Impress Me by CalCurve

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Adventure, Drama
Characters:Fang, Max
Published:2007-05-21 08:11:10
Updated:2007-09-28 16:41:14
Packaged:2021-04-21 23:26:36
Summary:Maybe the threat was an empty one, a bluff to get me moving...but considering what was at stake, I couldn't afford to indulge in that hope. Discontinued.

Table of Contents

1. Part One: Threats
2. Chapter 2
3. Chapter 3
4. Chapter 4
5. Chapter 5
6. Part Two: Decisions
7. Chapter 7
8. Chapter 8
9. Chapter 9
10. Chapter 10
11. Chapter 11
12. Chapter 12
13. Part Three: Promises
14. Chapter 14
15. Chapter 15
16. Chapter 16
17. Chapter 17
18. Chapter 18
19. Part Four: Fits
20. Chapter 20
21. Chapter 21
22. Chapter 22
23. Chapter 23
24. Part Five: In
25. Chapter 25
26. Chapter 26

1. Part One: Threats

A/N: Well, you must've liked the summary, because you're reading this… now let's hope you enjoy the story, too. This is my first fan fiction, and I'm kind of testing the waters with this chapter.

You know what comes next—I can't really be considered an author unless I beg for reviews. (Gets on knees, hands clasped together.) I really want to know what doesn't work. Choppy spots, typos, continuity problems, anything at all. Not that I will say no to compliments… :)

And so, without further ado, I give you Impress Me.

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride or any affiliated characters.

Chapter 1

Note to self: crack up later. When Fang can't hear me

The others didn't possess such self-control; they giggled noisily, undeterred by Fang's glares. He still covered his ears in an attempt to block out the music.

I couldn't help myself. With false innocence, I said, "Gazzy, I don't think Fang likes your new CD."

This brought a fresh wave of laughter from my Flock, but I also received the full force of a death-glare from Fang. Ouch.

What? I mouthed.

He narrowed his eyes in the You-Know-Damn-Well-What look. He really hated that music. In fact, when Nudge had cranked the volume of our iPod up so she could hear without headphones, he'd frozen and dropped about thirty feet.

Of course, I hadn't freaked out at all. I mean, no horrible flashbacks or anything like that. I didn't scream like the paranoid, jumpy Avian-American that I am, or dive-bomb after him.

Please note the sarcasm in that last paragraph.

The others had mostly calmed down by now, so Angel's snicker made me suspect she'd been reading those thoughts. Again.


"I'm sorry; I couldn't help it." Her innocent tone was much more convincing than mine.

I rolled my eyes, then noticed that Fang had begun flying lower to avoid the still blaring techno music. "Alright, I think you've tortured him enough for one day."

"Aw!" Gasman reluctantly turned the volume down, slipping the headphones on to enjoy his controversial tunes in private.

Fang, with a few strong strokes, rose back up to his usual position at my side.

"You're welcome," I said, grinning.

He gave me a dry look in return.

I locked my wings and coasted for awhile, the air refreshingly cool as it whipped past. Above was nothing but a dome of pure blue. Below, a few cotton balls were suspended, and below them, lay the ground. It was green, chopped into little geometric patterns by fields and roads. But it looked flimsy from such a distance, like a watercolor backdrop.

Where is this beautiful view, you ask? Somewhere near the Georgia border, hundreds of feet up, a day after blowing Itex to bits. Heading north. Don't know where north, just… north.

Our flight continued in relative calm. Mostly because Iggy—in a shocking act of kindness—refrained from taunting me about my panic attack. In return, I didn't have to kill anyone.

Or maybe Total wasn't giving the kid a chance. That dog just wouldn't shut up, and it was Iggy's turn to carry him.

You're going to have to face the truth eventually, my Voice chided.

Shut it, I thought absently, scanning the ground for a good landing sight. The Flock was about to get hungry for din—

"Ma-ax, I'm hungry," whined Nudge.

—ner. See? I was psychic.

Max, listen to me.

I tried to mentally roll my eyes. It didn't work very well; I had to physically do it, which drew an odd look from Fang, who'd been watching. Probably worried about me going off on another suicide mission or something like that. Ugh.

You need to save the world, and soon.

Yes, Bossy, you've told me that, I thought snidely. I noticed a promising grove of trees… oh, never mind, those were in someone's backyard…

I'm not the only one growing impatient, it warned.

Yay for them, I thought sarcastically. Leave me alone; Nudge is hungry.

I suddenly felt something brush my feathers—Fang's left wingtip. His face was set, impassive; only his pure black eyes hinted at emotions. Straight, jaw-length hair was as dark as his wings, and his bangs—brushed to the side—screened his left eye.

He met my gaze with a sideways look, but I quickly looked away, trying not to blush. To distract myself, I huffed, trying to blow a stray lock of hair out my eyes. It was blond, dark at the roots. When that didn't work, I raised a hand and tucked it back impatiently. My hair seriously needed cut again.

If you don't start showing progress, the consequences could be much worse than you think.

And what's worse than the end of the world? I asked skeptically, still not interested. I've had this conversation countless times.

For the billions of people needing savednothing. But for youthe Flock getting hurt.

I was listening now.

What do you mean, 'hurt'?

Of course, now that I was actually taking it seriously, it didn't say anything. But I didn't need it to. It had made its threat quite clear.

They were going after the Flock.

'They' being those whack-job scientists—and the super-company Itex—that created me. Apparently, they still thought the Flock was holding me back, and were going to follow through on Max II's plans to eliminate my family.

Correction: they were going to try. But I had absolutely no intentions of letting them get away with it.

They've already started.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "Many a one cannot loosen his own fetters, but is nevertheless his friend's emancipator." –Friedrich Nietzsche

Another A/N: Here's the deal, folks—Dragonology's Dictionary will have a new entry at the end of each chapter. A collection of quotes, if you will. Here's the twist: the quote foreshadows the next chapter. They're obscure references, usually explaining the theme more than what will actually happen, but it'll give you something to chew on between updates.

And I can laugh at you when I post that quote about losing a friend in chapter 9…

2. Chapter 2

A/N: Well, here's chapter two… I felt like being nice and posting two on the same day.

And please review, folks—you know you want to.

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride or any affiliated characters.

Chapter 2

I tried not to pale at that little plot twist the Voice gave me. And failed. Miserably.

"You okay?" Crap, Fang. Ironically, Mighty Emotionless was great at reading my expressions. Annoyingly good at it.

I swallowed, concentrating on flying and not screaming. Calm, Max, calm. Breathe. Nonetheless, I did a 360, just in case they decided to send a bunch of Erasers after us.

"Stupid Voice is trying to scare me," I said with forced lightness, looking down. It was almost dark out; we needed to land now, even if it wasn't at our first choice of locations. I noticed a field and small forest—a park?

It would have to do. "Land there, guys, and we'll eat dinner."

"YAY!" they all chorused (minus Fang) and shot past me, racing each other to the ground, pushing and shoving playfully. I smiled sadly.

Fang wasn't so easily fooled; he continued to fly in tandem with me, waiting. How such an impassive expression could carry so much weight, I had no idea.

His wingtips—so dark they glinted with a purple iridescence—brushed mine on the down stroke.

"Alright, I'll admit that Voice is doing a good job of it," I grumbled, locking my wings and gliding into a descent. He matched me perfectly.


"Threatening me." I tried to sound nonchalant.

He just watched, the weight of his gaze wringing out every drop of information in me.

"They're going to hurt the Flock if I don't save the world," I blurted, voice rising involuntarily. "And then, to top it off, it says 'they've already started'."

There was a pause where Fang mulled it over, and I struggled not to hyperventilate. I banked, making a loose circle around the lightly forested park. A buffet of wind hit the side of my head—Fang was backpedaling, tilting his wings up to create more resistance and fly behind me.

"Could be a bluff," he pointed out, always practical.

"But they've already tried to do you guys in once."

Actually, they had tried to scare my Flock to death. Literally. But I'd screwed up Itex's hologram machinery in time. Which meant they'd already tried to make the threat real…

"Oh," I breathed, "that's what the Voice meant by 'already started'."

I couldn't hide the relief in my voice. I'd dealt with the first attack, so I had some time before they launched Round Two.

Maybe five minutes, if I was lucky.

I stalled my wings and landed right on the edge of the forest. Fang touched down a couple seconds later, as I was folding up. It was dark now, stars flickering on above, heavy shadows marking trees and shapes.

He put a hand on my shoulder, eyes searching my face—his version of concern.

"I'm okay," I assured him, then sighed, contradicting myself.

"It'll work out," he said stoically. "They've always been out to get us."

I smiled wryly. "Good point." Woah, that'd been, like, a full-length speech for Fang. I mean, he'd actually spoken in complete sentences. Would miracles never cease?

I heard the Flock's voices coming from the trees, but I couldn't make out individual words. The sounds overlapped and ricocheted confusingly over the distance.

"Arguing over dinner," Fang told me, turning to join them.


He gave me a funny look over his shoulder. "They're shouting."

I shrugged. "I can't hear the words—just noise."

He sighed a long-suffering sigh. "Great, now you're deaf."

"And you're dumb; we should be a team," I joked.

I darted past and managed to reach the sanctuary of younger kids before he killed me.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "There are sadistic scientists who hurry to hunt down errors instead of establishing the truth." –Marie Curie

Another A/N: Hint—Guess who the sadists are… Guess who the errors are...

3. Chapter 3

A/N: Omigosh, I have over a hundred hits… I'm ecstatic! And six reviews, which is much better than I expected. Right now, I'm doing some sort of jig and grinning like a loon.

I'm easily amused.

Anyway, I want to thank the anonymous reviewer Anna. I can't send you a reply, so I'm posting my thanks here.

Hope you readers like this chapter! Let me know what you think.

Chapter 3

"Six-Two, you say?"

"Are you unable to hear? Yes, Six-Two."

He hesitated. It really wasn't his place to question superiors, but still…"Isn't Six-Two one of the more important ones?"

Bad idea.

His superior sneered at him contemptuously. "Let's see: no special talents, nearing its expiration date, slight psychological damage…why not Six-Two?"

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir," he stuttered, abashed. He was still fairly new here, and hadn't quite grasped all the ropes of the trade. The ropes, he had quickly learned, were coated in something slippery, like oil.

His boss had an accent, stressing the wrong syllables and speaking choppily. "And it is equipped with few monitors and… rudimentary shock system, so I may get many… data from its death," he mused, more to himself than the assistant. "Yes, it hardly be a loss at all if I was to stretch it out over time and—"

"Not too long, Bocht; we mustn't forget the main goal," said the Director as she walked into the small conference room.

Said room was almost entirely filled by an oval, mahogany table. The walls were a stark white, creating a contrast with the black leather chairs. No windows, which made it all the more claustrophobic. A thick, white carpet muffled steps and offered no chance of an echo.

The assistant sat behind his boss—whose name was Bocht—and away from the table. He clutched at the notepad and pen, nervous but excited. This was his first time shadowing a conference, and he was determined to record as much information as possible.

"But anything you can do to make this less of a waste, the better," continued the Director, taking a seat at the head of the table. Her movements were graceful, almost lithe, her hair a solid gold sheet.

They were the only three in the room, which confused the assistant a little. Why not just meet in her office?

"I agree," Bocht said, swiveling his chair around to face her. "I am still a little upset, but maybe there will not be a need to kill all of our experiments, no?" He smiled, but no warmth emanated from the yellowed, bared teeth.

"Perhaps," the Director said distractedly, checking her watch. "You're a little early."

Bocht cleared his throat. The assistant perked up—maybe his boss would give an introduction? He'd like to speak with the Director; she hadn't even met him yet.

"Yes, well, I was wanting to discuss with you the potential of using a less­ immediate means to execute the subject."

The assistant looked back down at his empty notepad and began to carefully write down the date and time.

"But we haven't even decided the order, much less the means."

Bocht flicked the matter off with a wave. "Six-Two is the obvious candidate, no? Least interesting, but still has psychological impact."

"I suppose…" The Director opened up a manila folder and quickly flipped through its contents. There was a whole stack of such folders in front of her; the assistant had carried them in earlier. "We mustn't ignore Six-Six—"

"Six-Six is invaluable! There are many a things to study still; it must be last to go!" blustered Bocht, incensed. Color spots appeared on his flabby cheeks, and his stomach jiggled when he shifted in his seat.

"It's also your experiment," the Director observed coolly, still perusing the files. "You're opinion is biased."

Before Bocht could argue any more, the door opened and four men filed in. None of them were the same ethnicity, but they all carried an armful of folders and notepads. Simultaneously, they dropped the papers onto the table and took a seat, filling the remaining chairs.

They all wore white coats… and stubborn expressions.

It was going to be a long meeting.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "The road of life can only reveal itself as it is traveled; each turn in the road reveals a surprise. Man's future is hidden." —anonymous

Another A/N: In other words, the Voice ain't finished yet.

4. Chapter 4

A/N: Can someone please explain to me what the heck a Mary Sue is? I keep hearing the term, but I haven't got a clue what it means. Is it a boring OC? And then there's a Teddy Stew or something like that…

I've reached 200 hits! Yay yay yay!

Read and enjoy, folks!

Oh, sheesh, I forgot that disclaimer thing in chapter 3, so I'm putting two of them here.

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride or any affiliated characters; James Patterson does.

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride or any affiliated characters; James Patterson does.

Chapter 4

I tell you, if you're ever hungry after a long day of flying, there's nothing better than gourmet, fresh-from-the-gas-station PB&J to fill you up.

Well, okay, that's a lie, but we were all full, and Iggy even managed to pull some chocolate bars out of thin air (a.k.a bought them without my consent.) We ate on one of the many picnic tables scattered among the trees too, which was a major improvement over the dirt ground.

Now, everyone was getting ready for bed. Nudge shook out her lilac sweatshirt and folded it up into a pillow, while Angel carefully made up Celeste's own miniature bed with moss. Gasman shuffled around, trying to find a patch of ground that didn't have any sharp rocks embedded.

We relied on our night-vision to see, since this forest wasn't thick enough to hide the light of a campfire from the surrounding town.

"Night, Angel," I said softly, kneeling down to hug her. "I love you."

"I love you too," she said, voice muffled in my red t-shirt. "See you tomorrow."

"Yepper." We all stacked fists, then the three younger ones curled up to sleep. They piled together, and in the poor lighting it looked like a black mass of bodies and jackets.

"Y'know, I feel so left out when you guys do that," complained Total as he curled up against Angel.

"You haven't got fists!" I said.

"Not my fault," he whined, not even bothering to open his eyes.

I rolled mine and grumbled, "It's not mine either."

I turned to Iggy and Fang, who were both still sitting on the picnic table. "So. I've got first watch?"

"You always do," Iggy said dryly. "Then Fang, then me."

"Well, a routine's better than arguing every evening," I reasoned.

"Correction: you and Fang argued every night; I just took the slot left over." He stood and started walking towards the tangled group of kids. "Night, lovers," he called cheerily, waving a hand over his shoulder. "Don't stay up too late!"

"Shut up, Ig," we both snapped, which only made him chuckle.

I huffed and plopped down next to Fang, leaning my back against the table and crossing my arms.

Relax, the Voice advised.

You again, I thought sourly. Haven't you ruined my day enough?

No. I hated how deadpan it could be; it was almost more talented than Fang.

Who, I noted, still hadn't made a move to sleep. I looked at him questioningly; I got a cocked eyebrow and the hint of a half-smile in return.

"What?" I asked.

Don't give him more incentive to stay up, the Voice said, sounding almost weary.

Why not? And what other 'incentive' does he have?

No answer, of course. With difficulty, I managed not to growl. That was last thing I needed to do—start making animal sounds.

"What?" I asked again. His lips twitched; he was struggling not to laugh.

"Voice?" he asked innocently.

"Of course. How'd you know?" I said, almost suspicious.

"You get all blank-faced."

"Ah. Is it that obvious?"


I rolled my eyes. "Showoff."

He did a half-bow, still sitting. "I can't help but know everything."

I snorted and shoved his shoulder. "Go to bed, Mighty Emotionless."

He stood and cocked an eyebrow incredulously, now looking down on me. Literally and metaphorically, I might add.

"It's a fitting title," I defended.

"I prefer The All-Knowing and Powerful Fang." He turned and stalked off in mock offense, but not before flashing me a quick grin over his shoulder. A full one, not a barely suppressed smirk.

I blushed, thankful for the dark.

I watched him lay down at the outskirts of the Flock/shapeless blob, then I settled down to business. Namely, watching out for the looming danger of Erasers with murderous intent. Of course, they all had that, but the Voice's earlier threat still worried me.

Slipping into Zen-mode, I lost track of time, acutely aware of every night sound. This forest was small, bordered by a road on three sides and a soccer field on the other. Bearded moss draped over every branch, like those silver icicles you hang off of Christmas trees. Only I think someone used too many boxes of the stuff here… Everything was shadows, bleeding into one another, black on black.

Save the world, Maximum, and some of them may still make it.

I jumped at the Voice, completely unprepared for something loud after so much silence.

Then I realized what it said.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "Where man can find no answer, he will find fear." –Norman Cousins

Another A/N: (Chuckles evilly) Don't you just love cliffies? I have a whole string of them written...

See that little gray button next to 'review'? Yeah, press it. Go on, it doesn't bite...

5. Chapter 5

A/N: Have you lot seen the MR trailer? It freaking ROCKS!! (Thanks, Weasleygrlz07, for pointing it out to me!)

Anyway, here's chapter 5... hope you like! But be warned... it's a cliffie.

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride or any affiliated characters.

Chapter 5

Some!? I mentally screeched, sitting straight up in my seat. Crap, I was going to hyperventilate again…

No answer. Sheesh, that Voice gave me panic attacks as a hobby.

Wide-eyed, I jumped up and did yet another 360, searching for anything that didn't belong in a public park in Florida. Moss hanging from the trees? Allowed. Rustlings of little woodland creatures? Allowed. Occasional car sounds from the nearby road? Allowed.

Rapid, shallow breathing? Not allo—oh wait, that was me. Allowed.

There was a sudden shuffling; I whirled around, automatically locking in on the source. Gasman had kicked his leg out in his sleep, probably dreaming.

I managed not to leap quite so high at the second sound—Nudge mumbling in her sleep.

I was seriously about to have a mental breakdown.

What the hell do you mean by 'some'!? I demanded. I circled our little camp, adrenaline pumping, eyes darting around frantically. Only some, only some, only some…

Some may still make it, it repeated calmly. But only if you relax and save the world.

Who's going to die?

No answer.

WHO'S GOING TO DIE!? I screamed inside. I stopped pacing, but shook from the buckets of adrenaline my heart was dumping into my bloodstream.

I can't tell youI'm only a voice, after all. It sounded amused, like it'd said something witty.

Was that humor? I asked, almost hysterical. Flock, flock, all five plus dog, all breathing…

I suppose.

"I'm not laughing!" I spat.

It was barely over a whisper—I still had remnants of self-control—but both Iggy and Fang shifted uneasily in their sleep. I froze, waiting for them to settle.

By the time they did so, I had forced myself into a more rational frame of mind. As in seriously ticked and suspicious.

It was an improvement over hysterical; trust me.

How do you know all this?

No answer.

How do you know!?

No answer. I asked a few more times, but the Voice had clammed up on me.

It had to be a bluff. There was no way Itex could guarantee the death of my family. I wouldn't let them. Nothing was going to happen to Angel or Nudge or Gazzy or Iggy or Fang…

These thoughts whirled in my head as I staggered back over to the table. I repeated them as I sank onto the bench. As I bent over, holding my head in my hands. As I panted. As my heart kept up an incessant clatter, like a machine gun. As I tried to get myself back under control.

You're scared.

No freaking duh!

Fear is a weakness.

Bite me, I snarled. Amazingly, there was no retort; the Voice just left me and my frayed nerves alone for once.

A very, very long time later, I was almost back to normal. A little shaky, but heart lowered to a BPM below the danger zone.

I took Fang's watch for him. After that shift, when I showed no signs of tiring, I decided to take Iggy's too. Stupid adrenaline high hadn't worn off yet.

About halfway into his watch—just before dawn—I heard something. Something that fit in the 'Not Allowed' category.

Shuddering, labored breaths. Shivering. A cough. And no, this time it wasn't me.

I stood slowly. The sounds weren't moving, so their source—whatever that was—was stagnant.

Near my feet came the sudden sound of thrashing.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "It requires more courage to suffer than to die." –Napoleon Bonaparte

Another A/N: I told you it was a cliffie.

And no one answered my Mary Sue question! What the heck is a Mary Sue?!

6. Part Two: Decisions

A/N: I apologize for the longer wait with this update. I basically rewrote the chapter, so I hope you like it... I'm really worried. Is it over-the-top?

Anyway, sorry again. Chapter 7 is all ready, so it'll actually be posted on schedule!

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride; Patterson does.

Chapter 6

I swore under my breath, all that recently soothed terror crashing back with a vengeance. The Flock, piled practically on top of each other, lay at my feet, but the sound was coming from the shape a little ways away from them. And it was shaking. Oh god, please no…

I warned you, the Voice said.

I was too busy running to answer it.

He lay on his side, legs slightly bent at the knees, one arm folded beneath his head. I dropped to my knees and grabbed his shoulder.

"Fang? Come on, Fang, wake up!" I hissed. He seemed to still be asleep… unless he was unconscious. His ragged breathing was harsh in the quiet pre-dawn, and a shudder rippled down him. I tightened my hold on his shoulder when it jerked.

No no no no NO!

You mustn't panic.

That launched me into a whole stream of swearing, both in my head and out.

Do you want him to die?

I immediately shut up. Hysteria didn't look good on me. Think, Max, think!

Fang suddenly gasped, eyes flying open to stare at nothing. I felt his shaking get more brutal beneath my grip.

For a couple of seconds he was completely bewildered, trying to figure out what had woken him. He glanced up and met my gaze with a sideways look.

"What?" he asked, noticing my panicked expression. His voice was strained, forced not to shake.

"You tell me," I hissed.

A particularly violent tremor ran down him before he could answer; he flinched and twisted onto his back.

"What the hell…?" Iggy had woken. "Max?"

"Iggy, help!" My voice was urgent, but I managed not to scream it (with difficulty). I put my hands on Fang's chest, trying to keep him still. Don't die on me don't die please please please don't die…

"What's wrong?" He staggered over, rubbing the back of his neck in an attempt to wake himself up.

"It's nothing," Fang muttered through gritted teeth. His whole body was rigid, tense, though he still shivered. I was putting most of my weight on my hands to keep him from sitting up. Not that he didn't try anyway.

"Quit squirming," I snapped. Sucking in deep breaths to not hyperventilate again, I managed to sound somewhat calm. "We've got to figure out what's wrong."

"Fever?" Iggy suggested. He knelt down by me, then stretched a hand out towards Fang's forehead. He cringed at the touch, tilting his head away instinctively.

"Woah, easy," said Iggy, faintly alarmed. A second later: "No fever."

"I'm fine," Fang said, voice low. There was a sheen of sweat coating him, and I felt his chest rise and fall beneath me in labored breaths. Shit.

"Sush! You are not!" I snapped.

He raised his head off the ground to give me a stubborn look, then slumped back, dark eyes unfocused. His hands were curled into fists.

What the hell was wrong with him?

"Max? What's going on?"

Nudge's scared voice forced me to take control. "Fang's not feeling well," I said, trying not to sound overly worried. "Go get the first-aid kit, okay?" Not that band-aids would help extend his expiration date…

He suddenly seized my wrists, squeezing so hard it hurt.

Iggy had been brushing his long fingers over him in search of wounds, but when Fang did that, he quickly pulled back.

"Max, let go," he ordered.

I yanked my hands off Fang's chest like I'd been bitten—no small feat, considering he was cutting off circulation—then asked anxiously, "Why?"

No need to answer, for Fang's breath suddenly hitched. His back arched, entire body seizing up. I immediately lunged forward to slam him back into the ground, but Iggy grabbed my shoulders and cried, "Max, don't. It's a convulsion!"

"What the hell does that mean!?"

It means that restraining him will do more harm than good, my Voice said, sounding almost resigned.

By now, all the younger kids were up, and their high, worried voices only added to the swirling mush that was once my brain. "Max?" Couldn't think. "What's going on?" No, not Fang…"What's wrong with him?" I was paralyzed. Terrorized… "Is Fang okay?" Someone tugging my shoulder—refused to move… "Shush, guys." He still wasn't breathing… "Max!" Nothing… I was powerless; I—

I couldn't believe this was happening.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "Everybody has a limit, just some refuse to accept it." –Anonymous(?)

Another superfluous A/N: I think I'm addicted to cliffhangers... but they're just so fun to write!

7. Chapter 7

A/N: Eleven hours, 45 minutes left... then MR3 is here!

Hope you like this, despite how short it is... but Chapter 8 is extra long.

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Chapter 7

Then he went limp.

His spine had been arched, legs bent, all his muscles taught. His whole body had vibrated. He couldn't breathe.

Now, he fell back onto the ground with a soft thump, flaccid. A single, dead silent moment passed—even the forest had gone quiet with the tension.

Then he sucked in air, lungs suddenly remembering how to work. Huge, gasping breaths. Eyes flew open, staring up at the dark canopy. His arms lay slack at his sides, palms turned up. They still shook.

But it was weak, normal shivering, not the convulsive kind. Not that Fang shaking was normal.

He swallowed, then resumed panting. It was the only sound for miles. Tilting his head, he struggled to focus his eyes on me.

"Well," he wheezed, "that—was strange."

Dragonology's Dictionary: "One joy scatters a hundred griefs." –Chinese proverb

8. Chapter 8

A/N: MR3 IS HERE!!! Can anyone tell me what bizarre language that letter on the countdown widget is in? Or is your's perfectly normal, and mine's just screwed up? Ah well, it wouldn't be the first time...

I want to thank all my reviewers here. Seriously, I have nearly 40 now! I'm so thrilled; thanks again!!

So here's chapter 8... the longest yet, to make up for the mini-chapter 7. :)

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride. Seriously, I don't. Well, okay, I have the two books (soon three), but I don't have the copyrights. Though I do have the copyrights to Shadowed... I'm ranting again, aren't I? I am. Sorry. James Patterson owns Maximum Ride, not me.

Chapter 8

Let's just say I considered that an understatement.

In a rush of relief that felt more like a crushing avalanche, I leaned over and hugged him. He returned the gesture after a moment, though it was more like laying his limp arm over my back. I, however, held onto his neck like I was afraid of drowning. I also managed to loosen my oddly tight throat up after a couple of moments without spilling any tears. Kudos for me.

"If you ever do that again," I said vehemently, "I will kill you."

"Diddo. You woke me up," Iggy complained. "Seriously, man, we need our beauty sleep." He grinned and added, "Well, it's a lost cause for you, but…"

Fang glared at him, then tried to sit up. I reluctantly loosened my death-grip on him, stealing myself for an argument about not moving. Fortunately, Fang was intercepted halfway by a mob of little mutant bird-kids and a talking dog, their weight successfully pinning him to the ground. Iggy and I stood and backed up a safe distance from their flailing limbs.

"Omigosh, Fang! Are you okay now? What happened? Was it a brain attack like Max's? That would be so weird if you got a voice in your head, 'cause it's not like there's two worlds to save or anything like that and you scared me so much I thought something horrible happened while I was asleep…" Nudge continued to rant; Fang glanced up at me and rolled his eyes. I smiled, giddy with relief.

Eventually, the girl had to pause for air. During this lull, Angel said softly, "I'm glad you're okay."

"Me too," piped Gazzy.

"Me three," yipped Total.

He nodded thanks, awkward in this rather mushy situation.

Taking a deep breath, I forced myself out of 'Relieved Best Friend' mode and into 'Practical Leader' mode. Task 1: Getting the little ones off of Fang. Because he looked like hell, no exaggeration.

I clapped my hands and said briskly, "Alright, guys, give him some room. Iggy, go help them with breakfast." Nothing like food to lure them away. Besides, it would be dawn soon, which meant early joggers. Which meant us moving. Moving where, you ask? Um. North?

"Do you have any more chocolate?" asked Gazzy, hopping up. Fang's eyes widened, and Angel glanced at him with concern before following. Nudge was the last to go, despite the call of the grub—she doted on Fang.

He is in considerable pain. He was

I don't have time for you, I thought coldly, cutting the Voice off. I took the whopping three steps needed to be back at Fang's side, then crouched.

Fang was in the process of struggling up onto elbows, teeth clenched and face set determinedly. His breathing had almost returned to normal, though it was still a little heavy.

Stubborn idiot.

Ready for something weird? Well, here it is anyway­—I got this really funny feeling in my chest, almost an ache. Then this strange mixture of emotions dumped into my thoughts: happiness, concern, relief, resignation, anger… Did I mention happiness? Oh, and a super-strong sense of… well, something odd. Like—like empathy, only not quite.

Great, now I'm going bipolar.

The small room was threatening to burst, filled with three people and several computers. Papers flew; pens scratched so fast their nibs were a blur. Voices were raised to excited shouts. No one showed the least discomfort at the fact they had to practically stand on one-another to see the chart glowing on the main computer.

"Amazing, sir."

"Stats went off the charts…"

"So much resilience; it only had temporary respiratory arrest."

"Barely any effects, no? Could probably double with only little long-term damage."

"Double the intensity or duration, sir?"

"I will not be doing it yet, idiot; I must create steady rate of increase."

"Remember your limit."

"Yes, yes, I have not forgotten this limit."

He managed to get up on elbows alone, but it took several seconds. Because there was no way in heck he would actually rest or lay down like I wanted. Oh no. Not a chance.

At least I recognized that any efforts on my part would be futile… so I just watched.

Fang took a breather, stealing himself for Round Two: Sitting Up. He still shook like he had chills or something.

Rolling my eyes, I stood and walked behind him, carefully avoiding his wary glare the whole time.

"What're you—"

I grabbed him under the shoulders and pulled. And, let me tell you, it was no small task getting him upright—he weighed a ton. With some scrabbling on his part, though, it didn't take too long.

"There," I said, putting his arm across my shoulders so he could lean on me. "At the rate you were going, it would've taken hours."

"I was working on it." He used his free arm to push off of me, successfully standing on his own. I judiciously ignored the half-step back, and the slight sway. "You're just impatient."

"You're just thick." The sky was graying into the first hints of dawn; with this limited light, I could see just how pale he was. And sweaty. And shivery. A line of blood ran down from the corner of his mouth. Sheesh, he was basically a mess.

From behind me came the cheerful chatter of the Flock eating breakfast. They'd become very good at recovering from fear—after awhile, it all just blurred together into one hellish life. It's the happy moments that stick out. So they get our daily dose of terror, then simply forget about it. Resilient little things.

Too bad I wasn't so good at it. I mostly fretted and worried about what was coming. Because, you know, that was my job.

"Let's get you some food," I said, turning to join them at the table, but watching him over my shoulder. He spat out some blood and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Bit my tongue," he said, noticing my look. His movements were stiff, sore, as he limped past me, giving me the meaningful I-Know-You-Know-Something look. There was also defiance there, but not directed at me. I returned his gaze with my This-Isn't-Over glare.

I was numb with relief… and confusion.

You want to know why he isn't dead.

Not really, I thought. Having him alive was good enough for me.

It shouldn't be. You should want to understand.

Oh yes, I want to know exactly what they did to him, every gory little detail, I thought sarcastically.

About halfway between the table and me, Fang stopped and turned around. "You coming?" His dark eyes were smooth, his usual impassiveness back already.

His hands were stuffed in his pockets to hide their shaking.

"Oh. Yeah." Wake up! I told myself firmly. No one (especially he) had to know just how frightened I'd been.

Fear is a weakness.

Shut up.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there." –Charles F. Kettering

9. Chapter 9

A/N: Welcome to the belated Chapter 9! Hope you enjoy; it's the longest chapter yet, though it's probably the biggest filler yet...still, it's got some important stuff in it.

I want to thank all you readers so much! I have over a thousand hits, and I'm so excited that this piece is going well! At least, I think it is, but I've had worse delusions before... :)

Anyway, thanks again, and I hope you like it.

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: (Daring, I know!) I claim these words and the plot. So no copying!

Chapter 9

Breakfast consisted of power bars and warm juice. Yum.

"I miss your cooking," Nudge told Iggy. "All those yummy omelets and bacon and sausages and stuff. Oh, remember that one evening we spent at the hotel, and you made that really good thing that was like, something-bread or the loaf of meat or—"

"It's called meatloaf, Nudge," he said, amused, though she continued to talk right over him.

"…Everything in—hey! I thought meatloaf was that nasty gunk that comes out of a blocked-up sink drain!"

Gazzy, Angel, and I laughed, while Iggy looked faintly horrified at having a Flock member so ignorant in the ways of food.

Beside me, Fang reached across the table for another power bar and began peeling off the wrapper, hands finally steady.

"He was teasing you," Angel told Nudge, exasperated.

Fang choked on his bar.


I relayed my just-now-made-up plan as we packed up, which mostly involved just stuffing everything in our backpacks.

"Alright, guys, we're flying north today, but we're gonna crash early, maybe at a hotel or something like that."

"Ooh, a hotel!" And Nudge was off. I had had absolutely no idea a hotel offered more than beds, showers, and maybe free breakfasts, but she proceeded to name hundreds of possibilities, ranging from wall colors to pools to views.


Ah, her opposite. Once again, thanks to my psychic powers, I knew exactly what he was talking about…

"Why what?" Okay, never mind.

"Why stop early?" Fang finished stuffing the first aid-kit in his pack, then slung it over his shoulders, the first done. Guess he was feeling better.

I shrugged. I hadn't planned on telling him, at least not for awhile. And no, it was not because I was worried about him dropping out of the sky at any given moment. Though that was an incentive. My main reason involved, um, decisions. Important decisions.

Don't look at me that way; I knew what I was talking about. I think.

He glared at me through a screen of black hair. Crap, he thought I was trying to take care of him, which he absolutely hated. I rolled my eyes and mouthed, later.

Still suspicious, but he nodded.

Angel skipped up to me, her primary-colored backpack bouncing and rattling.

"Hey, baby, ready to go?" I asked.

"Yepper." She beamed. "Can I have the iPod today?"

"I don't know, honey; it may be someone else's turn." I glanced over at Gazzy, who I assumed still had it from yesterday. "Anyone remember whose turn it is with the 'Pod?" We rotated each day, though all it really did was dictate who got to choose the songs; most of the time we cranked it up really loud so multiple people could hear.

"Think it's Fang's," he said, yanking the zipper shut on his bag.

"She can have it," Fang said quickly; he was in the middle of doing a 360.

I furrowed my brow. Angel hadn't done that mind-influencing thing, had she?

"No I didn't!" she protested. Fang quit spinning around to glance at her, then me. His expression was blank for a moment, then his brows rose when he realized what Angel had denied.

"I chose," he assured me.

The rest of the Flock gathered around me, all ready.

I grinned at them. "Let's fly!"

We jogged out into the field, then started running flat-out, picking up speed for lift-off. We were in no specific formation—scattered, really—but I automatically ran a couple strides behind Angel, the slowest. Iggy's almost spindly legs gave him long, fluid strides, while Fang seemed to dig into the ground, powering forward. Nudge was softer, less gritty. Gazzy chugged along, too short to keep up with the other boys. Angel seemed to bob up-and-down as she ran.

Then Fang flung open his massive black wings and leapt, the air catching hold. He pushed down, surging upwards, and even from behind I could feel the intensity emanating from him.

The others soon did the same, the backs of different colored wings popping open. Nudge gave a little squeal as her feet left the ground.

"I love this!" she cried, then giggled, pumping her wings rapidly.

I tell you there is nothing that feels more right than the air grabbing your wings and pulling you up, that sudden sensation of becoming weightless. I couldn't help but smile as I unfurled my own and jumped. Sure, we did this everyday, but today we weren't running for our lives, and we had the rare chance to enjoy being part bird.

That thought brought me back to reality. Namely, that big, important decision I had to make. Because, apparently, I was the only one who could make it. Not that some people weren't trying and prod me in the right direction…

The answer, as of yesterday, was a nice solid no. But then, I hadn't been threatened then. So now I was leaning in the direction of a reluctant yes.

I still hesitated. This whole thing was so stupid. Irrational. I was fourteen, for Pete's sake. And I hated threats—hated how well they worked, hated the powerlessness; I just hated complying with them, period.

But didn't I have to do it? For the Flock. For Fang, before it was too late. Because, quite frankly, I wasn't stupid enough to think those scientists were done doing…whatever it was they did…to him. Though how they did…that...from a distance was just another worry to add to my record-breaking list.

It's closer than you think. Great, more cryptic Voice.

I rolled my eyes and adjusted the tilt of my wings to a steeper incline. The earth beneath me was rapidly pulling away, shrinking into something insignificant. We'd resumed our usual formation, and I couldn't help but sneak a glance at Fang.

His face was set, not revealing anything. That is, it didn't until he gave me a sideways look, a corner of his mouth twitching up. Crap, I hadn't wanted him to notice. And why the heck was he fighting a grin?

Ugh. Confusing. I looked ahead again, back to contemplating my future.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "You can hardly make a friend in a year, but you can lose one in an hour." –Chinese proverb

10. Chapter 10

A/N: (Throws confetti in air and blasts 80's rock in celebration.) Yes! I have reached 50 reviews! Whoop whoop!

Thanks to all my anonymous reviewers, and all you named ones too!

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: I do own the plot and words, so no stealing!

Oh, and, uh...well, let's just say I warned you last chapter with the Dragonology's don't kill me!

Chapter 10

A rough buffet of wind smacked the side of my face, but Fang quickly adjusted, flying beside me.

An awkward silence passed. Sheesh, god forbid he start a conversation.

I was perfectly calm, completely in control of my stupid mind and memories. No panic, or fear, or flashbacks. No worries. I wasn't screaming at myself to get a grip.

And if you believe that, you need to reread the past nine chapters.

"So," I said lamely.

"You should go into rhetoric," he said, deadpan. "You just have a way with words."

"Look who's talking." I scowled at him.

When he spoke again, he was serious. "You okay?"

I snorted. Why'd he always beat me to that question? "I've been worse."

"You've been better."

"So have you."

He tensed, not looking at me. "I'm fine."


He glanced at me again, expression a little softer. "Voice said anything yet?"

"More than I need to hear." Of course, one word would be more than enough, but still.

You need to hear what I say; I can tell you what he won't.

He talks to me, I said, churlish. I was a little hurt at the thought of the Voice hiding less than my best friend.

"Earth to Max." Oh yeah. I blinked and pulled myself back to the present situation.

"Just now?" he asked.


He watched me with that heavy gaze, the one that always pried my mouth open.

"It's bugging me."

He continued to stare. Crud, this was going to sound so weird.

"About you," I grumbled.

Something flickered in his dark eyes, but it was too fleeting for me to make out.

"And…?" he asked, sounding just mildly curious. Which meant he was absolutely dying to know.

He was going to hate this. Well, he was the one interrogating me—curiosity killed the bird-kid.

I still didn't want to talk about it, but he picked up on my hesitation and guessed anyway. His face hardened.

"It's still threatening you."

"Not directly. More just rubbing it in."

I've said nothing of the sort.

You're being delicate.

"Max," he growled, grinding out each word, "I'm. Fine."

"You are now." Told you he'd hate it.

"Voices can't do anything."

Something in the way he said that made me snap.

"Can't do anything?" I hissed furiously, forcing myself not to yell and upset the Flock. "This voice seems to be keeping its threats. This one managed to give you a freaking seizure, but I don't know what the hell actually happened, because you're being thick and won't talk!

"And then there's all the rest to think about! What if it goes after Angel or Iggy or Nudge or Gazzy next? God knows what Itex put into us. And it's not even the Voice doing it­; it's them. The Voice is just a stupid messenger that doesn't know when to shut up. But they can do things, Fang; you would know."

Wrong thing to say.

The whole time I ranted, I watched him curl up inside, drawing his already limited expressions into himself, leaving a stony face and a cold distance to his voice. He'd frozen over, staring ahead, eyes blank. Like my burst of emotion was backing his emotions into a corner.

The last time I'd seen him like this, he'd been at the School.

There was a painful, silent lull where I eased my heavy breathing.

"Sorry," I said gruffly. I hadn't realized just how open he'd become around me these past couple weeks.

"Don't be." The stiffness was harsh.

"Well, I am anyway!" I snapped.

It had no effect on him.

I tried a different tactic. "I'm stopping early to try and find a lead—something that might lead us to some more information. And we can work on those papers some more, try to decode them."

He nodded curtly, then tilted his wings up, slowing his flight, falling back to his usual position. Leaving me.

Leaving me upset. Upset at myself for breaking down like that, and just plain ticked at him for being such a mute jerk. It wasn't that hard to talk; I'd just proven that with my—ahem—pleasant little spiel.

You told me you didn't want to know what happened.

I imagined just what else that Voice was implying—mostly thoughts happening to deal with dead Flock members.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires great strength to decide on what to do." –Elbert Hubbard

11. Chapter 11

A/N: This is a bit short, but important, in a weird, non-action kind of way...

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: I claim the plot and the words as mine! Mwahahaha.

Chapter 11


"Hey, Angel." Happy for the distraction, I asked, "What's up?"

"Why's Fang so scared?"

I blinked. There had to be something wrong with my hearing.

"What?" I asked.

"Fang's scared. What's going on?" She sounded scared herself.

I just gaped for a moment before finally recovering my voice. "I think he's probably just worried, hon."

She cocked her head thoughtfully, then said, "Both."

The implications of this gossip dawned on me. And Angel should not have been reading his mind…but I wanted so much to know just what could scare Fang.

She giggled. "You, of course."

Huh? I didn't scare Fang—he seemed to take particular pleasure in defying me, actually.

Reluctantly, I made myself say, "Angel, thanks for telling me, but there's nothing to worry about. And try to stay out of other people's thoughts, okay?" I smiled at her to show I wasn't angry.

She nodded and smiled, reassured, then swooped off to mess with the iPod.

There was a pause, then my Voice said, Sometimes you surprise me.

Glad to hear it, I thought sourly. I already regretted not asking her for more information on his mind. Stupid morals…

I sighed, fighting the urge to go back and throttle that boy.

I…well, okay, I hated that dead look to his eyes. I seriously doubted I could scare him, but he sure scared the living daylights out of me. At least, he did when he looked like that. And when he was seriously pissed, like whenever Ari came within sight.

Fear is a weakness.

I chose to ignore my built-in philosopher, but something about that phrase made me think I was missing something. Fang…scared…weakness…hate…pain…Flock…hurt…fear…It was like that word association game, but I couldn't figure out what tied them all together.

About an hour later, nothing bad had happened. Everyone gasp! It must be a new record (Anne's house exempted, of course.)


We stopped for lunch and gave our wings a break, then launched back into the air. Still nothing horrible. Assuming you don't count Fang becoming a mute bad.


It clicked.

You've surprised me again, my Voice said dryly. I barely noticed it.

It all came full circle­—the threat, Fang, me, Itex, the Institute; even smaller pieces, like my brain attacks and the Martinez's…

They all tied together quite neatly into one demand: save the world.

It could end. All of it. No more threats, no more Itex, no more Voice…Basically, I'd get freedom. Just one yes-or-no decision; that's all it would take.

Which was what worried me so much. It was too easy.

I've told you, Maximum, all you have to do is exist. Go with the flow. Don't fight it.

I've spent my entire life fighting, I spat.

Don't fight your destiny.

I made some sort of growling/grumbling noise in the back of my throat. Worthless fortune-cookie.

But I glanced over my shoulder anyway, watching my Flock. Iggy was flying steady, while Gasman darted around him like some sort of bug, chatting eagerly. I probably didn't want to know what about. Nudge and Angel were side-by-side, serene compared to the two boys. And Fang…

He flew above us, the most isolated. Which was exactly what he wanted. I couldn't see his expression from below, but his arms were crossed, fists clenched.

I sighed and gazed ahead, all blue sky and greenish horizon. Something was hardening in me, steadily congealing. A determination, I thought. No…a decision.

About five minutes later, I had decided.

I had freaking decided. Final. Set in stone. I was going to do it, and I was going to do it now. Screw caution and logic. Heck, all traces of logic had fled the moment Angel put 'Fang' and 'scared' in the same sentence.

'He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words,' quoted the Voice.

What the hell does thatoh, never mind. I had bigger fish to fry.

Like saving the world.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "I'm tired of avoiding her, so I will meet my Destiny…I just don't think we're fated to get along very well." –Anonymous

Another Completely Pointless Author's Note: The Voice's quote was said by Elbert Hubbard.

12. Chapter 12

A/N: Read and enjoy! I know this one is short, which is why the update is so fast...

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: But the plot and words are mine.As in Copyright 2007 Dragonology

Chapter 12

Please note the utter lack of sarcasm in that last sentence…and the huge amounts of fervor and dramatic flair.

The Voice was downright awed. You never cease to amaze me.

There's nothing amazing about it, I thought bitterly. Their threat worked.

Yes…but you truly mean it.

For once, I understood its philosophical speech.

I wasn't just saying it so they'd back off. I was really, honestly, cross-my-heart going to save the world.

I wasn't just forced into it; I was doing it of my own free will. I was sick of hesitating, sick of putting it off for another day, sick of that nagging worry that maybe—and it's a freaking huge maybe—I was the only one.

I was going to end this.

Once I found a place to spend the evening, of course. We were about halfway into Georgia now, having coasted along in the clear sky. It was about four o'clock now.

There was just one problem with my new-found determination.

You see, the thing is, to save the world, you have to know what you're saving it from. And I didn't have a freaking clue.

Exist. Go with the flow; let the signs guide you to your destiny.

Alright, Mr. Fortune Cookie, what signs?

Look down.

I swallowed my first impulse to just stick my nose in the air and just fly higher, instead forcing myself to glance down at the patchwork Earth.

Oh. Well, that was easy.

Below me was an old, shabby, and small southern town, complete with an old, shabby, and small hotel. It looked to be only one story. A bright blue neon sign, perched on top of a pole, flashed on-and-off, announcing its name.


Dragonology's Dictionary: "I stayed in a really old hotel last night. They sent me a wake-up letter." –Steven Wright

End of Part Two

13. Part Three: Promises

A/N: Hope you likey! Twice the normal length, folks, so happy birthday. Or summer. Or Wednesday. Or whatever holiday you can make up.

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: I own this plot and the words.

Chapter 13

I like hotels. Seriously, they're way more comfortable than dirt and trees, and you're not expected to stay more than one night.

Granted, dirt and trees don't cost money. And they don't have doors and windows for Erasers to break into, or ceilings to block a U and A.

Sometimes you have to make sacrifices. And—trust me—slight claustrophobia wasn't going to stop me from getting a hot shower.

The Destiny Motel was old, but not nearly as shabby as I thought. Actually, that's the wrong way to put it—it was plenty rickety, but it was family-run. And it was clean.

The lobby, despite its small size, was light and open feeling. It had paneled, white-washed walls, and the glass door was surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows on either side. For color, a green plastic fern was set against the side of the reception desk. Painted white and swept clean, the wooden floor creaked beneath my weight as I cautiously slid indoors.

Yes, just me. Normally, I would've hauled Fang in with me and left Iggy in charge of the others. But I doubted I could handle more than five seconds alone with him at the moment. Seriously, I had a hard enough time not giving him a good smack with the Flock watching. If he came in to buy a room with me, only one of us would come out. And it would so be me.

What? You don't think I'd win? Uh-huh, sure. I saw that, traitorous reader. Sheesh, you're supposed to be on the protagonist's side, not the stubborn, egotistical, stubborn, idiotic, stubborn, cold, and, um, stubborn second-in-command.

Sorry, had to rant. Deep breaths, Max. Okay, all better.

Back to the story:

A polite old woman was working at the desk, and it didn't take long for me to get a key. To room 13, what luck.

Hey, just because my stupid Voice was superstitious about destiny did not mean I was going to bug some nice, slightly senile old lady for a different room because thirteen was unlucky.

"Aren't you a little young for a credit card, young lady?" she asked as she entered its number into the ancient-looking computer. But she smiled as she asked, her voice quavering from age.

Um. Think, Max, think! Lies…a good, solid lie…Don't think it.

The Voice said it for me. You should've brought Fang for this reason.

I wished I could kill the Voice…but that'd probably be considered suicide, and I promised to Fang that I wouldn't do that.

Crud. I really needed to stop thinking his name every other sentence. I was supposed to ticked at Fa—him. There, two whole sentences without saying F—his name.

"Um, well, my parents are unloading the luggage, and sent me to get the room," I stuttered. Not very smooth, but it worked. "And I've got my own account; I've been saving up for the trip, and, uh, yeah."

I added that last part to explain why I'd just signed the receipt, and not the parents.

She smiled at me kindly. "Well, I hope you enjoy your vacation, dear."

I smiled back a little tentatively. Too old to be an Eraser, right? "I hope so too. Thanks."

I took the key and trotted outside to find my Flock and room. They were all huddled in a group around the corner—the motel was shaped like an L.

"Room Thirteen, guys. Let's get cleaned up."

The youngsters and Total scurried off, racing each other to find the room. They hadn't quite grasped the concept of numerical order yet, so it seemed like a major quest to them.

"Thirteen?" Iggy asked incredulously. "What is this—Twilight Zone?"

I snorted. "You're worse than my Voice."


"Never mind." That joke of his had sounded too much like something Fang would say…and I'd responded with something only Fang would get.

Shoot. I had said it again, hadn't I?

Twice?! Crap.

My pact to avoid him may not work…I may just kill him anyway.

You're lying to yourself.

Stupid Voice. What did it know?

He stood next to Iggy, hands in his pockets, eyes still oddly dead. He was empty, but still alert; his blank gaze scanned the whole area, watching out for the kids and danger.

I swallowed and said with forced lightness, "Take the key and let them in; Angel seems to have 'discovered' our room first."

He silently took the key from my outstretched hand and walked off, not meeting my eyes. I swear the word zombie came to mind.

I was supposed to be mad at him. Freaking emotionless idiot.

Then why did I just want him to tell me what was wrong?

It had to be my recently developed bipolar disorder. Yes, that was it—I was going bipolar. Like that weird heart spasm earlier, when he'd been trying to sit up.

The memory of his…fit…only confused me further.

You're lying to yourself.

You've become really redundant recently. Has my chip developed a glitch or something? I thought sourly. I was not in the best of moods, to say the least.

"Max?" Iggy cocked his head as if listening to my silence, then observed, "You're in a super foul temper."

"How do you know?" I snapped.

"Because of that. And you're practically stomping holes in the ground."

I immediately tried to lighten my stalking, moody gait into a light, frivolous stroll, which made him shake his head and grin ruefully.

"Seriously, Max, I know you too well. You sure you're okay?" He sounded very concerned in that last sentence, and it was weighted down with its implications. Namely, this morning.

"I'm fine."

"Bull. Don't take Fang's line, Max; that's the only one he's got."

We reached a dark blue door with 13 painted on, and I stopped to face him.

I also swallowed the urge to start screaming in frustration. "I'm okay, Ig, really."

He cocked his head again. "No, you're not. You didn't laugh at my Fang insult."

I chuckled weakly, not at the joke, but at him.

He just sighed. "You know, if you wanted me to talk to him, you could just ask…"

"I don't want you to talk to anyone." Maybe plant a bomb in his backpack, but certainly not talk.

"Well, okay…but, honestly, if you two have skipped the whole dating phase on gone straight to the old married couple, I'm going to kill—"

"Shut up, Ig," I snapped, then stepped inside to assist Fa—him with giving everyone a shower.

The hotel room was your standard: cream walls, generic artwork, thin carpet, dimly lit by one window. It had two double beds, a small table and chairs tucked in the corner, and a bathroom.

"Hey, Max, look who's on TV!" Oh, and a television.

"Who is it, Gazzy?" I asked, dropping my bag with all the others.

"Come and see—oh, too late. Commercials." He made a face at the monstrosity known as advertising; I smiled and headed over to him.

"It was the Taylor Twins," Total said, rolling over onto his back to relish the worn mattress.

"Really? They're awesome."

I heard the sound of running water—Nudge had claimed dibs on the first shower.

"Omigosh!" came her muffled, excited voice through the door. "I love the Taylor Twins!"

Even bathing didn't stop her jaw.

I was beginning to feel a little better—my family could do that.

No, I did not automatically flick my gaze over to Fang, and I did not watch him begin unpacking clothes to be washed. I did not feel that odd twisting feeling my gut, or have the sudden urge whack him upside the head and demand he quit acting like the mental case that he was.

Who am I kidding? Of course I did.

I sank onto the bed next to Gazzy, staring at the TV, but not really paying much attention. Some quick news broadcast.

"Grendor's, a pharmaceutical branch of Itex Enterprises, has recently been put to trial for illegal tampering and unqualified research of…"

If I had had ears like Total, I would've pricked them.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "We don't devote enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks." –Bill Watterson

14. Chapter 14

A/N: Hope you enjoy it!

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does. Nor do I own CVS and Papa John's. (Dunno if I needed to add that...)

Claimer: I do own the plot and words.

Chapter 14

There wasn't a whole lot more to the story—just about how Grandor's was a pharmacy that had a chain of stores throughout the country, and was on trial for all sorts of illegal activities.

Illegal tampering of drugs and chemicals…Destiny Motel…I didn't need to get into a huge word association game this time.

"Hey guys, check this out. Looks like Itex is up to no good."

"Yes, Max, we know; that's why we blew it to smithereens," Iggy said, talking slowly, like I was mentally challenged or something.

I threw him a sour look and continued, "Has anyone heard of Grandor's?"

"Sounds familiar. I think we've been there a couple times to pick up some stuff," Iggy said, no longer teasing. "It is a pharmacy, right? Like CVS? Not just a research company?"

"Sounds like both."

"Are we going to bomb them too?" Gasman asked excitedly.

"Hopefully not." His face fell, so I added lightly, "We may break in, though." That made him perk up a little.

Iggy grinned. "Ye-es! Major under cover work…steal the files, search for clues that will inevitably lead us to the world-dominating bad guys…I'm in."

He made it sound so easy.

"Well, first thing I have to do is find one of their labs to break into. Or even just a regular pharmacy—they might have records in back."


The Flock, which had congregated around me, all turned their heads to Fang. He (a.k.a the Stubborn Idiot) sat at the table, laptop up and running.

"There's a lab in Atlanta," he explained, forced to use a complete sentence. He swiveled the computer around so we could all see the screen.

They immediately rushed over to read the company's website, which crushed Fang and made him look distinctly uncomfortable. I grinned rather savagely and loitered up to peak over their shoulders. Angel held Total so he could read too.

Sure enough, there was a photo of a blocky, institute-like building. In fact, it looked similar to that Institute of Higher Learning back in New York. The address, however, was for somewhere in Atlanta, and there were peach trees on the lawn.

"Oi! Somebody read something for the blind kid," Iggy demanded.

"'Grandor's Research & Pharmacy, Inc. has contributed to medical science since 1987. With advancements in everything from genetics to pharmaceuticals to equipment, Grandor's has become one of the leading research companies in the world.'" I skimmed over the rest of the paragraph and read, "'Grandor's Research Complex is state-of-the-art and is built in the style of…' blah blah blah. Nothing very interesting…"

"What? No blueprints of the security system?" Iggy asked with mock surprise. "No timetable to show when shifts change? No instructions on how to find the secret passageway?"

Fang gave me a pointed look. The Well-You've-Gotten-Us-In-Before look, to be specific.

I was supposed to be angry. I was supposed to smack him. I was supposed to start screaming at him.

But he'd shown personality, even if it was just an annoying glance, so I ended up struggling not to feel too relieved.

I failed miserably.

"Well, it looks like we've got a lead," I said, suddenly in a much, much better mood. I was like—like high on relief or something.

I had to be bipolar. Or I was suffering from a particularly bad case of hormone-induced mood swings.

Angel suddenly snickered, and Fang tore his gaze from the computer to watch her with a furrowed brow.

Aha! Another emotion! I suppressed the urge to jump up in the air and whoop.

Angel burst out with a fresh wave of laughter.

"I'm sorry!" she gasped. "I didn't—mean to read—" She broke down into another giggle fit.

Iggy began to smirk, realizing what was going on, but before he could say something really embarrassing, Nudge flounced in, towel wrapped like a turban on her head and dressed in her favorite shirt and jeans.

"Hey guys, what's going on? Did I miss anything?" She bounced up to our little huddle to peak at the computer. "What's this? Oooh, Fang, it looks like that creepy institute we went to. That was so fun, 'cuz I got to jump all over the cars and set off alarms and order a pizza while you snuck in. Wait. Are we going back there?"

"No, Nudge, this is a different lab," I said quickly. Quickly as in before Iggy filled her in on my little spurt of random joy.

Yes. Random joy. Bipolar, remember? It had nothing to do with Fang.

I filled Nudge in on Grandor's, then said, "So when do you guys want to check this place out?"

The general consensus was first thing tomorrow. Fine by me.

"Sweet! This is going to be so cool. Hey, Max, what's for dinner? Can we have pizza?"

You got to love Nudge. "Alright, why not? Somebody find the phone book and look up a Papa John's."

There was a chorus of cheers, then they all scattered in search of the white pages, leaving just Fang and I at the wobbly table. He was closing the web browser, preparing to shut the computer down.

Say something while you've got the chance, I told myself. Heaven knew he'd go back to Mighty Emotionless soon, shutting down those expressions he just let slip.

"So." Well, it was saying something. Sort of.

He remained silent and opened the Start Menu. He sat on the only chair, and I stood behind him, unable to see his face.

"I found it!" called Gazzy. "I want sausage on mine."

He clicked on Turn Off Computer. I still hesitated.

"Cheese and anchovies!" cried Nudge.

Windows is Shutting Down flashed across the screen, and the computer chimed its closing theme.

"Ew! Anchovies?"

"Alright, alright, chill guys," I called hurriedly over my shoulder, letting my chance slip.

The laptop screen went black, and he shut it with a snap.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "Every time that I stretched him out a little further than his comfort zone you could see a little more of a limp. He's a little tentative right now, but so far so good." –Brian Butterfield

A Superfluous A/N: Did anyone pick up on the symbolism at the end...?

15. Chapter 15

A/N: Oh. My. God.


Seriously, that's better than I could ever have hoped for...especially considering I'm not even halfway done yet! Thanks so much, all of you. I am beyond flattered...which is why I'm giving you a mega-chapter! Two chapters combined into one, folks! Enjoy. :)

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: I do, however,own the plot and words.

Chapter 15

"Well, that was a total waste," Iggy said.

"Yeah. We didn't even get to disable an alarm!" Gazzy complained. He sank into the wire chair, expression most unhappy.

I wasn't exactly ecstatic either. It'd been an entire freaking week since that commercial, and we hadn't made an ounce of progress. Oh, we'd found the building easily enough, but there'd been nothing unusual about it. No Eraser-like people, no white coats, no nothing. It was just…a normal business office.

Heck, they even offered tours, which we took, and we hadn't spotted anything remotely nefarious. Most of it was all paperwork and offices like that. Lots of computers, which meant their research—at least at that complex—wasn't the experimenting, hands-on kind.

There wasn't even that awful antiseptic smell to set us off.

And that was the third complex we'd inspected—Grandor's had a whole string of them.

We were in Kentucky, among the Appalachians. I could go into a nice, poetical description of beautiful mountains, well worn to a perfect polish over time, but I'm not in the mood, so take this: green, wet, and nothing compared to the Rockies. Especially here, since they were petering out into nothing.

"I know, guys, this sucks. I was hoping we'd find something," I said, trying to sound comforting.

Total nodded glumly, laying at Angel's feet. "It is with Itex, after all."

Maybe it was the fact that it was doggedly drizzling with a low, steely overcast that put us in a not-so-good mood. Or maybe a whole week of not getting to knock a werewolf out of the air was putting us on edge.

Not to say the Erasers were gonewe'd seen a bunch of them flying from a distance a couple times, but we'd easily out-flown them. Which is a bit disturbing, because the only time we've outdistanced them is when they wanted us to get away.

And Erasers are bred with a killing instinct in them, not a let-them-get-away instinct. So the number of times the latter has occurred can be counted on my right hand. Half of them are from the past week.

The rest of my Flock collapsed at the table, wringing out their hair and generally looking wretched. This little town happened to have a nice café with a patio, and the patio had a huge awning over it, and we had gladly grabbed a large table beneath it, which meant we'd have to buy some lunch from this place…

'This place' happened to be emanating the most amazing smell in the world, plus it looked warm and dry inside. So I think we could suffer the sacrifice of eating here.

I forced enthusiasm into my voice, then said, "Alright, guys, let's go get some lunch."

The call of the grub always raised morale, and sure enough, they all perked up and bolted for the door. Amazingly, no one got trampled in the process.

Fang silently rose and walked with me, though he didn't meet my eyes. His hands were shoved in his pockets, head tilted down, expression still unreadable.

Subdued came to mind.

We reached the door—which had been propped open—and he stepped aside so I could walk in first. I raised my brows in surprise, but entered.

The café was Victorian styled, with white trimming, wood counters, and a brown linoleum floor. Already in line, the Flock was in the process of ordering an insane number of pastries and sandwiches. Though the young man working the concession seemed surprisingly calm—maybe he thought we were buying for a school party or something. I exhaled through my nose sharply, but it wasn't quite strong enough to be a snort.

"What now?"

I almost tripped in shock when I heard his low, almost hoarse voice.

Those were literally the first words he'd said directly to me in a week.

After a stunned pause, I—being the brilliant diplomat that I am—spat, "What? Have you decided not to play mute anymore?"

He merely shrugged and continued walking.

Do you really expect him to give you a direct apology? Yes, my Voice was still with me. And, as usual, all it did was confuse me.

But according to it…

Was asking, What now? some sort of twisted, round-about, Fang-style peace offering?

Only one way to find out—play along. So I answered his question, sounding perfectly nonchalant, "I don't really know what."

I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye to see how he'd react to my confession.

He kept up a cool face, though I swore one eyebrow rose incredulously. Like, a millimeter, but still. It was a start.

"Could find their real lab," he suggested (a miracle unto itself), then stopped to read the menu above the counter.

Something was seriously not right. Honestly, this was so…random. Nothing just happened for me; I always had to fight tooth-and-nail for it. Especially anything involving him. But here he was, talking. Sheesh, 'Fang'and 'talking'do not belong in the same sentence unless there's a negative involved...

I think I might have gotten lucky for once. And, let me tell you, I sure as hell wasn't complaining.

My growling stomach ordered these musings to the back of my mind and brought food to the front. To appease it, I leaned against the metal banister that directed the line, quickly scanning the menu. But my attention was inevitably drawn to the glass case that held all the yummy, good-smelling pastries.

I gasped, smiling for the first time in what felt like forever.

This had an unplanned effect. Fang automatically spun to face me, startled at my gasp. And he was looking at me—really, directly staring, not through that invisible wall he'd put up. Eye contact at last...

He'd tensed, but his shoulders relaxed when he saw my delighted expression. I gave him a dry look, acknowledging his panic, but I was soon back to smiling like a loon.

So that's what smells so good…

"Cookies!" I breathed, staring at the huge pile behind the glass worshipfully. "And they're chocolate chip."

Someone laughed, amused by me.

It barely qualified as a laugh: just a short heh and fleeting, crooked grin. Barely noticeable.

I gawped at him like he'd just sprouted another head.

"What?" Fang asked, looking almost wary.

"You're crazy," I said flatly, recovering myself.

He cocked an incredulous eyebrow, saying, And you're not?

And with that, the remnants of his wall tipped over like a tower of cards. As to what prompted this demolition, I had no clue.

I rolled my eyes, then declared, "I'm getting, like, twenty cookies!"

I felt downright elated. Cookies, plus a tentative peace with Fang, were enough to make any day in my book good.

Wait. Since when did Fang make my day good?

Since you stopped lying to yourself.

I wasn't asking you, I thought, but my tone could've been a lot more acidic. The Voice wasn't going to dampen a rare, good day.

You know just what I'm going to say next, right? Of course you do, but I'm going to say it anyway.

My day was going well…which meant something bad had to happen soon.

I gave the cookies a solid 6.5—they were warm and had nice, huge chunks of chocolate, but the baking was uneven.

According to Fang's very in-depth rating system, they achieved the universal 'fine'.

At least Iggy showed some enthusiasm. And Nudge seemed willing to help me on my quest for The Cookie (capitalization intended). Angel begged me for more, which I managed to wheedle out of—we had some flying to do today, and I didn't want to make her sick.

Unfortunately, by the time I'd finished arguing with her, Gasman had already stuffed three of the suckers in his mouth. And Total launched into a review using such bizarre language I wasn't sure he was speaking English.

He was still yapping on about teaspoons and sugar content when we reached the edge of the town.

I roughly picked him up and headed towards Fang, my feet making squelching noises in the damp grass.

"Hey, what are you doing? I object!" Total said, squirming in my arms.

"Shut up, dog breath, or Fang'll drop you; he hasn't got my patience."

A corner of Fang's mouth quirked up, hinting at a half-grin, but it was suppressed before I had a proper chance to take it in.

"I saw that," I accused, then held Total out. "Take the mutt or die."

He gruffly took the Scottie-like mutt in question and dumped him in his backpack.

"That was most undignified," grumbled Total, rearranging himself into a more comfortable position. "Don't you have any manners?"

"Yes, actually, he does," I said, remembering the restaurant. Blackmail material, big time. "I was a bit stunned, myself, but…"

Fang scowled at me. "What?"

I grinned rather evilly. "What, you don't remember? It must've been a reflex, or sudden lapse in sanity."

The others laughed, while Fang rolled his eyes and shrugged on his pack. Total's muffled yip came from inside.

An hour or so later, we were flying over the Appalachians, heading for Detroit. There was supposed to be another complex there, and—while it'd been pretty hopeless so far—it was the only lead we had. Besides, I hoped to do some serious Google-ing on our laptop tonight and search for more information. Any information, actually.

Fang and I flew side-by-side, discussing our options more in-depth. His voice was still hoarse sounding, for some reason, but at least I was hearing it at all. It was like he was suddenly way more at ease with me now, but I still didn't know what had made him uneasy in the first place.

I was going to get it out of him one day. I was determined.

Multiple motives, Maximum, chimed my oh-so-useful Voice.

I ignored it and continued our conversation: "I mean, where are we going to get a new lead? It's not like Itex would just post the address of its secret labs online."

"Police found it," he pointed out, "and put it on the news."

"Oh yeah! Then there'll be news stories online, people talking on forums, police records and stuff," I said, a little more hopeful.

He nodded, then he wobbled, like a sharp gust of wind had thrown him off-balance.

His jaw tightened in annoyance. "Freaking dog."

Total poked his head out of the bag. Fang hadn't zipped it up all the way, leaving a hole for air, but all his shuffling around inside must have thrown Fang's balance out of whack.

"Total, you're going to get dropped again," I scolded.

"But your conversation is so fascinating," he said. "I want to help."

I rolled my eyes and said sarcastically, "Okay, smart one, what brilliant ideas have you got?"

"Well, first off, just what do you think Grandor's is up to?"

Fang and I exchanged an amused glance.

"I don't know, which is why we're breaking into ­find out."

Total huffed. "Well, I think, since they're primarily pharmaceutical—"

I didn't get to hear just what his ingenious hypothesis was, because the little mutt suddenly yelped in shock as Fang plummeted.

I started at the obvious folding of wings, the abrupt drop, but he'd caught himself and resumed his normal altitude before I had time to do anything.

Fang's plummet had been a whole four foot drop.

I was going to snap at him, something like, What the hell was that? but ended up laughing at Total's distressed face. Yes, the animal actually had expressions; they were usually hard to discern, but this one was quite stark.

"What was that for?" he cried, shaking. "You scared the stuffing out of me!"

Fang's face was perfectly unreadable.

"For the heck of it," I told the quivering Scottie, "or Fang got tired of your yapping."

"Well," Total said stiffly, offended, "I was only trying to help."

Fang was staring ahead. There was a slightly vacant look in his eyes, though his face was still deadpan. His version of deep thought…I think. Or was it concentration?

"What? Did the mutt give you an epiphany?" I teased.

He snorted quietly and muttered something.


He turned to me. "I got nothing."

Nudge and Gasman flew underneath us, darting away from one another in a game of tag. They laughed and spun, trying to outdo each other with tight turns and tricks. Angel soon joined in, swooping down from her usual position.

Gasman tried to do some sort of spiral, but his wings stalled and he fell. Nudge let slip a short screech, but it wasn't really panicked, just startled. It was high-pitched, loud, short, though I certainly didn't think it was bad enough to make Fang flinch.

But he did anyway.

I scowled at him, finally beginning to think something was wrong. Why had he dropped earlier?

Gasman regained control, and he shot back up to smack Nudge's ankle.

"You're it!" he called, already flying back in Iggy's direction.

Fang clapped his hands over his ears.

"Fang?" I asked.

He didn't seem to hear me.

"Hey! Fang!" I yelled, reaching out to pull his hand away from his head.

With some awkward stretching and flying, I managed to grasp a hold of his wrist and yank. At my touch, he glanced at me sharply. His jaw was clenched taught, despite his calm eyes.

"What's wrong?" I asked, no-nonsense voice in effect. I glared at him, trying to get him to just tell me. Heh, like it's ever worked before…

He looked away and muttered, "Loud." Tentatively, he removed his other hand from his ear, then blinked once—his version of utter shock and confusion.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "The only sure thing about luck is that it will change." –Bret Harte

16. Chapter 16

A/N: Hey, I've actually got something important to say here...

I am going on vaction for two weeks. So, naturally, I won't be writing much. (Cue horror music.) However, I will be taking the computer, and there will be internet access, so I can try to at least update a couple of times. I'm just not making any promises.

Sorry, guys. Please don't kill me; I really want to live long enought to get a tan! (Runs away, dodging pitchforks and Tasers.)

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does. (This is starting to sound like a broken record...)

Chapter 16

Bocht was typing so fast he could've been possessed. He probably was, considering he'd been locked in an asylum at one point.

"Give me data from third try," he barked, eyes never leaving the computer screen.

"Third try, sir?" his assistant asked tentatively.

"Six-Two, idiot! Data on third time!"

John—the assistant—often got the feeling his boss had forgotten that his name was not Idiot. But he supposed that was to be expected—many geniuses were absolutely hopeless at normal, everyday activities.

Dutifully, he pulled open a metal filing cabinet and took out a folder stuffed with printouts, though his expression was bemused. They were done with Six-Two, he thought; the Director had given the order in person. Their time had run out; the experiment was terminated.

"Here, sir."

Bocht snatched the manila folder and began riffling through the data. Sheets of numbers, charts, weird codes, more charts. Finally, he pulled out a crumpled piece of notebook paper with lots of weird scribbles on it, which was odd, considering the whole folder had only been created a couple days ago with clean print-offs.

"Ah, here." The scientist had already forgotten his bad temper, engrossed in the scrap. "Hm…if I was to adjust for the anomaly…" He turned back to the computer.

John bit back his questions; it was safest not to speak when his boss was in such a mood. But he couldn't help but wonder just what he was coming up with now.

Ter Bocht had been most displeased when the Director had cut his time limit off. He'd launched into a blistering rage, actually, ranting for a good long time while John cowered and dodged the binders his boss had thrown.

So was he simply going to ignore her now?

More time passed. The only sound was the keyboard's clatter and a faint hum from the air conditioner. Occasionally, Bocht would pause his incessant typing just long enough to scratch something down in his notebook. He would've looked like a congenial, older fellow, if not for the twisted, squinty expression on his face. Or if he wore something besides that white lab coat.

John, on the other hand, was lanky and young, fresh out of college. He didn't yet wear a lab coat; he had to work from the bottom up here. And he stood ramrod straight, a respectful distance from his boss.

At least he wasn't like those Erasers. He avoided them whenever possible.

Finally, Bocht threw his pen down and leaned back in the creaking chair, smug.


He grinned; it was a cruel smile that did not reach his eyes. "I have figured it out! I can be able to recover my work with only small ripple."

"Recover your work, sir?" They'd gotten a week's worth of information…and that's all the time they were allotted, anyway. How could they recover a dead experiment?

"Yes, idiot, you don't think I'd let it all be wasted?"

John swallowed, cursing his curiosity. "But I thought the Director—"

"She knows nothing of the art in our science," scoffed Bocht. "She created common animals, used them like animals, expendable like Erasers. Disgusting waste, those things, if not for the unusual morphing…" His eyes began to go dreamy as he contemplated the genetics.

"Sir?" John said, trying to keep him from wandering off topic, "I thought we need to get rid of the experiments. They're going to find our plan—"

"They were going to find our plans. I am not a fool; they will not succeed, but they are not to be tossed like a bad lunch, no?"

"I think I see, sir."

"No, you do not. Miss Director has grown impatient of her project; does not think they will find this 'treason' in time. So she's going to cancel them." His voice was harsh, angry; he kept ranting, though at a level voice. "She hopes that maybe they will improve with fewer numbers, no? But she wants it fast, like—like slap in face." His accent became more pronounced in his vehemence.

"Surely we want them gone too, sir?"

Bocht swiveled around to glare at John. "No! They are artworks, delicate, true monuments to science. Kill one, if we must, but take much from its death…and just recapture rest. Disgusting waste to exterminate the whole race."

Dragonology's Dictionary: "Anyone who isn't confused really doesn't understand the situation." –Edward R. Murrow

17. Chapter 17

A/N: (Slinks in guiltily) Yeah, you know that internet connection I was going to have in Florida? It was broken. Hence the lack of updates.

But, on the upside, we bough some handy-dandy wire and fixed it, so here's chapter 17! I am still on vacation, I apologize for not reading and reviewing any of your writing; I'll play catch-up as soon as I get a proper chance.

I give you my word.

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: I own the plot and words; no stealing please.

To recap—

Fang clapped his hands over his ears.

"Fang?" I asked.

He didn't seem to hear me.

"Hey! Fang!" I yelled, reaching out to pull his hand away from his head.

With some awkward stretching and flying, I managed to grasp a hold of his wrist and yank. At my touch, he glanced at me sharply. His jaw was clenched taught, despite his calm eyes.

"What's wrong?" I asked, no-nonsense voice in effect. I glared at him, trying to get him to just tell me. Heh, like it's ever worked before…

He looked away and muttered, "Loud." Tentatively, he removed his other hand from his ear, then blinked once—his version of utter shock and confusion.

Chapter 17

Turning back to me, he said, "That was weird."

"You're telling me. What happened?" I asked, rapidly slipping into bewilderment.

He shook his head, black bangs falling across his eyes. "Everything…went loud."

I waited a moment, but when he didn't elaborate, I said, "What the heck does that mean?"

He grinned crookedly and met my gaze. "Like…someone cranked the volume really high."

For a moment I mulled this over, pursing my lips in concentration. "So everything suddenly became super loud to you," I said slowly, thinking aloud. "Were you…trying to hear?"

Despite how odd that sounded, Fang got the point. "No."

"And it's safe to assume that this has happened before?" And didn't tell me.

At least he had the decency not to look surprised that I'd caught him. "A couple times."

It's time for a round of Filling in the Gaps, I thought. Question: When has Fang's hearing gone out of whack before?

Answer: Back with Gasman's new music, over a week ago, when Nudge cranked the volume of our iPod.

"Was that why you dropped fifty feet last week?"

"I don't mind techno," he said neutrally. Which meant I'd caught him.

"Uh-huh. Sure." There'd been less extreme cases too, I realized. That same day, he'd been able to hear the Flock from a distance that I couldn't. And—though we were all light sleepers—he seemed even easier to wake than normal.

"So what does this mean?" I asked. Practical Max—that's me.

He shrugged. "Dunno. Nothing?"

I snorted. "Keep dreaming." I then sighed and added, "Well, it's one more thing to add to the 'Reasons to Panic' list."

Halfway through the motion of nodding agreement, he froze. His eyes widened, and there was a shudder as his flight wobbled again.

Wait. Read that again. This was Fang showing shock.

"What now?" I moaned. It had to be ranking up there next to the apocalypse, whatever it was.

Apocalypse…as in the end of the world…as in the world I was supposed to save.

Because if I didn't, the Flock was going to die.

I automatically twisted my head around, looking for my family. Angel was directly below me; she glanced up, concerned at my expression. Gazzy was flying right next to Iggy, chatting with his partner in crime. Total had curled back up in Fang's bag, insulted. Nudge…

"Nudge?" I called, trying not to sound shrill. Where's Nudge? Oh no oh no oh

"Yo, Max!" she called cheerily, waving at me from above. "What's up? Are we stopping for a break? Because I'd really like to, though I could keep going if you wanted; I've flown farther. So yeah, is it all okey-dokey?"

I let out some sort of combination sigh/relieved laugh. "Yeah, it's about time we took a break."

"Good timing," grumbled Total, still not emerging from the backpack. "I was just going to remind you of my sensitive bladder."

Fang crossed his arms, face set in its usual impassiveness. I couldn't help but think his flying was a little shaky today, but now that I looked back, it'd been worse a couple days ago. Which made absolutely no sense—Fang was likely the best flyer out of all of us.

Don't tell anyone I said that; I'll deny it.

"You going to tell me what's wrong?" I asked, voice low and dangerous.

"Nothing's wrong."

I was starting to get a sense of déjà vu.


His gaze flicked over to mine momentarily before returning resolutely ahead. "Nothing." He sounded normal, and we hadn't been attacked by Erasers for over a week…

"Heat attack?" I probed.

He shook his head once, a sharp jerk. "Nothing."

"Hey, Max, there's a gas station down there—can we land?" Nudge asked hopefully.

"It's a rest stop, dim wing," Gasman said, "not a gas station."

"Hey! I am not a dim wing; you're the one who couldn't—"

"Guys, quit fighting, and yes, land there."

We began our descent. I was still glaring daggers at Fang, but he ignored me. No blood oozed; he didn't plummet again, though his landing was unusually heavy for him. Maybe he was just tired?

Yes, Maximum, a poor night's sleep would definitely shock him, the Voice said sarcastically.

Who asked you?

You did.

That was a rhetorical question.

Not anymore. Remember your promise…and mine.

It was no longer raining, so we landed and put on windbreakers, a patch of trees shielding us from the lone rest stop. Tucked in one of the many valleys just off of the freeway, it was meant to give drivers a chance to rest, but hey, let's be creative and make it a place for mutant bird-kids to snack on munchies.

I was still trying to recall the Voice ever making a promise to me when we trudged onto the damp lawn. The building itself was hexagonal in shape, with a much larger parking lot. There was a mowed field (the one we were walking on) and that small patch of trees. Conveniently spread across the lawn were some picnic tables, and we claimed two of them as ours.

There wasn't much competition—at about four in the afternoon, most travelers had already stopped for lunch and moved on. There were maybe three trucks parked right now, all their drivers apparently indoors.

I dropped—more like threw, actually; I was frustrated—my backpack onto the table with a solid thunk. The others shrugged off their own, stretching and walking around to loosen up.

Fang dropped his on the ground and unzipped it so Total could clamber out to do his business.

I shot him a This-Isn't-Over glare; he returned it with the usual deadpan look. I still couldn't figure out what was wrong…only that there was something wrong. Unless I was just making it up, which was a distinct possibility considering the fact I had a Voice in my head.

Ugh. Frustrating. Because usually, I didn't figure out what it was until it was too late.

After walking out the kinks, we convened back at the table and pulled out food. Power bars, some canned fruit, bottled water, the usual. Spreading out, I decided to sit with Nudge and Angel at the other table, while the boys sat at the one piled with bags.

I could just see the two girls over the mini-mountain of food piled on the table, and they were happily chattering about what to eat first.

Nudge peeled the lid off a jar of apple sauce and began to slurp it down.

"Hi Max!" Angel said, beaming at me.

"Hey baby." I grabbed a power bar from the stack and sat down across from the two. "How are you?"

"I'm good. It's really wet today."

"Yeah, like, you'd think it'd be dryer after raining, but this table's soaked, and my butt's going to be all wet from sitting, and the clouds are really low, which makes it really bizarre when you fly above them, 'cuz then it's all sunny!" Nudge said, having already finished her applesauce. She grabbed two more from the pile.

"I agree." I always sounded timid after one of her bursts.

I heard raucous laughter from over at the boys' table—they seemed to be having an amusing conversation going, though it died down rather abruptly.

I decided it was safest not to ask, so I refrained from looking over my shoulder at them. Our light girl chat continued for a couple more minutes.

"Oh, Gazzy taught me a new trick!" Angel said brightly.

"Really? That's great. What is it?"

"The Whirl, I think, but it's more like a pirouette."

"Oh yeah," Nudge said. "I taught him today. It's really easy to stall on, and you get dizzy if you do too many spins in a row, but it looks really awesome, like—like dramatic! Ballet in the air. Poetry in motion."

I laughed. "I think I saw him try that. You screamed."

Nudge grinned apologetically. "Sorry about that. But guess what? He actually did it a minute later. So now we're going to have a flying competition sometime, and Ig and Angel are gonna judge." Cupping her hands around her mouth like a megaphone, she then hollered, "You hear that Gazzy?! I'm gonna win!" A puzzled expression crossed her face, and she lowered her hands. "Where's Fang?"

I immediately twisted around. There were only two of them…and neither had black hair.

Iggy noticed me and grinned rather guiltily.

"Guys!" I yelled. "Where'd he go?"

Total and Gasman sniggered, and I think he said, "Three minutes—I win."

"He went inside to mess with the laptop; there's internet access," Iggy called.

I sighed, trying to soothe my erratic heart and even my breathing. Sheesh, I really needed to get a grip on my paranoia.

I untwisted myself to meet Nudge's smirk.


"You like him." Whoa, that had to be the shortest sentence ever uttered by Nudge in history.

"Who, Iggy? Of course I do."

"No, not like thatI meant Fang!"


Angel giggled. "You surprised her."

I frowned. "No mind reading please."

"I didn't; I could just tell."

I sighed—this was going to be difficult to explain. "Nudge, I care about all of you."

"Yes." She giggled. "But you don't want to kiss all of us!"

"Nudge! I do not want to—" I spluttered, then chucked a power bar at her. It was a light toss; she caught it in one hand with a nonchalance meant to annoy me.

She then grinned impishly and began to sing:

"Max and Fang, flying over trees,


First comes love, then comes marri"

A projectile of peaches collided with her arm, successfully cutting off the…song. Instead, she laughed so hard tears formed in her eyes. Angel snickered too.

"Guys," I moaned, "I do not like Fang like that. Now pack up; we've got more ground to cover." I stood and passed the message on to the boys, then headed towards the building to retrieve the source of my teasing. Probably lost in his writing for the blog.

I paused halfway there, confused.

You know about my tracking ability, right? The power I suddenly developed before blowing Itex to bits? The one I used to find my Flock in that massive complex? I can't really tell if it's smelling them or not...It seems more like following an aura.

Well, anyway, I wasn't getting Fang's, at least not along the path I was following. Which meant he hadn't gone into the building…

I spun back around, searching all the backpacks atop the boys' table. But they were piled and tossed chaotically; there was no way to tell if the laptop was still in there.

I am seriously going to throttle that boy, I fumed, for scaring the crap out of me 24/7.

Remember my promise.

What promise? I snapped, annoyed at my repetitive Voice.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "It's not a threat, it's a promise!" –Robert Blake

18. Chapter 18

Disclaimer: How many times do I have to say it! I freaking do not own Maximum Ride. James Patterson does; go stalk him for spoilers!

Claimer: Don't steal.

Chapter 18

I stopped mid-stride and blinked.

For some reason, I had turned and started following the side of the building…My tracking power had probably kicked in without my noticing, and I'd followed the tug on autopilot.

I forced my mind to ease up again, letting that instinctual pull lead me.

When it became apparent he'd gone into the woods, I sped up into a jog. What the H-E-double hockey sticks was he doing in the woods?

I crossed the border from grass to pine needles, took maybe six steps, and tripped.

I staggered, arms flailing in wide circles. Swearing—unable to right myself in time—I fell to my knees. They sank into the damp earth.

I immediately sprang back up into a fighting crouch, expecting a trip wire or some other evil device. Or, you know, a tree log with a homicidal agenda.

"Now that was graceful," Fang remarked, amused.

I recovered myself quickly. "It was you I tripped over."

He shrugged, like that was an everyday occurrence. Puh-lease. Way too casual.

Which brought me back to my original question. "What the hell are you doing here?"

I received the silent treatment. Go figure.

While waiting for a response, I became a little more observant. He sat against a tree, one leg bent, the other out straight (the one I freaking tripped over). A slack arm rested on the bent knee. Yep, way too relaxed a stance for him.

I put the pieces together…oh, two seconds later.

My stomach seemed to get a bucket of ice dumped in it.

Yes, my Voice said, it wasn't my threat—it was my promise.

To the casual, 100 percent human observer, there was little in his appearance to suggest it had happened. Maybe like a jogger taking a break, or someone who finds forty degree weather hot…His hair was disheveled from the sweat and thrashing; his stance slack.

He folded his legs beneath himself and began to stand.

He got about as far as a crouch before I pinned him to the ground, glaring. Really, I hadn't noticed myself moving; it was on impulse. I hope.

"Don't. Move."

"I'm fine," he said, sounding faintly annoyed.

I gaped at him incredulously.

Then a faint scream echoed; both our heads snapped in the direction of the noise. Fang, lying on the ground, had to tip his head back, looking at everything upside-down.

In the second that passed, I heard little. The rustle of a few dead leaves; the distant roar of a truck.

But Fang seemed to hear more, because he said, "Erasers."

That word had more effect than a slap upside the head.

I leapt up, automatically slipping into 'Fighting' mode. Chunks of mud were thrown into the air as I darted back towards my Flock, because that was Nudge's scream.

I broke out of the woods and began sprinting faster, the grassy turf less precarious. My Flock suddenly seemed so far away…

They were all by the picnic tables, grounded. Brown lumps—Erasers—seemed to be dropping from the sky; their landings looked like bad falls, anyway. Some had trouble tucking in their humongous black wings; they stuck out of their backs at odd angles.

I could hear snarling now…

"U and A!" I hollered, hands cupped around my mouth. "U AND A!"

My wings were loose, already half-extended. I had to get them all into the air. Panting, ran faster…closer…feet thudded rhythmically in long strides. Dull pounding from my heart, a harsh breath from behind; someone was following…

Close enough to see them all clearly, not just a squirming mass of bodies…

I saw an Eraser repeatedly bash its head on a table; Angel watched, arms crossed.

Iggy scampered past her, arms outstretched in front, chased by another wolf. But then I heard the tell-tale explosion, and it tipped face-first into the ground.

Gazzy's laughter cut through the grunts and yells.

"Four," Iggy called as he spun into a roundhouse kick. There were at least a dozen genetic werewolves.

Gasman leapt onto the picnic table, clutching what appeared to be a grenade. "It was so a six!" He chucked it at two back-to-back Erasers, then launched into the air with open wings.

"Not—loud enough," Iggy grunted, elbowing the monster that held him in chokehold.


There was a crack; Angel's Eraser had split the wooden picnic table clean in two with its head. It slumped to the ground, tongue lolling. Angel skipped back, away from the fray, then took flight, looking oh so dainty.

"Hurry, Max!" she cried. "Ari's coming!"


I shot right past the nearest table and barreled headlong into a mutant wolf. What an entrance. All its air left in a whoosh, and it staggered back. I threw in an uppercut to the jaw while it was still winded; its head snapped back, slobber flying. Ew.

Gasman's grenade went off, and the howling increased. The scent of burning flesh and fur reached my nose. Double ew.

My fist collided with the side of its head, and the Eraser crumpled.

A sharp pain in my back; I automatically spun around, leg up in a roundhouse. It connected with a furry shoulder, the monster roared and swung an ill-aimed punch, but I ducked and threw out my leg, tripping it. I vaguely resembled a break-dancer doing the coffee grinder.

The three-hundred pound Eraser was falling forward. Towards me.

I scrabbled away, managing not to get crushed by the dead weight. Now I was crawling. Not a good position to be in, down among thick, tree-trunk legs and leather boots. They surrounded me on all sides. The ground was churned into a sludgy mud, stained maroon in patches. Triple ew.

A boot stomped down; I yanked my hand out of the way just in time. The earth shook from the force of the step; I stared cross-eyed at the leather inches from me. Really need to stand…

You really need to follow your own orders.

But I didn't know if my Flock was air-born or not; I couldn't U and A yet. Continuing to weave among the legs, I kept my eyes peeled for them. Nothing but fur…

Nudge screamed again.

She was on the ground, curled on her side, directly in front of me. An Eraser had kicked her in the gut; I saw its leg pull back for another swing.

"No!" I cried, leapt up—

And hit my head on something hard. Sheesh, I'd crawled under the freaking table. The one that wasn't split in two.

The boot sailed in a clean arc and sent her skidding back. She didn't scream this time.

"Nudge, get up!" I scrambled out from the table and staggered up into a stooped, half-standing position.

There was a thud, and the table—now at my eye-level—rattled with the force of someone landing on it.

I turned, still hunched like a beggar, then slowly straightened, eyes climbing up. Past the black combat boots, laces knotted and looped oddly; past the brown, hairy legs, with camouflage pants rolled up to the knees; past the crossed arms, hands neither human nor quite paws…to the sneering face of an Eraser.

His—its—fangs glistened with spit.

"Hello, Max," growled Ari.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "What do you think I do at the firehouse?" –Chief Kennedy, Ladder 49

End of Part Three

A/N Anecdote: Here's a hint as to what will happen in Part Four: The Flock plays with glowsticks, Max learns about a secret that's been going on for a week (yes, Mystical Pearl, Chapter 20 is almost here!), a hint is received in the form of band-aids, the plot seems redundant, MapQuest is used, and- get this- a hint of fax. Sort of. I'll point it out, when it happens.

19. Part Four: Fits

A/N: Guess what? You know that infamous Chapter 20 I've told some about? I said it's the chapter that's going to reveal just why the hell Fang got so mad at Max.

I lied.

I combined 20 with 19 into the longest chapter yet- over 3,000 words. So happy birthday; you're getting it now.

PS- I know updates are slow, but the upside is that each upcoming chapter is longer. (I know because I've written the entire Part Four.)

To recap:

I turned, still hunched like a beggar, then slowly straightened, eyes climbing up. Past the black combat boots, laces knotted and looped oddly; past the brown, hairy legs, with camouflage pants rolled up to the knees; past the crossed arms, hands neither human nor quite paws…to the sneering face of an Eraser.

His—its—fangs glistened with spit.

"Hello, Max," growled Ari.

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride, just Fang! Just kidding; James Patterson owns them all. For now...

Claimer: Don't steal my idea; it's the only one I've got.

Chapter 19

(Insert swearword of choice here.)

I promise you I thought a stronger one the moment I saw him.

"Hello, dog boy," I sneered, now standing completely straight. "Come to get the crap beat out of you?"

I sensed the presence behind me just in time to duck. The Eraser's paw swung through the air—where my head had been about a second before—and the momentum propelled it into a full 360 degree spin. Staggering, now dizzy, it did little to increase my respect for mutant thugs.

Especially since Ari snarled, "She's mine" and the sneak-attack Eraser refused to stand down. The two began bickering like children over a new toy.

The overall noise level had dropped, which made me suspect we were winning. But the smell had gotten worse­—rancid, charred flesh, blood, the usual battle gore.

I was pinned between the two Erasers; while waiting for them to do something, I glanced upwards.

Iggy and Nudge had joined Gasman and Angel; they were all hovering about fifty feet above, easily picking off the Eraser who'd tried to fly after them. I just needed to get out of here…and hope that idiot Fang had stayed put so I could chew him out…

Oh, it looked like they'd come to a decision—the one behind me was reluctantly backing off; Ari smirked, pleased with his win. Then his smirk turned to me.

He hopped off the table and onto the connecting bench. The wood sagged beneath his weight. "So. You given my offer any more thought?"

He was still pining over his fantasy of me becoming his mommy/friend. Couldn't this bozo take a hint? Once, I'd felt sorry for him. I still got little flashes of pity on occasion. But, honestly, it was getting old.

I didn't have time for this.

"Um…no, not really."

The change was instantaneous­—smirking one moment, murderous the next. He growled and lunged, clawed hands/paws extended. I quickly sidestepped­—he landed in a crouch behind me—but I tripped over an Eraser's carcass, sprawling backwards.

I seemed to be spending a lot of time on the ground today.

He bent down and swiped at my stomach; I rolled to the side and leapt upright, using the momentum to fling my leg up in a kick.

Dodging the karate-bahtma, Ari bared his teeth again. "But don't you want them to quit?" he asked in a falsely innocent tone.

I just spun around, throwing a hook and low kick simultaneously. Both hit; blood spurted from his nose, but my shoe didn't even bruise his calf.

"Want whatto quit?" I panted, backing up a couple steps. Almost clear of the carnage…then I could take flight…

Offensive now in Ari's control, I jumped back, dodging his strong but sluggish throws. Duck, step, jump, step, block—

Teeth clenched in concentration, he muttered, "You know what."

I skipped over another body, shaking my wings loose again. I was walking backwards, eyes glued to him. "Not really, dog breath."

He chuckled. It was guttural, animalistic. Then he pulled some sort of remote thing from his back pocket. It was black, the size of a small paperback book, with several dials and buttons adorning it.

I continued to back up, eyeing it warily. Five more steps…

"This," he spat, words weighted with complications. Like I was supposed to suddenly understand the meaning of life when I saw that gizmo.

"What? Your walkie-talkie?" I asked incredulously.

Uh-oh. I could feel the curiosity slinking in…Curiosity killed the mutant! I told myself firmly.

Three more steps…

Ari seemed miffed that his blackmail wasn't working. "No, bird brain, the—"

A brown refrigerator plummeted out of the sky and crushed Ari beneath its weight.

Sudden, I know. There was a huge thud as it impacted; I was surprised it didn't leave a crater in the ground. That was one massive appliance. A pair of huge, twisted wings extended from the dead weight, and black feathers continued to float down serenely.

From above came delighted laughter. The Flock had knocked the Eraser (what I'd interpreted as a fridge) clean out of the air, and were basking in the humor of its crash.

I couldn't help but grin at sheer insanity of it. What a Kodak moment—I wished I had the camera on me.

"Cartoon-esque," someone remarked from behind me. In the sudden quiet, I heard soft, slightly uneven footsteps squelch in the damp grass.

I rolled my eyes and turned around. It had obviously been too optimistic to assume he'd stay put. "Should I kill you now or later?"

He stopped a safe ten feet from me and offered in a hoarse voice, "You can try whenever."

"How generous. I choose now." I took an aggressive step towards Fang.

But there was a grunt from behind; Ari was trying to worm his way out from beneath the body.

"Okay, later," I amended quickly, already jogging past Fang...and the sneak-attack Eraser's unmoving form. (Seemed it'd made the error of taking on the bird-boy.)

I stopped and looked back around. "You coming?"

Fang nodded, watching me over his shoulder with a rather odd expression on his face. A small smile, but…ah well, no time to mull it over.

He wasn't hunched over; his posture was quite at ease (for him), though his hands were stuffed in his jean pockets—to hide the shaking.


He expression twisted, became wryer.

Heh, he'd hoped I'd forgotten. As if I'd forget the fact he'd just had a frigging seizure…

Well, crap. I wasn't going to let him fly in the state he was—

"You guys coming?" called Iggy, hovering above.

I hesitated, indecisive. We couldn't stay, but we couldn't go, either.

Ari growled in frustration, still struggling to get free.

"Yes!" I yelled. I'd just have to carry the bugger…

Fang rolled his shoulders, releasing his wings from the niche in his back. Slowly, he extended them—all fifteen feet of them—and flapped a little, working out the kinks for flight. A small handful of black feathers fell out; they were bent, crooked, and didn't catch any air to float with.

"Excuse me, what are you doing?"

"Standing," he said in his infuriatingly smart-aleck tone.

I narrowed my eyes in a glare. He stared back, perfectly deadpan, knowing he'd win. He was dwarfed by the ebony wings on either side.

I huffed. "Fine." But we're stopping as soon as possible, I added mentally.

He gave me a wary look, confused at my compliance. "What?"

I gave him the most annoyingly innocent expression I could muster, then turned and ran, launching myself into the air.

"Alright guys, see that brick building?"

"What, the fire station?" asked Gasman.

"Yepper. Land there."

My command caused a general uproar, with mixed emotions.

"A firehouse? No one's on fire," Iggy said, incredulous.

"Ooh, that'll be so cool! Big red trucks and Dalmatians! Are we visiting?" Nudge ranted, excited. That girl was easily amused.

"Sweet!" agreed Gasman.

"But—but why?" Iggy asked, almost alarmed. He'd apparently lost all faith in my sanity.

Fang's trust seemed to be rapidly waning too. He watched me, trying to discern my real agenda from my face. I was very careful to avoid his gaze.

And it was all too easily avoided; his normally heavy stare was weaker, marred with his strained, tight expression.

Which was why I had chosen a firehouse to spend the remainder of the day in. It was the first potentially abandoned building I found, after just fifteen minutes of flight…Normally, I would've run farther from the sight of our Eraser battle. But I didn't want any Flock members falling out of the sky today.

It wasn't just Fang, either; Nudge had a cracked rib, and we all had more than enough cuts and bruises to justify taking a break.

"It looks abandoned," was the only explanation I offered.

"Ah, no fire engines," whined Gasman.

"Sorry, little guy. But we've got to land. Maybe it'll be dry," I offered optimistically; it was drizzling again. A very fine, very cold rain, but at least it wasn't snow. Yet.

"Don't get your hopes up," Iggy grumbled.

He was mostly right. The one-story, brick building was old, with rotting window frames. (It made for easy breaking in—just give a hearty kick, and you're in.) Half of the indoor floor space was garage, but it had a two-room house attached. A kitchen/living room, plus a small bathroom. The smell kept us out of the latter.

The 60's appliances were still intact, but that was about all that was. Well, there was a thread-bare, slightly moldy couch, and a couple stools to make the countertop a table…

Nudge sank onto the couch, clutching her aching side, while the rest of us dropped packs and began inspecting the place. Opening rotten cupboards, searching drawers, checking for planted bombs—the usual routine.

When Fang sucked in a sharp breath from trying to open a jammed cabinet, I rounded on him and ordered, "Go sit with Nudge."

He gave me a sideways, stubborn look, and yanked the decaying door open to spite me. The effort involved made him stagger back a half-step and cough. Of course, there was so much mold that we were all coughing by now, but no one else doubled over in pain.

I came to the conjecture that the seizure made him sore as hell.

"Fang," I moaned, "quit being an idiot and lay down."

Just then, Iggy and Gasman returned from the garage and chorused, "Bug-free."

"Well, electronic ones," amended Gasman, "but not the cockroach kind."

He frowned, noticing the still stooped Fang and my glower. Tugging on Iggy's sleeve, he muttered something to the blind kid, though I didn't hear what. I was too busy hauling Fang upright.

His face was hard as he straightened, and he gripped my arm so tight I thought it would bruise. My scowl deepened.

"Alright guys, let's get cleaned up," I said, heading towards the couch. To my surprise, Fang managed to pry his fingers off and follow.

He slumped down next to Nudge, who was half-laying in the least painful position she could find.

Now, down to business. Let's just say we'd developed a whole routine to first-aid. Sad, I know, but it worked.

Step One—open the first-aid kit and set it on the kitchen's island (or forest floor, whichever).

Step Twohelp yourself to gauze, antiseptic, tape, etc. Assuming you're not so injured you can't put on a band-aid, that is.

Step ThreeI will proceed to inspect everyone's work and help the younger ones out.

Step Four—any major work (i.e. stitches, splints) will usually be done by Nudge, MD. If she is among the casualties, I'll take her place.

Step Fivetry not move for as long as possible, which usually lasts all of five seconds.

So there. Just so you know, there's usually a row around Step Three between me and…well, one guess who. Need a hint? Their defense consists of two words: I'm and fine.

This time, however, said adversary had dozed off, head tipped back against the couch. Which, you know, really stressed me out.

"It's not too bad," I told Nudge, inspecting her lower rib cage. It was an ugly black-and-blue color, but the broken bone didn't seem horribly crooked. It would heal itself in a couple days. "Just lay down—"

"And try not to breathe," finished Iggy, walking over. There was a large gauze pad taped across his forehead, but he looked alright otherwise.

"I'd laugh if it didn't hurt," she said apologetically. Well, that explained why she was being so quiet.

I grinned, then glanced at the other couch's occupant. If he weren't asleep, I would've kicked him off to give Nudge room to lie down. Actually, I would've kicked him off anyway, in normal circumstances. But things weren't exactly normal, at least in my opinion.

"Max?" Angel asked softly, trotting up to me. She clutched Celeste in her hands, and her big, worried eyes were level with me, since I was crouched in front of Nudge.

"What's up, sweetie?" I asked. No injuries for her, other than a couple minor scratches…

She leaned towards me conspiratorially. "I think Fang's hiding again."

At first, no one else seemed particularly worried by this statement, since Fang hid injuries on a regular basis. Iggy cocked his head in Fang's direction, probably checking to make sure the guy was breathing, but Gasman just continued to tape up Total's paw. Nudge didn't dare move until the pain-killer I gave her kicked in.

"He's just tired," I assured her, trying not to curse in my mind. I just had to have thought about him while she was in the room...

But then Iggy asked incredulously, "Is he asleep?"

I winced. "Yeah, so shut up." Maybe he'd take the hint and not press me for more information in front of the others.

"But—but he didn't take your shift last night."

Guess Iggy wasn't the hint-taking type.

"Later, Ig."

But it was too late. His eyes widened slightly, putting the pieces together, while Angel hugged her bear closer, not particularly reassured.

"Max," he said urgently, "can I talk to you? Alone?"

I struggled not to slap my forehead in exasperation. If there was one thing you do not say in front of the kids, it's that. Because a) it just worried them, b) they'd eavesdrop anyway, and c) there are no secrets among the Flock.

Well, sometimes I told just Fang things, but that was different. That was me admitting useless junk to him, like being confused or worried. Things the little ones didn't need to know.

I sighed. Everyone was watching now. "Can it wait?" I asked, making no move to stand.

"Not really." He drummed his fingers on his thigh nervously, heading swiveling to take in every minuscule sound.

Angel's eyes widened reproachfully. "Iggy! You can't be seri—"

"Angel," he moaned. Then—trying to make light of the situation—he quickly added, "Reading people's thoughts is considered very rude in some cultures."

"Sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean to."

This was too much. I abruptly stood and dragged Iggy off by the arm towards the garage.

"Oi! You don't have to—"

"Pack the kit up, guys," I called over my shoulder, practically stalking now.

Distance affected Angel's ability to read minds…so if I hauled him far enough, she wouldn't hear anything. I hoped.

I opened the door, slammed it shut behind me, and strode across the garage, Iggy stumbling behind. My feet made a rapid slapping rhythm on the concrete floor. Finally, I found a suitable location—the far corner.

"Alright, what's going on?" My voice was low, no-nonsense. I didn't want it to echo in here, because I could easily picture everyone on the other side of the door, ears pressed against it, straining to hear our conversation.

The image would've made me laugh in a less serious situation.

Iggy ran a hand through his short red hair, awkward. "Well, I could be wrong, but…did Fang have another seizure?"

For some reason, hearing him say that made my barely-controlled panic worse. Like we were discussing something real, something I couldn't control.

I didn't want to say it had happened, so I had to force myself to sound calm as I said, "Yeah, just before the Erasers dropped in."

He sighed and turned his head away. "Bloody idiot," he muttered to himself.

"Excuse me?"

"Not you. I meant Fang."

"Ah." I agree, then.

Iggy looked really worried now, running his hand through his hair again, drumming his fingers on the wall.

I needed to be comforting, not laying even more problems on him, so I said, "Look, Ig, he'll be alright."

It sounded lame to my own ears.

He grinned wryly, a fleeting smile, to let me know he hadn't missed my good intention. Then he went back to fidgeting. He was steeling himself for something. As the nervous habits continued, I told myself to be patient; this was probably important.

And, sure enough, a moment later he blurted, "Max, I think he's had more."

I stared at him blankly. "More what?"

It was a stall for time, giving my numb brain a moment to wake up.

"Seizures, Max. Fits, chills, whatever they are."

Okay, moment over.

"But, Iggy, he hasn't," I said, trying to reassure him. "I would know."

His expression was grim. "Would you, if he didn't want you to?"

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

"Just hear me out, okay?" he asked. The explanation tumbled out: "He's wandered off while I was on watch, into the woods we slept in. I just thought he'd had nightmares and was walking them out or something. I mean, we all do that, right? But…I dunno, lately he's seemed…" He searched for the right word.

"Tired," I finished.

"Yeah. And now he runs off and has another in the middle of the day, and obviously wasn't going to mention it."

I just stood there, staring at nothing.

This curveball sank in quickly.

The really sad part was how much sense it made. His shaky flying, almost weary manner, hoarse voice…hell, even refusing to speak with me for a week fit. In a very twisted, Fang-like way, of course. Because if I was avoiding him, and he a near-mute, it'd be harder to accidentally slip.

Keeping it secret was something he'd do.

"Argh," I groaned, pounding my forehead with the heel of my hand. There had to be a limit for the number of surprises I could take; one day, I'd just go completely numb.

I then took a deep breath and forced myself to get down to business. "Alright, when'd he run off?"

"Well, there was today, then yesterday, then…Friday? Yeah, Friday. And Wednesday. There was last Monday, of course, but you know that."

It felt like a cold metal band was tightening around my chest as he ticked off the dates.

Five. Five seizures in eight days. Every other day, except for the last two, which were back-to-back. And he hadn't said a freaking word. I hadn't even noticed.

Iggy looked guilty, almost ashamed. "I'm really sorry, Max. I should have said something sooner."

Though he couldn't see the motion, I shook my head. "It's not your fault."

"It's not your's, either," he said firmly.

I sighed. Was I really that obvious? Don't answer that.

"Well, this complicates things," I muttered.

"What're you going to do?" He still sounded a little chagrined.

Perfect question. It made me think, snap back out of 'Panic' mode. "We're spending the night here—"

"No duh."

"And we're gonna get some work done," I continued, making this whole thing up as I went. Spur of the moment decisions—that's me. "You and the others get the laptop; keep looking for stuff on Grandor's. See if there's been a break-through with the police investigation or something." Because visiting their complexes had gotten us absolutely nowhere…

He nodded. "And you?"

My tone turned grim; my face hardened. "I am going to lead a health inspection."

"Will you be inspecting mental or physical health, Doctor?" Iggy asked with mock gravity.


And with that, I stalked off, murder clear in my mind.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "Clairvoyant, n.: A person, commonly a woman, who has the power of seeing that which is invisible to her patron—namely, that he is a blockhead." –Ambrose Bierce

A/N Anecdote: This next chapter is one of my favorites...the Flock gets to play with glow sticks! And if you look REALLY close, you'll be able to see the fax...

You'll probably need a magnifying glass to see it.

20. Chapter 20

Author: Looky looky! I updated! I updated!

Fang: No kidding.

Author: Hey, quit being a smartass and get back in the story.

Fang: Disclaimer.

Author: Oh yeah, that... Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride, just Fang.

Fang: (Glares)

Author: Okay, okay! I was only joking! Don't kill me! Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride or any affiliated characters. James Patterson does! Now go away!

PS- I want to thank all you awesome reviewers and give a special shout-out to the anonymous ones, since I can't thank you all individually. You all rock!

Oh, and since Shadow Boy is gone... Claimer: Don't steal.

Chapter 20

Electricity had long since failed in this abandoned firehouse, so when darkness came along, we relied on our handy-dandy stash of glow sticks to see. I mean, our night vision is pretty dang good, but it was so black cats would be blind. No moonlight, streetlamps, stars, anything, as a source of light.

But the Flock found the glow sticks to be the most amusing thing—everything from cracking them on to playing with the eerie luminescence they gave off.

"Mwahahaha!" laughed Gazzy, imitating some maniacal villain. He held his green stick just below his chin, creating heavy, sinister shadows across his face. "Fear me!"

Angel and Nudge pretended to be terrified, waving their sticks frantically as they fled.

"Oh no, whatever shall we do—oomph!" Nudge tripped over a bag in the dark, sending her sprawling and her light stick spinning across the floor.

"Get it, my minion!" yelled Gazzy, pointing at the purple bar.

"Oi! I'm no minion; I'm a professional evil-doer," grumbled Total, but nonetheless trotted off to retrieve it. He clasped his own blue glow stick in his mouth.

I watched them play their game from the couch; in the dark, they were a lot of incorporeal voices and floating, neon lights. An interesting experience.

For me, it was relaxing. I got a chance to curl up on something soft (albeit moldy) and clutch a cup of juice, sipping it while just moderate-alert. Not exactly rich hot chocolate and a cozy fireplace, but it would do for now.

But then my couch creaked beneath me. Crap, so much for relaxing. I couldn't see him, but I knew he was sitting up, fully awake at once, trying to catch up on what he'd missed.

"What the…?" His utter bewilderment was hilarious. I could just imagine how confusing it would be to wake up in pitch darkness and find a bunch of disembodied lights bobbing around.

"Good morning, Sleeping Beauty. Or good night, really," I said, pulling out an unused glow stick from my pocket and bending it.

"That long?" His voice was hoarse, low.

"Four hours." The stick crackled and started to glow a bright pink. Figures. I considered trading with Angel for her yellow. "You were zonked."

"Must've been," he muttered. He was normally such a light sleeper, especially in the past week or so from his crazy hearing. All our racket at dinner alone should've made him come around.

I shook the stick, just to make sure all the chemicals were mixed, then passed it on to Fang. I picked up my own light (green) and held it above and in front of me so I could see.

My first assumption was that it was all the heavy shadowing from the glow that made him look so exhausted. But his position gave it away—he was too relaxed, slumped back into the couch in that uncharacteristically calm manner. If the lighting were better, I'd have seen the hard set to his face.

All my pure anger had drained away in the past four hours, as I hadn't woken Fang to wring his neck right after Iggy's revelation. Now, I was just resigned.


But I had to get things straight with him now, figure out where to go next. A purely professional conversation.

Unfortunately, even that first word of mine was too warning, and he sounded rather wary when he said, "Yes?"

Deep breath, Max. Be frank. Be cool. "You lied to me."

In all the conversations I'd rehearsed, it'd been a flat statement. Easy enough, right? To start off with.

But it came out all wrong. I sounded…hurt. Like I was upset—not irate—that he hadn't told me.

Fang's dark eyes glinted from the glow when they flicked sideways, watching me. His face would've been unreadable even in the best lighting, almost calculating…Probably trying to figure out how best to worm his way out of this one.

A bit of my annoyance flared up inside, but it was half-hearted and fleeting. I was too prepared to be mad. He would try to find a loophole, or would just shrug it off completely and hope I'd let it drop. And when I didn't, he'd—

"I did," he said flatly, still eyeing me sideways.

Okay, I most definitely hadn't expected that response…

He shrugged and looked away, watching the empty darkness (plus glow sticks).

Great, now I was going to have to improvise this whole thing…"Why?" I asked, trying to sound severe. It came off better than earlier, though that wasn't saying much.

He shrugged again. "It doesn't matter." He was avoiding my gaze now, rotating his glow stick in his hands.

"And what the hell do you mean by that?" I hissed. There was an…edge, to his tone, like he was holding himself in check. Granted, he always held himself in check, but the fact he was stressed to do so tipped me off.

The kids continued to run around and play, oblivious to our near-whispered argument. Iggy participated too, though he had a rather large advantage over them when playing a game reminiscent of Marco Polo.

"It doesn't matter," he repeated. His hands—black shadows from the light seeping between his fingers—sped up as he spun the stick faster. He was leaning forward, arms resting on his thighs.

"Again—what does that mean?" I was struggling to keep myself in control; there was something boiling up inside, and my simple words were the only lid I had over it. And whatever it was, it wasn't anger…as such. A different type of it, maybe.

He shook his head once, like a sharp jerk. "They don't do any harm," he ground out, obviously annoyed by having to articulate for a change.

I tried to translate his Fang-speak into English, coming up with something like, The seizures don't affect anyone but me, so they weren't worth mentioning.

Even in plain English it sounded senseless. Unless, y'know, you were using Fang-logic, a rather abstract, roundabout method of thinking that ultimately tried to justify sheer stupidity.

If you hadn't noticed, I was getting seriously frustrated about now.

There was this short pause where all I could do was feel insulted. Don't ask me why I felt that way; I didn't know.

You do know, said the Voice. It was inevitable it'd show up at some point…

I just said I didn't. I mean, he was the idiot for thinking I wouldn't care, for not wanting to confide in me. He was digging his own grave. Nothing against me.


Only when he forced himself to turn his head up and meet my gaze—peering through the hair that had fallen forward—did I regain my voice.

"You're an idiot, you know that?" Not exactly tactful, but I didn't really care at that point.

Fang shrugged in what I took to be casualness, but he couldn't hide the displeasure in his voice—he practically choked on the words, like he couldn't stand talking about it. "It's not like they do any damage."

And that, folks, was a Fang-speech. I mean, wow, a whole seven words! But for some reason, talking more did not improve how intelligent he sounded.

On a scale of one-to-ten, my aggravation was an eleven.

So I scooted sideways, closer to him to better see, and practically shoved my glow stick in his face. He flinched and pulled his head back, startled.

No damage done? I thought incredulously. I can make a list a mile long of this non-existent damage.

That's what I thought, not what I spoke. When I did talk, my voice was a furious whisper. "Fang, you sound like an idiot."

"So you said."

I suppressed the urge to yank out my hair, and instead forced myself to sound somewhat rational. Not like an upset, bipolar teenager, nuh-uh.

"First of all, you are not fine. You should've said something days ago, when they first started." You should've told me! "Second, you know damn well a seizure is important enough to mention." Well, you need to learn, at least. "And third…" He needed to buck up and admit it. He needed to get a handle on these fits before they got even more out of control. He needed to—to freaking trust me, not go hide from the world.

I could've said any of those things. Instead, I tapered off, too ticked and hurt to reason. My attempt at rationality had obviously gone straight down the tubes.

There was a pause where I glared at him, waiting for a reaction. His face was frozen as he listened, giving absolutely nothing away. The usual response, I suppose.

Then he swallowed and reluctantly opened his mouth to say something. Nothing came; he shut it a moment later and shook his head. At a loss for words, all he could do was shrug, the universal I-Hear-You-but-Have-Nothing-to-Say gesture.

He probably had a whole list of possible responses and simply couldn't say them, like me. Or, being Fang, he might find a shrug a perfectly acceptable response to my rant.

I didn't.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "The best proof of love is trust." –Dr. Joyce Brothers

21. Chapter 21

A/N: Long wait, long chapter. You'd better review this sucker, since it's taken me so long to write... or I'll give give one of my fire-breathing buddies the assination job after all.

Hope you enjoy it, despite the wallowing plot.

Now, to recap:

There was a pause where I glared at him, waiting for a reaction. His face was frozen as he listened, giving absolutely nothing away. The usual response, I suppose.

Then he swallowed and reluctantly opened his mouth to say something. Nothing came; he shut it a moment later and shook his head. At a loss for words, all he could do was shrug, the universal I-Hear-You-but-Have-Nothing-to-Say gesture.

He probably had a whole list of possible responses and simply couldn't say them, like me. Or, being Fang, he might find a shrug a perfectly acceptable response to my rant.

I didn't.

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: Don't steal my idea; it's the only one I've got.

Chapter 21

"Well?" I prodded impatiently. "What have you got to say?"

Nothing, apparently; he continued to rotate his glow stick around in his hands and avoid my glare. He was hunched over it, leaning on his thighs.

"Hello, anyone there?"

No answer. The apparently nonexistent Fang was back to the old silent treatment.


"Yeah, Gazzy?" I answered, pulling my attention to my broader surroundings. His voice came from a few feet off to the side.

"Where's the water for teeth-brushing?"

Ah, so they'd taken it upon themselves to get ready for bed, something they only did when beyond exhaustion. "It's in Fang's bag. Don't forget to brush the molars," I added, "and go outside." They had to spit somewhere, after all, and though the carpet here was nasty, it wasn't that nasty.

"Yeah, yeah, I know." I heard the sound of zippers being undone and clattering as he sorted through supplies. The others had fallen mostly silent in their half-awake stupors, changing into sweatpants and loose t-shirts for pajamas in the dark. A whole symphony of yawns was performing.

"Found it," he called wearily, and the others shuffled outside with him to finish all their before-bed chores.

They were so tired I didn't even hear Nudge scream when she stepped out into the frigid night air; all she did was grumble.

Fang made a move to rise off the couch; I grabbed his arm and yanked him back down. "You aren't going anywhere."

He gave me a faintly annoyed, Why-the-Hell-Not? look. Normally, we'd be getting ready with the rest of them, both to watch over the Flock and brush our teeth. But I seriously doubted we'd have another Eraser attack on the same day, and they were only just outside…

Besides, I wasn't letting him get away that easily.

"You're going to sit until you say something," I said.

"Something." He tried to stand again; I pulled him back.

We glared at each other for awhile, but eventually my eyes went dry and I had to blink. I flipped him the bird when he smirked and growled, "You know what I mean."

His face immediately darkened, and he returned to glowering at his glow stick.

This probably wasn't the right way to deal with him, but you can hardly accuse me of having patience. So what was I supposed to do?

Absently, I began to tap my stick against the orange upholstery, both irritated and resigned. I didn't know what to do.

What do you want from him? my Voice asked slowly, like a psychologist.

Um…well…An apology? Puh-lease. I'm not stupid enough to think I'd ever get one.

Then what did I really want? Did I even know?

Exactly. It sounded way too smug for my liking.

I quickened the tempo of my couch tattoo, mind kicking into a frustrated loop. I did know what I wanted from him; I just didn't know how to word it. I wanted him to—to…

You want his trust.

Well, that was close enough a classification.

But being me, I had to defend one thing: You make it sound so selfish.

Can you put it any other way?

Watch me.

Though my eyes had probably glazed over during my lapse of insanity, they'd remained loosely focused on Fang, who was still doggedly fiddling with his glow stick. With the uneven beams of light that broke through his fingers, I saw slants of his face, and pieced the shafts together in my mind to form his expression—mulish.

I sighed and gave up my drumming on the musty couch. For some reason, he was making no effort to hide just how much he hated this conversation. But I refused to budge; I would sit here until he cracked, even if it took all night.

At my current rate, it probably would take all night…

Not exactly un-frustrated—despite my Voice's intentions—I did an automatic 360 of the empty firehouse. The Flock was still outside, taking turns with the bottled water.

You're lying to yourself again, my Voice chided.

Great, now I had a mother hen with a psychology degree in my head. Just what I needed. Not.

From the way you talk, I sound like I'm in total self-denial, I mentally grumbled.

Think, Maximum. You're avoiding the bigger issue.

I rolled my eyes, scoffing in my mind. But my knee began to bounce up-and-down, hand rested atop it.

I am working on the whole saving-the-world thing.

Not that bigger picture, though it is of utmost importance. I'm speaking on a smaller scale, Fang's scale.

Oddly, I found that last sentence rather insulting. My hands clenched; my teeth grit.

Okay, then, O Enlightened One, I spoke contemptuously, obviously, the fact he's been lying to me and won't trust me isn't important enough to consider. So just what is worthy of your attention?

The fact his life is no longer in his own hands.

I hated how deadpan it was.

There was no hint of annoyance, no hint of melodrama, no hint of…anything. It was robotic, stating a perfectly solid fact. It wasn't exaggerating.

It wasn't lying, either, which was what I really hated.

I didn't need to ask for clarification. Everything it'd been hinting at was suddenly sinking into my mind, as the wall of denial had decided to crumble.

Honestly? I refused to understand that the—the seizures were real. Fang was Superman, after all. And I didn't recall Superman being an epileptic, even by his enemies' hands. But then, Kurt wasn't a near-mute either, and he trusted his girlfriend.

I'm still avoiding the point, aren't I? Bottom line: I had thought they were just threats my Voice was making to prod me along, something abstract and intangible…

I knew better now. Seizures could kill people. And his were controlled by mad scientists who didn't stop even after I agreed to save the world.

It was times like this that I wished I could take a leaf out of Fang's book and control myself.

After successfully scrambling my brains, panic moved on to seize my lungs and heart, and in its spiteful way, quickened them. My knee was jiggling so fast I feared it'd pop off. The panic was leaking out, spreading.

Fang—since he had nothing better to do than brood over his stick—noticed my sudden adrenalin spike.

He tore his eyes from his still fidgeting hands, turning up to me. His brow was furrowed, and he watched me bemusedly. "You okay?" he asked, sounding like he had one hand on a phone, poised to call the funny farm.

I laughed—a panicky, breathy ha. "Not really."

I had to get him to talk, and that's all there was to it. However ego-bruising he found it, however painful for me, it had to be done. Because this wasn't just a matter of trust anymore; if he was going to live, I had to help. Never mind the fact that it'll ruin our friendship. Never mind the fact I'll no longer have a second—


My whole brain lurched to a halt.

One thought floated into existence in that white void: Fang…apologized…?

No, he couldn't have; Fang wouldn't admit to, well, anything. Especially to being sorry, even if it had sounded surly…No, he didn't. Never ever. He was a stubborn, emotionless idiot.

Said idiot was peering at me with narrowed eyes, struggling to discern my expression with only a glow stick for assistance. Considering how he normally read me like an open book, his inability to see in the dark—and therefore my face—was handicapping him.

Taste of his own medicine.

My thoroughly bewildered silence was growing awkward, but Fang was hardly the type to break the quiet.

Of course, he wasn't the type to apologize either.

But apparently, the world hadn't gone completely bonkers, because he held his silence, leaving me the envious task of saying something. Something not completely stupid.

I blurted, "Do these seizures affect your mental stability? Or was that just you?"

Ooh, I so wish I could've seen better; I swore his face turned pink. His hands abruptly ceased their frantic spinning, anyway, substituting the motion by gripping the stick so hard I feared he'd crush it and let the toxic chemicals seep out…I could see the plastic casing bend under the pressure, and he glared at it with a look that suggested he'd rather have his teeth pulled as he muttered, "Just me."

Damn. He really had apologized.

I wasn't sure if this was a nightmare or a dream—just that it couldn't possibly be reality.

Both of us had taken a sudden, renewed interest in our glow sticks. While spinning mine like a baton, I managed an awkward mutter of, "Okay then."

I dared a glance from the corner of my eye, just as he did the same. He immediately jerked his eyes back down to his lap and resumed fiddling with the stick, still dented from when he attempted to crush it. I felt my own face burn.

This was so messed up.

Regardless, I had to do something about him. He might be a stubborn, emotionless (should I call it near-emotionless now?) idiot, but he was my stubborn, emotionless idiot. One who needed help, but was refusing to ask for it.

So—to recover from our current discomfited situation—I pretended it never happened.

"Look," I began, lifting my head to look at him, "just…tell me how many times it happened."

I already knew the answer, of course, but I wanted to start over and work my way up in the hope that I could fool him into telling me things bit-by-bit.

It didn't work.

He swallowed, then sat up—no longer leaning on his thighs—to look directly at me, stick suddenly unmoving. (I was currently tapping mine in the palm of my hand.)

Staring contests are hard to win in the dark, but I managed to put up a commendable effort. His expression wasn't headstrong…It was knowing, almost amused.

Crap. He knew exactly what I was doing. So not fair, that he could read me like a children's book.

The silence was pressing, except for a steady click click click—Fang was tapping his nail on the wooden armrest, appearing perfectly indifferent in our fight.

But as our Battle of the Wills persisted, he seemed to grow more and more tense, until he finally sighed and broke eye contact.

"What do you really want?" he rasped, gazing ahead into nothing.

Click click click…

It was blunt, exasperated…but it was relenting. Sort of. Actually willing to be honest with me—even if I ended up being the one answering questions—was basically his form of defeat.

But, dammit, he'd asked the same question my Voice had, and I knew I couldn't give him the melodramatic response it'd come up with…

Click click click…

"I'm going to help," I said, matching his blunt tone.

The clicking abruptly ceased, and with the silence no longer held at bay, I felt smothered.

"I'm fine," he said stiffly.

Translation: I don't need help.

"Don't give me that crap, Fang," I snapped. "I'm helping, whether you like it or not."

I just didn't know how.

Shit. I'd just realized that. How the hell was I supposed to stop a seizure from killing him?

I couldn't.

When the Voice said Fang's life was held in a scientist's palm, I figured there was a way to combat it, to stop the seizures. There had to be a solution. There had to be a cure; there had to be…

Saving the world was the most obvious one—if Itex was thwarted, they no longer had any scientists to trigger the fits. But he was currently having four a week; there just wasn't enough time. I needed a temporary fix.

You cannot always be in control, my Voice said.

I probably imagined the delicate tone, but it still didn't dampen my resentment. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a sufficiently malicious response, so I settled with telling it to…well, do something very rude.

Touchy though you may be about it, it doesn't change things, it droned. You must do what you can, and not worry about what you can't.

By now, I was downright livid, and not just because my swearing had apparently failed to annoy it. Sneering, I thought, Well, if you would be so kind as to tell me what the hell I can do to keep my best friend alive, I would greatly appreciate it!

Do what he refusesacknowledge its existence, and treat it like an illness.

I was in no mood to be cooperative, even if I had asked in the first place. And how do I do that? I sneered.

Become his spotter.

I blinked and sat up straighter, startled by its quick, direct answer. Real advice? That was more than I could hope for…but it'd given it anyway.

I was too surprised to be angry at it.

"Voice?" He sounded less confident on his assumption, since he couldn't make out my face. Maybe he should've tried using that light of his to see, instead of making it into a stress ball…

"Yeah." I sighed, bad mood not yet dissipated. "It's giving me advice again."

Silence as he waited for an elaboration. Sheesh, God forbid he actually try and tell me what was going through his head…but then, miracles are rare occasions, and he'd already said sorry.

"I'm just a tad confused," I snarled. Confused as in a major overload of emotional turmoil…How the hell was I supposed to convince Fang to let me be his spotter? I mean, honestly, there was a reason he'd kept them hidden this past week.

Add in buckets of stress and anxiety from several sources, and you have a Max-meltdown in the works.

He nodded understanding; I could see the shadows cast by my light shift. He knew what was about to happen, and as during the last meltdown I'd tried my hand at self-mutilation…

"Vent," he ordered.

"Same to ya'," I said, sour.

He shot me a Just-Do-It glare. In his Fang-way, he was trying to help by offering me a chance to spill my problems into his lap. Stupid idiot. That's what I had been trying to make him do.

Give a little trust, and you'll be surprised at how much you get back, chimed the Voice.

I rolled my eyes and muttered, "Stupid fortune cookie."

Fang was reverting back to that look that suggested I needed more Thorazine. Which is all fine and dandy, but most schizos can't blame their source of insanity on a computer chip in the arm.

I am merely a messenger.

Rolling my eyes twice in a row would probably damage my vision, but I did it anyway.

"Gar," I muttered, pounding my hand against my forehead. "It's still doing it."

But…its advice was the only chance I had of getting Fang to cave, though I couldn't figure out how venting all my stress would be an incentive for him to be compliant. Course, it's a fortune cookie; they're supposed to work in mysterious ways.

I leaned back against the couch, sighing resignedly. "Alright, fine."

He waited, giving me his trademark, weighted non-expression. Why couldn't I have a look like that to use on him?

"Let's just make a whole catalog," I said, then held up a hand to tick off the list on my fingers. "We've wasted a whole week searching Grandor's. Erasers are acting weird. We're out of leads. Ari's got a remote to blow up the world. Oh, and I almost forgot—his plan to pressgang me into babysitting is still in the works."

He scowled. Well, he always frowned, but it deepened at my tone. But I couldn't stop talking; it was like an avalanche, picking up momentum as I went, until I was spilling everything.

Having run out of fingers, I switched hands and continued frantically: "There's all the usual problems—food and shelter and water, and that fact that it's the dead of winter isn't making it any easier. But then there's the entire freaking world that I need to save, and I'm not doing it fast enough!"

I stopped just before my voice cracked, and was left hyperventilating during a rather taken aback pause.

Oh god. Had I really just said all of that aloud? To Fang? Please tell me you're lying. You're not? Crap…At least I didn't add the part about my Voice saying I liked him…and the seizures and the spotting and the Eraser Max and—

"Breathe," he rasped.

I struggled to do so, with only minor success. I was completely hunched over, resting on my thighs and clasping my hands together tight in an attempt to look in control. Obviously, it didn't work.

"Breathing," I reassured.


"No chance in hell!"


"I can't. Something bad'll happen."

"I'll take first watch."

"Again—no chance in hell."

He shook his head. (My accusations of him being stubborn aren't groundless.)

Then I had a light bulb. Like, one of those snap-enlightenments that you can't help but be a little proud of.

I tried to look at ease, putting on a suddenly laid-back voice and slumping back in the couch.

"Fine, you can take my watch." He blinked, shocked at my sudden acquiescence, then I dropped the catch: "But you have to warn me next time before you have a seizure."

Murmurings could be heard from the garage, then the door creaked open as the Flock shuffled in, teeth chattering but clean.

"It's so cold." Nudge's voice was rickety as she shivered.

"That's what happens in winter—it gets cold," I said teasingly. "You guys almost ready?"

"S-s-sure. Just gotta lay out the b-blankets and stuff," chattered Gazzy.

"What blankets?" Total said bitterly.

"You're not one to talk; you've got fur," Nudge said.

"You have feathers!"

I intervened before their exhaustion made them even grumpier. "Just use your coats, okay?"

There were some unenthusiastic mumbles of agreement, then the zombie-Flock staggered towards the designated sleeping corner, parkas still zipped up.

Satisfied with their progress for the moment, I turned my attention back to Fang, who'd stared at me with a downright unreadable expression on his face the entire time. It was a very odd look, like he couldn't decide what to be.

"Well? What have you got to say?" Hey, maybe I'd pulled off starting over after all.

He apparently settled on which reaction to take—annoyance. "I don't know when they happen," he said, almost surly.

He obviously didn't enjoy the concept of warning me. Tough luck for him.

"But you can tell when they're about to happen; that's why you freaked out today before we landed at the rest stop." Right at the end of our discussion on his erratic, internal volume control.

I could tell—even in the dark—that he hadn't wanted me to know that. "I didn't freak."

"You did." Well, by Fang-standards, anyway.

He shook his head again. "Why?"

Sheesh, Fang-speak is about to fade from a dialect into a whole separate language. Good thing I'm bilingual: Why do you want warning on them?

Now, here was the hard part—telling him what he didn't want to hear. And to be honest, what I didn't want to hear. Because—to be a spotter—I would have to watch another…well, you know what…which was something I was less than eager to do. But it was all I could do, so I'd have to suck it up.

No beating around the bush with him; he'd just wring it out of me eventually.

"You need a spotter."

I heard a snore from over in the far side of the room—Total had already fallen asleep. The others were still awake; there were lots of mumbled "G'night"s and "scooch over"s.

I didn't expect an answer from him, just an angry silence like all the other times. You'd think he'd learn that they weren't working very well.

"No," he said.

Guess he had learned after all.

His voice was firm, angry, and he met my eyes with what was supposed to be a commanding look. Really, it just appeared arrogant, which pissed me off more than the silence had.

I swallowed the irritation—though my hands clenched on the edge of the couch—and forced myself to use the one advantage I had over him. Well, okay, I didn't usually have any more tact than he did, but I managed to salvage a bit of control this time.

"It's only practical," I said sweetly. Yes, Fang was always pointing out the practical to me, so surely this argument would hold some weight to him?

His whole body was stiff, his jaw clamped tight—he absolutely loathed the idea. "I'm. Fine."

"Dumb luck," I countered, sounding tranquil compared to him. "You could've hit your head on something." Or stopped breathing or yelled or

The flashback triggered and shattered my frail control. Panic and pain, dirt and moss beneath me, wrists seized with shaking hands…It faded into different memories…Antiseptic and screams, scratching pens and a defibrillator's hum

I really needed to get a grip on my thoughts.

He was repeating, "I'm fine."

"Yes, Fang, I heard you the last two bazillion times!" I snapped. So much for tact, but the memories had shaken me.

I took a couple deep breaths and plowed on. "Alright, that's the deal. Get used to it."

When he spoke again, his voice was soft, almost a whisper. Dangerous. "I don't agree."


"What?" I lashed out, jumping at the contrastingly average voice.

The stick, held in her hand, cast a purple light across only one side of her face; the other was shadowed. Nudge held out her empty fist to me, looking a little hurt at being snapped at.

Whoops. I asked in a gentler tone, "Fist stack time?"

"Yep. We're all ready, but can I keep my glow stick on, like a night-light? It'd be cool, and I don't think they even turn off! Iggy says they don't fade for, like, hours."

"Um…yeah, sure." I stood up. Ouch, I was stiff from sitting so long.

There was a cluster of glow sticks floating a few feet off; shadows of hands gripped them, and Iggy held his high enough to put his face in relief.

I threw a dirty This-Isn't-Over glare towards the couch before heading off to join them. He probably couldn't see it.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "Look round and round upon this bare bleak plain, and see even here, upon a winter's day, how beautiful the shadows are! Alas! It is the nature of their kind to be so. The loveliest things in life, Tom, are but shadows; and they come and go, and change and fade away, as rapidly as these!" –Charles Dickens

22. Chapter 22

A/N: Sheesh, have I got a lot to say this update. Let's just make a catalog, shall we?

1) Impress Me has reached 30,000 words! Woot woot! I can't help but feel a little proud with sticking it out.

2) This story's been in the works for over two months. Happy, um, anniversary?

3) I want to make a Disclaimer/Thanks to CrimsonScarz for giving me the Martinez idea... even if it doesn't show much. Yet. :)

4) And, of course, the big one (drum roll please...)

Pull out the confetti! Play the fanfare! Set off the fireworks... WE'VE REACHED 200 FREAKING REVIEWS!! BOOYA!!!

Thank you all so much for reviewing; you rock! I'd never hoped to reach more than a hundred. Really, cyber-cookies to you all!

As thanks, I've done yet another chapter-combination thing; this one's just as long as the last. Enjoy. :)

Have I mentioned I'm down on my knees thanking you?

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: Don't steal my idea; it's the only one I've got.

Chapter 22

The next morning did not exactly bode well weather-wise—misty, chill, and damper than yesterday (something that I had previously considered impossible).

Of course, sleeping on not-quite-dry carpet in below-freezing temperatures made us all sore, but I considered sucking it up to get a hot breakfast before the rest woke. I figured some fresh McDonald's would give them energy.

The flaw with my ingenious plan was that I couldn't fly into town alone, which meant I'd have to wake someone (yeah, keep him anonymous) to take with me, and another to watch home base while we were breakfast shopping.

That left, oh, three people (and a dog) the pleasure of sleeping in and a surprise meal. So much for that idea.

Instead, I hauled myself out of bed—such as it was—earlier than usual to clean up. We always kept our packs ready, in case of a U & A, but they'd become rather cluttered recently.

"Hey," I said quietly, unzipping a backpack. My breath came out in clouded puffs, but I wasn't shivering, thanks to some random sweatshirt I'd grabbed before falling asleep. (It was so cold I'd just slept in my clothes.)

"Yo. What're you doing up?" Iggy leaned back against the peeling wall and continued to keep what was left of his watch. Dawn had broken, giving me a dim, gray light to work by.

I pulled out the first-aid kit and popped the latch. "Spring cleaning."

"More like winter cleaning."

Oh yeah. It was early December, albeit a mild one for Kentucky. Which meant the holidays were approaching. Joy.

"Yeah, well, I'm just impulsive like that." I opened the lid, eyeing the cluttered contents dubiously, then picked the box up and turned it upside-down. The whole thing splattered out in front of me: packets of sterile gauze pads, band-aid boxes, antibiotic, scissors, ibuprofen, needle and thread, etc etc. The tin wasn't particularly large—more like a lunchbox—but we crammed a lot in it.

With all this jumbled in front of me, I began to repack it in a more organized fashion. I mean, really, what if there'd been an emergency? Good luck finding anything in that mess.

Iggy listened to me work for a couple minutes before saying, "You didn't kill him, I noticed."


"I lament your lack of will. Was my theory right?"

I sighed and continued rearranging the bottles of Advil and Tylenol. "Yeah."

His eyes widened and stared in my direction; he ended up focusing somewhere around my neck. "I was?" Apparently, he had thought his own hypothesis to be wrong—or hoped.


When he was certain there was no joke involved, he slumped back, mouth still open. "That's—that's just insane."

"That's what I told him."

His shock faded, replaced with amusement. "I can't believe I missed it; I would've paid money to watch."

"You were tied up in a rousing game of Find the Toothbrush. Besides, it wasn't that exciting." You've seen nastier, I thought, though not necessarily stranger.

"Oh?" he prodded, shifting position to sit Indian-style across from me.

I waited a moment before continuing, rolling up a loose spool of thread to stall for time. "We came to an agreement. Of sorts."


My mouth quirked into a wry grin, silently agreeing. "I'm letting him take my watch, but I've become his spotter."

"His what?"

"Spotter. For the next…time."

Actually, we hadn't agreed to anything; Fang adamantly refused me having any part whatsoever with his fits, and I'd adamantly refused letting him deal alone. So in the end, it appeared to be a stalemate.

Yet I'd let him take my watch last night anyway, and I could tell that—by the time I'd gone to bed—he wasn't completely livid with me. Still inflexible on the issue, but we'd exchanged cool goodnights, which was an improvement over the usual silent treatment.

Plus, I would be keeping a closer eye on him from now on…a much closer eye. The only opportunity he'd have at all to sneak off was during his shift, and even that wasn't possible, because he wouldn't leave our camp unguarded.

At least, I didn't think he was that stupid, and you all know my opinion of his intelligence wasn't exactly high.

Iggy's eyes widened as what I said sunk in. "Wow, I hadn't even thought of that."

I shrugged and started stacking all the gauze pads together. I couldn't blame Fang for avoiding our, ahem, 'discussion' last night, even if it had to be done—it was beyond awkward.

"You know he won't keep his end of the deal," Iggy said.

I grimaced. "All too well." Which is why I'm telling you all this. "But now you're filled in, so…" I trailed off suggestively.

He raised his palms in surrender. "Okay, okay, I get the hint; I'll be sure to wake you next time."


A lull ensued; Iggy turned his attention back to his watch, while I leaned forward, reaching for the box of band-aids that had bounced away from the rest of the pile. The cardboard was wrinkled and the ink smudged, giving it a thoroughly battered appearance.

Iggy clicked his tongue a couple times, trying to kill the silence. "So…where're we going today?"

"Detroit, hopefully—shoot." I'd picked up the box upside-down; the flap was loose, and everything spilled out. "Crud."

Iggy grinned, but made the wise choice not to comment. "Another complex?"

I sighed, scooping the escapee band-aids together. "Another complex." I paused my band-aid roundup, brow furrowed. "What the…?"

I picked up the box again and scrutinized the blurry type on its front. There was a large, green cross (the medical symbol) and band aid written above it. Simple.

Except for all the small print crammed at the very bottom. Over half was smudged beyond legibility, but I caught the words Grandor's, patent, questions &, and the first part of an address: 1307 Reynolds Drive.

"What?" Iggy asked impatiently.


"What's weird?" He hated it when no one filled him in.

"This box; it was made by Grandor's."

"What, the medical kit?"

"The band-aids," I said distractedly, now reading the back. Nothing of interest there…

"Well, yeah, they make just about everything involving the words 'first' and 'aid'. What's so special?"

I turned it back around and checked the bottom again. "There's an address on it."

It was probably nothing, just another complex. I couldn't make out what state the address specified, much less the city or zip code. It really wasn't much to go on.

But it was more than I had at the moment.

Alright, so breakfast wasn't luxurious fast food, but I decided we'd upgrade lunch's budget to accommodate something shmancier. Like pizza.

"Any luck?" I asked, leaning my elbows on the back of the couch to peak over his shoulder at the computer screen.

Fang nodded and typed something else into the search engine. "Toronto."

Imaginary crickets chirped at this revelation, while I struggled to regain my voice.

"You mean it's in Canada?" I finally squeaked.

He nodded and hit the 'Enter' key.

"Sheesh," I muttered. Traveling across the US was bad enough; now our lead was taking us clear out of the country.

"No kidding," he said, scrolling down the list of hits. Finding a promising one, he clicked. An image of a map began to load; we both were lost in our thoughts, though, and didn't pay it much heed.

I didn't want to go farther north. Don't look at me that way—it wasn't because of the atrocious weather. Well, okay, that would've been a valid excuse, but really, I had hoped to steer west.

Your confused silence is almost tangible.

Let me elaborate—I wanted to go to Arizona. Preferably without raising suspicion as to why…because if Fang got wind I wanted to haul him 2,000 miles just so he could see a doctor—and so I could eat the best cookies ever—he'd kill me.

Besides, our new lead was taking us farther away. So I put my plan (let's call it the Trick Fang into Doing Something Smart plan) on hold until we cleared this up.

"Did you find anything else?" I probed. I'd become adept at wheedling information out of him, when he let me. Oh wait, that's a contradiction…

"Wasn't mentioned on the website."

"Perfect," I breathed, leaning farther forward—almost over his shoulder—to study the map. "That means they're hiding something."

He shrugged noncommittally. Maybe, I translated.

On the map there was nothing but featureless tan surrounding the dot marking the complex—it was in the middle of freaking nowhere.

Now, here's the question­—do we go to all the trouble of flying to Canada just to possibly end up on another mind-numbing tour of a 'special' laboratory?

"A day and half to get there, you think?" If we flew today and tomorrow…we could break in as early as Wednesday night.

"At the longest." He traced a route on the map with his finger, silently logging information for our flight plan.

"That's assuming there aren't any more Eraser attacks."

"Two, then."

I grinned agreement.

But it still didn't answer my original question—do we bother? I didn't know.

Give a little trust…Yeah, like that had worked last night. Not that I can deny voicing every little complaint had felt good, but that hadn't exactly been my original goal.

But then, on a purely professional level, Fang could be logical. Sometimes. Only when it bugged me.

"You think it's worth it?" I asked, unconsciously tightening my clasped hands.

Yes, I just asked for his opinion. Don't scream, please.

Fang seemed to seriously consider the question, and anything that made him think was a major accomplishment. I mentally gave myself a pat on the back. Really, I was getting better at the whole diplomacy thing.

There was a pause, then he said slowly, "It's…all we've got."

Well, as far as he knew. My gut instinct was telling me to screw Itex and drag Fang off to the Martinez's…but reason said that it was best to get to the root of the problem, and that was saving the world. Even if we did end up in the area, I had no business visiting Ella with five genetic freaks—plus dog—in tow.

"Besides," he added, "it's Toronto—we can disappear there, easy."

Where's the real Fang and what have you done with him? I mean, he'd just... talked. Of his own accord.

"It doesn't matter where we go when I've got a chip sewed in," I said bitterly.

He tore his eyes away from the screen to give me a hard, Don't-Even-Think-About-It look.

"Chill," I said exasperatedly; he only grudgingly turned back to the laptop. Tapping his shoulder, I added, "finish up; we're leaving in ten." Conversation over, I pushed off of the couch to assist Nudge—she couldn't find her mittens in her 'miraculously' organized backpack.

John hated bologna.

While eyeing the rubbery substance with distaste, he wished he'd remembered to pack his own lunch…and told his girlfriend not to bother. But he hadn't. And now he was hungry with nothing but a slightly squished bologna sandwich to eat.

Sighing, he prodded the bleached bread with his index finger, almost expecting it to jiggle or crawl away.

Really, his sour mood couldn't be blamed on the food—this wasn't the first time his girlfriend had tried to cook, and he always managed to salvage some snacks or leftovers from the cafeteria a couple floors down.

No, it was his job that made him feel like this, like he was in a slump of hazy dislike. When he'd first taken it, he'd been excited, but his contentment had been occasionally punctured as sharp, cruel bits of news were revealed to him, until he'd become completely deflated.

It was his job he hated, not the food.

I don't hate it, he told himself, but with a weak, almost desperate tone. I can't hate it; I haven't got a choice.

He received a paycheck, after all, and he needed the money to support himself and his girlfriend, Dee, who'd moved into his flat a couple months ago. Both still college-age, he'd opted for the paid internship while Dee attended an online university. (There weren't any campuses nearby.)

So here he was, his signature on a contract binding him for the next two years.

One year and nine months, he thought glumly, still staring at the sandwich.

Unless he was dismissed…but that wasn't an option when ter Bocht was your boss, just like resigning wasn't.

With another sigh, he forced himself to sit up and eat. There was a meeting for him to record at one o'clock, and he needed to be alert and ready for it. Because if he wasn't…

He suppressed a shudder, one that hadn't come from the sandwich's taste. Or lack thereof—it tasted as rubbery as it looked.

He'd hidden out in an unused conference room to eat, away from people and gossip he didn't want to hear. The downside was the numb silence frightened him just as much.

But then, a lot of things frightened John. His boss, for one. Though he'd never dare say it—not even to Dee—he was pretty sure ter Bocht wasn't all there. The haughty Director was no small threat either, with the way she'd become absolutely obsessed with finding the supposed 'mutiny' within her company.

This train of thought was killing his already weak appetite; he set the sandwich back down on the paper plate with a rather green face.

Because if the Director—and her team of genetic experiments, created especially for hunting the mutiny down—did find it, Bocht was dead. And anyone else who'd taken a part in it…everyone down to the measly interns.

Before John could upchuck his one bite of lunch, there was a knock on the door, distracting his roiling stomach for the time.

It really didn't do much for his nerves, though, since this sterile room was supposedly empty. Whoever it was probably wanted him specifically...or they were just looking for a place to hide as well.

When he didn't answer the knock, the unknown in question took that as a sign of the room being empty; the door silently swung open, and he strode in.

John forced himself to swallow. "H-hello," he stuttered nervously, wringing his hands in his lap.

The man did not look like an Itex employee, or even a Grandor's. He wore a leather jacket, his hair was buzz-cut, and his cargos were ripped at the knees. He couldn't even pass as an Eraser—his face was too rough, squared and unattractive, with stubble on his chin.

He froze at John's quavering voice, then spun around to lock eyes with him.

John felt like he was a potential meal being dissected by a predator; he tried to look stringy and unappetizing, hunching down in his chair.

Finally, the weathered man deemed him harmless enough, and he turned to scan the room with gray eyes. He licked his lips absently.

Without a word, he walked towards the table, leaving mud prints on the carpet. His gait had an unfitting grace for so stocky a build.

John suppressed the urge to scoot back his chair and run for it.

The man stopped, exactly opposite from John, and turned to face the table. Without a word—he seemed to have forgotten John was even there—he started to pull things out of his pockets and dump them on the table.

"I am Mercy," he said with a slow, deep voice, as a cardboard box fell in front of him. The contents rattled, like a sistrum. It was battered and stained, and the lid no longer closed all the way; John saw the burnished gleam of shotgun bullets inside.

"Oh," he said faintly. "I—I'm John."

The man—apparently Mercy, since John wasn't about to ask for a full name—bent down and pulled out a switch knife from the heel of his boot. It clattered onto the fake-wood table right next to the bullets.

"John." He seemed to taste the name, now holding a somewhat newer-looking tin of 9 mm cartridges up to the light for inspection. "Many noble kings of the Middle Ages bore the name, as did one of the Lord's disciples. Hebrew origin, and means 'God is merciful', like me."

"Really? I had no idea," he said, shrinking even farther into the leather chair. He didn't feel particularly noble at the moment—more like a crippled deer watching the hunter close in.

Mercy added the second box of ammo to the pile, then began to pat his jacket in search of more. He hadn't made eye contact since first walking in the door.

His tongue stuck out in concentration, he stuffed his hand deep in one of the inside pockets, then pulled out a pistol.

John made a strangled cry and leapt up, but Mercy just dropped it on the table with a thunk. From the label, he could tell that it was a Beretta 92FS, and though he had absolutely no idea what that meant, it couldn't be good.

Shaking hands held out defensively, John backed up, heading for the door.

"Look, it's been nice meeting you and all but I've got a—a thing I've got to do, and—"

"Are you in pain, John?"

He stopped rambling, even moving, so startled was he by the question. "Sorry?"

Mercy slid out another pistol from his back pocket and examined it, turning it over in his hands, feeling the metal, almost caressing it. "Are you in pain, John?" he repeated, tone exactly the same—soft, almost caring.

"Well no, not really," he stuttered, taking another step backwards; he stumbled in his haste. "I mean, I had a bit of—of a headache but I took an Advil this morning so really, it's not a prob—"

"Good." His husky voice cut him off. "But if you ever want out, just call for Mercy."

It slipped out before he could catch himself. "You can get me out?"

Oh god. He was going to die; he was going to die…if not from that pistol, then from security overhearing him with hidden cameras…

Mercy seemed completely oblivious to John's terror; he was smiling softly. He pressed a button on the gun with his thumb, and the cartridge slid free to hit the table with a hollow clatter "There is always a way out. I offer the suffering that passage."

"The—the suffering?" His back bumped against the door; blindly, his hand rubbed against it, searching for the knob.

"Yes. I am Mercy." Gently, he set the pistol down with the others, then picked up the newer, somewhat larger box.

Holding the open end down, he shook it, and a black cartridge fell into his palm. He weighed it, apparently trying to judge whether it was full or not.

John found the handle; he began to turn it, not daring to move quickly. "I—I don't understand." Please don't let that make him mad…

Mercy slid the fresh cartridge into gun's slot; it clicked. "I am my name; I must show mercy to the suffering."

John gulped.

Without warning, the room flashed red and a siren began to blare.

The pattern of noise told him what it was alerting—an experiment had broken free.

Just what I need, he thought hysterically. I either barricade myself in with a madman, or I run out into the halls where a dangerous animal's on the loose.

Mercy had become frantic, hurriedly stuffing the portable armory back in his many pockets. "I must go; there are wolf men calling for Mercy."

A dangerous animal out for blood, John corrected himself, and apparently getting it.

"But…surely they've captured it?" His voice had dropped to a terrified whisper; there was no way Mercy could hear him over the siren's blare.

Mercy, guns reloaded, turned and began to stride towards the door; John leapt out of the way, fast.

"I can hear them," said the man, wrenching it open. "One has lost an arm and is calling for me…Another experiment wishes not to be captured…"

John couldn't help but follow Mercy into the hall; protocol said he needed to report to his boss and help detain the creature, not hide in the conference room. Not that he wouldn't prefer hiding…

Trotting behind the insane Mercy, John frantically tried to recall where ter Bocht went during lunch hour. The cafeteria? No, he was too arrogant…He rounded the corner into one of the wide, main hallways.

He was going to faint.

The monster had already been through here—the mauled remains of Erasers proved so. One had been thrown against the wall and was already dead, crimson blood pooling on the tile floor around it. There was no sign of the Taser it had been carrying…which meant the escapee was intelligent. And had fangs.

Three bodies remained. John—shaking violently, the urge to run growing stronger by the minute—watched in horrified fascination as they moaned and squirmed, dying but not dead. Yet.

A totally severed part of his mind took it in numbly. He noticed the beast at the far end of the hall wasn't an Eraser—it was more catlike, with saber teeth and a Taser clutched in its twitching paws. So it hadn't gotten free, after all. John felt disappointed—if it had gotten away, there was a chance of it being discovered by the world, and this whole corporation would've shut down. He'd be free.

But it hadn't.

He was glued in place with fear, paralyzed. All he could do was watch.

Mercy's face was peaceful, his head held high and eyes focused on something no one else could see. Both arms hung slack at his side, a Beretta in each hand. With slow, pointed steps he paced the hall, as if walking down the aisle in a wedding procession.

As he passed by the dead Eraser, his head didn't even turn. The siren still blared, lights spinning, coating the world in red.

When he drew level with the second, he paused for only a moment, bringing both feet together. He twisted his neck to glance down at the beast—it was still alive, body shivering as it slid into shock. The light bloodied Mercy's hands and face; John could only see his profile. But his expression was unmistakably tender.

In one smooth motion, his right arm was lifted a few inches from his body and the trigger pressed; the Eraser's body jerked and fell still.

"Mercy is granted unto you," he mouthed, then looked ahead and continued his death walk, pausing just long enough to dispatch each casualty with the same ritual.

When the Beretta fired for the third time, the cat-hybrid's body went slack, and the alarm cut off.

John sighed in relief as the deafening racket ceased, and the world returned to the sterile color of white. No longer tied to the floor, adrenaline surged, and he staggered backwards, one goal in mind—get back to the room and lock it.

Mercy had rounded a corner, no longer within John's sight; he felt like he should vanish with the siren, a phantom to appear when the world turned to blood.

But as he stumbled and fell against the door, he heard the sharp snap of gunfire, twice in quick succession, and the man's warm voice saying, "Mercy is granted unto you."

Dragonology's Dictionary: "The happy think a lifetime short, but to the unhappy one night can be an eternity." –Luciano de Crescenzo

23. Chapter 23

A/N: I have no excuse... just procrastination. I've been in Chicago for a week, then I realized I was going to have to scrap two whole chapters of this story (considering this chapter is 5,000 words, two chapters is a lot) and then I went and revamped the one I've got, and now I've got all sorts of paperwork for school and stress is picking up... yeah. You'd freak too if you were a freshman attending a freaking boarding school.

The upside? This is the very last 'slow' chapter- this is the end of Part Four, folks, and the longest chapter you'll be seeing for awhile. So enjoy!

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: Don't steal my idea; it's the only one I've got.

Chapter 23

Finally, Nudge couldn't take it anymore.

"I HATE WINTER!"she hollered.

The air was cold. Really cold. Her nose stung; her eyes watered. It was like the wind was solid, biting and nipping with rows of clear, sharp teeth. And it made it super hard to fly—she kept getting buffeted around, knocked out of formation.

There wasn't any color. Just steel clouds above, greenish brown below. The oppressiveness made her think it was late evening, not noon. Day shouldn't be so dark, she thought.

And, naturally, said it too.

"Day shouldn't be so dark; who's ever heard of night at noon? Oh, that sounds cool, like a horror movie name or something! Night at Noon, the movie. Ouch! Stupid gusts. Why can't we fly above the clouds, where its sunny and not so…cramped?"

"Nudge," Iggy said in an attempt at placating, "we're all cold."

"Yeah, but—"

"At least we've got some decent winter clothes."

"I'm still cold! And I hate bulky coats and mittens and hats that make my hair all frizzy!"

"Oh, well, if that's the case…" He swooped down, flying inches above her, then tore the offending hat off her head.


Iggy laughed and rolled so that he was belly-up. Tauntingly, he placed the knit hat on his head and called, "Come and get it!"

The hat was hot pink with purple snowflakes, complete with pom-poms hanging off on the sides and top.

"You look so silly!" She giggled, chasing after the thief.

And she completely forgot about the weather, at least until Iggy let her catch up.

I watched this scene play out with a grin on my face. Those two never ceased to amuse me, regardless of the conditions.

And I couldn't help but agree with Nudge—winter sucked. How do all you northerners stand it?

I should probably get used to it, I thought rather ruefully. I am going to Canada.

Where it was even colder. Whoop-dee-do.

"Argh," I said in frustration, once again arguing with my mittens. "I can't do anything with these on!" I ripped them off, then reached over my shoulder to fish around in my backpack for the map.

Fang watched from beside me, and—as usual—I couldn't tell if he was sympathetic or amused or annoyed or anything. He'd opted to go bare-handed the whole flight, something I'd considered brainless earlier. But now I was starting to see the logic behind it.

"Where is the bloody thing?" I asked myself, still searching by touch alone. It was the next day—Wednesday, our second day of flight—and we were somewhere in southern Michigan. I thought.

There was the outline of a city approaching, and I wanted to use it as a landmark to make sure we were still on the right track.

My right hand was going numb, so I traded hands to rummage around with.

The map was suddenly shoved in my face. I stared at it cross-eyed for a moment, then took it and snapped, "You could've told me sooner."

"Wasn't as funny."

"Oh ha ha, I'm glad you're amused."

Fang gestured to the city. "That's Detroit."

I stopped pulling my mittens back on just long enough to smack my forehead in utter frustration. If he knew that, then there wasn't any point in taking out the map in the first place!

Argh. Boys.

"Dandy, then you can just put this back," I said.

Fang silently complied, tucking it in his coat pocket. His hands were shoved in deep, since he didn't have gloves.

"Lunch sounding good yet?" I asked.

He shrugged. Oh so helpful, not. But then, he hadn't eaten much this morning either.

"Ooh, yes yes yes!" called Nudge, flying underneath me with a…shoe…held in her hands.

Iggy paused to tell me hurriedly, "Sure," then continued to tail her. "Get back here! My foot's going numb," he yelled.

She giggled. "You shouldn't wear socks with holes in them."

Fang shook his head, and I saw a small smirk on his face.

"They're crazy," I agreed.

He glanced at me sharply, surprised at my apparent mind reading skills. Taste of his own medicine. I mentally congratulated myself for successfully reading his expression.

Now, to find the nearest Pizza Hut...

The remainder of the day passed uneventfully.

"Should I be worried?" I asked, voice muffled in the sheets. I was flopped facedown on a hotel bed, and I felt every tense muscle in my body slowly begin to unwind in the heated room.

"Probably," Fang said, unrolling a blanket on the ground.

I sighed. "Tomorrow's going to be twice as bad, to make up for today."


"I mean, it's been a pretty good day, overall. No Erasers, no Voice, no creepy destiny hints; just that address." Plus, no seizures, no silent treatment, no brain attacks, though I haven't had one of those in, like, weeks. No mental slideshows, either. No Eraser Max.

Damn. It really had been a good day.

It's only 10:15, Max.

Stupid Voice. Now I have to scratch it off of the list of Things That Hadn't Happened Today.

Fang pulled a spare pillow off of the bed, completing his masterpiece of abstract art. 'Pillow and a Blanket', by Fang Picasso.

Ha ha. I crack myself up.

He then proceeded to deface his own work by flopping onto it without ceremony, rumpling the blankets and squishing the pillow. Some just have no appreciation of good art.

But then he surprised me by talking first. As in choosing to speak. His voice had almost returned to normal—flat and strong. There was just a lingering roughness around the edges.

"There haven't been many Erasers."

Wow, conversation. Who'd a thunk it. Can't say I was complaining, though, so…"I know. It's really weird, how they've only been at a distance, except for a couple of days ago."

He nodded, then rolled onto his back. His eyes slid shut.

Well, that was an in-depth discussion on the agendas of wolf mutants and their superiors.

We'd bought two rooms for the night, linked with a door. A total of four beds, which created a case for arguing: Which lucky two got their own bed, and—for the remaining four—who shared with whom?

Which was the reason Fang had pulled an extra blanket out of the closet and chosen the floor. Simplifies things, because then only two had to share, not four.

And if I slept on the window seat, then no one would have to share…but that meant no mattress. Reluctantly, I pulled my face off the comforter and asked, "Is there another blanket?"

Fang opened his eyes, watching me, while I tried not to squirm or feel like a bug under a microscope. I felt completely transparent when he gave me that look.

"No," he said, and his expression slackened.

I rolled my eyes. So much for that idea.

"I'll share a bed with you," Angel offered, trotting through the door into our room and clutching Celeste. I heard the TV in the second room, but it was turned down so low that it was like listening to undecipherable fuzz, at least to me. Gazzy, Iggy, Nudge, and Total were much louder as they watched and laughed at it.

Through the connecting door I could see darkness, which meant they were watching with the lights out.

"Thanks, baby, that's really sweet of you," I said. There was a raucous chorus of "Aw"s and "Ooh"s from the movie-watchers, and I couldn't help but ask, "What are they watching in there?"

"Basketball," Fang murmured, not even opening his eyes.

I frowned and watched his almost relaxed form for signs of discomfort, then suddenly had an idea. "Who's winning?"



There was a couple seconds silence, then Fang answered, eyes still closed, "Seven to four."

"Is it an upset?"


"What are their colors?"

He scowled. "I can't hear colors."

That was enough evidence for me. "You're doing it again."

He opened his eyes and gave me a faintly wary look. "What?"

"Your hearing—it's gone bonkers again."

Angel watched this chatter with wide, curious eyes. "Can you really hear the TV from here?"

"Sort of."

I cocked an eyebrow, giving him the incredulous And-What-Does-That-Mean? look.

He shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest, staring up at the ceiling thoughtfully. "It's like…I'm in the room. When I'm listening."

Sheesh, he sure was talkative tonight. Mostly it was just answering my interrogation, but it was still pretty impressive.

I wondered how long it would last.

"You're making loads of sense," I said sarcastically.

Angel cocked her head, as if listening to something. "He doesn't really get it, either."

"Thanks," he said dryly.

"But you like it," she added.

"I do?"

"Yes, you do."

"Like what?" I butted in, lost.

"Sorry," Angel said. "He thinks it's cool—"

"When it works," I finished wryly. "Which is when…?"

Fang just shrugged and closed his eyes again.

Nudge shuffled into the room and yawned. "I'm going to bed; basketball's boring. But I like cheerleaders. And hotdogs. But not chili. Can we fist-stack now?"

Becoming tired did not necessarily make Nudge quieter, just more erratic.

So I left Fang and his inconsistent hearing and went into the second room to do the whole good-night routine. I had to wrestle Gazzy for the remote; he wanted to finish watching the game, but it was already past his bedtime.

"It's not live," Total pointed out, actually helping me for once.

"So?" Gazzy sulked as the TV screen went black.

"Cheer up," I said. "We're going to break into someplace tomorrow."

He groaned. "Not another Grandor's!"

"This one's different; we're not taking any tours."

It's amazing how the prospect of blowing things up will make boys happy. Even Iggy seemed perkier.

"We're prepared," he said gravely. He puffed out his chest as he said it melodramatically, then saluted.

Gazzy's head bounced up-and-down like he was listening to a song with a really fast beat. I think he was nodding agreement, but he panted, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," in rhythm with each bounce. He was practically jumping on the bed with eagerness.

Maybe it was a sugar overdose. Wouldn't be the first time.

I wagged a finger warningly. "Don't get too excited; this is subterfuge, not an invasion."

By then he was so high on excitement—or sugar—that he wasn't listening.

After that, it was the usual—fist-stack and tucking the two boys in. (Nudge, Angel, and I would sleep in the other room's two beds, while Fang took the floor in there.)

Mighty Emotionless seemed to have already fallen asleep, even though that room still had the lights on—he didn't answer my call for a fist-stack. And I knew he could hear from in there, so that wasn't an excuse.

I was going to tease the bejesus out of him for that…I just love thinking up annoying nicknames for him. Something that really annoyed him…Well, he hated being called lazy; that was a place to start…

I herded the girls (plus Total) into the room and was disappointed to find him awake. Well, actually, I didn't find him at all, but I heard the sink and fan running from in the bathroom. A crack of light leaked out from the bottom of the door.

Darn, he had an alibi and everything; there was no leeway for taunting.

Ten minutes later, I flipped the lights off in the room and pulled back the sheets on one of the beds. Angel was curled up on the other side, Total at the end.

I pulled the covers up to my chin; despite the heating, there was still a hint of cold, like it was seeping through the walls and into my frame.

Settled in, I ticked off one last check-list in my mind to make sure it was safe to sleep. Well, as safe as it got, anyway.


Check for brushed teeth, tuck in, etccheck.

Double-check for hidden cameras and bugs­check.

Make sure Fang's on watchche

Wait. No check.

I sat up in bed, scanning the room. He couldn't have disappeared; I'd been here the whole time. I would've heard the click of the door shutting, at the very least. Besides, it was his watch—he wouldn't duck out now. Fang was an idiot, but he didn't shirk responsibilities willingly.

So then, where was he? The bathroom, right. But he'd supposedly been in there over ten minutes…when it usually took him five. Which made no sense.


What if he had framed it to make it look like he was in the bathroom? Started the sink, turned on the fan and bathroom lights, then snuck out of the hotel while I was in the midst of fist-stacking?

No, that wasn't possible either—the sink was no longer running, and I'd been in this room the whole time since, so he had to have been in here to turn it off. The fan was still at it; I could hear its hum. But that still didn't explain why it would take him so long to brush his teeth.

I kicked off the covers and slid out of bed. Bugger him for making me get off the fluffy mattress after just thirty seconds.

Careful not to wake the others, I shuffled over to the bathroom door and quietly called, "Fang?"

No answer, which really didn't surprise me; my expectation was for him to open the door and slide past me with the You-Should-Be-Asleep look.

He didn't do that, either.

With a sudden dose of terror, I realized it was Wednesday. The day after Monday.

That sounded really random, didn't it? Let me elaborate: his last fit…seizure…whatever it was, happened on Monday. And­—with the exception of that one—they'd all occurred in a steady pattern—every other day.

I tapped on the door and called his name again, trying not to sound too worried.

The last one didn't follow the pattern, I told myself bracingly. It was back-to-back. So maybe this one won't happen for another day. And besides, it's not Iggy's shift yet.

For your information, Iggy's shift w-won't start until tomorrow.

I pinched the bridge of my nose, fighting a slight headache. I dismissed the stutter as a glitch with the chip or my imagination. Probably the latter.

Quit confusing me and tell me what the hell is going on.

Iggy's shift doesn't start until after midnightso it'll technically be Thursday.

Gripping the doorknob for support, I winced at its flat voice. A throb pulsed through my head every time it spoke—not bad, but enough to annoy me.

And I care because…?

Because that means Fang should've already had a seizure, if they've resumed the usual p-pattern.

I was only starting to wake up, my breathing just picking up a little, so my groggy mind drew a blank.

Sensing my confusion, it added, Monday's exempted, they've all happened between 3 and 5 a.m., which makes him overdue.

I swallowed. This past week, we've put our sleep times early, so we were usually up around seven in the morning. Since Iggy always had the last four hours, that would put him right in line with Fang's…problem.

Shit. So now that he'd skipped over the usual time, that meant I had absolutely no timetable to work with. He could be having one right now, or he may not have one for days.

Knowing my luck, it was the first.

He hadn't answered the door yet. I knocked again, somewhat louder, and said, "Fang, you okay?"

Still nothing. My breathing was starting to pick up; a mantra of nononono was running through my head.

The doorknob was cool metal under my sweaty palm, but I hesitated turning it for another second.

Nothing happened in that second, so I used a firm voice to announce, "I'm coming in."

I opened the door, blinking in the wash of sterile light that poured from the widening crack. There was a sink to my left, tucked the corner, a toilet directly in front of it, and a bath/shower on the far wall.

Fang was sitting on the edge of the tub, leaning sideways to rest his head against the wall. His arms were crossed, his eyes closed.

He would've passed for sleeping if not for the shaking.

"Shit," I hissed, hurrying over. I crouched beside him and grabbed his shoulder. "Fang?"

Slowly, he forced his eyes to open. They were only slits, but he flicked them sideways to meet mine. His face twisted into a sour expression, realizing that his attempt at hiding from me had failed.

My whole arm was shaking from holding onto his vibrating shoulder. But I wasn't hysterical, though maybe a little frantic. I was ready this time; I'd had over two days to brace myself, at least mentally. The problem was I still didn't have a freaking clue as to what a spotter was supposed to do…

"Fang?" I asked anxiously. "What's wrong?"

What an ass of a question.

"Go 'way," he gasped, then doubled over as he began to cough, arms uncrossing to fall in his lap.

"Don't waste your breath," I said dryly, to trying to keep some residue of lightness in the conversation. Anything to calm his racking cough­—it was making the shaking worse. My hands hovered over him, unsure whether touching him would do harm or good.

Gasping, wheezing, he regained control of his breathing. Sort of. It was still ragged as he shook, and he stared down at the floor with distant eyes.

"Fang? Come on, what's the problem?" Another stupid question, but I was desperate to keep him with me. I really didn't like the strained look on his face.

With a flinch, he straitened his back, sitting up. He mustered a glare in my direction, gasped, "I'm fine."

"Give it up," I snapped, grabbing his shoulder again possessively. "I'm not moving."

Even as I watched, he weakened, then his eyes slid shut as he listed sideways. "Dammit," he breathed as he pressed the side of his face against the wall again.

Oh god, what was I supposed to do? Keep moving; be practical, I told myself.

Yeah, how the hell did I do that?

I should keep him comfortable…There wasn't much else I could do. Completely slumped against the sterile wall, skin clammy and pale, he looked sick, feverish. It suddenly occurred to me that he probably found the cool tile soothing; he was sweating, after all.

"Hold on," I urged him, coming up with an idea.

I released his shoulder and scurried over to the sink. There was a towel rack screwed into the wall next to it; I grabbed a fluffy white washcloth with one hand and cranked the faucet handle with the other.

I waited a couple seconds to make sure the water was as cold as it got, then soaked the cloth. Goosebumps ran up my arms from getting icy water on my hands.

Since Fang was behind me, I could watch him in the mirror as I worked. He continued to breathe raggedly. His hands rested slack in his lap. Tremors rippled down. Even his legs shook. But at the moment he seemed more feverish than epileptic.

I pulled the washcloth out from under the faucet and wrung it out.

From what I could remember of that first seizure, he'd shivered for the majority of the time, and the tremors got progressively worse until they erupted into a full-fledged convulsion for a few moments. It ended abruptly.

So I was pretty sure I'd found him early on this time; he still retained enough control to sit up, at least.

I turned off the faucet and sprinted the whole two steps back to him, but not before kicking the door shut behind me. I didn't want to wake the rest of the Flock—their fear and worry would rub off on me, something I couldn't afford to let happen.

Cautiously, I perched on the tub next to him, studying the side of his face. He took no notice of me, just continued his harsh breathing. I folded the cloth in half, the icy damp chilling my fingers, then leaned over and pressed it to his forehead. He flinched at the sudden cold, but didn't open his eyes.

"Feel good?" I asked quietly.

He swallowed and dipped his head. It was a small, sharp jerk, but at least it was an answer at all. His sudden lack of fight terrified me.

The shuddering seemed worse than earlier, confirming my memory. I'd been here for what felt like forever; it wouldn't be much longer before they became a convulsion. Then it'll be over, I told myself. Almost done.

His face was tight, jaw clenched as he fought the shivers. Sweat glistened. Hands curled into fists. Eyes still shut.

I checked the time on the clock adorning the wall to my left, determined to keep track of long this thing really lasted. It was bare, classroom style, and stark against the flowery wallpaper. The second hand had just hit the six; it was exactly 11:03:30 p.m.

Almost over. Then it'll be done. Over.

A hitch, almost a choking sound, made my gaze fly back to Fang. His breath had caught, but he was already back to his gasping. He shifted uncomfortably when a particularly violent shiver racked his shoulders. I grabbed his wrist with my spare hand, since there was no way I could pry his clenched fist open to hold. His pulse was racing beneath my fingers, even by mutant standards.

"Not much longer," I reassured, trying to calm myself as much as him.

Sitting up against him let me feel his shaking, a sensation that really did not do much for the Calming Campaign. Especially when the usual, feverish vibrations were periodically interrupted with a much less controlled tremor.

The only sounds were the whine of the fan and his erratic breathing.

After tense, silent while, I flipped the washcloth over and laid the fresh side against his forehead. Fang forced a swallow and winced as his whole arm jerked, almost a spasm. He was slipping, control leeched away. I glanced up at the clock—and decided it was broken.

There was no way it'd only been thirty seconds.

Iggy woke with a jerk, bolting upright. Where was he?

In a bed, the air smelled of air-freshener…a hotel. Yes, he was waking up now. They'd crashed at a rather nice hotel for the night. He had his own bed, a first in weeks. It was night—he wasn't really certain how he knew; the sound of cars driving by outside was infrequent, no voices from the hallway…it was too calm for the day.

So what had woken him? His ears strained to pick up an anomaly. A hum…the heating or a fan. Gazzy snuffled and shifted.

Then he heard it again—a loud, dull thud. The first had woken him; this one set him on alert.

Max. He heard her voice, muffled by a door. They'd kept the one dividing the two bedrooms propped open, so she had to be in the bathroom.

Maybe she'd just knocked over a bottle of shampoo and was cussing up a storm.

No, he reasoned, that noise had been way too loud. It was like someone was trying to knock a hole in the wall.

All this reasoning, deducting possibilities and coming up with theories…he did it constantly, rapid-fire.

A few seconds later, he'd come up with his best bet—something was very wrong.

Throwing off the sheets, he hopped out of bed, placing one hand on the night stand to anchor his position in the room. Now, five steps forward, three left…

He passed through the door into the other room. Nudge and Angel's breathing was too heavy for sleep—

"What was that?" Nudge whispered, then yawned. Springs creaked as she clambered out of bed to join his side. Her strides were shuffling, scraping along the carpet.

Total snored.

Iggy cocked his head slightly, listening for sounds of Fang moving. That boy would already be up and wary, waking Max and looking for trouble. At least, he would be, if he were here.

"Where's Fang?" he asked.

He heard Nudge's small gasp as she spun around; Angel sat up, still only half-awake.

"He's gone!" Nudge hissed frantically. "And so is Max."

Well, that simplified things. At least he knew what was going on.

Nudge, however, was still in the dark. "Oh no, what if they kidnapped them again? But they didn't put clones in this time…oh, what're we gonna do!?"

"Shush," Iggy said. Nudge's teeth clacked as she clamped her mouth shut. "Max is in the bathroom." With Fang sounded awkward; he left it unspoken.

"Then where's Fang?" Angel asked, worried.

He sighed. So much for the avoiding controversial questions. "He's sick; that's why Max is with him."

How much was he supposed to say? The kids had seen that one a week ago, but she hadn't told them anything about the…others. He swallowed, slightly nauseous.

"Oh," Nudge said, sounding relieved. "Did he do something stupid again?"

You mean like pretending not to be injured, better know as committing passive suicide? "No. He's sick, not hurt." Though if that bang was anything to go by, he might've become both…

He went over to the bathroom door; he hadn't memorized its location like the other, so he had to hold his hands out in front of him until they brushed against it. He needed reassurance, needed to know that she was there, taking care of him, everyone.

He knocked on the door and said, "Max? Everything okay in there?"

A couple seconds passed; there was another bang, though not as vicious as the earlier ones. He heard someone hiss, probably Max. The list of fabric against a hard surface, rustling, like someone was on the ground. Then there was nothing.

No, he corrected, pressing his ear against the door—he heard her panting breaths.

"It's okay, Iggy," she called, too-high voice giving her away. "Fang's okay. Just out of it."

I was shaking as badly as Fang, not even trying to control my aftershock, my relief. It was over.

Note to selfnext time, make sure he picks somewhere bigger. This tiny bathroom wasn't large enough to accommodate his six-foot frame on the floor, and he'd ended up denting the drywall and leaving a black skid-mark on the door from the sole of his shoe. All his kicking and banging had apparently woken Iggy, too.

The tile floor was hard on my bony knees, though I was hardly in the mood to notice. I'd dropped to the ground and remained there, knelt by him, when the convulsions started. But I'd refrained from pinning him down—I remembered both Iggy and the Voice telling me not to last time.

Now, Fang lay panting in front of me. On his left side—facing me—he shivered, but it was from weakness, aftershock from the seizure. I was unable to tell if he was conscious; his hair was obscuring his face. So I reached out a shaky hand to brush his damp, black hair back.

"Fang?" I whispered. His eyes were closed, but his face was no longer twisted in a grimace…now it was just exhausted and pale. His mouth was open a little as he panted; his chest rose-and-fell rapidly. He hadn't breathed through the paroxysms.

There was no answer; he was zonked. I pulled my hand back, watching him with so many emotions it was an overload. It was like there were two levels in my mind—the panicked part that wanted to break down and cry, versus this more distant, logical part.

The logical part said, I should be doing something.

Surely there were steps to take, something to be done? Just sitting here with an unconscious Fang in front of me probably wasn't the right thing to do.

I suddenly remembered the clock and my idea of tracking the time, but it was a little late now. Even with my panic-warped time perception I knew this fit had lasted longer, but I also had tangible proof: He'd only had one true convulsion during the first seizure, but he'd had five this time.

With that bit of knowledge, the much stronger—albeit less coherent—part of my mind surged up, and I tucked my knees up against my chin in an attempt to not cry. My throat was tight and burning.

"Max?" Iggy called tentatively, "you sure?"

Don't think about it, my logical part advised. I managed to do just that for about, oh, three seconds.

Shit, now the fresh memories were running behind my eyes, a nasty Technicolor movie. I wasn't sure which was more likely at the moment—puking or crying. Doing both at the same time would be really unpleasant, so I opted to suppress the nausea first by taking deep, monitored breaths.

All my work towards steady breathing almost went down the tubes as I began to cry—dry sobs really threw it off rhythm. Get a grip, Max. It's over, I thought. Now's not the time to panic.

A tear broke free and slid down the side of my face; I swiped the traitorous drop away and forced myself to concentrate on Iggy's question.

"I'm sure," I called, hoping my voice wouldn't crack. "Go back to sleep—we've got work to do tomorrow."

Dragonology's Dictionary: "If you follow me, I may lead you straight to hell, but if you trust me, I will lead you back out again." –Francesco Pfauth

End of Part Four

24. Part Five: In

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: Don't steal my idea; it's the only one I've got.

Chapter 24

"Well, here we are."

Sheesh, I was good at this whole sounding perky thing. One of the prerequisites of being leader, you see. Give 'em confidence, and they'll follow you anywhere. So they say.

Right now, I'd led them to a copse of mostly dead bushes and crouched behind them. It wasn't exactly bullet-proof, but it was the best shelter around this otherwise bleak plain. And—by peering through the webbing of branches—we could see Grandor's Laboratory without them seeing us. I hoped.

"It looks like a factory," Nudge said, curiosity clear in her voice. "Like they make cars and machinery and—"

"Mass-produced sporks," finished Iggy with a grin. Despite the teasing that had ensued this morning, he'd opted to borrow Nudge's pink hat again. I still wasn't convinced he was wearing it for practical purposes.

Nudge tried to glare at him, but failed. "That wasn't funny, you know. It was lame-o."

"Then why is Fang laughing?"

Fang gave him an Are-You-Crazy? look, no traces of humor in existence.

Gazzy giggled. "You should see his face, Ig. He's gonna kill you."

"Oh no!" Iggy put on a huge show of acting terrified, clapping his hands to his mouth and staring with wide eyes. "Mighty Emotionless is after me! You'd better start drafting that eulogy—my days are numbered in the single digits." He used a high, keening voice, mimicking some old lady: "He was my brother, the handsome Iggy, though he's somewhat less attractive now that he's all corpse-ified—"

"Alright people, back to the issue at hand," I said brusquely, trying to regain order. Honestly, can't any of them stay focused? "How are we getting in?"

Crouched behind a bunch of bushes at the base of a hill did not give us much of a tactical advantage. Especially since our little shelter wasn't inside the property, which happened to have a large chain-link fence surrounding it.

Said property was very…stark. To put it politely. Franker people (when they could be bothered to talk, ahem) would use phrases like butt-ugly and scar on the Canadian landscape.

Nearly an acre of land was fenced in, placed at the top of a shallow hill. The resulting pen had poured concrete ground, probably to create a flat base for the building itself. And a parking lot, though I only saw about a dozen or so cars clustered along one side.

Sticking out of the ground—in the dead-center of the enclosure—was a ribbed aluminum cube. I assumed there was a door somewhere, but I sure didn't see anything on the side facing me. It looked rather like a hangar. A very big hangar. A damn hideous hangar.

It didn't help that the weather was still sucky—steel clouds and a wind with a bite. And there was absolutely nothing to the landscape…This complex stuck out like a sore thumb in the barren, dead grassland here. Because, you know, it was winter, so the already cleared-out foliage had no color.

Overall, the place matched my mood.

"We can't tunnel in…" mused Total. "How about flying on the roof, then drilling a hole though it?"

I'd tried to put both him and Angel under temporary house-arrest this morning. It was an attempt at keeping the two out of danger—and it'd given me an excuse to leave Fang to recuperate. ('Someone has to watch them.')

"We haven't got a drill," I said.

"Oh." His tone was disappointed.

Obviously, it hadn't worked. Partially because neither of them wanted to stay put, and, you know, I'd have to tie Fang to a chair to get him to stay behind. Which I could've done easily before the painkillers had kicked in for him…but that was an uneven fight, and my damned conscience hadn't completely abandoned me yet.

"Dressing up as pizza delivery probably wouldn't go over well either," Iggy said. "There aren't any pizzerias in range."

"Aw, man, I'd wanted to do that again," whined Nudge. "I know! We can grab onto the underside of a truck, and it'll drive in, and then we'll be in."

There was silence; we all stared at the dirt road leading up to the gate. There hadn't been a single car yet, and we'd been scouting the perimeter for well over an hour.

"Never mind," she said faintly.

"I say we just blow the joint," Gazzy said.

"We can't leave yet!" she protested.

"I meant blow it up."

"We can't do that either," I said firmly. "There might be important stuff inside."

More quiet as we pondered our latest dilemma. There wasn't anything to make noise—all the bugs were dead in December.

Then we were all surprised to hear someone say, "The guard's leaving soon."

It took me a second to recognize Fang's voice he was so hoarse. Those were the first words he'd said all day, and now I knew why he avoided talking—it was raw, chafing.

I turned to him, his expression the usual flatness. "How do you know?"

He made no eye contact with me and instead took immense interest in peering through the knots of brush. Which was how he'd been with me all morning—acting like last night had never happened, except for a decided awkwardness whenever I spoke.

Normally, I would've cornered him, shoved the facts down his throat and said he couldn't keep turning a blind eye, but I needed him as undamaged as possible, at least for today. I'd have our showdown later, when we weren't breaking into a company bent on world domination, and he didn't have to be high on ibuprofen to move.

Fang swallowed and rasped, "He said."

I really wished there were crickets to chirp in our bewildered silence.

Iggy finally managed to say, though it was sort of strangled, "…Huh?"

"The guard," Fang said, clipped and impatient; his voice grew more strained as he spoke, to the point it almost faded. "He called his wife. He's going home for lunch early."

I glanced at the small guardhouse adjoining the gate. It was several hundred feet away, and—with my enhanced vision—I watched as the tubby guard inside stood and picked something up.

But I could also see a window and a door, both of which were closed to keep out the cold.

"But there's no way you can hear…" I trailed off, because just then, we saw the door swing open and the tiny figure head out towards the lone car parked outside the complex. He waddled slightly, marking him human, not Eraser.

No one took his place—the guardhouse was empty.

"Okay, that was kinda creepy," Nudge said, sounding almost awed.

We all stared at Fang, which kind of crept him out in turn.

He shrugged and—sounding completely blasé—said, "I can throw my hearing."

A sharp whistle of wind charged through, rattling the brush, wood scraping against wood and poking at our parka-clad bodies. I barely noticed.

Iggy blurted, staring right where Fang was, "You can what?"

Fang was looking seriously irked about now, since he had to repeat everything he said, but I still picked up on the faint hint of pride in his voice—it was unnatural against the coarse tone. "I can throw my hearing."

I blinked, struggled to translate that into Normal English, and failed entirely.

But Nudge had taken the floor, prattling on in major excitement. "Omigosh, you've got a power now! That is so cool, because now everyone has one! But, but what is it? Is it, like, throwing as in throwing your voice?"

Fang nodded.

"So you've got super-hearing?" Angel asked, staring at him with wide eyes.

He shook his head.

I rolled my eyes and prepared to ask for an elaboration, but he managed to pull together a stilted explanation on his own. "I…put myself in the guardhouse. So I couldn't hear you."

Aha, something bordering on sense. Since I was practically bilingual, I added (for the others' benefit), "I get it. You can move your hearing around, but not make it stronger in general."

Fang considered, but seemed to deem my definition adequate, since he nodded.

"Weird," Iggy said. "It's almost better than super-hearing, because that way if someone shouts in your ear it won't hurt."

"But if you're channeling your hearing somewhere out of range, how will you know if something happens where you physically are?"

We all turned to Total and stared.

"What kind of question is that? We're not exactly Ivy League students," Iggy said.

"I was just asking," Total said, sulking.

Fang watched the dog thoughtfully, then said, "I can see." His voice splintered on 'can'; he swallowed self-consciously, while everyone else pretended not to notice.

"Yeah, Total, gosh!" Gazzy said in mock-offense.

Iggy cleared his throat and puffed out his chest to look like some pompous professor. "It is in my professional opinion that Fang can only 'throw' one of the five senses. Following the Rules of the…the—what's a fancy law thing? Oh, I know—the Equilibrium of Science, this suggests he is perfectly capable of seeing an Eraser attack with his eyes even if—"

"Shut up, Ig!" we all snapped. He grinned impishly.

"What's the Equi-eckba—" stumbled Gazzy.

"Equilibrium of Science?" offered Iggy. "Haven't got a clue; I made it up."

I huffed, trying to draw them back to reality and away from Iggy's Comedic Hour. "Well, congrats to you on your new power, Fang, but can we please break into this place before that guard comes back?"

"Oh yeah," Nudge said, as if she'd totally forgotten we were crouched outside some high-security madhouse. She probably had.

"Maybe we could fly onto the roof?" Angel asked.

I shook my head. "Guards patrolling it." Though I couldn't tell if they were human or Eraser, my guess was human—all the Erasers would be inside, to give the outside a normal façade. Well, normal-er.

Either way, we couldn't just walk up to the door and knock. Even if no one was guarding the gate, a sentry on the roof was bound to notice a group of ratty kids and their dog crossing an empty parking lot.

But if we could just get into the guardhouse itself…

A half-shaped plan was coming into existence. "Alright, here's the deal—Iggy, Nudge, and I are going to break into the guardhouse and mess with the security stuff in it. Once it's good to go, I'll…"

And that's where my plan ended. What would I do? Find some way to signal to the others? I didn't really know what would attract attention to them but not the guards too.

"Just say," Fang finished, tapping his ear pointedly.

Oh yeah, he'd just throw his hearing with us. Weird. It'd be like talking to an invisible person. An invisible mute person.

"Well, okay…"

"What happens after?" Total asked, cocking his head at me and his stub of a tail wagging.

Um. "We'll make it up as we go," I decided, then warily stood and began to cross the field with Iggy and Nudge in tow.

The sentries didn't shoot us.

Iggy crouched down in front of the door, rubbing his fingers against the keyhole. The guardhouse basically looked like a miniature version of the lab, though it did have the upgrades of a window and a door.

"Think you can open it?" I asked, leaning over him to watch.

"Oh, I don't know, this feels pretty complex…"

"You're being sarcastic," Nudge said contemptuously, then added in a hesitant voice, "Right?"

Iggy grinned, but made no move to pull out his lock picking kit.

"Right?" I echoed anxiously. If they'd put some super-padlock on just a measly guardhouse, our chances of getting into the high-security areas were pretty much nil.

Iggy stood. "Well, I might be able to, with a little time…"

He pulled his hand away from the lock, and instead brushed it against the doorknob.

"Well, a little's all we've got," I said.

He turned the knob and let the door fall open on its own. Hinges squealed protest and revealed the cramped interior, a place that was unfortunately not heated.

Okay, so much for difficult…

His grin broadened mischievously. "Yes, Nudge, I was being sarcastic. The door was never locked."

Argh. Boys.

"I am going to kill you," I growled, stalking past.

The three of us piled into the guardhouse, backing into the corners in an attempt to make more room. It didn't work.

I regretfully pulled the door shut—I didn't want any guards to notice it flopping about in the wind—completing our confinement.

"It's a good thing none of us are claustrophobic," Iggy muttered sarcastically. He was pressed up against the wall, ramrod straight with tension.

This compartment was only meant for one person, after all; it couldn't have been more than six by six feet. The chair took up most of the floor space, with a built-in desk wrapping around two of the walls. Lots of monitors and buttons glowed invitingly.

"At least there's a window," I shot back, then realized I was blocking the way. "Um, Nudge, I'd ask you to get busy, but that would mean squeezing past me…"

She managed to grin, despite the fact she was pinned in the corner.

"Suck it in, Max," Iggy ordered.

"Shut it, Amazon boy." I nonetheless complied, holding my breath as she wormed by.

After a tiny bit (okay, a lot) of swearing on my part and some thumping that probably rocked the whole guardhouse, Nudge flopped into the chair with a relieved sigh.

"Here I go!" She cracked her fingers, then gently laid them atop the keyboard.

I'll save you the details; suffice with the knowledge it took all of fifteen minutes for her to hack into the system, turn off the security cameras, disengage the gate, find a list of all the passwords to unlock the many doors, and set off an alarm in the basement. (Through the window, I saw all the sentries on the roof gallop off to investigate.)

"Impressive," Iggy said, while I quickly scribbled the different codes on a scrap of paper. Never mind the fact I was using the back of a page from the guard's completely full phone book. Hopefully I hadn't ripped out any seriously important numbers…

Nudge blushed with pride. "Thanks. It's actually super fun, because it's like sifting through a maze, or maybe a spider web's a better way to put it...and the guy who just left is so weird! He's like, obsessed with comic books, even though he's thirty years—"

"That's great, hon, but could you please tell the others we're ready?" I interjected, stuffing the paper in my pocket.

"Oh yeah! Do you think Fang can hear everything I'm saying right now? That's so weird to think about." She glanced around our cramped quarters uneasily, as if she expected to see some phantom-Fang lurking in a corner.

"Probably," I said, then suppressed a groan when I realized just how much of a curse his power was. He's going to be the biggest eavesdropper.

Nudge hesitated a second; her fingers still rested on the keyboard in unconscious reassurance. Then she said in an awkward, raised voice, "Um, guys, I mean Fang, we're, uh, all done and ready and stuff, so you can come now!"

I glanced outside the window and to where our copse of brush was, waiting for them to pop up and scurry across the field.

Someone pounded on our door, rattling the thin metal.

The three of us tensed and exchanged panicked glances. A guard had come to fill in the vacancy; we were completely trapped.

Thump thump thump thump. Whoever it was, he sure was impatient.

"Let me in!" he ordered through the metal.

Nudge had to stifle a giggle fit. The voice was whiny and thin, not at all the gruff strength that goes along with the word 'guard'.

Iggy tried to sound large and confident when he yelled, "It's locked!"

"Oh." Sheesh, what a gullible fellow. "You left the key outside?"

"Um, yes!"

For some reason, there was suddenly a lot of scuffling outside, like there were two sentries arguing over the door. Some words exchanged, muffled beyond comprehension, then the second guard must've gained the upper hand, since he spoke next. And he wasn't so trusting.

"Nice try," he called, already turning the doorknob.

Argh. I sighed; all three of us visibly slumped in relief when we heard that strained voice.

With a creak, the door swung open, and I flinched at the gust of icy wind that smacked me. But I still saw Fang and the others were the only ones standing outside.

Nudge cried reproachfully, "That wasn't nice at all!"

Gasman burst out laughing. "But it was funny!"

That little bugger had changed his voice, making it the whiny pitch of the 'guard'.

"What were you thinking, letting him pull a prank like that? I was gonna jump him!" I snapped at Fang, hopping out into the less claustrophobic open air.

"He ran ahead." He shrugged, then turned away to scan the area.

"How'd you get here so fast?" Iggy asked, closing the door behind him. We were all bunched together, both to evade the cold and keep hidden in the small building's shadow.

"We came as soon as Nudge unlocked the gate," chimed Angel.

"We didn't bother to wait for the signal," added Total.

I rolled my eyes. "So you listened in on us the entire time. Isn't that just possibly overkill?"

Even though he was in the midst of trying to avoid me, a corner of Fang's mouth quirked up. "'Suck it in, Max,'" he quoted, then limped off towards the now open gate.

I'll never feel safe again.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." –Ambrose Redmoon

25. Chapter 25

A/N: Well, note to self: that last chapter sucked almost as much as 16 (shudders at stupid mistake)... don't ever write about Iggy's comedic hour again.

Random comment: if you want an idea of how I picture Mercy, go Google Jensen Ackles and add a manic gleam to his eyes... yes, you will be seeing Mercy again. Next chapter, actually. (Whoops, did I just say that...?)

On a more serious note, a lot of you have been leaving reviews regarding a possible character death. First off, I am not even sure who will die; I'm grabbing at straws in an effort to put someone else in the current victim's place, because- quite frankly- I would prefer at least a semi-happy ending, but I'm not sure I can pull it off. The plot needs a death. Secondly, I promise I will leave a glaring, bold warning above that chapter, and possibly even the chapters leading up to it. Thirdly, it will not be until the climax of the story, and that is still thousands of words off. Look at it this way- I've just starting prewriting the Interlude, or Chapter 31. Though it actually falls somewhere around 2/3's of the way through the story, I can't make any promises as to the length (I never planned for it to be this long, and I've not even begun the climax) but I assure you there is plenty of time before someone (possibly) dies.

Also, a lot of you seem to think Max was going freaky paranoid over Fang's power, especially with the last sentence- I'll never feel safe again. That was partially a joke, people; Max is concerned, but not obsessively so- more just the mother hen fretting over how he's going to use it, considering his, erm, less-than-angelic morals. :)

Hopefully this chapter is back up to par; please review to make up for the measly numbers last time... if nothing else, the cliffhanger ought to be an incentive.

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride; James Patterson does.

Claimer: Don't steal my idea, even if it's not the only one I've got. (wha'? Doubletake)

Chapter 25

We scampered across the concrete lot, feeling exposed and tense. At any moment I expected guards to pop up on the roof or come spilling around the corner, shooting bazookas at us.

My face kept getting whipped with hair; there was no foliage to slow the wind, and it screamed past viciously. I had to double over, crouched low for stability as much as caution. Only our adrenaline-enhanced alertness kept Nudge from whimpering and Total from yapping complaints.

Finally, our straggling group reached the imposing wall; I pressed my back against it, then decided otherwise—the ribbed metal was frigging cold, like pressing my back to an ice cube.

It was overcast, thick clouds oozing by above, so there wasn't much of a shadow to cover us. Plus, the walls were featureless; all a sentry had to do was poke his head over the edge of the roof to immediately spot us.

The parking lot, I noticed, was only about a quarter full, and all the cars were bunched on the end furthest from us. Figures.

"Now what?" Angel asked, wiping her runny nose on the back of her sleeve and looking up at me with wide eyes.

With the lot of us lined up against to the aluminum wall like suspects, I was hard pressed for an answer. We had opted just to wear sweatshirts and lots of layers, as bulky, bright-colored parkas don't really make good spy clothing, but the downside was that we were all shivering. Even Fang had a bluish tinge to his lips, and he crossed his arms tight against his chest. I did the same and hunched my shoulders for good measure.

Forced to yell over the sharp hiss of the wind, I said, "We're gonna circle around and find a door."

Fang muttered something and eyed the bare wall doubtfully, but just as a particularly harsh gust whistled by to prevent me from hearing what.

"What'd you say?" I shouted, squinting against the bite. Angel had picked up Total; the two of them used each other's body heat to keep their hands (and paws) warm.

He glanced back at me, and I couldn't help but notice—underneath the black hair that was blown across his face—that he'd momentarily forgotten to glare.

He forced his hoarse voice louder; the wind carried it oddly, and though I could see his mouth move, the sound seemed to be coming from the other side of a wall. "If there is a door!"

I was going to reply, but decided it was just easier to nod agreement. I turned and began leading them along the side of the building, heading for the filled part of the parking lot and north wall. It would make sense for the front door to be nearest where people parked, right?

A couple times, I glanced back over my shoulder to make sure everyone was trailing. Angel was right behind with Total, then Nudge, then Iggy, then Gazzy, with Fang bringing up the rear. I couldn't hear him, but he held a fist to his mouth, and his shoulders shook as he coughed. Note to self: don't let him yell anymore.

Yeah, like Fang was prone to random shouting matches.

I paused before rounding the corner, worried of someone spotting us, but plucked up the nerve to poke my head around. Quickly, I took everything in with a glance, then twisted back to our relative safety to absorb it.

There was a door—I saw the frame and large knobs protrude from the wall—but no windows, which would've been the preferable method of breaking in. But I took heart in the fact there was some way in.

"What'd you see?" yapped Total; there was a short lull in the gusts that let me hear him.

I raised my voice so they could all hear. "There's a door, but also guards."

Two of them, posted on either side, cradling had what appeared to be machine guns in their arms. I couldn't tell if they were Erasers or not. Great.

There is another way in.

I wondered when you'd show up, I thought, daring another quick glance around the corner. People had begun trickling out, no doubt headed for lunch, dressed in the usual business outfits.

There was probably a closet inside for the lab coats.

You must do this alone; I c-cannot speak much in this vic-c-cinity, it said, but I can tell you that there is a garbage shoot that empties out of the s-south side.

I winced as my head pulsed and kneaded at my forehead…And what the hell was with the stutter? Can we fit? I asked, taking a calming breath, and is it possible to climb?

Would I be telling you if y-you couldn't?


Once it stopped talking, the headache abated. Weird. There was something wrong with the Voice, more than the stutter—it sounded almost fuzzy, like the transmission was fading. Or maybe I was out of range.

Like I said, weird.

"Alright, turn around!" I called, turning to face the line behind me. Sheesh, yelling at the top of our lungs, checking out the front door, wearing sweatshirts and standing in plain sight…We definitely passed as experienced criminals.

Fang cocked his head and flicked his hand at me; I took it as a gesture to repeat myself.

I cupped my hands around my mouth like a megaphone, prepared to holler at the top of my lungs, but Fang suddenly made a frantic slashing motion across his throat. Stop.

He then tapped his ear and mouthed, Normal.

Oh. He'd thrown his hearing this time; if I yelled again, it'd blast his eardrums.

I tell you there is something very strange about being unable to hear what you're saying. I could feel my throat vibrating as I spoke at an average volume, saw Fang's expression wasn't confused, and yet I heard nothing over the howl.

"Turn around," I said. (At least, I think I said.) "There's a garbage chute on the south wall we can climb."

He nodded, then turned, tapping Gazzy on the shoulder to get the kid's attention.

With one hand brushing the wall for stability against the wind, he led our little train, while I took up caboose.

At least there isn't any snow, I thought, then winced at the sting from the wind. It seemed to be attacking, trying to batter down the wall, the only obstruction for miles.

Upon reaching the corner, he stopped and glanced over his shoulder at me; I broke out of line and passed by my Flock to draw level with him.

This close, we could hear each other without bellowing, though I still had to lean in to the point our shoulders brushed.

While craning my neck around the corner, I said conversationally, "This power of yours could come in handy."

After a moment of observation, I pulled back to look at him. I worried that my nonchalance was glarlingly fake, but he looked more bemused than irritated at my attempt for conversation. I took that as a promising sign and continued, "I mean, when we get inside. Scan around for guards and stuff."

He was starting to get that look that told me he was questioning my sanity again. Nonetheless, he hesitantly nodded agreement.

Now, to the point of this whole chat that was making my cheeks feel warm, even against another slap from the wind. "Just…don't pull an Angel."

From his blank expression, I could tell it took him a moment to figure out what 'an Angel' was, and another to figure out how she applied to him. Only then did his face harden into the defensive glare I knew was coming.

Subconsciously, he leaned in closer so I could hear his wearing voice; he was pressed against me, stooped slightly to get by my ear because of his height.

Okay, I'll admit—reluctantly admit—the extra body heat felt good. What? Winter is not my season; I was desperate for warmth.

"I'm not six," he growled.

I was starting to feel like an ass, accusing him of lacking the morals to go along with his power; I blushed and snapped, "Sometimes I wonder."

At first, his face got even darker, but then he shook it off to be replaced with something drier, almost amused. He cocked an eyebrow at me, almost smirking. "You don't trust me?"

Deliberately off-hand, joking—it was a testament to how strong the underlying emotion was that I could see through him so easily.

Yep, I was most definitely an ass. Only an ass could actually hurt Fang's feelings. I mean, he didn't even have feelings to hurt.

Making fun of him in my head actually made me feel worse, which was so strange I was momentarily thrown for a loop.

"I trust you," I defended, but in my confusion it lacked conviction. Fang just raised his brows and gave me a knowing look, his bravado never wavering. Fake-bravado, I realized—he really was offended.

I began to stumble over an apology, frantically racking my brain for a way to prove him wrong. "Look—"

"What'd you see?" he said. His tone was as light as the gravelly sound would allow, but his expression was turning brittle under the strain.

"I just meant—"


It sounded neutral and calm. But the translation? Drop it and tell me what you saw, because I'm going to snap if you don't.

Pushing him would do more harm than good, I decided; if there was one thing Fang did not do, it was chick-flick moments. Especially when there were so many ways to evade it—starting with the building we were supposed to be breaking into. So I relented and described the back lot of the complex: "There's a couple dumpsters, one on either side of the door. Both are full to the brim."

I actually couldn't see the door—my view had been blocked by the garbage—just the caged security light screwed into the wall above it. Otherwise, there was nothing but flat concrete.

Over the wind's disapproving screams, I could hear voices. The rest of my Flock had bunched around me, checking out our predicament for themselves and discussing it. So much for secrecy.

Glancing around at my troop, I realized we had another problem—cold. We burned calories quickly had a low body fat percentage, so we didn't handle freezing weather well at all.

"Max, I'm c-c-cold," chattered Gazzy, right on cue.

Right now, we were shivering and numb at the hands, but it was getting worse. The flight back in even higher (and therefore colder) altitudes could easily give us frostbite if we didn't warm up first.

"Frostbite!" wailed Total. "I'll never walk again."

"Quit with the d-drama, doggie; you're the warmest of a-all of us," I snapped. We had to get in, and that's all there was to it.

Of course, that was easier said than done.

"Do we risk it?" I asked myself, eyeing the deceptively unguarded back lot. Something about the lack of security wasn't adding up, and I began to wonder what type of ambush they had ready for us.

"I'll go first," offered Fang; I jumped, having forgotten he could hear me.

I twisted my head around to stare at him with unabashed incredulity, which just pressed my shoulders against his chest more. He seemed by far the best at handling the cold; he barely shivered. His lips still had that bluish tinge, though, and his hands were shoved deep in the pocket of his sweatshirt for warmth. Comparatively, I probably looked like hell.

"I s-suppose…" I began, unable to hide the hint of uncertainty in my voice.

His expression was taunting, daring me to tell him I didn't think he could get us inside alive. You don't trust me? his falsely insouciant voice echoed in my mind.

"Oh, alright," I snapped. You're already on the max dose of painkillers, but go push yourself harder; see if I care!

Things happened very quickly after that, starting with the gunshot that spliced through even the wind's howl. A small black spot appeared in the concrete where the bullet ricocheted, a few inches from Iggy's foot; we all leapt in shock and I yelled, "To the back door!"

Looked like the sentries had finally returned from Nudge's false alarm. I heard faint yells; I dared a quick glance up and saw three men pointing guns over the edge of the roof at us.

"Move!" I snapped, already herding them towards the back, but then I heard Nudge give a panicked squeal and gesture behind me.

A handful of guards were jogging towards us, weapons cradled in their arms as they ran; they'd come around from the door on the north wall unbeknownst to me. Unable to tell if they were human—like the roof sentries—or Erasers from inside yet…

I made the decision that it really didn't matter which species they were when they had automatic machine guns.

"Shit," I hissed. We had maybe thirty seconds before they reached point-blank range. Quickly, I grabbed Gazzy's shoulders and shoved, yelling, "U and A!"

There was a quick succession of popping noises, and a ragged row of charred nicks appeared in the concrete right in front of him—someone from the roof had fired. He swayed and tottered back into me.

"Gazzy?" I asked, grabbing him under the shoulders. They'd missed.



"I-I'm okay," he squeaked. "Just…scared."

That makes two of us.

"Ready!" I heard the squad leader bellow; I turned glanced over my shoulder to see the group from the north wall within fifty feet of us. In one motion, they all raised their guns up to their shoulders.

I raised my voice in retaliation, swaying with a gust of wind. "Spread out! U and A!"

Iggy stepped away from the wall first to make room for his wings, but leapt back with a swearword as another spray of bullets from the roof raked the concrete.

Forty feet…Why didn't they fire already?

"We're stuck!" squealed Nudge. "Omigosh, what do we do?"

"Aim!" commanded the leader; all the nozzles were suddenly pointed right at us.

Fifteen feet…he raised his hand, prepared to swing it down as he ordered our deaths…opened his mouth—

Fang shoved Angel behind him as he pushed his way to the front of our huddle, his expression hard and defiant. Before I could react, he locked gazes with the commander…and thrust out his wings.


The commander most definitely wasn't an Eraser. Only a human would react like that.

Fang could only get them about halfway open before his left wing hit the building, but it got the job done—flabbergasting the guards. They skidded and stumbled into each other in their haste to stop; the resulting chaos caused some to accidentally bump the triggers.

I jumped at the loud bangs, but the bullets went wide; they were left staring with huge eyes at the black feathers and his murderous glare—I could only assume they took him to be some sort of creature from their nightmares.

All I saw was the back of him; his wings screened us from the ground troops, which was the point…I think.

Taking this improvised plan in stride, I hissed, "Run, now."

No one hesitated; it was only a matter of time before the lot on the roof regained their composure and started to fire again. I tapped them as they scurried past, mentally doing a head count. Gazzy, Angel and Total…

"Sir?" asked one of the men hesitantly, unsure whether it was within his job description to shoot what he probably thought was a rare subspecies of demon. (I was strongly reminded of the squatters in DC.)


I couldn't see what was going on beyond the shield of wings, but as I didn't hear gunfire…Taking that as a good sign, I tapped Nudge's shoulder as she passed. Which just left him to deal with.

I grabbed the back of his sweatshirt (he'd cut slits for the wings) and dragged.

"Shi—" he began, startled by my touch. He stumbled backwards, then twisted out of my grasp to turn around. He automatically folded the wings in his haste.

The spell broke.

"Regroup men!" barked the commander, just as the loud clatter of machine-gun fire blasted my eardrums. Probably from the roof. We rounded the corner, sprinting for the door—Gazzy was already out of sight behind one of the dumpsters.

Angel just clutched Total closer and picked up speed, but Nudge screamed and covered her head with her arms. Iggy slowed up to look over his shoulder and called in a worried voice, "Nudge?"

"MOVE!" I hollered. We didn't have time for a med-check!

"I should've stayed—at the hotel!" she wailed, jumping about five feet in the air to avoid another volley of bullets. "And—eaten—more donuts!"

I dimly heard a shout through the wind and my own throbbing heart, then someone tackled me around the waste.

Concrete hurts. It's hard and relatively unbending. So when I hit it—already running flat-out—I skidded about three feet, tore my jeans and god knows how much skin, and got the wind clean knocked out of me.

Whoever was behind this had hell to pay. Except…they were laying on top of me, arms wrapped around my waste, and dead heavy.

I twisted and writhed—the only thing worse than being cornered is being pinned—but heard more gunfire and a whoosh as the bullets flew just above my head. Another crack, and a black spot appeared about an inch from my out-flung hand; I hastily tucked my arms against my sides.

"Don't. Move," growled Fang.

Well, at least I knew who was laying on top of me. I thought he smelled oddly familiar—like wind and sweat and pine and generic motel soap.

"Can't…breathe," I wheezed back; I'm not sure he heard me over a fresh round of gunfire. It was coming from two directions—behind and above diagonally.

I gasped, feeling the wind from a bullet rustle my hair; Fang hissed.

More shouts as they approached, ordering us to surrender; the bullets continued to rain, but they were loosely aimed around us, not at. With the wind howling, and Fang crushing me, I only caught every couple words: "Do no—if…surrend—questioning later…" Were they taking our immobile forms as a sign of submission?

The salvo of bullets slackened, then petered out altogether.

Immediately, the weight lifted off of my back; now able to breathe, I scrambled up and broke into a sprint.

He kicked up metaphorical dust; I could beat him in flight, but not running. Right on his heals, I just narrowed my concentration onto nothing but his back. Catch him, catch him, catch him…It was a trick, a goal to help me ignore the renewed shooting.

Where were the others? No, don't think, run.

He skidded into a turn, disappeared behind the navy-blue dumpster; there was a spattering of clangs as bullets punctured holes in it.

A searing pain in my leg; I kept pumping. Serene thoughts floated by, buoyed by my adrenaline. I must have been shot…I wonder if it's bad…

The sharp turn made me stumble; I fell to my hands, pushed back up…the door was open, Fang holding it…

The narrow aisle formed by the two dumpsters closed in around me. More shouting; so much firing it was a drone. He was a dark blur. A neon light. Cold; ice chips stinging my arms. Almost—almost…Then suddenly there was no wind.

Dragonology's Dictionary: "We shall show mercy, but we shall not ask for it." –Winston Churchill

26. Chapter 26

A/N: Why has this taken so long, you ask? I'm at school. Notice the present tense—that means updates will remain slow. I wanted to warn you. Yes, I know almost all of you are at school too, and still manage to update, but I major in creative writing—novel writing on the side really just isn't going to happen.

But, I really do enjoy this story and don't want to quit; it just might be on hold for awhile. As in until my next chance to go home, which is Thanksgiving. Don't kill me, please; I'll try to keep these little random spurts of editing up, but like I said, please don't become too expectant.

That's also why I haven't been reviewing/reading any of your works, which I want to express deep regret for. I love reading some of the stories on here, and I miss 'em dearly. Especially a shout-out to MysticalPearl—I really enjoyed chatting with you, and I wish all the best for you and your writing.

Wow, that was a sappy paragraph.

Until I we meet again, then. Well, not really meet, but until I come back on and…oh, never mind. Enjoy this craptastical chapter, and reviews would be loved, though I probably won't be able to respond to all. (That sounds so bad, like I'm oppressed or something, when I'm really the happiest I've probably ever been.)

To recap:

Immediately, the weight lifted off of my back; now able to breathe, I scrambled up and broke into a sprint.

He kicked up metaphorical dust; I could beat him in flight, but not running. Right on his heals, I just narrowed my concentration onto nothing but his back. Catch him, catch him, catch him…It was a trick, a goal to help me ignore the renewed shooting.

Where were the others? No, don't think, run.

He skidded into a turn, disappeared behind the navy-blue dumpster; there was a spattering of clangs as bullets punctured holes in it.

A searing pain in my leg; I kept pumping. Serene thoughts floated by, buoyed by my adrenaline. I must have been shot…I wonder if it's bad…

The sharp turn made me stumble; I fell to my hands, pushed back up…the door was open, Fang holding it…

The narrow aisle formed by the two dumpsters closed in around me. More shouting; so much firing it was a drone. He was a dark blur. A neon light. Cold; ice chips stinging my arms. Almost—almost…Then suddenly there was no wind.

Disclaimer: I don't own this. If I did, I'd do a better job.

Claimer: This is my idea. PLEASE DON'T STEAL.

Chapter 26

I'd made it inside. Yippee.

My welcoming consisted of both wailing sirens and spinning lights; it was like looking at the world through a piece of red cellophane paper. Not exactly the glitzy paparazzi I'd been expecting, but on the other hand, I hadn't run right into the barrel of a gun. Yet.

Guess I couldn't stop for a break.

Automatically scanned the loading room for them—there was my Flock—they were all standing on their own, even the dog. Wait, no, where was—

The bang of the door closing echoed, and I jumped, reminded of gunfire. Spinning around, I spotted the missing member—Fang was running towards a stack of wooden crates that lined the entire wall.

Ah, yes, barricade the door…Good plan.

I forced myself back into a jog, wincing at my burning calf, and yelled, "Move it, guys!"

They immediately scattered from their huddle and grabbed the heaviest things they could move. There was a lot of choice, I noticed—we were in the back storage room of the building, with a utilitarian build. If not for all the red alarms, it would've been gray, and the ceiling was high enough I could've flown in tight circles.

Fang and I hooked our fingers under a slat of wood and pulled, attempting to drag the crate across to the door. My feet slid around on the smooth concrete; he did no better.

"How about this?" called Nudge.

"Perfect," I muttered, not even glancing up. I doggedly hauled—it'd moved a foot or so—but I knew there was no way we could have the door barred in time to stop the guards from coming in.

Fang had reached the same conclusion; he let go and rasped, "Keep pulling." With that, he ran back to the heavy metal fire-door and leaned against it, braced to hold back an entire unit of men.

I huffed. We were stronger, but not that much stronger…Once they hit it, he wouldn't be able to keep them in check for more than a few seconds. But it was still more time, I told myself; I'd take full advantage of those moments.

Despite the lack of Voice, my head throbbed with a dull headache.

Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Iggy and Nudge lift a metal shelving unit between them and shuffle towards the door. Total was scouting around, oh-so-helpfully yapping off a list of potential blockades: "Here's another shelf! Oh, this might wor—nah, too light…"

Angel had taken post by the other door—the one connecting this room to the rest of the building—and was scanning with her mind for approaching Erasers from that direction.

In this time of observation, I'd moved about, oh, two feet. Six more to go.

Gazzy was grabbing everything he could lift and dumping it in an empty crate to make his own super-heavy device. Of course, he'd overlooked the part that he'd have to move it once it was full—

There was a dull bang, and the door was forced opened about two inches; Fang winced and threw his whole weight against it before the opening got wide enough to slide a wedge into.

I couldn't hear what he said over the wailing alarm, but from my rudimentary lip-reading I gathered it was down the lines of, "Hurry the hell up."

Iggy and Nudge stopped a couple feet from the door; they couldn't get any closer since Fang was leaning against it.

It seemed more sentries had joined the Open the Door battle—Fang's feet slid back a few inches, then he forced the door shut again, then it'd get a little more open…

"Fang!" yelled Iggy. "Get out of the way!"

He was leaning at a forty-five degree angle, shoulder pressed against the heavy metal door—moving seemed a bit impossible for him.

I'd made progress…four more feet to go.

I'll deal with this stupid box later. "On the count of three," I hollered over the blare, jogging the whole five steps to get by their side, "Fang gets out of the way and you two move. Ready?"

Bang. This time someone managed to get a gun barrel through the gap to act as a wedge; Fang slipped back, now scrabbling for grip on the floor.


Bang. They'd started ramming into the door with more gusto, sensing victory.


Bang. Someone made the mistake of trying to squeeze through the temporary opening; he howled when it was thrust back, pinned halfway, but he managed to squirm backwards. He was going to be so bruised tomorrow, but at least he hadn't been completely crushed.


Fang lunged out of the way, while Iggy and Nudge sidestepped to drop the shelving unit in front of the door.

In that two second gap of no one protecting it, guards managed to throw it halfway open.

Fang and I both dove for the door (Ig and Nudge retreated) but a sentry still squirmed past and into the cargo-bay, albeit one without a gun—he must've been the sap who'd volunteered to use his as a doorstop.

"Attack!" roared Total. And before the guard could get his bearings, the Scottie had latched onto his ankle.

Well, that would keep the sucker occupied for awhile…I clenched my teeth and heaved…We were getting there…

Another managed to slide by, then the gap became too small; I ground out through gritted teeth, "Faster this time."

The shelving unit closed in; since neither of us was in a hurry to become blockade material, Fang and I moved.

Nudge and Iggy just let it drop—it rocked, rattled a metallic clanging that made Fang flinch, but then steadied. And the door remained closed, despite persistent shuddering.

The shelving would keep them in check for maybe a minute—that was enough of a head start for me.

"Alright, people, move!" I hollered; Angel was taking care of that guard by, um, encouraging him to do jumping jacks until he collapsed, while Gazzy had helped Total knock out the other. I swear, humans are so fragile.

The seven of us grouped together at the far door, then I opened it to warily poke my head through.

This was most definitely the place—it reeked of antiseptic. And the hall was bare tile. I would've called it white except for the still-blaring siren. (Everything was bathed crimson.)

"What d'you see?" asked Nudge.

"A School," I said grimly, then rubbed my still-aching head. I hadn't hit it that hard, had I?

I glanced back over my shoulder to see everyone's tense faces. Behind them, I spotted the barricaded door—the shelves rocked but didn't fall against their force yet.

"Follow me," I said, then began to run down the hall. "Keep your eyes open for someplace to hide until this blows over."

Well, I'd opened a can of worms, big time. Everyone in the entire complex knew we were here; there was no way I could hope to get anything done. Now, my highest priority was just finding a way out, preferably alive.

We were all sprinting flat-out, panic giving us a hefty energy dose. Besides, there was heating inside; I'd thawed enough for mobility.

I scampered past unmarked doors, picking random directions and hoping we wouldn't collide with a whole pack of Erasers. At one four-way intersection, I spotted a unit of them coming from my right; I hurriedly chose the hall across from me.

"There they are!" So much for that idea. Ah well. I instinctively picked up the pace, but glanced back to make sure Angel was keeping up. She was a good eight feet behind me, but Fang had slowed to take up the rear, so she was protected.

I slid a little on the next turn; someone had waxed recently, giving our mad dash for freedom a dramatic flare.

There was a man coming straight for us.

I skidded, scrambling to stop on the slick floor; Iggy collided into me, then Nudge into him, and Gazzy into her…it was a whole Flock pile-up.

Just one man, and he wasn't dressed in a lab coat…but a leather jacket. His head was down, staring at his feet and mumbling; I couldn't hear what he said.

But I did see the two Beretta F92's in his hands.

Shit. Whoever he was, he was dangerous. I glanced around wildly for a room to duck into…That lab was locked…aha! A utility closet. Perfect.

"In here," I said, throwing open the door; we all piled in, knocking into mops and buckets. Thank God for that alarm to wash out our racket, though its blare was muffled by the door, allowing us to hear each other without difficulty.

Fang was the last one in; he closed the door, and we were plunged into darkness. A thin crack of reddish light squeezed through the gap near the floor.

Gazzy let out a relieved sigh, while I tried not to let my claustrophobia get to me—I was crammed in a back corner. The pain in my calf burned, and I felt greasy blood staining my jeans, but since I could run without too much difficulty I figured it was only a graze.

A soft thunk and the shush of sifting sand… "Whoops," whispered Nudge, "I knocked over the antifreeze stuff. What're we gonna do now? Hide out here until they give—"

"Shhh," hissed Fang, lifting a hand for silence. He was standing closest to the door, and his head was cocked slightly…probably trying to listen. Nudge obediently shut up.

We fidgeted, waiting, until I couldn't help but ask, "What's happening?"

Fang's eyes were unfocused, all his concentration centered on his hearing, but he still croaked a curt, "He's almost at the door."

Sure enough, a few moments later, a shadow fell across the small band of light seeping from the bottom of the door. Tension mounted, we all held our breath.

The shadow paused; the man had stopped right on the other side. I could hear a faint, deep throb beneath the alarm­—he was talking to himself?

Fang was obviously able to discern every word…and not liking what he heard. His posture went rigid, his jaw clenched taught. He was tensed to the point I worried that there was more to his panic than possibly getting caught.

Unconsciously, my hands curled into fists.

Willing that stranger to pass by, to decide he'd imagined seeing us tumble into a closet really wasn't the most practical thing to do, but I couldn't think of anything better.

We were torn between watching Fang's expression (a futile task) and staring at the shadow to figure out what was going on; I dared not whisper, even if the alarm was supposedly enough to shield us.

Fang's eyes narrowed into a glare and he latched onto the doorknob, as if bracing to hold it shut.

But the shadow swayed, then slid past, past our door.

None of us loosened our coiled muscles—he could come back.

"He's gone."

There was a collective sigh as we resumed respiration, but I noticed Fang hadn't slackened his white-knuckled grip on the knob—even though he was the one who'd given the all-clear.

Carefully, I picked my way over buckets and legs towards the front, and managed to reach his side with only kicking the dog. ("Oi, watch it.")

His gaze was fastened to the wall and blank…I guessed he was still tailing that guy.

I waved a hand in front of his face; he leaned away, startled, then blinked to focus on me.

"Who was that?" I whispered, making the guess he'd returned his hearing to the normal location.

He didn't answer at first, but glanced down at his hand as if just noticing the fact he was crushing the doorknob. While prying his fingers off, he rasped, "Mercy."

Huh? Why was he asking for mercy? I wasn't going to hurt him…at least, not at the moment. "What?"

"His name," he said, wiggling his now free fingers; they'd probably seized up.

"Weird name for a guy," I said skeptically.

Fang shrugged. "Not if he's insane."

The others were listening to us with rapt attention; Angel nodded and whispered, "I only heard a little bit of his mind. He sounded like a crazy person."

Great. I wasn't really surprised; Itex had some unspoken rule that stated they only hired loonies. But still, he hadn't looked like an employee…"What's he do?"

"Don't know," said Angel. "He kept talking about people 'calling for Mercy', and how it was his job to bring peace to the...I don't remember what."

"Suffering," whispered Fang.

"'Peace to the suffering'?" I said, brows raised incredulously.

They both nodded.

"He's unhinged, alright," said Iggy.

"Totally bonkers," added Gazzy.

I eyed Fang. Why was I getting the feeling he hadn't told me everything?

Because the way he'd behaved was as close to flipping out as he ever got. Something had seriously unnerved him; he was still jumpy, shifting weight from foot to foot and twisting his neck to scan our confined space.

"What did he say?" I asked, feigning nonchalance.

Fang didn't answer, just stared at the floor for a moment. "Found an empty room," he offered, evading the subject.

Gazzy glanced up from his position on the floor. "How?"

Resigned to the fact I wouldn't be getting any information out of him now, I answered Gazzy's question. (Fang's incomplete sentences would only cause more confusion.) "He listened for people's breathing."

Iggy nodded; he probably understood how the power worked better than me, since he relied so much on hearing himself.

"Where is it?" I asked, making a mental note to ask about that Mercy creep later.

"Couple halls over. An office."

Total couldn't resist: "How can you tell that?"

Fang let out a soft sigh and backed up, making room for the door to open. "Someone's leaving a voicemail."

"Sounds promising," I said, preparing to fling open the door and bolt. "You guys ready?"

Unanimous "Yeah"s, but before I could start the countdown, Fang suddenly said, "It's ter Borcht's."

I gave him a quizzical look, startled by that random comment. "What about Pink Soup?"

Gazzy snickered at the nickname.

"It's his office."

Dragonology's Dictionary: Um... anyone got a quote that alludes to foreshadowing, blowing holes in the wall, and missing Voices? Ah well.