Nightmare by flYegurl

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Family, Hurt-Comfort
Published:2010-12-12 15:02:11
Updated:2013-04-21 15:34:20
Packaged:2021-04-22 00:59:44
Summary:Max and Fang help Iggy come to terms with his traumatic past. But there is something else in Iggy's mind, trying to take over. Then Professor Jordan returns, and Anne reveals something that will change the entire flock... forever. Finale of 'Dreaming'.

Table of Contents

1. Reuniting
2. Dining
3. Crying
4. Expecting
5. Scarring
6. Pancakes
7. Resuscitating
8. Spying
9. The Spy
10. Strawberry Girl
11. Pictures
12. Speaking
13. Not Just Because
14. Angel
15. Parenting
16. Changing
17. Biological
18. I Know
19. Fighting
20. Not Mine
21. We're Leaving
22. Names
23. Panicking
24. Reading
25. Because He's Blind
26. Betraying
27. Wrong Time
28. Killing
29. Crushing
30. The Machine
31. The Anticipation
32. Awakening
33. More Remembering
34. Opening
35. Confessing
36. Within Reach
37. Who's the Sadist?
38. Breaking
39. Finally
40. Huddled Conversations
41. Hate
42. Truth
43. Drunk
44. Reciting
45. Digesting
46. Coloring
47. Lie
48. Rebelling
49. Losing
50. Dying
51. Giving Up
52. Meeting
53. Daydreaming
54. Epilogue

1. Reuniting

Here we are. Chapter one of the finale of my 'Dreaming' series. This story will be longer than the other three, because I have to fit in a lot. I promise you it will be intriguing and exciting. And there will be one, huge, ginormous surprise that I think all of you will love.

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride. Or the series would be much more Iggy-centric… and maybe a tad better (no offense, JP, but the plot became kind of patchwork after the first three books, although those were amazing).


"Oh, gosh! Iggy, Iggy, Iggy!" Nudge cried, her arms around his neck, hugging him so tightly I was worried he might pass out from the pressure. He patted her back uncomfortably, grinning slightly.

"I'm glad you're so excited to see me, Nudge," he said, "Although I can't have been out much longer than a day or two."

Fang and I exchanged a glance; we hadn't told Iggy about James yet, or about him having been totally out of it for about a week. We would, eventually… like, tonight maybe. Just not yet. Let him enjoy being back with the flock.

Angel practically flew into his arms; actually, no. She flew in the literal sense, wings spread, arms outstretched. She hugged Iggy tightly and cried into his chest, and he smiled softly as he gently stroked her hair.

"Ssh, ssh, Angel, it's okay. I'm here. Everything's going to be alright."

I smiled as I saw the tenderness in which he held Angel, the softness in his voice and eyes and the caring in his motions. He was so good with the little kids, sometimes I felt as if I should relinquish my job as 'parent' to him. He would do a better job. They all listened to him, and didn't give him any trouble. And he never even had to resort to yelling.

Angel stayed there, her arms wrapped around his neck, for so long that Gazzy just couldn't wait anymore. He bolted out of his tense position of barely-stifled energy and hugged Iggy around his waist. Iggy laughed and bent down so he could hug him as well.

"Hey, Gasser," he chuckled. "Did you miss me?"

"Yes! I told them, I told them you were coming back! And I was right! Iggy, I was right! Oh gosh, I'm so happy I was right…" the Gasman broke off with a sniffle.

"We're happy too," Fang said. "Iggy, man, we're so happy."

Iggy threw a smile towards Fang and me, his blind eyes bright with joy.

"Yeah. I'm glad."

Mom was standing in the doorway, her hand on her chest, her eyes watering and a smile threatening to break her face in half. Ella hovered slightly behind her, smiling ever-so-slightly, looking awkward and sending strange looks towards Iggy.

Gosh… maybe she felt differently about him after we told everyone about what happened to him in the past? I hope not. Iggy liked Ella.

Meagan was eagerly bouncing, her face alight with smiles. Her hair was pretty tangled and there were shadows under her eyes – so basically, she looked like me when I pulled an all-nighter on watch (none too pretty) – but the excitement on her face pretty much negated that. Plus, it wasn't like Iggy would care.

"Iggy!" she called, not being able to hold it in anymore. "Iggy! I'm so glad you're here!"

The second he heard her voice, this look of happiness flashed on his face… but then quickly turned to pain, until he managed to assume his regular grin. He didn't say a single thing in response, which really confused me. I had assumed he'd be ecstatic to hear her.

(Oh, just to let you know, Meagan's voice is different than mine. Well, it's not actually that different. I mean, no one can tell. The only reason we know is because Gazzy told us. Apparently, when he mimics me, and when he mimics Meagan, the tone or whatever is different. I figured Iggy must be able to audibly hear the difference, and that's why the thought never crossed his mind that Meagan was my clone.)

Meagan's expression of happiness turned to confusion as well, and everyone sort of pulled back and threw him a confused look. Sensing the new tension in the room, Iggy looked around.

"What?" he asked.

"Iggy, aren't you going to, you know, like run up and kiss her or something?" Gazzy asked. I could tell by his expression that he didn't really want to witness such a 'gross' scene, but that's what he had expected.

Iggy's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"

Angel threw me a glance, filled with sadness.

He thought he was hearing things, Max.

Ah. That actually made sense. After all, he had just spent months having to cope with the idea that Meagan had just been a dream.

"What we mean, Iggy, is that we were expecting that at the simple sound of Meagan's voice you were going to jump ten feet into the air, then rush up, tackle her, and make sweet love," I said, teasing. His expression turned to confusion and shock.

"Meagan?" he whispered, turning to where he had heard her voice. Meagan's smile appeared once more.

"Yeah, silly. Who else?"

Angel removed her arms from around his neck, and her and Gazzy stepped back, allowing him space. Meagan took a few tentative steps forward and reached her hands out to him, also spreading her black-and-indigo wings ever so slightly.

"Hey," she said softly.

Iggy, with an expression as if he were trying to desperately not get his hopes up, reached forward and ran his long fingers through her streaked hair. Then his hands went to the shimmery indigo in her wings, and his eyes widened. After that, he felt at her eyebrow, where a thin scar cut through it.

Then, with an odd sort of expression, he turned and sat hard on the couch, putting his head in his hands.

"Iggy, what's wrong?" Meagan asked nervously, bending down and putting her hand to his hair, as if feeling for a temperature. The rest of us took nervous steps forward as well.

"Something must have gone wrong with the surgery," Iggy muttered in response. A flash of panic went through my body.

"Seriously?" I asked, my voice frantic, taking hurried steps towards him and bending down beside Meagan. "Why? What hurts? What's wrong?"

Taking a moment, Iggy raised his head slightly from his hands, showing his glassy eyes and a smirk growing on his face.

"Because I've obviously died and gone to heaven."

There was a moment in which the whole room contained a strangled silence… and then we all started laughing out of relief. Iggy was fine. And he was back. Our old Iggy was back, laughing, sarcastic, joking Iggy.

The only problem with that; the old Iggy's not the real Iggy. We had seen the real Iggy, when he let his façade slip while we were trying to get him to the surgery. When he had constantly told us to forget about it, leave him behind, not risk it just for his sake.

And however much it hurt me to bring that Iggy back to the surface, I knew I had to. Because otherwise, no matter if our lives went back to normal, Iggy would still be silently suffering. All alone. And I'd never make him go through that again.

So, while Iggy and Meagan hugged, finally reunited, and the rest of my family laughed and talked and interacted, I stepped back to talk with Fang.

"When?" was his simple question. When we were going to talk to him? Bring up everything he had tried so hard to hide from us? Force him to relive memories, the very same memories that had practically destroyed any happy future he could have ever hoped for? When were we going to make him talk to us about everything had had wanted never to talk to us about? The things that would embarrass and mortify him? The horrible memories that made him think himself useless, worthless, and weak?

"Tomorrow," I answered. "Tomorrow night, when everyone else is asleep. We want privacy."

"What about telling him about James?" Fang asked, and I could see some sort of regret echo in his eyes when he said the boy's name. James was the artificially-created seven-year-old boy that had been put in Iggy's mind after his own memories were deleted. And we had had to get rid of him to get Iggy back.

To be honest, there was a faint flicker of guilt in my own mind when I remembered the eager-to-please little boy with the winning smile. Although he had actually been in Iggy's body, he had still had that aura of childish innocence that all children have.

But he was artificial. And Iggy deserved a life.

"We'll do that tonight. It's not nearly so stressful. Just let him bask in the wonder of being the center of attention for a little longer."

Fang smiled at me, and I grinned back at him. Then we turned back to our family, and our best friend who was finally back with us, and whole and well. After all we had gone through to get our Iggy back… well, it had all been worth it.

So we joined them in talking and laughing, and teased Iggy and Meagan as they held hands, and as they teased us whilst we held hands, and as we had fun with our family, we pushed the thought of our impending discussion with Iggy to the back our minds. We didn't have to focus on that pain just yet. There was so much more to do at the moment.

Thank you for reading. I'm sorry that this chapter was short, but it was just the start. I promise more lengthy chapters in the future. And, if not that, at least more rapid updates.

Thanks for reading, and please review, for the sake of poor Iggy.

Thank you!

2. Dining

And here is chapter two… I really have nothing else to say. Except for this: watch 'Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog', because it is amazing. I have all the songs on my iPod.

Fang POV

Dinner had been awesome. Meagan had helped Iggy and Dr. Martinez cook dinner – and by 'helped' I mean sat around and handed them the stuff they needed. I guess she had inherited Max's inability to cook.

After the dinner was made, we all ate and talked. I thought it might have been a little awkward, you know; but besides Ella, everyone was acting normal.

Ella, though, was acting distinctly un-normal. For example: during dinner, she usually chose to sit in-between Iggy and Max. However, today she was sitting absolutely as far from Iggy as she could. Iggy had noticed it, I could tell, but wasn't mentioning his confusion. He was sitting between Max and Meagan now, and looking quite comfortable with it.

But still. I had to wonder why Ella was being so awkward. I mean, I know suddenly hearing all that she did about Iggy's past must have been quite sudden and confusing, but she had no right to act like that around him. After all, it wasn't Iggy's fault. I hated to admit it about Max's half-sister, but… it was very shallow of her. We'd have to have a little talk.

Anyway, dinner took a while longer than usual, with everyone lingering to spend time with Iggy. But, after all, dinner had to eventually come to an end.

Max and I met up outside of Iggy's room after the rest had settled down to sleep. Then we knocked softly on the door.

"Come in."

The door swung open, and we found Iggy sprawled on his bed. He had on a long-sleeved shirt and sweatpants. I couldn't help myself; my eyes drifted instantly to his sleeves, which covered his scarred wrists. Then I wondered; why not talk to him tonight? I mean, I know Max wants to wait until tomorrow. But the thing is, I'm sure Iggy wouldn't be to keen on talking about his childhood in front of Max. I think he would be more comfortable if it was more of a guy-guy thing.

So it's settled. I'm going to sneak in tonight and talk to him without Max. It would be more comfortable all around.

"What's up?" Iggy asked, and Max answered quickly.

"We just needed to talk about what happened in the past week."

Iggy rolled his eyes and shoved himself up into a sitting position, his back against the headboard of his bed.

"I pretty much got all that. Machine inside me killing me, flying back to the School, getting the surgery. Got it."

Max rolled her eyes.

"Iggy, there's more than just that. You see…" she paused for a moment and turned to look at me. I shrugged and nodded my head, inviting her to continue. She sent me a glare, and then began to talk again. "Well, during the surgery, Professor Jordan did something to you."

I thought I saw his pupils contract for a second, but they were quickly back to normal size, and he showed no other reaction to the… well, insensitive way Max said that sentence.

Max seemed to have notice how what she said may have sounded, and I could tell she was inwardly cursing. But, as I said, Iggy showed no other reaction.

"Yeah?" Iggy said, his voice normal. "And what was that?"

"Well," said Max, quickly recovering, "He sort of deleted your memories. And put other memories in their place."

Iggy raised an eyebrow, questioning the reality of the statement.

"So… yeah." Max looked nervous. "So for about a week, instead of you, there was a kid named James in your head."

We both stared at Iggy, as if expecting him to have some sort of weird reaction to that, and he stared back in our general direction.

"Odd," was his response.

We continued to stare at each other in an awkward silence until Iggy finally decided to break it.

"So… how did you get me back in here?" he asked, gesturing at his head with a quizzical expression on his face.

"Uh… well, see, we didn't think we would. I mean, Professor Jordan sent us…" Max hesitated, wondering if she should mention the horrible photos that had come with the tape. "He sent us this video, and he had burned the hard drive he had your memories on. We thought you were gone forever. But then, see, Lissa came and…"

Iggy's expression turned to shock and he raised his head.

"No way. Lissa?"

"Yeah, Lissa." Max grinned at his expression. "We made up, by the way. Anyway, she took us to Jeb. He had the original hard drive with your memories, and this machine. And we put them back in, and you're back!"

Max finished, the tone in her voice sounding so proud and happy. Iggy grinned back at her.

However, I noticed something she hadn't. A certain hesitance in his smile. As if he was dwelling on something he didn't want us to know. Something else.

"That's good. And Meagan! You didn't tell me how she got here!"

Iggy brightened visibly when he mentioned her name, and I knew then that he was deeply in love with her. It was the same kind of feeling I had for Max; the knowledge that you felt so deeply for someone, that even if they were scarred, or mutilated or ugly you couldn't care less. It's a wonderful feeling.

Max smiled at his reverent expression.

"Well, Fang found her while you and me were waiting for the surgery. It turns out that she had actually been plugged up into that 'dream' simulation just as you had. She was real the whole time. And she's my clone, by the way."

Iggy raised an eyebrow.

"Your clone?"

"Yeah. She looks exactly like me. Except for the hair, eye and wing colors."

Iggy's eyes brightened visibly, and his mood lifted.

"So, I know what you look like, too? That's awesome!"

I just realized that myself. It meant that Iggy knew what both Meagan and Max looked like. Good for him, I thought. My brother deserved some clarity after his years of darkness.

Max grinned and reached forward to pat the top of Iggy's head.

"That's true," she answered. Iggy shrugged away from her hand and laughed. "Now, you clear on everything? 'Cause if that's true, we can go ahead and leave you alone."

Iggy looked as if he were pondering the onslaught of information he had received for a moment, then nodded.

"Yeah, I'm clear. That explains why everyone was so darn eager to see me when I walked in today. Except Ella."

Max and I exchanged a glance.

"Yeah. Okay then, Iggs." Max bent down and hugged him. "See you tomorrow."

"Okay, 'night."

We walked out of his room side-by-side, and I walked with Max to her room. We paused outside the door and she looked at me for a while.

"Tomorrow night," she told me.

"Uh, yeah," I answered quickly. "Tomorrow."

Then she stood on her tip-toes and kissed me. I bent and gently kissed her back.

"Goodnight," she said softly, opening the door and stepping back into her room.

"Sleep tight," I told her, and she shut her door.

I waited there for a few minutes, listening to her change into pajamas and lay in her bed. Pretty soon her breathing had grown slow and regular. After the week of worry and reliving Iggy's memories, this was her first night of restful sleep. She was probably really tired.

After being sure she wasn't going to wake back up, I turned and walked back to Iggy's room and knocked softly on the door, then stepped in.

Iggy sighed and pushed himself back up, staring towards me and looking slightly irritable. I noticed that he hadn't turned the light of; he obviously hadn't known it was on in the first place.

"What now?" he asked, his voice sharp, and I wondered why he wasn't feeling very… well, amiable at the moment.

I walked over and sat on the bed. Taking a deep breath, I tried to steady my train of thought.

This is it, I thought to myself. This is crunch time. I'm going to help Iggy. Come on, Fang, get the nerve!

But however I tried, I just couldn't find the words to start. What was I supposed to say? 'Hey Iggy, sorry if this brings up bad memories, but I'm here to talk to you about you being molested and stuff as a kid. Plus, the entire family knows about what happened, and that you're depressed and used to cut and stuff. That's probably why Ella was acting so weird'.

No way.

But I had to talk, didn't I? Otherwise, he'd have to tell everything to Max tomorrow, and I'm sure she wouldn't be quite so careful about his feelings.

I sighed. Now or never, huh?

"Iggy, we need to have a talk."

Thanks for reading. You can probably guess what the next chapter is going to be about. Anyway, I wanted to say this: I am a big artist (yeah, maybe hard to believe) and anyway, I draw a LOT of Maximum Ride stuff (like, I drew a picture for my fic 'Boys Turn to Girls and Vice Versa', as well as lots of Iggy, and some Figgy-ness). Anyway, I started to draw a picture of one of the pairings in this fic. I won't tell you which, because it might give away some stuff. Can you guess?

You probably won't be able too… but still.

REVIEW and tell me which pairing you think it is!

Anyway, please REVIEW!

3. Crying

Okay. Guess what?

You guessed it!

That's right! Tuesday night I went to the My Chemical Romance concert! OH MY FREAKING GOSH! It was SO amazing! I had to wait outside the place for an hour and a half in the ten-degree weather and snow, but it was totally worth it. When they came out I practically started crying I was so excited. Then they were singing, and everyone was dancing and pumping it and screaming and stuff, and I was singing along to EVERY song, and screaming, and it was so awesome! I got an MCR hoodie-jacket, and it is epic. And I'm telling you, NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING compares to a live concert. The music on my iPod is like trash in comparison! Though not trash in comparison to other songs… because My Chemical Romance just kicks freaking butt.

Fang POV

"What about?" Iggy asked, moving over some and swinging his legs over the edge of his bed so that he was sitting next to me. He turned his face in my direction.

I hesitated. "About… about your childhood."

Iggy raised an eyebrow.

"Not much there," he replied. "The School, the E-shaped house, then school, then Dr. Martinez's…" his voice drifted off, and he shrugged. I sighed, wishing he wouldn't be so difficult. It would be a lot easier for me if he just, you know, brought it all up himself.

I cursed my thoughts inwardly. Of course he wouldn't bring it up himself. It was stupid of me to think he would.

"Iggy," I started, focusing my gaze on the ceiling, trying not to look at him. "I'm talking about everything that happened with Professor Jordan, and with… with Anne."

Iggy stared blankly at me. "Uh… I don't know what you mean," he answered, sounding confused.

My heart was beating at about a hundred miles-per-hour, I was so nervous. I tried desperately to try to bring up the subject without mentioning any words I didn't feel like saying out loud, but I figured it was best to just… well, to just be blunt. I mean, he wouldn't admit to anything otherwise. He was just like that.

"I'm talking about Professor Jordan touching you, when you were a kid," I finally admitted, my voice soft and slow. Out of the corner of my eyes I could see Iggy, but couldn't really make out his expression, and so was wondering what his reaction was.

After a few moments, he finally spoke up.

"Fang, I have no idea what you are talking about."

Iggy's voice, too, was slow, but in a way that made me think he was trying to speak so that I could understand clearly, as though I was a five-year-old, or mentally impaired or something.

For a moment, my thoughts soared, and I wondered if maybe he didn't remember anything about it anymore. If that was true, I wouldn't have to talk about it with him! But almost in the same instant, I realized that he wouldn't be able to forget it. There wasn't even a possibility that it had been lost when Professor Jordan deleted his memories.

I stared at Iggy's face for a while; he seemed as though he was confused, and in denial, and it hurt me to watch him trying to keep it from me. I had hoped he would have trusted me more.

Gently, I reached forward and took his wrist in my hand, pulling his arm towards me and tugging his sleeves up to his elbow.

"Iggy, we know. You don't have to hide it."

With his arm outstretched, the scars were clearly visible. Straight, even, parallel.

Iggy's eyes widened and he tugged his arm back, clutching his forearm as though it stung. He slowly turned away his horrified gaze from my face to directly in front of him, a sort of automatic response to his sudden realization.

"Uh… uh, I… I…" He stuttered thickly, as if searching for an excuse.

"Iggy, it's okay. It's okay. It's all okay. But you need… you need to talk to me, because it will… will feel better..?" I ended my statement in a question. I was having sudden doubts. Did I really want to hear all of this? Was it really going to help? Maybe it wouldn't, right?

No. I was just not strong enough to listen to all of the horrible things that had happened to my brother, not now, not ever. I was too weak, and I didn't want to have to cope with it. I was fine remaining blissfully unaware of most of the hardships he had endured. I mean, I know some things… the scenes we had gotten from the memories Angel had inherited. But I didn't want any more. I just didn't want anymore.

But if I chickened out now, Iggy would be hurt.

So I tried my hardest to not seem tense, or apprehensive about this. Even though that's what I was.

"I just… I don't…" Iggy's voice cracked, reaching a higher octave. He hugged his arm to his chest, again as if it was injured. His shoulders hunched, his head hanging, his bangs in his eyes; it looked as if he was trying to retreat into himself.

Iggy was shaking.

Stunned by this, I stared at him for a long moment. What was I supposed to do? If the memories were this bad… I found myself wanting to leave, to just stand up and leave the room so that I wouldn't have to deal with this. Maybe I should wait until tomorrow and come in with Max, let her do all of the talking. Let her do all of the listening.

"Iggy," I started, and then found myself at a loss for words. "Just… um, you can just talk, I'll listen…"

"How did you know? How did you… I tried so hard to… to hide it… was I bad? I'm a bad actor, aren't I? Gosh, I'm… I'm disgusting…"

He finally dropped his arm and dug the heel of his hand into his forehead, shaking his head furiously. His shoulders were shaking just the slightest bit more than the rest of him.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm gonna…"

There was a slight noise as a small drop of salty water slid down his cheek and landed on the blanket. Two more quickly followed, and Iggy raised both of his hands and quickly rubbed his eyes.

Seeing Iggy like this, it was different than when we had saved him from the 'dream', that time when he'd cried into my shirt. This was different. And watching him cry like that, in such a horribly sad, broken way… it made me realize. All the tension, all the apprehension left me, and none of it mattered anymore. Nothing mattered. I just had to be there for him.

I scooted closer to my brother and tentatively reached my hand out, laying it on his shoulder. He flinched slightly.

Then I decided to push aside all thoughts of staying 'masculine' and 'manly' and pulled Iggy into a hug.

"Ig… Ig, ssh, ssh, it's okay. You can cry, cry all you want, I'm here for you, okay? Go ahead, it's fine."

Iggy wasn't sobbing or wailing, just shaking, with the tears running down his cheeks. But this was somehow worse than if he had broken into sobs.

He quickly pulled away, shaking his head.

"Sorry, sorry, I didn't… didn't mean to, I shouldn't be crying like this…" he once more wiped his hands across his blind eyes, but the tears just kept coming.

"Why?" I asked. "It's okay to cry, when you need to."

Iggy just shook his head.

"No. No, all my… all my life I've just wanted t-to be like you," he finally admitted. "I just want to be like you. I've aspired to be like you. And you… you don't cry. You're not weak. Not like me."

I had to admit it.

Hearing Iggy say that, that he had always wanted to be like me… it made me feel really good. Because the honest-to-goodness truth is that I'd always wanted to be like him.

It's not my fault. I don't mean to be this damn emotionless. I don't even know why I am. It's just that suddenly… just suddenly, one day after the regular experiments in the School, I was unable to express myself emotionally.

But Iggy. After that, I always wanted to be like him. Because he can do the one thing I've never really been able to. He can make people laugh.

I've always admired him for that.

"Hey, Iggs," I muttered softly. "Don't say that. It's not true. I'm not strong… and you are most definitely not weak. You're the strongest person I've ever met. And maybe I don't cry on a regular basis, but… but I have cried. I mean, you were unconscious both times so you couldn't hear it, but I did. When we rescued you from that 'dream' and I saw you hooked up to all those machines, I freaking bawled like a baby. Also, whenever I saw you the first time after you got the surgery, and I knew you were going to be okay. I cried then, too."

Iggy sniffed and wiped his eyes again. He still hid his face from me, but he didn't seem so broken anymore.

"Honestly?" he asked, and I felt a little better; his voice was pretty much back to normal.

"Honestly. I don't think I've ever cried that hard, not even when I was a little kid."

We sat next to each other for a while longer, while Iggy managed to stop crying and dried his tears. It wasn't an awkward silence, though. It was full of meaning. I could sense that just this was making him feel better; being able to cry and just let it out.

"You feeling better?" I finally asked, once his shaking had finally ceased and his tears had stopped falling. He nodded.

"Um… I guess. But…"

"But what?" I inquired. Iggy turned his face slightly towards me, his eyes still hidden under his hair. I bit my tongue lightly when I saw the salty tear-tracks down his cheeks.

"But… how did you know?" He seemed confused.

"Well, when you disappeared, your memories went to Angel. And when she fell asleep, she dreamed them, and projected them. So… so Nudge and Max and Meagan saw them, too." I cringed when I saw his reaction to that; a sort of horror crossed his face, and his cheeks flamed red with embarrassment. Or was that… shame..?

"So… so they know, too?" he asked, his voice tight.

"Yeah. And…" I didn't really know how to break it to him. "And everyone else. Everyone else knows, Ig."

His reaction to that news was not what I had expected.

"Oh," he said, plain and simple.

There was another long moment of silence.

"So, Iggy. You… you should talk to me about it."

He turned to me incredulously.


"Because," I answered. "Because if you don't know, you'll have to talk with me and Max tomorrow."

Of course, he started talking.

Sorry this wasn't up sooner. It should have, seeing as I had two snow-days this week. But still. Finals coming up, people.

Anyway, that was your get-well present, Pandorad! Feel better soon!

Please review.

4. Expecting

Okay. I know all of you are just dying for the talk between Iggy and Fang to finally come… but I've decided to let you stew in your own anticipation for a little longer, because this chapter is really going to get the plot rolling. And I mean REALLY get the plot rolling. Please keep reading!

Professor Jordan stared at the computer screen. His eyes trailed across the flickering picture, and a grim smile stretched across his face. It made his eyes gleam dully with a strangled light, and the joy did not reach them.

Turning from the computer, he quickly pulled a long white coat from a hook by his desk and shrugged it on over his shoulders. The cloth fell around him, hanging to his knees, and billowing out behind him slightly as he quickly walked to the door and tugged it open.

Professor Jordan's heels clicked softly on the blank tiles as he strode swiftly down the hallway, his arms stiff at his sides. As he passed an experimental room, he heard the faint sounds of a struggle and screaming from inside, and felt a glint of satisfaction. He enjoyed his work. Oh, yes, did he ever.

The numbers on the doors lined along the walls flashed past silently until, finally, after many minutes, the Professor reached the proper room. The door was sleek and silver, bearing the number 1035 in black lettering, painted at eye level. There was no knob, merely a small, glowing pad onto which he pressed his palm. After a moment, the pad beeped and flashed green, and Professor Jordan procured a small key from his pocket and inserted it into a tiny keyhole, turning it.

The door clicked and slid open.

Professor Jordan slipped through quietly.

The room beyond the silver door was large. It contained a television on a maple dresser, a few large, rather comfortable armchairs, and a soft king-sized canopy bed. A tall and quite beautiful lamp stood next to the bed on a bedside table, on which sat a paperback novel with a bookmark hanging out from between the pages.

There was a large bathroom, gracefully tiled and with a fluffy rug and Jacuzzi bathtub. The mirror was large, and the knobs on he sink were crystal.

Yes, the room was certainly, if not palatial, most definitely comfortable. Actually, it was quite rich. But despite the expensive décor, the bars across the large, curtained window marked it as a prison cell.

A woman stood in front of the window, clothed in a breezy, comfortable silk dress that hung to her ankles. Her pale blond hair hung limply, pulled behind her head into a messy ponytail, while a couple long strands framed her face. Her hand had lifted part of the hanging curtain the side, and her piercing blue eyes peered through the bars at the dismal surroundings.

The woman's face was pale and drawn taught with stress and anxiety. Her hands trembled, and as she heard the noise of Professor Jordan entering the room behind her, she dropped the curtain and turned.

"What do you want?" she asked. She looked young, probably a little younger than thirty… or maybe a little older. Her voice was weak from the endless days locked in the room with never a change of scenery, and it lacked all of its old fire.

Professor Jordan grinned.

"Everything is going along perfectly to the plan," he spoke softly, approaching the woman. "I'll admit, I never expected Jeb, that filthy traitor, to attempt to take the hard drive from my personal chambers… but I let him do it, and everything worked out accordingly."

The woman did not flinch as Professor Jordan approached her, but her lip curled in disgust as he lifted his hand and trailed a finger down her cheek. Professor Jordan merely smirked in response.

"Don't react that way, dear. You played your part perfectly. Your family is safe, isn't it? And your niece is acquitted. It all worked out in your favor, I think."

"If you call being imprisoned here for months on end being in my favor," was her scathing retort. "And to think that I had to do all those… things…" she broke off and turned once more to the window in an attempt to retreat from Professor Jordan's disgusting fingers.

Professor Jordan chuckled darkly, retreating back to her bed and running his hands along the downy blankets. His fingertip found the tiny prick of a feather and he pinched it between his thumb and forefinger, pulling it from between the threads of the blanket and twirling it absentmindedly. Just a little downy feather, from a goose, or perhaps a duck.

"But you did them," he told her, his smile growing wider with every passing second. "There's nothing you can do to change that. Just be glad your family's not dead. And be glad your niece is acquitted. She wasn't guilty of that murder, after all."

The woman scowled furiously and took a step towards Professor Jordan, her hands in fists, shaking.

"You were the one who framed her in the first place!" she spat, her face flushing with fury. She hated this, being trapped, being used, being nothing but a doll, a doll to be used and cast aside as soon as her purpose was filled. She hated it.

"Ah… why, yes, that's true," Professor Jordan agreed, nodding in her direction. "But I wasn't about to be arrested. Anne, you should know by know; powerful men like me get away with absolutely everything."

Suddenly, Anne was feeling quite sick. She swayed in place for a moment before stumbling forward, her hand searching for some form of support. Professor Jordan stepped forward to catch her before she fell.

Anne cringed as his hands went to her wrists, tightening painfully, lifting her back to her feet. She looked up into his eyes and stared at him furiously.

"That's why this country is in the chaos it's in," she muttered. "Powerful, rich, prejudiced white men like you, ruining everything for the rest of us. Sending us all spiraling down. Is this what you want?"

Professor Jordan just smiled down at her, continuing to hold her wrists in his large fists. Anne struggled and finally pulled away.

"Those kids are strong. They are never going to do what you ask. You have no hold over them now."

Jordan bent his head back and laughed.

"Oh really?" he asked, a touch of amusement in his voice. "You have no idea how much of a hold I have on them. And what about this..?"

Professor Jordan reached his hand forward and rested it flat on Anne's stomach. Anne flinched and took two hurried steps back, casting her eyes at the ground.

"That was you, that was all you," she said, then cursed at him with venom in her voice. Shaking his head, Professor Jordan answered with a laugh.

"I distinctly remember it being you on the tape."

Anne's face fell, and she dropped her head, her shoulders sagging.

"Please, don't torture me like this," she begged. "It wasn't my fault, I…"

"You were forced? Oh, please. You didn't have to do it."

Jutting out her chin, Anne stared Jordan straight in the eyes.

"I was going to say I was blackmailed," she answered, anger flickering in her eyes.

Professor Jordan smiled in acknowledgement.

"Oh, yes, blackmailed. I have to admit, that is the truth. What was it? 'Rape the boy, or your whole family will die, and your precious niece will be sentenced for life'? I think that was close."

Anne stared him straight in the eye, but her lower lip quivered.

"She… she's only fifteen," she said softly.

"Yes, a girl like that does not deserve a life in jail. Especially not for the charge of murdering her own father… wasn't he your older brother?"

Anne didn't answer.

Professor Jordan approached her once more, taking her chin in his palm.

"Ah, dear, don't be like that. What's done is done. And, as I've said, I think that is the best hold we could have over them. After what Subject 9 went through, it wouldn't even think to leave another to grow up with me."

With that, Professor Jordan left her, turning and stalking back through the room, out the door. It slid closed behind him, and Anne heard the slight beep.

She sighed and stepped back to the window, pulling the curtain aside once more to peer at the surroundings. A huge expanse; a wing of the School, white and blank and evil. At the far side, an electric fence, topped with barbed wiring. But beyond that, the forest; the green canopy of gently swaying trees, the occasional bird, and the blue sky.

Sighing, Anne despairingly wished for wings, like the boy; wings, so she could simply jump and fly far, far away, away from all of this. But even that wouldn't work, not unless she also had super-strength to bend aside the bars. It was impossible.

Just the thought of that boy made her heart ache painfully. With his long, strawberry-colored hair, his pale skin, his blue eyes. The way he looked at her. The pain reflected in his eyes, the same awful pain she herself had felt. But it was her fault, and it would always be a heavy weight on her conscience. Not even the safety of her family made up for that.

Anne felt a sudden sensation from inside of her, and rested her hand on her bulging stomach from where it had come from. The little kick.

A single tear slipped down her cheek.

She had ruined that poor boy's life, and now she was carrying his baby.

Oh. My. Gosh. Wow. I liked that chapter, didn't you? Gives you a little insight… everyone's a victim in this story. Everyone except meanie-head Professor Jordan. GO DIE IN A HOLE, MR. EVIL SCIENTIST! NO ONE LIKES YOU!

Reviews are dearly appreciated.

5. Scarring

Okay, guys. Merry Christmas! And, even though I'm late (I should know, I was celebrating it too), happy Chanukkah! Oh, and happy Kwanza too!

Yeah, wonderful holidays to all. I hope you enjoy this next chapter.

Fang POV

"It… it started when I was three," Iggy said, his eyes staring straight in front of him. "They took me out of my cage, and I thought I was going to get experimented on again, you know? But they took me into the… the room. And He was there."

Iggy said 'he' in a way that made me feel it was capitalized. Like a name, instead of a pronoun.

"Professor Jordan?" I asked. Iggy nodded.

"Uh… yeah. He introduced himself and… gave me a lollipop." Iggy looked sort of confused as he said this, as if he still didn't know why the man had done that. "And told me to eat all of it. I did, of course… 'cause you know we really didn't get food much. Then, when I was done, he told me to yell 'I'm worthless' at the top of my lungs for twenty-four hours straight."

I gaped at him. That sounded too ridiculous to be true. But, you know, knowing Iggy, it had to be true.

"Yeah?" I said softly.

"Of course, I didn't at first. So he said he'd kill me if I didn't do what he said."

Iggy sat back, hands flat on the bed-sheets, face turned up to the ceiling.

"I said it was okay. You know, if he killed me. So then, he said he'd kill one of you. Scared me silly with that, because something in his voice made me know he would do it. Anyway, that was the first incident."

I remained quiet there, because I had no idea what to say. I thought back… and realized that there had been a time when I was about three, and Iggy was gone for a day. When he came back, he could only speak in a whisper, and he was hoarse for a week.

"So, stuff like that happened for a while. He'd give me treats, then he'd tell me about how worthless and stuff I was. And it hurt my feelings, and all, but I never believed him… until… until he replaced the candy with a couple hours in the other room." He put his forehead in his fist. "My personal torture chamber. He called it my 'treat room'. I still remember what it looked like. Concrete walls… concrete ceiling… concrete floor… chains hanging from the walls… blood and stains on the floor. Water dripping down the walls." Iggy looked haunted. I hesitated, then reached out slowly and put my hand comfortingly on his knee… you know, like a brother would do.

At least, I thought it was comforting. But Iggy flinched so hard, I could have sworn his neck cricked.

"Oh, geez, sorry," I said swiftly, yanking my hand away, and holding it up in a gesture of surrender… although I didn't know why.

Iggy blushed scarlet and hunched his shoulders, lifting his knee slightly.

"Uh… I… sorry, I just… I don't like people t-touching my legs…"

Iggy's voice went higher, and I suddenly felt super guilty. I'd just realized, I don't think I'd ever seen one of the flock touch Iggy's legs before.

"Hey, hey, Iggy, it's okay. I told you it's okay, right? It's totally fine. I just want you to be able to… to talk to me. I don't think any less of you for what happened. Heck, Iggy, I think a lot more of you. You're the strongest, bravest guy I've ever known. And you lived through all of that, and… and god, Iggy, you've got to have scars from that. There's really no way around it. But I think, with some help from me, from the flock, you can get better. Just… feel comfortable around me, Iggy. I'm your best friend. I'm your brother. Just talk to me."

Iggy turned his face to me, and I could see his eyes through his bangs. They said to me, I'm sad. Terribly sad. Please, please help me.

"Talk to me, Iggy. I'm… I'm not going to lie and say it will make everything alright. And I'm not going to lie and say it's going to be easy, or that… or that I'm totally comfortable hearing all this. But I'm not lying when I tell you I want to hear this, because it will make it better, at least. And I want to make it better."

Iggy sighed and kneaded at his forehead with his knuckles.

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Better." He let out a humorless laugh. "Fang, my whole life has been one freaking living hell. You know, ever since I was three, I've been contemplating suicide? And, and, ever since we got out of the School, I cut myself. Oh, and you know what? Hell, Fang, I've been completely in love with Max since, well, forever. And I don't even know why. It's like a drug in my system, like I just can't help it. And I don't think I can, you know? The School probably programmed… He probably programmed me to love her, just to screw with my head. Make me… make me…" Iggy started hitting his forehead with the heel of his hand. "God, I can't get the freaking voices out of my head…"

I was getting scared by his actions, but then Iggy calmed down almost instantly.

"Sorry," he said softly. I shook my head.

"No, Iggy. I'm sorry. That you had to keep all this… all this locked up. Just let it out, Iggs. Let it out."

"Let it out. Okay. If… if it's okay with you."

I smiled softly.

"Of course it's okay."

Iggy sighed.

"You know, that He did all that… stuff to me. And He's the only one thing I've ever been scared of, because of that. I just can't control myself around him. I can't talk, I can't think, I can't do anything except be scared. You saw how I was."

I nodded.

"Yes," I said. I remembered well the way he had acted, when we met Professor Jordan in the School. Terrified. Shaking. Stiff and stressed. Not talking or anything.

Iggy took a deep, shuddering breath.

"When I was seven, I got my wings all tattered up. Shredded and bloody. You remember? I told you an Eraser did it during one of my experiments."

I looked up at Iggy.

"Professor Jordan did it?" I asked. It was sort of self-explanatory, right?

But Iggy shook his head and grinned ruefully.

"No. I did. See, He gave me a knife as a special treat, told me I was allowed to hurt myself as much as I wanted. Just not kill myself. I took what I could get, you know?"

I stared at Iggy. A couple hours ago, it would have been in horror. But know… I looked at him in understanding. I can't say I understood everything he felt, or what he went through. But I knew I would never think of anything like that as weird or gross. Never again.

"He told me everything that went on. He knew I wouldn't talk, because your lives were on the line. Of course, he would always take me into one of the rooms, you know, to keep me in line. But it was mostly for torture, because I wouldn't have said anything anyway." Iggy flicked his lips quickly across his lips; they were dry with anxiety. Then he continued. "He told me that Jeb was getting us out of the School three weeks before any of you heard about it. The whole plan was to get us out for a couple of years, give us a false sense of security – or give you guys a false sense of security, anyway. I never felt secure."

I was looking surprised, and Iggy must have sensed it, because he looked quickly up at me.

"You know," he started, "Jeb wasn't going to take me with you. He told me himself. He was going to leave me behind, so you guys wouldn't get attached to me. I was really scared I was going to be left all alone, with Him. But, when the time came… you and Max, you made sure Jeb got me out of my cage. That's one of the happiest days of my life, just for that reason."

Iggy smiled slightly. I grinned as well.

"I would never leave you behind."

Iggy laughed.

"That's what He said," he told me. "He knew about Jeb's plan. See, He wanted me to go with you guys. He knew you wouldn't leave me behind, because you'd feel to guilty…"

I frowned.

"No, Ig. It's because we all love you."

Iggy sighed. It seemed he was doing that a lot tonight.

"I guess I know that. But He always told me… you know. That I was stupid… worthless… unloved… unwanted… unneeded, a liability. And before you say anything, I know it's not true. But Fang… I grew up hearing that every day. It's hardwired into my brain. I may know it's not true, but I just can't make myself believe it's not true."

Then, quite suddenly, Iggy changed the subject, as if he didn't want to talk about that.

"But… you know about my scars. I mean, these…" Iggy held up his wrists and pulled back his sleeves, running his fingers over them. "I did this for a long time." His voice was far away. "They made me feel so much better. Like what I did to my wings. I only stopped that one night…"

"While we were still staying with Anne," I finished. "When Max told you she loved you."

"Yeah," Iggy agreed. "Yeah. You got that memory from Angel, too, huh?"

"Yes," I said, nodding.

Then, this weird expression crossed Iggy's face.

"But those aren't my only scars. Want to see the best ones?"

His tone of voice had changed, and I was starting to worry a little bit. He seemed… different.

He laughed softly, but it didn't reach his eyes. And his eyes always reflected everything he was feeling.

"He gave them to me. The day before Jeb took us out of the School."

Iggy turned to the side so his back was facing me, lowered his head, and used his hand to lift his long strawberry-colored hair away from the back of his neck.

He remained like that for a moment, and I leaned forward to peer at his neck, where he obviously wanted me to look.

There, on the back of his neck, was a word made of scars, and looked as if they had been deeply carved there with a scalpel.


I simply stared at it for a moment that seemed to last hours. Gosh. Poor Iggy…

"That's why I keep my hair long," Iggy said softly.

"Oh…" I answered. I didn't know what to say.

"I've got another one," he said. He let his hair back down and turned, lifting his shirt up and tugging the top of his jeans down a couple inches. Another word, carved into the skin there.


"So I don't forget what I am," he said.

And I couldn't take it anymore. God, my poor brother. Selfless enough to sacrifice his happiness for his family. Sad enough to not care whether or not he dies. Hurt enough to hurt himself. And yet this one man could do something so horrible… hurting him, touching him, giving him mental scars that could never disappear, then giving him physical ones? God.

I'm going to kill him.

"Iggy," I said softly, my voice choking up. Then I wrapped him in another hug.

But this time, it wasn't for him. It was for me.

Thank you very much for reading. And have a great winter break! You are off school now, aren't you?

Please review, for Iggy's sake.

6. Pancakes

Oh my gosh. Right now I am listening to "I'll Make a Man out of You", from Disney's 'Mulan'! Freaking amazing song. It's really getting my brain all stimulated. Yay!

Also, really sorry it's taken me soooo long to update. Reason: I've had TONS of homework. As in, I have to spend every single second of spare time on it. Sorry about that. Plus, I've gotten into 'Lost', and we watch it every night. And you know, it's not like I can miss an episode…

Fang POV

Iggy flinched away at first, but softened into the hug and wrapped his arms around me as well. My face was buried in the crook of his shoulder, and I'm pretty sure I was crying. Luckily, Max wasn't here to see me break down like this… although she has before, so I'm not sure why it mattered so much.

It took a little bit before I realized that both of us were crying. Iggy's shoulders were shaking again, as were mine, and both of us were sniffling and whimpering like babies. Here we were, two brothers, best friends, one sixteen and one nearly fifteen, crying and hugging each other.

I would have thought it would be embarrassing, but it was a good feeling, sort of.

I honestly can't say how long we stayed like that. A while. But we were getting it all out, you know? And it wasn't really embarrassing. I mean, if it was just me doing the sobbing, I'd be mortified. And if it was just Iggy, he'd be really uncomfortable and blushing like crazy. But with both of us… it was more of a 'male bonding' thing than anything else. Which was sort of weird, I know, seeing as crying isn't exactly the most 'male' thing to do. But, hey.

Iggy was the first to pull away, rubbing at his eyes and running nose with his sleeves, his bottom lip still quivering a little. I rubbed the tears out of my eyes as well and took a deep, shuddering breath. Iggy's shoulder was soaked from my tears, which slightly annoyed me, seeing as I hadn't known I'd cried that much, but whatever. My hair was wet from his.

"Um…" Iggy said.

"Yeah…" I laughed lightly. "I feel a lot better now."

Iggy smiled, and laughed as well. "I guess… me too. I feel better to. God, Fang. Thanks. I feel so much better."

I felt something light up inside at the thought that I had really helped Iggy. I was so glad. It was a wonderful, magical feeling.

"Great!" I answered with way too much exuberance. "That's great, Iggy! In what way do you feel better?"

Iggy smiled and sat back, running his hands across his cheeks again to get rid of any stray salty tear-tracks.

"Gosh… I feel like my mind isn't so strained, you know? Like how, when you're thinking for a long time… you don't really notice it, but after it relaxes, you can really feel the difference. Like that."

"Yeah… I know that feeling," I agreed. I had felt it while we were going to school, trying to solve a math problem that was way out of my league. When I had finally solved it.

"And… you know, I just noticed something," Iggy continued. He looked like he was pondering something. "My chest… feels lighter. As if a huge weight has lifted. But literally, though, like there was an actual weight inside my chest." He paused and considered the thought. "I think it was that machine inside me. It must have weighed a bunch, because honestly, it feels like I'm twenty pounds lighter."

"Seriously?" I asked. But, thinking it over, I think a metal object in your chest had to be heavy. It must really feel different for him now that that weight is gone.

There was a long silence, and we sat there, being brothers, being friends. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence; it was extremely comforting. Neither of us felt like we had to talk, so we didn't, and we just sat there. However, eventually I noticed Iggy's eyelids drooping, and stood.

"Hey, Ig, you better get some sleep. You've had a rough… forever. Get some rest. You can sleep in tomorrow, too. We'll call you down for breakfast at eleven, okay?"

Iggy smiled, and nodded drowsily.

"Yeah, okay. I'll see you guys tomorrow."

I stood and left, making sure to turn off the lights as Iggy of course would forget to, and shut the door quietly.

The hallway was silent and dark, seeming to stretch on for a much longer length than it should. It was frightening, really, that darkness. I made my way cautiously towards my room.

Behind me stretched the hallway, then the staircase. Beyond the staircase was a gaping blackness, dark that seemed to never end. I hated feeling that huge presence, just looming behind me, as if the dark was encroaching and about to swallow me up. So I sped up my steps and opened the door to my room, stepping in.

It was dark, so I slowly and carefully stepped on in until I felt my bed, then my bedside table, then my lamp, which I turned on. My room was instantly filled with a yellow light. However, usually warm and inviting, tonight it seemed dwarfed in comparison to the dark and foreboding shadows against the walls and in the far corners.

I sat down on my bed, hard, and pressed my knuckles into my forehead. Two words kept flashing in my head; unloved. Monster.

How much pain Iggy must have been in. Just imagining it – words being carved into my very flesh – made me squirm and itch. Us bird kids are no strangers to pain ourselves, but all I could think was that… was that, to have had something like that done to him, Iggy must have sat still without protesting.

How could Iggy sit still through torture like that?

And then, everything else that had happened to him. Just… just everything.

His wings. How on earth could he have done such a thing to his own wings?

And it all brings me back to the fact that I know next to nothing about my brother. After all, the him I knew wasn't him, not really. It was his personality, to be sure, but one he had created himself, forged so that he could seem 'normal'.

I really want to meet the real Iggy, and I hope I will be able to… some time in the very near future.

It took me a while to fall asleep, but I did manage to.

Oddly and totally unrelated, I dreamt of strawberries. A huge field of strawberries, with all of us in it, picking them. There was a giant one in the center; Angel and Gazzy and Nudge were sliding down it. There were two of Max, one standing on either side of me. Both of them kept asking about Iggy, but I couldn't see him anywhere. They made me go look for him, but all I could find was a bucket full of strawberries, red juice leaking out the sides.

And when I woke up, I couldn't help wondering if maybe it was more related than I had thought it was.

I slouched down the hallway, now bright with sunlight filtering through the windows, and down the stairs into the kitchen. There I found Max, already up and struggling to make pancakes.

"Hey," I said, and she nodded in reply, smiling slightly.

"Mom just went out to do errands, she won't be back until, like, four," she informed me, whisking the ingredients together in a metal bowl. "And Ella's at a friend's house, she's going to spend the night. That gives the rest of us almost the whole day to have some bonding time with Iggy." She beamed at me, and I smiled back.

I watched her make the pancakes for a while more. It's a good thing it was pancakes she was making, because they were pretty much one of the only things she could make without almost burning the house down. If she was attempting anything else, I would have had to but in and take over.

"Max?" I started suddenly, and she nodded, still focused on her mixture.


"Um… I talked to Iggy last night."

Max faltered in her stirring, but started right up again. However, a frown was creasing her eyebrows.

"I thought we were doing that together tonight."

I shrugged. "I know, I just… I just thought that maybe Iggy would be more comfortable talking about stuff if it was just me, you know? Because, to tell the honest truth, you're a girl. It would have been a little more embarrassing. Also, you're not the most tactful one in the flock."

Max finally set the bowl aside, fuming.

"I'll have you know that I can be very tactful when I want to be!" she protested, her cheeks pink. Then she quieted down a bit. "But… I guess you're right. It would have been a little weird if he was telling stuff to a girl. I get it."

I smiled at her, and she grinned reluctantly back at me.

Then, she went back to making her pancakes.

"Why don't you go ahead and go wake everyone up?" she asked, not facing me. "I'm almost done with the batter, so the pancakes should be ready in, like, twenty minutes."

I shrugged.

"Sure. But I promised Iggy he could sleep in 'til eleven. He's really tired."

Max laughed.

"Yeah, but you won't have to wait long. Everyone's been sleeping in. It's like ten-thirty."

I glanced at the clock, and realized she was right. Raising my shoulders, I sighed.

"Whatever. Still, I'll leave him alone until then. Let me go get the others."

Max nodded, and I stood and made my way back up the stairs.

Gazzy was already awake, working on a little bomb in the center of his floor. When I told him Max was making pancakes, he nodded and told me he'd be down in a minute.

Next was Nudge, who was, of course, still asleep. After several minutes of shaking, I finally managed to coax her out of unconsciousness.

"Five more minutes," she moaned, throwing her arm over her eyes to block out the light entering from her window. I shook my head.

"Up and at 'em, Nudge. Pancakes in twenty. You don't want to miss breakfast, do you?"

She proceeded to slowly, ever so slowly begin to wake. I sighed and moved on to Max's room, where Meagan and Angel had been sleeping recently.

They both woke the second I opened the door.

"Hey, Fang," Meagan said from her blow-up mattress on the floor. "What's up?"

Angel merely stood, smiled at me, said good morning, and trotted off down the hallway.

"Breakfast time. Max wants everyone downstairs."

Meagan pushed herself up on her elbows and looked at me.

"Is Iggy up yet?"

I shook my head.

"No, I'll get him up at eleven. We're letting him sleep in. Now, come on."

Meagan was wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants, so, being too lazy to change, merely followed me on downstairs. It reminded me of Max, who was wearing her pajamas as well.

We sat around at the table for a while and talked. We talked about nothing in particular. But it was nice to know that we were comfortable enough as a family to just… talk.

Meagan, of course, wasn't exactly a sister to anyone yet. However, we had all grown quite close to her, and with her being so like Max and the knowledge that most likely, one day, she and Iggy would be together in a marital sense, she had become like… like a friend. She was our friend. Maybe in the future, she would feel like more, but for now, I think she was just fine being our friend.

Eventually, Max had all the pancakes set out on one of Dr. Martinez's large serving plates and placed in the center of the table. Glancing at the clock, I saw that it was ten past eleven.

"I'll go wake Iggy up," I said, starting to stand, but Nudge jumped up instantly.

"No, Fang! It's okay! I was just going to the bathroom anyway. I'll go get him and send him down."

She sounded so eager, I relented instantly, nodding and smiling.

"Sure thing, Nudge. Go ahead."

Nudge skipped up the stairs and pounded down the hallways. Her steps were so lively; it left me in awe as to how a person so horrible at waking up in the mornings could instantly transform into this bubbly, hyper person. But still, that was Nudge.

I turned back and began to lift a pancake onto my plate when Nudge's scream shook the entire house.

Everyone was instantly alert, dropping whatever they were holding, pushing back their chairs and rushing towards the stairs. A thousand instances kept popping through my mind. Nudge had been attacked. Erasers were in the house. However, I hadn't heard any crash of breaking glass or noises of any kind, and Erasers weren't exactly the most quiet of animals. Maybe Nudge had gotten hurt somehow; it was quite possible. She could be clumsy in the morning.

But what seemed most prominent of the horrible ideas was that Iggy was gone, that he'd been taken during the night. And when we reached the hallway and I saw Nudge, pale, frightened, and still screaming, standing in the doorway to Iggy's room, that seemed the most plausible.

At the thought of Iggy kidnapped again, I put on more speed and managed to draw ahead of the rest, crashing past Nudge and into Iggy's room to make sure he was still there before anyone else had made it halfway down the hallway. After all, four people trying to run down a hallway at the same time are bound to get stuck.

But the sight that met me wasn't Iggy gone. No, Iggy was there.

Hanging from the ceiling with a noose around his neck.

Wow. I just LOVE to give you cliffies, don't I?

Anyway, please do review. I want to see how you liked this. I had to give you a good, filling, suspenseful chapter after all that time not writing, after all.

7. Resuscitating

Hey. Here I am. Well, I got a bunch of reviews. Like, a real ton. Well, not a real ton, but you get the picture. Maybe I should just kill Iggy off at the end of each chapter so that I'll get that amount for each one in the future. How about it? Because I could get used to reviews like that…

Fang POV

"Hey, Fang," Iggy said. "Do you know where my whisk went?"

I immediately perked up. Was Iggy making a cake? I mean, it was my birthday…

"Why?" I asked, keeping my voice neutral.

"I'm whisking eggs. I'm trying out new recipes for scrambled eggs." He smiled crookedly in my direction.

I slumped back into my chair. Of course it wasn't for my birthday. No one ever freaking remembered my birthday. When we'd picked them out, I was the only one who hadn't chosen mine on a date that wasn't another holiday. Therefore, less memorable.

There was a long silence.

"Uh, Fang? Do you know where the whisk is?" Iggy asked once more. I shook my head ruefully.

"No, Iggy. I don't freaking keep track of your cooking tools, okay?"

I turned in frustration and closed my eyes.

A 'happy birthday'. I would be fine with just a 'happy birthday'. I mean, I'm not the type to remind someone of my birthday just to get presents. But knowing they remembered would be nice. Just a 'happy birthday', and I would be totally happy.

There was a long moment of silence, then I heard a couple footsteps as Iggy turned and walked away. Fine. Just go. I wanted to be alone.

Then, quite suddenly, something flew through the air and landed in my lap. My eyes flashed open and I saw it was a package, very messily wrapped in tissue paper.

I twisted quickly in my chair to see Iggy, his back to me, his hand still up from when he tossed the package over his shoulder.

"Happy birthday, Fang."

I rushed forward instantly, wrapping my arms around Iggy's dangling legs and lifting up so that the noose around his neck was no longer constricting his throat.

Nudge was still screaming from the doorway, her fingernails digging into her cheeks and she clutched at them in fear. The rest had reached Iggy's room, and Gazzy was against the opposite wall in the hallway, hyperventilating. Angel was trying to get him to breathe correctly, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Meagan and Max were standing side by side, staring at the scene, eyes wide.

"Max! Cut the rope!" I said harshly, still struggling to support Iggy's weight. There was no response; Max didn't move. "MAX!" I practically screamed.

But Max didn't shake out of it. She seemed to be in shock.

Instead, Meagan reacted.

"Where's a knife? I don't know where a knife is!" she asked, panicking.

I bit the inside of my cheek and gnawed it for a second, producing blood.

"Check in his desk," I said.

Everything seemed to take so long – minutes, hours – but in reality, it probably took less than thirty seconds for Meagan to dart over to Iggy's desk, open the bottom drawer, and produce a razor.

For a moment, she paused, hand quivering, eyes flicking between Iggy, hanging by his neck from the ceiling, and the silver razor in her hand.

"GOD DAMN IT, HURRY!" I shouted, and she reacted instantly, darting forward. There was a chair a few feet from where Iggy was hanging – I tried not to think about what he had used it for – and Meagan pushed it towards us, climbing onto the seat and grabbing the rope just above where it knotted, sawing at the rough strands with the razor.

It didn't take very long for the rope to finally snap; we mutants have superhuman strength, after all.

I loosened my arms so that, when he fell, he slipped through them until I tightened them under his arms, gently laying him on the ground and kneeling next to him.

"Give me the razor," I said. Meagan, knowing that how fast she acted was of utmost importance, instantly handed it to me, falling on Iggy's other side and clutching his hand in hers.

I took the razor in my grip, slid it between the rope and Iggy's neck, and cut the rope in less than ten seconds.

I pulled the rope away and pushed it aside. Where it had been around his neck, the outer layer of his skin had been rubbed away, leaving his flesh raw, pink, and sticky with pus and beads of blood. I stared at his neck; it was taut, with the frail bones clearly defined. Luckily, none of them had been broken.

Hurriedly, I bent over and turned my head, my ear hovering over Iggy's nose and mouth. I stayed like that for a moment, but one thing was obvious; Iggy wasn't breathing.

"No, no, no, no, no…" I said, moving my hand to his wrist to feel for his pulse.

It wasn't there.

"No, no, no, no, no…"

His hand dropped to the floor.

"No, no, no, no, no, no, no…"

CPR… CPR… I had to do CPR…

What was it? How do I do it?

Tilt his head back, plug his nose so that the air goes directly to his lungs…

I brought my hand behind his head, under his neck, lifting to tilt his head back. Then I took my fingers to plug his nose and put my mouth onto his, blowing air into his lungs. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw his chest rise.

I lifted my head up. Nudge had stopped screaming, and Max had hurried to my side, but Gazzy was still hyperventilating, Angel holding his hand, crying.

I sucked in another breath, once again covering Iggy's mouth with mine and blowing air into his lungs. His chest rose once more.

I sat back. I remembered now. Two breaths, thirty compressions.

"Two breaths, three compressions…" I muttered.

"Compressions," I heard Max say. I looked up. Meagan was silent, still clutching Iggy's hand. "That's… press his chest, like, between his nipples…"

I nodded, folding my hands together and setting them in the center of his chest, pressing, hard.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven…

"Are you sure it's thirty?" Max asked. "I thought it was, like, fifteen…"

"It's thirty for an adult," I said, continuing to do the compressions. Eight. Nine. Ten…

"But he's not an adult, he's just sixteen!" Max continued. "I think it's fifteen compressions for a teenager."

Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen…

"I'm telling you, Fang, I think it's only fifteen compressions for a teenager!"

"Fine!" I responded, taking my hands back and bending once again to blow air into his lungs.

Two breaths, thirty… no, fifteen compressions…

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Two breaths.

I pulled away and looked at his face. I reached forward and lifted his eyelid.

His eyes were rolled back in his head, and I could only see the smallest sliver of his blank iris.

I bent my head once more to check to see if he was breathing. He wasn't.

I began the compressions once more.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten…

"Fang," Max choked. "Fang, he's gone. He's gone, Fang."

Tears were slipping down her cheeks.

Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Two Breaths. One. Two…

"God, Fang!"

Max tugged me away from Iggy, choking on her sobs.

"Fang, stop, stop, you'll break his ribs."

I stared at Iggy. His face was slack, his eyes sunken and dark, red-rimmed. His neck was still raw from the rope burns, my own fingers sticky from the pus.

I shook my head.

"No," I said wretchedly. "No."

I pulled away from Max and began to do the compressions again, harder this time.

"Iggy, wake up!" I said. "WAKE UP!"

But it wasn't working.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight…

Well, that's it for now. Thank you so much for reading. I love you guys! Please continue to read and review!

8. Spying

Hello. I really can't torture you for much longer, can I? Therefore, the whole suspense stuff will go away. For good or for bad? Only reading the fourth paragraph will tell…

Gosh, I don't really wait long to cut to the chase, do I?


Fang POV

There was silence. Utter, desperate silence. Everyone was silent. Actually, that may just be my mind filtering out all the noise… because I'm pretty sure everyone was crying.

I pulled my hands back and my shoulders slumped. Then, in frustration, I lashed out and pounded at Iggy's chest with my fist. God damn it.

One. Two. Three.

Iggy lurched forward, his head lifting off the floor, choking and gasping. His hand raised and scrabbled at my chest, clutching weakly, as if to grasp something to anchor him to the ground. Or maybe to reality.

I looked down at my brother, wondering if this was all a dream. I was hallucinating. Iggy had hung himself. He was dead.

But he wasn't. I looked around at the others, and they all looked so unbelievably happy. Gazzy was still hyperventilating, pale and faint, but Angel was gradually helping him control his breathing. Meagan was crying and laughing, holding Iggy's hand up and pressing it against her cheek, her lips quivering. Max had started to laugh hysterically, a sort of post-shock reaction.

"What…" Iggy rasped, his voice quiet and sounding painful. He grimaced and removed his hand from my shirt, gingerly touching his fingers to the rope burns around his neck and wincing. "What… I…"

Probably due to some sort of involuntary reaction, tears began to stream down his cheeks. Gosh, these past few days have been a regular sob-fest.

Everyone started to giggle. The adrenaline, you know. Usually after a stressful incident, witnesses are either reduced to tears or uncontrollable laughter. Or both, in the case of… well, Max, Nudge, Gazzy, Angel and Meagan.

Iggy shoved himself up into a sitting position, then braced himself against the bed behind him and stood shakily, swaying on the spot.

He kept his eyes downcast, his bangs hiding his expression, his hand clutching at his throat.


And suddenly, I wasn't feeling relief. Well, I was, but that wasn't the most dominating emotion in my current repertoire.

Fury. Anger. Horrible biting anger.

Not at Professor Jordan.

At Iggy.

How could he?

The rest of the flock, still laughing and crying, had started to talk to him, expressing happiness and tenderness. Meagan had stepped forward to place her hand softly over his forearm.

But I approached slowly, containing my anger with slow, definite movements, pushing the others aside until I was right in front of Iggy.

I glared at his face, still turned away from mine. His every movement was twitchy and uncertain, as if he didn't know exactly what was happening.

Yeah. He thought he was going to be dead.

"How could you?" I asked, every syllable rough, an octave lower than usual due to me trying to control myself. "How could you?"

Iggy's mouth opened and closed like a fish.

"I…" he rasped, then paused and remained silent.

"You selfish bastard!" I hissed, shoving him backward so that he fell back onto his bed, looking shocked, hurt and confused. "Do you have any idea what you put us through? Nudge was the one who found you! She was screaming so loud, I swear she could have caused an avalanche! What about the kids, Iggy? What about Angel and Gazzy? What would have happened if one of them had found you? They would have been traumatized!"

All of the rest of the flock was looking upon the scene with horrified expressions, but I didn't care. I didn't even care about the expression on Iggy's face, one that hurt me almost physically. I didn't like seeing my brother like that.

But I was right.

"And what if we hadn't been able to bring you back, huh? That memory would have stuck with us the rest of our lives! And all of us… those questions always circulating in our minds. What if we had just gone to wake him up earlier? Would it have happened? Iggy, I know you've had a freaking sucky life. And I know you have trauma and crap in your past. And I freaking understand your depression. But never pull a stunt like that again. You could have destroyed the flock."

Despite myself, my voice had risen quite a bit in pitch, and I angrily tried to lower it again.

"I thought you freaking cared about us, Iggy. Isn't that why you freaking let them do all that stuff? To protect us? Well, just to let you know, going off and hanging yourself is not in our best wishes."

"Fang, leave him alone," Max stammered, aghast by my outburst, but I silenced her with a glare.

"You're siding with him? Why? We were going to help him through this, right? Well, what's to justify with going off and taking his own freaking life away?"

But somewhere, deep within me, I knew exactly what I was feeling. Hurt. Because my first thought when I'd seen Iggy there, hanging from the ceiling with the noose around his neck, was that it was my fault. All my fault. After all, I was the last one to talk to him. What if it was something I said? What if I was the reason he felt that way?

I can't live with myself if that's the case.

So I glared at him, trying to disguise what I really felt.

"Well?" I growled.

Iggy looked in my direction with an expression that was so desperately frightened and confused that I was suddenly shaken. He opened his mouth and spoke in that painful, raspy, choked voice. I could see the bones in his neck moving and his Adam's apple bobbing up and down.

"I don't know what's going on," he muttered. "You left and I went to bed. And when I woke up, you were all in here, and everyone was crying, and everything hurts, and I just don't know what's going on!"

Professor Jordan

It was time to once again contact him. Professor Jordan held the transmitter in one hand, gently fingering the buttons that helped him control it. It was a complicated device, use to communicate to his spy by actually speaking directly into his mind. J would answer merely by talking. Ingenious, really, was this creation. The invention had taken thirty years to perfect, but here it was, and working perfectly.

Before speaking into the small machine, Professor Jordan quickly glanced at the clock, making sure it was late in the night. He didn't want any of the mutant children to be awake to witness his communications. If they were, the entire plan would be discovered.

But, finally, he knew it was late enough for the rest to be asleep. He deftly flicked a switch that turned on the transmitter, waiting a moment before speaking into it. He didn't have to worry about the volume of his voice, because no one would be able to hear him except for J.

"Report," Professor Jordan said, speaking into the small device and listening for a reply.

There wasn't one for multiple minutes; he assumed that J was gaining control of his thoughts in order to even prove capable of communicating. Eventually, though, he did respond.

"That stupid suicide thing didn't work," he started. The tone of his voice was slightly frustrated. J didn't like failing. After all, it meant possible disfavor in the Professor's eyes. He didn't want to fall out of favor. That could prove fatal. "They managed to revive him. How the heck do you manage that? Those mutant freaks must have weird super lungs or something to be able to come back from that…"

"Well, of course," answered Professor Jordan, sarcastic. He had grown tired long ago of correcting his subordinates' shortcomings. People just weren't as intelligent or logical as him, and that was that. There was no helping it. "They are mutants, after all. They have super everything. And don't get too cocky… after all, you are one of those 'mutant freaks'."

"Har har," the voice in the machine answered. "Anyway, they've all been keeping a close watch on him after discovering that he apparently had no control over hanging himself. I'm not going to be able to succeed in another attempt." J made a noise, and Professor Jordan noticed that he was probably pulling a face. He shook his head. J shouldn't have so much of a personality; it was troublesome for the mission. But he wasn't worried. There was no danger in it. Except for the annoyance it often caused him. "They even have that little boy, the Gasman, sleeping in the same room as him to keep an eye out. And I can't exactly kill the kid then do the whole 'suicide' thing again, or they'll know something's up."

Professor Jordan pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing. J was of course the most important of the spies he had, the most vital to the mission. He was the only one with the capability of getting inside information. But God, how he wished he could have created the spy with a lack of personality. He would be so much easier to deal with.

"That's all very well. I don't want you to kill him anymore. I have a knew plan. However, the details are not yet ironed out. You'll need to wait. Continue collecting information. I'll need all that you can come up with. In the meantime, I will be devising certain… tactics. Stand by for updates. And don't take so long in the future to reply."

Professor Jordan heard a sigh in response, and J answered lazily.

"I had to wait for that little kid to fall asleep. Then I had to make sure he wasn't going to wake up." He laughed, and Professor Jordan once again sighed. He really did not like that personality of his.

"Right then. I'm leaving."

Professor Jordan turned off the transmitter and set the machine aside, rubbing his temples and letting out a frustrated breath.

He'd have to come up with some way to get rid of that personality of J's. He didn't want cheek or humor when conversing with his undercover agent.

There you are. Now, we've got all of our main characters introduced. Anne and J will be really huge in this story. Also, I've noticed this story has pretty much been Fang and Iggy brother-centric. Would you like more Max, Meagan, Nudge, Gazzy or Angel? If so, just request it, and I will broaden the character POVs.

Thank you very much for reading. As always, reviews are dearly appreciated.

9. The Spy

Okay! I've been really excited for this. J is my favorite OC, so I really want you all to like him just as much. Therefore, my first J POV! Hope you enjoy…


I smirked as Professor Jordan's voice stopped echoing in my head. It can really give a guy a headache. Besides, it's not like I liked him at all. At least he had the good sense to program me to be like human… I can give him lip. Heh heh.

Ah, this is the life. Basically I just sit around on my butt all day, resting – not sleeping, I can't sleep (like, I'm physically incapable of it) – and let that mutant flock go about its business. The only time I need to come out is at night, when they're all asleep. And then, really, the only work I do is sneak about the house spying on them, seeing what's up.

Well, it's not entirely true that I rest all day. I mean, I have to remain attentive for any plans the mutants are cooking up. And of course that stupid Iggy guy makes it really hard to relax, what with all the thoughts going through his head; 'oh dear, I'm so depressed, my life sucks, I was raped, no one cares about me, blah blah blah'. I mean, maybe it'd be sad and moving and stuff listening to them for about five minutes… but every second of the day gets pretty annoying. At least after Fang talked to him, his thoughts grew less repetitive and a little more happy. Too bad I had to try to kill him.

I seriously mean it was too bad. I mean, I didn't exactly choose this job, now did I? Nope, didn't even get a chance to. Professor Jordan created me specifically for his uses, and for this mission. I get no say in the matter.

Well, it's true I could go up to him and say something like 'Oh, hey Prof, see, the thing is that I don't really feel like killing an innocent guy, so maybe we could do something a little less bloodthirsty and, I dunno, let him get some peace? Lay off his back a little?' But, Hell, do you actually think he would listen? That guy is a maniac, totally set on his stupid little plan to rule the world.

I can't even believe how he plans to do it. It's too… unrealistic. I mean, really?

Of course, I'd rebel if I could. You know, if it didn't cause me physical pain whenever I didn't obey one of his orders. Like my heart being engulfed in flames and burning into a little speck of soot. But the fact is that it does cause me physical pain when I disobey him, so, of course, I… well, I obey him.

I was jarred out of my thoughts when the little boy from inside the room suddenly muttered in his sleep. I got up off my seat on the roof outside the widow and quickly but silently crawled into the room.

I didn't particularly feel like sitting in here all day listening to the Gasman sleep (there are some funky noises, let me tell you), so I decided to go out and spy on some of the rest of the flock. Of course, I didn't know which room was which, so I had to kind of guess.

The first door I opened was to a room that I at first thought was empty. Everything was pitch black, as usual, and I couldn't see a thing. But after a moment I heard a small sigh.

It was the girl Nudge's room.

Honestly, I thought she was pretty cool. I mean, her passion with Iggy and everything. If I was Iggy, I would be pretty taken with her… not with Maximum Ride, or with her clone. They didn't even seem half as attractive as the chocolate-skinned 'beauty'.

But Iggy was just programmed to love Maximum, not Nudge. Oh well. To each his own.

I took a step into the room, but just as I changed my mind, deciding it would be a bad idea to attempt to enter, I stepped on something that made a cracking noise.

Wincing, I lightly lifted my foot off of whatever it was – I think it was a pencil. I listened for a long moment to make sure Nudge had not woken, but just when I was sure I was safe I heard her turn and lift herself up slightly.

"Who is it?" she said softly, rubbing at her eyes, her voice muffled. She sounded tired. Well, I had just woken her up in the middle of the night.

"It's just me, Nudge," I replied calmly, though inside I was a raging turmoil of fear. What if she woke up enough to realize something?

"Oh," Nudge answered, sounding like she was drifting back to sleep. "Hi, you."

"Sorry I woke you. Go back to sleep."

Please, I thought in my head. Please don't notice me. Just go back to sleep as if you'd never woken up, and when it's morning, you probably won't even remember I was here… please oh please oh please oh please…

Nudge paused for a long moment, and then I heard her nod.

"Okay," she said, laying back in bed and shutting her eyes.

Slowly I withdrew from the room, shutting the door. My breathing had sped up quite a bit, and I leaned my back against her door, sighing in relief. Nothing had happened. I hadn't been found out.

Which was good, because I didn't exactly want to die or anything.

Deciding that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to go around into the people's rooms at night, I retreated back into Iggy's bedroom and stood for a second. The Gasman was a deep sleeper, and didn't even stir.

Sighing, I brushed my hair back behind my ears and massaged my temples. This really was a nerve-wracking job. Maybe I should just…

Nah. There wasn't even a smidgeon of a chance of me escaping. After all, Professor Jordan's orders were to 'stay here and spy on the flock'. Leaving would be directly disobeying him, and I couldn't do that. Physically, I mean.

I stood silently in the room for a moment longer, examining everything. It was silent, really, except for the quiet breathing of sleeping people. I couldn't see through the darkness, but I knew that there was a patch of damaged ceiling, probably right above where the kid Gasman was sleeping on a blow-up mattress on the floor. The rope that Iggy had used to 'hang himself' had stretched up through a hole punched in the ceiling and wrapped around a wooden beam in the attic. Maximum Ride and Fang had patched it up with duct-tape.

'Staring' at the spot where I knew the patched-up hole to be, I wondered idly what would happen if I just died. Just slipped away into absolute nothingness. It probably wouldn't be too much different then my life now; after all, I couldn't do anything of my own free will, and really didn't have anything to cheer me up. Just Professor Jordan and my mission. The only two things I knew.

Sighing and realizing that suicide was beside the point, I moved over to Iggy's bed and lay down comfortably. The only people in it were him and me, but the bed was really quite huge – Maximum Ride's mother thought the room looked too empty without it to fill it up some – so it only felt like one person was in it.

I grinned and laughed quietly at my hysterical inside joke, then closed my eyes and allowed myself to drift into the closest I could come to sleep. I would rouse myself in time to spy on the flock again in the morning. But for now, rest.

This was fairly short, and for that I apologize. However I haven't had much time to write, but I felt you all deserved an update… please review!

10. Strawberry Girl

Hello, everybody! I know it has taken longer for me to update recently… this is due to my large amounts of homework. Gosh, it's so annoying! I hate it all! And I can't concentrate… every time I try to sit down and work, my hands start twitching and I can't concentrate. I think I've been having computer withdrawal.

Anyway, this chapter is dedicated to pandorad24, whose birthday was Friday! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PANDORAD! Many happy returns!

Oh, yeah. And I was thinking… please ignore any mistakes I made in my first story 'Asleep'. I know I made quite a few. However, my writing has greatly improved, I'm happy to say. Due to my evolving storyline, there might now be plotholes. Gladly ignore any you come across, and I will try to fix some of them. Thanks.


"Iggy, are you feeling alright?"

"Hey, Iggs, did you get enough sleep?"

"Ig! Are you sure you don't want to sleep in a little bit?"

"Maybe you'd feel better if I made breakfast instead?"

"Yeah, if we all helped, we could get it done just fine. You should probably go sit back and rest a bit…"

Iggy looked extremely confused by all the attention we were giving to him. Confused and annoyed.

"Um, I'm feeling fine… I'm alright, I can make breakfast myself," he answered, walking slowly towards the kitchen. Gazzy and Nudge were skipping around him.

"Are you sure, Iggy?" Nudge asked. "Because we can totally do it for you if you're not feeling up to it. It's no problem at all."

Iggy shrugged.

"No, seriously guys, I'm fine," he answered, and began to search for eggs and flour so he could make omelets and biscuits.

"Well, we'll help you!" Gazzy butted in, jumping in front of him to stop Iggy in his tracks. "It's no problem at all! Just like Nudge said! We're totally fine with it! Just tell me what to get and I'll get it for you!"

Finally, Iggy relented.

"Uh, okay. Nudge, find that one cookbook, the one with the picture of the pancakes on the cover… go to the plain biscuit recipe, and you can gather all those up, I guess… maybe follow the instructions to make the dough? I'll go ahead and do the omelets."

Whooping, Gazzy followed Nudge about as she got all the materials and ingredients necessary and began mixing them energetically into a large bowl.

I suddenly heard a soft noise, and turned about from my watching the curious actions of Iggy, Gazzy and Nudge making breakfast to see mom walking down the stairs in her bathrobe, yawning widely and looking totally wiped.

"Good morning, Max," she said, waving weakly, her other hand covering her mouth. "How did it go yesterday? By the way, there's a hole covered in duct-tape on Iggy's ceiling."

"Ah, yes, about that…" I quickly thought a moment. "Fang was roughhousing yesterday. He threw a ball through the ceiling."

After saying that, I realized how far-fetched my excuse sounded. But mom paused for a moment, then seemed to buy it.

"Very well. Tell him he's going to have to pay for the repairs. Now, I'm going to pick up Ella."

I winced internally at the thought of having to tell Fang he was supposed to pay for the hole in the ceiling that he, did not, in fact, create. But whatever.

"You're going to go pick up Ella in those clothes?" I asked. Really, mom was only wearing her sleep-sweats and a bathrobe with a pair of slippers. Mom grinned.

"Of course! What's the good of being a mother if you can't embarrass your daughters every once in a while?"

With that she continued out the front door, waving softly to the three bird-kids in the kitchen, and clambered into her car.

I shrugged. She had a point there.

After about ten more minutes, Fang, Angel and Meagan finally made their way downstairs and into the kitchen. We all finished with the breakfast foods and had it set out on the table just as mom crashed through the front door with Ella.

"Hello!" she called, entering the kitchen, still in her pajamas. Ella was looking bemused at mom's choice of clothes, but didn't say anything. "Why, what a delicious looking breakfast!"

She barely glanced at Iggy's choice of his own outfit, sitting at the table with us and helping herself to the food.

After the incident yesterday, and after Angel had gone through his head and declared that he was telling the truth about him not actually meaning to hand himself, we'd fixed him all up; we put disinfectant on the rope burns around his neck, wrapped them in bandages, and Fang gave him a couple shirts to wear until the wound healed. Black turtlenecks, to be precise. And Iggy as a rule never wears black; it makes him look way too pale.

Ella did spend a few moments staring at Iggy in his entire turtleneck-ed splendor, but wasn't exactly rude about it.

"So, how did it go yesterday?" mom asked us. She hadn't got back till late last night; she'd been suddenly called to work that had kept her until eleven. By the time she got back we were all asleep.

"It went fine," Angel answered.

"No one died?" mom asked jokingly. Angel smiled.

"Nope, no one died."

"That's good. Ah,' she replied, sitting back and patting her stomach. "Wasn't that a good breakfast? I must have been starving, I finished faster than you guys."

Gazzy snorted, but managed to keep his mouthful of food in his mouth, where it belonged.

Suddenly, mom jumped up.

"Oh! I forgot to get the paper! You all wait here a moment…"

We all watched her race out the door and into the yard to retrieve the newspaper through the window in the kitchen. While she was gone, Ella broke the silence, picking at her omelet.

"Um, Iggy," she said softly, and we all turned to look at her. She hadn't spoken to Iggy since Fang and I brought him back. "What's with the black getup?"

Iggy shrugged and grinned. "Fang said it'd look good on me. What, don't you like it?"

Ella lifted her glass of milk and snorted. "It makes you look like a vampire."

Iggy brought his hand to his mouth in mock-horror. "Seriously? It doesn't make me look dashing and unbelievably handsome?"

Ella shrugged and finally smiled. "Oh, Iggs, some things just aren't meant to be?"

A tension that I hadn't noticed was there suddenly lifted, and everything was normal again. Well, as close to normal as things could ever be around here. Especially with Iggy hanging himself in his sleep. Plus the fact that we're all mutants. You know, except for mom and Ella.

Mom finally entered the kitchen again, plopping down in her chair and opening the paper. Her eyes roved the pages and we all began to talk again.

"So, Ells, what did you do at your slumber party?" I asked. Ella shrugged.

"Oh, nothing in particular. It's all really top-secret, so I can't really tell you. Let's just say it involved massive amounts of fruit-punch and vinegar and some raw hamburgers."

Fang whistled.

"Sounds dangerous. I hope no one was seriously injured." Ella shrugged.

"Oh, just a few people. But the hospital says they're going to pull through, so there's no need to worry…"

Suddenly mom gasped. We all turned to look at her interestedly. Her eyes for fixed on an article in the paper.

"What's up, mom?" I asked.

"It's Strawberry Girl!" Mom exclaimed. Ella gasped and laughed.

"No way! Those pictures are still circulating?" she asked, jumping up and moving over behind mom to look at the article.

"I guess so!" mom answered. "It says that some powerful old man, an official in Missouri, was arrested for stealing money from the government! They searched his house and found all sorts of illegal documents, including a large amount of the original photos."

Ella gasped. "Originals? Those are worth tens of thousands of dollars!"

The rest of the flock and I looked back and forth between mom and Ella as they continued this exchange. Finally, I spoke up.

"Um, mind filling us in on this… thing?" I asked, and mom glanced up from the article.

"Oh, of course! Sorry, honey. It's this huge scandal that occurred a few years ago. Pornographic photos of a young girl started to sell on the black market. They were very popular, and sold for a lot of money, especially among rich white men." Mom grimaced slightly, as if the perverted-ness of men had put a bad taste in her mouth. Then she shrugged. "They were actually extremely artistic portraits. Most of them were confiscated and the people who purchased them were tried and either fined or arrested. There are lots of copies going around, but they're hardly worth anything. Some of the originals are unearthed every once in a while. I believe the less graphic ones are displayed in art museums."

Fang raised his eyebrows at mom's explanation.

"Really? Was this… big?" he asked. Ella nodded energetically.

"Oh, it was huge! See, lots of really important government people were caught owning these photos. Because of this, the girl got really famous. Although no one knows who the heck she is." Ella stopped for a moment to gulp a mouthful of milk. After she'd swallowed, she continued. "I did a report on the whole thing for a research paper last year. Lots of people think that the pictures were actually taken years before they began to be sold. But there is actually an ongoing search for the girl going on still today. After all, whoever she is was probably forced to do the poses, and may have been abused. But there haven't been any leads yet."

I thought about this for a second.

"Poor girl," I finally said. "What did you say she was called?"

"Strawberry Girl," mom said. She turned the page of the newspaper. "This is quite a long article. It's got all the history… look, here's a picture of one of the photos…"

Mom flattened the paper out on the table and turned it so the rest of us could see. It was a young girl who looked about the age of five. She seemed very small – Ella and Nudge would say 'petite'. Her cheeks were pink with blush, and her eyelashes were long, the mascara absolutely perfect. A light shade of eye-shadow brought out her stunning blue eyes, and there was gloss on her lips. Her hair was red, a couple shades darker than Iggy's, and full and glossy, hanging cutely to her shoulders. She was clothed in a blue dress with spaghetti straps and quite a low collar, the hem ending halfway down her thighs. She wore no shoes.

The girl in the picture struck me as pretty much the most beautiful little kid in the entire world. I assume the rest of us may have looked like that when we were little, you know, if we hadn't been covered in dirt, blood and grime and pretty much never had a shower until we moved into the E-shaped house. Angel was an adorable kid, but this girl had this odd aura of utter purity and innocence, even more so than Ange.

The only thing about the picture that wrecked my image of 'utter purity and innocence' was the pose the girl was in. She stood there in that dress, which I now realized was probably a lot shorter than natural for a young girl, bending forewords and sticking out her hip, one hand slightly lifting the hem of her dress even higher, and the other holding a ripe, red strawberry to her pursed lips.

But actually, the girl remained utterly pure and innocent. There was something in her eyes that let me know that she was both frightened and deeply sad at the same time.

"Strawberry Girl," I muttered. Staring into her eyes, I began to get the feeling that I knew her from somewhere. Who else do I know with strawberry-blond hair, other than Iggy?

I nudged Fang's shoulder.

"Hey, Fang, does she look familiar to you?" I asked. Fang shrugged.

"Red hair. She sort of reminds me of Lissa. But Lissa's eyes are green."

"She reminds you of someone?" Iggy asked. "She doesn't look like anyone I know."

We all looked at him, and Nudge and Ella both giggled.

"Anyways," mom continued, pulling the paper back and continuing to read it. "Poor girl. I hope the authorities find her soon. She must have been kidnapped or something. Or maybe she just has horrible parents."

"Horrible parents…" Iggy muttered softly, but I think I was the only one who heard him.

Thank you, thank you. I'm sorry this update was late in coming, but I certainly hope the length made up for it. I hope you enjoyed, and please review!

11. Pictures

Heya! Well, just to let you guys know, I was babysitting yesterday, 6:25pm until 12:00am. Unfortunately, the folks I was sitting for didn't get back until 1:50pm. I was so tired and crabby, I was about to cry. It was awful. And they only paid me seventy dollars! Gosh. I expected a bonus for them getting back AN HOUR AND FORTY MINUTES LATE.


Anne POV

"You want me to do what?" I asked. Professor Jordan just smiled at me in that awfully evil way of his.

"I'm filming a short video. You know, to send to Maximum Ride and her flock. I feel they should be informed as to what is happening and what I want done."

I hesitated, backing up a few steps and sitting on my bed. I ran a finger across the blanket, feeling the fabric and pondering a moment.

"And you want me in it? Why?" I finally asked.

Professor Jordan shrugged and smiled once more. "I feel simply that they are more likely to believe it when they see you," he answered. "After all, it's undeniable that you are a pregnant woman. And even if Subject 9 will be convinced thoroughly, I feel that its family could use a little visible proof."

I scowled at him for several moments, staring straight into his eyes. The annoying thing was that he was a very stubborn man, and unfortunately he wouldn't give me the pleasure of turning away first.

Finally, after many long moments, he spoke.

"How about we end this foolish staring contest and start my plan? I happen to have everything set up, and it would be very nice if I could complete it on schedule. Please follow me."

Sighing, I decided that standing there in the midst of a staring contest wouldn't get me anywhere, and therefore I should just 'go along with it'. After all, I had nothing to lose. Nothing at all. My entire family thought I was dead, I was trapped in this hellhole for the indefinite remainder of my miserable life, and I had already hurt someone beyond repair – something I had never thought myself capable of doing.

And I was pregnant with a baby I did not want and wished had never been conceived.

But it's all according to Professor Jordan's plan. I just had to be unlucky enough to have a body that was strong enough to prove useful to him.

I grimaced and turned away from him, trying to seem like I couldn't care less, although in reality I felt like I had lost the battle for my free will. I was under his control.

"Right then," Professor Jordan said, his smile widening. "Please, follow me."

I unhurriedly followed after him through the metal door to my cell. It closed behind us, and Professor Jordan quickly turned left, walking smoothly down the hallway. I followed nervously behind him, my hands resting on my belly. I felt another kick and winced.

The man led me through hallways and doors that I could only glance at before turning around another bend into another hallway with more doors. It seemed to last forever, this trek through the maze of the School, but eventually we stopped outside a room and walked in.

It was a small room, quite unlike any of the other rooms in the School I had previously seen. There were no experiment tools, no cages, no gurneys, and no bright white lights. It was quite homey, with some chairs, a desk, and a small but expensive camcorder.

"Here we are," Professor Jordan said, smiling and gesturing towards one of two chairs placed in front of the camcorder. "If you would just take a seat. All I need of you is that you sit and look smug. If you could do that, please…"

I gave him a rather ugly look and moved to sit in the chair, once again resting my hands over my belly and struggling to plant a decidedly smug expression on my face. All I could manage was a sort of strained smile. My eye started twitching.

Professor Jordan stared at me for a moment.

"You'll need to do better than that," he finally said.

I glared at him, then tried harder.

How on Earth am I supposed to look smug? I thought. Then I shook my head. I was getting nowhere. I'm supposed to be following his every order, right? And I've done it before with no hitch. I can at least manage a smug expression.

Think of Amy, I thought. Think of your niece. Think of what will happen to her if you can't do this.

Finally, I put as close to a smug expression as I could. It was fairly good.

"Great job," Professor Jordan complemented, but I paid him no heed and continued with my smugness.

Pretend you're being smug to him. You're smug. You're awesome. He's not in control of you.

It worked, sort of.


"Fang, can I borrow your laptop?" I asked. Fang raised an eyebrow and turned to me.

"What for?" he asked.

"I… uh… I… uh… I…"

Fang smirked. "You sound like a broken record, Max. It's okay. It was just a simple question."

I blushed furiously.

"I, um, I just want to… I want to look up pictures, of… um…"

"Yes?" Fang asked, smiling at me, his eyes huge and pleading. "Yes, Max? Don't you trust me with the simple information of why you want to use my laptop?"

I sighed. When he put it that way…

"I want to look up pictures of Strawberry Girl," I finally relinquished. When I saw the smile on Fang's face grow and him reach up to stifle a laugh, I buried my face in my hands.

"Please?" I asked softly.

"Max, I'm surprised at you," Fang said, laughter still in his voice. "You want to look up porn? And of a little girl? How shameless…"

I hit him over the head, and he ducked, laughing.

"Okay, okay! It's on my desk. I'll come with you."

"No way!" I replied, smacking him back into his chair. "I am not letting you look at porn!"

I stalked off, leaving him bemused.

"Then why can she?" he wondered quietly after I was out of the room. I rolled my eyes.

Fang's laptop sat in plain view on his desk, and I moved towards it and opened it. Fang had left it logged on, so I didn't have to worry about any password. Going straight to Google, I went to 'images', typed in the words Strawberry Girl, then 'enter', and waited for pictures to pop up.

The large amount of pictures that showed up were of Strawberry Shortcake, some sort of cartoon girl with big red hair and who wore poofy pink outfits with strawberries everywhere. Other pictures were of teenage girls with curvy bodies, large breasts and strawberries in their mouths, obviously posing for magazine pictures or something. Most of the other pictures were of little girls with red hair, but most of them had green or brown eyes, and none of them were the particular girl I was looking for.

But finally, after scrolling through page after page, I found one of the pictures. The original Strawberry Girl.

I clicked on the link and it led me to a whole site full of the photographs.

Enlarging the very first of the pictures, I took a good, long look.

Strawberry Girl, in this photo, was wearing a decidedly skimpy blue silk dress. It looked smooth and breezy, with lacey hems and short, short sleeves. The dress went down to her knees, but there appeared to be a strong wind that was blowing it so that it fluttered to the side, revealing pretty much her entire thigh. She was barefoot again. Her hair was straight and shoulder-length, blowing out in the wind as well, strands in her face. Her eyes were clenched shut, and her hands were up, clutching at a chain of daisies around here head to stop them from blowing away. Here pink lips were around a ripe, red strawberry.

I went back to the large collection of photos and scrolled slowly through them. There was a similarity in all of them. Strawberry Girl was always barefoot and always wearing a blue dress – some were ball-gown-like, some were silk, some were nightgowns, some were regular, some had print, some had patterns, some were more like Japanese school-girl uniforms – that was promiscuous in some way. However, the look in her eyes remained the same. And more than seeming like porn, the pictures struck me as art. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

And then I came to a string of pictures in which Strawberry Girl wasn't wearing anything.

What I did notice first was that none of the pictures showed any more than her butt, which was pretty good for porn.

And it still seemed like art to me.

I enlarged one of these pictures. Strawberry Girl was standing in a pond surrounded by water lilies. The water went up to her navel. Her arms were outstretched, palms flat on the surface of the water. Ripples moved around her in wide circles, and her eyes were wide and bright, sharp blue. This time here hair was pulled back in a ponytail, strands left to hang straight down and frame her face. Her teeth were biting on the leafy top of a red strawberry.

Her eyes really amazed me. They were so vibrant, full of life. But also pain, and regret, and guilt, and yet hope. All at once.

They made me feel sad and lonely.

I went back to the other pictures and enlarge a second one.

This one was my favorite so far. It just struck me as beauty, simple beauty. Art. And hope.

The young girl stood bare in a field of dirt. Her back was turned towards the camera, her hair hanging a little past her shoulders. A huge, chain-link fence stood in front of her, topped with barbed wire. Her hand was up, fingers clenching the wire of the fence. Her other hand held a strawberry by the stem. It was nighttime, and the moon was full. The light shone down and reflected off of Strawberry Girl's creamy, pale skin, causing it to seem to glow.

Then I noticed that there were also long scars stretching across her back, as if she had been struck by a whip. I winced at her scars, and something inside me felt the need to protect her.

And suddenly, I saw something. The fence that stretched far on either side of the girl seemed familiar. And to the very far left in the distance, on Strawberry Girl's side of the fence, I noticed a large, white complex that looked surprisingly like the School.

Yay! Finally, an update, right? (Pandorad, this means I expect one from you, too).

Anyway, hope you liked, and please review!

12. Speaking

Hey y'all. I'm sorry for late updates… but after all, I do have school. Please don't blame me!

By the way, I just bought 'Angel' last night. AMAZING. I had low expectations but high hopes, and yes, it succeeded in being much better then I thought it would be. Guess what? A large and very funny amount of Iggy! Amazing, right? Plus… and this is the big thing… you'll never believe I'm about to say this, but… I'M NOW A MYLAN SHIPPER. I will always love Miggy, but MYLAN is the canon pairing I love!

Anyway, on with the chapter.


"Hey, Fang!" I called. Of course, there wasn't an answer. "FANG!" I screamed as loud as I could, and I heard a bump from somewhere downstairs.

"WHAT?" Fang yelled back, sounding rather peeved. I smirked, continuing to stare at the picture I had on the computer.

"COME UP HERE RIGHT NOW! I NEED TO SHOW YOU SOMETHING!" I screamed again, laughing when I heard the loud noises Fang made as he practically ran through the house, up the stairs, and down the hall to his room. Eventually he crashed the door open, breathing a bit more heavily than usual.

"What is it?" he huffed. "Is something wrong? Something about the School? Huh?" he asked.

In reply, I simply pointed to the computer screen. Fang rolled his eyes when he noticed the unmistakable Strawberry Girl.

"Wait a second," he said, still huffing slightly, moving closer towards me. "You take my computer so you can look up pictures of a little girl that was used for kiddy porn, and you refused to let me come with you because you didn't want me to look at said porn. Now you shout at me from across the house just so I can come and get a good eyeful?"

I scowled and crossed my arms.

"Gosh Fang, can you be any more oblivious? First off, I did not take your computer. I mean, seriously, it's still on your desk, isn't it? Secondly, I'm not looking at 'kiddy porn'. It's art. And thirdly, of course I didn't want you to be looking at porn! I don't want you looking at porn, okay? That's not too much to ask."

Fang shrugged, and I sniffed loudly and got to the point.

"Anyway, I'm not calling you to look at porn. Look, look at this building in the picture…" I used my index finger to point at the white building complex in the far corner of the photo. Fang leaned closer to get a better look.

I watched his face as he stared at it for a long moment, and being the attentive girlfriend I am, I noticed when his brow furrowed a bit and his jaw stiffened in a barely perceptible way.

"See?" I asked when I saw his reaction, and Fang nodded.

"Yeah. It looks like the School." Then he leaned back, away from the computer. And he grinned. "And that girl is h-o-t."

I gaped at him. "She's five!" I exclaimed, and Fang wriggled his eyebrows.

"Not anymore, right? Dr. Martinez said this craze went around years ago, and the pictures were taken years before that. She's probably our age." He pursed his lips and made kissy noises.

I scowled at him.

"That's not funny. Not at all. This girl was probably abused. And it looks like she came from the School! That's the whole point of me showing you this picture, and now you're being a sexist bigot…"

Fang held his hands up in surrender.

"Hey, Max, I'm sorry," he said softly. "You're right, that was way out of bounds. But, um…"

"But what?" I asked, narrowing my eyes suspiciously.

"But, see, couldn't you be overreacting just a little bit? I mean, it may not be the School. I can't even imagine those scientists setting up a photo shoot and getting a little experiment all made up and pretty, then selling the photos. That's sort of far-fetched, don't you think?"

His face was serious now, and I knew I had to ponder this. I mean, I could sort of see his viewpoint. That building could just as easily be some prison, or a different scientific facility.

Who was I kidding?

"Fang," I started, "We can't just brush this off because I might be 'overreacting'. I mean, maybe I am. But my instincts are usually right, right? I wasn't appointed leader for nothing…"

"Actually, you weren't appointed," Fang interrupted. "You sort of elected yourself after you beat me and Iggy up."

I shrugged, brushing it aside.

"Whatever. The point is, we sort of have to figure this out, right?"

Fang looked at me for a long moment.

"Max," he finally said. "Why are you so interested in this girl?"

I stared at the photograph for a long time. What was it?

"She reminds me of Iggy," I finally replied in a little voice. "She reminds me of Iggy, and it makes me want to help her."

Nodding, Fang looked at the computer screen, staring at the picture as well. Then he turned to me.

"There's one way to settle this. Let's ask Iggy."

I looked at Fang for a moment, incredulous.

"Why? How would he know?"

Fang smiled.

"Because, silly. Remember his all-knowing power? We can ask him if Strawberry Girl is safe and happy. If he says yes, we need not do anything."

"You're right!" I laughed. "You're totally right! By the way," I added, looking at Fang seriously, "I've never heard you use the phrase 'need not'. It sounds British."

Fang smirked.

"I'm full of fun surprises," he said.

That's when we heard a loud crash from downstairs, as if a several chairs had been knocked over, and Ella and Nudge started shouting. Fang and I took one look at each-other and rushed downstairs.

It took mere moments to reach downstairs, then another moment to follow the sounds of shouting into the kitchen.

The sight that met us was both Ella and Nudge shouting at each-other, Nudge with her arm around Iggy's back, supporting him, and Iggy doubled over with his hands clenching at his head and repeating 'Ow, ow,' over and over again.

"What's going on?" Meagan asked, and I turned to see the entire rest of the household crash into the kitchen (that means Angel, Gazzy, and mom).

Ella and Nudge began explaining it at the same time, simultaneously pointing blame and gesturing emphatically. Iggy remained clutching at his head.

"Ow, ow, owch," he said, but he wasn't acting too hurt, so I could tell it wasn't serious enough for me to freak out.

"SHUT UP!" I shouted, and Ella and Nudge shut their mouths, quieting instantly. Iggy even stopped mumbling. "Okay," I continued. "One at a time. Ella, you go first. What happened?"

Ella glared towards Nudge, putting her hands on her hips. "I was just sitting at the kitchen table, studying my French," she said, gesturing to the table, where I could see several books laid out. "Nude and Iggy come in, and Iggy made us all snacks. Then they sat down to eat. And I love Nudge to death, but seriously! That girl can be a real chatterbox!"

Ella broke off and glared at Nudge some more, and Nudge looked affronted.

"Nudge, go," I ordered, and Nudge opened her mouth to begin.

"I have no idea what happened!" she said, sounding anxious. "I was watching Ella study her French, and Ella started saying some words out loud and sentences and stuff, so I asked what she was saying, and she told me, and then I asked some other questions, because I was curious, you know? And then Iggy stands straight up, his chair crashing over, and he's clutching his head and saying 'ow' a ton, and speaking total gibberish."

Iggy straightened up, finally removing his hands from his forehead and crossing them in a frustrated way across his chest. He scowled and grumbled something under his breath.

I sighed.

"Okay, Iggy. Your turn. Explain why the heck this shouting started."

Iggy uncrossed his arms and began pointing energetically at Nudge, speaking rather forcefully and angrily in Nudge's direction. She looked slightly hurt and confused.

"Nudge est arrivée! Nudge et ses questions stupides! Souvenez-vous de mon tout le pouvoir de connaissance? Vraiment, donc elle a posé toutes ces questions à Ella. Comme 'quels sont tous les mots français dans la langue?' et 'comment prononcez-vous tous?' et 'que tous signifient-ils?' et 'comment les assemblez-vous pour faire toutes les sentences?' et 'les langues ont des règles pour de différents mots et des choses, n'est ce pas? Quelles sont toutes les règles pour le français?' Ainsi alors tous les mots français stupides et les prononciations et les sens et les règles débordant dans ma tête. Et maintenant j'ai une migraine de tueur! Et je n'ai aucune idée que la langue je parle dans! Quelqu'un me dit dans que langue je parle!"

Iggy finished, breathing heavily, seeming quite steamed and very angry. I nodded thoughtfully at him.

"I see," I replied. "Now, Iggy, that might have been a bit easier to understand if you were speaking English, but okay."

"He was speaking French," Ella cut in helpfully.

"When did Iggy learn French?" Fang asked, sounding taken aback.

"What the heck was he saying?" Meagan asked, her eyes wide.

"I believe he was saying something about Nudge and Ella," mom added.

"No duh," Gazzy replied, then blushed and apologized for being rude.

"I can translate, Max," Angel spoke up sweetly. "I can see it all in his head."

"Go ahead, sweetie," I sighed, and Angel concentrated while Iggy crossed his arms again.

"He said 'Nudge is what happened! Nudge and her stupid questions! Do you remember my all knowing power? Seriously, she asked Ella all these questions. Like 'what are all the words in the French language?' and 'how do you pronounce all of the words?' and 'what do they all mean?' and 'how do you put them all together to make all the sentences?' and 'different languages have different rules for words and things, right? What are they?'" Angel broke off and took in a deep breath of air, then continued, a smile twitching at the edge of her mouth. "So then all the stupid French words and pronunciations and meanings and rules came flowing into my head. And now I have a killer migraine! And I have no idea what language I'm speaking in! Someone tell me what language I'm speaking in!'"

Angel finally stopped, and covered her mouth with her hands. By now, Iggy was looking very lost and confused.

"Oh Iggy," I said, "You're speaking in French."

Iggy blushed and looked suitably embarrassed.

"Désolé," he said, then frowned. "Je veux dire… I mean, I mean sorry."

Meagan smiled and walked up to him, taking his hand, and he blushed even redder.

"Don't worry," she said sweetly. "Isn't French a Romance language?"

Iggy's face was now totally red, and everyone was trying hard to stifle their laughter. But we managed.

Fang bent down and whispered to me.

"I guess we should save asked him about Strawberry Girl for later, huh?" he said. "You know, until Iggy's migraine goes away."

Yay! Wow, I've been waiting to write that chapter since I started 'Nightmare'. I hope you enjoyed it!

13. Not Just Because

Hey you guys. Well, it's that time again. Time for another update.

But first, a dream I had last night:

The flock was living on an island. Max, Fang and Iggy had separated from Angel, Nudge and Gazzy due to disagreements. But they were going to go to a play and meet up together. Max was nervous because the disagreement had been whether or not to join a nudist colony. Nudge, Gazzy and Angel had joined the nudist colony.

If anyone of my avid readers is a dream psychologist, please do tell. What the heck does that dream mean?

Meagan POV

"Hey… Iggy?" I asked timidly. He turned his face in my direction from his bed, where he was sitting, and smiled.

"Yeah, Meagan?"

I could hear the reverence in his voice when he said my name, and it made me blush. But, heck, any guy who'd thought his girl was fake until she randomly turned out not to be would probably have a large amount of the 'I-must-be-dreaming' feeling.

"Um…" I shifted through my brain for the possible ways to word my next question. But it was too difficult to sort through.

I moved quietly over to his bed and sat next to him, and as if it was subconscious, he entwined his fingers in mine. It felt right. Not like it had in that 'dream' simulation with him, when everything was slightly unearthly. This was whole. This was reality. It felt… nice.

The two of us had ascended to Iggy's bedroom after the whole randomly-fluent-in-French thing. Iggy had a killer headache, and wanted to get away from all the noise of the flock, Ella, and Dr. Martinez – uh, mom.

Gosh, that felt weird on my tongue. Calling her mom. I'd never even thought that she would have thought of me as her daughter. I mean, I'm her daughter's clone. Maybe technically that would make her my mom, I guess… but she didn't know me…

And Ella! That girl is so nice. She just makes me happy when I'm around her… like with Nudge, or Gazzy, or Angel. Or Iggy. Ella just sort of took me under her wing, as if I was her little sister, and not her older sister's clone.

I get so off topic in my head. Like Nudge when she's talking.

"Spit it out," Iggy said, still smiling. "You can tell me anything."

"Well…" I looked down at my hand, which was held in Iggy's strong grasp. His fingers were calloused, but that comes from years of 'seeing' with your hands. On his wrist, under the long sleeve of Fang's black turtleneck, I could see the start of a pale scar. Under his shirt on his chest, I knew, was the almost fully-healed X of the scar from his surgery. I looked back up at his face, noticing the little scars around his eyes, and that particularly big one under his right eye. So many scars. And for some reason, all I can think is that he's the gosh-darned most beautiful guy I've ever seen.

Iggy smiled and nodded encouragingly.

"Don't worry," he said. "My headache's pretty much gone now. I can take anything you throw at me." He frowned. "Unless it's, you know, that you're breaking up with me or something."

I gazed at his neck, covered with the black fabric of the turtleneck, and my heart throbbed painfully at the thought that he could very well have died just a day ago, and for no apparent reason… and we still didn't know what had caused it…

"Why do you love me?" I finally asked. "I mean, why, really? Do you just love me because I'm Max's clone? And I know it's not in my place to ask… and really, it doesn't change anything if that's true, because I love you too much… but I want to know, I just want to know," I babbled. After I finished, I bit my lip, and if I had a two-by-four, I would have hit myself over the head with it. Repeatedly.

Why the heck did I have to barrage him with a question like that? Gosh, I'm so stupid. He doesn't need to answer something like that. He already has so much to think about. He has his whole past to worry about, and all of that, and the School, and Professor Jordan, and Max… he doesn't need to answer it.

And what if it's true? What if he only does love me because I'm Max's clone?

It's true what I said. It wouldn't make a difference. I would never be able to leave him. He's just… he's the first person who was ever nice to me. He's the first person who talked to me like I was another person, not just some experiment to poke and prod at. He's the first person who taught me just how beautiful life can be, and how beautiful people could be, and how beautiful I could be.

But if it's true, if I'm just a replacement of Max for him, I don't know what I'd do. I know I'd probably hate myself forever, but…

So, yeah, I sort of didn't want him to answer…

"Uh, you don't have to answer, you know, if you don't want to," I started nervously, removing my hand from his and picking at my sleeve. These were Max's clothes, I noticed for the umpteenth time. Max's clothes, Max's body, Max's face, Max's DNA…

Iggy looked in deep thought, a truly adorable furrow in-between his brows.

"I mean, I'll totally understand," I continued. "It's a difficult question, and you really don't have to answer, because it's fine if you… if you don't want to…" I was repeating myself, and again I wished for a two-by-four.

Maybe I can just run away. Maybe I can just run away into my room (that Max and I share) and pull a two-by-four from the walls, and hit myself repeatedly over the head with it, and then Iggy could get some peace and quiet away from me and my stupid questions…

"No," Iggy said finally, and my heart skipped a beat. No? What did he mean by that? Did he mean that he didn't fall in love with me just because I'm Max's clone? Or did he mean no, he did fall in love with me just because I'm Max's clone? Or maybe he meant that he didn't fall in love with me just because I'm Max's clone, but he's just saying that because he's so incredibly nice…

"No, I didn't fall in love with you just because you're Max's clone." Iggy turned his piercing gaze to my face. He looked very serious.

"How… how do you know?" I asked in a tiny voice, and cursed myself yet again. I should have just left it at that… what if he couldn't find a reason?

"Well," Iggy said, leaning back and concentrating at the ceiling. I looked up as well and saw the duct-taped up hole. "When I saw Max, it was like love at first sight."

Oh, of course, I thought. Of course it was love at first sight with Max. I'm too unimportant for it to be that with me… it was too much to hope for.

"But," he continued, "It was weird. I mean, we were babies, then we grew into toddlers, then little kids. And for some reason, even though it was supposed to be, my love for her was never brother/sister love, or friend love. Just romantic love. And that's sick and sort of twisted, you know, for a five-year-old."

My eyes widened and I continued to stare at him, as though I was seeing him for the first time.

"So it wasn't a good love. It… it sort of scared me. I mean, now, it overlaps with the love I feel with her as a friend and brother. But you…" he once again turned his face to me and smiled. "I didn't love you the instant I saw you. It grew, like a flower inside me. Like a jonquille."

"A what?" I interrupted, confused by the word, and wondering why I had never heard it before.

Iggy laughed. "A daffodil. They're my favorite."

"Ah," I responded, and felt my face begin to grow warm yet again. Iggy made me blush.

Then he leaned closer and reached out to my face, letting his fingertips run lightly over my features. I let my eyelids flutter closed and relished the sensation as he 'looked' at me.

"And you may think it," Iggy said, "But you and Max aren't identical. You're different. You're slightly shorter… that's different than you were in the 'dream', actually, you were taller in it." He smirked. "And your face isn't identical. Or your voice. I can tell you apart from Max instantly, and that's not just because of your hair, eye or wing colors. You're your own self. And I fell in love with you for you, and just for you. Not because you resemble Max."

I blushed even redder, and Iggy smiled, his fingers on my cheeks; he could feel the red.

"I'm sorry," he said softly. "I'm sorry that you thought I loved you because you were Max's clone."

I shook my head and he pulled his hands away.

"No," I said. "No, it's not your fault. I shouldn't have doubted you. I love you too, Iggy."

Iggy smiled.

"Tu es mon petite amie… you are my girlfriend," he said. "But more. I've got more bird DNA in me than the rest of the flock. I've imprinted on you, Meagan. I want to be with you for always. I want to grow old with you, and marry you maybe, and… and have kids with you…"

I smiled and nodded furiously.

"Me too…" I replied. "Me too, Iggy. I want all of that too."

And then we embraced.

And in my head, I was thinking that this must be just the sort of sappy romantic scene that gets famous in movies, or is an overused cliché all over Disney channel. But even if it was sappy and cliché, I still loved it. Because it was comfortable, and it felt wonderful… I wanted it to last forever.

Why couldn't it have lasted forever?

Hey guys. Yup, chappie over. I hope to have a new one up soon, be on the lookout… by the way, there's this guy in my school. He reminds me of Iggy. He's six foot something, with longish messy hair, lanky in a cute way, and, get this… he's Australian. Don't ya just dig the hot accent?

Please review!

14. Angel

Hey. I don't know why I'm deciding to update so fast after waiting so long before, but I've sort of got to a sequence of events I'm really wanting to write. So please continue to read and review! And guess what?

Not gonna tell ya…

Oh, and here's a shout-out to It's Kind of a Funny Story:

Well, actually I DO have the whole story planned out before I start it. It was the same with 'Asleep', 'Awake', and 'Daydream'. I usually dream up the plot for the sequel about half-way through the particular one I'm writing at the time. It is true that sometimes the plot shifts a little when I think up something new to include, but other than that, this whole fic is pretty much planned. I even have scenes written already from chapters way far in the future.

And thanks so much for your reviews! I do love long reviews, they're so filling…

Angel POV

"Max, I want to sleep with Iggy tonight," I stated, gazing up at her with wide, innocent eyes. Max lifted her eyebrow.

"Why is that, exactly? I know you're mature for your age, but…"

I scowled at her as adorably as I could and shook my head, blond ringlets bouncing. Inside, I was laughing, but I tried to put on a stern face.

"Max!" I exclaimed. "That's not funny! I'm seven years old! I just thought, you know, you're having Gazzy sleep with him to make sure – nothing – happens, and I sort of wanted to take a turn, maybe, if that was okay."

Max shrugged.

"I really don't see why not. Everything's pretty much all good now, except for that." A shadow passed across her face, but she shook it away, flicking her hair back over her shoulder. "And maybe if you were with him, you'd be able to figure out what happened. Actually, I think it's a good idea."

I smiled and thanked her, and Max grinned back and reached down to ruffle my hair.

"You're a good kid," she said, softly and tenderly. "I think Iggy's going to really enjoy spending time with you, kiddo. He's been preoccupied for a while. Do you think… maybe you could try to get him to open up?" Then, Max's expression changed and she smiled. "You don't really have to, though, just a thought."

I nodded.

"Where is Iggy?" I asked. "I wanna go drag him down to make dinner."

Max smirked and took my hand.

"Hey, let's go together. I've got something I want to ask him anyway. He's getting all cozy with Meagan in his room…" she rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue, as if to communicate how silly she thought Iggy and Meagan were being.

"You're one to talk, Max," I replied, following after her as we walked upstairs. "You're with Fang all the time. I believe he mentioned something about looking at porn with you earlier…"

Max blushed.

"That wasn't like that!" she objected, and we reached Iggy's room. Max turned hastily away from me and knocked on the door.

"We're coming in, lovebirds! Break up whatever revealing position you two are in!" Then she swiftly opened the door.

Iggy and Meagan looked like two deer stuck in the headlights of a car, frozen with their arms around each other, their eyes wide, expressions frozen on their faces.

"Yeah, that's right," Max snorted. "Break it up, as I said."

Meagan and Iggy reluctantly pulled their arms away, and Meagan stood, her hands clasped behind her back and cheeks tinted with blush.

"Uh," Iggy said, standing tall and brushing his hair back. For a moment, his eyes were clearly visible, and with a shock I thought of James. But they fell back again a moment later, and the feeling was gone.

"Yeah, 'uh'. Now, I had a question to ask you…" Max said, putting her hands on her hips. Iggy smiled a little bit, because he could sense the smirk in Max's voice.

"Yeah? What would that be? Hopefully nothing about German or Chinese," Iggy responded wittily, and I stifled a giggle.

Max shook her head.

"Nah. Really quick, just two questions: is Strawberry Girl safe, and is she happy?"

Iggy raised an eyebrow.

"Strawberry Girl? That chick Fang was digging at breakfast this morning? Didn't you guys look at porn of her together?"

Max growled under her breath, but took a few breaths and stifled her anger.

"Yes, it's that girl, and no, it wasn't like that! It's not porn, it's art!And Fang was not digging her! Now, just answer the question!"

Iggy shrugged, then closed his eyes as if concentrating and put one hand to his temple, holding the other out in front him.

"Okay," he started, making his voice sound low and mysterious. "I'm seeing something with my incredible all-knowing power… What is it? Ah yes, words, I'm seeing words..." He opened his eyes and dropped his hands to his sides, stuffing them into the pockets of his jeans. "Yes, she's safe, and yes, she's… very happy, actually," he answered. "Why?"

Max shrugged.

"No reason. Now, it's time for you to make dinner, Iggy. Make dinner."

I drifted back and followed behind Max, Meagan and Iggy, a memory itching at the back of my mind. Why was it so hard to remember? I'm usually so good with memories… after all, I am a mind-reader…

Something about a scientist, and a label…

"Having fun yet, James?"

Who had said that? And to whom? Was it Max to the James that had been in Iggy's body?

Wasn't James the name Iggy's parents had caused him?

My stomach lurched as I thought of Iggy's parents, and I felt guilty. Poor Iggy.

That was the real reason I wanted to sleep with Iggy tonight.

You see, despite Max, Fang, Nudge and Meagan's assumptions, the dreams of Iggy's memories did not go away when Iggy came back. Why would they? I still have them in my mind. It's just that now, I've somehow got control over them, and they don't project.

But I've still been dreaming them every night.

I was thinking that maybe I could get rid of the memories if I give them back to Iggy. And it's not because I don't want them – well, I don't, not really. But it feels like I'm violating Iggy's privacy and I really don't want to.

And there's this particular memory that's been bugging me ever since I dreamt it last night. And it's about Iggy with his parents.

How on Earth could we have actually left him with those people?

Thanks for reading! I'm sorry that this chapter was unnaturally short, but it was posted rather quickly, and I felt it was a good place to stop. Thanks. And please review!

15. Parenting

Heya. Heya heya heya.

Might I suggest a few songs for you guys to listen to on YouTube? 'Mama', 'Helena', 'Planetary (GO)!', 'Sing', 'Famous Last Words' and 'Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)' by My Chemical Romance; and 'Nails For Breakfast, Tacks For Snacks', 'I Constantly Thank God For Esteban', 'New Perspective', 'Time to Dance', 'The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage', 'But It's Better if You Do' and 'Camisado' by Panic! At The Disco.

It's well worth your while. They're my two favorite bands.

Angel POV

"Um, can I talk to you about something?" I asked cautiously. Iggy turned his face towards me from where he lay sprawled on his bed. We had finished his delicious dinner in record time; chicken night always goes by quite fast (which is weird, I guess, because it's almost like semi-cannibalism for us, huh?).

"Sure," he answered. "What did you want to ask me about?"

I sat up in the blow-up mattress I was currently lying in, brushing curly blond bangs out of my face. Iggy sat up as well, swinging his long legs over the side of his bed and patting the space beside him invitingly.

When I sat down there next to him, he laughed.

"I've had a lot of people sitting here with me over the past few days," he said, then shook his head. "Anyway, what is it?"

My eyebrows curved upward in sadness and I was unable to control my expression, but I was able to keep my voice level.

"It's just, you know how Fang and Max told you about the dreams I was having, about your memories? They didn't exactly go away," I said quietly. Iggy nodded slowly, his own eyebrows knitting together. He put his arm out and wrapped it around my shoulders, pulling me closer and rubbing my back softly.

"Yeah?" he said.

"And, well, it's just… I sort of dreamt about your stay with your parents," I finished. I carefully peeked up at his face through my bangs. He didn't look hurt or angry, but I wasn't sure.

"Oh," he replied.

"Um…" I muttered. "Is it… is it true?"

The corner of Iggy's mouth lifted upward.

"Well, it was my memory, wasn't it?" he asked in reply, and I nodded.

"It's just, if that's true… I mean, since it's true… I'm so sorry," I told him. "I'm so sorry we didn't know. We're a horrible family if we couldn't find that out. I'm so, so sorry we left you with those people."

Then I burst into tears and buried my face in his chest, clutching at his shirt. In response, Iggy wrapped his arms around me and rested his chin on top of my head.

"It's not your fault," he said softly, comforting me, although it didn't do much good. "It's totally not your fault, Ange. And you guys are the best family anyone could ask for. Don't ever say otherwise, okay?"

But I continued to cry. How on Earth could be have been so blind? Why would we leave him with those people? His parents? What on Earth was wrong with us?

"I don't care what you say, Iggy," I sniffed. "It is our fault. You just can't admit it. If we were a little more thoughtful, paid a little more attention, we wouldn't have left you with them. And I'm sorry for it."

I finally pulled away, and Iggy reached down and used his sensitive fingers to wipe the tears from my cheeks. I reached up and took his hand in both of mine, holding it to my cheek, relishing the feeling of having my Iggy with me, all to myself, just for tonight. I missed him, I really did.

Iggy was like my father, even more than Max was like my mother. I know that Max took care of me and pretty much raised me since I was little, and that she was the one who taught me to fight. But Iggy was the one who always came to my aid when I got cut or banged up. He was the one who sat me on his lap and told me nice stories as he put disinfectant and band-aids on my scraped knees. Iggy was the one who listened to me whenever I needed to complain, or rage, or cry. Iggy doted on me just like I thought a real dad would, and I loved him so much, I really did.

I act so mature, all the time, and it's so hard. So hard to keep my cool. To not burst into tears when I'm frightened, to act smart and cool and intelligent. But around Iggy, I could let myself just be me. A seven-year-old little mutant girl, who had been so scared for so long that I would lose my daddy.

"I don't blame you," Iggy said. "You know I don't. You couldn't have known."

"I know," I replied, my eyes still closed, still loving the feeling of having Iggy's big, calloused hand in mine. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't have assumed. Any of us would have felt the same way." Then I did open my eyes. "But even so, it's good that they were nice, right? I got that. Your parents were such nice people. That's really good."

Iggy grinned back at me.

"Yeah, if they were mean, it would have been a lot worse, wouldn't it?"

I nodded.

"But still, Iggy, even if they were nice, I'm sorry we left you with them. It's just… we're all so stupid." I looked thoughtfully into space.

"No, you're not. You just weren't thinking too hard about it," Iggy said.

"But… why didn't you just tell us?" I asked in response, looking up into Iggy's eyes.

"Well…" Iggy closed his eyes softly. "I sort of thought you guys wanted me to go. I mean, you were all urging me to go see them, right? And then we were there, and you didn't say a single thing about not wanting me to go. You just sort of agreed with my parents that I belonged with them. And I thought that, you know, being blind, it would be easier on you guys if I left. But it didn't make sense to me, not even now, that you actually thought I'd want to stay with them. I mean, who would want to leave the only friends and family they'd ever known to live with two strangers, even if they were you're parents?"

I teared up again, feeling guilty still.

"I know. But… but your parents…"

"Yeah," Iggy nodded. "Yeah, they were nice. I was all depressed, and they came and told me that they knew what was going on. They wanted me to do whatever I wanted, because they loved me, so I should go be with my real family."

"They never called any magazines or newspapers. You made that all up."

Iggy nodded. "I didn't want you guys to feel bad. And I also wanted to have a reason for coming back, in case you actually had wanted me to stay with them."

We stayed in silence for a while, pondering, him still embracing me while I sat in his lap. I felt so warm and safe.

But I had to come back to reality at some point.

"Um, Iggy?" I finally spoke.

"Hmm?" he answered.

"It's just…" I sighed. "Would you mind possibly, um, taking your memories back? I just mean…"

"Of course!" Iggy answered. "Whatever you need! I wouldn't think of making you keep them."

"Okay," I answered, feeling relieved; a weight had lifted from my chest. "Just relax, it's not going to hurt. You won't even feel anything."

I turned and reached my hands up to his temples, closing my eyes and concentrating. It was slow at first, like water trying to flow through a clog in a stream; but, gradually, the flow became quicker, stronger, as if I was pulling the blockage out of the way.

As they flowed back into Iggy's mind, pictures flashed across my eyes from his earlier memories, before he was blind, and sounds and scents from later ones.

And words… I managed to catch one sentence. Having fun yet, James?

"Okay, done," I finally said, pulling away and placing my feet on the floor, walking back over to my mattress. Iggy stared after me.

We both climbed back under our blankets, and as I stared up at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to overtake me, Iggy spoke up.

"Before you go to sleep, Angel, can I ask you something?"

I wondered what it was he wanted to ask.

"Sure," I replied.

"It's just… I know you told Max and Fang that I gave you the memories, but how did you actually get them?"

I frowned. What was he talking about?

"I actually did get them from you," I said.

Iggy sat up in bed.

"I didn't give them to you," he said, a frown creasing his brow. "I would never burden you with something like that."

"Then who did?" I asked, my voice small in the darkness. And of course, Iggy automatically knew the answer.

"Him," he said softly.

Thank you so much for reading. You know, everyone automatically assumes Iggy's parents were horrible people… but this is my take on it! Sort of a twist, isn't it?

Please review!

16. Changing

Heya guys. So sorry I haven't updated sooner, I really am. But you have no idea how much drama and stuff has been going on… really, no idea. Anyway, the good thing is that, yes, AT LAST, AN UPDATE.

And this fic's FIRST Iggy POV.

Iggy POV

Do you know what it's like to wake up in the morning and feel like you never went to sleep? That's what it's felt like for me every morning since we came back from the School. I wake up, and feel like I was never sleeping. I'm so tired, all the time.

I sat up slowly, throwing my feet over the side of the bed and sitting there for a while. Then, when I felt able to stand, I did, and walked over to my door and out into the hallway. Yawning, I trudged down the hall, feet dragging on the floor. I was so drowsy, I didn't feel like opening my eyes, so I kept them closed. One of the perks of being blind, I guess, I don't have to keep my eyes open – no need. I can be asleep without anyone even knowing.

Bonus, right?

Yeah, whatever.

Stairs are sort of a problem, though, when you're half-asleep and not really wanting to concentrate too much. Especially if you lose count of how many steps you've already walked down. Sighing, I grasped grimly to the wooden railing with one hand, using my toes to gingerly feel in front of me as I continued down. It took a great deal longer to get to the bottom that way, but at least I didn't fall. That would have been embarrassing.

I moved into the kitchen, where I began to gather all the ingredients needed to make pancakes.

The one problem: the flour had disappeared, and I had no idea where it was.

I sat heavily at the dinner table, resting my head in my hands. I didn't really feel like bothering anyone and waking them up, because I'm fairly sure that I'm up really early – 'fairly sure' being because I can't exactly look at a clock and see what time it is. Still, I'm actually really hungry, and really in the mood for pancakes. So, what should I do? I don't exactly want to open every freaking drawer in the entire kitchen and search them all thoroughly like that…

"Hiya, Iggy," I heard from behind me, and lifted my head, turning around.

"Hi, Ella," I sighed. At least someone was up. Now I could find the flour. But to tell the truth, I've been feeling slightly uncomfortable around Ella lately… I mean, I really like her and everything, and she's family, but… but she's not close family. And having her know all about me and my past was very… um… embarrassing. Really, that was all I could think to describe it. Embarrassing. Plus, the way she'd been acting around me lately wasn't helping out too much.

"Why are you sitting there with your hand in your hands?" she asked brightly, moving closer towards me.

"I can't find the flour," I said. "And I want to make pancakes."

"Ah," Ella replied, and I heard her turn and walk off, opening and closing several drawers. "Here it is!" she finally said, reaching into a cupboard and pulling out the container of flour. "Mom must have moved it. Sorry about that. Here," she placed the container on the table in front of me.

I smiled. "Thanks," I told her.

"Hey, no prob. By the way, everyone else is waking up now. You should probably get ready making those pancakes before they come down, or they'll be complaining about their hunger. Need any help?"

I thought a moment, and decided it would be rude to refuse her offer, nodding.

"Sure," I said. "Help me mix up the ingredients."

It took about ten minutes to get everything mixed up, and I was pouring portions of batter onto a hot pan by the time Angel skipped into the kitchen.

"Hi, Iggy! Ella!" she said cheerily. "Those pancakes smell great."

I smiled and continued, hearing the sizzle as the batter hit the pan, and waited until the sound and smell was right to flip it with my spatula. Angel was a sweetie, and I loved her to death. It made me feel really nice that I had helped her last night. Then, I felt a little bit of anger, as I thought of the memories she had been forced to bear, all due to Him. How could He even give those to her, anyway? It didn't make any sense, unless He had some sort of memory-transfer machine that could also somehow make her think that I had been the one to give them to her.

"How'd you sleep?" I asked, and I could hear the smile in her voice as she replied.

"Great," she said. "Really great. No bad dreams or anything." Then, after a pause, she added "Thanks," in a small, quiet voice that I'm sure Ella didn't hear.

By the time Ella and I had made pancakes out of all of the batter and were piling them on a plate, the rest of the family was stuffed into the kitchen. Meagan was sitting with Nudge, smiling absently and listening to her chatter. Gazzy and Angel were hovering around Fang and Max, who were being quite lovey-dovey, as usual. I was surprised to find myself totally uncaring about it; this was the first time I hadn't felt a jealous flicker at the thought of Fang being with Max.

"Hurry, Iggy!" Gazzy called. "We're all very hungry!"

"Yeah, Iggy, Ella," Dr. Martinez spoke up. "Please serve us."

I smiled, and both Ella and I walked over to the table, setting the pancake plate down.

"Bon appetite. Help yourself," I said.

"Yippee!" the Gasman cheered. "Hey, Dr. M!"

"Yeah, honey?" She replied, forking three pancakes onto her plate as Gaz piled his own on his, squirting maple syrup on as well.

"Can we go eat in the TV room? I want to please watch cartoons."

Dr. Martinez paused. "Hmm. Do you promise not to get anything messy?" she finally asked.

"Yes, yes!" Gazzy replied, sounding unbelievably excited.

"Okay," Dr. Martinez relented. "Go ahead."

Gazzy immediately rushed into the living room, eager and happy, turning on the television to the Cartoon Network. Soon he was laughing and giggling along with the stupid jokes and funny pictures.

"Let's go too," Meagan said softly, entwining her fingers in mine. I grinned down at her.

"Sure," I agreed. "Right after I get a plate of these pancakes."

I grabbed a fork and lifted five pancakes onto my plate (there was plenty – I always make a quadruple-serving so that there's enough pancakes for everyone), and Meagan handed me the syrup to put on the pancakes. Then the two of us walked into the living room and sat on the couch next to the Gasman.

"What's on, Gasser?" I asked, cutting off a piece of pancake and stuffing it into my mouth.

"It's 'Courage the Cowardly Dog'," he told me. "It's funny, but kind of creepy, actually. I'm surprised little kids watch it. It's probably scarring."

"Totally," Meagan said. "I mean, look at that! That dog is purple and has some wacked-up teeth!"

"I don't think that's quite what he was talking about," I muttered into her ear, and when I lifted my finger to her cheek, I could feel her blush.

"Whatever. That's creepy, in my opinion."

"Aww!" Gazzy suddenly said. "I hate commercials!"

"Don't we all," I murmured, taking another bit of pancake.

"Let me have some," Meagan said, and I held the plate out to her, letting her get a couple bites.

"What's this?" Ella asked, walking into the room and sitting down at the chair next to the couch.

"The Cartoon Network," Gazzy told her. "It's 'Courage the Cowardly Dog.'"

"Ooh, I love that show!" Ella said. "I used to watch it all the time, but I thought they'd taken it off the air! Oh, but it sort of creeped me out when I was little."

Gazzy nodded energetically, and Dr. Martinez walked into the room with Nudge, who was focusing on a book that Ella had lent her and trying to eat her breakfast at the same time.

"Yeah, but it's on commercial break. And it looks like it's on an infomercial or something, with this freaky-looking creeper guy just staring and smiling. Weird, huh?"

Then Angel, Fang and Max walked in as well, and the second they laid their eyes on the television screen, they gasped in shock. Nudge looked up then as well, along with Meagan, and the two of them gasped too.

"What is it?" I asked, but was answered almost immediately by His voice.

It looks like everyone's here, He said, and I shuddered violently. Meagan's hand tightened around my fingers almost painfully. He was on the television.

I thought it would be best if I sent this in an easy way to watch. It seemed appropriate to broadcast it directly to your particular television, so here I am. I just wanted to see how you're doing, Subject 9. How are you holding up after the surgery? No unintended side-effects, I hope?

He laughed, a sound I had dreaded ever since I was a child.

"Who is that?" Dr. Martinez asked, and Ella made a confused sound in the back of her throat.

"It's him," Fang said quietly. "Professor Jordan. What's he..?"

I know that Bacheldor managed to steal the hard drive from me, He continued, his voice smooth, sweet and vile. I admit foolishness on my part, but it all worked out in the end. Besides, I have something I want to tell you, Subject 9, as well as your 'family.'

"What is he talking about?" Max asked quietly.

"Turn it off," Meagan muttered from beside me. "Turn it off."

As you can see, He said then laughed and corrected himself. Well, as most of you can see, here with me I have Anne. You remember Anne, correct?

Fang growled, and Nudge hissed under her breath. God, they were being reduced to animals…

Well, Subject 9, I know I could have simply told you what I have to say and you could know if I was telling the truth or not, He continued. But I felt that your 'family' might need some visual proof, so here goes.

There was a sudden, resounding gasp from everyone in the room except for me, and feeling quite stupid and oblivious, I had no idea what they were gasping about.

"What?" I asked hurriedly. "What is it?"

"Anne's just pregnant is all," Nudge said. "She looks, like, eight months or nine months or seven months or something."

"Ew," Max said. "Do you think? Her and Professor Jordan?"

"No way," Fang said. "That's disgusting. But, I guess whoever got her pregnant is some kind of gross perverted creeper, so Professor Jordan would fit the bill." There was venom in his voice.

"You think?" Meagan said quietly.

But me, I was feeling a sense of terrible apprehension. My heart had pretty much dropped somewhere down near my feet, and my stomach was in knots. Was it possible? I guess it could be… but… but…

As you can see, my dear Anne is almost eight months pregnant. Ah, and I know what you're all thinking…He chuckled darkly, and the knots in my stomach twisted and tightened rather painfully. No, it couldn't be… could it?

But no, I haven't had the honor of sleeping with our Anne. No, the baby is someone else's entirely…

I could hear the smirk in His voice, the smugness in his expression, the horrible uncaring of that man. It almost hurt…

Besides myself, I still felt the need to prove myself to Him. I needed Him to tell me that I wasn't worthless anymore.

The only person I needed to prove myself to, besides myself, really… was Him.

But his voice made me know that he would never do that. And it did hurt. It hurt a whole lot.

But even if He's never going to tell me the thing I need to hear most from Him, I think my life can change. And I think…

No, the father's actually someone you all know very well. Congratulations, Subject 9. You're going to be a daddy.

… That it's going to change a whole freaking lot.

There. This was a very important chapter, and I've been looking forward to writing it ever since I started this fic. And look! I made the chapter longer than usual, just for you guys! Kudos to you! And thanks for waiting. And please review!

17. Biological

Hyea. I decided to start on the next chapter, because I know you're all probably dying to know what happens. Here ya go!

Iggy POV

I sat really still, breathing deeply and quietly, trying very hard not to move. Maybe if I didn't move too much, I'd turn invisible, or perhaps sink into the couch and become one with the furniture. You know? So I wouldn't have to hear the reactions of the flock.

That's right, Subject 9. You're darling baby is due in about two months. How about that?

"Uh… Iggy?" Meagan stuttered, and from the tone of her voice, I could hear that she was on the verge of tears.

Was this even possible? Me, a father?

A dad at sixteen?

Sixteen years old? And the child would have… well, it would have been conceived when I was fourteen…


Gosh, how gross am I? If I hadn't been taken back in time, I'd be a fourteen-year-old dad.

Well, Subject 9, I'm surprised at you. Didn't your parents ever teach you to use protection?

He laughed coldly.

Oh, but don't worry. You needn't retrieve this child of yours. Don't come for it. I'll take special care of it. I'll treat it just as if it were my own biological child.

Oh Buddha, I could hear the venom in his voice, the smugness, the humor. He thought it was funny. He thought this was all so unbelievably funny.

And, Subject 9, tell me… has everything I've said in this film been the truth?

And with that, his voice went away, and all I could hear was some cartoon show… probably that 'Courage the Cowardly Dog' show that Gasser had been watching.

"Iggy, we sort of have to talk…" I heard Max say. Fang was silent. Gazzy and Nudge were breathing erratically, a different pattern than usual, and Angel appeared to be somewhere else… perhaps she had gone back into the kitchen?

And Ella? And Dr. Martinez?

Well, they were probably completely disgusted.

"I'm gonna… go to the bathroom," I said, and abruptly stood, walking away from the scene as quickly as I possibly could.

The others were shocked at first, but it only took a few seconds before Fang and Max were chasing me down the halls as I raced to the bathroom. I got there in time, though, and shut and locked the door. I heard the weight knock against the door as Fang didn't stop running in time before he hit it, and Max groaned.

"Come out, Iggy," she said. "It's okay."

I didn't reply to her. Instead, I slid down the door, ending up on the bathroom floor with my head in my hands.

A baby.

I was having a baby.

Well, not me exactly, but… but…

Gosh, a baby. A real live person.

You know, when I told Meagan I might want to have children with her someday, I wasn't exactly being entirely truthful.

Because when I was a kid, I swore to myself never, ever to have a kid. Because then they'd have to deal with a life like ours… maybe like mine…

I didn't want that forced on any child of mine. I would never, ever intentionally bring an actual, real, innocent life into the world. Not on purpose.

But then again, it wasn't really on purpose, was it?

"Iggy, come on." That was Fang. "Just ignore that evil guy. You know he's a liar. I mean, you grew up being lied to him, didn't you? He's a liar and a sadistic brute. Anne's baby-bump is probably fake or something, or it's not yours. Don't believe him."

"Yeah," Max agreed, jumping in. "Yeah. I mean, if Anne really got… um, pregnant with… uh, your child, then she would have had birth before now. I mean, that was more than nine months ago, right? So it's fine."

I shook my head, leaning my back against the door and knocking the back of my head against it repeatedly.

"No," I said. "No. Even if all that was more than nine months ago here, don't you remember the whole time-and-space machine thing? He could have brought her forward in time so she would be pregnant like this right during this specific time. And besides… don't you remember? At the end, he asked me if everything he'd said was the truth. And… and it was."

Despite myself, my voice managed to break at the end, and I blinked hurriedly, keeping tears from leaking out of my burning eyes. I wouldn't cry, not again. I'd cried way too much in the past few days.

There was utter silence for a moment, and then Max spoke up again, very softly, so that even I could barely hear her.

"Even if that's true," she said, "It's not your responsibility, Iggs. You… you were… raped." It sounded as if it was hard for her to say that word, and I gritted my teeth. I knew they weren't exactly totally comfortable with all that information quite yet.

"Yeah?" I replied, sounding angrier than I wanted to. I bit my lip.

"Well," Max continued. "It's not your fault there's a baby. It's not your responsibility. You don't have to take care of it. Don't take on that responsibility, Ig. Leave it. Besides, you heard what he said."

"Right? What was that?" I asked, my voice hollow-sounding. I could almost feel my stomach drop into my feet, and it hurt to swallow. Absent-mindedly, I tugged at the collar of my turtleneck, feeling the gauze wrapped around my neck with my finger. I grimaced. How on Earth had that happened, anyway? That was a new low. Of course, I was too depressed to sleepwalk, I just sleephanged myself.

"He said," Max responded, her voice sounding comforting, although I could sense that she was anything but. "He said that he'd take care of the baby as if it were his own biological child. And that's good, right? That's good, so you can just leave him the baby, and it's all fine…"

And then it all snapped, and memories flooded my mind. Pictures and smells and sounds that had haunted my dreams for so, so long, that terrified me when I was alone, that threatened to overpower the sense of comfort I had when I was with my family. The voices, which had been blissfully quiet for the past couple of days, were suddenly buzzing and whispering and shouting, ringing in my ears, and reminding me of every little detail, every little moment that I might have forgotten.

I stood and unlocked and opened the door in one super-quick movement, and then I was standing in front of a shocked Max and Fang, my chin jutting out, my eyes piercing.

"No, Max, it's not good. He'll treat my baby like He'd treat his own biological child?"

"Umm…" Max stuttered, her heart fluttering nervously.

"Hey, Iggy," Fang said. "Yeah, he said that, and you said he was telling the truth, right? So he'll treat the kid like his own biological child, and…"

"Well, I've got news for you, Fang," I interrupted. "Professor Jordan? I'm his biological child, and how do you think he treated – treats – me?"

WOO HOO. That was a shocker, huh? Can you barely wait for the next chapter? I know it. So, maybe if I get some nice reviews, I'll update soon. Huh? How about it?

By the way, I just watched the last episode of 'Lost' tonight. Gosh, it was good. I cried about five times. And after it was over, I cried because… well, because it was over. –Sigh-. Such a good series, huh?

18. I Know

Hello folks. Just wanted to write. And Pandorad wants an update. And I want her to update. SO I'M UPDATING JUST FOR YOU, PANDORA!

Iggy POV

They didn't say anything, and once again I just wanted to disappear. The silence was ringing and unbearable, and I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears, because I could hear faints whispers, but I didn't know which direction they were coming from or what they were saying.

"I'm his biological son," I said softly, my voice sounding hurt. "And I don't want to leave… to leave any child of mine with Him."

Still, Fang and Max didn't say anything. As my ears adjusted to the ringing and buzzing of silence and whispers, I heard voices from the living room; Dr. Martinez and Ella, babbling confusedly, asking questions to the rest of them, while Gazzy, Nudge and Angel answered quietly. There was no sound from Meagan.

Did she hate me now?

The thought struck me like a bullet, and it was almost like everything whooshed out from under me, and I was standing on nothing, absolutely nothing. I was falling, and I could hear air, just air.

She hated me.

Max would never love me, and Meagan wouldn't ever again, not now. I was alone.

I bit the inside of my cheek, hard, and at the taste of blood in my mouth was distinctly reminded of not that long ago, when my family was fighting to get me to surgery, to save my life, when blood and bile rose into my mouth and spilled out over my chin and into the water of that wave pool. Would that happen again?

"But that's impossible," Max said, sounding dazed. "What are you saying?"

"Yeah," Fang agreed. "We met your parents, Ig. He wasn't your dad."

I just shook my head in response, trying hard to hear some noise, any noise, from Meagan. Was she crying? Was she angry? Was she shocked or… Had she left?

The thought was unbearable.

"That was my biological mom and her husband. But her husband isn't my dad. He is. P-professor Jordan."

Max cocked her head, and I could hear as her heart sped up a few beats, pounding away wetly inside her chest, keeping blood flowing through her body. Sometimes, if I really concentrated and was close to someone, I could actually hear that blood flow. It was the same noise as sucking milkshake up through a straw. That quiet, almost imperceptible whooshing sound.

"But he looked like you," Max said. "That man looked sort of like you. He looked like he could be your… dad."

Fang remained silent, and he shifted his weight from foot to foot. I wanted him to jump in and save me from this conversation. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to have to prove to Max that He was my dad, because it was proving that I had been molested by my own father, and that was gross.

But Fang remained silent, as ever.

"Uh, he's Professor Jordan's younger brother," I stated quietly. "So he is related to me. But he's not my biological dad, he's my biological uncle."

I looked down and picked at my sleeve. Meagan still hadn't spoken in the living room. Max and Fang were quiet. I suddenly felt very hot, and reached up to tug once again at the turtleneck collar, then rubbed the back of my neck. There was that word again, etched eternally into my flesh – unloved.

"How do you know all of this?" Max finally spoke, sounding aghast. "You have all of this information, but you never told us anything?" Then she shook her head. "That's not the point. The point is… uh, I don't mean to be insensitive, Iggs, but… don't get the kid. I mean…" She took a deep breath, "You can't raise a baby, Iggy."

My face grew hot as I felt myself blushing scarlet, and my hands clenched into fists at my side, shaking slightly. I hated myself for being like this, and I didn't like being reminded all the time by everyone I've ever loved.

"I know I can't raise a baby!" I said harshly, my voice rising both in volume and pitch. "I know, and I don't need to be reminded!" My voice cracked again, and I felt so sad at that moment, it was almost unbearable. I almost wanted to just quietly disappear into my room and lock the door, and sit quietly in a nice dark corner to slit my wrists again… but I'd given that up a long time ago…

"Iggy," Fang said softly, taking a step closer, but in the mindset I was in right now it felt threatening, and I flinched, taking a step back.

"I know I can't," I said quietly, almost pleadingly, and the voices began to echo again in my ears, and the words etched into the skin on the back of my neck and my abdomen felt as if they were burning. Unloved, monster… Permanent reminders of everything I was and would always be, of the past I so desperately wanted to forget, but which shaped my entire self.

"I know I'd be a horrible father, you don't… you just don't have to tell it to my face," I finally whispered, very quiet, but both Max and Fang heard. Fang sucked in a breath, and I could hear Max as she shook her head furiously.

Fang POV

I gaped. Was that what Iggy thought we had meant? Was that it? But… I would never think something like that.

"No!" Max and I both protested simultaneously. Iggy trained his eyes on the ground and gritted his teeth.

"No, Iggy, that's not what we meant!" I said hurriedly, not wanting him to think that at all. "That's not it. Iggy, we both know you'd be a great father. The problem is… well, the problem is that you're just sixteen. You're just sixteen, and that's no age to start being a parent."

The thought struck me instantly that Iggy wasn't exactly sixteen, not really. Sure, he was, in fact, sixteen years old, but… but since he was young, he's been so much more. He's had to deal with so much in his life, that I doubt he had ever really been his own age. Is this what they mean by 'an old head on young shoulders'? He's had to grow up faster than any of the rest of us, from when he was just five years old, opening his eyes for the first time to discover that he couldn't see, and from then on having to learn how to do everything all over again. Since the first time he met Professor Jordan and he had to decide between his own or the flock's wellbeing. Since we first escaped from the School and he had to find a way to vent his frustration and depression, even if the method he found had been self-harming. Since Jeb had disappeared, since we'd had to leave the E-shaped house and venture into loud, confusing cities and public areas that he had never been before.

And since he had to cope with awakening from a 'dream' in which he could see again, and since he had been so close to dying.

And I think after Anne's house, he'd really become an adult.

Iggy really was the core of the flock. So 'he was never supposed to have been born'. For some reason, I doubt that. Professor Jordan had so much planned for him, everything planned for him, so many thorough acts and strategies that I can't believe he hadn't had Iggy born on purpose. And even if Iggy was an 'accident', it doesn't matter. Because he's the one that the rest of us all rely on. He's our support. He's the one we all go to for comfort and for venting. He's who will listen to our troubles and complaints without mentioning a single one of his own, even though he has so, so many troubles and so, so much to complain about.

And now he had to cope with a whole entire person that he had brought in the world. And he hadn't wanted it. And he certainly had not meant it.

But despite the fact that this whole instance, even more than anything else he had dealt with, this one thing was going to alter the entire rest of his life. If he chose to get this baby, he would never, ever have the same life again. He'd have to focus on a person, an innocent person, who he'd have to nurse and take care of and look after, even if he was depressed or sick or anything.

But I could see it in his eyes. He wouldn't leave a child with Professor Jordan. And that's probably why Iggy is the one person in this whole world who I want to aspire to be like. Iggy may be my best friend, my brother… but he's also my role model.

And I'm going to help him.

Whooo. This really gets the ball rolling, doesn't it? I hope nothing bad happens…

Now you must update to, Pandora, just to let you know.

Please review!

19. Fighting

Heya guysio. How's it going? Good? I thought so. Hey, sorry I haven't updated as quick as many of you would like… my bad. But, get this… THERE'S NO WAY YOU CAN MAKE ME UPDATE ANY FASTER, BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW ME OR WHERE I LIVE! HA! HAHAHA! HAHAHAHAHA!


Meagan POV

"Honestly?" Ella asked for about the fourth time. "Honestly? He seriously got a lady pregnant when he was, like, fourteen? That lady that was just on the television screen? You're kidding, right?"

"It does seem a little far-fetched," Dr. Martinez added, tapping her chin thoughtfully. "Iggy's a very responsible boy, I've seen that much from him living with us. He keeps his room clean and does a lot of the cooking. And he's very mature for his age. I wouldn't think that…"

Was Iggy really going to be a dad? A dad at just sixteen years old?

A father of a child that wasn't mine?

I felt my cheeks burn red and reached up to cover my face with my hands. Why would I even think that? I'm only fifteen, maybe even younger, you know, I was born later than Max… I shouldn't be thinking about having a baby, whether it was Iggy's or not.

But I really wasn't. I didn't want to have a baby. I'm too young, and I know it. And I can tell that Iggy wasn't ready… although, really, it's whether or not I'm ready that matters, right? I'd be the one that would actually have to give birth to it…

I shook my head. Get rid of those thoughts, you shouldn't be thinking about that yet

But I didn't want Iggy to have a baby, not if it wasn't mine. It wasn't fair! It simply wasn't fair!

"It's not true, is it, Nudge?" Gazzy asked pleadingly, gazing up at his big sister with wide eyes. "It's not, is it? It's not, right?"

Nudge was still staring at the television screen, her brow furrowed. I noticed that her hands were clenched into fists, and that her cheeks were tinted red. She must be angry as well. After all, she loved Iggy, too…

"I don't know, Gaz," Nudge replied, sounding a little harsh, her voice low. "It's not like I've got a power that can tell me whether or not that sicko was telling the truth."

"But, Nudge!" Ella continued. "It's not true. I mean, that would be bad… Iggy wouldn't be a good dad!"

And that's when the whole room seemed to freeze, and the tension was almost palpable.

Ella seemed to sense that the tension was directed at her, and she stuttered, flustered.

"I j-just mean," she said, blushing, "That, you know, h-he's like, blind and everything… he wouldn't be able to watch a baby or take care of it or anything. What if he was crossing the street and a car came but he didn't see it, and it hit the baby?"

"If Iggy was crossing the street alone with a baby," Nudge hissed venomously, "Then he would be more aware and careful than ever of the noises, and he'd be able to know whether a car was coming near him before it even turned onto the street."

I peeked through my fingers, which still covered my face, at Ella. She looked confused and startled, as if she hadn't expected such a reaction to what she had said. Of course, she did, in fact, have a point; Iggy was blind, and it would be difficult to keep track of a child. But Iggy was the most kind, sensitive, caring person I knew, and if I had to pick the best dad out of the three in the flock, it would most definitely be him.

"But that's beside the point," Ella continued fussily, struggling to find some way to justify her rude and rather cruel statement. "I mean, he's sixteen, too. That's super young. Not to mention the fact that he was way younger than sixteen when he got that woman pregnant, if it's even true! And even if it's not, you said he had… sex with her when he was fourteen. That's way too young. If you ask me, that's like, perverted, or whorish, or something."

I clenched my jaw and dug my nails into my cheeks. This girl may be my little sister, technically, but she was really being a pain right now. At least I didn't love her or anything, or I might be feeling betrayal; you know, my little sis just called the boy I'm in love with a whorish pervert, 'or something'.

Nudge scowled effectively, and Ella drew back behind her mother. From the days I'd spent living with this family, I had picked up that Ella and Nudge were thick as thieves, best friends, the like. But at the moment, it really seemed as if Nudge was prepared to break a few of Ella's bones.

"You take that back!" she screeched, narrowing her eyes and stepping forward. Vaguely, I wondered what was going on with Fang, Max and Iggy. Were they hearing any of this? Were they paying attention? Was Iggy missing me? Did he want me right now?

"You take that back right now!" Nudge continued angrily.

"Girls!" Dr. Martinez interrupted. "Nudge, I'm sure Ella didn't mean what she said, but in her defense, it is rather odd for a fourteen-year-old to be participating in intimate relations with another… Intercourse is very risky, pregnancy is often unavoidable when one doesn't take the proper precautions, like protection, and if Iggy didn't…"

"What, so you're a saint now?" Nudge continued. "Wasn't it you who gave Max over to the School in the first place, or something? Oh, right, she was taken, or whatever. And weren't you having 'fun' with Jeb, that sicko? What right do you have to talk bad about Iggy? In case you haven't been listening throughout this entire explanation, he didn't have sex, he was freaking raped, as in against his will. You have no idea what he's gone through!"

Ella scowled and stepped from behind Dr. Martinez until she was right in front of Nudge.

"Don't talk to my mom like that!" she snapped. "Besides, she's right! And don't we have some idea what he's gone through? If you don't remember telling us, we know all about him having been molested as a little kid. And, if you've read any statistics lately, which you probably haven't, seeing as you're all a bunch of uneducated low-lifes, you'd know that people like that are more likely to do the same thing to others! Now tell me Iggy'd be a good father!"

"Stop it!" Gazzy cried, running between the two friends and pushing them apart, tears blurring his vision. I remained in my chair, worrying about what Iggy was thinking at the moment, my worry mixing with my strange want to bear Iggy's child and my fury at Ella for saying such horrible things, and at Dr. Martinez, or 'mom', for defending her.

"Get out of the way, Gazzy!" Nudge growled. "You heard them! Apparently Dr. Martinez is a saint for never having unprotected underage sex, and Ella now thinks that Iggy's a freaking perverted whore who's going to go and molest his baby!"

"Please!" Gazzy continued to beg, "Please stop! You're both being so mean! I thought you guys were best friends! What happened to that? And what happened to you, Ella? I thought you really liked Iggy!"

Tears had begun to slip down Gazzy's cheeks, and noticing this, Nudge and Ella both stopped shouting for a moment, breathing deeply, cheeks red, fists clenched at their sides.

"Come on, sweeties," Dr. Martinez said shakily, stepping forward. "Honey, Nudge is right, you can't accuse Iggy for something that statistics have told you. And Nudge, you can't talk to people like that! It's rude and disrespectful, especially to me! Who is it who's been spending money on your clothes and food and giving you a safe home?"

But Nudge wouldn't back down. Not her, not stubborn Nudge. And I couldn't help but silently cheer her on as she stared down Dr. Martinez, even if she was my 'mom'. I couldn't forgive anyone for being mean about my Iggy.

"I don't know," Nudge said softly. "The woman who's been giving us clothes and food and a safe home is not someone who would condemn someone because they were raped."

And time froze, and at that moment, nothing was right, and everyone was angry and had tears in their eyes.

But I couldn't see Angel anywhere.

Thanks for reading! And please, don't get too mad at Ella, just remember that she's saying things she normally wouldn't because her and Nudge are in a fight.

Please review!

20. Not Mine


Oh, faithful readers, I know it's been a long while since I last updated, and I apologize.

I have no excuse.

So, I'm sorry, for being lazy and stuff.

By the way, I got a DeviantArt account. If you would like to take a look at my artwork, please visit me! My penname is flYegurlX (oh, so different from my fanfiction penname, I know it).

Anne POV

"Here you are then, Anne," Professor Jordan said, depositing me back in my cell. I glared at him, hoping to convey my deepest wishes for him to die a gruesome death in my expression, but I highly doubt I managed. "You did very well during the video. I appreciate you not saying anything that could have ruined my plans. You do know how I truly love for things to go smoothly."

I nodded curtly, and a sudden little kick caused my hands to flutter to my swollen belly. Frowning, I noticed Jordan's eyes flicker to it, then back up to my face. He smirked horribly, and I felt bile rise in my throat. He looked like a snake, so sneaky, so incredibly sickly sweet it was nauseating.

"Ah yes, my child," he murmured. "It is doing well, I trust? No pains? No aches? No bleeding?"

"Your grandchild," I corrected him roughly, backing up a step. "Your grandchild, not your child."

His eyes were cold, piercing, and his gaze almost painful.

"My child," he stated, voice like ice. "It has my DNA, doesn't it? It's mine."

I shook my head stubbornly. Just the thought of the baby being his made me sick.

"No, it's not yours," I continued. "It's your son's…"

Professor Jordan stared at me coldly for a long minute, and looking into his steely eyes, I wondered if he was angry. Perhaps he would strike me. Was that cold fury in his gaze..?

But to my surprise, his mouth broke into a broad, humorless grin, and he burst out laughing.

"My son?" he chortled. "My son? That creature's not my son! The idea!"

"But… but he is," I said weakly, suddenly very confused. "Isn't he?"

They had the same eyes, that poor boy and this man. They same eyes, true, although the boy's were kind, innocent, hurt, while Professor Jordan's were nothing but cold and frightening.

"What a ridiculous notion," Professor Jordan continued, still chuckling, although I couldn't hear a trace of humor in his voice. "Subject 9 isn't anything. I don't consider it anything at all. It's not human. It's a monster. A vile creature. And the only reason it ever existed in this world, the stupid animal, was to create the perfect specimen that lies in your belly."

Professor Jordan made to rest his hands on my stomach, but I pulled away.

"But you're the one who made him," I objected, "He is your son, or you wouldn't even be related to this baby…"

"Subject 9 is nothing more than a toy, fit to play with for my own purposes and then toss aside. When the baby is born, I will finally be rid of it. It would have been dead by now if it hadn't been for Maximum Ride and her stupid flock." A crease formed between Professor Jordan's brows. "She saw fit to save Subject 9's pitiful existence. As if it changed anything. Well, I guess it did, didn't it? My plan is so much better now, so much more developed… I guess I should thank her, shouldn't I?"

He paused and gazed off as if in thought for a moment, although I knew he would never even consider thanking Maximum Ride for anything, not even if she had saved his life – which I was sure she would never do.

Then he turned back to face me, a strange expression on his face.

"You're lucky, Anne," he crooned, voice suddenly dripping with fake honey. "You're the only one I could find strong enough to bear that exquisite little child…"

"I wish you hadn't," I said coldly. "I wish you and I had never, ever met. Then that boy wouldn't have the burden of a baby on his shoulders, and m-my brother wouldn't be… d-d-dead… and Amy wouldn't be a suspect in the murder of her own father."

Professor Jordan brushed my words away with an uncaring air.

"Anyway, I've noticed that you have very little to entertain yourself with during the times that I am gone. Therefore, I had those delivered to your room." He waved his hand at the bed and I looked to see a crate full of manila folders. "You were a psychologist before I took you, correct?" I nodded. "Then you will get some entertainment from looking through those papers. I'm sure you'll have a time studying them."

Then he exited, the metal door swishing closed behind him.

I sighed and looked towards the crate with apprehension. What did he mean by bringing up my old job as a psychologist? Why would I 'have a time' looking through them? Studying them?

But, really, the only way to find out was to look at them for myself, wasn't it?

I moved cautiously to my bed and sat comfortably on the soft, blanketed mattress, tugging the crate towards me and fishing out the first manila folder.

'PSYCHOLOGICAL TEST FOR SUBJECT 15' it read in bold black sharpie. I opened the manila, now intrigued. From being around Professor Jordan for the past few years, and hearing how he talked about the flock, I knew each of their numbers. Subject 15 was the Gasman.

There were four small packets of paper in the folder, each consisting of a piece of rough construction paper with a description on thin paper stapled to the front. I glanced the paper over briefly – it was a psychological examination indeed. The Gasman was one year old exactly – from the description I was able to pick up that the test was administered each year on the subject's birthday – and the test required the subject to draw a picture, any picture, of the first thing that came to mind.

I flipped the page and saw what the one-year-old Gasman had drawn.

Typical. I smiled a bit. A one-year-old wouldn't be drawing anything recognizable – it was a bunch of crayon scribbles in red, yellow, orange, green, and purple.

I then looked at the next packet, the one Gazzy had drawn at age two. The picture was yet again little more than scribbles, but I could make out circles, squares, and dots.

At age three, the Gasman's picture was one of six stick-figures with round, yellow heads and hair that sprouted like twigs in sticks straight out from the scalp. The tallest three were obviously Max, Fang, and Iggy… one had long blond hair, the other black hair, and the third was a red-head. Then there was a shorter one with skin drawn with brown rather than yellow, and curly black hair – Nudge. Then there was a little self-portrait with a big, scribbled smile, and finally a little tiny one at the bottom – a baby Angel.

I smiled at the childish drawing and turned to the next one.

The four-year-old Gazzy was a little bit more experienced at drawing. This time the six figures were less rough and sketchy, and each had a large pair of wings spread behind them.

The next manila folder contained Subject 14's drawings – Nudge's. The first one was, yet again, little more than different colored scribbles. The second was a stick-figure picture of the whole flock. But the third paper was covered completely by a big, yellow circle with round, differently-sized blue circles for eyes and a red, smiling mouth. The circle-face was topped with spiky, stick-like red hair. It was Iggy.

I turned to look at Nudge's fourth drawing and found it was again of Iggy, but this time a bit neater, and the Iggy in the picture had a down-turned mouth and tears falling out of his eyes.

The fifth picture was again of Iggy, this time a full-body one. He was wearing a knee-length grey dress-type thing, which I could only assume was the regular attire for School experiments. There was a tall man standing next to him, which Nudge had drawn and scribbled in with black crayon.

It was Professor Jordan.

I stared at Nudge's interpretation of the Professor and found myself thinking that she wasn't too far off the mark. A tall dark figure, looming over everyone like a great, evil shadow.

I flipped quickly to look at the next three pictures. All were of Iggy and Nudge herself, holding hands and smiling. Wishful thinking, I thought to myself.

I then found myself skipping the other manila folders and going straight to the last. Subject 9.

Iggy's picture at age one was much like the others' – just random scribbles. His at age two was a messy, scribbled representation of the flock.

However, when I looked at the third picture, it was not of anything remotely like Nudge's or Gazzy's had been.

It was on of a tall figure, solid black, with red all over the floor.

And the fourth was similar, although this time it was him, it was Iggy himself, but there was red crayon scribbled all over his chest and on the floor…

The fifth was nothing more than red, just red scribbled all over the page. There were no shapes, no nothing, just red scribbles.

And on the sixth, there was just a messy black X scrawled across the paper.

And it was the same with the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth.

With a knot slowly forming in my stomach, I rested my hand on my belly and pushed the folder and papers away. I felt strangely dizzy. And very guilty.

Was that why Professor Jordan had given these to me? Just so I would look at Iggy's and feel guilty about what I had done? Didn't I already feel guilt enough to nearly kill me? A ravaging guilt that wracked my entire mind, body and soul. It ate me up inside, knowing that I had contributed to what could be classified as mental, emotional, and physical torture, to break a poor, fourteen-year-old boy even further than he had already broken, to damage him even though he had already been damaged beyond repair.

That awful Professor Jordan, with his sickly sweet smile and honey-coated voice, his smug grin. The man who denied that poor Iggy was even human, could even be considered his son. Who tortured him and hurt him and called him a monster and made sure that he would never truly heal.

Was that his plan all along? To make me feel even more guilty than I already felt?

Because if that was his plan, it had worked.

Thank you all for waiting so patiently for this chapter. I promise that the adventure will really start in the next one. Please keep reading! And please review! And don't forget to check me out on DeviantArt! And if you do, please comment! Thanks!

Reviews = love and cookies :)

21. We're Leaving

Heya. I would've updated this past weekend, but I was at an anime convention all weekend, and didn't have the time. It was amazing! I got to meet voice actors and get their autographs, and I got bunches of awesome Fullmetal Alchemist merchandise for cheap. AMAZING.

And then I would have updated throughout the week, except there were friends over every single day and I had absolutely no time, and when I did, my sister stole the computer and wouldn't let me use it. But enough with my excuses.

Anyway, here ya go.


It was pretty much in the middle of that totally comfortable little chat about how Iggy thought he would be a terrible father when we heard a loud scream coming from somewhere… where it was, I didn't know.

My initial reaction was shock – I mean, I was already uptight enough as it is, just discovering that my barely-sixteen-year-old brother was about to be a daddy. Especially since… well, don't think poorly of me, but when you hear that someone's about to be a parent, what's the first thing you think? Let's say your parents tell you they're having another baby, or maybe it's your brother, or sister. Your obvious reaction is that, oh, hey, they did the 'dirty deed', ya know? Sex.

And when you think that someone had, uh, sex… aw, heck, when I think that Iggy had sex… well, an image of it sort of maybe kept coming to mind…

Ugh. I know I'm unspeakably gross, don't even say it. Bleh. What kind of person imagines that of their own brother?

But, whatever. Anyway, that's why the scream sort of shocked me, rather than terrified me or put me immediately into action.

I heard the rest of the flock, Ella, and mom in the living room jump up and start babbling incoherently.

"Who was that?" Fang asked hurriedly. "Who screamed?" He had jumped up and was looking around frantically, eyes wide.

"I don't know!" I answered quickly. I really didn't know who it was… it's sort of hard to tell different screams apart, especially when they're far away.

"It was Angel!" Iggy exclaimed, eyes wide and scared-looking, cocking his head. "She's hurt!"

"Are you sure?" I asked. How on Earth had he been able to tell it was Angel from that scream? I mean, it seemed to me like it could also have been Nudge, or maybe even Gazzy if he was scared enough to not try to make his scream sound 'manly'.

"Positive," Iggy answered, moving quickly down the hallway.

"Where is she?" Fang asked hurriedly. "Where do you think she could be?"

I listened intently. There weren't any more screams. How on Earth were we supposed to know where she was if there weren't any more noises to clue us in…

Gosh, I'm an idiot, I could just ask Iggy.

But before I had even opened my mouth to ask…

"She's in the backyard!" Iggy said, rushing towards the kitchen and the door that inevitably led to the backyard. He banged it open and ran outside, stumbling slightly on a little step down to the grass.

"What's going on? Was that Angel screaming?" Meagan asked, rushing into the kitchen as well, Gazzy and Nudge right behind her.

"I guess!" Fang answered, out the door behind Iggy in the next second.

"Iggy says she's in the backyard," I told them, and I was right behind Fang; Meagan, Nudge, and Gazzy were hard on my tail.

As soon as I was outside, I saw her; Angel was on her back down by the weeping willow tree next to the lake, the same tree under which we had held a kind-of-funeral for Iggy when we had though we'd never see him again. Back when James was still in his body.

Angel's face was screwed up in pain, and there was blood all down her right leg. Iggy made it to her side within moments, bending next to her, running his fingers quickly up and down her leg, checking for the damage.

"What happened to her?" Fang and I asked simultaneously. "How is she hurt?"

"Is she okay?" Gazzy asked worriedly, eyes watering.

"Is her leg broken or something?" Nudge asked.

"Naw," Iggy said. "She just fell and scraped her leg up n some rocks. Isn't that right, Ange?"

Angel nodded tearfully, cheeks wet with tears.

"It's nothing Angel, just take some deep breaths," Iggy told her, taking his thumb and wiping some tears from her cheeks. "I'm gonna patch you up."

Iggy reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a little box, which upon closer inspection turned out to be a first-aid kit. You know, band-aids, gauze, disinfectant… it struck me as a little odd, I'll admit, Iggy carrying a first-aid kit, I mean, why would he think he'd need a first-aid kit?… but, whatever.

Carefully, Iggy wiped the blood off of Angel's legs with his sleeve – I'm not sure Fang would be too happy with another item of his own clothes bloodstained, especially not one of his special black turtlenecks (that guy never ceases to confuse me) – and spread disinfectant evenly across her numerous scrapes. Then he wrapped some gauze around her knee, where the worst of the damage was, and carefully felt along the rest of her leg, plastering band-aids on the less bloody cuts.

Angel sniffled.

"Thank you, Iggy," she said in a watery voice.

"You're welcome, sweetie," he said, pulling her forward and wrapping his arms around her, resting his cheek on the top of her golden hair.

We all watched for a moment, and then, finally, Angel pulled away, gazed up at Iggy's face, and said "See?"

"Huh?" Iggy asked in response, a little confused. "See what?"

"You said you'd be a horrible father," Angel said. Meagan looked at Iggy with a sad and rather surprised expression on her face.

"What?" she, Nudge, and Gazzy exclaimed at the same time. "What do you mean?"

"I think I just proved you wrong," Angel continued, smiling up at him.

"In what way?" Iggy asked her, smiling crookedly.

I looked at Angel in confusion. What was she talking about? Was that whole thing honestly just some sort of plan to get Iggy to think he actually would be a good dad?

You know, not that I object to it. Of course I don't. I guess I just didn't exactly want him to… not because I didn't think it, of course I did, I know Iggy would be a great dad, I just didn't want it to be at the young age of sixteen. You know? Maybe if he didn't think he'd be a good dad yet, then he would not try to keep the baby or something…

"Well," Angel started. "When I screamed, you knew instantly it was me, didn't you? Not Nudge or Gazzy?"

"Hey!" the Gasman protested. "My screams don't sound like a girl's!"

"Whatever," Nudge said, rolling her eyes.

"Well, yeah," Iggy answered, responding to Angel's question. "I mean, it's not like it could have been anyone else. It was your voice."

"Ah, yes," Angel continued. "But Max and Fang couldn't tell, could they? They had no idea who it was who had screamed. You just knew, because that's how you are."

Iggy raised and lowered his shoulders in a shrug.

"Okay. But…"

Angel raised her hand and covered his mouth to stop him from talking, a very serious expression on her face.

"Be quiet, you know it's true. Anyway, so you immediately knew it was me who had screamed. And just from that one scream, you also knew exactly where I was."

"Mrph," Iggy said from behind Angel's hand, but she continued to steadfastly keep him from managing coherent words.

"And," she continued, "And, Max and Fang had no idea where I would be, but you did, and they didn't even ask you, so you didn't even have to use your power to know."

"She's right," Fang said, and I shot him a glare.

Don't get me wrong… I feel like maybe I'm acting like a bit of a 'bad guy' here… but honestly, would you really want to support your sixteen-year-old brother to become a dad, especially if he had already suffered a totally traumatic life and maybe kinda had emotional problems? Not in a bad way, of course, except for the self-harm part.

"Of course I am," Angel said haughtily. "Plus, Iggy, besides the fact that you knew who screamed and exactly where they were the second the scream left my lips, you were the fastest out to find me, the fastest to figure out exactly what was wrong, and you had the materials handy to patch me up quickly."

She glared at Iggy for a long moment, and Meagan looked at him with a strange expression on her face. Gazzy seemed slightly confused, but Nudge looked almost bored, as though she already understood exactly where this was going. She probably does, I thought. Nudge 'understands', right?

"Srpht?" Iggy asked from beneath Angel's tiny hand.

"So what?" Angel asked, sounding disbelieving. "So this! If your baby ever screams, you'll know immediately that it was your baby who did the screaming. You'll also know exactly where it was when it screamed, and you'll know what's wrong, and how to fix it."

There was silence for a long few moments, and Angel grinned and leaned forward to rest her forehead against Iggy's, just like she used to do to me, back before any of this craziness ever happened.

"Those are all important traits any person needs to be a parent," Angel said softly through her smile. "And besides that, you'll be the best daddy any person could ever have. I just know it, Iggy. You'll love your baby more than anything and protect it with your life. You're just that kind of person. You're…" she paused and swallowed, a small tear drifting down her cheek. "You're already the perfect dad."

Angel had removed her hand from Iggy's mouth, and from what I could see his bottom lip was quivering. But he didn't cry. He just stood up carefully, holding Angel in his arms, and stared intensely towards the rest of us.

"Thanks Ange," he said. "I've got to go. I've got to get Anne away from that sadist, and make sure that He never, ever gets the… gets my baby."

"Of course you are," Nudge answered. "I'm going too."

"Me too!" Gazzy said intently. "I want to see the baby, and give that Jordan guy a piece of my mind."

"I'm going," Fang said softly. "I would never want to stay behind."

"I'm going, of course," Angel said, smiling happily. "Just in case Iggy needs some morale boosts."

She turned her eyes towards me and a crease formed between her eyebrows. I sighed heavily.

"Oh, of course I'm going!" I said. "I will go along with anything you choose, Iggy. This is your life." Oops, that sounded sort of mean… "I mean, this is…"

"Drop it, Max," Iggy said, smiling. "You never were good at working yourself out of the holes you dig. You usually just end up making them deeper."

I returned his smile hesitantly, and then we all turned to Meagan, who was standing there and looking rather lost.

"Meagan?" Gazzy asked. "You're going too, right? Don't you want to meet Iggy's baby?"

"Of course I do!" Meagan replied hurriedly. "I just…" she threw a glance at Iggy. "This is just sort of fast. I mean… it's just really confusing. But I'll work it out. I want to come."

Iggy smiled, looking relieved.

"Iggy," Nudge suddenly spoke up. "Do you know where this is?"

We all threw her a glance, but she pretended not to notice.

"The weeping willow by the lake," Iggy answered immediately. "Why?"

Nudge took a few steps towards the willow, looking as if she was looking at something far, far away.

"It's not just that," she said. "See, when you weren't here, when James was here instead… we all thought we'd never see you again. We thought you were gone forever." She brushed through some of the hanging fronds and bent next to the large, smooth stone at the foot of the tree. "This is where we held your funeral, putting your memories to rest."

Iggy looked like he didn't know what to say. I could understand. If someone was telling me about the funeral that was held for me, I wouldn't know what to say either.

"But now you're back, and we're all so happy. But the thing is, now we'll be going back to the School, the place that did all that stuff to you, and to us as well. And it's going to be so dangerous. And so scary. We might not all make it."

Iggy closed his gaping mouth and looked forlornly at Nudge, and Angel wrapped her arms more tightly around his neck.

"But you know what, Ig?" Nudge asked, turning back to the rest of us. "It's all worth it, just to see you happy. And I know you'll be happy, and you'll be at peace." Her expression hardened. "Because, Iggy, we'll be going back to where everything started. We'll be going back to Professor Jordan. And Iggy, if you or Max or Fang doesn't kill him, then I will."

We all stared at Nudge for a long moment. I'll admit, I was shocked. I had never seen this hard, serious side of my Nudge before. She was always so happy, bubbly, pretty much the one that brought a little fun into our sad lives when we were all down in the dumps, huddled around a dying fire in the middle of a chilly forest. I had never expected her to even mention killing anyone.

But she wouldn't have to, because I would first.

"Anyway," Nudge continued, sounding different, back to normal. "Let's let your mom and sister know where we're going and take off. We'll bring food and money in our backpacks. Maybe your mom can buy us train tickets."

And she turned and walked quickly back up the yard to the house.

And the rest of us followed her.

Thank you so much for reading. I really apologize for the late update. It's totally my fault. Please forgive me.


22. Names

Heya. I just wanted to let you all know how sorry I am about the unforgivably late updates for the past few weeks… I've had a small case of writer's block –shudders-, but don't worry, I've got the next couple chapters all planned out, so it shouldn't take a week or more to update this time!


"We're leaving, mom," I told her for the twenty-seventh time, literally. She kept giving us more stuff to take, and fussing over us, and giving us last-minute advice. Seriously, if she made one more batch of fresh cookies for me to put into my backpack, I swear I'd have enough to live on them for a month without starving.

Actually, make that a week.

Um… five days. You know, mutant bird-kid and all.

"Oh, I know, honey, I know," she said, a worried crease between her brows as she straightened my pack on my shoulders. "Just remember, be careful, and don't talk to or go with any strangers, you never know who's an Eraser or an evil scientist…"

"That sounds really weird," Ella commented from the side. Nudge shot a sharp glance at her.

I didn't know what had happened between the two best friends, but Nudge hadn't said a word to Ella since we entered the house to collect our things, and Ella kept shooting her apologetic glances. Meagan and Gazzy were avoiding Ella's eyes as well. Gosh, what had happened in that living room while me, Iggy, and Fang were absent?

"Anyway, sweetie," mom continued, "The train tickets I got you are great. The train will take you overnight all the way down to California, and the station is only an hour's flight from here."

"Yes, mom, I know," I replied tiredly. She had told me this about five times already.

Mom paused and looked worriedly at me. "Oh, it's just, how do you know they'll be at the School in California? There are dozens of other schools they could be in, what makes you think that one?"

"Because," I started to explain for the umpteenth time, "That's the School we went to get Iggy his surgery, and that's where we saw Professor Jordan last. He obviously wants us to come to him, so he wouldn't be in a place we couldn't find."

"But," my mother objected, and I rolled my eyes, resting my weight on my right leg, awaiting some more fussing and worrying on her part. "If he wants you to come, doesn't that sound dangerous? Like, a trap?"

"Of course it's a trap," Fang said from the doorway, where he had been standing with one foot out the door on the entrance mat for the past twenty minutes. "We'll just have to get out of it. There's really no other option."

Mom finally relented.

"Okay," she said softly. "But be careful, kids. Gazzy, Angel, take care of each other. Don't stray too far from Max, Fang or Iggy. Nudge, keep an eye on the little ones, you're responsible. Max, Fang, watch out for them. Iggy…" she paused, putting her hand to the locket at her neck. "Iggy, are you sure you're ready for this?"

"No," Iggy answered immediately. "But it's not like I have a choice in the matter."

"You do," Ella said softly from mom's side. Nudge threw her a look that could break glass.

"He meant conscience-wise," Fang said hurriedly. "Now, are we going to stand here in the doorway all day?"

"Actually, you're the only one standing in the doorway, Fang," Gazzy pointed out, but a skeptical glare from the black-haired bird-kid silenced him.

"Well… just, be careful," mom said, and finally I knew that she would let us out the door.

"Right," I said, taking a step forward and hugging her, then moving to hug Ella. "We'll see you two when we get back. Stay safe."

"We will," Ella said. "Bye, Angel, Gazzy, Max, Fang. Bye, Iggy, Meagan. Bye, Nudge."

Ella gave Nudge a hesitant smile, but Nudge didn't answer it as she turned and stepped out the door behind Fang, who was already in the yard. Iggy and Meagan with Angel and Gazzy were right behind them. I gave my mom and half-sister a last smile before following my family.

We took off.

Within minutes, my mom's house was a little toy block in the distance, and before us stretched an endless length of sky. I looked about at each member of my flock. Gazzy, my little trooper, was doing spirals up at the front. Angel was above us, smiling softly and dipping up and down with the updrafts.

I noticed Nudge behind me, a frustrated look on her face. Really, was this the Nudge I had grown up with? First there was her threat to kill Professor Jordan, which of course made sense – after all, he had destroyed Iggy's life – but didn't exactly suit my fun-loving motormouth.

That was the other fact, the fact that she was bubbling with talk like she normally was. And she had been so mad at Ella, her best friend; she hadn't even said goodbye, which totally confused me, I would never have expected it.

Fang was watching Gazzy loop-the-loop intensely, keeping track of him, making sure he didn't twist his wing and go plummeting to the ground. It had happened before.

With a start, I realized that no one was brushing Iggy's wing to let him know where we were.

But when I turned to find him, it was to see that Meagan already had that covered. Indeed, she was flying so close to Iggy that her wing didn't brush his so much as bash it on every down stroke. But they didn't seem to mind. Iggy had his eyes closed and was smiling happily, and Meagan was chattering softly to him.

I smiled myself at the scene. I was so happy that Iggy was smiling.

"HEY!" I suddenly heard the Gasman shout, and turned to see him doubling back and gliding beneath me. "Hey, Iggy!"

"What is it, man?" Iggy asked, breaking the peaceful look on his face as he turned back to face his partner-in-crime.

"Do you think it's going to be a boy, or a girl?"

Iggy's smile was replaced with a shocked expression.

"I… don't know," he answered.

"I think it's going to be a boy!" Gazzy said happily. "Because you're a boy!"

"But Anne's a girl, Gazzy," Fang called from beside me. I looked up to see Angel looking at the conversation with a reserved expression. I could tell she didn't like talking about Iggy's baby.

Wow, that sounded really weird, even in my head. Iggy's baby. Iggy's… baby.


"But Iggy's the dad," Gazzy told Fang.

"So?" Fang replied. "Anne's the mom."

Gazzy seemed to be pondering Fang's statement.

"But, Iggy's a boy," he finally replied with a small voice. "So… the baby… will be a boy?"

"But all babies have dads," Fang continued. "They can't all be boys just because their dads are boys. It wouldn't make sense."

"So, what are you going to name it?" Gazzy asked Iggy, changing the subject hurriedly. "I like the name Zephyr! Or maybe Lightning. You know, like lightning. Or, or, what about Fire Dude!"

"Fire Dude?" Fang asked in disbelief. "Fire Dude? What kind of a name is Fire Dude?"

"It's a cool name!" Gazzy defended, looking sullen. "If you don't like it, what about Awesome Guy? Or Bomb. Or Explosion! Or Boom!"

"Awesome Guy?" Fang repeated, still a tone of disbelief. "Bomb? Explosion? And I don't like the sound of 'Boom'." Fang pulled a face. "Did you make a boom-boom in your pants, Boom?" he said in a high-pitched voice. "Weird. Plus, those are all boys' names. What if it's a girl?"

"But it's gonna be a boy!" Gazzy said, standing firm on his belief that Iggy's child would be a boy. "I want a little brother! I already have a little sister! I don't want another one!"

"Hey!" Angel protested, and Gazzy flashed her a grin.

"No offense," he said innocently.

"Hmm…" Fang started, looking thoughtful. "If it's a girl, maybe we could name her Raven. Or Shadow. Or Shade. Or Ash. Or…"

"Why don't we just name it Fangella?" I said, smirking at Fang. Fang turned away to hide his face subtly, but I could see the tops of his ears blushing red. I grinned, satisfied.

"If we're thinking of names, we should think of good names," I said, pointedly looking at Fang and Gazzy, who was pouting. "Any ideas, Meagan?"

"Iggy Junior," she said instantly.

Utter silence.

"What?" she asked defensively, looking at us (we were all staring at her with wide, shocked eyes and hanging jaws) with a confused expression, blushing scarlet. "I… I like the name Iggy!"

"I appreciate that," Iggy told her, looking serious. "But I don't want anyone to have to grow up with a name like Iggy Junior."

"It's certainly a scary thought," I said, gazing off into the distance, imagining the horrific picture that had appeared in my mind the second Meagan uttered the words 'Iggy Junior'. A tiny pyro, crazed eyes, and a maniacal smile, running around, planting bombs, and a great crater in the Earth where my mom's house used to be…

I shuddered, shaking myself from the odd vision.

"Anyway," I spoke up. "We don't need to think of baby names just yet. And we should probably check out a couple dozen baby books before we choose…" I flashed a crooked smile at the flock. "I don't think we've had much success in the past. I mean, Nudge? Fang? The Gasman? I certainly don't want to force some poor baby to be named by a bunch of uneducated morons like us."

This is rather a filler chapter… but I wanted some humor. I hope you all liked the ideas! I had a fun time with Gazzy, he's a little cutie.

Please review!

23. Panicking

Hello. Quick update! I know it! I was just so excited because I reached the big 200! TWO HUNDRED! (I felt like spelling it out, because you can't put numbers all in caps).

Yeah. I just want to thank everybody for their awesome contribution to that review count. I'm really excited about it.

Ah, by the way, imadoctor, here's a shout out: I love long reviews! Don't be shy about it… write one as long as you want… That goes for everybody, actually. What bugs me almost even more than people who don't review at all are people who are like 'oh, but this reviews is getting too long, I'll go since I'm probably boring you'. After that, I usually stare at the computer screen, reading that last line again and again, thinking 'why the heck would I be annoyed by a long review?'

Whatever, though, right?

Ah, and I know we've had lots of Max POVs, but those'll be pretty much the only ones for a while. Sorry, people! But I promise, it won't be boring.


The train station wasn't a big one. It was actually fairly small, for such a big city – no, I'm not saying which one, for reasons you all know very well – but it was fine, because Iggy was with us, and Iggy doesn't like crowded places. Lucky us; there were even very little people, not many decent folks being likely to take a direct train to California on a Thursday. You know, it being a school day and all.

The station was fairly basic; a ticket window, an ATM, a small café, a rather disgusting-looking Pizza Hut, and one of those one-room bathrooms that welcomes everyone, but is always rather nauseating to have to use. You know what I'm talking about.

We showed our tickets, which mom had printed off the internet, to the guy behind the ticket window, and he nodded and let us pass onto the platform.

"Hey guys," I said. "Wanna get a bite to eat? We still have a while before the train comes. We can go to that café and get some coffee and a pastry," I suggested.

"I want pizza!" Gazzy objected, crossing his arms. I looked sideways at the lone Pizza Hut. There were only two tables, and one of them had no chairs, while the other looked as if it had been recently vomited on. The pimply teenager at the counter was looking surely, scowling moodily. As I watched, he surreptitiously looked into a small mirror near the cash-register and proceeded to pop a particularly large and oozing pimple. Afterwards, he sneezed into his hands, then wiped them off on his shirt. He didn't wash his hands. Or even use Germ-X, although I could see a rather large bottle right next to him. I wrinkled my nose.

"I dunno, Gaz," I said cautiously, trying not to let the pimply-teen overhear me and perhaps get angry. "We have lots of food mom gave us, and we could always buy something on the train. I'm sure there's a goody cart or snack bar or something for a trip that far."

"I want pizza, though!" the Gasman replied, "And I'm really really hungry, and not for cookies or carrot sticks!"

"I think pizza sounds pretty good, too," Nudge spoke up. I looked her over appraisingly. She seemed to have gotten over whatever had made her all moody during the flight. She was smiling now, and seemed as bubbly as ever.

"Fine with me," Fang muttered.

"I'm not hungry!" Angel chirruped.

"Me neither," Iggy muttered.

"I could eat a pizza," Meagan said cautiously.

I sighed.

"Right then," I said, and began to walk slowly towards the Pizza Hut. The kid at the counter straightened the moment he saw me coming, smoothing his hair and straightening his collar, as if that would make up for his awful lack of proper hygiene.

"May I help you?" he asked in a nasally voice. I could have felt sorry for him, but really, I was saving all of my sorry feelings for someone who actually deserved it – Iggy, for instance, or perhaps some of those innocent civilians living in Iraq who were currently being slaughtered by the US military.

"Yeah," I said, sighing. "I'll take three large pizzas, please, with everything on them."

Okay, I know it was less than usual, but this was just a snack.

"Right away," the pimply teen replied, turning to make the pizza. I wondered if he just heated up a frozen pizza, or if he actually made it from scratch. Either way, if he poisoned our pizzas with pimple juice or sneeze germs…

Nudge and Fang had carefully scooted the clean-compared-to-the-puked-on-table away from the puked-on one as far as they could without leaving the boundaries of the store and moved the chairs over from the other table. They were now sitting at the table and looking slightly tired. Hey, an hour of flying at top-speed can really take it out of you.

"Hey, where'd Iggy go?" I asked Meagan, and she turned away from Nudge, whom she was talking to about clothing styles. I silently wondered how any clone of mine could have any interest in that sort of thing… although, now that I think about it, she was probably just pretending to be interested.

"He said he was going to the bathroom," Meagan answered.

"Ah," I answered. "Okay."

Ten minutes later, the pimply kid from the counter called "Three large pizzas, with everything," and I walked up to collect and pay.

"Um…" the guy said as I handed him over a wad of bills. "Uh, I was just thinking, you know, maybe if your train wasn't getting in for a while, we could…"

"I'm dating someone," I answered the moment I figured out what he was asking. I ran my eyes against the oozing pimples all over his face and almost gagged. Hey, no offense to those pimple-faced teens out there – it's just that this kid didn't even look like he had ever touched a tube of zit-cream in his life, much less a bottle of shampoo. The grease in his hair was unnatural.

"Oh," the kid replied, sounding crestfallen. "Oh well. Well, what about your twin over there?" he asked, gesturing to Meagan. "She seeing anyone?"

I gaped at him. Did this kid honestly just ask my 'twin' out, directly after I had turned him down? Not smooth, kid, not smooth.

"Sorry, she's dating someone too," I answered. "Pimple-faced jerk," I muttered under my breath as I returned to our table with the pizzas in hand.

I set the pizza boxes on the table, and within moments the first one was gone, all the pieces grabbed by the members of my hungry flock. Absentmindedly, I looked over their faces; Fang quietly eating a slice, moodily picking off the pineapple slices (picky eater); Gazzy, sauce all over his face; Nudge, who had taken the crust off of three slices and was eating each reverently; Meagan, who was munching on one with a lot of pepperoni and very little sausage; and Angel, who had decided she did, in fact, want some, and was happily nibbling at a half-eaten slice.

Then, deciding that ten minutes in a bathroom was too long for Iggy, especially since it was a public one, and with his extra-sharp sense of smell, he never really enjoyed those.

"I'm gonna go to the bathroom," I told them, and left the Pizza Hut.

"Iggy's already in there!" Fang called out to me as I left. But I already knew that, didn't I?

When I reached the door to the bathroom, I stared at it for a moment. The sign had those stick-figures of a man and a woman, the woman being stereotypically clothed in a triangular dress, as well as a person in a wheel-chair. Underneath the pictures were some raised bumps. Braille.

"Hey, Iggs!" I called softly, rapping sharply on the door. There was no answer, so I tested the doorknob. The dummy had left it unlocked.

"Iggy," I said sternly, "I'm coming in, don't let me catch you with your pants down."

At first it looked like there was no one in the bathroom, and I stepped quickly in and shut the door behind me, locking it. The bathroom wasn't as filthy as I'd thought it would be, judging by the state that Pizza Hut had been. There wasn't even a foul smell in it; I noticed an air-freshener hanging above the toilet, as well as a vent in the ceiling. That would help.

Iggy was on the floor, sitting with his back against the wall, knees drawn to his chest and head resting in his folded arms. Instantly, I crouched down beside him and put my hand on his shoulder.

"What's wrong, Iggy?" I asked frantically. "Are you hurt?"

Iggy didn't answer for a long moment, but then he raised his head. His eyes looked bloodshot – not like he had been crying, but like he was very, very tired. A flitting thought crossed my mind, wondering whether he had looked like that for a while and I just hadn't noticed.

"I'm not ready for this," he said, his voice sounding hoarse. "I'm not ready, Max! I'm just a kid! I'm just a freaking kid!"

I stared at Iggy for what was barely a second, but felt like an eternity. Suddenly, I realized something I really hadn't before; I know I definitely felt like Iggy was too young to have a baby, that he wasn't ready for the responsibility of a child, that a child born from rape would probably screw up the flock; but I hadn't really considered the fact that Iggy was probably ten times more scared than I was, and most likely felt exactly the same way that I did.

"I know you're not," I replied carefully, keeping my hand on his shoulder and squeezing it slightly in what I hoped was a comforting way. "I know you're not. I know it. I know. But… you're not gonna be alone, Iggy. We're all going to help."

"I know, I know, I know," Iggy said, reaching up and tugging furiously at his bangs. "But I'm going to be the dad! I'm going to be the dad! Do you have any idea how this feels? No! You don't! You're not going to be a parent until you're what, twenty? Thirty? I'm sixteen! And it doesn't even count, because I was asleep for five-hundred days of that – I'm pretty much still fourteen, Max! FOURTEEN!"

He held his hands in front of his face and slowly brought them to cover his eyes. They were shaking.

"A baby needs parents who are going to be able to support it! Who will give it food! And clothes! And schooling! And college! And to do that I'd need money… I'd need to get a job… but no one's going to hire a blind kid who's only fourteen and has a freaking baby. Nobody, Max. No one's going to care. And even if I didn't want to keep it, I wouldn't be able to put it up for adoption, because it'll have freaking wings."

He finished with a touch of bitterness in his voice that I heard very rarely and that always struck me to the core.

"That's no way to think, Iggy," I said. "That's no way to think at all. Your baby will get all the food it needs. We survived for ten years on beans and stale bread once a day… I think any kid can live off of three meals a day, no matter how small. And if it's a money problem, we could always go dumpster diving. And there's always public school, Iggy. If you want your kid to get education, it can go to Ella's schools… but we don't even have to think about that yet, 'cause kids don't go to school until they're, like, six! And college, Ig, we're never gonna go to college! If all of us work, we'll have enough money, since we won't be spending it on anything else."

I paused and looked at my brother for a long moment. He looked so young right now, so scared, with his wide bloodshot eyes and that innocent look on his face that made me want to just take him and hug him tight.

"You're not fourteen," I said softly. "As much as I hate to admit that I missed five-hundred days of your life, you're not fourteen. You may not have been awake in that dream, but if you weren't aware of every moment in it, you wouldn't have been able to fall in love with Meagan. You're sixteen, Iggy, you really are. And Iggs, there's going to be someone who'll hire a sixteen-year old blind kid. I bet you could get a real nice job at a fancy shmancy restaurant, teaching all those famous chefs how to cook properly."

Iggy cracked a small smile at this, and I was encouraged. Maybe my pep talk was actually working, for once in my life.

"We all love you, and I know you're going to be great dad, I know it, and you should too. Now…"

"Max!" came Nudge's voice from outside the bathroom door, followed by a knock. "They train just arrived. What are you doing with Iggy in there, anyway? You know that's a public bathroom, right?"

"The sexual tension in that room is almost palpable, Max," Fang said, and although it didn't sound like it, I could tell he was grinning. "I can feel it coming off of you two in waves. Ooh, there's a strong one…"

Iggy and I both blushed and pulled away from each other, Iggy standing and brushing off his butt. He pulled a face.

"These floors are disgusting," he said. "I can't believe I was actually letting a part of my body other than the sole of my shoes touch it."

"Let's hope that part was clothed, lover boy," came Fang's voice. "You two are taking an awful long time, and the train's about to leave. What are you doing, putting your clothes back on?"

I turned and exited the room as quickly as I could, both to catch the train before it left and pummel Fang's brains out. He only let me get a light bunch on his nose, though; it didn't break, but it started to bleed, and the red dripping down his upper lip gave me great satisfaction.

And I thought Iggy was the one who made the perverted jokes? XP

Anyway, I am happy I updated so fast. Please, all, continue to leave wonderful reviews! In large numbers! I'd really love to reach three hundred!

Reviews are like potato chips… or popcorn… or M&Ms… I can't get enough of them.

I love you all.

24. Reading

Heya. I haven't updated this past weekend because I've been working on a oneshot. But it's very, very long, and not even done yet. However, I decided I couldn't put a new chappie off for so long, so here goes…


The moment after the seven of us had jumped onto the train, the doors slid shut behind us. Gazzy, startled by the noise and the sudden movement as the train jerked into motion, stumbled and fell into Nudge, who in turn fell into Iggy, who banged his shin on a step and his hip on a corner. He screwed up his face and proceeded to clutch at his leg, jumping up and down in pain, and muttering a string of cuss words in fluent French that I probably should have been happy I didn't understand.

"You okay, Iggs?" Fang asked, slapping Iggy in the back in a way that I supposed was supposed to cheer him up or something, but succeeded only in knocking Iggy into a wall. He glared towards Fang for a long moment, and Fang held up his hands, backing up.

"What was that for?" Iggy gasped. "First you make stupid pervert jokes about Max and I, and then you push me into a wall?"

"It was an accident!" Fang objected. "Besides, I'm pretty sure you two deserved those jokes. I mean, you were locked in a bathroom together, for goodness sakes."

"He does have a point," I said, shrugging. Meagan was glancing between the two of us.

"Uh, we should probably get to our compartment," she said, and Nudge nodded.

"Yeah. I don't feel like staying here until we get to California."

Fang shrugged and began to walk through the sliding doors into the main part of the train, grabbing hold of Iggy's arm as he went.

"Sure. Which way?"

"This way," I said, tapping on his shoulder and pointing over my shoulder. "You're going the wrong way."

"Whatever," he said, rolling his eyes and pulling a face.

"So who's the one who needs to be led by the arm, Fang?" Iggy asked, raising an eyebrow. "Here, you better hold onto my shirt so you know where we're going…"

Eventually, we did make it to our compartment. It was an overnight thing, with those pullout little beds that cam out of the walls at night. Now, though, it was just a small room with two long, cushioned benches that we all squashed ourselves into.

"Now, mom got us these tickets, but this is a four-person compartment. So some of us will have to share beds," I said. "Who wants to share?"

"They're probably really small," Fang said doubtfully.

I stood and pulled out one of the beds, staring at it for a long while.

"Hmm, you're right," I admitted. "I guess two people could sleep on the floor…"

"But, if you insist, I can share with you," Fang hastily said, and I raised an eyebrow at him.

"If you're sharing with anyone, it's Gazzy," I told him. "He's small. You'll both fit. Angel can go with me, and Meagan with Nudge. Iggy can have a bed to himself because he's the tallest. Plus he's got broader shoulders than you."

I grinned at Fang's disbelieving expression.

"He does not!" Fang objected. "Here, Iggy, stand there."

Fang quickly lined himself in front of Iggy, while Iggy looked rather annoyed, still nursing his bruised shin. Fang eyed Iggy's shoulders, about five inches higher than his own, and quite obviously broader.

"See?" Angel said, gesturing. "There's really no debating it. He's older than you, anyway."

"Hrmph," Fang grumbled. "I wish you were still my little brother, huh?" he said, reaching up and ruffling Iggy's hair. Iggy grinned and pulled away.

"Yeah, totally. Although I'm sure this whole baby thing would be quite a bit more disturbing if that was the case."

"I dunno," Nudge spoke up. "I was surfing the net the other day. I found this thing about little kids who had babies. There was this boy who was thirteen when he had his first kid, and the girl who had it was only fifteen. And there was this little girl who gave birth to her first child on her wedding day, when she was only eleven! And she was marrying a nineteen-year-old!" Nudge shuddered. "Can you imagine that? Apparently the girl had, like, no idea how babies were made, and she didn't even know she was pregnant. So when she went into labor, she had no idea what was going on. That would be totally horrible."

"Yeah…" Fang said, picking at a scab on his elbow. "I saw a YouTube video about that. Those must be some terrible parents, huh? Letting their eleven-year-old kid get married to a legal adult, and get pregnant also. And she must've gotten pregnant when she was ten, since, you know, it takes nine months to have a baby."

Iggy stared between the two of them.

"Wow," he said. "You're making me feel way better about myself."

"Wait!" Gazzy spoke up. "You said that the girl didn't even know how babies are made. But how are babies made?" He stared wide-eyed at me. "How did Iggy make a baby?"

"Uhh…" I said, and exchanged nervous glances with Fang. But then, Gazzy grinned.

"I'm totally kidding!" he said. "I know how babies are made!"

"I'm gonna go get a magazine, 'kay?" Nudge spoke up.

"I'll go with you!" Angel said.

Iggy sat heavily on the comfy compartment seats.

"Sounds like a plan," He said. "Grab me some food, too. I didn't get any of the pizza."

Nudge and Angel departed, and I moved to sit beside Iggy. Meagan sat on his other side.

"You can eat some of the food Dr. Martinez gave us," Meagan said, bending to open up her backpack. It was true that mom had tried to get Meagan to call her 'mom', but Meagan had tried, then given up. I guess she just didn't feel comfortable with it.

"Okay," Iggy said. "Cookie."

"Yeah, yeah, cookie to you, too," Meagan replied, putting a few chocolate-chip cookies into his hand. Iggy stuffed them into his mouth appreciatively.

"Messy eater," I said, shaking my head in mock disappointment. "Have I taught you nothing?"

"I just choose not to listen to you," he said, shrugging, and I whacked him a good one upside the head. He grinned and turned away.

"I'm hungry, too," Fang brought up eagerly, leaning forward and holding out his hands expectantly. "I'd like some cookies."

"Save it," Meagan told him. "You had enough pizza at the station. You need no more."

We all sat back and relaxed in comfortable silence for a while, waiting for Nudge and Angel to return. They did in about ten minutes. And, actually, they didn't so much return as crash through the sliding door, nearly shattering the pane. And it was made of Plexiglas.

"Oh my gosh!" Nudge exclaimed, waving a magazine issue above her head. "This is so funny! Guess who's covering for the latest issue of TIME magazine!"

"I don't know, who?" Iggy asked, opening one of his eyes. Meagan had been leaning her head on his shoulder, and he had been leaning his head on her head.

"Strawberry Girl!" Nudge squealed. "And she looks so cute!"

Fang stood and snatched the magazine out of Nudge's hand, examining the cover closely.

"Really, I have to admit, that is one sexy five-year-old," he said, shaking his head in amazement. I snatched the issue from him.

"Shut it, you freaking pervert," I hissed. "That's such a gross thing to say." I turned my eyes to the cover. There was Strawberry Girl, wearing what appeared to be one of those stereotypical found-in-manga Japanese schoolgirl uniforms. She had on a pleated miniskirt that, really, was more of a mini-miniskirt. Her top was short-sleeved with the buttons opened, one sleeve slipping down, revealing her bare shoulder. She held, cupped in her hands, a large, red strawberry.

"Hey, give it back!" Nudge objected, taking the magazine back from me. "If you all are really so interested, I can read you the article. If you want."

"Go on, Nudge. I want to hear more about this little girl that's giving Max a run for her boyfriend."

"Not true!" Fang gasped.

"Okay!" Nudge interrupted, clearing her throat and opening the magazine, rifling through the pages and taking a seat with Angel and Gazzy. "So, here it goes. 'America's Real-Life Strawberry Shortcake. Strawberry Girl is a hot topic among many modern researchers and artists, photographers and even heads of office. Over the past few years this hot sensation has practically vanished from the news. However, recently a brand new stash of photographs that had previously not been in circulation was discovered. This has given rise to a brand new surge of discussion.'" Nudge paused and took a breath. "Whoa, this is sort of cool, isn't it? I mean, we only just heard about this girl a couple days ago, and now it's in this famous magazine!"

"Yeah, way cool," Gazzy said. "Get on with it!"

Iggy shrugged. "Whatever. I'm gonna take a nap, 'kay?" Meagan nodded at him.

"Sleep all you want, Ig," she said.

Nudge shook her head. "Your loss, this is totally interesting! Anyway, ahem… okay…'For those who do not know, Strawberry Girl is the name given to a young girl, the subject of a collection of famous photographs. But are these photographs art-borderline-porn, or porn-borderline-art? For many, it's hard to tell. These photographs are of a young girl in situations and poses distinctly inappropriate in various ways. However, there is a certain emotion in these photos that create a sense of beauty, rather than just horny men. But what is the true nature of these photos? Are they for porn, or for art? Or for both? After all, people can argue that porn is just a form of visually arousing and artistic nudity. Strawberry Girl brings up a long list of controversial topics that many researchers have been arguing about for years. Firstly: should photography involving a young, nameless girl really be sold for porn? A number of the original photographs has been purchased and sold on the Black Market, but as of yet the law enforcement has done nothing to stop it. People have pondered the fact that the heads of law may, in fact, be engaged in the purchasing and selling of these photos as well.

"'However, a large number of these photos hang in art museums across the country, and even in foreign nations such as Mexico, Europe, and Canada. No one knows just how these photos reached fame. After all, the subject and photographer remain unknown. It could be the beauty contained in these photos – or, it could be the beauty in the subject herself. Strawberry Girl, a nameless 'Jane Doe', is thought to be around seven or eight years old by multiple researches who have studied the collection. Long and glossy red hair, stunningly blue eyes, glossed lips and long, thick eyelashes layered with the perfect amount of mascara. Eye-shadow and blush are often commonly seen coating her soft young face. In more ways than one, Strawberry Girl is the 'perfect' girl… and at only eight years old! In her photos she is often seen wearing a skimpy blue garment of some sort, or nothing at all. She still retains some modesty, however, as the most that has been showed is her chest. Of course, these photos are, unarguably, child pornography, but is the person behind this photos really going to be punished? What with all the publicity, besides the fact that the pictures are hanging on the walls of well-known and famous art museums, it is quite doubtful. Police, however, remain searching for this mysterious, and quite famous, child.'"

Nudge finished the article, and we were all silent for a long moment. Then, Iggy let out a loud snore that sounded rather like he was very congested.

We all looked at each other, and then burst out laughing.

Iggy jumped and opened his eyes a bit, speaking in a slurred voice.

"What happened?" he asked. Meagan giggled and reached up to smooth down his hair.

"Nothing, Iggy. Go back to sleep."

Iggy did so without further ado.

"Well, that was pretty interesting," Fang spoke, after the train compartment was once again filled with Iggy's slow, calm breathing. "That Strawberry Girl really is a character, eh? I wonder what's gonna happen with all those pictures."

"I dunno," I said, poking Iggy in the side of the head. He didn't stir. Light sleeper that boy is not. "But who cares?" I thought a moment. "I wonder what Iggy's baby is gonna look like. Do you think it will have red hair, like him?"

"Probably," Nudge said. "I mean, red hair is, like, a recessive trait, right? And so is blond hair, and Anne's blond. So red mixed with blond gets red. I think."

"It'll have blue eyes, too," Angel spoke up. "Because they both have blue eyes."

"Do you think he'll be a pyro, like Ig and me?" Gazzy asked eagerly.

"Maybe," Meagan said. "And you still don't know if it's be a boy for sure, Gaz."

"But it will, 'cause Iggy's a boy!" Gazzy insisted, and I shook my head and sighed.

"Let's not get into that conversation again," I said resignedly. "It's much too complicated for you to grasp."

Gazzy pouted and crossed his arms.

"Hey," Fang suddenly said. "I just realized something!"

"What is it?" Nudge asked. Iggy moved a bit in his sleep.

"I," Fang began, pausing for dramatic effect, "Am going to be an uncle!"

We all stared at him for a long moment. Nudge's mouth was agape, and Meagan looked startled. I was staring at my boyfriend in utter disbelief.

Then I laughed.

"I can just picture it!" I gasped, grinning broadly. "Uncle Fang! That's what we'll have to call you around the baby! Go to your Uncle Fang, sweetie!"

"So?" Fang objected, crossing his arms. "You'll be Aunt Max." He puckered up his mouth and began to produce a rather unintelligible amount of baby talk. "Iz oo Aunt Maxie's widdle niece? Iz oo? Iz oo?"

Nudge elbowed him, then broke into excited chatter.

"Oh em gee! You'll be Uncle Fang and Aunt Max and I'll totally be, like, a cousin! I'll be a cousin! That is sooo cool!"

"And I'll be Uncle Gazzy!" the Gasman exclaimed. "Uncle Gazzy!"

"That sounds a bit off," I told him. "Why not cousin, like Nudge?"

Gazzy shook his head firmly, though.

"No, I'm an uncle, like Fang."

"But Gazzy!" Angel complained. "That would make me an Aunt, too! I want to be a big sister!"

Gazzy stared at her. "Big sister?" He asked in disbelief. "But you're not Iggy's kid."

"He's my daddy!" Angel protested. "Maybe he's your best friend, but he's my daddy! So I'm the big sister!"

"What about me?" Meagan asked, and we all turned to look at her. She blushed. "I just… don't think I'm ready to be a mommy."

"Then… you could be the close personal friend," Fang said, chortling. "Or the step-mom. Huh? How's that sound?"

Meagan rolled her eyes and put her hand on top of Iggy's, which was resting on the comfy cushioned seat beside her.

"Whatever," she said. "It's not like I care."

Fang laughed and leaned his head back against the compartment wall, closing his eyes.

"Uncle Fang," he said. "Sounds weird, but I could get used to it."

Thank you guys so much for the long wait! I'm sorry about it. But, also, with finals week coming up, I'll have far less time to write. Please forgive me!

Review? It makes me happy!

25. Because He's Blind

Hiya. Well, I didn't think I'd be able to start writing until, like, a while… but here I am. Well, without further ado, a chapter that is NOT a filler! There you go, pandorad24, now you're happy, right?


Iggy had been asleep for a long while. He was a cutie when he slept, he really was… except for maybe now, since he was sleeping sitting up, and therefore his mouth was ajar. He was drooling.

Huh. Who knew a sixteen-year-old bird-boy could actually look like a cutie while he drooled?

"Max," Gazzy whined. "Please? Please? Please?"

The kid had been begging for the past twenty minutes for me to allow him to explore the train. He was utterly convinced that there would be an arcade somewhere along it, although I steadfastly continued to tell him that, no, there was most likely not an arcade on the train. Sigh. Gasser just wouldn't listen to reason. Like with him thinking the baby would be a boy… I mean, hey, it's fifty-fifty, but still.

"Ugh!" Fang exclaimed, exasperated by the consistent complaining. "Okay! I'll take you! That's fine, right, Max?"

Fang turned to look at me with such an expression of pleading that I couldn't deny it. I mean, what choice did I have? Fang would be with him, and besides, I didn't want to sit through any more of that whining either.

"Okay," I relinquished. "Explore the train. Take Nudge and Angel with you. Meagan? You wanna go?"

"Nah," she said, waving them off. "I'll stay and look after my drooling boyfriend."

Fang muffled a laugh with his hand and stood, stretching.

"Right then. Off we go, kiddos. And Nudge."

"Gee, I hope we find the arcade super fast!" Gazzy cheered, jumping up and following Fang out the door so close that his face was almost in Fang's butt. You know, if Fang had been a little taller, or Gazzy a little shorter. As it was, the tip of Gazzy's nose was digging into Fang's lower back. I'm not quite sure he enjoyed the sensation. Fang, that is.

"Yeah, that would be pretty cool if there was actually an arcade!" Nudge agreed. "Although…"

"Don't jinx us!" Angel said, smiling, and following close behind. A minute later, the sliding door to the apartment had shut, and my flock's voices were disappearing down the little hall.

I leaned back and closed my eyes, trying to fall asleep like Iggy, and failing.

"Hmm…" Meagan said after a while, and I opened my eyes lazily.

"Yeah?" I answered.

"It's just… Nudge has hair-thingies in her pack, right? Like, hair-ties and barrettes and stuff?

I shrugged. "I guess so."

"Well… I was just sitting here and thinking… Iggy's hair's gotten awfully long, and it's all in his eyes… maybe we could help him out a bit."

I turned and looked across Iggy at my clone, only to see my own trademark devious grin stretching across her face. An identical expression spread across mine.

"That's quite a good idea."

Five minutes later, we had dumped a pile of brightly-colored hair-ties and barrettes into Iggy's lap, and I was brushing his hair with a plastic pink one of Nudge's. Iggy's hair was silky and barely tangled, though – I honestly don't know how he does it. He takes showers so much less than the rest of us, and I doubt he uses shampoo. I guess it's just a modern miracle or something.

"So," Meagan said, trying to start up a conversation. "Um… what's up?"

I looked at her with a raised eyebrow, putting down the pink brush and starting to gather half of Iggy's hair into a pigtail.

"Honestly?" I asked. "Honestly?"

Meagan blushed.

"I guess," she replied meekly.

I turned back to my complicated work and thought for a moment. There really was such a terrible lot 'up'.

"Well…" I started softly. "It's freaky, you know? I mean, it was only a few weeks ago that I even learned about all this terrible stuff that went on in Iggy's past. With his… dad and everything. And now, all of a sudden he's got to take care of a baby. I mean," I said hurriedly, because I'd just seen Meagan open her mouth to object, "I know we'll all be helping him and everything. But… I guess it seems selfish to say it, but this is all too fast. It's gonna be so hard. I mean, he's only fourt – I mean sixteen. And the flock doesn't need a baby. It's going to change everything."

Meagan nodded thoughtfully as she pulled up Iggy's hair into a pigtail on her side. She had a pink hair-tie clutched between her teeth, and she took it out to tie up his hair. Iggy stirred a bit, but didn't wake, of course.

"I know what you mean," she said. "But, you know, I'm not sure it's going to change anything. If anything, I bet it will make it happier." She saw my disbelieving expression and smiled. "I mean, a baby. Someone that cute and innocent who needs to be taken care of is only going to bring us all together. I mean, look at me. I wasn't a part of the flock until just a little while ago. But it really hasn't changed the flock at all, has it? You're all still happy around each other, and from what I heard Fang was quiet a lot, but now he's a right chatter-box. You know?"

I drew my hands away from Iggy's hair to admire my handiwork. The pigtail I'd done was sloppy, with stray hairs sticking out and his bangs still hanging in his eyes. I took two clips from the pile on Iggy's lap, one with a flower pattern, and one with a heart pattern, and used them to pin Iggy's bangs behind his ear. Meagan did the same with a large heart-shaped clip on the other side.

"You're right," I said. "I guess I'm just over-thinking it."

The hair on the back of Iggy's neck was too short to fit into the pigtails we'd done, so I tried to pin them up with some skinny bobby-pins I'd found in the pile. But when I lifted his strawberry-blond hair, I noticed scars.

I couldn't really see what they were – at the angle I was at, they looked like a blob of skinny, scarry lines – but they looked purposeful. I skimmed my finger over them, and Iggy's expression changed as he let out a small whimper. Meagan looked curiously at what I was doing, but I put the hair back down over Iggy's neck and put the bobby-pins away. I wasn't going to pry. When Iggy wanted to tell me, he'd tell me.

Meagan and I both pulled away to look at our handiwork. Iggy's hair was now in two sloppy pigtails, sticking out just below each ear, and his bangs were pinned back with a colorful array of pink, purple and yellow barrettes. We grinned.

"One last thing," I said, and turned to rummage about in my pack. I emerged a moment later with my black sharpie… the same one I'd used oh-so-long ago to play connect-the-dots on Iggy's stomach in the helicopter as we'd flown back from the School.

I pulled the cap off the marker and leaned close to Iggy, narrowing my eyes and putting my tongue between my teeth as I drew a small heart at the corner of his right eye – the one with the scar from when he'd slit his lid.

"There!" I finished with a flourish, capping the marker once again. Meagan laughed and clapped.

"Oh!" she said, wiping a tear of mirth from her eye. "Oh, gosh! What a dummy." Then, she smiled fondly and tucked one of Iggy's stray hairs behind his ear. "He's a dope, but I love him anyway."

Then, I felt the urge. To ask a question, one that had been wriggling at the back of my mind for some time.

"Um… Meagan?" I asked. "Why did you fall in love with Iggy?"

I sort of expected her to brush off my question, or answer with a joke of some kind. But instead, she pondered it thoughtfully.

"I think," she started, "that the more accurate question is… Why didn't you fall in love with him?"

I stared at her, mouth agape for a moment.

"Why is that the more accurate question?" I asked breathlessly.

"Well," Meagan began, "It's just… I mean, I love him… and Nudge loves him… and it looked like Ella had a crush on him for a while there… so, really, the only girl of age who doesn't love him, like, romantically, is you. So it's weirder for you to not be in love with him."

I realized, with a start, that Meagan was totally right. Nudge had confessed her love a little while ago, and I guess Ella had sort of followed him around like a little lovesick puppy for a while. That is, before she heard about his past.

Was Ella really that shallow..?

"But, I think I know why," Meagan continued, interrupting my reverie. "Why you're not in love with him, that is."

"Oh, yeah?" said, feeling a bit dazed. "Why is that?"

"Well, see, it's because he's blind," she said. I stared at her, dumbfounded.

"I'm not like that!" I objected. "I wouldn't not like him just because he's blind!"

"Well, that's not what I meant," Meagan said hastily. "I mean, it's sort of true… you don't like him because he's blind. But it's more than that." She looked at my confused expression and sighed. "What I mean is," she said, "He went blind when you guys were little, right? So, ever since you were five, you've had to pretty much teach him everything, you know? You really had to act like his older sister. So, you felt like it. It's like how Fang helped to, so he feels like Iggy's older brother. But, see, Gazzy and Nudge and Angel are younger than Iggy. They didn't have to help him do stuff. So all they saw was a kid who was nice and stuff, helping them out. I mean, Angel feels like Iggy is her daddy, right? It's because he raised her. It's the same with Gazzy, feeling like Iggs is his best friend. You raised Iggy, so when you look at him, you see a little brother, not a boy."

"I guess," I said. To tell the truth, I could sort of see what she was getting at. And it was totally true. Of course I'd wondered before now why I hadn't fallen in love with Iggy – ever since I'd found out he was in love with me, in fact – but it had never occurred to me that it could possibly be because he was blind. But Meagan was right.

"I mean," Meagan said, laughing slightly. "Look at him. He's gorgeous, he's beautiful, he's handsome, he's cute, he's hot, whatever you want to say. He's kind and nice, and he's generous and selfless. He's not sexist, either. Pretty much, he's your ideal boy, if you think about it."

And I did think about it. Meagan was right, of course – Iggy's gorgeous, hot, whatever else she said. And he's incredibly kind and selfless. But, I guess I did sort of think of him as my little brother… all I could think about that was that I was proud, in a sisterly way.

And it could very well be because Iggy was blind.

It didn't take much time of me pondering this new revelation for Fang to return with Angel, Gazzy and Nudge. Gazzy was pouting because the train did not, indeed, have an arcade. Nudge and Angel were just glad to have stretched their legs a bit, and Fang looked relieved that there hadn't been any whining for a while.

"What'd you two do to Ig while we were gone?" he said, eyeing Iggy's new hairdo pointedly and flopping on the bench across from me. "Torture him?"

"Just a little," Meagan replied airily.

Ooh. Have any of you ever watched the musical 'Chicago'? You can find it on Netflix instant queue. It's amazing! I wrote this whole chapter while listening to the songs on YouTube. My particular favorites are 'When You're Good to Mama', 'Cell Block Tango' and 'We Both Reached for the Gun'. Please watch it!

Review, perhaps? It will make me happy. And you want me to be happy. Or it's possible I won't update…

26. Betraying

Hiya readers! I know you missed me, and I'm sorry for the long gap of no-new-chapters-ness. Thing is, I swore off fanfiction until I was done with my finals. I ended up getting all B's… -sigh-. Oh well. I still got all A's for my semester grades, so it's not so bad…

Anyway, so, finals are over, school's over, and now I can write! Get ready for a smacking great new chapter!


Iggy slept for a long time. Like, a super long time. We all ended up eating cookies and celery for dinner because the pizza from the Pizza Hut gave us indigestion, and Iggy didn't even wake up from the smell of the chocolate chips! He did end up waking up for a few moments while we were getting ready to go to sleep, pulling out the beds and stuff.

"Iggy, we're going to sleep now," I whispered. "Want to get into your bed?"

"Huh?" Iggy answered, voice slurred. "Yeah, okay." He clambered onto the pullout cot and fell asleep a second later. He hadn't even notice the hairdo we had given him.

Gosh, he was tired. My brows creased. Hadn't he gotten the same amount of sleep as the rest of us? I mean, I was totally fine. Maybe a bit worn, but that was normal with a life like ours. Did he maybe have insomnia, or something? Because, like I had noticed earlier with his bloodshot eyes, he really needed to get some sleep.

The rest of the train ride went splendidly. We slept that night in relative comfort, you know, considering that all of us but Iggy were sharing beds. I woke up fairly early when Fang gave a loud snore and I was so startled I rolled over, falling out of the bed and landing on the floor. But, whatever.

I walked alone down the train and to what appeared to be a bar, where I thereby ordered us all breakfast of bacon and buttered toast. The flock enjoyed it immensely, and Iggy was the last awake.

We spent the day laughing and chatting about nothing in particular. It was going very well. We even concocted a plan to get Anne out of the School: we'd ask Iggy where Anne was, and once we knew, we'd fly up to the window or wherever (we were seriously hoping she wasn't being kept in a basement room or anything) and Iggy and Gazzy would use a bomb to get into the room. Then we'd get Anne and fly away.

Brilliant, right?

Except for, when, thirty minutes from our final destination, the train slowed to a screeching stop and the lights all went black.

"What was that?" Nudge asked, sounding a bit frightened. "Why did we stop so suddenly?"

"I don't know," I answered. "Maybe… we blew a tire?"

"Trains don't have tires," Fang reminded me. I of course had already known that. Sometimes it's just difficult to think up reasonable solutions when you're scared silly that a bunch of Erasers are about to attack you. You know the feeling, right?

Suddenly, the whole train shook, and we heard a noise towards the front of the train. Iggy winced and put a hand to his head, and his face went blank for a moment before he shook his head and his expression turned to concern.

"What do you think it is?" he asked. "Erasers?"

"I dunno," I replied. "But I think we better split. Up, that is. Fang, go with Iggy. Nudge, take Meagan. I've got Gazzy and Angel. Come on, guys. Split up, go to different cars of the train, act normal. First second you get, jump out a window or something. Okay?"

"Got it," Iggy said, nodding. "Fang and I'll go to the back of the train, okay?"

"Okay. Come on, guys, move it!" I screamed, just as a second small explosion shook the train.

I took Gazzy's and Angel's hands and darted swiftly out of the compartment, turning and racing down the aisle and through the sliding doors into another car. People were standing in the aisles and looking around, chattering confusedly, frightened, but we raced straight past them.

We ran through the cars, Gazzy and Angel tripping slightly in my wake, tiny hands clasped tightly in mine. Of course, I thought angrily, It's all a trap. We knew that. We just didn't know it would be like this.

"Come on!" I shouted at the two kids behind me. I crashed in-between two people who were standing next to each other and conversing in the aisle. Angel and Gazzy looked completely wiped already, and I wondered why, suddenly noticing that I myself was feeling very tired. How? Had there been drugs in our food? That was an awful thought…

"Max!" Angel shouted to me. "Max, behind us!"

I looked back quickly to notice two tall, model-y looking men in black clothes and sunglasses running after us. Oh god. Erasers.

"We're gonna make it," I muttered to myself. "We're gonna get through this."

Then, to the children I shouted "Duck into the last compartment on the car! We'll lock the door behind us and open the window, then we'll fly out. If we get separated, just make it to the nearest trees and stay out of sight."

When we reached it, I crashed open the sliding compartment door and shoved the kids into it in front of me, ducking inside a moment later. There were two people already inside it, staring at us with wide eyes, and I glared at them, putting my hand under my jacket, pretending to hold a gun.

"Get out of here if you know what's good for you," I growled, and they darted out, squealing. I shut the door behind them.

Not wasting a moment, I struggled to open the window. What do you know?

It was stuck.

"Look for something to break it!" I hissed through my teeth, and Angel and Gazzy frantically began searching for something, anything, with which to break the glass.

It was no use.

After a second of hopeless searching, two fully-morphed Erasers smashed the glass sliding door and stood there, snarling at us.

"Surrender or fight," they snarled. Did we really have much choice? In cramped quarters like this compartment, we were at a real disadvantage. Especially to the guns the great monsters were pointing at us.

"We… surrender," I muttered softly, holding my hands over my head. Gazzy and Angel gave me shocked looks, and my eyes prickled as they watered a bit. It was all for nothing, wasn't it? We'd been deluding ourselves, stupid enough to think we'd make it through this without capture. Not with an adversary like the School. Not with an adversary like Professor Jordan.

One of the Erasers held his gun steady while the other moved between each of us, handcuffing us roughly. Then the two of them led us out of the compartment, guns pointed at our back to be sure we didn't try to run.

The civilians on the train were staring at us oddly, whispering to each other.

"Are they criminals?" I heard a woman mutter to her friend. "To think we were on the train with criminals…"

I looked back slightly to see that the Erasers were back in human form, looking grim and flashing police badges at the passengers. I grimaced. Hadn't they noticed two wolf-like monsters break into our compartment?

The Erasers led us back through the long train through many cars until we reached the front of the train, where we had heard the explosions earlier. There was a smoking hole in the conductor's car, which was how the Erasers had got in.

Also handcuffed and guarded by some more Erasers were Nudge and Meagan, Nudge with a small cut on her arm and Meagan with a darkening black eye, both looking beaten.

"Hey," Nudge said softly. I looked quickly around the car. We were completely surrounded by Erasers, all holding guns and all fully morphed.

But then, I noticed that Fang and Iggy weren't here. I grinned. If those two hadn't been captured, they'd get us for sure.

An Eraser put his clawed hand on my shoulder and I shrugged him off.

"Sorry," I told him. "I don't want to catch something gross." The Eraser snarled at me. I grinned back.

"Shut up," another Eraser said, gesturing towards me with his gun.

"Please take me to your leader," I said instead. "I want to talk to the man in charge."

I glared around at the Erasers, giving them a death-glare worthy of the United States president. They shifted their weight from foot to foot, looking nervously amongst themselves, fur ruffled and fangs glinting.

"That shouldn't be much of a problem, Maximum Ride," Professor Jordan said from behind me, and with a burning hatred growing in my chest, I turned to see him emerge from amongst the monstrous Erasers. "How are you? How is Subject 9? Well, I hope?"

"Yeah right," I scoffed at him, staring at the man with hatred. This was the man who had completely ruined Iggy's life. This was the sicko who had tortured his own son… in numerous ways. "Like you care how we're doing."

"You're quite right, I don't," he agreed, brushing off my death-glare breezily. "But now that I have all of you, trapped, I don't need to keep up my façade. You're not escaping."

I bared my teeth at him and Nudge rolled her eyes. Typical Max, she was probably thinking.

"Whatever you say, bozo. But I'll have you know that I don't see Fang or Iggy in handcuffs. How're you gonna keep us here if you've got our two best fighters still on the loose?"

Professor Jordan grinned then, in a way that was completely unsettling. I shivered. His eyes were like ice.

"Oh, I wouldn't say they were on the loose," he said, and he motioned to two Erasers by the entrance to the train car, who stepped aside. And in from the other car, carrying an unconscious Fang over his shoulder, was Iggy.

"Iggy, run!" I screamed at him, but Iggy just gave me a weird expression that I couldn't quite place.

Professor Jordan grinned terribly and walked leisurely over to Iggy.

"You may put him down now," he told him confidently, and Iggy shrugged Fang from over his shoulder, laying him on the floor. My eyes flickered to Fang's face for a moment. It was slack, unconscious, and there was a bloody bump rising on his forehead.

"Iggy, you can still… run..?" I started, only to see Professor Jordan put his large hand on Iggy's shoulder.

And Iggy didn't flinch. He didn't freeze. He didn't look terrified.

He threw me an apologetic look.

"I'm sorry, Max," he said, sounding guilty and sad. "I'm sorry. He… he said he wouldn't hurt me. He said he'd let me stay with the baby. I… I couldn't say no."

Then, while I was still staring at my brother in disbelief, an Eraser crashed something heavy onto the back of my head, and I blacked out along with the rest of my flock.

The rest of them, except for Iggy.

Eep. I don't feel like a long Author's Note.

Love you all.

27. Wrong Time

Hey. I apologize for the bad news, guys, but unfortunately I won't be able to update for three weeks, due to the fact that I'll be going on an out-of-country vacation to France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. You might want to be happy for me, or you might want to sob that you'll probably go a whole month without an update.

Fang POV

When I woke up, I was in a cage. A stupid, disgusting, cold, humiliating metal cage. I was freezing, there were indents on my face because I had apparently been sleeping with it pressed up against the bars, and I suddenly realized that I was wearing my old School uniform – you know, the gray, burlap dress-thingy? Yeah. That.

Now, of course I remembered that this was not the most flattering of clothes… but that was when I was ten and younger. I of course now looked less like a skinny little long-and-grimy-haired girl and more like a well-developed man. Or, at least a well-developed male teen. You know? I had finally gotten over my whole I'm-not-cutting-my-hair-ever phase and had a nice, sexy hair-cut and nice, sexy abs and biceps and a deep male voice, and now I had to go back to wearing a freaking knee-length dress.

Gosh, isn't life just fantabulous?

I cracked my eyes open and winced, lifting my hand to feel the large and rather painful bump on my forehead where Iggy had hit me.

I looked around the dingy cage-filled room to see Nudge in a large cage directly opposite me, next to Gazzy and Meagan. On either side of me were Angel and Max. Nudge was wide awake, and she gave me a half-smile. Her knees were drawn up to her chest, and she looked like she had been awake for hours, twiddling her thumbs, or something of the same sort.

I looked over Meagan, Angel, Gazzy and Max, trying to see if any of them were showing any signs of waking. Angel was wincing and shifting a bit, but she looked like it would take a while yet. Max's eyelids were fluttering, but she also looked like it would take a while for her to wake.

"How long have you been awake, Nudge?" I hissed across the room. She raised an eyebrow at me and smirked.

"The whole time, actually," she replied. "The Eraser tried to knock me out, but he didn't hit me quite hard enough. Probably thought he didn't need to hit that hard, since I'm short and all. But I faked unconscious."

I looked around the room, my eyes darting quickly. Nudge had spoken quite loudly…

"Ssh! Don't speak to loudly!" I whispered. Nudge rolled her eyes at me.

"Honestly, do I look dumb? There's no microphone in here, just cameras." She nodded up to the corner of the room, where I looked to see a camera that was surveying the scene with its one cold, mechanical eye. "Don't worry, I made sure. I was shouting a bunch of insulting things earlier, all about how…" she paused and raised her voice until she was almost shouting, "Professor Jordan is an ugly stupid piggy jerk-head!"

I snorted with mirth and shifted, trying to find a more comfortable area of hard, unforgiving, bitingly cold metal. Nudge laughed too.

"I like your outfit," she said with an unconvincingly straight face. "Totally sexy and all. I especially like the clear view of your tighty-whiteys."

I blushed and pulled the stupid item of clothing down as far as it would go – about an inch below my knees – and tried to sit a position that I'd seen Nudge use while wearing short skirts while still maintaining my masculinity. It was pretty difficult. I'm not quite sure I managed sufficiently.

Nudge continued to giggle, and I managed a laugh as well, before a quite important question arose.

"Um, Nudge," I started. "So, Iggy..?"

Nudge furrowed her brows and shook her head.

"I overheard some stuff while I was pretending to be unconscious. But the whole time, Professor Jordan just kept calling Iggy 'Subject 9' and everything. And it was definitely the real Iggy, right?"

I nodded in a rather upset way. I didn't exactly want to admit that the real Iggy had been the one to hit me over the head with someone's suitcase, but it's not like I'd taken my eyes off of him whole time we'd been running from the Erasers, not even when he'd hit me.

"Yeah, it was really Iggy." Then, something occurred to me. "Hey!" I said, "Hey! Do you think maybe it was like when he, uh, hung himself in his sleep? Like, he couldn't control it, or something?"

Nudge nodded, looking thoughtful. "Yeah, that's possible. I guess." Then she sighed. "I just want to know…"

"Know what?" I asked. I had suddenly become distracted, noticing that the way Max was flopped unconsciously on the floor of her cage gave me a great view up her dress. Suddenly, I wasn't resenting the School uniforms quite so much… "Know why Iggy decided to hit me upside the head with a bloody-heavy suitcase?"

"Fang!" Nudge chided, shooting me a look, drawing my eyes away from Max's delightful underwear.

"What? I wasn't looking at Max's..!"

Nudge raised an eyebrow and I immediately went quiet.

"Are you angry at him?" she asked quietly. "You don't… hate him now, do you? I mean, he didn't…"

"Of course not!" I objected. "Why would I be angry. I mean," I said hurriedly, "I mean, I guess he did sort of, you know, hit me over the head. But I know he wouldn't do something like that without a reason."

"Yeah… before they all knocked the rest of them out, you know, while you were passed-out on the floor, Iggy said…" she paused and took a second to remember. "He said, something like, 'sorry, he told me I could keep the baby, and that he wouldn't hurt me'. Referring, of course, to Professor Jordan."

"So, he did it so Professor Jordan wouldn't hurt him and stuff?" I shrugged. "That's reasonable. I don't want Iggy hurt any more than he does."

"Gosh, Fang!" Nudge objected, and I shot her a confused glance. She was mad at me for understanding? Or… she understood, right? Maybe it was because I didn't understand…

"What?" I asked. "What? I'm not mad at him or anything, and if he doesn't get hurt or anything, I'm happy, we're all happy, right?"

"No, don't you get it?" she asked, looking around as if for some fragment of sense that I was obviously lacking. "Iggy gave up his childhood just to keep all of us safe. Like he would honestly just turn over and work for Professor Jordan so he wouldn't get hurt? No, there's something far bigger at work here."

"You mean… like, maybe Professor Jordan is controlling him, like with Iggy almost hanging himself? Or… maybe he's threatening us if Iggy doesn't do what he wants him to?"

"Yeah," Nudge said. "Or maybe both."

"Both? But how…"

"Ugh…" Max muttered, and I turned back to her to see her rubbing the back of her head and sitting up. Drat, there went my perfect view…

"You okay?" I asked. "Head hurt much?"

"Bleh," Max muttered. "A bit more than 'much.' That Eraser had a heavy hitting-arm."

"Max?" Angel muttered. "Where are we… oh, right."

"Yeah, sweetheart," Max said. "Where else?"

I looked to Meagan and Gazzy, who still appeared to be deep under. "Are they okay?" I asked Nudge. "They've been out a long time, right?"

"Not much longer than you guys," Nudge grinned. "You've been asleep for eight hours, what's a few more minutes?"

"Eight hours?" Max asked, disbelieving.

"Give or take," Nudge shrugged. "I don't have a clock."

We spent the next few minutes with Nudge filling Angel and Max in to our little discussion while I stared dreamily at Max's face. I wondered if any other people had ever noticed just how adorably attractive the length of her eyelashes were… or how her lips were perfect for making out…

Great. Of all the times and places to choose to be super hormone-y, I chose here and now.

"Would the rest of you not look at us if Max and I started kissing through the bars of our cages?" I asked, slightly slack-jawed. Then I blinked. "Oh, wait… did I just say that out loud?"

"Wow, Fang," Max said, giving me an odd look. "That's all I can say. Wow. Of all the times and places…"

"Oh, I know," I said, waving her off. "We already went over that."

Oops. More crazy-talk. I've gotta try to tone that down.

Although it could be hard, you know, during a hormone spell.

"Well, so, we don't have any idea what's going on with Iggy," Max said, changing the subject. "But whatever it is, we've got to support him, alright? Like, if he's being controlled or anything, try to get through to him… and if he's doing it to protect us, we'll just have to…"

She froze and went silent as we heard a noise from the closed door. I turned towards it as well, bracing myself for a freaky scientist, or a couple of burly Erasers.

Instead, it was Professor Jordan, tailed by an Iggy who was avoiding eye-contact with us.

"Why, hello Maximum Ride. And friends." Professor Jordan sneered evilly, his vicious, beady eyes scanning us with a fervor I found frightening.

"Hi, big-breath," I hissed. "What've you done with Iggy?"

Nudge nodded, and Max sat back, for once not having to come up with a snarky retort.

"Why, absolutely nothing," Professor Jordan said. "Subject 9 has just seen the light. Isn't that right?" He turned to Iggy and gestured him forward.

"Iggy, you don't have to listen to him," Max said softly. "We can protect ourselves. You don't have to hurt yourself just to protect us, we promise."

Iggy looked straight at me, seeming to be guilty, remorseful.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I just… He's telling the truth. I just can't deal with it anymore. I'm so sorry, guys, I just can't."

"Now, Subject 9, I didn't want you getting all touchy. Just get what we came for."

"Okay," Iggy said softly.

Then he walked forward, Professor Jordan guiding him to Meagan's cage, and unlocked it, lifting her out. Then he hoisted her bridal style and followed Professor Jordan out of the room, sending us a sad look over his shoulder.

Sorry about the other cliffy… but just think! In a month when I update again, you'll be so full of anticipation!

Love you guys!

28. Killing

Phew. So, vacation has been going so freaking spectacularly. Basically, I started getting homesick after the first four days. I've been missing my friends so much, I'm practically freaking out! I just can't wait to get back home. Especially since there's no internet connection! It's awful! I can't check my email or read fanfiction! Luckily, though, my dad's laptop Microsoft Word works just fine. I'm fairly sure I'll have at least two oneshots ready to post by the time I get home, so please, keep an eye out!


I enjoyed the feeling of the girl in my arms as I walked down the hallway following Professor Jordan. She was warm, and soft, and solid, and I could feel her heart beating against my chest, and feel her breathing, and it was absolutely wonderful. I had never before in my life held another living being before. It was new, and it was amazing.

Meagan moved slightly, and I felt a tingle shoot down my spine. I was actually holding someone! A real live person! The warmth from her skin completely soothed me, as if while holding her, I had absolutely nothing to be afraid of; nothing could hurt me. I was protected by her life. She was so incredibly alive.

"You're a decent actor, J," Professor Jordan said, and from the muffled tone of his voice I could tell he hadn't even turned his head back towards me. He didn't care enough to exert extra energy just to look at me. Well, I assumed he didn't want to, actually. He claimed that the sight of Iggy grossed him out, and, after all, I was in Iggy's body.

"It's such a disappointment," Professor Jordan would say, "Such a waste of expensive potential. It's only use is almost over. I'll be happy when it's finally dead and gone." I would roll my eyes – well, Iggy's eyes – when he wasn't looking, knowing that Iggy's potential had not been wasted, since everything he had been created to do had indeed been accomplished. And more. If that wasn't a fulfillment of potential, what was? The sudden development of the ability to erase pollution, or the power to feed all of the world's hungry? Professor Jordan didn't care about that stuff, anyway. All he cared about was ruling the world.

"I'm glad you think so," I answered him. "After all, if I can't fool them, you're gonna kill me, right?"

I could almost hear him sneer.

"You are so uptight, J. I won't kill you. I'll just delete you. There is rather a difference."

Oh, what a difference. According to him, if I die I'll go to Hell; if I'm deleted, I'll just disappear. Choices, choices.

"Where are we going, again?" I asked, trying to interrupt my own thoughts of what Hell or nothingness would be like.

Professor Jordan's shoes clicked on the tiles as we walked. I imagined that perhaps they were leather – shoes made of some animal's skin that had been illegally poached and was massively expensive. I could imagine him wearing boots made of dolphin skin. I would put nothing past this man.

"Well, you'll be guarding my invalid from now on, as you know. I'm finding it nerve-wracking and annoying to go in there every day to provide her food and company. That will all be your job, now, along with helping me fool Maximum Ride and her pitiful band of winged failures." I nodded matter-of-factly, trying to seem like perhaps I agreed with what he thought about the flock. He didn't believe me. Well, of course he didn't. But he didn't care, because he didn't have to worry about me disobeying him. Not whenever scalding pain bit through my brain any time I tried.

"You know her name, right?" he asked. I would have found it hard to hear him if I wasn't using Iggy's adept ears. Professor Jordan was hardly raising his voice, and he still wasn't facing me as he talked, and the hallways were rather empty and echo-y. Occasionally, a stray scientist would pass us, hardly giving me a look. They had all become accustomed to my presence; I was just Professor Jordan's new tool.

"Whose?" I inquired. "Meagan's?"

I could hear Professor Jordan's leer as he answered. "No, my invalid's."

"Anne," I replied quickly. The pregnant woman. The one who was pregnant with Iggy's baby. The one who had been forced to rape him. The one who would be imprisoned in this hellhole until Professor Jordan killed her.

"That's right. By the way, you'll basically be living with the idiot woman. There's no extra bed for you, though. Find a comfortable space on the floor."

I closed Iggy's eyes so he wouldn't sense me rolling them. I did that quite a lot around him, and he didn't approve of it. He said I shouldn't have such a personality, that I wasn't created to provide sass and back-talk. I was created to be his tool, the way he would bring down the flock from within. That's it.

Of course, this just made me try even harder to get on his nerves.

"Um…" I began, not quite sure how I was going to ask my next question. I hesitated. He never gave me a straight answer when I asked him, so I always had the distinct feeling that he had never planned to, that he had lied about it. "Have you started on my body yet?"

Professor Jordan had promised me that if I completed this whole mission-thingy correctly, he would provide me with my own body, cloned from real DNA, but without its own consciousness so that it would be all mine. Sometimes it was hard being a twenty-seven-year-old techno-organic virus in a sixteen-year-old's body. By this age, most normal guys would have met a girl and gotten married. I was really looking forward to getting my own body and heading out to wreak havoc upon the real world.

I was expecting Professor Jordan to give me a stupid answer like "All in good time" or "Patience won't get you deleted," but to my shock, he actually gave me a nice answer.

"It's nearly done. I've cloned the DNA and am speed-aging the body. It will be the proper age in several months."

I almost jumped with joy – actually, I would have if I hadn't been weighed down by the unconscious Meagan.

"Seriously?" I asked, Iggy's voice cracking. "You're not kidding?"

I couldn't believe it! Soon enough, I would be out of Iggy's body and mind and have my own to walk around and think and run and stuff in. I could meet a gal that wasn't a mutant freak, and fall in love, and actually live! It would be totally awesome!

"I don't 'kid', J," Professor Jordan said, but I was so happy I didn't even care about the tone of his voice (heavy and sour, disapproving and angry).

Then, Meagan shifted in my arms. I tightened my hold around her. I wasn't expecting her to freak or anything, waking up in 'Iggy's' arms, but it may pose some problems if she decided to fight Professor Jordan.

"Uh, she's waking up," I said, now wondering why I even had her in the first place. What was the point in taking her away from the rest of the flock? What were we gonna ado, put her in another simulated dream or something, like she had been for most of her life?

"Oh, that doesn't matter, we're almost there," Professor Jordan said.

"Why do we have her, again?"

Professor Jordan began to speak in a way that gave me the impression that he was trying to keep his cool while thinking that I was utterly stupid.

"You know the only reason she was created, correct?" he said, slowly and deliberately.

"Yeah," I said. "She was created so that if Maximum Ride failed and ended up falling in love with Iggy, she could be replaced by her clone."

"Yes," Professor Jordan said. "But, she ended up falling in love with Subject 9, even though she was supposed to be the foolproof. And since Subject 9 loves her back, there is no point in her existence. She's just existing to make it happy. And we can't have Subject 9 being happy."

I raised an eyebrow. "So… we're taking her away from the flock, so Iggy won't be happy."

Professor Jordan laughed, and I winced. His laugh gave me the same feeling that fingernails scraping down a chalkboard gave other people.


"I didn't take her away just so Subject 9 wouldn't be happy. She has no purpose anymore, no reason to exist. I took her away so that you could kill her."

I froze right there, standing in the middle of the hallway with the girl in my arms.

"Kill her?" I whispered. Meagan shifted again and made a sound into Iggy's shirt.

"Yes. What else?" Professor Jordan asked.

He continued walking down the hallway, not even bothering to look back or slow down or even stop, to wait for me to catch up. I don't think he even wanted me to.

"You know the way to Anne's room, and you know what number it is. I want you to be in my office by seven tomorrow morning. And I want you to kill that girl, in whatever way you see fit."

Then he continued off down the hallway, leaving me standing there, my jaw slack with disbelief, watching after him. Meagan stirred in my arms, waking up.

"Iggy?" she muttered.

And by that same evening… I had killed her.

I'm sorry this isn't a long chapter, even though it's been such a long time since I've updated. But I am posting two oneshots as well, so please think of it as even! Right now the hotel we're staying in has free wireless internet access, so I can actually post. Please review! I love and miss all of you guys!

29. Crushing

Heya, faithful readers. I'd like to inform you that I'm typing this on my brand-new laptop. It's absolutely gorgeous. My last one… kinda… broke? I guess. It's an odd situation. Anyway, this new one is beautiful!

I'm sorry for not updating earlier, but I have an excuse. I was too lazy. Sob. I'M SO SORRY!

Anyway, this chapter is dedicated to my wonderful friend, pandorad24. I hope you get this before you go off to camp!


I walked to Anne's room with my feet dragging along the floor, a leaden feeling in my chest. Well, Iggy's chest. Killing someone was not something I was used to.

Couldn't get the sound of that girl's voice out of my head. Just her voice. I didn't know what she looked like. Just what she sounded like.

Honestly, did Professor Jordan really have to bring me to reality inside the body of a blind, depressed Schizophrenic?

Oh, there I go again, trying to distract myself from my own depressing and rather suicidal thoughts with half-assed sarcasm. There, something I learned from Iggy.

There was another thing. How was I supposed to know which stupid cell was Anne's? It's not like Iggy's eyes could see the numbers on the doors. So, heck, even though I knew by heart the room number – 1035 – it wasn't like I could find it. I figured I was in the right hallway, since I could actually make my way throughout the School since part of my engineering gave me the entire layout of the humongous building. However, though I may know my way throughout the hallways quite well, I had yet to memorize the numbering on these rooms. Because the numbering was extremely screwy in this place.

I didn't really feel like running my hands along every door to figure out what number the cell was, but it turned out I didn't have to. Because I heard screaming.

At least, at first I thought it was screaming. And then, after a second or two, I realized it was more like shouting. More like an angry woman shouting at Professor Jordan about not being able to go outside in months, and how she was really missing a simple breeze, and that for a place so high-tech, the air-conditioning shouldn't break so easily.

I sighed and walked carefully over to the door from which the shouts were coming from, and when running my hand over the numbering, discovered that this room was, in fact, the cell in which Anne was being held.

I placed my hand on the scanning pad, and then remembered that Professor Jordan would never, ever program Iggy's handprint into the scanner, and instead typed the code into the keypad. There was an audible beep, and then I heard the metal door slide open and walked into the cell awkwardly, trying to make out the words Anne was screaming.


Iggy's head.

Anne turned towards me in mid-shout, and suddenly fell silent. I heard her stumble backwards a few steps.

"Uh, hi," I said awkwardly, raising my hand in a half-hearted wave.

"Oh my…" Anne said softly, the tone of her voice giving me the distinct expression that her hand was theatrically over her heart. It was just the kind of thing I would imagine an old-ish woman to do. Although, an old-ish woman couldn't really get pregnant, so I guess she wasn't that old.

Then, Anne approached me with a softness I had never before experienced in my twenty-seven years of existence – I wasn't alive, I just existed – and I almost trembled at the caution and gentleness I could feel her exhibiting. I just knew hardness and cold, directed at me at all angles from Professor Jordan and his lackeys, and from Erasers that hated to see a weakling such as me as Professor Jordan's personal tool. It was such a high position, a real promotion from his 'toy'.

"Ah…" Anne said quietly. "I… I'm really, really sorry."

I stood still for a moment, listening to her approach. She hovered in front of me for a moment, unsure of what to do, and then I felt slender arms wrap around me, and I felt myself being pulled towards her. I stiffened immediately, not used to being touched.

It wasn't a harsh movement, or a violent action. It was something else distinctly kind. I tried to search through the different definitions programmed into my consciousness, and it finally registered. It was a hug. I was being hugged.

I shuddered at the alien sensation, feeling Anne's rather large baby-bump pressing into my stomach, and relishing in the feeling of closeness I had only before ever felt when holding Meagan. And that had been mere hours ago.

Anne was hugging me. Well, Iggy, but…

Oh, yeah. She wasn't hugging me. She didn't know who I was, or, rather, she didn't know that I was here, overtaking Iggy's mind in his own body. She thought I was Iggy. That was why she had apologized, and why she was hugging me.

I didn't want to end the close feeling, but I pulled away as soon as I realized this, not wanting to take advantage of any kindness that was supposed to be directed towards someone else. I hated it, but I did. The loss of human warmth I felt as I pulled away was terrible, but I would survive. I always did.

"I'm J," I finally said after a moment, facing Anne. "I'm a techno-organic virus that has been ingrained into Iggy's mind, with the ability to overtake his consciousness and motor functions. I'm not… Iggy. I'm sorry, he has no knowledge of your apology."

Anne was silent for the longest time, and I thought that perhaps she was staring at me in horror or disgust, which was an unbearable thought, because I would be spending so much time with her in the future. The warm memory of her hug sent shivers down my spine.

But then she spoke, and if she felt disgust or horror, it wasn't audible in her voice.

"Oh," she said, and then was silent. "Oh."

"Um…" I started, making my way further into Anne's cell, stepping around the woman carefully. "I've been told by Professor Jordan to become your, well, guard for the following weeks. I will be staying in this cell with you, and leaving periodically to help Professor Jordan with his experimenting on the flock of Maximum Ride."

"Are you… you're not with him, are you?" she asked, her voice suddenly cold. "You're not actually with that horrible man, are you?"

I thought for a moment about what she said, finding a chair and sitting on it heavily. My legs were shaking from the first hug I had ever experienced.

"I'm… not really with him," I said. "I'm… I'm controlled by him, but I don't really believe in what he's doing."

Anne let out a breath, sounding relieved. "Good. Good. I would hate for… for that poor boy's mind and body to be controlled by someone who actually believed in what Professor Jordan was doing."

There was a rather awkward silence for a moment, and I let my mind wander back into the warmth I had felt while being embraced. But then she spoke again.

"Forgive me for being forward," she said, "But all the time in this awful cell without ever seeing anyone except for Professor Jordan and the doctor has gotten me rather bored. I need something new. Will you tell me about yourself?"

She moved and I heard her sit on her bed.

I loved the way she spoke. It was this slightly old-fashioned way that made me want to laugh, although I thought it was beautiful and wonderful at the same time. It brought to my mind someone like the Queen of England, or someone else relatively as fancy and high-class, and made me almost imagine her to be wearing something royal and heavy and decorated with jewels. I knew, of course, that she was probably wearing something more like a plain dress or a comfortable shirt and maternity pants.

"I… uh… I'm twenty-seven," I said hurriedly, and inwardly cursed myself. Did I really have to specify my age? Twenty-seven was like the age of an immature college boy. I didn't want Anne to think I was immature. She was probably older, and thought I was too young. Too young and naïve. And immature.

"I'm thirty-two," Anne replied, and instantly I realized that, hey, five years wasn't that much of a difference.

My mind drifted to the body that Professor Jordan had promised me, and for the first time ever, I wished that it would be handsome.

"I…" I continued, fishing for something interesting to tell her. "I… I'm called J."

I am an idiot. I already told her that.

"Is that short for anything?" Anne asked. "Like… Jeff?"

Wasn't Jeff the name Iggy had gone by when living with Anne?

"No," I replied. "It's not short for anything. I'm just 'Model J.' See, Professor Jordan tried a bunch of times to get the design right, and named them all different letters of the alphabet. I'm the successful one. The tenth attempt. So, I'm J."

"That's very interesting," Anne said, and I smiled involuntarily. I was interesting.

I couldn't believe it, because I had never before thought that one day, I would actually like a girl. I thought that I would marry one someday, for the security, and for the sex.

But here I was, a twenty-seven-year-old chemically-created non-human, and I was actually trying to impress a woman.

Not just any woman, either. This was a woman who was slated to die the second she gave birth. This was a woman five whole years older than me. Seventeen years older than the body I was in.

And this was the woman who was pregnant with Iggy's child.

Yet I honestly wanted to impress her.

This was this first time in my existence in which I actually agreed that being made without personality or emotions wasn't such a terrible idea.

Ah, yes, short I know. I'm terribly sorry. The problem is that I'm with my friend right now, and I don't want to make her too bored, but I also wanted something for Pandorad to read before leaving, so here it is! Please stay in touch for following chapters! I love all of you guys bunches!

30. The Machine

Okay. I know it's been taking me a while to update, but unfortunately I've been attending camp, plus I have friends. And a life. And I don't mean that in a bad way… I've never actually had a life before this summer! I'm so happy that I have one now! I made friends! Me, social idiot, designated weirdo, has actually made some friends. Popular friends! Sigh, there I am, rambling on.

And I'm sorry I'm taking too long to update. I've hit a spot of writer's block. I will try harder to write more, but it might take a while until the block goes away. So sorry!

Anyway, on to the chapter.


"What are you doing, Max?" Fang asked thickly from his cage next to mine. I glanced towards him.

"Writing poetry," I told him, and he stared at me blankly. Then he cracked a grin.

"Yeah, right."

I scowled at him, and he narrowed his eyes at me, and I decided to end it all by sticking my tongue out and turning away in a huff.

"My own boyfriend doesn't believe me," I muttered, loud enough for him to hear. "I can't believe it. He doesn't think I have the creativity to write poetry." I sniffed theatrically, and I heard Fang shift uncomfortably. I grinned.

"I'm sorry, Max," Fang sighed. "Of course I believe in you, and think you have the creativity to write poetry. But what on Earth are you really doing?"

I rolled my eyes, deciding not to humor him with a straight response. Instead, I sighed and gazed down at the floor of my cage.

"Meagan's gone," I said quietly, almost inaudibly, but of course everyone in the room heard. Angel made a sad noise, and the Gasman grunted. Nudge and Fang were silent. "Meagan's gone, and we have no idea where Iggy is or what happened to him. We're trapped in the School, and we can't get out, because we have to stay to rescue Iggy, Meagan and Anne. But we don't even know how." I paused to listen to my flock's reactions.

Fang reached through the bars of our cages to rest his fingertips on my shoulder. I stiffened under his touch at first, but the relaxed, leaning back and letting him hold me. It wasn't really a hug, seeing as he could barely touch me through the narrowly-spaced bars, but it was comfort enough. Someone that looked exactly like Iggy, someone that was probably the real Iggy, had just walked in with Professor Jordan and taken Meagan away, and she hadn't come back. Furthermore, we didn't know anything about what kind of hold Professor Jordan had over Iggy, so we didn't know how to break it. Everything was falling to pieces, I had no idea where we were, nor any ideas on how to bust out.

I seriously needed the comfort.

"It's okay, Max," Fang murmured into my ear. "It's fine. We're tough as nails, and Iggy is too. And if Meagan has even a fraction of your DNA, she won't let anything bad happen to herself."

I shook my head and smiled weakly.

"Yeah. But the thing is, we don't even know when we're going to be experimented on or anything, or what's going to happen when we do. What if one of us dies, Fang?"

"Max, be quiet. Can you hear yourself?" Nudge asked from the other side of the room. I looked up to see her looking at me with sparkling eyes. "We knew from the start that this was a trap, and we were prepared to be captured. Now you're breaking down, just because Meagan's been gone all night? For all we know, she and Iggy are getting all cozy in a cell together. Just relax. We're all gonna get through this just fine!"

"Yeah, Max," Gazzy agreed, and I looked at him, feeling proud of the determined expression on his face. His best friend had somehow turned on us, and he was staying strong. "It's all okay. Iggy's smart, and he's brave and stuff. He's going to get the baby and bust us all out of here, and we're all gonna fly away into the sunset, like in movies."

"Stop thinking the worst of everything, Max," Angel said sweetly. "Because usually the worst is the very last thing that could happen. At least, it is with us bird-kids. Fourteen years of pain and torture, and we're all still alive, aren't we?"

I smiled at my baby. "It's only been seven years for you, kiddo," I said. "You've got a while to go."

There was a long moment of rather comfortable silence as we all savored the thought that we'd be getting out of here eventually. Then, I decided to speak up.

"Hey, does anyone want to hear my poem?"

Fang stared at me. "You weren't… serious, about that, were you?" he asked, sounding afraid. I grinned.

"Since when have I lied? I was bored, and it got into my head to think up some poetry. Want to hear it?"

"Um…" Fang hesitated, seeming apprehensive. I glared at him.

"You don't want to hear my poetry? Are you my boyfriend or aren't you?" I brandished my fist at him, and he cowered.

"Sure, of course I do," he answered quickly. I smiled smugly.


"I thought relationships were built on trust and love, not threats," Fang muttered under his breath, but I decided to ignore him, as punishing him wouldn't do much good, being caged in the School and all.

"Ahem…" I cleared my throat, opening my mouth to recite my epic poem, but suddenly we all turned towards the front of the room as the door opened.

Professor Jordan stood in the doorway for a long moment, gazing about at all of us with a cool expression, before turning around and snapping at the person behind him.

"Get in there. I need Maximum Ride for my experiment."

Fang and I exchanged a glance as Iggy awkwardly walked past Professor Jordan and into the room, hesitating in the doorway for a moment. Silently, we agreed together to follow along with whatever was going on. I might be able to find some stuff out.

"Here, Iggy," I said softly, and Iggy turned towards me, walking over to my cage and bending to nervously unlock the barred door with a key, which he then tucked inside his pocket. I got a good look at his eyes while he was bending down. They weren't his eyes. Well, they were, but it didn't seem like Iggy.

"Uh, please follow us," he said, straightening and brushing imaginary dust off of his pants so that he could refrain from looking directly towards me. His voice was soft, and it seemed strange. It was Iggy's voice, and yet it wasn't. It just… it wasn't the way Iggy talked. I knew something was up, I just knew it!

"Okay," I answered, turning back to Fang to give him a look before following 'Iggy' and Professor Jordan out of the room.

They led me down a hallway, and I carefully watched the two of them as we went. Professor Jordan seemed just as I thought he would; cold and uncaring, treading heavily through the halls, back stiff, not turning or looking at me at all.

Iggy was walking… oddly. There really wasn't a way to explain it. It looked like he was uncomfortable, which was sort of weird. He was twitchy as well. I kept brushing against him purposely, attempting to make him more comfortable by letting him know that I was near, but every time I did he flinched so hard I could almost hear his neck crack.

"Iggy," I muttered so quietly, I was almost certain that Professor Jordan wouldn't even have been able to hear a sound. "You okay?"

Iggy jumped about a foot into the air, and then once again refused to look in my direction. He didn't answer, either, although I guess that could have something to do with Professor Jordan being right there. He hadn't talked to me in his presence before, either, when we were getting him the surgery.

I hesitated, not knowing what to do, so I didn't say anything else until we finally reached the room that I was supposed to enter. It appeared to be an office, and I wondered briefly if it was Professor Jordan's. It probably was, because it had his name on a plaque on the front of the desk. Curious, I examined the room briefly.

There were no pictures on the walls, and the only decoration was the lamp on the desk and the silver filing cabinets lining the walls. There was a strange sort of contraption on the desk, and I noticed something else as well; a simple, cheap photograph frame. It wasn't facing me, so I couldn't see what it contained a picture of. I wondered if it might be a relative of his, or maybe his wife. Or child… a child other than Iggy.

I turned to Professor Jordan, who was now facing me with a strange look in his eyes. I stared at him for a while, and he stared at me. I started to turn it into a good old-fashioned staring contest, but he broke eye-contact and turned to his desk.

"What you see here, Maximum, is a machine I invented."

"Really?" I asked. "Is it a new and more efficient way to roast rat? Because if it is, man, we could really use one of those."

Professor Jordan eyed me coolly for a moment, and I coolly eyed him back. Then he shook his head and continued.

"This is, simply put, a sort of combination of my dream simulator and my memory generator." He saw my furious expression at the mention of the memory generator and grinned cruelly. "Ah, remember that one, don't you?"

"We thought he was dead for a week," I growled through my teeth. My eyes flicked over to Iggy, who was standing against the wall, face turned to the floor, eyes downcast. I frowned. "Iggy, what's wrong?"

This time I said it at a normal volume, and Professor Jordan frowned in a way that made me smile on the inside.

"Don't talk to Subject 9," he said in a low, threatening voice. I ignored him, as a Maximum Ride will always do.

"Iggy," I said softly, trying to sound calm. He had been so jumpy and nervous, I had no idea what Professor Jordan had done to him, or what was going through his head. His face remained turned downwards, but I could see his eyelids flutter, as though he was debating looking up. "Iggy, it's okay. Fang doesn't blame you for knocking him out, and we all want to help you as much as we can."

"I said, don't speak to it," Professor Jordan snapped again, and I rolled my eyes. Hello, Mr. Evil, I don't exactly listen to mad scientists. I don't even care if you punch me!

"Don't worry, Iggs, we're all behind you one-hundred and ten percent…"

Suddenly, Professor Jordan lashed out, his fist smashing into Iggy's jaw. Iggy let out a pained yelp of surprise, knocked back with the force of the blow, smashing into the wall behind him and cracking his head against it. He slid down to the floor, clutching his jaw in one hand, looking up towards Professor Jordan with a strange, dark look in his eyes. I stared at the blood oozing through Iggy's split lip, and watched with horror as Iggy spat out a tooth that had been knocked loose from the punch. He spat it, along with a small amount of blood, into his hand.

"I told you, don't speak to it," Professor Jordan repeated, an evil glint in his eyes, and my eyes flicked from him to Iggy, worried that Iggy might be really hurt. The punch was solid, almost as good as one Fang could give. I wondered if Professor Jordan had given himself some mutations as well.

"But…" I said softly, and Professor Jordan kicked Iggy roughly in the ribs. Iggy winced, not making a sound this time, and clutched at his chest. The scar under his eye became taught and visible, and I felt so vulnerable at that moment. I don't know exactly what it was. But from there, Professor Jordan had made it terribly clear that anything that I did to upset him would be taken out on Iggy.

What a clever way to make me cooperate.

"Now," Professor Jordan continued breezily, as if Iggy wasn't crumpled with pain on the floor and he hadn't just beaten my brother up right in front of me. "This experiment will simply test my machine. It shouldn't be painful."

"What does it do?" I asked simply, my voice rough with the strain of not rushing over to help Iggy. I was worried Mr. Evil would hurt him again if I did. And maybe in a different way.

"You of course remember the dream simulator," Professor Jordan said, not pausing to see whether or not I had nodded. "This machine takes a memory, any memory, and has someone relive it. You see, a person never truly forgets anything." He looked at me with a cold glint in his eyes. "In your mind, you always retain the knowledge of where you were when something happened and what it looked like. You can even unconsciously register things out of your range of vision, so that if you were to explore your memories, you could discover things you hadn't witnessed while actually living through them. This machine takes your memories, and using the dream technology makes it seem real. You will be able to witness the memory from a different perspective, being able to hear, smell, and feel as clearly as if you had actually traveled back in time." Professor Jordan paused. "This time, I will be giving you a drug that will render you incapable of movement. In reality, you would, in fact, be able to move inside the memory. If you were to interact with the people in the memory, your brain would invent what would happen in the circumstance. However, the danger posed to your mind by tampering with your memories may be serious, so that specific test will be reserved for another flock member, or perhaps for another day."

I glared at Mr. Evil, summoning every spec of hatred I felt for the man into my gaze.

He laughed.

"Get up, Subject 9," he snapped to Iggy, "And give her the drug."

I watched quietly and guiltily as Iggy heaved himself up, steadying himself against the wall before stumbling slightly over to me. He withdrew a syringe from a pocket – I momentarily wondered how he had enough room – and gave me an apologetic expression. I stuck my arm out for him, trying to communicate my own apologies and feelings to him through my eyes. I was so sorry. So sorry that he was in this mess. So sorry that he didn't have us there to comfort him. So sorry about Professor Jordan, and so, so sorry about Anne. Sorry that he was having to grow up so fast.

Of course, he couldn't understand or even see my expression. It was fruitless.

After Iggy had injected my using the syringe, my limbs began to feel heavy. I worried about falling and hurting myself, but Iggy immediately wrapped his arms around me and held me upright as he led me over to a chair… don't ask me how he knew where it was, my assumption was that he used his all-knowing powers. I fell rather than sat, my limbs stiff and immovable, and flopped helplessly.

The thought crossed my mind that I was completely vulnerable to Professor Jordan, and for a moment I was frightened, but the man simply lifted his machine from his desk and secured it over my head. It covered my eyes and felt odd and heavy, and I felt thin needles piercing my temples and neck, and remembered the needles I had had to remove from Iggy, after the 'dream' and after returning his memories.

"They will be unable to see you," I heard Mr. Evil. "And you will be unable to interact. Just experience."

I was suddenly nowhere, and I could feel a strange sort of probing at my mind, as if something outside of myself was searching through its contents. Then, quite suddenly, I began to lose the feeling of being flopped in the chair, I lost the feeling of the machine over my head and the needles in my skin and the slight stinging of the aftermath of the syringe. I could feel my feet suddenly on a carpeted ground, rather than cold tile, and smelt fresh air and rain and something burning. Then, voices began to register in my head, although I couldn't understand what they were saying.

A hazy picture began to form before me, as if I was awaking from being knocked out. Everything was dark at first, and then colors began to grow brighter, and everything was just blurry. It cleared in the way it did after blinking water from your eyes, and I got the sudden view of mountains and trees from a window, of musty old couches and armchairs, of dusty and worn carpeting and wooden walls. Children were laughing somewhere, and I could see drops of water falling in front of the window, as if it had just stopped raining and remnants were falling from the roof.

It was the E-shaped house.

Why am I here? I wondered. Why on earth would Professor Jordan make me relive a memory from one of the happiest times of my life? I would have thought he would show me a fight with an Eraser, or one of my flock members getting injured.

"Iggy, me and Fang are going to go play outside," I heard, and somehow turned to see a tiny eleven-year-old me facing Iggy with an eleven-year-old Fang grinning at her side.

"Okay," Iggy said, and my heart twisted at the sound of his high little voice, and at how incredibly tiny he was, and at his sweet face. He was still just ten in this memory. Six years younger than he was now. "What are you going to do?"

Little me paused for a moment, obviously debating whether or not to say something. "It's a secret," little me finally decided. I took a closer look at myself. I was still small, though a few inches taller than Fang and a great deal taller than Iggy. My hair was short, shoulder-length, and had not yet darkened to brown. I was wearing a tee-shirt and shorts, my feet were bare, and my wings were sticking awkwardly through self-cut slits in the back of my shirt.

"Yes, it is," Fang enforced from my shoulder. He was shorter than me, but his thick black hair was far past his shoulders, tied at the nape of his neck with a hair-tie borrowed from Nudge. His shirt was a dark grey, his shorts long and black. His dark eyes were bright though, and he was smiling openly, a childlike smile I hadn't seen in years.

"Oh," Iggy said, sounding sad. His hair was redder than it is now, thick and tousled, a bit long, cut so it was hiding the back of his neck, as it is now. His eyes were wide and innocent, thickly lashed, and he was so pale. His tiny frame with super thin, and he looked like he weighed so little that I could pick him up in just one hand. He was so cute, I had the strongest urge to rush over to him, pick him up, and hug him as tight as I could. But I couldn't move.

Iggy hesitated, looking hopefully at little me and little Fang. "Can I come play with you?" he asked, his eyes bright. He was looking towards me with adoration, and towards Fang with an idolizing expression that made my heart hurt.

I expected little me to say yes, but I apparently didn't remember this particular day as well as I thought I did. I watched as little me hesitated, sharing a look with little Fang.

"Um… well, the thing is, since Jeb is off buying groceries with Nudge, Gazzy and Angel, we need you to stay and… and guard the house," little me finished purposefully, and little Fang clapped his hand over his mouth to prevent himself from laughing.

"What?" Iggy asked, confused. "But Jeb doesn't make us guard the house. He says we're perfectly safe up here."

"Oh, but he did, he told both of us that the house needs guarding, and that you were the only one for the job." Little me grinned smugly, proud of herself. "So, you need to stay here. I'm sorry, but we can't leave the house to be robbed or anything, can we?"

"Oh," Iggy said softly. "Are… are you sure?"

"Of course we are," Fang stated crossly. "We would play with you otherwise, but you have to guard the house."

"Yeah, Iggy, guard the house!" little me said harshly, finally losing her patience. Both little me and little Fang reached forward, pushing Iggy harshly back until he fell on his butt with a gasp. "Just stay here and make sure Erasers don't get in!"

Then little me and little Fang rushed out of the front doors and into the damp grass, frolicking with their bare feet, laughing.

"I'm glad you thought that up," Fang laughed, thinking that he was out of Iggy's earshot. "He's no fun to play with."

"He's so annoying," little me agreed. "Always following us around and needing help all the time. I hate playing with him."

Little Iggy, so tiny, so short and skinny, sat on the floor, staying in the same place, gazing off into nothing after little Fang and little me. His ears were growing red with embarrassment and hurt, and his bottom lip was quivering. He hurriedly wiped his eyes with his hands, and as he raised his arms his sleeves rode up, and I saw three little scars on one of his wrists, and five on the other. He looked back up towards little me and little Fang's receding backs.

And the sick part was that that adoring and idolizing expression never left his face.

The memory left me almost as it had come, with my vision first becoming blurry, then darkening to nothing. The next sense to leave me was my hearing, and then my sense of touch, until finally I was once again drifting in nothing, with nothing apparent to me but my mind. Gradually, I once again felt the weight and awkwardness of the machine over my head, and then felt myself flopping on the chair. I moved, testing my limbs, flexing my fingers. The drug was gradually wearing off.

Someone pulled the needles out of my skin and took the contraption off of my head, and I was aware of Iggy standing near the wall, his jaw bruised and swollen, lip bleeding, and wincing at the ache in his ribs. Professor Jordan was standing over me, probably expecting me to let him know how well the machine had worked.

I wanted nothing more at that moment than to hug Iggy and apologize. I was suddenly remembering back then, three and four years ago, when Fang and I had been so mean to him. It was all coming back to me, and I felt so ashamed.

But when I met Iggy's eyes, I suddenly realized something.

Iggy wasn't there. He wasn't being controlled as we had though he had, with Professor Jordan threatening him or us or anything. Because when I met his eyes, I realized something pivotal.

That wasn't Iggy. It wasn't Iggy at all.

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the extra-long chapter. Please review! I'm so sorry it took this long.

31. The Anticipation

Okay, to try to make up for taking so long to update, I'm starting this chapter right after I finished the last one. Hopefully it won't take as long to complete.


Iggy led me alone back to the room with our cages. Professor Jordan stayed in his office, working on his machine. It seemed that what I had told him about my experiences had been exactly what he wanted, and he was fine-tuning it now, adding new aspects.

Even though I was alone with Iggy this time, I didn't talk to him. I didn't touch him either. I kept throwing glances at his injuries, and feeling terrible, but there was no use in comforting him, because it wouldn't be Iggy I was comforting.

What had finally made me realize this was the memory. It was looking at that tiny little child, little Iggy, staring after Fang and I as we rushed off to play without him. The way that his adoration of us never left, even after we had lied to him and pushed him to the ground, to leave him all by himself, sad and alone. What I realized was that my Iggy never looked at us without love.

And it sounds cheesy, but it's true. Because Iggy loved us more than he loved himself. More than he loved life, and feeling, and more than he loved happiness. How could he not? He gave up happiness for us. And when he looks at me, mixed with all those other emotions always swimming through those ice-blue eyes, there is always love.

But this Iggy, this stranger with Iggy's face, he looks at me and I don't see love in his eyes. I see curiosity, and guilt, and remorse. But never love.

This isn't Iggy.

The stranger with Iggy's face eventually leads me to the room, and he presses a series of numbers into a pad on the door. The door beeps and opens, and I see my flock crouching in their cages. They turn to look at me expectantly. I see Nudge brighten when she sees that Iggy and I are alone.

"Max! Did you beat up Professor Jordan? Are you guys gonna bust us out now? That was fast!" she clamors, but we disappoint her as the stranger leads me back to my cage, lets me crawl into it, and locks the door behind me. He walks silently back to the door, avoiding our eyes, but right before he leaves, I realize that I have to ask a question.

"Wait!" I call, and the stranger stops in the doorway. He doesn't turn to face me.

"What is it?" says the stranger with Iggy's voice.

I don't answer for a moment, choking on the words that struggle to escape my mouth. But then I swallow and speak.

"Where's Meagan?" I ask quietly, but I know he can hear. He has Iggy's ears, after all.

The stranger hesitates in the doorway.

"Dead," he finally answers in a choked voice, and then he leaves.

The room is silent for a long time. Fang turns toward me with a stricken expression.

"Why is he acting like that?" he asks. "Was that some kind of demented joke? He would never do that!"

"He's not Iggy," I said softly. "That's not Iggy at all."

More silence.

"What do you mean? You mean that's… a clone, like… like Meagan?"

And then Nudge stifles a sob.

I look towards her in astonishment. She would be the last one I expected to cry over Meagan's death. Yes, Meagan was our friend. It was a shock. But that's the thing; I was in shock. It hadn't really registered yet. And Nudge didn't even seem to really like Meagan.

"Nudge?" I ask, dumbfounded. "Why are you crying?"

"Iggy's g-g-gonna be s-so sad!" she wailed. "What if he d-doesn't wanna live anymore if she's n-not alive?"

Somewhere along the line that thought had hit me as well, and I almost had a panic attack.

"No," I said fiercely. "First of all, I refuse to believe that Meagan is dead. Secondly, Iggy has us. And he would never ever do that to us."

"How do you know?" Gazzy asked, and I turned towards him with a start. He looked so hurt it made my heart wrench. "He… he's been wanting to kill himself since he was a little kid, right? And what right do we have to stop him, if he wants to die?" his expression was fierce, but his eyes looked dead. "We're his friends, we want him to be happy, right?"

"No," Fang said. "We're his friends, so it's our job to make sure he lives a long, happy life, not that he ends it early because of something sad. Sad things happen all the time. As long as he has us, he has the ability to get over it."

Fang's eyes were fierce, and he turned to me with a look. I knew that look. It was his scared look, the look he only ever gave to me.

It was quiet for a long time after that. See, sitting in a cage for ages as children, we developed the ability to entertain ourselves without wearing our voices out. We thought up fantasies, made up stories (or poems), or memorized the layout of the room we were in down to the specks on the walls.

I have to admit, I felt like after three hours of editing, my poems were pretty good.

"Wanna hear them?" I asked aloud after I felt that I had given Nudge enough time to think up a great make-out fantasy about Iggy, and after I had grown distinctly uncomfortable with Fang practically drooling as he stared at me. That guy and his raging hormones.

"Hear what?" Angel asked, and Gazzy looked up from his fixed gaze at the floor of his cage with bloodshot eyes.

"My poems, of course. I made one about everyone in the flock."

Everyone stared at me once again with apprehension, and Fang finally swallowed and tried to make his grimace look like a smile. I grinned smugly.

"Sure, sweetie," he said with false enthusiasm, his eye twitching. Gazzy and Angel exchanged worried glances.

"Right," I said with confidence, prepared to begin my first and wonderful poem, titled 'Nudge,' but unfortunately just then the door opened again.

I sighed. They really just love building up the suspense, always interrupting me right before I announce something important. The flock was probably quaking with anticipation.

"What is it now?" I snapped at whoever was in the doorway. "I was just about to recount my epic poem! What is it with everyone and interrupting me?"

The scientist ignored me, instead walking silently into the room and unlocking Fang's cage. Fang sat silently staring at the scientist for a while with heavy-lidded eyes, but after a moment he crawled out, standing. He stood a few inches higher than the Whitecoat, but he wouldn't fight. We couldn't, not if we wanted to stay to rescue Iggy and Meagan and Anne. Well… maybe not Meagan…

"What's up, Doc?" he asked with that strange humor that didn't usually come naturally to him, and we all chuckled. The scientists didn't even crack a smile, though.

"What? You don't appreciate the subtle nuances of Looney Tunes humor?" Fang asked, putting his hand to his mouth with an expression of exaggerated shock. "Were you ever a kid?"

"Oh, he pwned you!" Gazzy snorted, and Nudge began giggling uncontrollably.

"Go get 'em, Fangy-boy," I cheered, sticking my fist out through the bars of my cage and grinning at my boyfriend.

"Joking will not keep you alive," the scientist said, finally speaking in a cold voice. We all went quiet.

"Well, way to wreck a mood," I muttered sullenly. The scientist just grabbed Fang's wrists, pinning his arms behind his back, and led him out of the room.

What was going to happen to him?

Fang POV

The scientist led out of the room, his grasp on my wrists uncomfortably tight. I winced.

"Mind loosening your grip a bit? It's starting to feel like an Indian burn," I said, remembering the way I had used to prove my authority amongst the little kids. That, and noogies. And purple nurples with Gasser and Iggs. Gosh, I was a real douche.

The scientist didn't answer, responding merely by jerking my wrists in a rather painful way.

"Where are you taking me, anyway?" I asked, but of course, mean mister scientist didn't reply, no, he was too good to give the time of day to wee little winged mutants such as I. So I instead focused on looking around me as we walked.

There really wasn't much to look at. The hallways were all identical, with an uncountable number of twists and bends and branching corridors. The doors were all impenetrable, often solid metal with numbers engraved at eye-level, and lit-up pads on which to type in a code or put a hand down for a palm scan.

Whenever a door had a window in it, I craned my neck to get a good look inside. More often than not it would just reveal an empty lab or a room full of computers. Once I saw a large tank like the one Iggy had been contained in when he was being forced through the dream simulation, and there was a naked girl floating inside, with all the same wires, tubes and needles stuck into her. I felt a stab of pity in my chest. Poor kid. Why did people like this have to torture children?

Finally, after a long time of walking (seriously, do they do that for the drama? Because honestly, it's boring), I was yanked into a white room. There was a gurney in the middle, under a huge, bright light. There were four other scientists in the room, all equipped with white surgical masks and silver tools sticking out of their pockets. I winced as I saw one of them sharpening a shiny scalpel.

"Here's the subject," the Whitecoat who had brought me here stated, thrusting me forward. I rubbed my wrists ruefully.

"Not a people-person, is he?" I asked, but my half-assed attempt at humor was met with indifferent expressions. I rolled my eyes and muttered cruel things about them and their mommas under my breath.

"This subject will be submitted to surgery," one of the doctors began to drone as the other three took me and strapped me onto the gurney, one of them injecting some sort of sedative into my arm. "Surgeons will attempt to enhance nocturnal vision. Procedure on a human/avian hybrid. Prone to nerve and muscle damage. Possibly easily subject to semi-permanent paralysis due to unnatural spinal curvature and weak vertebrae, perhaps from early-onset scoliosis."

"Wait… just a second," I said, slow on the uptake due to the fast-acting sedatives. Someone was using a light contraption to hold my eyelids open, and injecting another needle into the corner of my eyes, what for I did not know. "What did you say?"

"Easily subject to semi-permanent paralysis due to…" The doctor started, sounding indifferent, but I waved my hand vaguely to silence him.

"No… no, first, what did you say about… vision..?"

"Surgeons will attempt to enhance nocturnal vision," the doctor once again stated blankly, as if he couldn't believe I would be thick enough to not understand what he was saying.

"I'm a bit conked out from these remarkable drugs," I said slowly, my tongue rolling over my teeth in a strangely nice way. "Say that again… in terms idiots can understand."

The doctor leaned right over me, close enough so that I could see a scar just above his left eyebrow and the sweat glistening in the wrinkles on his forehead, and smell his bad breath even through the surgical mask.

"We will give you better night vision," he breathed, plain as day.

Oh crap, was the last thing I thought before I fell into an unconscious stupor.

Hmm… I have to say, I wasn't planning that. I started the chapter with no idea what was gonna happen. Well then, this is a surprise. I wonder what's gonna happen next?

By the way, there were a couple subtle yet important foreshadowings in this chapter. See if you can find them!

32. Awakening

Hiya. I'm trying really hard to update faster now.

Oh… and I got a lot of reviews saying that they didn't want Fang to become blind. To be honest, I sat there for a second wondering why anyone would worry about that. And then it hit me. Gosh, I'm an airhead!

NO SPOILERS HERE, SORRY! Read to find out.


"So…" Anne said, and I could tell she was looking at me with those intense blue eyes of her. How did I know they were blue? Because I had asked her what color they were. Blue… I imagined they were deep blue, like sapphires or something, which were described in my internal encyclopedia as being deep and piercing blue gemstones. Anne's were probably even prettier than piercing blue gemstones.

"Yes?" I replied. I was sitting in the armchair across from her bed, the chair in which I had slept last night.

"I was thinking," Anne said, "About you, and how you control poor Iggy's body. You see, it seems as though you do so by burying his consciousness deep into the recesses of his mind, thereby making his conscious his subconscious, and your conscious the one in control."

I hesitated a moment. She was talking about Iggy. She probably wanted me to go away so she could apologize to him, or something, and was wondering what would make that happen. I sighed.

"Yes, I guess that's it," I said. "I can sort of feel him in the background, but it's like he's asleep or something."

"Being in the foreground, you're in control of his motor functions," Anne said, and I heard her lean back. There was wondering in her voice, as though she was trying to work through a difficult problem. She was a psychologist or something before all of this, so it was probably fun for her, figuring out how I worked. "That puts Iggy in the background. Without being in control of the motor functions, he's been put into a sort of forced unconsciousness. But… what happens to you when he's in control?"

I sat back heavily, wishing that this conversation wasn't focused on Iggy. I'd like to have an engaging conversation like this with her about something else… such as anything but Iggy.

"Well, I just sort of sit back and listen, letting him control his body," I started. "It's like not doing anything at all except for letting him wake up."

Anne lurched forward, clapping her hands together excitedly. "Then that means that if you do that, theoretically, and you don't just sit back, you could both be in control at the same time! Iggy could listen and talk and move, and so could you!"

"That would be too confusing," I muttered. "We'd both talk at the same time and everything."

"Oh, yes, I suppose…" Anne said, sitting back again, probably with both of her hands resting on her stomach. I wondered what it would feel like to put my hands there – well, Iggy's hands – and feel her baby kick. I imagine it would be something totally amazing and wonderful. Although I couldn't quite decide if that would be because of feeling a new life move inside of her, or having my hands on her stomach…

"Yeah, and if one of us wanted to go one way but the other wanted to go another way, the body would rip in half or something."

"Oh, I don't know," mused Anne. "I think that perhaps if you were to communicate properly then you wouldn't have a problem with moving. Besides, I think it would be best if Iggy was aware of where he was and what trouble his flock was in. Then he could help us get out of here."

I sat back, turning my head away in agitation. I knew it. Anne obviously doesn't like me. Why else would she be trying to get Iggy to come back? She wanted him, not me.

"Whatever," I said.

"Well, then, why don't you try?" I could hear Anne lean forward towards me, and for some reason, despite the fact that I did not want Iggy to come between us, I couldn't say no. I just couldn't. Not to her. And I had only known her for a freaking day.


I sighed, and Anne clapped her hands together. I couldn't help smiling at her excitement, though.

"Alright? Good! Try! Try now!" she said, and I rolled my eyes – Iggy's eyes – and then closed them, concentrating.

I could feel Iggy in the back of my mind, I could feel his presence. He was asleep, I could sense that much. I prodded him mentally, telling him to wake up. His consciousness stirred.

I withdrew slightly from my place at the forefront of his mind, giving leeway for him to grasp onto the motor functions when he woke. Wake up, I chided mentally. For goodness' sake.

"Is it working?" Anne asked curiously, and I held up a hand, telling her to wait.

I frowned. Why couldn't I wake him up?

Then I decided to withdraw to the background. The reason he was always in the background was because I always came to the surface while he was sleeping. It was why he was so tired all the time – I wasn't letting his body rest, taking it over while it was supposed to be sleeping. Whenever I finally withdrew, he would wake up. So if I withdrew, and he woke, perhaps if I tried to come to the surface while he was awake it would work.

I concentrated and slipped effortlessly into the recesses of his mind, and I felt Iggy's consciousness surface.

Iggy stirred in the chair while I waited silently for him to awaken. After a moment, he sat up and stretched, yawning.

"Are we there yet?" he said, and I mentally grinned. "Max?"

Iggy suddenly realized that he wasn't sitting in a compartment on a train, and that his flock wasn't there with him. He jumped up into battle position, hearing Anne's breathing, and began to lash out at her, obviously thinking that she was a scientist or an Eraser.

I quickly surfaced, stopping his arms in his tracks, dropping them by his side. His face twisted into an expression of confusion.

"Where am I?" he asked, and Anne stood quietly.

"You're in my cell," she said. She hesitated, obviously unsure of what to say next. "Um… it's me. It's Anne."

Iggy flinched and withdrew slightly, his gaze focusing onto Anne. Gosh, that was weird. I mean, it felt as though someone else was controlling my body… even though it was me controlling his. I told… weird.

"I'm sorry," Anne said frantically. "I'm so, so sorry. I…" she suddenly broke off in a gasp, and I heard her clutch at her stomach.

"What?" I asked, and felt Iggy start in shock. After all, he had just talked without meaning to. "What's wrong?"

"What's going on?" Iggy asked, sounding scared. "Why am I..?"

"Be quiet and help her!" I snapped.

"It's okay, it was just an exceptionally hard kick. The baby's strong. It's a mutant, after all." I heard the half-smile in her voice and was relaxed.

"Why am I talking?" Iggy asked, reaching up to his mouth, taken aback.

"What?" Anne asked, confused.

"It's a long story," I said. "I'll tell you if you shut up."

Iggy, having his own mouth tell him to be quiet, stopped talking immediately.


I was worried about Fang.

I mean, why would I not be? It's not often one of us gets taken away for a lollipop or a feast of bacon and ice cream, so I had reason to believe that that was not what Fang had been taken out for. So, obviously, it was most likely some sort of painful experiment. I was worried. What if he got hurt? What if Mr. Evil was making him go through that weird memory thing, like he had me? Only a painful one instead of a regular one?

"Is Fang gonna be okay?" Angel asked. "He's been gone for the whole day."

"I know, sweetie," I said, sighing in agitation. "He'll be fine. He'll be just fine. It's only for a day, after all. Iggy used to be gone for a week at a time." I shuddered.

"But… when's he getting back? He could be gone a lot longer," Nudge pointed out. "Like you said, Iggy's been gone a week at a time before. And Meagan's been gone for a long time, too. What if Fang's gone for that long?"

I wrapped my arms tightly around myself. I didn't want Fang to be gone for so long. I was already so worried, and it had just been a day. And what about Iggy? What was going on with him? Was he alright? Was he safe?

An hour later, I was still sitting in my cage, worrying about the two missing boys of my flock, as well as the extended length of Meagan's absence – she couldn't really be dead, could she? – when the door opened and Fang was led inside, back to his cage.

With bandages over his eyes.

Now, contrary to popular belief, Iggy had not come back from his operation with bandages over his eyes. He had looked perfectly normal, and we hadn't known a thing was wrong until Fang discovered that he was blind during the experimental battle we had been put through. So seeing Fang with bandages over his eyes did not give me flashbacks to Iggy or anything. However, Iggy was blind, and with that cloud hanging over us, when I saw the bandages my first instinct was, indeed, that the scientists had somehow messed up again and now Fang was blind for good, just like Iggy.

But then reality kicked in when I realized that Iggy had not been blinded by mistake; it had been on purpose. So that left that either Fang was blind on purpose, not blind, or… well, that he had been blinded on accident.

"Fang?" I asked frantically when he was put back into his cage, not even giving the scientist that had brought him here a second glance. The rest of the flock was looking scared and jumpy at the sight of Fang's bandages, and I knew that the same thought was going through all of our heads. We were all worried that Fang might be blind.

"It's nothing, Max," Fang said, but I heard an edge in his voice. "It's fine."

"Fine my ass!" I exploded. "Fang, your eyes are bandaged! Are you okay?"

"I'm not blind, if that's what you're wondering," Fang answered. He still seemed… I dunno, shocked, or sad or something. "They improved my night vision. My eyes are just sore and can't be exposed to light for a while."

We were all quiet for a moment before letting out a collective sigh of relief. But Fang didn't look relieved.

"What's wrong?" I finally asked, in regard to his scowl and scared expression. "You're not worried it didn't work, are you? Because they blinded Iggy on purpose, so if they didn't do that to you, then…"

"It's not that," Fang said, resting his head back against the wall of his cage. "It's just… well, that's the thing. Iggy thinks that they blinded him by messing up on the enhancement surgery. But… what's he gonna think when he finds out that they did it on me, and it worked?" Fang turned his head towards me, and he looked… lost. That was the only word for it. "How's Iggy going to react when he learns that I have super vision, and he has none?"

For that, I had no reply.

Thank you for reading. I had to get this chapter up soon, because I'm going on vacation for a week or so, so I won't be able to write or update for a while. And then there's school. –shudder- I'm sorry, but the next chapter won't be until I at least get back from vacation! Please be patient! And thanks for reading!

33. More Remembering

Guess what, guys? Insanely-loving-of-gore-horror-and-death-me had been getting quite emotional. I have cried at literally every movie I've seen in theaters recently, which includes the new 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' 'Harry Potter and the Death Hallows pt. 2,' the new 'Winnie the Pooh,' and 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes.'


I'm a total emotional wreck and I don't even know why!


"So, what are you showing me this time? Something painful? Sad?" I asked. I was in Professor Jordan's office again, standing in front of him, glaring. Iggy wasn't here this time. I assumed that if I killed Mr. Evil, then some sort of trigger would electrocute Iggy, wherever he was, or something. Bleh. I hate people having stuff to use against me, it makes it so much harder to figure out how to smush them to a pulp.

"I think we're just going to stick to guilt for a little while," Mr. Evil replied with that stupid smug grin of his, and I rolled my eyes, trying to seem bored and sarcastic, although inside I was really worried.


Good god, couldn't he do something else?

I didn't want another memory of cute little Iggy being hurt by me, I just couldn't sit through that again. It wasn't fair!

"Now, I've got the drug, so if you'll comply, I'll inject you with it now."

I sighed and hesitantly let him to my upper arm, and Professor Jordan shoved the needle in… not softly or carefully, I might add. However, I managed to keep from wincing, much to my pleasure.

Once again, I began to lose control of my limbs, although this time 'Iggy' wasn't here to lower me carefully into the chair, and so I fell onto it gracelessly. Professor Jordan secured his machine over my head, and my senses quickly dissipated until I seemed to be suspended in blackness.

Then, they returned, as before.

My first senses to come alive were my sense of touch and smell, and I distinctly felt my bare feet on lush grass, and smelt the scent of a forest, just after a light downpour. I inhaled deeply, loving the scent, happy to be able to experience something like this, even while within the bowels of the School. My hearing registered next, and the sound of feet pattering through the soft carpet of the forest floor met my ears. My vision returned, at first blurry, and then clearing, so that I could see a little me and Fang and a little Iggy running through the trees, Iggy stumbling along behind the two of us, gasping to catch up. I recognized myself as being almost twelve, and by now Iggy was eleven.

"Where are we going, guys?" Iggy asked, brushing hair off of his sweaty forehead. "Where is it?"

"It's a bit deeper, Iggs," little me and Fang chorused simultaneously. "Just a little bit further."

"But… it's already been a really long time!" Iggy protested, furrowing his brows adorably. His hair flopped back in his faced, and he pushed it away again. "We flew all the way over those canyons, and now we've been running for a really long time, and I think it's almost time for dinner, and Jeb is gonna be so angry!"

"Come on, Iggy, you wanna see it or not?" little me asked.

I pondered the memory for a moment. I had no recollection of this occurrence at all.

"Well…" Iggy stood still for a moment, pondering the benefit of returning home in time for dinner and continuing after little me and little Fang to see this apparently cool thing. "Just… what is this again?"

"A snipe, Iggy," little Fang exclaimed, wearing a broad grin. "We're going on a snipe hunt!"

My stomach dropped into my feet. Oh boy, did I remember this day.

"And what does a snipe look like?" Iggy asked eagerly, starting forward again, following little Fang and I as we began running once again, though at a slower pace.

"It's all… cool looking," little Fang invented. "It's blue, and it has these glow-in-the-dark green eyes, and it's got really long, floppy ears."

"And it's got super soft fur," little me supplied, and little's Iggy's face brightened.

"Really?" he asked, excited. "Do you think it will let me hold it?"

"Of course! It's a very, very nice animal. We told it all about you and it really wants to meet you."

Iggy raised an eyebrow doubtfully. "Can it talk?"

"No," little Fang said hurriedly, correcting his slip-up. After all, a talking animal was much less plausible than a blue animal with glowing green eyes. "It can just understand human language. Yeah."

Little me elbowed Fang in the ribs, and he winced, giving her a 'why'd you do that?' look.

My stomach was slowly tightening, and I really wasn't feeling up to witnessing the rest of the memory. I mean, I already knew how it ended!

"Oh, okay!" Iggy said, agreeing readily with anything Fang or I said. "Sounds cool."

"Yeah, really cool," little Fang said, and then he looked at little me and they both grinned and nodded, stopping suddenly.

Little Iggy was still running, and ran a little past his two friends. When he realized that he had, he turned around with a questioning expression. But he didn't get the chance to say anything, because both little Fang and little me reached out and pushed him backwards unceremoniously.

"It's over there, Ig!" they both yelled, and then while little Iggy was falling backwards, they turned and sprinted off a ways to hid behind a tree.

They really didn't need to, though, because once Iggy had fallen, the direction part of his brain went all screwy, and he got up facing the wrong direction. He had no idea which way little Fang or little me were, or where in the heck the E-shaped house was.

Little Iggy spun around on the spot, confused and frightened, not knowing really where he was. Once again, I wanted nothing more than to run up and lift him into my arms and hug the heck out of the adorable little guy. He was a bit taller than in the last memory, though not much, and certainly not any less skinny.

Unfortunately, that stupid drug that Mr. Evil gave me prevented me from moving in the stupid memory, and of course, even if I could, it wouldn't be able to do anything. I mean, it wouldn't change the past. And what had Mr. Evil said? That it could actually alter my own memories? I dunno, that seemed a bit dangerous.

"Max?" little Iggy called hesitantly. "Fang? Where'd you go?"

Little me and Fang were giggling silently behind their tree. Iggy obviously couldn't hear them. His eyes were wide, his face pale.

"Max! Fang! Please, I don't know where we are…"

Fang mimicked Iggy silently to fits of giggles by little me, and I swear I felt my fists clenched. I really would give almost anything to go back and change this day.

Iggy set his jaw, and tightened his fists at his side, taking deep breaths to calm down.

"I'm just gonna wander off, then, and if I get lost, boy, is Jeb gonna let you have it!" he shouted, scrunching his eyes shut, then taking a step. He took another step, and another, until he was running blindly with his arms out in front of him. He ran into a tree a couple times, but it didn't take him long to get out of little me and little Fang's sight. They both looked at eachother in a 'boy, are we screwed' way, then got up and started rushing after him.

"Wait, Iggy," little me started, but just then both little me and little Fang heard a cry of pain from further ahead. Their eyes widened and they pushed forward faster, finally catching up to find Iggy sobbing in pain and trying to remove one of those metal claw traps from around his ankle.

Little Fang and little me both stared at the scene wide-eyed before little me rushed up to him.

"Oh, god, Iggs! Are you okay? Are you…"

"It hurts so bad!" little Iggy sobbed. The sharp points of the claw trap were embedded into his upper ankle, and there was blood everywhere, soaking his ankle and the grass and the clawed trap.

"Who put a stupid freaking animal trap way out here?" little Fang screamed, terrified at the sight of Iggy's injury. "It's way out in the middle of nowhere!"

Iggy sobbed wretchedly, trying to pry the sides of the trap apart with his fingers, succeeding only in tearing up his fingernails and fingertips.

"Max, Max, I gotta get home, Jeb can fix it, please, Max, please!" little Iggy cried, his face red and scrunched up in pain, tears drenching his cheeks and his shirt.

I wanted to yell out to him, to apologize, but I couldn't. I was still held stiff in the midst of the memory, only capable of watching in horror as the whole terrible scene went on before me.

"I just… I just…" little me babbled, shocked.

"Maybe we can carry him home?" little Fang asked frantically. "Maybe if we both hold onto him then we can carry him home? He's not heavy, I bet we could, I really do…"

"It hurts, god, Max, it hurts!" little Iggy screamed tearfully. "It hurts more than an Eraser bite!"

Little Fang and little me exchanged terrified glances. If it hurt more than an Eraser bite, then that meant it hurt.

Suddenly, just as the first time, I felt myself disconnect from the memory, with first my vision, then my hearing so that little Iggy's cries were suddenly silenced, and then my sense of touch and smell. I was in nothingness, until I was back in the chair in Professor Jordan's office, a big machine over my head.

I remembered that day. After the accident, me and Fang had finally been able to carry Iggy between us back to the E-shaped house, with myriad rest stops. Jeb had to use a bunch of tools to detach each side of the claw trap before removing each from Iggy's leg. He had to give Iggy a Tetanus shot so that he didn't get a disease from the rust on the trap. The teeth of the claw had cut him to the bone, and we hadn't know whether or not he'd ever be able to use that foot again until months later, when it had finally healed completely. I'd never got over the guilt, and neither had Fang.

We'd never said sorry for ditching him on the 'snipe hunt.'

I felt Mr. Evil lift the machine away, and became suddenly aware of tears streaming down my face. I hurriedly wiped them away, not wanting to reveal any weakness to Professor Jordan, but when I looked up at him he was sneering. As always.

"And how was that one?" he asked, stroking the stubble on his chin. "I never know which memory it's going to be, I just channel a memory from the section of your emotional consciousness containing 'guilt'…"

"Just fine, thanks," I hissed murderously, continuing to rub at my eyes with the heels of my hands, trying to stop the tears.

"Well, this machine does monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, tensing of muscles, and emotional reaction, as well as record the memory for playback, so I'll be able to aptly study the workings of the machine." Professor Jordan turned back to the machine and walked over behind his desk, fiddling with some wiring. "You may go, by the way. An Eraser is waiting outside the door to escort you back to your cage. Have fun."

I stood and scowled furiously. That absolute monster, messing with Iggy's emotions, and now mine? What gave this sadist the right to torture kids?

"You sick, perverted ass!" I shouted at him. "You freaking rapist! You douche! Do you get some sick pleasure out of torturing people?"

"Actually, yes," Professor Jordan answered calmly, not looking up from the machine. "It's rather a guilty pleasure of mine."

"Well, you're going down soon, bub!" I hissed, clenching my teeth and jabbing my finger at him. "You'll be sorry with I watch the life drain out of your beady little pervert eyes. You freaking jerk! Child molester! Torturer!"

"I'm sure all this venting is feeling pretty good," Professor Jordan said, glancing up from the machine. "But you're distracting me a bit, and if you do so any further, I'll be forced to take my frustration out on your friend Subject 9. So I'd suggest you hold your tongue."

His eyes were icy.

But I was breathing deeply, feeling energized after that outburst. And with an astounding certainty, I knew, I just knew that sometime in the near future I really was going to look into his eyes as he died. I just knew it.

I turned to leave, purposefully swinging my arm out to brush a couple of the items off of his desk. A couple pens, a pad of sticky notes, and that picture frame I had noticed earlier. It landed face-down on the cold tiled floor.

"Pick that up," Professor Jordan spoke with a voice like ice. "Pick that up and put it right back where it was, and you better pray that the frame isn't broken."

I rolled my eyes and bent, somewhat interested to see what kind of photograph would cause him to drop his usually bored and stoic demeanor and resort him to this cold, angry voice.

I bent down and picked up the picture frame and straightened, turning it over to look at whoever was in the photograph. Sue me, okay? I'm a curious girl by nature.

It was Strawberry Girl.

I snorted in derision and put the frame back on Mr. Evil's desk, patting it sarcastically.

"Beautiful child porn photo you got there, Prof," I said. "Keep it safe for always."

I smirked at Professor Jordan's stony eyes and made my way out the door, where an Eraser was waiting to grab my arm and lead me roughly to my cage. I didn't much care.

But when I caught glimpses of the brute's fangs, I couldn't help but picture little Iggy, clutching his ankle in pain.

Sorry this was so late. It's because I wrote about a page, and then every day I pulled it up and stared at it, but couldn't think of how to continue it. So instead I just erased it and started over. Yay!

Thanks so much for waiting.

34. Opening

Hi! This is a short A/N. Just wanna say that I'm so sorry for the long waits! I'm having a really stressful time at school right now, plus I've gotten really into DeviantArt so I'm spending a lot of time drawing. I'm sorry I haven't had much time for writing. Please just be prepared for more long waits in the future! I hope you don't give up on this fic.


"So I've got some crazy inanimate object virus thingy in my head, and it's been controlling my body and making everyone think that it's me doing crazy stuff?" Iggy asked, sounding shocked and just a tad freaked.

"Yeah, yeah, get over it kid," I sighed, and Iggy quickly raised his hands to his mouth.

"This is insane! My mouth moves on its own and it sounds just like me!"

"It's because it is you," I said. "You're voice, anyway."

"Why don't you talk differently than him, then, J?" Ann suggested hesitantly. Anne seemed hesitant to talk at all, and I knew it was because she was feeling anxious around Iggy. Heck, if I had ever been forced to rape a kid, I'd feel pretty awkward around them as well. Don't be judging. "Maybe… maybe if you speak with a higher voice or something, then we could tell the difference."

"I'm not speaking in a squeaky high voice," I said firmly. "Iggy can go ahead and do whatever he wants."

"It's my body," Iggy pointed out, and I scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. No way was I speaking in a high voice. I wanted to sound as manly as possible, thank you. Especially around Anne.

I did not just think that.

"Whatever. You're always such a pessimist anyways. In your mind you're always going on and on about being raped and molested and tortured or whatever. Well, get over it, kid. You were abused and traumatized, but you pretty much have the best family in the entire freaking world. If I had a family like yours, I wouldn't give a crap about anything. So stop throwing yourself a freaking mental pity party and get over it."

Okay, that was a bit overboard. I mean, sure he was depressed and sort of self-pitying, but hey, anyone would be in his situation. I mean… god, the kid was freaking pushed to the point of suicide by his own dad.

I'm a jerk, you know that? I'm a freaking jerk. Anne was probably thinking that right now, seeing as she was all repentant and guilty and stuff about Iggy.

"I'm… s-sorry," I said softly. "I…"

"No, you're right," Iggy sighed. I heard Anne shift from her standing position across the room. I could imagine her standing in front of the window, with a halo of light about her head from the sunset… "I mean… I guess I haven't let myself get over it." Iggy's voice was firm, like he was trying really hard to say things he normally didn't like to think about. "I mean, not get over it, but… I really need to buck up and stop being so manic depressive. I can tell it's a downer. I'm always making my flock miserable."

"When you're debating something like this, the important thing is to think about yourself," Anne said softly. Oh, right, psychologist. "What do you feel about this? Are you ready to move on? You need to make sure that this is the right thing for you. You can't deny your past, you can only try to make yourself a better future."

Iggy paused for a long moment, probably trying to get over having been giving advice from the woman that was currently carrying his rape baby.

Then, he jutted his chin out. "I've always been so pessimistic about everything, I haven't let myself try to be happy again. I'm gonna… I'm gonna stop dwelling on the past and t-try to make my life better. I'm going to start being happy."

Iggy breathed deeply for a moment, and then seemed to realized that the only people who had heard his epiphany were his rapist and the techno-organic virus that had infiltrated his nervous system.

"I wish Max could have heard that," he muttered. "She would have given me a pat on the back or something."

I reached back and patted him on the back.

"That was weird," he said. I grinned.

"Get used to it, it's gonna be happening a lot."

Fang POV

I know I really have no right to say this, but the bandages over my eyes are really annoying.

Yeah. I said it.

I mean, gosh, I know I have super-super-vision now and everything… but being blinded by something like that for any length of time was awful. And Iggy has to deal with it all the time, yeah, but he got used to it, you know? He can tell when something is sneaking up on him, or when anyone is within a fifty-foot radius of him. I can't. To me, I'm just in a big black pit of nothing, and in the darkness it feels like a dozen Erasers are sneaking up on me, even though I'm alone in a cage in a room with just myself and my flock.

I really wanted to take off the freaking bandages, but at the same time I was afraid that I was going to take them off and… be different. I don't know, I'm an idiot most of the time, I have no idea what I'm thinking. But I feel like I'd be different in more ways than just having super-super-vision… and it scares me.

If only Max were here. But she's off being experimented on. And I would worry, but I know that no scientist would ever do anything permanent to Maximum Ride. I'd be more worried if it was Nudge, Gazzy or Angel. Or Iggy.

Should I be worrying about Iggy?

I just… I just don't know. I mean, it just seems odd. Max said that the person who was Iggy just wasn't, which was rather confusing overall. I don't know if it's a clone or what. If it's a clone, then that means my brother is probably trapped somewhere in the bowels of the School, being tortured at this very moment. If it's actually him and he's being controlled in some way, I don't know whether Professor Jordan would hurt him or not.

It takes all my energy not to freak out every time I hear any slight noise, and then I just have to tell myself settle down, Fang, that was just Nudge sighing or jeezes dude, you're so paranoid, Angel's only readjusting her dress. But still. It makes me wonder how long it took until this paranoia wore off for Iggy. Probably a long time.

Here I am, complaining about a day of blindness, when underneath it all I've got super-super-vision and Iggy's never gonna see again in his whole life.

When we were little… gosh, when we were little I was a total jerk.

I could probably have qualified as a bully.

I mean, when I was a kid, it seemed perfectly harmless. But really, pushing, shoving, teasing and tricking… I'm surprised we're so close now. I guess it's all because Iggy doesn't care. He's like a little puppy… you can throw rocks at it and hit it and yell at it, but if you just once pet it and give it a scrap of food, it will follow you everywhere like you're some sort of saint. I was so mean, but just showing Iggy a second of kindness makes him love me.

I gritted my teeth and reached up to tear the bandages off of my eyes. Screw the School. Screw the scientists. If they made it so that Iggy, the six-foot-four, highly muscled, kick-ass sixteen-year-old mutant bird-kid, could be compared to a freaking puppy, then they were worse than sadists.

"Fang?" Nudge asked hesitantly from across the room. "You probably weren't supposed to take those off just yet."

"I don't care," I muttered. My eyes were sore, and I scrunched them closed, hesitant to open them just yet. They might have given me laser-vision, and I was about to blast a hole in whatever was directly opposite me. Or maybe it was X-Ray-vision, and I was about to see through Nudge, Gazzy and Angel's clothes. Nudge would smack me upside the head for that.

I averted my eyes from where I knew my three youngest flock members were, just in case, and cautiously opening my left eye a smidgeon.

My eyes watered and ached, and I couldn't see a thing because every thing was blurry. I opened both my eyes slowly, blinking furiously due to the stinging as the light his my corneas.

I couldn't see anything different. There was no drastic change in anything. Same-old, same-old.

Except that standing in the open doorway of our room was Iggy.

I wanna get this up as fast as possible, so no long note. Just, sorry it's a short chappie! The next will be longer, I promise.

35. Confessing

Hi guys. Just to let you know, the breaks between chapters are going to be even longer. Don't worry, there won't be any hiatus or abandonment going on. However, due to my excessive amount of computer use, I have developed carpel tunnel, and whoever has had it before knows that it hurts like hell. It's hard for me to stay on my laptop for extended lengths of time. So, for that I apologize. Let's hope it clears up soon so I can get back to my usual routine.

Fang POV

I stared at Iggy for a long time. He was standing in the doorway sort of awkwardly, and with the look on his face I couldn't tell exactly what he was thinking.

Nudge followed my surprised gaze and gasped when she saw him, leaning forward and clutching at the bars of her cage.

"Iggy," she said furiously. "Get your freaking butt over here and tell us what's going on."

Iggy hesitated, then took a step into the room.

"I… I have to talk to Fang," he said quietly. I raised my eyebrows, curious.

"Yeah? Well, whatever you wanna say, spit it out, dude," I said. Iggy turned towards me and walked over to my cage. He bent down and pulled a piece of long, thin metal – maybe a hairpin or a little screwdriver – out of his pocket and proceeded to clumsily pick the lock on the cage. I frowned at how long he was taking. He doesn't pick locks clumsily. Iggy lock-picks like a pro.

"Ig, if you can just pick the locks, why can't we take Anne and run?" I asked, because honestly, we don't need to wait here until Anne gives birth if we can just escape easy like this in the first place.

"There are Erasers, scientists and cameras everywhere," Iggy said. "We wouldn't be able to get even close to the exits. I'm just taking you to the next room so we can talk… in private."

I sighed, and there was a final click as the door to my cage swung open. Iggy held out his hand, and I paused for a moment before taking it, letting him pull me out of the cramped confines of my cage. It felt just like Iggy's hand. Big, calloused, with long fingers. It was Iggy's hand. But was it Iggy?

"Iggy!" Gazzy said from his cage. "Iggs, man, are you okay?"

Iggy turned towards Gazzy, his little pyro, who was looking at him with his wide, innocent blue eyes.

"Yeah, I'm fine, Gaz," Iggy said. "I would let you out… but… if they caught us…"

Gazzy looked downcast, staring towards the floor of his cage. Angel leaned forward.

"Iggy, we all love you," she said seriously. "I can't get in your mind or anything 'cause of your shields, so I can't tell if it's really you, but if it is… we all love you." Angel's eyes were red-rimmed. I hadn't noticed that she'd been crying. But she is just a little girl, after all.

"Thanks," Iggy said after a long pause. He didn't say 'I love you' back, though, and that's what made me start to doubt.

I mean, Iggy wouldn't listen to his little girl tell him she loved him without saying it back. That wasn't like him.

I followed him out of the room carefully, watching him and thinking. If this was against Professor Jordan's wishes so that he had to actually pick the lock, how did he manage to do it? Wouldn't that evil guy have cameras or something, keeping tabs at all times?

But at the same time, I really, really wanted it to be Iggy, so I could talk to him and make sure that he was okay. I didn't want this to be a trick.

So I followed him, and just like he said, he just led me next door into a tiny white room, empty except for a blank desk and a metal chair. He gestured me into it and then stepped in himself, listening to the hallway before shutting the door. He turned to me and we sort of stared at each other for a while (well, at least I stared at him), awkward and confused.

"What is it?" I finally asked, because staring at Iggy's face without knowing for sure whether it was actually him or not was starting to irk me, and I just wanted to get it over with.

"Um…" Iggy tapped his foot hesitantly against the floor, avoiding my gaze. "I just… I have to tell you something…"

"Spit it out, dude," I said. "I mean… hurry. I… I don't want you to get into any trouble, Iggs."

I stared hard at Iggy's face, and at that moment several thoughts crossed my mind – where was Max? Was she back yet? Was this really Iggy? How should I respond to whatever he says? And, was Meagan… really gone forever?

Iggy let out a long breath.

"Please, don't freak out," he muttered. Why would I freak out? What on earth was he acting so nervous about? You know, besides that he seemed to be going against his childhood torturer's wishes and telling my something that was obviously hard to say in secret. Yeah, besides that.

"I won't freak out," I told him. How else was I supposed to respond? It sounded like he was about to confess to a murder, or that he had gotten some chick pregnant or something.

Oh, wait.

"Okay." Iggy took a deep breath. "Fang… it's just… see, I know that the whole thing with Max and Meagan and all… and I tried… but I just can't anymore…"

I stared at him. He was making absolutely no sense.

"What?" I asked, and Iggy just shook his head.

"What I mean, is, Fang… I… I never liked Max or Meagan. The whole time… the whole time, the one I liked was…" Nudge? Ella? "Was you."

I stared at Iggy incredulously, and almost laughed out loud, because now I knew for sure that this was obviously not the real Iggy, it simply couldn't be.

But before I could laugh out loud and tell whoever this was off for impersonating my brother, I suddenly thought, wait, what if it is Iggy? I mean, he's been hiding his past for so long, couldn't he have been hiding his feelings as well? And even if the possibility that this was actually my best friend was infinitesimal, that possibility was too large to just laugh it off. I needed to respond as if this was actually Iggy, because if it was him and I didn't, it would hurt him too much.

"Uh," I started, unsure of what to say. I stared at Iggy, or whoever this was, and it was like I was frozen still, unable to move. I really wanted my brother back. I wanted my best friend. I wanted Max and Meagan to come back and to fly away to an island off the coast of Madagascar where we could all live together with Ella and Dr. Martinez and pretend none of this had ever happened.

Except for that this either was my brother or it wasn't, and that there was a woman in this very building who was twice his age and carrying his baby, and in that in two months, my best friend was going to be a dad. And nothing would ever be the same again. Our lives would change, our relationships would change, everything. Goddamn it. Why was my life so complicated.

"Iggy, I'm sorry," I finally said. "I'm flatter that you would like me. I love you, Iggy, you're my best friend, you know that. I care about you and I want you to be happy, and I want to be with you. As your best friend. But I have Max, and I think I'm in love with her, and I think… I think we're going to be together forever." I stare firmly towards my feet, because if this is a phony Iggy who I am spilling my heart to, which I am positive it is, I don't want to see the smirk that is undoubtedly on his face. "I really love Max, and I love you, but in completely different ways. But you're my best friend, and maybe in a few years if me and Max don't work out and your feelings haven't changed, then I could try to give you a chance. But I don't like boys, so I don't think that will happen."

This sucks. I hate being emotional, and on top of doing just that, I also did a great impersonation of Nudge. This whole ordeal has really changed me. I'm, like, a sissy now. Or that's what I would call myself, you know, if I wasn't a total feminist who wasn't sexist or anything (Max, that was for you).

I looked up at Iggy finally, hoping that this wasn't the real Iggy and that whoever it was was laughing or something, because I don't think I could actually handle the real Iggy having a crush on me.

Iggy, or the Iggy-impersonator, stared towards me for a long moment.

"Dude," he finally said. "You really do freaking care about this guy."

The tone of the guy's voice sounded almost envious.

"Um… so that wasn't the real Iggy talking, right?" I asked.

"Why does he have to have people who actually care about him?" the fake-Iggy said. "I've been alive for eleven more years than he has, but I don't have any friends. He has a whole freaking family who would gladly throw themselves on a sword for him!"

He kicked out harshly and his foot hit the desk, which he obviously hadn't noticed was there, and cursed loudly, bending double to clutch at his foot. I saw something shift – his face went blank for a moment, and then expression returned – as he hopped about in pain.

"That wasn't fair!" he said. "You blocked me out! This is my body, remember? Don't go confessing love to my best friend!"

Okay, now I'm really confused.

"You shut up," fake-Iggy – or really Iggy, I'm not sure anymore – said. "You heard that, he cares too much about you to give a crap whether you actually did confess your love to him or anything. Whoop-de-doo, Iggy has wonderful friends. What about J, huh? J doesn't have anyone!"

I stared curiously at the scene before me. It appeared that whoever this was had multiple personalities, and that they were talking to each other.

"Stop talking about yourself in 3rd person, and don't be so melodramatic! Oh yeah, you don't have anyone. But you didn't have to live my life. Don't go being all jealous of me before you've been mentally and physically tortured to the point of depression and suicide, dude. It's seriously not as fun as it sounds."

"Oh, you want me to just delve into your memories and live every one for myself? Because I could do that, you know."

"I'd rather you not. There's some pretty private stuff in there."

"Then how am I supposed to understand you? If I live your memories, it will be practically like living your life. Then I can be melodramatic all I want without you telling me off about it!"

"You're an idiot! If you lived through an eighth of my memories you'd want to kill yourself! You do not want my freaking life!"

"Dude," I finally spoke up. "Iggy? That you? Don't you love us?"

Iggy/fake-Iggy stood up and turned towards me.

"Oh yeah, of course I do! But this guy keeps saying that I'm lucky, and I'm just trying to make it blatantly clear that I'm not! I'm freaking not, okay?"

I stared at him, and then I grinned helplessly. This may be and Iggy with someone else in his head, someone who had apparently impersonated the whole love-confession thing earlier (and probably the whole hitting-me-over-the-head thing and the pretending-to-be-on-Professor-Jordan's-side-to-protect-himself thing), but it was still the real Iggy.

"Whoa, man," I said. "I'm happy to see you."

Iggy finally smiled. "I'm happy to see you too. Man, you have no idea how crazy it is being me lately."

"I can imagine."

Iggy made a gagging noise and pretended to strangle himself, then suddenly a disapproving expression formed on his face.

"Cut that out."

"What, you two's public display of affection is kinda grossing me out."

I sighed. "Now, Iggy, what's going on here?"

If it's possible for one person – who is blind, I might add – to look at himself, in the same way that two people look at each other, than that's what Iggy did just then.

"It's a long story."

"We can fill you in with the rest of the flock when Max gets back."

I looked at Iggy for a long moment.

"Maybe one… of you… should talk higher than the other one," I offered, "so we can tell the difference.

One of them slapped their forehead. It was either Iggy or fake-Iggy. I couldn't tell which.

Thank you for waiting so patiently. I hope this wasn't a let-down! As I said, I'll try really hard to get chapters up as fast as I can, but I'm in a decent amount of pain. Please be patient!

36. Within Reach

Hello, faithful readers. I love you. That is all.


I returned to my little room of cages to find my flock all looking… rather… giggly. There was no other word for it. They looked giggly.

Yeah. Nudge was stifling a smile, her eyes brimming with tears of mirth. Gazzy's cheeks were puffed out with the apparent effort it took him to keep from laughing. Angel was grinning like a madwoman, and Fang…

Fang really was giggling, that's how giggly these guys were.

My Eraser escort led me to my cage and shoved me inside, snarling as he locked the cage door behind me. He left without further ado.

"Okay," I said once he was gone. "What's with the giggly-hyper-happiness?"

They all looked at each other and shared another giggle-fest, all while I was staring on, annoyed and waiting for someone to let me know what was so damn funny.

"Max, I thought you'd be happy to see me," Iggy's voice said, and I turned to glare at the Gasman.

"Gazzy, cut it out."

"Wasn't me," Gazzy said happily, pointing across the room. My eyes followed his finger to see Iggy, crouched on the far side of the cages where the Eraser hadn't seen him, grinning like there was no tomorrow.

I stared at Iggy for a long moment, deciding whether or not this was, indeed, the real Iggy. But I decided that the stupid grin on his face pretty much cleared that up. That was Iggy's grin.

"Aren't you gonna say hi?" Iggy said. "This guy's been waiting with baited breath for your return."


"Him," Iggy said, pointing to himself.

"You're confusing her," he continued, rolling his eyes. I looked at Fang questioningly.

"Multiple-personality disorder?" I asked. Fang shook his head.

"Nope," he replied. "There's a weird sort of computer virus in his brain that can talk through his mouth and control his body."

"Oh," I replied. "Yeah, I knew that."

Fang rolled his eyes. "Of course you did."

I nodded imperiously and crossed my arms, then flashed a smile to Iggy. I knew he would feel it.

Iggy smiled back, edging out of his hiding spot.

"Now all we need is Meagan," he said brightly. "She's being experimented on right now or something, right?"

There was silence in the room. Utter, absolute silence.

"Um…" I started nervously, unsure of what to say. I didn't fully believe that Meagan was dead myself, but…

"Sort of," Iggy said… or, I suppose that was the computer virus or whatever in his head.

"What do you mean?" Iggy asked, looking a bit confused. "What was that awkward silence just now?"

"One of you should talk with a different voice," I spoke up. "Because otherwise we can't tell who is who. Plus, it'd give us all a good and much-needed laugh."

"Yeah, and it's not going to be me," Iggy said.

"Fine," he replied. "Um, I mean fine." That was the computer thingy. I cracked a grin at Iggy's high voice.

"Now, what's all this about Meagan? The awkward silence and such?"

We all looked at each other, unsure of what to say.

"Well, I was supposed to kill her," the computer thingy said, and Iggy appeared horrified.

"What?" he asked.

"But I didn't," the thingy continued hurriedly. "I mean, I sort of did, but not really."

"Care to broaden that statement?" I asked harshly. What the heck was this thingy talking about?

"J," he snapped at me. "Is my name."

"Whatever. She's okay?"

"Well, I wouldn't call it okay," he replied hesitantly. "It's just… Professor Jordan has this thing. If I don't obey his orders, this jacked-up part of my whatever causes me extreme pain."

I met Fang's eyes and rolled my own.

"I'm sure that's just awful," I drawled. It was weird to see Iggy send me a hate-filled glare.

"Yeah. Whatever. But it's cool, because he never actually gives me orders without loopholes. I was supposed to kill her however I wished, so I didn't actually kill her… I plugged her into a dream simulator and killed her in the Dream. See?" He crossed his arms. "I'm no murderer."

His arms uncrossed and worried expression flitted across Iggy's face.

"But she's okay? She's fine?" he asked nervously. "Why didn't I know? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Well, I don't actually know you all that well, kid," J pointed out.

"It doesn't matter! You're in my body!"

I breathed a sigh of relief. Phew. It was hard to really, honestly care whether or not Meagan was dead… I mean, sure we'd been through stuff, and I guess I'd feel bad and a bit depressed, but it's not like I knew her that well. It was more about the fact that if she was dead, Iggy would be devastated. No sirree, that wasn't something I wanted.

"Iggs, I'm happy to see you," I finally said, and Iggy looked towards me and smiled, and I smiled and opened my mouth to say something else when I heard the door open. Just our luck, right?

"Subject 9," a cold voice said, and goodness gracious, that guy sure gets around fast doesn't he? I mean, seriously, he was just messing with my mind like ten minutes ago! I thought he had stuff to do? Like, I dunno, have a little alone time with his child pornography?

Iggy froze like a statue, tensing heavily, and then, quite suddenly, he relaxed and stood easily.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly, but there wasn't any sort of trace of the strange, frightening terror that Iggy felt in Mr. Evil's presence. I knew quite suddenly that the computer thingy had somehow stuffed Iggy away again. But why? To protect Iggy? To protect himself? Either way I didn't care, because Iggy wouldn't be punished, and that's all that mattered. "I… I was just…"

"You shouldn't be in here," Professor Jordan said coldly. He glared at all of us in turn, trying to see right through us. He couldn't, of course – I mean, he's no Angel. Not that Angel has X-ray vision, but that girl has a heckuvalota powers.

"I know," he said, ducking his head and walking towards the evil professor. "I'm sorry, I was just…"

Professor Jordan smacked J across the face and grabbed him by the collar, lifting him almost off of his feet (except, you know, Iggy's like six and a half feet tall).

"You do realize I have cameras," he hissed. "You just stay in your cell and do what I tell you."

"Yes," J choked, and I winced as Mr. Evil dropped him with a harsh glare. He stared imperiously around at all of us and sneered in my direction.

"You should all realize by now that your 'beloved' Subject 9 is completely under my control. There's no point in trying to reach it." I stifled a laugh beneath my hand, disguising it as a gasp of horror (at least I thought it sounded convincing), and Professor Jordan roughly pushed J out of the room. The door slid shut behind them.

Oh dear. I'd gotten all of five minutes with my Iggy, and he was gone again, and by the time we saw each other again we'd probably all be killed. Great, just great.


I ruefully rubbed my cheek – yeah, that's right, if I can feel it it's mine, I'm sharing it with Iggy – as I trailed along behind Mr. I-Am-So-In-Control-Of-You. He was such a control freak, seriously.

"I was just trying to convince them that I was Iggy," I said moodily. "I mean, they're gonna doubt it if I just randomly switch sides, right? It makes sense to talk to them."

Professor Jordan didn't answer, and I rolled my eyes and stumbled along. I just wanted to… grr! I had to live, like, twenty-five years of my life on a lonely little computer, flirting with computer viruses and random virtual 'Easter eggs,' which is actually a lot more difficult and a lot less satisfying than you would think, seeing as they really don't have much personality or, you know, gender. Although you can actually have some pretty interesting conversation, especially if the virus has been around a bunch. Exchanging memory was always pretty exciting.

Well, anyway, I spent all that time alone except for my lovely chats with Professor Jordan. Then once I had resigned myself to never leaving that computer and never getting my body, I was shoved into the brain of a traumatized little boy with freaking disturbing thoughts, not to mention bizarre reactions to the only man I had ever known. And then there's the whole ultimatum thing; "Help me sabotage the lives and happiness of my only son and be rewarded with your wildest dreams, or disobey my orders and die." Tell me, which option would you pick in that situation?

And now I was seriously crushing on the woman who was carrying the rape-baby of the dude whose mind I was trapped in, I was attempting to be a good guy for once in my pitifully lame existence, and I was rewarded for my miraculous change in heart by being hated and beaten. And now I was probably being led to my death or something, and that freaking sucked.

"I'll try really hard from now on." To disobey you in ways that I won't get caught. "I'll follow your every order." You know, it's okay, I've always got loopholes. "I won't talk to those idiots anymore." Except for when you're not paying attention.

Hey, what can I say, I'm a rebel.

Of course, the stupid scientist didn't answer, and I just continued to follow his echoing footsteps, concentrating on the floor as if I could see it (another thing; couldn't he have put me in the body of a guy who wasn't, you know, freaking blind?). I supposed that he'd take me to wherever he wanted me to go eventually, and it wouldn't really make a difference what I said if he was angry enough to kill me.

Eventually, we did reach a room. He stopped quite suddenly, so suddenly that I had to nearly fall backwards to avoid running into him. I heard a door whoosh open, and when he disappeared into whatever room it led to, I figured I was supposed to follow.

The room was cold, and large – I could tell by the echoes. I assumed that it was a lab of some sort, and yep, I'm probably about to die. So long, Anne, I would have loved to make out some time, but it just can't be…

"Come here," Professor Jordan said through gritted teeth, and I knew I was in for it. I stepped hesitantly over, wondering if he was gonna shoot me with some sort of beam that would short-out my consciousness, or if he was going to cut Iggy's head open and fish me out of his brain.

"Yeah?" I asked warily, waiting for the coming blow. But none came.

"Put your hand out in front of you," the Prof continued, and with a slight hesitation I reached out my arm. A couple feet from my face, it collided with a cool glass.

"What is it?" I asked, running my palm across the smooth surface. It appeared to be a glass panel of some kind, a window, over a large metal capsule or something. Like a giant freezer or something.

"It's an incubation chamber," Professor Jordan answered. "Your body's inside it."

I froze with my hand on the glass, my fingers curling. Seriously? Just inside this stupid metal chamber thing was my body? I was so close.

"Can I… can I feel it?" I asked breathlessly, and suddenly the glass tingled under my fingertips. This was weird. This was awesome.

"No," Professor Douchebag said. "It needs time to form. It's still being speed-aged, but I can't do it too fast or it will develop problems. But soon, J, if you do what I say, this body will be yours."

"Mine?" I breathed, trying to press my fingers right through the glass, to feel the face of my own body. Mine. That was the kind of news that could turn a guy's attitude right around.

"Yours, and yours alone," the Professor droned.

"Is it… does it look nice?" I wondered. I could almost hear the guy raise his eyebrow.


"Handsome," I murmured. "Is it… am I handsome?"

"Of course," Prof continued. "I picked out the genes from the gametes that provided your embryo. You did tell me what you wanted in a body. Brown hair, green eyes, strong chin, tall, yadda yadda. But my point is, J, that if you obey me, if you don't break any more rules, this body is yours. And it's within your reach."

I imagined myself walking around in my own body with my own brain, one that wasn't taken up by two different consciousnesses. I imagined seeing with two eyes that actually worked. I imagined lifting Anne into my strong arms and carrying her away to live in Canada…

That could work. I wanted it.

So bad.

"Of course," I told him. "Absolutely. Anything you want."

I could hear the sneer in his voice when he replied "Perfect."

Guys, you have no idea how sorry I am for the super late review. I know it's really late, and I am REALLY sorry. I've had so much on my plate with all my classes, but I tried to type as much and as fast as I could. Thank you for your patient wait.

37. Who's the Sadist?

So, I'm a terrible person who can't manage to keep up with school and activities and fanfiction. I know by now, my faithful readers have either begun to hate me or are politely and patiently waiting. I sincerely hope that the majority is the latter.

Thank you so much, you guys, for waiting. I love you all!


Okay, so Professor Jordan had to be all mean and creeper-ish and stalk Iggy here and take him away, and now I don't know when-on-earth I'll ever be able to see him again, we're all probably gonna die soon, and to top it off I completely forgot to recite my wonderful poem while my whole flock was together. It had completely blown my mind… and it kind of sucks, because I need to recite it before Anne gives birth to Iggy's baby. You know, to give the guy a good memory, and a bit of moral support.

And then, after our Iggy was taken back to the-devil-alone-knows-where, the wonderful, tingly excitement pretty much left the room and we were back to sitting around in our cages, bored out of our skulls, and thinking of little else but death and impending doom.

I dwindled away the time by staring at Fang's face. That dude is growing a mustache.

Now, Fang's not the kind of guy who's going to have a beard in a couple of days, or even a slight five o' clock shadow… but after a few days without shaving, a wispy mustache was making itself known on his olive-toned upper lip. And gosh darn it, it was really bothering me.

I mean, maybe it wouldn't be so bad if it was thicker, or more shapely, or if it came along with some stubble. But I didn't really find wispy mustaches all that attractive, and he was starting to look like an awkward pre-pubescent teen, or some skinny Mexican kid (you know, I've always figured he might be Latino, or, like, Native American, what with his skin tone. It's not a bad thing).

"Why're you staring, Max?" Fang asked, meeting my gaze. He smirked. "Basking in my hotness?"

I stuffed my knuckle in my mouth to keep from laughing, trying to keep from staring at his upper lip. But, drat it all, that stupid wispy mustache was all I could look at.

"Actually," I started, thinking that maybe if I told him about how annoying I was finding his mustache he would get rid of it – I dunno, pluck the hairs out or something – but I trailed off in mid-thought. I had just realized that the stupid mustache quite resembled a pedo-'stache, so now when I looked at it all I could think was "Pedo-bear," and therefor Fang had been transformed from "hot boyfriend" to "Pedo-bear with creeper-'stache" in my head. The poor boy had no idea what had just taken place, nor the monumental effect it would have on our relationship during the couple months until he would be able to shave the stupid thing off.

I decided to take pity on the guy and not tell him that he had been mentally dubbed Creeper-'Stache/Pedo-Bear in my head. He had been exposed to far too much trauma for now.

"… Wanna kiss?" he asked hopefully, and I can only assume it was because he wanted to be distracted from the fact that he was wearing an unflattering dress and had a wispy mustache… or, you know, rather because he wanted to be distracted from the fact that his best friend was probably totally freaked out somewhere in this hell-house. Either or.

Gazzy shot us a disgusted look, Nudge appeared disdainful, and Angel was sleeping peacefully. I looked from them to Fang.

I was so not kissing that thing.

You know, the mustache, I mean. I wasn't calling Fang a 'thing.'

"I'm gonna go with no," I said, and Fang looked terribly downcast. "I mean," I hurriedly followed up, "You know, Gazzy would be totally grossed out. Plus, don't forget your best bro is all alone somewhere. We should probably think of him."

Fang thunked the back of his head against the bars of his cage.

"You don't have to remind me. My head's going kablooey thinking about him." He grimaced. "What the heck is that sadist doing to you, anyway? With the experiments? Those memory things you told me about?"

I twirled my knotted, greasy hair around my finger. "Just a bunch of crap, trying to make me feel guilty. Although Iggy has looked absolutely and utterly adorable in each of them."

"More adorable than me, definitely," Fang grinned. "Those wide blue eyes, right? The whole innocence thing about him."

"The unruly red hair probably had something to do with it," I agreed. "Plus, there was the whole fact that you and I were, like, totally torturing him. You know, it's funny how you never realize it when you're little, but little kids are totally adorable. Especially little crying kids, I think."

"What other memories do you think he's going to show you?" Nudge asked from her cage. I looked up to see her staring at us with fierce eyes. Hmm. My little girl's growing up; I could tell by the way she held herself. A lot more confident. More mature. "I mean, it can't just be a bunch of you guys at eleven. That's like watching home videos."

"Well, what else do you think he's going to show me?" I asked. "I mean, the subject's guilt right? So, what other things but my cruelty as a kid?"

"I was involved in it too," Fang said bitterly. "Don't act like you were the only mean one."

Gazzy seemed like he was trying to ignore the three of us, focusing on Angel's sleeping face. Yeah, the little girl didn't look all that adorable while she was sleeping. Her scrunched-up eyebrows gave me the impression that she was dreaming of kicking some bad-buy butt.

"Well, guilt," Nudge said. "I would think that the first two memories were sort of tester, right? Something just to make sure that it would work, and to find out what made your tear-ducts flow, you know?"

I shrugged and leaned against the front of my cage, straining my arm through the bars, it being just long enough to ruffle Gazzy's hair. "Keep your chin up, buddy," I whispered. "Sorry you're here. We should have left you and Ange with mom."

"Anyway," Nudge continued, trying to draw me back. She sounded very purposeful, like she had it all figured out. "After the first couple, he's going to start with the heavy torture. You know, lay on the guilt. So, what kind of memories would make you feel the most terrible?"

I stared at her and her fierce eyes. Her curly, corkscrew hair stuck out on either side of her head, nearly an afro, but heavy enough to weigh itself down. She was a gorgeous young lady, even with the greasy hair and rather unfashionable attire.

"I dunno," I said dumbly. "I mean, I don't really have any other terrible guilt-trip memories except for the same kind."

Nudge looked at me, hard. "Did Professor Jordan ever say that the only memories he could make you relive were your own?"

Gazzy sat back heavily against the bars of his cage and sighed, turning his face away from us. The empty cage where Meagan had been kept for those short few hours seemed lonely. Fang looked between Nudge and I with that cute little furrow that formed between his eyebrows whenever he was concerned or anxious. His Pedo-'Stache still stuck out like a sore thumb, though.

"No," I replied. "I mean, no, he never said that. But I sort of thought it was implied, you know?"

"Well," Nudge said, "He wouldn't have much leverage if it was only your memories he could make you live through. You know, there's probably a bunch of memories that would make you feel worse. Memories of some of the scientists, or from him, or Jeb, or maybe from Iggy, or even Anne."

Oh geez. Memories from other people. Dr. Evil was, like, a master of memory control. We'd witnessed enough to prove that. So, he could, in theory, give me someone else's memories. And oh, there was just so much that would work.

"So, I was thinking," Nudge said, frowning, "That there are a few memories that he'll probably give you."

"Yeah, and which are those?" Fang asked. Nudge extended her arms.

"I mean, they're obvious," Nudge said. "The kinds of memories that Max felt the worst about when she heard about them." She held up a hand and stuck up one finger. "Iggy cutting," she began listing. At each option she stated, she held up another finger. "The whole psychological-torture stuff with Professor Jordan when we were little. Iggy giving up stuff for us in the School. I'm doubtful about the sexual abuse, but it's possible. And, something that I think he'll definitely show you…" Nudge's expression darkened. "The stuff with Anne. You know, because it's related to our current circumstances." She put down her hands. "I think that will be pretty soon, too. He seems like someone who likes to be entertained, and I imagine that he'll have been wanting to show you that memory for a while."

The flock pretty much went silent after that, pondering. I tried my best to comfort Gazzy, but he was pretty bummed. I mean, we were all trapped, plus his best bud was off somewhere, plus Iggs was about to be a dad, and I'm sure Gazzy's going to become a bit jealous when that happens. You know, how I've heard older siblings are always jealous of the attention their younger brothers or sisters get.

I struggled to fall asleep; see, unfortunately, though the scientists kindly allowed us two meals and one bathroom break a day, my poor bladder just can't seem to run on that kind of schedule. I had to go. And then there was the worry over what memory he'd be showing me tomorrow, and what was going to happen to us, and what Iggy was going through… anyway, it sort of sucked.

However, I did, in fact, manage to fall asleep, and was woken up the next morning by an Eraser stomping his way to my cage and unlocking the barred door. It seemed to me that it was rather obvious what memory I would be shown today… goodness, I was not looking forward to it. But a worried look from Fang was all I got for morale support, because the other three were still sleeping.

I craned my neck to look through the windows as I was led to Professor Jordan's room, because I could faintly remember seeing a girl in one of those dream simulators, and now that I knew where Meagan was, I was sure it had been her. Unfortunately, I didn't catch a glimpse of anything, and before I knew it was back with Dr. Evil in his cold office, the door being slammed behind me as the Eraser walked away. My eyes were immediately drawn to the photograph on his desk of Strawberry Girl, but it had been placed face-down, so the picture wasn't visible.

"Welcome, Maximum," Professor Jordan smirked, spreading his arms. There was a glint of cold in his eyes that made me shiver.

"Skip the cold welcome," I said. "Let's get right to it. Memory time."

"As you wish," Professor Jordan mused, standing and gesturing for me to sit on the chair, bringing the machine over. "My, my, you seem rather eager today."

"I want to get it over with," I deadpanned, and Professor Jordan only smiled and placed the machine over my head, turning it on.

And there was, once again, the strange feeling of having all my senses stripped away and then returned in order.

My feet landed on fluffy carpet, and a sharp smell made itself obvious. It wasn't terribly bad, it wasn't even all that strong. It was sort of the smell of BO, mixed with something sour. I didn't like it much; it wasn't very appealing.

The room that I was noticing seemed stuffy, and the air was sort of heavy. It reminded me of the atmosphere in a bathroom after you've taken a shower.

This time, no one was talking, so there weren't any voices for me to register. But when my vision started to return, my stomach dropped into my feet. Why did Nudge have to be so… understanding? Why did she have to be right?

Anne's bed was rather large. The sheets had been pushed to the floor, the pillows somewhere beneath them. Iggy sat on the edge – thank goodness, he was wearing his pants – struggling to pull his shirt over his head. Once he had managed, I got a good look at his face.

Iggy's face was flushed, damp with sweat, his bangs plastered to his forehead. I noticed that his hands were shaking as they tugged the hem of his shirt down. His expression remained blank, as if he didn't really know how to filter or react to what he had just experienced.

"Out," Anne said in a voice that quivered, and I looked up to see her standing near the open doorway, a fuzzy bathrobe wrapped around her. Her face was red as well, sweat dampening her blond hair. Her finger shook as she pointed out the door.

Iggy looked lost as he looked up towards her voice. He struggled to stand; his knees were weak and shaky, and he looked as though his legs were made of jelly as he stumbled towards the door.

Looking at fourteen-year-old Iggy, I realized how much younger fourteen was than sixteen. Iggy didn't have any facial hair… not even the start of a wispy mustache. He was skinnier, he looked lankier and more awkward. His shoulders weren't as broad. He looked a lot more frightened.

I realized that this must be Anne's memory, because if it was Iggy's, then I wouldn't be able to see. I stared towards Anne with distaste, glaring at her nervous expression. She seemed to be gathering herself, taking a deep breath, clutching the front of her bathrobe tightly. She looked out into the hallway after Iggy, and in a moment started after him.

When I didn't automatically drift aimlessly behind her, I remembered that Professor Jordan hadn't given me a drug, and that I could move on my own. After the realization, I quickly followed, passing Anne and catching up with Iggy as he walked slowly down the hallway. I expected him to go into his room, but he stopped in front of my closed door.

I glanced behind me at Anne, who, like a creeper, was watching Iggy from down the hallway. Her face was hidden in shadow.

Iggy stood silently outside my room, his hand hovering above the doorknob. I silently encouraged him; go in, go in, talk to me… even though I knew that it hadn't happened, so it couldn't now.

Iggy seemed tormented, his eyes terrified, his breath quickening. And then he wrapped his hand around the doorknob, closed his eyes, steeled himself, and opened the door.

He stood in the doorway of my room. The room was chilly, and a breeze from the wide-open window stirred his hair. He looked stricken, sensing immediately that the room was empty. His knees knocked together. He walked weakly into the room to the open window and leaned out into the open air, staring towards the night sky.

"Max?" he said weakly, brokenly. I covered my mouth with my hand.

I was gone. I had been off exploring the cities with Fang when Iggy had needed me. I was probably in that old building, where we had found the picture of the baby Gasman. While Iggy needed comfort and support, I was off being an 'adult' with the only other flock member whom I had considered an 'adult.' I was a jerk.

"She's out," Anne said from the doorway. "She went off with Nick to do important things, because they don't think you're mature enough to be trusted with stuff like that."

Iggy's legs gave out and he sat on his knees, fingers clutching at the window frame.

"I'll… I'll t-tell her, what you… what…" Iggy broke off in a dry sob.

"You'll tell her what? Do you think… do you think that she'll honestly believe you over me? Which seems more plausible: That an adult woman r-raped a teenage boy, or that a perverted, horny fourteen-year-old boy forced an attractive woman into sex?" She took a shaky breath. "Honestly, your reputation in the flock pretty much speaks for itself. I'm sure Max would believe me over you if it came to that." Her expression fell. "I mean, she doesn't even think you're mature enough to go with her and Nick to explore."

Iggy buried his face in his arms and shook as he cried.

"She wouldn't… she… I'm her f-friend…"

"She wouldn't let you be alone with Ariel or Monique," Anne continued. "She'd probably not even want to be around you. Your whole family would shun you. Who knows… maybe they'd abandon you, like they've always w-wanted."

She sounded like she was reading from a script. She sounded hurt. Her voice was breaking, and tears flowed down her face. I hadn't thought of the fact that maybe she had been forced into it, too.

"B-but, we all… we all… we all love each other…" Iggy sounded doubtful, like he didn't even believe himself.

"What would they think," Anne said, "If they found out that you'd..? What would Max think? She'd be disgusted… angry… disappointed…"

"They'd h-hate me," Iggy sobbed. "Max would… she wouldn't…"

"She wouldn't understand, and she wouldn't believe you," continued Anne. "I can be… very convincing, when I want to. If you even think about telling her, I'll reach her first. And then let's see who she gets mad at."

Iggy sniffed and began nervously picking at the hem of his sleeves, tapping his thigh with his fingers. His nervous tics.

"And you… you couldn't say you didn't enjoy it," Anne whispered. "You couldn't argue that. If you hadn't liked it, you couldn't have…" she broke off, looking embarrassed. Iggy took a shuddering breath, pulling his legs together.

"I didn't… I t-tried not to…"

"So," Anne finished. "Don't… don't tell. It won't matter, nothing will change… except maybe for the worst."

Iggy stood, his legs shaking almost too much for him to walk. He turned and walked out of the room, covering his eyes with the back of his arm, struggling to stop crying. Anne let him pass, looking horrible, guilty, sad. She didn't let him notice the tears on her cheeks, just watched him leave. I followed him out of the room, watched him go across the hallway to his own room, fall into his bed, and hug his pillow to his chest.

"I suck," he muttered brokenly, turning to the wall. Anne watched him for a moment before closing the door behind him. I stood in the hall, watching her lean against Iggy's door, looking like she was about to break down. But she didn't; she just shut the door to my room and made her way back to her own.

I came to my senses once again in Professor Jordan's office. He was looking at me with that sardonic expression of his; like, You think I'm the sadist? Who was the one being the jerk in that memory?

"Screw you," I hissed with venom in my voice. "Screw you to freaking hell, you absolute prick."

"Oh, I have no doubt I'll be going there eventually," was his reply. "But why not enjoy the way down?"

I responded by spitting in his face. He retorted with a smirk, and ordered an Eraser to "Take me to the place where the rest of my pitiful flock was taken. I needed to be taught a lesson."

Thank you guys so much for the wait. I tried to make this chapter extra-long for your sake… I couldn't keep you waiting all that time for a thousand-and-something-word chapter, could I?

38. Breaking

Love you guys and all that. I'm so grateful to those of you who have stuck it out and are still reading… I know that most of the time I'm a pretty late updater, and I know from experience how infuriatingly frustrating that can be. So, to my readers, thanks so much. Read on.


"And, the reason we're in Iggy's old mental-torture-chamber is because..?" I inquired. I was standing just inside the doorway, and Professor Jordan was sitting in that chair of his. I knew that there was another chair – not quite sure where it was, I had never sat in it before – and that it was, supposedly, rather painful. Occasionally when I walked around, Erasers would talk, you see. Apparently, the entire School knew about Iggy and Professor Jordan's torture methods. I'm guessing that the only people in the School, including the other experiments, who hadn't known until recently about the crap in Iggy's life was the flock.

"Let me talk to Subject 9," Professor Jordan replied in a voice like molten lead; sickeningly heavy and flowing like honey. "Withdraw and let him wake up."

Crap crap crap crap crap… dilemma here. What if I did it and Iggy didn't have the sense to pretend that this was the first time he had woken? We could both get into huge trouble if Dr. I'm-So-Awesome found out that I had done it before without his permission, and then we probably wouldn't be able to even leave Anne's cell unguarded, and maybe I'd have to experience that same abuse that Iggy had been subject to all those years… what if I was forced to endure that torture as well?

Stupid, stupid sharing-of-a-body. Sometimes it just didn't seem worth it.

"Umm…" I stalled, trying to think of a way to warn the guy. At the moment, he was peacefully unconscious in the back of my mind, not even knowing that he was in the immediate proximity of his 'dad.' If he woke up and randomly found out, he'd probably have a heart attack. You can die of fright, right?

"Do it now," the prof said, and drat it all, there is unfortunately no loophole in that order. I sighed.

"Fine," I said. Maybe I could warn him on the way out.

I closed my eyes and felt back to Iggy's sleepy little consciousness, prodding him harshly in the back to try to wake him up. He stirred tiredly.

He's right outside, I tried to communicate. No matter how scared you are, you gotta pretend this is the first time you've woken. Otherwise, we're both in deep shit. And yes, that cuss word was necessary.

So, of course the guy panics, his mind going at a hundred miles an hour.

Luckily, Iggy's response to panic in the presence of his father is to freeze. He managed to stall it a bit before it completely overtook him, pretending to start, to look around, to pause and listen. Then he froze, paling.

Geez, this guy's total fear is really catching. I suddenly began to feel cold and became hyper-aware of the room around me – the dusty air, the carpet under my feet, the buzzing of the light above my head. It got so bad that I almost started to panic myself, until I realized that, of course, the fear wasn't actually mine.

"You know where you are," Professor Jordan said. And you have no idea how weird it is to have someone talking to you, but for them to not actually be talking to you.

Iggy nodded imperceptibly, and the Prof smirked, letting out a snort. It sort of sickened me. I know some of what Iggy went through as a kid and all, and I knew some of what he felt as a result, but I'd never seen it firsthand. Or, you know, heard it. And it sort of sucked.

"Let me fill you in on a few things," Dr. I'm-A-Child-Molester said. Of course, straight to the business talk. No Hey, son, how's it going or Sorry about this, but I'm about to make you very upset. Granted, I doubted he would say anything like that in the first place, but still. "You are completely under my control. You are on my side now. Or you know what will happen."

I caught the sudden image of Iggy's flock, bleeding on the ground, Maximum Ride standing in the middle of it all, looking at me with terrified eyes. That was probably Iggy thinking about what Professor Jordan meant by 'what will happen.'

"Now, I am going somewhere where your flock has been taken," Professor Jordan continued, "And you are coming with me. But you are not allowed to communicate with them. You will do exactly as I say. And if you disobey me, maybe we'll both have a little visit to your treat room."

My 'treat room.' Ha. Not much of a treat.

I'd have to say that that was probably the first time Iggy had ever back-talked to Professor Jordan, even just in his head. The kid really meant it that he would try to turn his life around.

Wait a second.

I can hear Iggy's thoughts.

I mean, I already knew I could, but it's just occurred to me that if I can hear his, maybe he can hear mine.

As I was pondering my revelation, Professor Jordan had obviously finished threatening Iggy and had begun walking away.


Dude, I thought, can you hear me?

Huh? Iggy thought in response. Am I going Schizo again?

Nah, man, and you were never Schizo anyway. You know that was just your dad. And it's me, it's J.

Heh, it totally works! Now I can, like, communicate telepathically with people. It's like a secret superpower.

You know, that I share only with the guy whose body I'm sharing, but whatev.

So, telepathic communication, or do we just share the same brain-wave stuff?

I'm guessing the latter.

Iggy continued off after Jordan, and I noticed that he was still walking stiffly, totally paranoid, even though he seemed sort of laid-back in his head.

Relax, I thought to him. Dude, he's got no power over you… Um, you know, except for the power he has over you.

There was a long pause interrupted only by the footsteps echoing down the hallway.

Gee, that was enlightening. I had no idea. Suddenly, all the pain and torture and mental agony he's put me through means nothing, now that I know that he has no power over me except for the power that he does have over me. Thanks for that.

Lol. I actually thought the world lol. All that time spying on the flock in the presence of Nudge has influenced me for the worst.

Did you just think the world 'lol?' Iggy asked. I snickered – internally, of course – and gave Iggy's consciousness a good poke in the back of the head. Hey, maybe I'd actually miss the guy after I got my own body.

What the heck was I thinking? Of course I wouldn't miss this. I'd be snogging it up with Anne in a giant mansion somewhere in Miami, sunbathing on the beach, Anne in a bikini, me with my sight…

No way. No freaking way.

Oops. Crap.

That is so freaking typical of my freaking life.

"Remember what I said," Professor Jordan snapped. "Walk through these doors, do anything against my will, and you know what will happen."

Thank goodness for distractions, that conversation was gonna be extremely uncomfortable.


And of course it was an arena. One of the ones from our childhood, with the high ceilings and smooth concrete floors. You know, the ones that we hated because, by the end of our weekly visits to them, the concrete floors would be stained with blood and we'd all be suffering from mild or major wounds.

Huh. It looked a lot bigger back when I was five. I could have sworn the ceiling was higher, the room bigger, the walls more foreboding.

Now, at fifteen, the arena… it just wasn't as scary.

So of course, I knew that I could handle anything these jerks through at me. I wasn't a scared little kid anymore. I was an adult with a family to protect, with a brother to keep safe.

The rest of the flock was there when I arrived, and I was immediately shoved towards them and caught by Fang, whose pedo-'stache made itself apparent.

"Hey, Max," he grinned. I smiled slightly, putting my hand over his mouth, covering his wispy mustache so that I could simply look into his bottomless brown eyes.

"Hey, Fangalator," I replied, feeling his smile broaden under my hand. Thank goodness he didn't know the true meaning behind my covering his mouth... he probably thought I was just being affectionate.

Nudge cleared her throat obviously, making Fang and I notice her and Gazzy and Angel.

"So," she said. "What's gonna happen now?"

I didn't really have much of an answer, except that it was probably for something bad. My prediction was enforced when a flood of Erasers began to pour into the room. Probably about thirty, which wasn't terribly difficult or anything, but six to one weren't very good odds.

After several long minutes of the Erasers and us staring each other down, the door opens again and in walks stupid Dr. Evil and Iggy.

"Well hey there," I greeted. "It seems like barely a moment ago you were messing with my head!"

"Yes, yes, hello, Maximum Ride," Professor Jordan said, glaring at me with those stupid eyes of his. I hated how much they looked like Iggy's. I hated how I could see traces of Iggy in the curve of the guy's nose, in the way he walked, in his height, in his hands. I hated looking at Professor Jordan and finding Iggy in his face, because it was too terrible to relate those cold eyes, those cruel expressions to one of my dearest friends.

Instead of forcing myself to stare down the scientist, I turned my gaze to Iggy. I recognized immediately that that was the real Iggy in his body. I recognized it in his frozen fear. But I didn't say anything, because I didn't want to hurt him.

Professor Jordan's lips curled into a sneer, and he gestured at the Erasers.

"You know the drill, Maximum. Hand-to-hand combat. No rules. Let's see how much of these monsters your flock can kill."

The Erasers sent the Professor startled glances, like they didn't know that that was the reason they had been summoned here. But Jordan simply gave them a look.

"Fight or die," he said, and the Erasers thought for a moment, shrugged, and attacked.

Of course, my first instinct was to shove Angel and the Gasman behind me. Sure they can fight, but they're kids, and I wasn't going to push them into the middle of the battle. Fang got into position beside me, and I could hear Nudge blow out in annoyance, settling herself in front of the kids to protect them from anything that got past us.

Fang and I gave each other looks. Ready?

My fist collided with the first Eraser that reached us as I ducked under his long, muscular arm and through a punch at his nose. The brute hadn't morphed yet, and his human nose snapped and began to gush blood. He snarled and tried to grab my neck, but I grabbed his wrist, stopping his hand, and brought my knee up between his legs. I smirked as he yowled in pain, and gave him a strong punch in his throat, leaving him on the floor and turning to another.

This one was smaller than the first, and I easily felled him with a roundhouse kick to the chest swiftly followed by a karate-chop to the side of his head. He somehow managed to nick my cheek with a claw as he fell, but I wiped the back of my hand across the cut and turned to block an oncoming punch from another Eraser.

As I duked it out, I cast a glance at Fang to see how well he was doing. He was on his second Eraser, one already unconscious on the ground beside him as he barraged his combatant with strong punches. A couple of Erasers had slipped past the two of us, but the kids had brought them down with ease, Angel knocking one out with her psychic skills and Nudge and Gazzy taking out the other with a few well-paced punches and a rather potent fart.

Yeah. My family kicks ass.

I grunted as the Eraser I was fighting clipped my shoulder with his punch, and immediately flipped backwards, his jaw cracking as my shoe connected with his face. He snarled, spat out a few teeth, and continued forward. However, my superior skills instantly had him unconscious on the ground. How I love being awesome.

Of course, in a fight against tens of Erasers, things were going to turn worse eventually. After taking out a fourth Eraser, my stamina was rather lower than I would have liked it to be, and only eleven Erasers had been defeated. There was still at least twenty-five left, more than I had originally counted, and my shoulder was aching and the blood from the cut was irritating me as it dripped down my face. Fang seemed to be sporting a blossoming black-eye, and Nudge was trying to cover up a limp from an injured ankle. As two Erasers approached me with fangs bared, fully morphed, I knew we were in a bit of a predicament. These Erasers seemed to be a little stronger than I remembered.

"Max, watch your back!" Fang called, and as I kicked one of the Erasers in the face I glanced over my shoulder to see another bearing down on me.

"Damn," I cursed, swinging around to punch the guy away, but the other Eraser that had been attacked me slashed at my back. His claws didn't do much, but a nicked wing could be painful, and unfortunately it was right near the base of my left wing. That was going to freaking ache when I flew.

I turned around to kick the stupid Eraser in the nuts, and while he was distracted I gave him a nice punch in the jaw to send him off to sleep. Remembering the other monster, I turned with my fist raised to see Nudge, who had just finished the job for me. She grinned and turned to begin her attack on another.

I caught a glance of Iggy as I turned around to face another wave. He looked worried, unsure of what exactly was happening. He had managed to edge away from Professor Jordan without the sadist noticing, and I wanted to be able to meet his eyes and reassure him that everything was okay. Alas, besides the fact that he was blind, the snarling Eraser that nearly punched my lights out proved too distracting.

When I had felled two more Erasers and was beginning to sweat and get a little worn out, I looked around to see that Angel, Gazzy and Nudge had joined in the fray, Nudge fighting like a little maniac, Angel and Gazzy using a combination of punches, farts, and psychic powers to bring down the opponents as a team. I felt so proud of my little troopers, and had a sudden surge of adrenaline, knocking an Eraser out with a kick in the face and another with a few choice punches. Fang had knocked out nearly as much as I had, and our successes, combined with those of the kids, left only about fifteen more Erasers left to fight.

"Come on, troops!" I shouted confidently. "Fang, back up… Nudge. Angel, Gazzy, keep it up. We've got this."

I had almost ordered Fang to back Iggy up before realizing that Iggy wasn't a part of this fight. It wasn't something I was used to… I was used to warning Iggy about the two Erasers at three-o'-clock, or to watch his flank, or asking him to please toss a bomb towards the five Erasers ten feet to his left. It felt incredibly weird to not include him in the battle orders… but situations changed. Pretty soon, if there was an attack he'd have to be defending a baby instead of fighting at our side.

I punched one Eraser and kicked another, suddenly worried and a bit distracted. What if when Iggy had the baby, he didn't have time to be my brother anymore? What if he spent every day just paying attention to the baby, and we couldn't have any more midnight games of monopoly, or sessions of truth-or-dare at inopportune times?

A roundhouse kick sent an Eraser into oblivion, and one quickly followed – he'd probably never be able to have kids. Good thing, too, I thought angrily. Babies are stupid. Who needs 'em? They take time away from your family and friends, and make you miserable and tired and irritable and take all the fun out of your life. Why was Iggy going to keep the stupid baby, anyway?

Another Eraser made its way towards me, but I was ready with a blazing punch that smashed the brute's nose back into his skull. The Eraser screamed and fell to the floor, and all I could think was Oh my goodness, am I seriously jealous of Iggy's baby? I mean, it wasn't Iggy's fault. It wasn't his fault he was having it, and he wasn't in control of the reasons he would have to keep it.

"MAX!" Fang shouted, and I turned to look at him as he punched one of the few remaining Erasers. He was looking towards me with fear, his eyes tracking something in front of me. I looked ahead, but it was too late. A grinning Eraser was charging, fangs gleaming off-white, and a claw about four inches long made its speedy way towards my eye.

Oh great.

When I realized that he was too close and moving at too fast a speed for me to stop the attack, in my delusional state for some reason all I did was clench my eyes shut, waiting for impact. Strangely, after a second there wasn't one. I cracked an eye open to see what was going on, my heart slowly dropping out of my throat, where it had risen while I panicked.

My vision was met by a claw-tip only centimeters from my eye. I flinched and stepped back, and after that initial moment of fear realized that the claw wasn't coming towards me anymore. In fact, something had stopped it. Someone had stopped it. To be precise, Iggy had stopped it, and he had stopped it with his hand.

I felt sick as I looked at Iggy's hand, which he had obviously thrown out to take the blow for me. I don't even know how he managed to get to me in time, but obviously he had – maybe it was his power – and the claw had impaled his palm, sinking through and protruding out of the back of his hand. A few drops of blood dripped to the floor.

I looked at Iggy's face. He was grimacing, and looked surprised, as though he hadn't known he had the guts to do something like that.

"You little whelp," the Eraser growled, starting to pull his claw out of Iggy's hand. However, Iggy instead twisted his wrist, and there was a crack as the Eraser's finger snapped. As the Eraser yelped in pain and was distracted for a moment, Iggy finally pulled his hand away, clutching at it with his other, blood streaming down his wrist, and I came to my senses in time to bash the Eraser's skull in.

I became acutely aware of the silence in the room, and realized that the fight had obviously ended whilst Iggy had saved my life. Fang was looking towards us with concern, Nudge had finally sunk to the floor and was nursing her ankle, and Angel and Gazzy wiped at scratches across their arms as they stared anxiously at Iggy's hand.

"Subject 9," Professor Jordan growled. "Come here."

Oh, how I hated the coldness in his voice. However, Iggy winced and obliged, stumbling over, his eyes on the ground.

"Ig…" Fang said softly, stepping over the bodies of unconscious Erasers towards me. We exchanged nervous glances, and I didn't even pause to mentally insult his pedo-'stache.

Dr. Evil stared at his son with cruel humor, pondering over his terribly injured hand, his downcast face, his shaking shoulders.

"You seem to either forget that I love excuses to torture you, or you just don't care anymore," he said, and I shuddered with anger, thinking that this was as good a time as any to punch the lights out of the sadistic scientist and run. He seemed strangely unaware that, with no more Erasers conscious in the room, he had no one to protect him…

A plan was unraveling in my mind. Hyperaware of my surroundings, I saw that the only security in the room now was a small camera up in one corner. The Erasers were on the ground in unconscious heaps. Professor Jordan seemed relatively unarmed. I couldn't remember there being any guards outside. I knew that there was lots of security and that alarms would probably go off, but if we ran fast enough and Nudge used her powers over electronics to short-circuits the cameras in the hallways as we reached them, Angel could use her psychic powers to knock out stray guards, we could fight our way to Anne's room, get the hell out…

"You're a failure, Subject 9," Professor Jordan said, pulling a scalpel out of a pocket of his white coat and, without a second thought, slashing is down across Iggy's face. Fang called out, the little kids screamed, Iggy gasped in pain and fell to the ground, and I made my move.

Before Dr. Evil knew what was happening, I had rushed forward, ablaze with fury at what this man could do to my Iggy, to his own son. His eyes widened and his sneer vanished momentarily before shock was replaced by slack-jawed unknowing as my fist knocked him out with the first blow. Professor Jordan fell to the ground in a heap, and without hesitation I had lifted Iggy from the ground, supporting him with one arm, and turning to call to my flock.

"Come on guys, we're breaking out of this hellhole," I said.

There you go. A lot longer than usual, so I hope it makes up even slightly for the long wait.

This was probably my first real fight scene in the whole series, so I hope I did an okay job. Please, let me know if it wasn't good, and I'll try to improve.

I hope you enjoyed it! Action really starting to pick up, I'm so glad I'm out of that little rut. It was really giving me writer's block.

As I said before, I love you all. Thanks so much for sticking with me. Kudos.

39. Finally

Okay. Three cheers for an update that doesn't take two weeks! Yay, flYegurl! Congrats!

Yeah, I know I don't deserve congratulations, but sue me. I'm psyched.

Read on.


"Right on!" the Gasman cheered, pumping his fist in the air. "Bye-bye, Dr. Evil. Hello freedom!"

"Yeah, don't get your hopes up," Fang said, rushing forward to take Iggy from me when he saw that Iggy's height and weight was causing me some troubles. Hey, I may have super-strength, but I just exerted a lot of energy beating up bad-guys. "I saw when we came in; we need a code to open the door. Anyone happen to know it?"

"I believe the question you should be asking is 'what is the code,'" Iggy muttered, sticking his tongue out with distaste when blood ran in his mouth. "Wait a second, that worked. It's 5-4-0-0-3-1-1-7-3-2."

"Hmm," I answered, stepping over Professor Jordan's unconscious body to the door and punching the code into a keypad. There was a long moment of silence, then a beep, and the door slid open. "Rock on, Iggs."

"Come on," Angel chirruped, rushing forward and taking Iggy's hand, tugging him and, in turn, Fang towards the open door. I stuck my head into the hallway and looked around. There was no one.

Come to think of it, the School was always pretty stupid in regards to safety measures. I mean, any time we were captured, we could always bust out. They needed to up the security around here.

Nudge grabbed Gazzy, who protested as she dragged him over to me, her eyes bright, her smile wide.

"What are you waiting for?" she asked. "Let's get the stupid lady with Iggy's baby, and Meagan, and get out of here."

"Uh, Max," Fang interrupted with a tone of there-is-something-wrong, totally bursting my happy-bubble, and when I glanced over to him it was to find Iggy being rather passed-out in his arms. The entire side of his face was soaked with blood, which was running steadily down onto his shirt; by comparison, the gaping hole in his hand was nothing but a scratch. Fang was worriedly examining his face, and Angel looked a little panicked. She and Fang were working together in an attempt to tear off long strips of Iggy's shirt, and it was proving a bit difficult.

Nudge immediately rushed over to help, but Gazzy walked edgily over to me, looking anxious. I cast a nervous glance back to the hallway. I couldn't help but think that this was way too easy, you know, not including the unconscious Iggy. Something was going to happen, someone was going to come, something would go wrong, and we couldn't afford to wait.

"Max…" Nudge murmured from Fang's side.

"Yeah," Fang seemed to agree. "Max, this looks pretty bad. He… he cut Iggy's eye. It's deep."

"Crud," I grunted, biting my lip. "Okay."

I turned and rushed to them, bending down and in one quick movement tore Iggy's shirt apart down the front. With Fang's help, I tugged the sleeves from Iggy's arms and started tearing long strips from the fabric with my teeth.

"Here," I said, handing the strips to Nudge whenever I tore them, and she quickly wrapped them around Iggy's head, covering the wound. I handed a few smaller strips to Angel. "For his hand," I told her shortly. She nodded and worked quickly.

In a matter of minutes, Iggy's hand and eye were bandaged, although they had already begun to be soaked through by red blood. There was a big chunk of Iggy's shirt left that I clenched in my fist. I stood, helping Fang lift Iggy from the ground. We struggled for a moment, finding comfortable positions in which to support the six-foot-four sixteen-year-old boy.

"Okay, here's how this goes," I quickly began. "Iggy's just passed out from shock, so he'll be coming in and out of consciousness for a while. Right now, we can't afford to take the time to get him stitched up. But he'll be bleeding a lot. That's okay, it's not life-threatening, but if any drips on the floor it will leave a trail." I handed the remains of Iggy's shirt to Gazzy. "This is really important, Gasman, if any blood gets on the floor, you need to wipe it up, speedy-like. Nudge, hang back and watch Gazzy, make sure he doesn't get left behind. We're gonna make our way through the School. Whenever Iggy wakes up, we'll ask him where Anne is. Once we know, we can get her. For now, we're wandering. Got it?"

"Yup," Gazzy replied, looking set, clutching the piece of cloth in his hand determinedly. Angel nodded, clenching her chin.

"And Meagan," Nudge reminded me. I nodded.

"Yeah, her too."

She glared at me, all like How could you forget? and I took a second to wonder when she got so defensive of the girl who had 'stolen' Iggy from her.

I tightened my grip on Iggy's arm, which had been slung over my shoulder. Fang did the same on his side. We looked at each other, fierce with focus. We were getting out of here.

We walked as fast as we could while supporting our bro, exiting the room quickly and turning a random left down the hallway.

"Go on, I'll be just a second," Nudge called to me, and I continued without throwing a glance over my shoulder. We couldn't afford any stall.

Nudge caught up in a minute, grinning. I looked at her, raising an eyebrow in inquiry.

"I reprogrammed the password on the keypad," she said happily. "It's gonna take a while for anyone to get back in or out."

I felt a glowing in my chest. "Awesome, kiddo," I gushed. She gave me a look with shining eyes.

"Don't call me 'kiddo,' Max," she said with a strange smile. "That implies that I am merely a child in comparison to you, but I'm determined that in a few years I'll be your un-technical sister-in-law."

I gaped at her. So she hadn't given up quite yet. And, somehow, I couldn't help rooting for her.

Iggy made a little noise in the back of his throat, and Fang and I both turned to him immediately.

"Iggy, where is Anne?" I said instantly, and he let out a tiny sigh.

"Room 1035," he said. "Back… left."

The eyelid not covered by bandages fluttered, and his eye rolled back into his head as he sank back into unconsciousness. I looked at him, smiling slightly with affection. I wanted to lie him down somewhere and stroke his hair, hold his hand while we patched up his eye, and tell him everything was going to be okay. The problem was that I wasn't entirely positive that it would.

"Okay troops," I said. "Opposite direction and take a left… somewhere. Keep an eye out for numbers leading up or down to 1035. That's the room we're heading to."

Gazzy groaned as we turned around, and I snorted. Hey, the kid wasn't hefting along a heavy-freaking mutant bird-kid. He had no right to complain.

"Are there… any guards?" I huffed to Angel as Fang and I struggled on, trying to not drop Iggy or leave sneaker-tracks along the tiled hall as his feet dragged behind us. Gazzy had already had to stop several times to wipe up drops of blood from Iggy's face-wound, and I was beginning to worry about his blood-loss. I mean, it wasn't anywhere near life-threatening yet, but still. If he lost too much, there might be complications. He might actually pass out for real, and not wake up for a while.

"A couple," she replied, "but I convinced them to go somewhere else. They really wanted coffee."

"That's my girl," I grinned. But, once again, there was that feeling… there was no way we were going to get away this easily. There had to be something that would go wrong.

"Meagan's… in there," Iggy muttered.

"Huh?" I asked warily, not sure if this was delusion caused by being unconscious or his power or what. If this was delusion, we shouldn't stop. However…

"I… put her in there, after Prof told me to kill her…"

Ah, so this was J talking, not Iggy.

"Yeah?" I looked around. "Which room was it?"

"Room 1008," J replied, and I found that it was back one and to my left.

"Okay, kiddos," I said. Nudge, Gasman, Ange. Do you think you're capable to go get Anne by yourself?"

The three kids looked at each other sort of nervously.

"Yeah," Gazzy responded weakly, and Angel nodded.

"If we get caught, you'll bust us out, Max," she said cutely.

"I'll protect the kids, you don't need to worry," Nudge told me.

"Okay. Here's the deal. Fang and I have to take Iggy and J in to get Meagan. Go on to room 1035, get in there, get Anne, and bring her back here. Convince her any way you like. Threaten her if you have to. And scream if there's any trouble."

"Aye-aye, cap'n," Gazzy said cheekily, raising his hand in a salute.

"You need a hand-print," J mumbled. "And a key. Or you'll have to bust the door down. And there will be alarms. You won't have much time."

Nudge held up a fist, grinning, determined.

"Don't worry, we'll get her out in no time at all. Just make sure that you get Meagan ready and all before we come back. If there's going to be alarms, we'll need to split like a banana."

"Like a banana?" Gazzy asked. Nudge sighed.

"You know, like a banana split," she said. Gazzy paused for a second, pondering, before realization spread across his face.


"Yeah, now, hurry off you three," I said. "Careful! Remember, scream if there's trouble! I'll send Fang right over!"

I worriedly watched the heels of my three kids disappear down the hallway before Fang brought me back to reality.

"He passed out again," he said, and I turned.

"Doesn't matter," I muttered. "Come on, let's go into this room.

We dragged Iggy's limp body over to room 1008, and I pressed a button in the wall that caused the door to slide open. Gee, this place has the most high-tech entry system I have ever seen.

When we walked in, I sighed. There was, indeed, a dream-simulator in the center of the room; however, it was completely empty and devoid of anything that might possibly be Meagan.

"She's not here," Fang said, stating the obvious.

"I had no idea," I cracked in response, leaving Iggy to be supported by Fang as I walked over to inspect the machine. There was a control panel like the one that had been on Iggy's, but this one was a little different, like it was a newer model. I examined it, and looking over the control panel saw a rather random voice-memo machine. Confused and interested, I picked it up, looked it over, and pressed 'play.'

"J," Professor Jordan said frostily from the speaker. His voice didn't have quite as biting an effect as it did in real life, but it was close. "I told you to dispose of the girl. I told you to kill her. What you did directly disobeyed me."

I glanced back to Fang, who, although caving in under the weight of Iggy's limp noodle of a body, was listening intently.

"I don't know why you would think that I wouldn't notice my own machine being used without my permission, but I did."

Now I was getting a bit nervous. Did this mean… that Dr. Evil had found Meagan, and killed her himself?

"Although I do not approve of tools going against my orders, I do admit that sometimes my decisions to kill may be a bit hasty," Professor Jordan continued. "So she is not dead. She lives happily with her new 'mother' and 'father' in a small town in Idaho, and this time I was a bit smarter. All of her old memories have not been preserved. They have been destroyed."

The recording fizzled, I heard what sounded rather like an evil laugh, and then all was quiet. Fang and I looked at each other for a long minute, speechless.

Oh god.


But Iggy…

Fang POV

Max looked completely stricken, and I have to admit, the news that Meagan's mind had been wiped like Iggy's had sort of freaked me out. I mean… no more Meagan. Iggy's girlfriend was gone.

And this time, unlike with Iggy, there was no plugging her memories back into her brain. She was just gone, completely and entirely.

Somewhere in the back of my head, though, the part of me that wasn't grieving over Iggy's loss was thinking what a relief, now Iggy can move on. He can learn to fall in love with someone who isn't Max. It's a good thing.

To rationalize my selfish thoughts, I balanced it out with thinking about how, with normal parents who loved her, Meagan could live a happy life. It was something that none of us could ever do… and I don't really think any of us would ever want to, even if given the chance. Because even if Nudge made a big show of wanting a normal life and normal parents, none of us would have the heart to actually leave the flock, we loved each other way too much…

Wait a second. What about Iggy? He went with his parents…

I was brought out of my pondering by a scream from Nudge, and Max and I both snapped into action. I waved her on, and she dropped the voice-memo machine and sprinted out the door, leaving me to hoist Iggy's deadweight up and drag him out after her.

I hurried as fast as I can, but man, the guy weighed more than I did. Imagine trying to carry yourself around all day, plus, like, ten pounds. Yeah. Heavy.

Looking over at Iggy's unconscious face, I grimaced. The bandages covered his eye, so I couldn't see the wound, just the bloodstained cloth. But it was bad. Max hadn't gotten a good look, but… Well, let's just say that if he hadn't been blind already, he would have lost his sight. As it was, I think it still might have done some irreparable damage to his eye…

Although I had been hurrying at top speed, aka the speed of a limping goat, I saw the others rushing down the hallway towards me before I had even made it to the first fork. Nudge had a bloody lip and was running with a limp from her earlier injury, pushing Angel and Gazzy out in front of her. My stomach clenched when I saw Anne stumbling along behind them, hands clutching at a bulging stomach, and Max running behind her, looking back over her shoulder, pushing the woman along and shouting.

"Turn around, Fang! Run!"

Crap. And I'd already made it all this way.

I turned and tried to run as fast as I can, but unfortunately Iggy was really slowing me down. It felt like I had a rope tied around my waist that was trying to pull me backward as I ran forward.

"I could really use some help here, big guy," I muttered to Iggy as I shuffled along. It didn't do much good.

Gazzy and Angel caught up with me quickly, racing ahead, but Nudge stepped in beside me, taking the other half of Iggy's weight.

"Come on, Fang, I thought you were the strong one," she laughed. The kid was certainly happy today. And this was battle-excitement happy, not giggly Oh-Em-Gee-Robert-Pattinson-Is-So-Hot happy. It was something Nudge rarely had.

"Yeah, you try carting around this blob by yourself," I grumbled, and Nudge responded with a happy chuckle. Yeah. A chuckle, not a giggle. Who is this girl and what did she do with Nudge?

"Move it," I heard Max growl to Anne, and Anne breathed heavily, gasping along.

"Don't… talk to her… like that," Iggy said tiredly, or maybe it was J. Probably J.

"Where's the nearest escape exit that we could use under the current circumstances?" I asked him, trying to take advantage of his brief period of consciousness. I believed my question covered all the necessary areas.

"Up ahead… a right… another right… a left, then straight," he murmured before conking out again.

"Oh great," I muttered.

I shouted the exit strategy back to Max, who grunted in reply.

"We can make it!" Angel cheered, putting her little fists in the air. "I've already knocked out the three guards in the hallways ahead of us! And we nicked a first-aid kit from an unconscious Whitecoat, so we can give Iggy stitches and stuff!"

"Good job," I said, hobbling along.

"I guess he is a bit heavy," Nudge teased. "Just a bit."

"Yeah, right," I said under my breath.

It was easy.

Despite the heaviness of dragging Iggy along and the weird, prickly feeling I had on the back of my neck from Anne being huffing and puffing along directly behind me, we had no trouble.

The occasional Whitecoat that Angel could knock out. A seldom few Erasers that Angel and Gazzy teamed up to beat.

And the problem with the ease of it all meant that Professor Jordan didn't think that we were even worth stopping. Like he was confident that he could get us all back when the time came, no matter what.

It just made me angry and even more determined to stay out of his grasp for the rest of my life.

By the time the exit that Iggy had mapped out for us came into view, I was tired. I would go so far as to say that I was 'pooped.' But seeing the night sky and stars shining through the glass window gave me a much-needed boost of adrenaline, and Nudge and I managed to sprint the last few stretches of hallway. When a scientist popped up to stop us, bearing a gun that probably had some knock-out darts in it, I just kicked him in the chest and let him fall back and hit his head on the wall.

No way was I getting stopped now.

Gazzy and Angel burst through the front doors and held them open for the rest of us. The air outside was fresh and cool, and I closed my eyes for a moment to breathe in the night breeze. But the high electric fence in front of us looked a bit daunting.

Nudge and I exchanged a glance.

"I got him from here," I told her. "He's got light bones. Help Max with Anne."

She nodded and rushed back, and her and Max each grabbed Anne under her armpits and spread their wings.

"U and A," Max shouted up to the Gasman and Angel, who nodded, cheering, and instantly sprang into the air.

I sighed, made sure I had a good grip on Iggy, and spread my own wings. I flapped them heavily, stumbling forward a few feet. Nudge and Max took off, flying low over me with Anne gasping in shock, but I was having a bit of trouble.

"Come on, Fang!" Angel said, and she and Gazzy flew back, each grabbing one of my own arms as they flew past, aiding me and helping me get those first few feet of air before my wings managed to do the rest.

I rose slowly but surely, flapping hard, straining against the air and against Iggy's weight. I just had to make it past the fence…

"Fang!" Max called behind her. "Four-hundred feet past, to eleven-o'-clock." She was telling me to fly past the fence four-hundred feet before landing in the forest. I could do that.

I cleared the fence and followed Max and Nudge as they steadily made their way towards the forest, and in four minutes – hey, sorry, heavy bird-kid in my arms here – I crashed-and-burned into the trees right after them. I managed to cushion Iggy's unconscious body with my own, though, so give me some credit.

"Oh my goodness, that kid has to weigh a freaking ton," I gasped, pushing him off of me. Max rushed over and bent beside him, laying him out on his back. Iggy stirred.

"Iggs, go back to sleep," Max soothed. "I'm going to stitch your eye, and it's gonna hurt."

I could have sworn Iggy whined in protest before passing out again.

As Max unraveled the bandages from around Iggy's face and got out the first-aid kit Angel hat spoken of, she looked up at me and smiled, relieved.

"Our plan is to chill here until tomorrow night," she said. "Then, when it's dark and Iggy can fly, we'll take off and find a city."

"Sounds cool," I said, blinking. My whole body felt tired and heavy, like I had just run a marathon. Five times.

"So," Max continued. "I'm taking first watch."

"Thank goodness," I murmured, falling back, and the ground hitting the back of my head felt like a goose-down pillow. I was out in two seconds flat.

Yay! Fast update! Aren't you totally happy about that?

Loves yas.

40. Huddled Conversations

Thanks for reading! I really appreciate all of you reviewers, and I won't name names lest I forget anyone, but here's a small shout-out:

YouWillNeverKnowMyNameMUAHAHA: Thank you dearly for your review. Hearing that you took all that time to read my stories really meant the world to me. I love every single person who has taken the time to read my stories, but people who like them enough to stick through it until the end really keep it going. And though I appreciate those who have been with me since the beginning and encouraged me through my development along the way, those like you who find my stories late give me just as much joy. Better late than never, right? I really hope you continue reading, and maybe give me some more reviews so I can keep track of how you like the story. Thanks so much!

Fang POV

I didn't get as much sleep as I would have liked, but it was quite enough for my poor muscles to have healed some after lugging the sandbag that was Iggy fifteen miles. Okay, it probably wasn't fifteen miles, but it was quite a ways and very tiring.

At first, I thought a noise had waken me up. But after a few seconds of wondering why my arm was moving on its own accord, I realized that Max was shaking me.

"Fang!" she hissed nervously. "Wake up!"

"'M up," I grunted, rolling over and lifting myself into a sitting position, rubbing my eyes. "What's the emergency?"

Max nervously stuck her pointer finger into her mouth, nibbling at the nail.

"Well, I patched up Iggy's eye, but it was weird."

"I could've told you that," I said. I had seen first-hand the damage that had been done the night before. It was pretty gruesome.

"I know, I know…" Max waved me off. She kept flicking her eyes over to Iggy, who was curled up with Gazzy and Angel cuddled up next to him and Nudge's head on his chest. I looked further to see Anne leaning against a tree, eyes closed. Sleeping.

"Yeah?" I prodded.

"See, it wasn't so bad… I mean, I mopped him up and stitched everything and all. But there was this… this stuff… coming out of his eye. It was, like, thick, and whitish. And don't you dare make a 'That's what she said' joke."

I paused, staring at her.

"I wasn't going to. I hadn't even thought of it that way until you said that."

"Oh…" Max bit her lip anxiously. "Sorry, it's just that that's what Iggy said, and it made me so angry…"

I reached forward and rested my hand on her knee.

"Relax," I said, trying to sound soothing. "Max, you're freaking out. It's fine. Iggy's not dead, he's okay. And he's already blind, so there can't be anything that would drastically impair his lifestyle."

Max let out a long breath and grabbed my hand.

"Thanks, Fang. It's just, I'm so worried that his eye is going to look really gross or something, and then people will look at him weird, and… oh, it's stupid, but since Meagan's gone, I'm worried Iggy's never going to find anyone."

I moved around her and pulled her back against my chest and started stroking her hair. It was tangled and greasy and didn't smell like the best thing in the world, but that was what we were used to. We weren't models or superstars that woke up every morning and spent hours on their hair, makeup and wardrobe. We may be beautiful people, but with a life on the run it was hard to go with that.

"It's okay," I whispered to her. "Iggy's a great guy. And he's a good looker, you know that. And if he never meets anyone, it's okay, because he's got us and I'm pretty sure that that's all he ever really wants out of life. I think he'd be satisfied with just us."

Max let out a long breath, sighing heavily.

"He couldn't be," she said quietly. "If we all grow up and get married, he's going to feel lonely."

"Well, if the rest of us have a chance at marriage, then he certainly does as well." I rubbed her back, in-between her wings, just the way she liked it.

We sat like that in the clearing, listening to each other breathing, until the flock began to stir. One by one, Gazzy, Angel and Nudge woke, sitting up, rubbing their eyes. Gazzy turned and shook Iggy's shoulder, and in a second Ig was sitting up with his hand at his forehead, wincing.

"Ooh, killer headache," he mumbled.

"Probably the blood loss," Nudge stated matter-of-factly. "You were extremely loopy with it yesterday. Remember? Poor Fang had to lug your butt out of the School by himself."

Iggy thought for a second. "Oh, yeah, that. Hey, we're home-free? No joke?"

"Yup!" Gazzy laughed, straightening and crossing his arms over his chest. "Scott free! No scientists or Erasers or stupid evil doctors or anything."

"Cool," Iggy said, looking around. "And where, may I ask, are Max and Fang? Meagan? And, um, Anne?"

My stomach dropped into my feet. I'd almost forgotten that Iggy had been unconscious when we found out what had happened to Meagan. What were we going to say?

Max pulled away from me and walked nervously over to sit down by Iggy. He was looking at her as though knowing that he wouldn't like what she was about to say. Nudge was looking at her like she'd grown a third head.

"See, Iggs," Max stuttered. "Well… she's not dead." Good, at least he wouldn't come to any bad conclusions before she really explained. "But, Professor Jordan found the dream simulator thing she was in, and, well, he… he erased her memories, and now she's living with a normal family somewhere. She doesn't remember us."

Gazzy and Angel exchanged shocked glances. Nudge looked thoughtful, but downcast. Iggy was staring at Max like she was crazy.

"Iggy," Max said apologetically, "Are you..?"

"I need a minute," Iggy croaked. Max drew back and nodded.

"Of course, Iggs, of course," she said, biting her lip. She pulled Gazzy and Angel towards her, and Nudge followed. They walked back towards me, eyes wide and sad. Iggy sat, shoulders slumped, staring at the ground.

We looked at each other in silence for a moment before I broke it awkwardly.

"So," I muttered. "Um, how'd you guys get Anne to come with us?"

Gazzy and Nudge looked at Angel, who smiled slightly.

"It wasn't very hard," she said. "Those two keep thinking I used mind control, but the truth was that I just told her that we were escaping and to come with us. She didn't even think about it, just followed."

"Huh," Max said. "So… spy?"

Angel shook her head. "No. She hates Professor Jordan. She feels very sorry. There's guilt everywhere. Something about a girl around fourteen." She looked at Max with wide, shining eyes. "We can trust her, Max. She hates the School almost as much as she hates Professor Jordan."

"Well that's a relief, then," Max snapped, waving her hand. Iggy didn't move from his position. "She hates Professor Jordan, so we can just forgive her for raping Iggy and getting pregnant off of it. She's guilty, so we should ignore the torment she put him through and welcome her with open arms." She glared in Anne's direction, and I had the strong feeling that the woman had woken up and was just pretending to still be sleeping. Whether to eavesdrop or out of politeness, I didn't know.

"But Max," Angel said, eyes wide. "That's the thing. She's a victim too. We're all victims, but she and Iggy most of all."

I looked back at Iggy. His right eye was the un-bandaged one, and it was wide, staring at the forest floor as though there was something of utmost importance written in the grass. His fingers nervously plucked a blade of grass and systematically tore it to shreds. His knuckles were white under the taught skin of his hand. The hand that had been stabbed through by the Eraser's claw was loosely bandaged, as though Max hadn't been paying much attention when she wrapped it.

"Oh yeah?" Max laughed. "In what way?"

Angel paused, gazing off into space. Her eyes looked downcast.

"She…" she started, her voice quivering. "Someone dear to her was killed. A sibling… her brother. He… he was murdered. Her niece was framed. Anne was offered a job that would save her niece from being convicted. She didn't know how bad it would be. She was told to… to r-rape Iggy. By Professor Jordan. He wanted the baby. He still wants the baby. He has a plan, and he needs the baby for it."

"That doesn't give her the right to hurt my brother," Max growled. I looked from Iggy to Anne, who was still pretending to be sleeping. "That doesn't give her any right."

"She knows," Angel said. "That's why she feels so awful. She just… she felt that saving her niece from a life of a convict was more important than saving the innocence of a boy she didn't even know."

Iggy looked up towards us. His right eye was shining with unshed tears.

"It's okay, Max," he said croakily. "It's okay. Anne… she… she's not a bad person."


"It's fine," Iggy cut her off shortly. He straightened, standing up, brushing off his pants. "I'm… I'm fine with her." He sniffed a bit and wiped his arm across his nose. He was still shirtless, I realized, and we were all still clothed in the stupid School uniforms. We would have to do something about that.

The flock all looked at him, expressions heavy with sympathy. He pulled a wry smile.

"Don't look at me like that," he said. "If… if Meagan's living happily with someone else, it's… it's okay. She doesn't remember us, and that's fine, so long as she's happy." He took a deep breath. "I'm just sixteen. I have my whole life ahead of me. I can't give up because m-my first girlfriend and I are no longer together." He paused and frowned. "I've heard that the pain I'm feeling goes away in a while."

Max stood up and walked over to hug him, and he grinned, wrapping his arms around her in return.

"It's okay," Max said, not know what else she could say. There was nothing.

"Thanks," he said. "I appreciate you guys a whole lot."

Angel, however, skipped over to where Anne was leaned up against a tree. She leaned down, and Anne's eyes snapped open when she senses her presence, her hands immediately fluttering to her large stomach.

"It's okay," Angel said sweetly. "I know you wouldn't mind if we did, but we're not going to hurt you." She smiled, and Anne stared for a moment before smiling nervously back.

"I'm sorry," were the first words that tumbled out of her mouth.

"Not nearly enough, is it?" Max growled under her breath. Iggy put his hand in her hair, looking at her.

"It's fine," he whispered. Then he grimaced and muttered something under his breath; just don't you dare fall in love with her. Hmm. That was probably for J, seeing as I highly doubted Iggy was worried about Max falling in love with Anne at any time.

Max raised an eyebrow inquiringly. "Huh?" she asked, and Iggy shrugged.

The rest of the day went by awkwardly, with nervous glances exchanged, somber attitudes, and empty, growling stomachs. By nightfall, everyone was almost eager to jump up and fly miles away to a city. Well, at least the kids were. They didn't have to help carry a pregnant woman through the sky.

"Where should we head to get to the nearest city, Ig?" I asked once we were in the air, Max and I flapping heavily to keep Anne from splattering on the ground. She was very antsy and nervous, being held aloft by two bird-kids gripping each of her arms. I don't know why.

Iggy gestured to his left, grinning half-heartedly.

"Alright, then," Max grunted. "That way it is."

Thanks, as always, for reading. I love you all bunches and bunches! See you next time!

41. Hate

Sorry for the long wait! It's just that the last few weeks I was studying for finals, and I didn't want to distract myself from that importance. Yeah, unfortunately I value good grades over updating fanfiction consistently, so sorry about that. Love you guys! Please forgive me!

Fang POV

We touched down in the trees outside a small city. Iggy, who seemed to be having a problem with killer headaches, instantly clasped his palm over his bandaged eye, grimacing. Max and I were bent over, hands on our knees, catching our breath after carrying Anne all that time. Hollow bones that woman has not. Plus, there was the extra weight from the pregnancy. The lady was even heavier than Iggy had been.

"What… are we gonna… do now?" Max gasped, her hand at her chest. Her hair was even messier than it had been before, she smelled of incredibly awful BO, there was sweat dampening her forehead, and yet I still couldn't help but think that she was the most gorgeous girl I had ever seen. I guess that's what love does to you, right?

"We need new clothes," Nudge said, distastefully gesturing at her outfit, identical to those the rest of us were wearing – well, the rest of us, except for Anne and Iggy.

"Very true," Iggy agreed, removing his hand from his injured eye and wrapping his arms around his bare chest as a cool breeze stirred our hair. "I don't know about you guys, but I'd rather not be shirtless."

"And I'd rather not wear this dress any longer than I have to," I amended. "But, how are we gonna walk into town to buy clothes, you know, with all of us being dressed like this?"

"Anne can go," Iggy responded instantly. "I mean, she's actually in real clothes, right? And Angel could go with her, because with her being so young, she looks the most natural in the School uniform. So, they could go and get clothes from somewhere. Like, Goodwill or something, if we had a bit of money."

Max tapped her chin, pondering.

"That would work if we did, indeed, have money," she agreed. "Which we don't."

"How do we get some?" Angel asked Iggy, and he frowned.

"Um, get a job, pick pockets… someone dropped a twenty three blocks over thataway," he said, pointing to the right.

"Right then," Max said, wiping her hands on her dress. "Anne, Angel… Iggy, if they go get that twenty dollar bill and then to Goodwill, will they be okay?"

There was a pause, and then Iggy nodded, certain.

"Okay. I can't believe I'm saying this, but…"

"Max, I'll be super careful," Angel said. "And don't worry, Anne's not a bad person, I promise she won't do anything bad."

Max scowled. "You have to promise to send us telepathic messages every two minutes," she said. "If anything goes wrong, you are to scream as loud as you can and do a U-and-A, and I don't give a damn if you have to leave her behind."

"Don't worry, I won't have to," Angel assured us.

Max appeared tortured for a second, torn between getting clothes and letting her little girl go into the city alone with just Anne.

"Telepathic message every two minutes," she reminded, relenting.

"Of course!" Angel said brightly, jumping over to Anne and taking her hand. Anne looked startled.

"Are you sure… I mean, you're trusting me with this? With her?" she asked, voice hesitant. Max scowled.

"We're not trusting you to take care of Angel, we're trusting Angel to take care of you," she said. She walked right up and glared Anne straight in the face, nose to nose. Sometimes I think that it's Max's relentless ferocity that I find so attractive. Somehow, her annoyance at Anne was turning me on.

"Right, of course," Anne whispered.

"Which way was the money again, Iggy?" Angel asked him sweetly. Iggy pointed out the direction, and in minutes, Angel and Anne had disappeared.

Max dropped to the ground, putting her head in her hands.

"Oh god," she muttered to herself. "I'm… I'm not myself anymore! Two months ago, I would never have let that happen!"

"That's the funny thing about life, Max," Iggy said softly. "In just two months, everything can change completely."

"Not like this," Max said, burying her face in her hands. "Not like this! I'm affiliating with the enemy! I'm letting Angel go off by herself with someone I don't trust!"

Iggy's expression darkened. "I bet I can top that. Or have you forgotten? That person you don't trust is pregnant with my baby."

Max gaped for a second, and then, before I knew it, the two of them were hugging each other as though they were the only things that anchored each other to the ground. No… wait, it wasn't like that. Max was clutching Iggy, and Iggy was merely hugging her back.

"I'm so sorry!" Max gasped, sobbing into Iggy's shoulder. She clutched at his back, scratching little pink lines into his skin with her nails, ruffling the feathers of his wings. "Iggy, I'm so, so sorry! I just… I didn't…"

"It's fine, Max," Iggy said. "I know. I know."

Nudge was sitting against a tree, arms crossed, looking at the scene with an undefinable expression. Gazzy nervously edged over to me, appearing uncomfortable with the whole thing. I looked down at him, and he looked up at me and reached up to take my hand in his.

Gazzy's hand was small in mine. I'd almost forgotten that he was so young. He was barely older than Angel, after all, and yet we often seemed to forget that he needed just as much as protection and comfort as she did.

Watering blue eyes gazed into mine, and the Gasman's lower lip trembled, his face crumpling.

"F-F-Fang," he whimpered. "Will you p-please hug me, t-t-too?"

I was aghast for a moment. Gazzy never came to me for comfort. No one ever came to me for comfort.

"Sure, buddy," I said, and I knelt down and wrapped my arms around him. The little guy shook as he cried, wrapping his own arms around my neck, sniffling into my chest.

"I'm s-s-sorry I'm being such a b-big crybaby," he bawled. "B-but everything's so hard! I d-d-don't want Iggy to have a baby! He won't want to be my b-b-best f-friend anymore!"

"Ssh," I attempted to comfort, my hand in his spiky blond hair. "Nonsense, Gazzy, of course he'll still be your best friend. Iggy loves you, it doesn't matter if he has a baby or not."

"Gazzy." It was Iggy. The Gasman and I looked up to see him and Max looking towards us, Max's cheeks still wet with tears. "Gasser, I didn't know you felt like that! Did you really think that I wouldn't want to be your friend anymore?"

Gazzy wailed, pulling away from me a bit and trying to wipe his eyes with the back of his hands. "But no one pays… pays attention… t-to me anymore!" he sobbed. "Everyone is tuh-talking about the st-stupid… stupid buh-baby and looking after Angel and sad about Meagan, and none of you l-luh-love me anymore! When the b-baby comes along, everyone's guh-guh-going to forget all about me, and I'll be all alone… alone, and you w-won't want to make buh-b-bombs with me anymore or anything!"

"Oh, Gazzy," Iggy said, and he spread his arms. Gazzy rushed away from me and bolted into Iggy's chest, crying for all he was worth. Max half-smiled through her tears, holding out her arms for me as well. I got up and walked over, and saw Nudge, looking a bit peeved and a lot jealous; she rushed right over when we beaconed her, and in a moment, we four teenagers were surrounding Gazzy in a much-needed group hug. You know, minus the Angel.

I'm jealous, you guys! Angel whined in our minds. I'm gone for all of five minutes and you're having a family hug without me!

"You were supposed to send us a message every two minutes," Max laughed weakly. We could all feel Angel's pout.

Anyway, not that you guys care about what I'm doing, but Anne and I found the twenty-dollar bill, Angel continued. And we're on our way to the Goodwill. Any clothes in particular you guys want? Like, Iggy, do you want a shirt and pants, or are the pants you're wearing now okay?

Iggy shrugged. "These pants are fine, I guess."

"Angel!" Nudge gasped. "I want a really cute dress and a cute shirt and jean-shorts and maybe a hairbrush, you know, because my hair is totally tangled and gross."

We all stared at her for a long moment, and she stared back, confused.

"What?" she asked.

"It's just… you haven't acted like the Nudge-Channel for a while," Max said, "And we were beginning to hope… ahem, I mean, to think that it was gone."

Nudge grinned. "Hey, I can be mature and talkative at the same time."

But Nudge, Angel thought to us, I can't buy you all that and have money for the rest of us.

Nudge sat back grumpily, scowling. "Well, you're the one who asked."

I did. Next time I won't.

"But Angel," Iggy said. "I changed my mind. I want jean-shorts too, and maybe a super-cute miniskirt, and a cute pink tank-top, and new earrings, and maybe some mascara. Nudge can help me put it on." Iggy put on a simpering expression and put his hands to his cheeks.

"Iggy, you're j-joking," Gazzy said disbelievingly. He snuffled and wiped away the snot dribbling out of his nose.

"I tend to do that, on occasion," Iggy replied seriously. "Although I'm really an emotionless rock at heart, in the same way that Fang is actually an incurable prankster."

Gazzy's grin was watery, but then he laughed and hugged Iggy tightly all over again.

"You're the same!" he said happily. "You're the same Iggy! It seemed like you'd changed, but you're still my best friend!"

Iggy closed his eye (you know, the one that wasn't bandaged) and breathed the scent of Gazzy's hair. "I would hope so."

Nudge, Max and I withdrew, leaving Gazzy to finish crying in Iggy's arms.

"I didn't realize that he was feeling so left out," Max said. Her eyes were wide, her cheeks streaked with tear-tracks through the grime that had collected over several long days without bathing. "Fang, I want to do a good job raising these kids. We have to… we have to make sure they don't go through what Iggy went through."

"I know, Max," I said, looking back at Gazzy's quivering figure in Iggy's caring arms. "Don't worry. You're overthinking things. We're doing… we're doing fine."

"Yeah, Max," Nudge agreed. "I mean, I can't speak for Angel or Gazzy, but I haven't been harboring any stifled feelings of bitter resentment towards you, so you've been doing at least thirty-three percent okay." She gave Max a thumbs-up and a sardonic grin, and Max rolled her eyes.

Whoa, you guys, we totally found clothes for everyone, and there's still two whole dollars left over! Angel chirruped in our minds.

"That's the point of the Goodwill, hun," Max said. "It's for poor folks like us."

Anyway, we're on our way back. Max, Anne spotted a motel about two blocks from where you are. I already 'made a reservation' for all of us if you want to stay there.

We all exchanged looks, and Gazzy nodded energetically.

"Please, Max?" he begged, his voice a bit nasally. He wiped his eyes with the heels of his hands. "I want a bed and a toilet."

"Sure," Max relented. "Of course."

Good, because we're supposed to check in in fifteen minutes. Anne and I are going to be back in a second...

"Hi!" Angel said happily, skipping back into the clearing with a large shopping bag in her arms. She dropped it to the ground in a patch of dirt, spreading her arms wide. There was a broad grin on her face, and she appeared to already be wearing the item of clothing she had bought for herself; a white nightgown with blue flowers that could be used as a regular dress as well.

Anne stumbled in after her, breathing deeply, holding her pregnant belly with both hands.

"She's quite an energetic little kid," she gasped. "Flitting around the store like a little bird…"

"Apt simile," Iggy said, but he said it in a rather high voice. Then I remembered that we had told J to talk in a high voice so that we could tell them apart, and that's when I remembered that the weird virus-thingy was still, in fact, inside Iggy's head. He must have been feeling pretty polite to remain quiet throughout all of Gazzy's break-down. "Anne, you're very intelligent. Sharp." He stopped talking and started to blush, and I raised my eyebrows. "Ignore me, I make no sense."

"Nudge, we got you this cute blouse and these jeans," Angel said, bending over and pulling the used clothes out of the bag. Nudge squealed, took the items, and ran away to change behind a tree. "Gazzy, here's some cargo-shorts and a t-shirt." Gazzy decided to run off with his clothes to Nudge's tree, but the swift kick to the rump that our mocha-girl gave him sent him running back in the opposite direction.

"What've you got for me?" Max asked, and Angel gave her a tank-top and jeans like Nudge's. "And for Fang?" Angel gave her a button-up black shirt and a pair of pink jeans, which Max passed on to me.

I stared at the jeans.

"These are supposed to be Nudge's, right?" I asked. "These have to be for Nudge."

Angel shrugged and tried to look apologetic, but the smirk that she was trying to disguise ruined her attempt.

"They were the only ones in your size that wouldn't make you look like some old businessman," she smiled. "You wouldn't want pinstripes or dirty brown corduroy, would you?"

I stared at her. "They're pink, Angel. Pink. Like, hot pink."

"If you don't want them, you can just walk around in your briefs," Nudge said, walking back into our clearing, tugging on the hem of her white blouse.

Iggy grinned. "Briefs? I always figured you for a boxers kind of guy," he said, and I mocked him silently.

"It doesn't matter, it's just underwear," I grumbled. "Dr. Martinez got them for me."

Iggy smiled wider. "Dr. M got me boxers."

I gaped at him and turned to Max. She was looking at us with an odd expression.

"I'm just gonna go change," Max said, pointing over her shoulder to the trees while simultaneously backing away.

"And Iggy, we got you a shirt. It's got a picture of a dog on it and it says 'guide dog,' and I thought it was funny."

"Gee, thanks," Iggy said, taking the shirt and immediately tugging it on. "I like my clothes with a touch of irony."

"And I saw this in the back next to all the stuffed animals," she added, pulling another item out of the nearly empty shopping bag. She hesitated before letting him know what it was. "It's an eye-patch." She held it out to him, and he took it from her and held it, looking rather taken aback.

"Um, I'd hate to be the one to bring bad tidings, but I'm sort of blind in both eyes," he said. "What use is an eye-patch?"

"Well," Angel started. Gazzy had returned in his new clothes and looked at the eye-patch in Iggy's hand. "Your eye… might be a little… messed up, judging by what Fang and Max have been thinking," she whispered. "And I thought that it might be good for you to wear an eye-patch in public, you know, if you want. It's just an option."

"Huh," Iggy said, feeling the eye-patch. It was a simple circle of thick black material with strips of black cloth that I assume was supposed to be tied around one's head.

Max emerged from behind the trees a moment later. She glanced at the object in Iggy's hands before turning back to Angel.

"Anything else in that magic bag of yours?" she asked. "A razor, maybe?" She looked at me.

"Why?" Angel asked. "What needs shaving?"

"Oh, things," she said, and I was very confused as to why she appeared to be staring at my nose.

"But Max, I don't care if your legs or armpits are hairy or anything," I said kindly. "I mean, you never started shaving like that until we began staying at your mom's house."

Max smiled strangely at me. "Oh, thanks, honey, but that's not what I was talking about." She turned back to Angel. "Maybe there will be one at the motel. Motel time, Ange. Lead us on."

Iggy kept fingering the eye-patch as we all made our way to the motel. I have to say, being in normal clothes at last, I hadn't really thought that we would draw stares. But six barefoot kids and a pregnant woman, even in normal clothes, aren't the most normal things that walk down a small city street at three in the afternoon.

The motel that Anne had found us was a ratty old two-story thing with a tiny pool in the back. The guy at the front counter appeared to be expecting us. He seemed rather dazed, however, as he appeared not to notice our bare feet or the fact that we had not, in fact, paid him for the two rooms he that he led us to.

"Here's the keys," he said, holding out the keys and dropping them dazedly; Nudge had to practically dive to catch them before they hit the ground. "They're adjoining rooms. There's a door in the middle." He smiled at the thin air about two inches above Angel's head. "Separate rooms for the boys and the girls, so that there isn't any canoodling."

"Um, thanks," Max said uncertainly. The man stood and smiled there for a minute more as the rest of us exchanged awkward looks, but then Angel managed to prod him away with her mind.

After the guy had disappeared around the corner of the hallway, we all let out a sigh.

"Anne, you can take that room," Max said, gesturing to the one on the right. "We'll take this one."

"Oh," Anne said, downcast. "Right, of course." She paused, then took the key that Nudge was offering and went into her room.

"You didn't have to be so mean," J grumbled.

"I'm sorry, but I want my whole family to myself tonight," Max snapped. "We've been separated in one way or another for days, and I want to be able to wake up at any time tonight and find any one of my flock's faces. But we have two rooms, and we have to use both of them."

"Whatever. I'm just gonna retreat now so I don't have to listen to all the mushy-gushy mumbo-jumbo that is bound to occur."

"Be my guest," Iggy said, gesturing theatrically and beaning Gazzy in the process.

"Iggy!" the Gasman whined, rubbing his head where the back of Iggy's hand had hit it.

"I apologize, Sir Fartsalot, but the sun seems to have gone out. I can't see a blinking thing."

I threw my hands in the air and gasped. "Oh my god, Iggy's right! The sun's gone out! I'm blind! I'm blind!"

"Oh geez! Oh no! Me too!" Nudge shrieked, digging her fingernails into her cheek. "My sight is gone! Everything's dark!"

"Max, Max, I can't see a thing!" Angel cried, grabbing Max's hand and sniffling dramatically.

"Oh dear, honey, it's happened to me too, I can't see, I can't see, I'm blind…"

"Iggy!" Gazzy gasped, "Iggy, me too! I can't see too! It's all dark and scary!"

Iggy looked around at the lot of us, fake-sobbing and freaking out and clawing at the walls. He shook his head and held up his hands.

"Okay, okay," he said, "I get it, it was a stupid joke. So sue me."

"I would if you had any money, big guy," I said, immediately dropping my act, patting him on the back. "I really, really would."

The motel room was better than those we usually have to suffer through. In fact, I could see us spending a good few days here.

There were two twin-sized beds, an armchair, a fuzzy old-fashioned television – no flat screen, bummer – a decently sized bathroom with a bathtub/shower, and a nicely sized window. Gazzy immediately collapsed onto his bed, sighing in ecstasy.

"I like beds," he said. "Have I ever told you guys that I like beds?"

"They're better than cages, that's for sure," Nudge agreed, falling onto the other one.

Angel clambered up next to the Gasman and took one of the pillows, rubbing her face against it with a serene smile. "This is so soft," she whispered.

"Fang, there's an ice bucket in the mini-fridge, can you go fill it down the hall?"

"Sure," I said, sauntering over and taking the bucket as Max handed it to me. "Ig, wanna come with?"

Iggy shrugged and followed me out of the room.

I have to admit, I had missed his finger in my belt-loop, and I couldn't help but grin as we walked to the ice machine, even though the belt-loop he was holding happened to be attached to hot pink skinny-jeans. Bah, like Angel hadn't gotten them for me on purpose. I highly doubt that the only jeans in my size were hot pink skinny-jeans.

"Ig, what happened to you while we were in the School?" I asked.

Oh, of course, my stupid mouth acts of its own accord. Instead of making one of my lame jokes and being able to goof off with my bro for a bit, I had started an awkward conversation. Kudos, Fangalator. Dude, no offense, but you suck.

I'm pretty hard on myself in my head, but hey, no one else will do it. I guess I just give off an aura. People don't like to mess with me.

"Nothing," Iggy said. "I was asleep most of it. I was with you a little, remember? But the other bit I was in Anne's room. And then He talked to me for a little bit. Then there was the arena, and, well…"

"Yeah," I nodded. We had reached the ice machine, and I put the bucket under the dispenser and tried to find a button or something that would make ice come out. My search wasn't very successful. "Iggy, how do you freaking turn this thing on?" I grumbled, running my hands along the sides in search of a lever.

Iggy reached over my shoulder and pressed a button that, of course, just happened to be directly in front of my face.

"And I didn't even use my powers for that," he grinned, and I flicked him in the side of the head, so of course he made a crack at my jeans.

"You know what they say, though," he informed me. "Pink is the new black."

"Yeah, whatever," I laughed, removing the bucket then from under the dispenser and trying to get the stupid machine to turn off. It turned out, after much struggling and a lot of spilled ice, that I just had to press the 'on' button again. Who knew, right?

"Done?" Iggy inquired, and I nodded.

"Yeah, we can head back now."

I turned and began walking back to our room, but the distinct lack of an Iggy behind me made me stop and turn around. Iggy was still standing by the ice machine, and I saw that he was messing with the eye-patch that Angel had bought for him.

"What is it, Iggy?" I asked, walking back. Iggy looked up at me then back down to the item in his hands. He tucked the eye-patch into his jeans pocket, then reached up to finger the bandages over his eye.

"It's just…" He seemed torn about something. "Do you…"

"Uh huh?" I prodded, nodding to him. He hesitated.

"My d… Professor Jordan," he said softly. He removed his fingers from his eye and began fiddling with the bandages around his injured hand. "Do you… do you think he… hates me?"

"Well of…" I replied instantly, about to say 'well of course, he sure acts like it.' But then I saw the expression on Iggy's face, and I realized that Iggy didn't want to hear that. I thought about what Mr. Evil had done to Iggy when he was a kid; about Iggy's depression and suicidal thoughts, about the scars littering his wrists, about the baby that Anne was carrying. I looked at the bandage over Iggy's eye and thought about how deep that cut was, and about how Professor Jordan had done it without hesitation, and with an uncaring smirk.

"I don't know," I finally told him. "Maybe not. Probably… probably not."

Iggy let out a long breath, his shoulders relaxing. He half-smiled at me.

"Thanks," he breathed. "I… I know it's messed up. I'm sorry. But thanks."

I shoved the ice bucket into his arms and threw my arm around his shoulder, leading him down the hallway. "Anytime, bro," I said, trying to sound lighthearted, though in reality a pit had formed in my stomach.

Iggy didn't want Professor Jordan to hate him. After all the sadist had done, Iggy didn't want the guy to hate him. And that meant that Iggy himself didn't hate Professor Jordan. And I found that a problem. A really, really bad problem.

Okay, I hope this is okay. I myself am not totally satisfied with this chapter, so you readers probably won't be either. At least it's long though, right?

Anyway, I'm hoping for the plot to develop into the beginning of the end soon, because that will be exciting and the part I'm most looking forward to writing. Please bear with me!

42. Truth

Don't say anything. I know, I know, I'm a terrible updater. Please forgive me!

Without further ado…


Fang and Iggy returned to the room after a few minutes. Gazzy was already softly pretending to snore on the bed as Angel tried to tell him that despite his acting, she was, in fact, a psychic, and knew he was faking it. Nudge was flipping through the channels, trying to decide on Disney or the Food Network or America's Next Top Model. She finally decided on America's Next Top Model and sat back comfortably on the armchair, settling down to soak up all of the fashion-y goodness that she so likes.

"Have fun?" I asked as Fang handed me the ice bucket, thankfully full of the deliciously frozen water. I popped an ice cube into my mouth, savoring the coolness, then scooped a handful into a glass and filled it with water. I offered the same to Iggy and Fang, and at their nods, made each of them their own glasses of iced water.

"Totally," Iggy said, flopping onto one of the beds. Gazzy had to break his whole sleeping-act to move out of the way so that he wasn't flattened by Iggy's royal ass. "Did you know they had an arcade down there? And a roller coaster? We had bunches of fun whilst waiting for the ice to dispense."

"A roller coaster? An arcade?" Gazzy piped up hopefully, and Iggy swept him into a headlock, ruffling the little kid's blond hair. The Gasman giggled uproariously, struggling to escape from Iggy's grip.

"Yes, that wasn't sarcasm at all," he said.

"It's true," Fang agreed, sitting next to me and cracking a grin. "It was a blast, and I don't even like rollercoasters."

I rolled my eyes and stood, clapping my hands together to draw the attention of my rather ADHD flock. Angel gazed at me with wide eyes and Iggy paused in his harassment of Gazzy, both of them looking towards me expectantly. Nudge didn't turn away from her show, but that was to be expected.

"Yes, O' Fearless Leader?" Iggy prodded.

"We've just busted out of the School," I started, clasping my hands. "They're probably going to be on our tails soon, there's gonna be lots of drama in the near future, and we're all here together and relatively unharmed, in the sense that none of us are near death." I looked pointedly at Iggy's bandaged eye and hand. He had opened his mouth to jokingly object, but quieted immediately.

The flock looked at me with dumb expressions, and I sighed.

"So, I suggest we play a family game!" I finished.

Everyone's demeanor brightened immediately. Nudge even turned away from her model show with a smile.

"That sounds like so much fun!" she gushed. "We could play Charades, or Twenty Questions, or Truth or Dare!"

"Oh joy," Iggy muttered, throwing his arm theatrically across his face. "I can act out ridiculous things, try to humor idiotic questions, or spout my deepest secrets and act like a total fool! Which to choose, which to choose…"

"Stop it," I chided, nudging his shoulder lightly. "It'll be fun! When are we going to get another chance?"

He sighed and rolled his eyes and, of course, relented.

"Good!" Nudge chirruped, standing and, apparently, nominating herself leader of the following events. "Now, which game to play? Who votes for Charades?"

The Gasman stuck his hand up energetically, then appeared downcast as he looked around and saw that no one agreed with him. He loved acting out the charades, mostly because his ideas were so obscure that none of us could ever guess what he was pretending to be.

"One vote for Charades!" Nudge counted. "Now, what about Twenty Questions?"

Iggy and I both raised our hands. I didn't particularly like the game, but it was better than the other two. Iggy probably figured he could cheat with his power.

"Two for Twenty Questions! Now… Truth or Dare!"

I wasn't surprised when Angel and Nudge raised their hands, but to my shock and horror, Fang raised his as well. I stared at him in disbelief.

"No," I choked, and he gave me a half-grin.

"Sorry, Max," he shrugged, "I sort of like learning your deep, dark secrets. Remember? You love me thiiiiiis much…"

"Truth or Dare wins!" Nudge cheered, jumping excitedly. "Awesome! Who wants to go first?"

Angel stuck her hand in the air excitedly. "I want to dare Max!" she exclaimed. I scowled at her, but she just smiled sweetly back.

"Okay, Angel!" Nudge agreed. "Go!"

"Okay. Max, I dare you to…"

"Wait a second," I stopped her, holding up my hand. "You have to ask me if I want truth or dare."

Angel sighed disappointedly. "Fine," she mumbled. "Truth or dare?"

"Truth," I said confidently, figuring that not going with her want for dare was a good thing. But then I saw a devious smile spread across her face and my stomach dropped.

Angel rubbed her hands together, all like Yes, now you've played directly into my trap! I was seriously frightened.

"Alright then, Max," she said, "Where is your secret stash of candy?"

I blanched, then looked around in protest at the rest of my family's faces, searching for someone who would back me up in my objection to answering the question. I found no such sympathy in any of their faces. Instead, they had leaned forward eagerly, excited to hear of the location of my infamous secret candy stash.

"I… I…"

"It's Truth or Dare, Max, and you chose Truth!" Angel said. "You are required by law to answer the question!"

It had been a long and ongoing battle, mine and Angel's. She trying to discover my candy through mind control, telepathy, and good old-fashioned ninjesque spying skills; me laughing evilly as she failed at every attempt. And now it was going to come to a close. I hung my head in despair.

"In my room, there's a loose floorboard," I said sadly.

"And it's under it?" Gazzy exclaimed, bouncing up and down in his chair. Nudge had even turned the television completely off to give my revealing her full and undivided attention.

I shook my head slowly. "Under the loose floorboard, in the far corner, there is a key. The key opens a wooden box located on my bedside table."

"That tiny little thing? There's no room in that for your candy," Nudge said doubtfully.

"Inside the box, there's a small, carefully shaped lock-pick that unlocks the big chest in mom's room, the one that the key was lost to ages ago."

"Well, that's certainly big enough!" Iggy grinned, sitting back. But by the look on his face and his satisfied smirk, I could tell that he knew I wasn't quite finished. Him and his stupid power.

I sighed and picked at the blanket. "Inside the chest is a Jack-in-the-Box, and if you play it until it opens, there is another key inside the clown-thingy's mouth. The key opens the perpetually locked closet in the basement. In the closet, there's a secretarial, and the second-to-last drawer of it has a false bottom."

By now, the jaws of Angel, Nudge, and Gazzy had dropped open in either shock or amazement. Fang wasn't quite at that stage yet, but was looking bemused, and Iggy's grin was just growing broader by the minute.

"In the drawer, under the false bottom, is a Rubiks cube that is completely solved. The middle square on the red side comes out, and in there is another key. That key opens the piggy bank back up in my room, and inside my piggy bank is another key, which goes to a box back in my mom's chest in her room, that had been hidden under a folded blanket behind the Jack-in-the-Box."

"This is ending soon, right?" Gazzy said weakly. "I haven't been taking notes, and I don't know what's going on anymore."

Angel shushed him. "Ssh, Gazzy! I've been listening, and I want Max to finish. I want that candy."

I sighed and closed my eyes in defeat.

"In-that-box-are-three-keys-and-the-right-one-is-a-silver-one-and-it-opens-a-small-door-on-the-far-side-of-the-basement-and-behind-the-door-is-a-big-chest-with-a-combination-lock-and-inside-is-the-candy," I said as fast as I could, thinking that perhaps she wouldn't quite understand what I said.

Angel smiled evilly. "What's the combination, Max?"

I buried my face in my hands and opened my mouth to tell her the combination…

When we heard a small scream come from Anne's room.

Iggy's head jerked up and towards the sound, an expression of concern showing on his face.

"Anne?" he said, and as we all stood hurriedly and made our ways to the door joining the two rooms, the only thought going through my mind was YES! Sorry, Angel, but no candy for you.

Iggy was the first to burst through the door, and I had the strongest suspicion that this was J again, not my Iggy. I arrived a second later to find Iggy hovering nervously over Anne, who was kneeling on the ground with her hands over her stomach, panting.

"Are you alright?" J asked, concerned. Anne nodded, struggling to stand.

"Yes… I… it was just a contraction. It was just the first real painful one I've had, and it surprised me…"

Iggy made a weird sort of movement that resulted in him falling over; J had tried to step forward with one foot, Iggy had tried to step back with the other, and so he toppled over sideways.

"You're not having the… the…" Iggy stammered, panic-stricken. Anne shook her head, now standing, but still gasping. I felt Fang behind me, and he laid a hand on my shoulder. The kids peeked around us.

"No, no, it's natural to have contractions this far into pregnancy," she explained. "It doesn't mean I'm in labor, it's my body trying to get me ready to have the baby." She touched her hands to her stomach, a look of annoyance on her face. "Ooh, that was a really hard kick. If this baby gets any stronger, I'll have a broken back."

"Like Bella," Nudge piped up as she moved forward to help Iggy up. We all stared at her uncomprehendingly. "From Breaking Dawn," she prompted, and we just shook our heads. Nudge sighed. "You know, the Twilight Saga?"

"You mean that movie series with the glittery naked dudes and Kristen Stewart? Oh, and Cedric Diggory?"

Nudge stuck her nose in the air haughtily. "The movie series is based off of a truly fantabulous book series, actually," she said frostily, "And I own and have read all of them. Four times."

I gestured for her to stop talking before she could ramble on about Robert Pattinson and Emmett Cullen. I had heard this spiel before way too often.

"Anyway, what do you mean, like Bella?" I asked. Nudge shrugged.

"Bella got all impregnated with this mutant half-human, half-vampire baby, and the baby was super strong and sucked up her energy and whenever it kicked it broke her ribs and other stuff…"

Fang and I exchanged glances, and Iggy looked stricken.

"… And she named it Renesmee, but then they discovered that she aged super super fast…"

"How many months are you?" Fang asked Anne, and she and Iggy replied at the same time.

"Starting the ninth." Anne said it matter-of-factly; Iggy said it with an air of stunned disbelief.

"… And they all were really scared because she was going to get old in only, like, fifteen years, and die…"

Iggy looked towards the floor, his neck tense, absolutely still. He looked anxious and worried and frightened and horrified and numb, all at once, and I began to feel that he wasn't very okay.

That's, of course, when he bolted up and ran to the window, hefting it open. I moved to grab his arm and stop him, but he just shook me off and leapt out through the open window, landing in a crouch on the grass below. Then he stood, spread his wings, and took off into the night.

"Iggy!" I screamed after him, but he didn't turn around. I started to climb out of the window to chase after him, but Fang stopped me and gave me a meaningful look.

"He'll want to talk to me," he said simply. I nodded and stepped away, letting Fang climb out of the window and fly off after Iggy.

"Bring him back!" I shouted at him.

Nudge looked at me, shocked.

"… But then it turned out she was immortal just like them, so everything was fine, and they lived happily ever after," she finished. I looked at her.

"I know, sweetie," I said. "But Iggy doesn't."

Fang POV

"Iggy!" I shouted, but he didn't look back. He just kept flapping those great big wings of his and flying pretty much as hard as he could. Due to the fact that he was taller than me and his wingspan therefor greater, he was normally faster; however, luckily – or well, unluckily, depending on how you look at it at any given moment – the wounds he had received in the arena as well as his harsh treatment in the School had made him weaker, and I was gaining.

"Iggy, come on, man!" I shouted again. "Don't run away like that! That's a childish thing to do!"

Iggy finally shouted back to me.

"That's sort of the point, isn't it?" he called, bitterly. "I'm just a kid, Fang."

Iggy had finally stopped and was flapping heavily, struggling to hover in one general area; we were meant for flying, as in forward, not for floating in one spot. I caught up with him in a moment.

"Let's land somewhere and talk," I said, and Iggy nodded curtly, wiping his sleeve quickly over his un-bandaged eye.

We landed in an alley. It was dark and smelled rather disgusting, but it was quiet and secluded, so we stayed in its cover. I stood against a brick wall and faced Iggy, studying his face. His eye was red-rimmed, and I could tell that he had cried a bit as he was flying. He looked pretty shaken up.

"Tell me what's going on," I said. Iggy said nothing in response, staring at a space of the wall that was about three feet to my left. He was purposefully avoiding direct eye-contact, even though it wouldn't make much of a difference.

I stepped forward. "It's the baby, isn't it?" He didn't have to answer; the question was sort of rhetorical. "Iggy, what are you scared about?"

He seemed to swell with tension as he took a breath and slowly let it out, clenching and unclenching his hands into fists. He looked down.

"I can't… be a… parent," he said.

"That's an understandable feeling," I told him. "You're young and scared, and you don't know what the future is going to be like."

Iggy shook his head.

"I know I'm young, and I can't tell the future, but god, Fang… I'm freaking terrified that I'm going to be…"

He broke off and bit his lip.

"To be what, Ig?" I asked softly. His eye welled up with tears again, but he furiously held them back.

"A terrible father," he said. "I'm scared that I'm going to end up… that I'm going to be just like Him."

And that's when the tears finally fell, and with a fervor.

"I just… I just hated it so much, growing up, and hearing you guys all tell stories about what your parents would be like if you ever met them, and how nice and smart and good they'd be." Iggy sniffled and wiped his hands furiously across his eye. "And I knew who mine was, and he's the most terrible person you could ever meet, and he's done such awful things to all of you, and to me, but… but… I can't help but not hate him, and I don't know why, and I'm scared that because I don't hate him for what he's done it means that I'll turn out like him!"

"Iggy, you won't turn out like him," I said soothingly. "The fact that you're scared about it is sign enough that you're not anything like him. He's a psychotic child abuser, whereas you're one of the nicest, most caring people I have ever met."

Iggy took a shuddering breath. "But it doesn't matter! It doesn't matter if I don't turn out like him… well, it does… but it won't change anything! I'll still be a terrible dad, because I'm only sixteen and I'm a mutant and I can barely take care of myself, let alone a baby!"

"Iggy," I started, but he cut me off, pulling his sleeve up and showing me his wrist.

"Look at this!" he hissed, his voice pained. "Look at what I did to myself!" His scars were pale, and glowed eerily in the thin light from the street and from the moon. "I couldn't even handle you getting Max, how could I handle a child!"

I started at the mention of Max. I had always, always assumed that Iggy cutting himself was a result from Professor Jordan's abuse; I had never once thought that it might be because Max, the girl he was programmed to love since birth, ended up with his best friend.

"And besides all of that, I can't help…" he paused, his cheeks beginning to grow red. "I can't help but think of myself. What's my life going to be like with a kid? I won't be able to do any of the things that normal kids do. No parties, no misbehaving, no… no sex." He clenched his hands into tight fists. "But that one doesn't even matter in the end, because just the thought of sex makes me feel scared and sick and ashamed, instead of turning me on like it would if I were normal. If I had a freaking normal life."

I stared. I didn't know how to respond. Iggy was pouring his heart out to me, all of his fears and doubts, and I couldn't think of a single word of comfort.

"I'm sorry," I said helplessly. "I can't even begin to relate with what you're feeling. You're scared and confused and doubtful, and I get it. But you just need to know that, whatever happens, I'm here for you." I reached out and laid my hand on his shoulder. "We all are. If you get nervous, you can just talk to us. We'll all help you with the baby, so you don't need to feel like you have to raise it yourself. And if you ever want to go out and party, we can babysit it for you."

Iggy cracked a smile at that, and I grinned back.

"And I doubt you'll ever stop making bombs, so you'll still have the misbehaving thing going for you. And, dude, despite what you may hear on the media or from other people, sex isn't really everything. I mean, to tell you the truth…" I paused and breathed deeply, feeling nervous. "To tell you the truth I'm terrified of it. It's natural. And any trauma you have, you'll most likely overcome it."

The alley was silent for a long while as Iggy recovered his composure. I stood quietly in front of him, letting him get ahold of himself, dry his eye, and take a few, reassuring deep breaths.

"Hey," I said finally, when Iggy was ready. "If you really want to do something that crazy teenagers do, we can."

Iggy raised an eyebrow curiously. "Yeah? Like what?"

I grinned deviously, and thought that it was a grin that Max would be proud of, and Iggy, if he could have seen it.

"How old do you think we both look?"

Iggy shrugged. "From what I've heard, I guess we look around, like, eighteen, or twenty. Although I guess I look older, since I'm older than you."

"So, would you say we might be able to pass for twenty-one?" I asked him. He just lifted his shoulders uncaringly.

"I have no idea. Sure. Why?"

"There's a bar right across the street, and it looks like it might be fun."

Iggy's eye widened and his jaw dropped. He shook his head.

"No way! Seriously?"

"Dude, when am I ever not serious?"

"I don't know, but that's insane! Do you know how pissed Max would be if she found out?"

Grinning, I shook my head. "I don't know the specifics, but pretty freaking pissed. But you did say that you wanted to misbehave, and to party. We could get ourselves in there and then just drink soda or something. Mingle. Be absolute idiots. What do you say?"

Iggy pondered the suggestion for a moment, then grinned.

"I say, full speed ahead!"

Okay, I'm already about halfway through the next chapter, so I hope I can get it up soon. This chapter is longer than usual, and I would have condensed it with the next one to make it super long, but then it would have been too long, so, sorry.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed, and reviews are encouragement! Reviews help me type faster!

Thanks for waiting!

43. Drunk

Thanks for waiting!

Fang POV

Iggy reached up and fingered the bandages around his eye.

"My eye feels decently healed, now," he said. "Do you think I could take these off and just wear that eye-patch, or what?"

I nodded, and shrugged.

"Sure, I guess. Just keep it covered with the eye-patch. And let me take a look at it, first, to check if it's infected."

I helped Iggy unravel the bandages. The bottom layer was a bit stuck to his eye, so it took a lot of rather manly whimpers and yelps from Iggy and a lot of extremely careful removing from me to get them off.

Max's stitches were great; after years of practice, she had mastered the art of stitching. They were close and even and neat, and it had helped Iggy's wound heal faster.

There wasn't any infection, but there was a bit of dried blood, so I took my handy dandy bottle of Germ-X out of my pocket and we cleaned the area around his eye up a bit. He never opened his eye, and I could see that the scar ran from about a centimeter above his eyebrow, cutting right through his eyelid through the center of his eye, and ended about an inch below his eye. It wasn't a particularly gross cut; it was straight and narrow. But it was deep, and it would last, and we would probably never notice the scar from his slit lid in comparison now.

"Can you open your eye?" I asked as I dabbed at the crusty dried blood around the cut. Iggy shook his head.

"I guess I could, but it stings to blazes right now. I don't really want to try."

"Well, your cut has healed decently, and it's pretty much done. We should probably remove the stitching when we get home, but it's fine for now. I think you'll be able to open your eye by tomorrow, probably."

I finished with the Germ-X, and Iggy pulled the eye-patch from his pocket, proceeded to attempt to tie it. He failed miserably, because the patch part kept slipping down whenever he let go of it to tie the knot. I rolled my eyes and walked around to help.

Iggy held the patch in place as I tied the straps back fiercely; so fiercely, in fact, that he may never be able to untie them. Once the eye-patch was firmly tied and correctly situated, Iggy turned around and spread his arms for approval.

"What do you think?" he asked, grinning. "Do I look totally awesome?"

I pondered his question for a moment, taking in the sight of my best friend wearing an eye-patch. It looked… odd. Especially since I was so used to him being blind. It almost made it look like he could see out of his other eye.

"You look like a pirate," I finally said.

"So, totally awesome." Iggy nodded and brandished his hand, his forefinger curled, resembling a hook. He curled his lip theatrically and grimaced quite impressively. "Arr, Matey, us pirates are just the most totally awesome scallywags on these here seas, yarr. Drink up me hearties, yo ho, and all that."

I watched Iggy continue to brandish his 'hook' ferociously for a moment, and then we both laughed, slapping each other's backs. Then I pointed ahead to the bar.

"Let's get going," I said. "We don't want to miss it."

I was actually quite excited myself as I advanced to the bar, Iggy at my side. When I was a kid and watched television, there were always bar scenes in the grown-up shows where people would laugh and have a good time, or meet a hot guy or girl and hook up. It was something that always fascinated me, and the prospect that I was actually going to get to go in one was almost thrilling.

We stepped up to the entrance with our shoulders back, confident. The man at the entrance, a guard against underage kids, looked us up and down for a moment and then waved us in carelessly. This neighborhood didn't look particularly 'good,' and the guy probably didn't really care if we were of age at all. I was glad he didn't ask us for IDs, though.

The atmosphere in the bar was something neither of us had ever experienced. It was musty and dark, yet almost bright at the same time with dull yellow lights. People were laughing and having drinking contests, and there were big men arm wrestling or playing darts. A bartender at the actual bar was handing out tall glasses to people, some looking miserable, others happy, others looking wasted.

"Want a drink?" I asked Iggy. "A soda?"

"Sure," Iggy shrugged. "How about a Dr. Pepper?"

I nodded and dragged him over to the bar. The bartender, obviously a bit more vigilant to age than the guy at the entrance, eyed us up and down suspiciously.

"A Dr. Pepper, please, and a Mountain Dew."

Since what we ordered wasn't alcoholic, the guy shrugged and turned around to make us the drinks. I fished about in my pockets for some spare change and came up with eleven dollars and twelve cents; Iggy was just as good a pickpocket as ever, and there had been a couple passersby on the way to the hotel with fat wallets. We had split the thirty dollars Iggy had nicked between Max, Nudge, Iggs and I.

A beefy-looking man came up next to us and asked the bartender for a beer, and I wondered momentarily at the very atmosphere of the place. All of the occupants seemed to give of an aura of stay-the-heck-away-and-stop-looking-at-me-or-I'll-knock-your-block-off.

"It's quite loud in here," Iggy murmured to me, but he was grinning foolishly, flushed with adrenaline at the thought of where he was.

"Indeed it is," I said. The bartender set our drinks down in front of us and I gave him the money. He took it with a nod. I sipped my Mountain Dew as I looked around at the people in the bar.

Mostly, there were rambunctious men, cheering and jeering and slapping each other's backs. But there were also women, college students and graduates, who were either mingling with the men or hanging out in small clusters, talking and laughing.

I noticed in particular a group of four young women. One with dark brown hair and freckles was staring in our direction, smiling, as her friends seemed to be encouraging her about something. I followed the direction of her eyes and noticed that her gaze was on Iggy who, oblivious, was smiling and staring in the direction of the dart board, listening to three men having a competition for a bet of fifty dollars.

The woman laughed and objected as her friends appeared to be telling her to come over to us and talk to Iggy. I nudged Iggy in the ribs with my elbow, and he started.

"What?" he asked, and I told him.

"There's a girl over there who seems very taken with you, in all of your eye-patched awesomeness."

"Wha?" Iggy swung his head around, which was absolutely pointless. "Seriously?"

"Yeah, and I think her friends are telling her to come over."

Iggy's face paled, his eye widening.

"I can't cheat on Meagan."

I frowned slightly at the thought of Meagan, who was undoubtedly sound asleep somewhere with her false parents and memory. Iggy had to get over her as fast as possible, or he would be stuck in the past and never be able to move forward. I shifted guiltily in my chair that I was thinking of Meagan without much remorse at her disappearance, but it felt more as though a friend had moved across the country – and not a particularly close friend – rather than that a girl sharing my girlfriend's DNA had had her memories torn away and was now living an alternate life.

"You're not cheating on Meagan if she doesn't even know you exist."

Iggy tensed his jaw, but didn't answer. He blinked rapidly a few times.

"I knew her a lot longer than you did," he pointed out.

"Yeah," I replied. There was silence for a moment, then Iggy sighed.

"What does this girl look like?" he finally asked, a touch of pink in his cheeks.

I grinned slightly. "She's got dark brown hair, brown eyes, freckles, and she's wearing this short green dress. She's hot."

Iggy reached back for his soda, feeling a few glasses before finding one of the right color. When he found it he lifted it up to his mouth and began chugging nervously. He got down seven good, big swallows before his face morphed into shocked disgust and he spit his eighth mouthful back into the glass, retching in disgust and holding the glass away from his face.

"Dude, that is not Dr. Pepper. Not even close."

I took the glass from him and sniffed it experimentally. The unmistakable scent of beer hit my nose like a brick wall.

"Beer!" I said, hurriedly putting the glass back on the counter. "You probably took that other guy's drink by mistake!"

The man in question was looking away at a few guys having a drinking contest, and I spotted Iggy's Dr. Pepper sitting in front of him. Quickly I switched the drinks and yanked Iggy out of his seat, moving a bit further down the bar.

"How much did I drink?" Iggy inquired, and I shook my head, looking back to the man. He didn't notice that his glass was already half-empty and took a swig.

"Like, half the glass, dude."

Iggy shrugged. "Well, it's not a whole glass. Plus we've got fast metabolisms. It probably won't do anything."

Well, long story short, apparently our fast metabolisms didn't do anything about the alcohol except make us drunk faster. Within two minutes, Iggy was grinning sloppily and telling terrible jokes at my own expense, laughing heartily, and being an all-around drunken idiot.

"Hey, Fang," he giggled, elbowing my arm. "What do emo kids use for birth control?"

I sighed heavily. "What?"

"Their personalities!" Iggy laughed, pounding his fist on the bar and severely annoying the bartender.

"That's very funny." I chose not to point out that of the two of us, Iggy was actually the 'emo' one. But a goofy drunken Iggy was bad enough; I didn't want to find out what a depressed drunken Iggy would be like.

Of course, Brown-Haired-Girl chooses now as a good time to finally listen to her friends and walk over here.

I jolted, panicked, as I noticed her stand, setting her expression into an outgoing and determined smile, and begin to walk over towards us. Iggy was still giggling at his joke, and the flush in his cheeks was clue enough that he was drunk. I got the feeling that an Iggy with a loose and rather uncaring tongue wouldn't think too much about keeping a secret, even a big secret like the fact that we have great big wings attached to our backs.

Pained, I smiled thinly at the woman as she came to a halt in front of us, smiling charmingly. Iggy sensed her presence and stopped his laughing, continuing to grin in her general direction.

"Hey," the woman said coyly, leaning up against the bar beside Iggy, a very large expanse of her cleanly shaven legs showing beneath the hem of her rather short dress. Bah, shaven legs are for wimps. Max's hairy legs kick ass, and they're sexy anyway, so there. "I haven't seen you around here before."

I almost expected Iggy to bluster nervously; however much he used to claim that he was a 'chick magnet,' he was incredibly shy.

But, ah, yes, there's the beer that had been thrown into the mix. And everyone knows that even a touch of alcohol can turn a blithering idiot into a smooth womanizer; take a certain Raj Koothrappali, for example, if you've ever seen The Big Bang Theory.

"Well, you wouldn't have," Iggy replied smoothly with a winning smile. "I'm new here."

The girl laughed softly and flipped her dark hair over her shoulder.

"Really? Are you going to the college, or are you working in town?"

Iggy shrugged. "Just staying for a few days, actually. But something just came into my life that might make me want to stay a little longer." He blinked his uncovered eye, and then grinned lopsidedly. "That was a wink, in case you couldn't tell."

The woman laughed and put a hand lightly on his arm; Iggy continued to smile, unabashed.

"My name is Victoria," she said, "But call me Tori. I'm going to the college uptown. Are you still in school?"

Iggy made a show of pretending to look himself up and down. "Do I look like I'm over twenty-two?" Ah, clever there; now the woman thinks he's overage. That's a good thing, if he doesn't want her knowing that he's just sixteen.

Tori giggled and shook her head. "No, no. You don't look a day over twenty-one."

Iggy breathed a sigh of relief and wiped a hand over his forehead. "Phew. I was worried there for a second."

"Uh, Iggy," I interrupted, feeling like maybe the bar thing wasn't such a good idea after all. "Maybe we should go?" We'd been here barely fifteen minutes, and I'd already gotten Iggy drunk, plus there was a woman hitting on him and probably looking for a good one-night stand, and if my memory serves me correctly, Iggy had just told me, less than thirty minutes ago, that he was terrified of sex. Not to mention the fact that it would be statutory rape, since he was only sixteen. Oh, yeah, and did I neglect to mention the wings? Well, there's the wings, and if Iggy was naked, there's pretty much no chance that she wouldn't see them.

"Oh!" Tori said, turning towards me and smiling. "Is this your little brother?"

I gritted my teeth and focused on keeping from blushing. Sure, Iggy was older than me, and maybe a bit more mature and stuff, but there was only a year difference between us now. Was it really so obvious that I was younger?

Iggy smirked at me with an expression that read Ha! See this? Now I'm the desirable one!

"Yup," he told Tori, reaching forward to ruffle my hair. I ducked from under his hand with a snarl. "My cute li'l bro. Isn't he just the sweetest?"

"Cool it," I huffed. "I'm a year younger than him," I told Tori, not sure as to why I felt the need to emphasize that I wasn't all that young.

Tori smiled brightly at me with straight, white teeth. "So, your brother. I thought you might have been together at first."

I raised an eyebrow in confusion, but she just laughed sweetly.

"You know, my friend's brother is somewhere around here," she told me. "You might like him. Should I find him for you?"

She smiled at me, and I stared at her in confusion. Why would I want to hang out with her friend's brother?

"What?" I asked. "Why?"

"Oh, he's nice," Tori assured me, "And you're just his type."

Huh? His type? She didn't think I was gay, did she?

I mean, two guys at a bar didn't really strike me as gay. There were a bunch of guys hanging out together in groups as small as two, and I highly doubt anyone assumed they were gay. I mean…

Wait a second. The hot pink skinny-jeans.

I looked down at my pants. Yes, that'll be it. Thank you, Angel. So much.

"Oh, I'm not gay," I told the woman. "I mean, that is, I have a girlfriend."

"Oh, alright," Tori nodded, laying a meaningful hand on my forearm. "It's okay, I get it."

"No, seriously, I'm not–"

"Don't worry, bro, it's fine," Iggy interrupted me, grinning. "You don't need to defend yourself. She's obviously a very nice person."

"Iggy!" I sputtered. Oh, so I take the guy to a bar, give him beer, and then he throws me under the bus?

"Yeah, it's totally fine with me," Tori nodded emphatically.

I glared at Iggy, and he smiled back at me. I was prepared to slap him silly, but then I noticed the pink in his cheeks and the way he was slightly slurring his words, and decided that I'd rather slap him silly when he was sober.

I mean, maybe it's true that alcohol makes you say things you normally wouldn't, but this drunken Iggy was sounding more like the old Iggy than he had in ages, and I had a feeling that everything he was saying was something he would actually say, beer or no beer.

Tori interrupted my stewing to ask us if we'd like to join her friends and hang out, and Iggy agreed quickly with another of his silver-tongued comments. I followed the two to the table where Tori's friends were sitting and laughing.

Iggy and all of his smooth-talking was welcomed into the group with laughs and flirting. I stayed at the edge of the group, which consisted of about eight college girls and three boys, obviously some boyfriends. The guy that Tori had talked about, her friend's brother, was in the far corner of the bar making out with some burly guy, and I was relieved that I wouldn't be forced into any uncomfortable situations.

Basically, I sat back in a chair and dazed off until a shriek came from a few of the women and I sat up, alert. Iggy hadn't shown them his wings, had he?

But it turned out that it had been a shriek of delight and Tori and another girl began to gush about how 'hot' it was that Iggy could speak fluent French.

Wait, Iggy can speak fluent French?

Oh, yeah. Iggy can speak fluent French. How had I forgotten that?

"C'est très gentil de votre part," Iggy grinned. "That's very kind of you."

"Oh my gosh!" Tori's friend shouted, thrilled. "You seriously can speak French! All the guys I know just took Spanish in high school, and they don't even speak it very well."

"Well, living in France for ten years is probably better for learning than a high school class."

Oh, Iggy, you smooth liar.

Tori sighed dreamily. "Oh, living in France! That's sounds so dreamy! No wonder you speak it fluently."

"Oui, je peux." Iggy smiled charmingly. "Et vous les femmes sont certains des plus beaux américains que je voyais jamais."

Tori furrowed her brow in concentration. "'Yes, I can, and you… women… are…' Ugh, it's been ages since I took French…"

"… And you women are some of the most beautiful Americans I've ever seen," Iggy finished, and the two girls blushed. When Iggy bent over to elegantly kiss the back of Tori's hand, they nearly fainted, breathless with nervous laughter.

"Geez," I muttered under my breath. "You really can be dashing when you want to." And they couldn't even tell he was blind, so he couldn't actually think that they were beautiful. Unless he was judging on 'what's inside,' and knowing Iggy, I doubted it.

My mind wandered for the next several minutes to Max, and whether she would think that that kind of thing was romantic. But then I realized that if I tried to kiss her hand or impress her by speaking another language, she'd probably laugh in my face and walk away from my crushed ego. Then again, I guess that's one of the things I like about her. She's not too sappy.

The next thing to bring me out of my dazed reverie was a cheer, and the group was standing to quickly move and claim the dart board. The guys who had been competing for money from before had left, apparently.

"Who's up for a tournament?" one of the women's boyfriends spoke up, and there was raucous cheering from the other drunken college students. The only ones who were sober by now was one of the three guys and two of the girls, who were obviously designated drivers. Tori was one of the drunken ones, which was probably why she hadn't turned Iggy away after realizing how cheesy all of his lines were.

"You're on my team," Tori laughed, grabbing Iggy's arm, and her other friend, looking a bit downcast, left the two for another of the girls. The group ended up splitting into five teams of two, with I and several others sitting on the sidelines, me being assigned the role of 'score-keeper.' It was probably the first time any of them had said a single word to me all night.

I edged over to Iggy, where he was telling a funny and most likely made-up story that had Tori in a fit with giggles.

"Ig, don't you think we should call it a night?" I muttered to him, and he just gave me a look, like, are you kidding?

"I'm having the most fun I've had in ages, Fang!" he said. "Why should we call it a night?"

And I guess those words were what did it for me. I couldn't take this night of fun away from him, especially because I didn't know when another would come again.

So I reluctantly withdrew and sat in a smoky wooden chair, leaning back and viewing the darts-competition through glazed eyes. I wondered vaguely what Max was doing and if she was worried about us. I wondered if J was still 'withdrawn' from Iggy's consciousness and sleeping or something, or if he was just bemusedly observing Iggy's idiocy. I also wondered how Iggy expected to be able to play darts, what with the eensy-weensy blindness problem. Oh, and with the drunkenness issue.

The group in front of Iggy and Tori, a wasted couple, were thrilled with their score after the guy missed every single shot and the girl managed to have two darts land in the outer ring. With shrieks of delight they stepped aside and proceeded to make out and Tori and Iggy stepped up to the plate.

I had given up on keeping score after the second team had gone up to try, but I managed to rouse myself enough to watch Iggy and Tori do their thing.

Tori went first. She wasn't quite as drunk as some of her friends, but tipsy enough to sway slightly as she tried to aim. Iggy steadied her with hands on her waist, a sloppy grin spreading across his face. I rolled my eyes. Wasn't Iggy worried about 'cheating' on Meagan earlier? And now, he was blatantly and physically flirting with a women five years older than him at the very least.

Tori, with Iggy's hands on her hips, just became even more giggly and flustered, and managed to land one dart in the second ring before doubling over in helpless laughter as one of the others who had sat out of the tournament picked up the thrown darts. Iggy caught her and helped her up.

"You can recover for me!" Tori told him, jabbing him in the chest with her finger. "We're gonna win this yet!"

I wondered if Iggy was going to do something idiotic, like accidentally hit one of the bystanders with a dart, or manage to throw them in the wrong direction. Worst-case scenario, he'd severely injure someone and be kicked out of the bar. Oh, wait, that was the best-case scenario. I wanted to leave this place as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Someone handed Iggy the five darts, and he stood where Tori guided him, smiling, cheeks still pink. He swayed a bit as he took a dart in his right hand and held it up, attempting to steady his arm and keep himself from falling over. Then, still grinning, he closed his eye and took a deep, steadying breath. The others started laughing as they saw him preparing to throw the dart without looking, but then he hurled the sharp little object and shut them up before a round of cheers filled the bar.

He had hit the bull's-eye.

I lurched forward in my seat in surprise, shocked. It was just a fluke, right? He hadn't asked any questions, I hadn't seen his mouth move. And even if he had, he wouldn't have been able to actually shoot a bull's-eye from "Where do I aim to shoot a bull's-eye," he would just know where to aim. Was this still part of his power, something we just hadn't known about before?

In quick and fluid succession, Iggy hit the bull's-eye with the four remaining darts, to raucous cheering and back-slapping from the surrounding. A small crowd had drawn from the other bar-goers, who were amazed and thrilled by Iggy's no-sight success.

One of the other guys beside me whistled, impressed.

"Dude," he said, "You're big bro is freakin' phenomenal."

Tori laughed and rushed up to Iggy, bouncing up and down in excitement.

"You rock!" she said. "Best dude I could have hooked up with! Smart, funny, good at darts, and hot, too!" She grabbed Iggy's face with both hands and pulled him down, standing on the tips of her toes to plant a fat kiss on his lips.

That's when some big guy grabbed Iggy by the shoulder, yanked him away from Tori's grasp, spun him around, and punched him in the face.

I was up in a second, rushing over to Iggy's side, fist clenched and raised, prepared to attack the Eraser or whatever, but then the dude spoke.

"Get the fuck off my girlfriend!" he growled. Iggy, clutching at his cheek where the guy had punched him, gazed up towards him with a bemused expression.

"I'm not your girlfriend, Dave!" Tori yelled at him, face red now not only with alcohol but with anger. "We're through since three months ago!"

"You didn't mean it," Dave muttered, face also flushed. He was obviously totally drunk, probably even more so than Iggy and his fast metabolism.

"I'm sure she did," Iggy said brightly, rubbing his quickly bruising cheek. "She sure sounds pissed at you."

"You shut the hell up!" Dave shouted, raising his fist again, but Tori quickly grabbed his arm, face dark.

"Back off!" she snarled. "I'm over you! Get over yourself and admit it!"

"She's totally serious, dude, I'd listen to her," Iggy told Dave. The giant dude scowled, spread his arms, fists turning white with the pressure of his clenched fingers.

"You want a piece of me, pretty-boy?" he snarled. "You got nothing on me, nothing!"

Iggy held up his hands, grabbing Tori's wrist and pulling her behind him at the same time.

"Hey, I'm not going to fight you," he said. "You'd get really hurt."

"Iggy, let's go," I said, and he flashed me a grin that had me fuming.

Dave's face began to turn purple.

"Why don't you say that to my fist!" he forced through clenched teeth.

"I'd rather not," Iggy retorted. "Your fist doesn't have ears and would therefore be unable to listen."

"Come on," Tori said, pulling on Iggy's arm. "Just walk away, he's a douche."

"Don't you turn away from me!" Dave shouted.

How had I, in barely forty minutes, got Iggy drunk, let him hook up with a college girl, and let him get into a fight with said girl's ex-boyfriend? Usually I wasn't this adept at causing havoc or disarray.

"Iggy, we're going!" I shouted at my bro, and this time, it seemed like actually thought it might be an okay idea.

"You don't mind, do you?" he asked Tori, and Tori rolled her eyes, looking towards Dave with distaste.

"Naw, he's not going to be leaving any time soon. Come back, though, got it?"

"Aye-aye," Iggy grinned, saluting sloppily with two fingers at his forehead above his eye-patch.

Relieved that he was finally listening to me, I tugged him away, but as he was turning, the big, burly Dave, face contorted with fury, swung a furious punch at Iggy's head.

In a moment, Iggy had swung about to face the Neanderthal again, he smile gone, his expression stony. He caught Dave's fist with deft ease and stared hard at the dude's surprised expression.

"Don't do that again," he said simply, and Tori laughed under her hand, blushing. The girl from before who had liked Iggy as well squealed.

He turned back and we walked away from the group, Iggy's drunken smile returning easily. The bartender watched us leave with narrowed eyes. He probably hadn't liked the disruption.

"Yeah, you leave!" Dave shouted afterwards. "What are you, a wimp? Just run away like a little girl, why don't you! Go home and get all dressed up in your fancy skirts and dance around like the little girl you are!"

"Weak insults," I pointed out as I guided Iggy through the exit, past a few new arrivals.

"Oh, he's just jealous of my feminine charms," Iggy grinned, slurring his words more so than he had during the fight. "I've had lots of practice."

I laughed and we crossed the street into the dark alley from before.

"Oh yeah? When?" I asked. "While you played dress-up with Nudge and Angel?"

"No, silly, or have you forgotten my modeling job?"

I stopped, raising an eyebrow. "Huh?"

Iggy grinned and held up his hand, signaling me to wait a moment. Then he took a deep breath, his smile slipped off his face to be replaced by a sad-looking pout, lips parted. His face seemed to become softer, and he relaxed his limbs, and all of a sudden he seemed smaller and girlier and familiar somehow. He opened his eye and turned it towards me, sad and distant and deep with hopelessness.

I stared at him, mouth agape, for a long moment. Then his grin returned, and he doubled over, laughing.

"Still have it!" he snickered. "I wonder if I could still sell pictures? Probably not, I don't look like an innocent little girl anymore…"

Drunken Iggy noticed my silence and looked at me with a half-grin.

"What, don't you think so? Maybe a strawberry would complete the picture…"

It took me a moment of not wanting to realize it for me to put the pieces together, but when I did, it seemed to make so much sense.

Had Iggy just unthinkingly told me that he was Strawberry Girl?

Thanks for reading! By the way, have any of you ever heard of the author Lunatic Glare? She's a flamer, and after reading her profile I decided to send her a PM. She replied with an argument that, um, made no sense whatsoever. I'm going to post our conversation on my profile, so if you want to read it, go ahead. It will be at the very bottom.

The conversation is pretty long, but totally hilarious because all of her arguments are have no basis in reality. I highly suggest you reading it, it's sort of awesome.

44. Reciting

You guys are awesome. Thanks so much for waiting. It's been absolute ages, and I'm sorry. (Then again, I haven't had any PMs begging me to update, so you couldn't have been too anxious, could you? –sob sob-).

Sorry to keep you waiting, but here you go.

Fang POV

"Yo," I said, "Ig-man, you're flying in the wrong direction."

"What are you talking about?" Iggy asked, grinning giddily.

"You're flying in the opposite direction," I told him tiredly as I watched him fly further back towards the city. He spun around, changing directions quickly, and lurched sloppily back towards me, laughing.

"Just testing you, buddy," he cackled. "Making sure you were paying attention."

I rolled my eyes and flew onward, pinching the bridge of my nose. Just whose idea was it to go into that stupid bar, anyway? I mean, Iggy had gotten drunk, almost had a one-night stand revealing our wing-y secret to a chic in a sexy green dress, and I had been mistaken for both Iggy's little brother and gay, which may or may not have hurt my ego, I haven't decided quite yet.

Oh, yeah. It was my idea. I hate me.

"Can you just fly a bit more steadily and pretend that your head is actually screwed on straight?" I asked, although I knew that a drunken Iggy wasn't going to listen. Hell, a sober Iggy probably wouldn't have listened.

"That's what I'm doing," Iggy replied, weaving and swerving through the air with about as much control as a… well, as a drunk bird-kid.

I finally gave up. "Just don't crash and burn," I told him, "And try to follow me."

I focused hard on making sure that Iggy was staying on track and hadn't turned around or veered in another direction, but even though we weren't actually all that far from the hotel, it seemed like it was taking hours to return. My thoughts drifted somewhat as I flew.

It had been the first night in a while that I had actually seen Iggy having a good time. That was good. On the other hand, he wasn't sober for most of the time, so I'm not sure if it counts.

Plus, I'm pretty sure had had told me that he was the Strawberry Girl, who, if I remember clearly, was basically the star of a chain of child pornography photographs. Plus, you know, a girl.

Of course, Max would have had me believe that it was all art, not porn, and that it wasn't gross or sick or twisted at all. But the fact is that even if it wasn't porn, it was still gross and sick and twisted that a little girl was forced to pose promiscuously for a photographer. And it was even more gross and sick and twisted if it actually was Iggy, because, well, he's a really messed-up, emotionally traumatized kid, and this would just add to the list of the ways he's been abused.

Oh god I told Max I thought Strawberry Girl was sexy.

I felt my cheeks burning as I sighed and ran my fingers down my face. I mean, I was joking when I said that, but still… I did think Strawberry Girl was kind of pretty, and maybe I might have had one or two fantasies of a grown-up Strawberry Girl hungry for love after years of cruelty and abuse, yearning for the strong arms of a mysterious winged stranger, who wanted to help her heal but couldn't because he was married to another beautiful, winged girl with a baby on the way but a stray kiss or two couldn't hurt because there wasn't going to be anything between them and…

Crap. I glanced nervously back at Iggy, who appeared to have been babbling for a while about the difference between pie and cake and wondering why his tongue felt like it was gaining weight. It wasn't anything all that big or terrible, but I felt sort of guilty for fantasizing about stuff like that, and realizing that the object of my fantasies was my seriously traumatized best friend? That just takes the cake.

Of course, whenever you really don't want to think about something, that's the something that you get to thinking about for the next few hours or so until something happens that makes you forget it. I seriously wanted my mind to wander away from the fact that I had had sorta-kinda-a-little-bit-maybe-romantic-or-maybe-even-a-little-bit-sexual-in-just-the-slightest-way fantasies about a grown-up Strawberry Girl, the very same grown-up Strawberry Girl that just so happened to be flying drunkenly behind me on the way back to the hotel. Except that the grown-up Strawberry Girl was a guy, and Iggy.

So then of course my mind wandered back to a child version of Iggy, like the one that Max had described to me from the memories that Professor Jordan had forced her to relive. And then my mind started dressing this child version of Iggy in the outfits that I had seen Strawberry Girl wear, and then added a bit of makeup, and then darkened the red in his hair, and brightened the blue of his eyes, and good god, why on earth was I doing this?

It's normal, it's normal, it's perfectly normal, I told myself. I mean, when Dr. Martinez was explaining puberty stuff to the kids, she said it was normal to be attracted to your best friend, even if they're the same sex as you, and… But it wasn't normal to be (somewhat-just-a-little!) attracted to your best same-sex friend when they're a little kid dressed up as a girl!

"You're just overthinking it," Iggy piped up from behind me. I started, turning to look back at him.

"W-what?" I asked nervously. Iggy blinked slowly.


"You said something," I prodded. He nodded.

"Yeah, I'm overthinking the diff'ence between pie and cake. It's not that they're the same thing wi' slight diff'ences, it's that they're two diff'ent things wi' some sim'larities!"

"Good grief." Was it just me, or was Iggy starting to slur his words?

I facepalmed dramatically, and when I removed the heel of my hand from in front of my eyes, it was to see, thank goodness, the hotel emerging out of the darkness. But thankfully, Iggy's statement, even if completely unrelated to my thoughts, was comforting. I was overthinking a couple stray fantasies. I hadn't even known that Strawberry Girl was Iggy, so I wasn't actually fantasizing about him. Plus, I wasn't fantasizing about the little kid Strawberry Girl, but a grown up and more well developed Strawberry Girl. So I wasn't sick for having those kinds of daydreams about a little kid.

"We're here!" I exclaimed happily, spreading my arms as if about to hug the oncoming building. You have no idea how incredibly happy I was to be returning to our crowded little hotel room so that Max could handle the drunken Iggy for the rest of the night.

"Here? Here where?" Iggy muttered. I spotted the open window of our hotel room – Max must have closed Anne's window and opened our own so that Iggy wouldn't have to run into Anne when we got home – and made a beeline for it, yelling at Iggy to stick behind me. Thank goodness he listened.

When I got to the open window, I slowed down a bit and aimed my feet at the opening. I managed to make it through the window without hurting myself too much, but I did scrape off a few feathers and bang my elbow pretty hard.

Max was awake and waiting; she had probably heard us coming and gotten ready for us, stern-and-concerned glare and all. Nudge jolted up when I crashed through the window, then attempted to move sluggishly towards me.

I held up a hand to stop them from saying anything and turned around to the window just in time for Iggy to smash his head into the wall right above the opening. There was a loud noise and I swear the building shook a bit, and I reached out to grab him before he could fall to the ground. Max helped me pull him into the room, and we fell to the floor with him, breathing heavily, while he giggled like a kid.

"Oww," he laughed, "M' head hur's."

Max drew away, aghast, as his breath hit her nostrils.

"Oh my god! Iggy, have you been drinking?" she gasped, horrified. Iggy shook his head.

"Fan' gave me some soda, an' it tasted nasty."

Max rounded on me, fists clenching in rage, and I could almost feel the impact of her knuckles on my cheek before I realized that she hadn't made a move to hit me yet.

"You gave him beer?" she snarled. "It's not healthy to 'drown your sorrows' like that! Fang!"

I raised my hands in protest, angry at being accused.

"Hey, in my defense, I really did order him a soda! It was his own fault he accidentally grabbed the beer instead!"

"Where on earth did you go where Iggy could accidentally grab a beer?"

I sputtered, flustered, for a few seconds as Max's eyes narrowed.

"We… might have gone… to a bar…"

Max seemed to swell with anger, her face growing red, her knuckles white with the stress of her clenched fingers.

"You went to a bar," she said in a voice so calm that it completely contradicted her exterior and made me think that I was in big trouble.

I raised my shoulders slightly and flinched a bit when she twitched her right fist. "Um, yes..?"

"I ought to punch you into next month," she growled, her fury clearly evident in her voice.

"Oh," I stuttered, "don't do that, I'll miss becoming an uncle."

There was a heated silence between us, and I noticed that Gazzy and Angle were up too, looking between us with either amusement or bewilderment, it was hard to tell which. Max's shoulders heaved with her angry breaths, and Iggy doubled over, clutching his stomach.

"Ooh, dear," Nudge said, and in a second she had dragged the little plastic trashcan over from the corner of the room and set it directly in front of Iggy. He didn't need to be told it was there before he bent down and retched into it, vomiting his drunken little heart out.

Max put aside her anger in favor of stroking Iggy's back comfortingly as he hurled the contents of his stomach into the wastebasket. It wasn't much, to be honest; we hadn't eaten in a while, so it was pretty much just beer and bile. A really nasty smell, by the way.

"Ssh, ssh, sweetie, it's okay," Max soothed, smiling at him reassuringly between throwing nasty glares in my direction. I sighed.

"It wasn't my fault," I said, defeated. "I was just trying to cheer him up. So sue me."

"I feel like m' tummy is fallin' ou'," Iggy moaned when he had finished throwing up. Max continued rubbing slow circles on his back, moving to the area between his wings and massaging it comfortingly, just how we all like it. I felt a pang of jealousy.

"Don't worry, Igster, your tummy stayed inside you," she cooed. Iggy sniffed as his drunken mania began to turn into drunken depression. Oh, good going, me.

"I'm sorwy," Iggy muttered, and of course his slurring had turned adorable. Max wouldn't have been so comforting if she had been there when he was flirting outrageously with Tori. That had been blatant and cheesy. "I… I shoulda been mo' respons'ble." Tears pooled in the corner of his eyes, but luckily they didn't seem like tears triggered by his depression so much as tears triggered by the beer. "I'm a… buh-bad infl'ence."

Max hushed him some more as she pulled him up towards the bed and sat down, resting his head in her lap. I rolled my eyes at her, and she scowled at me.

"I'm reawwy… tired," drunken-boy-who-likes-to-steal-girlfriends murmured. So smooth, Iggy, so smooth. Act like a little kid and sure you'll get into my girlfriend's pants. Or, rather, onto them, but whatever.

"It's okay," Max said softly, running her fingers through his hair. I could see the scarred word on the nape of his neck, and my stomach turned. To me, Iggy wasn't "unloved," and he never would be. Professor Jordan just had to be a prick and screw up his son's life, probably to feel accomplished. Douchebag. "Iggy, do you want me to tell you my poem?" Max continued.

"Oh boy!" Gazzy exclaimed, bouncing on the other bed. "Seriously? No joke? This is gonna be awesome!"

I quirked my eyebrow. "You mean the poem that you made up in the School? The fake one?"

Max pouted at me. "It's not fake. I really did write it. It's good, too, you'll see." She turned back to Iggy. "Do you want to hear it?"

Iggy nodded pitifully, his eyes still closed.

Max took a deep breath, composing herself. "Okay. Here goes.

"My flock is dysfunctional," (there was a "hey!" from the Gasman here),

"There's no other word.

We're all part human… and also part bird.

We've never had parents

Or gone to a theater;

We don't have any money

But we're all big eaters.

We're all crazy,

All loony,

All half-insane…

And most of us have very little brain."

"Hey!" Nudge exclaimed. "That's from Winnie the Pooh! You stole that line! Copyright infringement!" Max ignored her and continued.

"People stare as we walk down the street,

They even gawk when we go out to eat.

It's hard to go places when you have wings…

Heck, it's hard to do most things!

And most of it's really due to the fact

That each of my flock is totally weird." Angel opened her mouth to say something, but Max cut in. "And yes, I know that didn't rhyme." Angel sat back, crossing her arms.

"Take Nudge: a chatterbox by nature," Max continued. Nudge brightened when she heard her name. Iggy twitched when Max's fingered brushed the back of his neck.

"She could talk off your ears,

But you just can't hate her.

Sometimes she's nice

But a pain in the neck–"

"Hey!" Nudge objected, but Gazzy simultaneously chirruped "So true!"

"Other's she's scary, like she's about to break your neck." Nudge grinned, nodding, and Gazzy scowled, nursing a newly punched shoulder.

"She loves fashion

And is vegetarian–

Even though it makes no sense.

Who would want to live without bacon?"

"I stopped being vegetarian forever ago," Nudge interjected. Max waved her off.

"Then there's Fang," she started again, and I smiled inwardly.

"Who's mostly silent and emotionless

(Though lately not.)

Who could with one glare make Twinkies rot!

(which is practically impossible.)

He dresses like a goth

And is pretty damn arrogant.

Sometimes you wanna stuff his ego down a vent."

I pouted slightly. Where was the lovey-dovey emotional stuff that usually come when writing poetry about one's significant other?

"He was named for an instance that was slightly scary

And he needs to shave

('Cause boy, is he hairy.)" She stared pointedly at my nose again, and I reached up to finger it. No stray nose hairs or anything – just the beginnings of my sexy mustache. What was she talking about?

Gazzy whooped when she got to his section.

"Gazzy, or the Gasman

Is a boy who loves to fart

Which isn't very considerate on his part.

But his homemade methane

Isn't the worst

Because he makes bombs with his master

That explode and burst!

He steals from his sister

And likes toilet humor

Yep… in regards to maturity

He is one late bloomer."

"And proud!" Gazzy sang, and the fart that closely followed his outburst had Nudge and Angel scrambling off of the bed in their efforts to escape.

"Angel is his little sis…

She looks just like her namesake." Angel smiled radiantly.

"She's cute and little, but damn…

To make her angry is a big mistake!

She can be like a demon;

Scary and extremely dangerous.

She's got magic mental powers

That are extremely strange-er-ous…

She can control your mind

And kill you without blinking…

That's one scary seven-year-old.

You can come to that conclusion without even thinking!"

Rather than looking hurt, Angel just nodded emphatically and grinned, like she totally agreed with everything Max had said. It gave me the heebie-jeebies, just a little bit.

"Last there's Iggy, Iggs or Ig…

He's blind and quite sarcastic.

Sometimes the wacky things he does

Are dangerous and drastic.

He blows up crap with all his bombs

And once lit fire to my shelf.

He's about to be a daddy

Even though he's just a kid himself."

Iggy sniffled and moved a little, and Max calmed him with a hand in his hair again, running her fingers through the reddish strands.

"He can kill bad guys with

Both hands behind his back…

And he's the smartest person in the world

Even though all he sees is black."

"Hear that, Iggy?" Gazzy asked anxiously, nodding. "She's right. You're the smartest ever in the whole, wide world, even before your power came."

Max nodded and started again, softening her voice.

"So, as you can see, my flock is weird

Crazed, insane, confusing.

But though I can never find

The bombs Ig and Gaz are using

Or Nudge's makeup supply

Or a way to keep Angel from reading my mind

Or a movie sad enough to make Fang cry

I love my flock all half to death.

I really, really do.

I will even after I breathe

My very last breath."

There was silence, and then the kids all started clapping.

"That was great, Max!" Nudge said. "I'll admit I didn't have any faith in your ability to write poetry, but that wasn't terrible."

"I tend to be good at things like that, on occasion," Max sniffed haughtily. She looked down at Iggy and poked him softly. "The big lug's asleep."

I helped her move his head off of her lap and rest it on a pillow. We moved the trashcan over beside him again, just in case.

"Someone should stay awake and make sure he doesn't drown in his own puke while he's sleeping," Max said. I nodded.

"Sure, I'll take first watch." Max waved away the offer.

"Let Nudge do it," she said. "She's been more responsible tonight. No bars."

I sighed. "I really was just trying to cheer him up," I told her. She nodded and smiled.

"I know," she replied, reaching up and cupping my cheek in her hand. I leaned into the touch. "And he probably was happy, for a while. But look at him now." I glanced at his expression; sad, like a kicked puppy. "Plus he's going to have a killer hangover tomorrow, if what I've picked up from television is correct." I slumped guiltily, but Max tilted my head back up into a kiss. "Just be more careful in the future."

Max put Nudge on first watch, and our mocha-skinned girl happily took her place in a chair carefully position so that she'd have a full view of the doors and the window. Angle curled up in the armchair, Gazzy slept next to Iggy – out of the line of fire of any more drunken vomiting – and Max and I lied down together in the other bed. It felt nice to have her curl up into my chest for the first time in ages. Embarrassingly, I felt the blood in my body rushing down to a very specific part of my body, but I tried to ignore it. Thankfully, I don't think Max noticed.

Then again, she fell asleep with a smirk on her face, so I couldn't be too sure.

Thanks for waiting. I would appreciate reviews… they help my muse flow. Also, in the future, PMs begging me to update would encourage me more… no pressure… or maybe a little pressure… I want to update fast too, damn it! I should be self-motivated! WHY?

45. Digesting

I love you guys, I miss you guys, I wish I had updated faster! The problem is that we discovered my dad, who two years ago had his neck broken and received a traumatic brain injury, has a bit of a self-destructive issue that I will not go into. Anyhoo, he's moving out of the house for a while and my parents might end up getting a divorce if he doesn't get himself together. As you can probably infer, it's been a tough transition, and I've got to do a lot of stuff around the house to take care of my mom and sister. I hope you guys understand.

Also, I have a new poll up on my profile that I really hope you guys will look into. It's about which fanfiction I should start up after I've finished Nightmare. If you get the chance, please vote! And if you have any questions about the stories or want a more in-depth summary of the plots, just PM me and I'll let you know. Thanks!


I had the deepest sleep I had had in a long, long time. Snuggled up on a bed for the first time in ages, Fang's arms around me, my head in his chest, I didn't even have to look at his wispy mustache – No! Bad Max! Don't think about the mustache! – and, to top it off, Iggy was here and safe, albeit in a drunken and nearly comatose unconscious stupor. Ah, what a life. I just wanted to lie here forever and ever.

I felt Fang shift and his arms tightened around my shoulders. I grinned. Nothing, absolutely nothing could ruin this perfect moment…

"Max." I felt someone shaking my arm from the other side of the bed.


"Max, Max, Max, Max, Max…" Nudge continued to shake my arm, and it was Nudge. Maybe Gazzy could be fooled if I feigned sleep for long enough, or Angel could take the mental hint and buzz off, but Nudge would just keep at it until her lips turned blue and her fingers were bleeding. That girl just doesn't have an "off" button.

I rolled over, groaning, and Fang made a low whimper at the loss of my body heat before waking up as well.

"What is it?" I grumbled, rubbing the corners of my eyes to get rid of the sleep that had collected overnight.

"I need to go to the bathroom," she said. I stared at her.

"You don't need my permission to do that, honey," I finally replied, my voice strained. She rolled her eyes.

"I mean, I can't go to the bathroom," she corrected herself. I raised my eyebrow.

"What, is Gazzy hogging the toilet? You could go use Anne's if you really need to right this second."

Nudge shook her head furiously, her corkscrew curls whipping around and bouncing into her face.

"No, Max. I mean, I really can't go to the bathroom." She looked at me intensely, her eyes searching my expression as though she was waiting for something to register. I stared at her for a long time and then shook my head.

"Nudge, I have no idea what you're trying to communicate."

Finally, Nudge huffed, blowing a strand of hair out of her eyes.

"Max, I'm constipated."

Fang tried to cover a chuckle by clearing his throat, but Nudge shot him a burning glare.

I looked about the room. Angel and Gazzy were looking up at me from the floor. They appeared to be watching morning cartoons with the volume on low, which was very considerate. Iggy was sleeping in the other bed on his stomach, his arm hanging off of the side and nearly dangling in the trashcan full of his stale vomit, a puddle of drool spreading across the sheets under his mouth.

"Ah," I said. "Well, I can't blame you. It's hard to get anything out with the stress of being back in the School, on top of the barely three-minute bathroom breaks they gave us. Who else hasn't been able to go Number Two?"

There was a small pause before Angel slowly raised her hand. Gazzy shook his head smugly. That boy may have a funky digestive system, but man, the kid never has a problem with BMs. I don't think he's ever even had diarrhea, not even after the time we all had some bad burritos out of a Taco Bell dumpster and were sick for days.

I turned to Fang, who was looking at me all like, Me? No! I'm extremely regular, thank you very much. I wasn't buying a second of it.

I glared at him, furrowing my eyebrows and focusing all of my pent-up frustration on his mustache. I swear it started to smoke.

Fang gulped, put his fingers gingerly to his upper lip for a moment, and then hesitantly raised his hand as well. I nodded decisively.

"Me too," I admitted, "And probably Iggy as well. Ah, well. I guess the only thing to do is go out and buy some of those pill things that mom has to take on long vacations."

"What are those called? Pooping Pills?" the Gasman spoke up. "I mean, I've never used them before. Never needed them. I guess I just have super intestines!" He was grinning ear-to-ear as though he was the most awesome guy in the whole world, just because he was a speed-pooper.

Fang stood heavily, walked slowly over to Gazzy, bent down, lifted the little tyke by the scruff of his collar, and while the nine-year-old struggled in his grip carried him over to the door, which he opened. Despite Gazzy's protests, Fang silently dropped him to the floor in the hotel hallway and shut the door, holding it closed as the Gasman struggled to get it open.

"Just because you have a fantastic large intestine does not mean you have to brag about it to the rest of us," Fang said loudly through the door. Gazzy banged on it with his little fists which, admittedly, made a lot of noise due to our heightened strength.

"Fang, let me in! Let me in!"

"No, you can stay out there until your fantastically regular intestine needs to take a dump, and then wait a little longer. Let's see how you like it."

"If you do that I'll ruin my brand new pants!" Gazzy whined loudly.

Ladies and gents, only a bird-kid will call ratty Goodwill clothes "brand new." Well, and I guess some other people out there who might be broke and/or homeless.

"No way, hombre. Learn your lesson."

The banging on the door stopped after a few moments, and after a little while Fang carefully released his grip on the doorknob and locked it.

We all sat there for a minute, listening to the silence outside of the door.

"Do you think he was nabbed by an Eraser?" Nudge asked finally.

"Huh," Fang said, shrugging, and leaning up to look through the peephole.

That's when the door connecting our room to Anne's slammed open and Gazzy stalked in, his arms crossed over his chest. Anne was hovering behind him, looking flabbergasted.

"You're mean!" he shouted, pointing at Fang with his lips in a pout and his blond little eyebrows in a scowl.

There was a loud thump just then as Iggy started at the noise and rolled over, falling off of the bed and knocking over the trashcan, which I managed to catch before puke could spill all over him.

"Oww," he moaned, clutching his hands over his ears.

"Hey, Igster," I comforted, putting my hand to his forehead. "You good?"

He muttered something unintelligible and tried to get up before falling back to the floor.

"Why is the room spinning?" he muttered, clutching at his head.

"I guess it just works like that the night after you've drunk yourself to drunkenness," I suggested. I took his hand and hefted him up. He was unsteady on his feet and stumbled backward onto the bed.

"Umm," Anne interrupted from the doorway to her room, and for some reason Iggy perked at the sound of her voice. "Ah, Gazzy said something about constipation? You kids need laxatives?"

Iggy made a face. "Constipation?" he started. "You humans really do have the most disgusting bodily issues."

"It's part of being human," Iggy retorted to himself, or rather to J. Then he moaned and clutched at his head again. "Didn't you want a human body or something?"

J grumbled.

"If you'd like to give me some money, I could walk across the street to the drug store and buy you kids some laxatives," Anne offered, interrupted J and Iggy's bickering. I patted my belly and sighed.

"Yeah, sure. Whatever. Nudge, could you go along with her and make sure nothing happens?"

Nudge nodded and saluted. "Ma'am, yes ma'am!" She stuck out her hand to me, and it took me a moment before I realized that she wanted some money. I relinquished a ten-dollar bill to her, which she took with a grin and led Anne out of the doorway. Once they were gone, I turned back to Iggy.

"Iggy, do you have a hangover?" I asked him. He shrugged, still attempting to massage his temples.

"If having a hangover means the floor moves continuously under your feet and it sounds like everyone's shouting, then yes."

"Well that really sucks for you, doesn't it?" I said. I meant it in a comforting way, but I don't think it sounded like it, because he shot me a look.

We waited quietly for Nudge and Anne to come back, J occasionally saying random things about how silly the human need for digestion was. Eventually, though, they returned, bearing a small white box and a bag of candy bars that Nudge distributed amongst us.

"Okay," I said, reading the back of the box. "So, everyone take a pill and…"

"You should probably take it in turns," Anne cut in. I stared at her as though she had grown a second head.

"What?" I said, making sure to communicate in that word the fact that I was boss and the very notion of her overriding what I said was unheard of and would most likely be ignored.

Anne surprisingly didn't cower at my tone and just continued. "It's just that we only have two bathrooms, and when the pill hits you, you can't wait. Two of you should take it, and then when those two are done the next two will. That way your clothes and the floor stays clean."

Nudge wrinkled her nose at the thought of someone having an "accident" all over our wonderful hotel room floor.

"Yeah, let's do that," she agreed with Anne. I sighed, but backed off.

"Okay then," I continued, popping out two of the little pills. "Who wants to go the most?"

Nudge raised her hand. "I'm the one who told you first," she pointed out, and I nodded, handing her a pill. I handed the second to Fang, and he raised an eyebrow at me.

"I don't want two of the big kids incapacitated at the same time," I told him. "If you or I were both in the bathroom at the same time, it would be a problem if Erasers attacked."

Fang rolled his eyes and took the pill. Then, there was silence for a moment before J spoke up.

"You guys are freaks."

Immediately, the back of my neck prickled and I wanted to be all like "Oh yeah? We're freaks? We may have wings and hollow bones and air sacs and stuff, but you're a sentient computer program that's been installed into Iggy's brain. Who's the freaky one here?" But I didn't, I just bit the inside of my cheek and decided that it wouldn't be nice to deck him, seeing as Iggy would be the one that I hurt. Ah, the inconveniences of having a sort-of-enemy sharing my brother's body…

"Freaks? Care to expand on that theory?" I asked tightly. J just shook his head, his expression appearing shocked and confused.

"You just spent the last fifteen minutes discussing constipation and the skills of your large intestines," he said. "That's freaky."

Iggy snorted and then winced as his head was jolted. Then he laughed at his wince and winced again. It went on like that for a few seconds before the idiot realized that he had trapped himself in an endless loop – either that, or he just didn't think it was funny anymore – and shut himself up.

"Hey," I replied, "When you live with someone your whole life, watch them being tortured, observe them with tubes and wires stuck in every conceivable place, and laugh at them in embarrassing predicaments, you get close enough to be able to have conversations like that." J stared at me quizzically. "It's called friendship, idiot. You wouldn't understand."

J scowled, and I had obviously struck a nerve with him. "I understand a lot more than you."

I crossed my arms over my chest and gave him one of my looks.

"Oh yeah?" I replied. "Like what?"

"Yeah, do tell," Iggy said. Nudge and Fang had begun to look a bit uncomfortable, and Nudge rubbed her belly with a funny look on her face.

J seemed to swell for a moment, as though he wanted to say something but he wasn't sure if he should.

"Well, like the Prof for starters!" he finally blurted.

We all stared at him, and then Nudge spoke up, her voice sounding tight.

"Um, I'm probably going to miss some sort of revelation about Professor Jordan's plans for us or something, but I seriously gotta go…"

She jumped up, still clutching her stomach, and raced towards the door to Anne's room.

"Why are you going in there?" Gazzy asked her. She gave him an Are you stupid? look.

"Because I have a sense of modesty, thanks," she said, and then disappeared into the next room. A moment later, I heard Anne's bathroom door slam.

I looked at Fang then. He looked extremely uncomfortable.

"Ah, I think I'll do that too," he managed to say before walking as calmly as he could to our own bathroom.

I was just happy that the walls appeared to be soundproof.

And then I threw up a little in my mouth.

"What was that about Professor I-Torture-My-Son-To-Compensate-For-My-Tiny-Schlong?" I coughed, swallowing thickly.

Iggy raised an eyebrow and grinned. Angel and Gazzy both fell about in helpless immature giggling. Anne had settled herself in a chair near the window and was making herself as inconspicuous as possible.

J crossed his arms.

"I know all about him, and his plans for you, and his plans for the baby," he continued.

"And that has to do with understanding friendship how..?" I prodded, gesturing for him to continue. He blushed and Iggy laughed at him. Which was funny to watch.

"It's important and stuff, and I know it and you don't," J pouted, which seemed very immature for a twenty-seven year old computer program.

"You also lived in his computer and worked for him for practically your whole life," I pointed out.

"Do you want to know what I know or not?"

There was silence for a while. Angel and Gazzy had calmed down, and Iggy was looking as though he was on the brink of leaving the room so that he didn't have to hear all of the evil things his dad had planned for him, which wouldn't work very well because the guy who was going to tell it to us was currently residing in his head.

"Why don't you just say it?" Anne finally said, and J started almost immediately, which made me wonder about certain things.

"Well, you know, he didn't use to be like he is now."

"Like what?" Gazzy cut in. "An evil fart-face?"

Ah, only a kid can call someone an evil fart-face and make it sound snide. Childhood naïveté for the win.

There was a long pause heavy with held-back laughter from us adults.

"Yeah, like that," J agreed weakly. "Anyway, I mean, he was always sort of pretentious, and he really did want to take over the world from the very beginning, but… well, it didn't use to be evil, the way he did things."

Iggy had started picking at his sleeves, so you could tell he was nervous. I saw Anne jump slightly out of the corner of my eye and watched her raise her hands to her swollen belly.

"He's sort of crazy, though," J continued. "Well, he's really crazy now, but he used to be only sort of crazy. But then again, you can't not be crazy if you think it's a good idea to do experiments on the DNA of unborn children."

"Amen to that," I chimed in. J just glared at me, which was cute because he wasn't as skilled at blindly glaring as Iggy was. It was cute in a very pathetic way.

"The Prof always had a history of instability in the mental area, but it really came out when his little brother got married to the woman he was in love with. He really went off his rocker then. He got all weird, he'd come up with plans that didn't make sense and have people killed in secret for doing things like coming to work with a stain on their lapel, or using incorrect grammar when they talked."

"That's harsh," Gazzy whispered. He always accused me of being a "grammar Nazi" when I corrected him, but I guess Professor Jordan now made me seem like more of a grammar marshmallow. Or something.

J nodded. "Then, he made this plan for world domination, and for once, even though it was insane, it was crazy enough to actually work."

There was a long pause, presumably for dramatic effect.

"He got it into his mind that if he could somehow convince the public that angels had fallen to earth, then the religious people of the world would follow whatever the angels said, and therefore be under his control. So he researched for years until he came up with the science that could make people who looked like angels. Like you guys."

My jaw nearly dropped, but Maximum Ride is too cool and composed for that. I settled for a WTF-look. We were created to be angels?

"He wanted to create kids born with wings, who would be able to fly, and he wanted to raise them so that they would do anything he said. Obviously, you guys were failures in that department. He messed with the DNA of a bunch of different fetuses and fertilized eggs and even already-born babies until he found out a way to do it that didn't result in death for the subject. And then he made you guys."

"So, we're angels?" Gazzy gasped. "Like, not freaks? We're angels?"

"No, Gazzy!" Angel corrected. "We're still Avian-human hybrids, we're just supposed to look like angels. That doesn't mean we are angels."

Gazzy drooped over, looking bummed.

"That doesn't make us freaks, though, Gaz," I told him, and he brightened up a bit.

J continued with a slight hint of impatience in his voice. "He wanted one in particular to be the leader," he went on, "So he modified that one to be better than to rest. Like, to have more skills and powers and stuff. And he wanted it to be his own child, so that he could raise it to love him and follow him through whatever. So he made Iggy with more bird DNA, so that he would have more bird instinct, like that inner sense of direction and stuff. And he gave him more powers, like that all-knowing thing the dude has going on."

"Gee, you make me sound so badass," Iggy said sarcastically. But I was confused.

"Wait," I started. "He made Iggy to be the leader? But, Jeb told me in that note that I was made to be leader, and that Iggy was a mistake, and he wasn't even supposed to be born!"

J stared towards me. "Then he was lying. I have all of my info straight from the source."

"But pretty much everything he said was true, like how Angel is someone for me to protect, and how Nudge can understand everything," I objected, although for the life of me I didn't know why I wanted to stand up for Jeb. He was a traitor and he had lied in the past, what kept me from thinking that the whole note might have been a lie as well?

Shrugging, J replied. "Maybe he waited until you guys were old and then just wrote the note after he already knew all about you. Of course Angel is someone to protect, she's the youngest. And maybe Nudge is just naturally perceptive."

I gripped my knees forcefully, anger flaring up in my chest. So Jeb had lied about that too.

"Anyway," J started up again, slowly turning his gaze away from me, "The Prof was all excited and stuff to have this friggin' baby. But he was still pretty much out of his mind. He didn't understand a lot of things. He had this picture in his mind of a perfect little family, of him and his brother's wife and a pretty little angel kid. Only then the lady went into labor early, and when Iggy came out two months premature, and all squirrely and wrinkly and purple and slimy and stuff, that's not what he was expecting. He honestly thought something inhuman had just come out of the woman he loved, because he had never seen what a newborn baby looked like."

Iggy snagged a thread from his sleeve and started to tug it out slowly. His face was calm, but I could see his hand shaking.

"It's weird, it's like Professor Jordan is mentally incapable of seeing Iggy as a human being, or of feeling any sympathy for any pain that he goes through. To the Prof, Iggy's just some sort of animal or something. Which really doesn't make sense, because he doesn't feel that Iggy's baby is an animal or anything… but then again, when is a crazy person rational..?"

J shrugged, and Iggy finally snapped the thread from his sleeve and began looping and unlooping it from around his pinkie.

Angel got up lightly and walked over to him, where she sat on the ground between his feet and started playing with his toes. I saw her mouthing "This little piggy went to the market, this little piggy stayed home…" It was adorable (and a little gross since we've been walking around barefoot and he hadn't had a bath yet), and I saw Iggy's shoulder relax. He moved his hands from messing with his sleeves to Angel's hair, which he started to methodically comb through with his fingers, easing out the tangles.

"Anyway, he sort of went completely insane after that, and he kept coming up with all of these plans and then cancelling them or modifying them or something. And then he came up with the idea to make Iggy have a baby. Iggy was perfect for it, since he had four percent avian DNA, so he could even do it with a regular human and have a bird-baby. And he still wanted the kid who would be the focus of the whole plan of world domination to have his genes and the genes of the woman he loves. So, a baby from Iggy was perfect. But he needed a mom for it."

J gestured towards Anne, who now looked as though she was being wracked by guilt. My mind flashed back to the memory of Anne's that Professor Jordan had shown me; Iggy, flushed and sweaty and tortured by what had just happened to him, opening the door to my room to find it empty. My heart beat painfully against my chest.

"He found a woman with a body strong enough to withstand the pregnancy without the baby being born premature, and then he made it so that he could blackmail her into getting pregnant off of Iggy. He killed her brother and framed it on her niece."

"Yes, we know all of this," I spoke up. "But what does he want the baby for? The angel thing?"

J nodded. "He's going to raise the baby to be fully under his control. Then, when the kid is old enough, he's going to announce to America that an angel fell from the sky and told him that God has chosen him to lead the world into the path of righteousness. That he is the new messiah. There are bound to be tons of religious people, or even people who aren't religious, who believe him, when they see a beautiful person with feathered wings. Eventually, he'll amass millions of followers, with the 'angel' speaking as God's messenger, telling everyone that he's holy and stuff. The 'new messiah' thing will attract Christians and Jews and Muslims alike. And eventually, he probably will be able to take over the world."

The room was quiet for a long time as we processed what J had said. The plan… it was so intricate, so crazy, and so completely believable. From what I knew about religious people, when faced with "signs from God," most of them could believe just about anything. And with a real, live angel staring them in the face, even people who didn't really believe in God or Heaven would join. It combined religion with solid, visual fact, albeit a lie, and that was dangerous.

I'd heard about what fanatical religious people could do on the news; 9/11 was just one thing. I tried to imagine what fanatical Christians, Muslims and Jews could do, all together. If it got bad enough, there could be another holocaust, eradicating all those who didn't believe in God. That was downright frightening.

Something occurred to me then. "Wait," I said, "If all Professor Jordan wants is the baby to do this angel thing, why did he capture us too? What does he want with us?"

J stared at me with an Are you stupid? expression.

"Well, he wants to capture you so that you don't get in his way until the baby is born. Then, so that you don't reveal the truth to the public, he's going to kill all of you, and everyone who knows about you."

Horrified, I thought of my mom and Ella, blissfully unaware of the danger they were in, sitting back at our home and worrying about us. Then I thought about Gazzy and Angel, and about Nudge, and Iggy and Fang. They couldn't die. I wouldn't let them die.

There was a sudden sound of a toilet flushing, and then I heard the sink in the bathroom running. A minute later, Fang walked out, looking a bit queasy. He wiped his hands on his pink skinny-jeans and looked around at everyone.

"Hey," he said. "Did I miss anything?"

Are any of you wondering why the first half of the chapter was pretty much about constipation? Well, that's because I was wondering if anyone was still reading. If no one is, then ha, I had fun writing it. If people still are, maybe it proved entertaining. In any case, I hope it sparked the attention of people who are growing bored of my continuously delayed updates. So sorry about that, by the way.

Once again, please check out the poll on my profile.

Reviews are lovely, they give me inspiration.


46. Coloring

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

By the way, I don't own the series Maximum Ride, James Patterson does. I don't think I ever said that.


"Owch," Iggy said, wincing, as I attempted to pull the stitches out of his face. "Not so hard! Max, not so fast!"

"Wimp," I muttered, picking at a particular stitch that seemed to have fused itself to Iggy's skin.

"Well, it hurts! You're not the one who nearly had your eye stabbed out!"

"Yes, but that's beside the point. I'm the one removing your stitches, so you just be quiet unless you want this stuff to stay there for the rest of your life."

After several more minutes of carefully pulling out his stitching, I sat back and looked at him. He pouted at me, his hurt eye still closed. The cut looked pretty good, and was mostly healed. It would be a scar by the next day.

"Can you open your eye?" I asked him. "I want to check it out and make sure it's not disgusting or anything."

Iggy hesitated, then shrugged. He slowly opened his eye, wincing.

I leaned in close to get a good look. It felt like the world slowed down for a second.

"What?" he asked.

"It doesn't look like vomit," I replied weakly. There was a short silence.

"Well, if that's not encouraging, I don't know what is," Nudge piped up sardonically. I heard her stand and come over to take a look for herself.

"Everyone's crowding around me," Iggy complained, closing his eyes. "It's very annoying."

"Open your eyes," Nudge said, reaching forward and using her fingers to pull open his unhurt eye. Iggy let out an uncomfortable snort and opened his other as well.

It wasn't like it was gross or anything. And it wasn't like I was freaked out by it – okay, maybe a little freaked out, but that was it. It was just that I had always been so, well, relieved that Iggy's eyes had retained most of their color after he went blind. I was worried before that if his eyes had looked different, that he'd stick out in a crowd and be embarrassed. So it was great that his eyes were still colored. Now, seeing one of his eyes as foggy white rather than a cloudy blue was a little shocking.

"It looks fine," Nudge said comfortingly. "It's just that the color's gone. But it looks totally cool, like you're some kind of super-agent spy or something from a movie."

Iggy looked horrified. "What? The color's gone?" He fell back onto the bed and covered his face in his hands. "I'm a freak. Do I look like a creeper?"

I saw Nudge roll her eyes, but then look at him with a fond smile on her face. I wondered how long she was willing to wait for Iggy, and what she would do with her life if he didn't ever fall for her.

"You don't really look like a creeper, Iggy," she said. "I mean, it's actually sort of sexy. It would be great for roll-play, too. You know, not that our lives aren't already interesting and exciting enough to not even need roll-play."

Iggy blanched, and Nudge giggled. Gazzy and Angel looked at each other questioningly, and Fang facepalmed dramatically.

"Not appropriate material to talk about at the moment, Nudge," I muttered. She flashed me a toothy smile that she had obviously borrowed from Iggy's own repertoire.

"Does that mean that at a different moment, if would have been appropriate?" she and Iggy both asked simultaneously. They looked at each other, grinned, and slapped a high-five. I moaned. I didn't need Nudge to develop Iggy's sense of humor. My life would morph into a living hell. Not that I wasn't already living in a nightmare.

"Hey," Gazzy objected from his position in front of the television, which now appeared to be flickering with static instead of playing his cartoon. "What happened to the TV?"

"I dunno, Gasser," I said. "Did you knock it? Maybe the cable cord fell out or something."

Gazzy scowled. "It wasn't me, I swear! I was just sitting here." He leaned towards the screen and reached out his open palm.

There was a sudden silence in the room as we all watched him, excluding Iggy, who was fingering his eye with a sort of sad look on his face. The quiet was only interrupted by the buzz of static from the television and a strange humming noise.

Angel's eyes widened and she screamed for Gazzy to stop, reaching out and grabbing his arm to pull him away just as his fingertips touched the television.

There was a flash of electricity and a crack as the two kids appeared to freeze, Angel's hand on Gazzy's wrist, Gazzy's hand on the television screen. Their eyes were wide open, their hair smoking.

In less than a second, Fang and I were both up and heading to their rescue. We dove at them and pushed Gazzy's arm away from the television, electrocuting ourselves for a second in the process. I shook my singed hands and then knelt over Gazzy to examine him while Fang looked over Angel. Nudge darted to our side as well, her expression frantic.

Gazzy and Angel's hair were both standing almost on end, the tips blackened and smoking. I lifted the hand that Gazzy had touched to the television screen and saw that it was burned, red and swollen in some parts, singed black in others. Then I noticed that he wasn't breathing.

"Oh, god," I choked, bending over and holding my ear over his mouth, listening intently for any faint breath. I looked down his chest, but it didn't rise or fall.

"Are they okay?" Nudge asked. I waved her away and laid Gazzy out flat on his back, bent over, pinched his nose, tilted back his head and gave him two breaths, watching his chest rise.

"Gazzy..?" Fang choked. "Angel's okay, she's unconscious, but she's breathing…"

I didn't answer, just folded my hands together and put them on his breastbone, taking a deep breath myself before starting to give him compressions. I didn't know how hard to do it… not as hard as the ones Fang had given to Iggy before, obviously, but if they were too soft they wouldn't work…

"Iggy!" I heard Fang say. "Iggy, what the heck are you doing?"

I glanced away from my compressions for a moment to see Iggy, sitting on the bed, staring towards all of us, looking scared.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry, Professor Jordan, he… he made me…" He looked very scared, very guilty, and extremely un-Iggy.

I gritted my teeth, realizing that Iggy wasn't there anymore, it was just J. J, the horrible, life-sucking, family-wrecking idiot who was installed in my Iggy's head. J, the guy who had forced Iggy to hang himself, nearly killing him. J, who had put Meagan in a Dream-simulator, only to have her memories stolen and wrecking Iggy's chance at happiness with someone who wasn't me. J, who appeared to have a thing for the woman who had raped the body that he was residing in. J, who didn't seem to give a crap that because of him, Iggy's life was pretty much ruined. And J, who had probably rigged the television in some way for this to happen, probably to provide a distraction so that Erasers could pounce…

"Fang," I hissed through clenched teeth, giving Gazzy another compression, "Guard the door."

I bent and gave the Gasman two more breaths while Fang stood, handed Angel off to Nudge, and moved to the door.

Gazzy coughed, grabbing for me with his little hands, and I wrapped him in my arms, stroking his burnt blond hair and rubbing his back as he struggled for breath.

That was about the same time that the door smashed open and Fang was knocked to the ground with a thud. Nudge stood immediately and backed away, an unconscious Angel still in her arms. I lifted Gazzy and held him close, my hand on the back of his head, his face pressed into my neck. An Eraser stood in the doorway, snarling, claws outstretched and fangs bared.

"J, you better get Iggy back right now or I swear, I'm going to pummel you into oblivion, and I really don't care that it's Iggy's body. You'll still feel it."

Okay, maybe that was a blatant lie, but I don't think I would be averse to at least giving him a black eye. And J probably hadn't even suffered so much as even a black eye before, so it would do the job just fine.

"I can't!" J said, and I could hear his gritted teeth. "I can't. The professor ordered me not to, there's no loophole, if I let him go I'll get hurt…"

"That's right," the Eraser snarled with a cruel, humorous gleam in his eyes. "The Prof wants you guys to cooperate easily, and it's better without the brat in the way."

"Brat, huh?" I said, edging towards the door to Anne's conjoined room. Maybe if I stalled for a bit, we could run out that way… but J was controlling Iggy, so Iggy couldn't run… well, Fang could always knock him out and drag him along…

The Eraser's eyes flashed. "Yeah, the little blind brat with the sister complex. Oh, wait, you two aren't related. Oh well, close enough, according to you." My nostrils flared, and he grinned. "It's common knowledge, Maximum Ride. Every little lapdog at the School knows, the scientists and the other Erasers and even those weak little experiments. It's just you and the rest of your idiot flock that were too thick to see it yourself. Oh, and I would stop walking to that door if I were you."

I turned my head in time to see the door open and Anne being shoved through, with at least five more Erasers behind her. They all grinned at me with glistening fangs, and I silently cursed, wondering how on earth I had managed to let great frigging Erasers sneak into the hotel without me noticing. Why didn't Angel even notice? I thought her mental powers worked on huge, hulking Erasers?

I stiffened as I saw J stand from the bed and walk over to the Erasers, who let them into their midst with almost a disdain, as though they knew that despite his high ranking as Professor Jordan's personal tool, they were still better.

"We're leaving now," the first Eraser growled, "And don't fight it."

"Why not?" I snapped, holding my chin high. He just shook his head with a snort.

"You've got a little kid in your arms and another in hers," he pointed out, gesturing to Nudge. "Not to mention that, if you don't comply, well…" he shrugged, and there was a round of clicking noises as the five Erasers behind Anne drew pistols, turned off the safety, and aimed every one of them at Iggy's head.

No way could I take out five armed Erasers without one of them managing to shoot Iggy first. And no way on earth would I put either Iggy or Angel or Gazzy in danger by being stupid and making a break for it when the odds were clearly against us.

"What are you going to do to them?" I asked, managing to keep my voice firm, trying not to let on how scared I was with five guns pointed at Iggy. Just one slipped finger, one trigger-happy Eraser and one of my best friends and closest family would be dead.

The first Eraser grinned.

"That bitch is going to have the bird-baby, and it's going to happen on Professor Jordan's terms. I dunno what we need the runt for," he said, ignoring the fact that Iggy was actually only a few inches shorter than him in wolf form, and probably several inches taller than him in human form. "Insurance, I guess." His wolfy maw widened into a glistening sneer. "Maybe we can have some fun with him. 'Strawberry Girl' was the first chick I ever jacked it to, back in the Eraser compound where 'she' was the only pinup. Who knows, maybe with a little makeup, a new outfit and a wig, he could do just as good as he used to."

Before I had time to process what the brute had said, I heard Fang snarl from behind me.

"Don't you touch him," he said, voice low and dangerous. "Don't you do anything to him."

The Eraser's grin broadened, and he turned his sharp eyes to meet Fang's. I turned my head back to look at Fang for a moment to see his face darkened in a scowl. He looked furious and deadly.

"What, you got a problem with that kind of thing, man? I mean, a hole's a hole, and the way I've been deprived, I couldn't give less of a crap who it's attached to…"

Fang gritted his teeth and brought his hand into a fist, raising it and preparing to dart forward and attack, but then a huge sound filled the room and I felt something small and fast zipping past my head. I tightened my hold on Gazzy, clutching him closer to me and clenching my eyes shut, hoping to any god out there that I wouldn't open them to find Iggy dead and bleeding on the floor…

"Make a move like that again, and the next one goes between his eyes," growled an Eraser, who was pressing the nose of his gun to Iggy's forehead. I saw red staining his shirt and realized that one of the Erasers must have shot a bullet through the fat on Iggy's upper arm, which was now bleeding profusely and dripping on the floor. I turned to see a bullet-hole in the wall behind me.

Boy, was Iggy getting a lot of scars out of this adventure, I thought to myself.

Fang had frozen with his fist still raised, his jaw clenched tight in anger, a glint of fear in his eyes as he thought about what could have happened if the Eraser that shot Iggy hadn't been 'gracious' enough to aim for someplace non-lethal. He slowly lowered his arm, keeping his hand clenched, not relaxing, but standing stock-still. I highly doubted that they would actually kill Iggy – they needed him alive so that we wouldn't attack them – but they could still hurt him, and I knew that Fang didn't want that at all.

"If you hurt him like that, I swear, I'll kill you," Fang muttered through gritted teeth to the original Eraser, who was still grinning sadistically. The brute moved towards Iggy – Iggy's body, Max, it's still J there – and placed his huge, clawed hand on top of Iggy's hair, twining his fingers through the reddish strands with an odd look on his face. He brought Iggy's head closer to his, inhaling the scent of Iggy's hair deeply, then narrowed his eyes at Fang and licked up the side of Iggy's face with a cruel grin. J stiffened his jaw, disgust showing plainly in his eyes.

"Tastes like chicken," the Eraser laughed. "I like chicken."

The other Erasers chuckled, and one of them grabbed Anne by the neck and tugged her back to him, her back flat to his front. She shuddered and tried to look down at the ground, anywhere but towards the other Erasers, but the Eraser behind her grabbed her chin and tilted her face up, turning it in Iggy's direction. "Wanna give your little baby-daddy a kiss?" he asked, his voice sickening. "By the looks of it, you liked kissing him," the Eraser laughed, patting her pregnant belly. "Or at the very least, he really liked kissing you."

The first Eraser, who I decided to call "Ugly," sneered and moved his hand from Iggy's hair down to his chest, dragging his claws down the collar of his shirt and revealing inch after inch of skin.

"You liked kissing her, didn't you, runt?" I heard him whisper into Iggy's ear. J grimaced, but there was also a snatch of something that I caught in his expression, a snatch of Iggy. Like Iggy was just barely aware of what was going on and was starting to wake up. Ugly continued to move his furry paw lower and lower, descending to Iggy's stomach.

Okay, so it wasn't Iggy the Erasers were harassing, exactly… at least, it wasn't Iggy conscious. It was J. But I couldn't help but feel that Iggy might be aware of it all, or that he was becoming aware of it. And even if that wasn't so, it was practically the same as if Ugly was attacking Iggy in his sleep, which was almost worse. And I hated it.

"Stop that right now," I spoke up. "You've done enough. Go take them to your sadistic boss. We won't attack you or anything. Just… just stop."

Ugly smiled at me and dropped his hand, backing away. I saw the muscles in Iggy's neck twitch as J relaxed a bit with the Eraser retreating.

"Good birdie," Ugly said. "Just stay where you are, and we'll be out of your hair in no time."

I stepped back, and felt the Gasman beginning to stir in my arms. He made a little noise, and I shushed him with a hand in his hair. Nudge moved towards me, Angel's hair tickling her cheek, her eyes wide and anxious. Fang stayed where he was, fists clenched, glaring at Ugly with murder in his eyes. Ugly just smiled, waved, and grabbed Iggy, pressing his own pistol to Iggy's temple as he backed out of the room, followed by Anne and the other Erasers.

As she was shoved out of the room, Anne caught my gaze and our eyes locked for a moment. In that second, we understood each other completely, and I knew that she would do everything within her power to protect Iggy, just as I would be doing everything within my power to get them back.

I'd also kill Ugly and Professor Jordan while I was at it.

I'm pretty happy with this chapter. I've never really had much dialogue between the flock and the Erasers before. I picture the Erasers to be very rowdy, very rude, and very sexually deprived beings. And I haven't really been avert to including rape or child abuse in this story, so I really didn't think I had to censor out a little reference to masturbation. After all, it's the most innocent of the three.

Thank you for reading.

Frenzied Warrior, you need to update now. Beginning of the climax and all that.

Please, please review, they make me oh so happy.

47. Lie

Okay, so I just had a mole removed and it was super sad. I cried a lot. Because I'm a needle-phobe, and I had to get a shot in my NECK. And then they had to slice my neck open with a razor blade. It was frightening, and strangely Sweeney Todd-like.

Anyway, I'm okay. For now. Dunh dunh duuuuuunh.


"Max, Max, I'm okay," Gazzy reassured me as I continued to check him up and down. "I'm a little singed, but…"

"Don't lie to me, buddy," I said sternly. "You were electrocuted a few minutes ago. Just look at your hand!"

Gazzy anxiously took his burnt hand in his other, looking at it with wide, watering eyes.

"It hurts, but, b-but…" His lower lip trembled and I saw his eyes flicker to the door, then back to his hand, then to the eye-patch that lay discarded on the bedside table.

"I know they have Iggy, Gazzy." I took his shoulders and made him look into my eyes. "They have Iggy, Gasser, but unless all of us are okay, we're not going to be able to get him back." Gazzy looked down, a tear falling out of his eyes and dripping off of his nose.

"I couldn't fight them," he whispered. "I couldn't fight when my b-best friend needed me."

I sighed. "Gazzy, neither could we." He sniffed loudly and wetly. "Now, you need to shut up and buck up and let me check your damned health, or Iggy's gonna have to wait that much longer for us to save his skinny butt."

Gazzy stared at me, wide-eyed.

"Harsh much, Max?" Fang asked me from a few feet over, where he was checking out Angel. She was holding her arms up to let him get a good look at her sides, but she seemed alright, besides the singed ends of her hair. Gazzy had definitely gotten the most of the electric current, his hair nearly burnt to the roots and his hand red, swollen, and blackened in some parts.

"Harsh nothing," I growled at him. "Nothing's harsh when that bastard has Iggy trapped up in that school with an aspiring rapist Eraser and a whole huge freaking building full of handy torturing devices."

I noticed Gazzy flinch slightly and felt a bit guilty. I gently reached up and patted his head, sending burnt flakes of what used to be blond hair fluttering down to the floor.

"I'm sorry, Gaz," I muttered to him. "I'm just really worried. I shouldn't be taking it out on you."

He heaved a deep breath and shrugged, gritting his jaw. "It's okay, Max," he said. "I get it. Let's just… find some scissors and cut off my hair and get going."

"We need to bandage that hand of yours, too," I said.

"Yeah, and I've got a dandy first-aid kit choc-full of all sorts of wonderful treats. Here's some gauze, here's some medical tape, here's some antiseptic, some Neosporin…"

I took the stuff Nudge handed to me, proceeding to disinfect Gazzy's burns and wrap his hand in plenty of gauze and medical tape.

"That good?" I asked him as I finished, patting his wrist comfortingly, pulling my hand away quickly when I felt him wince.

"Yeah, thanks," he replied. He rubbed his bandaged hand gingerly. "I'm fine. Can we go bust Iggy out now?"

I looked to Angel, who was nodding emphatically, and Nudge, who was pulling a small pair of scissors from the first-aid kit and proceeded to trim the burnt ends off of Angel's hair.

"Do Gazzy next," I told her, nudging the little kid over to her and Angel.

Fang stood and walked over to me, the soft expression he had been wearing when caring for Angel slipping into one of stiff determination. I saw a glint in his eyes that told me he was pissed and ready to tear a new one in the next jerk that tried to mess with us.

"We have to have a plan," he said softly, a rough edge to his voice. I could tell that he was trying to keep his pitch under control. I was close enough to him to know that at the state of anger and anxiety he was in, his voice would actually be cracking pretty high right now without his expert vocal control. I would usually find the way he was self-conscious about his pubescent voice adorable, but at that moment, I barely gave it a passing thought.

"Yeah, I know," I said, sitting on the bed and pinching the bridge of my nose. "We need an awesome plan. A foolproof plan. A plan that actually works enough to keep us safe for the rest of our lives."

Fang barked a laugh. "We don't need a plan like that. We just need something that keeps us all alive when we ambush."

I turned to look at him, my hair falling into my eyes in the process. He reached over and brushed it behind my ear, his eyes softening, a smile twitching at the edge of his mouth.

"Max, you're brilliant, and a fantastic leader, and a great friend and guardian and older sister and girlfriend and what have you. But right now, you don't need to work your fantastic mind too hard for some sort of complicated, intricate plan for infiltration and stuff. What we need is some way to just bust in and get Iggy out as fast as mutant-ly possible. So you get us that way, and then we fight our way through anything that tries to stop us, and we get Iggy and Anne and we kill who we need to kill, and everything will be good. Okay?"

His calloused hand cupped my cheek and I leaned into the touch. I chuckled softly. "It's funny how you can say 'we kill who we need to kill' and I'm not freaked out by how psychotic that sounds."

He took my hand and pulled me to my feet, grinning. Sometimes, I wondered if all the hell we'd been through in the past months hadn't been a little worth it. I mean, we could relate more to Iggy, we were closer… Fang showed emotion and actually talked and was pleasantly affectionate…

"So, brilliant leader," Fang started. Angel, hair shorter, and Gazzy, hair practically gone, looked towards us. Nudge glanced at me, packing away the first-aid kit. "What do we do next?"

Iggy POV

"So, Strawberry," the Eraser that had been assigned as my personal escort growled in my ear. "How's your stay going so far?" I felt his clawed hand on my thigh and grimaced. "Are you comfortable?"

I could practically hear the grin on his face.

The room I was in was quite small, and as far as I could tell, had no windows. Just one door, that I had been thrown through unceremoniously and left alone with an Eraser that seemed to be very interested in the fact that I used to be a cross-dressing child model.

"Where am I?" I asked. "Where's Anne? What'd you do to my family?"

There was a period of thick silence. I could hear myself breathing. I could hear the Eraser's heartbeat. I could hear J thinking about Anne somewhere in the back of my mind. I felt the strong desire to kick myself in the nuts, just so he could feel the pain. Which was an utterly ridiculous notion, seeing as how I didn't think kicking oneself in the nuts was physically possible, unless you were a contortionist or something like that.

"Well," the Eraser started, interrupting the silence, trailing his claws up my thigh and to my stomach. "You're back in your daddy's work building, the bitch is somewhere that is not here, and your family is fine."

His hand travelled higher until he was caressing my cheek. I clenched my jaw and struggled not to freak out. I was stronger than this now. I wouldn't cave in to my fears. There was going to be a final battle soon, and I was going to win.

That's the spirit, wimp, I heard J think to me. I mentally socked him in the face.

Stop thinking about my rapist, I thought to him.

Whatever, he thought back.

Oh god. Stop thinking about my rapist naked.


I felt one of the Eraser's claws brush over my lips and flinched at the feeling, pulled back to the reality of the cold, windowless room, alone with a sentient computer program in my brain and an Eraser at my side whose actions seemed to be getting more and more ominous.

"Wh-what are you going to do to me?" I asked, struggling not to stutter, not to make my fear apparent. There was a hiss of hot breath hitting my neck as he barked out a laugh.

"Do you know what my dream was when I was a kid?" he asked softly, every word sending a shiver down my spine. He took a lock of my hair between his fingers and tugged it softly, almost thoughtfully. "There were these pictures, see, of this pretty little girl, all over the Eraser compound. They gave them to us so we could 'let off our steam.' They didn't allow relationships amongst the experiments, you know?"

His other hand drifted over my knee and I held back a shudder.

"Yeah?" I said through gritted teeth. "Probably didn't want to risk the chance of having to look at ugly little Eraser babies."

His claws dug into my leg and I bit back a hiss of pain. My arm was still smarting from what was apparently a bullet-wound that J had got for me while he had me stuffed in the back of my consciousness, my hand was a mess of aching scar tissue trying to mend, my eye still stung, and now I was about to be mauled by an Eraser.

"I was seven years old the first time I saw the pictures," the Eraser continued, muttering in my ear. "I thought that girl was the prettiest thing I had ever seen in my life. I thought she must be some sort of goddess or something, she looked so nice and innocent. I knew she lived in the School, too. For months, the only thing I thought about was the possibility of seeing her." I felt blood dripping down my leg as the Eraser's claws dug deeper and winced. The Eraser chuckled.

"Erasers age faster than normal," he continued. "It's so the scientists don't really have to worry about wolfy hormones too much. We go through the teenage part of our lives pretty fast. So about a year later, I was the equivalent of thirteen years old. And I got my wish. I was told to help guard the photographer of Strawberry Girl during a photo shoot. You know, as practice. And I saw her up close and real for the first time in my life."

The Eraser's voice trailed off for a moment, cracked. I swallowed nervously as he pulled his claws out of my leg and moved his other hand down my back to rest over my folded wings.

"She was so freaking pretty, and she looked so sad," he continued. "And she had wings. They edited the wings out in the pictures, but in real life, she had wings. It was like I was looking at an angel. And the first second I could, I snuck back and I got her alone where they made her change her clothes. I got her alone, and I…"

I felt his claws tighten on one of my wings, and then my stomach flipped, because I had a memory of this, a faint memory, one that had happened so long ago I could barely remember. I could remember being shoved behind a barrier to change into something or another, and a high-voiced Eraser boy coming in behind me, grabbing my arm, turning me around and stammering something to me.

The Eraser's voice hardened. "I told the little girl that I wanted to marry her when I grew up," he snarled, his claws tearing into my wing and making me arch my back in pain. "And she smiled with those huge, sad eyes and held out her hand to me. And there was this fat red strawberry, just sitting there in her palm. I looked at her pretty little face and then down at her hand, and I took the strawberry and looked back up at the little girl that my pre-pubescent-self had fallen in love with. And you know what she said to me?"

He grabbed my hair and yanked my head back, breathing into my ear, a growl coming with every heave of his chest. "You know what she said?"

"I'm s-sorry," I choked. The Eraser scoffed, letting go of my hair.

"She said 'okay,'" the Eraser breathed. "She said 'okay' in this high, shy, freaking gorgeous little voice, and it was like I was on cloud flipping nine. And then the scientists spotted me and dragged me back to the compound. And for the next two frigging years of my ridiculous life, until I was the equivalent of twenty years old, that's the thing that fueled me. The thought that the angel of my dreams was going to marry me someday. And then, you know what happened?"

He grabbed my arm tightly and I slowly shook my head. His grip tightened.

"I found out that the little girl I was waiting for was a boy." I heard a growl building in his chest and flinched as I felt him raise his other hand towards my face. "And maybe I could have dealt with that. But you know what else I found out?" His claws touched my mouth and seemed to linger, a claw dragging down my lower lip, parting my lips, scraping against my teeth. I began to breathe faster, nervous.

The Eraser laughed again, but this time it was hollow and completely humorless. It sounded more like a sob.

"I found out that the little girl, the little boy, was completely and utterly infatuated with the famous subject Maximum Ride. Strawberry Girl was never going to marry me. She lied."

His claws left my mouth and I heard him stand. For a second, it was as though his presence had left the room. Then, it was back, with its claws around my neck.

"You lied to me," he snarled. "And now, I have no dreams."

I gasped, grabbing for the fingers tightening around my neck. For a second, I thought he was going to kill me.

And then he kissed me.

To be honest, the ending of this chapter shocked me. I was so not expecting that to happen.

And now, I feel really, really bad for the poor guy. I wrote him such an awful life.

Ah, well. Makes for nice drama.

Please review, they make me oh-so-dearly happy.

48. Rebelling

Just don't even talk to me. I love all of you, though.

Iggy POV

I froze for about four seconds.

And then I kneed him in the nuts, as hard as I could.

The Eraser dropped me and stumbled away before sinking to the ground, clutching his groin and growling. I had about twenty seconds to feel proud of myself and catch my breath before I heard him start to struggle with something that appeared to be in his pants – a second of worry there – and then I heard the unmistakable sound of what seemed to be a very long, very mean, serrated knife being drawn. It seemed that with the pain he was in he either couldn't concentrate to morph into wolf form, where he had plenty of knife-like claws, or he had temporarily forgotten that he was an Eraser. Either way, I had the very strong feeling that while I was apparently wanted alive, I didn't have to be unharmed.

"Hold it," I said, raising my hands in front of me in a placating gesture. "Don't hurt me. You're partly at fault here, assaulting a sixteen-year-old kid like that." I attempted to make my probably-more-like-twenty-one-year-old-looking-body seem small and weak by crouching a little bit, but I probably just looked like I had a hump-back. Here is a time where I wished I wasn't as tall as the freaking Eiffel Tower.

I heard the knife clatter on the floor as the Eraser struggled to hoist himself up off the floor, but apparently there were times when being two-hundred pounds of muscle was a bad thing, because he kept falling back to the floor.

Backing up until my back hit the wall with my hands still raised in front of me, I continued talking, hoping that maybe along the line I would say something that would save me a finger or two. I already had enough sexy scars to last me a lifetime.

"I mean, it's not really my fault," I stammered, searching frantically for words that would somehow placate the Eraser who was still struggling. It now sounded as though he was trying to use the knife as a sort of cane, what with all the scraping and clattering. "I was just as much of a prisoner here as you are, maybe even more. I mean, torture and stuff. And do you think any five-year-old boy actually thinks, Golly gee, it would be fun to dress up in revealing dresses and have pictures taken of me for old politicians to, uh, hang in their bedrooms? I mean, sure, the photographer was decent, and the strawberries were pretty damn tasty, but aside from that…"

There was a tremendous clatter and scraping sound, and then a thump, and the Eraser was on his feet and snarling, making his way toward me, probably with knife outstretched.

"And I was really tortured in that place… in this place," I continued. "I mean, really bad. Experiments and all of that, but a lot more too. Probably worse than anyone else, ever."

There was a pause, and I heard him stop several feet away from me. I didn't move though, in case he was holding out his knife pointing at me. I didn't want to accidentally poke my eye out with an outstretched knife.

"But you got out," the Eraser growled. "You got out years ago. Me, I've been stuck here my whole life."

I paused for a moment, unsure of what I could say next. It was true. I may have been tortured pretty badly, but I'd only been stuck in the school for about nine years. The rest of my life had been spent free, and with the flock.

I could hear the knife in front of my face, like a hum as air whooshed past the metal blade.

"I had to," I blurted out. The Eraser paused.

"Of course you had to get out," he growled. "The School is a hellhole."

I shook my head. "No. I had to say 'okay' to you. When you asked me, when we were kids. I had to."

I could hear his hand shaking as the knife buzzed up-and-down in the still air. A low growl was bubbling in the back of his throat.

"I was the lowest of the low, lower than anyone else, anything else," I stammered. "I had to say yes to everyone. Even if it meant… even if…" I couldn't repress a shudder as memories started to cloud my thoughts. I shook my head. "I'm sorry if I hurt you, but you were an Eraser, even if you were a kid. I had to say yes to you."

The Eraser had begun breathing a bit harshly, and I had the feeling that he was on the verge of hyperventilating.

"You," I stammered out. "You don't have to do this. Any of this. What do you think P-professor Jordan is going to do to you and your friends after he gets his way?"

A low growl. "He says he'll reward us," the Eraser muttered.

"Yeah," I said. "Yeah, but do you believe him? How has your life been under him so far? Pretty horrible, right?"

There was silence from the Eraser, which I took as encouragement to continue. "But if you guys all get together, if you… if we all work as a team, we could…"

"There's no way we can fight him, he's got too many followers and too many weapons."

"But you guys are smart, you Erasers," I continued, encouraged. He was listening to me. "Even if he doesn't like to think so. And if all of you worked together, a bunch of scientists with shots and scalpels is no match for you. I mean, you probably outnumber them."

There was more silence, as though he was contemplating. His heartbeat was quickening, whether from anger or excitement I couldn't be sure. But still, at least I was postponing that knife in my face.

"Think about it. He thinks he's got you all under his control, and you do too. But he doesn't really have anything against you except for words and ideas. If all of you, or even just most of you, went against him all at once, he'd be no match. And then you could finally be free of him, and live your life the way you want to, in the real world. You wouldn't have to follow him or be scared of him or anything ever again."

I was breathing hard, excited by my own idea. It was true. If all of the Erasers rebelled at once, He'd be no match. He's only kept them under control with fear and ideas so far, and of course he has enough resources to quell a small revolt or a wayward Eraser. But all of them at once? He couldn't.

"I'm not scared of him," the Eraser growled, and my stomach dropped. But then he continued, and my heart started racing. "But I don't want to follow him. Not anymore."

"You could do it!" I encouraged. "I could help. And my flock is going to come here soon, and they can help too."

The Eraser started musing quietly. "I'm friends with most of the Erasers. All of the group leaders. It's a mealtime now, they're mostly all going to be at the Canteen. They listen to me. The Professor always makes promises of rewards, but no one's ever actually got one… we're all sick and tired of being his little lapdogs…"

"What's your name?" I asked suddenly, and I heard him turn towards me. He hesitated.

"Anthony," he finally muttered. I was taken aback, but only for a second. I had sort of pictured something more like Hookfang, or Clawsnout, or Agrippa or something. But Erasers were people too, and they probably just wanted normal names under everything. Maybe this guy had had a mother, who gave birth to him and held him and named him while gazing at his little baby face. Maybe we could stop worked against Erasers. They weren't so different from us, not really. Born into the School to be picked on, tortured, and manipulated. They were just like us, only we got to escape.

Maybe that's why they'd been so eager to capture us all of these years. They were jealous.

"Well, Anthony," I said, holding out my hand. "I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Let's be friends."

After a moment, I felt a big, solid human hand take mine.

"I guess so, Freak," he growled. "I mean, Iggy." He shook my hand firmly.

There was a moment of thick silence, and then I grinned.

"Let's tear this place apart."


"Scouts, what is the report?"

Gazzy, on his hands and knees with leaves in his hair (he had just crawled under a bush), grinned and tapped the side of his nose. I don't know why, he just did.

Angel was at his side, leaves also in her hair, looking at Gazzy with an air of superiority combined with affection.

"The parking lot, the one we went in through last time, is empty, but there's this mean-looking man standing inside of the sliding doors. I think they upped the security, you know, after we broke in and threatened to stab the receptionist in the neck with her own pen." Gazzy was bouncing excitedly.

"But beyond the fences, the compound is pretty lightly guarded. I think Professor Jordan wants us to come in, so it will be easy that way, but really hard to get out." Angel looked at me with bright eyes.

"Okay," I muttered. "Okay. Listen guys, I think we should stick together. Get in, whoop ass, whatever, and search Iggy out as a team."

Before I had even finished, Fang and Nudge were both shaking their heads. I glared at Fang.


"Max, we need to split up," Fang said, looking at me intensely. He still had a wispy mustache and hot-pink skinny-jeans, but everything about him made my heart skip a beat. "It will be best that way. If we all stick together, that just won't work. They could get us all at once. We need to split into teams and go our separate ways. That's our best bet."

I scowled. "They can beat us better if we're in small groups. We can't fight as hard that way."

"But we can fight well in small groups too, Max," Fang continued to push. "Even if we aren't nearly as strong separated. And it will be harder to trap us. We can cover more land that way, too. Search more places in a shorter time."

I gritted my teeth and then began to chew on the inside of my cheek. "What do you propose?"

Fang hesitated. "I think… I think you and Angel should go in, and try to find Iggy. Angel can use her telepathy. And you're our best bet to keep him safe once we've found him."

"And you?" I asked, my tone harsh, though inside I knew that what Fang was saying made sense.

"I can take Nudge and the Gasman, and we'll draw attention away from you and Angel." He paused. "We'll look for Iggy too, but mostly we'll fight and make a lot of noise."

"Max, that's a good plan," Angel said. "Fang, Nudge and Gazzy can fight, and while they School is sending all of their resources to try to stop them, you and I can sneak around and find Iggy."

I looked around at the faces of my flock; Angel's and Gazzy's wide blue eyes, Fang's intense gaze, Nudge's determined expression. I trusted them.

"Okay," I sighed. "Fang, you three go in through the back. Angel and I will look for an entrance on the roof or through a vent or something."

Gazzy fist-pumped the air and cheered as quietly as he could.

"Don't worry Iggy!" he whisper-yelled. "We're coming!"

Iggy POV

I already knew my plan was going to work.

It seemed as though nobody questioned Erasers. Professor Jordan and the scientists must have been pretty convinced that the Erasers were under their complete control, because it was like they could do anything without being questioned.

Anthony knocked on the room door after the two of us had gotten to know each other, become chums, and set up a plan (injured each other, made a truce, and agreed to work together to not get killed). After an Eraser guard outside opened the door and poked his head in and the two had communicated for a few minutes, the Eraser looked me over, expressionless.

"It is going to be a bit harder than just proposing a course of action," he growled in a surprisingly smooth and eloquent voice. He sounded like an American Queen of England, except male and more wolf-like. "Many of us are loyal to the Professor despite a lack of compensation."

"But most of us are sick and tired of him," Anthony continued to prod. "Just yesterday, Gregory was telling me about how he was ready to jump on any train out of this hellhole. This rebellion, it's our train." He looked imploringly at his friend.

"There is a reason why we do not rebel," Male-American-Queen-Of-England stated. "There have only been failures and deaths in the past."

"But only a few did it then," Anthony reminded him. "Only ten at the most."

"They will be frightened for their lives," the other stated.

"Yes, but most of them won't care! Buford, everyone listens to you. You're our best public speaker. If you tell them to do it…"

There was a pause between the two of them, and I spent the silence quietly musing over the chosen names of these Erasers. Anthony. Gregory.

Buford. It suited him.

Buford cracked a smile, and even in his human form I saw fang-like canines protruding over his bottom lip. But unlike the usual cruel sneers I usually saw on the faces of Erasers, Buford's smile was legitimate.

"You've always been a troublesome one, Anthony," Buford said. "But never unreasonably so. I agree with you. I think we should do it."

Anthony grinned in a remarkably childish way and Buford reached out to ruffle his hair affectionately. I realized with a jolt that Anthony, from what he had told me before, couldn't be more than a year older than me. He was a seventeen-year-old in an adult's body.

Anthony and Buford, who seemed to be friends, or perhaps it was more like an older-and-younger-brother relationship, led me down the hall in full-out wolf form. We stood out like eyesores; I was pretty sure that every single person in the entire School knew who I was, and I could hear heads turning as we made our way through the hallways.

However, I was right in one thing; Erasers, while they may have been the bottom of the social barrel, were also given the most freedom. While people may have noticed two hulking Erasers leading Subject 9 through the hallways, it was almost as though we were invisible. People barely gave us any acknowledgement, unless they were tutting in distaste or sniffing in superiority.

It was lonely, in a weird way. I mean, when the flock and I were in the School, scientists surrounded us at all times. They were always taking notes and watching. If Maximum Ride got a paper cut, a team of four doctors would come to disinfect and patch her up. Sure, the rest of us weren't quite as important, but still.

But the Erasers walked through the hallways, the Whitecoats acting for all the world as if they were ghosts. I had a feeling that no one would react if Anthony were to keel over dead. They'd just step over his body and calmly phone a custodian.

Despite that fact, it was good, because it meant that no one thought to stop us as we walked to the Canteen to convince the population of Erasers to turncoat on the School.

When we entered the Canteen, Anthony shoved me behind him and Buford. Probably to keep me out of sight and postpone suspicion as long as possible.

The Canteen was like a cafeteria, with rows of tables and plastic trays on which I could smell mounds of what appeared to be steak, served rare. Most of the Erasers were wolfed-out and I could hear them using their claws to tear apart the steak and eat it in a way that was very messy and slightly sickening. Several, probably the neat-freaks of the bunch, had chosen to stay in their human forms and use knives and forks instead. I could hear one closest to us use a serrated steak knife to casually saw off a chunk of meat.

Eyes turned to Anthony and Buford. It was probably common knowledge that they were supposed to be guarding me. I hesitated, now confronted with about three-hundred Erasers, from what I could hear, most with cow blood dripping down wolfy jaws, with little bits of steak stuck between their fangs. Or, well, that's the vision I was imagining. I hoped it wasn't true. Somehow, though, I couldn't imagine Erasers being any less than messy eaters.

"Hey," Anthony said awkwardly, but Buford quickly silenced him with a big, furry paw on his forearm.

"Friends," Buford started, his voice smooth and heavy. It washed over me like a blanket of calm, and every cell in my body sighed. For a second I wondered if Erasers didn't have extra powers sometimes too, like Angel and Nudge and I. Buford's voice sounded like liquid silver, and I knew that the other Erasers would have a hard time doubting whatever he said. "How many of you have been wronged by the School in the past?"

There was silence, and I assumed that no one was raising their hand. They were probably worried about getting in trouble.

Buford continued, however, unaffected by the lack of positive response. "How many have been injured or tormented by scientists in the past? How many have been denied basic civil rights and freedoms by the School officials?"

The Canteen was now abuzz with mutterings and the Erasers had abandoned their steaks.

"What are you getting at, Buford?" I heard someone growl from the crowd.

"They'll have the hide from your back," commented another.

"It has been brought to my attention that the Professors plan is at its climax, and you all know what that means." There was a heavy pause. "The School is at its most relaxed; they believe they are at the end. If there ever was a time to rebel, that time is now."

"You're crazy! You're talking mutiny! The Professor won't have it!" someone shouted at him.

"Do you want to die?"

"Don't you remember Kennedy? Trey? Remember what happened to them?"

"And what," came a new voice, a low voice, sensually humorous and sardonic and silky with malice, "Is that creature doing with you?"

I felt Anthony shift uncomfortably next to me, and then Buford's big, clawed hand clasped my upper arm and gently pulled me in front of him.

"As you all know, and have for many years, this bird-child was raised to be tormented," said Buford in his liquid-silver voice, and the unease that had shifted through me when the other Eraser had spoken melted away. "I know that several of us has aided in torturing him, and I know that we have been trained to hold him in disgust and disdain."

It was odd for me to hear that coming from an Eraser's mouth, as though finally, someone was confirming a long-feared truth. It was unnerving, to hear that even the lowest of the low in School ranking had been told to think of me as a toy for torture.

I heard Anthony let out a slow breath behind me and somehow thought that perhaps he was trying to comfort me in a strange way. Despite the fact that he had not only assaulted me a few minutes before but also drawn blood with his claws, it was a nice gesture.

"But he is not unlike us," I heard Buford continue. "Like him, we have been raised to be slaughtered. By Whitecoats, by the scientists, by machines, by other experiments. Do not forget that when the Professor wishes to test a subject's strength, we are always the puppets used to be beaten. How many has suffered injury, how many has suffered death, from these so-called training sessions?"

"So you want us to revolt," breathed the Eraser before who had called me a creature, in a tone as though he had instead said "so you want an iced mocha".

"Yes, Kenneth," said Buford, and that was when I couldn't take it anymore. My pre-adolescent stalker was named Anthony, the not-so-Queen-of-England's name was Buford. But the fact that someone had taken Satan, melted him inside a cup of hot chocolate and aphrodesiacs, then put that to voice and installed it in an Eraser's vocal cords and named it Kenneth?

I laughed.

It should have ended after about a second when I heard every single Eraser in the room fall silent and turn to look at me, probably with angry faces. And honestly, it wasn't even that funny. But I laughed, and it wouldn't stop, and I probably would have died if an Eraser with a deep, rumbling, infectious laugh hadn't started chuckling along with me.

Sooner than I would have thought, other Erasers joined in, and when I realized that I had started an entire roomful of Erasers, which I had spent most of my life attacking and running away from, laughing, I started laughing even more. It was ridiculous.

However, it stopped nearly as quickly as it had started, and soon the room was quiet again. I shifted nervously, my humor dying a little bit in my throat as I thought about what could happen to me if the Erasers decided not to go along with my idea for rebellion. They could tear me to pieces, they could torture me, they could torture my flock, they could hand me over to Him…

"I'll do it with you, Buford," said the Eraser with the rumbling laugh. I heard his chair scrape on the tiles as he stood up.

"I hate it here," said another, and I took that as another agreement.

More Erasers stood, I heard some wiping their hands on their clothes, and the room buzzed with a steady continuation as more and more Erasers joined us in our cause.

But then the Eraser with the voice like liquid chocolate Satan, Kenneth, stood and spoke.

"I don't care for rebellion," he said, not loudly, but everyone stopped talking to listen to his warm, flowing voice. "And I don't care much for the little creature. And I will tear the flesh from the bones of anyone who stands for him."

I heard several Erasers growl in agreement, nearly as many as I had heard join the rebellion. There was a moment of silence.

"For us!" Anthony roared, raising a clenched fist.

And then the air was rent with growls and tears and blood.

Thank you ever so much. Please, please review.

49. Losing

Thank you all for reading.

Fang POV

"Gazzy, shut up," Nudge said, which was about the first time I had ever heard Nudge tell anyone to stop talking. It was sort of weird, really.

Our backs were against the wall as we shuffled sideways towards the vent that Gazzy had pointed out. It was similar to the one we had come through before, and I wasn't eager to experience crawling through a vent again: dark, cramped, and really hot.

"But wouldn't it just be the most awesome thing in the world? We blow up the whole place and then BAM! We go in and get Iggy and Anne and then Anne has the baby and then she goes away and then we're all like, YAY!"

"If you blew up the whole place, Iggy and Anne would get blown up with it," Nudge reasoned, sounding exasperated. "It's not like we can make a bomb that would blow up everything except each of them."

I sighed and restrained from yelling at both of them. I was slightly regretting offering to go along with Gazzy and Nudge, the two most talkative members of the flock, on a covert mission. Max got Angel, who could just knock people out with her mind or make them forget they ever saw her, so the two of them wouldn't even really have to sneak around. We, on the other hand, needed to sneak and needed to be very quiet. So of course Nudge and Gazzy get into a heated discussion about explosions.

"Guys, you need to be quiet now," I reprimanded them. "We're here."

They each paused in their debate to look up at the air vent, about three feet over my head.

"How are we gonna get up there?" Gazzy wondered aloud.

"We have wings, dumbass," Nudge said.

"Language," I chided.

"… Is an integral part to a functional society," Nudge continued, smiling smugly. I rolled my eyes and hefted Gazzy into my arms.

"Open the vent, Gasser," I told him, and he immediately set to work unscrewing screws and scraping off rust, eventually lifting the grate away from the vent and dropping it into Nudge's hands. She set it carefully on the ground as Gazzy scrambled into the vent.

Because it was a vent, the system was a one-way sort of thing, so the Gasman was unable to turn around and help either Nudge or I into the vent. Instead, I lifted Nudge until she got a good hold and could climb in, and then I jumped and climbed in behind her.

It was cramped and dark and very, very sweaty inside. Luckily, I still had amazing night vision. In fact, it would have been fairly easy to navigate throughout the system if my face hadn't been in Nudge's butt and Gazzy hadn't been leading the way. As it was, though, it took many very long minutes to find an exit, because Gazzy kept turning into dead ends and having to back up and Nudge had a couple panic attacks (claustrophobia, you know). Not only that, but Gazzy had been ripping a few small ones that were silent, but quite deadly. It was all I could do to restrain from gagging.

After a while, I finally heard a little "Ah-ha!" from Gazzy, and then some shushing from Nudge.

"Where are we?" I whispered to her.

"In front of a vent over an empty hallway," Nudge muttered back to me, her voice muffled and echo-y in the vents. "Gazzy's unscrewing it now."

There was a moment of panic when, after unscrewing three of the screws holding the grate into place, the other one fell out and the grate nearly crashed to the ground below us. Luckily, Gazzy was nimble, and dove quickly to catch it, and Nudge was smart and grabbed his ankles. We ended up with Gazzy hanging half-out of the vent, so after he told us that the coast was clear, Nudge merely lowered him to the floor and the two of us followed.

I brushed off my (hot-pink skinny) jeans and looked around me. It was a long, white hallway, exactly like any other given hallway in the School. There were, of course, cameras in the ceiling, but since we knew that there wasn't a chance of us not being spotted, it didn't bother me. I flipped one off, though, and it made me feel mildly satisfied.

"Fang, where are we going?" Gazzy asked.

I knew he wasn't asking what the plan was, because, well, we had a plan. It was just a vague plan. A very vague plan. I mean, it was a plan sort of like "Bust into the School, find Iggy and Anne, and get out." Except for definitely much more awesome and intricate and stuff. Except for exactly the same.

"That way," Nudge said, pointing down to one end of the hallway.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because the other way is a dead end," she stated, and I resented her patronizing tone for a second before nodded decisively.

"Well, I think we should go that way," I said, pointing confidently in the direction that Nudge had been pointing, trying to sound as though I was a leader and it was my idea. Nudge didn't buy it, and I don't think Gazzy did either, but at least the little guy humored me.

"Okay, Fang," Gazzy nodded, setting his jaw and trying to look tough and intimidating. "Let's go that way."

It was just my luck that the first corner we turned, we came face-to-face with two tall Whitecoats. I would have been cool with it any other time – I mean, any chance to beat up an evil scientist makes me happy – but I had really been hoping to travel stealthily and unnoticed for at least five minutes. This was barely two. Barely two minutes into the infiltration, and already we had to fight.

The Whitecoats looked oddly harried when they saw us. It looked as though they had been arguing with each other, or rushing quickly to some place. Their faces were read and one of them had a sweaty upper lip. The one without the sweat-mustache was holding a walkie-talkie to his mouth, and the two of them were about twenty feet down the hallway. They saw us, and the one with a sweat-mustache jumped about a foot in the air and clutched at his chest, while the other one all but shrieked before hurriedly babbling something into the walkie-talkie that sounded suspiciously like "Oh my god oh god the aviator hybrids are here why me why."

I wondered at the newly-pansified Whitecoats and the fact that an evil scientist had just called us "aviator hybrids" when we were obviously not plane pilots but avian-people. Then I flexed my fingers and cracked my neck. When Sweat-'Stache saw my fists I'm pretty sure he peed his pants.

I gestured to Gazzy and Nudge and they both sprang at the scientists, and in moments the two were pinned to the ground and I was pressing the antennae of the walkie-talkie to Sweat-'Stache's neck because, hey, if these guys were scared of a few aviator hybrids, they probably couldn't tell the difference between a plastic antennae and a knife and what damage each could do.

"Don't kill me!" yelped the guy who I wasn't even threatening.

"I won't, if you tell me what I want to know," I said, trying to make my voice sound dark and foreboding and summoning as much "angel of death" energy as I could. It reminded me of the time when Max and I frightened the creepy drug people when we were staying with Anne. Then that reminded me of Iggy being pregnant. And then I confused myself with images of a pregnant Iggy and why did couples ever use the phrase "We're pregnant" if the guy wasn't actually pregnant too. That's like giving the guy, who doesn't have to spend nine months with morning sickness and fat ankles and cramps, undeserved praise. Not that Iggy didn't deserve praise and Anne didn't deserve morning sickness.

"Okay," Sweat-'Stache whimpered, and I started to seriously question why I was ever afraid of these people.

"Where is Ig-Subject 9," I growled. "And where is Anne."

The two scientists exchanged frightened glances.

"We don't know where Subject 9 is," said Sweat-'Stache, but he said it in a way that made me think that he wasn't telling the truth… or at least, not the whole truth. I pressed the antennae harder into his neck. "Don't kill me! I don't know where he is! He managed to get out of his cell with a couple Erasers!"

I nodded. So Iggy got away before we could rescue him. "And Anne?"

The scientist swallowed nervously. "Anne… she's… she's in her room…"

"Fang!" Gazzy said, pulling my attention away from the Whitecoats and drawing it to a third Whitecoat walking towards us from the end of the hallway, and, oh yeah, that's why I was afraid of these people.

There really is a big difference between a couple of shrimpy novice-scientists and a much older, much bigger, much meaner, much more evil-looking Whitecoat. The one coming towards us was tall and heavy-set and holding a clip-board and a pen, which really wasn't that menacing, but I could see the glint of a scalpel in his chest pocket and a case at his hip that I was pretty sure held a collection of injection needles with mean-looking liquids in them.

I was positive I recognized this guy from my childhood; he looked like one of the guys that liked to inject us with painful things to see how we coped, and just the sight of him sent cold shivers up my spine. He was walking with a purpose, as though he had been sent as reinforcement when Sweat-'Stache's buddy had reported the arrival of the "aviator hybrids" into his walkie-talkie.

"Back to the vent now," I said quietly, pretty sure that I remembered Anne's room number. 1-0-3-something.

We didn't make it to the vent in time. In fact, we almost died, because the wack-job Whitecoat just happened to have a gun.

Nudge, Gazzy and I were bolting back around the hallway when I heard a distinctive click, and recognizing the danger I immediately turned to shield the kids.

There were three bursts of gunfire but the bullets all lodged in the ceiling behind us because, quite suddenly, someone had burst through a door in the side of the hallway and jerked the Whitecoat's arm, messing up his aim.

The two people grappled for a moment, and the Whitecoat, out of ammo, reached down for his scalpel. But before he could get it, the Eraser caught him in a headlock and held him still.

The Whitecoat's face turned red and then blue and then purple, and then he fell to the floor, dead.

Our savior breathed heavily, looking at the dead scientist on the ground, as well as the other two wimpy scientists who had managed to crawl most of the way down the hallway, then up at us.

It was an Eraser.

Actually, it was the Eraser that had threatened to hurt Iggy back at the hotel.

My face flushed with anger and I clenched my fists, prepared to charge, before I realized that the guy had just saved our lives (not that I couldn't have taken care of it) and didn't seem to be making any hostile moves. I hesitated, and then another person raced out of the same room, a person in a T-shirt and jeans and a shock of messy reddish hair.

"They're following us..!" Iggy gasped at the Eraser, looking anxious, face flushed. His shirt was torn and there was blood running down his leg and a bandage on his arm where he had received the bullet-wound, but otherwise he seemed unharmed.

The Eraser looked at us with a look that I couldn't quite place. He glared at me with brown eyes.

"Iggy!" I shouted, and he turned towards me with an expression of incredulity.

"Fang?" he asked. He looked towards the Eraser. "What?"

I ran up to him, with Nudge and Gazzy behind me. The Eraser stepped in front of him with a glare.

"Don't touch him," he snarled. I stared.

"What? I should be telling you not to touch him," I said.

"Let's not start with the playful banter," Iggy stated from behind the Eraser. "There are Erasers, like, right behind us!"

"Erasers?" Nudge piped up from behind me.

"What are you doing with him?" I directed at the Eraser. The brute opened his mouth to retort, eyes glinting, but Iggy interrupted.

"Fang, Anthony is taking me to Anne. Anthony, you know that's Fang and he's not going to hurt us. Now guys, we should probably leave soon or Kenneth and his cronies will be on us like a pack of hyenas."

"I'll take you to Anne," I stated, pointing at my chest for emphasis.

"You don't know where you're going," Anthony growled.

"Guys," Iggy deadpanned. "We have to go or we're going to die."

There was a bang and an Eraser crashed through the door behind them. Anthony and Iggy jumped out of the way and turned to fight, but Nudge and I got there first and the Eraser was down for the count, out cold on the ground.

"We have to go!" Anthony shouted, grabbing at Iggy's shoulder. I hesitated, hearing more Erasers from behind the door.

"Go," I finally said to Iggy. "We'll take care of this."

Anthony gave me an approving look that only was a little bit lessoned by his obvious dislike of me as he started pulling Iggy towards the door at the other end of the hallway.

"Fang," Iggy started.

"Come on!" I called to Nudge and Gazzy, rushing at the door. "Iggy, go!"

My heart pounded in my chest as we ran straight into two Erasers, both looking really angry. Behind them stretched a long hallway, and at the end was a closed door. Through it I could hear the sounds of a battle.

My fist smashed into the snout of the first Eraser and blood immediately gushed over my closed fingers out of the Eraser's nose. It yowled in pain and backed up, reaching towards its face, and I kicked it in the gut. It fell to the floor, in too much pain to move.

Iggy was running through the halls, injured, in search of his baby-mama with an Eraser that I was certain had, not too long ago, been threatening to rape him. And I had let him go.

I shrugged my shoulder and wiped my hand on my shirt, angry at myself and at the School and at Professor Jordan, mainly.


Nudge and Gazzy had taken care of the second Eraser together and were looking at me with hurried expressions, ready to bolt towards the door at the end of the hall. I nodded and we rushed off to the end of the hallway where we could hear the carnage of the battle taking place.

The cafeteria would have been stark white if it hadn't been stained with blood. There looked to be about three hundred Erasers, and each seemed to be battling the other.

It took a few seconds to assess the situation, and I could tell that the sides were just about two-hundred to one-hundred, give-or-take forty, but there were also several bodies strewn across the ground, and some of them were exiting the room. Maybe they were going to attack the scientists. Maybe they were going to warn them.

But the big question was; whose side were we on?

At first, I just ducked a couple punches and zig-zagged my way into the room, looking for something that would let me know what to do. When I saw a tall, brown-haired Eraser shouting for rebellion, I sort of assumed that I should side with him.

Nudge and Gazzy were behind me ducking through the fight as I made my way to the shouting Eraser. He seemed to spot me and made his way towards me, knocking a different Eraser out of the way. He looked at me with wild eyes.

"Did Anthony and the boy make it out?" he asked in a voice that was like love and friendship and parents and warmth and comfort.

"His voice!" I heard Gazzy chirrup.

"He sounds like he's, like, the Queen of England!" Nudge gasped in delight.

"Yes," I replied to him, avoiding the claws of an Eraser and punching it into Nudge and the Gasman instead, and they made short work of it.

The big Eraser sighed in relief. He lashed out at a charging Eraser with an expression like remorse on his furry face. "Kenneth has led us against each other," he said with a growl in the back of his throat. "If it weren't for him, everyone would be on our side…"

"Who's Kenneth?" Nudge piped up.

"What's going on?" I asked him. "What happened? Who are you?"

"I'm Buford," the Eraser started. "Your brother and Anthony came up with the wild idea to rebel. We… us Erasers… we're divided between sides…"

I punched at another Eraser, and Buford finished him off.

"Who's Kenneth?" Nudge repeated insistently.

I suddenly felt something big behind me and whirled around, bringing up my leg in a roundhouse kick, but my heel was caught in a huge, calloused paw.

"Did somebody call my name?" the Eraser drawled in a voice as smooth as Buford's, but not as kind. There was something like sarcasm in it, but also malice, and also contempt, all wrapped in a sensually sweet package.

"His voice…" Gazzy said in awe.

"He sounds like an evil orgasm," I heard Nudge whisper behind me.

The Eraser, Kenneth, turned his gaze to me. I felt like his eyes burned my skin.

A sneer spread across his wolfy maw. "Your friend didn't recognize me," he said, and my heart thudded slowly in my chest. Iggy. "I was hurt. We did spend so much time together."

He dropped my ankle and I stumbled backwards. The sounds of the battle around me had reduced to a dull murmur in my ears. This Eraser made my entire body tense. Something about him weighed down my limbs and dulled my senses.

"You don't remember me either, do you?" Kenneth continued. "Well, you were very young. It's quite understandable. But the little creature, I thought he might recall."

A pit of fury burned in my gut and I lashed out at him again, only to react with shock when he, yet again, managed to catch me. My fist in his hand, we stared hard at each other. Nudge and Gazzy were fighting behind me, and Buford had disappeared into the crowd. But all I focused on was Kenneth. Just him.

"It's just that, all the times I tortured him," Kenneth said, almost purring. "All of those invisible bruises and lesions and the painful words I whispered in his ear at night…"

Every punch I threw at him, he caught. Every kick I sent his way was knocked aside.

"I really thought he would remember. But he didn't even seem to recall our nights alone in the cell–" he caught my fist and twisted my arm, "'Having fun yet, James?' I'd whisper in his ear–" he yanked me forward until I was looking straight up into his face and breathing in his sour breath with every gulp of air, "And then he'd lay there, crying, while I molested him to sleep…"

I was beginning to panic, the room around me spinning. Never before had I fought an Eraser that had put me in a position as defenseless as I was in now. Never before had I been so disoriented with emotions and confusion during a fight. Never before had my heart pounded so loudly in my ears, never before had I felt so close to death…

"That was his dad," I said, my voice low with emotion. "Professor Jordan did that to him."

Kenneth laughed.

"The Professor can barely stand to look at him, let alone touch him," he chuckled. "Did you never see holes in that story?"

Kenneth's other hand was creeping around behind me, and I tried to pull away, but I was just pulled closer against him. Claws were digging into my back.

"The Professor had his share in the torture, but it wasn't him holding the creature at night," Kenneth whispered. "It wasn't him muttering hate and disgust into the creature's ear." Kenneth leaned in towards me, twisting my arm so far it burned. "He made the most delicious sounds while I broke him," he said. "His tears were so… sweet."

I lashed out with my other arm and landed a punch under his jaw, turning and wriggling out from his muscular arms, feeling nauseated at his voice. I turned hurriedly to run, momentarily forgetting that there were others around me, fighting and injuring and dying. I ran headfirst between two battling Erasers, and a fist meant for one of them struck my temple. I fell to the ground, my vision growing dark and fuzzy around the edges. My limbs felt heavy. I thought I would be trampled.

The two Erasers were pushed away from me and a huge figure hovered above me, sneering down. I felt low. I felt weak. I felt pitiful.

A heavy boot pressed into my stomach. It was iron-toed and made of heavy, black leather. I looked up at Kenneth. Someone screamed my name from too far away. It might have been Nudge.

"Some victims reknit their traumatic memories to suit their desires," he said. I could feel his voice in my ribcage, like the bass at a concert. "The creature couldn't remember me. Maybe he wanted it to be his daddy doing those things to him."

The heel of the boot ground into me. It was as if he was squashing all of my internal organs. My ears rang. My head hurt. Iggy was somewhere in the School, and I could only hope that Professor Jordan hadn't found him yet. He had to get away. He had to be safe.

"But you don't remember me either," he mused. "Even though I spent so much time training you to stifle your emotions. You don't remember that?"

I didn't know what he was talking about, but my head was starting to ache and my throat constricted. I could taste bile in the back of my mouth.

"A pity," Kenneth said, and then my body was on fire and everything was black.

Black. Iggy was okay.

My head was burning.

I wasn't missing any limbs.

There was still a battle going on.

Something wet was touching my fingers. It smelled like blood.

"Fang!" Nudge shouted in my ear, and the world was fuzzy and dim.

And then everything was bright with sharp clarity.

Kenneth was gone. I could see that the fighting had all but stopped. Erasers were breathing hard. Some were on the floor. Some were injured. Some were nursing others' wounds. I could hear a bit more fighting across the room, but it was being quieted. How long had I been unconscious? Seconds? Minutes?

Nudge was kneeling beside me with tears in her eyes. I couldn't see Gazzy. I could hear him, though, away in the crowd, calling Nudge's name.

I lifted myself up on my elbow and examined myself. I was aching, but I didn't feel injured. I looked at my stomach.

There was a liquid spreading across my jeans, darkening the fabric. I thought it was blood. And then I smelt it.

Nudge's eyes flickered from the front of my pants, then back to my face, eyes wide.

"I-it's okay," she babbled. "I mean, we all lose control sometimes. Gazzy wet the bed a few months ago when he had a nightmare. You're fine. You're okay…"

But I wasn't nine. I was fifteen.

"N-Nudge," I stammered.

Buford was suddenly standing above us, the Gasman at his side. There were a few other Erasers watching the scene with a cool sort of pity. I felt my cheeks burning. Erasers could smell everything.

"Nudge," I said again, feeling like I was going to throw up. My stomach tossed uneasily. I could almost see my life flashing before me. Max was smiling. She leaned down to kiss me. I felt tears prick at the corners of my eyes. Everyone near me was still and silent.

"My legs," I choked. "I can't… I can't feel my legs."


Just relax, I thought as we walked through the white halls, Angel clutching my head. Just relax, no one can see us, no one can notice us

Angel wasn't exactly wiping everyone's memory or knocking everyone out. That was too hard, there were too many people. So instead, she was making us practically unnoticeable. It wasn't that the Whitecoats around us couldn't see us, they just sort of didn't notice us. It was as though we were a couple apples that just happened to be walking down the hallway; strange, but hey, they'd seen stranger stuff and we weren't that important.

Or maybe that wasn't the best metaphor because I'd be pretty dang surprised/impressed/scared shitless if I saw some apples walking down a hall. Walking anywhere, in fact.

There seemed to be some kind of emergency. We passed a man who was muttering furiously into his walkie-talkie. A few minutes later, some Whitecoats raced passed us, looking panicked. Their eyes passed over us, frantic and wide.

"The Erasers are revolting," we heard. "And Subject 9… he's disappeared."

Iggy was behind the Erasers, I just knew it. But I didn't have time to feel proud or anxious. And since I knew that Iggy was out, we were looking for Anne. Just Anne.

"Her room," Angel said. "It's number 1035. It's close, I think."

We watched the room numbers as we raced past. They decreased steadily. I began to feel like I was recognizing the hallways from our last time here, as prisoners.

"She's not in her room!" Angel suddenly said, eyes sharp and focused on someplace I could never see. "Professor Jordan's got her, in one of the labs… he's going to…"

She shook her hair and pointed her little finger up at a vent in the ceiling. "We have to go in there," she said confidently.

I didn't question her. I had learned not too.

We climbed easily into the vest after tearing it out of the ceiling, much to the shock of a passing scientist, who ran quickly from sight. Then Angel and I were inside, and I was following her through a maze of dark, metal tunnels for upwards of five minutes. We passed other vents, and I looked down through them each time to see rushing scientists, and once, a few Erasers chasing after them.

Finally, Angel stopped. We were in a small area in the vents that widened into a tiny, almost-room just big enough for the two of us to fit in, and there was a vent on the side of it. Through it, I looked down into a lab that appeared to be very similar to a hospital room. There was a bed and some complicated machinery and tools, and several Whitecoats, and, just below in front of us, Professor Jordan.

"Your time has come, Anne," he said, and the hairs stood up on my arm. "You've served your purpose. I don't need you anymore."

Anne was on the bed, dressed in a blue hospital gown with her legs propped up in front of her. Her hair was plastered to her sweaty forehead and she was struggling against bracelets that kept her bound to the bed.

Professor Jordan nodded to the Whitecoats.

"Induce her labor," he said. "I have to take care of something."

He walked out of the room, and one Whitecoat stabbed a large needle into Anne's bloated stomach, another working an IV tube into her wrist. Anne screamed. A third took another injective needle and brought it between her legs.

We can attack any time you'd like, Angel said in my head.

I exploded out of the vent, crumbs of plaster falling around me as the grate fell away from the wall. The three Whitecoats were surprised and taken off-guard, and unarmed. They fell like dominos with every punch.

When the scientists were unconscious and bleeding on the floor, I stood breathing heavily in front of a shocked Anne. But despite my surprising entrance, she barely looked at me for a second before screwing up her face in pain and shouting. Her every muscle tensed and beads of sweat dripped down her face, which was red and blotchy.

Angel moved quickly to her side while took care of the unconscious Whitecoats, dragging them to an adjacent room and locking them inside. When I returned to Anne and Angel, Angel's face had turned pale, and she looked up at me with doleful eyes.

"Her water's broke," she said, and Anne screamed again. "The monitor says she's two centimeters dilated. She's going to have the baby. And Max," she whispered, closing her eyes, "She's going to die."

Iggy POV

I was thrilled, sure, that Fang had come. Gazzy and Nudge had been with them. I hadn't had the time to ask about Max and Angel.

Yeah, I was thrilled that my flock had come to save me. But now we were separated, the School was in chaos, Fang, Nudge and the Gasman had just ran in to a battle between hundreds of Erasers, Max and Angel were someplace I couldn't guess, and I was still looking for Anne.

"Her room is a bit far," Anthony grunted as we raced down the hallway, "But if we're fast, we'll make it soon…"

For a couple of seconds, I could hear only our breathing.

And then I heard a voice in my head.

Wait, said J, and god dammit, I had almost thought I was rid of him he hadn't talked in so long.

Wait for what, exactly? I thought back. We don't have the time!

But suddenly my body was acting on its own accord and I was rushing away from Anthony down a different hallway.

"Iggy! What the hell are you doing?" Anthony yelled after me.

"What are you doing?" I gasped aloud at J, whose thoughts were too jumbled and frantic for me to understand.

"My body," J said. "My body, the body he made me, it's close, I need it…"

Anthony had doubled back and turned down the hallway and was racing after me. "Iggy!"

"It's not me!" I called back to him. "The freaking thing in my head! It's making me do it!"

J skidded to a stop and felt forwards, my hand reaching a door. He moved it down to the handle and grasped it, turning it slowly.

"We have to find Anne," I said, gritting my teeth. "And Max and Fang and everyone. We don't have time for this!"

"I know how to do it," J said, appearing to not have heard me, or maybe he wasn't listening. "I know how to transfer my data to another brain. We can get me in my body. It will only take a second. Then you can go…"

I felt him walk into a cool room that seemed airtight and soundproof. My steps were muffled. I heard the door swing shut behind Anthony as he followed me dubiously in.

J reached out my arms yet again, and he continued forward until my fingers met cool glass. He felt around for some sort of way to open whatever it was.

"What are you doing?" Anthony asked. "What is that tank?"

"He made me a body, it's in here, it should be done now, if I can just get it out and get myself into its head…"

Anthony stepped up behind me. He was quiet for a moment. I assumed he was examining the machine, looking at whatever was inside it.

"Nothing's in there," he said.

J's mind froze for a second, then it started rushing at an alarming speed.

"No, my body's in here, it should be in here!" he gasped. "It feels the same as before! Nothing's changed! He can't have moved it!"

Anthony moved closer to the machine. I could hear him looking around.

"This place hasn't been used in months," he said. "There's dust over everything. The only clean thing in here is the front of that tank thing."

J scrambled for a way to open the tank even more frantically than before.

"No," he muttered. "No, no, no…"

He finally found some sort of wheel and twisted it. It turned several times before there was a click, and then he pulled the tank open. There was a hiss as air entered the machine, and I felt cold rush out to hit my face. J tentatively reached my arms into the tank.

They extended to their full reach before hitting the metal back of the tank.

J burst into tears.

"He told me he was making me a body!" he cried, feeling all around the inside of the tank. "He promised!"

"Oh, J," said a voice behind us that sent shivers down my spine. Anthony was frozen in place beside me, and J was silent in my head.

Professor Jordan was standing in the doorway behind us, his voice slanted with malice.

"You should know by now. I always lie."

Thank you for reading! I just wanted to let you know that my best friend's older sister died of a brain tumor last week. My friend is devastated. I would love it if you held her and her sister for a moment in your hearts.

The review button is very, very lonely.

50. Dying

Burbelburbel –slaps cheeks repeatedly– BABIES!

Hello! I just wanted to say hello because I'm strangely elated at the moment. I'm usually so depressed when I write. Hmm.

Anyway, have fun with your life and try not to think about anything sad like sad things that make me sad.

Gah. I ruined my own mood.

Iggy POV

Anthony instantly stepped in front of me protectively, which was a nice gesture considering, you know, stuff. I mean, a while ago (before the whole now-we're-friends-thing) he had been verbally bashing me, and also doing other unappetizing things, and also we had only known each other for a little bit. He must be very loyal. He is sort of part dog, isn't he?

But I didn't want Anthony hurt because of me. I grabbed his arm and pulled him to the side, stepping in front of him instead. He made a noise of protest, but I silenced him by tightening my hold.

"Subject 9," my father drawled. "How bold."

"Don't hurt him," I said, and I was shocked to find that my voice didn't crack or stammer. I tried not to let it show and shifted my shoulders, but He must have noticed. He always does.

"Don't be so difficult," He said in response. "I won't hurt him if you do as I say." He took a step towards us and his heels clicked on the tile floor.

I was suddenly overcome by a wave of burning hatred that was most definitely not my own. I temporarily lost control of my body as J advanced, reaching out his hands as if to grip Professor Jordan around his throat.

"You promised me!" he screamed in a voice so wrought with frustration and distress that it was almost hard to hear. I could hear Anthony being confused behind me, and in front of me I could hear Him pulling something very cold out of his pocket.

J obviously sensed it as well and froze. His anger was making me breath harshly, and my face felt red. My fingers clenched and my hands dropped to my sides.

"Now, now, J," Professor Jordan said, "You don't want to be so hasty. If you make a move like that again, a bullet will be going right between your friend's eyes."

Anthony inhaled sharply, and I cursed mentally at J for being a reckless idiot.

Shut up, J cursed back. His thoughts were all jumpy and panicked. I could tell that the absence of whatever he had expected to be in that tank (a body?) had really shaken him.

Professor Jordan spoke up again. "Now that J is under control, Subject 9, I want you to do as I say." His voice was cold. I didn't want to go with him. There were too many things that I was happy to be away from, and he was primary among them.

Anthony's hand brushed my back, as though he was telling me not to do it. I thought of all the people who were depending on me. I couldn't let Anthony die. I couldn't let the Erasers fail in their one chance at freedom. Going away with Professor Jordan, alone, where he couldn't hurt any of the people I love, when at last I didn't feel so controlled by him, was my one chance at ending everything.

"What do you want me to do?" I finally sighed, and I could almost feel His sneer.

"Just follow me, Subject 9."

He turned and started walking slowly to the door. I felt Anthony tense behind me and hurriedly turned to him, holding up my hands.

"Don't try attacking him," I whispered. "He'll shoot you."

"What's he going to do to you?" Anthony hissed, and I was surprised to hear something in his voice that sounded like genuine concern. He wasn't just protecting me to help himself or the other Erasers. He actually still cared for me, after everything.

"I'll… I'll be fine," I told him. "He won't do anything bad to me."

The dog-like whine that Anthony uttered made me think that he didn't believe me, one bit.

"Subject 9," Professor Jordan said from the doorway, "I haven't got all day. There's a rebellion to quench and business to take care of."

I started towards Him, but Anthony reached out to grab my forearm. I didn't look back and simply tugged at his hold. He slowly loosened his grasp until I could pull away and follow Professor Jordan. I tried not to imagine Anthony, looking worried and scared and dejected, staring after me as I walked away. I think both of us thought, then, that we wouldn't ever see each other again, because I knew what my father was like and what he probably had planned for me, and I had the strangest feeling that I'd never fly again.

Fang POV

Maybe it was embarrassing peeing my pants in front of a cafeteria full of Erasers, but it was mortifying to be carried down the hallway by Buford in a pair of wet, hot-pink skinny-jeans. It was also comforting in a weird way, and also probably the saddest moment of my life so far and I was trying very, very hard not to burst into tears.

It had been weird a few minutes ago when a kind and rather shorter-than-average Eraser had brought over a soapy towel and shooed away gawking onlookers as Nudge and Gazzy soberly helped me get a bit more presentable. I had felt sort of numb, really. I mean, I thought I was going to die, and then I woke up with my pants wet and a whole bunch of Erasers looking down at me with pity.

The rest of the fighting was quickly quenched, and we found that those who hadn't been killed had joined our side. Kenneth had disappeared, and no one knew where. The nearly two-hundred and eighty Erasers had split up into teams to corner Whitecoats and kill them, conquer them, or convince them to join us. They said that they were even friends with some of them, so it wouldn't be that hard.

There were seventeen Erasers left in the cafeteria after that: Buford, the small Eraser whose name was Tim, six other big Erasers who were apparently pretty good doctors, and all those with injuries too serious to fight any more.

Buford, who it turned out was a bona fide nurse, checked me over while the other medical-savvy Erasers aided the injured ones. His expression was blank, so I couldn't tell really if he thought it was bad or not. I mean, sure I couldn't feel my legs, but maybe that was just shock, or some sort of short-term thing that would go away in a few minutes. I didn't find my optimism very convincing.

Nudge was helping tend to the injured Erasers, but the Gasman stayed next to me. I could tell that he was trying really hard not to look at me, because even though he was helping me to sit up, he didn't meet my eyes even once. I didn't know if he was avoiding my eyes because he was upset, or if it was one of those things where you don't really wanna look at someone with a terrible injury or disease, like a cancer patient or a quadriplegic, because you feel uncomfortable and nauseated and sympathetic all at once. I really hoped it was the former, because I didn't really feel like being avoided by anybody, let alone Gazzy.

"The most I can see at the moment is that you have been paralyzed," Buford said finally, "But I cannot be sure how until I look with an X-Ray. It may just be a compression of the vertebrae."

He said it all very calmly, and then continued on to say something about how a lot of cases of paralysis weren't permanent and that mine probably wasn't, but all I heard was a ringing in my ears and someone that sounded an awful lot like Mitt Romney shouting that I would never walk again ever in my whole life oh my gosh your life is over you pitiful weakling. I guess I associated Romney to bad news.

"Now, we have to get you and the others to a hospital room," Buford was saying, and I drifted back into reality. "The others can go to one very near, but I have to take you to a room with an X-Ray."

"Okay," I said weakly, and was suddenly lifted into the air by Buford's abnormally strong arms and hefted bridal-style towards an exit.

So there I was, with my arms around the neck of a huge happiness-and-love-voiced Eraser, unable to feel anything below my waist, and trying very hard not to cry because Nudge and Gazzy were following behind us and I didn't want to reveal how terrified I was to them.

No one talked to me, and I didn't talk to anyone, because I knew that if I tried to say anything I would probably end up crying. Actually, if I did anything I would probably end up crying. So I just sort of clung to Buford and turned my face into the heavy corduroy jacket he was wearing because if we passed anyone in the halls, I didn't want to see them looking at me. I felt a gleam of gratitude towards Buford that he didn't say anything about me being obviously wimpy and just carried me on in silence.

Surprisingly, we didn't pass anyone in the hallways. But less surprisingly, after about five minutes, we heard Angel in our heads.

Are you guys okay? she asked us.

Yes, I thought back to her, and I assumed the Gasman and Nudge did as well.

Did you find Iggy? she directed at me, and I turned my head away from Buford's jacket to look at Gazzy and Nudge.

Yes, I told her, But he went to find Anne with an Eraser friend.

We're with Anne, Angel said, And Iggy's not here. But Anne's in labor. We need some help.

"I'll go," Nudge said out loud, and Buford turned to her for a moment before looking back down the hallway. "I'll go, Angel, just lead the way."

"Nudge…" Gazzy muttered lowly, obviously not intending for me to hear him. He still hadn't looked me in the eyes, not once.

I felt a pang in my gut, because I knew Gazzy well enough to tell that he didn't want Nudge to leave. I didn't know if it was Buford he didn't want to be with or if it was me, but either way, it hurt. I breathed deeply.

"Gazzy, you better go with Nudge," I said as evenly as I could. Gazzy directed his eyes at the ground. "Buford doesn't need much help with me, right?" Buford nodded calmly. "But, I mean, they could probably use an extra pair of hands delivering a baby. You should go with her."

"Are you sure?" he asked, but his tone was like oh-lord-almighty-thank-god-oh-thank-you-thank-you.

"Yeah," I said.

Nudge looked at me carefully. She walked up and laid a hand on my arm. I was glad she didn't lay it on my head, because if she had I would have felt even lower than I already did.

"Fang," she said softly. It was directed just at me. "Remember how Iggy felt."

Then she turned, grabbed the Gasman by his hand, and tugged him in whatever direction Angel was leading her.

I stared after the two of them with wide eyes. Remember how Iggy felt? How could I forget?

After Iggy became blind, his whole world spiraled into darkness. He could never see colors or shapes or things or people again. He could never see faces. He had to learn how to do everything with his eyes closed. He was depressed. He was picked on, by Max and I.

But he had gotten over it.

I hadn't noticed that Buford had started walking again, but he was opening a door and leading me into a big, white, antiseptic-smelling room.

"I'm going to lay you on this table," he told me as he did it. I felt unbalanced because I couldn't control where my legs were. He had to move them into the proper position, and I tried hard not to be embarrassed. "And here, this vest will protect you from the X-Rays."

After the heavy vest was laid over me, Buford moved away from where I could see and the machine above me whirred to life. I shut my eyes, because I didn't want to look at it.

I breathed deeply and thought of nothing but Max as Buford worked with the X-Ray machine. I thought of her smile, and her laugh, and the way her brow furrowed when she was frustrated, and the way she made me feel when we were alone together and doing nothing but memorizing the way each other's lips felt like. I wondered if we'd ever do that again.

I suppose I could have been on that table for minutes or hours when Buford finally came over to me with a developed X-Ray and told me that he was finished. He must have been done with the machine itself for some time, because it was dark and cold above me, and I somewhat remembered the noises having stopped a while ago.

Buford helped me sit up and propped me with my back against the wall behind me. "Your name is Fang," Buford said to start, which might have made me nervous if I wasn't nervous to the max already.

"Yes," I said. "What… what's the verdict?"

Buford breathed out slowly. "Your spine is broken."

I looked at the X-Ray that he showed me. It reminded me of the one of Iggy's ribs that we had taken oh-so long ago. But this time it was me, and it was my spine. I took a deep breath.

"So," I said slowly. "I'll be better in a few weeks, right?" I looked at Buford's face. He stared back at me somberly. "Months?" He shook his head. I felt faint.

"I can get you a back brace for until your back heals, and the… other things you will need. Do I need to tell you where you have been paralyzed?"

I looked down at my still legs and shook my head. I knew very well where my paralysis started.

Buford seemed to predict what I was going to do before I did, and before I even felt nauseated he had placed a clean wastebasket on my lap. A moment later, I threw up everything in my stomach as he carefully held me in place. I could feel, in the back of my mind, a human hand rather than a clawed paw softly rubbing circles on my back, and when I was done puking I looked at him to see a very handsome man in his early forties with brown hair and strangely fatherly eyes. His eyes locked with mine.

"You're alright," he said firmly, and his voice washed over me, calming my racing thoughts. It calmed me just enough for my muscles to un-tense and for my body to let itself cry.

I expected Buford to nervously turn away and look for whatever crap I needed, but instead he caringly wrapped me in a firm hug. It didn't feel sympathetic or pitying. It really felt like the way I had always imagined my dad would hug me, if I had one.

"I'm sorry," he said, sounding genuinely sorry.

I cried and he held me, and I felt for a while like I had a dad and that maybe any second a woman would walk in and come up to me and stroke my hair and tell me that she loved me. A woman with soft eyes and a sweet smile, who would rub my back and whisper sweet things in my ear as my dad hugged me and told me everything would be okay.

I would never walk again. I would never fly again. And I really thought that someday, Max and I might have children together. Could you even have kids if you were paralyzed like I was?

Remember how Iggy felt, Nudge had said. Well, I was remembering how Iggy felt. But somehow, being blinded and being paralyzed just wasn't the same thing. I mean, Iggy could do everything we could anyway, except for see. Me, I could never walk again, kick a ball again, fly again. I would never have sex. I would need help for everything. Max would probably break up with me after a few months of helping me get out of bed, and get dressed, and into the bathtub…


How could this happen to me?

Why couldn't Kenneth have just killed me?

Buford wrapped a brace around my back, but I barely felt it. He pulled out of a drawer a long, skinny, flexible tube. At the end of it was attached a plastic bag. He looked at me, waiting for my consent. I turned away and closed my eyes.

I didn't feel a thing.


Anne screamed and clenched my hand. I screamed because she clenched my hand really tight. Angel gulped audibly. Nudge stared between Anne's legs in awe. Gazzy was being sick near the door.

"How many centimeters now?" Nudge asked. Angel looked at the machine.

"Ten," she said. "That means… does that mean she should push now?"

"Whoa, ten centimeters…" Nudge's eyes widened. "I didn't think it could stretch that far." She subconsciously laid a hand on her stomach.

"Push?!" Anne screamed at no one in particular, or maybe at everyone.

"Are you okay to do that? I mean, yes, but wow, it's a whole baby…"

Anne had heard Angel tell me that she would die, but she didn't seem to be showing any signs of fear for that yet. She was drenched in sweat, face red, teeth gritted, hand really-really tight around mine.

"AAUGH!" Anne shouted, tensing, and I assumed she was pushing because then Nudge screamed as well.

"There's a head! A head! The baby has a head!" She paused. "It doesn't look like much of a head, but I think it's a head."

"I hope it's a head," I said through my clenched jaw. By the way, the reason I wasn't down there helping with the baby was because, like Gazzy, I had gotten nervous and thrown up when I tried.

Gazzy, apparently done puking his guts out, had moved to stand behind Nudge and Angel.

"Eww," he whispered.

"It's a miracle! It's the miracle of life!" Nudge chided, hitting him over the head.

"Miracle? You think it's a miracle that one day, that's going to happen to your… your… your privates?"

Nudge doubled over in helpless laughter, but Angel was nervously babbling.

"Max! There's blood! There's blood! And poop, but mostly blood! Is there supposed to be blood?"

Anne screamed again and I guess she pushed some more, because the Gasman turned pale and backed away and Nudge squealed and reached out her arms.

"There's a baby's face! Oh my god, a baby's face!"

"The blood! Max, something tore or something and there's lots of blood!" Angel gagged.

"I think there's supposed to be blood," I told her weakly, fairly certain as of now that I'd never use my hand again.

"Is it supposed to be this fast?" Gazzy asked. "Didn't your mom take like, thirty hours with Ella?"

"Yeah, but this is induced or something," I told him.

"Push some more," Nudge commanded of Anne, who screamed and obliged.

"You… aren't… real… doctors!" she screamed, which made me think that maybe our un-educated midwifery was quickening the woman's impending death.

Angel had gotten queasy from the blood and her and her brother were now hugging as Nudge took over, bravely reaching down to take hold of the baby and help Anne along as she pushed and screamed.

And eventually, with a final scream, Nudge was holding a purple raisin-baby in her hands and Anne was breathing heavily, her grip loosening on my hand.

"Cut the cord! Cut the cord!" Nudge shouted at Angel and Gazzy, and it took a moment, but then the two were rushing about, looking for something to cut the umbilical cord with. Gazzy rose from looking through a drawer with a shiny pair of scissors. He moved to cut it, but Angel screamed "Clamp it! Clamp it!" first, and used a tool to clamp the cord while Gazzy cut it.

The baby started crying, but it didn't sound like normal crying, it sounded like a mix between a zombie bird and a pig dying in a pit. I winced at the sound.

Nudge moved to show the baby to Anne, but Anne waved her away, shaking her head.

"It's not… my baby," she panted, closing her eyes and laying back on the medical bed. Nudge looked at her for a moment before turning around to clean the thing.

I made a move to follow her, but Anne clutched at my hand, keeping me beside her.

"Max," she said softly, breathing harshly. "Max, I have… to say…"

"What is it?" I asked, suddenly feeling sad for the dying woman in front of me. She had left her family to save her daughter, and now she was dying after delivering a baby without any friends or family at her side. Sure she had done awful things to Iggy, but she didn't deserve this death.

"My niece… my Amy," she whispered. "She… tell her I love her, please… tell her… I'm sorry."

Anne stared into my eyes, and hers were quite clear. I nodded to her.

"Yes, I will," I said.

Anne turned her head and looked at Nudge, who was rubbing the blood and stuff off the baby with a towel and didn't seem to mind the crying. I watched her take some sort of suction thingy off of the counter and suction out the baby's mouth and nostrils. Nudge learned a lot from "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant" and "Teen Mom," I guess.

"He'll… be a good… dad," she murmured, her voice getting lower. Her breaths were getting shaky and coming further and further apart. "He's a good… boy." She turned back to me. "I hated myself… every second."

I nodded at her, not sure what else to say. Anne smiled at me.

"You're a good one too," she said. "Take care of them."

Then she closed her eyes slowly and took several more breaths, then one, then none.

I pulled my hand out of her dead grasp and stood shakily, making my way to Nudge and Gazzy, who were looking over the baby while Angel appeared to be mentally talking to someone.

"I told you it would be a boy!" Gazzy crowed, punching the air. "I told you! I told you!"

There was a pause.

"No, Gazzy," Nudge said patiently, "that's the umbilical cord."

"What?" Gazzy leaned closer to the baby in Nudge's arms. "Oh, oh yeah. I guess it is a girl. Weird."

"She is a girl," Nudge nodded. "And she had wings!" Nudge lifted the baby and showed me her back, where I could see two squiggly, fleshy limbs growing out near her shoulder blades, with little spots of the beginnings of feathers sprouting from them. They twitched slightly, and the baby continued screaming and crying. She moved her little arms and I noticed something.

"She's missing something," I said, leaning closer and pointing to her left hand. "What's that?"

Nudge brought the baby back into her arms and lifted her hand to look at it. Her eyes widened.

"What is it?" Gazzy asked.

"Look," Nudge whispered. "She's missing some fingers."

And so she was, the pinky and ring finger of her left hand. All that was there were little nubs.

"Did they get cut off?" Gazzy asked, looking around the floor. Then he spotted Anne, lying still on the bed. "Whoa, what's wrong with her?"

I looked back at Anne. "She's dead, Gazzy. She died. It's okay, though."

The Gasman sobered up, looking at Anne's dead body. Nudge laid the baby out on a table and wrapped it tightly in a clean towel, then lifted it to her chest to rock.

"He's here," Angel muttered, and through the door crashed the Eraser from the hotel. Ugly himself.

I immediately leapt at him and punched him in the eye, and he yelped and backed away. I advanced, but Angel stopped me.

"No, Max!" she cried. "He's a friend of Iggy's!"

I froze in mid-punch. Ugly had his arms in front of his face for defense, but didn't seem about to attack.

"Friend my ass," I growled.

"No, really, Max!" Nudge said over the wailing of the baby in her arms. "We saw him with Iggy a while ago. He's okay."

I hesitated, then lowered my arm and backed up.

Ugly peeked at me from behind his arms. "That was your boyfriend's first reaction too. I get a lot of hate from you guys."

That's when I remembered Fang. I whipped around to Nudge and Gazzy.

"Where is he? Fang?" I asked them. They looked at each other, hesitant.

"He's hurt," Nudge said, "But okay. He's with Buford."

"With Buford?" Ugly asked.

"Who's Buford?" I said.

"One of the Erasers," Angel told me. "They rebelled. The Erasers, that is. Buford took care of Fang. They're on their way here now."

"But… but what about Iggy?" Gazzy asked, looking at Ugly. "You were with him!"

Ugly cowered slightly. "He… he left with Professor Jordan," he stuttered. "He told me not to follow him, he told me he'd be okay…"

I stared at the quivering and obviously guilt-ridden Eraser for a moment, then back at Nudge, Angel and Gazzy.

"I have to find Iggy," I said.

"But Max," Nudge started, rocking the baby. It had started to calm down. "Max, Fang's gonna be here soon, and…"

"I have to find him," I told her. "We have the baby, Fang's on his way, we just need him. I have to."

"You don't even know where he is," Ugly informed me.

"I doubt you do either, Ugly," I snapped at him. He scowled.

"My name is Anthony," he said.

I laughed. "Anthony? Wow."

Anthony advanced, seeming to swell and grow taller with each step. "My mother named me Anthony."

"Max," Angel spoke up, "You know where Iggy is. Professor Jordan, he's taking him to the room."

"What room?" Anthony asked. But I knew what room she was talking about. I remembered it. Iggy's special mental torture chamber, where Professor Jordon had taken him when we came, so long ago, to get him the surgery.

"Okay," I said. "You guys wait here for Fang and Buffy or whatever. I'm going to go get Iggy."

"Max!" Nudge yelled at me, but I didn't listen to her. I shoved Anthony out of the way (he moved with an annoyed growl) and raced into the hallway. Angel was guiding me with her mind, but after a few turns, I knew where I was. I ran.

At the end of one hall, I found a rather dead Whitecoat on the ground. His face was purple, his eyes wide open, and there was a gun lying on the ground next to him. I looked at it for a moment, then bent to pick it up. Maybe I'd need it.

Yesh. Accomplishment. My chapter isn't uber-duber-late, you guys! Cheers!

51. Giving Up

So. I feel accomplished because… I am now friends with Frenzied Warrior on Facebook! This means you're next Pandorad24. You should go do that now.

If anyone wants to know about the REAL Frenzied Warrior, her name is Samantha Peterwederspan, she is 41 years old, she lives in New York, and she's a dental hygienist. She also has a hunchback and weighs four hundred pounds. –kaching–

Iggy POV

I would have preferred not following my father as he led me down hallways that seemed to be littered with stuff like discarded needles, clip-boards, and the occasional body. Professor Jordan would step over them heedlessly, but I occasionally stumbled and had to stop and check that it wasn't anyone I knew. Maybe I was following a madman to probably eternal torture and captivity, but at least I could make sure my friends were safe and not dead on the ground.

I shook my head, because no, I wasn't letting myself be trapped this time. This time, I was getting rid of Professor Jordan so he couldn't hurt any more people.

The problem was that I was alone with him now, his back was to me, he had no reinforcements on the way, the Erasers were rebelling and taking care of the other scientists, and I still couldn't bring myself to do it.

Why? Why couldn't I just jump on him now? It would take about a second to break his neck. He wouldn't have time to take out his gun or anything. Then I'd be free.

So why?

"Subject 9," Professor Jordan said smoothly, "We're here."

He had stopped in front of a room that I remembered. The door slid open, and the gust of air blew in my face. I recognized the scent, and it brought back bad memories. I shuddered. Then I heard a sound from inside.

"There he is," an Eraser's voice growled, and I recognized it from the Cantine. The dark, luscious-voiced Eraser named Kenneth. "I have dearly missed our one-on-one time, creature."

"Go on," Professor Jordan said from behind me, and I stepped in almost unconsciously. I heard the door slide shut behind me as my father fallowed me inside.

The room was different. The air was less stifling. I could sense the absence of the chairs from before.

"What's going on?" I said, aware of how trapped I was. Professor Jordan grinned.

"You'll live here now," He said. "You can stay with Kenneth. He has so dearly missed your presence."

I didn't understand. I hadn't met the Eraser before today. But Kenneth laughed, and something about his voice made my head hurt.

J was still seething with hurt and anger just beneath my consciousness. I wondered if I'd have to live with him forever.

I took a deep breath. "The Erasers are out there fighting your scientists," I said. "You won't win. You'll be overtaken and killed in a matter of hours, maybe minutes."

Professor Jordan and Kenneth started laughing. I didn't see what was so funny about them dying.

"Oh Subject 9," He laughed, "Did you think me so unprepared as to not have a backup plan for such things as this?" I must have looked shocked, because Kenneth sneered and took a step toward me.

"This building is rigged," he informed me with his voice like acid. As he drew closer, my head continued to ache, as though something inside was pounding on my brain. "In a few minutes, a poisonous gas is going to be released into the School. Anyone exposed to it will die within, oh, seven minutes. And there are only a few safe rooms in the School… this is one of them."

I could feel the muscles in my back bunching up, as though my body was preparing itself to fly. But I couldn't, because I was trapped in the room from my nightmares with two big, scary people, both most likely armed.

"We just have to stay here for about twenty-four hours, until the remnants of the poison dissipate," Kenneth continued, getting closer. "So, we'll have plenty of time to… catch up."

He reached out and ran a clawed finger down my arm, but as it passed over my elbow it shrank into a normal, human finger that felt, somehow, very familiar.

My eyes widened in shock and it felt like my brain shattered in my skull. Memories were melting and reforming, and every nerve and impulse in my body screamed to get away.

What I did next, I think, surprised everyone, including me.

Instead of cowering in fear or bursting into tears, or standing there and letting him touch me, I lashed out at the Eraser with my fists clenched and punched.

Kenneth gasped in shock and stumbled back. I heard him double over and smelled blood dribble out of his mouth onto the floor. He growled through his shattered teeth and I heard him wipe blood away from his mouth with the back of his hand.

"You will pay for that, creature," he snarled at me, starting to stand up, but I kicked him before he could morph back into Eraser form and he fell to the ground, clutching at his neck, making strangled choking noises. I could feel him glaring at me in hate. "James," I heard him hiss at me, and my stomach did a backflip, and not the good, oh-my-gosh-I'm-making-out-with-my-girlfriend kind. James. Every time my real parents had called me that, I had cringed inwardly, and now I remembered why. It was his pet name for me, all those years ago, when I was too weak to fight back.

Not anymore.

I turned to Professor Jordan with my bruised knuckles bloody and prepared to fight, but before I could raise a hand against him, I heard something slam into the door.

Both of us froze. There was another sound, and I could hear the metal crumpling. Only one thing had that kind of strength.

There was another smash, and the door caved in. Heavy breathing greeted my ears, and I could have jumped for joy if I wasn't so shaken by what I'd just done.

It was Maximum Ride, high on adrenaline and ready to kick some ass.


I stood, breathing heavily, and observed the scene before me. I had thought maybe I would be saving Iggy's butt, but it seemed as though he'd held pretty well on his own. He had sort of a wild look in his eyes, and his knuckles were battered. His hand where the Eraser's claw from the arena had pierced it was bleeding, but a huge Eraser lay gasping on the floor and Professor Jordan had an expression on his face that was the closest to fear I had ever seen it.

Iggy's face broke into a smile.

"Hey, Max," he said. Then he seemed to remember something and his expression turned from joy to panic. "Max, there's a poisonous gas that's about to be sprayed all over the School! We're going to die!"

I froze for a split second, and that was all it took for the tables to turn on us.

Professor Jordan saw my hesitation and immediately struck out at me, knocking my feet out from under me. He pulled a gun from his belt and aimed at my face. I thought I was going to die, but Iggy lunged at him and knocked his arm away. The two were knocked, unbalanced, out of the room and into the hallway. Professor Douchewazzle backhanded Iggy across the face, and Iggy was thrown to the side, clutching at his cheek.

As I collected myself, I screamed to Angel in my mind. Angel! There's a poisonous gas that's going to kill us all! You have to get out of here!

I struggled to my feet, scrambling for my own gun, which I had picked up off the dead Whitecoat. Before I could rise to help Iggy, a clawed hand grasped at my ankle, and I turned to see the Eraser that Iggy had taken down. The brute was growling, blood dripping down his chin. His eyes burned with a fiery hatred.

"The creature was mine," he snarled. "He's mine!"

Something about his voice made me think he didn't want Iggy to be his best friend, or even for bird-kid soup.

Angel hadn't responded to me. I wondered how long it would take for the gas to start spreading.

I heard a gasp of pain from out in the hallway and saw Iggy pinned under Professor Jordan with a blossoming black eye and the what-had-been-a-practically-healed-scar across his eye bleeding freely again.

The Eraser's claws dug into my ankle and I bit back a gasp of pain. I yanked my foot away from him, and in the brute's weakened state, he had to let go.

I immediately turned to attack Professor Jordan and get him off of Iggy, but apparently the Eraser wasn't as injured as I had thought. I heard him stand heavily behind me and turned to punch him, but he caught my fist in one huge paw. He breathed and droplets of his blood sprayed my face. I flinched, disgusted, and that was all he needed to take the advantage, twist my arm around and slam me, face down, to the floor. My gun skittered away, just out of reach of my outstretched arm. I was defenseless.

"All the way over here, fighting a losing battle," he whispered in my ear, hot breath hitting my cheek. "I figured you'd be comforting your boyfriend."

My cheeks heated with anger, and through red-tinted vision I saw Iggy striking at Professor Jordan and scrambling out from under him, spitting out some blood that had ran into his mouth from his eye.

"What did you do to Fang?" I grunted, and the Eraser twisted my arm further back, making my brain cloud with pain.

"I had him pinned to the ground, sort of like this," the Eraser muttered to me. "He was nearly in tears, terrified. I think some part of him must have remembered me to make him that scared."

I grimaced. "Ha, yeah right. Fang doesn't get scared."

The Eraser chuckled. "I don't know," he mused. "If you could have seen him when he was younger, before I trained him proper repression. The look in his eyes when I… well, he got very good at hiding it."

My heart thudded dully in my chest. Iggy, and Fang. How could this have happened without my knowledge? Fifteen years old, and I was just discovering my family. It was like my whole life had been a lie.

Iggy was on his hands and knees thirty feet away from Professor Jordan, who was raising his gun to aim at Iggy's bowed head.

"He was getting too strong and independent for his own good," the Eraser continued. His blood was falling in my hair. "I took care of that. Without his legs, he can go back to being the scared little boy I remember so fondly."

Without his legs. Scared little boy. Terrified.

My vision turned red and a furious buzzing filled my ears as I turned over and threw the Eraser off of my back and against the doorframe. Before he could react, I took his head in both hands and whacked it against the floor with all of my strength. His eyes rolled back into his skull and the brute lay still.

"Iggy!" I shouted, turning back to my brother as he struggled to catch his breath. He raised his head and I lunged a couple inches forward to the gun that had been knocked from my hands, taking it and sending it skidding across the tiled ground towards him. Iggy caught it and looked up towards Professor Jordan, blood running down his face and his colorless eye staring, white and determined, towards the man who had done so much.

Iggy stood and, turning the safety off, held the gun in front of him with both hands, pointing it at his father with shaking arms.

"I won't miss," he said, but his voice was weak.

Professor Jordan just smiled.

"But will you shoot?" he said simply. Iggy didn't move.

"Iggy, do it!" I yelled at him, but his eyebrows turned upward and his jaw twitched. He looked like he was about to cry. His eyes were wide and childlike. I could see reflected in them a little boy, still waiting for his dad to like him.

"You can stay here," Professor Jordan cajoled, his voice soft but his eyes cold as steel, and he hadn't lowered his gun. "You can stay in your room, and I'll bring my child to visit you. You can be her pet. She never has to know that you fathered her, so you'll never have to be a dad." Iggy's lower lip was trembling and his breathing was ragged. "I'll keep you on a leash," Professor Jordan cooed, and though his words were like venom Iggy appeared to be drinking them in as though it was what he wanted. "You can stay here forever."

But even though Iggy's expression was one of downright longing, he didn't lower his arms.

"I'm not your pet," he said, voice shaking. "I'm a person, and I have a family, and I'm not going to listen to you ever again."

Professor Jordan shrugged. "As you wish," he said, and I saw him prepare to fire the gun.

I screamed and acted on instinct, reaching out and grabbing the first thing my hand came into contact with – a walkie-talkie from the unconscious Eraser's belt – and hurled it with all my strength at Professor Jordan. It collided with his shoulder just as his finger closed on the trigger, and it threw off his aim. He grunted as the hard little object hit him, and the gun went off. And Iggy, with his sensitive ears and heightened battle reflexes, flinched and instinctively clamped his finger on his own trigger.

The bullet flew with a bang from his gun and embedded itself right between Professor Jordan's eyes.

Professor Jordan fell, lifeless, to the ground, and there was utter silence for several seconds. All the pain we had suffered, all the pain he had suffered his whole life. And the source of it all was gone.

Then Iggy screamed.

"No!" He dropped his gun and staggered forward, falling to his knees and crawling to Professor Jordan's side. I tried to get up but my ankle barely held my weight, so I crawled over to Iggy and tried to put my arm around his shoulders.

"Iggy, it's alright," I comforted, although I didn't see why I had to. Professor Jordan was evil, and now he was dead.

"D-d-dad!" Iggy sobbed. His hands moved to his father's face and open eyes and came away bloody. "Dad, I'm sorry, wake up, please, wake up, I'm so sorry…"

I tugged Iggy away from his dead father and clasped either side of his face with my hands, staring into his eyes. I wiped blood from his cheek with my thumb.

"Iggy," I said, "Don't. You're free from him now."

"I didn't mean to!" he gasped, seeming to choke on every breath.

"He would have killed you," I told him firmly, but Iggy didn't seem to hear. It was like he had loved Professor Jordan, somehow. I hated to think it, but from the despair in Iggy's eyes, it seemed true. I hesitated, unsure of how to comfort him, but then I remembered something.

"You know," I said softly, running my fingers through Iggy's hair. "He… he had a picture of you, on his desk."

Iggy looked at me with disbelief, as though he could hardly dare to hope. I nodded at him.

There had been a picture of Strawberry Girl on his desk. Originally, I thought he was a sadist who liked child pornography. It had never occurred to me until just now, even after finding out that Iggy was Strawberry Girl, that maybe Professor Jordan had actually kept it because it was a picture of his son. Maybe deep down, Professor Jordan hadn't hated him as much as he had seemed to. Maybe he had even liked him a little.

Iggy took a shuddering breath, and then seemed to wilt, sagging forward into my arms.

"M-Max," he whispered, "What about the gas?"

I hesitated to tell him that Angel had yet to respond about it. I rubbed his back and chose my words carefully.

"Angel is taking care of it," I told him. "Don't worry."

There were a few moments of silence. Then Iggy sniffed.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I… I really wanted to… be a good dad."

I frowned. "What are you talking about? You can still be a good dad."

"Max…" Iggy raised his head to look at me, then coughed. His lips and teeth were stained red, and not from the blood from his eye. It had already clotted and the blood had been wiped away. With dread growing in the pit of my stomach, I looked down and saw dark red spreading across Iggy's shirt and pants.

Professor Jordan's aim had been knocked awry, but he hadn't missed. He hadn't hit Iggy's head. He had shot Iggy in the stomach.

"Oh god," I whispered. "Iggy, you're going to be fine. You're going to be fine."

Iggy laughed weakly. "You know I love you guys, right?" he asked. I felt my eyes burn with tears.

"Don't fall asleep on me now, big guy," I said hoarsely. "You have a baby girl, Iggy, did I mention that? A baby girl. You still need to name her."

Iggy shook his head and sighed. "I'd really like it if you just held me for a while, okay?" he murmured, and I immediately wrapped my arms around him and clutched him to my chest, my eyes searching frantically down the hall for any sign of life. I stroked Iggy's hair and desperately gulped for breath.

"Someone!" I screamed to the empty hall. "Anyone! Help!"

Nudge POV

When Angel got that pale, glazed look that I knew so well, I knew there was trouble.

"Angel, is it Max?" I asked her urgently. It took a few seconds for her to respond.

"It's Max," she said slowly. "She says… she says that there's poisonous gas, and it's going to kill everyone if we don't get out now."

"Holy cow!" Gazzy exclaimed. "Let's book it!"

"What about Iggy, and Max?" I pointed out.

"What about the other Erasers?" Anthony growled from his little corner.

"What about Fang?" Angel said.

Gazzy drooped. "What about us?"

We didn't have to worry about Fang for long, because that's when the doors to the room burst open to reveal a tall person who I assumed to be a human-form Buford and Fang, who had a grim, set expression and was sitting in one of those hospital wheelchairs and was wearing a new pair of pants. I tried not to notice his red-rimmed eyes, or how his legs were limp and unmoving.

"Buford!" Anthony exclaimed. "Do you know anything about a poisonous gas that's going to kill everyone in the School?"

Buford appeared not to be shaken by the immediate question and nodded simply.

"A security method," he said. "I thought this might happen."

"How can we stop it?" Angel asked him, and he looked at her approvingly.

"You can turn it off from the control room," he said smoothly. "You just need the password."

There was a moment of silence.

"Now would be a good time to have Iggy and his all-knowing power here with us," the Gasman said.

Fang didn't say anything.

"No," I said firmly. "I can do it. I'm good with computers."

Everyone stared at me.

"Hey!" I objected. "Iggy and Angel aren't the only ones with special powers, or have you forgotten?"

"You don't use them very often," Gazzy said.

I ignored him. "Someone just needs to take me to the control room, and I can do it, I promise," I said. Everyone spent a second looking at each other.

"I know where it is," Anthony offered quietly. I nodded to him.

"Okay," I said. "No time to waste."

I stepped over to Fang, who was having a staring contest with the floor. "Fang."

Fang turned his eyes to me, his expression still stony. "What?"

"Hold the baby," I said, and he looked shocked, noticing for the first time the baby-shaped bundle in my arms. I held the infant out to him, and he quickly opened his arms and drew her to his chest, staring at the little face in awe.

He brushed a corner of the towel away from her cheeks. "She… she has Iggy's eyes," he said. I nodded.

"You have to take care of her for him," I told him. "Don't let anything happen to her."

Fang set his jaw and looked back up at me, but this time his eyes were fixed and not glassy. He nodded.

"Okay," I told Anthony. "Lead the way."

Anthony and I raced through the corridors at top speed. He was a finger's length ahead of me, but even that was far enough. With my super reflexes, I could follow him as he turned corners on a dime and didn't pause or hesitate with direction. We didn't have time to waste. There were people to save.

We hardly passed anybody except for once, when we ran past three Erasers who seemed to be smooth-talking a Whitecoat into putting down his gun and joining the cause.

"Come on Billy," one of the Erasers said. "We've known you for ages, you're not all bad."

Anthony nodded to the three Erasers as he and I raced passed them, and they waved to him before returning to their persuading.

Anthony and I eventually reached a set of locked double-doors, which he banged into a few times before they broke enough for us to pry them open.

Inside was a room full of computers, floor to ceiling. I immediately rushed over to lay my hand across the monitors. I could feel the information flowing up my arm through my fingers.

"I need you to help me," I told Anthony.

"Okay," he said, looking nervous.

"And you need to turn human," I continued. "This requires a light touch, and fingers work a bit better than claws."

I stared at him until he sighed, and closed his eyes, starting to morph back into human form.

I turned back to the computers. "Go to that one," I said, gesturing to a computer a few feet away, "And type in the passcode '53H8701L4'."

I turned to see if he was doing as I told him, and saw a tall, handsome man in his twenties sheepishly typing on the keyboard. He turned towards me.

He seemed to be Middle-Eastern or something, with sort of gold-ish skin, blackish eyes and curly, dark hair. He was pretty.

"What came after '3'?" he asked, and I turned back to my own computer and relayed the passcode again.

We spent the next three minutes or so with my fingers flying over the keyboard and simultaneously giving him orders of things to click and passwords to type. After a little while, I sat back, flexing my fingers.

Anthony looked at me, breathing hard, as though all that typing had been some really strenuous physical labor. Or maybe he was still worn out from the run over here.

"Did we do it yet? Did we stop the gas?" he asked. I grinned at him.

"That? We did that a while ago."

Anthony furrowed his brows, confused. "Then… what have we been doing this whole time?"

"Well, my friend," I said, returning to the keyboard, having suitably stretched my fingers. "I've just been shutting down all scientific machines besides medical equipment, disabling all tracking devices and/or expiration chips implanted in any experiments, unlocking all doors, and figuring out a way to forge birth certificates and get all of you Erasers some good ol' Social Security Numbers. You know, so that when your rebellion succeeds, you won't be left hanging with nowhere to go. I've even been setting up a bank account pool for all of you until you can find jobs and get on your feet."

Anthony blinked.

"You did all that… in four minutes?" he asked. I nodded. "And you stopped the whole poison-gas thing?" I nodded again. "So, we're not going to die?" I smiled.

Anthony sat back. "You're pretty amazing," he said.

I nodded.

Just so you know, I just watched the latest episode of "Downton Abbey" and my mother and eye spent the last ten minutes of it holding hands and crying. It was very sad. Even Thomas cried. Thomas may be a beautiful human being, but he doesn't even like people.

52. Meeting

So. I finished the last chapter and I was like, WOOT, now I don't have to be stuck anymore on intense battle scenes and the whole fic will be downhill from here and the last two chapters will be so easy.

And then I was like, whoa. Two chapters left. Maybe I could stretch that out a bit. Maybe it could be three. Or four. Or twenty. Not that I'll actually stretch it out much. It's just that I've been writing this series for YEARS, and now it's sort of over, so, what next?

It's sort of bittersweet. Minus the sweet. Hmm.

Iggy POV

So, dying. It's not really all that awful. I mean, sure, there's the pain in your gut and the blood everywhere, which is pretty disgusting, but other than that, with Max holding me and screaming something I couldn't quite hear, it was pretty nice.

For me, the first part was sort of like falling asleep. I mean, my hearing went first. I guess if I wasn't blind, it would have been different. You know, tunnel-vision and everything going black and stuff. But I was blind. So it was just my hearing. And my sense of smell.

It was sort of scary, yeah, when I had first thought "Holy shit, I'm dying." A thick humming filled my ears and my mouth felt like it was full of cotton. I sort of heard Max talking, but all I really wanted was for her to hug me. Yeah, me, six-foot-four, sixteen-year-old dad, and all I wanted while I was dying was a hug. Sue me. When you're dying, you sort of don't care about keeping up your manly image. Not that I was very manly in the first place. Probably not manly at all.

I think I said something, and finally, Max's arms were wrapped around me and my face was pressed into her chest. Hmm. Was it wrong that I was dying, and all I could think about for a few minutes was "Boobs touching my face"? I mean, I was dying, so it would probably be the last time I would ever…

That's when my mind turned away from Max's breasts and more towards the fact that I was dying and this was the last time I would ever anything. I mean, like, the last time breathing, last time touching Max, last time sitting on the floor, last time wearing jeans, last time thinking about last times…

It's amazing how off-topic your brain can get while you're dying. The important things are what you were supposed to think of.

Important, like Max and Fang and Nudge and Gazzy and Angel and Meagan and Anthony and Buford and Dr. Martinez and Ella and… oh yeah. There was a baby. That was pretty important too.

Whatever. Max and Fang could raise my baby and be freaking fantastic parents. See if I cared. They could do all of the getting up at midnight to stop its crying and feed it and change poopy diapers and kiss it and hug it and talk to it and watch its first steps and hear its first words and read to it and sing to it and take it to its first day of school and…

It. Huh. Did Max ever say if my baby was a boy or a girl? I couldn't remember. I hoped it was a girl. Boys… men are mean. I mean, Fang and Gazzy are okay, and Anthony and Buford and stuff, but men…

I didn't really care anymore. I could feel my mind slowing down and thought, "This is it. I'm dying now. Nearly done." Now that it was happening, it seemed silly that people spent their whole lives being scared of dying. It wasn't that bad. I know I'd wanted to die before, but it wasn't like I ever actually wanted death, exactly, or thought it would be nice or anything. I wanted an escape, and death was an easy option. Now, I actually sort of wanted to live. But I was dying anyway. And it wasn't really awful. It was just sort of… draining.

When I stopped to think about it, it wasn't like going to sleep at all. It was like… like everything slowed down and then stopped, one at a time. I could feel my seconds tick away almost physically, my last moment getting closer and closer…


I almost ignored it and just sort of let dying happen, but then the voice spoke again.

Hey. Iggy. What are you doing?

Trying to die in peace, I thought, slightly annoyed.

You freaking jackass. You realize what you're doing, right?

It was J. I could tell. J being the obnoxious prick he always was.

Your family risked a lot to save you, and a fat lot of thanks you give them, just letting yourself die like this.

I bet he was just upset that I was dying, so he was going to die too. Well, suck it, J. I was dying and he couldn't stop me.

I'm not trying to stop you. It's not like it would help me any if you didn't die.

Ha, I thought. Yeah, right.

The last thing your freak of a dad did was spite me. I'm being deleted as we speak.

There wasn't any shock. Maybe a weird flash of jealousy. The last thing he'd done was spite J? What about me? I was his son, but I didn't matter enough to be the last person he spited?

He shot you, J pointed out. You're dying.

I would be, if J would let me.

You don't want to die. You're just giving up. If you tried, maybe you could remember that you don't want to die.

What about J? He should try harder if he didn't want to die. I was just fine with it, thanks very much.

I don't care. I thought maybe if we got out sooner, if your ass of a dad had actually made me a body, I could have a life… with Anne. But if your baby is born, that means that Anne's dead. I don't have anything to live for.

Stuff to live for. My mind chugged away, trying to look for something important.

You have things to live for. Lots of things.

There was a pain in my chest and my stomach and everywhere. It was really slight, like a faint bruise or something. But it was getting heavier, as though I was lying under a huge weight that was slowly, slowly being lowered onto me.

Like what? What did I have to live for? I could hardly remember anything except for dying.

You said it all before. Don't you remember?

Remember what?

Your family.

The weight was crushing my chest.

What about… who was it? Ella? Dr. Martinez?

The weight was suffocating.

Buford, Anthony…

My ribs, I swear they were crumbling.


My heart throbbed painfully in my chest.

Angel and Gazzy, and Nudge and Fang, and Max…

Suffocating. The weight was suffocating. My lungs were on fire.

And don't forget your baby.

I gasped and my eyes flashed open, sending spikes of pain through my skull as though the light I couldn't see was burning my retinas. All of the pain that I had felt before was now concentrated on one point in my stomach. When it wasn't saturating every fiber of my being and was only in one place, it hurt about a gazillion times more.

It took a few moments to collect myself and my thoughts, to make note of each individual muscle in my body. Then I realized that Max was no longer with me. She had left.

I felt like crying because I didn't want to die anymore, especially not alone, and not in so much pain.

Then a needle pressed into the flesh at the crook of my elbow and I could feel sleep clawing at the edges of my senses. I tried to fight it, tried to call for Max, but nothing worked. The weight from before was back, but instead of crushing me, it was blanketing me in a thick, heavy silence.

As I slipped into unconsciousness, J spoke to me one last time.



Maybe it would have been heartwarming/breaking or romantic or something if Iggy had died in my arms, leaving his little baby girl for us to love in his place. We could have named her Iggella, or Iggi or something, and then there'd be, like, a flash-forward where we were huddling around a little six-year-old girl with Iggy's eyes and telling her stories about how awesome her daddy was and how much he loved her and we loved him. Then we'd end in a Disney moment when Fang and I locked eyes and communicated all of our heart and soul to each other silently, then kissed passionately and did the whole "We love him, but now he's gone, and we're okay" thing.

In reality, him dying in my arms was sort of gross, because there was blood everywhere and also he drooled all down my shirt and I think that a bit of digested food and/or stomach acid may or may not have leaked out of his stomach wound onto my pants. Not to mention the fact that we were sitting next to the dead body of his childhood tormentor/beloved father, with the unmoving figure of a really nasty Eraser lying just behind us. And also I was crying, so there was snot all down the front of my face.

Plus, South Park taught me that apparently the last thing people do before they die is crap their pants, and if the smell from Professor Jordouche was any indication, they weren't mistaken.

Oh, but also, the him-dying-in-my-arms thing never happened, because some Erasers heard me screaming for help and managed to find us and bring Iggy to a medical room before he could, you know, die.

I mean, I guess it could have been a bit more dramatic. Like maybe Iggy stopped breathing and I gave him mouth-to-mouth, intermittently breathing into his lungs and crying for him to wake up. Or maybe his heart could have given out at some point and we could have had to do that shock-thing or something like that. But in reality, it was a couple of Erasers peeling Iggy off of me (his blood had dried and stuck him to my clothes) and carrying him down to an operation room with me trailing after them, wiping my nose with my sleeve and picking gummy blood out of my shirt.

I would have followed them right into the operating room and held his hand all through it, but unfortunately things don't work that way, and I ended up in the hallway with the words "He'll be fine, come back in an hour" echoing in my ears.

How was I supposed to just come back in an hour when Iggy was lying unconscious on an operating table having his guts stitched shut?

But then I thought about Fang, and the evil Eraser's voice echoed through my head. Without his legs, he can go back to being the scared little boy I remember so fondly. "Without his legs" could mean lots of things. I mean, it could mean, like, uh…

It could mean Fang's legs were torn off or crushed or sliced to ribbons or skinned or, or burned or…

Paralyzed, said Angel's voice in my head. I sat up and looked to either side, but the hallway was empty. Where was she?

Sorry, Max, Angel continued. We're a couple minutes away still. But Fang is paralyzed and I thought you should know before you see him.

Still a couple minutes away. I leaned back against the wall. Then I stood and brushed off my butt.

My mouth felt unnaturally dry. I rubbed my hands against the front of my shirt and little flakes of blood, Iggy's blood, floated to the floor.


I tried to look on the bright side, to be optimistic. The unfortunate thing was that there was no bright side.

I probably just stared at the wall for the small amount of time before the rest of my flock rounded a corner, but I don't actually remember doing anything until Angel raced up and gave me a hug around the waist. Gazzy was right behind her, and the first thing he said was "Where's Iggy?"

"He's getting surgery," I told him. "He got shot."

Gazzy started spouting questions about "Who shot him" and "What about that evil professor guy" and "Did anyone kill Kenneth".

"Who's Kenneth?" I asked.

"He's this Eraser who was, like, super evil, and he had this voice like, like… like smooth, but not as pretty as Buford's."

"He's the one who hurt Fang," Angel told me. A knot formed in my throat at the mention of Fang.

"His name was Kenneth?" I asked. Gazzy nodded. "It was me. I killed Kenneth."

"You killed Kenneth?" Gazzy asked, sounding impressed.

"You bastard," joked Fang, and I looked up to see a tall, middle-aged man pushing Fang towards us. Fang was sitting in a wheelchair, holding Iggy's baby, and looking at me with a wry smile that didn't reach his eyes.

I lightly pushed Angel and Gazzy away from me and walked towards him. It felt weird because I was usually looking up at him, even if it was just slightly. Now, he was looking up at me.

I pulled the baby out of his hands, and held it out to the man who had been pushing Fang's wheelchair.

"Take the baby," I told him, and with a slightly dubious expression he reached out and took the infant with a gentleness that I didn't have.

"Why give Buford the baby?" Fang asked, but I just put my hands on either side of his face and leaned down to kiss him.

I heard Gazzy making gagging noises behind me but I ignored him. Fang was tense at first, but then he leaned towards me and reached up to brush my hair behind my ears. I felt a tear drip onto my hand and used my thumb to wipe the tear track off of his cheek.

"So we finally take down the School and the first thing you do is make out?" I heard from down the hallway. I pulled away and looked over Fang to see Nudge and some curly-haired man walking towards us. "Wait, never mind, now that I think about it, making out with someone first thing makes sense." Nudge smiled at me.

"Where's Iggy?" the curly-haired man asked anxiously, looking around the hallway. I raised my eyebrows.

"Who's asking for him?" I asked. The man shot me a glare, and there was something in it that I remembered.

"According to you, Ugly," he growled at me. I stared a second, then smirked. The Eraser from before. Anthony.

"Well, if it makes you happier, you're not nearly as ugly as I'd thought," I told him. He scowled.

Nudge sighed and rolled her eyes. "And Iggy?" she asked again for him.

I pointed over my shoulder. "He's in the operating room. He got shot by Professor Jordan."

Anthony looked stricken. "I knew I should have followed him," he muttered.

"He's not dying or anything," I told him. "I was there, anyway. I took care of it."

"If you had taken care of it, he wouldn't have been shot," Anthony hissed, and I heard Fang make a contemptuous sound in the back of his throat. I looked down at him. Fang rolled his eyes.

"I swear the guy's in love with him," he whispered to me. Anthony must have heard him, because his cheeks glowed crimson. He clenched his fists at his side.

"Who told..! I m-mean, what did he tell you..?"

Fang shot a smirk at Anthony over his shoulder. "He didn't tell me anything."

I smiled at Fang. "You don't like him much either?" I whispered to him.

Fang shook his head. "He's interfering with my and Iggy's bromance," he deadpanned.

"And he did threaten to rape Iggy, you know, before they apparently got all chummy," I nodded.

"People change," Anthony said, sounding like a kicked puppy.

Fang and I snickered, and Nudge rolled her eyes and pulled Anthony towards us.

"You guys could be a little nicer. He's not a bad guy. I mean, pretty much all the Erasers have switched sides and everything. It wasn't Anthony's fault that he did all the stuff the School forced him to do."

I ignored them and settled back to worry about how to treat Fang, who was being very obviously paralyzed with his limp legs and his wheelchair and also I had noticed that his hot-pink skinny-jeans were gone and I wondered why he'd had to change his pants and came up with a theory that I didn't like very much.

And how was I supposed to act? Normally I'd probably be settling beside him with his arm around my shoulders and we'd be joking because hey, we'd finally done it, and we were free from everything, and shouldn't we be celebrating?

But I'd known that one of us would probably be injured, I mean, it was like the "ultimate showdown," and I'd known it was possible. But I had thought, you know, the usual. Broken bones, dislocated shoulders, gunshots (Iggy filled that space), a couple claw wounds. Not paralysis. And not Fang.

I finally decided that I couldn't take hovering over him awkwardly anymore and sat down on his lap, laying my head on his shoulder and putting my hand on his arm. He was startled, and I think a part of that was because he hadn't felt me sit down, but another part was embarrassment, and another part hesitation, but then he finally relaxed into it and wrapped his arm around my shoulders and I felt a little better.

"Can I hold the baby?" Nudge asked Buford, and he handed it to her with a little smile. She took the infant over to Gazzy and Angel and they all sat down against the wall and started cooing at it.

"Are you okay?" I whispered to Fang, because he wasn't okay but it was an ice-breaker.

"I'll be alright. Are you?"

Anthony had stood hesitantly away from us, but he moved towards Buford who grinned and pulled him into a hug, ruffling his hair.

"I'm fine."

We sat together in silence until, thirty minutes later, the door opened and one of the Erasers stepped out and looked around at us. His gaze finally landed on me.

"He's been asking for Max," he said.

I stood up awkwardly from Fang's lap, and gave him a small smile before following the Eraser into the hospital room, wondering how to tell Iggy that a paralyzed Fang and his daughter were outside waiting for him.

Iggy was lying on a white hospital bed, dressed in a white hospital robe. His eye and hand had been re-stitched and bandaged as needed, and there was an IV tube in his wrist connected to a plastic bag that held my blood, which I had donated before the surgery to the Keep Iggy Alive Foundation. He looked woozy, but when I took his hand he smiled at me and gave mine a squeeze.

"Hey, Max," he said weakly. "We did it. No casualties, either." He heard my silence and then looked panicked, struggling to sit up a bit. "There weren't any casualties, right?"

I put my hand on his shoulder and shoved him back down. "No casualties. But Fang's hurt pretty bad."

Iggy settled back and looked at me. Then he turned his face away. "Yeah. Angel told me." He looked like he wanted to say something, but he didn't open his mouth again. I didn't ask.

Iggy gazed off at the opposite wall pensively for a while.

"Things are going to be really different," he said. He started messing with the IV needle in his wrist. "Fang, and the baby. And I think… I think J's gone," he said softly. I raised my eyebrows.

"Really? Why?"

Iggy was silent again for a moment. "He's not in my head anymore. I think… I think my… I think P-professor Jordan killed him." He turned to me. "I mean, I don't think he ever really intended for J to stay in my brain, past Anne giving birth. Maybe there was, I don't know, a timer or something. But J's not here anymore. I can feel it."

We shared a silence. "Is… is that good?" I asked him. Iggy looked away from me again. He shrugged his shoulders.

"He wasn't so bad," he said softly. "I mean, he was annoying, but he wasn't a bad person. And… I think it was him, that gave me the strength to fight back, against my father, and Kenneth."

Iggy's face darkened when he said the Eraser's name. There had seemed to be something deeper between them than experiment and guard. It was like he was another bad memory from Iggy's past. I didn't really want to know how.

"What, you mean he threw the first punch, or something?" I asked him. Iggy shook his head.

"No, it was more like… like he stifled my fear or something. He helped me find the strength to punch Kenneth. I don't think I would have done that, if he hadn't helped." He looked down at his hands. "And, I was dying, but he gave me the will to live. I think it was the last thing he did, before he was deleted."

I placed my hand on his arm in quiet comfort. That was all I could think to do.

I never liked J. He had almost killed Iggy by having him hang himself, he had made Iggy sleep deprived, taken over Iggy's consciousness and hit Fang over the head with a suitcase, and tricked us all for a long while during our confinement in the School. And besides that, he had been an all-around douchebag.

But really, he hadn't been a bad person. I wasn't sad that he was dead, but I was sorry for it.

I watched Iggy stare into nothing, in deep thought. My mind strayed to Meagan. My clone. Iggy's girlfriend. She had had her memories wiped and she was living a new life somewhere, with no knowledge that she had left a kind, smart, handsome boyfriend behind. I wondered if they had left her wings intact. I doubted it, somehow. It would be hard for a bird-kid with no memories of the School to live a normal life with wings. She'd have been made into a freak show already.

My hand drifted up and ran through Iggy's strawberry hair. He turned his face to me and grinned, lifting his own hand to run his fingers through mine. I laughed.

"You wanna meet your daughter?" I asked him. His face fell. He hesitated. I frowned. "What's up?"

Iggy sighed and picked at the threads in his hospital gown. "What if she doesn't like me?" he whispered.

"She's a baby," I told him. "She doesn't even know what a bird is. What does it matter whether or not she likes you? Even if she doesn't, after a couple days of you feeding her and changing her diaper, you'll get some unconditional love stuff going on."

Iggy smiled weakly. "I've always loved your pep talks."

I stood and walked over to the door. "I give the best ones." I opened the door and stepped into the hallway, gesturing to the flock. "Come on," I told them. "Iggy wants to hold his baby for the first time."

Nudge, Angel, and Gazzy walked in. Fang waved Buford away and wheeled himself in, using his hands and the wheels for the first time.

When Anthony tried to follow, I held up a hand. "You and Buford can wait," I told him. "Family time first."

Anthony pouted as I shut the door and moved back to my place at Iggy's bedside. Nudge was standing on the other side of the bed, holding the baby and trying to convince Iggy that he wasn't going to drop her.

"Take your baby, daddy," she said, and Iggy gingerly held out his arms for Nudge, who gave the baby to him.

The baby started crying the second it left Nudge's arms, and Iggy started crying too a little bit, so it was sort of funny but also not really.

"How do I make her stop?" Iggy begged, looking to be on the verge of a mental breakdown.

"You just sort of rock her and talk to her until she stops," Nudge told him. "I mean, there's not, like, a mute button or anything."

Iggy tried to hand the baby back to Nudge, who wouldn't accept. "She sounds so sad," he said heartbrokenly.

"So cheer her up," Angel told him. "Just talk to her. She'll like that."

Iggy turned back to the baby, rocking her awkwardly with a panicked expression on his face. "Um, uh," he started. "Uh, hi there, baby." The baby wailed louder. "No, ssh, be quiet, that's right," he muttered, bouncing her. He winced because he still had a stomach wound.

The baby's face was all scrunched up and red and she sounded like a monkey. Iggy looked around at all of us and disjointedly tried to comfort her by rubbing her head.

Fang chuckled into his hand and Gazzy was grinning. Iggy softly ran his fingers through the baby's whitish-blond hair. Almost unconsciously, his fingers drifted down to the baby's face and started mapping out her little features. His expression changed from terrified to stricken, then to slightly awed, and the baby actually started quieting, as though her daddy learning what she looked like was calming.

Iggy hadn't even realized that she had stopped crying when he started talking to her. His voice was quiet, but all of us immediately fell silent to listen.

"Hey," he whispered. "I know this is the first time you've ever met me, but I'm your dad." There was a pause. "I know I'm not the coolest guy in the world. And – and I look sort of scary, I guess. I'll probably be the embarrassing dad with his shirts buttoned wrong and his hair messed up and… well. The point is that I don't care if you get embarrassed by me or anything, I'll always, always love you."

Gazzy wasn't smiling anymore and Fang wasn't laughing. Angel and Gasser were holding hands. I beaconed Nudge towards me and put my arm around her shoulders. She smiled up at me.

"And I'll be a good dad," Iggy continued. "I won't be mean. I mean, I'll have to punish you if you get in trouble, but I won't punish you like that." He paused. "Actually, you know what? I'll leave the punishing to Max. She's good at that." I raised my eyebrows. "Wait. No, then that will undermine my authority and you'll never listen to me. I'll do the punishing, but if it's something really bad, like… never mind, we can work that out when you learn how to talk."

Nudge giggled fondly and laid her head on my shoulder. Fang shot me a grin and I took his hand.

"Anyway, I'll be nice, and I'll hug you every day and tell you I love you all the time. So you'll know I care about you. I'll get a job or something sometime and buy you toys, and clothes, so you can have fun and feel normal. And you'll get to go to school, the real one, and start with kindergarten and make normal friends. I'll even let you go on play-dates and I'll only have small panic attacks." He laughed. "That was a joke," he told the baby. "I forgot you don't have a sense of humor yet." He waved it off. "It wasn't a very good one anyway."

The baby was quiet, all trace of its crying gone. Its face was no longer scrunched up and red, but plump, tired, and maybe a bit blotchy and pimply. Do babies get acne? This baby had acne.

"And when you get older, I'll tell you all about puberty, so you're informed, and when things start happening you won't lock yourself in the bathroom because Fang told you that you must be mutating and you're probably dying."

Fang snorted at that and I sent him an inquiring look that he shook his head at.

"And unless Max or Fang or someone tells me that they think your clothes are inappropriate, you'll never have to worry about me telling you that you need to change. So there's one plus to having a blind dad." He smiled. "Oh, and we'll have been training you to fight all your life and I'll know your strength, so you won't have an overprotective dad making you carry Mace in your purse or anything. I swear I won't be one of those overreacting parents."

We were all quiet for a few moments, and Iggy's hand went to hold his daughter's tiny one. Then he started panicking again.

"Oh my god, she's missing fingers!" He had held her left hand, the one missing the pinkie and ring finger. He shifted her and started feeling around on the bed. "Did they fall off? Tell me it wasn't me. Is she bleeding?" He started hyperventilating and Nudge quickly stepped forward to take the baby. "Who did it? She's dying, oh my god, I've killed her…"

"Iggy, Iggy, relax," I said, grabbing his shoulder. "She's fine. It's a birth defect. She was born like that. She's not bleeding. You didn't kill her."

Nudge laughed as she rocked the baby, who had started whimpering again. "I thought he wasn't going to be an overreacting dad?" she whispered.

Okay. I'm done. Not quite satisfied, but I felt it was long enough.

53. Daydreaming

Okay folks. This is the penultimate chapter (if penultimate means second to last and I think it does but I'm not sure).

To TOKKANEER, thanks for all of your reviews. They make me shake my head and smile. I'm glad that you like my fanfictions.


"What's with you?" I asked Iggy playfully. "It's not like you've never held a baby before. What about Angel?"

Iggy pouted. "It's different."

I shook my head, grinning. "How?"

Iggy shrugged. "Well, on the occasion that you let me hold Angel, you made me sit in an armchair surrounded by a sea of pillows, or you'd stand two inches in front of me and warn me at every possible second not to drop her."

I blanched, and Iggy shot me a smirk. "I can't blame you. I had pretty much just become blind. I'll get used to it."

"But names!" Gazzy interjected. "What about names, Iggy? What are you gonna name her?"

Iggy stared towards Nudge, who was still holding the baby. "I was thinking…"

"Yeah? Yeah?" Gazzy asked eagerly, leaning towards him.

"Jay," Iggy said. I raised my eyebrows and exchanged a glance with Fang. "Like, like the bird," Iggy hurriedly added. He hesitated. "And, well, also like J. I just need to remember him. It's important to me."

I put my hand on Iggy's shoulder. "Jay is a beautiful name." He smiled at me.

"Can I give her a middle name?" Gazzy asked excitedly. "Can I? Can I?"

Iggy grinned and ruffled Gazzy's hair. "Uh, okay. As long as it's not anything like Bang-Bang or Pow."

The Gasman rolled his eyes, looking very much the irked pre-teen. "Like I'd ever come up with something like that." Then he grinned and bounced up on the balls of his feet. "What about Burnie?" he exclaimed. "It's like, a name, but it's also like burn! Like fire!" He shuffled his feet and rubbed his hair. "I've been thinking about names for a while. I thought it sounded nice."

Iggy smiled and reached out to tug Gazzy into a one-armed hug, wincing slightly as his stomach ached.

"Okay," he said. "Jay Burnie it is. It's not quite as weird as some of the others in our little family."

We all exchanged looks and shrugged.

"Weird names?" Nudge asked.

Fang shrugged his shoulders. "I have no idea what he's talking about."

We talked and we laughed and we cried a bit, but eventually I excused myself and made my way into the hall. Anthony and Buford were waiting, Buford calmly, Anthony anxiously wringing his hands. "You can go and see Iggy now, if you'd like," I told Anthony, who darted into the room immediately after giving me a sort of strangled nod of assent.

I turned to Buford. "Is there a phone nearby?" I asked him. "I'd like to call my mother."

Buford led me down to the hall to an office-like room with a corded phone, then he left me to talk to Dr. Martinez alone. I dialed her number and waited breathlessly as I listened to the ringing.

She picked up on the fifth ring with a "Hello, this is Dr. Valencia Martinez."

"Mom!" I exclaimed. "It's Max. We're done. It's over."

I heard a gasp and something fall on her end of the line. "Oh Max, is everyone alright?"

I paused, thinking of Iggy, starting off his fatherhood injured in a hospital bed and Fang, who had lost the use of his legs and was sad and probably wouldn't be happy again for a while, and then of Meagan, who was gone and who knows where.

"No, but we're alive."

Dr. Martinez let out a sigh of relief. "Oh, Max."

"Mom, we'll be home in a few days. But Iggy, he got shot in the stomach, and… and Fang's been paralyzed, from, from the waist down."

Dr. Martinez was silent for a while. "Max, does that mean..?"

I sniffed. "He won't be able to walk or fly. So try not to say anything to… to… you know, to upset him."

We were both quiet for a moment before she spoke up again. "Max, the baby?"

"It's a girl," I told her. She made a little exclamation, and it sounded happy enough.

"Well, Max, Ella and I, we've prepared for you guys coming home. We've got everything ready for the baby, and for Iggy. We've set up a new room for Meagan. We'll get things ready for Fang, too. And Max, Ella and I went to a Victim Awareness conference in Denver. Ella, well, we're both better now. She's excited to see Iggy again."

I was silent for a while. "That's great, mom. Thanks. Iggy's going to be thrilled. But, um, Meagan, she's gone. They took away her memories and we don't know where she is now."

Dr. Martinez let out a short breath. "Is Iggy… is he alright?"

I looked at the ground. "I don't know. He's accepted it, at least."

There was another short silence. "Poor Iggy. But if Meagan's safe, at least, I suppose it's for the best. She seemed a little out of place."

I hadn't wanted to admit it, for Iggy's sake.

"I think you're right. But Iggy… well."

"Poor thing," she said again. "Is his wound serious?"

I shook my head, but then again, she couldn't see it. "He's not in any danger. He had to have surgery, but we got him to it in time. He'll be fine."

"And how is he doing, about the baby?"

I looked towards the door, thinking about the way Iggy had held his daughter, the tenderness with which he handled her, the expression on his face as he mapped out the baby's features. Jay's features.

"He loves her so much," I said. "It's the first time he's ever met her, but he loves her more than anything." I felt tears well up and sting my eyes and I blinked and bit back a sob and slid to the floor, my back against the desk. "Mom," I whispered. "He hasn't even known her for an hour but he already loves her. How is that even…"

"Max, it's hard. It's the hardest kind of love I've ever dealt with." I sat quietly, listening to my mother's voice. "It's a different kind of love. It's utterly unconditional. It's painful, but it's also the best thing I've ever felt."

I bit my lip. "I can already tell that in a life-or-death situation, he would choose the baby over me."

"And he would miss you every day. Max, would you want Iggy to choose you over his daughter?"

No. No, I wouldn't. Because it was his daughter, and I knew that it would kill him to be responsible for her death more than it would for him to be responsible for mine.

Iggy loved his daughter because. Just because. He didn't need a reason.

"He doesn't love you any less, Max," Dr. Martinez said firmly. "You have to remember that. And you have to be there for him. Babies are a lot of work, and he won't have a partner to help him. Not to mention his age and his past. He'll need help. And he'll need you to understand him when he panics over germs and when he has nothing to talk about except for his baby's first poop and smile and laugh and tooth."

I chuckled and let out a shaky breath, wiping a tear out of the corner of my eye.

"He'll need you to stay by his side when people frown on a sixteen-year-old blind boy being a single parent for a baby girl. When people wonder where and who the mother is and think that she should be the one with the baby because babies need moms and people think that boys can't be maternal." I ran my fingers up the length of the phone cord and thought of Iggy stroking Angel's hair and making sure Gazzy brushed his teeth and making us all dinner with that smile and that tousled red hair and those eyes. "Max, people are going to think that he isn't fit to be a father. You've got to back him up and support him whenever he needs you. He's going to need you, and you have to be there."

I took a deep breath.

"I will. Don't worry, I will."


There was a final silence and I knew that the conversation was over.

"Mom, we'll take the train back home. We'll be there as soon as we can." I hesitated, thinking of Anthony and Buford and the way Anthony looked at Iggy and the way Buford cared for Fang. "We might bring a couple people with us."

"That's fine, honey. If you need money for tickets, just call."

"Don't worry, I think Nudge can handle it. Goodbye. We'll see you soon."

"Bye, Max."

Dr. Martinez hung up first and I sat for a few moments listening the phone's quiet beeping. Then I put the phone in its dock and stood and walked back into the hallway and back to Iggy's hospital room.

Anthony was holding the baby and the baby was sleeping. He stared at her with wide eyes and sniffed.

"She smells really good," he muttered.

"Don't eat her," I said, and he looked up at me with that angry glint in his eyes and scowled.

"I wasn't going to!" he protested, and Buford laughed and took the baby and handed her back to Iggy, who welcomed her with a glowing smile.

I looked to Fang, who was staring at the floor with a sort of grimace, but when he caught me staring he immediately smiled, though it didn't look very convincing.

"I called my mom," I announced. "We'll take the train back home as soon as everyone's okay to go."

Anthony didn't hide his devastated expression, looking hopelessly between Buford and Iggy and me. Buford, however, nodded agreeably, though I noticed a slight tightening of his jaw. "Fang will be ready tomorrow," he said, his words rolling over my eardrums like fairy dust or something. "Your healing rates are astounding."

"What about Iggy?" Nudge asked.

"I've been told that I'll be able to get out of bed tomorrow, too," he informed us.

"Tomorrow?" Anthony asked weakly.

I nodded decisively. "Okay. Nudge, come help me buy train tickets." I turned back to Buford and Anthony. "You guys gonna pay for yours, or you wanna mooch off us?" I asked.

Anthony gaped at me, and Buford smiled, placing his hand on Anthony's shoulder. "We don't have any money," he said.

"I'm just going to use the School funds," Nudge told me, eyebrows raised. "It's not our money to mooch."

I shrugged. "Okay then. We're getting, um, one, two, three… nine tickets?"

"Infants don't count," Iggy spoke up.

"Eight then. Whatever." I took Nudge's arm and led her outside. "Let's go hack the system."

After the door shut behind us, I heard a muffled "Yes!" from Anthony and grinned to myself.

Nudge and I bought the tickets and then she and I spent the next eight hours with the Erasers and any other surviving experiments (there weren't many at all). We recruited a few converted Whitecoats to help us question the Erasers about their names, invent last names if needed, and estimate ages corresponding to their appearance so they could each have their very own birth certificate. Then Nudge and I made seven more, one for each member of the flock, because I realized that we would need them if we ever wanted to go to college or get jobs.

The baby Jay spent her first night with Buford in a room equipped with the infant necessities because Iggy had to rest and so did Fang and we all wanted to stay with them. Before Buford left, he pulled Fang aside and spoke softly with him. Fang nodded and allowed Buford to wheel him into a private bathroom where they stayed for a good fifteen minutes. When they finally reentered the room, Fang saw my questioning expression and came over to me.

"What were you guys doing?" I asked him, and Fang looked intently at my shoulder and told me quietly told me that Buford had been showing him how to use the bathroom and how to insert a catheter and I felt sick and wanted to cry all over again.

But we slept and when I woke up, Fang was staring at the ceiling, Iggy was snoring loudly, and Nudge and Gazzy were leaning on my arms and Angel had her head in my lap.

"Morning," I said softly to Fang. The corner of his mouth twitched and he turned towards me and gave me a small smile.

"Hey," he said, and I scowled.

"Don't be going all tall, dark and silent on me again," I teased, although I was somewhat serious. "I've really been liking the New and Improved Fang: Now With Emotions!"

Fang pulled a face and grinned. "Don't worry. No longer am I crippled with emotional constipation." His expression flickered as he said the word "crippled."

When all of us had woken up, we put Iggy in a wheelchair and Fang back in his and we let them race down the hallway, with Iggy running into walls along the way. Buford and Anthony met with us, with Jay wrapped snugly in a blue blanket and Buford carrying a bag that was soon revealed to be overflowing with baby necessities: diapers, a bottle, baby formula, and towel for burping. Buford handed Jay to Iggy and we left the School and headed for the train station.

As the School grew smaller and smaller behind me, distant people moving in and out of the pale buildings, I thought, for the first time in my life, that it didn't look all that sinister.

People gave us odd looks at the train station but we got through easy enough. It was a long ride in a cramped compartment, this time without pull-out beds, but we sprawled comfortably over each other and Anthony sat stiffly and talked with Nudge and Iggy and Buford played with the kids and the baby cried and the whole thing was sort of like a dream.

"Is it okay that we just left everyone back at the School?" Anthony asked once.

"They can take care of themselves," was Buford's response, and I guess that was enough for Anthony.

Dr. Martinez, who I had called to tell the train schedule, was waiting for us with her minivan and her hands clasped. When she spotted us getting off the train, she beamed and beaconed us towards her. Then she gave each of us a hug.

"And who is this little person?" she exclaimed, cooing at Jay. Iggy smiled.

"Her name's Jay," he told her.

"Jay Burnie!" Gazzy interjected.

"Jay Burnie Griffiths," Nudge corrected. We all had chosen last names for our birth certificates, and Iggy had kept Griffiths.

"I'll stick with Jay," mom said, laughing. Then she turned to Anthony and Buford. "And who are these strapping young men?"

Buford appeared older than Dr. Martinez, but he smiled anyway. "My name is Buford, and this is Anthony."

"Good to meet you, uh, ma'am," Anthony said nervously, sticking out his hand, which mom shook warmly. Then she turned to Buford and, making eye contact, shook his as well.

Their gazes lingered on each other's faces for a moment and I thought "uh-oh."

"Well, my car isn't quite big enough for everyone. How about I take Iggy, Fang, Buford, Anthony, and Jay, and the rest of you fly home?"

We agreed and I helped Buford and Anthony put Iggy and Fang in the car before folding the wheelchairs and sticking them in the back.

"I can buckle my own seatbelt, thanks," Fang told me sourly, his face red after having needed me to lift him into the car. I rolled my eyes.

"I wasn't going to buckle your seatbelt for you," I told him, then leaned forward and stared into his eyes. He glared moodily back at me. "I love you," I whispered to him. "I don't care if I have to lift you in and out of cars for the rest of my life." I kissed him, and then the baby started crying again and Dr. Martinez said "All aboard!" and I stepped back to let Fang close the door.

The car was pulling out as I wondered for the first time about baby car seats and worried about them getting a ticket or dying or something.

Gazzy, Nudge, Angel and I flew home, staying above the car and following it the whole way. It wasn't a long flight.

Ella ran out to greet us, and when I touched down she raced up to give me a big hug.

"Max! I'm so glad you're alright!" she cheered, jumping up and down in excitement. "Where are Iggy and Fang? Where's the baby?"

I gestured towards the car, which was pulling into the driveway. "They're coming. Patience is a virtue."

Ella clasped her hands and smiled. Dr. Martinez was the first to get out, then Buford from the passenger seat and Anthony from the back. Dr. Martinez took Jay and held her as Anthony helped Iggy out of the car and into his wheelchair, and Buford did the same for Fang. Both Iggy and Fang looked slightly sick; none of us enjoyed car rides, and to top it off Iggy had a stomach injury and Fang was… well, he just wasn't very happy.

"Hey!" Ella said excitedly. "Welcome home! And who are the new guys?"

"Buford and Anthony," Dr. Martinez told her, gesturing to the two of them.

"They're Erasers!" Gazzy announced, at which my mother and Ella both looked slightly shocked.

"Erasers who helped us out a lot and saved our lives," Iggy said, holding his arms out for Jay.

"Yeah, it turned out they aren't hardwired for evil," I told them. "These guys are pretty cool."

"Buford's awesome, and Anthony isn't awful," Fang nodded. Anthony scowled, which was becoming a regular thing. It's not like I didn't like the guy. It was just that I'd hated him one day, and the next he and Iggy were bros. It's hard to keep up with that.

"Okay," Ella said, eyeing Anthony and Buford appraisingly. Then her smile was back and she practically skipped to Iggy. "Can I hold the baby?"

Iggy looked a little surprised. "Uh, okay," he said, gingerly lifting the baby for Ella to carefully take. Ella lifted Jay to her chest and smiled down at her face.

"She's so cute! She's got your eyes, Iggy."

Iggy's cheeks glowed a bit red.

"Her name's Jay, right?" Ella asked, playing with the baby's little hand. "Nudge emailed me last night. She told me all about her."

"Yeah," Iggy answered, bemused.

"Well, she's just going to love your new place! We've got a crib and a changing station and everything just for her! And we moved your bed and everything, so you can just sit back and be a dad."

"New place?" I asked, confused. "You're not kicking him out of the house or anything, are you?"

Ella looked to mom, surprised. "You didn't tell them?"

Mom shook her head, then turned to us, fingering the locket around her neck. "We've remodeled the garage," she said. "My uncle died and left me a bit of money and I thought, why not." She turned to Iggy. "It's sort of a little house for you," she told him. "There's a bathroom, closet, and separate bedrooms for you and the baby, and a little play area. You'll have to come back to the house for meals, but I thought it would be good for you to be by yourself sometimes, and…"

"And we wouldn't have to suffer when the baby cried at night," Ella finished. "You get to do that by yourself. Congratulations!"

Iggy gaped. "Wow."

"Can we see it?" I asked, and Dr. Martinez smiled.

"Sure, come on."

The garage was a big brick thing that used to be concrete on the inside and housed the gardening tools that mom rarely used. The garage door was still there, but mom told us that it didn't work anymore and led us through the regular door next to it and flipped a light switch.

It was really awesome. To be honest, I might have been a bit jealous, except for that I knew Iggy would be up all night caring for a wailing baby while I slept soundly in my bed. The thought was comforting.

The floors were carpeted with the fluffy beige kind typically seen in the houses of people with kids because hardwood was too expensive. It was an ugly carpet, but that obviously wouldn't bother Iggy and it was soft underfoot. The door opened to a little hallway that led to an open room a bit smaller than my own bedroom. In it was a squishy-looking couch and a few bins of baby toys. There were three big windows that opened out into the back yard.

"There are lots of windows," Dr. Martinez said. "So it will be very bright during the day, and you won't have to worry about remembering to turn on lights."

Iggy smiled and wheeled his chair forward, bumping into the couch and grinning. "I get a living room? That's pretty boss."

"Over here is the bathroom," my mom continued, leading us to a small bathroom equipped with a diaper-changing table and a shower. "And then we have your room." It was much smaller than any of the bedrooms back at the house, big enough only for Iggy's bed, a bedside table, and a little walking space. There was a small closet with all of Iggy's clothes already in it. Iggy told us he loved it because there was less wall to walk into.

"And here's Jay's room," Dr. Martinez said finally, showing us to a room about as big as Iggy's, with the walls painted blue and a pretty yellow crib against the far wall. Next to it was a white dresser. "We got you a stroller, too, for when she gets older, and a baby-carrier for now. I gathered up all of Ella's old baby clothes for you to reuse. There's no point in buying new ones since babies grow out of clothes so quickly."

Iggy rolled over to the crib and put his hand on the wood, feeling the yellow.

"Wow, I feel all grown up," he said jokingly, but his eyes were glassy. He quickly ran the back of his hand across his eyes before turning back. "Thanks, Dr. M. This is really great. I mean, really, really great."

Mom stepped forward, bent down, and gave him a tearful hug. "Anything for you, sweetheart. We want to make you comfortable. And we've got formula in the kitchen, and bottles, and binkies and the works. You're set."

We had dinner. The room that mom had set up for Meagan was now Fang's, because it was on ground level, unlike his old room on the second floor. Fang's old room, now a guest room, was where mom demanded Buford stay, and Anthony had to make himself comfortable on the living room couch.

But we were done, and we were home, and everything was just relaxed and friendly and content. When the time came, we slept soundly, probably for the first time in years.

All of us but Iggy, that is, who was busy learning that babies cried a lot.

Thank you for reading.


Because at least two people thought it was the last chapter. It's not. There's one more. Maybe just one more, but DEFINITELY ONE MORE. I would appreciate you guys sticking around for it because it's the one I've been most excited to write since the story started and I've been mapping it out for ages so yeah. There's another chapter. I would tell you if it was the last chapter. You know, something like "This is the final chapter, I've had so much fun, blah blah blah." That shiz.

So waitforit.

54. Epilogue


"And they've got long tails that are sort of spiked like the rest of their bodies," Gazzy informed, gesturing wildly with his hands. Angel grinned and chimed in.

"And they have really long snouts and their teeth stick up over their lips, and they have a lot of them."

"They've got four legs," Nudge added, "With lizardy feet."

Iggy concentrated, biting his tongue and making a slight face as he added a few more penciled lines with a flourish.

It was a game that Gazzy had invented one day when we were all bored and Jay was napping. The Gasman plopped a piece of computer paper in Iggy's lap, stuck a pencil in his hand, and asked him to draw a bird. Then a rat. Then a snake. Then a polar bear.

"I don't know what a polar bear looks like," Iggy told Gazzy. So Gazzy described a polar bear and Iggy drew what he was told, and the result was a rather ferocious-looking fluffy white teddy bear.

And thus "Igtionary" was born, in which we describe to him animals that he has never seen or felt before and he draws what we say. It was like Pictionary, but not.

"Is that it?" Iggy asked, and we looked at each other.

"Yeah," Fang said, and Iggy set the drawing face-down on the coffee table.

"Then, thanks to your in-depth descriptions, I give you…" he paused for dramatic effect, then flipped the paper over. "An alligator!"

We stared at the image before us in silence until Gazzy shrieked in excitement.

"This is so kick-butt!" he yelled, taking the drawing and holding it in front of his face.

"It's also the worse likeness of an alligator I've ever seen," Fang commented, taking the picture and examining it for himself. "It looks like a cross between a dragon and a snake."

"We forgot to tell him that their stomachs touch the ground!" Nudge exclaimed, smacking herself on the forehead.

"We are so bad at this," Fang said, shaking his head.

"And you would have thought we'd be good, since we've been describing stuff to him for years," Nudge sighed. "He probably walks around with all of these warped images of stuff."

"I like it," Gazzy defended, snatching the picture back and using Iggy's pencil to scrawl "aligater" messily across the top.

"It certainly has character," I acknowledged.

"Thank you!" Iggy agreed loudly. "I was waiting for someone to comment on all the character! I put a lot of character into that!"

"What's that?" Dr. Martinez asked, walking into the room and stepping up behind the Gasman to examine Iggy's drawing. She stared at it for a few seconds, reading Gazzy's label. "Well, it's a good picture until you know it's supposed to be an alligator."

"You have them to blame for that," Iggy accused us. "I just drew what I was told. Obviously these guys have never seen an alligator, either."

"I'll put this on the fridge with the others," my mom decided, taking the picture and walking to the kitchen to tack it alongside the many other pages of our Igtionary.

A few whimpers were suddenly audible from the baby monitor, and Iggy stretched and yawned. "Oh, great," he moaned. 'The little monster's waking up."

He started to get up heavily, but Ella stopped him. "Can I get her?" she asked him eagerly. "Nudge and I can make her formula and everything."

All traces of the heavy-limbed fatigue he had been exhibiting disappeared as Iggy grinned and fist-bumped the air, accidentally nailing Gazzy in the process.

"Yes. Yes, yes you can. I'm gonna go take a nap before you change your mind." He shot out of the couch and tripped over Nudge on his way out of the living room. The front door slammed, and we could hear a muffled "I'm coming, bed!" as Iggy ran across the yard to the garage, which is what we still called his little house.

I laughed. "He sounds excited."

"I don't think he was expecting Jay to have colic when he took her home," Fang grinned.

"Whatever, she's adorable," Ella said, taking Nudge's hand and dragging her to Fang's bedroom, where Fang had allowed a second crib to be put for when Jay took a nap in the house. Fang didn't like spending much time in his room anyway.

Angel stood lightly and followed Nudge and Ella. Gazzy looked at Fang and me for a second and then decided he didn't want to be alone in a room with the two of us and took off after the girls.

Fang and I were sitting next to each other on the couch, Fang's wheelchair next to us, an unhappy reminder that Fang couldn't just get up and walk away like the rest of us. Dr. Martinez had bought Fang a new wheelchair, so he was no longer using a flimsy hospital one but a legitimate wheelchair for legitimate paraplegics.

I think sometimes it hurt Fang to think that he was the only one permanently affected by our ultimate battle. I had been able to see it most when he watched Iggy get out of his own wheelchair two days after returning home. I think all of us almost expected Fang to shout "I can feel my toes!"

Fang most of all.

But it had been two months and Fang was still paralyzed, and he still had to move around in his wheelchair and use a chair in the shower and four times already I had found him in the morning lying face-up on the floor of his bedroom resignedly, eyes closed, because he had rolled out of bed during the night and hadn't been able to climb back in.

"How did this happen?" I asked the first time.

"Nightmares, I guess," Fang told the ceiling.

"Why didn't you call for anyone? We would have helped you get back in bed."

He had looked at me with an expression that clearly read "You know why," and after that I always came to his room first thing in the morning to say "good morning" and if I ever found him on the floor I just helped him up and not a word was said about it.

I leaned my head on Fang's shoulder and softly put my hand on the front of his pants – not in a sexual way, mind you – and slowly brought it higher, finally reaching his belly button. I could tell when he could finally feel my hand because his stomach twitched and his breath hitched slightly. The paralysis ended just below his naval.

Fang appreciated contact a lot more now that only half his body could feel it.

I brought my hand higher, to his chest, over his heart. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the soft flutter of his heartbeat for several moments. His chest was warm and solid. It rose with every breath he took.

I felt Fang lay his hand on the back of my head and his chest shook a bit as he laughed. "What are you doing?"

"Just appreciating your heartbeat," I told him matter-of-factly. "And your nipples." I moved my hand slightly and patted approvingly.

Fang snorted and I opened my eyes to see him grinning at me. "I do have fine nipples."

"The finest in the world," I nodded.

"I wouldn't go that far," Fang said slyly. "I know someone who could give me some competition."

"LET'S CHANGE THE SUBJECT!" Angel yelled at us from the kitchen.


"I think it's sweet," I heard Nudge say, and Gazzy pretended to gag near the sink. Or maybe that was real gagging.

Jay started wailing and Ella tried to shush her. I groaned and sprawled myself across Fang's lap.

"I swear, that child will be in danger of me strangling her until she can learn to stuff it."

"Don't kill the baby," Fang warned me. "Iggy would skin you, boil you, eat you, and kill you. In that order."

I huffed, annoyed. "Bet he'd make it taste good, too, the little tramp," I muttered. I stared at the hem of Fang's jeans, where an inch of ankle showed between his pants and socks. It looked too skinny. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to drift off to the feeling of Fang running his fingers through my hair.

I woke up ten minutes later to a loud and excited knocking at the front door. It wasn't Iggy. Iggy didn't knock unless the door was locked.

I turned over and looked at Fang, who was looking out the doorway towards the front door. His eyebrows were drawn together.

"Who on earth could that be?" Dr. Martinez asked, wiping her hands and moving to look through the window. I could see her face pale visibly. "Oh dear." She looked towards Fang and me on the couch. "Guests. You might want to make yourself presentable."

I hurriedly sat up off of Fang and helped him lift himself into his wheelchair. He raked his fingers through his hair and nervously checked his pants to make sure he looked okay.

"You look good," I told him just as my mom opened the door.

"Nicole! Pattie! I'm so sorry, our dinner party had completely slipped my mind!" she said, voice slightly strained. "I have nothing set up."

"Oh, worry not, my dear!" said a woman who looked to be in her late fifties. "Andy is just fetching my famous roast chicken from the trunk, and Nicole and I bring tidings of salad and pie!"

"Most of my dishes are dirty," mom continued, "And I have nothing nice to wear…"

"Oh pish, you look splendid," said Pattie, waving one hand flippantly and balancing an apple pie in the other. "It's not like I'm wearing anything fancy. Now, where is the kitchen? You have to have me over more often…" She turned and spotted Fang and me in the living room and her eyes widened. Fang and I were staring at her in mild confusion, because I'd never heard mom mention a dinner party and I'd never seen any of the women before.

"Who is that?" the other woman, Nicole, asked, peering at us over a large bowl of salad. "Those aren't some of those foster kids you told us you'd taken in?"

Dr. Martinez smiled stiffly and took the salad from Nicole. A third woman, Andy, showed up behind Nicole and Pattie bearing a tray covered in tin foil. "Yes, actually," she told them. "And they're adopted, actually, not in foster care."

Pattie looked aghast. "Two of them? But they're so… old! There's more?"

"Four more, actually," mom nodded. "Come on, I'll take you into the kitchen."

I looked at Fang and we exchanged awkward glances before following the women.

Ella and Nudge were cooing at Jay, holding her bottle to her face, and Angel and Gazzy were sitting at the table practicing their writing in a couple of the activity books Ella had fished out of her closet. They all jumped in surprise when they saw the three strange women except for Angel, who had obviously been listening in on the conversation.

"Kids, this is Andy, Nicole, and Pattie," Dr. Martinez introduced the women. "They're colleagues of mine at the veterinary clinic. We planned a dinner party a few months ago and in all of the recent… um, excitement, I'd completely forgotten."

"You didn't adopt a baby too?" Nicole exclaimed. "Val! You're not getting any younger!"

Mom shook her head, still wearing her strained smile. "No, I did not. The baby is the child of one of my, um, adopted children."

All three women immediately turned towards me with different expressions.

"Oh honey," Pattie said, "How gracious, adopting a pregnant teenager!"

I raised my hands in denial, shaking my head. "Not my baby. Never been pregnant, actually. Never even had sex or anything."

The three turned to Nudge then, looking even more shocked.

"But sweetheart, you're so… young…" Andy said. Pattie nodded, eyeing Nudge's corkscrew curls and chocolate skin.

Nudge shook her head.

"Not mine, either. Way too young. Never even had a boyfriend."

"She actually belongs to one of my boys," Dr. Martinez said. "His name is Iggy. I believe he's resting at the moment. I remodeled the garage into a flat for him and the baby."

The three women all immediately changed attitudes. Nicole and Pattie exchanged glances.

"How old is he?" Andy wondered.

"Sixteen," I told her. "Almost seventeen now, I think."

"What about the mother?" Pattie questioned. I rolled my eyes.

"She's not a part of our life," I informed them.

"Bad break up?" Pattie asked sympathetically.

I shrugged. "Sure." I wasn't about to tell three strangers that Iggy had been raped by a woman twice his age and then chose to keep the baby that resulted.

There was a few moments of uncomfortable silence before Pattie declared that they would all help with getting dinner set up.

We spent thirty minutes setting the table and heating up the chicken and laying out serving dishes. Pattie kept the conversation going, asking about us and stating things that sometimes made us uncomfortable.

"I would have expected you to adopt an African American" and "To think you had it in your heart to adopt a disabled teenager" were among the more uncomfortable topics she brought up. Nudge spent a while looking surprised because, seeing as she had been a part of our family her whole life, her being black was never something weird. Fang spent a while looking like he'd eaten something horribly bitter, and I had to spend five minutes subtly massaging his shoulders before he managed to crack a smile.

We were finally ready for dinner and everyone started to sit down at the table. Ella was situating Jay in her carrier on the floor next to the counter, and I had begun to hope that Iggy would sleep the evening away and not have to meet Dr. Martinez's guests when we heard a knock on the door.

Fang, Nudge, Angel, Gazzy and I all looked at each other. I started to stand when Pattie practically shoved me back into my chair.

"Nonsense, sweetheart, sit, sit. I'm standing, I'll get the door."

"Pattie," mom started, but the woman waved her off and walked out of the kitchen.

"I won't hear a word," she said as she made her way towards the front door. "You sit and relax. Seven children and a baby! You need it, dear."

We heard the door open. Then Pattie screamed and the door slammed shut.

I stood immediately and ran to the front door. Pattie was standing with her back against it, eyes wide, looking a bit panicked.

"What's wrong?" I asked, curious as to what could make the woman look so scared.

"Ssh," Pattie whispered. "There's a gang member or some other hooligan outside. He's huge and he looks like he had gotten into a fight of some sort – he has two black eyes and this dreadful scar, and he was threatening me with some sort of weapon!"

"A gang member? In the suburbs?" I asked doubtfully. Pattie nodded emphatically.

I leaned to the side to glance out the window. I looked back at Pattie and raised my eyebrow.

"Go call 911," Pattie whispered. "I'll stay here and… hold the fort."

I sighed and gestured for her to step aside. "Please, Pattie, let me open the door."

"No, dear, a criminal..!" Pattie objected as I all but shoved her out of the way and opened the door. Standing on the doormat and looking very confused was Iggy, holding Jay's diaper bag in one hand and the baby nail-clippers in the other.

"Hello, Iggy," I said, stressing friendliness as Pattie glanced at Iggy over my shoulder. "How was your nap?"

"Uh, nice, I guess," he said. "But then I remembered you would need the diaper bag, so I woke up." He held up the bag half-heartedly and looked towards Pattie, who was staring at him with wide eyes. Iggy self-consciously raised the hand holding the nail-clippers to cover his faded eye. He had an actual eye-patch now, but he didn't use it at home. "Do we have guests?"

"Yes," I said, taking Pattie firmly by the arm and setting her in front of Iggy. "Iggy, this is Pattie. Dr. Martinez has a few coworkers over for dinner. Pattie, this is Iggy, my, um, adopted brother. He's Jay's dad."

Pattie stared weakly up at Iggy. I tried to see why she had been so scared.

To me, Iggy just looked like a tired dad: dark shadows under his eyes from sleep-deprivation, hair messy, unwashed and uncombed, and wearing the same oversized sweatshirt he had for the past four days, stained with baby formula and spit-up and other such baby excretions.

But I suppose the scar across his eye was rather daunting, not to mention the fact that the eye itself was faded. And I guess if you squinted the shadows under his eyes could look like bruises and the messy hair could appear to be from some sort of struggle. And maybe if you had just woken up and it was sort of dark the baby nail-clippers could look like a knife or something. And he was like fifteen feet tall, give or take, so maybe a bit scary to five-foot Pattie.

"Oh, um, hello there, Iggy," Pattie squeaked. "It's so… nice… to finally meet you."

Iggy smiled nervously and stuck out his hand to shake. Pattie stared at it for several moments, glancing back and forth between Iggy's scarred hand and his scarred eye, before finally taking it and shaking it weakly.

I led Iggy and Pattie back into the dining room to introduce Iggy to Nicole and Andy. Iggy protested, stating that if he'd known there'd be guests he would have changed clothes and maybe taken his first shower in a week, but then at the sound of his voice Jay started whimpering and Iggy immediately rushed to her carrier to pick her up.

Pattie reached out a hand as if to object to Iggy picking up his own daughter, which I found a bit rude. But her objection melted away as Iggy transformed from tired and nervous to bright and affectionate.

"Hey there, sweetheart," he whispered to her. "Did you miss Daddy?" He lifted the baby to sniff at her diaper and wrinkled his nose, grinning. "Ella and Nudge didn't check you, did they? Are you all stinky and wet?"

Jay whimpered as if in agreement. Iggy nodded and held her to his chest, picking up the diaper bag. "Let's go get you changed." He turned to Andy, Nicole and Pattie and nodded at them, smiling. "Excuse me, please, for a few minutes."

After Iggy had left, the three women sat together in a stunned silence.

"He's not blind in that eye, is he?" Andy asked.

"He's blind in both eyes, actually," Fang stated moodily, picking at the roast chicken on his plate.

"Blind, like…"

"Blind like Helen Keller," Ella piped in happily. "Only not the deaf part. He can actually probably hear us right now."

The women went silent. I hovered near the door.

"I'm going to go help Iggy," I said to the room.

Iggy was wiping Jay when I found him in the bathroom. He looked at me, and his expression wasn't quite as content anymore.

"They think I'm a freak, don't they?" he asked me quietly. He didn't sound sad, just a bit disappointed.

"Maybe a little bit," I said, leaning against the wall, "But they don't know you well enough to judge. Don't take offense." I put my knuckles to my mouth, grinning. "Pattie told Nudge that her great-great-something grandfather was a Union soldier and then paused as if she expected Nudge to thank her. Then she asked Fang if he needed help serving himself the salad."

Iggy stared at me for a second before bursting into helpless chuckles. "Oh my god. She didn't."

"She did," I told him. "And then she asked Angel if she was okay with having such a 'diverse' family."

Iggy laughed as he folded a new diaper around Jay's legs. "At least I'm not the only one."

I watched Iggy pull Jay's onesie back over her legs and arms, then lift her to his chest and cradle her head in his hand. She sucked on his shoulder reflexively.

I closed my eyes and leaned my head back against the wall.

One year from now, Iggy is helping Jay hold onto the couch in the garage as she struggles to toddle a few steps. There is a sudden bang from the backyard, and Jay startles and looks towards the window, then points a chubby finger and yells "Fire!"

There is a pause as Iggy stares towards her serious little face.

"OH MY GOD!" Iggy shouts ecstatically. "MY BABY'S FIRST WORD IS 'FIRE!'"

He quickly scoops Jay into his arms and bolts out the front door and to the backyard, where Gazzy is frantically stomping out a patch of smoldering grass.

"GAZZY!" Iggy yells, holding Jay out towards him. "JAY'S FIRST WORD WAS 'FIRE!'"

Before the Gasman has any time to respond, Iggy turns tail and races towards the house. He throws the door open and enters the living room where Fang and I are watching television. With the happiest of smiles lighting up his face, he holds Jay in the air like a trophy.

"You guys, her first word was 'FIRE!'" he informs us energetically before lowering Jay, who's eyes are wide with shock but used to these kinds of wild shenanigans, and smiles affectionately at her. "My baby is such a little badass."

Two years from now, I am leading Iggy towards the park. Iggy is holding Jay, who is wiggling furiously and stretching her arms out towards her stroller, which I had been pushing her in before Iggy told me that he needed to hold her to ease his anxiety.

As we approach the playground on which a variety of small children are playing, I see a group of seven mothers chatting around a park bench next to a sandbox, inside which are four toddlers. It must be the playgroup, because a woman notices us – Dr. Martinez must have described Iggy to her – and waves before turning to the other women and pointing us out.

My mother had told us a few days before about a playgroup that one of her friends at work went to every Saturday. "I told her about you, Iggy, and she invited you to join them this weekend," she had said. "Max can take you."

As we continue towards them, Iggy nervously straightens his eye-patch and readjusts Jay in his arms.

"Hi!" one of the women greets us. "My name is Angela. You must be Iggy! Valencia told me all about you."

Iggy tries to hide behind Jay's hair and maybe shrink a couple feet.

"Uh, hi," he responds shyly. "Yeah, um, I'm Iggy."

"Forgive him, he's a bit shy," I tell the mothers. "He hasn't gotten out of the house much. This is his first time in a while."

"Oh, don't worry about it," laughs a mom who is holding an infant and has a toddler tugging at her leg. "After my first, it took me ages to get out. I always felt like some sort of social pariah."

Iggy smiles hesitantly, and Jay continues squirming. She looks up at him, frustrated.

"Daddy!" she shrieks. "Down!"

Iggy reluctantly lowers her to the grass.

"She's darling," Angela compliments as Jay struggles to balance on the uneven ground. "How old is she?"

"Two years, two months," Iggy responds. "Her first word was 'fire.'"

He blushes furiously and raises a hand to cover his mouth.

"He's really proud of her first word," I explain, and the moms all laugh.

"Oh, you're adorable!" Angela smiles. "How old are you?"

"Uh, I'm eighteen," Iggy replies, looking at the ground nervously.

"You must have been really brave," says one of the moms, "Taking care of a baby at such a young age. You're like a super-daddy!"

No mention of irresponsible underage sex. No questions about the mother. Iggy smiles and continues, sharing baby stories and worries and fears with people who he can finally relate to.

Three years from now, Iggy is crying in the kitchen with his hands braced against the counter. It is Jay's third birthday party, and every single kid invited canceled due to flu season.

"It was going to be her first birthday party with friends!" Iggy sobs. "Now there's too much cake and the party favors will go to waste and… and…"

"Iggy," Fang says firmly, "There is no such thing as too much food in this house."

"And you can hand out the favors at the next playgroup," I suggest.

Iggy shakes his head, still crying. "But she m-must b-buh-be so disappointed..!"

I look into the living room, where Jay is laughing uncontrollably as Anthony tickles her. Buford and Gazzy are setting out her presents. I look back at Iggy.

"She's having lots of fun, Iggs," I tell him. He continues crying.

Four years from now, we look through a bunch of old pictures that my mother had just gotten developed. We find one of Meagan and me, looking uncomfortable but smiling. I examine Meagan's silvery eyes and multicolored hair.

"I don't understand," I mutter. "Why was Meagan's hair and eyes so different than mine?"

Iggy shrugs. "Maybe it was the different bird DNA."

Anthony shakes his head. "What? No, they were practicing permanent body modification," he says. "Eye-color tattoos and ultra-permanent hair dyes. They did that with Buford, too, a while back. He was fuchsia for a couple years."

"I want red hair," Jay decides. "Like daddy."

Iggy smiles and blushes, pulling her into a hug and then tickling her sides as she laughs loudly.

Six years from now, Iggy is standing in Jay's classroom on her first day of kindergarten. All of the adults are staring at the only twenty-two-year-old parent in the room.

"Sweetheart, be good, alright?" Iggy tells Jay, who burst into tears and grabs onto his shirt and won't let go when he tries to leave.

Eight years from now, Iggy gets called to school by Jay's teacher and finds Jay sitting in a chair in front of the teacher's desk and crying because a boy called her three-fingered hand gross and for the first time ever she realized that it wasn't normal.

Iggy takes her home and sits her down in the garage and asks her to tell him exactly what happened.

"He called me gross and weird and ugly!" Jay sniffles, and Iggy takes her hands in his.

"Honey, you're beautiful," he tells her, just like he does every day.

But this time, instead of smiling, Jay yells "How would you know? You can't even see me!" and stands up and rushes into her room. Iggy winces as she slams the door.

Ten years from now, I look out of my window into my backyard, where Iggy and Jay are sitting side by side eating ice-cream bars. Iggy's red hair and Jay's blond hair is damp from an earlier water-balloon fight, and their wings are stretched out behind them to dry. Their wings are identical; cream with red and specks of gold. You can tell they're father and daughter.

Fang takes my hand and I look down to see him smiling at me. He pulls me down into his lap and buries his face in the crook of my shoulder, sending me into fits of laughter.

"So how does it feel to be legally bound in the eyes of the state?" he whispers in my ear.

"You mean married? The tax cuts are great."

"Yeah," Fang laughs, "Well, not everyone can get a full-ride scholarship because they're a blind academic prodigy."

I kiss him. "He cheats with his power. Besides, we'll make do."

Twelve years from now, Jay tells Iggy that she needs a bra because she's mature and so grown up and besides, all the other girls have one. Iggy laughs and then takes her shopping and out to eat at a fancy restaurant and lets her have a sip of his wine when no one's looking.

Thirteen years from now, Fang and I discuss in vitro fertilization, and Iggy sighs "Finally." Nudge and Anthony accidentally brush hands as they reach for the remote, and Nudge falls silent as Anthony blushes. Buford and my mother are chatting in the kitchen, Gazzy is on a date with his new girlfriend, and Ella is looking at wedding dresses online with the help of Angel and Jay.

Fifteen years from now, Iggy and Jay are having a fight in the living room of their house.

"Aunt Max said I could go!" Jay shouts. I back slightly out of the room.

"Aunt Max is not your mother!" Iggy shouts back. "You're barely fifteen; you are not going to some high school party!"

Jay clenches her fists. "I'm in high school! It's my friend's party!"

"Yes, your senior friend who is having senior boys over who are all just itching to get a pretty fifteen-year-old girl drunk and into a bedroom!"

"You're one to talk! It's not like you didn't have sex when you were my age! How else would I be here?"

Iggy turns red and stands straight, towering over Jay with an aura of fury that I hadn't felt in a long time. "We are not talking about me right now!"

Jay blinks back furious tears. "I bet you're just scared because you went to some party when you were fifteen and knocked some slut up and you're worried I'm gonna do the same thing! Well dad, I'm responsible and I'm not going to make the same stupid mistakes you obviously did!"

Iggy takes a deep breath. "Jay, you are not old enough to go to a party where there are going to be college students and alcohol."

"How do you know? I'm mature! I'm old enough! Aunt Max can see it! Oh, yeah, that's right, you can't even see me! Maybe that's it! Maybe if you weren't blind you'd be able to see that I'm not some whore about to go make myself into a teenage parent!"

Iggy jabs his finger towards the hallways. "You are not going to this party and that is final! Now go to your room!"

Jay glares at him with her hands clenched and shaking before turning and sprinting towards her bedroom, letting out a choked sob before slamming her door shut.

"I hate you!" she shouts through the closed door before screaming into her pillow.

Iggy stands frozen for a second before falling onto his couch and putting his head in his hands. I walk into the room and sit next to him, putting my hand on his back.

"I'm sorry," I whisper. "I wasn't thinking when I said I would drive her. She made it seem like you'd already given her the okay."

Iggy sits up and sniffs, rubbing at the corner of his eyes. "That's the first time she's ever told me she hates me."

"It's hard. I know I'm going to cry the first time my baby tells me that."

We sit silently for a few minutes.

"So when are you planning on telling her?" I ask quietly. "About Anne? About how you weren't being an 'irresponsible teenager' when she was conceived?"

Iggy closes his eyes tiredly and rubs at them again. "I keep telling myself 'her next birthday, her next graduation,' etcetera. But she has this idea about me being some sort of attractive playboy who changed his ways to be a father, and… I don't know. I don't want her image of me to change." He stares towards half-open hands. "I don't want her to look at me differently. I mean, I can't even imagine being a kid who finds out they're born from rape. I don't want her to think I didn't want her."

I lean my head against Iggy's. "She has to learn sometime," I say. "And whatever you may think, she is mature. I know she can handle it." I take Iggy's hand in mine and squeeze it. "She'll love you no matter what. And she knows you love her. And now's as good a time as any." I kiss Iggy's cheek. "She'll understand you better."

Seventeen years from now, Fang sits quietly in bed, looking out the window.

"What's up, hun?" I ask him, putting my hand on his arm. He turns towards me, eyes glassy.

"Max," he says hoarsely. "I can feel my toes."

Nineteen years from now, Fang cries silently as he stands while holding our daughter for the first time, so she can look out the window.

And twenty three years from now, Fang, Iggy and I are at Target shopping for back-to-school items for my and Fang's two kids, and we hear someone familiar laughing.

Iggy freezes and doesn't look up from the colored pencils he's sorting through, but I turn to see a woman my age with short blond hair, turned away from us, talking to a smiling man with blue eyes and reddish hair. He's tall and thin and handsome and he brushes her hair behind her ears like a lover, and she's just an inch-or-so shorter than me and just as thin, and when she turns to the side she has my nose and my chocolate-brown eyes.

I turn quickly towards Fang, who is staring at the woman with shadowed eyes.

"Come on," the woman says in my voice, summoning two young kids who rush over to her and grab her hands. The man smiles lovingly at her and they turn and walk away.

We are all quiet for a moment. Iggy is frozen, still examining the same box of colored pencils, running his fingers over them again and again.

"He resembled you," Fang whispers to him. Iggy nods and blinks.

"I think we should head back to your place," he says quietly.

"What's wrong?" my daughter asks, staring after the retreating backs of the family. "Mommy, she looked like you."

"Yeah," I say. "She did."

I opened my eyes and sixteen-year-old Iggy was smiling at me with two-month-old Jay in his arms.

"Shall we head back to the party?" he asked. "I'm sure they're dying to ask me all sorts of questions."

"Entirely about your kick-ass lasagna recipe," I said, and he grinned.

After the dinner party, Andy, Nicole and Pattie left with a tearful goodbye and an "Invite us over soon, dear!" As their headlights vanished around the corner, a new car pulled into the driveway and Buford and Anthony clambered out. Buford was working as a nurse; his main job was breaking news to people about illness or injury. He was calm and kind and his voice was soothing and all the patients loved him.

Anthony was working on a construction site, but he was taking night classes. He wanted to be a teacher.

"It doesn't smell like Iggy's cooking," Anthony commented as he entered the house.

"We had an impromptu dinner party with some colleagues of mine," my mother informed them.

After a tired rendition of the awkward evening to Anthony and Buford, we all settled down for bed. I walked Iggy to the garage and stood with him as he put Jay down for sleep.

He changed her diaper and dressed her in yellow pajamas, softly adjusting her mostly-bald wings as he slipped the onesie over her back. She whimpered and he held her up to his face, kissing her forehead, her nose, then blowing a raspberry on her stomach. She giggled wildly.

He gently lowered her into her crib and bent over her, lifting her three-fingered hand to his mouth and kissing it softly. "You're beautiful," he whispered. "I love you."

And I watched and felt a little bit empty because Iggy wasn't my little brother anymore.

This is it.

Wow. This is really it.

Thank you so much to all of my readers who have managed to stick by me. Thank you to all of you, whether you reviewed or not.

Thank you to my dear friends pandorad24 and Frenzied Warrior. You guys keep me going and make me happy. I'm glad that my writing has inspired you, and that in turn yours has inspired me. I hope we stay in touch for a long, long time.

This is the final chapter and it is the epilogue. It's not just an epilogue for the story, though, it's an epilogue for the entire series. This is it. I'm going to miss it. But I'm a little glad.

I'll continue writing, so I hope my fans continue reading. Please keep an eye out for a new chapter fic that I am working on and am very proud of so far. I hope to get it up.

Thanks again for reading.