.”
Victoria actually laughed out loud as she went. “Now that would have been cool. Call me when everyone’s done praising you, and we can talk more about how much you like me.”
Max cupped her hands together to form a megaphone: “MY BODY IS READY!”
Victoria just kept laughing.