If Anything Goes Wrong, Kill me by bloody-splat-on-the-floor

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Adventure, Suspense
Published:2007-12-27 06:28:02
Updated:2008-12-07 19:25:10
Packaged:2021-04-04 15:30:26
Summary:deranged scientists? flying refrigerators? attacks everyday? no biggie. not a problem for Max. but high school romance and avian-human hotties? HUGE problem. FAX, NAX, MIGGY, NAZZY. rewriting in progress XP

Table of Contents

1. Official
2. Tripped
3. Rooftop
4. Mittens

1. Official

ANNOUNCEMENT: THIS FIC WILL BE HAVING A LOT, AND I MEAN A LOT OF CHANGES. Inspiration hit me HARD, so…yeah. Everything will be detailed like heck BUT THE PLOT WILL BE THE SAME. I usually do rough outlines to stories (e.g. people ride a car car crash hospital meet people…etc.) so the basic "skeleton" of the plot will stay the same XD

For the new readers, it's basically this: NO FLOCK, same characters and different relationships—both brotherly/sisterly and boyfriend-girlfriend-y.

Oh, yeah. Just to let you know, I've got the new fic up. Entitled "Halved" (I know, sucky title XP I got mind-blocked). It's kind of dedicated to romance (mostly MIGGY but still has FAX) and I think its kind of depressing XP. Anywayz, check it out and tell me what you think ok?

Anyway, here you gooo…



You know how some kids get all excited about transferring to a new school, meeting new friends and abandoning all that they've cherished and loved their whole lives, just to start something new like a 'clean slate' and all that stuff?

Well they're bleeping idiots.

Seriously, do you know how hard it is to get practically all the guys at school to stop staring at me without having to gouge their eyes off??

A jillion pairs of eyes staring right at you is not the easiest thing to get rid off, if you ask me.

But I did it, of course. I'm Max—I can do anything. No matter how painstakingly agonizing it was, I still did it. I'm being a bit redundant, yeah, but you gotta hand it to me: interrogating, threatening and devising the ultimate Death Glare for every guy in school takes years to accomplish. I was literally so close to having plucked out some of their eyes already—but I swear I didn't!

So just imagine what I did when my mom told me we were gonna move to Arizona.

Actually…don't. It's something one would rather not think about. Let's just mostly describe it as an endless sporadic of profanity, violence, and other restricted 13 stuff. To sum it up: it was like the epitome of rage.

Oh, but there I was, in a dinky little plane, eradicating various assortments of flight-provided peanuts with an already bleeding thumb, resisting the urge to smash open that exit hatch to get away from the claustrophobia killing me just by being in this tiny plane!

Another thing here was that it was freezing as heck, and that my mom had packed my sweaters and jackets ahead—along with all my other stuff. If I wasn't left with just two sets of clothing—one being my pajamas—and nothing but toiletries and shoes, I could've just stayed home or moved in with one of my friends.

But NOOO, my mom had to be smart.

And I had to be so stupid as to have numbly agreed.

Hey, I already made the poor woman cry, might as well make my life miserable so hers wasn't.

Luckily, though, I had brought my black leather motorcycle jacket with me. I could have shipped it, I guess, with the rest of my stuff, but it made me feel the least bit better wearing it.

So there I was, sitting in a dinky little plane, wearing my black leather motorcycle jacket, seeing the desert of a state that was Arizona as we landed. And I thought, Great. Black leather and sand. Already I'm fitting in.


My mom isn't particularly fond of my leather jacket—or anything black, like, at all—but I swear I didn't insist on leaving—much less wearing—it to make her mad or anything. I'm not resentful for the fact that she suddenly decided to marry a guy who lives in the desert, a jillion miles from home, forcing me to leave my school, my friends, and the city I've been living in all my life.

Oh no, I am not a bit resentful.

It's not like I don't like my new step-dad or anything. He's OK, I guess. I mean, he makes my mom happy and all, and I guess that's good. Oh, and if I didn't know better, he was pretty good-looking—you know, for guys his age (which is, I don't know, OLD?). He treats me like I'm so special and everything, and all in all, he's sort of a good-enough dad.

It's just the moving-to-Arizona part that bugs me.

Oh, and did I mention my new stepsister?

They were all waiting for me when I got off. I practically shot out of the plane and into the building—but even then I felt uneasy. Anywhere with tons of people I am not so comfortable with—much less people staring at me. They all smiled at me so hugely, looking all cheery and stuff, and all I could come up with is this twisted grimace of a smile, creeping out a few passersby. I tried to plaster the stupid smile on my face on my way to my mom, my step-dad and my stepsister. I couldn't show my mom how miserable I was about the fact that I was doing this just to make her happy. Oh no, I'll just kill myself making her life a freaking fairytale.

"Oh, Max!" my mom hollered, rushing over to me and intercepting me with one of her huge inescapable hugs. I felt the breath knocked out of me at that instant, and no sooner was I wheezing at the air and tapping a few submissions on my mom's back. It took her a full five seconds to comprehend the fact that she was squishing my throat, therefore giving me both no chance of telling her to stop and to have the breath to do so.

"Oops," she said, smiling sheepishly and releasing me. I slumped down to my stroller, about half as tall as my height, and sighed, breathing in deeply.

"Yeah, thanks, mom," I muttered, sarcasm dripping my voice. "I'm hah-peeh to see you too." Saying the word happy became a bit hard. Hey, I lie, yes, but it isn't the kind of thing you do to win "Daughter of the Year Award", if you get my drift.

She rolled her eyes and angled her body sideward, hooking her arm around my new step-dad's. She gave a huge smile to me and gave my dad a small kiss on the cheek. His face flushed a little but he was able to recover, looking at me and giving me a reassuring smile.

"Maximum," he greeted me, giving a nod and letting out his hand.

From down below in my world on the floor with my head and arms on my bag, I took it and shook his hand. I gave a nod and tried to smile, "Helloh.."

He smiled deeper and helped me stand up. I mumbled a short thanks before looking at my new stepsis. Our age gap was about one year or so, and we're pretty much the only two suffering the short end of the stick. She also had this plastered smile-slash-grimace on her face, making me smile inwardly. We gave each other sad, understanding smiles, standing beside each other as our new parents started chatting.

And right when we decided to stop short the compliments and minor, unnecessary seduction, they started making out.

"Okay I can't take this anymore," I said, turning around the opposite direction where love-sick couples like some people out there weren't duking it out with their mouths.

"Tell me about it," my new stepsister cooed, her features that of horror and repulsion. "God, I never knew two people could go from normal to French at the span of three seconds."

We both shuddered.

People and their hormones.



I seriously never thought blood can get drained off someone's face or fill one to the brim in amounts so much without having brain damage or something. I mean, I'm not a complete moron. I've watched House, M.D. and everything. I just didn't expect blood circulation to be so…weird.

And I'm one to talk about weird.

Well, it's pretty normal, I guess, for two adults to feel embarrassed over the fact that they just went from 'cute couple' to 'horny freaks' in public—much less in front of their own kids.

But what I didn't consider normal, though, was the fact that the one who had a sudden tomato complexion was my step-dad. I mean, he's male, for crying out loud! Those of an antonymous gender from mine ought to just cuss or slap himself or something—not blush.

Same goes for my mom, just vise versa. Blushing I'd expect, but her face getting rid of color? Uhh..it's just not something I'm used to seeing with my mom, to say the least. Good thing she didn't start cursing or I'd have thought the world officially turned nuts!

But I gotta admit, my mom and profanity? Never saw that combination before. She usually substitutes her supposed curses with different, cute, unoffending words to people, animals and about everything else that could possibly give her the reason to. Ohh, if the world's going nuts and my mom started sacrileges out of nowhere, by hell will I be there to witness it!

Uh, not that I'm encouraging it, of course.


I tore my eyes away from the window and turned to my stepsister. "Yeah?"

"Any chance you're claustrophobic?"

I blinked at her. Was it that obvious? I thought I stopped stomping my foot already. "Uhh..why?"

She shrugged, looking a little uncomfortable. "Well, I don't know. You've been tapping your foot so much and you keep looking out the window. That's what I usually do when I'm in small spaces…"

"So…" I started. "You're claustrophobic?"

Her cheeks turned a small shade of pink, which I couldn't help but notice was cute. Actually, now that I got a good look of her, my stepsister is cute. I mean, curly blonde hair, big blue eyes and the sweetest smile? Don't tell me that ain't cute.

"Uhh, yeah, sort of," she answered shyly.

"Well we're two of a kind," I answered, smiling at her.

She smiled and gave a short giggle, making me smile too. I have a feeling we're gonna get along pretty well, having so much in common and all.

"Oh, umm…can you uh, not tell anyone about me being claustrophobic and all?"

I turned to her again, smirking. "Alright, I won't tell," I answered. "But you have to agree with me on two things."

She blinked at me. "Uh…ok…?"

"One," I started, raising my index finer. "You don't tell anyone either." At this, she smirked. "And two," I continued, raising my second finger. "You call me Max."

She blinked once, opened her mouth to say something, but I interrupted. "We're officially sisters now, so formalities are an out."

For a second, she looked shocked and surprised, but then she grinned and let out her hand. "Just promise to call me Angel, not Angelica, ok?"

I grinned at her. "Deal."

So we shook on it.

And, from the corner of my eye, I saw my mom and my new dad flash smiles at us.

I grimaced, realizing that, from the moment the plane reached Arizona borders, to riding the car and to stopping in front of our new house…

…that I had officially moved.


A/N: uh, I still don't know how to make lines or scene breakers in here so I'm substituting 'em with my penname (\\-bLudySplATonThuhFlo0r-/). It's gonna be used to change from scenes, time lapses, and POVs.

Anyway, I hope you guys liked it. R&R! Tell me what you think! Thanks for reading!

P.S. I'm actually DONE with the revised chapter 2, but I really wanna know what you guys think OK? This one's like an introduction, don't worry the next chapter will make up for it! (SPOILER: Gazzy first!)

P.P.S. again, check out the new fic: "Halved". Thanks.

2. Tripped


A/N: I don't think I'd have enough time to write an author's note at the bottom so anyways: second rewritten chapter! This is the longest I've written so far. Thanks for all those reading, and please continue! updating might be slower than expected if I keep writing long chaps like this XD

Anyways, please check out my other fic ok? I've only got 2 chapters, but I'm almost done with the third XP

Okay, gotta go, we have a soccer tourney in an hour (paaaaanic) R&R! thanks for reading!



I tripped.

My first day of school, and I tripped.

Oh, oh, even better: I bumped into someone.

After I tripped, of course.

Big fat freaking kudos, right?


I guess I should explain, you know, before I start ranting. But when else would I not rant? Oh, maybe if my mom hadn't dragged me away from home, out of my old school and into a new one, away from all my other friends and stuck with clueless strangers, I wouldn't be ranting my head off!

But nooo, I just had to be such a kind, loving and compassionate daughter who would consider her mother's happiness more important than her own, making her life a living hell to make someone else's a freaking dream come true!

Oh, don't expect me to stop ranting 'cause I'm on a roll!

Besides the fact that I'm already so claustrophobic, my allergies—don't ask—seem to have doubled since I got here. And who in their right mind would actually manage to sneeze and not close their eyes? Not me, that's for sure.

So yeah, I sneezed, just had to close my eyes…

Then I tripped.

Oh, and I bumped into someone.

After I tripped.

Lucky the person I bumped into just happened to be strong enough to stop both of us from falling over, right?


"Craaap," I muttered to myself, feeling my face heat up and my heartbeat quicken.

"You ok?"

My heart jumped at the sound of that voice. It was so soft and gentle. I didn't think someone could actually pull that off. A perfect voice, I mean. Much less on some teenage guy who probably fish for girls. But somehow…with that voice, you can pretty much put all your trust in, you know? It doesn't fit some guy with an ego the size of USA. It'd be more like this disgusting sound coming out a relatively cute face. And hey, cute face, perfect voice, and these buffed arms and chest? Total hottie much (did I just say that??).

"U-uh, yeah. Thanks," I stuttered—wait, I never stutter! "Sorry about that. It's just—I blinked and—"

"Don't worry about it," he said, standing me up properly. I looked up to see his face and practically felt my heart stop.

This guy.

Is gorgeous.

Damn. The dictionary is so useless! It's practically the UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR. I don't know what word in all languages that could actually describe him. I mean, messy blonde hair, big blue eyes and the cutest, sweetest smile ever? You've got to consider that gorgeous.

"Uhh, um, thanks…again," I said, trying to force actual words out of my mouth.

He smiled, making my heart skip another beat. "You're new."

It wasn't a question.

"Jake," he said, smiling at me.

"Max," I replied, smiling back.

"Short for what?" he asked, looking thoughtful. "Maximum?"

I blinked, my eyes widening. "How'd you know?"

He shrugged, and I couldn't help but notice the gold sheen coming off of the sun's light reflecting on his spiky hair (WTF is wrong with me?!). "I dunno. I just guessed."

My brows furrowed, confused. "Oh. Well, you're good."

He grinned, making my heart skip another beat. I swear if he keeps doing that I'd be dead pretty soon. "Well, thanks. Though you should meet my other friends: they can read anyone like a book."

I gave a short laugh. "Yeah, I'll look forward to that."

He was about to say something else when someone suddenly yelled, "GAZ! GET YOUR BUTT OVER HERE BEFORE THIS THING EXPLODES!"


"Shoot," Jake muttered. "Uh, well, nice meeting you. I sorta need to uh…go. Anyways, see 'ya later!" He already started jogging away, waving at me and flashing me that smile again.

"Uh…okay!" I called back. "See 'ya!"

"Oh my god, Max."

I nearly jumped at the sound of Angel's voice. I guess two seconds wasn't enough time for me to actually expect someone to not talk to me. Jake, I guess, wasn't the first guy. I bumped into him and apologized and everything, so, like the guy he is, he replied to the apology in a really sweet way. And since we didn't know each other, he introduced himself so Ihad to as well. 'Nough said.

Wait…why was I defending him?

"That guy you were just talking to?" Angel went on.

"Yeah? What of him?" I asked, tucking in loose strands of hair behind my ear.

"That was Gazzy. He's one of the top five hottest guys in school. He's really sweet too, you know? Not like those guys with humongous egos and all. And he's got the sweetest smile…"

"Gazzy?" I said, cutting into her daydreaming. "But he said his name's—"

"—Jake, I know," Angel interrupted. "That's his real name. Gazzy's just a nickname for him. He doesn't really like to introduce himself as Gazzy. It's kind of weird for him, I guess.."

"Oh." Was all I could come up with.

Great, first friend is part of the top five hot list. Just great. I've got the attention swooning over to me already.

Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if he was top 1. Never in my life have I seen such a perfect face, some buffed arms and chest, and the most angelic voice I've ever heard.

Gazzy huh…


Gazzy POV

"What's happening??"

"The fuse is going haywire! This thing will blow any second!"

"What have you got in there?"

"The basics, but we put in blue cheese CAN YOU STOP IT??"

"Wait! Wait!"

I gritted my teeth, annoyed at the non-stop beeping trying to kick my sanity off-edge. I found it really funny when the teachers got pissed just hearing the noise, but now I was pretty darn annoyed at it myself. It really gives you a sense of impending doom, bombs. Not the best thing to know when it's partnered with reek that'll last a few months. It'd be even worse if it explodes eight up your face with a stench that can make your eyes bleed.

Yeah, you read right: eyes.

I toggled with the case, busting open the top cover with a flat screwdriver. Inside, the wires were pretty messed up, the 'stink' part of the bomb was virtually untouchable—unless I'd want a bomb explode in my face a second time—and the latch to the gunpowder and explosive chemicals was welded shut. All I could do now is fix up the timer and hope to know exactly when this thing's programmed to blow for an escape.

If we could escape.

"Crap," I muttered, glaring at the mix of numbers and letters flashing on and off on the timer. Still no detonation time. "Where's Iggy?"

"He's disabling the links connected to that. For the meantime, at least," Mike replied. "At least when it blows, it won't take the roof with 'em."

I smirked. If Iggy had taken part in making this bomb—which is highly likely—it would be hellishly hard to disable it. That guy's a wizard with bombs, and if he doesn't disable one, no one can.

No one but me, though.

I snapped a green wire and grinned, seeing the timer's numbers slow down to a stop. It would take at least a minute for the timer to show certainty, and I wasn't sure if it wouldn't blow at that duration.

But there's another thing about Iggy: he's got too much tricks up his sleeves. Disable a bomb and another one magically appears. Elongate the timer and it explodes right in your face. He's got backups for backups, I tell you. Even backups for those backups! Oh, and when he's started a link he doesn't stop. We've got some wires running throughout the whole school, for crying out loud! We just add the bombs and the whole thing comes tumbling down into a lowly heap of rubble and failed quiz papers.

I've only gotten halfway into Iggy's truck of tricks, and I've only so far disabled what he would probably consider the easy ones. When it comes to bombs, explosives and about every thing that could make a huge puff of smoke, Iggy's the master.

Yet we're still even.

For a really long time now, Iggy and I have been creating bombs together, rating them from a scale of 1-10, even more if we use actual acids and chemicals. It's more like a really dangerous game of "Make the biggest explosion" you know? It's all fun, but we can mess up sometimes.

Like now, for example.

"Iggy, you messed up," I said.

"How'd you know I was here?" came the reply.

"You stomp like an elephant," I said. "Now can you please fix this?"

I heard him sigh and swiftly move over to me.

Iggy doesn't, of course, stomp like an elephant. He's actually pretty annoying whenever he pops up out of nowhere or suddenly gets up your face, it's just that he carries around this aura-like thing with him. It's like when he gets close to you, the hairs at the back of your neck stand up and you feel a little tingly and stuff. It gets uncomfortable sometimes, depending on his mood, but mostly just makes you alert, knowing that he's right behind you and all.

"What exactly is wrong again?" he asked me, bored. He yawned and glanced at me, and all I could give him was this bored-looking annoyed look, narrowing my eyes at him.

"Timer's bust and the fuse is going berserk CAN YOU PLEASE STOP IT NOW??" Mike hollered, looking like he was on the verge of jumping off the school roof. (And, yeah, we were on the school's roof—just where we planted the dozen of bombs all around). "The laptop's in my locker, so I can't override the darn thing. And seeing as you made most of this bomb, I don't think I'll be able to make it in time."

Iggy smirked, sighing as he poked the bomb a few times, turning it in different angles. He stopped at one particular corner, upper-right part of the timer's edge. He lazily raised his closed fist about half a foot up and slammed it down on that spot.

We stared at him, bemused.

He continued staring at the timer, taking about two seconds before blinking, blinking another time, and then widening his eyes—all in another second.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Grab your skateboards now or whatever just TAKE COVER!" Iggy yelled, grabbing both Mike and I by the collar of our shirts or the hoods of our jackets and dragging us away.

I stole a quick glance at the bomb, and almost as instantly, my eyes widened.



It was like a race to not get killed. To not get doomed to at least a month of stink clinging to your clothes. To not get blasted off the roof and fall to what could be your imminent death as a splat on the floor.

In other words: ESCAPE.

It took us six whole seconds to actually run to our backpacks, slip them around an arm, grab our skateboards and run back to the edges of the roof—particularly the one nearest a divider-slash-wall, ramps, and the railings.

"EVERYONE WATCH OUT!" Iggy bellowed, a huge grin on his face, grabbing his skateboard's trunks as he ran.


That's when a deafening explosion shot us off the roof.




I snapped my head in the direction of the voice, and I saw, in the corners of my eyes, everyone else doing the same.

And in that split second, a huge explosion erupted from the school's roof. I ducked my head, shielding it with my arms. I could see other people do the same, the ones closer running for cover. A few screams rang through the campus, a few loud thuds and bangs came crashing down.

I gotta admit, it's not really every first day of school I find it's ceiling explode.

"What the—" I heard Angel mutter beside me.

I looked back up and immediately felt my jaw drop. Everything suddenly went in slow motion, and I got every single detail of what was happening, who I was focused on, and the insane-like-heck stunt they were doing.

Emerging right out of the huge cloud of smoke shrouding the whole school's roof, shooting through the air, easy, smoothly, and at a frightening speed, Jake—I mean Gazzy—a tall, strawberry-blonde with what looked like snowboarding goggles, and another one with black hair, mini, cracked up computers at his belt and wires held in one hand was pushed powerfully forward and off the roof by the impact of the explosion. For some reason, they all had huge grins on their faces, laughing as they were slowly being pulled down by gravity. I noticed blood dripping down the strawberry-blonde's hand, a long line trailing down his shoulder too. They all held skateboards in one hand, their packs around a shoulder, and a bunch of wires and tools as well.

Okay, call me crazy but I think they made the bomb.

Gazzy, the strawberry-blonde, and the techie each brought their skateboards below their feet. About six yards from the nearest wall-slash-divider-thing, the guys all laughed loudly, huge, mischievous grins plastered on their faces.

Okay, don't call me crazy. Call them crazy.

"Wow, second sem is getting off to a wild start," Angel laughed.

I stared at her, bewildered.

Out of the blue, a loud roar of cheers rang throughout the campus, effectively smashing my eardrums. I looked back up to the mayhem and gaped.

With loud, resounding smashes, all three guys' skateboards slammed onto solid concrete. They all winced, probably from impact, and soon enough were they skateboarding through the thin walls separating our school from the fields within each side of the vicinity. The techie had immediately lost balance and one-eightied off the wall, landing on the ground and slipping off his skateboard. Gazzy, on the other hand, had skateboarded at least half the wall and ollied off it, grinding on the staircase's railings, and then landing on the ground, skidding off before he eventually tumbled out of it. But the strawberry-blonde had skated the whole opposite wall, one-eightied off to the railings and did a 360 to the ground. Perfect landing.

"Whoa…" I muttered, amazed.

"If you're amazed now, you should see it when they don't mess up," Angel said beside me, giggling.

"Mess up…?" I said, glancing at the three boys.

"Yeah," Angel replied, smiling at me and walking forward. I followed her. "When Iggy himself warns us of something, we're sure they've messed up somehow."

"Uh…Iggy?" I asked. Not that I'm complaining or anything, it's just that I am still new here and Angel clearly thinks less of that. She should update me on stuff and tell me who's who and everything. It would be better if she still thinks I'm new more than the rest of the guys with their eyeballs trained on me. Seriously.

"Oh, sorry," Angel said, chuckling. "Forgot you were new."

See what I tell 'ya?

"Uhm, Iggy, oh yeah," Angel went on, and I could very clearly see the flush on her cheeks. "Second hottest guy around. But you could say third 'cause first is like, a tie and everything, and there're two guys there, so I guess Iggy's—"

"—Angel!" I snapped, cutting in on yet another one of her daydreams.

"Oh, sorry," Angel said again, smiling sheepishly. "Well, uh, Iggy's Gazzy's closest friend. They're like brothers, really, and they're always partners-in-crime." She chuckled.

"'Crime'?" I asked.

"Ohh, you know," Angel continued. "They're sorta like rebels—in a, uh, good way, I guess—and they're like pranksters and everything, and they're always there to cheer anyone up." She blushed slightly. "And, as you can see, they're big with bombs."

"So they did that?" I exclaimed.

"Yeah," she answered simply.


"Uhm, ohkay, it might be weird for you since it's, you know, your first day and everything, but Gazzy and Iggy are bomb experts around here. They usually do stink bombs for teachers and lots of others, but sometimes they mess up—like, you know, now." She glanced at the smoke piling up on the roof.

"Then who's the other guy?" I asked, looking pointedly at the techie being crowded around by concerned teens—I think.

"Oh, that's Mike," Angel answered. "He's the computer genius here, all good with all the technical-mechanical stuff. But don't get him wrong," she continued. "he's not a geek or a nerd. He's just really smart."

I failed to understand that.

I scanned the area for Iggy, finding him limping towards Gazzy—who I saw was on the floor, his chest heaving up and down in deep pants. It was only now that I noticed how close we were to them, and also now that I felt my heart beating faster than what was normal for me.

I couldn't comprehend the fact that I was acting this way. And there was the fact that these guys were too impossible. Never in my life have I seen guys like these. So perfect, yet so imperfect all the same.

The hardest to comprehend, though, was the basic fact that I was thinking like this.

Puberty? No, the squeaky voice has been dealt with.

Bad eyesight? Nah, I've got freaking raptor vision.



I thought they'd never kick in—and I was considering that as a good thing—but was there any other explanation besides the fact that I was being mutated more than I'm capable of? I mean, I'm actually, miraculously turning into them. Them being the boy-crazy-make-up-gossip-girls who've dedicated their lives to hunting down boys and pursuing them (no offence to those with commonsense enough to know they are, indeed, one of the boy-crazy-make-up-gossip-girls I'm talking about—peace).

NO. NO WAY was I turning into them. I mean, why waste a perfectly wasted reputation of having not a single boyfriend all my life?

And yeah, wasted 'cause I left the school that my reputation had been known in.

And again, it wouldn't have been wasted if I were still back home, still an only child, and still back home!

BUT—I'm a stranger here. Nobody knows my past—neither do I, actually; at least, half my past—and my reputation doesn't precede me for a million miles, that's for sure. I guess starting a fairly cleaner slate than the one I struggled with last time would help.

Not that I'm considering being a boy-crazy-male-up-gossip-girl person or anything. It's not me, no matter how much change I dare do to my supposed rep.

—was it me or did Iggy just look at me?


"You okay, bro?"

I could've just died. Seriously. My heart shouldn't keep skipping beats like this. More of this skipping and I'm seriously gonna die.

There can't be so much people with a perfect voice, can there?! It's like the world suddenly tilted sideways and all the perfect people fell into one place or something. Either that or heaven was suddenly set on fire and all the angels just…fell off or something.

Okay, now that's just plain stupid.

It was just now that I actually put into thought the fact that Gazzy had not been specified as to what number he was at the top 5, but Iggy's second, right after two guys who were supposedly tied in position at top one…and seeing as Iggy is supposed to be second—he must look better—hotter—than Gazzy.

I somehow found that very, very impossible.

But I was wrong about that.


"Dude that was so nine-point-five," I heard Gazzy reply, laughing.

I blinked and found Iggy helping Gazzy up from the floor, feigning a drop just for fun. Gazzy gave him a playful smack at the back of his head, and soon enough was the crowd sighing and moving on with their business (oh lookey here..a group of giggling girls with shiny b-dazzled purses and shoes just happened to stick around—puh-leez). I saw Iggy's hand shoot up to his goggles, pulling them up to his forehead, making his already messy and dirt-sprinkled hair even messier—but he got rid of a few clumps of dirt—or covered them. All I saw was the back of his head—since, you know, he was facing the other way—but at this range, I could see how seriously tall this guy is. Yeah, I'm tall for my age, and so is Gazzy, but with being tall, Iggy takes the cake—and gobbles it up, more likely—he sticks out pretty well, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's on the basketball team

So technically I was only looking at his back, big deal, I'd be bracing myself for a possible heart attack when—or if—he turns around—which would actually be necessary since the other way was smack into a wall. Gazzy himself had given me a jumpstart, and someone better than that would kill me. (It isn't possible, I tell you! No one could actually look better than Gazzy! And by heck could anyone look better than the guy who looks better than Gazzy! Which isn't possible either!)

Someone suddenly brushed past me, making his was towards Iggy and Ja—Gazzy. I recognized him to be Mike—what with the small computers around his waist. He had pulled up his inky black, gray-stained goggles to his forehead too, making his hair spike up neatly away from his face—which actually looked pretty good (but don't get me wrong, it just looked OK).

I didn't miss the large black blotch at the bottom of his black pants, though, clearly stating that he got either burned or the fall and impact made something bleed.

"Evr'yone OK?" he asked, glancing at me for a second.

There was no chance of another human being as good-lookin' as Gazzy. Serious. Gazzy's rare.

"Sprained ankle. Possible contortion," Iggy said. "For Gaz, I mean. Me, just the usual burns and another gash on my shoulder, thanks to both your weights."

I saw Mike smirk, giving a short laugh.

But…who's to say that all the rare kind of teens like Gazzy piled up in the same school?

"And you've got another scratch, right?" Iggy piped up, and from where we were I could see the side of his face—that was it.

If there were more, I'd freely call them mutants, thank you very much.

And I'm one to say something like that.

But by god did my own logic defy me when Iggy turned.

He had J—Gazzy's arm around his shoulders, supporting half his weight, seeing as his other leg was the one sprained. Gazzy glanced at me and flashed a sheepish smile, grinning afterwards and mouthing a 'hi' (another skip).

And now, as living, breathing witness, I hereby prove the quote "If looks could kill" TRUE.

And again, I've proven the uselessness of a decent-enough dictionary, also TRUE.

Ugh, I can't describe him and not make him sound ugly. It would take all the good adjectives ever made combined just to pull that off.

So let's just say that the first, unintelligent thought—and word—that came out of my mouth was my pathetic description for the guy:


I reluctantly tore my eyes away from him, focusing on the puff of smoke on the roof. If anyone at all would've heard me say that, there was no way in hell were they going to see me saying that about a guy. Oh no, I wouldn't say that about a guy. The puff of smoke on the roof was snaking up the sky in a weird way—that was a WOW.

Okay, who the hell am I kidding?! How would some big puff of smoke suddenly be so interesting? Sure it's like some bio-chemical whatsamahooey was trying to get through to the sky, but there's no way I would really, seriously pay attention to that.

"Uh, Max?" Angel said from beside me. "Why're you staring at…"

I blinked, looking at her. "Huh—what?"

"You're staring at the…Ohhh, I get it," Angel said, giggling again. "If your mom's a doctor, I guess, you'd tend to notice stuff like this too, huh?"

"What?" I asked, confused.

She nudged my elbow and made me turn to look at the school's roof full on, pointing. "Iggy and Gazzy don't use real chemicals—unless necessary—and they always put stuff that won't cause any damage of any kind to the sky. The smoke actually kills bacteria and other viruses. It's like a certain kind of snake's venom: not too much, and it could be used as a vaccine; a huge amount and it could be fatal. Everyone knows that, of course, even a few teachers or so, that's why no one really worries all that much."

"Whoa," was all I came up with, actually interested at the smoke. Smart people, they are.

But I couldn't get their faces off my head.

For one, they looked like brothers—just like Angel had said. Iggy had strawberry blonde, or more likely red highlights just blending in with his pale-blonde hair. It was really like seeing a movie star who's had angels fix him up, carving his face to perfection, making a gorgeous mess of hair on his head, and adding the perfect build for the perfect kind of guy. It wasn't exactly the fact that he looked better than Gazzy, he just sort of looked like the 'older' brother of the two or something. I don't know! I abandoned all hope for dictionaries already remember?

"So Max…" Angel whispered hesitantly to me, her cheeks slightly red. "What do you think of Iggy? Ain't he cute or what?"

Since she's technically my sister, I guess I could share stuff with her. But I wasn't really ready for that yet. I don't think I could bust my cover just 'cause of that. Sure she's my new sister and everything, but we haven't been sisters. If we were born sisters, I guess we could just as easily share tons of secrets. But no, we were new to each other, and I was planning to keep it like that—in a different way.

"Sure, Ange," I said with a tone that meant 'if you think so'. "Iggy's cute." Gawd, cute?! Sheesh. That's it?! I guess it's a good enough substitution with thousands of meanings—for all girls out there—but its such a puny word. Weensy. Tiny. Little. Not worth calling Iggy. Or Jake—I mean Gazzy.

Angel laughed, and I looked at her, confused. "What?" I asked for the third time now.

"N-nothing," she said, stuttering in between laughs.

I rolled my eyes. "Whatever."

All too suddenly, Angel's brows furrowed, both in confusion and frustration. I gave her a questioning look, but she ignored me.

"Max…it's—it's Wednesday today, right?" she asked, still staring blankly at the road.

"Huh? Uh..yeah, it's Wednesday, why?" I replied, looking at her curiously.

But she ignored me. Again.

That was when I heard something that resembles a motorcycle being started for a race, somewhere far, but close enough for my freakish hearing to pick up. I noticed lots of girls snapping their heads so fast in the direction, their hair would've sliced someone's head off, and lots of guys swiveling their heads away from me (oh thank god!) and furrowing their brows—some were even glaring, for some reason.

I had no idea what was happening, of course, and Angel went to pretty much ignoring everything I was asking, so yeah, tough luck for the new kid.

Also, I noticed Ja—Gazzy running his palm down the back of Iggy's head, bringing Iggy's upper body bent a little low. Gazzy laughed at his trick shot and started hopping on one leg away from Iggy who was, in turn, annoyed, revengeful, but laughing all the same. Since he didn't have any leg injuries—that I know of—he gained pretty quickly and ran his arm around Gazzy's neck, strangling him and giving him a playful nuggy. They both laughed, just like brothers, and fought playfully among each other.

Mike, who was right behind them, was sighing and scratching the back of his head, a bored look on his face. Iggy noticed and blinked at him, mimicking Mike's expression. He started talking to the techie with a grin on his face, and I could clearly see Mike shaking his head about something—about him, I think—arguing with a grinning Iggy. Mike looked pretty annoyed, glancing every once in a while at the big black blotch at the bottom of his pants. Iggy put his hands at the back of his head, grinning still. He suddenly looked at Mike's big blotch and grinned, telling the techie something before eventually kicking the blotch. It wasn't a strong hit, as it looks, but it was strong enough to hurt whatever's under Mike's blotched pants.

No longer was Mike hopping up and down, clutching his ankle, wincing with one eye, and screaming stuff at Iggy, who, on the other hand, just laughed along with Jake—I mean, Gazzy.


Ugh. Can't…tear…eyes…away…from them…

I flinched, hearing the loud roar of a motorcycle engine again. This time, more girls were giggling, squealing, and making every unnecessary noise just 'cause of that sound.

Darn. I still don't know what the hell is going on.

"Ohmygod," Angel muttered, her eyes wide.

"What? What is it?" I demanded.

"Max," she said, slowly turning to me. "I think, since you're new, its time for you to meet them."

What? "Huh? Who's them?"

Louder engines, this time.

Angel grinned, making me flinch at her mischievous look.

"The ones at the top of the hottie list," she concluded. "You've probably been hearing weird names like 'Iggy' and 'Gazzy' but, weird or no, one of the guys' names are so badass."

Top? No way. Not possible. At least, I think it's not possible. "Then…what's the name?"

She grinned at me.



3. Rooftop


-Iggy POV-

It's been about ten to fifteen minutes since I've heard the almost familiar roar of the engines. The specific type of resonance that came out newly tuned and ready from Jack's Chopper Crib. Jack was a practical genius with machinery. Heck, he even taught Gaz an' I small pipeline magnification with explosions. It nearly killed all of us, yeah, but it was a blast. Three weeks in the hospital was so worth it. No charges pressed, of course. I know having huge grins n' smiles after you nearly got blasted to bits sounded crazy, but it also meant we didn't care. Even the sometimes-uptight Gazzy threw off four doctors and three nurses.

I was a tad annoyed at the fact that I'd heard it coming. I mean, having to know about stuff you shouldn't that just kills excitement and invades privacy was annoying, right? I'd consider it annoying. I like excitement. The thrill. The suspense. It's why we make bombs. We're daredevils. We take risks. There's always that possibility that the bomb you're trying to cook up might just explode in your face. Set you on fire. Kill you. But that's the thrill. That's where the suspense lies. And we like it that way.

And hearing things that kill the suspense sucks.

I'm not really against the fact that I had some sort of super-hearing. Or super-senses. Or feathery things juttin' outta my back. It's just that they're hard—if not impossible—to turn off.

I'm supposed to be against it, I guess, if you were meant to be normal—fully human. But I guess I'm just…used to it. Even though, probably five, six years ago, I'd have given anything just to lose the darn abnormality, but now…well, I don't know. There'd be hesitation. Lots of it. But the decision I'd never know for sure. It's not really as if there'd be something that could actually help, right?

But anyway, with the super-hearing, the fact that they were gonna try out their newly improved bikes today was already surprise-lost. This morning it barely even registered to me that it was Wednesday, the day Jack usually gets awesome shipments from some hi-tech places. Also the day when they always get some major tune-ups and first-hand fixes from Jack for their bikes. They're cool, those bikes, and I'd have dismantled it and put it back together myself just to have a look at every single detail of it. But I'm not some mach-nut or anything. It's just that one look at those and even the best motorcycle mechanic or rider would stop and stare. The frame itself was off the heat, but the rest would just be indescribable. Works of art, those machs. Ain't seen nothing like 'em. So far some of the best I've seen, no doubt. If only we didn't have to jump off the roof and sit by the bench practically right beside the road, I wouldn't have heard the engines running. Well, maybe just a little, but I don't think I'd have recognized 'em as engines.

"They're comin'," Mike said, looking dourly around us.

"Hm?" Gazzy said. "Why d'you say so?"

Mike pointed some sort of lazy-sheepish finger at some flock behind us. "Girls're gigglin' like crazy."

I followed his motion and looked innocently around us. He was right: girls were having lotsa fits of girlish giggles. Some sounded absolutely disgusting, but some sounded cute and, well…girly.

"'Cept for Max, though'," Gazzy said, staring fixedly at someone, a smirk on his face.

"Max?" Mike and I asked in unison.

"Who's Max?" Mike continued, looking questioningly at Gazzy, the annoyed look on his face gone.

"Oh, right," Gazzy said, shaking his head a bit. He smiled sheepishly at us and said, "Max is the new girl here. Met her for a bit a while ago. We were talking when you bellowed at me from the roof to get up and fix the bomb." He jabbed a finger at Mike's shoulder playfully, making Mike flush a bit.

"O-oh, uh, right," Mike stuttered, scratching his jaw a bit. "So the blonde chick you were talkin' to's Max?"

"Yep," Gazzy nodded, turning his gaze over to one side, making sure the sidewards glance wouldn't be a bit too obvious. "Over there."

We followed his gaze, looking over our shoulders. We faked a few glances and dodged a few girls' stares before finding this supposed Max person.

"The one with Angel, right?" Mike asked, briefly pointing a sided finger.

"Guys, help the half-blind guy here, would 'ya?" I prompted.

For those who care, having only half your vision gets really annoying. Even though I have some sort of raptor vision, I really, seriously can't see with my right eye. It all happened in a freak accident sometime ago, and now I'm stuck with only one good eye. It's just annoying that I don't get to see stuff immediately—unlike some 20-20-visioned people out there.

Gazzy chuckled and grabbed my shoulder a little brusquely, giving something sort of a rough nudge in one direction—a direction which was, by the way, out of my right eye's line of sight.

"There," Gazzy said, pointing with his eyes to a pair of girls. "The one beside Angel."

I turned to face the direction he was—technically—pointing at, closing my right eye for some sort of cover up for what could be a rude gesture or action towards a girl. There're a lot of stuff that should be concealed and all of that, but I'm really never sure when I should hide some suspicions sometimes. Old habit, I guess. Hard to break.

"Whoa," Mike said beside me, the surprised tone in his voice poorly screened.

It took a few seconds for my brain to actually register the fact that there was this gorgeous new girl standing about nine yards from me, talking to Angel and flicking various strands of hair away from her face. She looked sort of familiar, but I'm not sure if I've ever seen her anywhere else. Beside her, Angel was giggling cutely, a lot like some girls around us—except a bit cuter. That was Angel, all right. It was just now, though, that I've noticed so many flocks of girls giggling around us. I heard them, but I don't think I was concentrating that much. There were massive amounts of 'em, those giggling girls. I guess I really didn't notice 'till now.

"She's so outta your league, Gaz," Mike laughed, giving Gazzy a playful slap at his shoulder. "That girl's more gorgeous than most of the supermodels I've seen." He laughed harder.

"Ri-i-i-i-ight," Gazzy chuckled, laughing along. "She's new. Cut her some slack. She looks like she doesn't like attention."

"Well, that's gonna be hard," Mike noted. "I don't see any other guy not lookin' at her."

"Dudes," I said, "She is hot."

Gaz and Mike stared at me.

Then we all burst out laughing.

"Nice, Ig. Nice," Mike commented, clutching his stomach as he laughed.

"But true," Gazzy added, only chuckling now. "No matter how you look at it, it's true."

"Good man," I said, still chuckling. I round my arm around his shoulders and dragged his neck down for a noogie (you know, I never really knew the spelling of that word). We all continued laughing our heads off, and Gazzy ruffled my already messed up hair even more. Gazzy gave me a grateful look, accompanied by one of those smiles you always seem to agree with. It's annoying sometimes, yeah, what with the practical brainwash and everything—add to the fact that it's technically a "bambi-eyes" replacement—but he always gives me the feeling that I'm a genuine big brother. It's a sense of brotherhood we've always had. I mean, Gazzy can't possibly last a week without having to blow up a bomb in his face without me. Haha, well, just maybe. The kid learns fast, and he's got his own tricks up his sleeve, but you just never know, right? At least that's a mystery I'll be trying to figure out for a while.

"You guys are really like brothers," Mike noted, smirking.

"The hell are 'ya talkin' about?!" I hollered at him, my free arm shooting out and wrapping itself around his neck, dragging his head down. I ruffled Gazzy's hair with my other hand and laughed, "You're family too!"

We continued laughing, and I couldn't help but flash a smile at Max, who had smiled in our direction since I started messing with Gaz and Mike's hair. I don't know how my mouth suddenly curved up to a smile, and by god did I not know what the hell I looked like with a matching mop on my head and smoky, ashen clothes crumpled to the skin, but I guess it didn't look entirely hideous when she smiled a little sheepishly back and turned around, hiding some incredibly cute blushes. I saw Angel cast a questioning glance in our direction, thankfully missing our small group, and then looking confusedly around, probably searching for whoever Max looked at. I saw her draw Angel's attention away from her puzzled search, looking as though she was asking a question. Angel immediately took the change in subject, answering whatever Max's question was. I smirked, rolling my eyes.

Suddenly, besides the uncontrollable giggles erupting from all the girls around us, some even more uncontrollable squeals rang through the campus. It was a whole lot like some sort of siren, a deafening alert for all the girls here, apparently. I cast another glance at Max, wondering worriedly if she'd be giggling too. I knew, just by looking, that she didn't seem like most of the girls here—or anywhere, actually—but I wasn't entirely sure. Luckily, though, and somehow a little weirdly, she was actually covering her ears in annoyance. I blinked at the sight, but I was somewhat relieved. Also a bit curious, I guess. She's one hot girl and she apparently didn't have the ego most girls would have if they were her. Also, she was, in no way, like most of the gigglin' girls obsessing over some trivial stuff I don't really want to think about.

And I liked her that way.

Out of the blue, two jet-black motorcycles tore through the road and curved down the corner at a frightening speed, barely any smoke leaving the exhaust. I had no idea Jack would actually finish the low-exhaust-output thing he was considering a long-term-post-project-in-the-making so quickly, but that's just him: unpredictable.

"Dude, those bikes are awesome," Mike commented, his eyes glistening with his contacts in place. "And the speed! Man, Jack's done it again."

Gaz and I chuckled, our eyes trained on the motorcycles speeding their way through the road. It wasn't a part of showing-off, that's for sure, I mean, why else would they turn sharply around the curve, race through the parking lot (technically), and park the bikes at the back of the school (technically)?

"Yo, Ig."

I turned, scratching my head and sighing. Never mind admiring the bikes if I don't get to dismantle them.

"Yeah?" I replied, annoyed at my right eye's disability.

"Jack said you guys have to come to his sho—crib after school," Nick said, taking off his helmet and ruffling his hair.

I did a double take on the bike he was perched on.

"You can't dismantle it," Nick said protectively, laying a hand on the motorcycle's frame.

I raised my hands in mock surrender, sighing. "Yeah, yeah, I know."

He smirked briefly, running a hand through his disheveled hair. He ruffled it a bit and then set his helmet down.

"Anything else to tell me?" I asked, scratching the back of my head.


Nick sighed and dug his hand in his leather jacket's pocket, throwing up some clanky shiny metal thing into the air, angling in midair. Behind him, another rider spun sharply around, his knee barely touching the ground. His jet-black hair tossed as he pushed himself upright, his arm shooting out and grabbing the set of keys Nick tossed up. The impassive mask on his face remained, and briefly, he and Nick shared a glance, some sort of glint in their eyes, before the rider sped off, using one hand to navigate the motorcycle as his other pocketed the keys.

I sighed. That jet-black hair was creepy sometimes, and even creepier was how those two could actually communicate without actually communicating. I think. Nick talks though, just not in an amount ordinary. It's his brother, Mr. One-Word-Per-Week, who doesn't talk period. It's rare for him, even for us, sometimes even for Nick. And yet, as I look behind me, he's practically an idol here.

Damn, without even talking.

That Fang…

"Sorry," Nick spoke, turning his attention back to us. "We're all going to meet up at the School Tree, Jack needs us all to go to his sho—crib." He nodded at Gazzy and Mike, distracting them from their apparent stare down with the motorcycle.

"Huh, okay," I answered. "D'you know why?"

He shook his head. "He was too troubled. Don't know why, either."

In the corner of my eye, I saw Gazzy grin. "Something's up," he said.

I felt myself grinning as well, another mischievous look possibly shrouding my features. Even Mike had the look on, and he barely gets excited. Nick stared at us, looking part bored, annoyed, and bemused.

"You guys just never let up, do you?" he said, shaking his head. "Gonna cause trouble again, huh?"

"Count on that," Gazzy answered, grinning still.


-Max's POV-

I think I'm gonna die.

No seriously, I think I'm gonna die.

The world froze over, and everything's just plain impossible.

I'm sure of it.

"Max? Ma-a-x? You still in there?"

Vaguely, I took notice of the hand swaying over my face, up and down, in this really annoying way. It barely registered to me that it was a really annoying gesture and that I was supposed to tell Angel to stop doing it.

But I couldn't.

'Cause the world froze over.

"Max, snap out of it!"

I couldn't, of course.

'Cause the world froze over.

"Um. Max? You okay? What do you mean, the world froze over? You're kind of freaking me out here."

I bit my lip. Was I saying that out loud?

"Max. Come on, we're gonna be late. And you do not wanna be late on your first day in school. Not if you wanna keep your sanity. Max!"

"Sorry. I'm good." I was better than good. I was great.

No, even better than great. I was amazing. Ha.

Unfortunately, Angel wasn't fooled. It's going to be a pain, having a family member that actually notices things. I was going to have to take greater care controlling the expression of my face. I just usually put on the casual indifference whenever I feel a violent blush about to erupt, but it looks like Angel could just see right past that.

"Come on, Max, we have to go," she said, yanking me by the arm. She threw a concerned glance at me over her shoulder now and again, to check that I was still sane, I suppose. I dragged my feet along, unable to snap out of my momentary daze. Numbly, I felt my feet follow her up a flight of stairs and across a long corridor that just never seemed to end. All I could pay the least bit of attention to was my heart—which was just about this close to going kablooey; it sounded like a ticking time bomb about to go off in no less than a minute—and my hand, currently being used to forcibly drag me to my next class. Whatever my next class was; I hadn't spared my schedule a single glance. Not when they arrived.

"Hey, Max, we're here," Angel said, breaking me out of trance. I shook my head to clear the haze.

We were standing in front of a brightly lit classroom, with the words English Literature printed in great, bold colors on the door. The sight of the big, friendly letters made my stomach churn (now, the butterflies in my tummy were a completely different kind); English Lit wasn't really my strong point. I wasn't much of a book person. I preferred activities that were more hands-on, like skydiving, or maybe bungee jumping. Having to read about other people doing it while stuck in some dingy classroom on the ground didn't look very prospecting.

It was obvious that had we arrived a few minutes later, we would have been late; the classroom was already teeming with teenagers all psyched up for second sem. My eyes scanned the crowd for a familiar, particularly gorgeous face. No, none of them were here. Not a single one. That was good, I guess. It would give me a chance to clear my head.

"Good luck, Max!" Angel hollered, already halfway across the corridor. How fast does that girl run? "I'll pick you up after class and give you the tour!"

I stepped into the blinding light, my hand curled instinctively over the strap of my bag, ready to face whatever the people here dish out. And believe me, from certain past experiences, high school people dish out a hell of a lot.

It was deafening; it was like being in a room full of banana-crazed monkeys, only instead of monkeys, you had high school teenagers, fresh from vacation, every teacher's worst nightmare, and instead of bananas, you had steaming gossip straight from the morning pot.

Unfortunately, there was only one seat left in the entire room. It sat in the corner, next to the open window, a seat that was obviously avoided by most of the students, if at all possible. I could almost see the dust bunnies from here. Exactly why, I wasn't sure. But something told me I didn't want to find out. I guess I would have to see for myself.

Hesitantly, I set my bag on the floor and pulled out my notebook, just so I could have something to do. As I dragged my pen mindlessly across the notebook paper, I decided I really didn't like this chair. It was kind of choking, in a way; the table pressed into me in a way that wasn't very pleasant, and I had very little room to move. My wings, concealed underneath a bulky jacket, were being trapped uncomfortably against the back of the chair. To me, it felt like one of those chairs in prison, when they interrogate you about the people you murdered and stuff; I half expected shackles to pop up out of nowhere and wrap around my wrists and ankles. Obviously they didn't think of part-bird claustrophobics when they were shopping for school property.

While I waited for the teacher to come and attempt to quiet down this mob of a crowd, I kept my head low and stared at the window. It was a gorgeous day outside, completely at odds with the rainstorm raging in my head. The sun was shining brightly, uncovered by a patch of fluffy clouds. A towering tree swayed lightly in the breeze, its branches scraping against the glass with a soft screechy kind of noise. It was like life was rubbing its happiness in my face, knowing full well that I was pretty much anything but happy right now.

I shook out my hair and let it fall in front of my face, a curtain to hide behind in case anybody tried to come and talk to me. It was best to keep a low profile, at least on the first day.

"Hey, there!" said a cheery voice from beside me. Ugh. Yeah, I could hope she wasn't talking to me, but then since when had fate dealt me the easy hand? I tried to ignore her, hoping that the girl would just get the message and back off, but that didn't seem to make any sort of difference.

"You're new, right? I saw you hanging out with Angel. Aren't you her new sister?"

Oh, great. I've been a topic of discussion before. This'll make life just that much more bearable.

"I'm Natalie. Natt, if you want. I can show you around after class, if you'd like. There's a lotta stuff you gotta know if you want to survive high school here. What's your name?"

I don't know if I did it because I didn't want to be rude of just because it had the possibility of shutting her up, but I swung my hair back behind my ear and grinned tentatively at her. "I'm Max."

Natalie grinned back. She seems like the kind of person who'd grin at anything that responded. "Cool name. Short and simple. My parents named me Natalie, and that's fine with me. At least they didn't name me something old and nauseating that sounds like a horrible disease, like Agnes or Georgina. I feel really sorry for whoever had parents that were weird enough to name their little girl Georgina."

All through her little rant, I nodded mindlessly. Of all the people I could get stuck with as a seatmate, I get the school motormouth. Could be the country motormouth, the way she talked.

"Hey, cool jacket!" she said all of a sudden, gently tugging on my hood. "Where'd you get it?"

"It was a gift," I mumbled, watching her eyes as they widened wider than saucers.

I waited for a moment, as she ogled fixedly at my jacket.

"I—I think you got a feather stuck on the hem of your—" she said, breaking off with a gasp as she pointed at something I couldn't see. Instinctively, I pushed my legs against the chair in front of me and slammed my back against the chair, pinning my wings down. Hurt like hell, yes—the bones in bird wings are considerably more sensitive than human ones—but at least I wouldn't be labeled the class bird freak for the rest of my life.

"Oh, that's just my keychain," I ground out from between gritted teeth. Keychain? What the heck? "Got it in Idaho a few years back. Land of the potatoes and all…"

"Ah," Natalie squeaked out, still looking kind of freaked. Had she seen them? Fantastic. My first day here and already, I was the class freak. If only there was a way to get her to keep her mouth shut about this…I had nothing to bargain her with, and it wasn't likely that a teenage female freshman with a piehole that freaking ginormous would be able to keep this under wraps for much longer. I could see the headlines in the next school e-newsletter: "New Student Slaps Wings on Back, Thinks She Can Fly."

Actually, that headline would be much better compared to: "What Do They Teach in Arizona? New Student a Genetic Mutation: Half Girl, Half Birdy". Either way, things weren't looking up for the bird-kid.

I know I was being way over paranoid. But what could I do? I was a freak. And freaks did what they did to stay alive. They dyed their hair aquamarine, had extensive surgery and set out on a new life under the name 'Poncho', who now sells bootleg El Pollo Loco merchandise. They grew inappropriate facial hair, learned to swallow oversized butcher's knives and joined a traveling circus. That's what freaks do. But then freaks like me, who try to have as much of a normal life as we could under the circumstances, we had to watch our backs. Particularly me, since the damning evidence was kind of jutting out of it. If we didn't want to end up living with Poncho in his rundown old shack in 34th street, then we had to be painfully scrupulous.

And I do mean painfully scrupulous.

As I mentally calculated my chances of fleeing the country before nightfall—which was slim, to be perfectly honest—a big, very burly shadow blocked out the fluorescent light.

"Hello, ladies," the figure said, in a tone I believe was meant to be smooth.

At the sound of the rough voice, Natalie's eyes turned a shade darker. She looked kind of scary when she was mad. Her expression flitted from startled to irritated in a heartbeat as she threw her hair over her shoulder in an expertly girlish way and glared violently at the newcomer. "Get lost, Ari. Now."

Ari didn't seem to be paying attention to her. That was mostly because he was eyeing me with great interest. "Well, who's this pretty little lady?"

"Move, Ari," Natalie growled. I didn't need any hints to see this guy was a disgusting pig that I should avoid at all costs. I kept my head down to hide my annoyed expression and picked my pencil up, but before I could start tuning him out, the pig actually grabbed my wrist and grinned. At me. Standing there, while my hand was clenched around a potentially dangerous and fatal weapon, grinning. I did not like being grinned at. Nor did I like being manhandled, so this guy's really got one thing coming.

He should've let go, once he saw my face. But he was stupid. Of course.

"Look, pal," I snarled, finally reaching the end of my rope. Not that the rope had been very long to begin with. I wrenched my hand from his grip and waved it in front of his face. "You see this? When this hand turns into a rock-hard fist, people have a tendency to run away screaming like hell. Now, if you want to be able to come out of this classroom with your nose the way it is right now, bones and skin and all, then I suggest you do the same, before I get tempted to bash your head through a wall."

This reasonably short conversation had brought the entire class into stunned silence. Nobody stood up to Ari. Not if you wanted to live, anyway. It was common knowledge, as I was to be told later on that day by an awed Angel, who almost didn't believe Natalie when she told her the story. Not because she didn't think I was brave enough to face him off, but because Ari hadn't tried to beat me up. I was the first one to actually threaten him and keep all of my teeth. Ari's grin faded, but just a bit. Obviously, for this dude to learn a lesson, you had to stamp it on his brain with a mallet. Using my techniques, it leaves a little mark, usually in the form of a painful, black-and-blue bruise.

"Gutsy words for a female," he said, unperturbed. "That's okay. I like my girls feisty."

"Oh, I'm feisty, all right. You'll get a real kick out of me. If things go bad for you, a kick won't be the only thing you'll be crying home to Daddy with."

Ari's grin turned into a grim line. Hit a nerve, did I? The little boy has Daddy issues. "Listen, missy, you're new around here, so I'm going to let this slide. Just this once. But nobody…and I mean nobody talks to Ari like that."

"Well, call me nobody," I said, cracking my knuckles, "because I think I just did."

Apparently, this underdeveloped Neanderthal really didn't get this kind of reaction from people, because he growled at me. He actually growled. It sounded like a wolf with a bad head cold. It must have been the masochist in me talking, but this was kind of fun.

"You're lucky I have a rule against pounding girly girls," he barked, trying to stop his hands from shaking. I'm fairly surprised the guy didn't have a twitch in his eye. He was obviously one unstable jerk. As I waited for him to come up with a more acceptable comeback, since the last one wasn't even worth the witty retort that sat waiting on my lips, I noticed the teacher, standing in the doorway, staring at Ari with a knowing expression. Obviously, this wasn't a rare episode in her class. Her well-trained teacher's hawk-eyes (no pun intended) panned the room, taking note of the students, who were abnormally silent, until her gaze landed on me, and my clearly defensive position. Like a lion bracing for an attack.

"What's going on here?" she asked. Her voice seemed to shake the class out of their incredulous stupor, and soon the buzz of hushed whispers about the plucky new girl drowned out the most of the sound of Ari's growling. The teacher headed straight for her desk, throwing Ari and me a stern warning look as she pulled out her notes, but Ari remained where he was, crouched over my seat with a manic look in his eyes.

"We're not finished yet," Ari said, lowering his voice so that the teacher won't hear. "I have a few things to settle with you."

He opened his mouth, probably to let out a string of fluent curses, which was how most members of the male species would respond when bested by a girl (believe me, I would know), but before he could get any sound out, a hand gripped his shoulder and rather violently pulled him back.

"Leave her alone, Ari," said a voice. Deep and mysterious. Or trying to sound like it, at any rate. I folded my arms across my chest. If this was another moron who thought he could be a knight in shining armor by saving the supposed damsel in distress from the first moron that tried, then I was going to have to break some hearts. You know, if he wasn't so sexist to think I couldn't handle this myself, I would've felt sorry for the poor guy. Ari looks like he's about to snap, or at least very eager to snap someone's neck in half.

Ari's head snapped back to look at the offending owner of said hand, but then whipped it right around to look at me. For a moment, he struggled to find the right parting words, and after about three seconds he settled for a very uncontrolled growl and the ugliest glare I have ever seen.

"I'm watching," he mouthed, unable to make a sound, before ripping his hands away from my table. The students, even in their seats, somehow managed to give him a wide berth as he stomped very childishly across the room to his seat next to the door. As soon as they were clear, they turned around to gape at me in astonishment, most likely contemplating on whether or not I was as crazy as I looked.

"Watch all you want, pup," I muttered, when he was out of earshot. I looked up to thank whoever it was that came to my aid— even though I didn't need the help, but I didn't need to turn away the people who actually had the prospect of being nice. "Hey, thanks for the…uh…"

I let my voice trail away, as I stared at his face. His way gorgeous face, just FYI. There were a lot more things to stare at, once you look at it. His dark hair, flopping in front of his face in the most beautiful way. His pitch-black leather jacket. His deep, dark, mysterious eyes, completely devoid of emotion, and yet somehow so piercing and intense.

My god. Did I just say that?

Not out loud, no.

Hopefully not.

Did I just think that?

Damn hormones.

How was I supposed to be able to go out in public now if I eyeball every hot guy I stumble across?

Not that I think he's hot or anything…

Oh, who the hell am I kidding? He's beautiful.

If I would have been able to form any coherent thoughts, I probably could have guessed who he is. About two seconds have passed, and I was still staring (in an embarrassingly fixed way) at his face. By my standards, that was a pretty long time to be staring at any single face, particularly one of the opposite gender. Reluctantly, I tore my gaze away from his and determinedly kept my eyes fixed on the wood of my table—which was mind-numbingly boring in comparison to what I had been staring at just a few seconds ago—trying to fight the blush that was clawing its way up into my cheeks. Among many things, I did not blush.

"I mean—thanks for…for that. The thing with Ari."

Pathetic. I was able to stare that pig, Ari down—apparently breaking world records in the process, such as being the first person to walk away with facial features intact—but I can't even force myself to talk straight to one guy I didn't even know.

"No problem." With that as his parting words, he glided towards the front of his class and took his seat, leaving me speechless, something that didn't happen often. Sure, I didn't socialize much, but I had words ready when people tried to talk to me. This guy just…left me hanging there. Like an idiot. A landmark moment for me. Hmm.

"Who was that?" I asked Natalie, once I managed to snap out of it. Which was about seven and a half seconds later.

"What, Angel didn't tell you?" Natalie said, throwing a sly glance at the boy from the corner of her eye. "I'm surprised. You're telling me she hasn't even discussed the current hottie list with you?"

"No, no, she did. Most of them, anyway. I haven't met the top of the list yet."

Natalie started giggling hysterically, earning her a nasty look from the teacher. She waited a while, just until the teacher plunged back into her so-called lecture, before whispering conspiratorially, "Well, Max, I think you just did."

I dug around in my head, trying to remember what the guy's name was. "Fang?"

Natalie nodded, letting out a dreamy sigh as she gazed at the back of his head. "The one and only."

Now that I got a real look at him—or at least, the back of him—his name makes sense. Very fitting, somehow. The name Fang did justice to the all-black ensemble, the mysterious aura he unquestionably gave off, and the absorbing mystery his eyes presented. And the way he was staring at me…it was chilling, unnerving in a way, the kind that sent goosebumps rolling up my spine. The good kind of goosebumps, though. I had a gut feeling that this guy was the kind of guy who could get pretty scary. When he wants to, anyway.

"Sorry about Ari, by the way," Natalie said. I nodded absentmindedly, my head still somewhere up in the sky. Or maybe, if I was being honest, drifting somewhere towards the front of the classroom, where a certain somebody with a certain leather jacket was busy not paying attention (like I was). "I swear, that dude is seven years old. The guy's a real jerk. Not that you didn't notice. I've never seen anyone actually stand up to him like that. Bravo. And on your first day, too."

I grinned. "Yeah, well, I wasn't exactly a pushover back in my old school."

"Good to know," Natalie laughed, and then we both shut up, because the teacher was marching down the aisle, and she didn't look all that happy.

Class went by in a daze. Whenever the teacher to the blackboard, Ari would twist in his seat and content himself with shooting me the crabbiest glares his limited facial muscles could afford. Natalie—either oblivious to Ari or steadfastly pretending to be—spent the hour naming each and every one of our classmates, listing the many reasons why I should or should not attempt to socialize with them. Needless to say, Natalie was evidently the school gossip, and with very good reason.

I had Spanish right after. In a stroke of luck, Natalie had Spanish too—I say luck because I still don't know her well enough to decide between good or bad—so she escorted me to my class, where we steamrolled through pretty much the same routine.

For those who may or may not be wondering whether any of them were there…

They weren't. Not a one. Even Fang was nowhere in sight.

So now I had nothing to distract me from Natalie, who was yammering away in true motormouth fashion about something that sped by too fast for me to understand. I prayed fervently that I didn't have Natalie in every single one of my classes. Not because I was a loner, and planned on turning down one of the few prospective friends I had, but because I shudder to think of the state my grades will be by the end of the semester if I have to listen to the hour-long rants that made up most of the first two classes of my day.

Angel was waiting for me outside the door, as promised.

"Hey, Max!" she greeted, when I wrenched myself free of the traffic congestion by the door. "How was your first class of the day?"

"Eventful," I admitted, throwing a sheepish grin in Natalie's direction. Eventful was the only word for it.

"…and then there was that time that she bit Melanie Harper on the arm, so I suggest you return anything you borrow from her, like, the day after. Especially lip gloss. She's a real lion when someone loses her lip gloss. Or, you know, you could just not borrow anything from her. At all. You know, just for your own safety."

"Ashley Capri?" Angel whispered knowingly.

"Who else?" Natalie muttered, taking us by the arm and marching us towards the staircase.

"So, Max," Angel said. "You've met Nu—"

Before she could get the word out, Natalie cupped a hand around her mouth.

"Angel," she whined, "you promised!"

"Oh, yeah," Angel said, grinning. "Don't worry, I won't tell."

"What won't you tell?" I asked. Despite the fact that I was not a gossip, I was slightly intrigued.

"Nothing," Angel said, pushing Natalie's arm away. "As I was saying, you've met Natalie. I suppose she's going to help with the…uh, the tour."

"To add in a few bonus features," Natalie added, and burst into another fit of giggles. They way her eyes kept scrunching up left little doubt as to what she meant by bonus features.

Fearless enough as I was to cheerfully threaten Jerk-Boy over there (who just winked at me in an 'I'm going to eat you for breakfast and then spit you out' sort of way), there was really nothing I could've done to stop Angel and Natalie from forcibly dragging me by the wrists. As they walked around the courtyard, with little old me in tow, it became clear that they weren't just anybody around these parts. They were Queen Bees. Maybe not Queen Bees, then. Princess Bees. They buzzed around here and there, smiling at most everyone, getting everyone to smile back, a feat that would have been considered miraculous back where I came from. They even got one of the emos to give up a weak smile while he sat under the shade of a tree, writing depressing poetry and trying to hack away his arm with a pencil.

Everybody knew who they were, but what was worse was that everybody knew who I was. The new student. It's true, there really is nothing that travels faster than gossip, and news of me almost beating Ari to a bloody pulp spread quickly throughout the vast social network. My goodness, if we could harness gossip into energy, we'd never have to worry about an oil crisis ever again. Class had ended barely ten minutes ago, and already I had cheerleaders eyeing me in shrewd speculation. As shrewd as their blonde little egotistic brains can manage, anyways. The jocks on the benches—with Ari in their burly midst—stared at me in disbelief, unable to comprehend that a chick like me had the stomach to even raise a finger to a dude like Ari. When we passed by the library, a group of bespectacled…nerds (I'm not being insulting, that's really just the best way to describe them) gazed at me worshipfully—I think—as if I was the answer to their prayers. Taking into consideration their slightly beat-up look, and the fact that they stuck together like glue for their own safety, it wasn't that hard to guess what kind of prayers they were sending up.

To be perfectly honest, as I was none-too-gently lugged around, my eyes panned the grounds for them. I mean them. The…well, the guys. There, I said it. A teeny part of me—fine, since I'm doing the honesty bit, a great big part of me—was eager to see them again. I don't really know why, since this new side of me isn't courteous enough to explain itself, but I was eager all the same.

Yeah, okay.

"That's it, basically," Natalie concluded, spreading her arms with a flourish as we found ourselves back in the courtyard after a full-length field trip of the campus. "The school in a nutshell."

"You call that a nutshell?" I panted. "Then that's one gigantic nut."

Let me tell you, being hauled around a school by two overenthusiastic teenagers really takes it out of you.

"Hey, Max, what time is it?" Angel asked suddenly. I glanced at my wristwatch.

"Um…twelve thirty. Why?"

"Where d'you think they are?" she asked Natalie. By this time, the courtyard was pretty deserted; a few people wandered around in a dreamy stupor, looking like they had not a care in the world. We were sitting on a bench underneath a tree, letting our feet take a rest. I rubbed my wrists, like they do in the movies after the cops snap the shackles off the people they realized were innocent.

"I don't know, but they gotta be around here somewhere," Natalie said.

Right on cue, a familiar looking someone stumbled into the courtyard just then, his blond hair a messy mop on top of his head. Trailing him were the other two, looking slightly disheveled as the dusted ash off of their jeans. I would have been confused as to what they could possibly be doing here in the school that involved ash, but then I caught the overwhelming aroma of gunpowder and recalled the big explosion from this morning. I tried not to look overly…well, overly awkward.

"There you are!" Angel yelled, running forward to smack the blond guy on the head. "You're late."

"Sorry, Ange," he grinned, straightening up. "Ig made a slight miscalculation on the wiring. Pretty big boom today. You'd think three and a half millimeters of chicken wire on the C4 wouldn't make that much of a difference, but no…"

Natalie sighed. "Why am I not surprised?"

"Gazzy, Iggy, Mike," Angel called. "Meet Max. My new sister."

The three guys turned in my direction, just noticing that I was standing there. I felt myself clam up, the hair standing on the back of my head.

Bird kid's intuition. The most reliable thing in the world since melting butter and Magic 8 balls.

"Uh…hi," I said. Brilliant. That was me. Miss Quick Wit.

"Hello there," the blond one greeted.

"We met this morning," he prompted, and somehow, I was able to smile meekly in response.

"Oh, yeah. Hey." My goodness, was I turning speechless? And on top of that, the blush I had banished to hell had come back to haunt me. I could feel it burning my face. I did not blush. How many times did I have to clear that up? I did not blush.

"I'm Iggy," said the tall, pale guy from this morning, lumbering forward to reach out a shy hand. "This dude over here is Mike, the resident computer genius."

As I shook Iggy's hand—trying not to stare in honest curiosity at his one…not good eye—Mike nodded gruffly in my general direction without meeting my gaze. He fiddled silently with his watch and hung back as the other two stepped forward with huge grins spreading across their faces and made small talk with the girls.

"Where's Nick?" Angel asked.

Iggy shrugged. "Probably with that brother of his. We better hurry, guys, the teachers are pretty wound up today. We should go if we don't wanna get caught."

"Where are we going?" I whispered to Angel, as Gazzy took Natalie by the hand and started leading us out of the courtyard. I folded my arms across my chest; I had no intention of letting people drag me again. My arms weren't quite strong enough not to pop in their sockets for that. "Aren't we heading back for class?"

Angel, even now, looked so innocently angelic. Even though her words definitely sounded otherwise. "We're skipping."

I felt my eyebrows shoot up. Angel, the…well, the perfect little angel, skipping? I couldn't keep the surprise out of my voice. "Really? You do that?"

She shrugged noncommittally as we followed the rest of them into a deserted building. "Well, it's only study hall, you know. No attendance checks, no teachers. They don't really care what we do during then. It's just a chance for the students to catch up on homework. Me and…Natalie find it more productive to…let's say frolic outside in the fresh air rather than rot in the hall with nothing to do."

"Uh. Okay. Where are we going, then? Someplace the teachers won't see us, I suppose?"

Iggy suddenly looked over his shoulder to grin at me, and I found myself grinning right back. I was on a roll. "Are you afraid of heights?"


-Iggy's POV-

I bounded up the steps two at a time, eager to get out of this cramped stairwell. Claustrophobia came with the whole bird-freak package. In here, the air was thin and stale, and the walls felt like they were closing in. My wings ached to be released, pressed as they were into my jacket, but they'd have to stay put for today. Today, we had a newbie, so to speak, and she probably wouldn't take the whole I-am-part-bird thing lightly. Not a lot of people did.

"So…" I said, slowing down to keep pace with the girls. One girl in particular. "are you afraid of heights?"

Max grinned. "Definitely not."

"Good. Where we're going is pretty high up."

"Just out of curiosity, where are we going?"

"Um…the rooftop." Another little feature that came boxed in with the wings was the fondness for height. I mean, yeah, the ground was fine, sturdy and…full of dirt, but being part bird and all, the sky felt safe and comforting. A protective haven. It just felt natural to be up. Here in school, I obviously couldn't fly—neither can Gazzy—so we settle for the next best thing. Even if the next best thing was technically out of bounds.

Ha. Like that ever stopped us before.

"We always go up here when it isn't raining," Angel explained. "Since it's pretty high up, it's always breezy, and we all kind of like the height."

I pursed my lips and tried not to look excessively shifty. Sometimes, that girl freaks me out. It's like she knows.

Once we got to the top of the stairs, Gazzy threw himself across the door before Natalie could reach out and open it like she always did. He does this every time it's somebody's first trip to the rooftop. He tends to be a bit theatrical when the chance presents itself. Today, we had a very special guest, and I knew he would try to make his presentation more overdramatic than usual. Especially for a girl that…pretty. Let's just call her pretty.

"I must warn you," he said, in a fake ominous kind of way, eyeing Max with a challenging grin. "This place is not for the faint of heart."

Natalie snorted. "Just get on with it, Gaz. You can be your normal drama queen self later."

Gazzy grimaced, and I knew he was sorely resisting the impulse to stick his tongue out like a five year old. "Come on, how many times do I get to do this?"

"Just open the freaking door. It's getting steamy in here."

He sighed, fingering the doorknob. "Some people have no appreciation for presentation."

"Speak for yourself, pig. Try laying off the gunpowder once in a while. Dusty black is so last season."

With considerably less enthusiasm, Gazzy threw the door open, letting a gusty breeze sweep through the stairwell. In a flat monotone voice, he continued, "Beware of falling over the edge, yadi yadi yada, you might even get to see a bird, blahdi blah…and welcome to the rooftop." He sent a pained look at Natalie. "You've completely taken all the fun out of that."

"That's my job, Gaz," she said, smirking brightly in reply.

"Whoa," I heard Max gasp, and felt myself smile.

Okay, so the rooftop in itself was nothing special. Heavily in need of a paint job, the walls were fading gray and the floor was stained with streams of dried acid rain. A chunky exhaust pipe poked out of the ground, rusted with age. The smell wasn't all that amazing, either. Somewhere between dead cat and old janitor overalls. Not that bad once you get used to it, but mixed with Gazzy's…well, unfortunate occurrences, let's just say it doesn't exactly bode well for people with a heightened sense of smell.

But all of it was worth enduring for the view. Scenic was somewhat of an understatement. I'm half-blind, you know, so I guess material beauty doesn't impress me as much as the next guy (which is a perfect lie, by the way), but damn, it was breathtaking. This place was high enough to for you to see the entire forest, the fringe of mountain that inched towards the sky, the sun piercing through the fluffy clouds overhead. Our school was built on a shallow, rocky crag that sat on the borders of an army of Redwoods, the tallest trees in the world. The high grounds, the right timing and the oil painting-worthy scenery made for one hell of a photo shoot.

Today was not an exception. The sky was the most perfect shade of blue, and there were hardly any clouds in the sky. The wind was just right, not too light, but not strong enough to launch my wiry, winged person off the building. Perfect flying conditions, if I do say so myself. I felt my wings start to throb again. How long has it been since I was able to let them out?

But my good eye wasn't staring at the sky. No, not today; today, it had a new object of attra—attention, something completely different. Or, to be completely accurate, someone. Someone with blonde hair and an expression that was pleasantly awed.

"It's beautiful," Max whispered, staring at the sky with rapt bliss.

"It is, isn't it?" Angel said, sighing contentedly.

I leaned over the railing to survey the chaos that was usually mid-morning study hall. It was only when I stuck my head over the edge that I noticed a dark, shady figure, perched on the thin ledge sticking out of the wall, brooding a la superhero. You know, like the way Spidey or maybe Batman would crouch on a high ledge overlooking Gotham or Metropolis or something, with that odd 'I'm big and strong, and I save this city' face. It's in every freaking movie (you gotta wonder why they start posing oh so inconspicuously on top of a towering skyscraper in front of the whole world). The only difference between this scene and a classic Batman situation was that a.) it was broad daylight; b.) this guy was not wearing his underwear outside his tights (oh so macho); and c.) this dude's name was Fang.

"Uh…hey, Fang," I said.

It was all I could think of. It didn't matter, really. The guy didn't turn his head to look at me. He didn't say hello, or any sort of motion that indicated otherwise. He didn't even blink. Not that I expected any sort of perceptible response in the first place. What exactly do you expect from a freaking statue?

"Oh, hi, Fang," Angel greeted brightly, bouncing over to him in that ballerina way of hers. "Have you met my sister, Max?"

I look over to him, and get this…Fang—the emotionless, distant, non-caring Fang—actually turned. Around. To look at Max.

And then, just when I thought things couldn't get any freakier, he grins. At Max. An actual person.

"We've met," he says, and then returns to his passive crouch, still grinning. Slightly. But slightly means a whole lot in my book. Especially when it comes to a dude like Fang.

The two words he uttered brought us to complete silence. Which was pretty unbelievable in itself, since we as a group were not considered the quietest little maniacs in the school. Finding Natalie's mute button was especially difficult, and Gazzy was the kind of kid that doesn't shut up unless his mouth was stuffed with chow. But the guy says two short, almost insignificant words and renders us speechless in shock. Even Mike didn't bother with his usual cynical comment.

That just goes to show how often you hear actual, audible sounds coming out of the dude's mouth.

Wow. This girl really must be something. She actually got Fang to talk. Fang. I mean…wow.

"Okay," Angel said, trying to snap us out of our trance. "Whoa, Max, you're famous!"

"Hooray," Max murmured, not altogether convincing. She shrank against the door, looking kind of uncomfortable.

"So, seriously, you're not freaked or anything?" Gazzy asked her, leaning against the railing. "You know, about how high up we are?"

"No," she admitted, smiling at the sky. "There's really nothing to be freaked about. I like height, actually. It feels natural for me."

Gazzy and I shared a meaningful look. There weren't a lot of people who felt natural being this high, and they were either professional skydivers or freaky-deaky human guinea pigs with wings soldered on to their backs. I wondered which category she fell into, and Gazzy was obviously wondering the same thing.

"You don't teach paragliding or something, do you?" he asked, actual concern in his eyes. "Or do stunt work for air force movies or crazy stuff like that?"

"I don't think so," Max laughed, going red, clearly not intending to have gushed out that much. She folded herself onto the ground and stared up at the sky, letting the sun warm her face.

"You got some spine, then," Gaz grinned. "The first time we dragged Mike up here, he went all pale and threatened to remote-detonate the pipe bomb we hid in the principal's office if we didn't let him go."

"Hey!" Mike yelled from his corner, his hand shooting out to smack Gazzy upside the head. He gets kind of awkward around people who don't expressly know him. Sometimes girls. Wait, no, especially girls. "That was only because you had my laptop dangling a hundred feet from the ground!"

"Yup. Just keep telling yourself that, chicken."

"Yeah, right, birdie," Mike retorted. Again, I winced. Sometimes you just never know how far people can get close to you. It's like he knows, that Mike. But then again, he is resident super genius technician guy. It won't be surprising to see him discovering Dodo birds living in a puddle of mud under the Roman Coliseum or something someday.

I'm serious. Dodo birds. That's a huge discovery.

While I contemplated the possibility of dumb luck being dumb enough to actually shove yet another bird-freak into our already messed up lives, a ringing voice reached my…enhanced hearing.

"Fire down below!"

A jolt ran up my spine, stopping my train of thought. The phrase 'fire down below' was never really a good thing for me. Or Gaz. Or Mike. Or anyone within a forty-meter radius of us. It's either a bomb's gonna blow up, something was about to fall off and hit someone upside a very sensitive part, or Gazzy's going to…well…uh, have an episode—or so to speak.

But unfortunately, this particular fire-down-below was in the form of a drizzle of bird poop.


Yes, folks, what we're actually stepping on atop this roof are not paint getting really, really viscous, but a layer of bird poop! The roof gets a new coat every once in a while and you even have a posh smell to catch the attention of many noses unfortunate enough to come across it. Best part is, it is absolutely free! Colors vary depending on what pigeons and the like are eating these days, but there's no difference whatsoever! So just come on down to Ye Olde Roof to get a free coating of bird poop with matching stink, stick and a guaranteed crack in your reputation!

Oh the cruel irony. Ha ha.

"Ack!" Natalie exclaimed, jumping to her feet and barely missing a really weird multicolored bird poo.

"Ew..." Angel said, somehow already under a small ledge overlooking the entrance/exit.

"Aw ma-an!"

By the time gravity brought all mighty poop to the floor, our heads all swiveled around in Mike's direction. For some reason, the birds didn't really aim—unnecessary, I know—nor did the air bring any up to any face unfortunate enough to come across the poopy surprise. Which is good, really.

'Cept for Mike.

"Anywhere. Anywhere at all. But no-o-o, birds have to like shiny, mechanic laptops with state-of-the-art technology!" Mike ranted, shaking bird poop off the face of his laptop.

And Natalie.

"Yeah, and the stupid things have to target perfectly filed and polished nails that had nothing to do with their messed up digestive systems!" Natalie continued, taking out a brightly hem-lined handkerchief with a big blue blotch at one corner, dabbing her nail at it in a coquettish sort of way, an obvious blush on her cheeks.

"Ouch," Gazzy said, faking a hurt expression and clutching his chest with one hand.

Natalie stuck out her tongue at him, her complexion turning rosier. Thank goodness she has no idea how on-the-mark she was with that.

Before any more witty, sarcastic, and overly-clichéd or overly used comments and/or arguments could have sprung up from the already nasty comebacks, the bell rung, shrill and rattling, catching our attention immediately. Natalie huffed and pocketed her hankie, fuming as she collected her stuff and kicking at the bits of bird poop sticking out of the floor, mumbling her string of blabbers over and over again under her breath.

Everyone had already turned and bode a hearty farewell to the birds and their waste when Gazzy realized something—something that was very, very important.

"Uhh…are we missing someone?"

We all stared blankly at him for a few more seconds, before realizing that he was right.

And then, under her breath, in a short gasp, Angel spoke.



-Gazzy's POV-

"Max!" Nudge started screaming, in the loudest way she could manage while being careful not to step on any more poo. "MAX! WHERE ARE YOU?"

"Keep your voices down!" Iggy hissed. "The teachers'll hear you!"

He turned to me, and I could practically see the gears whirring in his head. "Did you see her go down?"

I scrunched up my eyes, feigning irritation. Something I do particularly well. "Well, if I'd seen her go down, then I wouldn't be asking if we'd forgotten anyone, now, would I?"

"Well, where could she have gone?"

"There's only one place," Angel muttered softly, her eyes trained on something nobody could see, at the same time a faint, almost inaudible sound reached my ears. Boy, bird-kid hearing sure is handy in times like this.

"Do you hear that?" I cocked my head. Iggy nodded in my general direction and did the same. Like the guy even needed to strain his ears. With the bird-kid hearing, plus that weird heightened sense thing, I'm sure he could hear it clear as a bell.

"Hey! You guys!"

"Where's it coming from?" Natalie asked, looking around.

From behind us, Angel's breath hitched gently. Wordlessly, she loped to the rooftop's railing and leaned over the edge.

"Max!" she yelled, as if expecting the sky to answer.

And, much to my surprise…

…it actually did.

"Down here, you guys!"

I really should stop pretending anything was actually impossible.

We all ran to the railing and panned the campus. It took me a while to spot her, standing at the base of the building, half-hidden in the shade of the big oak tree. There was Max, safe and relatively whole, standing on the ground, looking puny as she looked up at us with the most unfathomable expression. She looked like an ant from here. An ant, not a kid who's got bird parts surgically added to their physical makeup. But how…?

"Max?" Natt yelled. "How'd you get all the way down there?"

Even from a distance, I could see the uncertainty flash on her face. "Um…well, I fell."

"You fell seven floors?"

She hesitated a bit before answering. "Well, uh…yeah. Sort of. I guess."

I shot Iggy a knowing look. It was possible. That Max was a bird-freak like us, I mean. Nothing was impossible anymore in our world. People can fly and evil scientists ruled the world. Iggy and I had superpowers—especially him, so to speak—and everybody kept deep, dark secrets. Who's to say that Max wasn't just another experiment?

Angel snorted, interrupting my mental debate. "It's seven floors, Max."

"Yeah," Mike said, obviously putting his big head to the test trying to figure it out. "Nobody could've survived a fall like that. What'd you do, fly down?"

I could see the thought that sped through Iggy's mind, because it was exactly the same thought that sped through mine.

She might as well have.

"You could say that," she said, looking sheepish. She spared a second to take a look around, and looked back up at us. "Uh, you guys, I think you better get down here. Now, I mean."


"'Cause if you don't," she yelled, "there's someone who's going to be waiting for you when you get here."

"What do you mean?" Natalie asked, ever clueless.

Beside me, I felt Iggy stiffen, and all of a sudden, his head shot down. Before anybody could ask what he was doing, lying down on the ground that had a very good chance of smearing bird poo on him, he took Mike and me by the wrists and pulled us down beside him.

"Keep quiet," he warned.

"What?" Mike hissed, cradling his laptop in his arms to protect it from any further harm. Iggy ignored him and reached for the girls, but his hands were a split second too late.

"Oh," Natalie murmured, as a shriek rent the air. No one needed any sort of super-hearing to have heard that. No one needed to look down to know that this was no skipping student, either. No, this was much worse. This was actual authority.

"Miss Batchelder!" the voice screamed. "You and your friend get down here this instant, or there'll be detention for a month! That rooftop is off-limits! What—"

"Ah," Mike said, shrinking against the safety of the railing. The No Gadgets in Detention rule meant no detention for Mike, at any cost. And so far, he'd only had one day of detention in his whole life. When he'd been let out, he hugged his laptop and didn't let it go for a week.

"Yeah," Iggy said. "Ah."


-Iggy's POV-

Noon, Later that Day…




"You're late," I said, over the roar of the motorcycles that suddenly appeared around the corner. "We said three fifteen, dude."

The bikes zoomed across the gravel, sending stones flying out of the way, and skidded to a smooth halt two inches from my foot.

"I think your watch finally went boom, Ig," Nick muttered, cutting the engines and dismounting his ride in one fluid motion. His brother did the same, carefully perching his helmet on the handlebars. They looked so fitting here, leather jackets and sleek black rides, set against the not-too-shabby oil-stained front of Jack's workshop.

"Yeah, well, those bikes may be all that, but you sure ain't got the roads mapped. Shortcut's that way, Nick." I pointed out a narrow alleyway behind a broken-down fence. Recently broken down, I should say. You see, with pyros, a little gunpowder goes a long way. It had been a fairly simple matter for me to wrap a certain type of wire around the padlock, douse the hinges in a bit of liquid nitrogen, and light a match. Voila: instant shortcut, minimum mess.

Nick grinned, shoving his hand through his helmet hair. He eyed the gate in shrewd speculation. "Thanks. I'll try to remember that. Where's the Gasman?"

"Detention." I replied. "Natt and Angel already got caught, and on a burst of chivalry, he decided to fess up and accompany them."

He sniggered lightly, shaking his head. "Gazzy was always one for the theatrics."

"I'll say," I muttered, rolling my eyes. "And we had a new girl, so of course Gasser had to go all out today."

"Oh yeah, her," he murmured, more to himself. He tried to be sneaky, but I caught the glance he gave Fang.

Fang. I hadn't noticed he was there. It was like he'd been invisible.

"Where'd you go, man?" I asked him, as we walked across the parking lot toward the workshop. "We didn't see you go down. You were there on the rooftop lunch, right?"

His face was blank as he answered in the flat, kind of monotone voice that he never stopped using. "Away."

I nodded. It was more of a response than I expected. "Good enough. So what's Jack got for us today?"

"Didn't say," Nick said, as Fang trailed silently behind us like some creepy ghost. "Just told me to get the guys together for something big."

He took the sliding door by its handle and with a bit of effort, wrenched it aside, letting dim sunlight stream into the workshop.

"For a guy who owns a motor shop," Nick grunted, dusting rust off his hands, "he sure doesn't oil his hinges a lot." He peered into the darkness, and after a while, slowly began to back away.

"Uh…I think you guys should take a look at this."

"What?" I said, irritated. It's so easy to forget about someone and their loss of sight. "Can someone help the semi-blind guy, please? A few details?"

"Ig, I don't think you'll be needing any help with this one," Nick muttered absently, and shoved me in front of the door to let me see for myself.

It took a while for my mind to actually process what I was seeing.

"Oh," I said, taking in the gory-looking blood that was pretty much all over everything, and the eerily familiar looking corpse sitting in the middle of the workshop, twisted up in angles that a human body should not be twisted up in, more than one huge gaping hole..uh…gaping, so to speak, with one fairly small gaping hole atop his head. "Oh."

"Yeah," Nick agreed, his eyebrow hitching up within a fraction of a second. "Oh."

"This is bad."

"You think?"

I stepped forward, careful not to step on any puddles of blood (ick) and gently poked the dead body with as little force as possible. His head flopped forward, his dirty brown hair caked with red, his eyes wide with lightless horror.



-Author's Note-

Okay, first of all: I AM SO SORRY THIS TOOK SO LONG. For the record: SCHOOL SUCKS. Any sane teenager-slash-kid with a sense of justice and freedom could get that, for sure. Anyways, next chapter MIGHT, I repeat: MIGHT take a while. And in advance: SO SORRY! Most reviews will help me feel guilty and urge me into writing the next chapter, but it'll take a LOT. I'm doing a bunch of commission works for some people, and it TAKES TIME. I'll also update relatively soon on my other fic, just 'cause I'm feeling really guilty and annoyed—mostly at myself XD.

Thanks to my best friend for helping me with this chap! (BROWNIES DARN IT!!)

Anyways, thanks for reading! R&R!

4. Mittens

A/N: oh my gawd, I haven't updated in, what, MONTHS? Er, yeah, I am SO sorry for that. it's the schoolwork, directing a play-slash-musical, this fundraising thing where child labor was so inexplicably inept (I had to draw for more than like…70 customers just 'cause we ran out of junk to sell darn it), the religious camp out thing where you're not allowed to go to sleep from morning 'till the next morning (and that was the day caffeine was short on stock) and many other freakish activities that drives me nuts XD Anyway, sorry, again, I hope you guys are still reading, and here's the next chapter.

Max's POV

There's really something to be said for limited entertainment.

"You sure you can handle the pressure, Natt? Wouldn't wanna do anything to hurt you—"

"Oh, man up, Gaz. I'm not a cream puff. Or are you just stalling? You aren't…afraid, are you?"

"I just want to make sure you don't do anything you regret. I hate breaking hearts."

"Yeah, we'll see if I regret pounding you to dust."

"Oh, for the love of all that is sane," Angel moaned, and pounded her fist on the table. "Just get it over with. Three minutes."

Natalie nodded, cracking her knuckles. "Bring it."

"You're on." Gazzy took her hand in his and set his jaw, flushing brightly. "Oh, you're going down."

Nudge bit her lip, fighting back the rosy red clawing its way up her cheeks. "Wanna bet? Or can you stand losing to girly girl?"

That was it. Right there. That was my limit on the pre-battle witty banter. Any more and I was going to start asphyxiating. Which, by the way, is a fancy word for 'suffocating from extreme cliché overload'. Hadn't they done enough mental scarring to last me a lifetime? So before they could begin another exhausting stream of overly used repartee, I stepped down from my perch by the window and growled, "BEGIN OR DIE."

They started to leer at each other, but then they caught sight of my face, and decided that it would probably be better for their health if they were to do what I say.

"One, two, three, four," they started singing, fingers clasped together, "I declare a thumb war!"

Yeah, you heard right. Thumb war. THUMB. WAR.

I'm going crazy. No, I think I shot right past crazy when Natt claimed the belching contest. We're locked in a fairly claustrophobia-inducing room, with absolutely no source of amusement other than two caffeine-fuelled hormonal teenage hurricanes known as Natalie and Gazzy. For three hours. I'm INSANE.

This is not what I expected when they said detention.

I mean, forced silences and pencil-backed teachers with eyes like hawks (er…no pun intended), I can handle. Big, intimidating giganto girls that practically had a bedroom in detention were a piece of cake. Heck, a life of secrecy and lies? No biggie. I do it everyday.

But this? This was beyond torture.

Detention hall was a dimly lit room in the corner of the ground floor, with a very scenic view of the school's back alley. The windows had thick iron bars, and the doors had a lock that didn't look like it was the kind that could be picked by a paper clip. To go with the whole jailhouse theme, the school had painted the walls a mind-numbing cement gray, and presumably held handcuffs in the drawer in the teacher's table. But even the most equipped prison cells weren't prepared for two uber-bored, kind-of-crazy adolescents that came geared up with smoke pellets and an unlimited supply of nail polish.

Angel was holding out pretty well. Better than me, anyway. She was sort of the unofficial referee of whatever crackpot game these two thought up in the three hours we were holed up here. At first, I had the job, but then after the Christina Aguilera impersonation thing (surprisingly enough, Gazzy won, hands down—the boy got freaky with his pitch-perfect vibrato rendition of Reflection, and you could practically hear the sounds of three jaws dropping) my ears were ringing so much that I had to sit down. Ange took over after a chair practically fell on me during the hopscotch tournament, and I moved to a relatively safer position by the window. I didn't really mind all that much; the bird-kid claustrophobia thing was really weighing down on me, and the stale, bitter air swirling around the room just made it worse. The fresh air was just a bonus to the distance from the crazy.

And now, after the spitball practice and the paper airplane competition (no dishwashing detergent in the world is strong enough to scrub the memories of that from the insides of my brain), it was the thumb wars. Gazzy was obviously in here a lot, and he came prepared with days worth of activity. Today's theme, apparently, was Post-Preschool, so in his pocket he stuffed 'lots of fun stuff' befitting the recess hours of a playschool courtyard. Which meant chalk, marbles, several forms of disgusting looking goo, a seemingly endless supply of string, and Play Dough. Lots and lots of Play Dough.

He'd also brought one of those mini boxing ring things, with the holes you put your thumb in, and shamelessly pulled out the puppy dog eyes when we tried to object. Natt wanted to arm wrestle instead, trying to prove through physical force that 'Yes, girls can kick the butt out of boys', but then when Gazzy pulled out the tiny spandex thumb-wrestler masks, Natalie had no choice but to giggle and cave.

"You're starting to go for the defense, Gaz," Natalie said, her eyes narrowed in concentration as her thumb darted forward, trying to pin his down. "Come on, you can do better than that!"

Gazzy grunted. "You ain't seen nothing yet."

I glanced at the clock hanging above the blackboard for the umpteenth time. Half an hour. Could I take half an hour's worth of more insanity?

"Don't worry," Angel said, patting my arm sympathetically. She'd caught me staring forlornly at the clock. "You'll get used to it soon enough."

"The detention or them?"

Angel's lips puckered, having no trouble figuring out who they were. "Detention is nothing. Them, on the other hand, well…they're a bit harder to get used to."

"And…three, two, one!" Gaz cheered, mashing Natalie's thumb down. "Aha! I win! Fourteen to thirteen! Uh huh!"

"Big deal," Natalie said, sticking her tongue out at him. "I won last Thursday."

"But I won the day before that."

"And that was after I beat you to an orangey pulp in the cafeteria play-offs."

"Can it," Angel snarled. For someone who was so…well, angelic, she sure was scary when she was mad. Or exasperated. Or maybe mentally battered, like I was. "C'mon, you guys, give Max a few minutes to at least get some of her sanity back."

I shot her a grateful look, knowing that my sanity was probably long gone by now. And, as soon as I saw Natalie's eyes light up, I knew I wouldn't be getting it back any time soon.

"I have an ide—" she started to say, but before she could continue, a miracle burst through the door, a miracle in the form of two surly looking men with matching pitch-black uniforms and shady looking shades, looking downright infuriated.

Okay, maybe I was looking for the wrong kind of miracles. But hey, God just threw me a lifesaver, and I wasn't about to get picky. Not when Tweety and Scream over there are well on their way to driving me to a mental hospital.

The two men reached for something wedged very tightly in between them, and basically tossed in this poor guy who seemed to have hair in an alarming shade of fiery red (that was sort of all I could see from my point of view). Slipping out of the room with the uniformity of trained White House agents—believe me, I should know—the men slammed the door loudly behind them, leaving the rest of the room to watch in (surprisingly enough) stunned silence as the mystery guy straightened up and dusted off his jeans.

I must admit, even though the silence thing felt refreshing after what seemed like an eternity's worth of noise, I was feeling kind of frustrated myself. I've being trying to get those two to quiet down for the past two hours, and all it took was two scary-looking dudes to come in and throw some random guy into the room to make them can the noise? If that was it, then I would've hunted that Ari guy down about a hundred and twenty minutes ago and lobbed him in here as painfully as I could if that was what made them shut up.

Maybe I really was going crazy.

"Hey, Jared!" Gazzy greeted. Jared grunted back—the traditional manly way of greeting one's fellows, as demonstrated by early Neanderthals in that Nat Geo movie—and slipped off his tattered backpack, half-falling into the nearest empty chair. "Where've you been? We thought you'd be here an hour ago."

"I've been kind of busy, Gaz," Jared yawned, looking around sort of sleepily. He grinned at Natt and Angel, but then his eyes met mine. "Well, who's this?" he asked, his voice a little too alert to match the sloth-ish grogginess his face was trying to pull off. After a few seconds of scrutinizing me, like the rest of the student population seems to love doing, he yawned a little bit more to keep up the charade and said, "You're the new student, aren't you? The one who…almost got pummeled by Ari."

I guess I shouldn't really be surprised that he knew me. After all, if Natt and Angel hadn't already broken it before, I was probably one of the first non-testosterone-filled human (or semi-human, at the very least) in this school to stand up to a jock, get Fang to actually make an audible sound, and manage to land myself in a three-hour detention all on my first day here. Ah, well, that's female empowerment for ya.

"But then, almost is a big deal, especially with Ari," he continued, as if he didn't notice me start to redden, "setting aside the fact that you're…you know, female and everything."

Oh, great. Another sexist pig to add to the steadily growing pile.

"So how'd you guys end up in here?" Jared asked, shoving his hand through his hair. He threw Gazzy a meaningful glance, and looked him up and down. "Iggy's missing, and Gazzy's not covered head to toe in some sort of flammable fluid, so I'm assuming it's not the traditional start-of-the-sem bomb?"

"Hey! The start-of-sem bomb was awesome, as you very well know—"

"Rooftop," Angel replied. "The weather was nice, and we wanted to show Max around."

"Yeah, great day today," he agreed, slumping a bit into his chair. I had a distinct feeling he wasn't talking about the weather anymore.

"Then somebody squealed on us," Natalie growled, looking like she wanted nothing more than to strangle the person who did it. Even though I was pretty sure that, with Gazzy here, she didn't regret one bit clocking time in here. If you know what I mean. "I'll bet it was Ari. The rotten skunk goes and gets a grudge against Max, and tries to get her in detention. The guy's a boxing glove on a stick—all brawn, absolutely no brain. It's just like him to pull a stunt like this."

"Sounds about right." Jared grumbled, his eyes shut, looking like he was halfway through falling asleep. And, about two seconds later, fully demonstrating one of the defining traits of mankind—namely falling asleep at mere will—he started to snore.

This made me relax a bit. A bit. Which was a rookie mistake, now that I think about it. I mean, why in the world would I assume that Natt and Gazzy would make the slightest effort to lower down their voices just because someone in the room was clearly bushed and sound asleep?

Turns out, my assumption was missing one crucial fact. According to Angel, Jared was well able to sleep right through a stampeding…well, stampede of wild, raging animals (I didn't bother to ask how she knew that) so the noise thing wasn't an issue. And without further ado, the Post-Preschool Decathlon plunged on, its only two participants paying absolutely no attention to the half-crazed mutant bird-kid crumpled beside the window.

When will this day end?


Iggy's POV

When will this day end?

I mean, even by my standards, which are pretty high in this case, this has been a really weird day.

Apart from discovering that our best mechanic-slash-freaking-genius had just been brutally murdered, there was the whole violent explosion thing. And then the evading death issue. And, like the boil on top of a sore, the whole assassin-who-might-have-gone-to-murder-my-friends problem.

That all happened in the last ten minutes, mind you.

You don't get it, do you?

I'll start at the beginning, so there's no confusion.

It all started around, say, fifteen minutes ago, when we found Jack bloody and most likely dead on the floor of his workshop…

Fifteen minutes ago

"Iggy," Nick muttered. "No poking the dead guy."

"We're not sure he's dead yet."

"Well, Ig, you may be half-blind, but even a bat can say that the guy's no longer alive."

"Bats can't see, you know."

"My point exactly."

Having been a witness to a multitude of battle scars from my and Gazzy's many encounters with faulty bombs and exploding toasters (the day of the flaming Pop Tarts from Hell was the most excellent video we ever made), the sight of blood didn't make my stomach twist anymore. The feel of blood, on the other hand, was a whole other thing entirely. It's kind of gross, you know, all gooey and viscous and smelling like rust and salt. Unfortunately, desperate times called for desperate measures. So, wincing slightly, I pressed my fingers gently against Jack's gashes, trying to feel his wound through all the blood.

"Ew," I said, pulling my hand back.

"What did you just do?" Nick said, looking at the blood dripping from my palm with a disgusted expression. "I just said no poking the dead guy."

I wiped my fingers on the leg of my jeans. "I'm analyzing the crime scene, genius."

"And what have you gotten so far, Sherlock?"

"Messy handiwork," I grunted, examining the torn remains of Jack's shirt. "The knife the killer used was a bit blunt, but whoever it was, they were strong enough to get it in deep enough to do some serious damage."

Nick nodded. He wasn't the kind of guy you expected to be shocked by something as trivial as assassination. His voice didn't have the least bit fear. "No bullets, then? So you mean we have a killer on the loose whose preferred method of murder is violent mutilation?"

"This was no psychopath," I murmured darkly. Gingerly, I tore off what was left of the gore-covered shirt and inspected his abdomen, where a really, really big gash was showing things that, according to anatomy, should not be seen outside the human body. "But this was no trained assassin, either. Whoever wanted to kill Jack sent a rookie to do the job."

Just as Nick leaned forward to look over my shoulder, I heard a soft hiss from somewhere in the darkness, and instinctively, all my senses went on red alert. A bead of sweat rolled down my spine. There was still danger here. I could feel it.

"Uh…that's it?" Nick said.

I held up my hand to shush him. They quieted down obediently enough. Not that they were making much of a noise to begin with. Nick and Fang knew me well enough to know that when I went all still and silent like this, it meant I was trying to listen for something. Something important. My good eye scanned the surroundings, while my ears strained for any sounds in the darkness. There was something there, all right. Hiding in the corner.

"What is it?"

"Uh oh." I heard four heartbeats—including mine—start to pulse a little bit faster. We could all feel it now. Imminent danger.

Carefully, I stood up, my eye trained on the back corner of the workshop.

"What, Ig? Talk, will ya?"

"How fast can you run?"

Nick stopped. He knew me enough to know what that meant, too.

"You hear that?" I asked them. Fang's eyes widened ever so slightly. Nick stood beside me, tensed, waiting.

"Hear what?"

"The…the timer."

Nick slapped the back of my head. "You put a bomb in here? Now?"

I shook my head, internally cursing. If this had been anything other than a life-threatening, we-might-be-seconds-away-from-a-fiery-demise kind of situation, I probably would have laughed. Like I would actually be stupid enough to detonate anything here at Jack's. They knew very well that—if he weren't already dead right in front of us—Jack would've murdered me before he let me bring an ounce of C4 in here. Too many things that were liable to blow up meant any and all forms of gunpowder and/or explosive devices were banned. Why were they being so damn slow? And now? What a time to suddenly find a few brain cells missing. Five seconds before a really big bomb makes a really big mess. Nice.

Sighing, I smacked his shoulder hard in reply. "I didn't put it there."

It didn't take long before realization lit up their eyes.

Big bomb. Not mine. Here. Now.

"Crap," Fang growled, and we set off running.




Not a split second to soon, we darted for the door, just as the sonic boom that followed the explosion knocked us all off our feet. Goodness knows that for something as life threatening as this, I'd need to concentrate. But of course, as ironic and inconvenient as double deluxe cheeseburgers at a vegetarian buffet, now was the moment that my half-blindness chooses to kick in, and in the very second where I needed all of the balance I could get out of me, I couldn't even see my left foot.

Before I could find myself sprawled on the gravel, seconds away from living the remainder of my life as fried chicken, Fang caught me by the fabric of my shirt and started dragging me along. When I found my footing, he and Nick—cool, calm and collected, even in a moment like this—sprinted across the parking lot, past the shiny new bikes and towards the low cement wall sticking out of the ground a good four meters away.

Evidently, I had a lot of experience with bombs, and, as any good pyro knows, the first thing to do when the thing explodes is to find some decent shelter, because the resulting flying shrapnel of a big boom can kill you as effectively as two thousand volts to the brain.

"DUCK AND COVER," I shouted, and, without another look at the motorcycles that had been too young to die, we crouched behind the cement wall and watched from a safe distance as our favorite hangout—not to mention the birthplace of spectacular, legendary automotives that did not escape the fiery inferno—and our favorite mechanic had been reduced to a large, messy pile of cinders.

"Bye," I heard Nick whisper behind me, and I found him staring forlornly at the big chunk of charred metal that had been Jack's pride and joy. The 59' Bentley with the eight cylinder engines, the bulletproof-shatterproof-missileproof glass windows, the fingerprint security system and the fluffy pink dice; it was a thing of beauty. Or had been, I should say. And now it looked like something you'd find buried under diapers, empty soda cans and various other garbage dump regulars.

If I had a little less guy-genes in my system, I probably would've sobbed.

You see what I mean about having a bad day?

"What just happened?" Nick asked me, as we sat behind the wall, too stunned to try and move.


"I know," Nick said, as if stating the obvious. Which he kind of was. Stating the obvious, I mean. "But why was there a bomb?"

I closed my eyes, letting the last thirty seconds wash over me.

"Iggy, you okay? You're not going into shock now, are you?"

Jack murdered, slashed into a grotesque figure on the ground. Lots and lots of icky blood. Ticking, like a countdown. More ticking. Four racing heartbeats—

Four heartbeats.


"Ig? Yo, dude, you're scaring us here."

"Uh…" I couldn't find the words to say it. Was there any right way to say that you almost just got killed? "Um, the bomb was probably there because of the…uh, the assassin who maybe just tried to kill us."

I might as well have said, 'a giant ten-foot bunny came up to me and gave me some strawberry-shaped rainbow flavored marshmallows' for all the impact it had on those two. Fang stood up, looking fairly unconcerned that he was almost blown to smithereens, and dusted off his jeans as if he just picked himself up from an hour spent sitting behind a wall for no reason at all.

"Oh," said Nick, who was standing behind his brother all of a sudden, and pulled me up by the forearm. "Assassin, huh? Tried to kill us?"

"Guess so," I murmured glumly.

And then it hit me.

The three of us came to Jack's in the first place because Nick said Jack was calling the guys over for a surprise. And then, when we get here, we find him lying dead on the floor, with a bomb waiting for us to stumble across; a bomb that was clearly meant for us. Thing is, the three of us weren't the only ones he was talking about when he said 'the guys'. We weren't his only workshop regulars, after all. Gazzy and Mike were supposed to be here, too.

I threw the two brothers a stricken look. "We have to go," I told them, and started running full out. Again. At least now, my half-blindness was a little more considerate. Being able to see both of your feet really made a difference.

Without another word, I cut across the road towards the makeshift shortcut I made a few minutes ago—a happier time when I wasn't worrying about being slaughtered; it seemed so long ago—and pushed my somewhat genetically enhanced bird-kid legs towards the school. Nick and Fang were right on my heels.

I heard someone clear their throat. "Why are we running?"

"Gaz and Mike," I shouted over my shoulder, not bothering to do a double take when I heard Fang's voice instead of Nick's. I didn't pause to look and see if they got it. It wouldn't matter. All that mattered right now was that we had to get to detention, and fast.

Wow. I never thought I'd live to hear myself say that.


Gazzy's POV

This has got to be the weirdest first day of sem ever.

And we've had some pretty weird first days, so that's really saying a lot.

Like right now, for instance. Most people would find it weird that I was currently being pinned to the floor by a girl with a passion for beating the crap out of boys (at least, that's what I heard). And I gotta say, I sort of agree with them. This wasn't exactly my kind of normal, either.

"Now, what were you saying, Gaz?" Natt said, making sure my wrists were trapped firmly between her and the floor. Man, for a girl, she sure was freakishly strong.

I sighed. There was no getting my dignity back after this. "That girls rule, and boys drool."

Natalie grinned in approval. "What else?"

"What do you mean, what else?"

"What else are you going to say, Gazzy?"

"Help me," I mouthed desperately at Angel, who was sitting with Max a good three meters away.

"Nope," she mouthed back, while Max stared out the window, lost in her own little world. "You got yourself into this mess, so get yourself out."

I had absolutely no chance of escaping this—if I managed to get myself out of this today, then Natalie will follow me around like a bloodhound until I do—so I resorted to the only other option. Cussing inside my head.

Which did not help. At all. "Come on, Natt, don't make me say it!"

"We made a deal, Gaz, so don't you go and be a sore loser. I'm warning you, if I don't hear those words coming out of your mouth, I swear to God—"

"All right, all right!" I gritted my teeth. I'll admit, the girl knew her blackmailing techniques like the back of her perfectly manicured hand. "Aw, dammit."

"Say it."

My eyes squeezed shut, and I braced myself for my death. Or, at least, the loss of a few pints of testosterone.

"I feel pret—"


Surprisingly enough, this voice was not the voice of a girl who was squealing in high-pitched delight over her diabolical victory. I opened my eyes a teeny, tiny amount and peeked through the gap. There, in the supposedly unbreakable doorway, stood Iggy, panting hard and looking slightly crazy. Over his shoulder, Nick and—to what was probably everybody's surprise—Fang peeked into the detention hall, looking alternately passive and anxious (Fang the first, Nick most of the second) but relatively calm.

"Gaz? You in here?" Iggy's one good eye panned the room. Then he spotted me on the floor. "No bullet holes? You haven't just escaped from a bloody life-threatening attempt on your li—holy CRAP! WHAT THE HELL?"

"Hey, Iggy," I greeted weakly, watching his eyes bug ever so slightly when he realized the…er…position I was in. Manic sniggering burst out from behind me. Jared was awake now. Great. More witnesses to my humiliation. "Not your best timing, I gotta say."

"Oh, hi, guys," Natalie sang, swinging her hair over her shoulder. Iggy—who looked like he was that close to going into shock—calmed down a bit when she turned to smile at him and the others.

"Oh, thank God," he murmured, breathing a sigh of relief. "Oh, it's just Natalie. Whoa, Natt, I thought you were an assassin. Wow, I just about had a heart attack—"

"Um, sorry to interrupt your…moment," Nick said, pushing himself past Iggy into the room. He took in the scene in a brief (and rare) moment of silence, and smirked when his eyes landed on me. "We just came to check if Gazzy hasn't been slashed to death or crushed by a giant anvil in the past ten minutes."

"I'd probably be dead if you'd come ten minutes later," I grunted, looking pointedly at the girl sitting on my chest. "At this rate, I would've suffocated in a few minutes, give or take."

"What?" Natalie yelled. She clambered off of me and looked questioningly at Iggy and Nick. I felt air rush mercifully into my lungs and propped myself up on my elbows. "What do you mean, slashed to death? What happened?"

"Oh, nothing," Iggy said, trying to sound casual about it. "Just a murder, is all—"

"A murder?!?" Natt all but screeched. But her screaming is better than me being tortured, so instead of making a sarcastic comment about how I would never be able to hear anything ever again, like I usually did, I let it go, hoping that she forgot about the little bet we had until I was a good three miles away.

The three newcomers entered the room, looking kind of relieved. Not Fang much, though the guy hardly expressed any emotion to begin with. But the other two looked like there was seriously the possibility that I could have been murdered. Which was weird, since it meant that something led them to fearing that I was dead. Or was about to be killed, at any rate.

Or maybe they just want to make sure Natalie hasn't been overenthusiastic with the convoluted plotting, and I was just watching way too many cop shows.

"Where's your guard for the day?" Iggy asked, leaning against the teacher's desk as he tried to catch his breath.

"Mr. Dowling left an hour ago."

"And he never came back?"

"Let's just say," Angel chirped from behind me, "that he's keeping the brooms and the buckets company. And leave it at that."

We all nodded. When Angel said leave it at that, then it was best to leave it at that. "Why'd you ask?"

Before he got to talking, Iggy tilted his head, probably listening for signs of eavesdroppers. I listened, too, but then his mutant hearing was way more mutant than my mutant hearing, so he had a wider range. When he was certain we were in the clear, he said in his mysterious voice, "Strange things have been happening."

"By whose definition of strange?" Jared asked, his feet propped up on his table. Angel scooted closer from where she was sitting. Even Max was back to Earth, listening to Iggy with wide, anticipating eyes.

"Uh…well, a mechanic was murdered, his workshop exploded, two brand new bikes were mortally injured, and someone just tried to kill us."

"All in the last ten minutes," Nick added, shooting a glare at Iggy. Was Iggy supposed to spill all that out?

"Wait, wait, back up," I said. "What did you say?"

"I said, a mechanic was murdered—"

"No, no, I mean the part after that. Did you say the bikes were damaged? The bikes from this morning? Aw, man, those were sweet—"

"Yeah, and they make the attempt on our lives so insignificant."

"Well, you survived, didn't you? But the bikes—"

"Mortally injured, okay? Period. Done. Nada. Now can we please go back to the part where someone was murdered?"

"When you say mechanic, do you mean Ja—"

"Wait up," Natalie interrupted, rubbing her temples. "This is all some kind of joke, right? I mean, murder? You've got to be kidding me."

"As much as I'd love to have the punch line to this," Iggy said, keeping his tone at bay along with his panting. "I don't."

"When I actually pay attention to an apparent life-threatening experience you had like you wanted me to, you just go ahead and ignore my concern, huh?" I rolled my eyes, brows furrowing at some part of me that actually registered the words that concerned death and motorcycles.

"Ugh, so many side-comments," Jared broke in, yawning. His eyes were deadly cold, and for a second there, I thought his red hair turned a fiery scarlet, lighting up like a flame. "Get to the point."

Iggy averted his attention, staring at the ground as if an ant decided to do the macalana on the ceramic tiles. His brows furrowed, concentrating on a memory. Vaguely, I noticed Angel's sharp gasp, and her hand cupping over her mouth. What's up with her?

Iggy sighed, staring each of us in the eye. "Right after school, Nick, Fang, and I went over to Jack's', just like he asked. When we got there, we—"

"Guys!" Max hissed out of the blue, her voice little more than a loud whisper. "Someone's coming!"

Can timing be so amazingly accurate today? I mean, it did save me from a life-threatening duel between Natalie and her built-in megaphone, but it just had to bring in something to add to our cliffhanger here. Whoever said suspense kills probably didn't know how dead-on he was with that.

"Gah!" Iggy burst out, scratching his head furiously. "Rotten timing."

"Tell me about it," both Jared and I grunted.

Iggy shot a sour look at the hallway behind him, and without so much as a coherent word in his endless muttering—which I could've sworn was a cuss or two…or a dozen—darted across the classroom. Nick and Fang followed behind, letting out identical exasperated sighs.

It took a moment for all of us to clamber back to our seats while Natt and I viciously kicked chairs and tables back where they were supposed to be—it wasn't so easy with all the space and wreckage we conjured up with just four and a half minutes of wrestling, mind you me.

Max tensed for a while, droplets of sweat beading up around her forehead. Her eyes were unfocused as she dragged chairs back to their original places. She smiled meekly when our eyes met, and suddenly, I felt really sorry for her. I mean, on her first day of school, everyone's eyes practically burn her into Swiss Cheese; pretty-boy-Neanderthal-Ari almost pummels her at a sorry attempt at flirting; she spends detention for three hours and then finds out about a murder and an attempt at it against the only people she's interacted with today.

All in one day.

Add to the fact that her sanity was probably very mortally injured in the ten hours she spent with pyromaniac genii, a motormouth and her practically-a-mind-reader-sister Angel.

Heck, even I'm getting dizzy with all that's happening right now.

"Three yards away, you guys," I heard Iggy whisper, his head warily poking up from the window beside Max—who was uneasily staring at his crouched form, probably recovering from post-shock at his head bonking up beside her. "Better hurry up with the broken tiles."

"Broken wha—oh my gosh. How did that…?" Natalie started, staring at the bits of tiles scattered around the room.

I rubbed the back of my head sheepishly. "I think that was the time you tried to crush my head with your wedges and missed, Natt."

She flushed a really cute, deep red, fuming and looking embarrassed at the same time—but mostly fuming. "Ohhh, I knew I should've worn my Flip-Flops today!"

"Yeah, quit arguing about fashion-statements-gone-senile and push the rest of the chairs and tables over the broken ceramics, would 'ya?" Max snapped, alert all of a sudden. Instead of wondering if she was actually still sane, I focused on getting my job done. But I gotta say, for a second there—and maybe a few hours before—I almost thought she's gone bonkers. It's relieving to know that one of the first few girls you could actually spend time even noticing didn't lose it the first day you socialize.

"Sorry," Natalie muttered, giggling a bit. She bent down and started piecing up the tiles, making use of whatever was left of our mayhem (namely Monster Glue and some really sticky string cheese) and trying to fix it.

A pang of guilt shot through me, and I almost reluctantly got to my knees beside her. I flattened the useless bits of tiles within a one-meter diameter of us against the holes and cracks born from our boredom. Beside me, I felt Natt heat up, and the gentle sway of her hair falling to one side of her face, as if to cover it.

"You don't have to help me, you know," Natalie murmured, her eyes trained to the ground. She watched the tiles in her hand wedge against the cement instead of looking at me. "It was my fault I almost crushed that big head of yours."

I grinned, rolling my eyes. I pushed myself up from my squat and held out my hand to her. "Yeah, and it's my fault I had to have such a big head for a bull's eye."

She giggled, wrapping her fingers around mine. I gritted my teeth, trying to stop the blush from going somewhere that could possibly embarrass me more. "You're lucky you've got a face worth saving or I wouldn't have missed. Ari, on the other hand…"

"I don't think you really have to do anything. His face already looks like it's been run over by a bulldozer."

"Yeah, but he hasn't gotten a stiletto scar yet."

I laughed, gliding over to my seat beside Jared—whose head was buried in his arms atop his table, no doubt asleep again. Natalie dragged another chair hastily across the classroom and swiftly landed her butt on the seat next to Angel, conjuring up her compact from thin air along with what looked like Puppy-Pink nail polish and a salmon lip gloss. Either that, or it was gelatin brand Gell-O and a strawberry crayon.

Then again, I never saw a sane-enough teenager with common sense that matches the amount of words she can sprout out in one breath draw on her lips with waxy pink crayons, so I assumed it was lip gloss. Or lip balm. Or lip ice.

To be honest, I preferred the Gell-O.

Don't ask me why I know the girly girl make-up series or something, okay? Let's just say "over-exposure to pink", shall we? 'Nuff said.

Feral dripping echoed from the hallway outside once we were quiet, and my movie-rendered brain immediately deduced some monster with sharp fangs and talons and drippy saliva coming to get the rebellious students.

When the actual anomaly appeared, though, I wasn't so far from correct.

Mr. Dowling was a medium-sized guy. Barely 5-feet, and has flabs sticking out of places I never knew fat could accumulate from. He has tomato-colored cheeks and a bad cowlick comb-over, and he usually wears a suit with a clip-on tie. He's got eye bags the size of a cantaloupe and piercing brown eyes Ig and I used to think was made out of propulsion mechs that fired lasers and skunk gas.

Hey, we were 10. What else could you expect from pre-pyros?

Anyway, that was how he usually looks like—besides whenever it's one of our school Fests and dances where he wears Kevlar under a coat, combat boots with extra leather straps, and a belt-bag stuffed with anti-student tools of destruction, of course. But his fashion style stepped up a bit when he was coated with gooey violet slop from head to toe—mostly from head—his smallish specs tilted in an angle downwards, and his comb over slopped down in an eau Snape fashion, making him look twice the hideous villain he already was.

But it looked better on him, seriously. Compared to the uptight buttons-are-gonna-explode-from-your-suit thing, it's better.

Besides, the buttons already popped out, by the looks of his jacket.

We all tried so, so hard not to just burst out laughing, but it proved a hard challenge. What's not to laugh at, anyway? Just imagine the worst teacher in the world covered in purple goo and you wouldn't even need a punch line. Heck, even the bushes by the window suddenly started to giggle uncontrollably (wink wink).

"Who," Mr. Dowling started, his voice laced with various layers of authority, venom, and half a sticky coating of purple glop. "Locked me in the supply closet?"


Iggy POV

Nobody said anything about poison oak.

Nobody mentioned any poison oak.

Nobody friggin' checked if there was poison oak.

Guess what?

There was poison oak.

I mean, the school was here for like, what, a gazillion years? Somebody should have at least tripped and fell on the bush for that duration. There should have been a sign, in the least. Or a fence. Anything. Better yet, school authorities should have burned the damn plants down (no offense to any tree-huggers out there, tho').

Oh, and another thing:


Maybe the first few minutes you spend half-buried in a poison oak bush you wouldn't notice the searing itches, and maybe you don't until you see the hideous glomp of mold that used to be your skin. And when you do, though, you just can't help but keep noticing.

Well, I did get past at least half the monologue Mr. Dowling had prepared for Gaz and the others, and I held some of my laughter back when I saw the teacher, but I don't think I can survive itching like this.

A few minutes ago (before noticing the stinkin' poison oak)

"Who locked me in the supply closet?" Mr. Dowling had barked, eyebrows twitching.

There was no answer.

I was holding off my laughter then. (STILL buried in poison oak, by the way.)

"I doubt no one's responsible," Mr. Dowling spoke again. "I think I've narrowed down my search to just this classroom, what with all of you being troublesome delinquents, here."

"How are you so sure?" Angel asked, her voice perfectly innocent. "We're only the troublemakers that were caught today."

There was a pause while the twisted intensity of the atmosphere was taken in. Angel's voice morphed into creepy, still-angelic, hypnotizing velvet, almost as if she was persuading her opinion. Mr. Dowling, for a second there, almost seemed to buy it.

"Mmhmm," Mr. Dowling muttered, slightly dazed. "Then why is Jared halfway through the window?"

I hadn't noticed Jared's head sticking out of the other window about a yard away from where we escaped through until now. And now that Mr. Dowling had caught him in the act, with a leg perched on the windowsill and his torso exposed (there was not a single plant ready to ambush him with its poison-y itchiness, by the way), he looked more than guilty of whatever he did (in this case, locking an ex-sergeant-general-captain-guy in a supply closet and balancing a bucket filled with purple goo made of who-knows-what precariously atop his bald spot).

"Er, I'm not supposed to..be here," Jared said, glancing at us ever so slightly—and at the poison oak I still didn't notice was clawing its itchy way up my skin.

"Don't think I don't know trouble when you're the epitome," Mr. Dowling spat, out of the daze Ange seemed to have temporarily put him in, returning to the cynical old fart we all know and hate. "And that…Iggy. Ohh, if only I could ship you, Iggy and Fartman here in military school! Juvenile delinquents, you three are! I'd be the one to personally whip you into shape, disregarding your nonetheless impressive Physical Education's grade! I'll bet your little toys, those dynamites, could be of use either way."

Damn, if I weren't in enough trouble with the whole someone's-trying-to-assassinate-me-and-my-friends thing, I would have snapped back corrections at the fatso. I mean, dynamites?! Toys?! I respect Alfred Nobel and all—what with creating the basis of all destructive explosives and making the Nobel Peace Prize thing—but our bombs can't possibly get degraded to that low a level (especially low enough to be called toys dammit).

"They're NOT dynamites," I heard Gazzy whine. "And it's The Gasman, not Fartman!"

"Don't raise your voice, young man!"

"Oh, gee, thanks, da-ad," Gazzy mocked.

I couldn't help but feel proud for the kid. Only a select few could even talk back to Mr. Dowling, or have enough dignity left to even open their mouths in front of him—or open their mouths period. That's what you get when you're a full-time rebel, part-time pyro, all around mutant-bird-freak: one big fat package of heaping trouble.

"Don't you back sass me!"

"Oh, soh-reeh," I could imagine Gazzy rolling his eyes. "But I think I just did."

"That's it!" Mr. Dowling burst out amidst the rigorous chatter and giggling. "Detention for you again tomorrow!"

"Will that include me too?" Natalie asked, and I could've sworn there was a hint of hope in her voice.

More people were laughing now, I was already sniggering, and even Nick had a smirk on (note: STILL in itchy poison oak).

"I'm afraid not, Natalie, no matter how affiliated you are with this boy," the old fart said, and I heard the vague rustle of clothes and the squee of purple goo getting squished against his crossed arms. "Unless, of course, you have a part of..this."

I peeked through the window again, glancing at Max for a bit before taking in the scene.

Gazzy was the first one I'd really noticed, since my sensors were still on red alert after a murder attempt was nearly carried out against us a few minutes ago. His arms were folded across his chest and his legs were propped up on the table on front of him—classic delinquent posture. The look on his face was the perfect mix of amusement, gangster-ish defiance, and total rebellion, complete with a raised eyebrow and a slightly puckered mouth. He was nailing the look, but it wasn't as convincing as when I go face-to-face with a teacher (if I do say so myself).

But you could expect that when you're up against an educator in many ways ranging from military, medicine, biology and physical-slash-emotional torture or punishment, anyway.

Next person I caught sight of was Natalie, her petite form slumped against her chair's backrest with her hands innocently placed against her lap. There was a slight shade of pink glowing in her cheeks, and her eyes spared a few glances at her seatmate every once in a while—seatmate being tall, blonde and has freakish gas power (you could very well guess who that is, now, right?). Her hands were toggling against her compact mirror, flashing lights in different directions and mirroring an image only the students in the room could see or understand.

And then the sisters—or stepsisters, I mean. Angel was wearing a perfectly innocent face, a face that I knew all to well, but to a teacher's eyes, devoid of any emotion that would give her away. Beside her was Max, smirking, her eyes glittering mischievously, usually like the troublesome glints we pyros have in our eyes whenever something's set to explode. She was leaning forward, taking in the atmosphere more than I expected her to. Her blonde-brown hair fell against her shoulders and cascaded down her back, and her feet were impatiently tapping against the floor—a beat only ears like mine could have picked up (sounded a bit like Requiem…or Requiem of Dreams, if I'm not mistaken—pretty epic, by the way).

Mr. Dowling shifted his horrendous weight from one knee to another, glaring daggers at the 'delinquents' surrounding him. He looked about three words away from having an apoplectic fit. If he wasn't there yet, at least. Natalie looked at Gazzy for a second, and then at Ange and Max, before continuing.

"Er, well…I sort of got the key," she said, nailing the guilty look down. Gaz and I taught her well.

Angel sighed and giggled, smiling as she added, "And I locked you in."

Mr. Dowling was an odd shade of purple now—after going through red and orange. I swear he was going to go through the whole color wheel at the rate this was going.

"And I was responsible for the purple slime," another voice finished.

We all turned.

"Maximum?" Mr. Dowling said in what could possibly have been astonishment. "You, of all people, are responsible for this…this…" he poked the goo clinging to his shirt, "this slop?"

To our surprise, Max laughed. Just like that. "Yep. Neat, huh?"

And the color wheel was just presented to us in the varying hues the human face can apparently go through. You could almost see the smoke coming out of the teacher's ears and nostrils when he fumed.

"All on your first day!" he yelled.

"Err, I guess..?" Max said, still smiling.

That moment was priceless. I gotta remind Mike to hack into the school's surveillance system and burn out the video of Mr. Dowling's artistic side blossoming in the form of facial talent. He could give the Screamer a run for its money. It'll be such a hit on the net.

But before I could take note of whatever the hell was happening next, that's when it happened.

That was when I noticed.


A harmless scratch was all it took, really. All I did was feel a twinge at the back of my neck and scratch. My finger rubbed against the spot without me really thinking about it, but before long, I felt myself scratching furiously against every inch of my skin. A little later, I was itching all over, reaching for prickles erupting in places they should not have erupted in the first place. I felt Fang and Nick stiffen beside me, and I could've sworn I nearly elbowed Fang's jaw if he didn't have lightning-fast reflexes.

Suddenly, Nick was rubbing his wrist, and there it went. His self-control, I mean. Whatever was happening inside the detention room was beyond us now—our reach stretched only so far as the skin that was exposed to the itchy goodness of poison oak.

Luckily, though, we had a logical mind with us (or two)—you know, the ones with common sense fast enough to react. And it didn't take long for our itchy butts to get dragged away from the itch-inducing bush.

"Agh," I groaned, scratching against my sore arm. "Itchy, itchy, itchyyy."

"Better put some ointment there," I heard Jared suggest, poking at the back of my neck. "And there..and there…ohh, and here. Yeah, most definitely here."

Yeah, cause I didn't notice the mutated potato that used to be my left hand.

"Damn," I cursed, staring at my freakish hand—my other still scratching. "Well, this sucks."

"Tell me about it," Nick grunted, wrapping his knuckles and wrists with bandages. He turned to Fang and Jared (trying not to scratch—and failing miserably) and muttered, "Thanks for dragging us out of there, though. I don't think Iggy'd survive later on if you pulled us out any sooner."

I snorted, still grating at my skin.

"Dammit, nobody said anything about poison oak."

"You should really stop that," Nick said, raising an eyebrow. "It's disturbing. Don't make...it, ah…your hand…er…grow."

I groaned, scratching my ankles.


My sight was out in an instant, my only good eye blocked by some cloth-y substance thrown at my face. Twinges blew up in my forehead, and my hands immediately reached up to scratch the sore spot. I pulled the objects off my face and rubbed absently, staring a little forlornly at whatever it was that had to be thrown on my mug.

"What," I started, stopping short my scratch-parade. "are these?"

I didn't know how in the hell Fang managed to get these, or why in the world he had these with him, but reasons why I, or any sane male teenager who's still got functioning brain cells operating in his head, wouldn't even touch these, much less have them in handy somewhere, are very, very evident.

For one: they were PINK.


"Mittens," Fang answered, grinning.




"Great," I said. "Just great. Three more hours with you two's gonna fry my brain cells."

"Don't worry, Max," Angel said beside me, smirking. Her gaze landed on Natt and Gazzy who were sitting on a bench, their heads close together, like they were talking about something. "They're going for a different theme tomorrow. A bit more…mature, so to speak."

"Mmhmm, if you call hormonal teenagers playing games inside a detention room mature."

"What can we say?" Gazzy piped up, wrapping an arm around Natalie's shoulders. "It's boring in there."

"Y-yeah. Boring," Natt said, her eyes widening all of a sudden. She fidgeted a bit before reluctantly peeling his arm off her shoulders, while trying to cover it up with a shaky laugh. Come on, does no one notice the blush? "In any case, we're so sorry, Max. We dragged you into this, you got detention—"

"Twice," Gaz noted, raising a finger.

"Not helping," Natalie said, nudging Gazzy's chest. "But anyway, it's like, your first day here, and we had to be the gang you get to associate with and everything. You've even gotten into Dowling's hit list, already, and because you spilled purple goo on him—"

"I didn't," I countered. "It was Jared."

Just then, we rounded the corner past the windows of the detention room. The squidgy, almost ethereal dripping sound was still oddly audible here. I glanced inside, having just noticed the wrong seating arrangements, the messed up chairs and tables, the broken tiles, and the small puddles of violet slop decorating the green, otherwise damaged floor. I remembered where I was sitting, beside the third window to the right, where the three unbearable guys had jumped out of. There was a really weird (since none of the other windows really had plants underneath them) but otherwise normal-looking shrub just under the sill. Without thinking, my hand reached out towards a small flower sticking out of the top.

"Don't touch that!"

I jerked my hand away from the flower, and we all turned to look at whoever hollered at me. There stood Iggy, scratching the back of his neck with one hand, and his back with the other, looking like he'd been involved in a huge struggle concerning an army of red ants. Nick walked alongside him, with Fang trailing behind, his hands in pockets like a laid-back god. The sight was pretty impossible to look at, process, or even believe, but with the way my back had been carrying its feathery goodness, I shouldn't be surprised by things so trivial—no matter how untrivial—as this.

"Not…safe," Iggy breathed between scratches. "Poison…oak…ugh…itcheee."

"Stop scratching," Fang said—Fang said, poking Iggy's forehead hard. It would probably have made a bruise, but then you really wouldn't notice a little bit of purple in the middle of a sea of pink and red.

For the second time today, we all fell silent, which, judging by experience, no matter how short, is exceedingly rare.

Wow, if only Mr. Dowling had Fang on his side when it comes to noise control. Fang could quiet down a zoo dedicated solely to monkeys on crack.

"Dude. Uh, dude—Iggy," Gazzy stammered, his eyes bulging slightly out of their sockets. "Are you…are you wearing pink?"

Now that he mentioned it, I didn't see Iggy have any, er, fingers. Even though he clearly looked like he did with all the scratching.

Almost as though he wasn't the least bit embarrassed, Iggy grunted and raised the back of his…er…mittens to face us. "Yes, I'm wearing pink, 'ya dimwit!" he snapped, rolling his eyes. "Does this look like orange to you?"

"Err, no…but…why?"

"Poison oak," Nick answered, putting a hand on Iggy's shoulder. He rolled back his sleeve and revealed a number of big red splotches on his forearm. "Got me too."

My breath hitched when he stepped forward, and I think my throat closed in when he spoke and smiled, showing off his bandaged hand and wrist. I didn't feel any blood rush to my face, though, which is good, in a way, besides getting no warning as to when my face completely drains of blood, that is.

"Iggy was developing mutated limbs and plagued skin so we had to stop him from scratching," he continued, slapping Iggy's flailing hand away from a tomato-colored patch of skin Iggy was about to attack next. "So we grabbed the nearest most helpful thing."

"Mittens," Angel noted, her eyes glittering with enthusiasm.

"Yeah, pretty much," Nick said.

"Whoa, dude, monochromatic much," Gazzy said, his eyes flickering from the pink (sorry) mittens, the bright red that was all we could see of his skin, and finally landing on the mop of strawberry blonde hair on top of Iggy's head. "Bad day to wear a red shirt."

"Ohh, this is so going to sell," Natalie suddenly burst out, hiding her blushes under the backlight of her cellphone. Then, with a lower voice only us girls could here, continued in a devious voice, "Fang talking, Nick smiling, Iggy in pink? This is gonna make us rich."

"Tch'yeah!" Angel said, and slapped her the girly version of the high five. "Hottest guys in school, much."

"Er, not that I'm occupied with whatever gossip you're conjuring up here, but aren't you missing someone?" I said, glancing at the three and then at the clearly oblivious (and pretty shell-shocked) Gazzy, who was still mulling over the pinkness of Iggy's hand. "Isn't Gazzy part of the top five?"

What was up with me?

"Oh…oh yeah," Natalie said, her hold on her cellphone slacking slightly. Her cheeks turned a darker shade of red, and all I did was roll my eyes. Hey, even though it's my first day here, I already know something about Natt that she isn't mentioning in her spurs of nonstop blabber. I mean, it was pretty obvious.

"I'm already on it," Angel sang, walking past us, lugging Gazzy by the collar. He threw Natt a confused look when Angel practically threw him beside the guys, but she just giggled and nodded. I peeked over Natalie's shoulder to watch the scene unfold on the cellphone's screen, trying to force my face's blood circulation to shut down.

"Oh, hey, where's Jared?" Natalie asked.

Angel looked up and shrugged. "I saw him jump from a three-story window two minutes ago. I'm guessing he won't be back anytime soon."

I was about to ask how a human could have jumped a three-story window without ending up being roadkill. But that was like asking how I had wings, so I decided to leave it and watch Natt and Ange squeeze a few ounces of dignity out of the guys through the magic of technology.

Natalie's cellphone had a screen actually big enough to fit Iggy, Nick, Fangand squeeze in Gazzy along with half of Angel's body—all in a landscape orientation. I spared a pitying glance at my cellphone. Small and insignificant with barely any memory to store more than two games, a cracked screen and outer covering (after it experiencing the sensation of gravity in large doses—er, my fault), and the worst signal you could ever get even if you were standing on a sixty-story skyscraper almost directly under a satellite.

No, seriously. I'm not kidding. I've tried.

"Na-att," Iggy suddenly sang. Both of his hands were pinned to his back by two impossible teens. He closed his good eye (at least, I think it's his good eye) and looked at us in this really menacing way—mostly at Natalie—with an eyebrow twitching with anger. "Are you…recording this?"

I couldn't avert my attention once it was grabbed by the…the unfeasibility of those guys. I still can't get over it, really. I don't know how, or why they were so friggin' impossible (darn, that's the how-many-eth time I've said that about them, huh?). I still can't wrack my head enough.

"Uh oh," Angel muttered beside me.

I blinked, looking up from the screen. Fang and Nick were both suddenly holding back Iggy's strong arms, struggling against his thrashing limbs to keep him steady.

"Argh, let go, you two!" Iggy bellowed, slamming his foot to the ground to give him more leverage. "Let me at 'er!"

"Uh oh, crap, not good," Natalie said, staring with wide eyes at her soon-to-be assassin. Iggy was so close to snapping right there, if it weren't for the efforts put into restraining him brought on by Fang and Nick.

"Yeah, tell me about it," Angel said, noting the screen in Natalie's fingers. "Your cellphone's low-bat."

"Set your priorities, Ange," I muttered, rolling my eyes and keeping a steady stare at the four teens being videotaped.

"Er, right," Angel said sheepishly, blushing pink. "They're kind of distracting, you know."

Turns out, we only had about two seconds left before the cellphone ran out of juice. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the guys exchange a relieved glance. I almost started sniggering. Like battery issues was going to stop them. From the little that I know about them, I could most definitely be certain that Natt and Angel would rather spend three more days locked in detention with the Mr. Baldy than pass this opportunity up. Especially an opportunity this…juicy.

She flipped the cellphone shut and turned to Iggy, who still looked kind of—okay, really—murderous. When you look past the hot pink cashmere mittens and the angry red splats that were basically all I could see of him.

"Iggy, can I borrow your phone?' Angel asked, in her sweetest sing-song voice.

"Why?" Iggy said, eyes narrowed. It wasn't really that hard to figure out; he guessed her plan in a heartbeat.

"Oh, nothing."

"I'm not giving you my phone, Ange."

"Why not?"

"Well, for one, it has a video camera on it."

"Really? It does?" Angel sang, feigning innocence (and, quite frankly, pulling it off without a hitch). For a moment, they stared each other down. And then, a few seconds later, Iggy's face went curiously blank.

"Come on, Ig," she pouted, giving him full force and batting her eyelashes. Beside me, Natt started to snigger. "Please?"

"Left jean pocket," Iggy murmured, in a voice as vacant and unfocused as his expression. Uh…creepy much? I would've bet my next month's allowance that any self-respecting human being wouldn't voluntarily give up their cellphones under the risk of embarrassment and future humiliation. Especially not to someone as devious as Natt and Angel. Especially not when they were like this. It's like he got hypnotized or something.

But before anyone could even suspect anything, Angel just grinned, bounded forward, and retrieved the phone from his pocket in one fluid motion.

"Thank you," she said, sliding the phone open. "Oh, hey, you got a message."

Her thumb slid across the screen for a moment before announcing, "It's from Mike."

Fang and Nick stiffened and loosened their grip on Iggy, who practically dove for his cellphone. His face got paler and paler—which wasn't obvious under the rash, but it was there—with every line he read. He went through the message one more time, eyes widening to plate-sized circles, before flicking his phone at Nick, who caught it with predictably perfect reflexes.

"What does it say?" Gazzy asked, shuffling ever so slyly towards Natalie.

"Hey, guys," Nick read aloud, his finger rubbing absentmindedly against his arm. "I'm here at Jack's. Where are you guys? He's looking for you."

I tried to absorb what the significance. Why was everybody so tense? Nick looked like he was half-expecting a murderer to jump out of the bushes and try to gag him with a flower chain, and Iggy…well, Iggy looked like a giant strawberry. A very shocked giant strawberry.

And Fang was…where was Fang?

"Wait," said Gazzy, breaking the silence. "Didn't you just say that Jack was dead?"

"Yep," Iggy muttered, too into his out-of-body experience to retort with the usual cynical comment. He turned to Nick with the manic look of someone who was just about to ride their final hope, and asked, "When was it sent?"

Nick scanned the little screen while we all waited in painful suspense. It finally hit me, why they were freaking out about it so much. "Uh…about half an hour ago."

"Jack was long dead by then," Iggy whispered faintly, more to himself.

"Well, what do you think that means?"

Iggy took a deep breath. "We're going to have to find him, and nothing in hell is going to stop us."

Right on cue, Iggy's breath hitched, and he looked up at the tree behind us, eyes wide. Angel gasped, and Gazzy followed his gaze.

"NO!" he screamed, darting forward towards Natt, just as a sleek silver blade came flying at her from out of nowhere. He crashed into her, sending the two of them tumbling onto the gravel.

"Gazzy!" Natalie yelled. Her eyes widened in horror as she watched a pool of red blossom on the sleeve of Gazzy's shirt, and realized exactly how close she'd come to being the one bleeding on the sidewalk. We all watched, breathless and terrified, as Natalie carefully laid Gazzy down on the ground. "Gaz!"

"I'm okay," he groaned, pushing himself up. Already, he was starting to pale. Sweat had broken out on his forehead, and his face was chalky white. He looked up at Natt, eyes searching for some sign of injury on her, and tilted his head. "Are you?"

"I'm fine," Natt whispered, still a little shell-shocked. Gazzy nodded and closed his eyes. Iggy, having been frozen in place, stepped forward to help him get up, but his eyes fluttered and his head slumped into Natalie's lap.

You could almost here the dun dun dun duuuuun.

Just great. Now, I can cross insanity, intentional felony and attempted murder out from the list of things I want to unwittingly witness before I die.

As Natt started hyperventilating, Nick whistled, and bent down to pick up something silver and shiny and splattered in crimson. "Now, there's the assassination attempt we've been waiting for."


A/N: well, there ya go! It's a little long, so…yeah. XD anyway, hope you liked it! My friend helped a lot—since, you know, I was freaking busy and everything and didn't have the time, effort or endurance to write something that wasn't that related to my schoolwork XD thank her for the persuasion, the Alzheimer's attacks (kidding XD—but she does have bad memory) and for writing huge chunks of this chapter with her awesome writing.

Oh, and she's telling me to ask you guys for a specific amount of reviews or something XD you know, to persuade us and everything XD well, I just hope you review! (though a hundred would be nice XD) THANKS FOR READING!