Brain Damage by flYegurl

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Romance, Tragedy
Characters:Fang, Iggy
Published:2011-05-18 17:04:30
Updated:2011-05-18 17:04:30
Packaged:2021-04-04 14:44:50
Summary:Iggy is injured and suffers a severe brain injury. Fang is tortured by guilt. It was his fault. "I… remember when I was not like this. Max and Nudge and Angel and Gazzy said that I would be a part of the flock even if I could not make bombs or make food. But I can not do either of that any more, and they do not treat me like a part of the flock. They were lying."

Brain Damage

"You'll pay for insulting me," the scientist snarled, narrowing his eyes and cursing at me. "You'll pay, you'll see."

But I wasn't scared. Nope, the great Fang never shrunk away from a fight. Besides, Max and the rest were going to come rescue me and Iggy soon, so what was the point in cowering like a weak little experiment?

"What are you gonna do about it?" I asked spitefully, baring my teeth at the scientist like the caged animal I was. "Huh? What are you gonna do about it? You have your orders not to hurt me, so what are you gonna do about it?"

Those words are the ones I regret saying most in my life. If I could, I would do anything to go back and stop myself from being so stupid, so thoughtless. But as Iggy always says, "you can not change the past." And he's right. No matter how much I go over the situation again in my head, no matter how many times I think of different ways I could have acted, to change things, it won't ever happen. Because what's done is done.

The scientist had walked forward, grasped at the bars of my cage, and grinned at me with malice in his eyes.

"I won't tell you what I'm going to do," he had answered. "I'll show you."

With those words, the scientist had turned and pulled out his key ring, unlocked Iggy's cage, and pulled my friend out by his hair. Unable to fight, with his hands cuffed behind his back and weak from the grueling experiments we had been subjected to earlier, Iggy was led into the center of the room, to a metal chair.

"Sit," the scientist order, shoving Iggy down into the seat, making sure that Iggy's hands were cuffed behind the back of the chair.

Then, without warning, the scientist pulled his gun out of the holster and swung it, hitting Iggy in the temple with a crushing blow. Iggy had been unconscious on impact, but before his eyes had even closed his head was met with another blow, and another, and another, until I was screaming at the scientist to stop and blood was flying into the air in droplets every time the scientist pulled back his arm to hit Iggy again. I had been unable to do anything to stop it. Iggy's face and head had been red with blood, but the scientist just kept hitting him with the butt of the weapon until somehow I began to feel dizzy.

Why couldn't I have kept my big mouth shut?

Max and the others busted in eventually, knocking out the scientist, but not before the damage had been done. Once Max had released me from my cage, the first thing I did was rush over to where the scientist's gun had fallen, which was still red with Iggy's blood, and fire a round into the man's skull. Then I turned to Iggy, who was being tended to by Nudge and Gazzy.

I had rushed over to his slumped figure and reached out to tenderly feel the back of his head, where most of the blows had hit. My fingers came away slippery and crimson.


Mentally retarded. Those are my two least favorite words.

Dr. Martinez was just a veterinarian, so when the flock rescued me and Iggy, we had to call an actual ambulance. It came ten minutes later, barreling down the street to brake outside of the laboratory Iggy and I had been taken to. The nurses or whatever they are in the vehicle had taken Iggy in graciously, staunching the bleeding and bandaging his head a bit, trying to move him as little as possible.

It took the doctors a long time and a very intense surgery to patch Iggy up; taking X-Rays of his skull and giving him myriad stitches. They had to shave all of his hair off and inject him with a few extra pints of bird-kid blood, donated by me and Max. Finally the reports were in, and the doctors came to talk to Dr. Martinez.

"We are pleased to report that your son will recover from his head wounds quickly," they said. "He needed stitches for eight different tears in his scalp, and he had several skull fractures, but those will mend in time."

They always tell you the good news first.

"Unfortunately, your son suffered heavy bruising to his brain. We were not able to help with that," the doctors said. "He will be bedridden for several weeks as he recovers the use of his arms and legs. He will need to be under watch daily. And when he heals enough to go home, there will be some permanent defects."

Maybe if Max and the rest had gotten there sooner, it wouldn't have happened. Maybe if they hadn't taken so long rescuing the two of us, Iggy would still be the same.

"The damage to his brain has significantly impaired his mental and motor functions. He will in time be able to adapt to life, but not as he once was."

"What do you mean?" I had found myself speaking up. "What do you mean, 'significantly impaired his mental and motor functions'? What does that mean?" I asked.

They had spoken in scientific terms I couldn't understand, I had thought. It stood to reason that, in regular English, Iggy's condition would sound better.

The scientist – I mean doctor – stepped forward to rest a hand on my shoulder. I shrugged it off.

"I'm very sorry to inform you that your friend can be classified now as mentally retarded," he said, and when I stared into his eyes, I didn't see a single ounce of sorrow or sympathy. Only boredom. I go through this every day, the eyes seemed to say. I just want to get this over with.

"He will be able to learn how to walk normally again," the sc… doctor continued. "He will be able to speak again as well. However, he won't be as you knew him." The scien… doctor turned to Dr. Martinez again, Max behind her with her eyes wide. "You will have to take special precautions to make sure he does not try to do anything that will put him in danger," the doctor continued. "You should make a list of hobbies he may have had and give them to a nurse, who will inform you as to which ones he will be able to continue. Anything difficult or energy-consuming – cooking, sports, perhaps scientific projects – will have cease." The scientist reached out and patted Dr. Martinez's hand. "Please come with me," he said. "I have to speak with you in further detail about your son's condition."

Mentally retarded.

I think I liked the scientific terms better.


The hospital room was depressing. It was cool and bright and decorated with balloons and flowers and get-well cards, but it was depressing because Iggy couldn't see any of it, and because he wasn't even conscious yet, and because his life was permanently ruined, and mostly because it was my fault.

Max and Nudge and Angel and Gazzy had visited him exactly once each before deciding that there was really no point in visiting him until he woke up; after all, who wants to sit around and look at your brother, unconscious and bandaged and slack-jawed and wearing one of those weird hospital gowns that only go down to the knee and are totally open in the back. Especially because Iggy, being unconscious and all, was having to wear diapers, even though he was a fifteen-year-old perfectly able teenager.

But not anymore, right? Because he's retarded. He's friggin' retarded. And it's all my fault.

The rest of the flock may not feel like there was any point to visiting Iggy while he was unconscious, but I was there in his room twenty-four/seven. I was there when they changed his IV, and gave him injections with all sorts of drugs I couldn't even pronounce the names of, and I was there when he twisted and turned and muttered and whimpered in his dreams. I was there to look at him and hate myself when the nurses changed the bandages on his head and to wonder how long it would take for him to grow out his beautiful hair again, and to hate myself for that as well.

Basically, I was just there to hate myself and look after Iggy. Who knows; if I wasn't there, one of the nurses might have put sulfuric acid into his IV, or maybe failed to change him for more than three hours.

Iggy didn't wake up for the first time until the fifth day of his hospitalization. Even then, it was only for three minutes and twenty-four seconds – I know, I counted. And he couldn't even say anything. He opened his eyes and moved around a bit and made odd noises in the back of his throat. I was there and awake when he woke up, I had just returned from a bathroom break, and I tried to comfort him by talking to him. He certainly settled down and was back asleep a few minutes later, but I don't think he actually recognized my voice.

He woke up fully two days later, and it was different that time. I could tell he was trying really hard to say actual words, because I could make some out, although they made no sense to me. It sounded really difficult for him, though. However, encouraged by the audible improvement from a couple days ago, I talked.

"Iggy, Iggy it's me! Iggy, it's okay, you're in the hospital, you're safe."

Unfortunately, though, this didn't seem to reach him. He turned his face away from me and began to say more unintelligible words, sounding confused and frightened. And it struck me right to the core, the fact that he couldn't recognize my voice… although I guess I deserved it, didn't I?

I called the nurses immediately after that, and they kicked me out of the room to do a bunch of tests and checks. Later, Dr. Martinez and the rest of the flock came rushing in, standing around me and asking me a bunch of questions about the state he was in when he awoke. I couldn't answer it, because at that moment I was wondering about how long it would take for Iggy to be able to talk coherently again, and about how horrible and awful I felt about doing this to him, and worrying about whether or not he would ever recognize me again.

He did, of course. Well, he remembered who I was. He couldn't remember voices, just the people, so any time I wanted to talk to him, I first had to let him know that I was Fang. Otherwise, he'd just assume I was a stranger.

After three days of teaching and instructing, Iggy could actually say words and string them together into small sentences. That's when the physical therapy started, and I was pretty happy that they let me help. It started out with asking him to pick up objects that we put in front of him. It was sort of scary realizing that just learning how do this all over again was hard for him – he took minutes at a time just picking something up. They were small weights, one pound or so, and when I tested them out, I could probably hold about ten in my hand at once without feeling tired. However, holding just the tiny one-pound weight in his hand for a minute left his hand shaking and his arm heavy with fatigue.

"Ow," he'd say. "Not… any more. No." And then he'd drop it, and I'd have to try to persuade him to pick it up again.

Teaching him how to walk again was a whole different situation. They had to get him out of the hospital bed and into a wheelchair, first, and then I'd push him down the hall into a room where they had special bars set up, for support when he was walking.

At first it was difficult helping him stand up – him being a six-foot-four kid and all, I was the one doing that. Then there was making him hold onto the bars. Every few minutes, he forgot that it was me that was holding him, and panicked, trying to get away. I'd have to remind him again; "Iggy, it's me, it's Fang," and he'd calm down and do what I asked of him.

He learned fairly quickly, but his muscles had atrophied, and he had to build up his strength all over again. Eventually, when he got to the point that he didn't need the bars to stand, the difficult part was actually convincing him to try to walk. He'd often get bored and just sit down on the floor, refusing to stand back up. It took a lot of convincing, really.


Iggy was released from the hospital after he was able to form coherent sentences and walk again. As soon as he was able to do these things, his condition did improve; he no longer acted like a little kid anymore. Well, not entirely. He did seem a bit more childlike than usual, but that came with him being mentally impaired, didn't it? The most visible difference was the one to his capabilities; he could no longer walk around the house by himself. He couldn't remember where everything was placed. Once I woke up early because I heard footsteps outside my room, and when I went to see what it was, I found Iggy, walking down the hall with his hand trailing along the wall, and looking very confused. I had asked him what was going on, where was he going, and his reply was that he was looking for the bathroom, and got lost.

He couldn't make bombs anymore. I had caught him trying, once, and had to stop him, because he hadn't yet realized that the wires he was trying to connect were actually live and flowing with electricity, and that if he had touched the bare wires rather than the covered part, he would have been electrocuted.

What he took the hardest – what all of us took the hardest – was the fact that he couldn't cook anymore. Max was convinced at first that he could, that all he needed was to be back in the kitchen with a whisk in his hand. But after he kept the toast in so long that it caught fire, and after he realized that he hadn't even noticed the smell of it burning, he had given up heartbrokenly.

The rest of the flock started to ignore him. I'm sure if you asked any of them they wouldn't acknowledge it; I mean, heck, perhaps they didn't even realize it. But the fact was that Iggy had suddenly lost Gazzy, his best friend; Nudge, the girl who had previously been all over him; Angel, the girl who used to go to him for everything, but who now resorted to Max and Nudge; and Max, who really tried to handle it, but who just didn't get him. She treated him like a baby, she did, like a little kid even younger than Angel. She talked to him in that slow, soft way that one will use to speak with toddlers or old people. She asked him if he was tired, or hungry, or if he needed to use the bathroom. I mean, come on, maybe he needed help to get to his room or the kitchen or the bathroom, but he knew enough to inform someone himself! He didn't need to be asked, especially not in that horrible, patronizing way of Max's, even if she didn't mean it to sound like that.

And he still needed people to tell him who they were when they talked. He could tell whether not he knew them, but he couldn't quite tell who it was that was speaking.

But despite the differences in Iggy, I really had only gotten closer to him. I was the one who he asked to help him around… but that was also because whenever he asked anyone else he was met with annoyance, indifference, or faked enthusiasm. I treated him differently, sure, but that was mostly because of the fact that he really needed to be treated differently. Not like a child, not patronizingly, but just… differently. He needed to be led by the hand wherever he went, but really, was it that different from being led around by a belt loop? He needed to be told who it was who was talking… but, really, it's not that hard to just say "Hey, it's Fang. How's it going?"

The hard part was seeing my best friend, who had previously been able to do so much even despite his blindness, suddenly rendered nearly helpless.


I was sitting on the couch in the living room, watching television and eating a bowl of cereal when Iggy walked in, smiling hesitantly.

"Hello?" he said, and I smiled in his direction. His hair had grown back fairly well, and was now a bit past his ears; I wish my hair grew that fast in half a year.

"Good morning, Iggy. It's Fang," I said, and Iggy grinned.

"Good… morning, Fang," he said. Iggy now spoke in this slow, pronounced way, and he always paused after the first word in his sentence, as if it took him a moment to figure out just how to string the words together.

"Guess… what, Fang?" he asked, sounding excited and proud at the same time as he slowly made his way to the couch (after a moment of watching him try, I set my bowl quickly on the coffee table and jumped up to guide him over).

"What, Iggy?" I replied once he was seated.

"I… woke up this morning and I did not even have…" he paused for a moment to take a breath. "I… did not have to have help to get to here. I… did it all by myself." He smiled at me and I grinned at him.

"Whoa! Great job, Iggy. That's totally awesome. How long did it take you?"

Iggy took a moment to process what I had said. See, that's the thing; Max thought that because he was slow now, he couldn't understand. What I know is that he could understand, it just took him longer.

"Um… I do not know," Iggy replied. "I… think maybe twelve hours."

"Hours is the long one, Ig," I reminded him, and Iggy blushed.

"I… mean twelve minutes," he corrected himself.

His room was probably about thirty seconds from the living room. If he had asked for help, it would have taken about a minute. But sometimes, I liked to have Iggy do something for himself. It made him feel proud, and really, he deserved that much and more.

I deserved to be the one in his condition.

"Can… I have some breakfast?" Iggy asked.

Normally, before any of this had happened, it would be me asking Iggy for pancakes, or for biscuits, or eggs or French toast. But now, we hardly ever had delicacies like that in the morning. We used to not own a single box of breakfast cereal; now, it was pretty much all we ate for breakfast, unless Iggy asked for eggs or pancakes (he didn't like French toast or biscuits).

"Sure, Iggs. Do you want some of my cereal? We can share."

"Okay," he answered, and waited for me to give him the bowl.

I leaned forward and got my bowl, handing it and the spoon to my friend.

Iggy lifted his knees to his chest and carefully balanced the bowl on them, then held it in place with one hand while he used his spoon in the other.

"What… are you watching?" he asked, a bit of milk dribbling down his chin. He didn't notice, so I reached over and wiped it off on my sleeve.

"Disney," I said. I had actually been watching America's Funniest Home Videos, but I had changed the channel when Iggy walked in, because AFV's humor was mainly visual. Iggy liked Disney because there was lots of jokes that he didn't have to see to understand.

"Which… show is on?" he asked, his face lighting up with a smile. I peered at the screen for a long moment.

"I think it's The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Oh, yeah, look, there's Zack… and Cody."

"Is… it when they are in the hotel, or when they are in the boat?" Iggy asked.

"The boat," I answered. Iggy shook his head.

"Then that is not The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, that… is The Suite Life on Deck. Fang… you do not know anything about television shows."

I smiled and nudged Iggy's shoulder slightly; he grabbed the bowl with both hands to make sure it didn't fall off of his knees.

"Then it's a good thing I have you to inform me," I said. Iggy smiled brightly.

"Do… you want some cereal?" he asked, turning towards me.

"Sure," I answered, and Iggy got a spoonful of damp cornflakes and held it out to me. I leaned forward to take it in my mouth, smiling at him, and with the spoon still in my mouth struggled to say something he would be able to understand.

"It's good," I managed, and Iggy's freckled nose crinkled as he laughed.

At lunch, the rest of the flock had finally descended from their rooms. I made Iggy and I BLTs while Max and Nudge whipped up some egg-salad sandwiches for the rest of them.

"Hi, it's Max. How was your morning, Iggy?" Max said in this phony voice that she always used with him. It made me angry every time. Iggy could tell when she was treating him like a baby, even if she couldn't see that for herself.

"It… was good," he said. "Me… and Fang watched the Disney channel."

"Really? That sounds like fun!" she said, tasting some of the egg salad. Nudge toasted sliced of bread and looked sideways at Iggy. She didn't talk to him very much anymore.

"Good… morning, Angel, and Nudge, and Gazzy," Iggy said hopefully. I could tell he wanted more than a phony-sounding 'good morning!' or to be brushed off. Unfortunately, his hopes weren't fulfilled.

"It's Angel! Good morning, Iggy!" Angel replied to him brightly, then turned to help Max with the egg salad.

"It's Nudge. Morning," she said shortly.

"Morning," Gazzy muttered.

"That was Gazzy," I told Iggy, and he looked crestfallen. The fact that Gazzy hadn't bothered to let Iggy know that it was him who had spoken must have really been hurtful.

"Hey, Iggy," I said quickly, trying to change the subject. "Why don't the two of us go eat out on the porch? We can sit on the porch swing."

"Yes… okay," Iggy answered, and I put both of our sandwiches on a large plate, balanced it on one hand, and took Iggy's hand with my other, leading him to the front door.

"There's a step right here, Iggy," I told him, and Iggy carefully stepped over it. We walked over and I sat him in the wooden porch swing, and then took my seat next to him.

"Want your sandwich, Iggs?" I asked, holding it up to him.

"Yes," Iggy said, reaching out and taking it. I watched him as he held it in his hands for a while, not eating it.

"What's wrong?" I asked. Seeing my friend look so sad was depressing, I hated it when Iggy was upset.

"I… remember when I was not like this," he said quietly, sniffing loudly. "Max… and Nudge and Angel and Gazzy said that… I would be a part of the flock… even if I could not make bombs or make food." He sniffed again. "But I can not do either of that any more, and… they do not treat me like a part of the flock. They… were lying."

"Oh, Iggy," I said, feeling very, very sad. It was me that had done this, it was me. "That's not true. You're still a part of the flock. They just… they just…" I couldn't think of a way to finish the sentence, and at that realization, I felt a horrible jolt in my chest.

"Fang… I… can remember when I was not stupid," Iggy said, sniffling again. "I… can remember what it was like… to know how to times numbers together… and to say long words… and to be able to make jokes. But… now I can not do any of those things any more… I can not even make food, or… build bombs. And… since I am stupid now, Gazzy does not like to play with me, and… Nudge does not like to talk to me… and Max does not treat me like she used to. And… Angel does not like to read my mind, because… I am so stupid that she gets sad."

I put my plate and sandwich aside and reached forward, pulling Iggy into a hug, hearing him sniffling, about to cry.

"Iggy, you're not stupid. Don't ever say that again. I know that you can't do what you used to, but that doesn't make you stupid. I know the rest of the flock doesn't treat you the same anymore, but that's not because they don't love you, it's because they don't know how to act around you. And that's not your fault. It's mine. It's all my fault."

Iggy reached up and patted my head softly.

"No… Fang, it is not your fault," he said, and the fact that he was there, miserable and with the flock treating him in such a way and with his mind permanently damaged, and the fact that he was trying to comfort me just made me feel worse.

"Iggy, it is! If I hadn't kept my stupid big mouth shut around that scientist, he wouldn't have hurt you. You should hate me. If I could just go back and change it all…"

"But… you can not," Iggy said. "Fang… you can not change the past. And… I do not blame you… it was not your fault. You… are my only friend right now… I could never hate you."


"Wake up, Iggy!" I crowed, shaking him by the shoulder. It was nine in the morning two months later, and he was, of course, sleeping. "Come on Ig, it's Fang, we've got a fun day ahead of us!"

"Ungh," Iggy moaned, rolling over. "Why… are you waking me up when it is so early?"

"It's not early, Ig! It's nine in the morning! I planned a fun day out. Let's get out of the house. Here, I got you some clothes already." I put a shirt and a pair of jeans next to his head on his pillow and took a step back. "Hurry up, Iggy, we've gotta get going!"

"Why?" Iggy asked, sitting up and rubbing his eyes, yawning widely.

"We'll go downtown and get some breakfast at the Starbucks," I told him, "Remember? It's Starbucks Saturday. Then we can go to the zoo. They opened up the new petting zoo! They have goats and cats and even monkeys there. Now, put on your clothes and we can get walking."

Iggy reached to where I had put his clothes and grabbed the pants, moodily pushing his sheets aside and throwing his legs over the side of the bed. He slept in nothing but his boxers, but that was fine; back when we were on the run, Iggy, Gazzy and I had always had to change together. We were used to seeing each other in underwear (well, except for Iggy, for reasons you very well know).

Iggy no longer had lots of muscle. While he used to have rather large biceps and even a six-pack like me, now, that muscle was gone. But he wasn't flabby; of course not, he was a mutant bird-kid after all. He was thin with a flat stomach and slender arms. Even if he didn't have a nice, muscled physique anymore, he was still attractive.

Not that that would matter anymore. No girl wants to date a 'retard'.

After he was dressed, I took his hand and led him down the hall to the front door. I hadn't told anyone else about our plans; they needn't know. They wouldn't really care, anyway.

"Shoes, Iggy, here," I told him, handing him his Velcro-sneakers, and tying up my own tennis-shoes.

Fifteen minutes later, we were walking down Main Street downtown. Iggy was on the store-side of the sidewalk, while I was walking on the street-side. Iggy was running his hand along the storefront windows, feeling the lettering and signs and stickers and asking what color they were. He could still feel colors, but he couldn't remember their names.

"What… is this color?" he asked, feeling the poster on the side of a bookstore.

"Green," I told him.

"Green," Iggy repeated. "What… is this color?"

"Purple," I said, grinning at the energetic expression on his face, and the way the corners of his eyes crinkled every time he smiled.

"Purple," Iggy said. "What… is this color?"


"Yellow. What… is this color?"


"Orange. What… is this color?"

"Green again."

"Green," Iggy repeated, his voice still containing the same note of reverence that it had the first time he'd said the word. For some reason, this little game of ours never bored me. It probably had something to do with Iggy's childlike enthusiasm, or the way he said the name of each color when he re-learned it. It was this soft, awed whisper that made a laugh try to work it's way out of my mouth. Iggy was just so darn cute sometimes.

People walking past us would look at Iggy strangely, and those were the people I'd just ignore. Some of them gave me a bright smile, and I'd give them a smile back before informing Iggy the name of the color he asked about. There was one little girl who stopped in front of the two of us just as Iggy had asked "What… is this color?" after feeling the blue lettering on the storefront.

"Why is he asking what color the glass is?" she asked loudly, pointing at Iggy with her tiny little hand.

"Don't be rude," her mother said hurriedly, scooping her little girl up and mumbling a low "Sorry" as she rushed past us. I glared after her slowly shrinking back until she turned into a store. After that, Iggy stopped asking about the colors. I think he was embarrassed.

A few minutes later, we had reached the Starbucks. The line was fairly short, with only two people ahead of us. In fact, the whole place was practically empty; only three of the tables had people sitting at them. Well, good thing; after all, Iggy hates crowds.

After the people in front of us had received their orders, Iggy and I stepped up.

"Good morning, Iggy, Fang! It's Hannah!" The teenage girl behind the counter said cheerily. She worked here on the weekends, and was behind the counter whenever Iggy and I came to get breakfast. She had become our friend, and knew exactly how to treat Iggy, because her older sister had Downs Syndrome, and she was used to handling mental disabilities. "What would you like today?"

"Iggy, would you like a muffin like last time?" I asked. "A blueberry muffin?"

Iggy nodded. "Yes," he said.

"Great. A blueberry muffin and an Everything bagel with plain cream-cheese, then," I told Hannah.

"Okay…" she said, typing our orders into the little computerized cash registers. "And what would you like to drink?"

Two boys from the high school had entered the store and gotten in line behind us, and were now waiting impatiently, laughing and joking about something crude and at another's expense, I suspected.

"I'll have a regular coffee," I told her. Then I turned to Iggy. "Iggy, what do you want?"

"I… will have a coffee, too," he said slowly. I grinned slightly.

"You don't like coffee, Iggy," I reminded him. "But there's smoothies, milk, and hot chocolate, and juice."

Iggy asked for a coffee every time we came here, but ever since he had received the head injury, he hadn't liked things that tasted bitter or spicy. I always had to remind him that he didn't like coffee anymore.

"Oh," Iggy said. "I… I want…"

"We have blueberry, strawberry, and peach smoothies," Hannah said brightly. "Or I could put marshmallows and whipped cream in a hot chocolate for you. Don't you like marshmallows?"

"Yes… I do," Iggy said, smiling at her.

"Oh great," one of the boys behind us said loudly and cruelly. "A retard's holding up the line."

Iggy froze at this, slowly blushing, his ears growing red. He began to twiddle his fingers nervously. Hannah pursed her lips and furrowed her brow from behind the counter, fingers hovering over the keys of the cash register. She wasn't allowed to tell off a customer.

"Will you be quiet?" I said, turning and glaring at the two boys. "You do realize that he can hear you?"

"Who cares?" the other boy said, smirking and narrowing his eyes. "He's a friggin' retard. It's not like he understands anything I say." He crossed and un-crossed his eyes.

My eyes flicked to Iggy, who was looking horribly embarrassed, his hands shaking. The other five customers in the store were staring at the scene, and at Iggy.

"Yes, he can," I growled. "Although it looks like you two have asshole-syndrome. Are you sure you can understand me when I say 'shut the hell up'?"

"Ooh, I'm so scared," the first of the boys said. "What are you gonna do, set your retard off on me? I'm sure he could do some serious damage once he's slobbered and wet his pants. What are you sticking up for him for, anyway? You queer? Is he your screw-toy?"

"I'm going to have to ask you two to leave," Hannah said sternly. "You are disturbing the peace."

The boys looked at Hannah, still laughing meanly, and seemed to recognized her from school. They grinned.

"Aw, Hannah, you're not gonna side with the queer, are you?" the second boy said.

"Oh, homophobic as well? You two have no end to your shallowness. I'm sorry, but I am going to have to ask you to leave." Hannah pointed to the door. The two boys shrugged.

"Whatever. We don't want to eat someplace that services queers and retards."

The two kids left, and the Starbucks was silent for a long moment before the rest of the occupants decided to distract themselves from the incident that had just happened.

Hannah turned to Iggy, looking peeved.

"Ignore them, Iggy. I know them from school. They're total jerks, picking on kids and beating up people for lunch money. Sickos. Anyway…" she smiled at him sympathetically. "Do you know what you want to drink?"

Iggy shook his head slowly.

"How about a smoothie, Ig?" I asked softly. "It's pretty hot outside. You won't want hot chocolate." I turned to Hannah. "Get him a blueberry smoothie. And we better get this to-go. We'll eat in the park."

Hannah lifted a corner of her mouth in an effort to get back to her cheerful mood; she really got ticked off at anyone who made fun of her sister, and I guess that was the same for Iggy, too.

"Okay," she said, and got out food and drinks together. She handed them over the counter in a paper Starbucks bag and I gave her the money, then I led Iggy right out of there.

The park was only a block away, and Iggy was quiet all the way there. He was certainly crestfallen compared to the beginning of the day. This upset me as well, because I had planned this fun day out to cheer him up; the rest of the flock's attitudes towards him hadn't changed during the past few months, and being in the house with them all the time was really suffocating. But now, a couple of jerks had totally crushed the mood.

We sat on a park bench amidst some trees in a rather secluded area that very little people visited, because it was a ways away from the play-set and the basketball courts. Iggy slurped his smoothie in silence and broke pieces from his blueberry muffin, eating it in chunks. I drank my coffee quickly, still rather angry at what those stupid idiots had said. They didn't have any right to hurt Iggy's feelings! Why the heck could people be so mean sometimes? And it was intentional, not like the flock's actions. Who would intentionally hurt someone else like that?

But then I realized I was being stupid, because every single freaking person in the world could be intentionally mean to anyone else whenever the heck they wanted to, and there wasn't a single freaking thing I could do to stop it.

"I'm sorry, Iggy," I said softly. "Those guys were jerks. I can't believe they would be so mean."

"It… is okay," Iggy said. "It… is all my fault for being retarded. If… if I was not a retard then… they would not have been mean."

My heart broke hearing him call himself a retard. He'd never done that before. A new flame of anger burned in my chest at the two jerks.

"Iggy, it's not your fault," I said, reaching over and squeezing his hand comfortingly. "It's not. If it's anyone's fault, it's the scientist's." Or mine. "Those guys didn't have to be mean, but they were. You had nothing to do with it."

Iggy sighed.

"I… do not like being stupid," he said, and that was the last thing that was spoken on the subject.

The two of us rode the city bus the twenty minutes to the zoo. I didn't have to pay for our tickets because it was Kid's Day, and kids under eighteen got in free.

"Where do you want to go first?" I asked. "We could go listen to the elephants, or see if the lions are roaring today."

"I… want to go to the birds!" Iggy said excitedly, and I marveled. Sometimes, when Iggy got his feelings hurt and he seemed perfectly normal a little while later, I had to wonder whether he forgot about it by then or if he just had a remarkable ability to be able to put it behind him. Iggy wasn't like he used to be; he couldn't hide the fact that he was sad or angry or upset, because he didn't have those skills anymore. So if he acted happy, he was happy, there was no doubt. It was like how he could feel hurt when he tried to talk to Gazzy or Nudge and they wouldn't respond, but then he would forget about it and tried just as exuberantly the next time, and the next time, and the next time, even if each occurrence was met with the same result; cold indifference. He never got his hopes down.

It was one thing that I liked about him.

"Okay, let's go to the birds," I agreed, and took his hand, making my way through the throng of busy zoo-goers and on to the birds.

Iggy liked the birds because they made beautiful noises, and because he was part bird, and because he loved reaching through the bars and feeding them seed from some of the coin-dispensed seed machines on the side of the paths, and because there were usually very few people looking at the birds. To this day I honestly don't know the reason why; sure, birds can sometimes be boring when they aren't doing anything… but even if they're not moving, they're always making noises and looking beautiful or powerful. They really were amazing creatures, birds – and I'm not just saying that because I'm part bird, mind you.

When we arrived at the bird cages, it was to find that the paths were void of any people at all. We were totally alone. I wondered for a moment why that was, standing at the start of the paths with an impatient Iggy tugging at my hand to keep walking, but then when I heard some kids rush past us saying "Hurry! We'll be late for the dolphin show!" I knew why. I always forgot that the zoo had recently acquired an aquarium with dolphins, fish and orcas. I never liked orcas, they creeped me out for some reason, so I'd never gone. The dolphin shows were very popular, though, and usually the whole zoo showed up. We would be given some privacy.

The first birds were always the hummingbirds, but Iggy didn't like them much, because they didn't have a bird call and they're humming messed up his concentration. So we passed through that area rather quickly. Next was the finches, which he disliked nearly as much; they were far too boring in his opinion.

So, we passed straight through the paths until, finally, we came to a coin-dispensed bird feed machine.

"Can… I please have three quarters?" Iggy asked eagerly. I always gave him three quarters, enough for three handfuls of birdseed. I rummaged through my pockets to find three quarters of spare change, handing them over to him.

Before Iggy put the coins into the machine, he ran his finger around their circumference; one of the quirky mannerisms he had picked up after the injury. Three handfuls of birdseed emptied into the little container at the foot of the opening, and Iggy reached in eagerly and grabbed one of the handfuls. He then carefully felt his way to the cage beside the machine and held his hands through the bars, waiting for some birds to descend upon the seed. It was the cage marked "DANGER: DO NOT FEED. HIGH RISK OF INJURY".

I admit, the first time I'd seen Iggy attempting to feed the apparently dangerous birds, I had totally freaked. But the huge eagles in this cage seemed to like him, for every time he offered them a handful of food, they would carefully descend and take turns pecking the birdseed from his hand, looking quite happy, and often resting on his hands for a moment, letting him stroke their glossy feathers. Iggy was still strong enough to support the weight of even the largest of the eagles, and he held them with delight each time they landed on his hand, not caring about their sharp talons; luckily, none of them had yet broke his skin.

I stayed at his shoulder, watching the huge birds feed from time to time, mostly concentrating on the expression on Iggy's face. He looked utterly delighted, his mouth open in a smile, his eyes wide. I suddenly noticed how nice the freckles sprayed across his cheeks and nose looked.

"Okay," Iggy finally said as the last of the eagles finally departed, pulling his arms back through the bars and brushing his hands off. "Let us… get the rest of the bird seed and keep going."

"Yes," I said, and Iggy went back to the machine dispenser, cupping the rest of the birdseed in both of his hands.

"I… can not hold your hand," Iggy said, pondering the problem, staring towards the seed in his hands. "How… will we walk?"

"I can just do this," I said, stepping up beside him and wrapping my arm around his waist. "I'll guide you like this, okay?"

"Okay," Iggy agreed, and we began to walk down the path. Occasionally Iggy would stumble on an uneven part of the path and some birdseed would trickle out through his fingers.

Suddenly, I found my cheeks growing warm. I pondered the fact for a long moment, quite embarrassed, and then realized just how thin and slender Iggy was, and the fact that my hand was positioned on his hip, and the way he moved. I looked through the corner of my eyes up at his face, which was concentrated on trying not to spill any more of the birdseed, this adorable furrow between his brows, and how nice his strawberry-blond hair tucked behind his ears looked.

"Um… Iggy?" I asked.

"Yes?" Iggy replied, turning towards me, and as a result losing concentration on holding the birdseed. Immediately he turned back to it before any more could fall.

"I… I… uh…" I really did not know what I was about to say. I felt like saying something, but really, it was quite difficult to find out just what. "It's just…"

"Iggy… Iggy… Iggy…" a strange, croaky, voice echoed from beside us. We both turned our heads in the direction of the odd voice, only to find a green parrot with ruffled neck feathers cocking it's head at us. "Iggy… Iggy…" it said again, opening it's beak with every word. I could see it's black little tongue moving up and down.

"Who… is that?" Iggy asked, cocking his head like the parrot, and my cheeks managed to blush even redder.

"It's a parrot," I said. "It's a parrot. It's saying your name."

"Iggy… Iggy… Iggy…" the parrot echoed yet again, rearranging the position of its wings. Iggy laughed delightedly.

"Did… you hear that?" he asked eagerly. "It… said my name again!"

"Iggy… Iggy… Iggy…" the parrot continued, and it looked like it was having a fine old time of it. I guess Iggy's name was fun to say. Well, of course it was.

"Wow!" Iggy said excitedly. "Do… you think it will eat my bird seed?"

"I bet it will," I encouraged, leading Iggy over to the cage where the parrot was contained. Iggy found the opening in the bars and stuck his hands through for the parrot, which hopped curiously over to the seed and cocked his head.

"Iggy… Iggy…" it said again before leaning over to peck at the seed. "Iggy… Iggy…"

Iggy giggled as the parrot stepped onto his hand, and it was so adorable the way his nose and the corner of his eyes crinkled and the way he was smiling, that I just did it. I honestly don't know what came over me, or how it happened, or just when these obvious feelings had started to develop, but they were there, and they were real, and god, I was kissing him.

It was soft. It wasn't rough or messy. It was just soft and sweet. And Iggy was so warm…

I pulled away after a long moment and stared at Iggy's face, shocked at what I had done, and searching for some clue in his expression that maybe he had enjoyed it. All I saw, though, was shock.

"Iggy… Iggy… Iggy…" the parrot said huffily; Iggy had dropped the birdseed while we were… kissing.

Iggy reached up with a shaking hand to touch his lips, and then he blushed scarlet.

"Why… would you want to kiss me?" he asked. "Why… would you want to kiss me? I… I am not smart… and I am not a girl. Why?"

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. I cleared my throat and tried again.

"Because," I croaked. "Because I like you. And I think you're wonderful, and beautiful, and cute. And when I'm with you, I never get bored. I like just looking at your face and hearing you talk. And I love the way you act, and how you try really hard at everything, and how earnest you are, and how eager to try new things you are. I love your bright personality and your voice and…" Now that I was saying these things, it seemed so obvious why I would kiss him. It was so obvious. I had never noticed before, but really, these past eight months I'd spent falling in love with him. Every time I had held his hand and guided him throughout the house. Every time I listened to him speak. Every time I saw him working hard to relearn how to do simple things all over again. Every time I saw him sad, and every time I saw him happy, and every time I noticed how exuberantly he lived, even though his life had been so drastically changed. How it never got him down, not really.

"I… love you," I said softly. "And I don't care if you're mentally disabled, or if you're not a girl. I love you for you. And that's all there is to it."

I paused and took a deep breath, trying to regain my nerves. I had just totally spilled feelings to Iggy that I hadn't even known I'd had an hour ago. It felt odd… like I was lighter, somehow. I wondered, if I actually weighed myself, would I have lost a couple of pounds?

"I… love you too," Iggy said. "I do. I really… really do." He blushed and reached up to cover his face with his hands. "The… way you have stayed with me, even… though I have become stupid. How… you do not treat me very different than before. How… you stick up for me when… people are being mean."

Iggy very hesitantly lowered his hands and held them out to me, looking scared and nervous, as if he expected me to swat them away. I took them in my own, which were shaking with stress and disbelief at what I was doing. I had just confessed my love to my best friend. To my best guy friend. To my best guy friend whose life I had practically destroyed.


I couldn't help but feel that maybe this was a good thing… because I wouldn't have fallen in love with Iggy otherwise. It's totally confusing.

I almost wanted to savor this moment for a long time, to just stand and look at Iggy and think about what was going to change because of this. But Iggy's mind worked a little differently. He had already worked out this huge development, and now he wanted to move one.

"Can… we go to the petting zoo now?" he asked eagerly. I sighed internally and smiled.

"Of course," I said, and took his hands to lead him away. I tried to imagine what this whole incident had been like in his head. Fang kissed me. I like him. We are together. Let's go pet zoo animals.

I laughed to myself, and when Iggy asked me what was funny, I didn't answer. He was too cute.


Since that day at the zoo, our ritual had gotten a little different. Every night I went into his room and talked to him. I read him stories. He'd snuggled up beside me under the covers and lay his head against me, and I'd feel little tingles that started in my stomach and usually worked their way downward.

We never did anything more, really. We kissed. We kissed each other sometimes. But Iggy couldn't really do anything more… serious. He couldn't really understand the concept of perhaps kissing with tongue, or getting under my shirt. But that was fine with me. We were together, and we enjoyed each other's time and company. And that was all I needed.

We were closer. We walked closer beside each other as I held his hand. As we held hands. And he was definitely more cheerful. Of course, it still got him down sometimes when Nudge or Gazzy brushed him off, but he could take it more, what with the knowledge that our closeness could make up for it.

I hadn't told anyone in the flock. It was the knowledge that they would reject the two of us that kept me from doing it. No, none of them really struck me as homophobic… but I knew if I walked up and told Max "Hey, I'm dating Iggy" then she would freak out. Mostly because of Iggy's mental disability. It would cloud her judgment. Not like it seemed like she had any, what with how she treated Iggy these past months.

I did, however, tell Hannah, our friend from the Starbucks. She wholeheartedly supported it – she understood Iggy's limits as well as his capabilities, and knew that it wasn't anything like I was taking advantage of him. And that was good. I knew she wouldn't have been against it, because she was completely involved with gay rights. She had once invited me and Iggy over to her house to meet her older sister, Emma. We had helped the two of them make signs for a march Hannah had participated in the following weekend, supporting same-sex marriage. We would have gone, but Iggy couldn't handle anything as fast and loud as a march.

The three of us liked to hang out a lot. We'd go places together after Hannah's shift at the Starbucks would end – the park, the lake, or some other calm place of the sort. We'd sit and I'd listen and put in a few comments as Hannah and Iggy would talk animatedly about something, anything. They really had a lot in common, the two of them. Hannah was a fan of comics, and Iggy had been a fan of the X-Men, and they liked to talk about their favorite characters. Sometimes Hannah would describe the movies to him and what she had disliked about them, and he would listen and agree. Sometimes I wondered; if Iggy hadn't received his injury, if perhaps the two of them would have gotten together. They certainly got along splendidly.

And of course, that thought always lead me to wonder if Iggy ever liked me before now. Or if he had ever thought about it. Or if he was actually gay, or bi. Or if he hadn't been gay or bi until he was hit over the head. God, that was a horrible thought; that he liked me just because of brain damage.

But the fact was that everything in my life was absolutely wonderful. I loved it. I loved being with Iggy and being friends with Hannah. And when I was with them, I could forget the way our flock had changed, and I could forget that I wasn't really friends with any of my family anymore. I could forget it all, because Iggy made me so happy, sometimes I thought this whole situation was a dream.

And all dreams have to end, now don't they?


"Fang, let's have a talk." Max looked firm and angry and serious, as if what she was going to say would not make me happy. That it would make me very sad. I felt a shudder go through my body.

"Why?" I asked, walking over to her. Her eyes were cold. I hadn't looked into her eyes in weeks, but they had grown cold. It almost hurt to look at them. At Max. At how terribly cold she had become.

"We need to have a talk about Iggy," she said, and a chill went down my spine. She knows, I thought. She knows, and now it's over.

"What about him?" I asked, avoiding her gaze. Maybe if I didn't make eye contact, nothing bad would happen.

"I know what you two have been doing," Max said with conviction. Her voice was as cold as her eyes. "I know what you've been doing, and it needs to stop."

"I don't know what you're talking about," I said flatly. She wouldn't take Iggy from me. Not now. Not after every phony word and patronizing sentence she had put him through.

"I know you do, Fang. You're in his room every night. And I've seen you kiss him. I see the way you look at him. The way you hold his hand." She scowled. "It's gross, Fang. Why would you do such an utterly disgusting thing?"

I averted my gaze and looked towards the oven. It was turned off. I had made chocolate-chip cookies in it just the other day, for Iggy.

"Disgusting? In what way?" I asked.

"He's mentally unstable, Fang!" Max said icily. "He's retarded! Does he even understand what you're doing to him?"

"Of course he does!" I replied hotly. I was fuming. How could she even think such a thing? That I was… taking advantage of him? "You underestimate him, Max! You've always underestimated him! Every since he was a kid and they first made him blind, you've underestimated what he could do!"

"I don't think that applies anymore," she said. "He's mentally disabled. What is he, your new screw-toy? You couldn't find any for cheap at Wal Mart, so you decided to use him instead? He's freaking retarded, Fang! He doesn't even know what you're doing to him!"

"I haven't been screwing Iggy!" I nearly yelled, and I heard a sharp intake of breath behind me. I turned to see Gazzy and Nudge, standing there, looking shocked and grossed out. I glared at them and turned back to Max. This was their fault, too. All of them, the flock, they had no idea!

"I don't give a crap about your excuses, Fang," Max stated. "I want you to break it off. And if you don't, I want you to leave."

"I'm not breaking it off! I'll just take Iggy with me!" I was heated with anger. Why was Max doing this to me? Why was the flock? They didn't understand! They didn't understand anything! Nothing at all!

"Oh yeah?" Max laughed coldly. "Iggy needs his doctors appointments, and you have no money. What do you suppose you'll do? Fly to Michigan? Lead Iggy through the air on a leash? Get him food and medication from the dumpsters? He needs to stay here, and you know it. So I'll give you an hour to break the news to him and get out of his life, or you're going to have to leave. I won't have you taking advantage of Iggy."

"But I'm not taking advantage of him! Please, just ask him yourself! I'm not!" I begged, but Max stared down her nose at me, as if I was vile, and she didn't even recognize me anymore. Not like I even recognized her.

"I won't ask him. He'll just agree with you, and you know it. And when you break it off, you better not tell him why. I don't want you giving him any ideas or false hopes that you two can run away together and be happy. I don't want Iggy being manipulated like that."

And with that, Max stood and left, taking Gazzy and Nudge with her. She left me, shocked and angry and not knowing what exactly to do. Should I tell Iggy I can't be with him anymore? That was too cruel. I always could run away with him, anyway… we wouldn't have to fly. I could take money from my savings account, and we could go live with Hannah and her sister. They lived alone anyways, because her parents had been abusive, and I know she wouldn't mind.

But no. I couldn't mooch off of Hannah and her sister. Not when Hannah already had to work so much to get her sister the proper treatment and medication. Plus, even though it hurt Iggy so much to be treated in such a way by the flock, I know he wouldn't want to leave. If I asked him he would say yes, but he wouldn't want to. And I wouldn't make him do something he didn't want.

So what was my choice? Nothing else, really. I wasn't about to leave. I couldn't stand living without Iggy.

But being apart from him was too cruel.

Slowly, as if in a dream, I made my way up to Iggy's room. He was in there, most likely just lying in bed. It was fairly early in the morning, and he would have just woken up. He was waiting for me to come get him.

When I opened the door, there Iggy was. He turned his head towards me.

"It's Fang, Iggy," I told him, and he smiled.

"Hello… Fang," Iggy said. "Good… morning."

He sat up in his bed and threw his legs over the side. His long, slender legs. He rubbed his eyes and yawned tiredly in a way that almost sent me over the edge. He was cute. He was just too freaking adorable.

"Iggy…" I started, then choked up. I almost couldn't do it. "Iggy… I just can't do this anymore. I can't do it anymore."

Iggy looked confused and cocked his head.

"Do… what?" he asked. "You… can not do what?"

"I can't be with you," I told him, and it pained me to say it. He just looked at me uncomprehendingly. He couldn't understand. He wouldn't want to understand.

"You… can not be with me?" he asked. "What… do you mean? Do… you mean that you can not be in my room any more?"

I shook my head, although he couldn't hear it. I went over and sat next to him on the bed. He leaned in for a good-morning kiss, but I pulled away.

"I can't be with you romantically anymore," I said. "I can't read you bedtime stories or hold your hand or kiss you anymore." I felt choked up, and Iggy looked so hurt and confused, it was unbearable. Stupid Max. Idiot Max.

I hate you, Max.

"Do… you mean… you do not love me anymore?" Iggy asked, and he sounded heartbroken. "Is… that what you mean?"

I didn't want to lie to him, but he wouldn't understand me if I said it any other way. It was horrible. It was too cruel.

"Yes. I don't… I don't love you anymore."

Iggy's expression crumpled and tears began to stream down his cheeks. I wanted to comfort him, to deny it all, to pull him close and hold him tight. I didn't want to hurt the boy I loved so much and whose life I had practically destroyed. Indirectly, of course, but I still blamed myself.

"I… do not understand," Iggy sobbed. "I… thought I was a good person. I… thought that it was okay that I was not a boy. I… I… I thought that you loved me." He buried his face in his hands and cried, and I felt a tear slip down my own cheek, and internally I cursed Max for making this happen, and for not understanding, and I cursed the rest of the flock for being so damn ignorant.

"I'm sorry, Iggy, I just can't." I stood up. I wanted to leave before I could hurt him anymore. I just wanted to disappear so that Iggy wouldn't have to suffer. I hoped that perhaps he would get over it a lot faster than I would. Maybe his mind worked differently like that now.

"But… but… but I tried so hard," he cried. "I… am so sorry, Fang… for what ever I did… I am sorry for being a boy… I am sorry if I was a bad person… I am sorry for being retarded, I… did not mean to…" He cried and he sobbed and my heart wrenched in two. "I… am such a retard… I am so stupid…" If Max was here, if Max could see how heartbroken Iggy was, maybe she would change her mind.

But no. Max wouldn't think like that. He just feels discarded, she would say. It's your own fault for using him. You made him feel like you actually loved him. You're such a bad person. At least now he can be happy.

I left the room with my vision blurred and my eyes stinging and shut the door behind me. I could hear Iggy inside, still crying. I didn't want to hurt him. I should leave. I should go in there and apologize and I could take him with me to live with Hannah. I could still do that. With the money I had saved up we could support ourselves for a while, and I could get a job, and Hannah and her sister and us could be happy. It'd be fun.

I almost did, but then I looked down the hall and saw Max, standing there and watching me coolly, a fierce and disapproving look in her eyes, her arms crossed over her chest. She shook her head.

"Don't you dare," she said. "Don't you dare ruin it for him. Don't you dare go in there and manipulate him anymore. You'll only end up hurting him."

So I didn't. And as I turned and walked away, all I could feel was hatred for myself.

In an instant I was down the hallway, out the door, and running down the street on my way to Hannah's house. I couldn't take it. I had to talk to her. I just had to talk to someone, someone who would understand.

Hannah was home and awake when I got there, which was funny, because I had just realized that it was a Wednesday, and she should be in high school now. However, she informed me that it was a holiday, and that school was out because of it. Then she sat me on her couch, popped some popcorn, and asked me why I looked like a dying ostrich with an eye infection.

I told her everything, everything about how totally and completely horrible and stupid my family was. And I told her the mean thing's I'd said to Iggy, and about how I was totally stupid, and how I didn't know what to do.

"You're being an idiot," Hannah said matter-of-factly. "All you need to do is get a job. Stay here with me and Emma for a while. You can save up money, and eventually you'll be able to get Iggy over here. I don't know why you didn't think of it before."

"I did," I said softly, muttering into my hands. I was feeling so stupid. "I did, but I thought I shouldn't be mooching off of you two."

"God, Fang," Hannah moaned, throwing her head back. "You won't be mooching. I'm not giving you a cent of my hard-earned money, you'll have to make it all yourself." Then she smiled kindly at me and reached over to pat my knee. "Now, why don't you go home and get your stuff together. I'll get you a job, okay? Come on over here tonight. I'll have dinner waiting. We're eating chicken."


It took me a while to get all my stuff together, mostly because I kept re-thinking everything. Did I really need to bring this? And shouldn't I bring that? But did I truly have to? And should I take all my clothes, or just the ones I liked? And should I take my books and DVDs, or would that be too much? And what about my television? Should I pack that as well?

Eventually, though, I had a suitcase full of clothes, movies, and books, and my television held securely in one arm, and I was out my bedroom door. I started down the hall and stopped outside Iggy's room. I hadn't told any of the flock I was leaving, just taped a sloppy not on my door. But I couldn't leave Iggy without saying goodbye, and explaining, and apologizing.

I set my stuff down quietly and opened the door to Iggy's room. The hinges were quite silent, because Max always liked to look in and make sure he wasn't, I dunno, suffocating himself accidentally with his blankets (as if he would ever be dumb enough to do that), so she actually had Dr. Martinez grease the hinges, so it wouldn't wake him up.

I didn't think Iggy would be asleep. He usually found it difficult, especially without me reading to him first. It helped him relax and forget about all of his troubles.

I went over to his bed and sat on the edge, trying my hardest not to jostle the mattress too much. I inhaled deeply.

"Iggy, this is Fang," I whispered. "I'm pretty sure you're awake and you can hear me, but… just pretend you're still asleep." I breathed deeply again and closed my eyes, trying to find words to convey everything I wanted to say. "I'm leaving. I'm going to leave the house. I'm moving in with Hannah and Emma, and Hannah's going to get me a job, and I'll work my butt of to make some money. Then, when I have enough, I'll come and get you, and you can move in with us too."

Iggy's breathing wasn't slow and deep, so I knew he wasn't sleeping. I couldn't see his face, but his eyes were probably open. He was listening. I just knew that he was listening as hard as he could.

"I'm so sorry about what I said earlier, and I'm sorry I'm leaving without you. The truth is that Max doesn't want me to be with you, in a relationship. She told me I had to leave you, or leave the family. I told you I didn't love you to break up with you, but the truth is that I love you more than anything. I'm sorry I lied to you. I love you, and I promise that I won't leave you ever again. I'm just going to be away for a while, to get money and stuff. And after that, I promise, we'll be together forever."

"When?" Iggy asked softly, and I smiled. He couldn't just stay pretending to be asleep, could he? It made it harder to talk openly, but I didn't mind, not really.

"As soon as I can. I'll call you. Max can't really keep me from talking to you on the phone. And… don't tell Max I told you this, okay? She'll try to convince you I'm lying. Just remember, Iggy, I'm not, I promise. Now, I'm going to leave. I love you."

I leaned over and kissed Iggy lightly on the top of his head, and he turned over, eyes open. I kissed him again on the lips.

"I… love you too," he whispered, and when I stood up and was in the door, about to shut it, he said "Goodbye."

I made it out of the house without waking up anyone, and saw Hannah's car waiting across the street. She waved to me from the driver's seat, then opened the door to come help me carry my stuff. Once in the car, she began to grill me about what I'd said to Iggy. She was satisfied with my responses.

Hannah had gotten me quite a good job at the Starbucks. It wasn't anything like assistant manager or something (no, Hannah had been appointed to that position), but I got paid, and I worked for five hours a day with a good salary. After working there for a few days, and realizing that Hannah and her sister weren't really living in top condition, what with Hannah and her sister still in school and not much money coming in, I decided to get a couple other day-jobs. Eventually, I was getting three paychecks every payday, and I was feeling pretty good about Iggy coming to live with us soon.

I had tried to call Iggy up once, but Max had answered, and the second she heard my voice saying "Hello" she hung up on me. I tried four other times, each time getting either Max, Gazzy, or Nudge on the other end, who would promptly tell me to leave them alone and hang up. Eventually I smartened up and had Hannah call them instead, and when Max heard a "friend from the doctor's office" ask for Iggy, she gave the phone right over to him. I usually spent a blissful hour a day listening to Iggy tell me about what he'd done throughout the day. It was usually things that anyone could find boring, but the way Iggy described them seemed exciting. On Monday Max had taken him to the park, and a bird had hopped right up to him and into his lap. On Thursday while he was playing in the yard with Angel, a butterfly had landed on his head. And he had woken up Friday morning and made his way into the kitchen all by himself (although he had had to ask someone to make him his breakfast).

Life wasn't perfect, of course. I wasn't allowed in Dr. Martinez's neighborhood; I had once tried to walk over to give Iggy a really soft stuffed dog I had bought him downtown that I knew he'd just love, but when Max saw me, she slammed the door in my face and triple-locked it for good measure. I had managed to get it to him with some help from Hannah and a gift-basket cleverly disguised as a get-well present from a nurse anyway, but still, it hurt to be shunned by the people I had previously considered my family and closest friends.

It sometimes hurt, when I stayed up late at night in my room, on my used futon, thinking about how drastically everything had changed. Ever since I had caused Iggy to get his injuries, everything had fallen apart. The flock hated me, I was sure; well, Max hated me at least. I'm pretty sure Gazzy and Nudge were just following her blindly. Angel was a free-thinker, I knew, but she hadn't done anything to stop them, said anything against it. And Ella… she was just an idiot, I knew that much. I had thought perhaps Dr. Martinez would think sensibly, but I guess not.

And they didn't treat Iggy well, that much was obvious. He told me that they were nice to him and that they loved him still, he knew it. But he also told me that he didn't feel like a part of the family anymore, because Max was always talking to him as if he couldn't understand her, and Angel treated him like a little sibling, and the Gasman and Nudge just ignored him, out all day, having fun downtown. I listened to him and comforted him, but I couldn't help but hurt about it too.

One day I woke up, and I just felt different. And it took a while for me to find out why, but eventually I realized it was because I didn't love my old family anymore. I tried to find the feelings I'd once had for Max, or the brotherly-feelings I'd had for Nudge or Gazzy, but I just couldn't.

My whole life had fallen apart.

But the good thing about it was Iggy.

I worked hard every day, trying my best to please my employers and make the most money I could so I could have Iggy move in with us as fast as possible. And it was really working. I felt like it could happen, and work out, in just a few months.

Hannah helped me work out a plan; Max wouldn't let me anywhere near the house, but Hannah would pretend to be a friend from the doctor's office – the same girl who had been calling him daily – and tell her that she was part of a program that befriended the disabled. She'd ask her to let him come on a play-date with her. And she'd take him to our house. He'd pack the stuff he wanted to keep, of course; I had bought him a new backpack specifically for the purpose. Everything was going to be wonderful. It was nearly time.


He died on a Thursday. He died on a Thursday. The flock didn't even tell me. Hannah called them as usual, the "friend from the doctor's office", and they told her that he had passed away that morning.

When Hannah told me, I of course didn't believe it. Her shocked and tear-struck expression should have let me know she wasn't joking, couldn't be lying, but I wouldn't believe it. I snatched the phone out of her hands.

"What are you saying?" I asked, real panic making my voice crack. What was this, some kind of sick joke? Max had found out that Hannah wasn't really a friend from the doctor's office, and she was trying to get me to give up by telling me Iggy had died?

"Fang?" Max asked, sounded disbelieving. "Why the heck are you there?"

"Just answer the question, Max!" I practically shouted. "What are you talking about? Are you lying? Why would you say something so cruel?"

"Well, I don't know how on Earth you managed to get this line, but… no, Fang, I'm not lying. We found him dead this morning. They say it was an aneurism, a burst blood vessel in his brain. A delayed complication from the injury. That, most likely, he had felt very little pain, and had merely passed on in his sleep." Max's voice broke, and for a moment, I wondered why. But, of course; no matter how much I disliked her at this point in my life, and even though I no longer loved my old family as I had used to, Max had loved Iggy. She'd just had a really messed up way of showing it.

"I wanted to tell you," she continued in a quiet voice. "But I don't know where you're living now. I didn't even know this was your number. Although I guess it makes sense, Iggy talking all the time. He always was the most animated while he was talking to you." I heard an audible sniff. "Anyways, Fang, I'm sorry. We're cremating him, okay? It'll be done by six tonight."

Then I heard a click, and the other line began to beep repetitively.

"Fang? Fang, what's happened?" I heard Hannah ask. And I turned to look at her, realizing that she was, indeed, still there, with her eyes watering and looking very frightened. "What's going on?"

"Iggy… had an aneurism," I said slowly. "He's dead. I'm going to go now."

Hannah didn't try to stop me as I walked out the door. I don't exactly know what I was trying to do, where I was trying to go. But I walked for a long time. I walked past all of our old hang-outs – Iggy and I's. I walked down Main Street, and I walked to the park, and I sat on our bench, and I looked at the sky. Then I just sat there for a very, very long time.

Eventually I realized that it was growing fairly dark out, and that I should probably go by Dr. Martinez's house, because that was the only way I would be able to get the stuff I wanted to get. So I made my way back through the city and to my old house, trying desperately to feel something, anything, because somewhere in the back of my mind I had sort of realized that I hadn't even cried yet, even though the boy I had fallen in love with had just died. Even though I was never going to see Iggy again.

When I got to the house, Max didn't slam the door in my face like all the times before. She let me in with bloodshot eyes and messy hair, stinking of sweat and morgues, wearing a musty black dress that her mom had obviously lent her. Max didn't own any dresses of her own.

"Hi, Fang," she said softly. She stepped back to let me in. "We've got his… urn. It's on the couch, in the living room. We're… we're going to move, Fang. We'll be moving to Michigan tomorrow. We were planning to, anyway, for a while. Mom got a job offer at a veterinary clinic there."

I looked around and noticed that the entryway was void of discarded shoes or jackets, and that there were multiple cardboard boxes stacked against the wall. I nodded to her.

"We aren't going to bring you with us. That is… unless you want to go," Max added hesitantly, looking distinctly un-Maxlike… at least, unlike the Max I had come to recognize, the one who slammed doors in my face and denied me the presence of the one person I cared most about in the whole world. Denied me his presence until it was no longer possible to be in.

"I don't," I said stonily.

"That's good," Max said. "We weren't planning on it." She exchanged her weight from foot to foot nervously. "We're all going out. You're welcome to get… whatever you need." She cleared her throat loudly. "Um… goodbye, Fang. I don't think we're ever going to see you again."

"I doubt it," I agreed, and walked past her, up the stairs, and down the hall to Iggy's room. Iggy's old room.

I suppose that might have been rude. I suppose I might have hurt Max's feelings, just brushing past without so much as a "Seeya." But we were past goodbyes. Max had taken what I loved most away, and I was never getting him back. And it was her fault, true, that I hadn't been able to be with him for these past weeks. But, of course, it all went back to me, didn't it? It all came back to me and my big, stupid mouth. So all of it, indirectly, is my fault.

I lay in Iggy's bed for a while, just breathing in the air that Iggy had breathed for a while. I listened as my flock along with Ella and Dr. Martinez left the house and drove away in the van. Once they were gone, I stood and took Iggy's ratty old backpack from it's spot next to the doorway and put six of his shirts inside it, savoring the feel of the fabric. The shirts were soft and comfortable, and Iggy had worn them. I could remember how he had looked in each of them.

Then I moved back to his bed and picked up the stuffed dog I had given him. It was already well worn; Iggy had obviously slept with it. And rubbed its floppy ears, too, by the looks of their thread-worn state. I hugged the dog to my chest and inhaled deeply. It smelled of Iggy.

I moved downstairs and was about to leave the house and go back to Hannah's – to my own house – when I remembered the urn. Iggy's urn. On the couch in the living room.

I put the stuffed animal in the backpack with Iggy's shirts and pulled it over my shoulders, then cautiously made my way into the room.

It was dismal, and stunk of melancholy. It was depressing, the room was, although it wasn't really very different from how it had been before. And on the musty couch was a shiny metal urn.

It was odd, looking at the inanimate object and picturing Iggy inside it. Iggy inside it, as nothing but dust. At the size of it, it was hard to imagine that Iggy could burn down to such a small mass. Although that was life, wasn't it? You go back to being small and insignificant the moment you die. The moment you die, you don't matter in the world anymore.

I took the urn in my arms and left the house. I don't know what I was thinking, exactly, taking it without telling anyone. But when the flock came back, they'd obviously know that it was me that had done it. And if they were angry, they wouldn't know where I lived anyway.

Holding the urn carefully in my arms, I spread my pitch-black wings wide and took a running start to take off. The wind in my feathers was beautiful relief after ages of remaining folded under a shirt, but I hardly noticed. I took to the sky, wind and flying particles of dust and dirt stinging my face. The higher I climbed through the air, moisture began to collect along my wings and in my hair, and on my face, from the condensation of forming clouds. I was sopping by the time I finished flying upward, and not just from condensation. There was saltwater tracks down my cheeks as well.

And there, thousands of miles above the ground, I opened the lid to Iggy's urn and let his remnants scatter to the wind. I poured them out and watched the air-currents lift them and carry them out of my field of vision in a heartbeat. Iggy hadn't been able to fly in so long, he would have liked this.

And then I cried.

"Do… you think I am stupid?" Iggy asked, lying next to me in his bed. I had just put a story-book to the side and was stroking his hair, focusing on his breathing pattern and loving his scent.

"No," I told him. "You take longer to come to conclusions and work through problems, but that doesn't make you stupid."

Iggy frowned and a furrow appeared between his brows.

"But… I am not smart," he said. "I… can not do much at all. Gazzy… thinks that I am stupid, I think."

"Well, I don't," I said. "I think you're brilliant. And you shouldn't let anyone get you down."

"Thank… you," he said, and smiled. "Thank you… for loving me, even though I am not smart."

"I do love you. I'll love you forever, in sickness and health, until death do us part."


The end.


Thank you very much for reading this. I was inspired by a true event. You see, my parents are professors at a university. One of their coworkers has a son, who attended high school. He was very intelligent, top in his classes, and on his way to a very nice college. However, one night he went over to a party at a classmate's house. There, his best friend got drunk and hit him in the back of the head with a bat.

The injury to his head caused permanent brain damage, and he became mentally disabled. He is now no longer in any of his previous classes, and has very few of his previous friends, maybe not even the one who hit him on the head. He will not be able to go to college or become a chemical engineer, which is what he was planning to do with his life. He will never be married, and he will most likely never get a real job.

His mom told my mother that he sometimes stays awake at night crying, because he can remember what it was like before the injury, and he can remember what it was like to be smart, and it makes him sad that he cannot do the things he used to anymore.

This story struck me to the core, and that's why I wrote this fanfiction. In the attempt to convey the horrible loss he was put through, although I have in no way done it perfectly.

Please review, for his sake.

Flamers will be pitied.