The Wings of Wrath by AvengingMyInnocence

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Adventure
Language:English
Status:In-Progress
Published:2008-03-28 11:26:13
Updated:2009-12-03 22:06:27
Packaged:2021-04-04 13:28:38
Rating:T
Chapters:111
Words:260,120
Publisher:www.fanfiction.net
Summary:The World’s Longest FanFic EVER. Has literally been called an ‘Epic’. SUMMARIES inside…

Table of Contents

1. PART ONE Summaries and Prologue
2. Chapters 1 and 2
3. Chapters 3 and 4
4. Chapters 5
5. Chapters 6 and 7
6. Chapters 8 and 9
7. Chapters 10
8. Chapters 11 and 12
9. Chapters 13 and 14
10. Chapters 15 to 17
11. Chapters 18 and 19
12. Chapters 20 to 22
13. Chapters 23 and 24
14. Chapters 25 and 26
15. Chapters 27
16. Chapters 28
17. Chapters 29
18. Chapters 30 to 32
19. PART TWO Chapters 33 and 34
20. Chapters 35 and 36
21. Chapters 37 and 38
22. Chapters 39 to 41
23. Chapters 42
24. Chapters 43 and 44
25. Chapters 45
26. Chapters 46
27. Chapters 47 and 48
28. Chapters 49 and 50
29. Chapters 51 to 53
30. PART THREE Chapters 54
31. Chapters 55 and 56
32. Chapters 57
33. Chapters 58
34. Chapters 59
35. Chapters 60
36. Chapters 61 and 62
37. Chapters 63
38. Chapters 64
39. Chapters 65
40. Chapters 66
41. Chapters 67
42. Chapters 68 and 69
43. Chapters 70 and 71
44. Chapters 72
45. PART FOUR Chapters 73 and 74
46. Chapters 75
47. Chapters 76 and 77
48. Chapters 78 and 79
49. Chapters 80 and 81
50. Chapters 82
51. Chapters 83 and 84
52. Chapters 85
53. Chapters 86
54. Chapters 87
55. Chapters 88
56. Chapters 89 and 90
57. Chapters 91 and 92
58. Chapters 93
59. Chapters 94
60. PART FIVE Chapters 95 and 96
61. Chapters 97
62. Chapters 98 and 99
63. Chapters 100
64. Chapters 101
65. Chapters 102
66. Chapters 103
67. Chapters 104
68. Chapters 105
69. Chapters 106 and 107
70. Chapters 108 and 109
71. Chapters 110
72. Chapters 111
73. Chapters 112
74. Chapters 113
75. PART SIX Chapters 114 and 115
76. Chapters 116
77. Chapters 117
78. Chapters 118 and 119
79. Chapters 120
80. Chapters 121
81. Chapters 122
82. Chapters 123
83. Chapters 124
84. Chapters 125
85. Chapters 126
86. Chapters 127
87. Chapters 128
88. Chapters 129
89. Chapters 130
90. Chapters 131
91. Chapters 132
92. Chapters 133 and 134
93. Chapters 135
94. Chapters 136
95. INTERLUDE
96. Chapters 137
97. Chapters 138
98. Chapters 139
99. Chapters 140
100. Chapters 141
101. Chapters 142
102. Chapters 143 and 144
103. Chapters 145 and 146
104. Chapters 147
105. Chapters 148
106. Chapters 149
107. Chapters 150
108. EPILOGUE
109. PREVIEW
110. SEQUEL PREVIEWS
111. THE TIME HAS COME THE SEQUEL!

1. PART ONE Summaries and Prologue

DISCLAIMER!! I don't own ANYTHING! MAXIMUM RIDE HAS AND ALWAYS WILL BELONG TO JAMES PATTERSON... Even though I really would like to switch bodies with him for one day... Just one day, please God?

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ENTIRE SERIES SUMMARY; Things to Come...

(This is the summary for all Six parts of The Wings of Wrath ... a preview if you will...)

What do you do when Evolution has reached its end? And the creation has become more powerful than the creator? What happens when you have made a perfect monster out of a child and only too late realize that children grow up? And as children grow they become stronger and smarter. Their brains evolving, from the infantile primordial ooze into the upright monster that makes little creatures much bigger and stronger than it, then expects for those creations to obey. To be subservient...

What do you do when life becomes less about giving and more about taking? When all the world's mysteries seem to shrink? When the darkness presses down on you like an hourglass that's half full, half empty? When the light in children's eyes is stolen and replaced by the shadow of hatred, and all the world turns to gray?

What do you do when science becomes Dogma? When does trying to play God bring around the devil?

Only the strong will survive ... And only the determined will fight to live.

Because this is the end of the world, this is the final test...

Will you pass?

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PART ONE SUMMARY; What Has Arrived

Time has passed, it has changed the people you thought you knew and brought out the best and worst in each of them. Knowledge is a powerful and dangerous thing, and responsibility can be a troublesome burden.

When a mysterious letter arrives for Fang the Flock discovers exactly how deep the rabbit hole goes...

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Prologue; On a Tombstone Writ...

(NOTE; Okay people! I own the poem "The Wings of Wrath" It is mine, it is by Honora Crane Yes, that's my real name thanks... I wrote the poem for my Creative Writing Class long before I wrote this fic, this very LONG story, and my younger brother was the one to convince me to turn it into a MR Fic, because he liked it so much ... so blame him for everything.)

"The Wings of Wrath"

by; H. Crane

Silence breeds into Courage

And blossoms like the rose

The owl cries in the highlands

Its song a mournful close

The Strong undoes the Wicked

The Stubborn learns to bend

The Wings of Wrath have fallen

But their thunder has no end

.X.

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2. Chapters 1 and 2

The Wings of Wrath; Part OneA Gross Underestimation; Growing Up

Chapter 1; Pale Male

NEW YORK CITY, CENTRAL PARK

Fang had read an article in National Geographic about the falcon. He'd likened himself to Pale Male on many occasions and now it felt as though he and the falcon were the last remaining bit of untamable, ancient wild in the new, user friendly world.

There was a small crowd thronged around him on the sidewalk, which on any other occasion would have bothered him. He hated being in crowds, he hated being around people who were "normal". Part of him resented the "perfect" people. The ones who walked about and took airplanes instead of flapping their genetically implanted wings and flying off on their own.

It was these "perfect" people who had changed him. Who had spliced his human DNA with avian DNA, these "perfect" people were responsible for everything he'd been though, for everything The Flock had been through.

It bothered him on a very deep level, although he would never admit it to anyone.

He ran a hand through his hair and a woman with a video camera pushed in front of him, nearly knocking him back into the street.

He tore his gaze from the building long enough to step onto safer ground a few feet away from the crowd snapping pictures and whispering "isn't he beautiful" like a group of school children at a zoo.

That's all this is ... A zoo, a big, concrete and metal ZOO!

Fang looked over his shoulder at Central Park, disgust wrinkling his youthfully handsome face. The expression aged him, turning him into an old bitter man instead of a teenager. He hated the city ... This Urban Zoo ... Even the trees were on display here, trimmed and pruned into attractive shapes and sizes so as not to take away from the "beauty" of the big, hard, cold city.

The smell of car exhaust was thick, mingling with the stench of steaming sewer grates and briny wind coming off the near stagnant seawater in the harbor.

He wanted to fly.

He wanted to leap into the wind and fly away from this city, back into the wild, back into the mountains, into the open, welcoming arms of Mother Nature.

Fang couldn't help but smile at that. Who needed actual parents when you had Mother Nature?

Mother Nature who was constantly shrinking, receding into nothingness as Brother Development and Sister Technology ate away at her lush green expanses.

And where was Father Science?

Fang scoffed and turned back to the building, shielding his eyes against the sun as he peered up at the balcony Pale Male now perched on triumphantly.

Father Science was at work creating genetic-hybrids like Fang and The Flock. Father Science was running mad, creating things that were not born of Mother Nature, but were created in Madam Laboratory and kept in dog cages so they would never get to know Mother before Brother and Sister killed her.

The woman with the video camera bumped into him again and Fang ground his teeth together, his hands curling into fists by his sides.

Fine, I'm going! He growled in his head and briskly walked to the corner. Not like anyone wants me around here anyway.

He crossed his arms over his chest and waited for the little sign protruding from the side of a metal pole across the street to display the WALK light.

He heard the sound of cars and traffic diminish to a dull throb as he headed deeper and deeper into the park. He looked to his left and right warily to make sure no one was watching, and he left the path slipping into a dense grouping of bushes.

"Where have you been? We've been looking all over!" Max stormed up to him scowling, her lower lip out defiantly.

He smiled inwardly. He loved it when she got flustered. For some reason it amused him. Making her flush and splutter made him ... Happy.

It was as if seeing Max on unfamiliar ground, ground she didn't control made her seem all the more viciously attractive. Just a hint of feminine uncertainty, the slight pout of her lower lip, the way she twisted a loose tendril of her hair around her finger. The fierce, hunter/warrior like gleam to her big brown eyes.

He loved the way she could be vulnerable and menacing at the same time. She could loose all control but would never let the look of complete dominance leave her face.

She scrunched her eyebrows down and her eyes flicked to his midsection for half a second then back to his face.

He wasn't stupid, he knew what she'd been looking at, anyone with half a male brain would know what she'd been looking at. And it made him feel powerful knowing that he could distract her in such a way.

And the fact that she'd let her guard down long enough to throw a glance THERE on HIM, made Fang feel like the most powerful bird-boy on the face of the planet ... Though he'd never tell anyone.

"Was out," He shoved his hands into his pockets and brushed past her, his elbow barely grazing her arm.

She turned on him scowling. "We thought you'd been captured or worse! You shouldn't just DISAPEAR like that!"

He shrugged again, throwing an innocent glance over his shoulder.

A slight red tint crept into her face and Fang knew that if he hadn't seen it grow there he never would have noticed the slight change in her skin.

She pursed her pink lips and tried to give him a scathing look, but it came off more as a 'I can't believe this is amusing me' half grin.

She didn't talk to him for the rest of the day, which didn't particularly bother him. In fact, it pleased him. Not because he couldn't hear her voice, but because he'd caused her to become so emotional she couldn't speak to him. He loved knowing he could cause such a reaction in her. It made him feel like he knew her better than the rest of The Flock. He knew that this silence was his and his only. He was the only one of the six of them who could get THAT silence.

They slept in the thicket that night. Hiding as best as they could among the sparse brush and prickly pines. Fang was on watch when it happened.

He was perched in a tree, invisible from the ground, which for him was not that difficult. He was dressed entirely in black, as usual, and had the hood of his sweatshirt up, shadowing his face. He completely blended in with the darkness in the tree, a feat he'd perfected in the short expanse of his pseudo-freedom.

He heard the slight whooshing of night air on wings and turned his eyes to the right scanning the clearing just beyond the trees.

Big wings...

Big pale wings fluttered and something landed on the branch beside him.

Fang stiffened, it wasn't a bird-kid, it was a regular bird, but not just any regular bird. It was a falcon, a pale falcon with bright golden eyes. He thought of the hawks he and Nudge had flown with a few days before and his chest tightened.

The bird turned his head, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. He clacked his beak and ruffled his feathers, lifting his wings to appear larger, more menacing.

Fang felt himself shrink back eyes dropping to the ground so as not to seem intimidating. He may be able to fight, but he was no match for a falcon. Falcons had talons all Fang had were dirty little half-chewed fingernails and teeth that hadn't been brushed in two days.

The falcon sidestepped toward him, its head down a soft almost chirping sound shivering in its throat.

Fang felt the little feathers on his wings stand on end and he realized which particular falcon was on his branch.

Pale Male lifted his wings a bit higher and bobbed his head his beak partially open the spear of his tongue exposed.

Fang had a fleeting thought that Pale Male was trying to communicate with him.

The falcon twitched his wings again and bobbed his head.

Fang imitated him warily not particularly sure why Pale Male wasn't in his nest instead of having a rudimentary conversation with him on a tree limb.

The falcon's head cocked to the side and he extended his wings and flapped twice coming off the branch before settling back onto it closer to Fang.

Fly?

He felt a smile creep over his face and he slowly raised his hand his fingers out.

Pale Male hissed at him and lifted his wings as if to say, 'HOW DARE YOU!'

Fang lowered his hand and realized he'd just tried to touch the 'pretty birdie'. He had shown no respect to Pale Male, he'd acted ... Human. Pale Male was NOT human, therefore he didn't understand.

Fang raised his hands again and slid the hood of his sweatshirt off his head. A lock of his black hair fell into his face. He slowly eased his wings open so the bird could catch his scent and see that he didn't mean any harm. He dropped his eyes, showing submission. This was, after all, Pale Male's turf, not his.

The Falcon's wings lowered slightly and the beak closed. He turned his head from side to side and the soft chirping sound began again. The flaxen feathers on his throat swelled as he breathed and the soft, leathery lids flashed twice over his golden eyes. He studied Fang intently, the no doubt complicated workings of his brain scrutinizing the part avian creature perched beside him as if he were something startlingly familiar yet frighteningly alien.

Pale Male twitched his wings and jumped onto Fang's back, his razor sharp talons cutting into the hood of his jacket, yet amazingly never scratching Fang himself.

Fang sat absolutely still, terrified that perhaps Pale Male thought he was a female, or maybe something that would taste very good if eaten. His fingers dug into the limb and he contemplated calling for Max to look at him and perhaps help but then Pale Male shifted, his tail swiping the side of Fang's face as he turned.

The soft chirping didn't waver as the falcon lowered his head, his eyes inches from Fang's wings. He inspected the shafts as if appraising them in their quality. Then to Fang's surprise Pale Male took one feather in his beak and gave it a slight but firm tug.

Fang slowly turned his head and tried to see exactly what the falcon was doing to him. The golden eyes connected with his for a moment before Pale Male simply hopped off his shoulder and side stepped along the branch facing the clearing.

The big ashen wings spread and he lowered himself on his powerful legs, readying his body to leap into the air as his kind had done for hundreds if not thousands of years. But he hesitated, turning his head to the dark bird-boy beside him. For a moment there was no sound and the keen intelligent, hunter's eyes probed Fang's.

Fly.

Fang turned on the limb slowly his wings lifting, ready to propel him into the cool night air on the down stroke.

The Falcon almost seemed to smile and he sprang forward sailing off toward the moon.

Fang followed silently, knowing that he shouldn't have left The Flock there alone, guard-less, but a sense of peace stole over him as he ascended and slowed to a glide beside Pale Male.

Some kind of primal link had been created between them and Fang knew this link was a bond. As long as he and The Flock were in Central Park, no Erasers would get near them. Pale Male would make sure of that.

The golden eyes turned to him and he looked back into them confidently, knowing that to the falcon he was small, despite his size. He was young, inexperienced ... A fledgling.

Pale Male folded his wings and dived, rolling over in the air and Fang followed, imitating him, feeling the cool air rush up past his face and knowing that this time it was somehow different. It was like the first time he'd flown, the first time he'd maneuvered in a hairpin dive. The first time he'd spread his wings and shot upward so fast he had to close his eyes for a moment to keep the wind from drawing tears from him.

His wingtips brushed the dew damp grass and he wanted to laugh, to hear the wild joy he felt from flying with Pale Male. He wanted Max to feel this ... Feeling this happy would do her some good. Maybe lighten the load of finding the New York branch of the School. Give her a moment's respite before she had to go back to work, before she had to face THEM.

He glanced over at the falcon and flicked his eyes downward at the thicket where The Flock slept. Pale Male seemed to understand him because he tucked his wings and dove, rolling over in the air.

He landed as softly as he could on shaking legs and turned to watch the falcon gallop across the grass to him, wings raised. Pale Male stopped, folded his wings and cocked his head at Fang, chirping in his throat.

Max rushed out of the shadows her eyes wide. "Fang? What are you doing? Is it Eras-" She stopped mid-sentence and stared at the falcon her brown eyes squinting, "Is that ... Is that a-"

Fang raised a finger to his lips and motioned her forward, "Be quiet."

Max lowered her head and slowly crept to him staring at the big raptor uneasily. "What's going on?"

"SHH!" He scolded, "Sit down, wings out."

She glanced at him untrusting but complied.

Pale Male turned his head side to side and flapped his wings at Max clacking his beak.

"What's he doing, Fang?" She hissed nervously out of the corner of her mouth.

"Establishing dominance..."

Max didn't move until the falcon began to circle her. She stiffened and her feathers stood on end.

Fang watched as Pale Male took one of Max's feathers in his beak and drew it across his tongue and a smile came to his face when he realized what Pale Male was doing.

"What is happening?"

"He's preening you, just don't move, you might offend him."

"Why is he preening me?"

Fang nearly laughed but was able to bite back the sound. "He's accepting you ... Kind of ... Uh ... He's making friends with you."

"And he preened you?" She cast him a rather disbelieving look and cocked an eyebrow.

Fang nodded, and nearly jumped out of his skin when Pale Male flapped a few feet away and began beating his wings impatiently, jumping upward with a kick before closing his wings and settling back onto the ground.

FLY!

Fang crouched slightly and sprang upward seeming to hover about six feet off the ground, swooping this way and that waiting for Max and Pale Male to join him.

Not long after that Fang felt his heart leap when Max gave a short, enraptured laugh as she rolled over in the air following Pale Male on another bombing run across the clearing.

He watched her break from the dive and sail up toward him majestically the falcon's slightly darker wings casting a perfect shadow across her back. For a moment Fang envisioned a second, black falcon flying along with them and that strange sense of peace fell over him again.

There were no worries, no cares, no problems as long as this moment never ended. As long as Max's laugh never ended...

The pre-dawn glow was lightening the sky and Fang found himself sprawled on his back in the grass watching Max and Pale Male swoop over him again, their wings beating in near synch to thrust them upward into the air. She was smiling. A rare, genuine smile and he wanted to capture the raw beauty of it and never let it go.

Girl and falcon circled the park once more before landing in the clearing. Max approached him, her arms dangling, a thin layer of sweat making her face, arms and the exposed 'U' of her neck and chest shimmer. She turned her brown eyes to him and the intensity in them nearly burned Fang into a cinder of need.

Max lowered herself beside him on her stomach panting her eyes closed, face flushed. She smiled again and sighed, a soft, delicious alto sound that rumbled deep in her chest and throat and Fang could think of only one word for it...

Ecstasy...

He wondered absently if perhaps she made that sound when she was alone, thinking private, feminine ... Special things. When no one was looking and idle hands wandered...

What would that sound taste like...

She opened her eyes and gave him a hungry look that told him exactly what that sound tasted like and he had to sit up, his legs crossed shoulders hunched to hide what it did to him. That was a new look, and Fang wasn't entirely sure if it was for him or the falcon.

The falcon...

Fang looked around searching the clearing but Pale Male was gone-

Papers, falling like rain, drowning him. Envelopes and, stamps all lined up and ready for him ... Endless hallways of cold, empty mailboxes... The dumpy little postmaster standing behind the desk shaking his head...

"Dear, Mr. Hutchinson ... My name is Nick-"

Chapter 2; Flying in The Dark

Fang woke from the dream. It was a good dream, he'd had it before but not recently. He rolled over in bed and stared at the rain streaking over the window.

How long had it been since that night in New York? Five, six months ... A year, two?

He sighed and pressed his left forearm over his eyes. So long ago ... Such a short time...

His hand drifted down under the blankets, over his bare chest, over slightly raised scars across his stomach. Scars that hadn't been there that night in New York, scars that shouldn't have been forced upon him at all.

But, he was glad it was him and not Max.

Max...

Fang lowered his left arm and his eyes turned to the wall his bed was sitting against, that was Max's wall. On the other side of that wood and plaster was Max. Sleeping in her bed, her soft long hair splayed out on her pillow, her even softer pink, sassy lips parted.

Calm, slow breathing, big brown eyes closed, long lashes fanned on her cheeks...

He turned away from the wall, away from Max and yanked his hands from under the blankets clasping them behind his head, tangling his fingers in his hair.

He'd begun letting his hair grow just after Itex fell. At first it had been because they were too busy to stop and get hair cuts and he didn't like the idea of Max holding a knife that close to his neck but then it was because Max gave him looks over it. Deep needy, 'you are so annoying' looks. He liked those looks ... They amused him.

It was just long enough to curl into his mouth when he tried to eat, which got annoying sometimes, especially at the public school he and the flock attended with Ella. And there was nothing like Max's mom's chocolate-chip cookies topped with hair.

He let out a sigh and started rubbing a few strands of his hair between finger and thumb a grin starting to form on his face. High School... It made him proud, made him feel important somehow that he was in High School now... It almost made him feel normal.

Almost...

He only had this last year ... This final year and he'd graduate. Something that, two years ago when Itex fell, hadn't mattered that much to him... But now ... For some reason it DID matter. He yawned and wondered what Iggy and Max thought of Graduation...

Max...

He stifled a groan and covered his face, scratching the little hairs growing on his jaw and chin, trying to focus on anything but Max. He tried thinking of the post office, his new favorite place. Or of the letter he'd sent out three weeks before, his very first letter. The letter that had somehow found its way into his dreams... But that distraction didn't help, it only made him even more edgy. He looked back at the window and was glad to see the rain had stopped finally.

He nearly jumped out of bed, tossing back the sheets and creeping, bare footed across the rug to the window. He thrust up the sash and stuck his head out into the cool Arizona night air. It smelled clean, slightly like moist dirt and leaves and the sound of night insects softened the harsh darkness into a cool, soft velvet.

It was a perfect September night...

He didn't care if he was only in his boxers, being out of the house, away from Max's wall, away from his idle hands and thoughts of 'The Letter' made being practically naked seem less important. Besides, he'd be back before anyone realized he was gone. Just a quick cruise around the forest...

He perched himself on the sill his wings raised and pushed outward. He felt a sharp tearing sensation in his right wing and hissed, turning his head in time to see a few of his feathers see-saw to the roof.

He shook his head and struck out, sailing over the Martinez house, car and yard and he swooped down into the forest. He felt stray raindrops falling from drying brown leaves strike his body, cold little taps on his skin and he zigzagged around trees, barely able to see them until he was practically rubbing his nose on the bark.

Okay, a rain drenched forest on a moonless night ... Great idea! He thought and angled himself upward toward the night sky ... only to bash the top of his head against a rather large tree limb.

He bit down hard on his tongue and everything went white for a moment then began fading into gray. He felt himself falling head over heels and he awkwardly opened his wings trying to flap his way out of the dive, hoping to slow his fall but he hit hard and his left wing crumpled like paper, bending completely backward until he could see his feathers by his ear-

He felt a vicious pop and pain exploded in the wing, knifing up and down its length and into his back.

That didn't feel good... And everything went dark.

Max woke with a start. Her whole body tingled unpleasantly, her mouth was dry and a name was on her lips.

She'd been having a wonderful memory/dream of a night nearly two and a half years ago in New York. The night she and Fang had flown with Pale Male. That had been a good night. She'd seen a familiar look in that falcon's eyes. A look she'd seen in Fang's on many occasions. Some of them when he was fighting Erasers, or Flyboys, others when he was alone thinking and believed no one could see him sitting in his bedroom window staring out over the treetops.

She'd been dreaming of that night and that look when suddenly something white had exploded in her mind. Not one of her Brain Explosions, but something like it. She had felt pain, a great deal of it only ... It was someone else's pain.

"Fang."

Her chest felt hollow as if part of her was being pulled away, through her wall and to the northeast. She crawled out of bed rubbing her arms not because she was cold, but because she was scared.

Something was wrong.

She walked across her room, decorated with maps whereon little colored dots were drawn, scratched out or circled. Little messages were scribbled beside each scratched out dot but one in particular in Germany had been scratched out multiple times in different colored ink and a little smiley face with wings drawn above it, its tongue out.

There were also pictures all over the walls. Pictures of Max, her younger sister Ella and their mother, pictures of The Flock enjoying cookies, playing baseball, having their first real birthday parties. Silly pictures of Fang, Gasman and Iggy having a food-fight while eating hotdogs, mustard and ketchup smeared on their faces and in their hair. And one Fang had taken of himself where he was grinning widely, his hair in his eyes.

And there was of course Max's favorite picture of Fang. He'd also taken this one of himself and he was reclining in his bedroom window. His eyes were distant, yet incredibly intense, hungry for something Max was sure was NOT chocolate chip cookies, no matter how heavenly.

She paused under this picture and tapped gingerly on the wall, "Fang?" She whispered and pressed her ear to the map she'd pinned up, "Fang, are you OK?"

He didn't answer and she couldn't hear the uncharacteristic soft snoring sounds he made when he slept in a safe place.

He wasn't in his room.

Max walked to the window and opened it, staring across the way to his. Hoping to see him perched on the edge of the roof as she had many nights before, but all she saw was four little black feathers.

Fang was gone.

3. Chapters 3 and 4

Chapter 3; Broken Dreams

"Dear Mr. Hutchinson ... My name is Nick-"

Fang pried his eyes open and tried not to think about how much pain he was in. All he wanted to think about was how he was going to get back to the house and get help.

He ground his teeth together and contemplated trying to sit up and examine his wing. Just to see if he was hurt as badly by his fall as he believed himself to be. He was about to risk the pain and sit up when something in his head popped like a raw egg squeezed in a tight fist and the sudden pain left him lying there choking on what was left of his last meal.

He lay there for a few minutes in the mud and early autumn leaves and shivered. He had to get up, he had to get home. He had to get help.

He was stupid for leaving in the middle of the night. So what if he had had to lie there listening to Max breathe on the other side of the wall? He'd done it for months now and only given into the temptation of his idle hands twice ... Maybe five times... No more than ten...

He could have restrained himself tonight, but no ... He had to go flying in the middle of the night in his underwear.

Why didn't I at least put on pants? This wouldn't be so bad if I were wearing pants... He thought weakly and sat his jaw forcing himself to his feet. He nearly screamed when the sensation of having a handful of broken glass ground into his wing knocked him back to his hands and knees in the wet dirt.

He was alone, alone, practically naked, covered in mud ... His head hurt, his tongue hurt and he was injured, possibly badly. He set his jaw and turned his head, intent on getting rid of the evil 'possibly'. Possibly was that terrible place all his fears lived...

It didn't look that bad until he noticed his wing was twisted, the soft downy feathers underneath turned out to the air. And there was something sticking out between the feathers ... Something that was wet and dripping with blood.

Then he knew that there was no 'possibly' left in his list of complaints. He was alone, practically naked, covered in mud, his head hurt, his tongue hurt and his wing was injured ... badly.

He broke out in a cold sweat and his vision blurred. A sudden permeating chill possessed him and his legs began to shake. He thought for a moment he was going to be sick again but he swallowed the bitter liquid filling his mouth and staggered forward.

Tired ... No, not tired, I have to get home ... I have to get help.

He wanted to sink into the warmth of the forest floor and go to sleep. Sleep would feel so good. He didn't feel pain when he slept, there was nothing, just sweet dreams. Flying with Pale Male in Central Park or watching Itex burn to the ground. Or he'd even dream of that powerful feeling he'd gotten when he'd picked up that Flyboy's gun in the airplane hangar and blown them all to kingdom come.

And on the odd occasion he would have a special dream, and he'd wake up and think of that sound and that look Max had given him in the clearing. Then, he'd lie awake trying to remember what that look had said her passion tasted like.

He wanted to lie down and dream of that ... He wanted to dream Max was there, giving him that look and making that sound just for him. He'd even be happy to dream of that stupid letter, as long as the pain stopped.

He took three steps forward and sank to his knees shaking. He was cold, he could only remember being this cold once, not to long ago and that memory made him want Max there even more...

He wished desperately that he weren't alone and he lay down on his right side trying to coax some kind of warmth into his body. I'll get warm, then I'll get help ... Get warm, then get help...

Sometime later, after he'd lain there long enough to grow deathly cold despite attempts to draw even the smallest amount of heat from the ground, he felt her soft, warm hands on his cheeks and looked up into her earthy brown, tear filled eyes. He smiled weakly at her and tried to lift his hand to smooth away the little wrinkle forming between her eyebrows. That wrinkle that meant she was distressed, but he couldn't lift his arms.

She was smacking his face and shaking him, calling his name, trying to rouse him but he was too far-gone and he faded away from Max's frightened cursing and into the warm embrace of dreams.

Chapter 4; Consequences

Antiseptic and blood...

He bolted straight out from where he lie on the little operating table, curled on his right side.

Drawing his knees up to kick, arching his back and throwing his arms out, he was as lethal with his eyes closed as he was with them open. Hands grabbed him, holding him firmly, pushing him down onto the table. He opened his mouth to scream and curse but someone clamped a hand over his lips, holding his head still.

Voices rose and fell as soon as he was back on the table and he felt something move in his left wing. Not ON his wing ... IN it... And he tried desperately to draw it back, to fold it as close to his body as possible.

They're cutting them off! Oh, God, they're cutting my wings off! He screamed in his head and started twisting again, fighting with all he had.

The voices rose again but he didn't pay attention to them, he knew where he was. He knew they were hurting him, even if he didn't feel any pain.

His stomach heaved and the hand covering his mouth jerked away. The other hands moved him, turning him slightly so his head hung limply over the edge of the operating table and the watered down bile that came up when he retched splattered to the tile floor.

"Is he dying? Oh, God, please don't let him die!"

"Just hold him still ... He didn't rip out the IV did he?" An older woman's voice.

"No ... Jeez, he pulled those straps right off the table!" A new female voice...

"Oh, God, I think he puked on me!" The first voice again.

"Just keep him still ... Max, try to talk to him, he MUST stay still!"

Max?

He pried his eyes open, nauseated by the brightness of the room and the way everything seesawed back and forth with its twin. Max's face swam into view above him that worried wrinkle still between her eyebrows. "Just squeeze my hand and don't think about it, OK? Can you hear me, Fang?"

He wanted to answer but all the strength drained out of him, leaving him weak and shaking.

"He's shivering, get a blanket..." Max's head turned and she looked at another person in the room.

The someone holding his legs released him and rushed into view. Ella tore open the metal cabinets lining the far wall and pulled out two sheets rushing forward her lip between her teeth.

The sheets didn't help, in fact he felt as if they made the shivering worse but he didn't say so, he just squeezed Max's hand and looked around, trying not to feel the slight tugging sensations from his wing.

The room was familiar he remembered it now. The last time he'd been in it his and Max's roles were reversed.

He was lying on that little operating table ... That's why they were holding his legs, otherwise he'd be hanging off of the stupid thing like Max had...

He felt a particularly firm tug and the voice he now recognized as Dr. Martinez spoke again. "How are we doing, are you OK, Nick?"

He grunted in response, a rather pitiful sound considering the relief he felt at knowing he was not at the hands of white-coats.

"You're going to be fine but I need you to take a deep breath for me because this might feel weird."

He grunted again and that same scary, there-is-something-under-my-skin feeling returned in his wing.

"Okay, deep breath."

He inhaled slowly and saw Max's face go pale, her eyes widening.

"Okay, its out ... Don't move, I just need to clean this up, you're going to be fine."

The calm confidence in her voice was a comfort and he relaxed the pressure he was applying on Max's hand.

"Jeez, that's a lot of blood..." Nudge whispered and Max gave her a scathing look.

He drifted for a few minutes his eyes half-open, whole body shivering.

"Nick, I need you to move your wing a little, would you do that for me?"

He shook his head.

"You can't move it?" Panic made it into Dr. Martinez's voice.

He rolled his eyes and gave Max's hand a squeeze.

"I think he's too scared or too tired right now..."

He was scared, but he tried anyway, just so no one else would know. It felt like he was trying to lift a car with it! And for some reason it kept trying to fall backward on the joint...

"That's wonderful ... Now just relax for a minute and let it rest."

Relief flooded Max's face and the little wrinkle between her eyebrows faded away.

"I'm going to give you a tetanus shot, it might burn a little at first but it'll fade."

He didn't feel it at all, what he did feel was Max's hand in his and the quick kiss she pressed to his knuckles.

The ride home was even less pleasant than he expected it to be. The pain medication he'd been given was wearing off thanks to his extremely fast metabolism and every turn or bump in the road felt like someone was stabbing him in the wing with a red-hot poker.

He just wanted to go home, to climb into bed, lick his wounds and sleep, to forget this had happened... To forget that not only had Max and her mother seen him in his underwear, but so had Nudge and Ella.

The whole wing operation, which he'd been too anxious to ask about as of yet had been followed by a brief painful probing of the knot on his head. Thankfully he hadn't suffered a severe concussion or, as Ella put it, he would be 'in deep puppy-doo'.

He'd made Max, Ella and Nudge leave the room during the last examination. He'd felt quite absurd sitting there with his tongue poked out while Dr. Martinez assured him that he had not bitten it off although she could see his teeth marks.

Iggy and Gasman were sitting at the kitchen table when they returned, both of them wearing near identical worried expressions.

"Is he OK?" Iggy said when the door opened. His blind eyes searching.

"He'll be fine, but he needs rest," Max whispered as she helped him inside

"And some water would be nice," He shuffled to the sink the sheet he'd taken from the clinic wrapped tightly around his shoulders so no one else would see he was only wearing boxers.

His hands were shaking as he took down a glass and filled it.

Max watched the way his arms trembled as he drank and before he could sit down at the table she took him by the elbow and steered him toward the steps. "You need rest," And we need to talk. But she didn't add that last bit

His head was pounding by the time they reached the top of the stairs and little silver specks were floating in the corners of his eyes.

"Do you need to go to the bathroom?" She whispered. He shook his head and she breathed a sigh of relief.

Max lead him into his room and gently pulled the sheet from his shoulders.

He crossed his arms over his chest for a moment wondering why it suddenly bothered him that he was standing there in nothing but his underpants in front of Max. She'd seen him practically naked on many occasions, why was this one any different?

"Sit," She straightened the blankets and stepped out of the way.

He sat, wondering why he was suddenly taking orders from her. He didn't protest when Max briefly left the room and returned with a wet cloth.

She didn't speak so neither did he. He just sat there and let her wipe the dry and cracking mud from his back, stomach arms and legs.

"Don't get used to this, Little-piggy," She scolded when his eyes began to droop. "You owe me big time."

He let her know how much he appreciated her tenderness by showing her one of his fingers.

"That's the Fang I know ... Lie down on your stomach ... Like now, before you get a chill."

He mumbled incoherently and sprawled himself on his face. He cleared his throat and eyed her as she pulled the blankets to his waist and sat on the edge of the bed.

She was quiet for a ten-count then she balled her hands into fists. "I should kick your ass, Fang ... Do you know how scary that was?"

He grunted and closed his eyes, not really caring that he was about to be given a 'Max Lecture'. He'd heard it all before.

"I thought you were dead when I found you! You were just lying there and your wing was all twisted..." She paused and took a deep breath before she continued.

"Why were you out flying in your underwear in the middle of the night?"

He grunted, "Was hot..."

She sighed. "You should have told someone before you left ... What if I hadn't woken up when I did and noticed you were gone? You would have lain there all night and died of exposure."

He licked his lips and turned his head so he could see her. "How bad was it?"

"You tore a few muscles and stretched some ligaments..."

"What did she mean by 'it's out'?"

"You had a stick coming out of your wing! I thought you'd been impaled! Like the world's biggest kabob or something!"

He couldn't help but smile.

"How's your head?"

"Hurts."

"Good."

He smiled again and cleared his throat, wondering why it was suddenly tight, "Wasn't broken?"

She shook her head, "No, just bent backward."

"I didn't know that could happen." He whispered and nestled his aching head into the pillow.

Then she spoke...

"I didn't know you had abilities."

4. Chapters 5

Chapter 5; Walls

He stared at her for a minute before he spoke. "What are you talking about, I don't have any abilities. I wish I did."

"Then how did I know you were hurt? I was fast asleep and you were in the woods ... I woke up and I knew you were hurt. I could feel it."

"That sounds like YOU have a new ability, not me. You can spy on me in your sleep."

She shook her head.

"If I could communicate with you like that why couldn't I tell you what was going on when I woke up back there? Why couldn't I tell you I was so freaking scared that I'd open my eyes and you guys would be whitecoats trying to cut my wings off!" His voice had lowered to a mere whisper.

Max blinked. He was right. If he'd been the one controlling the ability she would have been able to feel that fear, she could see that now. But ... If SHE had been the one doing it, why hadn't she been able to calm him down?

"It wasn't me ... So, what was it?"

"Beats me..." He yawned. "I'm really tired, Max ... You can stay if you want, but I need sleep, you said so yourself."

She nodded and placed a hand between his wings, stroking the soft, dark feathers and trying not to move the bandage her mother had spent nearly ten minutes affixing to his wing and shoulder.

He was staring up at her slightly confused but not protesting. "You're going to stay?"

"Do you want me to leave?"

"No." He breathed, before he even knew what he was doing.

She blinked twice and stood, pulling over his desk chair to sit in and propping her feet on the edge of his bed. "I thought you said you were tired."

He closed his eyes but cracked them open to slits so he could watch her as he fell asleep.

Having an injured wing had its advantages he realized the next day. Though he could barely remember WHY his wing was injured. In fact, he was having trouble remembering anything that had happened the night before. He blamed that on the concussion. But the advantages were still there. Max was behaving civilly, nobody said anything when he showed up to Saturday lunch shirtless and Angel even let him win at checkers, although, when playing against Angel, winning was impossible unless she let you.

But, one of the problems that he found even more annoying than the pain and not being able to fly was that Dr. Martinez and Max were constantly hovering over him, so that meant he couldn't go to the post office.

He hadn't let anyone know about the post office. Which was hard to do because he had been going every day for the past three weeks and keeping a secret that involved you flying into town every day after school was harder than it sounds. Especially when you lived with a talking dog, and five other winged people, one of which was a mind reader.

At two-forty five that afternoon he was becoming irritated, pacing around his room cursing himself for not staying inside the night before and cursing his cautious nature for not having all his mail sent directly to the Martinez house but instead sent C/O the postmaster.

But, if he'd had his mail sent to the house everyone would have known ... And what would he do then if the reply was bad? So, at three his irritation and anxiety became too much and he pulled his injured wing in as far as he could and put on his oversized hooded sweatshirt.

"Hey, Iggy! You want to go for a walk?"

Iggy, who'd been acting strangely since the previous Monday, stranger than normal for a blind-mutant-bird-kid. Jumped at the chance to be alone and speak with the only other male in the house who understood what it was like to be a teenager. "Where are we going?" He fell into step beside Fang his hands hanging loosely at his sides.

"Town."

"Why?" They reached the edge of the yard and cut through the forest that separated the house from the city.

"Because I'm bored."

Iggy nodded. Just thinking about not being able to fly made him feel bored. He felt the urge to speak and beg Fang for help with his secret problem...

If being a teenaged boy wasn't bad enough, Iggy had to live under Max Rule, Which meant no flirting with girls, and no salivating over mental pictures of Beach-Bunnies, Gasman had described to him years before in Hollywood...

He smiled remembering that the then eight-year-old Gazzy hadn't understood why the other two boys had been so interested in the scantily clad bronze 'Beach-Bunnies'. Then he realized nearly twenty minutes of walking had elapsed and neither of them had spoken.

"Man, this is a long walk! Why didn't you ask Max's mom to drive you?"

"What? You don't like being around me anymore?" They stumbled out of the forest and into a vacant lot, circling a small concrete storage shed and passing through a chain-link gate.

Iggy rolled his eyes, "That's not what I meant and you know it."

They were quiet for a while, the near silent sound of Fang's easy footsteps on the pavement and the sound of his breath the only reminder that there was indeed someone else walking beside Iggy.

"Fang?"

"Huh?"

"Can I ask you a question?"

"You just did."

"Shut-up ... You- You and Max have like, kissed ... Right?"

Fang smiled to himself. Whenever Max and the girls weren't around Iggy was a normal teenaged boy. He guessed the 'sexist-pig' in them was calm enough to come out when Max wasn't around to scare it off...

"Once or twice..."

"Well ... How do you do it?"

Fang laughed out loud. "Who are you planning on kissing? It's not me is it, 'cause Ig, you're not my type!"

Iggy shot him double birds and made a face. "Do you swear never to tell?"

"No ... Who is it?"

He took a deep breath and spilled his guts...

Fang's feet made an awkward stumbling sound against the sidewalk. "Jesus, Iggy! You just stood there!"

He nodded.

"Why the hell didn't you kiss her then? Why did you just STAND there? She probably thinks you don't like her now!" They passed through a parking lot and another chain link gate. "Jeez, you're DUMB."

"I didn't know what to do! I mean I'm standing there butt naked and she's standing there ... What was I supposed to do!"

"KISS HER!"

"Why didn't you tell me that before, huh? Like when I could have actually DONE something other than just stand there like a statue while she's got her hands on me!"

"She had her hands on you?" Fang turned and walked backward gaping at Iggy.

"Well ... On my chest..."

"At least tell me you SAID something."

"I told her she smelled good."

Fang shook his head, "As opposed to smelling bad?"

"I ... I didn't think of that."

"Listen, try kissing her if you ever get a chance to, you know, be alone with her again- You have ZERO chance of that happening if Max is around though-"

"That's why I was hoping you could like ... Take Max out or something, give us some time alone."

"Right ... The day I take Max on a date is the day I get abilities."

"Do you not like her or something?"

Fang sighed and fell back into step beside Iggy. "Listen ... Max is different, she's not like other girls. Yeah, you can take her on a date like that guy did in Virginia, but ... I don't know. Max is different. You can't push her into being a girl, she's a girl when she wants to be and only then."

Iggy nodded, "That made no sense."

"Shut-up ... Anyway, if Max finds out she'll kick your ass into next year."

"So, will you help me? Will you like ... I don't know, distract her?"

"Oh, yeah, I'll create the diversion while you do your thing," He could picture Iggy sneaking off behind the bushes grinning like the devil. Like a horny monkey he'd seen on a nature special sneaking off with a girl monkey. "She'll kick both of our butts into next year if she finds out that I know ... And, incase you forgot, I got my butt kicked by a TREE last night, Ig. A TREE! I've had my fill of beatings for one week."

Iggy grinned, "Did you really go flying naked last night?"

"Who told you I was naked?"

"Angel ... She said Nudge was thinking it."

He rubbed his forehead and turned the street corner toward the post office a hand on Iggy's arm to guide him. "I wasn't naked."

"Where are we?" Iggy said as they started up the walk.

"Post office..."

"Why are we at the post office? Our mailbox is just at the end of the driveway!"

Fang shrugged, "I told you I was bored ... That and they got new stamps."

Iggy giggled, "You collect stamps?"

"You can come in or you can wait, your choice."

"I'll wait..."

Relief washed over him. "Your loss!"

The postmaster, a short balding man in his late fifties, was standing on a ladder affixing a new dangling advertisement for Federal Express to the ceiling when Fang walked in.

"Hi ... Uh, did a letter come for Nick Ride?"

The postmaster shook his head. "Sorry, kid ... No letter today ... Are you sure you had the right address?"

His heart sank and he shut the door, leaning gingerly against it praying it eased the ache of his wing. "Yeah..."

The postmaster climbed off the ladder and shook his head. "It's been three weeks, Nick ... Maybe he moved..."

He sighed and rubbed his neck. He felt tears in his eyes and for some reason he was unable to hold them back.

"Listen, I know its rough ... But give it one more day. I'll keep an eye out for anything with your name on it ... If you don't mind me asking ... Who should be sending the reply?

Fang wiped his eyes on his sleeve and snuffed back the tears. "Bernard Hutchinson."

5. Chapters 6 and 7

Chapter 6; The Diversion

"Okay, try moving it slowly."

Fang was seated backward in a kitchen chair while Dr. Martinez inspected his wing. It had been five days since his 'accident' and thanks to what the good doctor called 'weirdly-rapid healing abilities' not only could he move his wing he felt as if he could fly into town to the post office. Which he hadn't seen since he and Iggy had walked there three days earlier.

He'd tried flying around the yard a couple of times two days before but had woken up after his post-lunch nap and found his whole left wing stiff and throbbing from the strain.

"It was a muscle injury, Max says they always take longer to heal than bone," Nudge said grinning at him from over her Algebra book.

But those three days of sitting around dwelling on the fact that the letter he'd been waiting practically a month for could possibly be waiting for him in town, had made him reckless and a bit obsessed. As soon as Dr. Martinez finished examining him he yanked his shirt and jacket on.

Max was sitting on the steps with Ella taking a rather silly quiz in a Teen Magazine Ella's friend Lynn-Dee had given them, and laughing when Fang dashed out of the door and leapt into flight right over their heads. The wake he created snatched the magazine right from her hands and she watched him fly stiffly across the yard and disappear into the forest.

"If he slams into another tree I am not going to save him ... It's his own fault if he gets hurt this time," Max said.

Ella rolled her eyes a reclined on the steps, "Go after him, you know you want to."

She didn't need to be told twice.

She spotted Jeb's car pulling onto the driveway as she zoomed across the yard and he beeped the horn twice to say 'hi'.

She didn't wave because part of her was still mad at him over the hell he'd put her through, but she was starting to forgive him so she didn't flip him the bird.

The town was just as she remembered it, she flew over the vacant lot where she'd saved Ella from the goons all that time ago, she flew over the super market and circled the school she and the flock now attended with Ella. She saw a few older teenaged boys playing basketball on the court behind the gym and contemplated buzzing them to see if any of them remembered her but shook the thought from her head.

She circled the flower shop, still looking, wondering where Fang could have gone when she saw something small and black dart out of the post office and rush across the street to the park.

She knew it was Fang immediately just by how quickly he moved so she landed on the deserted side of the post office and ran across the street toward him grinning.

He was standing there beside the jungle gym, practically leaning on it, a piece of paper held up to his face nearly touching his nose. If he heard her approaching he made no indication of it. His brow was wrinkled and his lips pursed in that, fighting-a-scream kind of way she'd seen before.

He was shaking like a dry leaf his fingers slowly curling on the paper as if he were going to rip it in half. When she got ten feet from him his head snapped up and he stared at her. And what she saw in his eyes scared her more than the thoughts of him sprawled on the ground all dead looking like he had been a few nights before.

He was crying...

Chapter 7; Realization in Black and Bruise

She couldn't stop staring at him. She'd never seen him cry. Not since he was very very little at the School. He'd always been The Emotionless Fang and now he stood there before her his face contorted in anguish tears rolling down his cheeks his lower lip trembling.

"Fang?"

And he ran. He turned and ran into the forest bordering the park snapping open his wings and sailing off into the shadows where he disappeared like a fog.

She started to follow him, sprinting across the playground but she fell short of the trees.

She hated it when she cried and every time it happened she wanted to be alone so no one saw her. This urge to be alone to vent feelings was one she'd been accustomed to and had never thought odd. She was the leader, leaders had to be strong at all times, no weaknesses.

But, she had always believed, deep down, that Fang was the only one who never let his emotions weaken him because he had been the only one she'd never seen cry ... Until now.

And it broke something in her. Fang could feel. He got scared and hurt just like anyone else ... And something on that paper had hurt him terribly. Worse than flying into the tree had, worse than Ari had...

Fang was hurt and she didn't know how to help him. She had no plan...

So she left him alone and she went home.

6. Chapters 8 and 9

Chapter 8; The One Called Dad

It had been quick and painless. It had to have been or else Max wouldn't have let it slip through her defenses so easily.

They had been alone in the room, everyone else had gone to bed. Fang, who had walked through the door at close to ten that evening and gone straight to his room without looking at anyone or even getting something to eat, included.

But this lack of a crowd hadn't been what caused the drop in her shields, it was that her mind was still preoccupied with Fang, and that was the only reason those two little words slipped between her lips.

"G'night, Dad."

She stopped on the stairs and her heart had leapt into her throat. Had she just called Jeb dad?

He seemed to have been as shocked as she was. He had tears in his eyes even, and she was tempted to tell him to grow a backbone but then she saw something else. Relief and something like ... Love?

She had stared at him for a long moment, tense, waiting for him to say something but when he did it wasn't at all what she expected.

"Good night, Max."

She nodded and ran up the steps wishing she could fly away and never have to think about it again. She'd called him dad. She'd let her guard down and called Jeb "dad".

Yes, he'd explained it all to her, yes, it made a sad sick bit of sense, yes, Angel said it was OK to trust him. No, she didn't trust him as far as she could throw him!

She supposed her mind had been so distracted by thoughts of Fang on the playground earlier that day, his face wet with tears, that she hadn't been thinking about how angry she was with Jeb, or how much she hated him. She was worried about Fang and that was it. Jeb didn't matter.

WHY DID I CALL JEB DAD!

She shut herself in the bathroom and turned the sink faucet wide open, hoping the sounds would drown out her panicked panting. She fanned her face and tried not to let the tears that were burning in her eyes fall.

She'd spent years wishing she could call Jeb her father, and now that he was and she could, it brought her to tears to do so.

All she could think of was Ari. Of how she wished Jeb had reconciled with him before the boy expired.

Expire ... She scoffed and wiped at her eyes. Expire was such a general term. Milk expired, food expired, checks and drivers licenses expired. People died. Poor little boys who were turned over to mad scientists for genetic alterations DIED. Little bird-kids DIED.

She plopped herself down in the floor her wings against the wall and sobbed as quietly as possible. She'd been crying a lot lately. Crying for Ari, crying for the time she'd known Dr. Martinez and not known that the woman was her mother.

And she cried for her Flock. The ones who didn't know where or even who their parents were.

She heard Jeb leave. Heard him walk out the door, climb into his car and leave ... But did she care?

Kind of ... Having him there reminded her of the good times, of the time she Jeb and the Flock had spent in the mountains. But those memories brought her back to Itex ... back to The School.

She was glad Itex was gone. She was glad that no more children would be turned into freaks like her, like them. She was glad The Director was locked away in a dungeon with her precious Omega. She was glad there were no more Flyboys or Erasers. She was glad there was no more reason to fly away. No more reason to fight ... No more reason for her to be here.

She'd saved the world ... Now what?

Sit around and wait to 'expire'? Watch her friends die one by one when their dates showed up on their necks? Watch Fang crying and clutching a piece of paper as if it were gold or poison?

She stood, slapping at her cheeks furiously. She turned off the water and bent over the sink staring at her reflection through her hair.

The world is safe ... Who needs Maximum Ride?

She bared her teeth at her reflection half-expecting Eraser Max to make an appearance but her reflection stayed the same, she pulled open the door and stormed face first into Fang's bare chest.

He made a surprised little sound in his throat and grabbed her by the shoulders. He held her away from him his eyes closed lips pursed.

For a moment Max believed he was still crying like he had been earlier the way his lower lip was trembling but then he let out a long pent up breath and turned his eyes to her, two slightly bloodshot, sea hued eyes.

She melted. She'd never melted just by looking in his eyes ... Well, she hadn't lately. They hadn't officially 'made up' since he'd left with Gazzy and Iggy before The Fall of Itex.

"Are you OK?" She whispered just loudly enough for him to hear her.

He rolled his eyes, "Heard running water."

"What? And you thought you'd storm into the bathroom and catch me in the shower?"

He shook his head and his hair fell into his face. "No," He moved her slightly to the side and stepped into the bathroom shutting the door behind him.

She heard him mumble something that sounded like lottery numbers and Max shook her head. She went to her room and changed quickly from her jeans and T-shirt into a soft pair of plaid lounge pants and a sleeveless shirt she'd modified to accommodate unfolded wings.

She crawled under the blankets and lie there on her stomach her wings out, feeling the cool late summer night breeze blowing in through her open window. She dozed for a moment, nothing more than twenty minutes then lie there listening, every muscle tense.

She could hear someone on the porch roof.

She climbed slowly and quietly out of bed and tiptoed to the glass staring out at the dark silhouette perched on the edge of the roof.

Her mouth opened to speak but then she saw him bend forward, a hand over his face. He had that same wrinkled piece of paper in his other hand that he'd had earlier and she closed her mouth tightly wanting to take it from him and shred it so he'd stop crying.

His shoulders shook silently and the dark wings drooped the left moving stiffly. He unfolded the paper slowly, tenderly and held it close to his face examining what looked to Max like a long handwritten letter.

From the Red Haired Wonder no doubt...She sighed. That's why he's crying, he misses her.

He whipped around his eyes boring into hers and for a moment something was different. His eyes reflected some light and red danced where dark blue had always lived. Then it was gone, the flash hidden by his hair.

Max gasped in surprise then she saw the fresh tear lines on his face and her hand dropped to her throat.

"Fang?"

He scowled at her his lips pressed together so tightly they seemed to disappear. He didn't speak, but to Max he seemed to be radiating a thick, enraged aura.

"Fang, are you OK?"

A shiver ran through him and he sucked in a sudden hissing breath, as if he had just woken from a rather bad nightmare. "I'm fine, go away," His voice was horse.

She didn't have to have Angel read his mind to tell that he was lying. Seeing him in the park had told her all she need to know. He was hurting and he was NOT OK.

She carefully climbed through the window and walked to him her wings out to catch her should she fall. She sat gingerly beside him and laid a hand on his bare arm. "What's with the paper?"

He seemed at first to want to hide it from her or rip into shreds, but then he sighed and handed it to her his head bowed.

The fact that he would trust her enough to see something that caused him to cry sent a tingle of fear running up her spine. She took the paper hesitantly and unfolded it. It was a letter after all, but it wasn't from The Red Haired Wonder. It was a letter from a man named Bernard Hutchinson.

She didn't read anything more than the name on the envelope, "'Bernard Hutchinson...'

"Fang ... Who is Bernard Hutchinson?" She turned to him, searching his half-shadowed face.

He remained emotionless for all of ten seconds then he took a shuddering breath and his lower lip trembled.

"He's my dad."

Chapter 9; Enigma

She felt like she'd been punched in the stomach. Fang had found his father? Why wasn't he happy? Why did he look like, to say the least, hell?

He turned from her rubbing his face with his fist, "Go on and read it, I don't care."

She didn't hesitate.

"Dear Nicholas..." She gave him a sideways glance, "Nicholas?"

He rolled his eyes and motioned to the paper.

"The first thing I want to say is how proud I am of you. You've grown into such a strong young man. I can't believe you found us, you have your grandmother's detecting skills no doubt.

"Since this is hopefully not going to be my last letter I want to start off by asking a few questions. How are you doing? Do you sleep well? What do you do when you aren't running around? Think about that.

"Do you have any hobbies or play any sports?

"Well, I suppose you don't have time to play sports, do you...

"Maybe I should leave those kinds of questions until later. I suppose I should tell you about your family now, since you've searched so long and hard to find us.

"This may come as a shock to you, but, you have brothers ... I was able to smuggle them out when I found them. You see, they're just like you ... Wings and all..." Max stopped reading and stared at him her mouth open.

"You have brothers! Fang, you have brothers and they're like us!"

He didn't seem so happy so she turned back to the letter her mind still reeling. Fang with two brothers ... Two more kids who had been turned into freaks like them.

Her stomach twisted and she realized why he wasn't so happy about it.

"All three of you were taken from us. Kitty and I spent every waking second trying to find you. But by the time we did you had been transferred to a different instillation and I was only able to find David and Aaron.

"I did try to rescue you but all I had was your numbers I didn't have your name and all your other information was gone. Turned into some kind of computer gibberish I don't understand.

"Your younger brother, David, he's turning fifteen in September, got your email. He knew instantly what he had to do.

"Aaron, nineteen, and a large group of his friends stormed the Itex building in Mississippi and I could do little to stop him. I couldn't be more proud of you boys and your friends.

"I would have liked to see you though.

"David and Aaron have been reading your ... 'Blog' is it? And they say they would love to kick butt with you one day. Personally, I hope there are no more butts to kick, I hope from now on you don't have to worry about being chased.

"But, since we can't be sure we're trying to keep this all a secret. You'll all be safer if we keep our secrets under our hats. That's why I've sent this letter in such a way. I'd hate to see you get hurt, or to see one of your friends get hurt.

"We're leaving Washington in the morning and should be arriving in Montana on Saturday morning. You know when to find us.

"I do love you, Nick. Very much, despite the fact I've only just met you. If your mother were still alive I know she would be so very proud of you. I'm sorry for everything that has happened to you and I hoped that I could make peace with you, but my time is up.

"I love you very much.

"Keep your friends close ... Bernard Hutchinson."

Max's voice died in her throat and she turned to Fang her brow scrunched, "Why are you so upset? He actually seems nice, not like he's going to try to turn you into a circus freak! AND YOU HAVE BROTEHRS! With an 'S' PLURAL!"

He shook his head and turned his eyes to the starlit sky.

"Fang, please tell me what's wrong ... I can get Angel out here to read your mind if I have to, you know I can."

He sighed and dropped his shoulders. "I can't."

"You can't what?"

He turned to her with a sigh, "I can't figure it out."

"Figure what out?"

He growled and took the letter from her pointing to various deviations in the man's curving script. To Max it had only looked as if Fang's father had bad handwriting. But as he pointed to each one she realized that it was not just poor penmanship, it was intentional ... It was a code.

7. Chapters 10

Chapter 10 ; Sherlock Holmes "Rides" Again

"Nicholas ... I told him my name was Nick, not Nicholas. That's the first clue ... Then grandmother's detecting skills. That's the second, that is what really tipped me off. He doesn't mention my grandmother again.

"'How are you doing? Do you sleep well? What do you do when you aren't running around? Think about that.' So I thought about it, 'run around' we don't 'run around' we fly," He pointed to a rather sloppily written word, "Time," His finger moved down the page, "To find us ... That's easy, 'time to find us'."

Max nodded and watched in awe as the simple letter became something powerful, something ... Covert.

"Then he wrote 'three' weird, so I picked that up, as well as 'find David and Aaron' then later 'numbers'. Well that didn't make sense, and THAT'S when I realized he didn't mean the word 'numbers' he means NUMBERS.

"Three, fifteen, nineteen. Then he wrote 'little' and 'stop' which led me to believe that maybe this is a system of numbers like a date. Then there is 'ones' take the 's' off ... 'One'.

"He mentions the email I sent, and my Blog, so I'm guessing there are hints there too. He said something about Aaron and a group of his friends storming the Itex building in Mississippi, then he changed the subject completely ... 'I would have liked to see you though'?

"That made me believe something was wrong. Something wasn't right when he was writing it. He didn't say he would have liked to see Aaron, he said 'you' as in ME.

"Then there is this," Fang pointed to the next lines. The way the angle of the pen had changed in his father's hand on a few words.

"David and Aaron ... are ... being chased."

Max felt her stomach tighten, and Fang's finger slipped lower on the page. He inhaled sharply and she heard him biting back tears as he whispered the last few words into her ear. " 'My time is up ... I love you very much ... Keep your friends close.' "

"And your enemies closer..." Max turned to him and for half a second, such a short amount of time she wasn't sure she really saw it, that mysterious red light reflected in his eyes again.

"He said goodbye, Max. He wasn't alone when he wrote this letter. There was someone in that room with him and it wasn't one of my brothers. I ... I think he's-" He couldn't bring himself to say it.

She bit her lip and nodded. She knew what he was thinking, part of her was thinking it too.

Fang had finally found his father only to have someone steal him away.

They were silent for a long time and Max watched his hands tighten on the piece of paper, tempted to rip it to confetti in his anguished fury. But then he carefully flattened it, his fingers lingering over the slightly smudged words as if it would somehow make everything better.

She spoke quietly barely above a whisper. "When did you get the letter, Fang?"

He let out a strangled sigh, "This morning. That's why I flew off, I was trying to figure it out. I got the 'Nicholas' and detective parts but it took me all day to figure out the rest of it ... I've read that stupid thing about a million times and it hurts even more each time.

"I know he was telling me I need to find David and Aaron, that they're on their own and are being chased, but what I don't understand is the numbers ... three, fifteen, nineteen, one."

Max blinked. She'd never heard Fang talk for so long. It was amazing and scary at the same time. "Are there any other numbers in the letter?" She scanned the writing and pointed to the word September, "That's significant, September is this month. Why didn't he just say 'this month'?

"Three and fifteen come before September so let's add them together. Now, you have eighteen instead of three and fifteen," She continued down the letter and pointed to an extra 'one' in the last few paragraphs.

"Eighteen, September, nineteen, one, one!"

Fang's eyes went wide and he shook his head. "Three-fifteen is a time ... September nineteenth! Or September twenty-first if you add the two ones. He mentioned Saturday morning ... Which date is on a Saturday?"

Max's mind went blank for a moment and she made a hollow, 'uh' sound in her throat before she was able to jumpstart her brain. "Saturday the fifteenth, not the nineteenth..."

He went pale, "Max ... What's today's date?"

She grabbed his wrist and checked the glowing green dial of his new watch, "Thirteenth ... We'd have to leave tomorrow."

He shivered, his fingers were inches from her throat. He could almost feel her pulse.

"Fang, why are your hands so hot?"

His tongue felt numb and he gave his head a little shake. "Huh?"

She cupped a hand to his face, "You're hot!"

He looked down at his bare chest and feet then drew his hand away from her and wiped his palms on the legs of his jeans. "I know you think I'm hot, Max," He grinned and wiped at his face again.

She shook her head, "No ... I mean your temperature ... You're temperature is up!" She was blushing.

He put his hands over his face, "Is it?"

"Why are you so warm when it's only sixty-five degrees out here?"

He shrugged and climbed to his feet. He didn't feel any different, maybe she was just trying to take his mind off things. "We have two days to get to Montana ... Or Washington ... Or Mississippi, he mentioned all three and I don't know if he was telling the truth or sending whoever was with him on a wild goose chase."

Max nodded, "Where was the letter sent from?"

He glanced at the postmark on the envelope, "Washington."

"Then that marks Washington off the list ... He mentioned the Itex building in Mississippi that was too specific," She took the letter from him and scanned it again.

"Fang, you were never transferred ... Were you?"

He hesitated, his lip between his teeth. "No."

8. Chapters 11 and 12

Chapter 11; Why Dogs Sniff Other Dogs' Butts

He'd lain on his bed his face in the pillow for close to two hours knowing that Max was lying in her bed just on the other side of the wall sleepless as well. He'd been tempted to go to her for comfort. To search for that look, that look of compassion he'd seen in the hospital shortly after Ari had nearly disemboweled him.

Ari ... God ... He was still mad at her over Ari. Why did she have to pick HIM over me? He sighed. Because he was dying and she was probably the first person in his whole life to actually be nice to him. Even though he'd tried to kill her before, tried to kill ME. ALMOST KILLED ME! He growled and flopped over onto his back staring up at the ceiling with distaste. His hand traced the scars on his stomach again and he bit into his lip.

She was supposed to pick me ... She was supposed to love m-

He sat up and stared about quite startled.

Love? LOVE! I'm jealous of HIM! I was jealous of ARI!

He physically smacked his palm against his forehead, the blow making a sharp, skin on skin sound.

Why am I jealous of Ari? He's dead ... He expired. Fang groaned loudly and lay back on the bed pulling the blankets over his head. If she had picked me Ari would have gone off and died somewhere cold in the middle of nowhere thinking everyone hated him and that he was useless, just a freak with no one to call a friend. God ... I would have done the same thing in his position, I'd have gone off and thrown myself in front of a car!

He scoffed. He was her brother ... Her blood brother ... What am I? I'm Fang ... Just Fang.

I'm crazy ... Why am I talking to myself? Maybe I should ask Jeb for a voice in my head like Max ... Then maybe I'll get some answers.

GOD IT IS HOT! He threw back the blankets and stretched his legs out. WHY IS IT SO HOT! He climbed out of bed and shoved his pants to his ankles standing before the window in naught but his boxers for a few minutes relishing in the cool night breeze.

He pressed his left hand to the window facing and his right to his face, drawing his fingers back dripping with sweat. What's the matter with me?

He kicked the pants from his feet and crept across the room to his door, steeling down stairs for a drink and praying that no one was down there to see him in his underwear.

After the tree incident the last thing he needed was to be caught wondering the house in his 'man-panties' as Ella had called them.

There was no one in the kitchen thankfully and he was able to fill a glass with ice water and sit at the table for a few minutes rolling the cool frosted surface over his forehead. Then he heard the little clacks of Total's feet on the hardwood steps.

Total jumped when he saw Fang sitting there and smiled. "I didn't expect to see anyone down here, I was afraid I'd have to jump on the counter again!"

Fang closed his eyes and continued to rub the glass back and forth on his brow. "So, I'm not the only one who's burning up?"

"Well, Kid, I've got a fur coat, you've only got on boxer shorts. Who do you want to bet is hotter?"

Fang stood and filled a short round glass for Total and sat it on the table. "I propose a toast."

"To what, pray tell?" Total rested his furry head on the table beside the glass and seemed to grin.

Fang hesitated then raised his glass, "To dead parents."

Had Total had eyebrows he would have raised one. "What do you mean?"

Fang told him about the letter and why he believed Bernard Hutchinson was dead then took a big drink of the now room temperature water in his glass and cocked his chin on his hand.

Total remained quiet for a moment then shook his head, "At least he said he loved you ... All my parents would be able to say is 'Arf arf'!"

Fang couldn't help but smile. "I guess ... But I don't know what to do about David and Aaron. Max suggested we should fly out to Montana and look for them, but I don't even know what they look like!"

Total nodded again, "Well ... I've noticed something about you guys."

"What?"

"You smell."

"What?" He was tempted to sniff himself to see if he should take a shower or something but Total chuckled.

"You smell different than regular people, I think it's the avian part of you. I can tell who is where just by the smell."

"You can smell avian DNA?"

"Its complicated ... I can smell you and I know what you've been doing, who you've been in contact with and what you did with that person.

"Angel and Gasman smell similar because they're related ... Max, Ella and Doctor Martinez smell similar because they're related. That's how I know I'm not related to that DOG outside, thank GOD..."

"Oh, so I'm going to take you to every person in Montana and say 'excuse me, can he smell you?' "

Total shook his head. "They're coming from Washington, right?"

"I guess so."

"Then they should be on the road. They wouldn't be flying if they're being chased, flying is way to obvious, they'd try to blend in."

"Okay ... So how are we going to find them on the road? Let you sniff the car tires?"

Total rolled his eyes, "I'm sure there'll be something to tip you and only you off."

Fang sighed and thumped his head against the table three times in despair. "I hate riddles."

Total lapped up the last of his water the ice in his glass tinkling, "Really? I kind of like them."

Chapter 12; Father Figure

Max woke up early, but seeing as how she went to bed at four a.m. and got back up at seven 'early' was a relative term. Doctor Martinez was downstairs cooking breakfast when Max stumbled down the steps scratching her right wing sleepily.

"Morning, Max ... Did you sleep well?"

She shook her head, "No ... I have to leave for a few days, something's come up and we have to go sort it out ... You don't mind having a few more of us around do you?"

"Well, that is definitely a new way to say 'good morning'. Would you mind telling me what's going on?" She put a plate heaped with fresh pancakes before Max and turned back to the stove to fry more.

"Fang got a letter from his dad."

The spatula hit the floor.

Max looked up and mumbled 'what' around a mouthful of pancakes.

"He found his dad? That's wonderful!"

Max sighed and swallowed, "Its really complicated. You see-"

A hand appeared right next to her face, a hand clutching a slightly wrinkled letter.

"You should read it," Fang put a hand on the back of Max's chair.

How is he so quiet? It's like he's nothing but a shadow sometimes! Max scowled up at Fang then turned to her mother. Her eyebrows drew down as she skimmed down the page. Her long, fingers curled slightly and her big brown eyes, so much like Max's turned to the dark haired young man before her. "I see.

"You've been going into town every day for the past month hoping that this would be there?"

"Yeah ... Only I thought it would be different somehow ... I don't know," He sat in the chair next to Max and hung his head. He looked exhausted.

The woman seemed to have an intense struggle within herself but after a moment she let out a long, deep sigh. "I want a phone call when you find them ... And please, PLEASE, take care of yourselves."

Max smiled and lunged across the table to hug her mother.

They had opted to leave just after lunch, which allowed Max a few more hours sleep before they had to fly all the way to Montana. Flying from Arizona to Montana wasn't such a big deal. Not when Max, Angel, Nudge and Total had flown across France.

Fang on the other hand hadn't slept much at all and his wing was still incredibly sore. The muscles tight and aching where the stick had torn through his skin. Part of him kept wishing he were back at the Martinez house dozing in his bed, or at least had a few of the miraculous pain-pills he'd been given.

At breakfast he had made Max tell the Flock about the letter and about his family. Simply because he didn't think he could speak of his father just yet. It had taken him a long time the night before to accept the fact his dad was most likely dead. Killed by whoever had been in the room with him.

Before they'd left Fang had seen Max searching the house. He'd asked her what she was looking for but part of him had known.

She was looking for Jeb and Jeb wasn't there. Fang had seen the man rush from the house late the night before pulling on a jacket as he went. He'd jumped into his car and sped off cell phone to his ear. Mumbling, "I got it, I got it, just have the airstrip ready when I get there ... Jesus, I can't believe they found him ... No, no, I'm OK, I'll handle it, just don't touch ANYTHING."

At first Fang had thought, good riddance, but then something had started to bother him. Why had Jeb gone so suddenly? And why did he take only his phone and wallet with him? Jeb's familiar smelling clothes were left in the guestroom closet, as was his laptop computer forgotten on his desk.

Fang pulled gently on the straps of his backpack feeling the two computers sliding around. He'd only taken Jeb's computer for one reason. When he'd peeked into the man's room that morning the file open on the screen had been his.

He hadn't told Max, nor had he told anyone for that matter. He'd kept it out of his mind until now and as he glanced back over his shoulder at Angel he wondered if he'd let it slip a little to far into his train of thought.

But Angel seemed preoccupied with the I-Pod. She was weaving left and right mouthing the words to a song and watching the land roll away beneath them seemingly content with the world.

As he turned his face back to the sky before him something that felt like a shock wave hit him. His skin went cold. Not, hot, as he had been the night before, but cold, as if he'd just flown through a snowstorm. He gasped and turned his face away, not sure why his temperature had just dropped what felt like one hundred degrees.

The air in his chest felt thick and before he realized what was happening his left wing crumpled and he was spiraling down, both toward the earth and into a deep dreamless sleep.

Max's head whipped right and she saw him sag in on himself, his eyes fluttering closed. Then, he simply stopped flapping his left wing going limp and twisting straight up from his back. Then he fell. She gave a short, frightened cry and dove after him, catching his limp body around the waist and dragging him back upward, slowing his fall.

"DOWN! DOWN, EVERY BODY DOWN!"

He wanted to tell her he was OK, that he was just very, very tired but before he could manage to say anything he was on the ground and she was bending over him. Smacking his face and shaking him awake.

"WAKE UP!"

His eyes snapped open and he stared up at her blankly. What had just happened?

She held a bottle of water to his lips. As soon as the water hit the back of his throat the arctic embrace faded.

"Sorry ... I just ... Just got a little tired all the sudden."

"When I grabbed you, you were freezing!" Max said taking the empty bottle from him.

He gave her a genuinely surprised look. "I was freezing?"

She shoved another bottle at him. "Are you feeling all right? How's your wing?"

He nodded, "I'm fine ... It was just like a wall hit me-"

Angel stiffened and laid a hand on Max's arm, "Someone's coming!"

Fang turned his head and stared as a young boy ran into the clearing they'd landed in. The boy grinned broadly and Fang was startled to see he was covered in blood.

"Gotcha!"

He looked to be about seven years old, four and a half feet tall with dark blonde hair and big blue eyes. He was wearing a green T-shirt that was stained with both dried and fresh blood. There was a vertical cut over his left eye and it was bleeding, dripping red across his tanned skin.

Other than the blood he seemed like perfectly normal little boy, but then he laughed, a half crazed terrified titter, turned and jumped into the air, spreading two light brown wings. He struggled to stay aloft, circled them twice awkwardly, jabbering away and pointing. "I can't believe I got you! You should have seen your face! It was so funny! I can't believe I GOT you!"

Then, as if he'd been shocked his face fell and he landed, stumbling to his knees on the ground beside Fang crying into his bloody hands. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to get you so bad! I didn't mean to make you fall! Please get up ... Please wake up!" He grabbed the front of Fang's shirt with his blood stained hands and stared at him without really seeing.

Fang stared at the boy slightly frightened, "David?"

He jumped to his feet his hands pawing at his shirtfront, "We have to go! We have to go NOW! They're coming, they're gonna get me!"

David was shaking and his eyes were unfocused, his lids drooping. Fang reached out to him, to check the boy for wounds but David screamed as if he'd been stabbed and fell to the ground curling in on himself sobbing. "They're coming! They're coming! They're coming!"

"Angel, what's wrong with him! Is he hurt? What's wrong?" Fang had his hands up and he was trembling. There was something terribly, terribly wrong with David but he could do nothing except watch and try not to scream in futile terror.

Angel bit her lip and concentrated very hard on the boy lying on the ground. She was quiet for three seconds then tears came to her eyes and she shook her head her hand going to her mouth. "He's in shock ... Something happened. All I can get is he was in a car with another person and then the car was rolling over and over ... And there were ... Monsters."

Fang started to say 'there are no such things as monsters' but he knew better. He'd seen monsters before. Erasers, Flyboys, and the mad scientists who created such things.

"Angel, calm him down, PLEASE! For God's sake do something!"

Angel tried with all her strength to calm the boy but somehow he kept pushing her back, resisting her abilities just like Fang did.

Fang growled and, in a moment of utter desperation grabbed David and pulled him into his arms, holding him tightly.

David screamed once, a wild, petrified wail, and went limp, shivering and mumbling his eyes half open. He peered up at Fang blankly then a smile crept over his face and he raised a bloody hand brushing it along Fang's cheek smearing red under his eye. "You look just like dad," Then David's eyes rolled up to the whites and his head fell back against Fang's arm.

"Angel?" He cleared his throat and snuffed back tears.

"Yeah?"

"What can you get from him? Can you find out where Aaron is?"

"I ... I'll try."

9. Chapters 13 and 14

Chapter 13; You and Me ... And Wizard Makes Three

Angel's words haunted him.

"Itex is back."

He'd sat there and stared at her in numb shock David's unconscious form clutched to him as if the boy were merely an extension of himself.

"Omega brought it back for one purpose only ... To kill us. He's taken the Flyboys and ... Improved them."

She didn't have to say anything more. The first three words were enough to make all of their blood run cold. "Itex is back."

Genotex, as David's memories called it, created only two things. The 'monsters' and the things the monsters flew around on.

As soon as he'd made sure the boy was OK Fang had left, trying to find the cliff David's memories last placed Aaron.

"There!" Nudge yelled and pointed to the overturned camper wedged precariously between a tree and a two-hundred foot drop.

It was a small motor home with black wings spray painted on the sides. The whole thing looked to have been partially crushed. And the entire up-facing side was torn open, as if a can opener had been roughly used to pry the metal sheets apart. There was blood everywhere along with bits of fur covered flesh and to Fang's horror there were also bloody feathers scattered amongst the debris.

They landed on the cliff and Fang held up his hand in a 'wait' signal. He peered over the edge of the cliff and down into the torn open motor home. Right away he saw a body and he nearly retched down on top of it.

It was a hideous thing, dark furry skin stretched over a metal Flyboy body. But the face ... It was a smooth metal mask with diagonal slits for eyes. Long, coarse black hair grew back off the head and long, billowing black robes swathed the creature from head to ugly, clawed foot.

Then he saw what looked like a small jet engine attached to a long slightly curved metal staff and he grinned, pointing down at it, "They're Wizards! They wear robes and fly on broomsticks!"

Then he saw its hands ... Or, its claws. Six inches long, razor sharp white and red glistening talons on black scaly hands.

Fang shivered. It was a monster ... The Wizards were plucked right from his worst nightmares.

He stepped off the cliff and gently fluttered down landing hesitantly on the side of the motor home. It rocked unsteadily and the scream of metal against stone reached his ears.

The whole area reeked of blood and some kind of mechanical fluid mixed with something that reminded Fang of Gasman Special. He looked up at the worried faces of Nudge Gazzy and Iggy then slowly lowered himself into the overturned vehicle.

He looked left and right in the demolished home searching for any sign of another bird-kid. His eyes strayed to the Wizard lying crumpled under the table. His fingers twitched and he grabbed up the nearest thing he could find, a broken broom handle.

Fang inched forward using the broom handle to slowly and carefully flip the metal facemask off of the Wizard. Unsettled by how smooth and flawless it was.

The mask made a metallic clacking sound as it tumbled backward to the mess of broken dishes.

As soon as the light hit the Wizard's tiny eyes they began to fade into blind white pus filed orbs.

It was hideous. Like a cross between a bat a lizard and a vole. It had a large mouth, which dropped open when the mask fell away and Fang jumped back frightened. The jaws were lined with four rows of long jagged needle like teeth, which grew at odd angles.

The broom handle touched the Wizard's tongue and Fang was appalled to see it was sticky, like a frogs and could stretch for what he guessed to be about ten feet.

It hits you with that tongue and just reels you in... Fang shuddered and began slowly making his way back through the rent in the side of the motor home.

"FANG! GET OUT OF THERE! ITS LEAKING GAS!" Iggy screamed shrilly.

Just as he was about to climb out something caught his eye.

A picture in a broken frame...

He hesitated, fighting the urge to duck back into the trap of a camper and get that photo. But the fight was short lived and he growled, grabbing the picture. The broken glass cut his palm but he didn't care. He climbed out and flew back up to the top of the cliff.

"Did you find him?" Nudge groped at his arm but he shrugged her off.

He stared down at the picture in awe. There was a thin young man with glasses and jaw length red-brown hair standing beside David, who was clinging to a thirty-something man's back a wide grin on his youthful face.

Fang knew the boy with glasses was Aaron because other than David he was the only other person in the photo with wings.

But, what startled Fang even more than how happy the three of them appeared to be, was the fact that the man David was clinging to looked exactly like him.

"FANG!" Gazzy screamed and pointed over the side of the cliff.

He looked up and saw what the boy was pointing to.

Sprawled at the bottom of the cliff, almost hidden because of the coloring of the landscape, his dappled white wings limp, was Aaron.

Chapter 14; Brother Mine

Max checked him over, cleaning and bandaging wounds, wiping the blood from his face, hands and torso, and to her surprise, washing the tan right from his skin.

"He isn't tanned at all! He's just covered in dirt!" Angel proclaimed, "He's even dirtier than Gazzy!"

Angel decided David was cute ... Under all the blood and grime.

He was simply younger version of Fang with sandy blonde hair and freckles. And Angel LOVED freckles. There had been many times she wished she herself had freckles. She thought they were neat.

She brushed her hair behind her ear and helped Max put one of Gazzy's clean T-shirt on David, because his had been torn beyond repair.

"How old is he, Ange?"

"He just turned seven yesterday."

"So he's about a year younger than you," She took his un-bandaged right hand, rubbing it between her own, trying to coax him into awareness.

As if he could hear her thoughts his eyes sprang open and he stared up at her in horror. "Where am I? Where's Aaron?"

Max gently stroked his hand, "You're safe ... the others went to find Aaron and bring him here."

David struggled for a moment but a dazed expression came over his face and he relaxed, caught in Angel's mind control.

"You don't understand," He whispered weakly.

"What is it?" Max breathed, trying to sound as reassuring as possible.

He took a shuddering breath and turned his eyes to Angel. "We're all going to die."

Fang landed in a run, sprinting toward Aaron's limp body his breath held.

Blood ran from a nasty gash on the side of his head and the right lens of his glasses was cracked. He didn't look to be too badly injured, minus of course a few missing feathers and scratches on his hands and arms.

Aaron looked young, his jaws and chin covered with a thin layer of hair, much like Fang's. With his eyes closed Aaron didn't look a day over seventeen...

But as Fang drew closer, fearing his brother was dead he realized something startling ... Aaron was snoring.

"He's asleep!" Nudge said loudly.

Fang dropped to his knees by Aaron and politely began shaking the daylights out of him. "WAKE UP!"

Aaron's whole body went rigid, his eyes flew open and his hands jerked up, tightening themselves around Fang's neck in a vice like grip.

Fang tried to call for help but he couldn't force air past the knot Aaron was trying to tie in his throat. He was frightened, terribly so and the fact he was able to admit to himself that he was scared caused the emotion to triple in intensity. His vision was going gray and Aaron's grip on his neck was so tight he could almost feel the pressure on his spine.

Don't let me die like this! Please, don't let my own brother kill me, I love him too much to put that kind of burden on him!

And he felt particularly odd. As if he'd just opened a box and found answers to every question he'd ever asked. A sudden, eerie calm fell over him and for half a second he didn't mind that Aaron was choking him to death. He was dying and he didn't care, death would be so much easier to deal with, he wouldn't feel anything if he died, he wouldn't experience the resounding sadness and fear that suddenly gripped him-

Or the longing to see Max's face just ... one ... more ... time...

He heard Nudge scream somewhere in the distance and he pictured the scene he and Aaron created on the desert floor. A bleeding frantic bird-boy choking another bird-boy who was putting up no fight whatsoever.

And it all came crashing back.

Fang struggled back through the curtains of unconsciousness that were layering themselves upon him and did the only thing he could do. He weakly grabbed both of Aaron's little fingers and bent them backward with all his quickly waning strength, prying his brother's hands away from his windpipe.

The pain brought him back and Aaron's eyes focused on the person he was strangling. He stared in horror at the dark-haired, winged apparition before him then released the boy with a high-pitched, child like cry. He flapped his wings as he scooted backward across the ground away from them. Then sat there hugging his knees and staring, rocking back and forth his whole face sheet white.

Fang dropped back on his behind his hands to his neck gasping. "What was that for!"

Aaron didn't answer, he just sat there staring and trembling like a leaf in the wind.

There was a horrible screeching sound from above and Fang stared in awe as the suspended motor home broke free of the cliff and started falling, quite fast straight at Aaron. His brother was going to be squashed!

"GO!" He screamed at the others and then dove at Aaron his wings beating the air the tips of his feathers kicking up a whirlwind of dirt.

Aaron gave a frightened gasp as Fang grabbed him under his arms and swept him up as easily as if he weighed nothing at all.

The motor home hit and exploded. A mushroom cloud of flames boiled upward nearly enveloping Fang as he zoomed a good hundred yards into the sky.

The shock wave that came with the explosion almost knocked him out of the air and Aaron screamed in his ear, though all he heard was the near deafening 'BOOM!' of the demolished automobile.

"PUT ME DOWN, OH GOD IN HEAVEN, PUT ME DOWN!" Aaron bellowed in a thick British accent, clawing at Fang like an angry cat.

Fang shook his head and released him.

Aaron's face went ash gray, his mouth opened into a wide 'O' and he clawed at Fang's hands his wings beating awkwardly, out of sync. He screamed and started falling.

Fang dove at him again, catching him by one arm and trying with all his strength to slow Aaron's plunge quickly enough to keep his brother from becoming the world's biggest bird-kid pizza on the rocks below. "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU, AARON!" He bellowed and Aaron's fingernails dug into his wrist, bring blood.

He looked up at Fang terrified, tears rolling down his dirty, bloodstained face, "I CAN'T!"

"WHAT!" He screamed and nearly dropped him.

"DON'T DROP ME, NICK! PLEASE DON'T DROP ME!" His voice sounded very thin, harmonizing with Fang's nearly perfectly.

"WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU! JUST FLY!" Fang landed below the rocks, where Iggy, Gasman and Nudge were standing, their mouths open in shock.

Aaron stumbled a few feet away gagging as if he were going to be sick his feathers on end, face deathly pale. He collapsed, both hands on his stomach and then looked up at Fang in a mixture of envy and rage;

"I can'tfly, you stupid git!"

10. Chapters 15 to 17

Chapter 15; Confessions in the Dark

The camper burned almost as well as sticks and twigs Gasman realized sometime later as they sat huddled around it the dark at their backs.

Nudge was pressed against him from the right, her wing around him comfortingly. Fang was to her other side and Iggy was on his left gnawing on a granola bar, bored out of his skull.

Aaron was almost ten feet away, alone, his head bowed broken glasses reflecting the flames back at them. He hadn't spoken since he'd made his confession hours before.

Nudge, surprisingly, had remained silent and Gasman had only gaped at him.

Iggy on the other hand had said only one word. A short four letter word that, had Max heard him, would have gotten him punched in the arm.

Fang, like his newly found big brother hadn't spoken since ... That was until now.

"What do you mean you can't fly!" He spat, releasing all his pent up anger and astonishment in those seven little words.

Aaron sighed and hugged his knees, giving the boy across from him a rather hateful look. "Well, if you had spent your entire life locked in a cage instead of flapping about as you pleased you'd be a bit behind in the aeronautical department also!" His voice was deeper, more controlled and adultlike than it had been earlier.

Fang was on his feet, his eyes reflecting the brilliant red of the fire. "For your information we were ALL stuck in cages, we've only been OUT of cages about ten months."

Aaron shook his head, "According to your BLOG you've been out a few years actually."

Fang decided Aaron's accent sounded quite pompous and he wanted to smash his fist into his brother's mouth. But for some reason he regretted that thought as soon as it popped into his head. "How long have you been out then? How long were you with HIM before all this crap started?"

Aaron sat his jaw and returned Fang's deathlike stare, "I was at the Institute in London my whole life. Da- Mr. Hutchinson rescued me two days before your friend Max apparently got there."

Fang's stomach clenched ... Max...

"I'd been locked in a kennel for thirteen years, Nick. I'd never seen the sky before he found me. I've never had the opportunity to fly, let alone the room to even straighten my wings properly."

"What about David?" He felt himself ask even before Aaron stopped speaking.

Aaron chuckled darkly, "We found him at the Itex headquarters in Yazoo three days after I was rescued. Dad got your E-mail and we went in for the kill. David was due for extermination because his powers were ... Unstable, and we were able to grab him and release four others before we were noticed."

Something clicked in Fang's mind and he gave his head a little shake, "David has abilities?"

Aaron nodded slowly, "Yes, he does, doesn't everyone?" He made a circular motion with his index finger, "Everyone, as in; all recombinant life forms present."

Fang shifted on his feet uncomfortably and opened his mouth to speak but Gasman jumped up and dashed forward grinning, his hand out.

"Pull my finger!"

Fang gagged, "NO, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY DO NOT PULL HIS FINGER!"

Aaron stared up at him an eyebrow raised his hand extended, barely an inch from Gazzy's index finger. "Dare I ask why?"

Fang pointed to the blonde, "'The Gasman' ... THINK about that name for a second."

Aaron's lips curled back, and he withdrew his hand. "Oh."

He stared up at Gazzy slightly amused, but mostly horrified, "You and David should get along famously."

Gasman plopped down beside Aaron grinning, "Why?"

"Well ... er ... You see, David's nickname is 'Sandman'."

Nudge snorted, "Sandman?"

Aaron nodded, "He can make people fall asleep just by thinking it ... Though he has been known to blow imaginary sand into your face as he does it. Bit annoying actually."

"Is that why you were konked out when we found you?" Iggy said, still gnawing on the granola bar.

Aaron sighed but nodded, "He was afraid, he didn't know what he was doing ... Is he all right?"

Fang nodded, "Max and Angel are with him."

"Are you sure it's smart to leave two girls alone like that?"

Fang laughed out loud.

"BIG fire. BIG-BIG-BIG!" David yelped and began scooping sticks into the flames, bent at the waist, behind to the light, throwing the twigs between his legs like a dog.

Angel laughed and turned to Max, trying to see her TRUE reaction, but all she got when she peered into Max's head was worry.

Where are you Fang? PLEASE be OK...

"Why does the fire have to be so big?" Angel said turning her head to the side.

"The monsters don't like the light ... It hurts their eyes."

Angel nodded. It seemed logical enough. "You really should sit down and rest, you're gonna make your arm bleed some more if you aren't careful."

David shook his head and marched around the fire, arms crossed over his chest. "Nuh-uh ... They'll get me."

Max sighed and climbed to her feet. "Why don't we just go find Fang and Aaron, then we'll all be together and you won't have to worry so much?"

David shook his head and turned to her, "We gotta stay here, Nick said he was gonna come back here. We gotta wait for him. He said he'd come back, he promised."

Max growled and sat back down beside Angel. This kid was NOT listening. He was NOT taking orders either. They had tried to convince him to come with them when they decided to go out looking before the sun sat, but he'd gone into hysterics and put Angel to sleep for two hours.

So, now they were waiting for Fang, Iggy, Gasman and Nudge to get back with Aaron. If Aaron was even still alive...

David's memories had shown the 'monsters' grabbing Aaron and dragging him back into the motor home as it rolled over a cliff, blood and feathers flying.

David had been too afraid to stick around and he'd accidentally knocked Aaron unconscious with his ability and flown awkwardly away then crashed into a tree because he didn't know how to land. Max wondered if unconsciousness had spared Aaron any pain.

"David, we have flashlights ... We can take light with us and you can stick close to me."

David shook his head and dropped into a sitting position across the fire from them, "Can't, we gotta stay here."

Angel sighed and whispered to Max, "David doesn't really know how to fly that well, Max. He's tried a few times but Aaron screams at him when he does."

"I can fly just fine!" David said defensively, "Aaron's just scared I'll fly too high and get hit by lightning!"

Max nodded, not believing a single word he said, "How high can you fly?"

David puffed his chest up and pointed to himself, "I flied so high once I was in space!"

Max made a faux-surprised face, "Really!"

"Yeah, I did! I fly up into space all the time. I even been to the moon once!"

Angel giggled.

He smiled at his audience and curled his fingers, wiggling them like tentacles. "And all the aliens and moon men that live in the moon came out and I fighted them all like this!" He gave a savage kick and nearly fell. "And they're all really scared of me cause I can fly all the way to the sun and I made friends with the dragon that makes the sun burn!"

Angel burst out laughing her hands over her face.

It struck Max as odd that David was such a normal seven-year-old and Angel was more like a little adult.

Perhaps Aaron hadn't taught David enough about survival to make him understand-

Something screamed in the night, a deep, animalistic, angry wail.

David went rigid and dashed at Max, his arms out, little bruised face pale. He wrapped his arms around her and started crying. His whole body trembling.

Another scream answered the first, quickly followed by four more from different points in the darkened forest around them.

Angel backed up, pressing her wings against Max's side.

"What is that!" Max whispered picking David up, since he was smaller than Angel she didn't have much trouble scooping him into her arms.

Angel shivered and spoke in a low, creepy monotone voice, "They're very hungry..."

"Bloody Hell!" Aaron climbed to his feet. "Look at this!"

Fang turned to him, staring as he continued to throw sticks on the fire. Aaron walked to him and grasped his shoulders turning him around so they stood back to back.

Fang felt that odd sense of peace fall over him again and he thought of Max, her hair blowing in back of her as she flew, her eyes closed feeling the majesty of flight-

Aaron placed his hand on top of his head and stared at the differences in their height. "You're nearly twenty centimeters taller than I am!"

Nudge couldn't contain her laughter.

Gasman leaned over and whispered into Iggy's ear, "Fang's practically a foot taller than him!"

"Right, you look 'bout my height!" Aaron motioned to Nudge, "What's your name?"

"Nudge," She said between giggles add climbed to her feet pressing her back against Aaron's. She felt giddy standing next to him and she couldn't look him in the face without feeling a red tent flow to her cheeks.

And then she knew ... He's lying!

"AH! See, finally I'm taller than someone!" His voice shook, cracking. He cleared his throat

"Only by an inch!" Gasman crowed and jumped to his feet pressing between Nudge and Aaron to be measured also. Aaron gently grasped his shoulders and smiled.

Nudge stumbled a few feet away, her arms wrapped tightly around her stomach, her eyes wide.

He's lying-lying-lying-lying!

Gazzy felt as if he'd known Aaron his whole life and he wanted to fly around and chase fireflies and bats with him like he did back at the Martinez house. He wanted to laugh and jump and run and fly and teach Aaron how to throw his voice so they could make noises behind Max's back. Because somehow he knew Aaron couldn't throw his voice...

"You're only six inches taller than me ... Come on, Iggy, you have to check this out!" He laughed and puffed his chest out feeling important and grown up, even for an eleven-year-old bird-kid.

Iggy clambered to his feet knocking dust from the seat of his pants.

"Blimey..." Aaron mumbled, "Makes me feel quite the dwarf he does!"

Iggy's face turned red. He'd never liked being so tall, seeming to tower over everyone else even-though he couldn't see the others below him.

Aaron circled him, he could hear his shoes crunching across the dirt and pebbles. He chuckled and stood behind Iggy, raising his hand to the top of his head to press directly between his shoulder blades.

Iggy felt something thin and chilled tickle behind his eyes, spinning him briefly into a deep, dark, bottomless void. Then he saw faces in his head, a young man's and a woman's bending to peer down into a small box at him then he was pulled back through this void and he stumbled away from Aaron sick realization settling into his stomach like a lead weight.

It all made perfect sense now...

His hands shot upward, covering his sightless blue eyes, fear and anger closing on his heart as if rusty jaws had been sunk into his chest. He blundered backward with the force of it all and bent nearly double a sob catching in his throat.

"DON'T TOUCH ME!"

Everything went deathly quiet and Fang put his hand out, grabbing Iggy's shoulder steadying him.

Aaron didn't move. His arms hung limply to his sides his fingers twitching uneasily. He was staring intently at Iggy, a hint of anger in his pale, bruised face. He took a shuddering breath and licked his lips his voice coming out thin...

"No ... No, I don't think I will."

Chapter 16; Fly or Die

Fang stood there agape. Tension was so thick in the air he could barely breathe and he gave Iggy's shoulder an affectionate squeeze.

As soon as the redhead had made his outburst Nudge and Gasman had rushed over and cowered behind Fang their eyes wide.

"What happened, Iggy?" Fang whispered, still staring at Aaron unsure what to do.

"I felt something ... In my head, something cold that shouldn't be there ... Oh, God, I'm gonna be sick!" His stomach heaved but he didn't uncover his eyes.

"Did you do something to him?" Nudge spat staring at Aaron in shock. All the time wanting to tell Fang that Aaron was lying, even though she didn't know about what...

Aaron shook his head, "No ... They did it to him ... I just showed him what it was."

"Did what? What's wrong!" Fang felt an unfamiliar panic rising in his chest and again he felt twice as frightened by actually admitting he was scared. It was as if he was suddenly unable to control his emotions ... Or he finally had words to describe what he'd been feeling all along.

Iggy let out a small groan and sank to his knees whimpering palms still firmly pressed over his face. He trembled and just as Fang was about to rush past him and attack Aaron he grabbed him by the hand, halting the fractional lunge Fang made at his brother.

"It's ME ... Oh, God, Fang it was me all along!"

They huddled by the fire together, Max in the middle David on her left Angel on her right.

The monsters were standing just out of the circle of light cast by the fire but Max could see their eyes reflecting back at her. Little floating red pinpricks encompassing them.

Every once and a while they could hear shrill shrieks in the night and a monster would slink closer then scurry back.

Max kept Angel's and David's faces pressed firmly into her shoulders so they wouldn't have to look at the creatures surrounding them. But what she herself had seen would lurk in her dreams forever.

Black, billowy shadows with pale smooth faces, ghosts shifting in and out of sight like a fog. It was more of a creepy, bump-in-the-night kind of scared than a facing-down-a-maniacal-scientist-and-her-most-prized-experiments kind of frightened...

This was the kind of odd, not-really-scary scary that gave Max nightmares sometimes. It was an eerie sight, pale oval shaped faces drifting in and out of her vision...

Part of her had simply wanted to stride forward and kick butt, but David had gone into hysterics and literally curled himself around her leg wrapping his wings around her knees to keep her from going out of the circle of light.

And of course, he'd given her frightened little Bambi-eyes so she'd sat there holding him and Angel, a little worried that Angel was so frightened of them when she'd stared down Flyboys and Erasers without so much as batting an eye. These 'monsters' didn't look half as scary as either of THEM.

But then the fire started burning lower and lower ... And the pale, eerie faces got closer and closer while the shrieking became more and more frequent.

"Angel, can you get anything from them?" Max whispered into the girl's blonde curls.

Angel shook her head, "A few have minds, Max ... But there's something wrong with them ... When I look in ... So do they," She shivered, "They look into ME ... And they're so hungry..."

Max kissed the top of Angel's head and turned to David, who was deathly still, every muscle in his little body tight like a bow-string his eyes wide open, but terribly blank and empty.

Max had seen this distant, hollow look in Fang's eyes every time she'd looked at him back at the School ... He closed in on himself, finding the only comfort he could, within his own mind.

What had the whitecoats done to David? What atrocities had they perpetrated on this small little boy? This pale, blonde version of Fang...

She shivered, realizing that David looked nearly identical to Fang when he'd been seven years old... The only differences were David had blonde hair, freckles and light brown wings ... But that hollow, lost betrayed look in his eyes was the same and it haunted her.

David also had a fury in him, a wild, deadly ... Insane, fury. She could feel it when she'd looked into his eyes as he'd run into the clearing hours before.

He'd been insane, oh yes ... David had been crazy when he'd knocked Fang out of the air, a terrifying, helpless kind of insanity that he couldn't stop, that spread like a virus throughout his consciousness...

Another wail went up, this one closer than ever and Max felt the little hairs on her neck stand on end. She glanced up at the sky, gauging the time by the position of the moon and stars, then she looked back at the fire and her stomach clenched.

They would never make it... The fire would burn out hours before the sun came up and those monsters would be able to get them.

She made a decision, one of her famous, split-second-spur-of-the-moment decisions and climbed to her feet, pulling Angel up with her. David remained limply rigid and she had to grab him with both hands and forcibly lift him to his feet.

Angel alone was half her weight now. Two years had added about six inches and ten whole pounds to Angel. She was no longer a little girl, she was growing up ... Now the age Gasman was when all of it started...

When the Erasers had nabbed Angel during a strawberry picking expedition...

"Ange, when we get up there I want you to grab my belt, do you understand me? Grab it and don't let go, just keep your wings ready and your eyes closed," She scooped David into her arms and bent at the knees. Readying herself for what could possibly be a flight for not only her own life, but the lives of her little girl and Fang's baby brother...

Angel was so very glad they'd left Total at home. She made sure her backpack was securely attached and readied herself.

Max sat her jaw and pushed down with her legs and her wings, shooting skyward into the darkness, urging herself, Angel and David into hyper-speed.

Angel gave a small surprised squeak and her hands latched on to Max's belt.

It was a frightening feeling, she could feel Angel's weight slowing her, could hear David screaming in her ear, but all she could do was fly.

Grab my waist and flatten out! She thought to Angel who complied with out thinking, wrapping her arms tightly around Max's waist and, in a moment too frightening to comprehend, tucking in her wings.

They shot forward but Max could feel Angel's weight still pulling on her. Thankfully David had stopped screaming and was clutching her and sobbing uncontrollably.

Something white glinted to her left and she turned her head staring in horror at the fluttery monster flying not ten feet from the tip of her wings. A blue cone of flames following it.

A rocket! They travel on rockets!

Max screamed in fury and tucked David's head under her chin, diving straight down and praying that Angel didn't slip off of her when she braked to stop.

Then she saw a white dot five miles to the north west and her acute raptor vision honed in on a large bonfire ... And the four people standing in front of it.

She tilted, one hand going behind her and grabbing Angel by the strap of her backpack.

The monsters were gaining on them. She'd never seen something go so fast, they seemed to be able to keep up with her as easily as if she'd been walking!

That's when she noticed the smooth, shining white faces were gone, replaced by a ghastly countenance of leathery black skin, thick bristly fur and an enormously wide mouth ringed with row upon row of four-inch long needle like yellow fangs.

Beady black eyes glinted in the moonlight and Max could only stare in horror and scream in her head; Move faster, Maximum! Move FASTER!

The seemingly enormous mouth opened and to Max it appeared that the thing's lower jaw came unhinged, dropping down to its chest exposing a huge, gaping cave of a throat that she realized could quite literally swallow a basketball without difficulty.

They're very hungry...

Angel's words made perfect sense now and David twisted his head and stared blankly at the monster for a full two seconds before he screamed and jerked free of Max, seeming to fall upward his wail fading into nothingness behind her.

"DAVID!" She screamed and threw out her wings, screeching to a halt just as something pink and nearly as thick as Max's wrist shot forward out of the monster's mouth, extending through the air a good twenty feet before snapping back into the things mouth with a wet, grotesque THWACK!

Max felt Angel's weight as a sort of pendulum, swinging her forward and down at the same time. She saw David, flailing above her as he plummeted, arms and legs out as if he were doing a cartwheel, wings twisting and trying to flap. And she felt Angel's hands slipping as the downward momentum pulled at her.

Max's hand tightened on the strap of Angel's backpack and she heard Angel give a quick, exasperated little grunt as she slipped free and started falling.

Max felt herself split ... One hand reaching downward to Angel, the other upward to David.

She saw Angel's snow white wings snap open and she zoomed like a bullet through the air pulling out of the dive at barely five feet to spare, kicking up a line of dirt and sand as she shot forward the monsters chasing her.

Max caught David by the legs as he plunged past her screaming in a high-pitched, terrified child's voice.

"DON'T KNOCK ME OUT, DAVID OR WE'RE BOTH MONSTER-MASH!"

He blubbered something incoherent and latched onto her leg with both arms. She ignored his screeching and stared at the little white slash below them that was Angel, still flying toward the bonfire the rest of the flock stood around.

"Go, Angel! GO!" She whispered, praying the girl heard her thoughts.

Angel tucked in her wings collided with one of the standing people and rolled to a stop in the circle of light. She was safe...

The monsters pulled up, executing a fighter-jet type of banking maneuver and rocketing straight back at Max and David.

"Oh, CRAP!" And she pulled at David, turning him in her arms so he clutched her about the chest, not the knees.

"Hang on, sweetie, and if you can knock out those monsters do it!" And she angled herself downward and laid on the hyper-speed.

"Its ME ... Oh, God, Fang it was me all along!" Iggy didn't have time to finish his sentence before a scream split the night.

Fang's eyes shot heavenward and he saw seven shadows moving quickly toward them.

Then he heard Angel's voice in his head, HELP ME I CAN'T STOP!

"WINGS OUT!" He screamed, praying she heard him.

And the center shadow expanded, two white wings bursting from it.

She was moving so fast!

He saw her face, tears tracking the dirt on her cheeks and he ran at her his arms going out. He saw her big blue eyes go wide and as she appeared to be on the verge of shooting past him he leapt into the air. Grabbing her around the waist and throwing out his much larger wings, braking. Pain tore across his back and his left wing threatened to turn backward again, but he dug his heels into the dirt ripping twin troughs through the sand nearly fifteen feet long.

They crumpled to the ground and the monsters Fang had named Wizards zoomed straight up screeching and then aimed back into the night at a forlorn shadow hanging in front of the moon.

"DAVID!" Aaron's voice was high, near frantic and he started running, his wings snapping out.

Fang stared in awe as his older brother, who had never before flown, leapt into the air and began flying upward, chasing the Wizards his big, white and black tipped wings beating in perfect sync.

And Fang felt himself following pulling up beside Aaron, who he realized was cursing bitterly in a child's voice and staring down at the ground his eyes wide. "I am going to die!"

"Just keep going!" He shouted and passed Aaron, flying as quickly as he could toward Max and his younger brother.

The rope like tongue wrapped itself around her ankle and started pulling her backward, slowing her, but she continued to flap as if her life depended on it ... Which, she realized, it did.

She kept flapping, praying the whole time that the monster's tongue wasn't as securely attached to its throat as she believed it to be.

"You're not going to eat me!" She screamed and banked sharply to the left.

The moon and stars swiveled as she turned, David clutched to her chest. She wished he'd stop screaming it was giving her a headache. Another shadow loomed out of the darkness before her and her head split in two.

Everything went a blinding shade of white. All sound faded to a soft whispering, like the wind blowing past her as she soared high above everything, a lone bird-girl in a world only she and her flock would ever experience.

All fear faded and all motion stopped. She heard herself inhale, she felt David trembling in her arms and she looked down at him but saw nothing except the same dazzling whiteness. She was a small spark of a thought floating in the entire expanse of the universe.

Am I dead? She thought, and her voice whispered in her ear, soft, young, feminine ... and she pictured her own lips moving the sound was so real. Did I die ... Did I get David killed?

Somewhere in the brightness she felt someone smile, a tender, loving, fatherly smile and she heard her Voice. Calm, cool but firm.

You're not dead Maximum, you didn't get David killed, not yet ... But you have to trust me, do you understand? You MUST trust me this time and do what I say or you ARE going to die.

I understand ... That same, whispered, soft girly voice.

The brightness started to fade and the tingling feeling of motion began to return, slowly, like a rusty film projector beginning to spin a movie after decades of neglect.

Sound started to filter back in, softly, as if heard through feet of solid concrete.

She felt the tongue wrapped like a shackle around her leg, pull taut and everything started moving again, very quickly.

The monster started reeling her in, like a fish, its beady eyes glinting in evil happiness and then, to Max's sickened delight the thing's head suddenly exploded and a loud BOOM! Echoed in the night.

She whipped her head around and saw the last person she ever expected seated on one of the weird rocket-powered sticks.

"JEB!"

He didn't look at her, but instead worked the cylindrical mechanism on the bottom of the shotgun in his hands and expelled a red casing, which fell out of sight. He cocked the shotgun and took aim at another monster firing again and again.

"GO MAX!" Voice and Jeb screamed at the same time and she didn't hesitate, she shot downward, aiming herself at the two shadows moving on near silent wings toward her.

Two of the beasts turned to follow Max and Jeb felt rage explode in his chest and he fired at them, taking off the top of the first monster's head in a spray of gore, brains and computer chips.

He hit the second in the small of the back. It toppled out of the sky soundlessly and made a small mushroom-cloud of flames when it hit.

He cocked the gun one last time to finish off the remaining creature as it streaked toward him, mouth opening to strike.

He raised the gun and aimed along the barrel, placing the tiny silver bead right between the thing's beady black eyes, "Say, hi, beautiful!" And he pulled the trigger...

Nothing happened. He felt himself go cold with shock and he sat his jaw, grabbing the shotgun by the barrel and swinging it like a baseball bat right at the thing's head.

He felt the impact and the spray of blood as he crushed its face, smearing its tiny sensitive eyes into a paste of pus-yellow and antifreeze green.

It made a series of horrid bat like chirping noises and screamed like a child as it fell.

Jeb leaned forward on the 'broom' panting, his heart hammering in his chest. He saw, far below him, Max landing in the firelight with the others and he gently angled himself on a downward slope to join them. To explain himself and his actions for the second time but he felt something wet, sticky and hot tangle itself around his arm. He felt himself gag in revulsion at the exquisitely alien feeling of it and he sent Max one final thought as he was pulled violently from the 'broom' into an all to short free-fall.

I love you, Maximum Ride ... Thank you for calling me 'dad'...

Aaron landed on his knees and fell to his stomach skidding on his chest laughing hysterically, "I did it! I actually flew!" Fang scooped David into his arms and held him tightly, his lips pressed firmly into the boy's hair.

They were safe ... His flock AND his family were safe.

Max stood there smiling and then suddenly her face changed ... Turning slightly pale and a shudder ran through her. Then she was on her knees, her fingers digging into her scalp screaming as if her wings had just been ripped off.

Aaron scrambled away from her cursing and Fang shoved David into his arms. He leapt at her, pulling her to his chest... "MAX!"

A brain explosion, she'd gone two and a half years without having one, why was she having one now! What had happened? They'd gotten the chip out and she swore it didn't hurt anymore when Jeb used the Voice...

He cradled her for close to ten minutes while she trembled and groaned and then she started sobbing, blubbering and trying to speak but not getting anything more than a 'J' sound out before dissolving back into tears. She took a deep, strangled breath and turned terrified, bloodshot brown eyes to Fang's face. Her hands tangled in his shirtfront and she mouthed a name.

'Jeb...'

And he pulled her tightly against his chest wishing there were someway to take all her pain away, to make it all right ... To change it. But there was nothing he could do...

"I'm so sorry, Max ... I'm so sorry," He whispered, barely making any sound at all.

She didn't know how long she bawled into Fang's chest, but when she raised her head she wished she could bury herself in his strength for ten times that amount of time, but she just didn't have anymore tears left...

She stared blankly around for a moment, breathing slowly, tasting the insanity that had been David's earlier that day...

She expected her Voice to chime in that she had to suck it up, had to be brave, heroes had to be brave, had to stay strong, even in the face of death...

Everything is a test...

But her Voice didn't intone within her a Confucian-like bit of wisdom, and she knew it never would again.

She forced herself to sit up and wipe her eyes, she couldn't let this break her, no matter how tempting it was to just give up ... Give in. She had to be strong ... Even if she didn't feel like it, everyone was counting on her.

She chewed her lip for a moment and noticed everyone was looking at her compassionately, except Iggy, who had his hands clamped firmly over his eyes. But she could see tears streaming from beneath his palms.

Chapter 17; Stool Pigeon

"Why are you covering your eyes, Iggy?" Max whispered, turning to him.

He whimpered and licked his lips. "I ... I know how they found us. How they were tracking us," He hesitated, "I know why I'm blind."

Max blinked and walked to him dropping to her knees, her hands going to his shoulders. "Tell me."

"They ... They're using me like a camera ... They put things in me ... They were watching us through my eyes ... Through my EYES, Max!" He stifled a sob, "Who would ever expect the stupid blind kid of being a spy! The stupid fu-"

"You're not stupid!" She said firmly and he went quiet his lip between his teeth.

They'd been watching them through Iggy's eyes!

Fang coughed and he remembered when he Iggy and Gasman had split from the Flock, going their separate way. Flyboys had been all over them, as if there were some kind of beacon drawing them!

He had wondered how the Flyboys found them so quickly yet had somehow been unable to find Max until she was within 'The Snake's Head' as they had called the base in Germany. And then she could have been noticed running in the gate!

It all made sense, frightening, terrible sense.

Iggy. It had been Iggy all along.

Just because HE couldn't see didn't mean someone couldn't be seeing THROUGH him. And NO, they hadn't expected Iggy because Iggy was blind and how many blind bird-kid spies were there?

Max hugged him tightly, "Its OK, we're going to fix this."

Iggy sobbed, "I know how to fix it!" And he scrambled to his feet and took off on a run into the darkness intent on flying away and never coming back.

He'd endangered his whole family all this time. It was his fault, it was ALL his fault!

Fang tackled him, forcing him to the ground then sitting on him, pinning the redhead's wings between them. "Now you're being stupid!" He growled.

"It's my fault!" He shrieked, hands still firmly clamped over his eyes. "Fang, its ALL my fault!"

Fang smacked him upside his head hard, "Knock it off!" He turned and shouted over his shoulder. "Nudge, give me your hair ... thing!"

He pointed to the bright pink bandana Nudge had tied over her unruly hair and she yanked it off and threw it to him without a second thought.

Fang caught it against his chest and had to use his teeth to untie the knot. "Okay, Iggy, listen carefully. I want you to keep your eyes closed, but I want you to uncover them OK? Is that too hard to understand?"

Iggy shot him the bird.

Fang wrapped the bandana around Iggy's head and tied it, completely covering his eyes. "There, now you're safe and you don't have to be stupid and run off."

Fang climbed off of him and helped him to his feet. "You're spy proof."

Iggy wrung his hands, "I feel ridiculous... What color is this thing? It's not pink is it?"

"No, its blue," Fang grinned evilly and patted him on the back. "We'll have Max's mom take a look at you when we get home, she might be able to undo whatever they did."

Iggy nodded and shuffled back toward the warmth of the flames. He sat down tentatively, his shoulders hunched.

After all this time they finally knew how the School had tracked them and he felt so stupid for not realizing it. Those doctors hadn't wanted to enhance his night-vision. They had wanted unrestricted access into his world. And what better way that through the eyes of a bird-kid.

He wondered absently if perhaps the white-coats had chosen him specifically to receive the operation or if perhaps they had done an 'enee-meenee-miney-mo'... Or if they'd just flipped a coin and he'd won the prize of becoming a surveillance system.

He started crying again, his lower lip trembling and he felt Angel creep up to him then hug him tightly around the neck. "Its OK, Iggy ... Please don't run away ... If you run away who'll make breakfast in the morning?"

He couldn't help but smile and he felt Aaron's eyes on him. He turned in the direction he remembered Aaron being and spoke bitter words in a rather emotionless tone, "So, your ability is showing people what's wrong with them?"

"No..." He whispered, "I'm not quite sure what this ability is. Its different with everyone I've ever come into physical contact with."

Max turned questioning eyes to Aaron, "You're British?"

Aaron shrugged in a very Fang like way and Max couldn't help but think of the dark haired boy standing by himself to her left.

David jerked weakly in Aaron's arms his eyes barely open. Aaron cooed softly and stroked the sweat damp hair away from David's forehead.

"What's wrong with him?" Gasman whispered eyeing David's twitching body uneasily.

Aaron shook his head, "He puts himself into a dream and all he does is have nightmare after nightmare ... When he gets frightened he can't control his abilities and people usually start dropping like babes coming off of a sugar-high or he goes to sleep like this. That's why they were going to kill him, they believed his powers are too unstable ... Defective they called him, poor little tyke."

Angel climbed slowly to her feet her eyebrows drawn down, wrinkling her nose. She wrenched open her backpack and rummaged inside for a moment. Then she drew out a slightly stained little brown teddy-bear wearing a white gown and little angel wings.

11. Chapters 18 and 19

Chapter 18; Mother

Max's breath caught in her throat and she watched in awe as Angel strode hesitantly forward Celeste clutched in her hands like a priceless heirloom ... She knelt beside David and ran her hand lovingly over his forehead then leaned forward and whispered in his ear.

"David ... I have nightmares too sometimes ... You just hold Celeste and your nightmares will all go away," And she tucked the bear into the crook of David's arm.

His hands groped weakly until his fingers found the soft furry face of the bear then he let out a small sigh and pulled Celeste to his chest, hugging her. The heavy lines that had marred his little face melted and his eyes closed. He was still, his breathing soft and even.

Aaron turned wide blue eyes to Angel and blinked, "That was brilliant! Where did you learn it?"

Angel smiled, "He needed something to make him feel safe. To make him feel normal," She hesitated. "When I found Celeste in New York I saw a bear just like me, she made me feel safe."

Max bit her tongue, If I'd only know that, Ange I wouldn't have said 'no'.

Angel turned to her smiling sadly, "I didn't understand why I needed her until now, Max."

Fang shifted on his feet and strode quickly away into the darkness.

"Someone stop him! Those things could still be out there!" Aaron said in a strained but urgent voice.

Max rushed after him, all of the sudden unable to look at Angel or anyone. She couldn't see him anywhere and part of her was afraid there still WERE monsters flying around then she heard a soft choking sound to the east and took of on a run toward the outcropping of rock.

She found him collapsed in on himself, curled into a tight ball rocking back and forth biting back sobs.

The same fearful dread she'd felt when she found him in the park came over her. As if she were looking at someone else someone that wasn't really there, not brave, fearless Fang.

He didn't try to hide himself, or wipe his eyes and act as if he were merely sitting in the dark much like he would have done on any prior occasion. He didn't struggle when she knelt beside him and pulled him to her, stroking the back of his head. He didn't make a sound for close to ten minutes.

"I'm sorry about Jeb," He breathed, "I saw him up there with the gun ... I didn't believe it at first, but... I don't know, he just seemed so much like he used to and I-"

"Don't talk ... Just relax for a minute, I want to be quiet for a while, OK?" She said in a strained whisper.

He nodded and thought about it all. He'd lost his real father before he even met him, and he'd lost the closest thing to a father he'd ever known ... All within three miserable days.

He felt slightly envious of Max, which startled him. Why was he envious of Max? She'd had a mental connection with Jeb and that connection had been severed violently. She'd had to feel him die...

He remembered when Jeb had driven off three days before. He'd been happy to see him go.

Good riddance...

He felt like such an inconsiderate ass now and he wondered absently if Aaron's abilities had somehow turned him into this emotional train-wreck or if it had happened on its own. After years of being 'The Emotionless Fang' the dam of feelings he'd built had broken and now the flood was almost too much to bear.

When it rains it pours, He thought and sat up rubbing his eyes. He held his knees for a minute, staring across the desert at the large bonfire the rest of the flock was seated around.

Max stood and held out her hand, "Come on, everyone's probably starving, let's go back."

He took her hand and let her pull him to his feet, not because he couldn't get up on his own, but because he needed the contact.

Max walked around the fire to where Angel had left her backpack and began rummaging in it for food.

Fang wiped at his eyes again, not particularly looking at anyone and unzipped his own backpack looking for something other than granola bars...

Jeb's computer ... Jeb had been reading HIS file.

"Max!" He wrenched out the computer opening it and waiting for it to resume its open programs. Maybe Jeb had left some clue, some priceless bit of information that would make everything so easy to understand.

The screen faded from black to blue and his file popped open. Max walked over handing out granola bars on her way.

He pointed and showed Max the file and she yanked it out of his hands "Is this the stuff from the computer in New York?" She sat heavily on the ground. "Jeb had this the whole time?" Her voice was barely above a whisper and she knew only Fang could hear her.

"I'd be willing to bet my file is not the only one he's got on that thing Max."

She clicked on another file and stared at it awe. It was a girl, an older photo of a girl with long curling light reddish-brown hair, brown eyes and black wings. She looked so frighteningly familiar. That darkly intense gaze in her near black eyes...

The first line of the file was in red, "Terminated," And then her eyes fell on the girl's name. "Kitty..."

Kitty ... Where had she seen that name before?

She clicked back onto Fang's file and noticed something different about his name. Something that hadn't been there on the files in New York;

Fang, Gen2

Max looked at the bottom of the screen and opened the last two programs staring in openmouthed shock as David's and Aaron's files sprang open before her.

Sandman, Gen2 ... Constantine, Gen2...Gen2...

She wished desperately that Jeb/Voice would clarify it all but she knew that would never again happen. Jeb was dead...

Kitty and I spent every waking second trying to find you-

And then it all hit her like a ton of bricks.

Max clapped a hand over her mouth and made an exquisite coughing gag sound in her throat.

Gen2 ... GENERATION 2.

The girl looked to be about her age a teenager, just like they'd said, just a teenager ... She stared at Kitty, in awe, horror and a kind of dumbstruck humor.

They'd always joked about this but she'd never- NEVER expected to actually face the facts of it.

"What? What is it?" Fang tried to take the computer from her. "Did you find my expiration date or something? Am I going to die!" His voice was strained.

Max shook her head, "You're not going to believe this, Fang. You're just not going to believe this."

"What?" His voice cracked and he put a hand to his throat suddenly aware of how high pitched that sound had been. Had Aaron damaged his voice-box trying to strangle him?

Max licked her lips. "I just found your mother."

His eyes went wide and his jaw worked up and down soundlessly. He snatched the computer away from her and stared at the picture for close to a full minute. It was the same young woman from the other picture he'd gotten from the lab in New York but this time he could see-

"She ... She has wings ... M-Max, she has wings!"

He swallowed and stared down at the picture in awe then looked at his brothers' files. "We were hatched..." It came out monotone, in barely a whisper.

His head snapped up and he stared at her in the pale light from the computer screen. "Oh, my God, M-Max I was hatched!"

He clambered to his feet and rushed forward.

"Guys! Guys, look at this!" He said his voice shrill, his feathers on end.

Gasman, Nudge and Angel gathered around him staring at the computer screen mouths open. Iggy clambered to his feet, "What, what is it? Hello, blind guy wanting to know what he heck is going on!"

Gasman turned, still pointing at the computer, "Fang's hatched!" His blue eyes were round as dinner plates.

Iggy's jaw dropped and his eyebrows shot up from behind the bandana tied about his head. "Fang's HATCHED!"

"My mom was one of us, Ig!" He said loudly, wishing Iggy's eyes worked so he could see how beautiful his mother was in all her teenaged, winged, NON-crackhead glory.

Aaron threw a sizable rock at Fang and it bounced off his thigh, "There's a photo of our mum in there?"

Fang nodded a wide, teary grin spreading across his face.

"Then what the hell are you doing standing there like the royal-sodding-guard! Bring it to me, I want to see her too!"

Chapter 19; Amaranthine

They'd all taken turns staring at the picture of Fang's mother and Aaron had even woken David up to see her. Then they'd all sat solemnly heads bowed, and mourned her.

"He didn't talk about mum much ... Not until that night ... The night he got your E-mail and realized the person we'd seen in the news papers was you. But he never mentioned this! He only said that he and mum were just kids. Sixteen years old and married with a babe on the way..."

Fang wiped at his eyes, at first pretending merely to rub dust from them then openly drying tears on his shirtsleeve.

"I've never met him, but Dad said we have an uncle living in Oklahoma ... Allan. Dad said that Allan helped him and Kitty shortly after they were married. I never understood why they would need help ... But it all makes sense now. I'm not sure if Allan is even still alive though ... Maybe we could look into it once we're ... Once we're wherever we're going."

Max nodded, "If he's still alive we'll find him."

The sun was coming up and the camper-bonfire had burned out, leaving smoking ashes and bits of melted metal behind.

Max rubbed her eyes and stretched looking out over the desert, her heart breaking. So much pain. So much death...

Jeb's body was out there somewhere. She could just picture it flattened like a pizza- She turned her head, pushing the thought from her mind almost as quickly as it came to her.

No ... She was not going to remember him like that she would not. She would remember him as she saw him ... Her father.

She wondered if someday she would tell this story to her own children. Would she tell them of the brave man who gave his life to save a couple of mutant bird-kids? Or would she even be alive to tell the story to anyone when it was all over. Would there be a world left to hear her?

12. Chapters 20 to 22

Chapter 20; Johnny, Get Your Griddle Hopping

Max had been cajoled into standing with her back to Aaron so everyone could gape that she was a good six inches taller than him.

It was funny.

"Just my luck, befriend a group of ruddy giants!" He crossed his arms over his chest and made a face so much like Fang that Max did a double take to assure herself Fang had not shrunk and sprouted white wings.

Aaron didn't mind flying all that much, as long as he didn't look down, or open his eyes ... Or forget to flap, which happened every once and a while when he got tired. He confessed, via Angel's mind reading powers, that he was afraid of heights.

When Angel had whispered that to Max, Aaron had turned, eyes closed tightly, and shouted, "OI! I am not!" But they all knew better.

David seemed to actually enjoy it and had already started attempting the delicate turns he'd seen Fang execute when he circled back to make sure they weren't too exhausted.

Rest breaks came regularly, every hour. Which threw them off schedule but was easier than trying to push David, Aaron and Fang's injured wing past their endurance.

They were barely six hours from home when the sun started to set and Gasman shouted in Aaron's voice, "OI! I'm British! Crackers and cheese! Tea and crumpets! Tallyhooooooo!"

And then Aaron grinned and shouted forward using Gazzy's voice, "I'm an annoying little tosser! Look at me!" Then he made a rude wet-spluttering sound by blowing air between pursed lips.

Gasman's eyes got round and his mouth opened in delight, "Hey, Aaron can do voices too!"

Max glanced over at Fang as if to say, Not another one... But Fang just laughed and shouted back, "Do another one! Do Max!"

Aaron cleared his throat, screwed up his face and began singing Max's voice, "She rocks in the treetops all the day long, hopping and a' bopping and a' singing this song. All the little birdies on J-Bird street love to hear the robin go TWEET TWEET TWEET!"

Iggy roared with laughter and David laughed shrilly, pointing at his brother.

"OH! I'm Nick! I'm all tall dark and mysterious! Did I mention tall?" Aaron called using a slightly British version of Fang's voice, which sounded oddly natural coming from his throat...

Max shook her head but couldn't keep a small grin from spanning her face. She stopped flapping, coasting on a warm updraft and feeling the wind rush past her, trying not to think of Jeb, or his last words to her.

It didn't seem real, but the silence in her head told her that it was. He really was gone this time. And Max felt sad knowing she wouldn't have any help this time. She truly had to save the world by herself. Alone...

Aaron cracked open his eyes and motioned to Nudge, who fell back beside him and they whispered quietly for a few moments wingtips brushing on the down stroke.

Fang watched them intently, wondering if he could talk Angel into telling him what they were saying, but thought better of it when Nudge's eyes grew wide and her head whipped forward.

She starred at him in shock then turned quickly back to Aaron her mouth working quickly, but Fang couldn't catch any words before the wind snatched them away.

What were they talking about, and why did Nudge seem so astounded?

"I know we're almost home," Angel shouted, "But, I'm REALLY hungry and I smell food."

David called loudly forward, "I'm HUNGRY! And I have to PEE!"

And then everyone but Fang and Max were complaining of hunger pains and the need for bathrooms. Whining like kindergarten children refused recess.

"Can we have tacos? I would LOVE a about a dozen tacos and a BIG milkshake with fries and apple pies!" Nudge crooned still flying right beside Aaron, who had his eyes shut again.

Max just wanted to go home and flop into her bed, in her own house and forget everything that had happened. But the sun was setting and it was still going to be at least six more hours at the rate they were going, before they reached home. She bit her lip and started scanning the town below. "Okay, stop whining you bunch of heathens!" She saw a few of the less expensive restaurants in town were still open and angled down, "All right, come on!"

Nudge hung back, taking Aaron's hand, which was awkward, and helping to control his descent.

"I can trust you?" Aaron whispered in a very small voice.

Nudge smiled sweetly and nodded, "You're secret's safe with me." She turned and watched as David mimicked Fang's movements almost exactly, bobbing up and down in the air a few yards behind the near black figure, only once forgetting to flap.

"God, we're high up!" Aaron whispered, trying not to think about the altitude and focusing all his attention on flapping his wings.

"Can I have a toy with my food?" David shouted.

Angel's mouth dropped open, "They give out toys with the food? I want one!"

"Me too!" Gasman shrieked and shot downward his wings bent maneuvering with a slight twitch of his feathers.

They landed, or everyone but Aaron landed, behind a shopping center. Aaron made what Gasman called a 'Dive-bomb' into a dumpster, and had to be helped out again. They merged with a crowd filing out of the adjacent theater and walked across the darkening street to the 24-Hour Dine Inn, which looked deserted save a single bright blue truck parked in front.

The diner was built to look like a railcar and had a counter stretching the length of the building with birthday-cake shaped blue-green stools lined up along it.

Max dug in her pocket and pulled out the battered credit card inscribed with her name but Aaron laid a hand on her shoulder.

"I've got cash."

She turned to look at him in awe, her eyebrows drawn down as if she were going to shout at him but something stopped her. Why did she care if Aaron paid for dinner?

He shoved his hand into his right rear pocket and pulled out a worn and faded leather wallet. He hummed to himself and opened it pulling out a handful of wrinkled bills, "You lot saved our lives ... Least I could do is pay for dinner."

Max stared at him for a moment, as the chubby waitress waddled up in her pink and white uniform, "Hello, how are you folks this evening, can I get you something?"

Aaron smiled at the waitress flirtatiously and Max couldn't help but feel a bit of a tremble run in her spine. She wished Fang would smile at her like that, she would be the absolute happiest bird-girl on the face of the planet if Fang smiled at her like that!

Max made a small surprised sound in her throat. She'd always been drawn to Fang ... He was so ... It was as if he only let himself feel anything around her, and it made her feel special because he was so comfortable with her, so at ease around her, that he allowed himself to be vulnerable in her presence. That he trusted her with his helplessness...

And just like that she knew, and she wasn't afraid or embarrassed to admit it

I love him...

"Right you lot, anything you like ... And I'm sorry to say, Madam that I've brought eight people who have bottomless stomachs," Aaron patted David's head and the child grinned brightly, "I've personally seen this one eat an entire sheet-cake."

The woman's eyebrows shot up and she turned her head slightly to the left shouting back at the large man in the kitchen, "You'd better get the big frying pan, Johnny, we've got an army to feed!"

Chapter 21; The Rest EZ Hotel

There was a small hotel just on the other side of the immense parking lot as the 24-Hour Dine Inn and thankfully the walk was well lit. But it was the longest walk Max had ever experienced.

Angel and Gasman were clinging to her and she wouldn't have been surprised if Iggy and Nudge had shrieked and jumped onto her shoulders.

Aaron had taken one step outside of the diner looked up and whispered, in a perfect imitation of the lead actor from The X-Files, "We are not alone."

Nudge had giggled at first, then she'd looked up and seen a dark figure looming down at her from about one-hundred feet and silence had fallen.

There were twelve of them. Zipping silently back and forth overhead as they walked under the lights to the hotel. Every once and a while a hideous clawed foot would appear in the light then disappear.

David was crying and jumped into Aaron's arms at the first chance his thumb between his teeth Celeste hugged to his chest.

The only one who seemed to be unaffected by their presence was Fang. Who walked behind everyone else staring at the ground his hands hung leisurely in his pockets. He stopped twice, picked up a discarded soda can or a rock and tossed it upward a curious expression on his face...

Neither rock nor can came back down.

The hotel lobby was decorated to look like a hunting lodge, mounted animal heads on wooden plaques, glassy, dust covered eyes staring down at them.

As Max noted every exit and every piece of furniture that could be used as weapons David stared transfixed at a mounted deer's head.

He squirmed his way out of Aaron's arms and rushed forward staring. Then he peered around the wall expecting to see the rest of the deer. After three repetitions of glancing back and forth at the head and the other side of the wall he realized what had happened. He ran to Angel whimpering and squeezing Celeste tightly.

Angel stared at him for three full seconds before she put her little arm around his even smaller shoulders to comfort him.

Aaron smiled at the female desk clerk and Max saw Nudge tremble, her knees practically knocking her dark face seeming to grow darker, like a storm cloud. Max shook her head and as she walked past Nudge, tapped the back of her hand. The girl thankfully listened and turned around, though begrudgingly, to watch Fang, who was still outside staring upward at the circling Wizards.

"Two adjoining rooms would be fabulous, thank you, Sally," Aaron said in a hushed, masculine voice that sounded oddly like cross between Sean Connery and Johnny Depp.

Sally, a blonde girl about eighteen years old, blushed and opened a ledger her eyes round and Bambi-ish her lips parted, "Who are these rooms registered under?" She breathed, in a thick sultry whisper.

Max wrinkled her nose and gave her head a little shake, Aaron is the BIGGEST Sexist-pig I have EVER seen! But part of her wondered what she would do if Fang looked at her like that, with a confident, cocky gleam to his eyes.

She decided she would either punch him or kiss him ... Most likely not the punching, but she wasn't sure.

Aaron opened his wallet and pulled out, to Max's surprise a credit card and a driver's license with his picture on it.

"Aaron Bond, darling," His voice practically dripped lust and Max wanted to turn and be sick.

Sally giggled and swiped his credit card then filled in the ledger with shaking hands. She held the cards out with his receipt her lip between her teeth. But when Aaron reached for them she pulled them back and grinned, "I get off work in about thirty minutes ... Why don't you say we..." And she leaned forward whispering in Aaron's ear.

He shivered and his eyelids fluttered as if he were about to faint. His pulse quickened and he took a deep steadying breath, although it did very little to calm him.

To Max he looked years younger with his eyes closed.

Sally leaned away from him, a rather ... Smug grin on her face.

Max felt bloodlust rise in her veins and she was tempted to lunge over the counter and grab that stupid little blonde by the ears and scream at her. But instead she propped her elbow on the desk casually and leaned in so just Aaron ... and the desk girl, could hear her.

"Did you remember to take your Valtrex this morning, Aaron?"

Chapter 22; Grudges

Fang watched them in silence and they watched him, every so often turning their heads and making a high pitched clicking noise in their throats. Communicating...

They didn't seem to regard him as interesting because they didn't get within two-hundred feet of him in any direction and he thought it quite odd. Why didn't they get closer to him? They were practically diving into the light after David and Aaron.

Did they just not like recombinant life forms that didn't possess abilities?

He bent and scooped up another rock, tossing it up and watching as one of the Wizards darted forward and caught the rock forcing its mask up and licking the stone where his fingers had touched it.

He shook his head and turned, walking back toward the hotel when something struck him in the left wing hard enough to knock him to his knees with a short scream. The wing was still very sore and whatever that thing had hit him with, hit right where the muscles were the most tender.

He staggered to a crouch one hand on his back, teeth ground together breath not seeming to come fast enough to drive away the pain. After a minute he stood and stumbled into the lobby not making eye contact with the desk girl as he asked which way his brother had gone.

"He can go straight to hell, for all I care," The girl said under her breath and handed Fang a keycard to the room. "Third floor, rooms twelve and thirteen."

He opened the door to room twelve and saw Aaron sprawled on his face in the nearest bed David curled to his side asleep.

"Don't speak to me, I'm not in the mood!" Aaron warned even before Fang opened his mouth. "Your girlfriend has just ruined my life!"

Iggy and Gasman were on the other bed suppressing giggles.

"She's not my girlfriend," Fang growled and walked across the room, his hand still on his back.

The door adjoining the two rooms was open and Angel and Nudge were jumping up and down on the beds wings out. Max was standing by the mini-fridge eyeing the large candy bars sitting in a basket on top.

"Max, can we talk?" Fang ground out walking toward her.

She nodded but didn't look at him.

"Alone?"

She glanced up at him and nodded again, following him into the bathroom where he shut and locked the door.

She could still hear Angel and Nudge laughing quietly and bouncing around. "What's up?"

"One of those Wizards hit me with something..."

"With what?"

"It felt like a rock."

"Okay ... What do you want me to do about it? Kiss it and make it better?"

He growled, "It hit my wing ... My left wing."

She bit into her lip and nodded, "Let me see it."

"If you tell anyone, I swear..." His voice faded as he pulled his jacket and shirt off, turning his back to her.

"Its already bruising..." She ran her fingertips over the skin and parted his feathers to look at the little bright pink line where her mother had cut him to get the stick out.

"Can you move it?"

He flexed the wing stiffly, "Its like those things knew or something ... Like they were waiting for me to turn my back so they could hit me..."

"Yup ... You're going to be really sore tomorrow ... Maybe you should take a hot shower and go to bed, I'll take first watch."

"You sure?"

She nodded, "Yeah, besides, Aaron deserves a cold shower, he can go last."

Fang turned and smiled at her, "What did you do to him?"

She shrugged and a devious smile crept over her face, "Lets just say Aaron won't be such a sexist-pig anymore."

13. Chapters 23 and 24

.-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-..-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-.

Chapter 23; Home Coming

They landed in the yard late the next evening and Aaron made another dive-bomb and crashed into the tree by the back porch.

Ella ran out her arms extended, "You're back! Oh, my GOSH I missed you so MUCH, I-" She stopped mid step her arms falling to her sides. "Who the heck are you?"

Aaron gave his head a little shake and plucked leaves from his hair, "If she's got wings as well I'll have a coronary."

Ella's eyes lit up, "Oh, my GOD your British!"

Someone behind Max growled and she turned but didn't see anyone of the Wizard or Flyboy persuasion.

Nudge eyed her untrustingly and stepped between Aaron and Ella, as if to protect the other girl from Aaron's sexist-pig-ness.

Aaron blushed and leaned closer to Iggy as they walked toward the house, "I'm getting the death glare from two girls ... Help me!"

Ella's hands twitched and she crossed her arms turning to the house, "Mom, they're back!"

David, Celeste clutched under his arm was walking beside Angel and without warning slipped his free hand into hers.

Angel stopped and turned to look at him, "You don't have to be scared, that's just Ella, Max's sister, and that's Max's mom."

Dr. Martinez dashed out of the house and crushed Max in a hug. "Thank God you're OK! I thought I asked for a phone call?"

Max hugged her mother tightly and whispered into the soft, warm sweater her mother was wearing. "Jeb's dead ... He ... He died protecting us."

The hug changed from happy to comforting, "I made cookies ... Lots of cookies."

.-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-..-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-.

Chapter 24; A Change in Living Arrangements

Everyone was seated around the table eating cookies except Aaron, who stood stupidly by the door wringing his hands.

"Aaron, is something wrong?"

He turned to them all and Max noticed he was trembling. "Its dark out ... And you don't have very many lights on the premises."

Everyone stopped chewing and David whimpered, "You gotta have lights or they'll come in..."

Dr. Martinez gave her head a little shake, "You can turn on the porch lights if you'd like ... But what could come in?"

"Wizards," Fang said simply, his voice hushed. "Real ugly things with sharp teeth and tongues like a frog's but they're afraid of the light."

Her eyebrows raised and she gave her head another little shake. "Okay, I can get a few more lights outside."

Aaron was still wringing his hands and shaking.

"Aaron, are you OK?"

He chewed his lip and shook his head then sighed and nodded. "I need a fag."

Iggy choked and Fang had to pound him on the back.

"Excuse me?" Max said louder than she meant to.

He shifted on his feet and wrinkled his nose, "Not THAT! My, God, what is it with you Americans ... A cigarette!"

Dr. Martinez scowled at him, "No smoking inside ... Are you even old enough to smoke?"

Aaron nodded and continued to wring his hands, "I'm nineteen, I've got the ID to prove it ... I just don't have anymore fa-cigarettes and I haven't had one in two days."

David turned to Angel and made face, grinning as if to say, 'I hid them really good!'.

Iggy laughed, "Maybe that's why you're so short! Smoking's stunted your growth!"

"Go on then, laugh ... But its not the size that counts, its how you choose to use it!"

Iggy turned bright red beneath the pink bandana and mumbled, "Do I need to mention the desk-clerk at the hotel?"

"Touché," Aaron whispered and turned back to the window.

Ella giggled and yawned, "I'm going to bed, I'm glad you're home guys, it was really boring around here without you ... OH! Kevin brought over your, Max's and Nick's homework, Iggy, I left it on your desk."

He nodded and turned his head to the table.

Aaron was still standing by the door staring out into the yard when Max went to bed some two hours later, long after Nudge and Angel had gone to their room and fallen asleep.

She lie there staring up at the ceiling for a long while, the little lamp on her desk burning brightly. She turned her head and saw the light from Fang's room also... And his shadow as he sat in the window staring out over the yard. She heard him cough a few times and her mind began to wonder.

So far there had been no sign of Wizards but this small glimmer of hope did nothing to make Max, or anyone for that matter, less scared.

She watched Fang's shadow move as he stood and walked across his room, then his light went out and she listened intently, wondering what he was doing and wondering if maybe she should call to him and say good night again. Even though they'd all stacked and tapped hours before when Angel and Nudge had stumbled upstairs to bed.

Her door cracked open and her head whipped to the left staring as he poked his face into her room. His eyes were bloodshot and his lip was between his teeth.

"Max?" He cleared his throat and it sounded like he'd been crying.

She didn't answer at first she was shocked that he looked so frightened. She'd never really seen him that frightened before.

When she didn't answer he slipped in and shut the door behind him. He crept up to her his arms crossed over his chest, wrinkling the words, "Senior Prank Week" on the front of his black T-shirt. "I just wanted to check on you, make sure you were OK, you know ... Yeah."

She cocked an eyebrow at him and rubbed her eye, "You can't sleep either?"

He shook his head and looked at the floor.

The air seemed charged ... Like he wanted to say something but was too afraid to actually say it.

"Do you want something, Fang?"

He glanced up at her, his lip between his teeth eyes screaming 'yes' but no words coming forth.

She felt herself blush but didn't look away. The moment seemed to stretch and he scuffed his bare foot against the carpet to make some kind of noise, hoping to alleviate the tension.

"Well, if you're going to stay at least open the door so my mom doesn't freak out," She tossed a pillow to him and the extra quilt from the foot of her bed.

He didn't speak but the seemingly electric sensation to the air passed and he pulled her desk chair to the bedside, propping his feet beside hers just as she had done a week before, after his accident. He coughed a couple times more, a muffled hacking sound then after a few moments he was asleep, his head turned in her direction lips slightly parted hands folded calmly on his stomach.

She smiled to herself and closed her eyes.

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14. Chapters 25 and 26

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Chapter 25; A Fake and A Shake

Max had three people she considered her 'friends' other than the members of her flock. One of these people, who was actually more of Ella's friend, was a girl named Lynn-Dee, who was twice Max's weight and had a slight acne problem.

Lynn-Dee was droning on and on about how much her older sister annoyed her when Fang and Iggy walked up carrying lunch trays and rather sour expressions on their faces.

The bandana that had been tied around Iggy's head, had been replaced that morning by gauze and a pair of dark sunglasses and they had agreed to tell everyone that Iggy had had a minor surgery over the weekend. To hopefully give him back his sight. Sadly that little lie was more believable than the truth.

"Mind?" Iggy said in a rather uninterested tone.

Lynn-Dee shook her head and continued talking. "But, I mean, O-M-G! She's in the bathroom for HOURS and her school uniform? Puh-leeze. She looks like a slut!"

Iggy was piling the mashed potatoes on his tray into a tower and humming the theme to an old movie when Lynn-Dee turned to him her round face bright red, "What is your problem? Why are you kicking me?"

Iggy dropped his fork, "Sorry, I thought I was kicking Max."

Lynn-Dee rolled her eyes and stood, leaving them to sit beside a few other girls from Max's class.

"So what's up?" Max smiled not as interested in Lynn-Dee's conversation as she'd been pretending to be.

Iggy shrugged, "Its really boring here I hate it. Part of me wants to jump up and scream 'FIRE!' At the top of my lungs..."

Max giggled and Fang eyed the pickle on her tray. After staring at it a moment he discretely took it keeping it hidden in the palm of his hand.

"You're just jealous that I got to be lab partners with Cindy Dillon and you're SO in love with her," Max said quickly.

Fang choked, his hands going around his neck his eyes watering.

Iggy thumped him on the back twice, returning the favor from the night before.

"Okay, maybe Fang's in love with her," Max mumbled and skewered a piece of meatloaf on the end of her fork, staring at it distastefully. Then she noticed her pickle was gone and she scowled at Fang, "Did you take my pickle? You deserve to choke if you did! You pickle thief!"

He glared at her still coughing, his hands around his neck.

Iggy hit his back again wondering why Fang was still coughing and wheezing, "Jeez, just spit it out already!"

He turned and stumbled away hacking.

"Where's he going?" Iggy whispered.

Max watched him stagger out of the cafeteria and toward the boy's bathroom, followed by another boy with severely short brown hair. "The bathroom in the hall ... Kevin's going after him. That was the last pickle too!"

Iggy nodded and turned back to his meal, picking around the fruit salad for a full minute before cocking his head in his hand. "I really hate this school, I don't care if we are graduating in June, I want out..."

Max nodded, "Would you rather be back at THE School?"

Iggy went pale and shook his head, he scratched at the gauze and let out a loud sigh. "When did your mom say she could take a look at my eyes?"

"Tonight," Max mumbled around her meatloaf.

Iggy shifted impatiently, "Would you mind if I complained of a bad headache and went home? You know, since I was supposed to have had surgery and all?"

Max opened her mouth to tell him that she wouldn't mind when Kevin ran back into the cafeteria and straight up to her, "You'd better get to the office, Nick just got sick in the bathroom."

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When she rushed inside she expected to see Fang seated in one of the chairs in front of the principal's desk complaining of an upset stomach as he'd done a few times before, not sprawled white-faced on the couch the school nurse bending over him.

"His heart is racing ... I've already called your mother, Max, she's on her way."

"Nick?" She dropped to her knees beside him taking his hand. His skin was hot and the only color on his face were two red splotches high on his cheeks, from coughing so hard no doubt.

She said his name a little louder and gave his hand a shake. His eyes cracked open and he stared up at her blankly his eyes not really focused.

"Is he fevered? He feels so hot!" She cupped a hand to his face amazed that she could feel the heat radiating from him.

The nurse pressed the back of her hand to Fang's forehead and nodded. "I tried to get him to drink some water a few minutes ago but he said that it hurt too much to swallow."

Max nodded, "He got choked at lunch, could that be it?"

"Choking wouldn't cause such a fever, or the rapid heartbeat for such a long period of time. Though it might explain the vomiting ... Does he have a heart problem?"

Max shook her head, "No."

She wanted desperately for the principal and the nurse to leave the room so she could check the back of his neck ... To assure herself he was not expiring...

Five minutes later Dr. Martinez showed up took one look at Fang and had the school nurse help take him to her car.

"I'll take him to the hospital to get checked out and call you later, Judith."

Max watched her mother drive away with Fang slumped in the front seat and she wondered if she really was going to take Fang to the hospital or not.

The fast heartbeat could be explained easily, the whole flock had rapid heartbeats, as well as higher temperatures ... But that didn't explain why Fang's temperature had suddenly gotten hotter.

She wondered what was wrong with him ... Was he dying? Was his expiration date approaching?

She'd never known Fang or any of her flock to get sick like that ... Never so much as a cold. So why did Fang suddenly have a raging fever?

What was wrong with him?

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When they got off the bus that evening they ran directly to the house and inside expecting to see police swarming their rooms, but they only found Aaron playing chess with David, who was winning.

"Where's Fang?" Max said as soon as she was through the door.

Aaron looked up, mildly perturbed and jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. "He's in there."

"Where's my mom?" Max dropped her book bag into the corner and kicked off her shoes.

"She drove into town for some ice-cream, she'll be back in a few."

When she got into the living room she noticed the TV was on and a man and woman were kissing passionately on the screen. It took her a moment to realize what she was seeing.

Fang was lying on the couch under a blanket his chin propped in his hand watching a soap-opera.

"Wow, Fang I didn't know you liked 'The Young and The Restless'!"

He turned his head lazily to her scowling. "I can't find the remote." His voice was no louder than a strained whisper.

"Did you fake all that today, or did you really get sick?"

He shrugged, "The whole fainting thing was an act, but I really am sick."

Max hit him over the head and plopped down on the couch beside him. "Sick in the head is more like it ... You had Iggy so scared, I should kick your butt!"

He shook his head, leaned toward her and opened his mouth wide, hooking his index fingers in the corners of his lips.

She stared at him revolted then shook her head, "You're gross, what are you doing, trying to be a Wizard?"

He shut his mouth and scowled at her, "Your mom says my throat is all red and gross looking. She said it might be my tonsils," He licked his lips and continued in a whisper. "I bit into that stupid pickle and it felt like I'd swallowed a handful of razorblades."

Max rolled her eyes and fished in the couch cushions for the remote, "Is that why you choked? I thought it was just excellently timed karma."

He sighed and settled back against the couch arms crossed. "Coughed till I threw up, then decided, what the hell, let's add fainting ... So I just kind of ... Flopped over."

She eyed him and a tingle of fear ran up her spine, "You really passed out, didn't you."

He hesitated then gave a small nod.

Oh, God, why couldn't he have lied?

Total leapt onto the couch between them and settled himself on Fang's lap. "If you don't learn to control that big brother of yours I am going to bite him, that's your warning and his."

Fang stared down at him for a moment then shook his head, "What did he do?"

Total rolled his eyes, "He called me a 'pooch' I am NOT a 'pooch'!"

Fang swallowed again wincing and nodded unwilling to tax his voice further and speak.

"I don't like him ... He smells funny," Total shifted uncomfortably and eyed Fang, He sniffed absently at Fang's chest then settled down across the boy's lap, head on his knee.

Total remained seated for a few more minutes then sighed and climbed off of Fang's lap depositing himself on Max's. "He's too hot!"

Max turned and flattened her hand on Fang's forehead again then made a disgusted face when she drew her palm back moist with sweat. "Ew! You're all clammy!" She wiped her hand on his shirt.

Fang gave her a scathing look and turned back to the TV wondering absently where the remote was and if the two people groping on screen were making Max as uncomfortable as he was becoming.

"Why are we watching this? This is weird ... Change the channel to Animal Planet, I love watching those crocodiles," Total grumbled and jumped off the couch, trotting across the room digging under the nearest chair for the remote.

Aaron and Gasman tiptoed into the room and jumped in front of the TV.

Gasman threw his arm up, the back of his hand to his brow and he tossed his head dramatically, "Oh, Fangie-poo! I love you dearly, true!" He said in a breathy version of Max's voice.

"Oh, Max! My dear, come to me! Come to me, do!" Aaron said loudly in a slightly British version of Fang's voice. Which sounded oddly normal coming from him...

Gasman tipped backward, in a faux-swoon and Aaron caught him laughing loudly.

Fang growled and threw off the blanket, taking after his brother intent on strangling him.

Aaron squeaked, dropped Gasman to the floor with a loud 'THUMP!' and his voice instantly changed to Max's, "Oh, yes, CHASE me! I'm such a tease!"

Max growled and leapt over the back of the couch.

"Oh, boy!" Total said loudly and began chasing Aaron also, barking loudly and growling, "I'm gonna get you, you stinking bird-brain! No body insults Max!"

Aaron looked over his shoulder and his face fell. "Bugger me!" And he started running faster than ever toward the door. "Out of the way!" He dove between Iggy and Ella and out the door, sprinting across the lawn toward the trees, never once remembering he could fly.

David and Angel laughed loudly as he streaked across the yard Total, Max and Fang at his heels. As he neared a rather large tree at the edge of the yard he jumped, grabbing the lowest limb with both hands and clambering atop it.

Total growled up at him, "Now that we've treed him, what are we going to do? Tar and feather perhaps? Nah, he's already feathered. I say we tie him to two teams of horses and let them pull-"

"OI! Yeah, real nice, you've had your fun, now bug-off! I didn't mean any harm!"

Fang sat his jaw, extended his wings and with a single downward stroke leapt onto the branch beside his brother. His voice sounded strained as he walked slowly forward tottering dangerously, wings out to keep his balance.

Total growled again, "You're in for it now, bud! I knew there was something fishy about you!"

"Tell Max you're sorry."

Max propped her hands on her hips, "I can stand up for myself, Fang I don't need your help!"

He turned to her his wings drooping visibly and grimaced as he swallowed, "Well, what if I want to stand up for you too?"

Her tongue felt thick in her mouth, thick and useless, just a hunk of immobile muscle and taste buds.

Aaron took the moment of distraction and jumped from the tree, gaining altitude with every beat of his wings. He flew toward the house and dive-bombed the yard, landing hard on his hands and knees. He was on his feet and running inside before Max could make her tongue move again.

"I can stand up for myself..." And she turned, running back to the house red-faced.

She locked herself in her room and didn't come out until dinner.

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Chapter 26; Iggy

Fang, David, Gasman, Angel and Aaron stayed behind that night when Dr. Martinez took Iggy Max, Nudge and Ella to the clinic.

The gauze that had replaced Nudge's pink bandana was removed and Iggy lay on his back on the X-ray table his legs hanging off the end into space toes tapping nervously.

When the X-ray came out Nudge explained to Iggy what she saw. What was now obvious to everyone ... There were two one-quarter inch, round computer chips in Iggy's eyes.

"I can't get them out... They're IN there ... Kind of like a lens replacement but..." Her voice trailed off and she shifted on her feet examining the X-ray more closely. She pointed to the two little hair like wires leading from the computer chips back into Iggy's head. "Those wires are tapping directly into his optic nerves... If we could somehow disable those wires-"

Iggy jumped off the table and started feeling around on the walls.

"What are you doing, Iggy?" Ella said quickly.

"It's a computer chip ... How do you overload a computer chip?"

Max shrugged, "Put all your weight on it?"

He shook his head, "If a computer gets hit by lightning what happens?"

Ella put a hand to her mouth, "No, you can't be serious!"

He grinned, "If a computer gets hit by lightning the motherboard gets fried and it won't work anymore."

"You are not going to electrocute yourself!" Dr. Martinez said loudly. "You could be seriously hurt or killed."

"I don't want to electrocute myself ... Just a shock, just enough to fry those things!" He pointed to his temple. "I've been shocked before and it obviously didn't work so it will have to be something a little bigger this time ... Do you have an extra car battery lying around here?"

"NO!" Max barked.

"There is another way..."

Max turned to look at her mother.

"I could talk to Merrick White..."

"Who is Merrick White?" Iggy said his hands twitching at his sides.

"He's an opto... An eye surgeon."

Iggy tensed.

"His wife is the secretary here."

"I'd rather electrocute myself!" He said and began feeling the walls again.

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15. Chapters 27

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Chapter 27; White, Lights and a Fire

Fang and Iggy stayed home from school the next day. Iggy because he now had an appointment with Dr. White and Fang because he literally couldn't speak or swallow.

He'd made high-pitched rasping sounds that morning instead of cursing when he'd banged his bare foot into the doorframe. And when Dr. Martinez peered into his mouth, shining a flashlight in so she could see his throat the first thing she'd done is tell him to go back to bed and stay there.

That whole day at school was excruciatingly dull. Nothing interesting happened, save Nudge making a perfect score on her spelling exam. After which she'd proudly sported a sticker on her notebook that said '100 Club!'

That evening when they got home Max found Fang still asleep in his bed, huddled under a mound of blankets and Aaron on the phone trying to get David enrolled in School.

"Yes, he's my younger brother and I have legal guardianship over him ... He was enrolled in Montana under Joseph David Hutchinson. Yes, that's one 'I' N-S-O-N... He was in first grade last year ... Yes, he was promoted ... Yes, I have all his identification ... All right, thank you, goodbye."

Aaron shook his fist at the phone after he hung it up then collapsed in the kitchen chair. He looked up at Max exhausted, "If you ever EVER have children, promise me that you'll keep better track of their records than I have David's."

Max plopped down at the table beside him, "You and David have records?"

Aaron smiled and pulled out his wallet again, handing Max his driver's license. "David has a social-security number and everything. All my identification, though, is from England save that."

His age said 19, but the longer Max stared at his photo the younger he looked. "How'd you get it?"

Dr. Martinez and Jeb had gone through all kinds of trouble to get the flock enrolled in school and on the road to a semi-normal life.

Max's chest tightened when she thought of Jeb.

Aaron bit into his lip, "Well ... Dad-Mr. Hutchinson had a bit of help from a few priests in London to get mine ... And, well, he had David's all set up when we found him. Don't ask me how."

Total jogged into the kitchen and began sniffing Aaron's shoes.

"OI! What are you doing?" Aaron glared down at Total his teeth clenched.

Total's ears perked and he glanced untrustingly up at Aaron then ran out of the room his short little black legs pumping. Tail as far between his legs as he could manage to tuck it.

Max shook her head. Total had been acting oddly since Aaron and David showed up, and he'd even voiced his dislike for Aaron the day before when Max and Fang were watching TV.

Max sighed and changed the subject. "Have my mom and Iggy been gone all day?"

Aaron nodded, "Since you lot left," He peered out the window where Angel was zipping around overhead showing David a few mid-air fighting techniques.

"What about Fang?"

"I only saw him out of bed twice and one of those times I woke him up to make him eat something, the other time I think he was sleepwalking..."

Max nodded, "So, he's really sick?"

Aaron shook his head, "He's not THAT sick ... He's just ... Well, he's a bit embarrassed I believe."

"Embarrassed?" She felt anger building in her chest, "Why is HE embarrassed?"

Aaron glanced up at her, smirking, "If you don't know the answer to that question by now then you don't know him half as well as I believed you to."

She grew quiet and looked down at her hands. What was that supposed to mean?

But before she could scream at him that eerie sense of calm stole over her and everything seemed to make sense, except for the reason Fang was embarrassed.

Nudge stuck her head into the kitchen her eyes wide, "Iggy's back!"

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When she led him into the office there was no one else there but Dr. White. He smelled slightly of peppermint candy and soap and his hands were gentle when he led Iggy into the exam room.

Panic had seized him, making him want to run, to fly away and never come back. Why hadn't he just stuck his fork in the power outlet behind the toaster that morning like he planned to do?

Why did he let Max's mom drag him all the way across town to this strange, antiseptic smelling place?

This place where a doctor would soon be examining his eyes... The last time a doctor had operated on his eyes he'd ended up blind with cameras in his head.

He didn't want to be here, he wanted to leave. He didn't want to go through the disappointment again ... Not again.

He sat stiffly in the reclining chair that was supposed to relax him, his fingers dug into the arms ready to run if he had to. The door was five paces to his left, then thirty paces down the hall to his right, through a door and another five paces across the lobby and out the double doors...

He heard Max's mom talking with Dr. White and he heard the man holding his X-ray up to a light that made a slight buzzing sound by the door.

"Well ... It looks just like the lens-replacements, you're right about that ... But ... Val, I could be arrested if anyone finds out about this... We could BOTH go to jail..."

"I know that Merrick ... But he's miserable ... Wouldn't you be too, in his situation?"

How much did this Merrick know about his situation?

"He's already blind, what harm could it cause to remove them?"

The man scoffed, "He could loose his eyes completely!"

Iggy sat straight up in the chair, and had it not been reclined he would have bolted. "Loose my eyes? Like they're gone! Empty sockets GONE!"

Merrick sighed, "That's just a worst case scenario."

"But it's a possibility?" He was shaking.

"Yes, it's a possibility."

He felt nauseous. "But you can get them out?"

Merrick examined the X-ray again, "Yes, I can get them out-"

Iggy leaned back in the seat and stripped off the gauze from around his head. As long as they were out, as long as the little cameras were gone he didn't care.

"Then do it, and do it now."

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He'd lain there in the darkness for a long while. Dr. White had put an IV in each arm and he'd lain there feeling his muscles relax, the slight tingling numbness creep across his body. Then he'd felt Max's mom's hand in his and heard her voice, "You don't have to do this you know, Iggy. There are other ways."

"No, there aren't and you know it. Unless you call me walking around with a bandana tied around my head for the rest of my life 'another way'," He hesitated and his thoughts strayed to the day he and Fang had walked to the Post Office.

When he'd told Fang what had happened to him ... He wished he'd taken the time to kiss Her. To run his hands through her brown hair, bend down and kiss her. He'd been naked and wet, fresh from the shower ... But what did he care ... She'd wanted him...

Who cared if she was a younger than him? Max was older than Fang and Fang himself had admitted to kissing her.

It was only a year...

I don't want to die until I've kissed her, He whispered in his head. Just once...

"This might feel a little warm at first but just relax and count backward from one-hundred, Okay?"

He nodded and something hot shot into his veins, warming him from the inside out, heating a few hidden places as he started counting, "Ninety-nine ... ninenee-hate ... Twelf-furfdee-seven."

He remembered laughing in his head and thinking, Twelf-furfdee-seven doesn't come after... Then everything was dark and when he woke up his nose was running and the bandage around his head felt scratchy against his skin.

"Fordry-pinedreen..." He mumbled and felt Dr. White's gentle arms lifting him, carrying him out the door and down the hall as if he weighed nothing at all.

He wondered absently if Dr. White could feel his wings through his shirt but it didn't really matter for some reason.

"Val, call me immediately if he fevers, if he feels pain or if there is any discharge."

"I will, Merrick, I promise ... Thank you so much for everything. Thank you."

"Frankshoe!" Iggy slurred, although he couldn't quite remember why he was thanking this man. This surprisingly tall man with gentle hands...

Then he remembered, as if someone had whispered it in his head. "Iwantem!" He shouted weakly and clawed at Dr. White's shoulder. "Iwan those THINGS!"

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"Iggy's back!"

Max stood up so fast the chair she'd been sitting in slid across the floor and fell over. She rushed outside and stood on the porch staring as her mother helped him out of the car.

His face was white, blending near perfectly with the fresh bandage around his head. He held onto her arm tightly and a satisfied grin spread his lips. He stumbled and almost dropped the little paper bag clutched in his free hand.

As he passed Max he spoke, in a thin quavering voice. "You and Fang come to my room later."

She nodded.

His hand shot out and grabbed her by the wrist, "Oh, and, Max ... Bring a hammer?"

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16. Chapters 28

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Chapter 28 Eye of the Devil

At nearly midnight, Fang, finally awake, crept into Iggy's room and leaned himself against the wall scratching at the little dark brown hairs on his jaws and chin. His hair was terribly mussed and standing on end and he made a horse sound in his sore throat to alert Iggy of his presence but the boy seemed to already know he was there.

He was sitting at his desk when Max crept in, a hammer in her hands. She glanced at Fang from the corner of her eye and wasn't entirely surprised to see his cheeks were still slightly red.

Iggy spoke under his breath, "I wanted you two here with me 'cause I don't know if I can do it on my own."

Max opened her mouth to speak but before she could Iggy tore open the little paper bag and emptied its contents onto his desk.

She was sickened and from the little strained grunting sound Fang made behind her she knew she wasn't the only one.

Two little round computer chips clattered across Iggy's desk, both slightly bloody looking.

He reached out with shaking hands and turned the chips toward his face and bent over them his teeth ground together.

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The view changed and The Director stared into the observation screen anger building in her chest.

She saw his face looming down at her, large and pale ... His eyes covered with a thick bandage.

She saw his lips moving then he leaned backward and lifted a notebook, on which words had been written in black ink.

"Like the view now, bitch?"

The anger in her rose and her chest grew tighter. She felt more than heard Omega's hands clench into fists beside her and as she watched the pale, red-headed experiment before her dropped the notebook and snatched up a hammer.

She saw his angry, agonized face grow even whiter as he brought the hammer down on one of the chips.

The screen went to black and white static then automatically switched to the second camera-chip.

The view had changed yet again and she saw the red haired experiment stumble out of the room his hand over his mouth.

Max followed him her mouth moving but the dark one stayed ... HE stayed.

He peered after Max and the redhead for a moment then crept to the desk and looked down at the camera-chip.

His face was calm, slightly curious and then the corner of his mouth twitched and he raised his hand, effectively flipping her the bird before he picked up the hammer and dashed the last chip to dust.

The Director saw, a split second before the hammer crushed the camera, a deadly red light shining in the dark one's eyes...

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Max held his hair up, even though it wasn't long enough to be in the way. He didn't fight her and she was glad.

She knew it had been hard for him, she'd heard it in his voice when he told them what he was going to do. That he was going to blind The Director as effectively as she'd blinded him for most of his life.

After his gagging had given way to uncontrollable sobs Max spoke, gently petting the back of his head. "That was so cool, Ig ... Really hardcore."

He snuffed back tears and mumbled, "R-Really?"

"Yeah, really," Fang said stepping into the room. His voice was broken, off key. "I loved that note, 'like the view now, bitch?' Classic, Iggy, beautiful, it almost brought a tear to my eye!"

Iggy's hand twitched and he contemplated giving Fang the finger but sobbed weakly instead. "It scared me ... It really scared me ... Did I hit it at least, I didn't completely miss it did I? God, it would have looked really stupid if I missed it."

Fang smiled and dropped to his knees beside Iggy, placing a hand on his back. "You hit it, completely crushed the both of them in one try!"

"B-both of them?"

"Yes, it was awesome."

"Really cool, Iggy. You were really virile, very impressive."

Iggy turned to her, "Virile?"

Max nodded, "Really manly and tough ... I don't know if I'd have been able to do that."

Fang's eyebrows shot up and he gave her a, 'you're provoking the pig' kind of look.

She rolled her eyes and gave him the finger;

"Okay, maybe I could have done it, but it really was brave ... I'm really proud of you."

He snuffed and raised his hand to rub his eyes but lowered it again, "I'd better tell your mom I was crying ... That doctor guy said I wasn't supposed to."

Max nodded and helped him up although he didn't look like he needed any help.

Fang climbed to his feet and stood beside her watching Iggy walk down the hall and slowly make his way down the steps.

"Virile?" His voice cracked as he spoke and Max turned to him glowering.

"Shut-up, Squeaky!"

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17. Chapters 29

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Chapter 29; Here Piggy-Piggy!

"Just hold still a minute, Iggy!"

He was bouncing in his seat lip between his teeth. "I'm trying, but what if it worked? What if I can see?"

Dr. Martinez smiled and continued to carefully snip at the bandages. "It has only been three days, and even with your healing abilities it might take longer, so don't be disappointed if nothing has changed, OK?"

"Okay..." But he kept bouncing, his fingers curling and uncurling.

It was a tense moment as the last bandage fell away...

He wished they were back from school ... He wished SHE were back from school. He wanted her face to be the first thing he saw. And he would risk having his butt kicked into next year as long as he got to see her, to hold her face between his hands and stare into her eyes...

He wanted to see her eyes...

That is, if she still liked him...

What if she'd found someone else in the weeks since the 'incident'. What if walking in on him standing there in the bathroom naked had been a one-time affair? What if she didn't want him anymore?

"Well, are you going to open your eyes or not?" Aaron said impatiently.

"What time is it?"

"Its half-past three, Gazzy should be home any minute."

"Come on, open your eyes, I can't take the suspense!" Aaron whined beside him.

Iggy shook his head, suddenly afraid to open his eyes and see ... If he could see...

"Take me outside, I want to be outside..."

Aaron mumbled something under his breath and patted his own shoulder so Iggy could hear where he was. "Come on then, bloody hell, you've gotten me so worked up I'm about to snap!"

He could feel the warm September air on his cheeks and smell it, the beginnings of that cool, earthy autumn smell...

He heard the bus slow and stop, heard David shrieking happily as he ran up the driveway shaking a paper, "I got a 100!"

He heard Gasman shouting, "I LOVE FRIDAYS!"

And he heard her feet on the gravel. That soft, hesitant sound ... He heard Max laughing at something she said and he heard Fang walk up the steps silently and disappear inside.

Angel laughed and called for Total...

He opened his eyes and...

His knees shook violently and his mouth was dry.

Everything was dark in his left eye, still blind and useless...

Color... Dazzling blue smeared with yellow and red. Indistinct shapes, one yellow tipped and dark in the middle, one dark with a splash of bright pink across the middle, and a slightly lighter blob in green...

BIG! The world was so big!

He whimpered and turned, running back into the house hands out before him. He didn't know where he was, everything was alien, strange and harshly bright.

He hit the steps and fell scrambling up on his hands and knees his breath catching in his throat. His mind felt torn, two frighteningly different senses suddenly existed where there had only been one. It was hard to comprehend that he was seeing the things that he'd only been able to identify by touch days before...

"Iggy?"

Gasman's voice to his left and he turned. Another yellow tipped shadow this one in blue.

He continued crawling up the steps until he made it to the top, his hands out, stumbling in the direction he remembered the bathroom to be.

Something rectangular lit up before him and a black specter loomed out at him. He shrank back from it with a cry but hands grabbed him and Fang's voice was loud and scratchy, slightly melodic.

"Iggy? Iggy what's wrong?"

Iggy shoved his way past the specter and into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

A red topped shadow was to his right and he lashed out his heart hammering in his chest.

His hands came to a stop pressed against something cool and smooth and his breath died in his throat.

The mirror...

Now that he could feel it, he knew it was the mirror, he recognized it... He pressed his face close his eyes open wide.

He touched the red on the mirror then put his hand on his head...

His hair ... He was seeing his own hair!

He laughed, he laughed and tears rolled down his face.

"Iggy? Are you OK?" Max called from the other side of the door.

"I'm fine ... I'm OK, now," He turned reluctantly from the mirror and cracked open the door pressing his face into the opening and grinning out at her.

He could make out the differences in the color now, he could tell the difference between her hair, her skin and her clothes. He opened the door the rest of the way and stood there smiling. "Don't move."

"Why not?"

He stepped forward slowly and raised his hand. His grin widened and he pressed the tip of his finger against the tip of Max's nose.

"Because I want to get a good look at you!"

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"Okay, my hand eye coordination could use some serious work," Iggy said wiping ketchup off the leg of his jeans and front of his shirt.

They'd built a small fire in the backyard and were roasting hotdogs over the flames, celebrating the 'miracle' as Total had called it.

He had no depth perception and was still blind in his left eye but he could see color, he could see shapes and if he concentrated hard enough he could find things without being told at what o'clock they were sitting.

David rushed out of the house and presented Iggy with a picture he'd just got finished drawing. It depicted a crude stick-figure with flaming red hair and wings standing beside a smaller brown haired stick-figure with wings and a large heart floating above them both.

"I'm really happy you can see now," He hugged Iggy tightly around the neck then jumped away laughing, "Can we go chase fire-flies?"

Iggy stared around trying to see the little flickers of green light in the darkness and was awed when he could.

He spent the next hour wondering around the yard gently cupping the few fire-flies that hadn't died in the waning summer coolness, in his hands and staring open-mouthed as they blinked and then flew away.

"This is so cool!" He said under his breath and scooped up another watching it blink before letting it go.

David jumped around slapping at the little bugs but never managed to catch one and at about ten thirty he rubbed his eyes and announced he was going to bed.

Aaron, who'd been inside most of the night scrounging around with Gasman suddenly came out of the backdoor carrying an armload of what looked like Roman Candles and assorted other fireworks.

"Ladies and Gents ... And Totals, of course," He added when the little black head raised and white teeth flashed.

"The Gasman and I are proud to present a show of lights!"

"Aaron, smile!" Ella said and lifted her camera.

She'd been taking pictures all night and now when ever she said the word 'smile' everyone froze and grinned comically because they weren't particularly sure who she was pointing the camera at.

Aaron gave her a cocky grin and closed his eyes so as not to be temporarily blinded by the flash.

Iggy sat back down in the lawn-chair he'd claimed and prodded the fire with a stick watching the brightly colored flames dance before him. Then there was a loud screech and a firework shot upward into the sky, bursting in a bright flash of green.

Everyone 'Oo'ed and 'ahh'ed and Iggy felt a small hand slip all four fingers into his palm. He grabbed the fingers for a second, giving them a little squeeze before they retreated.

Iggy swallowed hard because he knew what those fingers had meant...

She still liked him...

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Max went to bed before the fireworks display was over. She'd been just as excited as Iggy when he touched her nose and told her he could see...

Because I want to get a good look at you! She'd nearly squeezed him in two she'd hugged him so tightly.

Everything was going well, things were finally looking up.

The Wizards had not made another appearance, Iggy could see, David and Aaron were settled in nicely ... The only problems were Total's aggression toward Aaron and the fact Fang had stopped talking to her

She'd caught him looking at her during class the day before, but he hadn't said anything ... He just stared, and when she caught him he looked away. She supposed he was staring at Cindy, the busty brunette she'd been made lab partners with... Since he was SOOO in love with her.

She ground her teeth at the thought...

It was as if, since she decided it was OK to 'likelove' Fang he'd decided she wasn't worth the effort...

He hadn't spoken to her since the night Iggy crushed his camera-chips. And from how happy Iggy seemed now, that day could have been years ago.

It was close to four AM when she woke up her bladder screaming. The party had been over for nearly an hour and she was beginning to regret all the juice she'd drank. She rolled out of bed and yawned scratching her head and trying to shove the remnants of a dream from her mind.

As she reached for the bathroom doorknob a brief fleeting thought skittered across her brain before disappearing like smoke.

The door is closed, there's probably someone in there...

But she opened the door anyway...

It was like watching a live version of that soap opera she'd caught Fang watching...

He had her pinned against the wall and he was shirtless, his lips crushed against hers, hungrily. One arm was braced above his head the other on her upper thigh, holding her tightly against him Her knee was cocked over his hip. Both her hands were in his hair, making the red locks stand on end. Eager little moaning sounds were escaping her... Were escaping them both ... One of her hands slipped down his chest, around his back and tangled in his feathers ... Drawing a shivering groan from him. He threw back his head and started kissing her again, ravenously...

And they seemed to be too engrossed in each other to notice Max was standing there gaping at them so, after giving her head a shake she made herself known.

"Is that my SISTER!"

Iggy's head whipped to the left and he stiffened staring at the blurry form of Max standing in the doorway.

Ella's hand tightened in his hair and she slowly lowered her leg so she didn't look so ... Disheveled. Letting loose of his wing she leaned forward and pressed against the door. "Can you give us a few minutes please?"

A door opened behind Max...

"Wha's goin on?" Fang mumbled groggily rubbing his head. He stepped into the hall, took one look at Iggy, Ella and Max bit his tongue and quickly shut himself back in his room.

Max gaped at them her hands clenching and unclenching. She opened her mouth to speak but the only sound that came out was a half-choking growl. She held her rigid index finger under Iggy's nose and ground her teeth...

Iggy nodded and his knees started knocking, "I'm a sexist-pig, I know."

"Sexist-Bacon ... Pain ... VERY MUCH PAIN!" Max snarled shaking her finger under his nose.

He stared at her hand, never realizing that a finger could be so intimidating. "I understand that, but I'm willing to risk it."

Max shifted on her feet impatiently. She hissed as she exhaled and the bright redness that had risen in her cheeks faded. "I have to pee too badly to deal with this right now ... Just get out of my way," And she forcibly pushed Ella and Iggy out of the bathroom and locked herself in.

The word 'Tense' didn't even begin to describe Iggy the next morning. He was creeping around the kitchen trying to keep a hold on his coffee cup but his hands were shaking too badly.

He'd been caught ... Max knew... But at the same time his fear was over run with feelings of- I just had a HEAVY make-out session with Ella! WHOOT, for me!

He flexed his shaking hands for a moment before he attempted another drink of coffee.

Max stumbled into the room, awake but looking worn. She glared at Iggy and sat down beside David, who was pinching his waffles between his fork and his left index finger, trying to get them to his mouth before syrup dripped on his clothes.

As far as Max could tell, he had yet to be successful.

Angel giggled from across the table and grinned at Iggy.

He could just make out her blurry shape as she raked her index finger across her throat and hung her tongue between her lips.

Nudge sauntered into the room grinning. She sat down directly across from Max and took an apple from the large bowl of fruit that had been a permanent addition to the table and crunched into it.

"So ... Iggy and Ella were sucking some serious face in the bathroom last night?"

Iggy spat coffee out his nose and coughed into the sink.

Dr. Martinez dropped an egg and turned, her arms crossed over her chest a rather Max like expression on her face. "You and Ella... You and Ella were 'sucking face'?" She actually made quotation marks in the air with her fingers.

Iggy's knees began to tremble. He could take Max's wrath, but Ella's mother's? He whimpered but nodded. He couldn't deny it ... So he did the first thing that popped into his head.

Fang walked into the kitchen yawning sleepily.

"FANG TOLD ME TO!"

He froze mid step, his right foot still raised, and turned wide eyes to Iggy.

Every eye in the room turned to him and two sets of brown eyes pierced him like icicles.

"You told him to?" Max seethed.

"It was just kissing, it wasn't like they were having s-"

"That's it!" Dr. Martinez's hand came down hard on the counter making everyone jump. "I was hoping it wouldn't come to this but you boys have given me no choice ... David, go get Aaron and Gazzy, tell them to meet me in the den NOW.

"You two, follow me, no arguments..."

Fang felt himself smile nervously. He'd always wondered where Max got her 'Commanding Leader' voice.

Thirty minutes later Aaron, Fang, Iggy and Gasman were seated in a row on the couch all four nauseated and red faced.

"Now, do you all understand, or do you want me to explain it over again."

Total laughed from under the couch and crawled out the remote in his teeth. He dropped the remote and spoke, "Tell it again, I don't think Aaron was listening."

"Oh, Hell," Aaron dropped his head to his hands and seemed to fold in on himself in misery.

Gazzy raised his hand, feeling for some reason as if he were in school. "Can I go back to my room ... Please?" He looked positively frightened.

"Yes, you can go."

He leapt over the back of the couch and darted out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Fang and Iggy started to get up but Dr. Martinez snapped her fingers and pointed to the floor. "I'm enacting a curfew. No one of the male type in a girl's room after sundown, or before eight AM."

"They were in the bathroom, not a bedroom," Total jumped onto the couch sniffing Aaron.

"Thank you, only one person in the bathroom at a time, understand?"

Iggy hung his head his hands clasped between his knees.

Dr. Martinez sighed and ran a hand through her hair, "I was a teenager once myself, shocking, I know ... I understand that the feelings you have are intense, that's why I'm not forbidding you from seeing each other. You would just sneak around behind my back and do it- And don't look at me like that because when I was seventeen I would sneak behind my parent's back all the time to see this boy-" She stopped short and cleared her throat.

Fang shifted uncomfortably.

"If you and Ella want to continue this relationship then by all means, do ... But, PLEASE, do it where you can be supervised ... I am NOT ready to become a grandmother."

Aaron giggled and bit his lip.

"Can I go now?" Iggy was still staring at the floor.

"Fine ... Aaron, I need to speak to you and Nick for a moment, thank you."

Iggy scrambled out of the room, leaving the door wide open.

They were quiet for nearly half a minute.

She sighed in frustration stood and grasped Fang under the chin, lifting his face and turning his head from side to side.

He felt self-conscious. Why was she looking at him like that? Like she was appraising him ... Why was she looking at him like there was something wrong with him?

"You'll be turning seventeen in a few weeks, right, Nick?"

He nodded, but her hand remained under his chin.

Her eyes turned to Aaron and she jerked her head toward the stairs, "Go teach this boy to shave, he's starting to look like Total."

And the little talking dog burst out laughing.

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18. Chapters 30 to 32

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Chapter 30: The Invitation

Total jogged out of the den barely withholding laughter.

"What's so funny?" Max said stacking her dishes on the counter by the sink.

Total jumped onto the chair beside Angel, who put some bacon and eggs on a smaller plate, just for him.

"I feel so sorry for your boys..." He laughed and shook his head, "Your mom just gave them THE talk."

"What?"

Angel laughed and Total shook his head.

"Angel, why don't you and David go and get the mail?" Dr. Martinez stepped into the room smiling calmly.

"Okay, come on, Dave, I'll show you how to do a roundhouse kick," She winked at Max as they walked outside.

"Max, would you Ella and Nudge come into the den for a minute, please."

"Oh! I have GOT to hear this!" And Total scampered ahead of them.

Just as they disappeared into the den Gasman crept back into the kitchen and piled a napkin full of bacon then started toward the steps. Just as he passed he heard Nudge shriek;

"OH, MY GOD! EW-EW-EW! That is SO gross! I mean EW!"

Total literally barked with laughter.

Gazzy wondered why Nudge was saying 'EW', if ANYTHING was disgusting it was that terrible thing that happened to girls every month.

He shuddered and ran up the steps chewing on his bacon.

"ELLA! ELLA, YOU GOT A LETTER!" Angel squealed excitedly and rushed into the den waving the envelope about an hour later.

Ella disentangled herself from Iggy, who had a red cheeked drunken grin on his face. She sat up, still straddling him and took the letter from Angel.

Angel cocked her head to the side and probed Iggy's mind then scowled and shook her head, "If Max knew you were thinking things like that she'd kick your behind!"

Iggy nodded, "I'll give you a quarter if you swear not to tell."

"Show me the quarter," Angel cocked a hand on her hip and tapped her foot impatiently.

Iggy sighed, "There's one in my desk drawer you can have it if you swear not to tell Max."

"I want one quarter a day or I spill."

"Can you believe this?" Iggy grumbled up at Ella who wasn't paying a bit of attention, then sighed and flung his arm over his eyes. "Fine, but weekends are only five cents."

"Cheapskate."

Ella suddenly screamed happily and jumped over the back of the couch running upstairs, "OH, MY GOD! WE GOT INVITED TO LYNN-DEE'S HALLOWEEN PARTY!"

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Chapter 31; Bump in the Night

Aaron dropped himself across the folding bed he'd been sleeping on for the past week and threw his arm over his face. He cleared his throat to loosen the muscles and took off his glasses, staring at them for a moment before dropping them unceremoniously to the floor.

He heard the little clicks of Total's feet in the hall and raised his head to watch the little black talking dog poke his head into the room.

He lowered his head and stared at Aaron silently for a moment then spoke under his breath;

"When are you going to tell them?"

Aaron stiffened, "What are you on about?" He whispered in a very small, child's voice.

Total merely stood there, his head lowered and glared, "I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I can smell, pal. And I finally figured it out."

Aaron bit his lip and flopped onto his stomach. He fiddled with the edge of the pillowcase.

"You're not who you say you are," Total said, still not moving.

Aaron glanced up at him frightened, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Don't play Do-Do with me, Aaron ... Just like I told Fang, you guys smell ... I can tell by a person's scent when they're lying ... And, bud, you reek."

Total looked threatening with his head down like that, as if at any moment he'd roll back his lip and lunge at Aaron's face. Aaron stiffened and stared down at the little dog. Part of him wanted to shout for Angel to come and collect her pooch but he stopped himself.

"What else can you smell?"

Total's eyes shifted to the glasses lying on the floor, discarded. "I know you don't really wear glasses, those things aren't even prescription. But you don't need to smell to figure that out."

Aaron nodded and started fiddling with the pillowcase again. "And?"

"And I know you, Iggy, Fang and Max all have more in common than you've let on."

He nodded again and raised tear filled eyes to the little black dog before him, "Do they really have to know? I mean, this place is great, they don't treat me different here. If they know everything will fall apart."

Total sighed and trotted into the room jumping up onto the bed with Aaron, "Kid, they need to know. They don't deserve to be lied to."

Aaron bit his lip, "If I tell them they will hate me ... They'll be angry because I lied. Oh, God, Nick will never forgive me," He stifled a sob and buried his face in the pillow.

Total licked the boy's hand, "But you're part of the flock, Max will understand ... So will Fang and everyone else. Just tell them WHY."

"But they'll hate me. They won't get it, they won't understand ... Its not my fault, Total, its not!"

"I know that it isn't your fault ... Angel will understand, in fact, I'm surprised she doesn't know already, being able to read minds and all."

Aaron raised his head and rubbed tears from his eyes.

Total smiled and licked Aaron's chin. "So ... Are we going to tell them?"

"We?"

Total scoffed, "Do you think I'd let you do it alone?"

Aaron shook his head, "Let me have a fag and we- Stop sniggering, a CIGARETTE. Is that better?"

Total nodded and jumped off the bed, "So, in the morning?"

Aaron nodded and scrounged around in the desk drawer for his cigarettes. "In the morning."

Exactly like Dr. Martinez said, Fang found a way to talk to Max in private without going into her room after sundown.

He positioned himself directly outside her window then made faces at her through the glass to get her attention.

"What, you finally decided I'm worth talking to again?" She scowled at him as she opened the window and climbed part of the way out, sitting on the sill and staring out at the spectacular red sunset.

He grinned, "I found out why my throat was so sore."

She nearly fell backward through the window. "Oh, my God, your voice changed!"

He rolled his eyes, "In more ways than one ... Aaron explained it to me ... Apparently the Avian DNA kind of delays puberty for a while in boys..."

Max shrugged, "So that's why Gazzy still sounds a lot like Angel."

He choked on a laugh and turned away, his cheeks red.

"Yep, don't worry, mom gave us the sex-talk too."

He buried his face in his hands, "Was that embarrassing or what?"

Max giggled, "Learned a few things you could have gone a lifetime without knowing, huh?"

He nodded vigorously. "Did she whip out the pictures on you guys too?"

Max shuddered, "Oh, yeah ... And all I have to say is..." She stuck out her tongue squeezed her eyes closed and shivered violently.

He smiled, "Well, that's a shock ... You find the male body repulsive ... After you practically gave me a bath the other day?"

She growled, "I was wiping the mud off of you, you were really dirty."

He gave her a tightlipped grin but didn't say anything about how much of a dirty boy he was...

She eased herself onto the roof beside him and hugged her knees. "So ... You finally reached puberty."

He rolled his eyes, "Oh, yes, make fun of me, that's real mature."

"What did you do to your face?" She pointed at a slightly bloody looking spot on his jaw.

He sighed and touched the spot, "Your mom made Aaron teach me to shave ... But he did a piss poor job of it I cut myself three times and he sprayed shaving cream all over the place then said 'Don't panic! Don't panic!'" He mocked Aaron's accent.

She made an, 'Aw, ain't him special!' sound in her throat.

"Shut-up."

"Make me."

He stared at her, and she thought for a moment he WAS going to make her and her heart caught in her throat.

That same, charged sensation settled over her and she wondered absently if she could trust Fang ... She wondered if she could trust herself around him...

God, he's gorgeous ... I wonder what he'd do if I kissed him for a change...

She leaned in slightly her lids drooping but he turned away from her staring out over the yard.

Max felt rejected and she settled back against the windowsill with a sigh.

The porch light came on and Fang heard the door open. He saw Aaron storm out into the yard smacking a pack of cigarettes against the heel of his hand then scratching his chin and throat.

Then the door opened again and to Fang's surprise Nudge ran out in her fluffy green house shoes and robe.

Max shifted on the roof and watched in silence as Nudge jogged to Aaron and gently laid a hand on his arm.

"Hey, can we talk a minute?"

Aaron lit his cigarette and exhaled a ring of smoke into the night air. "I just finished a fascinating conversation with the dog," He sighed and turned to her, "You can talk all you like, but you know my answer already."

Nudge hugged herself and turned in profile to the porch. Her deep chocolate eyes were shining and for some reason, even though she had her super-curly hair in two braids on either side of her head and a pink bandana tied over them, to Max and Fang she appeared to be shining. Her arms crossed elegantly over her chest.

She smiled and Max wondered where Nudge learned to smile like that...

"I know what you are, I saw it when you touched me back in the desert, and I can feel it now ... I know what we-"

Aaron hissed and turned to her his cigarette dropping to the gravel path. "I know what you saw ... I saw it too damn it! I can FEEL it too, and it scares the hell out of me!" He shook his head and his hands trembled at his sides.

"But, its OK ... It's RIGHT!"

"It is bloody well NOT 'OK'!" His voice was strained and he was trying very hard not to talk louder than a whisper. His hands shook and he buried them in his own hair, pulling back the jaw length reddish-brown locks so his face stood out starkly against the darkness surrounding him. He closed his eyes and growled in his chest a sound nearly identical to the one Fang made when he was severely annoyed.

"You're only fifteen years old, Nudgie!"

"And you're only sixteen!" Nudge spat.

Fang's blood ran cold.

Aaron clapped his hand over Nudge's mouth and his voice changed. He was still British, but his voice was no longer that of a twenty-year old. "You ninny! What if someone hears you!"

She pulled his hand away and glared at him, "Why did you tell Fang you were twenty? You don't even look twenty ... You're not Fang's older brother, you're his twin, and you lied to him! That's why you couldn't teach him to shave this morning, because you'd never done it yourself!"

Aaron's hands curled into claws and he stood there shaking for a moment before he dropped his hands to his sides and sat heavily on the ground. He propped his chin in his hand and started tossing small pebbles down the path.

"Fine mess I've gotten myself into," He mumbled and Max was startled at how much he sounded like Fang, and how unstrained his voice was now.

Nudge sat across him and held her knees. "You should tell them."

Aaron tittered, "That's exactly what Total said ... He's got it in his head that I'm going to tell everyone at breakfast."

"Well, why don't you?" Nudge elbowed him gently and came to her knees, fixing the mussed strands of his hair.

He laughed, "Right, THAT would go over well. 'Good morning, All, lovely day! OH, just thought I'd let you know that I'm NOT twenty-years-old, I'm actually about to turn seventeen and I'm Nick's twin brother! Could you pass the bacon?' " He hung his head in his hands then snatched up the cigarette he'd dropped and crushed it out against a rock.

Nudge started playing in his hair again and he let out a contented little sigh.

Max could feel Fang trembling beside her but she didn't dare turn her head and look at him.

Nudge hugged Aaron tightly still petting his hair, "I understood."

Aaron sighed and lifted his eyes to her staring deeply into her face. His hand slowly raised, gently cupping Nudge's cheek. He leaned in and gently kissed her...

Fang growled and lunged off the roof snapping out his wings. He seemed to roll forward, onto his hands and knees and dove right at Aaron. Eyes reflecting some kind of red light.

Aaron turned his head and stared. He made a frightened squeaking noise, leapt to his feet, threw out his wings and shot straight up into the air.

"Fang! Fang, NO!" Nudge screamed and threw off her robe, lunging into the air after them.

Max took a running leap off the roof and flew upward.

Fang had his hands wrapped tightly around Aaron's throat and Aaron was trying to pry his brother's fingers away choking and coughing, his blue eyes pleading.

They flew upward in this fashion, Fang clinging to Aaron's neck then Aaron forgot to flap and they started falling, cart wheeling through the air wings out like Max had seen fighting eagles do on nature programs.

It was beautiful their bodies silhouetted against the night sky. And, yet, because Fang was trying to kill him it was the most frightening thing she'd ever seen.

"Fang, STOP IT!" Max grabbed him by the arm and pulled. Nudge grabbed Fang's other arm and they managed to pry his hands away before Aaron lost consciousness.

His white wings began beating frantically and he crashed into the yard, skidding on his stomach coughing both hands on his neck.

Nudge and Max forced Fang to the ground and pinned him, holding his wings closed but still he fought, trying to get away and get to Aaron.

Max was panting and her heart hammered in her chest, she heard Fang mumbling and leaned down to catch his words,

"Sonofabitch! Goddamnyou! Fuckingliar! FUCKINGLIAR!" Then his words dissolved into gut-wrenching sobs and he went limp his face pressed into the grass.

Aaron crumpled in on himself his wings curling around him, hiding his face, but Max could hear that he was crying too.

Dr. Martinez ran out of the house, followed by Iggy, Gasman, David, Angel, Total and Ella.

"What the hell is going on!"

Fang raised his head and stared at Aaron his lower lip trembling, "Why didn't you just tell me? Why the hell did you lie to me?"

Aaron forced himself to sit up and he wiped his eyes, a dark bruise shaped like Fang's hands beginning to form around his neck. "Because all the paperwork and identification I have says that Aaron Bond is nineteen years old..."

"But you're not Aaron Bond, are you?" Max felt herself say.

Aaron shook his head, "Aaron Bond was the young man that helped Dad rescue me ... He died trying to get me out of the London Institute and Dad used his identification as mine so we could fly to the US. It was the only way to get me out of England since I didn't know how to fly and Dad didn't have wings. And we had to get back immediately because they were going to kill David, we didn't have a choice...

"Aaron Bond was sixteen at the time I was rescued and didn't have a passport or photo ID. So it was quite easy to pass me off as him. Dad got the glasses to make me look older and a priest got a Passport over night, don't ask me how ... Probably granted absolution to some Government worker or the like...

"But Dad and I didn't have enough time before he left to procure an American ID for me as he'd done for David, so I've just continued to use Aaron Bond's..."

Fang's face fell back to the grass, "That's no excuse ... You should have told me ... You should have told me, I wouldn't have cared..."

Aaron stifled a sob and looked up at Max and Nudge, "Let him up ... If he wants to beat the mortal crap out of me let him do."

Max and Nudge exchanged glances and let Fang up.

He didn't move at first, but then he slowly climbed to his feet and walked forward, his hands curling into fists. He stood over Aaron shaking his lips pressed together so tightly they almost disappeared.

Aaron looked up at him and wiped his eyes, he slowly climbed to his feet and stood there looking up into Fang's face preparing himself for blows he knew were coming.

Rage ... He'd never been so hurt in all his life, but as he dove and grabbed Aaron all that anger faded, replaced by compassion. And his grip around Aaron's chest loosened, changing from a tackle to a hug and they hit the ground, skidding on the wet grass for five full feet.

All the air woofed from Aaron's lungs but he didn't fight back, he deserved a beating ... But Fang wasn't beating him ... He was hugging him tightly...

Fang snuffed back tears and rolled to his knees.

"I'm sorry I lied, Nick ... I'm so sorry."

"Shut-up."

Aaron sat up, his lips pressed together. He waited with baited breath.

Fang drew back his fist and punched him hard in the shoulder.

Aaron grunted and grabbed his arm, falling sideways into the little flower bush growing by the steps. He sat up, tears rolling down his face prepared to be hit again but Fang only shook his head and stood.

He held out his hand to help Aaron to his feet and sighed, "You have a hell of a lot of explaining to do."

Aaron nodded and took Fang's hand letting the taller boy pull him to his feet, "I'm up for it, if you are."

Total shook his shaggy head, "I've always loved happy endings."

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Chapter 32; Truth

Aaron stumbled into the kitchen followed by Fang and the rest of the extended Flock. He sat down heavily at the table and let Dr. Martinez look at his throat, which had turned a miraculous shade of purple.

"I'll get some ice, and you start explaining..."

He nodded and rubbed gingerly at his arm waiting for the others to sit or take standing positions around the room.

Dr. Martinez returned with an icepack and handed it to Aaron, who instead of putting it on his neck, pressed it to his arm where Fang had punched him.

"I ... I'm not sure where to begin."

"How about with your name? Your REAL name," Nudge whispered and rested her chin on folded hands.

Aaron cleared his throat, "I-I don't really have one ... The scientists at the Institute called me Constantine, after the historical figure ... I'm not quite sure why though ... I think it was because of my abilities..."

"If we were born like this and Avian DNA wasn't purposefully implanted in us then how did you get abilities?" Fang said and leaned against the stove his arms crossed.

Aaron smiled, "You forget that they DID implant Avian DNA into mum, they gave her abilities so the same things they did to her carried on to us."

"Okay ... What are your abilities?"

He sighed and scratched at his head a moment before he continued, "Well, I've got the touch thing ... But I don't know what to call it, I'm also able to mimic any voice I hear, just like Gasser. And I've got a knack for making the females weak in the knees. That and I can talk to birds."

"You can talk to birds?" Iggy scoffed.

"Yeah, and I'd be willing to bet Nick can if he were to try."

Fang's mouth went dry again. Was it possible? Could he really have an ability? "How will I know if I can do it or not?"

"Well, if you can look at a bird and think 'come here you little bugger!' and they come to you then you've got it down I suppose. I can't really explain it."

"So its like mind control?"

Aaron shook his head and chuckled, "No, because sometimes they'll say 'piss off!' and fly away."

Fang nodded and decided that tomorrow morning he WOULD find a bird and see if he could talk to it. No matter how stupid he looked.

Max bit her lip and spoke, voicing the question burning in everyone's minds. "Are you and Fang really twins?"

Aaron nodded.

"If you two are twins, then why don't you look anything alike?" Gasman said loudly.

Aaron sighed, "Because we're not identical twins ... I take after mum and Nick takes after Dad."

"Then why are you so much shorter than him?" Angel crossed her arms.

Aaron smiled and pointed an accusing finger at Fang, "Because he bloody well pushed me out of the womb!"

Ella laughed, "What?"

"I was born small anyway ... Dad said mum had two contractions and there I was," He shifted the ice against his arm, "Because of his constant shoving we were born in a truck."

Fang grinned, he didn't know why, possibly because part of him remembered it, or maybe because he got a fantastic mental image of a baby version of himself shoving a baby version of Aaron out of the womb.

"Yeah, laugh it up, Nicky, but I'm six minutes older than you!"

He had a relaxed smile on his face and Max wondered how she could have gone so long without knowing that Aaron was only sixteen. He didn't look any older than Fang without his glasses.

Fang's face slowly crumbled and he looked at the floor, "How long was it after we were born that the whitecoats got us?"

Aaron shook his head, "I don't know ... Dad wouldn't tell me, he just said that all our secrets are safely hidden under our hats."

Fang's head snapped up and he stared at Aaron, "What did you say?"

Aaron's eyebrows scrunched together and he repeated himself, "Dad said that all our secrets are hidden under our hats. I thought he'd misspoken at first but he insisted that what he said was right. Our secrets are hidden under our hats."

Fang started frantically digging in his pockets. He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and unfolded it.

Max recognized it immediately as the letter from his father, but she noticed something else in it this time. A picture of David and Aaron with a dark haired man who looked startlingly like an older version of Fang.

"He said that in the letter," Fang whispered. "'You'll all be safer if we keep our secrets under our hats.'"

Aaron leaned forward, trying to see the letter for himself, "That's the letter?"

Fang nodded.

Aaron grinned, "Would you give me a lemon, Ella?"

Ella's eyebrows shot up and she opened the fridge removing a bottle of lemon juice and passing it to Aaron, "Why do you need lemon?"

Fang stared at him for a minute that curious expression on his face.

"Nick, would you please give me the letter?"

Fang hesitated pulling the paper closer to his chest as if to protect it.

For a moment Max expected him to hiss and scream, 'MY PRECIOUS!' but he didn't. He slowly handed the letter to Aaron who laid it flat on the table and completely covered it in Lemon juice.

They all leaned in and stared in awe as brown letters started forming on the paper, letters that hadn't been there seconds before.

"Are you ready to see how deep the rabbit hole goes?" Iggy mumbled, quoting a line from a movie. Max elbowed him and he was quiet.

"Meadowlands National Bank, Greenwich Village New York, safety deposit box 0187B. Father Donovan has the key."

"Wow..." Angel whispered and stared up at Aaron and Fang her blue eyes wide.

Fang cleared his throat, "I guess it's back to New York."

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19. PART TWO Chapters 33 and 34

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PART TWO SUMMARY; The Goings on of Things

Coming full circle happens to us all, so going back to New York wasn't all that surprising. Only this time, things are a little different. The Flock is still searching for answers, but this time those answers are going to be a little more than they can swallow...

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The Wings of Wrath; Part TwoBringing Down the House

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Chapter 33; Pale Male ... Dark Male

NEW YORK CITY, CENTRAL PARK

They landed in a very familiar part of the park at close to midnight and bedded down in a slightly denser thicket.

Fang perched himself in a tree and stared out over the park feeling a little more nostalgia than he would have liked to admit. He pulled his jacket tighter around himself not used to the chill of the northeast and turned his head, spying the flock, all huddled together for warmth.

It had taken a five whole days to fly cross-country, but of course, they had an extra passenger. One who had somehow weaseled her way into coming even though she had no part in the quest.

Fang scowled at Iggy, who was lying on his back in a nearby tree the interloper sprawled ontop of him.

Ella sighed contentedly in her sleep and snuggled against Iggy's chest.

How she had managed to talk her mother into allowing her to come along was beyond Fang, and he had a sneaking suspicion that Angel had something to do with it.

Max hadn't been to excited about the idea at first, but had been dragged on board when Ella flashed her driver's license and a credit card. Again, Fang suspected Angel was involved...

Fang sighed. At least Total had stayed home with David. David hadn't wanted to come, he was too interested in school and his Best Friend Bobby.

Besides, all they had to do was go to Greenwich Village, find this Father Donovan and the Meadowlands National Bank. It wasn't like they were trying to sneak into another secret lab.

He hoped not anyway...

He shifted against the limb and his mind wondered. Was Pale Male still around? If he was, would he know that Fang was back? Would he remember that night when they'd flown together?

Fang swallowed hard. He'd been unable to get close enough to a bird since that night in the kitchen to try and talk to one, and that had annoyed him terribly ... What if he found Pale Male again and the falcon did remember him? What if he COULD talk to birds?

What would the big raptor have to say?

"What are you thinking?" Max's voice floated on the wind and she looked down at him from a limb above his head smiling sadly.

Fang shrugged, "Just stuff..."

Max sighed and climbed down on the limb beside him smiling out at the clearing her brown eyes shining with withheld emotion.

"I remember that night ... When that falcon came and we flew with him..." She bit her lip, "I've never felt so free..."

Fang nodded but remained silent.

Max edged closer to him, "Have you tried talking to a bird yet?"

He shook his head.

"Why not?"

He shrugged.

"I thought we'd gotten past this silence?"

He shrugged again but gave her a smile.

"I'll keep watch if you want to go out for a few minutes ... Just keep a look out for those Wizards ... We haven't seen them in a while, but I know they're still out there somewhere watching us."

Fang nodded, "Thanks," And he soared out of the tree, zooming around the park twice looking for nothing in particular, but hoping all the while that he'd see a familiar pale shadow flying beside him.

The moon glinted off something to his left and his head snapped in that direction expecting to see a Wizard flying toward him at full tilt but instead he saw something different.

Golden eyes connected with his and for a moment something like fear jolted his chest. But that fear suddenly melted into joy as a pale bird flew at him, head down golden eyes flashing.

Fang swallowed hard, working past a lump in his throat, he took a shuddering breath and thought to the bird, trying to push the words forward hard enough to be noticed but gentle enough not to seem threatening.

Hello...

The falcon banked sharply to the right and circled above him, then dove down at him with an impatient screech, slashing with its talons.

Pain lanced across his left wing and arm. His wing buckled, but he was able to straighten it, aiming himself at the ground to land, the falcon diving at him again and again, slashing.

He didn't know why but he found himself apologizing again and again through the pain.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry!

He landed hard and fell to his knees arms flung up over his head to protect his face.

He heard the raptor land not very far from him and clack its beak impatiently flapping its big wings.

He heard Max calling behind him, "Fang, are you OK? Fang, answer me!"

He parted his fingers and stared out at the big bird. It was Pale Male, but he looked pissed.

Its because I'm not a kid anymore ... I smell different, I'm a threat.

(QUICK AUTHOR'S NOTE; DAMN YOU PUBERTY!)

Fang slowly lowered his wings, his left aching from where the falcon had hit him. He stayed calm, taking deep breaths and letting them out slowly, lowering his arms and bowing his head.

The falcon hissed again and flapped his wings angrily.

Fang tried one more time, pushing a thought forward, feeling quite stupid as he did.

Hello ... I mean no harm ... You're in charge, I'm just visiting.

The falcon fell silent and Fang glanced up, not moving his head.

The bird's head was cocked to the side his big ashen wings raised, beak open. But his eyes... His eyes had lost the bloodlust Fang had seen in them and now they held curiosity.

Fang felt something tingle in the back of his mind as he stared at the falcon ... And then it happened.

It wasn't words ... it was emotion...

An emotion that reminded Fang of the feeling he'd gotten when he saw the big golden eyes coming at him.

Fear, joy, longing ... I remember you...

His breath caught in his throat and for a moment he thought he was going to be sick. Every muscle in his body suddenly began shaking and he fell backward, sitting heavily on the ground his wings limp at his sides.

He understood now ... It wasn't the words, it was emotion ... Birds aren't human, therefore they don't speak human language ... But they do speak feelings...

Fang realized with a little laugh that he'd done this before. He hadn't considered it an ability to talk to birds because he thought it was just commonsense to treat birds with respect.

He'd picked up on the hawks' feelings at Lake Mead, he'd even picked up on Pale Male's emotions the first time he'd flown with him. That odd urge to fly hadn't been his, it had been Pale Male's...

The falcon trembled and lowered its wings. He side stepped forward and chirped in his throat.

It was a questioning, uncertain feeling that came this time and Fang sent back a calm, 'I won't harm you' kind of feeling, hoping that Pale Male wouldn't attack him again.

The bird ruffled his feathers and seemed content because he started galloping toward the thicket where Max was now standing hugging herself.

"Are you OK?" She called softly.

Fang slowly stood but felt something running down his hand and he sighed when he realized not only was his jacket torn, but so was his arm.

Max sat on the ground, remembering how Fang had told her to greet the falcon and waited until he tugged at her feathers before she went to Fang.

"Are you OK? Did he hurt you?"

Fang didn't answer at first, he watched Pale Male stare into the thicket where the Flock was.

Aaron was awake staring down from his tree wide-eyed at the falcon, Nudge, Ella and Iggy were awake, but Gasman and Angel were still asleep. Which surprised Fang.

"Did he hurt you?"

Fang lifted his hand away from his arm and showed her the blood staining his palm, "Not bad, just a scratch."

She growled in her throat, "Last time you said that you almost bled to death."

Pale Male flapped his way into the tree and turned to the clearing, sending Fang an 'I am lord of all I survey' kind of feeling.

"Well, did you try talking to him?" Max whispered.

Fang licked his lips and nodded.

"Did it work?"

Fang nodded slowly.

Max stared up at him in awe her eyes shining, "What's it like?"

He looked down at her and grinned, "Cool."

"That wasn't why he attacked you was it?"

Fang shook his head.

Max smiled, "Wow ... The Great Fang has an ability after all."

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Chapter 34; Putting on the Ritz

He carefully peeled off his jacket and let Max inspect his wing and arm.

Pale Male turned to watch and as soon as he saw the blood the big raptor began chirping in his throat rocking back and forth nervously.

"Your wing isn't hurt, thank God, but those slashes could use stitches, they're pretty deep," Max whispered to him then elbowed Aaron so he'd hold the flashlight still.

"Just bandage it, I'll be fine without stitches."

Max sighed, feeling an almost overpowering urge to smack Fang on the head but she didn't and instead resigned herself to drizzling antiseptic over the four gashes.

He ground his teeth and looked away, but didn't once cry out even though it did hurt. He knew that if he did Pale Male would lunge at Max and tear her to shreds and that was enough to keep him quiet.

He could feel the compassion, fear and anger rolling off the falcon and he wondered why the bird felt so strongly about him.

By the time Max had finished cleaning him up the sun was starting to rise and early morning joggers, baby stroller pushers and dog walkers were beginning to bob along on the paths.

"I'm hungry," Nudge whined, "Where's Mighty-Mighty-Peanut-Guy when you need him? Can we PLEASE stop of Fifty-Avenue this time? I SO want to go shopping."

"I second that motion!" Ella said loudly.

Angel climbed to her feet, dusting off her jeans. "As long as we stay away from The Garden Tavern I'm up for it ... Unless we want to like, I don't know, make a stunning reappearance?"

"NO! We are keeping as low key this time as possible, no flying and Angel, PLEASE, no mind control this time, deal?"

"Can we go to Fifth-Avenue?" Angel tapped her foot her curling blonde hair falling into her blue eyes.

Max growled. "Okay, a QUICK look, then we're SO gone."

Nudge, Angel and Ella squealed happily and jumped up and down. Gasman looked miserable.

Even though Max didn't think it was a long walk Aaron paid for two cabs to drive them to Fifth-Avenue, which made everyone but Ella feel quite claustrophobic.

But when the cabs stopped and they all piled out like clowns from a tiny car Nudge felt like she'd never seen a more beautiful place.

"OH MY GOD!" And she dashed forward into the nearest store, followed quickly by Ella, dragging Iggy by the hand, and Angel.

Max hung back waiting for Aaron to pay the cab drivers and watching Fang stare at the sky a grin on his face.

"What are you looking at?" Max whispered, staring up into the cloudless blue sky. Then she saw it. A tiny little speck, but when she looked harder she recognized Pale Male's form circling them.

"He's not going to let us out of his sight while we're here," Fang whispered and gave his left arm a discrete squeeze.

Aaron sighed and stepped up beside him, "What's he following us for?"

"He's protecting us ... He thinks of us like his kids I guess," Fang said then strode easily into the store.

Max scowled and followed him.

"Gasser?" Aaron whispered, twisting his hands nervously.

"What?" Gasman turned to Aaron.

"I don't like this place."

His blonde eyebrows drew down, "Why?"

"It reminds me too much of London."

Gasman sighed and patted Aaron's arm. "Come one, let's go ...We can make fun of the desk clerks or mess with people's heads ... Have you ever put off a stink bomb?"

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"I am GORGEOUS!" Nudge said under her breath, staring at her reflection in the mirror.

Aaron paused beside her and stared.

She was wearing a pair of designer jeans that cost more than Aaron had paid for the motor home the Wizards had demolished.

But, OH did she look GOOD!

The jeans were tight in all the right places and Aaron started to salivate. THOSE JEANS! NUDGE MUST HAVE THOSE JEANS! I MUST HAVE NUDGE IN THOSE JEANS!

"How much are they?" He whispered trying to sound casual.

Nudge cocked her hip and stared down at the tag. Her eyes went wide, "Four-hundred dollars!" She shivered, "Okay, I have to go take these off..."

Aaron almost protested but thought better of it and waited outside the dressing room as Nudge changed back into her fourteen-dollar K-Mart jeans.

Nudge sighed and stared at the pants for a moment before she handed them back to the woman behind the desk, "Thanks for letting me try them on..." And she slunk away.

Aaron followed her slowly, lamenting the fact that Nudge loved the jeans so much but knew she couldn't have them. He felt that Nudge deserved to have something pretty, something she could brag about, and feel special wearing...

Without thinking he slipped his hand into hers.

She stared at him for a minute, unsure, but a smile crept over her face and she blushed, her fingers lacing with his.

Ella only tried on brightly colored things that she knew Iggy would be able to see. She loved the way he tapped his foot, his whole leg seeming to jump as she came out of the fitting rooms each time. And that glazed over look in his eyes made her feel like a queen, even though she would NEVER wear a lime green dress with large red flowers on it in public.

Gasman, after having Aaron stolen from him by Nudge and his attempt to convince a sales rep he was famous foiled, was following Angel around while she looked at sweaters and hats. He even stayed silent when she held up a fluffy blue sweater to him and said, "You would look so good in that!"

They all met an hour later, as planned and moved on down the Avenue stopping for about three minutes at a jewelry store that had a large tiara in the window with diamonds on it as big as Nudge's thumb.

Nudge even crouched down in front of the window and let Ella take a picture of her so it looked like the tiara was on her pink bandana-clad head.

They bought hotdogs from a street vendor and walked along eating and looking at the towering buildings, Max and Fang feeling a lingering bit of sour nostalgia.

"There were these jeans back there that I absolutely LOVED, but they were like four-hundred dollars, isn't that crazy?"

Ella sighed sadly, "I bet you looked fabulous in them too."

Nudge nodded, "Yeah, but no big deal ... I've got a pair of new jeans at home."

And then Aaron stopped them. "May I steal Nudge for a few hours, Max?"

Max pursed her lips, "Fine, we all meet..." She looked around and pointed across the street, "At that Starbucks at two and then we go to Greenwich to find this Father Donovan, OK?"

Angel, and Ella, who was still dragging Iggy, dove across the street and into another store. Nudge and Aaron turned and walked back up the street holding hands, looking content just to be in the other's presence.

But Gasman stayed, his arms crossed over his chest. He looked up at Fang and Max. "What are we gonna do? I'm bored."

Fang nodded, "That Starbucks has wireless ... We can just hangout there till they get done and you can show me that monkey video you were talking about."

Max hugged herself and looked up, not surprised to see Pale Male still circling them. "Fang, can you like, tell him to keep an eye on everyone, incase something happens? I've got a really bad feeling that I can't shake."

Fang grinned, "I can do better than that," And he strode forward onto a side street his hands out, fingers working as if he were trying to snap them.

A pigeon flew out of an alleyway and started following him cooing softly.

Max pictured a scene from an old TV show her mother had introduced her to ... The Carol Bernett Show, and she muttered, "Here, pigeon-pigeon-pigeon! Fang's lost his pigeon," To Gasman who covered his mouth and giggled.

To Max's surprise dozens of pigeons started coming out of nowhere gathering on the parking meters or in the little trees growing in cages along the sidewalk.

"Wow, this is just like a scene from the movie 'The Birds' only the pigeons aren't like attacking him and he's not in a phone booth," Gasman whispered.

After a few seconds of Fang staring at them one half of the assembled pigeons flew off. Heading back up the street Aaron and Nudge had disappeared on, the other half flew across the street and dispersed themselves in a nice sized radius of the building Iggy, Angel and Ella had gone in.

Fang walked back, hands in pockets, a rather cocky, full of himself grin on his face.

Max pursed her lips tempted to call him a pig, but didn't.

At five-till-two a pigeon pecked on the window Fang was sitting in front of and he looked up.

Angel, Iggy and Ella were walking across the street, all three carrying small shopping bags. As soon as they entered the Starbucks the pigeon pecked twice on the glass. Fang nodded and it flew off.

"Max, we had such a good time, it was SO awesome!" Ella fished around in her bag and pulled out an expensive looking little handbag, "I got this for mom ... It was on sale for thirty-dollars because of this," She turned the bag over and pointed to a slight discoloration in the black leather. "It was two hundred before, but because it was faded it was THIRTY. Do you think mom will like it, even though it was cheap?"

Max still believed thirty dollars was a lot of money to spend on a bag you couldn't even fit your clothes in, but she nodded, "Mom will love it."

Angel pulled a light blue knit cap out of her bag and shoved it over Gazzy's head, covering his eyes, "These were only five dollars so I go us each one," She pulled a pink version of the same hat on over her blonde hair and smiled sweetly.

"Since everyone else is sharing, take a look at this," Iggypulled a pair of sunglasses from his bag and put them on, making an 'Aren't I cool?' face. "I actually NEED them now."

Another pigeon landed outside the window and pecked once on the glass.

Fang nodded, the pigeon pecked twice and flew away.

When Nudge entered the coffee shop Max's jaw hit the floor.

She and Aaron slid into seats beside them and Nudge gave everyone a rather innocent look.

"Oh, my, GOD! Nudge, I LOVE your jeans!" Ella said excitedly.

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20. Chapters 35 and 36

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Chapter 35; Father Donovan

"Those aren't the four-hundred dollar jeans you were talking about earlier, are they?" Max said as they sat in the back of a cab on their way to Greenwich Village.

Nudge shook her head, "No ... These were only one-hundred and fifty. Besides I like these better they aren't as tight on my butt."

The corner of Aaron's mouth twitched and he gave Fang a sideways glance.

"You made Aaron buy you a pair of one-hundred dollar jeans?" Max felt sick to her stomach.

Nudge shook her head again, "No, he said he wanted to buy the four-hundred dollar jeans for me ... I couldn't let him do that, so we compromised."

"Where did you get all that money, Aaron?"

"Dad made sure David and I were taken care of before ... Yeah."

"Oh, so he gave you like a million dollars and forgot, F-Nick?"

Aaron shook his head, "He didn't forget him. We're going to the bank, remember?"

Max bit her tongue.

Finding the Cathedral where Father Donovan presided was not as hard to locate as Max had feared, because there was a blatant clue staring them in the face as soon as they saw the first church.

A sign hanging above the door read, "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer ... Pray for those fighting overseas."

Fang shivered and his hands tightened into fists. "Okay, maybe dad wasn't so bad at writing in code as I thought."

There were three people inside, two priests kneeling in the first pew and a young pregnant woman in the back pew praying.

Max could hear the young woman's words and her stomach twisted, "Please, let my baby be healthy ... I'm so afraid I'll have another miscarriage..."

Max bit her lip and tried not to let anyone know she'd heard the woman's prayer but Angel grabbed Max's hand and stopped her, pulling on her arm until she bent.

"Max, that woman ... I-" She shivered.

"Ange, what is it?" Max pulled the girl into the pew with the others and knelt, so they could whisper and not make a scene.

"That woman is so scared. I want to help her, Max. She's so afraid."

"How can you help her, Angel, you don't know her."

Angel turned blue eyes to Max's brown ones, "I can see in her baby ... I don't know how ... But I saw it and it's not sick, it's really healthy..."

One of the priests from the front row knelt beside them, "The Lord welcomes you."

Angel turned to the priest and quickly probed his mind then licked her lips, "Sir ... That woman ... Who is she?"

The priest glanced over his shoulder then gave Angel an understanding smile, "I don't know her name. I've never seen her before. Do you recognize her?"

Angel licked her lips again nervously, "I want to go talk to her."

Max's stomach tightened. Why was Angel talking to this strange man? Why did she want to go talk to that woman, she'd never done anything like this before.

The priest smiled and stood crossing himself, "When the Lord compels you to act, you should act."

Max wondered if maybe it wasn't Angel's mind reading ability instead of the Lord but she said nothing.

Angel gave a quick nod and walked hesitantly to the woman sitting beside her then taking her hand. The woman's head jerked up and she stared at Angel dumbstruck. Then Angel smiled at the woman and started whispering in a soft voice.

Nudge tapped Max's hand and hissed in her ear, "What is she doing?"

The priest that had greeted them walked to the front of the cathedral and spoke quickly to the other priest kneeling in the front pew. This kneeling priest nodded, stood, crossed himself and disappeared through a doorway near the altar.

Max watched these two scenes unfold with equal apprehension.

The woman Angel had been talking to sobbed and hugged her tightly whispering, 'thank you' over and over. She smiled, her eyes shining and stood, one hand on her stomach one wiping her eyes. She touched a lock of Angel's hair and slowly walked out of the church, pausing briefly in the doorway for a last glance at Angel before she left.

The standing priest strode quickly to the back of the room and paused before the pew Max and the others were kneeing in.

Max glanced at him warily, still pretending to pray. But then she found she was praying, Please don't let him be a whitecoat, please don't let him hurt us.

The priest's eyes were glued to the side of Fang's head and Max watched as the man rubbed a hand over his mouth before he spoke, "Do you know how much you look like your father, when he was your age?"

Fang's eyes turned lazily to the priest but he didn't turn his head.

The priest smiled and noticed Aaron kneeling on Fang's other side. "And you have the look of your mother, save your eyes ... You both have your father's eyes."

Fang swallowed hard and a shiver ran up his spine. "Are you Father Donovan?"

The man nodded, "I take it your father's told you about me? Where is he by the way?"

Fang licked his lips and his eyes flicked to Angel.

She nodded as if to say, 'You can trust him.'

"Dad's dead."

Father Donovan's face fell and he crossed himself twice tears coming to his eyes. He sat heavily in the pew beside Max for a moment bowing his head. "Your father and I went to school together ... It was your mother that convinced me I should become a priest," He smiled sadly and after a moment nodded and climbed back to his feet. "But you are still alive, and you're here and that means you need my help."

Fang didn't move.

Father Donovan held out his hand, "If you would all follow me we'll go someplace we can talk."

Angel was the first one to move, walking quickly to keep up with the priest. Then Max stood and they filed out of the pew walking slowly up the aisle.

He led them through another door and into a small classroom. He motioned for them all to sit.

Fang and Aaron were the only ones to remain standing.

Father Donovan cocked his hip on a desk and folded his hands in his lap. "Alright ... Why are you here?"

Fang pulled the paper from his pocket, glad that the hidden letters were still brown on the page. He handed the letter to the priest and crossed his arms over his chest.

Donovan smiled, "Oh, that," He swept the little black hat from his head and turned it wrong side out pulling a small key out of a hidden pocket. "I'll have to go with you, because they check your identification, is that alright?"

Fang nodded.

Donovan quickly counted the people in the room, "It might be safer if most of you stayed here, we don't know what will happen if eight teenagers and a priest walk into a bank.

Gasman smiled. "The teller would probably think it was some kind of a joke."

"He's right," Max whispered. "Fang and Aaron need to go-"

"If Aaron goes, I'm going," Nudge said and scrambled forward, wrapping both arms around him.

Fang glanced at Max but didn't say anything.

Iggy looked over at Ella, "Travel to the possible bank of death or stay here?"

"I'd like to stay here, my feet are killing me," Ella whispered and yawned.

Iggy shrugged, "I guess we're staying here."

Angel shook her head, "You guys might need me, so I'm going."

Gasman scratched under his hat, "I'll stay and make sure those two keep this place holy," He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder at Ella and Iggy.

Donovan chuckled and every eye in the place turned to Max.

She paled for half a second then sighed, "There's no need for me to go, I'll stay."

And Fang's face fell. He cupped a hand over his left arm, feeling the bandage beneath and wondered why Max was electing to stay behind where it would be really boring instead of going where the action was.

He remembered feeling rejected by her before ... When she'd chosen Ari over him. He felt hurt, and angry and he wanted to storm off like he had the first time but Aaron laid a hand on his shoulder and he remembered when he'd been lying in bed a few weeks ago.

How stupid he'd felt looking back on it. Yes, he had a reason to be angry then, Ari had tried to kill him, but now...

What did he have to be angry about? Just because Max didn't want to add to a crowd and go to the bank?

She didn't know how he felt about it ... She didn't know that her 'no' hurt him. So he bit his lip and told her.

"I want you to go with me."

The corner of Max's mouth twitched and her eyes softened, flicking quickly to his midsection before turning back to his eyes. "Then I'll go."

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Chapter 36; Meadowlands

Meadowlands Bank was a big two-story building about two blocks away with armed guards posted outside at all times.

Both guards nodded to Father Donovan as he passed and seemed to ignore Max, Fang, Aaron, Nudge and Angel.

There wasn't much of a line and when they got to the teller and Donovan explained that he was there to open a safety deposit box the woman went to get the manager.

After that things happened quickly.

The five of them were led into a private room while the manager went in back with Donovan to get the box.

For what seemed like an eternity they waited, and then the two men came back in the manager carrying a large box. He sat it on the table and said he would give them a few moments of privacy.

Donovan started to open the box but stopped himself and instead handed the key to Fang, "You boys should open it, it's not my place."

Fang looked at Aaron who shook his head and pointed to the box, "You open it, last box I bloody well opened nearly killed me."

Fang swallowed and looked sideways at Max then slid the key into the lock. He half expected the box to be empty but what he found inside was definitely not what he expected.

Inside was a photo album and a sealed manila envelope with a black wing drawn on the front of it.

Instead of going for the envelope, much as Max expected him to do, Fang pulled out the big photo album and opened it staring down, open mouthed at the hundreds of pictures inside.

The first ten pages were completely empty, but after those Max saw color and black and white photos covering every page. She wondered why the first ten pages were empty...

Aaron was the one to pick up the envelope and open it, "Oh, my god..." He whispered and emptied it onto the table.

A little note, two bundles of money, each holding five thousand dollars, as well as seven blank Social Security cards and a book entitled '3,000 Names and Their Meanings' fell to the tabletop.

Fang gave his head a shake and stared at it. "Is that what I think it is?"

Aaron picked up the note and read it aloud, "'Seven new lives for those who want them ... Call Maria to make it final' ... And there's a phone number."

"Okay, Fang? Your dad ROCKED!" Nudge picked up the book of names and grinned.

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21. Chapters 37 and 38

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Chapter 37; Namesake

They took everything out of the box and placed inside it Aaron's old identity. Finally laying Aaron Bond to rest ... Which was saying something because the REAL Aaron Bond had been dead for nearly three years...

The phone number turned out to be a Virginia phone number, which complicated things seeing as how they were in New York and the number was from Norfolk.

"We'll swing past on our way home," Max said, though no one heard her. They were too engrossed in the photo album and the book of names.

Nudge was grinning, "Okay, so ... We each get a Social-Security card ... But they're blank, so my guess is that we get to pick our own names."

"Well, the book was a clue," Iggy said trying to snatch it from Nudge, who'd been the only one to read it as of yet.

Surprisingly she let him have it then rushed to the front of the little classroom off the main chamber of the cathedral. She found a slip of paper and scribbled on it a moment. "Okay, I think I've got my name ... What do you guys think?" She cleared her throat, "Tiffany-Krystal Amber Montgomery-Ward, born April 13, 1995 New York, New York."

"You weren't born in New York," Angel said crossing her arms over her chest.

Nudge poked her tongue out at her, "The note said 'new lives' so I can be born wherever I want."

Iggy and Ella were looking through the book now, Ella reading the names out in a hushed voice. "What are you going to pick, Max?"

Max plopped down in a pew by herself and twiddled her thumbs, "I picked my name a long time ago."

Ella looked up smiling, "But don't you want a middle name? Like 'Jane' or something?"

Max rolled her eyes, "I'm happy with my name the way it is."

"Can I be born in New York, Max?" Angel said.

"Whatever you want, it's your new life," Max discretely gnawed on one of her fingernails then mentally kicked herself and stopped.

Iggy sighed in frustration, "I don't like anything ... I mean, this is BIG, I'm naming myself ... How did you come up with 'Maximum Ride' huh? Was it easy or did it take a while?"

Max shifted uncomfortably, "Well ... Uh ... 'Maximum' means 'greatest' and everyone knows what 'Ride' means ... I guess I was kind of full of myself when I picked it, but the more I think about it the more I realize I wasn't thinking about myself, I was naming my life. What I want my life to be, I mean."

This answer seemed to confuse and yet appease Iggy because he shrugged and turned back to Ella, "What were you saying about middle names?"

Fang stood from where he'd been sitting against the wall looking through the photo album for the millionth time. So many of those photos seemed random ... Like mistakes.

There was one of a pair of sneaker shod feet standing in a graveyard ... One of a dog sniffing around a street sign most likely about to relieve itself on it. There were a number of photos of various buildings ... Like gas stations, a church ... An abandoned warehouse.

A fishing boat called the "Desmond" sitting near a dock in the Autumn, multicolored leaves hanging in trees in the background.

A picture of a bakery called "Marty's" ... A large water tower reading "West" something, the rest of the name was obscured by a finger.

Dozens upon dozens of random pictures, some of them not even in focus or in bad lighting...

He needed air, he needed to think ... He wanted to get hold of that book...

Fang glanced over at Iggy, pretending not to be in any rush and noticed Ella had only just laid the book aside and was writing on a piece of paper. He moved quickly, creeping over silently, picking up the book and sneaking away, leaving the room without being noticed.

He rushed up the side aisle staring around for anywhere he could hide. Anywhere he could sit and be alone and think...

He pushed his way through a curtain and stumbled up a dimly lit flight of stairs, pausing every so often to listen and make sure, no one was following him, and that he wasn't about to pop into a room filled with Wizards and Whitecoats.

At the top of the stairs another door blocked his path. He tried the knob but wasn't all too surprised to find it had been locked. He wished Iggy were there, just to unlock the door. He sighed and bent at the waist staring at the lock.

There was no way he was going to be able to pick that lock without tools, and the only tools that could possibly have done the job were tucked safely away in Iggy's back pocket.

So he elected to just sit there at the top of the stairs hunched over that book.

He felt like a fool. Sitting holed up in a corner reading through a book of names, afraid to be caught.

Why had Max had to say something? Why couldn't she have let him feel emotionless about picking his name.

'Naming my life'...How am I supposed to name my life ... I've had a crappy life. Stolen from my parents, raised in a lab ... Treated like a lab rat ... I don't want to name my life ... I just want a name ... What did my parents call me? Did they have time to give me a name before the Whitecoats got me? Or have I always been just some number...

Did Max think of these things when she was picking her name? Had she even wondered what Dr. Martinez had wanted to name her when she'd found out the woman was her mother?

Fang propped his chin in his hand and stared down at the cover of the book. Iggy's parents had called him 'James' ... Would the boy take that into account when he was picking his own name? Would he choose 'James' over 'Jeff' or 'Iggy'? Or would he pick something completely different?

Fang didn't want just any name ... He wanted a good name, HIS name... But ... Part of him just wanted to pick something and get it over with ... He didn't want to be the last one to choose. That would just be embarrassing ... Wouldn't it?

Nudge had picked her name in less than three hours, of course, Nudge was easy to please. She wanted something epic sounding and pretty ... Like a queen...

He ran a hand through his hair and winced when the motion pulled at the bandage around his arm. How would he know when he'd picked the right one?

He knew Max had wanted to feel important when she'd picked her name, she'd practically admitted to that...

Maybe he should ask Max what she thought ... Or Nudge ... Maybe even Ella, since Ella already had a name.

He stood, holding the book between his hands, then with a sigh descended the steps and peered out from behind the curtain.

Max was wondering around the inside of the chapel heading down the aisle toward the big double doors under the 'EXIT' sign.

"FANG!" She hissed under her breath, but the sound carried well in the cavernous room.

He pursed his lips and crept from behind the curtain, pausing at the head of the church, poised to descend the last few steps to the floor and walk toward her.

"YO!" He whispered loudly enough to make the sound echo eerily in the room.

She turned quickly and stared at him relieved, yet annoyed. "Where'd you run off to?" She stood there by the doors staring up the aisle at him arms hanging loosely at her sides.

Fang motioned to the curtain, "Just taking a look around ... There's a locked door at the top of those stairs."

Max cocked a hand on her hip, "That's the belfry, of course the door is going to be locked."

He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder, "The bell tower?"

She nodded, "Are you turning into Quasimodo or something?"

He wrinkled his nose and gave her a 'you're so funny' look.

Max's raked her eyes over him, his overly long, shoulder length black hair that curled into his face ... The seemingly bottomless eyes that could be either beautiful night sky blue, or cold arctic, depending on his mood.

Right now they were somewhere between arctic and stormy sea ... An odd, troubling color.

She glanced around at the church behind him ... The altar, pulpit, innumerable candelabras. It really was a beautiful building ... Not as pretty as the one they'd been in the first time ... Of course, the first time had been just that ... They'd never been in a building with statues of winged people in it before ... People like them.

Max remembered she'd been a little light headed the first time she'd seen one, and part of her had wanted to snap out her wings, lunge into the air just to see what would happen, how people would react...

But she hadn't.

"Fang?"

He grunted to let her know he was listening.

"Do you believe in God?"

He hesitated, running his fingers over the spine of the book in his hands. "I want to..."

Max nodded and hugged herself, turning from him and walking back to the classroom the rest of the flock was bedding down in.

Fang watched her go, watched as she gently shut the door behind herself and left him alone in the chapel.

He looked around, feeling small and insignificant in the big, big room with the stained glass faces staring down at him. He didn't like feeling small. When he did all he could think about was The School and the horrible things the Whitecoats did to him ... All the tests, scans, obstacle courses.

He hadn't been able to defend himself, he was helpless, and the Whitecoats didn't let him forget it ... He wasn't human, therefore he didn't have feelings, he didn't have a soul.

He was just an experiment to them...

An animal...

But he knew better ... He was a person.

Fang jogged down the steps, making barely a sound. He sat heavily in the third pew and bowed his head, resting his brow against the back of the pew in front of him.

The other priest, the one Father Donovan had been praying with earlier that day came out of another antechamber, walking with his eyes to the floor hands clasped together.

He was younger than Donovan and when Fang called to him the young man closed his eyes tightly.

"Yes?"

"How long does this place stay open?"

The young priest answered without opening his eyes, "If you'd like to go out for a bit I can let you back in."

Fang nodded, "Why are your eyes closed?"

The priest smiled, "So if anyone asks me if I've seen you I can truthfully say 'no'."

A smile crept over Fang's face. "Clever."

The man smiled, "I try my best."

"Hey ... Is the bell tower open?" Fang whispered after a moment.

"What?"

"I mean, is there like a door on the roof so you can like go out onto the roof?"

The young priest nodded, "Yes ... Why?"

"If you could unlock that door and the door to the belfry I'd appreciate it."

"Of course ... But, dare I ask ... Why?"

"So I can get back in when I come back."

The priest's mouth opened to speak but his jaw merely opened and closed a few times before he sighed. "Alright, though how you're going to get onto the roof without falling to your death is beyond me."

"I have my ways ... Thanks," Fang climbed to his feet, leaving the book of names in the pew where he'd been sitting.

He wasn't planning to go very far ... He just needed some air. Although barely half a second after the doors swung shut behind him and he heard them lock he realized the air in New York City was not the same as the air in Arizona.

He'd nearly forgotten the sewerlike-briny stench of the air. His heightened sense of smell made it all seem so much worse than it really was. He ran a hand through his hair, wishing he'd gotten a new elastic band from Ella before he'd left. The breeze blowing in off the harbor was throwing his hair in every direction.

He descended the steps and stood there on the sidewalk looking around, glancing upward at the dwindling light of the sun wondering if Wizards respected holy ground or not.

He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and his left hand came into contact with a few of those crisp one-hundred dollar bills that had been in the safety-deposit box.

He had money ... He had a LOT of money...

And yet, he'd give it all to have his father back ... Even though he'd never met the man...

He sighed and started walking away from the cathedral, down the street in the direction of the Meadowlands Bank. He didn't know why at first, but then he remembered. They'd passed a little grocery store on the way to the bank earlier that day.

His stomach growled.

Fang shook his head. If a normal seventeen-year-old boy had six-hundred dollars in his pocket the last thing he'd be thinking of was buying a Snickers Bar and a Coke.

A normal seventeen-year-old boy would most likely think of video-games or something of the like.

The little grocery store was open and an older balding man was behind the counter. The man narrowed his eyes menacingly and craned his neck to watch as Fang walked back to the cooler and found a bottle of Coke then strolled to the front of the store and picked up three King Size Snickers Bars.

The old man eyed him as he scanned the barcodes and punched a few buttons on the register.

Fang handed him one of his six, one hundred-dollar bills and watched as the old man frowned, held the bill up to the light then marked on it with a little pen that looked like a high-lighter.

"Do you not have anything smaller?"

"I'm sorry, I just got paid this morning, that's all I got," He lied.

The old man grumbled, I'm not supposed to accept C-notes after five P.M. Unless the purchase is over twenty-five dollars."

Fang rolled his eyes, "Okay, give me a second," He was tempted to just ask for his money back then leave, but he really was hungry ... And that Coke was nice and cold...

The old man handed him back his money and waited, arms crossed, "Hurry, I don't have all night."

I'm hurrying you cranky old turd... Fang thought bitterly.

Band-Aids ... We can always use Band-Aids ... What's this?

He picked up the little box and turned it over in his hands.

"They're tampons ... I doubt a young man like yourself needs tampons," The man said, growing increasingly impatient.

Fang felt his lip curl upward in disgust and the whole lecture Dr. Martinez had given him, Iggy, Gazzy and Aaron came flooding back. He shivered and gently placed the carton back on the shelf, moving as far away from them as possible.

He grabbed a can of mandarin oranges off of a shelf, and a jar of instant coffee, then adding it all up in his mind picked up a disposable camera and headed toward the front of the store.

Were those Snickers a dollar eighty or a dollar thirty?

The old man rang it all up, "You're still two dollars short."

Fang raked a hand through his hair and pointed over the man's shoulder, "Can I have one of those notebooks?"

The old man took one down, scanned it and shoved it unceremoniously into the bag then begrudgingly took the 'C-note' and counted out Fang's change.

"Have a nice night."

Fang scoffed in his head, "You too," He grabbed his bag and left the store quickly, shaking his head.

Jeez, all that for a Coke and a couple Snickers Bars.

And then he realized what he'd done and he stopped dead in his tracks...

He'd just spent some of the money his father had given him ... He'd just ... He didn't know why it bothered him so much. Maybe it felt as though he were giving part of his father away ... Or that he'd somehow lost all his sense...

Fang opened the bag and stared down into it for a minute feeling quite disgusted with himself. He closed the bag tightly and started walking again at a very fast pace.

He arrived at the church a few minutes later ... Just long enough to call himself an 'idiot' seven-hundred and fifty-six times.

He slipped onto a side street and glanced up, noticing for the first time that Pale Male was perched on the steeple, shifting from side to side making that same soft chirping noise.

Fang smiled and, looking around to make sure no one saw him. He unfolded his wings and leapt into the air, flying up the side of the big building, past the stained glass windows and over the slanted roof.

There was a door leading out onto the roof, but Fang ignored it at first, instead circling the steeple and taking a look at Pale Male.

The big raptor turned and flapped his wings at Fang, hissing.

A wave of uneasy, angry, frightened feelings washed over him and Fang backed off, landing in front of the door head bowed.

"Do you believe in God?" Max's voice replayed softly in his head and he glanced back up at the falcon perched easily on the steeple looking around triumphantly.

Do you believe in God?

Fang hadn't meant to propose the question to the Falcon, but somehow he had and the big bird turned to him silently, eyes shining. And Fang truly believed that if Pale Male had had lips he would have smiled.

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Chapter 38; Tell Worthy Tales

The first thing Fang did when he woke up in the morning was to take out that big notebook he'd bought the night before. He turned it over in his hands and examined, wondering if all those things were worth parting with a one hundred-dollar bill.

It was a black five-subject spiral bound college ruled notebook. And the first thing he did with it was to start writing, using an ink pen he'd found in one of the pews of the cathedral. He sat there in the back row his head bowed writing. Words seemed to come from nowhere but everywhere at the same time.

Aaron walked up a few times and asked him what he was doing but Fang simply shook his head and moved so his brother couldn't see the pages.

Then, when Max called that they were getting ready to leave he hid the notebook at the bottom of his pack with the can of mandarin oranges, the Band-Aids, the disposable camera, and the jar of instant coffee, then he shoved the ink pen into his pocket. He stepped outside the church and sat on the steps, looking up to see Pale Male perched in the bell tower sending calm feelings.

Fang asked him to come down but the bird didn't, instead he sent slightly frightened angry feelings down and Fang knew. Smells like people and cars. Bad. I could get hurt.

So Fang said his goodbye from the front step and watched as Pale Male bobbed his head three times and flew away.

He felt quite alone after that ... Not having those constant loving sensations from the big falcon, but he knew. My world is not his and his is not mine...

Father Donovan cornered them before they got a chance to leave and gave them all little sliver medallions on silk cords.

Aaron was the one to explain what these medallions were as they were flying over New Jersey.

"They're Saint Christopher's medals ... Saint Christopher is the patron saint of..." He paused when he realized nobody knew what the heck he was talking about. "It's for protection."

Max wasn't that impressed with hers but Fang tucked his beneath his shirt close to his heart.

Ella loved flying, even though she was pinned to Iggy's chest. "This is SO cool!" She put out her arms and closed her eyes, "I wish I had wings so you wouldn't have to carry me," She whispered to Iggy.

He smiled and kissed the top of her head, "I like carrying you."

"You would, like, catch me if I fell, right?"

Iggy nodded, "Of course."

"Good."

"Max, you should take her to hyper speed."

"Oh, my GOD! Can you?"

Max shook her head, "Sorry, I can only carry half my bodyweight."

Ella's eyebrows drew down, "But I weigh more than half of Iggy."

Iggy shrugged, "It doesn't bother me for some reason."

So Ella contented herself with closing her eyes and spreading her arms out into the wind. "Its kind of hard to breathe up here, mind if we go down a ways?"

Max shook her head and they dropped a few hundred feet so Ella could breathe easier and the sunset colored the sky orange...

Aaron cleared his throat and started singing loudly, in Iggy's voice, "On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed! It rolled off the table, and into the floor. My poor little meatball, rolled right out the door!"

Iggy sneered at him, "Very funny, you're making me hungry. Are there any restaurants around here? What is it with you guys and teasing me with spaghetti and meatballs?"

Max scanned the ground seeing quite a few, "Yeah, but lets go a little farther before we land, there's a hotel about five miles farther along."

Fang shook his head and swooped down so he was barely three feet above Max. "So ... What do you think I should name myself?"

She sighed and turned her head smiling, intending to tell him something particularly rude but...

Fang saw her eyes shining up at him, and her mouth opened to speak but then her face changed, her smile faded and her eyes went wide.

He turned his head sucked in a sudden painful breath and shouted, "GO-GO-GO!"

Ella turned her head looked up and screamed.

Twelve Wizards were diving at them in a rotating circle, and stretched between them was a large net.

"Subway-SUBWAY!" Max screeched and dove downward toward the restaurant. She looked back over her shoulder and saw her flock shooting off in zigzag directions Iggy with Ella clutched tightly to him.

She saw Aaron look up at the wizards and simply fold his wings in, falling, head down toward the pavement.

Aaron streaked downward and at the last second snapped his wings out and buzzed the parking lot. A few shoppers dove to the sides as he banked executing a hairpin turn Max hadn't thought him capable of and frightening a rather large flock of pigeons congregating on the top of the building.

The pigeons flapped aimlessly for a moment then all seemed to move as one, turning and following Aaron.

Max heard him shout as he shot past her, "All for it now, Lads. TALLYHO!"

Despite the danger Gasman laughed loudly.

The pigeons shot forward and started attacking the Wizards, scratching and flogging the facemasks, necks and heads. Cooing angrily.

Five Wizards dropped the net and started swatting at the Pigeons, throwing off their masks to try and grab one with their frog like tongues but when that proved ineffective they turned and sped off into the growing darkness the storm of pigeons following them.

Seven wizards continued forward, chasing Aaron, the net stretched taut.

And then Nudge screamed, "BACK OFF MY MAN!"

Max stared as Nudge zoomed past her, fingers curled into rigid claws teeth bared. She'd never seen Nudge look so ... MURDEROUS before.

A Wizard screamed and came at Max, its jaw opening, but Max dropped and the thing's tongue missed her, yanking out a few hairs from her head, but missing her. She looked down and saw Iggy coming back to help. He'd left Ella on the ground with Gasman and Angel, who were doing a pretty effective job of protecting the wingless girl.

Nudge flew straight at the Wizard that had threatened Aaron and dodged its tongue by rolling completely over in the air, folding her wings and falling for a dozen or so feet before snapping them back open and lunging at the beast.

Its tongue shot out and to Max's horror Nudge grabbed it with both hands, planted her feet firmly on the Wizard's chest and started pulling.

The Wizard roared and in a fit clamped its jaws down on its own tongue, severing it in a spray of blood.

It snapped at Nudge again, seeming not to notice that it no longer had a tongue but Nudge didn't relent, she raised the severed tongue above her head and started beating the Wizard with it, kicking and screaming in rage, "You do NOT touch MY MAN!"

She landed a savage kick to the Wizard's jaw and dove, grabbing the broom it rode on and giving it a swing, throwing the Wizard off where it fell screeching and clicking to the pavement.

Another Wizard made at Nudge but she turned the jet engine part of the broom to it and set the creature on fire, melting its face in a gross mess all the way down to its metal skeleton. But by that time the thing was dead and it flopped forward onto the broom and joined its fellow with a large SPLAT on the sidewalk.

GO NUDGE! Only five left! Max thought and continued fighting her own Wizard, kicking and finally grabbing the end of the broom and throwing the thing off. Four left!

Iggy engaged a particularly fast Wizard, following it with his one working eye, catching the blackness of it against the sunset, but the Wizard didn't seem to want to fight him. It was studying him, circling him and making rapid clicking sounds that hurt Iggy's ears.

"What, you don't want to fight someone who isn't 'perfect'?" And he reached over his shoulder pulling one of the leftover fireworks from the party Dr. Martinez had thrown for him, from his pack. He pulled out his lighter and lit the wick.

The Wizard seemed to know what he was doing and opened its mouth to strike, but the firework went off first, and disappeared right down the Wizard's throat.

The Wizard gagged and barely two seconds later its stomach exploded, showering Iggy in gross Wizard gore.

Since none of the other Wizards seemed intent on fighting him he flew off to help Aaron, colliding with one of the Wizards still holding the net and knocking it to the ground where it made a series of computer like groaning noises and fell silent.

Nudge streaked past him, chasing a Wizard that had decided it didn't want to fight her anymore. "Come back here you!" She shrieked swinging the severed tongue around her head like a lasso.

And then the Wizards banked, turning mid-air and streaked upward into the sky, abandoning their chase of Aaron.

Aaron hovered there for a moment panting staring after them then growled and lifted his left hand giving the retreating Wizards what looked like a backward peace sign. Then he turned and flew right at Nudge who was hovering about fifty feet away practically foaming at the mouth.

Aaron came at her and grabbed her around the middle, spinning her upward through the air laughing. Nudge dropped the tongue, grabbed his shoulders and looked down at him her mouth open in shock and delight.

"That was bloody brilliant! You were fantastic! You are THE Ferocious Nudge!" He laughed again a wild elated sound and buried his face in her neck.

Nudge screeched with laughter and grabbed his hair, trying to pry his head away from her neck but at the same time never wanting it to end.

Max turned her head away, jealousy bubbling her stomach, only to meet an equally mushy scene on the ground.

Iggy and Ella were seemingly locked together at the lips and Angel was tapping her foot impatiently.

Poor Gasman looked utterly disgusted.

Angel shook her head and walked up to the crowd gathered around them and thought three simple words, You saw nothing.

Then she sprang into the air, followed quickly by Iggy, still carrying Ella and Gasman last, his arms crossed over his chest.

(NOTE; Here's a hint for you ... None of the Wizards would fight Iggy, you might want to keep that in mind.)

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22. Chapters 39 to 41

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Chapter 39; Stupid Soap

They had to fly for another hour to find a hotel, and whenever Max glanced over her shoulder she expected a Wizard to be looming out of the darkness at them.

It was a cheaper hotel this time and Max got two rooms, one for the girls, one for the boys. Max even let Ella and Aaron join in on the Stack&Tap, which was something she'd never done before. But she felt was appropriate since the fight...

Iggy was the only one who was "terribly" hurt. He burned the backs of his hands shooting the firework at the Wizard and they were bloody and swollen by the time they landed.

He didn't complain until Ella went in the bathroom to shower then he practically fell over onto the bed and begged Max to put him out of his misery.

She disinfected and smeared a burn ointment on his hands then wrapped them lightly with gauze. "No getting your hands wet."

"How am I supposed to shower?" He raised his hands over his head, "You can't expect me to do this!"

Max grinned and taped two liners for the ice bucket over his hands and sent him to his room to wash.

"YAY! Deformed mittens!" Iggy waved his hands over his head and winced.

Aaron laughed.

Max took a long shower after the other girls had gone to bed, relishing in the warm water running over her face chest and wings ... She could hear one of the boys showering on the other side of the wall.

"Shit-" A growl, "Stupid soap..."

Max stiffened ... Fang was showering just on the other side of the wall ... A shiver ran through her and settled low in her stomach at the thought and she rinsed her hair as quickly as possible, drying and dressing her lip between her teeth. She brushed and braided her hair smoothing her nightgown before crawling onto her side of the bed. She started to turn off the light but Ella whispered...

"Please leave it on ... I don't want those things to come back..."

Max nodded and left the light on.

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Chapter 40; Strategy

Fang's arm was bleeding...

That's the first thing Aaron noticed when he woke up at about three thirty the next morning. He'd sat up in bed and turned to look blearily around as he did every time he woke up from a nightmare, when he noticed the sheets were stained and so was Fang's arm.

"Nicky, wake up a second," He gently laid a hand on Fang's shoulder and gave him a little shake.

Fang's eyes came slowly open and he blinked up at Aaron and licked his lips. He didn't have to look to see what was wrong he could smell it. "Are Iggy and Gaz awake?"

Aaron shook his head.

"Help me up."

It was a slow tedious process, trying to help him up without making enough noise to wake the other two boys asleep in the next bed.

Fang crept near silently across the room to the door, Aaron behind him almost as quiet.

Aaron propped the door open with his shoe and knocked hesitantly on the door to the girl's room. He knocked again quieter and after three seconds the door opened and Max stood there looking very sleepy. "Wha-" Her glazed brown eyes focused on Fang's arm and she looked left and right down the hallway making sure no one could see them.

"Get in here before you bleed all over the carpet. Go in the bathroom."

Aaron crept back to the boys' room and stripped the bloody sheets off the bed, glad there was a plastic cover on the mattress so he could just wipe off the blood.

Max found her bag and slunk to the bathroom, shutting herself inside with him. "Get your shirt off."

Fang didn't argue, he peeled it over his head and dropped it into the sink.

"You got it wet didn't you. When you showered."

"Only a little."

Max shook her head and rummaged in her bag, pulling out the large First-Aid kit her mother had given them. "I told you before you could use stitches."

He shrugged, "Then stitch it up, I don't care."

Fear glistened in her eyes for a moment but was gone faster than it could glow. She shook her head, "It doesn't really need them now, it's practically healed. It's just ... This shouldn't have happened, it should already have healed ... Something's wrong."

"What?"

"It doesn't look very good."

"What like it's infected or something?"

She shook her head, "No, but all the strain from that fight yesterday must have reopened it and you getting it wet ... But it should have completely HEALED by now..." She looked up at him, biting her lip. "You just look like you could use about a week of rest, that's all."

He nodded and changed the subject, "So, other than the ongoing fight to save the world what's happening in Max World?"

Max rolled her eyes, "You really want to know? This is a first..."

He shrugged. "Got nuthin better to talk about while you're pokin' around my arm."

She finished washing the blood away and was opening the bottle of alcohol, "Well, other than my lingering shock over the whole Iggy and Ella thing I'm starting to wonder why those Wizards are after Aaron. I don't think they're after David because when he flew off from Aaron back there in the desert they didn't follow him."

Fang nodded and ground his teeth at the smell of antiseptic. "Why would they want Aaron?"

Max shrugged and rocked back on her heels. "Maybe there's something else he's not telling us ... I mean , he didn't tell us about being your twin and all, so what's to stop him from keeping something else a secret?"

Fang chewed his lip. "I don't think he's keeping anything a secret."

"Well ... Maybe its something he doesn't know about."

He didn't reply but stared at the bathtub while Max finished tying the bandage around his arm. It bothered him that he didn't know why the Wizards were trying so hard to get Aaron. But what bothered him more was just when they could have captured him in that net the day before the Wizards just flew off as if they were only trying to scare him.

As if they were only teasing him ... Playing with him like a cat does a mouse...

"Okay, you're all finished."

Fang looked down at his arm, prodding the bandage and carefully flexing the muscle. "Does it look bad?"

Max shrugged, "I'll leave a pretty cool looking scar, really works with your bad-boy image."

He rolled his eyes, "What about my shirt?"

"Let it soak in the sink for a while then wash it with soap ... Its black so it won't show if there's a stain. Huh, is that why you wear black all the time?"

He nodded and rolled his eyes at her, tempted to grin. "So ...What's the plan?"

Max shrugged again, "I'm not sure its safe for us to go back to Virginia just yet ... I'm pretty sure the headhunter and that WOMAN are still on the lookout for us. So Maria will have to wait ... Aaron said something about you guys having an uncle in Oklahoma ... I was thinking we'd swing past there, call mom, so she'll know Ella's OK, then head home and try to figure out what the heck Itex is up to this time."

"Sounds good."

"Oh ... And, uh ... About that question you asked me before."

"What question?" He played stupid, but he hadn't forgotten.

"I think you should take your time picking your name ... My mom has it worked out at the school-school that we won't need ID."

Fang nodded, "Yeah ... But we're going to graduate in June, Max ... I want to graduate. I-" He hesitated, unsure if he should let Max in on this little tidbit of information. He was still unsure of it himself, but seeing as how he could actually have a social-security card ... A REAL Identity as soon as he named himself made his dreams all that more real. Made them a possibility, not an illusion.

"You what, Fang?"

He licked his lips, glancing down at her hand where it rested on his knee before he answered. "I want to go to college, and I can't do that if I don't hurry up and pick a name for myself. You have to put your name and social security number on college applications and right now I don't have one. We're blips in the educational system. The only reason we haven't been found out is because the superintendent is friends with your mom."

Max was shocked. College? Fang wanted to go to college? He wanted to leave her and go someplace strange with hundreds of people he couldn't trust... She swallowed back her fearful reply.

"Okay."

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Chapter 41; Naming Your Maker

The wind was with them and Max was surprised to reach Oklahoma just before five in the evening the next day, especially since Aaron was still uncomfortable in the air, and often would call for breaks just so they could walk for a while. Iggy was acting strange too. He was beginning to look worn, flying slowly his eyes kind of glazed, but Max assumed it was only the fact he had to carry Ella, who was, as she had so delicately put it, WAY more than half Iggy's weight.

But, they still made good time and decided to take an early night to look for Fang and Aaron's long-lost uncle Allan.

That night at the hotel Max was only able to rent one room because the hotel was booked. Which broke her mother's curfew rule like a stained glass window.

Fang pulled out both laptop computers and while everyone else slept, squished on the beds or lying spread out on blankets on the floor, he and Max started searching.

Max for any word on what Itex may be doing, Fang for his uncle.

"Well, this sucks," Fang growled, "There are about a hundred Allan Hutchinson's in Oklahoma."

Max nodded, not really listening, "We have to find a library tomorrow, there's some stuff here I want to print out."

He abandoned his search for a moment to lean over and peer at her computer screen, "What stuff?"

She pointed to the screen, "Remember our old friend Omega?"

Fang nodded.

"Well, I asked Father Donovan about the word Omega while we were in New York and he told me that another name for God was 'Alpha and Omega'..."

Fang felt a shiver run down his spine, "Alpha?"

"The beginning and the end," Max finished just barely above a whisper. "So, I typed in a file search for the words Alpha and Omega ... And this is what I found..."

It was a project schematization much like Omega's file, but there was no picture with this one, only paragraphs of medical lingo and numbers, referring to other projects Max didn't recognize.

"Apparently Omega was created because Alpha was a failure. BUT they used the same techniques and DNA splices to make Omega that they did Alpha, so I don't understand how one worked but the other didn't."

"Maybe it was different people ... You know, like when Ella and your mom got the flu last year, Ella got really sick, but your mom didn't ... Same illness, but it manifested differently."

Max turned to him, "That makes sense ... Alpha's reaction to the experimentation could have been completely different than that of Omega ... Like take the crock-a-doggies at the school. There were three of them, one was a crocodile with a dog's head, another was a dog with a crock tail, and the last one, the one they liked, was a super strong scaly dog with a kind of flat head..."

Fang nodded. He remembered that thing, he'd been stuck in a cage right beside it for a week, until it chewed through the bars and came after him. Then the white-coats had moved it to another room.

"Do you think your mom would be home yet?"

Max looked at her watch, which was still set at Arizona time and nodded, "She's probably putting David to bed about now."

"Good, do you want to call?"

Max nodded and climbed to her feet, stepping over Aaron's legs to get to the phone. She had to call Collect because they'd forgotten to buy a telephone card and she didn't want to walk across the street to the 7-11 to buy one in the dark.

She heard her mother answer in a wide-awake voice and accept the charges, "Max? Max, is everything OK?"

"Yeah, we're OK, had a little trouble yesterday but everyone's fine."

"Is Ella OK?"

"She's fine, everyone's asleep right now so I have to stay quiet."

"Okay ... I'm so glad to hear from you, I've been so worried."

"We're fine, how are David and Total doing?'

"Total and the mailman got into an argument."

"Total was arguing with the mailman?" Max's stomach clenched.

"He and David stuck their heads out the window and were barking at the poor mailman."

"Total and David were barking at the mailman?"

Fang's head snapped up and he cocked an eyebrow at her.

"He and David have been going a little crazy without you guys. I caught them having a tea party in the dining room talking about gothic archetecture... and they'd dressed up ... In DRESSES!" She hissed the last few words, as if it were a big secret. "MY dresses..."

Max felt her eyebrows raise.

Her mother sighed. "Speaking of David, is Nick or Aaron awake, I'd like to speak to one of them, just don't mention the tea party thing, OK?"

Max scowled and handed Fang the phone.

He scowled and rolled his eyes, "Yeah?"

"Nick, your brother got in quite a bit of trouble at school yesterday."

Fang licked his lips nervously, "What did he do, he didn't like start flying around the gym did he?"

Max paled.

"No, its nothing like that, it's just ... Well, got into a fight with his friend Bobby, and ... And roundhouse kicked him in the stomach."

Fang's eyes bugged, "He didn't..."

"He did... He's suspended for a week... Not only that, but he made his teacher go to sleep and the whole class stayed outside on the playground all day..."

Fang shook his head and rubbed his temples. He now understood why Max had been so angry with Angel over the whole mind control thing.

There are rules that must be followed, you can't just do whatever you want whenever you want. As for the roundhouse kicking? Well ... What had Bobby done to deserve it?

Dr. Martinez sighed, "Total and I had a long talk with him when he got home. He didn't understand that it was wrong."

"How did he take it?"

"Pretty well actually, when Total explained it to him ... I think he's afraid of me, I started to tell him how wrong it was and he started crying," Her voice fell and Fang heard her snuff back tears. "I don't want him to be afraid of me, Nick ... He needs someone to be here for him when you guys aren't around."

Fang nodded even though she couldn't see him over the phone.

"He won't even fly without someone here, Total said he's afraid to..."

"He's afraid he'll crash I think," Fang whispered. "Aaron made him so scared of crashing and lightning I'm surprised he can fly at all..."

"I hope you don't mind, but he slept in your room last night. He had a nightmare and he and Total curled up on your bed with one of Aaron's shirts and Ariel's bear."

"I don't mind."

Dr. Martinez snuffed back more tears and changed the subject. "OH, the school counselor wants to test him for ADHD. I wanted to get your and Aaron's permission before I said yes or no."

"ADHD?"

"Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. It would explain why he's so easily distracted but so ... ON all the time ... Even when he is upset."

Fang smiled to himself. The irony ... A kid with ADHD has the ability to put himself and people to sleep using only his mind. "As long as it isn't like a blood test or anything its OK with me."

He felt suddenly very sad and part of him wished David were there so he could hug him. He wasn't usually one to want to hug someone. He could only remember desiring that kind of physical contact with someone on seven different occasions in his whole life.

Most of them had been recently. When he'd gotten the letter and Max had found him in the park had been the worst ... All he had wanted was for Max to hold him and say that it was OK. But he'd been so angry with himself for appearing weak that he'd flown away instead, hiding in the forest all afternoon reading that letter over and over trying to figure it out. Then he'd broken a limb out of a tree in his anger ... A rather large limb too ... And he didn't really remember doing it. One minute he'd been standing there, the next the limb was weighing him down, making him touch his toes ... How had he done that?

He shivered and licked his lips, "Is David awake?"

Dr. Martinez sighed, "He went to bed an hour ago."

Fang nodded, "Will you tell-" He stopped himself and cleared his throat, unable to continue.

He heard her smile, "I'll tell him."

"Here's Max," And he shoved the phone into her hands, rushing back to his computer.

Search Results for Allan Hutchinson; 145

Allan A Hutchinson

Allan A Hutchinson & Nina Yang...

Fang sighed and gave his head a shake, then typed in something completely different just on a whim. Kitty Hutchinson

Search Results for Kitty Hutchinson; 60 J Kitty Hutchinson

Kitty Hutchinson's Animal Rescue

Bernard & Kitty Hutchinson...

Fang groaned loudly and his stomach twisted.

"JAILBREAK!" Aaron sat up blinking stupidly and four pairs of wings sprang open.

Gasman toppled off the bed when Iggy's wing hit his head and he let out a strangled cry.

"WHAT HAPPENED?" Nudge said, practically diving off the bed reaching for Aaron.

"Who's shouting?" Ella mumbled sleepily rubbing her head.

Aaron's face turned red and he seemed to shrink in on himself, "Was dreaming ... S-sorry, all."

Angel growled and shoved her head under her pillow mumbling. Iggy collapsed back on the bed with a groan and Gasman simply curled up on the floor where Fang had spread a blanket for himself.

Fang didn't say a word. He remained rigid in his seat staring at the search results before him his heart in his mouth.

About five minutes later Max returned to his side, taking up her own computer. "Mom says hi ... She thinks she saw a wizard hanging around outside the house but I think she only saw a deer or something, because Wizards aren't light brown."

Fang turned to her, a rather nauseated expression on his normally placid face.

"What?" Her eyes turned to the computer screen and grew quite large.

Bernard and Kitty Hutchinson ... Soaring Eagle Farms Highway 6, Abraham Oklahoma

Kitty Hutchinson's Animal Rescue ... Soaring Eagle Farms Highway 6, Abraham Oklahoma

Max searched a map and looked up Abraham Oklahoma.

"Fang, we could be there by lunch tomorrow..."

"What if its not them..."

She turned on him. He'd been so optimistic up until this point, so ready to follow every lead set before him, but now ... Now he looked afraid ... Green in the face, as if at any moment he was going to be sick.

"What if its not them and we show up and it isn't the right place and it isn't them," He was trembling, "I know they're dead but what if it isn't. What if its just some old people who don't know who the hell I am ... Who don't care ... I-I can't-" He turned to her and tears he didn't know were even on the way over flowed. "Max, I can't take it if it isn't them..."

She took the computer from him and closed it then closed her own and turned off the lamp. The only light in the whole room coming from the bathroom. She took his hand and led him across the room then sank to the floor on the blanket she's spread out for herself. "Sit."

He eased himself to the floor beside her, barely an inch between them, and hugged himself, resting his chin on his knees.

Max sighed and put a hand on his back, gently rubbing between his wings, careful not to press to hard on his left. It seemed to relax him because he didn't protest when she pulled him to her, tucking his head under her chin as she'd done Angel's and Gasman's for years.

He remained stiff at first, but his arms snaked around her and he let out a shuddering breath, "I don't know what's wrong with me ... Its like since I got that stupid letter I lost all control I ever had over myself."

She could barely hear him but she refrained from speaking because it wasn't every day Fang said anything about what he was feeling. Sometimes she wondered if he even had feelings...

"I don't like feeling like this ... I hate it," He gave her a little squeeze to punctuate exactly how angry it made him, to feel in any way helpless.

She just kept running her fingers through his hair, feeling his closeness and relishing in it.

She knew what he was talking about, ever since Aaron had touched her arm in that diner she had been unashamed to tell herself that she likeloved Fang. And for some reason, seeing him like this made that feeling stronger ... And she wanted to share it, to tell him that it was all OK that she would be there even if it wasn't them, she'd love him no matter what.

But she stayed silent because she knew the last thing he needed was her confessing her true feelings toward him. He needed someone strong, someone fearless. She laughed to herself, Fang needed a Fang...

So, she decided she would be what he needed. She would be strong, she would be silent and let him say what he was feeling without worrying about what she would say ... Even though Fang would have sneered and made sarcastic remarks at her if their situations were reversed... Fang would have given his head a little shake so his hair would fall into his eyes and he would have kissed her so she would shut-up and relax...

She slipped a finger under his chin and lifted his head.

They stared at each other for a few breathless seconds ... His eyes looked a little glassy from the tears and the little hairs on his chin tickled her finger.

She kissed him gently and he shuddered in surprise.

Max leaned back, searching his eyes. He shuddered again and licked his lips but he didn't look away.

She thought she saw something dark swim into his eyes, like a shadow but dismissed it as a trick of the light and the moisture in his eyes.

"I'll take the watch ... You get some sleep and don't worry about it, we'll find what we find."

He didn't nod, in fact he didn't move. She stood and went back to the chair she'd been sitting in and reopened her computer.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw him lift his fingers to his lips and glance at her, his eyes curious, but she made no indication that she saw.

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23. Chapters 42

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Chapter 42; Kitty

He didn't speak to her at all the next morning. To tell the truth, he didn't even let her catch him looking at her, which he loved to do because she would then give him that 'What are you looking at?' expression. He packed his things, and double checked the address then stayed in back of them when they walked into the lobby, taking full advantage of the 'Free Coffee and Donuts' offered to all patrons up before 9 AM. The hotel would rue that sign before eight thirty.

They checked out of the hotel and walked nearly half a mile down the road to a vacant lot to take off.

They started on a south western heading and, just as Max predicted flew over the town of Abraham at 11:35. Since they didn't really know WHERE Soaring Eagle Farms was they followed the tiny little black line of Highway 6.

About seven miles from Abraham was quite a large farm, on which was sat an old fashioned white farmhouse, a stereotypical red barn and a newer looking building the size of a small Wal-Mart.

There were acres of green field on which horses and cows roamed, and as they watched a brand new green truck pulled out of the Mini-Wal-Mart building drove toward the house a big baying dog in the back.

Fang stared as the truck stopped and out climbed a woman… A woman with long light brown hair and a slight limp. A jolt ran through him, as if he'd been shocked and for the first time since he was learning to fly, Fang forgot to flap.

He dropped straight down, spinning slightly for almost a full hundred feet before he straightened his wings and realized Max was screaming at him.

"WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH YOU!" She saw the dazed look in his eyes and shook her head then angled herself downward. "Land behind the barn."

Fang hung in the air for a few seconds, watching Max, and the others shoot downward then do a small circle and land. He heard someone beside him and turned his head.

Aaron was looking very nervous. "There's nothing to land in … I could be injured!"

Fang sighed, "You scared too?"

Aaron twisted his hands and nodded, "Yeah … Did you see the woman get out of the truck?"

He nodded.

Aaron shuddered and sat his jaw. "If I break my neck I'm coming back to haunt you," And he zipped downward followed closely behind by Fang.

Unlike he believed he would do, Aaron did not face plant behind the barn, he tried to land in a run, tripped and fell, scraping his hands open and tearing his jeans in both knees.

"Aaron, are you part albatross or something?" Iggy said quirking an eyebrow.

Ella giggled.

Aaron was less amused and gave Iggy the backward peace sign again.

"What's that?" Ella said making the same gesture back at Aaron.

"Same as that," Aaron flipped her the bird, "Just the proper English version."

Ella poked her tongue out at him and finger combed her hair to straighten it.

Nudge brushed dust from her expensive jeans and took Aaron's hand inspecting his bleeding palm, then she pressed her cheek against his shoulder. "Poor Mr. Albatross!"

"Okay, on we go!" Max said tucking in her wings. She walked hesitantly around the open front of the barn, peeking in to make sure no one was watching them. When she was sure no one was there she twitched her hand to let everyone know it was safe.

The big white dog leapt out of the truck and ran at them barking loudly, making loud, "Bawl-row-rowser" kind of noises.

"Duncan! Hush!" A man growled and jogged around the other side of the barn. He took one look at Max and the group behind her and did a beautiful stumbling double take his big green eyes sweeping them then honing themselves on Fang and Aaron.

"Holy SHIT!" He screamed and politely sat himself down in the dirt beside the still barking dog.

"Allan? Allan, what is it?" The woman stepped onto the porch and stared her brown eyes widening to practically the size of dinner plates.

Fang trembled as he stared at the woman…

She stepped forward slowly a hand creeping to her mouth…

"M-Mum?" Aaron's voice shook slightly and his eyes welled with tears.

Allan dove to his feet and grabbed them, wrapping his arms around their necks pulling them against his chest and bursting into deep wracking sobs. "I can't believe it! I can't believe you actually came here!"

Max's jaw hit her chest and she gaped at the woman on the steps. The woman who was staring at them as if something were terribly inappropriate about their existence … something dirty.

Max turned her head and watched Allan hugging Fang and Aaron as if they were his own sons, but then she noticed something … Something very wrong with the picture.

Fang shoved off from Allan, took one stumbling step back threw out his hands, spinning completely around, then fell over like a tree.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"Be gentle with him … Oh, God, be gentle with him!" Aaron shrieked.

"Jesus, he doesn't weigh much does he?"

"What's wrong with him?" Aaron said.

Fang pried his eyes open and stared around. Everything looked very funny upside down and he wanted to laugh at how absurd the world was, but something didn't feel right. He felt, to put it lightly, like hell.

Every muscle in his body ached, his wings hurt … Even his eyes hurt.

He saw her out f the corner of his eye and reached weakly for her, he wanted to touch her, to assure himself that she was real, that she wasn't a figment of his imagination.

She jerked away from him and scowled.

Allan looked over his shoulder, "The rest of you come in and take a seat," He gently lie Fang down on a large, extremely soft sofa and rushed into a small adjoining kitchen, taking down a glass from a freestanding white cupboard.

"What is wrong with him?" Max sounded pissed.

Allan filled the glass with water then walked forward as if he intended to deliver the water to Fang himself, then he hesitated, handed it to Aaron and turned away.

The woman sat heavily on a straight back chair and cupping her forehead.

"Sit up and drink this, Nicky … Slowly, last thing I need is to be vomited on."

Aaron seemed eerily calm … Almost disappointed and he wouldn't look at the woman sitting just behind him.

Max was perplexed. Why was Aaron not paying attention to his mother? Why was he ignoring her? She was alive and sitting right there … Wasn't she?

Fang choked and was nearly sick but managed to cough the water out again and sit up.

Allan cocked his hip on the back of the sofa and rubbed his neck. "Feeling better?"

Fang nodded but didn't take his eyes off the woman. His hands twitched feebly and Max could tell just by the way he was sitting that he wanted to jump across the room and crush the woman in a hug, possibly even bawl his bottomless blue eyes out.

The woman sighed and wiped her eyes then stared directly into Fang's and shattered his world.

"I'm not your mother, so stop looking at me like that…"

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24. Chapters 43 and 44

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Chapter 43; Truth, Again

"Is that anyway to tell him!" Allan said loudly and turned on the woman his eyes narrowed. "I mean, JESUS!"

Fang's body shook and his shoulders sagged. His lip trembled and he made a strained noise in his throat, his eyes filling. "You look-"

The woman shook her head and spoke over him, "I'm not your mother. My name is Amy Howard … And it's my second you're after, not me. I am NOT your mother."

Fang just stared at her, that same, lost expression on his face.

Aaron spoke, "Second?"

Amy stood and peeled off her over shirt dragging her hair to one side so they could see her back … And the two tiny little hand sized black wings protruding from her shoulders. "I'm a good ten years older than your mother … When I didn't turn out right they tried again because they wanted my DNA for something. But they kept me alive … I'm not sure why though. I escaped two years ago when our transport truck crashed."

"So genetically you are his mother?" Iggy said staring at the tiny wings on the woman's back and wondering why they were so small.

The woman pulled on her shirt as if the miniature wings on her back were a great embarrassment, "Genetically, yes … But NO, I am NOT their mother and I never will be. Its bad enough that I have to be so ugly, I don't know what I'd do if I had to have freakish kids."

Fang's hands tangled in his hair and he bowed his head his chin nearly touching his knees. He wanted to hurt something ... He wanted to break something … breaking something would feel so good right now, watching destruction … The power of knowing he was causing something like that to happen, causing something to feel the same pain he was…

But he remained still, gulping in lungful after lungful of air his teeth ground together so tightly his head hurt. A deep, permeating heat building in his chest…

Max was on her feet, her finger pressed to the end of Amy Howard's nose eyes narrowed and burning;

"Freak? Let me tell you something lady, Fang and Aaron are not freaks, you are freakish … Who the hell do you think you are calling US names when you have inky-dinky wings of your own … You think you're so great. So powerful because you're older than him, because you can 'control' him … Because you have information that you think can HURT him. Well, lady, you can't control me! And guess what?" Max snapped out her wings, towering over the woman like some kind of vengeful pagan goddess, all her feathers on end, "I don't need information to hurt you!"

The woman trembled, "Get out … All of you FREAKS get OUT!" And she pointed at the door.

Fang jumped to his feet, rushing out the door followed by Aaron calling his name, begging him to stop.

Max growled and stalked out, feeling murderous … But Ella stayed, her arms crossed over her chest, "You're the freak, lady … You're the first person I've met who doesn't have a soul." And she rushed after Iggy, who swept her into his arms and was air born.

Allan ran out of the house after them screaming, "WAIT! GUYS WAIT, I NEED TO TALK TO YOU, IT'S IMPORTANT!"

Max swooped over him, her arms crossed glaring angrily. "Then say it, we never should have come here, in the first place."

Allan stared up at Fang's back, tears rolling down his face. "Please, stay … I haven't seen you in so long."

Fang's body stiffened and Max watched as he seemed to shrink in on himself, his back still to the man, black wings beating to keep him aloft.

Aaron turned on Allan, scowling, venom flying with each word, "What the hell is the matter with you … Having that bloody WOMAN about?"

Allan hung his head for a moment then looked up his dark blonde hair mussed and sticking up in the front. "She has nowhere else to go … I had to do something. Please, PLEASE stay!"

Fang rubbed the heel of his hand over his eyes.

Allan shook his head and motioned to the barn. "We can talk in there and SHE won't come out."

Aaron laid a hand on Fang's foot, the nearest part of his brother he could reach, "Come on, Nick … Let's at least hear what the man has to say."

Fang hesitated, wanting desperately to fly … To never come down again. What was the point? But at the same time, that little voice of reason Aaron implanted in him every time his brother touched him wore his doubt and fear down. It was that WOMAN who he was mad at, not Allan. Allan hadn't done anything hate worthy except welcome HER into the house…

He glanced over his shoulder at Allan and sighed, his body visibly relaxing. He nodded and angled himself toward the barn, landing just inside the open double doors. He didn't pull his wings in, but stood there with them out, hugging himself.

Aaron swooped in and crashed into a stack of hay bales beside a tarp-covered piece of equipment. He tumbled out and scrambled to his feet, brushing hay from his hair and the oversized jacket he'd borrowed from Fang.

Nudge walked toward him wringing her hands her lip between her teeth. "Remind me to teach you to land, you're really going to hurt yourself one of these days, Mr. Albatross."

Aaron rolled his eyes and walked to Fang, standing beside him and looking tough, even though he was a good foot shorter than the dark haired boy.

Allan rubbed his hands together, looking as if he wanted to fling himself at them and crush them in another hug. He shook his head and walked past, motioning that they should follow him farther into the barn.

"I have some of your parents' things back here. I couldn't keep them in the house because … Well, I didn't know who would be coming to look for them," He unceremoniously threw a few five gallon buckets off of a rather large antique trunk and dug an equally antique looking key from his pocket.

Max expected the contents of the trunk to be packed in mothballs and dust, but instead everything was sealed away in vacuum bags. Most of it was clothes, a few odds and ends. A picture or two and another envelope with a black wing drawn on it.

To her surprise, the first thing Fang took from its vacuum bag was a soft blue sweater that upon closer inspection was not made for boys. He rubbed the fabric between his fingers then pressed it to his face, inhaling deeply, his eyes closing.

Raspberries… His mother had smelled like raspberries…

"You boys can have anything out of here you want, its yours by right…" Allan rested his hip on a saddle that was draped over a sawhorse.

Fang handed the sweater to Aaron, who smelled it also then slipped it back into the vacuum bag and laid it carefully aside.

"What's this?" Aaron held up the bag containing the pictures.

Allan smiled, "Those are your parents' wedding pictures. Bernie used to have them in a big album but-"

Fang tore his backpack from his shoulders and yanked the album from inside.

Allan laughed, "That's it, God, I haven't seen that thing in years … I think there's also some-"

Aaron gave a little cry and his white feathers stood on end. "I WAS YELLOW!"

Everyone crowded around and stared down at the picture. Two little babies were lying on their stomach's asleep. Both about the same size, but both with tiny down covered wings.

The baby on the right had bright yellow wings, much like a baby chicken, while the other baby's wings were a soft gray.

"Oh, wow!" Nudge said, "They were babies!"

She made a high pitched 'awwww!' sound and Max was tempted to elbow her.

Allan laughed, "I thought that one was in there."

Fang looked at Allan, his face slack, "How old were we when the white-coats got us?"

"Three months … And when I found out what Kathy had done I…" He grew quiet.

"Kathy?" Aaron turned to him also, the picture dropping to his lap.

Allan sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. "Kathy was your aunt … She died about a year ago of pneumonia … She … She drugged Bernie and Kitty and stole you."

Fang's fingers tightened on the photo album until Max was sure he was going to rip it.

"I'm not going to make any excuses for her, she was stupid for doing it and none of them spoke to her again afterward. Your grandpa even cut her out of his will."

Angel was creeping toward the trunk, staring down into it. "So, do you have any kids?"

Allan was taken aback, "No … I had an accident when I was a boy … I'll never have kids of my own."

The screen door slammed and Max watched as Amy Howard stormed out of the house her arms crossed over her chest, a smug grin on her face, "Duncan!"

The dog loped over and climbed into the back of the truck wagging his tail. Amy glanced up at Max and gave her a scathing, 'I'll get you my pretties' kind of look, then climbed into the truck and drove away.

"She won't be back," Allan called. "Not today anyway. I only let her stay here because she's not got anywhere else to go … She's kind of snotty if you ask me…" He wrinkled his nose, "Nothing like your mother…"

Max nodded, but something bothered her. Why had that woman been grinning when she left the house? Why had she been smiling?

The fistful of photos were placed gently into the picture book and Fang put the album lovingly into his pack. "Angel, would you hand me that envelope?"

The girl seemed to be more interested with something still in the trunk because she didn't even look at him when she handed the envelope over.

Inside was another ten-thousand dollars in cash, "Was our dad like rich or something?"

Allan grinned, "When your grandpa died he left all his money to Bernie and Kitty and he left me this place, which was a big shocker. But I didn't feel right about it, I promised to keep it safe for Kitty and Bernie, then stayed on like a grounds keeper while they were away," He pointed over his shoulder at a large canvas tarp spread over something Fang had suspected was farming equipment.

"You boys were born in that truck."

Aaron was on his feet, pulling the tarp off the truck. It was an old thing, red and rusted in places with a dented hood and a broken headlight.

Fang laughed out loud. For some reason he could picture it.

"Your father loved the color red," Allan chuckled then leaned over and pulled another vacuum bag out of the locker. He tossed the bag to Aaron with a grin.

"That might fit you better than the jacket you've got on … It was your dad's about the time he was your age. He wore that thing all the time."

It was a red jacket, which taking Allan's last statement into account, made perfect sense. It was terribly out of fashion but Aaron put it on anyway, feeling somehow closer to his father than he ever had been before.

Angel fell headfirst into the trunk with a short gasp.

"Angel!" Max shrieked and dove at her, "Angel, what are you doing?" She grabbed the girl around the waist and hoisted her out.

Allan laughed when he saw what was in Angel's arms. "That was Bernie's when he was a kid, I'd forgotten I'd put that thing in there!"

"David would love this!" Angel said enthusiastically, "Then I can have Celeste back," She shook the plush dog at Max and grinned.

"Listen, you guys can stick around here if you want, I was just about to go get lunch."

"Lunch?" Nudge said a grin spreading across her face.

"I am getting kind of hungry, Iggy," Ella said, reclining against him.

Iggy merely grinned, his hands on her knees.

Gasman was standing off by himself, his arms crossed over his chest looking out across the yard at the horses near the fence. He had tears in his blue eyes and when Max called to him he simply ignored her.

"What's his name?" Allan whispered to Max.

"Ga-Zephyr…"

Iggy chuckled, "Okay, first its FNick, now GZephyr?" Max sent him a scathing look glad he could now see what a scathing look was. He fell quiet.

Allan nodded and stood, "Zephyr, why don't you come with me and we'll go get lunch."

Gasman looked over his shoulder at Angel, who shrugged with a grin.

The blonde boy nodded and shuffled forward his head down.

Allan drove a rag-top Jeep with no doors. It was dented and scratched and had mud caked in the wheels. Gasman saw the jeep and thought automatically that it was the coolest car he'd ever seen, but he didn't say anything.

"You OK, Kid?" Allan said as they pulled onto the road.

Gasman nodded, but tears unexpectedly flooded his eyes and he slapped them away with a growl. Angel had said he could trust this man, but how much could he trust Fang's uncle with?

"Are you mad?"

Gazzy nodded, "Yeah," He growled … Then he couldn't stop talking.

"Nick didn't even want to find his parents a month ago … Now not only does he have parents that loved him. That wanted him. But, he's got pictures of them, baby pictures, brothers AND an uncle.

"Even Iggy and Nudge have someone … Iggy's got Ella and Nudge has Aaron and who have I got? No one. I don't have anyone…

"Yeah, I've got a sister, and I love her … But, WE don't have anyone. We don't have parents that want us … They sold us to the stupid Whitecoats … They didn't love us, they didn't care. They SOLD us. I just feel so-" He dissolved into tears and Allan pulled the Jeep onto the side of the road.

Gasman wondered what on earth the man was doing when suddenly he was pulled into a tight hug. It startled him, but he didn't fight, Angel had said he could trust Allan.

"I know how hard that is, kid … Feeling like no one wants you … When I was a boy my parents took off and left me with Bernie's folks … I've only seen them twice since and they didn't even recognize me. And that hurt … My own parents didn't even recognize me."

Gasman looked up at Allan's face, "You-you and Fang's dad aren't brothers?"

"No … We're not related at all. But when we were growing up I was always so jealous of him. His parents were actually around, actually wanted him. Mine were never there and when they left me the last time they stopped being my parents and became strangers who just so happened to share my blood … I was really angry but Bernie's mom pulled me aside and told me that a family doesn't have to be blood. A family is people who care about each other enough to be there through thick and thin."

Gasman fell quiet his arms still wrapped around Allan. He felt a little better, not great, but better.

It was nice to be hugged … To be loved.

"So … How about lunch, huh?" Allan said a few minutes later, releasing the boy, them rubbing his hand over Gazzy's hair, mussing it even more than it already was.

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"What are we going to do about the girls clothes? Neither of us wear girls clothes," Aaron said holding up a pair of girls jeans. Staring at the little designs that had been drawn all over them in permanent ink.

Little wings like on the envelope, interlocking rings, clouds, crescent moons and stars. Dogs, airplanes, little stick figures and sailboats, hamburgers and clocks.

Fang smiled. Those were his mother's jeans … To him they held a kind of mystical power. They were holy relics, size eight.

But what good would they do shoved in the bottom of a pack taking up room when no one could use them. They might as well be packed away and never looked at again…

"What size jeans does Nudge wear?"

"Tens … She's got a fantastic arse," He whispered this last so Max wouldn't hear.

Fang grinned and turned his head to make sure Max wasn't listening…

She was standing in the door her hands on her hips watching storm clouds start rolling in over the fields the long primary feathers on her wings trembling slightly in the suddenly chilled wind blowing into the barn.

There was a screeching mechanical noise and Iggy laughed from where he and Ella sat in the truck. He twisted a knob and the radio became louder.

"See the stone set in your eyes. See the thorn twist in your side … I will wait, for you … Sleight of hand and twist of fate, on a bed of nails she makes me wait … And I wait, without you … With or without you, with or without you…"

Iggy giggled, "There's an old U2 cassette stuck in here," He pecked on the dashboard a few times, climbed quickly from the truck bringing Ella with him and they started dancing across the floor, shuffling steps arms around each other.

Ella giggled and leaned her head against Iggy's chest. "You are SO taking me to prom, got it?"

"Yes, dear…"

"Through the storm, we reach the shore. You gave it all, but I want more, and I'm waiting for you. With or without you. With or without you … I can't live, with or without you."

"Aw … I wanna dance!" Nudge whined under her breath and pouted at Aaron.

Aaron rolled his eyes and climbed to his feet, dusting off the seat of his pants and taking her hands, "I've never danced before, just a warning."

"You just put your hands on my waist and rock back and forth … Yeah, like that," Nudge grinned at Max and clasped her hands behind Aaron's head. "OUCH! Don't step on my toes."

Fang watched them for a moment a smile on his face then his eyes strayed across the barn to Max … She was looking at him, lips parted hair blown by the wind arms hanging to her sides.

He thought she looked very … 'Max', like that… Standing there, facing down a storm with a ferociously determined look in her eyes…

"My hands are tied, my body bruised. She's got me with nothing to win, but nothing left to loose."

Why was he staring at her like that? With that … expressionless expression on his face? That deep, hunger … That very falcon-ish look like she'd seen in Pale Male's eyes a few days before … And years before when they'd flown together…

The song ended and Fang blinked rapidly then turned away, unable to look at her anymore. He didn't even like U2 that much … They were a little too mushy for his taste … But… Well, he couldn't deny that the words had feeling. Just not the KIND of feelings he particularly enjoyed…

The jeep Allan and Gasman had driven off in about an hour before came back and they climbed out grinning. "There's a big storm coming … But we got pizzas, tacos, chicken and spaghetti and meatballs."

Iggy's head snapped up, "Spaghetti and meatballs?"

.-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-..-''-. .-''-. .-''-. .-''-.

Chapter 44; Dissolve

The 'big storm' turned out to be bigger than expected and together Fang and Aaron carried the trunk of their parents things into the farmhouse where everyone else was eating.

Iggy devoured the entire family sized spaghetti and meatball dinner Allan had brought, then reclined on the couch with his head on Ella's stomach. He had a contented smile on his face and Ella was running her hands through his red hair, every so often braiding a few locks then combing it straight again with her fingers before he figured out what she was doing.

Allan had made it into Nudge's Favorite People book by buying a vegetable pizza entirely for her, because she was a 'vegetarian'.

"You kids are welcome to stay the night if you want there are four bedrooms upstairs mine is down here. The bathroom is just to the left of the kitchen there," He pointed, "I've got to go get the animals in, so … Make yourselves at home."

"Can I come?" Gasman said jumping out of the chair he'd been slouched in.

"I don't see why not," He smiled and disappeared outside with Gasman behind him. They climbed back into the jeep and drove around the house.

"You want to drive, Zephyr?" Allan grinned.

Gasman's eyes went wide. "Really? Can I?"

"I have to open and shut the gate, this thing is automatic, so all you have to do is wait until I give you the signal then slowly push on the gas to make it go forward … That one there is the gas, that one is the brake. Got it?"

"Got it!" Gasman grinned broadly and positioned himself behind the wheel, the safety belt snapped firmly over his hips.

Allan opened the gate and stepped clear, "Okay, slowly."

The jeep bounced and jerked forward through the gate then slid a little on the grass when Gazzy slammed both feet on the brake. "That was so cool! I drove!"

Allan shut the gate and ran up, climbing into the passenger seat, "Now all we have to do is drive around and look for the horses."

"What about the cows?"

"The cows came in already, they don't like the storms much … AH! There they are!" He pointed, "Just stop here and I'll go get them."

Gasman was getting wet sitting there in a Jeep with no doors, but he could drive! Max would go crazy!

Allan was waving his arms at the horses and they were running around nickering and rearing onto their back legs. "Go on! Get your butts back to the barn before you get hit by lightning!"

The horses slowly dispersed and galloped off toward the gate.

Allan climbed dripping back into the Jeep and instructed The Gasman on how to turn around.

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"Oh, My GOD! Max, Gazzy's driving!" Angel said loudly, her face pressed to the window.

Max ran over and soon found herself squished to the glass by three other bodies. Iggy and Ella were curled on the couch asleep and didn't move.

Allan chased three big horses into the Mini-Wal-Mart building and came back out a few minutes later shutting the big double doors. He leapt into the Jeep and Gasman pulled it expertly beside the porch and parked it.

A few seconds later they both ran in laughing. "He's a pretty good driver!" Allan declared and mussed Gazzy's sopping wet blonde hair.

Max rolled her eyes and searched out a change of clothes for the Gasman. He rubbed his forearm across his nose and dashed into the bathroom to shower and change.

Allan sat down at the table and rubbed his face with a hand towel. "I can show you guys the church where your parents were married after this storm blows over."

Max gave Fang a sideways glance but he was too engrossed in that mysterious black notebook he'd bought in New York.

She walked over and tried to get a look at what he was writing but he hid the pages from her and gave her a 'Can I help you?' kind of look.

"What are you writing?"

He shrugged, "A romance novel."

Max rolled her eyes, "You're a pig, you know that?"

He grinned and turned to Allan, "You know a lot about our parents?"

Allan nodded, "I know how they met and most of what happened between then and when they were married, then they disappeared for a while and came back with you two."

Max turned and sat on the arm of the chair Fang was seated in.

Allan smiled, "Your father, Clark Donovan and I were walking home from school when we hear these dogs going crazy in the lot where the Mullens Place used to be. It's a big fenced off field with a dilapidated house on it. Local haunt for all the horny teenagers of Abraham … Well, your dad was the first one to hear the screams and he climbed over that fence and took off. Clark and I followed him and there were these big wolf-things jumping into a tree after this girl.

"She wasn't wearing much more than a hospital gown and she had these cuts and scrapes all over her.

"Well, we started throwing rocks at those wolf-things and two of them came after us. So we climbed up in another tree beside the one the girl was in. Your dad, he was always the fearless type, jumped across from our tree to hers and then this van showed up and these guys came out. There was a blonde woman who looked a lot like your friend there," He pointed to Max, "And a guy with dark hair and a German."

Max shivered. She knew exactly who Allan was talking about … The Director, Ter Borcht and Jeb.

"The blonde and the German didn't want to go over the fence so the little dark haired man clambered over and walked up his hands raised to the wolf-things, and he talked to them … And they listened. He looked up into the tree and I know he saw the girl, but he also saw your dad.

"The guy gave a kind of shiver and shouted over his shoulder, 'Its just a bunch of boys, its not her.' And he called to the wolf-things again and they took off, jumping clear over that fence and climbing into that van.

"I remember I saw that man make a 'shush' sign to me as the van pulled away."

Max reeled. Jeb hadn't turned her in? He had called off the wolf-things, which she suspected were Pre-Erasers, some kind of wolf with a semi-human mind perhaps.

She wondered absently when they'd come up with Erasers, the ones that could morph.

"Well, we finally got her out of the tree and Clark was the first one to notice she had wings. He kind of went into shock … You see, when his father died Clark lost his faith, but when he saw your mother that day he dropped to his knees and said that he knew what he had to do, he said he knew he was supposed to be a priest. Something about asking God to show him an angel and he'd know.

"He went home and told his mother he wanted to be a priest," Allan laughed in his throat tears in his eyes.

"Your dad and I brought her home with us and his mom cleaned her up-"

"Wait," Fang said softly, "'His mom'?"

Allan nodded, "You and I aren't related, my parents left me here with Bernie's mom when I was little and never came back. But your dad and grandpa claimed me as part of the family, so for what that's worth I'm still your uncle."

Fang sighed and seemed to shrug, although he didn't really move.

"But, back to my story … Those wolf-things came back a few weeks later and Bernie and Kitty ran all the way from the house to the church about two miles west from here.

"Bernie got bitten pretty bad and your mom lost a few feathers when one of those things jumped at her.

"We didn't know what had happened to them until we got a call from the preacher saying that Bernie and Kitty were safe but in hiding … They took off in the night on the same bus Clark Donovan took to Seminary School."

Fang remembered the wedding picture he'd slipped into the front of the photo album.

A boy who looked nearly identical to Fang was standing in front of a girl, barely two inches shorter than him, her round pregnant belly rubbing against his stomach, their eyes locked, both smiling as if they didn't know the meaning of the words sadness, or fear.

"Three months later they showed up and she was pregnant with you two. She wore your grandmother's wedding dress and two days later those wolf-things came back and they left in that truck…" Allan sighed, "I always thought of them as Bonnie and Clyde for some reason. Outlaws but in such a wild kind of love that not even wolves could stop them."

Fang's eyes kind of glazed over and his hands twitched on his notebook.

"Then four months later they stopped by on their way to visit Kathy… That was the first and last time I saw you boys until now … We tried everything to find you … Clark sent us a picture from the Post about four years ago, taken in The Garden Tavern-"

Max laughed out loud and turned to Fang, "Here I was so worried about that but if it hadn't happened…"

Fang smiled and covered his face.

Aaron chuckled nervously, having no idea what was going on and Angel smiled proudly.

Allan rolled his eyes, "It was the photo where one of you had just bounced what looked like a roll off a guy's head."

Nudge roared and doubled over her arms around her stomach.

Gasman came out of the shower then rubbing his head with a towel his wings out. "What's so funny?"

"Remember the Garden Tavern Incident?"

Gasman nodded timidly.

Max grinned, "If that hadn't happened Fang's dad never would have found him."

Allan shook his head and continued, "I saw that picture and I knew. I sent a copy of it to Bernie and we sent Clark off to look for you. But he couldn't find you … Then about six months later you showed up again in Maryland, we saw your pictures flying over some kind of school and we took off for Maryland.

"That's where I stumbled across your BLOG."

Fang looked at Max a wide cocky grin on his face, "I told you that starting that BLOG was a good idea."

Iggy grunted in his sleep and mumbled something about, "Mushrooms, my precious."

Angel giggled at him and Ella and turned back to Allan.

"You mentioned Itexicon in your posts and I started looking. Not long after that we got in touch with a young man named Aaron Bond whose mother worked for the London branch of the Institute and he stole files from her, which led us to Aaron and David within a week.

"I met with a woman named Maria and got identification set up for David but before we could do anything for Aaron, Maria and I were arrested for 'suspicion of mischief' and thrown in jail.

"They searched us but couldn't find anything to charge us with and your father posted our bail and sent me home so I wouldn't get into trouble if something went wrong and he had to send David and Aaron to me.

"I got a phone call from him about a year ago, he said that when you boys showed up I was to tell you everything."

Fang shifted and let out a sigh. When, not If…

"Then he told me that everything he knew was happening was 'hidden under our hats' … I don't know what the hell he was talking about. He sounded like his dad to tell you the truth-"

Aaron sat up, his hands going to Fang's bag, pulling out the big photo album. He opened it to the first page and a grin spread over his face, "Under our hats," He pointed to a picture.

It was a photo taken of three baseball caps, one black, one white and one brown lined up on the steps of an old dilapidated house and lying on the step below the hats was a single midnight black feather.

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It wasn't raining any longer, but ominous black clouds hung low over the horizon.

Allan was in front, driving his jeep, Gasman, Iggy, Ella and Angel with him. Aaron was driving the old red truck, Nudge, Max and Fang crammed into the cab with him.

The Old Mullins place was exactly like Allan remembered it, the roof had practically collapsed but the steps were the same. The road was deserted so Allan parked the jeep beside the ditch and climbed over the fence.

Fang and Aaron passed out the shovels and a few pick-axes and they fluttered over the fence.

Aaron stumbled on his landing beside Fang holding the shovel tightly but Fang threw out his arm to keep him from falling. "Bend your knees a little when you land … You're too stiff."

Allan and Iggy literally pulled the steps off the porch and threw them then attacked the ground with shovels, slopping the muddy soil aside.

It was messy business and Nudge was glad she'd changed out of her expensive jeans and back into a pair she wasn't afraid to get dirty.

They piled the mud high behind them, making a little mountain of dirt, rocks and the odd plant root.

Fang and Aaron dropped into the hole, which was now nearly six feet across and one deep. To Aaron it felt like they were digging for treasure long buried and extremely valuable. To Fang it felt like he was digging a grave…

Aaron pulled off his red jacket and handed it up to Nudge for safe keeping, wiping sweat out of his eyes despite the chilled air.

After a few more minutes of digging Fang pulled off his own jacket throwing it up for someone, he really didn't care who, to watch.

Max felt useless, watching Fang dig, watching Aaron dig … She couldn't do anything but stand there and watch like everyone else. Stand there like a Whitecoat and watch her experiments toil. Watch watch watch…

After nearly five feet of downward movement Max was beginning to wonder if there would ever be something in there … Or if they were wasting their time…

Fang must have been thinking the same thing because he lifted the shovel up and drove it point first into the ground his face contorted in rage.

The shovel hit something and the blade bent…

Aaron went still, his gray T-shirt stained with sweat and the drizzling rain that had started falling a few minutes earlier. "Bugger me … What is that!" He scraped some of the mud away with the side of his shovel and stared down … "It's a box…"

Fang dropped to his knees in the mud and scraped the soil away with both hands, "Its not a box … It's a safe!" And he started clawing at it, trying to pry it out of the ground…

Aaron fell into a crouch beside him, scooping at the mud also, smearing it across his forehead when he wiped at the sweat and rain that mingled there. After a few seconds he stood and took up the shovel, carving the wet earth away from the safe with urgent stomps and flicks.

This was it … This safe held the answers Fang had been looking for all his life… This safe was IT. He knew it, he could feel it. This safe held all his secrets, it held his dreams…

Aaron wedged the end of the shovel under the safe and put his weight on it, prying the great mud covered vault from the ground…

Fang leaned forward, and pushed his fingers in with the shovel, lifting with all his strength.

Aaron leaned all his weight on the shovel, his teeth ground together feet coming a good two inches off the ground. His arms hurt and as he watched Fang he saw his brother's arms, though caked with mud were trembling with the strain. And his face was grim, his lips pressed together so tightly the flesh around them was as white as Aaron's wings…

The safe lurched and a wet squelching sound came from the earth as the vault came free of its dirt prison.

Aaron and the shovel fell to the ground, Aaron gasping for breath. Fang rocked backward and sat in the mud panting, the little safe clutched to his chest.

Everything was still for three seconds then thunder rolled in the distance and it started raining again, large wet drops pounding down on them, rinsing the mud from their faces and filling the hole turned pit with chocolate colored water…

Fang tilted his head back and let the rain fall on his lips and for the first time in the month since he'd gotten the letter from his father he felt at peace…

Aaron slowly climbed to his feet, hands on his knees staring into Fang's face. "You alright?"

Fang nodded but didn't open his eyes. He just sat there in the mud smiling and letting his arms rest. Letting the feeling return to his hands and fingers … When he finally did open his eyes the first face he saw was Max's looming out at him in the semi darkness.

He clambered to his feet and with Aaron's help hefted the vault out of the pit then pulled himself out. Aaron pushed himself up with shaking arms and they dragged the safe into the shelter of a nearby tree. The same tree, Fang realized, that their mother must have climbed years ago…

"It has a combination … Look at that, it still works…" Aaron said scraping the mud away from the little knob. "Only a flood would have gotten the ground wet enough to get to this thing … Or a couple of bird-children with spades." He twisted the knob twice then looked up at Fang, "What's the combination?"

Numbers…

"Three, nineteen, eleven."

Max looked down at him suspiciously, "Eleven?"

"Two ones."

Max rolled her eyes.

Aaron twisted his hands, "I'm shaking too badly, someone else do it."

Iggy rolled his eyes and knelt beside Fang his hands going to the knob. He leaned close so he could see the color of the numbers then started twisting away, his tongue poking out of his mouth.

Iggy grasped the handle and gave it a tug.

The safe swung open…

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25. Chapters 45

(I just realized I'd left a mistake in this chapter, it's fixed now, so you might want to re-read it.)

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Chapter 45; Broken

Angel clicked on a flashlight and shined it into the safe.

There was a single plastic bag duct taped shut with what looked like merely ten pieces of paper inside. On the front page were drawn three wings in a circle; a white one with a slash of black on the tip, a light brown one, and a black one.

Aaron stifled a sob, "That's us ... That's us..."

Fang pulled the plastic bag out and started to open it but stared at the rain, knowing that if he did open it here all the pages would be ruined.

As he held it a heat began to build in his chest ... This was it...

Thunder rolled, this time closer and Allan shifted on his feet, "We should head back before it gets any worse ... Is there anything else in the safe guys?"

Nudge leaned down and peered inside, pressing her hand to it for a moment before shaking her head. "No, nothing else."

They hurried back to the truck and crowded inside, muddy, shivering and exhausted.

Aaron followed the Jeep's taillights back, his mind elsewhere.

It was utterly dark outside by the time Max rushed through a near arctic shower and dressed. She had a towel tied around her head and was barefooted when she came out, rushing across the living room into the kitchen where everyone else was waiting.

"Did I miss anything?" She snuffed and rubbed her nose taking a seat at the large table.

Fang shook his head and ripped into the plastic bag, unable to wait any longer.

He lie the first page aside and stared at the header on the second.

Genotexicon, Parent Company of Itexicon Laboratories, Angotexicon Industries, Phoenotexicon Laboratories...

"Wow, that's a mouthful," Nudge whispered.

Fang read in silence, Max reading over his shoulder. She finished the page before him and snatched up the next her eyes wide.

"Come on you guys what's going on? What does it say?"

Max licked her lips but never lifted her eyes from the page, "This is from the Director ... Its how they're going to do it ... How they plan to end the world..."

"Well, how are they going to do it?"

Max shivered, "They're going to release a virus, and the only ones immune to it are them and the experiments they created."

"Like us?" Gasman said his fingers curling on the edge of the table.

Max shook her head. "No ... They've made something new... They mention that I kicked Omega's behind and they've mentioned his flaws, he can't focus on moving objects, he has a sensitive stomach and an allergy to salt...

"They've made a race of super kids they call The Immaculae ... They're super strong, like stronger than us ... They have eyes like ours and cat-reflexes ... The only problem with them is their temper and they've been described as, and I quote, 'Just plain creepy'..."

Fang shoved a page at Max, "Keywords ... A whole list of keywords, go get Jeb's computer!"

Max lunged away from the table and across the room, pulling the notebook computer from her bag and rushing back to the table.

There wasn't a 'whole list' it was three words. Alpha Gene ... Phoenotexicon ... Project Edge.

Search Results for Alpha Gene; 2

Project Profile, Subject; Sphinx

Project Profile, Subject; Omega

Max shivered and clicked on Sphinx's file, and came face to face with a picture of Amy Howard. At first Max thought it was Fang's mother, but then she saw the second photo, the photo of Amy's wings. And then at the bottom of the document highlighted in blue because she'd searched for it were the words IMPLATNED ALPHA GENE; DORMANT

Only on Omega's was the phrase, IMPLANTED ALPHA GENE; ACTIVE present.

She felt herself shiver, "Crap..."

"What?" Fang turned to her.

"I-I just found out who Alpha is."

"Who?"

She looked up and swallowed hard, "Amy Howard..."

His face went pale, "What?"

"She was 'Alpha Gene; Dormant'," She pointed to the screen.

"What does the Alpha Gene do?" Fang said trying to take the computer from her.

She pulled up a new search and typed in the word Angotexicon.

Search Results for Phoenotexicon; 1

Phoenotexicon Massacre

Max quickly skimmed the MEMO wondering what the words 'unfortunate accident while handling Project Edge.' Were all about.

When she searched Project Edge the same article popped up along with a Project Profile that held only two words, "Project Terminated".

"Okay, that only brought up more questions..." Max grumbled and shut the computer. She rubbed her forehead a moment. "But, at least we know what's happening, when its happening, and WHERE the REAL Snake's Head is..."

Fang nodded but Max's words still rang in his head, 'That only brought up more questions.'

(NOTE; This chapter was meant to be confusing, just keep it all in mind because it's very important.)

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26. Chapters 46

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Chapter 46; "By the pricking of my thumbs … Something wicked this way comes…"

Fang woke to a rather loud and close crash of thunder and sat up only to be plunged into complete and total darkness. Aaron mumbled in the bed next to him and sat up, rubbing his face. It was then that Fang became aware of a hideous noise

The horses, dogs, cats and cows in the big metal barn were making a horrible racket, screaming…

Fear tangled itself around Fang's heart and squeezed.

A light in the hall whipped his head left and he heard Allan's voice, "Everyone OK? Everyone alright?"

There were murmured 'Okays' and Max walked into the hall wearing only a mid-thigh length T-shirt with a frog on it. She scratched her head, "What was that noise?"

"Lightning must have hit the power pole outside, I'll get flashlights, you guys better stay put so you don't run over each other.

Then Iggy's voice rose above a whisper, "Oh, cool! I CAN see in the dark!"

Ella giggled, "Stop tickling me!"

Allan returned with a few flashlights and passed them out and a stray beam fell on Angel's ash-white face.

"Ange? Angel, what is it, sweetie?" Max said from her side.

Fang climbed out of bed and absently scratched himself, glad it was dark or Max might have seen him. "What's going on, Angel, are you OK?"

"T-the an-animals," She pawed at Max's arm her eyes wide.

Everyone went quiet listening to the horrible screaming coming from the barn, the high pitched, unholy wail of innocent animals in great pain.

Ella groaned, "The lights! OH MY GOD, THE LIGHTS!"

Angel's fingers bit into Max's arm and she turned her tear streaked pale face to Max and whispered three words in a low monotone, emotionless voice;

"They're very hungry…"

And the wall behind Fang exploded, sending him forward through the air, crashing into Aaron, who fell against the wall all the breath gone from his lungs.

Rain blew in, bringing with it a Wizard, void of its mask.

A flashlight's beam fell on it and Angel screamed her little hands clawing at the bloodcurdling sound escaping her lips as if it were a living thing.

The Wizard roared at Angel and the sound shook the walls, knocking pictures from their nails, its mouth flopping open.

Aaron gave a shout and tried to shove Fang off of him to protect his brother.

The Wizard's tongue shot forward like a bullet and wrapped itself around Max's arm, yanking her away from Angel with a revolted cry.

Fang lunged at her, grabbing her other hand and latching onto the doorframe with his free hand.

Max froze for three seconds, her fingers slipping in Fang's her brown eyes wide staring deeply into his and then she slipped free and the wizard caught her and was gone, leaving a thick trail of steam behind it where the rocket broom evaporated the rain.

Fang ran and leapt out of the now gaping hole in the side of the house and was in the air, flying after her screaming her name, but the Wizard was only a little yellow pinprick of flame in the distance.

"MAX!"

Aaron grabbed his foot and gave it a yank, "NOT THAT WAY YOU BLITHERING IDIOT! YOU'LL BE STRUCK BY LIGHTNING!"

Fang turned his head and starred at his brother in contempt his eyes reflecting the red of a lightning bolt as it hit the earth half a mile away. He nodded and they streaked downward back into the house.

Fang grabbed his bag and took off at a run, leaping down the entire flight steps and out the door followed closely by Aaron in a hastily donned pair of khakis carrying his and Fang's shoes in one hand his pack and truck keys in the other.

"You guys get HOME NOW!" Fang screamed as he slammed the truck door and Aaron planted both bare, muddy feet on the gas, shooting the truck forward through the gate and field, following the shrinking dot that was Max and the Wizard.

"Bloody hell, I HATE standards!" Aaron shrieked and shifted the trick into gear, jumping forward across the field and through the back fence heading north-north-west…

"They'll stop at dawn and we'll be able to catch up," Aaron said.

Fang had one hand on the ceiling to keep his head from banging into it at every bump and rut they hit. The other hand was clutching the safety belt to save himself a slit throat.

Max … They'd taken Max … His Max…

If they hurt her, I swear I will KILL THEM ALL! He ground his teeth together in rage and squeezed the safety belt so hard it cut into his hand. Heat began to build in his chest again.

Aaron grumbled beside him and rubbed his palm over the windshield to clear away the fog. "They knew it was her … Why didn't they come after me? Why didn't they come after ME?" He sniffed absently, "Do … Nicky, do you smell smoke?"

Fang gave his head a shake and sniffed at the dashboard noticing the smoky smell was coming from around the radio. He lifted his fist and slammed it down on the dash above the cassette player.

"SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY!"

Aaron growled and punched the dashboard, "NOT NOW, BONO!" And the tape went quiet.

Fang suddenly grabbed his head his eyes squeezed closed and something flashed behind his eyes, stabbing down to his ankle. Cold … Wet … PAIN! And then it was gone, leaving him with a sickened fear in his stomach … And a suddenly deeper, more painful need to move straight ahead, to follow that Wizard.

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Max clawed, kicked, scratched, punched and tried to bite the Wizard but he had her firmly around the waist, dangling her over the side of the broom into the wind her wings pinned under its arm.

A thick vulgar string of curses was dripping from her mouth but she didn't stop fighting, she even grabbed the broom handle and tried to turn the thing, attempting to crash the Wizard but it kept a firm hold and the trajectory didn't budge.

She chanced a glance over her shoulder and saw a single light bobbing around on the ground about two miles behind her and she realized it was the truck … It was Aaron's truck! Her courage doubled, Fang was coming. Fang was coming to help!

She continued to beat and punch and kick the Wizard, screaming and cursing all the while. She lashed out with her right foot and kicked the back of the broom.

HOT!

She shrieked and tried to pull her leg away but it kept burning even as she drew it up close to her. She'd touched the stupid flames!

Oh, God, it probably burned my leg off!

She didn't turn to look at her leg the pain was beginning to spread upward past her knee and down to her ankle, stabbing into her over and over and the cold ran kept falling, soaking her and stinging her leg.

Then the Wizard started diving and for half a second Max had the sensation she was weightless as the Wizard swooped low and slowed lifting Max over its head roaring and clicking in victory.

And then they were everywhere … Hundreds of them, seething around in some kind of knot on the ground mouths open hideous clicking gurgling sounds coming from them. They parted and Max saw a van.

The Wizard roared and threw her right into the back of the van. The last thing she saw before the van doors slammed shut was Amy Howard grinning like a demon amid the swarm of Wizards…

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Aaron had the gas pedal to the floor and was bouncing through a field then onto a road, turning the wheel sharply to the left so he didn't go right off the road and sail into a pond.

"I HATE standards!"

Fang saw the little light of the Wizard's broom start to drop and he pointed, "OVER THERE! IT'S OVER THERE!" That sickened sense of dread hadn't left him, neither had the urgent, 'I have to move', kind of feelings that had come with that odd pain a few minutes earlier.

Aaron growled, "Well, I can't get there from here! There's a bloody POND in the way!"

Barely a minute later a black van shot out of nowhere onto the road and nearly crashed into them. Fang caught a fleeting glimpse of the person driving and the little hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

It was her … It was Amy Howard!

"TURN-TURN-TURN! THAT WAS HER!"

Aaron didn't argue, he stomped on the clutch and smacked the gearshift with an open hand, "HOLD ON!"

Tires screamed and the truck turned, the left two wheels coming completely off the ground.

Fang gritted his teeth and both hands curled into fists on the upholstery tearing ten finger-sized holes in the black vinyl. The world swiveled on its axis and everything looked like a dark blur highlighted when the lone headlight swept over it.

The truck rocked back to four wheels and shot forward like a bat out of Hell, and Aaron cackled like the Devil himself.

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27. Chapters 47 and 48

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Chapter 47; Driven

Dr. Martinez was looking at the X-ray from a little poodle that's leg had been run over by a three-year-old boy on a tricycle when Sharon White tapped her on the shoulder. "Val, I just got a phone call from your daughter Ella … She said that you need to come home right away."

Fear curdled her stomach and she nodded, trying to remain as emotionless as possible. "They've probably misplaced the remote again," She smiled, "This is what happens when you have a house full of sick kids," And she hung her lab coat in the closet and puled on her fleece jacket. She took her purse from her locker and slowly walked out of the building, trying not to look hurried.

She took her time climbing into her car but as soon as she was out of sight of the clinic she pressed her foot on the gas and made it home in about five minutes.

Nudge was lying across the steps bawling her eyes out, Angel, Total, David and Gasman were trying to comfort her but it wasn't doing any good.

"What happened? Where are the others?" She felt nauseous. Why was Nudge wearing pajamas and no shoes?

"ANGEL, WHAT HAPPENED?"

Iggy and Ella rushed out of the house hand in hand Iggy carrying a backpack.

"Where are you going?" Dr. Martinez shrieked, "Where are they, where is Max?"

Ella paused in front of her mother, "Mommy, I love you," She flung her arms around her mother's neck and kissed her cheek. "I love you so much, but we have to go. Angel and Gazzy will tell you everything but we have to go, now."

Iggy wrapped his arms around Ella and sprang into the air.

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Max banged her fists against the doors, trying to break them open so she could get out. She had to get out so she could murder Amy Howard!

Her right leg hurt terribly and she'd been afraid to move it since she'd been thrown into the back of the van lest she should hurt it worse than it already was. She was sweating and shivering and she knew that if she stopped moving, stopped trying to escape even for a second she'd slip into shock.

She had to get out!

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, holding it and focusing all her energy onto pounding that door with her fists and kicking it with her left leg as hard as her bare feet could stand it.

She'd searched the door for a latch of some kind, but had been unable to find one… She was trapped.

Max screamed in rage and kicked the door hard with both feet.

Everything went white and she woke up sometime later sprawled on her back numb with cold, her leg throbbing fingertips tingling…

Had she fainted?

She giggled in her head at the thought.

How long was I out? What day is it?

She could tell by her inner sense of direction that they were a good distance to the west from where she remembered being last. She was in New Mexico now, and they were facing a near perfect West.

She's taking me home, that's funny.

And then the van slowed to a stop and a few seconds later the doors flew open and Max was roughly grabbed and yanked out by a Wizard.

The Wizard stood her up and she found herself staring into its eyes. It had surprisingly large eyes, and unlike the eyes of other Wizards, these appeared to be almost human. But before she could open her mouth to scream and curse it her leg crumpled and she fell onto cool grass.

I'm in shock, that's what's wrong with me… She thought. I'm in shock and I'm going to die. She stifled a sob and curled onto her side, listening to the earsplitting clicks of the Wizards.

What is it like to die, Jeb? Does it hurt? Were you scared? If you were still here I'd feel better, if you could talk to me I'd feel better then… I know what you'd say … You'd tell me that everything is a test … And you'd ask me why I'm just lying here instead of trying to fight…

Why am I just lying here?

And she rolled to her knees, ignoring the sandpaper, glass in the wound feeling as the grass raked her burned leg. She snapped out her wings and started running trying to get into the air.

The Wizards shrieked and suddenly they were surrounding her, a circling dome of Wizards closing in on her, their beady black eyes glistening in the darkness of early evening mouths open in hideous grins of delight.

They're very hungry…

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Aaron's every nerve was shot and he was running on pure adrenaline. He hadn't had food or water in almost twenty-four hours and the only time they'd stopped is when the van had stopped to get gas. His bladder was even near bursting again…

There was only Amy driving, but when Fang looked up he saw what he first thought was a small black cloud hovering in the sky, but what he soon realized, with sickening clarity, was Wizards, their masks keeping the sun from melting their eyes…

There would be no saving Max at the gas station and Fang watched Amy, barely restraining himself from leaping across the parking lot and taking Max then murdering Amy Howard. She'd been right, she was NOT his mother, she was an evil bitch!

Fang watched as she leisurely filled the tank and paid with a credit card right at the pump.

Fang fumbled in his backpack and found a pair of Max's jeans. He verbally thanked God when he found her credit card in the pocket. Since they'd lain Aaron Bond to rest Aaron's magic little credit card was gone as well.

As he was about to stow the jeans back in his bag something fell out of Max's pocket. The little medal Father Donovan had given her…

Fang shivered … Could these things really protect us? Is God really… He shivered again and hung Max's medallion around his neck with his own. What could it hurt?

All they could do was follow the van and hope the Wizards didn't dive in and carry it off. They knew Amy had seen them and understood that she was being followed, but she seemed amused by it and even waved at them smiling sweetly.

Fang felt rage building inside of him and as if Aaron could read his mind they both flipped her the bird. Both American and British styles.

As the sun started to set Amy decided she'd played cat and mouse with the two bird-boys behind her long enough. And actually tried to loose them, but Aaron was a much better driver than he was a flier and the truck was easier to maneuver than the box-like van.

"Slow down…" Fang whispered a plan forming in his head, "Let her think she's lost us."

Aaron nodded and when the van swerved around a truck Aaron didn't follow her. Fang rolled down the window, stuck out his head and squeezed his eyes closed for a moment.

"NICK!"

Aaron grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head back in just as a pigeon dove into the truck. It flopped around on Fang's lap a moment then ruffled its feathers and looked up at him indignantly.

Fang smiled gently at the pigeon and let it perch on his hand as he carefully explained to the bird what he wanted it to do. "Okay, pull up behind the van again."

Aaron nodded and passed the truck speeding up the left side of the road, until he could pull in behind the van.

Amy scowled at them and cursed under her breath.

Fang let the pigeon get a good look at the van and when the bird turned back around in his hand and bobbed its head he smiled, "Okay, Aaron … how about a flat tire?"

Aaron grinned and violently jerked the wheel weaving the truck back and forth before steering it off the road and into a field, dirt flying, giving the impression they'd just blown a tire.

Fang held his hand out the window and the pigeon took off speeding after the van its gray and white wings beating rapidly.

Aaron sighed, his chest tightening with worry, "I hope this works, Nick … Or we just lost your girlfriend."

Fang smiled halfheartedly self-doubt paling him. "I hope it works too."

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They were in New Mexico, flying away from Albuquerque heading east from there toward the place Max said Genotexicon had its base. Toward the place Iggy and Ella both believed Max to be.

"Iggy, are you feeling OK? You're panting."

"I'm fine."

Ella crossed her arms and looked over her shoulder at him. His skin looked waxy and his lips looked pale, "Don't lie to your girlfriend."

He hesitated then squeezed his eyes closed for a moment as if in deep concentration. "My head hurts … Like hell."

"Okay, how about we land for the night, huh? You're looking kind of sickly."

He rolled his eyes and focused on her slightly blurry face. She was right. If he fainted from this pain not only would he fall to his death but so would Ella … And he didn't EVER want to hurt her. "Okay…"

They landed in a deserted looking schoolyard and Ella took his hand walking close to him incase one of those horrible Wizards showed up … She shuddered. She'd never be able to read Harry Potter again after this…

His hand tightened on hers and he swayed on the spot, "El-Ella, I need to sit," And he plopped himself down on the curb his head between his hands.

She was afraid … She was in a strange place and Iggy was scaring her. "What's wrong?"

"My head hurts … Oh, God, if I'm getting a voice like Max I'm going to scream. I don't think I'll be able to take having brain-explosions."

Ella sat beside him more terrified than ever. She was petting his hair and biting her lip when she noticed the sweat trickling off of his face. "Maybe you're having a migraine … Lynn-Dee's mom has migraines. She says they feel like your head is gonna split right in two…"

"I-is there a hotel or a bench or something around here? I want to lie down I feel sick."

Ella had to practically pull him to his feet. "There's a hotel just down the street. Lean on me and we'll get there together."

Iggy shuddered, "I can't lean on you … You're too tiny!"

She elbowed him gently and gave him a smile. At least the headache hadn't made him loose his sense of humor.

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Chapter 48; Slip-Sliding Away

Aaron parked the truck beside the highway and hung a T-shirt in the window so, should the State Police drive by they would know the truck had NOT been abandoned.

The pigeon cooed angrily from the limb above Fang's head and ruffled her feathers.

They were in the air and flying through the darkened forest following the little pigeon in less than two seconds.

Fang felt a laugh build in his throat. A worried, half panicked laugh … The last time he'd flown in a forest at night he'd ended up getting injured. An injury that still plagued him from time to time.

They got to the clearing just in time to see the Wizard throw open the van's back doors and drag Max out.

Her right leg was bloody and swollen. When Fang saw it he wanted to dive out and grab her, he wanted to hold her … He wanted to kiss her and tell her that everything was going to be OK.

Aaron pointed to Amy Howard.

She had a gun in her hands and was staring warily at the wizards, as if at any moment she expected them to forget the bird girl now lying unconscious on the ground and dive at her.

The Wizard that had pulled Max's limp body from the van walked forward and stood before her.

It opened its mouth and Fang expected it to click at Amy but instead it spoke in a familiar deep voice that made bile rise in his throat.

"If he was following you then where did he go? Why is he not here?"

Aaron shivered by Fang's side and turned frightened blue eyes to him, "They weren't after Max … They were after Nudgie … They DO want me! They were going to use her to get to me…"

"They got a flat tire about an hour ago, they should be here any second, I left a pretty good trail for them to follow."

Fang felt rage bubble in his throat and he turned back to the field, his eyes reflecting the same red as the van's brake lights. He wanted to see Amy Howard pay for this…

And then Max was on her feet, running toward them her injured leg dragging. She threw out her wings and the Wizards swarmed her.

Fang heard her scream and something popped in his head like a raw egg being squeezed in a tight fist…

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Max screamed and started fighting, kicking, punching clawing and cursing, but the Wizards tore at her, ripping her nightshirt, practically ripping it from her body. She felt their claws stinging the skin of her back, stomach, arms, and legs but still she fought, screaming in fury, her world shrinking into a soft gray.

Then there was a black and white blur and the Wizards parted, screeching in fear.

"GET HIM, GET HIM!" Amy Howard screamed.

Max hit the ground hard and lie there curled on her side, bleeding knees drawn to her chest, clutching the tatters of her night shirt to her shivering body.

Fang and Aaron swam into view over her and she felt their strong arms lifting her. Then she saw the head Wizard, the one that had spoken to Amy, open his mouth, shooting its tongue forward like lightning, but to Max it took a long time for it to actually happen.

Aaron saw the tongue stretched forward, closing the distance between them in a nearly eternal instant, but it didn't go for him as Aaron expected it to. Instead it went straight for Fang…

Fang…

And it all made sense.

Aaron threw out his arms trying to shield his brother, all the fear he'd felt melting away, replaced by an overwhelming need to protect Max and Fang from that THING.

The tongue curled around his left elbow and Aaron was jerked to the side. He saw Fang's frightened face and Max hanging limply in his arms, turned his head and stared straight into the almost human, dark blue eyes of the Wizard … and then he was in pain … More pain than he had ever experienced in his entire life.

Fang watched in horror as the Wizard reeled Aaron in. He couldn't do anything BUT watch … The thing was too fast and he had Max in his arms.

Aaron gave him a quick startled glance and turned to look at the Wizard as the thing's jagged yellow teeth came down on his arm.

Fang heard the sharp crack of breaking bones and Aaron bellowed, pounding on the Wizard's face with his right hand, gouging at the thing's sensitive eyes and kicking it.

Amy could only stand there shaking, the gun hanging uselessly in her hands. "Oh, my GOD!"

The Wizard jerked his head and threw Aaron toward the forest then turned on Amy with a screech, eyes wide, horror filled and angry.

All the Wizards moved at once, diving for Amy, their mouths open.

Fang heard the woman screaming in pain but he didn't care, he stumbled to his feet Max held tightly to him and ran at Aaron who was lying in a crumpled heap screaming.

"AARON, AARON, GET YOUR ASS UP!" Fang roared and mercilessly kicked his brother in the behind, feeling guilt as a physical pain in his stomach.

Aaron blubbered as he crawled to his feet his left arm hanging crooked and useless at his side blood dripping off his fingertips.

The Pigeon was back, guiding them through the forest to the truck.

Fang had to stop twice to wait for Aaron, who was staggering blindly around his eyes glazed body shaking as if he'd only moments before been strapped to a paint mixer.

"Get in the truck, Aaron," Fang said firmly as he wrenched open the door and slid Max inside.

Aaron complied and groaned when Max fell against his arm.

Fang climbed behind the wheel and panic stole him for five seconds. For five mindless seconds he merely sat there and stared at the wheel, his hands so tight on it, his fingernails cut crescent shaped patterns in the hard plastic. Nausea curdled his empty stomach and he shivered as if possessed by chills.

He gave his head a shake and turned the truck around, heading away from the horrid scene he'd just witnessed.

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"Iggy?" She shook him but he didn't respond.

"Iggy, this isn't funny," Ella pulled him into her arms, stroking the side of his face. He was clammy … And he wasn't answering her.

"If you don't answer me right now I'm going for the doctor!" She threatened her heart hammering in her chest.

He remained limp, as he had been since he'd fallen face first across the bed ten minutes before. Ella knew then that he wasn't sleeping. Iggy was a light sleeper and the word 'doctor' frightened him enough to do anything for her.

She rolled him slowly onto his stomach, propping a pillow under his side so he wouldn't roll off the bed then she ran to the door lingering for half a second in the threshold to stare back at him her lip between her teeth. She pulled open the door and rushed out thumping on the elevator button seven times in her anxiety.

The door opened and a man stood there, he threw out his hands and caught Ella just before she plowed into him.

"I'm so sorry!" Ella said her hands over her mouth. She stepped backward and waved her hands like little wings and bit into her lip, "Do you know where I can find a doctor?"

The man's bushy eyebrows drew down, "Vhy do you need zee Docktor? Vut hez hep-end?"

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He felt almost normal when he woke up. Well, as normal as a bird-kid could feel, he supposed.

Ella was leaning over him when he opened his eyes, he could see the color of her dark hair and brown eyes against the white of the ceiling. "Iggy?"

He opened his mouth to speak but there was a noise beside him and he turned.

The blurry form of an older man stood beside him, gray grizzled hair and bushy eyebrows. What looked like a small suitcase was on the bed next to his hand and Iggy could smell antiseptic coming heavily from it. He sat up and backed away from the man, his eyebrows drawn down.

Ella's arms were suddenly around him, cupping his forehead and holding him. He knew he could have gotten away from her easily if he'd wanted to but he sat very still, the back of his head against her shoulder.

Who was this man? Who was he and why was he in their room?

Before he could open his mouth to speak the man put one knee on the bed and slipped a hand between Iggy's scalp and Ella's shoulder, effectively turning his head to the right, away from him.

He felt the man's fingers probing his hair, lifting it away from his neck and fear tingled down his spine.

"What the hell?" Ella mumbled under her breath, "Iggy, what have you got on your neck?"

And then the man spoke;

"Zat iz zee expiration date."

Iggy screamed and dove off the bed, clawing at the window trying to get it open while staring in horror at the man standing over the bed, the man within grabbing distance of his Ella. He growled and launched himself at the man, at Ter Borcht, but Ter Borcht was faster…

Unnaturally fast … And he caught Iggy's arm and twisted it behind his back, pinning him face first to the bed.

Ella shrieked and tried to shove the man away, pounding her fists on his arm, trying to wrest Iggy free but Ter Borcht growled and stepped backward, releasing the redhead and rubbing his eyes.

Iggy scrambled to Ella, standing on the opposite side of the bed as the gray haired man. "You stay the hell away from us!"

Ter Borcht raised his hand palm out and sighed, "Let me explain … Zer iz no need for zis, I vill not harm you or zee girl…"

"BULLSHIT!" Iggy said, his hand going to the back of his neck, praying that there wasn't anything there but his pale skin. No numbers … No expiration date, just his skin. "You are the one responsible for this!" He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder at his wings. "You and that psychopath of a Director!"

"Yes … She iz a zychopath, zat's vhy I am here!"

Iggy put himself between Ella and his tormentor, wishing his eye worked better so he could see the man's face and possibly spit in it.

"You are not zee the only vun, zat has been betrayed," He rolled the sleeve of his shirt up and exposed his arm … His heavily scarred arm…

Iggy didn't speak, he kept his mouth firmly closed and his right hand on the back of his neck.

Ella peeked out from around him staring, "What happened to your arm?"

"Bitten…" Ter Borcht sneered and Ella caught a glimpse of his teeth… All four of his canines looked longer … More sharp than usual canines…

"By what, a werewolf?" Ella spat all compassion gone.

"By her luftejungen!" He spat in German and pointed out the window.

"Looftie-yoongen?" Ella whispered.

"Flying-children … Zee monsters," He held his hand over his face, imitating one of those horrible masks the Wizards wore.

"The Wizards…" Iggy mumbled and his knees started to tremble. "Y-You were bitten by one of those things?"

Ter Borcht nodded, "Zer poison iz in me. Like zee vervulf, I shall become like zem or die."

Iggy trembled. Was this the virus Max had spoken of? The virus Genotexicon was going to release into the world?

"You'll become one of them?" Ella's voice trembled.

Ter Borcht nodded, "Zat is vhy I am here," He strode forward and dug in his suitcase pulling out a large vial of a clear bluish liquid. "Zis is zee vaccine, it vill only help zose who have not yet been bitten," He pulled another vial out, this one barely the size of his thumb filled with a near black substance. He held it out to Iggy, "And zis is your cure."

Iggy took a step back, nearly squishing Ella against the wall. "Cure for what? Will it make you go away?"

"Zis vill stop your expiration, if I had found you before zee date appeared, Purge vuld have vurked."

Despite the fact he didn't trust the man before him Iggy's fingers twitched toward the vial. But how could he know it wouldn't kill him faster? How did he know Ter Borcht wasn't lying?

"It iz your decision, but make it kvickly, you could die at any moment."

Iggy bit into his lip, "El, I need you to look … Is there really something there?" He moved his hand, his stomach doing flip-flops, a peculiar ringing in his ears.

Ella's cool fingers touched his neck, parting the hair that fell onto his collar. She sucked in a hissing breath running her finger over the numbers that stood out black against the pallor of his skin.

10-93-08

He shivered. Knowing the answer before she'd said anything. So, this was it … He was going to die before Halloween. He was going to die before he turned seventeen…

Max, Fang and Aaron were older than him … Had their expiration dates shown up also? Was Max dead? Was that why the Wizard had taken her?

Ella stifled a sob and wrapped her arms around him, squeezing him tightly. "I love you, Iggy!"

He trembled and his heart rose into his mouth.

He'd waited so long to hear her say that … He'd sat for hours thinking about it, about how it would happen. Would they be at Lynn-Dee's Halloween party, dressed in elegant costumes? Perhaps he'd be the Phantom of the Opera and Ella would be in a long flowing white gown with flowers in her hair. Maybe they'd be at Prom and he'd be wearing a bright green tux like he'd teased Ella about doing a week earlier on Fifth-Avenue. And she'd be in a soft lavender dress.

Or maybe they'd be hiding in secret, faces pressed close together, bodies tangled as he'd dreamed…

But he never expected this … He never expected hearing those words just seconds after he realized he was about to die. As he was staring down a hated enemy … Protecting the woman he loved from a fate worse than death…

Ter Borcht looked genuinely shocked. His eyes were wide and staring, the vial of black liquid still extended. "It iz your choice to make."

His voice trembled when he spoke, "W-what are the side effects?"

Ter Borcht sighed and started rummaging in his case again, removing a syringe. "Lie down und I vill tell you."

He was moving forward without conscious thought, sprawling himself on the bed Ella beside him, holding his hand tightly, fearfully. But Iggy was past that point, he was too afraid to be frightened.

"Zis serum vill eradicate zee programmed expiration from your DNA, zee only problem vis zis is zat it also vipes out all ov your developed abilities. Again, if I had found you before, a Purge would hev vurked much better."

Iggy stared at him a moment, not quite understanding what the man had said, "What? My abilities?"

He calmly filled the syringe and tapped free a few bubbles with a flick of his index finger, "Your advanced senses of hearing, touch, smell, taste und sight."

He sat bolt up right but Ella kept him from falling off the bed. The advanced ability to see was the only reason he could see at all now. If that was taken away…

"No," He choked, "You can't be serious … I'd rather die- Not again!"

Ella pressed the side of her face against his back and bit so hard into her lip she tasted blood.

"El … El, I can't! Not again … I-I just got it back, I don't want to be blind again. Please, not that."

He sobbed and turned away from Ter Borcht, as if by not looking at him he would disappear, everything would disappear and go back to the way it was earlier, before that stupid date had shown up on his neck…

Ella sighed and tightened her hold on him tears rolling down her face. She didn't want to loose him. She wouldn't be able to go on if Iggy weren't there. Sweet Iggy with his wondering hands and innocent face … His ornery smirks and that wicked sense of humor … If she had to live without him she'd go crazy … But if she had to live with him minus all those things. Minus that happy grin he got when she took his hand or when she hugged him. Or when she let her mind wander and locked herself in the bathroom with him…

If she had to live with an Iggy who had no happiness then it was just like being without him. Would it be easier to let him go or to live with a shadow of him?

"Iggy … Iggy stop crying and listen to me. Whatever you choose I'll be here, I'm not going anywhere no matter what you choose."

He lifted his head and held her face between his hands, staring deeply into her eyes, memorizing each eyelash and the way they fanned on her cheeks as she fought back the tears. The little tendril of her hair that fell across her forehead … The tiny freckle in her left eyebrow … Her perfect little button nose and her rose petal pink lips.

He struggled and found himself uttering words he'd never spoken before. Not in a meaningful way as he did now, not in the deep soulful kind of way he meant them to be heard.

"I love you, Ella."

She smiled at him and cupped his cheek her eyes sparkling as if she were looking past him-

And he shut his eyes tightly before he saw fresh tears spill down her face.

He hadn't been so afraid when Dr. White had removed those chips from his eyes and it had been all he could stand to even let the man touch him. But now … This was Ter Borcht … This man WAS a whitecoat, and he realized that Dr. White was a fluffy bunny compared to this man, this man who was going to take away his sight for the second time in his life.

Iggy snuffed back tears and rolled onto his back Ella's hand clamped tightly in his, "Ella, I … I want you to leave."

"No…"

"I want you to go, please…" He didn't open his eyes, he didn't want to ruin the picture he had of her in his mind by seeing her face contorted with fear. "Just for a while…"

"I said 'NO', Iggy, I'm not going. So you're just going to have to live with it!" She squeezed his hand tightly and he couldn't help but smile.

"You remind me too much of Max sometimes, you know that?"

"Maybe that's a good thing," She smoothed his hair and prepared herself for anything. This man could either help Iggy, or kill him. The only way to find out was to let events unfold and try not to scream when whatever was going to happen happened.

"I must varn you, zer iz pain."

Iggy nodded his eyes still closed tightly. Why was he trusting him? Why was he letting Ter Borcht touch him? Why?

Because I've got nothing left to loose … If I don't at least try something I'm giving up, besides I'm dead meat anyway. The worst that could happen is I die … No, the worst that could happen is I turn into one of those THINGS and kill Ella, THAT is the worst thing that could happen…

Jeez, great way to stay optimistic…

Ter Borcht swabbed his arm and for a moment Iggy was afraid he was going to be sick and he tried to jerk away but stopped himself, biting down hard on his tongue.

He felt the pinch of the needle and what felt like liquid fire spread through his veins which was almost immediately followed by a deep penetrating chill and he felt himself come off the bed and then there was nothing…

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28. Chapters 49 and 50

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Chapter 49; DesertedThis is great…

Fang thought bitterly, Now not only do we have a talking dog I've got pet pigeon!

The pigeon was perched on the steering wheel before him cooing happily. And every so often when Fang turned it, the pigeon would walk along the wheel.

Max's eyes opened and she blinked up at Fang through a fog. "What happened?"

Instead of half dead she sounded to Fang as if someone had perhaps slipped a little something in her juice…

"We're getting out of here … Are you OK?"

She smiled up at him drunkenly, "I am as long as this is real, because if it's a dream I'm not sure I want to wake up."

Aaron groaned loudly beside her and she wobbled her head in his direction her glassy eyes locked on his left arm. He had his eyes closed tightly and his teeth bared as if growling at the pain would frighten it away.

Max gave her head a shake and forcefully dragged herself from the daze, "Aaron, what happened to you!" She started to reach for him but noticed her shirt was ripped to shreds, barely covering her so she clutched at the scraps of cloth instead. "What happened to me?"

"You were almost Wizard food," Fang growled and the pigeon cooed acquiescently. "We got you out but one of them got Aaron."

Max nodded and glanced down at her leg, expecting to see nothing but a curled blackened piece of meat below her knee but instead found an ugly blistering red burn running the length of her calf.

She was surprised that it didn't hurt but wasn't about to touch it or move it to figure out why. She turned back to Aaron, staring helplessly at his arm. "I … I think it's broken, Fang, his arms all crooked."

Aaron groaned again and rolled the window down, sticking his head out. "Don't l-look at me … I'm gonna be s-sick."

The pigeon turned on the wheel and started cooing into Fang's face angrily, then lunged at him as if it wanted to peck his nose.

"OKAY!" Fang said loudly and the pigeon ruffled her feathers. He turned to Max his eyebrows raised, "She's almost as bad as you!"

Max shook her head, noticing the pigeon for the first time. "Since when do we have a pigeon?"

Aaron gagged and succeeded in becoming sick then leaned back into the cab and motioned to the vomit splattered on the shoulder of his shirt with a hapless giggle. Then his eyes rolled up to the whites and he slumped heavily against Max his injured arm pinned between them.

"Oh, jeez, Fang, pull over!"

He bit his lip, inspecting the road behind them, making sure there was no one following them then he started shifting down, slowing the truck and pulling it off the road. He drove slowly through the brush and weeds then nearly crashed into the remains of an old chimney. He parked the truck and killed the motor climbing out and rushing around the front, momentarily obscuring the headlight with his body.

As he squeezed between the truck and the chimney Max saw his face, how frightened he looked despite the stubborn determination pursing his lips. He faltered at the door his face wrinkling.

"Oh, God, he puked all over the door…" He bent and scooped up a handful of leaves, using them to protect his hand from the drying smears of sick.

Max turned to him her lip between her teeth, "Fang, hurry up and get him out of here he's on my leg."

He shook Aaron calling his name but he didn't respond.

Fang growled and hefted Aaron out of the truck, looking somehow graceful even in the awkwardness of carrying his unconscious brother.

Max took the opportunity to dig in the backpack her leg had been resting on and yanked out a new T-shirt, trying to pull it over herself before Fang turned around and saw her. The scratches on her body stung as the cloth rubbed against them but she didn't care, she'd rather have stinging scratches than be exposed.

When her head popped through the neck of the shirt she saw Fang kneeling beside Aaron his cheeks red his lips pressed tightly together. He was fumbling with the laces of Aaron's boots, untying them, propping both feet up on a small pile of rubble. Then he was unbuttoning his brother's khakis and loosening his belt.

Was he undressing him?

Max climbed stiffly from the truck trying not to scream when the dry grass outside swiped her leg. She pulled the backpack out with her and limped forward, holding the tail of the T-shirt down in front of her so no one saw her underwear. "What are you doing?"

"He's in shock … Anything tight will shut off his blood flow," Fang said not looking at her. "I need the bag."

She handed it to him and wobbled on her feet, trying not to put weight on her leg, still holding the shirttail down.

Aaron looked dead … His skin had taken on a sickly gray color and she could barely see the movement of his chest when he took a breath. It reminded her too keenly of Fang when Ari had ripped his stomach open and she had to look away.

Fang tore into the bag, throwing things out to each side in his frantic search. He pulled out something black with little red curls of flame printed on it and threw it at Max. "Put those on and come here."

She caught them but let go of the shirttail and nearly showed Fang the only piece of pink lacy clothing she owned. "Are these boxers?"

"Yes, now put them on … Pretend they're shorts."

At least they would cover her. She pulled them on, grinding her teeth when her weight came down on her right leg.

"Now get over here, I need your help," He hadn't once looked at her and even when she eased herself down beside him he wouldn't meet her gaze.

The headlight cast elongated shadows to their right and Max eyed them warily, afraid one would come to life and try to grab her…

"Max, if you aren't going to help me then go back to the truck!" He snapped and turned burning eyes to her.

She shook herself and looked at Aaron, following his arm down to the unnatural angles above and below his elbow. "We need to set that before he starts healing."

Fang nodded, "He isn't gonna like it much," He felt sick to his stomach. He'd never sat a broken bone before. When he'd broken his fingers months before punching a concrete wall in agitation over the letter he'd cornered Iggy to help him snap the bones back into place.

Max found a T-shirt in the pile of things Fang had thrown aside and twisted it, pressing the cloth into Aaron's mouth incase he woke up and decide he was going to bite something. "You'll have to pull, I'll … I'll," She grew quiet, "I'll put things back where they belong."

Easier said than done, Fang thought and hooked Aaron's arm under his own. Please, PLEASE don't let him wake up until it's over.

Aaron moaned around the cloth and Max took hold of his forearm, "Okay, pull."

It was kind of sick to watch but it was better than watching Aaron's face. He may have been unconscious but he looked like he could feel every bit of it.

The pigeon fluttered out of the truck and landed beside Aaron's head cooing softly in his ear and pacing around.

"F-Fang, there's something sticking out of this!" Max pointed to one of the little holes in Aaron's arm.

Fang leaned forward and rubbed his thumb over the wound frightened when something long and pointed slid out into his palm. "It's one of its teeth … Must have come out when it bit him."

He inspected Aaron's arm and found six more teeth. He flung them into the fireplace and pulled the first-aid kit from his bag, practically emptying half the bottle of alcohol onto Aaron's arm. Grimacing when he made a pathetic wailing sound around the gag and the pigeon started preening him, trying to comfort him. Gently pulling at the reddish brown hair on Aaron's head and cooing gently.

"Max, do you see any boards we could use to make a splint?"

She looked around but shook her head, "Maybe there's something in the truck."

Fang nodded and finished bandaging Aaron's arm, "Watch him," He climbed to his feet and rushed back to the truck. Leaning the seat forward and digging around, He came back with a collapsed cardboard box and a roll of duct tape.

"It's not pretty, but its effective," He used his little pocket knife to cut the box into four inch wide strips then taped them together, fashioning two surprisingly sturdy card-boards. As he was tying the splint in place he finally looked at Max.

"How's your leg?"

"It hurts."

He checked Aaron's pulse, pressing his ear to his brother's chest for a moment before he pulled the gag from his mouth.

"Let me have a look."

Max bit into her lip, not entirely because of the pain, but because the first thing Fang did was take her leg, one hand behind her knee the other on her heel. The callused skin on his hands and fingers surprisingly gentle as he lifted and turned her leg to the light so he could see the burn.

He glanced up into her face then rested her foot on his hip, her toes against his ribs. "I've got to wash it off."

She nodded, still biting her lip, glad she was wearing 'shorts' or he'd have gotten quite a show of her undeniably girly possessions.

She watched as he rummaged in the bottomless pack and pulled out a bottle of water. He opened it, his eyes on her leg, then dribbled the water over the burn, washing the little flecks of dirt and dry grass from it.

The burn ointment was on top of everything in the kit, thankfully, and Max wondered absently if everyone was OK. "Did everyone make it out?" She whispered, watching Fang's strong nimble fingers gently rub the ointment around.

He nodded but didn't speak.

"Are they OK?"

He nodded again and Aaron moaned beside them.

The pigeon cooed and hopped onto Aaron's chest fluttering her wings, fanning his pale face. His clouded blue eyes slowly came open and he blinked about miserably before becoming fully aware.

"What the hell's happened?"

"Just lie still for a while, Aaron," Max said, leaning over him. "You're fine, you just need to lie still and rest."

"My damnable arm hurts," He muttered and raised his head a fraction of an inch but the pigeon fluttered in his face, forcing him to lie back down.

"Nudgie is going to murder me…"

"Why do you say that?" Fang said under his breath, gently wrapping a thin layer of Gauze around Max's leg.

"Told her I wouldn't get hurt, I did, now look at me."

Fang stiffened and bowed his head. He didn't speak for the longest time, he just finished his ministering and taped the gauze down then stood, giving the pigeon a look before he stalked off to find sticks for a fire.

Max disinfected all the little scratches on her arms and legs she could reach without help but didn't mention the ones on her stomach and back. She'd have to wait until she was alone to get them.

She stretched out her wings for a while, sitting there letting the breeze blow through her feathers and listening to Fang pile sticks and twigs in the fireplace then walk away again silent as a shadow…

"Is he always that quiet?" Aaron grumbled and shifted uncomfortably against the ground.

Max nodded and wondered why Fang was always so quiet but Aaron usually blundered along like some kind of gangly albatross. Was that why Nudge called him Mr. Albatross?

Max started re-packing the bag because she couldn't do anything else and felt entirely useless. The big photo album had just enough room to sit on top but Max left it out, paging absently through it looking at all the photos of Bernard and Kitty…

She loved their wedding picture. Kitty, nearly as tall as Bernard standing in front of him in an old wedding dress that hung to just above her bare feet, her round pregnant belly pressing against Bernard's middle, a soft smile on her face…

Max cocked her head to the side. She'd seen a smile like that on Nudge's face … That gentle, contented smile that knew no sadness.

And the same smile was on Bernard's face … A face that looked so much like Fang's except the black hair hanging into his eyes was ruler straight, not curling like Fang's.

She couldn't hold back a smile. Fang had gotten his mother's curling hair and Aaron had gotten his father's straight hair … She wondered why that mattered but couldn't remember why.

"What are you grinning about?" Aaron whispered trying to sit up. The pigeon fluttered at him again and cooed loudly so he relaxed against the ground with a growl.

Max turned the book so he could see the picture. "Your parents' wedding day."

Aaron smiled, "She looked ridiculously pregnant there. Like she had a ball under her dress. Odd that she was only three months pregnant…"

Max shook her head and glanced over her shoulder at Fang who was kindling a small fire in the hearth.

"They really loved each other…" Aaron whispered and pulled at his right earlobe. "Dad said that he and mum were connected … Like they could feel one another's joy and pain…"

Max turned to him her eyebrows nearly touching, "What do you mean?"

Aaron tried to shrug but failed when his left arm wouldn't move correctly, "Dad said mum 'GOT' him, whatever that means. But he also said that he could FEEL when she was in pain."

Fang had stopped poking the fire and had his ear cocked in their direction.

"He could feel her pain?" Max thought that was a little cheesy but she believed it, simply because she firmly believed she'd felt Fang's when he'd hurt himself in the woods all those weeks ago.

Aaron nodded, "That's what he said anyway … Part of me believes him. Part of me prays he was full of it, because if he could feel her pain and she his … What if Nudgie can feel mine? What if she knows I got hurt and tries to come after me? I'm terrified she will and then she'll get hurt or killed and I'll have to feel it in return … I-I don't know if I could handle that…"

Max licked her lips and turned staring at the corner of Fang's eye.

He looked away as soon as he noticed she was looking at him but it wasn't fast enough and she saw the shocked expression on his face.

"It's most likely utter nonsense, but I can't be sure … Are you alright, Max?"

She turned back to him and nodded.

The pigeon cooed and flew toward the fire, perching herself on Fang's shoulder. She ruffled her feathers and started preening Fang just as she had done Aaron, fixing his hair so it stood out nearly at right angles from the little place in front of his ear.

He didn't seem to mind because he took up a stick and prodded the fire twice his head bowed in the pigeon's direction.

Max shook her head at him and turned back to the photo album.

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Chapter 50; Flying Blind

"Hello, Room Service?"

He heard a voice … A soft hushed voice close to his head.

"I was wondering if you have any soup, like maybe chicken noodle, something easy to digest? You do? Would you send some up to room 4-17? Thank you."

Something was wrong, he didn't feel right.

The bed shifted beneath him and a weight came down beside his left hand but he didn't move to figure out who it was … He already knew, just from the sound of her voice.

A hand went through his hair and the fingers were cool on his cheek, but still he didn't move. He just lay there and tried to remember where he was.

And that's when he figured out what the something wrong was … He didn't know where the hell he was. He didn't know which way was north, which was south, east or west … That comforting familiar sense was just GONE, as if his inner compass had been stolen by some midnight thief.

And he panicked. His eyes came open and blackness greeted him, complete smothering blackness.

Gone … It's all gone…

He flipped over, crawling forward on the bed then falling head first off the foot into the floor, which suddenly felt miles away.

He scrambled to his knees his hands out searching, finding nothing but empty air. He heard someone calling his name franticly but he was gone…

Gone…

He heard her feet on the carpet and he flung himself away from the sound, bashing his head against a chair and he grabbed it, flinging it away and shoving himself as far as he could into the corner under the table, cowering under it his head in his hands.

He covered himself, his left wing sheltering him from the big BIG world outside this little cave he'd squished himself into.

Gone… It's all gone…

He heard his own breath rasping in and out of his mouth and he felt like his throat was closing, choking him.

It's all gone…

And he started laughing. A high, shrill sound… That broke the sane stillness of the room into a million mirror like shards…

Ella stood there her hands over her mouth staring at him wishing he would just STOP giggling, stop laughing, it bothered her. Something was wrong with him, very wrong.

He was curled up under the table his wings out and wrapped tightly around him his bare feet looking small from where they protruded between his feathers.

She slowly dropped to her knees and moved the flipped chair out of the way.

He'd lost it, his mind was broken … Could she live with him like this? Could she stand to look into his face and see the insanity she heard in his voice? In that off key cackling?

She crawled forward slowly, not sure if it was safe to or not. Everything was uncertain now … Nothing was definite anymore. He could turn and harm her and he wouldn't even know he was doing it…

She gently put both hands on the ridge of his wing and applied a little pressure, pushing it slightly downward. His laughter had quieted to hectic panting and he lowered his wing slowly, letting it droop to his side.

He'd scratched three long bloody furrows down his cheek and Ella leaned in slowly, letting the backs of her fingers caress the unbroken skin of his jaw. He shuddered and lifted his own hand touching her wrist. He took a long deep breath and closed his eyes tightly, tears stinging the scratches on his face.

There was a knock on the door and he stiffened pressing himself firmly into the corner.

"Room Service!"

Ella cursed bitterly under her breath, "Iggy, I'll be right back, I promise, just don't move, and stay quiet OK?" She scrambled to her feet and jerked a blanket off the bed, throwing it over the table, shielding Iggy from view.

She smoothed the front of her nightgown and walked to the door, quietly pulling the bathroom door shut before looking out the spy hole. It was an older woman with her hair twisted into a tight bun on her head.

Ella put on a brave smile and opened the door, "Hi, thank you so much," She stepped out of the way and let the woman wheel in the little trolley. "He's in the bathroom right now, but I'm sure he appreciates it … I don't want to be a nuisance, but you wouldn't happen to have a first aid-kit around would you? I was supposed to change his bandages earlier but I ran out of gauze."

"I can have someone at the front desk send some up for you," The woman said smiling politely.

"You could? That would be awesome, thanks … The doctor gave me some after his surgery but we weren't expecting our flight to be canceled…"

The woman nodded, "Yes, lots of flights have been canceled lately … Can I bring you anything else, Ma'am?"

Ella shook her head, "No, but thank you so much."

The woman smiled politely, "You're welcome, I'll ask someone at the front desk to send up some gauze for you. Have a nice day Ma'am."

Ella collapsed against the door her hand on her forehead. She'd never told such a big lie in all her life. Surgery? How were they going to pull it off? If one of the hotel people got a look at Iggy's face they'd know he hadn't had surgery, he'd clawed himself … And possibly had a complete mental breakdown…

She crept forward pausing just outside the little tent she'd made by throwing the blanket over the table, "Iggy, I'm back, I'm coming in, OK?" She knelt down and pulled back the blanket peering in before she joined him.

His wing was still lying limply beside him but he seemed calmer, his hands clasped tightly between his knees his head leaned against the wall, ear cocked in her direction.

"Iggy?"

He didn't move as she crawled to his side, placing a tentative hand on his shoulder. He didn't jerk but simply sat there.

She bit her lip … He was gone … Iggy was gone-

"I'm sorry…" His mouth moved but barely a sound came out.

She moved closer positioning herself so she could look into his face and not have to crane her neck.

He took a shuddering breath and continued; "I'm sorry I freaked out."

She laid a hand on his arm, staring at the little bruised puncture in the bend of his left.

"I'm just scared, Ella, and I …I-"

He choked on a sob and she rocked forward wrapping her arms around him but trying not to crush his wing at the same time.

"You don't have to explain anything…"

He lifted his wing, wrapping it around her and pulling her closer. "Who had surgery?"

Ella smiled, "That was the lie I told the woman who brought the soup … That way me needing some gauze to patch up your face would be explained and no one would be suspicious. So, if anyone asks, you had your appendix taken out while you were away at college and me, being your faithful girlfriend, I came to get you and take you home to recover."

He chuckled, "Kind of an elaborate lie, don't you think?"

She rolled her eyes and gave him a squeeze, "I've always had a flair for the dramatic…" She bit her lip and changed the subject. "Do you feel like coming out and eating something?"

He sighed and nodded, waiting for her to crawl out before he did. He crawled a few extra feet so he'd be sure not to hit his head again, then planted himself on the foot of the bed and pulled in his wings.

Ella straightened the blanket on the table incase Iggy changed his mind and wanted to go back into hiding. She pushed the little trolley forward, "Spoon is at three O'clock, crackers at ten."

He nodded and touched the trolley, running his hand over the cold metal before picking up the spoon and praying he didn't miss his mouth. Which had happened a few times when he wasn't paying close attention.

He heard Ella pad softly into the bathroom and he could faintly hear her running water in the sink. Then she was back, patting at his cheek with a wet cloth, "Don't mind me, just keep eating."

"Kind of hard to do when I need my face," He grumbled then diverted his eyes, as if part of him still believed he could look away, "How bad is it? Am I disfigured anymore than usual?"

She swatted him, "You're not disfigured … And no, it's not bad. I thought it was but it really isn't. Nick cut himself worse shaving … Speaking of which, ever thought about giving it a try?"

He smiled halfheartedly, "Am I too hairy for ya?"

"No … I like it, it makes you look all macho and hot."

His smile widened, "Hot?"

"Piggy alert!" Ella said from the corner of her mouth and stepped back to inspect how noticeable the scratches on his face were. If she could keep that bloody-ness from returning, by evening she might not be able to tell, as long as she didn't look too close…

Someone knocked at the door and Ella stiffened.

"Try to look like you just had your appendix removed, OK?"

"Okay … Where's your appendix?"

"Just below your navel on the right," She hissed and peered out the spy hole again.

A young woman in a front desk polo shirt and black slacks was standing outside holding a little paper bag with the hotel insignia on it. She knocked again, "Ma'am, It's Ginger from the front desk, I've brought you those things you needed."

Ella opened the door and smiled gratefully. "Thank you," She took the bag and looked inside. It looked like Ginger had given her a mini-first-aid kit, antiseptic wipes, gauze, a few individual packets of pain-killer and even a tube of antibiotic ointment.

"Is there anything else I can get for you?" Ginger said in a well-practiced hostess' voice.

"Do you have any more of this soup?" Iggy said, still bent over the bowl. "Its really good … Heck of a lot better than hospital food … And maybe like a hamburger or two?"

Ella pursed her lips, "The doctor said soft foods that you can digest easily," Great, I'm denying him food because of a make believe appendectomy. Next time a little lie, not a big one, big ones are TOO hard to deal with.

Iggy sighed and rubbed his stomach in faux-pain.

Ginger hung around for a few more seconds, seemingly interested in Iggy's 'operation' and the whole time Ella was grasping at straws, trying to remember everything she could about what she'd learned of appendectomies on TV and apply it to her lie.

Then Ginger smiled and said she had to get back to the front desk and disappeared.

Iggy was laughing under his breath when Ella shut the door. "You are SUCH a good liar," He said sarcastically.

Ella plopped down on the bed beside him and finished bandaging his cheek. Then she lay back her hands behind her head. "Are you OK?"

He sighed, then after a moment brushed his hand up the back of his neck, lifting his hair, "Tell me if it's gone or not, then we'll talk."

Ella sat up and inspected the back of his neck. Where there had been black numbers the day before was now just his pale skin. She thought that if she looked close enough she might be able to see them but the closer she moved her head to his skin the less she thought that statement true.

He shivered, "Y-you're breathing on my neck…"

She hesitated for a moment, just long enough to take a breath then she placed a hand on his shoulder, "It's gone … Nothing there but a few freckles.

Relief washed over him and he rolled onto his back beside her, his feet dangling off the end of the bed. So … Ter Borcht hadn't been lying … His expiration date had been 'eradicated' he was free … No more worry … He literally had his whole life ahead of him now.

His whole life in darkness … A blind bird-kid with no abilities at all … Even Fang had an ability now … Iggy was alone…

"I don't remember how to get home…"

Ella ran her hand through his hair and lay down, her feet to the head of the bed. Their bodies in a kind of yin-yang position eye to eye, "I do … I remember the places we flew over."

"But, I can't see, El…" He whispered and seemed to curl in on himself, ashamed, afraid. "I don't know where we are."

"I do…"

"You'd be my eyes?"

She kissed the tip of his nose, "Of course."

He grew silent, his lip between his teeth, blind eyes turned in her direction. He remembered her face, that soft loving smile…

"I love you, Iggy … I'd do anything for you, all you have to do is ask."

He felt the words rising in his throat but stopped them before they passed his lips. Where had they come from? He'd never even thought about it before so why had he come so close to asking her something like THAT.

But suddenly it was all he could think about … Ella in a white dress.

And then he was speaking and for the first time in his life, he didn't feel like a freak…

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29. Chapters 51 to 53

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Chapter 51; The Wizard's Curse

Fang had to cut Aaron's shirt off. Which wouldn't have been a big deal if he'd had scissors, but all he had was that wicked little razor sharp pocketknife he rarely went anywhere without.

Aaron sat there rigidly as Fang slashed through the fabric of his shirt in a downward motion away from his neck, "Bloody hell … You could decapitate me with that thing and I wouldn't know it until I saw my own severed neck!"

Fang didn't seem to be listening and managed to get the shirt cut off without decapitating anyone. "How are you feelin?"

"Considering how wretched I felt last night, I feel fabulous," He tried to wriggle his fingers but couldn't quite manage it. "It aches and my hand throbs. Is that normal?"

"I don't know, I've never had a broken arm before," Fang said under his breath, "Does it hurt as bad as it did last night?"

Aaron shook his head.

"Then I guess it's normal."

Max limped up wearing Fang's hooded sweatshirt and grinning, "Fang, would you mind telling me whose boxers I'm currently occupying?"

Aaron burst out laughing, "Don't look at me, all of mine are solid colors and they're not silk … Silk gives me terrible rash."

Max's face turned red and she eyed Fang for any reaction but he gave her none, save to not let her see his face.

Aaron chuckled and let Fang help him to his feet. He gripped his arm for a second and stood on shaking legs then stumbled toward the truck grinning.

Just before she turned to follow Aaron, Fang took Max by the arm, turning her toward him.

His head was bowed and after a moment he drew a black cord from around his neck and looked up at her. "You have to wear this for it to work I guess."

He slid the cord around her neck and walked away, squeezing between the chimney and the truck grill to get to the driver's seat.

Max's fingers went to the little medallion hanging on the cord and she bit her lip. She'd hidden this because wearing it hadn't felt right … Even after all these years she wasn't sure she believed in God … But looking down at it now and knowing that Fang had found it, worn it about his own neck to keep it safe just for her…

She shivered and limped toward the truck rubbing the little thing between her fingers. For some reason now she was afraid to take it off…

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Iggy had never realized exactly how much he depended on his internal GPS before… That odd sensation of just KNOWING which direction he was facing and if he was heading toward home. He hadn't known how it worked, or even if he WANTED to know how it worked. He just knew it did and it was really nice to know…

But now…

Now he was in a vacuum. Air rushing past him, that near overwhelming sense of vertigo tugging at his insides, Ella clutched to him her hands resting lightly on top of his.

"Okay, you want to like turn a little to the left up here, I remember that gas station because that's where that yummy pizza-smell was coming from."

Iggy nodded and tilted his wings slightly, raising the right and lowering the left so he coasted slightly in the direction Ella said he needed to go.

"You're squeezing me really tight, are you OK?"

"Fine," He squeaked.

He'd never been FULLY dependant on someone like this before, especially when that someone didn't have an internal GPS of her own OR wings.

Before, when he'd been blind, he could still tell where he was going, and if he didn't know his destination then SOMEONE did. There wasn't all this "a little to the left" "kind of to the right, but straight ahead to the left," business. It was all in terms he could understand.

"One O' clock" "North-north-east" "Follow my voice" Ella was more of a "Off to the right, no more to the left" no definites no specifics kind of person…

Jesus, we're never going to get home!

"Maybe I should buy a GPS … You know, like those the rock climbers and hikers have?"

Iggy gritted his teeth and tightened his hold on Ella. He'd be happy if she just had a compass!

"Iggy, we've been flying for hours, can we stop? I REALLY have to go."

Boy, oh boy, THIS is gonna be fun.

"Okay … Where can we land?"

She went quiet and her hands tightened on his. "Uh … Iggy?"

He grunted to let her know he was listening.

"How are we gonna land if you can't see how far away the ground is?"

He laughed out loud.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Max was uncomfortable… More uncomfortable that she'd been in a while, and that was saying something because she'd been carried under a Wizard's arm through a thunderstorm and burned her leg…

Aaron was shirtless and pressed against her right side, and Fang was pressed to her left … And both of them were sweating as if it were a million degrees outside, and both of them had the windows rolled down.

The pigeon had perched herself on Fang's right shoulder and cooed indignantly every time Max scooted a little bit closer to Fang to put more room between herself and Aaron's splinted arm.

She didn't like the pigeon … And she didn't like that she was the only one that seemed to notice it was COLD outside.

"Can we like, turn the heat on, I am FREEZING!" She rubbed her nose again fully expecting to find icicles hanging from her nostrils but she didn't.

Fang wiped sweat from his face and leaned over her to turn on the heater.

Max pressed herself as tightly back against the seat as possible and held her breath terrified that Fang's sweating had caused another common problem that was associated with perspiration.

But she knew even before she'd taken that deep breath that she had nothing to worry about. Fang rarely if EVER smelled bad anymore. Not after they'd decided to stay with Dr. Martinez. In fact, she'd found him quite pleasant smelling on a few occasions … Not something she could say about The Gasman…

"I feel ill," Aaron grumbled his uninjured arm going around his middle.

"If you're going to puke again warn me first, I don't want to have to wash the truck AGAIN."

Aaron sneered at him and shook his head, "My bloody arm hurts."

"You whine too much … I haven't heard Max complain about her leg all day."

"That's because Aaron's been complaining over me," She said as-matter-of-factly.

"C-can we stop, please, I feel really ill."

"We've only been driving five hours!" He snapped and glared at Aaron as if he were tempted to punch him. The air crackled with tension and Max shrunk into the seat, folding her hands on her stomach, trying not to be noticed.

What am I doing? Oh, nothing, don't mind me, I'm not even here…

Max had never seen Fang so irritable and she'd seen him in PRETTY bad moods before.

The day he'd gotten the letter he'd been particularly moody. He'd even snapped at a teacher at school … Which was VERY unlike him … Unless the teacher deserved a good snapping…

"Can we please stop, I feel nauseous…"

And he broke…

"You're nauseous? YOU'RE NAUSEOUS! I've had a freaking MIGRANE of Vesuvian proportions since we found Max! I haven't slept in three days, I haven't eaten in two! AND I can't THINK with you bitching about your damned arm all the time, so shut-the-hell-UP!"

And he cupped his forehead with his left hand wincing, his eyes on the road.

Aaron went quiet.

The pigeon cooed reproachfully and walked across his shoulder and perched herself on Aaron's, as if to say 'if you're going to be like that, I don't want to sit on you anymore.'

They drove in complete silence for nearly five minutes before Fang sighed and pulled the truck into the parking lot of a small grocery store. He killed the engine and rested his head against the steering wheel his lips pursed, eyes closed.

He didn't move for close to ten minutes, and then it was just to look over at Max and Aaron apologetically with bloodshot dark blue eyes.

Max sighed, "Look, guys, we're almost home … We'll drive till sundown, get a hotel room, call my mom then fl-drive the rest of the way home, deal?" She whispered, hoping Fang didn't yell at her too, because unlike Aaron, Max didn't take Fang's crap. She'd yell right back, and maybe even punch him if she felt so inclined.

Fang nodded and turned the key in the ignition.

"I … will be with you again-" Bono's tenor voice crooned from the speakers.

Fang growled and punched the dashboard. The radio went quiet…

Max stifled a giggle and the pigeon cooed melodiously.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

They landed in the back yard shortly before sunset and Ella stumbled away from him as he landed but her hand tightened on the sleeve of his jacket to keep him upright.

"GABRIELLA MARTINEZ!" She ran out of the house her hair pulled back, a furiously worried expression plastered on her face.

Ella sucked in a hissing lungful of air and pressed her back against Iggy, who stopped in his tracks his hand in hers.

"WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN, I'VE BEEN WORRIED TO DEATH!"

Her mother crushed her in a hug, "Are you two OK? Angel told me about the Wizards attacking … Where are the others?"

Ella bit her lip, "I'm not sure where Max is, but Nick and Aaron have gone after her so she'll be fine."

Iggy heard Nudge giggle in the background, "I just realized they were named that … Nick and Aaron … Reminds me a little TOO much of the Backstreet Boys…" She hesitated before she continued, cutting both Ella and her mother off before they could speak.

"Iggy what's wrong with your eyes?"

He bit his lip and squeezed Ella's hand, wishing he could suddenly turn invisible so no one would look at him.

Angel gasped and he heard her clap her hands over her mouth. "Oh, Iggy!" And she rushed to him, hugging him around the waist and sobbing into his ribs.

He flexed his aching wings and peeled Angel away from him long enough to shuffle forward to the porch steps and sit down. He hung his head in his hands and took a shuddering breath.

"Did I do the right thing?"

Angel hugged him again tightly, "You're alive aren't you?"

"But for how long?" He whispered, "He could have lied to me and just made the visible date disappear … I could still die."

Nudge made a soft hissing sound and sank to the steps beside him, placing a hand on his back. "Iggy, I'm sorry."

He shrugged, feeling that same panic he'd experienced early that morning in the hotel room. But this time he didn't let it show, he bottled it deep inside … But he knew without a doubt that he'd more likely than not lock himself in his bedroom later and bawl his eyes out…

He'd felt useless before … But now he really was.

"That man said that this was a vaccine against the Wizards … Apparently the Wizards transmit the virus through their bite, but this will protect you if you haven't already been bitten. He offered it to me but I said no … I want to figure out what it is first," She held up the large vial then searched out the smaller one.

He heard Ella rummaging around in the backpack and he shrank in on himself, feeling increasingly useless and in the way…

"And he said THIS would like, stop you guys from expiring, but it takes away all your abilities because the expiration date is programmed into the genes that gives you the abilities … Or something like that, I wasn't paying attention…"

"It takes away your abilities?" Gasman whispered and laid a hand on Iggy's shoulder.

He shivered and was tempted to turn and shout 'DUH!' but he stopped himself. He didn't want anyone to feel sorry for him, he just wanted everything to go back to the way it was before … He just wanted everything to be OK again.

David sighed and squirmed his way into the crowd, hugging Iggy from behind, both tiny arms wrapped around his neck. "That's OK, I still like you!"

The phone started ringing and Dr. Martinez dashed back inside rubbing her eyes. "Hello?"

Iggy strained his ears, but was unable to hear who was on the other end of the line as he'd been able to do before…

"MAX! Oh, my GOD! Are you OK? Are you hurt? What ha-" She paused for a ten count, "Are you sure you're OK, other than the burns and Aaron's arm?"

Nudge was on her feet her hands clenched into fists, "Aaron I am going to KILL you when you get home, you SWORE you wouldn't get hurt! Do you know how scared I've been?"

Dr. Martinez waved Nudge off and turned away from her. "Okay, we'll expect you home by tomorrow evening … Are you sure you're OK? Yes, I am being a worry-wart, its what mothers do … Okay, I'll see you tomorrow … Bye, Max…" And she sank to the floor crying, her head in her hands.

"What happened to Aaron's arm?" Ella asked, trying to draw her mother out of the crying fit.

Her mother blinked a few times and snuffed back tears, "Max said that it was broken … Something about a Wizard biting him-"

Iggy was on his feet, stumbling down the steps arms waving. Ella grabbed him before he fell and turned to her mother her brown eyes wide, "BITTEN? Aaron was BITTEN!"

"That's what Max said … Why? Do they carry rabies or something?"

Ella groaned, "The man who helped Iggy- Ter Borcht, was bitten by one of those things. He said that it was like werewolves, once you're bitten you become one of them or die transforming."

David groaned his little hands going to his mouth, "Aaron's gonna become a Wizard too?"

Nudge choked, "No … That can't happen! Not my Aaron! Not my-" She turned and ran into the house, yanking the phone off the hook and dialing the number on the caller ID … But the gas station attendant said that the three young people had already driven off…

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Aaron shifted uncomfortably against the cheap hotel mattress and pulled the blankets tighter around him, trying not to disturb his arm. He felt cold … Incredibly cold and from the look on Max's face as she glanced at him from the other side of the room, he knew he was the only one who thought it was a bit chill.

"Aaron, are you feeling OK?" She walked to him, the almost healed burn on her leg standing out slightly pinker than her skin. She flattened her palm against his forehead and her eyebrows drew down.

She turned and pulled the blankets off the other bed, spreading them over Fang's brother then knocking loudly on the bathroom door, "Fang, hurry up in there, Aaron needs some hot water, he's freezing."

Fang grunted to let her know he heard and a few seconds later the water turned off.

"My bloody h-head hurts," He grumbled and stared miserably up at Max, searching for some kind of pity or compassion, at the moment he'd be happy with either as long as someone paid attention to him and acknowledged he was sick.

Fang came out of the bathroom at that moment, rubbing his sopping head with a towel wearing only his boxers and a pair of loose fitting sweatpants that hung off his hips. He approached the bed warily making a perplexed face much like Max's, "Jeez, you look like crap!"

"Oh, well done … If I didn't feel bad enough, now I know that I look a mess as well," He forced himself into a sitting position and the room span around, all the colors seeming to melt into one gigantic blur. The next thing he knew he was staring up at the ceiling and Fang was bending over him, smacking his face rather roughly.

Get the boy … Get number seven … Get the boy, the special one … Kill the other one … Kill the girl … Get the boy … Get the dark one…

Aaron shivered and the hackles on the back of his neck stood on end. Those sickeningly sweet … Demented kindergarten teacher voices rang in his head like little bells…

Get the boy … Kill the other one … Kill the girl … Rip them open … Eat them alive … Make them scream … Get the dark one … Kill the rest…

"Aaron?" Max hovered over him.

He's already dying … He's too weak … Won't accept the change … Too weak … Poor little Aaron … Daddy can't save him now…

He shivered again and that vice like pain he'd felt in his head let loose, possibly deflating him, releasing all the strength he had managed to accumulate and he clawed at Fang, grabbing his brother's shirt collar and drawing the dark haired boy down.

"T-they want y-you … Y-you're s-special."

Fang gave his head a shake and glanced up at Max from the corner of his eye, "Aaron … There's nothing special about me, Ter-Borcht said so … He read it right from my file."

Aaron's head wobbled and his hands fell away. "Tell Nudgie…" But no more words would come out and everything faded into a dark gray…

"A-Aaron?" Fang laid a hand on his brother's chest, his arm trembling and he came to his knees his eyes wide, fingers tangling in the dark blue T-shirt Aaron had pulled on after his bandages were changed.

"Max … Max, he's not breathing!"

She pressed her fingers to the side of his neck but Fang had already bent forward and put his ear to Aaron's chest.

She shivered … Nothing…

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Chapter 52; Panic

Nudge woke with a scream, her hands tearing at her nightshirt. Angel was up like a shot, lunging across the room to her, blue eyes wide.

And then everyone was in her room, thronging around her, trying to calm her, but she could only scream and clutch her chest.

"Not Aaron, Oh GOD, not Aaron!" And in the moment Nudge felt Aaron's heart stop she also felt what could only describe as having your bones suddenly turn to jelly and then back to bones in one instant. And then David gave a shout and knocked her into a deep dreamless sleep.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Fang choked and that uncontrollable hysteria seized him again, only this time he didn't freeze, in fact he did the complete opposite … He clamped his hands together over Aaron's heart and started CPR, cursing under his breath.

Aaron couldn't be dead … It didn't make any sense, he'd been fine earlier, just before he'd climbed into the shower Aaron had been fine, he'd even made a rude joke and earned a 'sexist pig' label from Max…

Aaron couldn't be dead…

"He needs air," Max whispered, wishing now more than ever that Jeb-Voice was there to tell her how to save Aaron's life just as he'd done all those years ago when Fang had gotten those horrible jagged scars across his stomach…

She had started to do it herself, remembering how she'd been taught in health class, knowing in the pit of her sickened stomach all the while that it wasn't going to work., but Fang was there first, trying with all his might to save his brother … To save his twin.

Max watched, feeling completely and utterly useless and anxious … Hoping that Aaron would move and take a breath and Fang would be able to stop breathing for him…

But it had been nearly a minute and Aaron hadn't moved…

"Aaron, Goddamn you … Goddamn you," He mumbled and continued pressing his hands down over his brother's chest, forcing his heart to pump then forcing air between his lips.

Two minutes…

"Fang…" She whispered, her voice thin.

And the air started charging … Becoming thick with tension and Max felt a deadly pressure starting in her chest and Fang's composure started crumbling with every second Aaron was lifeless … Dead.

Dead, Aaron's dead…

Three minutes…

"Fang," She said a little louder but he ignored her. And then, to her horror he seemed to loose all control and he thumped Aaron hard on the chest before resuming his frantic compressions…

"Fang, stop it…"

He shook his head and hit him again.

Max shuddered and her hands went out, grabbing Fang's wrists, "Fang, STOP!"

He looked her in the eyes … And she saw something dark swim into them, something vicious, something deadly and he took a shuddering breath his teeth grinding together so tightly she heard his jaws creak.

"Let me go, Max … I swear to God, if you don't let me go-"

And the light bulb in the lamp burst, showering the left corner of the room in shards of glass.

The only light left was that from the bathroom, but it was enough for Max to see Fang set back to work, pounding on Aaron's lifeless chest.

Four minutes…

For a moment she thought she smelled burning cloth and then Aaron's body went stiff. She jumped out of the way, knowing what was coming even before Fang rolled him over.

Fang thumped him repeatedly on the back when he choked and Max stared in a mixture of joy and revulsion…

There was an unholy screech from outside and Aaron bellowed in pain his hand going over his ear. The screech faded into the night and Aaron curled onto his side shivering, his teeth chattering.

Fang shuddered violently and for a moment he seemed to go rigid, his teeth ground together and he rocked to his knees, his head thrown back hands curling into fists.

Max heard him make a grunting noise and for a second she wasn't sure who was the one in more trouble. Aaron because he'd been dead for close to five minutes or Fang, who looked as if he were having some kind of fit.

That smoky, something-burning smell reached Max's nostrils and she turned, expecting to see the lamp in the corner in flames. But nothing was wrong.

Fang collapsed in on himself and nearly fell across Aaron. "H-Help me…"

She wasn't quite sure who he wanted her to help. So she bit back her need to pull Fang into her arms and went to Aaron, untangling the sick splattered blankets from him and sitting him up. "Just breathe for a few minutes and relax."

He nodded right hand on his chest, face wrinkled in pain.

"Do you want some water?"

Aaron shook his head, "W-want a stiff drink."

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Chapter 53; Back to Basics

It was close to seven-thirty and the sun had disappeared behind the trees. Nudge flipped the light switch and admired her handiwork … Well, Iggy and Gasman had helped … They'd wired everything … But SHE put in the light bulbs.

"How is it?" Iggy said rubbing his hands together.

"Its perfect … Just like that parking lot, only … Less parking-lot-ish," Nudge said and stepped out onto the porch. Dr. Martinez had put up a few more lights outside, but they were all tied into the electric … So, upon arriving back home Angel and Nudge had insisted on getting solar powered lights. Believing that if the power were to go out as it had at Allan's the Wizards would still be fended off.

"MAX!" Angel screamed and ran into the yard.

A dirty, rusted and just plain beat looking red truck pulled into the driveway and Nudge's stomach clenched. She lunged right off the porch snapping her russet colored wings open and zooming straight at the truck.

She saw Aaron's face go pale and she landed on the hood as the truck stopped, her teeth ground together, "You died? You DIED … DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW FREAKING SCARED I WAS!"

Aaron climbed out of the truck and stood there on shaking legs clutching the door, "Sorry … Was a bit preoccupied with the afterlife…"

She slid off the hood and hugged him tightly her cheek pressed against his. "We need to talk about your arm … It's important…"

Max climbed out and jogged to her mother, wrapping her arms around her neck.

Fang just sat there behind the wheel staring at his hands the pigeon on his shoulder.

"Nick, Allan called and left his cell number for you to call any time you wanted," Ella said sticking her head in the window, "Wow, nice pigeon, where'd you get it?"

He shook his head and opened the door, climbing slowly out and heading inside without speaking to anyone.

"Max, what's up with him? Is he OK?"

30. PART THREE Chapters 54

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PART THREE SUMMARY; Hark, the End Approaches…

Life is like the seasons, constantly changing. Things happen that you have no control over, factors aren't applied to the equation, variants change and mutate, feelings bud, blossom and die. It's a domino effect, the strong triumphs over the weak, the evolved destroy the rudimentary lives of those under them.

Life shifts like the desert, tragedy strikes like a storm, without warning, as quick and lethal as a sting, its edge as sharp and yet blunt as the blade of a scythe…

Who are we to tempt the fates? Who are we to challenge their decrees, their choices? Because, when the thread of life is cut, it cannot be reunited…

(WARNING! YOU MIGHT NOT LIKE THE STORY FROM HERE ON OUT BECAUSE IT TAKES A DARK TURN! SAY WHAT YOU MUST, BUT YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!)

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The Wings of Wrath; Part 3

What Dreams May Come

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Chapter 54; Halloween

Two things kept bugging her. Two BIG things … Well, if you wanted to get right down to it … THREE big things.

Since coming back to live with Dr. Martinez nearly three years before, Max and the Flock had become accustomed to a 'danger free' life while hiding from the waning number of Flyboys and renegade geneticists that still wanted them dead.

School, on the other hand … The NORMAL school that the flock now attended with Ella was just that … Normal.

Well, normal as long as you didn't know that four of the Seniors were not exactly human … But Fang, Aaron, Max and Iggy tried to blend in as best they could. And apparently it had worked because not only were Fang, Max and Iggy going to graduate in May, but Fang and Iggy also had managed to make it into the Top 20 Graduating Students, Fang himself number ten, Iggy, number thirteen… A fact that both stunned and thrilled them in their own unique ways.

And made Max jealous and green in the face with envy because she'd only managed number thirty-six… She guessed her English teacher hadn't liked her report on the state of the world…

But, what else was she supposed to write! She was destined to save the world for crap sake! It would have to be in PRETTY bad shape for its fate to be intrusted in a seventeen-year-old girl…

Even if that seventeen-year-old girl WAS Maximum Ride…

The good thing about this NORMAL school was there were no Headhunters, or white-coats in disguise. It was just a normal … Boring school where they learned a lot of 'useless' stuff and where Gasman spent every Friday evening in detention until four PM for setting off a new 'stink bomb' in the boy's bathroom. Even though he didn't even GO to highschool yet…

Max had often thought about buying The Gasman some Beano but what would be the point? The boy wouldn't take it and who knew when they would need his special abilities?

Max knew that every so often it was nice to have a person capable of emiting toxic vapors around. Especially when everything got particularly boreing…

Everything had gone perfectly … A droning, unexciting perfect… Well, not COMPLETELY unexciting. In the almost three years since coming to live with Dr. Martinez they all got their own, REAL birthday parties, with presents, cakes, balloons and the like … But those were the most exciting things that happened…

Until a month ago when THING one had popped up in the form of a letter addressed to one 'Nicholas Ride".

The OTHER exciting thing that happened, which ALSO happened to be the one of other two THINGS that were constantly on Max's mind, slowly driving her to the brink of teenaged insanity, just so happened to be banging on the bathroom door Max was leaning against.

"Lemmein-lemmein-lemmein!" A shrill voice bellowed followed by more frantic pounding.

"NO!" Total shrieked and hid himself behind the toilet, and time seemed to unwind like kite string… Sound, and sensation slamming into Max's brain like a hammer against an anvil.

Max clasped her head between her hands and pressed her back against the door, trying to ignore the earthquake like shuddering every time a fist collided with the wood.

Things were frantic tonight. Everyone was getting dressed in various Halloween costumes so they could all attend Ella's friend Lynn-Dee's 'famous' Halloween Party.

Max had seen Ella and Lynn-Dee hanging out together at school. She didn't mind. Ella was after all Max's half-sister and they got to spend hours upon hours together at home.

"Total, what is wrong!" Max dropped her hands to her sides, giving up on trying to calm the boy beating the door in. The whole house was in an uproar and there was little she could do to escape the hustle and bustle of it all. Aside from tying everyone up and duct-taping their mouths shut…

But she didn't have any duct-tape…

She'd been particularly agitated since they'd gotten back from New York/Oklahoma weeks before. Things got on her nerves faster than normal, Iggy and Ella's constant 'togetherness' made her insane and she'd found herself hunting them down just to point at Iggy and narrow her eyes. Giving him a 'you are sexist bacon!' look.

And he would automatically swallow and clutch Ella tighter to him, giving her a petrified paranoid look… Even though he couldn't see anymore… Which was another reason Max wasn't in a good mood…

Max had thought SHE was being paranoid… But Iggy and Ella's sudden downright apprehensive anxiety in the last few weeks had not only driven Max off the edge, but also the Gasman, who had given up and politely punched Iggy in the head the night before at dinner. Telling him to 'stop acting like a nut!' that the only people out to get him were Whitecoats and Wizards…

"I look hideous!" Total peeked out at her from behind the toilet.

"It isn't that bad…" She rubbed her forehead, feeling her anger building to a constant jack-hammer like thumping behind her eyes.

Total rolled his eyes and trotted out to her, "I look stupid!"

Max ground her teeth and willed herself not to snap at him, which she'd done to just about everyone of late… She'd even overheard Aaron calling her a 'bitch' and asking Nudge if she were 'experiencing the PMS'… needless to say he was now walking around with wounded pride … As well as a print of her shoe on his butt.

"Just be glad it isn't Tinkerbell!"

Total put a paw over his face. "Why couldn't I have gone as Batman? Why do I have to be Underdog?"

"Igottapeeeeee!" The voice squealed from the other side of the door.

"DAVID!" Max slammed her fist on the door. "I swear if you do NOT stop banging on this door I am going to sic Gazzy on you!"

The boy stopped pounding and began dancing around outside holding himself. "Okay, but I REALLY gotta go!"

Max rolled her eyes. She was more than angry now… But, she couldn't shout at them… She had to put up with it for a little while longer. Just a little while… God help the person who sent her over the edge… "You couldn't be Batman because all the Batman costumes that would have fit you were sold out. Besides, you make a really sweet Underdog."

He glared up at her and bared his teeth, "If you call me sweet again I might just show you exactly how sour I can be."

Max opened her mouth to tell him exactly what he could do with his sour attitude when David gave up on waiting and forced the door open. Practically squishing Max against the wall. Total stumbled back as David ran in, his light brown wings out, mummy costume under his arm.

"WATCH IT!" Total screamed and dove between David's legs and into the crowded hall.

Max barely made it out of the bathroom before David dropped his pants.

The hallway was a flurry of movement. Angel was prancing around in her witch costume her face painted green her untidy black wig and pointed hat hiding all of her golden hair. She had a Snickers bar in one hand and a half-eaten lollypop in the other, her filled to bursting cauldron shaped Treat-Bucket over her arm. "It should be Halloween EVERY DAY! I LOVE trick-or-treating!"

"You love SUGAR!" Nudge said and walked past wearing a beautiful floor length red dress and white satin gloves, her wings barely hidden by a cleverly arranged faux-fur stole. "Has anyone seen, Aaron?" She ran a hand through the long flowing hair weave Dr. Martinez had taken her into town to get earlier that day and started calling again, "Aaron?"

Iggy was standing in the corner twiddling a button on the jacket of his pirate costume blind eyes on the floor looking paranoid and self-conscious… Gasman was pulling on a black cape and stuffing glowing vampire teeth into his mouth-

"Max, can you help me, my hair is caught in this button!" Ella appeared in front of her.

"What are you going as again?" Max gently began unwinding the strand of hair from the button.

Ella rolled her eyes, "I'm supposed to be Elizabeth Swan … You know, from the pirate movies? But this costume is kind of tight on my chest now… It's weird, it wasn't tight when I tried it on at the shop… It's really annoying…" She screwed up her face and grabbed the costume, pulling it away from her chest and wiggling around, trying to loosen it.

Max shook her head and glanced over at Iggy. "Let me guess, Iggy is Will Turner?"

Ella blushed, "Spoilsport … Who are you going as?"

Max shrugged, "I'm not going."

Everything seemed to stop and everyone turned to Max, eyes wide.

"You have to go!" Ella whined. "We've had these costumes for weeks! You HAVE to go!"

She shook her head, "I'm not very good with crowds, you know that. Besides, I have work to do, Genotex is NOT going to stop itself, no matter how much we want it to."

David yanked open the bathroom-door and threw back his head wailing as if someone had stomped his favorite toy. "I don't want to be a mummy!"

Max turned to him then closed her eyes when she saw the boy was standing there in nothing but his Spiderman underpants and tanktop undershirt. She inhaled deeply, "David, where are your clothes?"

"I don't want to be a mummy, I want to be MUMMY!"

Max growled and raked a hand through her hair. That was the same argument David had given them in the costume shop. Nearly screaming at the sales associate that he wanted to be a MUMMY not a mummy. And Angel had refused to tell them what the boy meant. Saying in a rather unconvincing voice, "I don't know… Don't ask me!"

"Gazzy, can you do something, please?"

"I'm on it!" The blonde grinned, glowing incisors lighting up his smile, literally.

A door opened to Max's left and THING three poked his head out of the room. "Would someone PLEASE tell Nick to get his useless recombinant life-form arse up here and give me a hand?" He sounded ridiculously British tonight.

Max turned to him. He was shirtless, his brown hair hanging into his face, his left heavily bandaged arm in a sling.

"As soon as we find him I'll tell him. Nudge is looking for you, Aaron."

Aaron grinned warily, still worried that she'd kick his butt again, and shook his head, "I'm not Aaron … Tonight I'm Ichabod 'Crane'," He grinned and pointed at his wings. "Tell Nudgie I'll be down in a moment."

(QUICK NOTE; Makes nasily nerdy/retarted laughing sound I just noticed that… Wow, future of America here people! If I ever have a son I'm naming him 'Ichabod'!)

Max rolled her eyes and shut herself in her room.

The thunderous noise from the hallway resumed and she clasped her head between her hands. She wondered absently where exactly Fang was, and at the same time … A weird since of calm, cool amusement swept over her… She could just picture a horrible wide smug grin on Fang's face…

She'd barely seen him in the weeks since they'd returned, let alone talk to him… Let alone wring his neck like she wanted to … Who did he think he was ignoring her like that!

She was Maximum Ride, NOBODY ignored her!

Not usually… But there WAS that one time…

She sighed and sat heavily on her bed.

When Fang wasn't wondering around aimlessly in the yard kicking sticks or raking leaves, or working on his BLOG or scribbling in the Mysterious-Black-Notebook he kept hidden from them all, he was in his room with the door locked or sitting on the roof his nose in a book.

Max's fingers went to the large costume bag lying on her pillow and she sighed.

It wasn't that she didn't want to go to the party. It was that she didn't feel particularly comfortable going to the party in THAT costume. Why couldn't she have picked something a little less … Dramatic? A little less … Girly…

She cringed and cuped her forehead with both hands… Yes, she was a girl, DUH! But, did she have to fall into a mold? Did she really have to be a 'Girly-girl'?

There was a knock on her door and Nudge walked in. "What's all this about you not going?"

Max raised her head. "I don't want to go … What if something happens here?"

Nudge cocked a hand on her hip, looking sassy and sleek. "What if you don't go and something happens THERE."

Max sighed, "If I go in THIS!" She shook the costume bag, "We'll REALLY be in trouble."

"You'll regret it if you don't go, you know that. Imagine all the candy … Imagine Aaron in that Ichabod Crane costume!" She practically salivated, her eyes glazing over…

Max couldn't help but smile, "He's not my boyfriend Nudge, he's yours-"

"I KNOW! Isn't it GREAT!" And she left.

Max sat there for a few seconds her eyebrow raised, confused a little by what had just happened, but chocking her confusion up to her unwillingness to accept the fact everyone was seeming to turn into sexist pigs before her eyes…

Horny teenagers, every last one of them…

At least Angel, David and the Gasman had yet to express 'FEELINGS' about the opposite sex…

There was still a LITTLE bit of sanity in the world.

Max sighed and leaned forward, hanging her head between her knees. Why was it that just when she'd made up her mind that it was OK to SOMETIMES act 'girly' that everyone decided to go past the 'cute shoes' stage and right into full-blown hormonal-horny-teenager mode?

She wasn't going to deny the fact … To herself, anyway … That her own feelings were changing, that she was starting to … wonder about things.

It was normal, it was part of nature!

Wasn't it?

If it was nature she could handle it. She could handle nature…

But, if it was UN-natural… If it was some genetic flaw of her recombined DNA that made THINGS happen sometimes when she was alone… If it was something THEY had done to her, then she wanted nothing to do with it… EVER…

But still… Secrets such as these breed in your skin… They leave their mark on your dreams and in your eyes…

Max rolled onto her back on the bed, her upper half practically being swallowed by the gargantuan costime bag on her pillow…

She could hear the rustle of toule against the plastic and she sighed again…

Sometimes it absolutely SUCKED to be a girl…

Especially a bird-girl who was destined to save the world…

Why was it so ungodly hard to choose one and stick to it?

Every time she tried to be a 'girl' something would happen and she'd have to throw off the gloves of femininity and pick up her boxing gloves… And every time she put the boxing gloves on … She dropped her teacup…

Why couldn't she just PICK already?

Was she going to be a girl, or was she going to be a hero?

If she chose to be a girl the world would end… If she chose to be a hero… She'd have to live her whole life alone because heros lost everything… Heros were tortured souls who'd had their every hope, dream and ambition stolen from them. Which leaves them bitter, jaded and cold…

And Max didn't want to be cold… She liked that warm feeling… She liked having someone there with her… She didn't like being alone… When she was alone, it was like she lost her self as well…

Could there possibly be a balance between 'girl' and 'hero'? Was there some common ground she hadn't yet discovered?

Maybe this was why super heros had secret identities… So they could have both, in separate, untainted bubbles…

But that didn't help Max at all… Her life wasn't untainted, and it wasn't in a bubble. Danger permiated every cell of her body, and every corner of her life…

There, she thought to herself. I have a middle name … And it's Danger…

It was semi-quiet for a twenty count then something pecked lightly on the window and Max sat up quickly, her heart in her throat.

Fang was sitting on the roof, just beside the glass, a rather emotionless expression on his face. He jerked his head and pointed to the roof beside him.

Max was climbing out the window before she even realized she'd stood. "Have you been sitting out here the whole time?"

She forced herself to scowl, to retain the angered appearance she'd had all day… But it was hard to do… That eerie since of calm was steeling over her again, and she wanted to find the source of it … And PUNCH it for ruining her wonderfully foul mood.

Fang nodded and scratched at the little hairs on his cheeks and chin. The pigeon, who had practically CLAIMED him, was perched on his shoulder as always, preening his lengthening hair.

He had an open book in his lap that looked like a dictionary and an ink-pen pushed behind his ear. Max looked around for the Mysterious-Black-Notebook but couldn't see it anywhere. He's probably sitting on it or got it shoved up his shirt… She thought with a laugh. He'll do anything to keep someone from reading that thing, the dumb PIG…

"I had to get away from them … David is driving me insane," He rubbed his neck, as if he had a crick in it.

Max smiled, her bad mood seeming to melt, she was glad he was talking to her again. He'd seemed to refrain from speaking all together since they'd gotten home and it had worried her. She liked hearing him talk, especially since he'd finally reached puberty and all. She laughed to herself.

His voice was slightly rougher, deeper. And it gave her a secret thrill to hear him speak. Although she would NEVER admit that… But, then again… he was just so much more … She didn't really know a word to describe it!

It was his mere presence… The fact there weren't any other girls around for him to gawk and make eyes at… Even though Max wasn't sure she'd seen him actually make eyes at anyone before…

She sure had seen Iggy do it though… Boy, oh BOY did he ever!

Aaron too!

"He's your little brother, of course he's driving you insane. And the fact he has ADHD, AND depression doesn't help much."

Fang rolled his eyes and shoved a hand through his hair, brushing its length out of his face. "Aaron is worse."

Max scoffed, "Aaron is worse because he's hurt … But again, HE'S YOUR BROTHER!"

He flinched and bowed his head, "It's also my fault he got hurt."

"No it isn't…" Guilt tugged at her stomach and she wanted to put her arm around him, but wouldn't allow herself to do so because she was 'mad' at him for not talking to her in WEEKS.

He turned to look at her his hair falling back into his face. After a second he sighed, rolled his eyes and pushed it behind his ear, an innocent act that startled Max at first because she'd never seen him push his own hair from his eyes. Usually he kept it in his face, like a curtain … Or a veil from that story … What was it … 'The Minister's Black Veil'…

Max pondered this for a moment, staring at him. In that story the Minister had worn a veil as a physical representation of his secret sins…

What secret sins would Fang have to represent?

She glanced at his hands, folded lightly across his stomach…

What were those hands capable of?

Those long, thin, slightly calloused, strong hands of his… What kinds of secret things had they done in the dead of night as he lie there in his bed… Breathing… Breathing... on the other side of her wall…

Max's stomach tingled and she drew her lower lip between her teeth, staring at his knuckles, her mind wandering… She glanced at his face… Taking in his profile in the dying light…

Thin, straight nose… Despite being broken no less than four times… His cheeks, his dark eyes… His forehead… His lips…

Slightly parted as he gazed out over the yard to some fixed point on the horizon… Some unknown distance away that could have been a lifetime, and yet … Right in front of him…

His lips slowly came together and a red tint crept into his cheeks…

Very slowly he turned his head and stared at Max with an … expressionless expression on his face… And fire in his eyes.

"Max?"

She opened her mouth to speak, felt her throat tightening, and cleared it before the words would come. "Yeah?"

His mouth opened, words forming… And yet all that came out was a soft half choked sound, barely above a whisper… His eyes flicked over her, raking up from where she sat to the top of her head, and with a sigh he changed the subject he was about to initiate to the first thing that popped into his mind.

"Are you going to the party?"

"No."

"Why not?" He shut the dictionary and turned to her again dangling his arms between his knees, folding his hands over the toes of his boots, hunched at the waist, shifting uncomfortably a good four inches away from her. The pigeon cooed and fluttered to his other shoulder.

She shrugged and crossed her arms over her chest, turning so that she was pointed slightly to the left from center… Away from him, "I'm not in the mood, besides I have all those files to look through," She picked at a roofing shingle with the nail of her thumb, calling herself fifteen different names in her head…

She felt him grin and turned her head to look at him. And she didn't think it was possible for something so horrible to look so good.

"You just don't want to wear a dress in front of everyone."

"Well, would you?" She couldn't help but smile, even though she turned so he wouldn't see.

No matter how depressed, angry, or immersed in the fight against the 'Tex' corporation she felt Fang could always make her smile. She was tempted to just fling her arms around his neck and kiss him … Or kick his butt, she couldn't decide.

Why did Fang make everything seem OK? Why did he make her feel like she wasn't a complete failure? Why did he make her feel so, so … Hot…

It was his turn to shrug, even though he didn't move himself from his hunched position. "It's a costume party … You're supposed to be uncomfortable and look stupid."

She pursed her lips and scowled at him, "I do NOT look stupid in a dress."

He rolled his eyes a little grin brightening his face, "Okay, you just keep telling yourself that."

She climbed to her feet, ready to literally kick his behind, "Are you going?"

He shrugged again the smile fading and leaned back against the siding, the dictionary now firmly planted in the middle of his lap, "I don't know, I doubt it."

She crossed her arms. "If I go, you're going, and we'll see who looks more stupid."

She was assuming Fang had chosen a rather childish costume like the other boys, Aaron not included.

Iggy had his pirate costume, Gasman and the vampire teeth, David and the contraversial mummy suit … She could just picture Fang showing up in a fluffy pink dinosaur costume...

But, to be perfectly honest, she didn't know WHAT Fang's costume was. And she wasn't going to let him know that she cared!

He turned his head to the right, looking away, out over the garage, and started drumming his fingers nervously on the dictionary in his lap, his foot tapping lightly in the air, "Whatever."

She climbed back in through the window, closed it and dropped the blind. She stared at the costume bag for a moment then sat her jaw and started getting dressed.

She'd show him… She'd show HIM!

By the time she had finished putting all the costume on, and fixing her hair and makeup the house was quiet. Except for the pigeon, who was nesting in Fang's top drawer amid his socks.

She peeked outside and saw Dr. Martinez's car was gone, as was everyone but Aaron, who was standing just off the porch in the shadows smoking a cigarette.

Max was tempted to tell him that he wasn't seventeen until morning, and he wouldn't be legally old enough to smoke for another whole year, but she didn't… Everyone had their secrets…

But, he did look drool-worthy in his costume. And yet, Max couldn't look at him without thinking of Fang. To her, Fang was first, Aaron may be his twin brother but Fang was her favorite, Fang was IT.

Fang was … was … He was FANG for crap sake! Mr. Emotionless-Dark-as-Night!

"They've gone…" He stomped out the cigarette and pressed the palm of his hand over his upper arm for a moment before he turned to her. "Morris Minor! You look fantastic!"

She rolled her eyes and hiked the dress up and showed him she still wore her sneakers. "I may look like a damsel but I can kick butt."

Aaron chuckled and motioned to his truck, "Was going to go with... Someone had to stay … 'Case something happened."

Max wondered if the inability to speak in full sentences was somehow a genetic trait in Fang's family.

She gathered the bulk of her dress in her arms and duck walked to the rusted old truck, "Incase Wizards decided to crash in and drag me off again?"

Aaron nodded and climbed behind the wheel. He had to fight Max's dress to get to the seatbelt. "God, there's more dress than Max!"

She tried unsuccessfully to flatten the overwhelming 'poofiness' of the dress but failed miserably. "Just get us to the party … You didn't happen to see Fang's costume did you?" She tried to sound disinterested… Tried really hard too…

Aaron shook his head, "No, he left before everyone else. Just flew off and yelled back that he'd meet us there."

"So, you didn't see his costume?"

Aaron shook his head and steered the truck one handed down the driveway and onto the road. Then he switched on all the lights, effectively bathing the night in brightness.

"Did Iggy and Gasman wire this up for you?" She squinted through the windshield.

Aaron grinned, "Yeah, the more light the fewer Wizards we'll see!" He was squinting also.

"Jeez, it looks like he put half of New York on this thing!" She wished she'd brought sunglasses.

"Yeah, well, it works," He winced and rotated his shoulder. "They're out there, I can…"

Max bit her lip and turned worried eyes on him. She felt just as guilty if not more so than Fang. I was HER fault Aaron had been bitten by the Wizard Fang had named 'Big-Hairy'. She'd been the whole reason Aaron and Fang had been out there in the first place.

She'd been the one to find out about Genotex, about the new experiments Omega and The Director were performing. She'd been captured and because of that Fang and Aaron had to come to her rescue.

It was her fault Aaron had been bitten, it was her fault he was now infected with what Gazzy called 'The Wizard's Curse' … She guessed he came up with the name after watching 'Curse of the Werewolf' with Iggy and Ella at the theater. Though Iggy and Ella did very little 'viewing/listening' of the movie…

"Are you OK?"

He glanced at her and smiled transparently. "I'm fine."

"You don't have to go … You can go back to the house and rest. I'll be okay, just give me a flashlight."

Aaron shook his head, "I promised Nick … Fang that I'd make sure you got to the party safely."

She slouched back in the seat, her arms crossed over her chest eyes narrowed. "He just wants to see how stupid I look."

Aaron chuckled, "You don't look stupid, you look better than I do."

She rolled her eyes, "Yeah. That REALLY boosts my confidence."

He smiled genuinely and slowed the truck, pulling into Lynn-Dee's driveway and parking as close to the home as he could. "Make it quick! Don't want to be caught out in the dark!"

Max rolled her eyes, "That's my line, thanks."

They jumped out of the cab and dashed forward into the house. She could hear the 'Monster Mash' 'Disco Inferno' mix playing loudly in the background and she looked around in awe.

The house was built on a hill, slanting downward into a gully. The whole 'front' of the house was a wall of windows looking out over the garden and swimming pool, which had a large inflatable spider floating in it.

"The party is downstairs in the den and on the deck, the bathroom is down the hall to your left," Lynn-Dee's mother said, gently fingering her Bride of Frankenstein wig. "Max you look beautiful … I should know this … It's not Little Bo Peep … I can't place it …Who are you?"

Max smiled and smoothed the front of her dress then her hand went to her hair, gently stroking the dangling light brown ringlets. "Scarlet O'Hara."

"MAXIE!" Lynn-Dee squealed and rushed up the stairs her arms out. She crushed Max in a hug then stepped back at arms length her eyes wide. "OH MY GOSH, YOU LOOK GORGEOUS!"

Max wasn't entirely surprised to see Lynn-Dee was dressed up in some kind of school uniform and carrying a stick, and when she chanced a look over the girl's shoulder she saw nine or so others dressed nearly the same as Lynn-Dee, but with varying colors. As well as almost twenty people in pirate costumes.

But as her eyes honed in on a boy with furry arms her stomach clenched and she thought instantly of Ari. But it wasn't him … It was some boy she had Math class with dressed as a werewolf.

Stupid … STUPID STUPID! She felt something akin to remorse tighten her chest and she had to look away blinking rapidly so as not to ruin her makeup. Which on any other day she couldn't have cared less about. But she was trying to show Fang that she could look good in a dress… Even one as poofy as this one…

"Is that Nick's brother?" Lynn-Dee whispered. "I hardly recognize him!"

Max stifled a laugh and watched the young man as he stood there in the corner Lynn-Dee's older sister Chelsea, who was wearing a rather skimpy witch's costume, flirting shamelessly at him, practically pinning him to the wall. He looked positively … Mortified.

"Does Chelsea know Aaron has a girlfriend?" Max whispered, barely withholding giggles.

Lynn-Dee shook her head, "No," She pointed to Nudge, who was stalking toward the unsuspecting Chelsea, murder in her russet eyes. "But I think she's about to find out."

Lynn-Dee laughed and pulled a camera from her pocket, "I have GOT to get a picture of this!"

Max stood there at the top of the steps for a moment staring down and feeling claustrophobic without Lynn-Dee there to take her mind off the crowd.

I can do this … Its just a party, I've been to a costume party before … I can do this.

She scanned the crowd for any sign of her Flock. Angel and David were in the corner, David looking on the verge of tears wearing Angel's witch's cape over his mummy costume, Angel bobbing for apples and Max wondered exactly how long she had been underwater. From the looks on the other kids faces, she'd been under a while. Max wasn't surprised, Angel could stay there all night!

Iggy and Ella were talking with a few other kids, Ella clinging to Iggy's arm, bright proud smiles on their faces… And Total was looking kind of bored and pretending to be a service dog while wearing his Underdog costume.

Nudge now had Chelsea pinned to the wall, shaking her finger under the other girls nose.

And…

Someone was staring at her … Max could feel their eyes roving over her as well as an excited tightening of her lower stomach, and quickening of hear pulse. She looked down at the foot of the steps, her breath catching in her throat.

He was giving her a very Rhett Butler like grin indeed!

She paused, not quite sure if she could take another step closer to him without melting into a puddle on the floor!

His hair was loose, hanging down past his shoulders, a good four inches longer than Aaron's and with just enough curl in the ends to make the black tresses look almost wild in their combed neatness.

He was wearing a long black coat, black boots and pants, and a slate gray sweater. He had a wide brimmed hat in the hand that wasn't draped seemingly carelessly on the rail and a gray bandanna tied loosely around his neck. And OH that smirk on his face! She thought only Iggy could smirk like that!

It took her a moment to realize she wasn't breathing, and she was … Ogling him. She felt the near overwhelming urge to leap over the banister and tackle him! Smother him with kisses … Or kick his butt for being a sexist-pig and staring at her as if he'd seen her naked … She remembered when she'd changed shirts in the truck weeks before and color rose to her cheeks.

Had he peeked!

She slowly began walking again, taking each step slowly, terrified her suddenly weak knees would fail and she'd fall flat on her face and make an utter and complete fool of herself. She looked away as she neared the bottom of the steps, trying to act as if she didn't care that he was there, or hadn't seen him… Although they'd been staring at each other for the last half a minute! But a smile crept over her face and she couldn't help but glance at him from the corner of her eye.

He was not dressed as Rhett Butler, she wasn't really sure WHO he was supposed to be, but she wasn't going to ask. But OH did he look GOOD!

But, she was NOT going to give him the satisfaction of knowing she cared! Who, me? I don't care! NOPE! Not at all!

"Why, Scarlet!" He may not have been in the right costume, but Fang could definitely give Max chills just as Captain Butler had Miss O'Hara.

She turned slowly, casting a very Scarlet-like, demure look over her shoulder as she did. Her red painted lips curling into a smile. He was swaggering up to her that intense look on his face his hat in his hand, a horrble, chill inducing smug grin on his face…

She didn't speak, she couldn't. Her heart was crowding her voice-box. She swallowed the palpitating sensation and tried to sound as un-rattled as possible. "Do I know you?"

Fang smiled and bowed, "The Hunter VanHelsing, at your service."

She tried not to laugh nervously. He did look somewhat like the character he was portraying. Only VanHelsing was older than Fang and nowhere near as handsome.

Hugh Jackman had NOTHING on Fang…

"I didn't think you were going to show up, I was about to fl-run back to the house and find you."

Max felt herself blush. "You're no VanHelsing … You're FangHelsing."

He laughed and the sound brightened her heart. He donned his hat. "Well, lets just hope FangHelsing doesn't have to fight any monsters tonight."

After a moment of staring at her he chuckled, and poked her skirt with a rigid index finger. "Jeez, if you get tired all you've got to do is lift your feet off the floor, this skirt'll keep you upright from now until the end of the world!"

She swatted his hand when he poked the skirt again, his tongue poking out in a rather idiotic childish type of amusement.

He made a rude sound with his mouth, like air being let out of a balloon, "Oops! Popped it…"

"Pig."

He made a faux hurt face and pulled the gray bandanna he had around his neck up over his mouth and nose, just his dark eyes sparkling at her.

She twisted her mouth in frustration and grabbed the end of the bandanna pulling it down so she could see that awful grin on his face. "Jerk."

He rolled his eyes and poked her dress again for good measure then took a step back when she tried to hit him. He put up his hands in surrender and slowly rocked back to her side, like a punching bag, Mas thought, and was tempted to hit him just to see if he sprang back as quickly, but thought against it when he didn't poke her skirt again.

Max shook her head and shifted uneasily on her feet. "So … What now?"

He pursed his lips and looked around his mouth quirked slightly to the right. "Wander around and eat the free food?"

"Sounds like a plan."

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Angel must have manipulated her mind sometime later, because she didn't know why she was out on the dance floor dancing around with Nudge, Angel, Ella, Lynn-Dee and a few other girls in various pirate costumes.

She was sweating and her hair was loosing its curl but she didn't care. She was having too much fun doing the Mashed Potato with Nudge to the third playing of the 'Monster Mash' 'Disco Inferno' medley. That seemed to be the favorite dance song of all the kids there.

Even Fang was tapping his foot by the staircase where he'd stood for most of the night.

Iggy was by the snack table his head turning nervously, dropping finger sandwiches down to Total, whispering, "Not a WORD, understand? Not a word…" And Total was wagging his tail catching the sandwiches in his teeth, then practically swallowing them whole.

Gasman and David were talking in the corner, the latter still wearing Angel's cape and yawning, big surprise.

The only member of her slightly expanded Flock Max couldn't see was Aaron, and that was beginning to worry her.

Aaron had told her in the truck that Wizards were close by, and Lynn-Dee's parents didn't have that many lights on.

Max broke away from the 'dancing' group of girls and began to slowly make her way to Fang. As she got closer to him she saw that Fang was not tapping his foot to the music, he was tapping it impatiently and looking rather nervously at the wall of windows to her left.

Was he channeling Iggy's abrupt paranoia?

"What is it?" She had to nearly shout to be heard over the music.

Fang shook his head, "Aaron's been out there a long time."

Her stomach clenched, "Out where?"

He motioned to the darkness outside the glass. "He told me he was getting a headache and was going out to get some air … He hasn't come back yet and that was almost ten minutes ago."

She turned and stared at the deck, she couldn't see anyone out there at all. "Fang, as he was driving over here he told me that the Wizards were close, that he could … Feel them."

Fang nodded and his lips pressed together so tightly the skin around his mouth became very pale. "Something's wrong … I need to go find him, you stay here."

She grabbed his shoulder as he pushed past her and turned him around, "Don't tell me what to do! I may be wearing a dress right now, but I wear the pants!"

He hesitated, his breath catching in his chest. For a moment his eyes reflected the same red light from a spinning light sphere on the drinks table.

Her hand tightened on his shoulder and she took a shuddering breath. "I'm coming with you if you like it or not. We're in this together… You and me."

It happened quickly. He turned, his left hand going to her neck cupping the back of her neck gently, angling her head just so … And his lips crushed against hers.

His right arm snaked around her, pulling her roughly against him long enough for her to tense then relax against him releasing a soft, needy moan.

He broke from her and started weaving his way across the floor, her hand in his.

WHAT WAS THAT! Oh, my GOD! I just got MUCHO kissed by FangHelsing! The feminine side of her brain screamed. The warrior half merely stood there agape, club in hand.

The night was chill and an ominous wind blew from the northeast.

As soon as they descended the stairs on the deck and dashed into the garden Max could tell something was terribly wrong. The air was thick … Charged.

Fang's palms were sweating and his hand felt incredibly hot in hers, or perhaps she was only cold. His fingers grew rigid and he stopped short of the path.

Max paused behind his shoulder, holding her dress off the ground. There were little lights moving around in the forest in front of them. Little sets of orange lights, bobbing up and down or side to side soundlessly.

"What are they?" Max whispered to him, fear tugging at her stomach. She needn't have asked, she already knew what they were…

He seemed to go rigid, his breath stopping in his throat with a sound like a gag. His hand started tightening in hers, squeezing her palm so hard the bones in her fingers rubbed together.

"Fang, stop it you're going to break my hand!" She jerked away from him and took a step back.

His hands continued to curl inward and she saw little droplets of blood begin pattering to the ground from where they oozed between his fingers.

"Fang?" She put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze, terrified because the flesh below felt like stone.

"Fang," she stepped between him and the forest, staring deeply into his eyes. His pupils were unnaturally large but the color around the blackness was not bottomless azure, as it had always been, but was a deep blood red…

It was only then that she noticed there was no light around them, save the full moon peeking through the clouds behind her. She tore her gaze from Fang's face and honed it on the house.

The sound of music had stopped and all the windows were pitch black. The wind howled, and Max listened to the sound building behind it.

Somewhere in the forest stretching endlessly before them, Aaron screamed in agony…

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31. Chapters 55 and 56

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Chapter 55; Nothing Special

Aaron stumbled out of the house his right hand cupped to his forehead. He was getting a very bad headache … Just like the one he'd had the day his heart had stopped. He walked to the pool and crouched, scooping up a handful of water and rubbing its coldness on his face.

He stared down at his hand, noting how violently it shook…

Maybe he should go inside and get Nick … Nick knew what to do…

Aaron…

He stood up and stared toward the moon his breath catching in his throat.

Someone laughed. A sweet, high pitched girly giggle and Aaron tore himself from the moon to stare into the garden…

A young woman with long brown hair was standing there in a calf length hospital smock her hands clasped expectantly under her chin…

Aaron felt his heart rise into his mouth … He knew that girl…

"Mum?"

The girl laughed again, turned and ran into the forest her hair fanning out behind her. Then two black wings snapped from her back and she was gone. Flying into the forest leaving nothing but her taunting laughter…

Aaron ran down the steps, his foot catching on the last one, nearly causing him to face plant in the dirt, but somehow he was able to stay on his feet, running after her.

"Mum- MUM WAIT!"

He ran after her, cursing his costume because there was no way to get his wings out without taking off his jacket, vest and shirt … And that meant taking off his sling…

So he kept running smacking limbs and twigs aside as they threatened to gouge his eyes out.

The forest was bright … As if halogen lamps hung from the canopy, illuminating everything with an eerie orange glow…

The girl laughed again and Aaron slowed to a stop realizing he had been chasing nothing at all… There was no girl … It had been in his head. He took a shuddering breath and stared around, wishing to make his hallucination real, but knowing all the while that nothing was going to happen.

Aaron…

The hackles on the back of his neck stood on end and he turned slowly, coming face to face with a frightening familiar creature with jagged teeth and almost human eyes…

Big Hairy…

Max stepped away from him her hands up fingers curled.

His eyes … His EYES!

Fang shuddered violently and his eyes rolled up, fluttering for a moment before he fell to his knees in the path, forehead pressed against the ground arms tightly around his middle.

"Fang … Fang, get up!" She bent and grabbed his shoulder, pulling, trying to get him to his feet, but he suddenly weighed a ton…

"FANG, GET UP!"

Aaron's scream broke and everything went quiet.

The door flew open and Nudge ran out, followed quickly by Angel and Gasman, "Where is he! Where is Aaron?"

Max pointed to the forest, "He's in there!"

Kids swarmed on the deck shining flashlights around and calling, "What's wrong?" "What happened?" "Where's Aaron?" "Is this part of the party?"

Ella and Iggy ran out next but David stayed behind his thumb between his teeth, clinging to Total's leash.

Nudge jerked off her high-heels and darted into the forest. Angel and Gasman ran after her.

Max tugged on Fang's arm once more and contemplated kicking him. "Get UP!"

He moaned softly and clambered to his feet swaying side to side. They started running toward the forest.

Ella turned to the crowd, "Sorry, we just really need to find him, Aaron's shouldn't be left alone like this," And she and Iggy started to run into the forest. "We'll be right back!"

David cried out and ran down the steps his arms out tears streaming down his face, "Don't leave me!"

Total grumbled and ran after him barking so as not to blow his cover.

Ella stopped and waited her hand on Iggy's arm.

Total politely head-butted Iggy's shin, "Pick up the leash stupid!" He growled.

Iggy dropped to his knees and felt around for the leash as soon as his fingers closed on it Total shot forward. Iggy grunted and stumbled after him, left arm out, incase the little dog decided it would be funny to run him into a tree. Which wouldn't have been the first time…

Everything was dark but Ella kept running, following Iggy's retreating back and Total's shouts of 'TREE! ROOT! WATCH THE BRANCHES!'

After twenty or so feet Iggy seemed to fall back into his groove and he was running after Total rather steadily. Though hunched over because the little dog's idea of head height would hit him right in the knees and God only knew how many branches were hanging down that could actually hit him in the face.

David's hand tightened around Ella's and he screeched to a stop.

"David! David, come on!" Ella gave his arm a tug but the boy wouldn't move.

"We need light," He said under his breath and started to pull her back toward the house.

"David, we don't have time for this!" She said and stamped her foot impatiently.

"ELLA!"

Her head snapped up. "Iggy! Iggy, what is it, where are you!" She pulled on David's arm one last time and the boy relented, allowing her to pull him along.

She found Iggy standing stock still his left hand flattened against a tree.

"Iggy, what is it?" She laid a hand on his shoulder and he held up his hand.

"Listen…"

She went quiet, holding her breath so she wouldn't miss anything…

It sounded like someone was walking around … They could hear shoes crunching on the dry leaves ... And then it stopped, followed by the crackling snap of a branch being broken out of a tree.

The footsteps resumed, only this time they were surrounded by the sound.

Iggy shivered and leaned over, whispering to Ella in such a hushed voice she could barely hear him.

"Does this remind you of something out of that movie 'The Blair Witch Project'?"

Ella shivered. "Yeah…"

David pressed himself against Ella's side his eyes shut tightly, fighting the urge to use his powers and make whatever it was go to sleep. But then he had another idea … Why didn't he just use his OTHER power? That power that Aaron said wasn't a good idea to use…

Just because Aaron didn't like his other power, didn't mean it wouldn't be useful at this moment.

He gently pulled his hand from Ella's and walked forward.

Total shook his head, "Kid, come back, we don't know what's out there!"

But David didn't listen, instead he simply cupped his hands to his mouth and blew into them.

And the world melted around him…

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Chapter 56; King of Dreams

Ella felt the ground tremble beneath her and the air changed … Becoming somehow thick. She stared at David's back and tightened her hand on Iggy's.

"David, what did you do?"

He turned and walked quickly to them, "I put us all in a dream."

"YOU KNOCKED US OUT!" Iggy said louder than he meant to.

David shook his head. "No … It's kind of like what Angel can do, only different. I can kind of make us all dream the same thing without being asleep."

Ella's eyebrows shot up. "So we're awake?"

He nodded, "But if I can stay consin-scrated you can do anything now that you can do in your dreams."

Ella's throat clenched. She could do anything right now that she could do in her dreams? She felt Iggy's hand tighten in hers and he licked his lips.

"David … If I can see in my dreams … Would I be able to see now?"

"Yeah."

Iggy trembled, "As long as you stay concentrated we can do anything we can in our dreams?"

"That's what I said," He put his hands on his hips and scowled, "Weren't you listening?"

"And who is this affecting?" Ella said glancing around, wondering if the Wizards or whatever was out there were able to do it too.

"Everyone but the bad guys..."

Ella felt a grin sweep over her face … Anything she could do in her dreams… "We have to find the others."

Iggy pulled his hand from hers and walked toward David, "How do we do it?"

David shrugged, "Just do it!"

Total puffed out his furry chest, opened his mouth … And breathed fire.

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Max was running, supporting Fang, who for some reason was on the verge of collapse. "Come on!" She elbowed him in the ribs, hoping to spur him into awareness but he just wouldn't move fast enough to keep up with Nudge, Angel and Gasman.

And then the earth rocked beneath her feet. The air became thick and the trees seemed to sway back and forth as if Wizards were bouncing around in the boughs.

She growled and slowed to a stop, letting Fang slide to the ground. "This stupid dress has got to GO!" She reached behind her and pulled the zipper, shucking off the poofy dress and hanging it over the limb of a pine tree.

She felt so much better running around without that thing … Even though she was running around in replica Civil War era under-garments and a pair of low-top Converse.

She dropped to her knees beside Fang and smacked his face rather roughly, trying to rouse him. Which to her surprise, worked.

"What happened?" He looked around blearily and up at her, "What are you wearing?"

She scowled, "It's called a chemise and bloomers, now get up, we have to find the others."

"Why?" He trailed a finger up the length of her arm and a very Aaron like grin came over his face. "We could just stay here you know … No hurry … Unless you like that kind of thing…"

Max felt her stomach twist. She'd wondered what she'd do if Fang had looked at her all macho and lusty…

She punched him … Hard in the right shoulder, "You PIG!"

His mouth came open eyes narrowing and he clutched at his shoulder.

"You're brother is out there, possibly being torn to bits by Wizards as we speak and you're lying there being all…" She faltered in her anger, "PIGGISH!"

He stared up at Max in shock, "Well, this is deffinitely new…"

"NEW?" She hit him again, harder this time. "WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM! GET YOUR ASS UP AND HELP ME FIND THE OTHERS!"

He blinked rapidly, shook his head as if to clear it and stared up at her in shock, his cheeks bright red … And not just from where she'd smacked them either. He rolled to his feet and started running rather quickly toward the sound of Nudge's shouting;

"AARON! AARON, WHERE ARE YOU!"

Max shook her head and sprang to her feet dashing after him. Had she given him a concussion when she'd smacked him? Was he getting sick again … Why had he looked at her like that? What was he thinking? Was he dreaming?

And if so WHAT kinds of dreams had he had before? Ooooh, his ass had a date with her FOOT!

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Total was running in the front, his leash dragging behind him. He laughed maniacally and darted off into the underbrush.

David ran past, seeming not to notice that Total had just abandoned them. He was trying to concentrate, keep his ability working until they found Aaron.

As long as he kept his ability working he didn't have to be afraid of the dark, or the Wizards. In his dreams, when he held that stuffed puppy Angel had brought him from Oklahoma, He could do anything. All he had to do now was pretend he had that puppy and he'd be OK.

Iggy was still running along behind Ella, unsure how to use the 'dream abilities' David had given him.

He closed his eyes tightly and focused all his strength on remembering how he saw in his dreams. He pried his eyes open… Everything was dark … But…

He saw David, the way he'd last seen the boy. Dressed in jeans a T-shirt and those weird hot pink sneakers, running along in front of him.

And he saw Ella's face, just as he'd last seen it, smiling, mournful … Full of love … And she was wearing a white dress…

"Come on, we have to hurry!" They dodged and a tree suddenly sprang up to his left. Just the trunk of it, a flat, near cartoon version of a tree-trunk because he didn't know what kind of tree it was.

And then the ground started appearing in tiles under David's feet and when he glanced down he saw his own. The red-high-top Converse shoes he'd gotten from Max's mother for his sixteenth birthday seemed to be running on nothing but blackness, even though he wasn't wearing his Converse… He was wearing boots and a pirate costume … Wasn't he?

Then the ground seemed to rush up beneath him. He stumbled and the world started taking shape around him. Cartoonish trees, cartoonish ground and sky … Ella and David were real, running along this animated landscape which slowly became more and more real…

And then Ella turned to him again, "Ready to fly?"

He nodded and watched as Ella seemed to simply lift of the ground of her own accord, laughing.

He snapped out his wings and followed her, taking her hand.

"Oh MY GOD! THIS IS SO COOL!" Ella shrieked.

She'd flown in her dreams before, but to actually do it … To actually jump into the air and take flight without wings was amazing.

The wind rushed up past her and she laughed, despite the danger. David shrank away beneath them, running along, concentrating on simply finding the others and keeping his ability going.

The world seemed to fade from the bright cartoon colors into more dull, realistic colors and everything was real.

Ella gave Iggy's hand a squeeze and poked her tongue out at him playfully.

Just like in her dreams she glided along beside Iggy, feeling the wind from his wings and wishing she had her own…

And suddenly … She did.

Wings collided and they dropped a few feet. Iggy turned his head and stared at her with a smirk, "Impressive wingspan…"

Ella glanced over her shoulder. Not exactly what she'd had in mind … But … She didn't mind having butterfly wings … As long as they kept her aloft.

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Max followed Fang closely, and they burst into a clearing … Only to find a giant castle surrounded by Wizards.

"What in THE HELL!" Fang shouted staring around eyes wide.

Nudge turned to stare at them, "This was NOT here a second ago! None of this was here a second ago!"

Gasman turned to them, tears in his eyes hands over his mouth. "I didn't mean to! I don't know how it happened. I was thinking about that movie I went to see with Iggy and Ella … Max … I think I can make buildings pop out of the ground!"

Max stared. Gazzy making buildings pop out of the ground? No … Not buildings … CASTLES! Gasman making CASTLES pop out of the ground!

"I think I'm dreaming," Gasman went on, hands still over his mouth.

"Why do you think you're dreaming?" Max said, and an odd tingling started at the back of her mind.

Gazzy hesitated then dropped his hands and opened his mouth.

Where only a few moments ago there had been a pair of plastic glowing vampire teeth there were now REAL fangs.

"I think I'm dreaming because I think I just turned into a vampire."

Fang clapped a hand to his forehead and spoke through clenched teeth, "David … David's knocked us out. When I find him I am going to murder him!"

Max turned to him … Was she dreaming? Was all this just a dream? She didn't feel like she was dreaming. Everything felt real. Especially the chill seeping through her nineteenth-century imitation under clothes.

"Okay … If you're dreaming we all are and we're ALL having the same dream, which is highly unlikely," She said, trying to rationalize what was happening.

Nudge was still staring at the castle but then her eyes honed in on Angel. She stared, and for the first time in a long time, Nudge was speechless.

"Oh, my God!" Angel said and stared down at her hands. Her usually golden locks were now black ringlets hanging around her green face, "I'M A WITCH!" She turned to Max in shock and pointed at her now bulbous wart tipped nose. "I'M GREEN!"

"Don't be silly, you're wearing make-up!" Max said and strode forward. "Stick out your tongue."

Angel did.

Max wetted her thumb and rubbed Angel's cheek … But none of the color came off.

"We're turning into what we're dressed up like!" Gasman said loudly, "I don't want to be a vampire! I don't want to suck people's blood!"

Nudge threw off her faux-fur stole and reached behind her for the zipper. "I'm wearing shorts and a tank-top, can someone please get this dress off of me? I REALLY don't want to turn into Jessica Rabbit!"

Max jumped at her and undid the zipper.

Nudge kicked off the dress and extended her wings. "Okay … Now that I'm safe how are we going to get Aaron?"

"Where is he?" Max said.

Nudge pointed to the castle. "When we came into the clearing he was sitting right there just looking kind of dazed," She pointed about ten feet in front of them. "Then Gasman made that castle appear and Aaron dis-appeared."

"Okay … So, where did he go, he couldn't have just disappeared."

"Maybe he's IN the castle," Angel said.

Max nodded and a thought struck her, "Okay … Angel, I want you to tell me if we're asleep."

Angel wrinkled her nose and shook her head, "That's why I'm so worried … I'm GREEN, Max … Gazzy's turned into a vampire and there is a castle, a CASTLE in front of us."

Max cupped her forehead. "Okay … Well … Uh…" She just wanted to go home … She wanted to go home, see her house, maybe sit on the porch with Fang … She wanted her house, her land, her home-

OH, MY GOD! I'm turning into Scarlet O'Hara!

Max hastily put out her wings … Or tried to.

Her hands went to her back, running up and down the places beside her spine where her wings were … But all she could feel was the smooth skin of her back.

Her wings were gone.

And then Gasman groaned loudly and pointed to Fang his hand shaking. "He-he's VanHelsing!"

Max turned, still in shock that her wings were missing and saw Fang standing there kind of shocked, eyes wide, fearful…

"We … We should run," Angel said green face gone pale with fear.

Max didn't take her eyes off of Fang. "Why?"

"Because VanHelsing is a werewolf."

Max's eyes flicked upward and she saw the moon looming out from behind thick ominous clouds hanging overhead. The very full moon…

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32. Chapters 57

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Chapter 57; VanHelsing … FangHelsing

He bared his teeth and balled his hands into fists, "I'm not VanHelsing … Max made that clear to me earlier, I'm FangHelsing. Big difference."

"What kind of difference?" Nudge said untrustingly.

Fang extended his wings, "VanHelsing doesn't have wings, does he?"

Nudge relaxed. "And FangHelsing isn't a werewolf."

"Now you've got it," Fang smiled deviously then licked his teeth and quickly shut his mouth, glancing at the moon nervously…

Gasman was still pointing, his mouth open … But he wasn't pointing at Fang any longer…

Ella and Iggy were flying toward them … And Ella had the biggest pair of butterfly wings the Gasman had ever seen.

Ella landed laughing, "THIS IS SO COOL!"

Iggy landed, staring at the castle. "Whoa … Where did THAT come from?"

"Y-you can see?" Max said, her mouth dropping open in awe.

Iggy nodded and pointed to the little pale shape running toward them. "David has some pretty cool abilities."

Max's jaw tightened. David … She knew David had something to do with this.

David ran up to them grinning, "HI!"

"What did you do!" Max said in a very breathy Scarlet like voice.

Ugh, now I have to have the accent too?

David frowned, "You guys can do anything now that you can do in your dreams … That's my good power … Aaron never let me use it before because it would do this to you … If you don't know what's going on you'll end up putting yourself in a nightmare."

"So I'm not really green?" Angel said helplessly.

David gave her a sweet dimpled smile, batting his eyes at her, "No, silly."

"So, when this is over I won't be green anymore and Gazzy won't be a vampire?"

David nodded.

Max sighed and concentrated. I am NOT Scarlet O'Hara, I am NOT Scarlet O'Hara, I am NOT Scarlet O'Hara, I am NOT Scarlet O'Hara.

But her wings wouldn't move, it was as if they really weren't there. It reminded her of the terrifying few seconds after the isolation tank fiasco.

Max opened her eyes with a growl and stared around. Gasman was still running his tongue over his teeth and Angel was still very green.

"Okay, we have to go get Aaron," Nudge said and turned toward the castle. "And since this is a dream castle … We have a dream Army to storm the castle!"

Fang rolled his eyes, "Or, we could just be the owners of the castle. Less trouble that way…"

Nudge faltered and glared at him. "Aaron may be your brother but he's MY boyfriend and if that were our castle then why the Hell would we have Wizards flying around outside?" She pointed and cocked her other hand on her hip.

Fang fell quiet and as if to spite Nudge, turned and jumped into the air, flying toward the castle.

Nudge growled and followed him.

Iggy and Ella exchanged glances then took off also. Ella beating her gigantic butterfly wings.

Gasman made a half cough, half gag sound in his throat and Max turned to him.

He had his hands over his face, but his wings, yes, he still had wings, were not feathered as they normally were, but were leathery bat's wings.

"David, this had better be a dream!" Gasman leapt into the air and was gone.

Max looked at Angel, who was standing there quite puzzled.

"Max?"

"Yeah?"

"Are your wings gone too?"

"Yup."

Angel sighed and turned to the forest, which now seemed to stretch on forever. She snatched up a long sturdy looking stick then yanked up a handful of grass shoving it at the end of the stick.

The grass turned into straw and the stick into a broom.

"Since I'm a witch, I should be able to do this…" Angel threw her leg over the stick and kicked off from the ground.

Max laughed. Angel looked quite menacing astride a real broom while those grotesque Wizards zipped about not very far away.

David took Max's hand, "Don't leave me?"

She glanced down at David, noticing he looked different… His hair was longer, his body slimmer… Eyes larger, brighter…

Max shook her head, wondering what was up with him changing his apperance with his new powers but didn't think much of it and instead turned to watch the others flying away.

Max sighed. Scarlet O'Hara may have been a heroine, but she didn't have any powers. Then again … Elizabeth Swan, the character Ella had been dressed up as, didn't have butterfly wings…

Max thought briefly, that if she could do anything from her dreams … Why couldn't she do anything from her nightmares?

What was to stop her from, just for a while … Becoming something she'd only seen in the mirror?

"David?"

He looked up to her smiling brightly.

"I want you to listen very carefully."

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(BIG NOTE! PLEASE READ! There are HUGE hints in this chapter, they're subtle but if you find them they'll help unlock the big puzzle. Speaking of the big puzzle, a friend of my brother is actually drawing the pictures in the big photo album Fang has. WHICH IS SO COOL! Can you believe that? She's going to put them up somewhere and if she gets it done soon you'll actually be able to go and look at it! She's got a few pictures done already and I LOVE them, they're fantastic! I'll put the link up at the beginning of a chapter when she gives it to me.)

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33. Chapters 58

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Chapter 58; Storming Castle VonGasman

Total bounded out of the forest smiling, and ran up to David. Who was standing alone in the middle of the field petting his longer hair and humming a little childish song.

"Hey, where'd everyone else go?" Total said and sat beside the boy.

David smiled, "They went inside … Max told me to wait for you and then to tell you she wanted you to stay here with me and she wanted me to say 'The Gingerbread Man's 'little' friend.'"

Total threw back his shaggy head and laughed. "She wants MUNGO Total!" He ran a few dozen paces ahead of David, stubby legs pumping and started growing at an alarming rate.

He grew larger than a goat … Larger than a Great Dane, a cow, a horse … And before David's eyes Total the little talking dog grew to the size of a house before he stopped and turned to the boy dressed in a mummy costume.

"What to go for a ride?"

David laughed out loud, "You're Total the Big Black Dog!" He ran forward and wrapped his arms around Total's tree trunk sized forepaw. He remembered the little stuffed puppy sitting on his bed at home. The one Angel had brought him from Oklahoma, the one that used to be his daddy's.

For this dream … For this night, David knew Total could protect him far better than that stuffed puppy.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Fang, Iggy, Ella, Nudge, Gasman and Angel landed inside the castle grounds. Running for cover as three Wizards swooped overhead.

Fang glanced around looking for Max but couldn't see her. He knew she could take care of herself but that didn't stop him from worrying about her. She was Max for crap sake … She'd made it perfectly clear last time he'd stood up for her that she didn't want or need his help.

Still … He was afraid he'd feel that odd pain again … The one he'd gotten in the truck when the Wizards had kidnapped her.

And then Aaron had said their father had felt their mother's pain and something clicked in Fang's head.

But Aaron had to go and say that Nudge had said she could feel his…

And that same 'click' had happened. His parents had been in love and able to feel each others pain, Nudge and Aaron were able to feel each others pain … It had something to do with love…

And he realized that the reason he'd felt Max burn her leg was because he was doing it too… He was feeling her pain. He could feel Max's pain … And it bothered him because he loved her and she obviously didn't like him at all… She made that clear every time they talked… She was his friend, nothing else.

Any time he even hinted at something else she'd run away… Leave him to sit there and regret it, sit there and feel stupid for feeling as he did… It was as if she was saying 'shame on you for loving me! Bad, Fang, BAD!' Half the time he expected her to hit him on the nose with a rolled up newspaper…

He felt like such an idiot sometimes… And yet there was nothing he could do about it. He'd tried to change how he felt. He'd tried to think of other girls… But everyone he found reminded him of Max…

How she tied back her hair… How she wrinkled her nose when she smiled, how in control of everything she acted, even when it was falling through her fingers… Her fiery intelligence, stubborn nature…

When it came down to it, every girl he'd ever talked to, flirted with or 'gone out with' was just a substitute for Max…

He wished desperately that he could remember the rest of that night after he'd been hurt… What he did remember was just little snippets … A sound or two here, a picture there…

The one thing he did remember vividly was Max washing all that mud and dried blood from him. But after that everything was hazy … Nothing made sense. He supposed it was because he'd had a concussion. But he wasn't sure… Yet, there'd been something that night… He'd said something, and she'd said something back… Something that had made him feel so good… So glad he'd told her… But now… Now it was harder than trying to keep his mind from wondering over that VanHelsing movie and thinking of werewolves and Erasers…

Why couldn't he have picked a different costume?

It wouldn't be so bad if he could just STOP thinking about it…

He just hopped he was able to find Aaron and get out of this tangible dream world David created without getting hurt, or feeling Max get hurt … Or feeling her horror and revulsion when he was unable to keep himself from thinking of werewolves and Erasers and dream Morphed in front of her…

He shivered… That was his worst nightmare… His absolute worst nightmare…

A bat screeched out of nowhere and nearly collided with his head and he jerked backward, al,most bashing the back of his head against the Gasman… Who was leaning ever closer to his neck…

"Can you get rid of the creepy castle?"

Gasman screwed up his face, "I don't think so … I think it's like, once its here it's here until David pulls us out. Because other wise I wouldn't be like really wanting to bite someone right now…"

Fang stopped and turned, "Maybe you should go first , Count VonGasman."

Gazzy scowled and rolled back his upper lip, "You think you're funny?"

"No, I'm thinking I really don't want to get bitten by a vampire," He rubbed chill bumps from his neck and motioned the boy forward.

Gasman flipped him the bird as he passed.

The inside of the castle was just like the movie, Gasman realized. It was even in black and white.

"If a wolfman jumps out at us I am going to scream!" Ella hissed in Iggy's ear and latched onto his arm.

Iggy nodded and even though he'd seen a 'wolfman' before in real life, fought with them and nearly been killed by them he still swallowed hard and whispered back, "Me too," Simply because he'd been so jumpy and anxious lately… Keeping secrets did that to him… Especially one as big as his…

And then they saw Aaron, standing before the fireplace staring into the black and white flames leaping in the hearth.

"Aaron!" Fang hissed loudly enough to be heard. "Aaron, come on, we have to leave!"

Aaron turned to him slowly and Fang got a look at his brother's eyes…

All the blue was gone, replaced by a filmy blackness, just like Big Hairy's eyes … And when he smiled, one of those insane, 'they're coming to get you Barbara' kind of smiles Fang saw that all four of Aaron's canines were longer that they should have been.

Iggy inhaled sharply, not really believing what he 'saw'. He was changing … Aaron was changing into one of those things … Just like Ter Borcht.

Fang approached Aaron slowly hands out so as not to appear threatening. "Aaron, its OK … but we have to get out of here. There are Wizards flying around outside, we have to go."

Aaron cocked his head to the side still grinning and turned from the black and white fire burning in the hearth. "Does it feel good?"

Fang glanced at the fire then up at his brother. "Does what feel good?"

Aaron smiled, "Does it feel good to be special?"

Fang chuckled and continued forward, but as he did Aaron started taking steps backward.

"I'm not special, Aaron. Ter Borcht read it right from my file. There's nothing special about me."

Aaron threw back his head and laughed, "At the time he was trying to sell you lot to those Chinese blokes wasn't he?"

Fang didn't have to nod, Aaron knew it was true so did the rest of the flock.

"Tell me, Nick … If you had something really special … Really unique, would you want to sell it?"

Fang didn't answer.

"What could you possibly do to dissuade someone from buying something like that?"

No answer.

"You tell them it doesn't work … That its junk … That there is nothing special about it…" Aaron laughed under his breath, "You lie … You lie through your teeth."

And then the castle wavered in Iggy's sight and everything went black.

Iggy's hand tightened on Ella's. What had happened? Why couldn't he see? David had said that he would be able to see!

He turned to Ella, opening his mouth to tell her something was wrong when he heard a voice screaming at him.

"HEY! DUMKOPF! Vat iz wrong vis you! Vat iz happening? Vat iz everybody looking at?"

Iggy bit into his tongue to keep from shouting in rage and fear. "What the hell do you want!"

He gave Ella's hand a shake, trying to position her behind him but she wouldn't move, wouldn't acknowledge that he was even there. "Ella, Ella, we have to go!" He put a hand out, expecting his fingers to brush Ella's fragile butterfly wings but instead his hands came into contact with only air.

Ella didn't have wings at all.

"Vat iz going on?" Ter Borcht's voice was much closer now.

Iggy turned back around, fear curdling his stomach. Fang was still talking.

"Aaron, we have to go! There are Wizards all over the place, it isn't safe."

Aaron laughed, "Safe? I'M not safe, Nicky … I'm going mad. I can hear them, I can FEEL them … All day, all night, every waking second, and even when I'm asleep I have no respite from them. I can't escape it … They won't shut up until I do what they say! They won't stop … SHE won't let me stop."

"She?" Fang's voice again.

"HER … That bitch in my head … Ever since that thing bit me she's been there, whispering … Always whispering … I can't take it anymore, why didn't you just let me die, Nicky? Then I wouldn't be in this hell … I wouldn't be putting you lot in danger … Why? Why didn't you just let me die?"

"Aaron, stop," Nudge's voice, frantic, near tears. "Aaron, just put down the gun, please…"

Gun? Did Aaron have a gun?

"Gun? Vair iz zis gun?" Ter Borcht's voice was right by Iggy's ear now. "I do not see a gun."

Iggy turned to the man, wanting to punch him but realizing his enemy was now the only person who recognized he was there.

Ella suddenly screamed and dropped to her knees wailing. Iggy followed her, running his hands up and down her arm, to where her hands were tangled in the grass.

"Get up, Iggy, get up! Oh, GOD!"

He felt her yanking up handfuls of grass.

What the HELL was going on?

"El, Ella, I'm right here, I'm fine!" He took her face between his hands and he felt tears rolling down her cheeks. "Baby, I'm OK!"

"Iggy, wake up! Someone help me!"

Angel was beside her now, hands on the same spot of grass, "There's so much blood!"

"I'M RIGHT HERE! I'M FINE!" Iggy grabbed Ella's shoulders and gave her a little shake, "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON! ANGEL, I'M FINE!" He found the girl's hands and lifted them, pressing them to his chest to show her that he was whole, he was OK.

"Zay are hallucinating … How interesting," Ter Borcht said in a near giggle.

Iggy turned toward the man but caught other sounds drifting on the breeze. Fighting.

"What's happening, who's fighting?"

"Vell … Zee female, Max iz it? Max iz fighting notzing at all … It iz quite comical … Und zee two males are fighting … Zough zee odds are irrevocably in Zee Dark Vun's favor."

"Fang and Aaron are fighting?"

"Yes … Und zee ozer female … Ah … I see number nine iz coming along quite nicely."

Iggy heard Nudge scream, but something sounded different about her voice. It was more high pitched, more of a screech than a scream. He heard the ominous popping sounds of bones relocating and a chill ran up his spine. He knew that sound … That was the sound of Morphing…

Nudge was Morphing.

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(MORE BIG HINTS IN THIS CHAPTER!!)

34. Chapters 59

(NOTE: I'm going to go ahead and post the rest of this scene, simply because my little brother said that sectioning it up like this was 'uber confusing' Yeah, he actually used the word 'uber'.)

Chapter 59; The Queen of Nightmares

Fang had to get that gun away. He had to stop Aaron before he shot someone else.

He could still hear a sharp ringing in his ears and he chanced a glance over his shoulder at Ella and Angel.

Iggy was sprawled out on the floor his head in a growing pool of his own blood. Both girls were bent over him, arms to the elbows stained red. But it was useless, there was too much blood… The bullet had hit him right in the throat…

Aaron growled and clawed the back of Fang's hand then wrenched the gun around bashing his brother across the top of the head with the grip.

He collapsed with a feeble grunt and was still.

Aaron rolled to his feet and looked around, breathing heavily. He saw Nudge standing there, staring at him in horror and sadness. But for some reason, he wasn't as sorry as he should have been.

"I have to do this, don't you understand … If I don't when it happens, when I turn into one of those things I'll kill you all, don't you understand that?"

Nudge's face fell and her hands dropped from her face, hanging loosely at her sides, as if her shoulders had come unhinged. "Why did you do it? Why did you shoot Iggy? What did he do to you?"

Aaron faltered. Why had he shot Iggy? He couldn't remember. He couldn't even remember where he'd gotten the gun, or why it now seemed so imperative that he kill everyone. That he put down the gun and go kill everyone … No, not everyone … Fang, he had to kill Fang.

He shook his head and glanced back up at Nudge then turned to Fang, dropping to his knees beside him. Aaron rolled him over, taking a moment to stare into his face before he wrapped his hands around his brother's throat and started to squeeze.

And then he heard Nudge scream and his blood ran cold.

He turned his head and stared, wide eyed at her. Not believing what he was seeing, even though it was happening right in front of him.

Nudge bared her teeth and snapped out her wings, raising them like some kind of vengeful angel. She had never been so angry in all her life. She loved him, but she wanted to rip out his throat and beat him to death with his tonsils!

She bent at the knees readying herself to spring and it happened. She felt her bones begin to pop, to change position. She felt her fingers elongate … Curling into razor sharp claws … Her back arched and her teeth popped.

Blood flooded her mouth and she felt those four little pointed teeth, her canines, grow, sliding from her gums as if someone or something were pushing them down. And the feeling of it was so alien yet so familiar that she laughed.

Feathers sprouted on her arms and shoulders where, seconds before there were none and her eyes changed from dark russet to a bright, lime green.

Nudge screamed. An earsplitting, super high wail that seemed to shake the very ground beneath her feet … And she dove at Aaron, claws extended

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Max ran at the castle ready for anything, knowing what she had to do. As soon as the first Wizard swooped down at her she did it. Just like in her nightmares … She became an Eraser.

The Wizard seemed genuinely shocked and banked to the left, but Max had the advantage and hit the Wizard, knocking it off the broom and spiraling to the ground.

It was an odd feeling, kind of like when she'd seen herself 'Eraserfied' in the mirror all those years ago, but this time she knew what it felt like to Morph.

It hurt.

And the pain made her angry, made her think of Ari, how much it must have hurt him to Morph like that…

And she attacked the Wizards screaming in a startlingly sweet, melodious version of her own voice, "Max has come to Hogwarts, Bitches!"

She laughed and rolled her lips back, exposing her teeth and snapping out her wings, flying toward the castle at an alarming speed. She looked down at herself and laughed. An Eraser in Scarlet O'Hara underclothes…

Wizards swarmed at her and she growled, turning to fight them, knocking them off their brooms left and right in retribution for what they'd done to her and her flock … For killing Jeb, for biting Aaron … For humiliating her and making her feel helpless.

She laughed as the Wizards seemed to fall away like leaves in the autumn. With a single effortless roundhouse kick in Eraser form she was able to knock four or five Wizards off their brooms and to their mechanical deaths.

It was such a powerful feeling, knowing that she was invincible. These Wizards couldn't hurt her now. One wouldn't drag her off as they had before. She was no longer powerless against them.

The last Wizards fell away and Max looked up at the moon, and just for fun she howled at it, laughing when she heard the terrifying sound of her own wolfish jubilation echoing back at her.

She wanted everyone to see how powerful she was. How great… She was Maximum Ride, Queen of Nightmares…

But somewhere, deep inside of her, she hoped no one else saw her, because at that moment Max wasn't just a dream Eraser … She was the real thing…

A cold, brutal murderer…

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Iggy sat riveted to the ground listening to the horrible sounds Nudge was making. The others may still be in a dream, but Nudge had really Morphed. She had developed a new ability and Morphed into something terrible from the sound of it. Something with long sharp teeth and claws.

Iggy tried not to picture an Eraser version of Nudge but it did very little good.

Where was David? Why hadn't the boy pulled them out?

How was HE out and nobody else was? How was it that he was sitting here listening to everything the others were hallucinating.

He could even hear Max in the air fighting nothing. He'd even heard her imitation of a howl, which wasn't that pathetic… Not really… What was Max hallucinating? Did he really want to know?

"Where is David? We have to stop him, if we don't stop him right now Nudge is going to kill Aaron!"

"David? Who iz David?" Ter Borcht said.

Iggy clambered to his feet, hands out before him. "DAVID!" He screamed, knowing all the while that the boy wouldn't answer him.

"Who iz David?"

Iggy growled, "He's a little blonde boy wearing a mummy costume," He stumbled forward hands out. After a few paces, once he realized Ter Borcht wasn't following him he turned and called back. "COME ON! I'm BLIND I can't find him on my own!"

He didn't particularly like the fact that Ter Borcht was there, let alone that he had to trust him… But he didn't have much of a choice… If he didn't keep track of the guy Ter Borcht would have free reign over the others, and God only knew what he would do to them… Iggy wanted to keep him close by so he'd know what the man was up to… And could kick his head off if need be…

"How iz stopping zis David going to help?"

"David is the one controlling this hallucination its one of his abilities."

"AH! The Thirteens! Thirteen vuz vun of my favorite experiments alzo mortally defective. The brain vuz horribly damaged during seperation from zee fraternal-"

"HIS name is DAVID!" Iggy turned and punched Ter Borcht in the face. Surprised that he actually managed to hit the man, further surprised when he heard him fall to the ground. "HE is not damaged! HE is not a THING! WE are PEOPLE, you stupid freak! We may only be ninety-eight percent human but we're still more human than any of you narcissistic Whitecoat bastards will ever be!"

Ter Borcht was silent and Iggy hoped he'd at least bloodied the man's lip if not broken his nose or jaw. He didn't care which, as long as it was painful…

"You know what? I don't need your help, I'll find David on my own!" And he marched forward hands out sweeping before him to fend off trees and branches.

After about fifteen paces his foot hit something and he fell on his face. He rolled over cursing and came to his knees, feeling the grass and then something soft, something that wasn't grass and shouldn't be lying on the ground in the middle of the night in October.

Iggy's breath caught in his throat and he followed this soft thing upward, his fingers tangling in a strip of cloth. He felt a small chest, neck and chin and he realized what he'd tripped over … Who he had tripped over.

Iggy may have been blind but he knew it was David … And he knew the child was dead.

(NOTE! There were big BIG hints did anyone catch them?)

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35. Chapters 60

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Chapter 60; Sandman

"Oh, Jesus, oh JESUS!" Iggy took David's face between his hands for a moment forgetting that there was anything but the little body before him.

David, Fang's baby brother was dead, he was gone ... DEAD.

"Oh, God, oh God! David ... David, wake up!"

"You imbecile!" Ter Borcht's slurred voice came from close by. "Don't you know anyzing!"

Iggy opened his mouth to shout back but someone else answered first ... A girl.

"I know more about them than you do, Old Man!"

Iggy felt his pulse quicken. So, Max Two was in on this?

"Ig!" Something hissed.

Iggy turned to the sound.

"Iggy, don't worry, he's OK," Total's voice came again from near by.

"How is he OK, he's DEAD!" Iggy whispered back.

"He's pretending ... Just go with it, trust me."

This didn't comfort him in the slightest. "Total ... TOTAL!"

But he got no reply.

"I told you not to harm zem, don't you know zee meaning of zee word 'diversion'? You ver not zuppoused to KILL any of zem!"

"I didn't kill him! I touched him and he fell over dead!" She let out a growling sigh, "Well he's going to STAY dead if you don't do something soon!" Max Two yelled back.

"Fine ... Call in zee helicopter, vee must get zem out before zee virus iz released. I hope you know zee last rezurection job I did left zee experiment vis lingering pain und a drastically shortened life expectancy."

"Well, seeing as you're working on DEAD experiments who are already DEAD the life expectancy is drastically LONGER than it was before."

Ter Borcht growled in an animalistic Wizardish way and Iggy heard him stomp forward.

"It's no coincidence that you're here is it..." Iggy felt a shiver run down his spine.

"No," Ter Borcht dropped to his knees in front of Iggy.

He shivered again and lifted his head, and if he would have been able to see he would have been looking Ter Borcht in the eyes. "Since you've got us and all ... Would you at least tell me what you're doing?"

Ter Borcht sighed and Iggy could almost feel him smile.

"Vhy don't you ask me vat you really vunted to?"

He nodded wracking his brain for questions, "The files we had access to said Edge had been terminated. Is that true?"

"A small lie. The Edge Series iz still up und running."

Iggy remembered that little speech Aaron had been giving Fang about feeling special and he wondered if Aaron had been telling the truth. "You lied ... What else did you lie about? Who is Edge?"

Ter Borcht laughed, "You expect me to reveal my entire scheme? Do you sink zis iz some kind of movie? Do you sink zat I em zat stupid?

"Ven vill you learn. I am smarter, und bigger zan you ... I gave you life, und I can take it avay." He patted Iggy on the head and climbed to his feet.

"Did you really cure my expiration date?" Iggy asked, on a whim.

He heard the man stop and turn around, "Yez ... You are no good to me dead."

"And it wiped out all my abilities?"

"Yez."

"Then why keep me alive if I'm blind, and I have no special abilities ... I'm just a kid with wings."

Ter Borcht hesitated and within that hesitation Iggy saw two possibilities. One, Ter Borcht was contemplating killing him because he was indeed useless, and two there was a reason he was being kept alive. A reason that might also answer the question ... Was he lying when he said there was nothing special about Fang... But before Iggy could ask this, his real question Ter Borcht laughed again... But Iggy caught something in his voice this time...

Fear.

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36. Chapters 61 and 62

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Chapter 61; Exodus

"You go und get zee helicopter! I told you zis all ready!"

"You can't tell me what to do, Mom said that I am in charge, NOT you. I'm the only reason you're not DEAD right now! So you can go get your own damn helicopter!"

Despite the fact Max Two was an evil version of Max, Iggy wished she would tell Ter Borcht off some more. He wished HE could tell Ter Borcht off again ... It had felt so good to punch him ... To finally tell him exactly what he thought ... Even if he did end up in a cage. He would have that memory to keep him company ... until they disected his brain anyway.

He put a hand on David's still chest and a deep overwhelming sadness crept over him. There was no way the boy could be pretending. You couldn't stop your own heart, and David's heart was definitely NOT beating.

"David, if you're pretending ... Please be pretending."

And then all of the sudden Iggy felt an explosion of soft fluttering from David's chest. He jerked his hand back and his mouth came open, forming a silent scream. Unconsciously he imagined Gasman beside him screaming in Gene Wilder's voice 'IT IS ALIVE!'

"Don't move," David hissed under his breath.

Iggy swallowed hard and froze. Meditating on a mental image of a statue ... One of those angel statues in big churches or in graveyards. I ... am ... STONE...

"I don't care who your mozer iz go und get zee-"

And Iggy heard two muffled thuds as Max Two and Ter Borcht fell over, victims of The Sandman.

Total ran out of the thicket laughing, "That was so cool, they were all like, 'TIMBER'!"

Iggy heard David clamber to his feet on unsteady legs and walk forward.

"Where is everybody?"

Iggy turned his head, as if he were able to see, "They're fighting, we have to stop them," He jumped up and ran forward. "How were you dead? What did you do to keep your ability working while you were ... You know."

"I told you," He said happily. "I can die whenever I want! I can do anything that I can in my dreams! That's my good 'bility!"

Iggy ran after the boy's voice, nearly tripping over the snoring forms of Ter Borcht and Max Two He paused only long enough to kick one of them, he wasn't sure which.

"So, this is all just part of a ... a dream?"

"No," David said cheerily. "I gived them dream powers with my good 'bility so they can go save Aaron. And when the bad guys showed up I taked myself out and put them in too and made 'em think I was dead. But first I had to take you out too, a'cause I needed your help getting away from the bad man and Bad Max."

"Why me? Why not Max ... Good Max or Fang?"

"Cause he wanted Nick, I had to keep him far 'way in the castle... I knew you'd be safe, you would be able to help me ... And Max makes a scary werewolf."

"Wait ... Max is a werewolf? Max is an ERASER?"

"Yeah, I gived her the 'bility to turn into a werewolf cause she does it in her dreams..." Quite suddenly his little face fell and his hands came up in fear, "Hey, where'd the castle go? Why is everyone fighting each other?"

"David, you can't really GIVE us powers ... Its all a dream, a hallucination."

Total skidded to a halt and his mouth dropped open. "Stop them, David, for the love of God, stop them! They're killing each other!"

Iggy could hear Ella ... He could hear her screaming and cursing, so he ran at the sound, praying there were no trees in the way for him to run into.

He slammed into something and he knew it was her because she was the only one of them wielding a plastic sword. He wrapped his arms tightly around her and picked her up, holding her off the ground.

She screamed in fury and scratched him but he held on tightly, not letting her go.

Iggy didn't like hitting girls, in fact, he'd only hit one girl his whole life and that was Max. And sometimes he didn't really see her as a girl. She was just Max.

But when Angel grabbed him by the throat and tried to tear out his Adam's apple he hit her. Not hard enough to injure her, but hard enough to knock her to the ground.

Ella was fighting him now, punching, scratching and kicking, all the while cursing like mad.

Iggy nearly dropped her when her heel connected with his inner left thigh and he let out a high pitched, near feminine scream stumbling away cupping himself thanking God that he was so much taller than her or he could have been castrated by her horribly sharp shoes.

"David! STOP THIS! WAKE 'EM UP!"

Then Gasman was on him, clinging to his back, and in a very vampire like move, the Gasman turned Dracula and bit him, though rather ineffectively seeing as how he only had plastic glowing fangs in his mouth.

"OUCH! YOU LITTLE-" Iggy swung around and snapped out his wings, knocking Gasman off of him and sending the blonde boy sailing across the field.

Angel was up again, grabbing him around the feet and Iggy realized that he wasn't going to be able to stop this. Not alone, "DAVID, IF YOU DO NOT WAKE THEM UP THIS INSTANT I AM GOING TO KICK YOUR ASS!"

Aaron was hissing, like a cat, making feeble slapping motions at Nudge as he came at her trying to bite her. But Nudge was too fast, and much too angry to allow that to happen. She slashed at him again and again with her claws, tearing his jacket and gouging five long bloody grooves across his shoulder.

"DAVID!" Iggy screamed, still wrestling with Ella, Angel and Gasman. He could tell from the sounds of the battle that Aaron wouldn't last very long against Nudge. "She'll kill him!"

David didn't reply and Iggy wondered if the boy would ever answer him, or he'd simply knocked himself out so he wouldn't have to face his fears.

But if Iggy had been able to see he would have caught David as he lifted two fists into the air, squeezed his eyes closed and bring his fists down, as if to throw handfuls of dust at the ground.

Ella went limp in Iggy's arms and Angel slid off of his legs. He heard the Gasman hit the earth a few feet away and Iggy crawled to his feet running toward the origin of the 'Pissed off Nudge' sounds.

He slammed into her and she turned on him, slashing him across the chest. Iggy recoiled but jumped at her again, grabbing her around the shoulders, which he realized were covered in feathers.

He laughed to himself. Nudge hadn't gone Eraser as he feared she had, she'd gone Harpy!

Nudge shrieked again but Iggy held on tightly, lifting her off the ground so she kicked the air instead of his legs.

"DO IT NOW, DAVID!"

But David had turned to Aaron, who was in the process of running forward with a stick, intent on bashing Nudge's brains out, as well as Iggy's.

Nudge herself wasn't paying any attention to anyone other than Aaron, even though Iggy was holding her nearly two feet of the ground.

Aaron stumbled, shaking his head. "What happened?" He said in a heavily slurred voice and turned to Iggy.

"OI! What the hell do you think you're doing!" And he strode forward, intent on kicking Iggy's arse for holding HIS Nudge that way.

But Nudge had other things on her mind and she lashed out, kicking Aaron square between his legs.

He didn't make a sound. He merely folded in on himself and fell over, his face as white as a sheet, lips slightly parted eyes squeezed closed.

Nudge was aware of something heavy lifting from her and she felt someone holding her tightly around the shoulders and she snapped out her wings, grabbed one of the arms and flipped the person over her head, twisting their arm behind their back.

Iggy cried out, not out of pain but surprise that Nudge had reacted so quickly when usually she was so docile.

And then she saw her hands... Her claws ... And something in her broke. She sank to her knees staring and running her hands up and down her arms, over the feathers that had sprouted out of nowhere and were falling out as quickly as she ran her claw like fingers over them.

She ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth and felt her teeth as they shrank back into her gums...

And her fingers softened, loosing their claw like sharpness. Where was the castle? Where were the Wizards she'd been fighting?

And then she saw Aaron curled on his side a few feet away and she remembered kicking someone as she was waking up...

She crawled forward frantically hands going to Aaron's pale face, "Oh, Aaron! I'm so sorry!"

He grunted but didn't speak. He'd speak when he was sure he wouldn't sound like Mickey Mouse...

Iggy climbed unsteadily to his feet and walked toward the sounds of Max and Fang fighting.

It sounded like an intense fight ... Even more so than Nudge and Aaron.

"DAVE! Stop them!" He stopped dead and fell to his face when he felt the wind of Max's flying kick dangerously close to his head.

She was growling and Iggy pictured her foaming at the mouth. And he heard Fang ... And Fang didn't sound good.

And then something hit him, falling across him like a sack of potatoes. Iggy scrambled forward, fearing Max would mistake him for Fang and possibly make real her threats to kick his ass. But the dead weight sprawled across his legs wasn't moving.

Iggy crawled from beneath what he knew was Fang and turned, his hands finding the other boy's chest. He could feel Fang's heart hammering behind his ribs and the shallow gasps of breath filling his lungs... Cracked ribs ... BROKEN ribs... Bruises, cuts-

"IGGY!" Ella screamed.

He turned and caught her as she fell to her knees beside him. Her hands were on his chest, smoothing his shirt, on his neck adgitating his adam's apple and forcing him to swallow. She ran her hands over him, feeling, assuring herself he was alive. "Oh my God, who scratched you!"

"Its OK ... I'm OK."

She burst into sobs, "I thought you were dead ... Oh, Iggy, it was awful!" She kissed him, "I love you, I love you so much!"

Iggy tried to pull away, tried to call for Max to check on Fang but he couldn't.

"I ... Love ... You ... Too," He managed between her kisses and intermittent sobbing.

He heard Gasman and Angel moving around and Aaron groaning as Nudge helped him to his feet.

And then he heard Max shuffle up to Fang and gently kick the bottom of his boot. "Come on, Fang, get up, this is no time for sleeping.

No answer.

"Fang, get up!"

Silence.

"This isn't funny, get your ass up!" She dropped to her knees beside him.

At first she was afraid to touch him because a thick line of blood was running from his nose and the corner of his mouth but then she realized she had to wake him up, if she'd hurt him...

"Fang, get up!" She shook him.

He moaned and Max's hands went to his cheeks ... She didn't even have to touch him to feel the heat coming off of him.

And then she remembered ... Before that little tremor ran though the ground he'd been only semi-conscious. She gave him another shake and brushed his hair away from his face. "Fang, wake up!"

Aaron limped up, one hand on his privates the other going stifly back into the sling. "Is he alright?"

Max shook her head, "I don't know what's wrong with him, he's burning alive and he won't wake-up!"

"We have to get out of here before they get up," David said pointing across the field at Ter Borcht and Max Two.

"What the hell are THEY doing here?" Max said indignantly.

Iggy grasped Ella by the shoulders and pulled her away from him for a moment. "They're releasing the virus tonight, Max. They were here to get us out ... They knew we were here."

"Tonight? They're releasing it TONIGHT!" She jumped to her feet a hand going to her forehead. "That memo said they weren't going to do it until next Thanksgiving when people are traveling around ... Jesus..." She fell silent. She couldn't do this. She couldn't freak out, not now. Not with Fang sick and the fate of her flock and the world on her shoulders. She had to be strong. She had to be the leader.

Max took a deep breath and let it hiss from her lungs. After a moment she nodded, "So this is it ... It's either save the world or die trying..." She rocked back on her heels. "Mom isn't going to like this."

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Chapter 62; The Beginning of the End

Before they left the clearing Nudge and Aaron tied Ter Borcht and Max Two to trees. Using strips of Aaron's shredded costume they bound them and with the tube of red lipstick Nudge had hidden in the pocket of her shorts they wrote 'Bird Kids Rule!' across Ter Borcht's face and 'Wings 4-Life' on Max Two's.

Total even hiked his leg on Ter Borcht's Rolex.

"Who broke his nose?" Aaron called over his shoulder.

Iggy grinned but remained silent ... At least for the moment.

Iggy and Max carried Fang back to Lynn-Dee's house, which they found abandoned, streamers, paper cups, candy wrappers and the odd pirate prop strewn about...

There were burns inside on the walls and Aaron voiced what everyone else already knew. "The Wizards were here ... They've taken everyone..."

All the cars were still parked outside Lynn-Dee's house but since Dr. Martinez had gone into town to pick up the birthday cake she'd ordered in secret for Fang and Aaron the SUV wasn't there.

"Put him in the back," Aaron said and dropped the tailgate.

With Iggy's help Max was able to maneuver Fang into the back of the truck. Ella and Iggy climbed into the cab with Aaron and everyone else climbed into the back with Max and Fang.

"Its going to be a bumpy ride," Aaron called out the window and turned the key in the ignition.

The truck rumbled into mechanical life and pulled out of the driveway.

They drove slowly, heading back toward Dr. Martinez's house. Toward safety...

Halfway down the road they encountered the first body ... A woman, about thirty years old with blonde hair ... To Max it looked like she'd fallen to her death and she had to look away.

She guessed the Wizards had that net they'd tried to catch Aaron in. She could just imagine them carrying it, completely full of people in Halloween costumes, through the skies.

The road was deserted ... Every house was dark. No life, nothing...

"Oh, jeez ... I don't want to sound morbid but ... This is just like something out of Dawn of the Dead!" Gasman said under his breath. "If people like start swarming us, trying to eat our brains I'm taking off!" He jabbed a thumb at the sky.

Max rolled her eyes, but at the same time she was wondering exactly what this virus did to people. Could they really turn into zombies?

A car horn blasted and Aaron slammed on the brakes.

Max lifted her head and saw a rag-top jeep coming around the corner at them. She couldn't turn completely around, so she had no idea who it was until she heard his voice.

"Thank GOD!" Allan said and jumped out of his jeep, running at the driver's side door eyes wide. "I was so worried."

"Allan!" Gasman said happily from Max's left and the boy leapt out of the truck. He grabbed Allan around the waist and hugged him tightly.

Allan hugged the Gasman in return then mussed the blonde's hair and stepped to the truck, peering in at Fang. He flattened a palm on the boy's forehead. "Is there someplace you kids can go that's safe?"

"We were going back to my mom's," Max said as-matter-of-factly.

Allan nodded, "I'll follow you, anyone who wants to can ride with me."

Angel and David climbed out of the truck and let Allan carry them, one on each hip, to the jeep.

Max pursed her lips. She felt somewhat as though Allan were encroaching on her territory, trying to take charge ... But she understood why.

Max maybe the leader, but it would be safer to be in a jeep with seatbelts than in the back of a truck. Especially if they did get swarmed...

As they started off again Aaron flipped that little switch Iggy and the Gasman had installed on the dashboard and bathed the night in light.

It was eerie to drive along and not see a single person, even though a clear path of papers, and the odd discarded Halloween costume said that indeed everyone had passed this way.

Max looked to her left at the row of houses leading toward her own and noticed windows had been broken ... Doors stood open ... And the dogs that usually barked at night were silent.

A shiver ran up Max's spine and she absently stroked Fang's cheek, feeling the slight roughness of the little dark hairs on his chin ... And the horrible heat rolling off of him.

What was wrong with him?

Max remembered when she was developing her 'Light Speed' ability, how she'd felt incredibly hot all over ... Maybe that was happening to Fang. Maybe he was developing a new ability, other than the talking to birds thing... But that didn't explain why the heat hadn't disipated. Why was he so sick?

Could there be another, more sinister explanation?

She shook her head, refusing ...But ... She had to be sure.

She braced herself for the worst, tilted his head to the left and lifted his hair, peering at the back of his neck...

Relief flooded her. No date ... He wasn't expiring.

She looked up then and saw another body lying on the grass ... Then another and another, these though, had not been trampled to death ... Their skin was torn ... And Max recognized the jagged puncture wounds of Wizard Bites...

Fang stirred, shifting his head against her thigh, dark blue eyes fluttering for a moment before they came open. He clearly didn't know where he was because he looked up at Max as if she were an alien for a full five seconds. Then he relaxed and a smile came over his face.

"You really did look Peking-"

She swatted his shoulder, "Shut-up."

Surprisingly he listened to her and grew quiet, staring up into her face a moment before his eyes closed again.

Aaron pulled the truck into the driveway and Max heard him curse bitterly.

She turned her head and stared in awe and horror at her home ... Or what was left of it.

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37. Chapters 63

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Chapter 63; Anywhere but Here

Ella was the first one out of the truck, and as soon as Max had shoved Fang aside she leapt out as well, running as fast as possible to the body sprawled out on the grass.

The solar powered lights illuminated the yard and Max saw the birthday cake her mother had gone into the city to pick up lying there by the stone path as she ran past it...

'Happy Seventeenth Birthday Nick and Aaron'

"MOM!"

Ella was on her knees beside her mother sobbing, trying to roll the woman over but she was crying to hard to do it.

Max collapsed beside her sister and together they rolled her onto her back and the horrible truth hit them like a bolt of lightning...

Max broke, clapping a hand over her mouth to hold the sound of her scream in.

Allan was beside them in half a second, pulling both girls into his arms, "Don't look, don't look..."

But Max had looked ... She had seen, and that image would haunt her until the day she died.

Her mother was gone, she was dead ... and Wizards had done it. They were responsible for it all.

Iggy stumbled over, following the sounds of crying and he fell to his knees beside Ella, pulling the girl into his arms-

Ella shuddered and shoved him away. She sprang to her feet, her brown eyes wild, hair falling into her face. "GET AWAY FROM ME!"

Iggy flinched and his hands fell to his sides.

"DON'T TOUCH ME AGAIN! All of you! Just get away from me!" Ella backed up the steps of the front porch, "It's your fault! If you hadn't come here none of this would have happened! NONE OF IT! IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT! YOU KILLED HER!"

"Ella, come down from there, the gas line is ruptured, can't you smell it?" Aaron said and strode forward. "Please come down-"

"Ella, please-" Iggy started to stand but before he could Ella turned wild, hate filled eyes to him and he could feel her gaze as a physical, tearing pain in his chest.

"SHUT UP!" She screeched and curled her hands into fists beside her ears. "I trusted you! I can't believe I trusted you! I can't believe I let you-" She shuddered violently, eyes going quite wide. Her arms tghtening around her stomach, groaning loudly, as if in the throes of some great, soul crushing pain. "You did this to me! You've ruined my life! YOU'VE RUINED ME! You've taken everything away! EVERYTHING! It's ALL YOUR FAULT!"

And she turned, running into the house and slamming the door.

For a moment it felt like all the air was sucked away, toward the house and then light flashed and everyone standing was thrown off their feet by the force of the explosion. Tongues of flame shot out, singeing Max's hair and then the light blinked out and Max saw the house was in flames. Orange pillars shooting out the bottom windows like hands, scraping to get them.

Iggy screamed, and ran at the house hands out, blind eyes wide.

Allan, Aaron, Nudge and the Gasman darted after him and Allan ran right up onto the porch and grabbed Iggy before the boy could jerk open the door. The little window beside the door broke and flames shot out.

Max wanted to cover her ears and disappear but she couldn't move. All she could do was sit there and listen to the roar of the flames and Iggy as he wailed into the inferno. Clawing at Allan and howling as if someone had just torn out his heart with a rusty spoon...

"ELLA!"

But there was no answer.

Max simply sat there staring, tears rolling down her cheeks. It wasn't real ... It couldn't be real, it just couldn't ... She glanced over at Iggy, who was still writhing around sobbing, then down at her mother's body. It couldn't be real ... It just couldn't.

When was David going to wake them up? She was tired of this nightmare...

Iggy fell silent and Max heard him suck in a spasmodic breath before bursting into sobs...

She heard Allan dragging the boy back down the steps, making soft shushing noises. But then Iggy shouted, "NO!" And she heard the sound of his feet as he ran across the yard, snapping open his wings and taking to the skies ... Without a compass, without eyes ... Without...

"IGGY!" Gasman screamed and ran after him followed closely by Angel.

Let this be a dream ... Please, God, let this be a dream.

Max felt fresh tears rolling down her face and she stared up at the sky. Watching the plume of smoke rise up and out of sight. Jeb, Ella and her mother all gone... Everything...

Gone.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see Fang kneeling beside her, his eyes fever bright tears on cheeks.

"How am I supposed to save the whole world, Fang ... When I couldn't even save my own..."

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38. Chapters 64

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Chapter 64; Run Away

Fang landed on the porch roof, the gray bandana that had been part of his costume pulled over his mouth and nose. Smoke was rising all around him and he forced the window to his bedroom up. Glad that, like Max, he had taken one of the two rooms at the back of the house.

Black smoke billowed out and Fang took a deep breath before plunging into the room. The smoke burned his eyes and he turned right and left, unsure even in very familiar surroundings which way to go.

He saw his backpack lying on his bed where he'd left it and he snatched it up, shoving his black notebook inside and then going to his closet, grabbing the pack he usually carried to school. He walked back to the window and climbed out, dropping the bags down to Allan, who handed them to Nudge.

He knew he shouldn't have gone inside, especially with a gas leak ... And the fact he felt like hell didn't help matters. But he had to do it ... For some reason he HAD to.

Feeling Max's anguish through the last fifteen minutes had been nearly enough to kill him, but the numbness he got from her now was even worse. Waltzing into a burning building would be better than standing there FEELING that.

Fang walked lightly across the roof and opened Max's window ducking inside with a deep breath of 'fresh' air in his lungs. He picked up Max's backpack and started shoving her pictures into it, knowing that those pictures were all Max had left. He'd rather be singed than let those pictures go up in flames. Then he opened her closet and started grabbing her clothes, shoving shirts and jeans into the pack before heading to the window. He threw the bag out to Allan and went back inside. He paused at the door and pressed the back of his hand against the surface.

It was cool...

He slowly opened the door, ready to slam it shut again if he needed to.

"NICK GET OUT OF THERE!" Allan called from outside. "IT COULD GO AT ANY SECOND! GET THE HELL OUT!"

Fang ignored him and dashed down the hall to Angel's room, throwing open the door and rushing inside.

His lungs were starting to burn but he pushed on, grabbing that little winged bear of Angel's off the girl's bed and turning to leave...

Nudge's jeans ... Why was he leaving Nudge's jeans?

If he was taking the time to get Celeste and Max's pictures Nudge deserved to have her jeans...

He span around and blinked back smoke induced tears... They were lying folded gently on her desk. He grabbed them up and rushed from the room, making one last stop at the room Iggy, Gasman and David shared.

He filled Iggy's backpack and ran for Max's room, choking, black specks swirling around behind his eyes. He needed air ... He couldn't breathe! Heat began to build in his chest and he dove out the window. He rolled down the roof and sprang into the air, flapping in a circle coughing.

He landed by the truck and pressed his forehead against the cold metal. He felt so HOT! He tore his sweater over his head and stood there in his T-shirt wishing it would start snowing so he could get cooled off. What he wouldn't do for a freak snowstorm right about now...

Aaron was scanning the sky looking for any sign of Iggy, Gazzy and Angel.

Fang turned to him, feeling sick to his stomach. "Aaron?"

He grunted.

"Do you remember anything that happened back there? With that ... Castle thing?"

Aaron nodded, "It was like someone else had control of my body, and I was just a wee voice screaming in the back of my own head..."

"You're turning into one of those things ... Aren't you..." It wasn't a question.

Aaron nodded.

"And you'll end up trying to kill us just like them..."

Aaron nodded again.

"If we can stop the Wizards ... We can keep them from spreading the virus ... There has to be a cure... There has to be. If we can stop the Director we can end it."

Aaron glanced at him from the corner of his eye, "If you mean kill her then say 'kill her', I'm not a child."

Fang hesitated and after a moment he nodded. "If we can kill her we can stop it."

"We don't know how to get near enough to stop her... She's got the whole town held hostage ... She's got an army of Wizards you saw what they can do ... Look what they've done already!"

Fang turned and looked, as if to punish himself, to burn the image into his brain for the rest of eternity.

"They've killed Max's entire family ... They killed our dad ... They killed Ella..."

Fang nodded and glanced over at Max where she sat in the cab of the truck staring at her hands.

"If you think we can stop this tell Max," He motioned emphatically, "You lot may have to do me in before this is all over so you'd better tell her 'bout it..."

Fang fell silent. 'You lot may have to do me in before this is all over' "We're not going to kill you, Aaron."

Aaron glanced up at him mournfully, "If I turn into one of those things ... If I completely loose my mind you'll have to kill me or I'll kill you ... I nearly did when I was out of it before. Next time, don't hesitate to stop me, because I don't know if I'll be able to stop myself..."

Fang couldn't believe what he was hearing ... He couldn't believe that Aaron was right.

"Promise me that when it comes to it either you or Max'll finish me off before I hurt someone," Aaron stared deeply into his eyes and Fang wanted to punch him. To tell him that he was nuts, that he wasn't going to promise to kill him. That everything was going to be OK

Max had made him promise the same thing years before when she believed she'd turn into an Eraser, when she feared she'd turn into a monster and hurt her family...

He'd told Max he'd do what he had to do if the time came ... Part of him had meant it ... Another part had been lying through his teeth ... He didn't know if he had it in him to actually kill someone. Flyboys and Wizards were one thing ... But to actually kill a person?

He could kill the Director, he wouldn't mind doing that ... After what she had done, after all the pain she had caused...

... But it was a lie. He wasn't even sure that if he got the chance he could do it ... Hell, he couldn't even tell Angel 'no' half the time...

"If it comes down to it ... I'll do what I have to do," And he knew that if the time came he would ... He would do what he had to do to protect his family ... Even if that meant killing his own brother.

Aaron put his hand on Fang's shoulder and would have hugged him if at that moment, the Gasman hadn't landed in the yard.

"I-Iggy's ... Iggy's pretty messed up, he's perched himself on the radio tower just out of town and he's threatening to jump."

"And you left Angel with him?" Aaron said in a louder voice than he meant to.

"Angel's got mind control power ... All I got is gas!" Gazzy screamed "What the hell would you rather me have done? Angel can keep him sitting still, I can't!"

"Its OK, Gaz, you did the right thing," Fang took a running leap into the air and was gone into the night.

Allan and David climbed into the jeep, Aaron, Nudge and Max in the truck.

As they pulled away Max glanced up at what had that morning been her home... What if she hadn't gone to the costume party? Would she have been able to stop it? Would she have been able to save her mother and her sister?

Everything is a test ... She told herself ... You can't get every answer right ... Now you have to live with the consequences...

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Fang got to the radio tower in less than two minutes and the first thing he saw was Angel's wings. Two white slashes against the blackness of the night sky. Then he saw Iggy.

Sitting on the north-eastern side of the metal structure his arms wrapped around his middle, legs dangling.

Fang circled the tower and hovered in front of Iggy, prepared to catch him if the boy decided to jump to his death. "Iggy?"

He raised his head at the sound of his name and his sightless eyes turned to Fang. "She's dead, Fang... She's dead."

"I know..."

Iggy's lip trembled and he smiled haplessly, "I can't ... It hurts ... It hurts too much."

"I know it hurts," What else could he say?

"I love her, Fang."

Fang said nothing, instead he angled himself a bit closer.

"You've got David and Aaron, Nudge has Aaron, Angel and Gaz have each other ... You don't know it, but Max has you ... Who have I got now? Ella is it ... Was it ... She l-loved me," He dissolved into tears, "Did you know that I asked her to..." His voice faded off and his face fell.

"Asked her what?" Fang inched closer preparing himself to grab Iggy should the boy jump.

Iggy leaned forward a sad, nostalgic smile coming over his face. It was an odd smile, one Fang didn't think Iggy could manage. Secretive, pained, lost ... Betrayed.

"Do you know how good it feels to be loved?"

Fang hesitated. He knew David and Aaron loved him, they were brothers for crap sake. They may annoy the hell out of each other from time to time, but they loved each other. But he'd never had the kind of love Iggy was talking about. He knew that just by looking at him.

Iggy was talking about something much different...

"It's like a drug ... Once you've had it you never want to be without it again ... You never want to be without that person again. It's like the world, for one minute, doesn't exist and there's only what you've got in front of you. Only what you've got ... What you're doing and what she's doing, what's happening inside you ... I can't ... I can't be without her. It hurts too much..."

"Iggy ... Why don't you come down ... Please."

He lowered his head, as if contemplating the drop and the chances he actually had of killing himself with Fang there to catch him ... Whether he liked it or not...

"Iggy, please come down," Fang's voice trembled.

Iggy seemed to have a brief, intense inner struggle but after it was over he extended his wings and slid back along the side of the tower to the little footpath Angel was standing on.

Angel grasped his hand like a vice and held it tightly as he stood.

Fang circled back to Angel and watched silently as the girl and Iggy stepped off the tower and hovered there for a moment beating their wings in near sync.

Aaron and the truck pulled up at the foot of the tower followed by Allan and the jeep.

They did a spiral descent and landed not far from the truck, Iggy following Angel back to the jeep and climbing inside, Fang going to the truck and sliding in beside Max.

Allan lead the way out of town and before long the only thing in front of them was the seemingly endless expanse of blacktop and an uncertain future.

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39. Chapters 65

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(NOTE!! Someone asked me why I've used the name 'Allan' in both of the 'bigger' fics I've written. The answer to that is; it's my little brother's middle name and I use it to annoy him.)

Chapter 65; Displacement

They drove for nearly three hours, going much faster than the speed limit because there wasn't a single person on the road.

Allan pulled off into the parking lot of a cheap hotel just inside New Mexico shortly before four that morning, ushering everyone out of the jeep and truck and into one of the two rooms he rented.

Allan had intended for the girls to have a room to themselves, but when he realized it was going to take more than a mere word to separate Nudge and Aaron this time, he let it be and in the end Allan found himself alone in one room.

Fang pulled all the clothes from the bags he'd rescued and divided them up, though he wasn't surprised that they all smelled like smoke and nobody wanted to change into them. In fact, Fang wished he'd merely left them there.

When Allan realized what the problem was he herded everyone outside and back onto the road, driving a good fifteen miles to the nearest 24/hour Super-Store.

Allan supposed they looked affright because when the door greeter saw them she didn't say a thing. He guessed it was for the best … If she had said anything welcoming Max may have launched an attack.

She had a right to be angry, to be hurt, scared and possibly vengeful, but the door greeter didn't deserve to bear the brunt of Max's wrath.

"Okay, you guys go on, I'll take care of these three," He motioned to David, Iggy and Angel.

Angel gave him a dirty look, "I can take care of myself."

Allan's eyebrows shot up, "I'm sure you can, but you shouldn't have to all the time."

Max stiffened when she heard this and she glanced up at Fang.

"Sometimes its nice to have someone take care of you. Especially after something like today," Allan took Angel's hand with a soft, comforting smile.

Nudge grabbed Aaron and they went off, hand in hand looking solemn

The Gasman went off by himself, after swearing not to let off any 'stink bombs'.

Max watched Angel, Iggy and David follow Allan away in numb silence. She was supposed to be the leader ... She was supposed to take care of everyone … She was supposed to save the world…

"Come on," Fang gently laid a hand on the small of her back, trying to act as if it were no big deal that she was still only wearing those Scarlet O'Hara under clothes.

Max didn't protest when he pulled her toward the women's clothes, even though she hated shopping. She was always afraid that when she was trying something on someone would open the door and see her wings and she'd be stuck fighting for her life in nothing but her panties.

"Here, what about this?" He held up a plain blue T-shirt.

She didn't even look at it, she just shook her head.

"Okay … What do you want?"

She shook her head. What she wanted Fang couldn't give her…

"Do you care about what clothes you get?"

She shook her head.

"Okay…" He pulled a few random T-shirts off a rack and dropped them into the big metal buggy he was pushing. "Uh … Do you want to get your … 'things'?" He motioned to a display of undergarments.

Max glanced up, crossed her arms over her chest and shuffled away to collect her 'things'.

It wasn't like he'd never seen her 'things' before, it was just he'd never actually taken the time to examine them to figure out what KIND of 'things' she wore. The size and such … Mostly he just noticed the color and tried not to think about anything else until he was alone.

She came back dropped something into the buggy then seemed to fall into a trance because she picked up a pair of jeans and said in a semi-normal voice, "This is crazy … Look how small these pockets are, you couldn't fit anything good in there. Hell, you couldn't even fit a lighter in there!"

He couldn't help but smile, Max was still in there somewhere … She was just kind of lost for a while.

She folded the jeans and sighed in disgust then put them in the buggy and pulled it away from Fang, "Okay, your turn, FangHelsing."

He scratched at the back of his neck and sidestepped her. He wasn't picky, if it was black and fit he liked it … And most of the time it didn't even have to fit well. Usually, when shopping became necessary he'd just get one of those cheap packs of three or four T-shirts. He'd only had to buy two pairs of new jeans since Itex fell, and both times it was because they'd been destroyed somehow…

The first time Iggy had gotten the idea he wanted to learn to iron clothes and had burned a hole in them. The second time had been jumping over a chain link fence. He'd ripped the whole seat out and couldn't fix them…

Max watched him in a kind of reverent fascination. He walked into the men's clothes, found a pair of black cargo pants, pulled a package of T-shirts and one of boxers off a display peg as he passed by and dropped them into the buggy.

"Wow … New record, thirty seconds … You're good," She said sarcastically and examined the size of the pants he'd grabbed, "Too bad you're not a size forty."

"Oi, budge over!" Aaron said trying to push past Fang.

"Did you say something?" Nudge said tiptoeing to see over a tall rack.

"No, dear," Aaron said with a grin.

"Where'd you two come from?" Fang turned to his brother.

Aaron jabbed his thumb over his shoulder at the jewelry department. Then he pushed his hair behind his ear and pointed, "She said it looked 'hot'."

This made Max look up and she saw Aaron now had a little sliver stud in his ear.

"Iggy's got his ear pierced too."

"I know," Aaron said and prodded his ear gingerly. "I let her talk me into the craziest things…" He went to the same rack Fang had and pulled down a pair of khaki colored pants. "You said those were forties?"

Max nodded, "He wears thirty-twos."

"How do you know what size pants I wear?" He didn't know if he asked out of embarrassment that she knew something so intimate about him or because he just wanted to argue and lighten the mood.

"Because I bought you your last pair of jeans, or do you not remember sitting in the bushes with the seat ripped out of your pants?"

Aaron withheld a giggle.

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The first stop Allan made was in the men's department, "What color pants?"

"I don't care…" Iggy whispered arms crossed over his chest. He felt absurd. He was still wearing that stupid pirate costume and more than anything he just wanted to tear it off and fly away. He didn't care where he just wanted to go, to be away from everyone and everything … He just wanted to go away … He wanted Ella…

He was afraid here, alone in the dark. And for some reason he wanted to turn around and go back … It was near overwhelming … He wanted to go back to the house, he wanted Ella and Ella was at the house…

She's dead … She's not there, she's DEAD. He kept telling himself. But that urge was still there, tugging at his mind and his heart.

He had to go back … He NEEDED to go back … But he couldn't … If he went back the only thing of Ella he'd be nearer to was her body…

But still, it was like he suddenly had his internal GPS back. Even though he knew it was not north, that it was just where his heart was pointing…

Just ignore it, she's dead, she's not there.

"Iggy, are you listening?" Allan laid a hand on the boy's arm.

Iggy's head snapped up, "Huh?"

"What size clothes do you wear?"

His tongue felt thick, and that horrible burning sensation enveloped him again. That burning he'd felt when the house exploded … He rubbed his arms to try and force the sensation away and shook his head to clear it. "Thirty-four…"

"What color?"

"Doesn't matter."

Allan shrugged and grabbed a pair of olive colored jeans with numerous pockets on the legs, and a pack of white T-shirts size large, just big enough to cover the boy's wings easily. "What about a jacket?"

"I don't care…"

Allan sighed. He knew boys were difficult to shop for, but this one was particularly difficult. He wondered how Max had done it for all those years. She's a tougher nut than I thought…

"I'd get better answers letting Angel read your mind, wouldn't I?"

Iggy didn't answer.

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Angel liked Allan, he was an OK adult. He genuinely wanted to help and he actually let her do things by herself. He'd even trusted her to help David find clothes. Though he only did it because Iggy was being difficult and kept drifting off.

She'd tried to read Iggy's mind to find out what was wrong and why he seemed to be more interested in daydreaming than hurrying up. But all she got when she looked into his head was what felt like a vacuum. Pulling her in an unknown direction, which was odd because she always knew the direction.

She didn't like this feeling, and she didn't like the fact that Iggy was experiencing it. But there was little she could do to help aside from having David knock him out.

"What do you think of this one?" Angel said and held up a T-shirt with the Kare Bears on it.

David nodded, "Yeah, you're definitly 'Lucky'…" He walked over and took the shirt, holding it up. He pouted for a moment and glanced over his shoulder at the shoe department wondering if they had those springy laces he'd seen when his daddy was still around.

Allan and Iggy showed up about then pushing the cart, Iggy looking out of it once again. He found it astounding that life could go on when his had lost all meaning. When everything he cared about was stripped away…

MOVE…

He shook his head again, trying to ignore that near painful urge and the burning sensations running up and down his body. Was he in shock? Had Ter Borcht lied and he was expiring. It was after all, now Halloweeen. Fang and Aaron's birthday … The day after Ella's death…

MOVE!

He covered his ears, and as if he no longer had control over his body, turned and started walking back down the aisle past the display of socks Allan had been asking him about.

"Iggy!" Angel ran up and stopped in front of him, pressing both hands against his chest. "Iggy, where are you going?"

He didn't answer her, all he heard was a roaring in his ears, and that need to move NOW. How long could he ignore it? How much longer could he take this pain?

"I'm going to take him to the jeep," Angel said and took his hand, leading him out of the store.

Outside Iggy felt as if someone had slapped him in the face with the wind. It blew his hair around like a tornado and when Angel urged him into the jeep Total was waiting for them.

"What's up?" Total said, licking his forepaw.

"Iggy needs some rest."

Total moved over in the rear seat and allowed Iggy to pet him all the while wishing he could say something to make it easier for Iggy to handle. But, he supposed, what use was being able to talk if he couldn't say what Iggy wanted to hear?

Allan and the others came out a few minutes later carrying bags. And as they drove back to the hotel that urgency Iggy had been feeling faded and before he knew what had happened he was asleep, exhaustion, both mental and physical washing over him like a wave on the beach.

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40. Chapters 66

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Chapter 66; Tongue of Angels

She didn't think she'd ever be able to wash out the smell of smoke from her hair. She'd been the first one to shower and now that her hair was dry she realized it still held that smoky smell. Maybe it was only her subconscious or maybe her hair really did still smell, either way when Max woke up she was appalled.

Iggy had showered and was still asleep, curled onto his side in the other bed, the Gasman beside him, David curled up between them.

Max had been able to hear him crying in the shower and it broke her heart. When he'd come out of the bathroom wearing only a pair of the new boxers they'd bought and flopped himself across the bed she hadn't bothered to tell him to put on a shirt. She'd wait ... Let him be for a while, until everything felt easier to bear...

But she was starting to think, as she smelled her hair that, things would never be easier to bear. She sat up in bed and looked around. Nudge and Angel were beside her, Total lying curled behind Angel's knees. Fang and Aaron had taken up positions in chairs, their feet propped up on the end of the bed.

Aaron was fast asleep, head lolled to one side, mouth open. But Fang was awake, looking at her. He'd pulled his hair back after his shower and now that it was dry a few strands were falling into his face.

Iggy moaned in his sleep and Max turned to look at him. To make sure he was OK, then she turned back to Fang.

The sun was up, but someone had drawn the curtains and the whole room was sparsely lit. Veiling everything in a soft, orange-ish light.

Max eased herself out of bed reaching for the jeans she'd gotten the night before and pulling them on, trying to keep herself hidden. She got them pulled up, but they wouldn't button.

"Damn it," She hissed.

"What is it?" Fang whispered.

"Apparently I no longer wear size threes."

A small, Aaron like smile crept over his face, "Maybe you're getting ready for the big 'P' word, huh?"

"'P' word?" A million words that started with the letter 'P' ran through her mind.

"'Puberty'?" He said with a grin. "You made fun of me, so you'd better prepare yourself..."

She scowled at him and pulled the hem of her shirt down over the zipper, praying that would cover it.

She pulled on her shoes and turned, walking by him. Swatting him on the head as she passed.

His hand snaked from beneath the blankets and closed around her fingers.

Max froze and turned her head, staring at him. What was he playing at? What did he want? Was this some new kind of torture? Staring at her with those bottomless eyes of his? Giving her that emotionless, heartbreaking look...

He'd practically forgotten she existed in the weeks since their return from New York/Oklahoma, and now ... Now he was holding her hand?

"Stop it..." She tried to pull her hand away but for some reason she couldn't move her arm. Maybe the nerves had died again and she would be without the use of her left arm again... Maybe she just didn't want to let go...

He folded the blankets away and sat up, the fingers of his right hand still curled around hers.

He scratched lazily at the back of his head and Max wondered why his hair was a mess, was he channeling Nudge? She wished he'd hurry up and do whatever the heck he was going to do because standing here linked at the hands watching him go through a ritualistic scratching was irritating her beyond all reason...

She wanted to kick his butt and rant at him for a few minutes. Ask him just who the hell he thought he was ignoring her and then suddenly asuming that it was okay to hold her hand. She wanted to ask him why he'd been too good to talk to her two days before, but now she was suddenly worthy of his attention...

Thankfully he only scratched his head and chin, because if his hand had dipped lower than his navel Max would have probably squeezed his hand so hard the bones in his fingers rubbed together. That would have brought him out of this morning stupor...

He stood, rather slowly and shoved his feet into his shoes, not even bothering to tie them. Then he shuffled after her as she left the room, still holding his hand.

Which in and of itself was unusual. She didn't make it a habit of holding hands with anyone, let alone Fang. Especially since he was SOOOO much better than her...

She ground her teeth and considered punching him in the head...

It was about noon and the halls were deserted, not a soul in sight.

Max didn't know exactly where she was going, but Fang followed her without protest. Seeming to predict her movements and angle himself accordingly.

The elevator surprisingly, wasn't as bad as Max imagined it to be. It shuddered once and made an awful screeching sound but that was it.

Like the hallway above, the lobby was empty. The news playing in the background, something about widespread power outages moving in from the west. Books and magazines fanned out on the coffee tables... A discarded sock in the middle of the floor...

But Max kept walking toward the exit, Fang's hand in hers. Somewhere in the back of her mind she wondered where the heck everyone was, but she was too overwhelmed with sadness and anger to pay attention at the moment.

The air was cool and a few cars passed on the highway. Zooming away from them, to the east.

All the cars seemed to be packed to bursting, driving at an alarming speed... As if they were being chased.

A low, rumbling sound started somewhere to Max's right and she turned her head in that direction, at first expecting to see a lawnmower or something ... Not a helicopter...

Max hated helicopters. She'd hated them for years, since Angel had been tossed into one and flown off. Her first reaction when she saw this one was to turn and run inside, but the second was to stand and watch as it flew over head, bathing her and Fang in dust and the whine of its rotors.

It was a news helicopter and it was flying in the opposite direction of the cars.

And then Max saw why...

Smoke rose in numerous pillars in the distance, black billowy columns standing there accusingly ... Declarative...

The end is near...

Judging from how tall the smoke towers appeared Max gauged the fires, and what she knew was the virus and Wizards, to be about four miles away.

"I'll go wake everyone up..." Fang said, breaking the near silence of the morning. He released her hand, turned, and dashed back inside.

Max nodded, still entranced by the smoke. It was an odd sensation. She felt angry that the Whitecoats would be so evil, she wanted to go kick butt... But at the same time she wanted to run away screaming...

Fang returned a few moments later followed by everyone else, lugging backpacks.

Fang took her hand again, pulling her toward Aaron's truck, "Come on..."

Stubbornly she refused to move, instead watching the helicopter, which had suddenly banked straight upward. A cloud of black specks chasing it, swarming all over it. She felt hypnotized. Brainless... Watching the helicopter shudder and rock as the tiny Wizard Specks seemed to cling to it.

"Max, Come ON!" He gave her hand a sharp tug but she ignored him, watching in a sort of sick fascination as the helicopter jerked to the side and started spiraling to the ground. It disappeared behind the trees and a few seconds later a ball of flames shot upward, followed nearly instantly by a large 'boom'.

"MAX!" Fang pulled her arm again, hauling her by the hand to the truck, then forcibly picking her up and shoving her inside.

She wanted to curse at him, but her voice wouldn't work and all she was able to do was squish herself as tightly as possible against Nudge's side and grab the dashboard as Aaron slammed both feet onto the gaspedal even before Fang was fully inside the truck. Digging her fingernails into it to keep from being flung to the side as the truck span around.

Fang clamped his arm over the door to keep from being thrown off, for a moment hanging there, his feet flying in the air behind him, before he was able to swing inside, his teeth gnashed together, nostrils flared, eyes wide and glaring. He slammed the door and his hand went to the safety belt. "Learn to drive, you lunatic!"

Allan and the jeep were already speeding down the road and Max saw Angel's face in the back window looking toward the fires dumbstruck.

Max then became aware that she could smell smoke and she wondered if maybe she hadn't misjudged how close the fires were. Could the end be closer to her and her family than she believed?

Could the Wizards have actually succeeded in sneaking up on them?

The radio screeched loudly and Max clapped her hands over her ears.

"I wanna run, I want to hide ... I wanna tear down the walls, that hold me inside. I wanna reach out, and touch the flame, where the streets have no name!"

Fang growled in his throat and brought his fist down on the dashboard, right above the cassette player. The tape screeched, but continued playing.

"I wanna feel sunlight on my face, I see the dust-cloud disappear without a trace-"

He hit the dash again and the tape made a hideous sound, much like a cat who had just been trodden on.

"I wanna take shelter from the poison rain ... Where the streets have-"

Fang lifted his fist a third time, intent on bashing the radio into bits but the tape fell silent and soft noises ... Like a live microphone being passed from hand to hand...

"How does it work?" A female voice, "Is it working?"

Fang froze, his heart in his throat, fist raised to land another blow mouth twisted to the side. His eyes looking as if they were staring out over the horizon at a large robotic chicken laying giant diamond eggs... Disbelieving and terrified...

"Yes, its working, all you have to do now is talk into the mic," A male voice ... An eerily familiar deep male voice.

"Okay..." The distinct sound of lips being pressed against a microphone, "HELLO!"

Laughter, "No, Kitten, you have to hold it away from your face. Like that or it sounds funny..."

"Oh ... Bernie, I feel really silly doing this, maybe you should."

Aaron's eyes went wide and he stared at the radio his mouth open. "Bloody hell..."

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41. Chapters 67

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Chapter 67; Follow The Yellow Brick Road

"Okay ... If you are listening to this you've either stolen our truck, you're Allan Martin, or you boys have made it out and we haven't..."

Max sat stone still, unconsciously gripping Fang's knee.

"Before we go any farther I guess we should introduce ourselves ... I'm Bernard Victor Hutchinson..."

"And I'm Kitty Hutchinson," She sounded uneasy, but genuine...

"Today's date is July seventeenth nineteen ninety-nine and Kitty and I have decided to make this little tape incase things don't go as we've planned ... First of all, if this is Allan, Kitty and I have left something for you at the house. We'd like for you to keep up the Animal Rescue Center ... Uh ... If you've stolen this truck I want you to know that it has already been reported stolen ... And if you boys are hearing this your mother and I want you to know that we're proud of you for making it out and we hope you're ready to go on a big adventure..."

Fang swallowed hard and cast Aaron a wide-eyed look.

"First of all ... If you're hearing this boys, that means your mother and I are gone. I gave Allan explicit instructions to take this tape out if Kitty and I lived ... Well ... uh..." Bernard cleared his throat and Max heard Kitty's voice cooing softly in the background.

"Y-your mother wants me to start this off by telling you your names ... I'm sure you've both picked names for yourselves by now ... But still, this is what we called you before you were taken..."

"How will they know who is who?" Kitty whispered, "I mean ... If they go by different names ... How will they know?"

Bernard made a hollow sound in his throat, "Uh ... Okay ... The one of you with light colored wings ... We called you Wesley."

Nudge squealed and hugged Aaron around the chest, "Oh my GOD! You're WESLEY! I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THAT MOVIE!"

Max rolled her eyes and averted all her attention and strength into hearing the next words that came from the tape player ... Though she didn't know why.

"The one of you with dark wings ... Kitty wanted to call you Sheridan-"

Max made a disgusted face.

"But we decided to name you after my great grandfather, Lorcan..."

"Lorcan?" Nudge giggled and Fang turned on her, making an angered yet pouting face and Max couldn't help but smile.

Kitty cleared her throat, "We left a package for you in New York ... There should be a photo album in it ... If you have the album now you should get it out ... If not, then the next place you want to go is New York. Find a man by the name of Clark Donovan ... You'll know him when you see him ... Or he will know you..."

Fang was digging in his backpack, throwing out articles of clothing as if it didn't matter that Max and Nudge were sitting there beside him.

Nudge grunted in discomfort, a pair of Fang's new underwear lying over her head and Max turned to her, helping the girl gather the clothes and shove them back into his bag, once he'd extricated the photo album.

"If you have the book, there are some photos in there that will help ... you only have to find the hidden messages..."

"Don't bother asking Allan, if he's still around, for the answers because he doesn't know. Bernie and I left this trail long before we pulled Allan into the picture ... I love you boys very much ... Please be careful and please ... PLEASE don't let yourselves be caught ... We love you very much..." Kitty choked back tears and Bernard's voice came back. A voice so much like Fang's it was frightening.

"I wish we could tell you more, but we have to leave it kind of general incase someone else gets hold of this tape before you do ... I love you boys ... Just don't get caught..."

The tape went quiet for three seconds.

"-Blown by the wind... And when I go there, I go there with you ... Its all I can do..."

The tape stopped and Max felt Fang trembling. She turned to him and saw he was staring into the photo album his eyebrows drawn down, lips pursed.

"What is it?" Max leaned over and peered into the book at the pictures.

Most of them were just random pictures ... But there was one in particular of a worn and haggard looking Kitty holding up an old U2 cassette and pointing.

"I never knew I'd say this, but ... I love U2!" Aaron whispered.

"They're out of order ... Damn it ... I didn't put them in the right order!" Fang said through gritted teeth.

"Okay ... How do we get them in the right order?" Max released his knee, which she'd still been clutching at.

He shook his head, "I don't know ... Why did I have to look at them first?" He peeled back the transparent plastic and started removing the pictures, mumbling to himself, and reshuffling them until he seemed mostly pleased with their new order.

"It still doesn't feel right..." He handed them to Nudge. "You can read emotion coming off of things ... What order do they go in?"

Nudge bit her lip and cradled the pictures, at first hesitantly moving them around in the stack, then faster, her eyes drooping and finally closing.

Aaron tried to watch her, while keeping an eye on the jeep ahead of them.

After a few moments of nail biting silence Nudge opened her eyes and stared down at the pictures, "I think I've got them right ... They feel right..." She handed them over and watched as Fang slowly started fitting them in the pages.

"Okay ... What now?" Aaron said under his breath

Fang raked a hand through his hair, pulling a few strands out of place and finishing off his tousled, psychotic's ward look. He let out pent up breath in a sound like a hiss and flipped back and forth through the pages. "It makes no sense whatsoever..."

Nudge leaned the side of her head against Aaron's arm with a sigh. She was quiet for a moment, then, as her eyebrows drew down she turned back to Fang, "Didn't they leave a name dictionary in that box? I want to look up Aaron's new name."

"It is NOT my new name ... Just because my parents called me that when I was a baby, does NOT mean I will allow anyone else to call me 'Wesley'."

Fang nodded and fished it out of the bag, handing it to her. "Come on, Wes, let her have some fun."

Max bit back a laugh and Aaron threw him a scathing look, "Shut up, Lorcan."

He shut up.

Nudge took the book and started flipping through the pages. "Wesley ... Wesley..." She grinned.

"Aww! It means 'west meadow'! How cute!"

"What does 'Lorcan' mean?" Max leaned closer to Nudge and peered down at the pages.

Nudge flipped back to the 'L' section and scrolled down. She scoffed, "Huh ... It's fitting," She handed the book to Max and crossed her arms.

"What does it mean?" Fang tried to get a look at the pages but Max flattened the book against her chest.

She grinned at him, "I thought you didn't like it?"

"I never said that ... What does it mean?" He tried to take the book but she held it out of his reach.

"I'm serious, Max ... What does it mean?"

"It means, 'Silent'."

He snatched the book from her and read the meaning for himself then handed it back and propped his chin on his hand. Staring out the window thoroughly annoyed.

Max sighed, and on a whim started flipping through the pages scanning various names and their meanings.

"Okay, my name is going to be, "Buttercup Elisa Margaret Victoria Rosemary Diana Jasmine Lily Amber Montgomery-Ward."

Aaron choked and coughed into his shoulder for a few seconds before turning wide eyes to her. "How do you expect me to remember all of that? Hell, how do you expect to remember all of that yourself!"

She grinned, "B-E-M-V-R-D-J-L-A-M-W."

"What?" Fang said squinting at her, "Bhem-verdge-lam-wuh?"

Nudge scowled, "I think it's pretty."

Fang opened his mouth to argue that the names were pretty by themselves, smashed all together like that they were just a disaster, waiting to trip someone's tongue. But before he could speak Aaron spoke first.

"I think it is pretty ... But so is 'Nudge', and personally, 'Nudge' is so much easier to remember than, 'Buttercup Elisa ... Mashed potato Helsinki!"

Nudge chuckled and rested her forehead on his shoulder, "Mashed potato Helsinki?"

Aaron gave her a crooked grin, "Yeah, Mashed potato Helsinki."

"West Munster."

Nudge turned from Aaron and stared at Max. "What did you say?"

Max pointed to the picture of the fishing boat, "Desmond."

Fang followed Max's finger until he saw the picture of a fishing boat. It was sitting near a dock in the Autumn.

"Desmond means 'West Munster."

"West Munster?" Aaron wrinkled his nose. "Munster is a province in Ireland ... Dad was telling me, when we were still in London, that one of the priests who helped us was from Munster."

"You mean we have to go all the way to Ireland?" Nudge said impatiently. "I don't want to go to Ireland, the last time we went over there we nearly got killed, or do I need to remind you of the Germany affair?"

Max shook her head and tried to quite Nudge, but she seemed intent on finishing her elongated thought.

"You remember, don't you? All the psycho doctors, and Omegas? Spot the Leopard girl and the like MILLION Flyboys that got fried?"

"Yes, I remember ... But I don't think we have to go to Munster," Max took the photo album from Fang and looked down the page. "Maybe we aren't even supposed to use this thing with the pictures, but you never know ... I'd rather try and come up with nothing than not try and have all my answers in here!" She shook the book at Nudge and then flipped through it.

"Okay, 'Marty's'... Marty means 'Martin' and Martin means ... Something that isn't in this book."

"Martin ... Max, Martin is Allan's last name," Fang said and tried to take the photo album from her but she wouldn't relent.

"Okay..." She searched the ten pages that had been rearranged but didn't find any other names. "Okay, this name dictionary is useless," She handed it to Nudge.

Fang pointed back to the picture of the boat. "Maybe it wasn't the name of the boat that they wanted us to look at ... Maybe it was the boat itself, or where the boat is."

Max rolled her eyes, "Okay ... The boat is old ... It's dinged up and it's sitting in the water."

"What kind of water?"

Max scanned the picture, trying very hard not to growl in frustration. "It's in a harbor."

"As in the ocean," Fang grinned, "You can see my mom's reflection in that mirror and the clock. It says that it's nine-thirty ... And since it's daylight, I'm guessing that it's nine in the morning."

Max pointed to the ball of the sun visible in the upper right corner of the picture. "This isn't the Pacific Ocean ... This is the Atlantic..."

"The Atlantic Ocean in the fall..." He pulled that mysterious black notebook from his bag and turned to the very last page. He scribbled this bit of information down and went to the next picture.

Kitty standing on the dock Bernard behind her, holding her. Her rotund, pregnant belly poking out the front of her sweater.

"Check the date here!" Nudge pointed to the date visible on a calendar in a nearby boat. "October 25 ... Oh, my gosh ... You guys could really have been born on Halloween!"

Max swallowed hard, wondering all the sudden why she felt on the verge of tears ... Why was she suddenly unable to hold her emotions in check?

It's because your sister and mother died last night! She shook her head, forcing the thought out of the way. Yes, her mother and sister were dead, but there was no use crying about it, she couldn't change it.

She cleared her throat and turned to the third picture. Bernard with a woman who bore just enough resemblance to him for Max to instantly know this was Kathy ... The woman who had drugged her own brother and stolen his sons. But how was it that they were with Kathy and Kitty was still pregnant if Fang and Aaron had been three months old when they were taken?

"What the..." Fang pressed his face close to the picture, "That ... That's Kathy, isn't it..."

Fang scanned the rest of the page, "This is nuts ... They were on vacation?"

Max saw a new picture this one seemingly taken on accident of Kathy eating a slice of pizza. The woman's pupils were red and she had her mouth open. It reminded her of photos she'd taken of Fang, Iggy and the Gasman.

There were a few more pictures, Bernard and Kitty standing on the dock beside the 'Desmond' Kitty with her arm straight out pressed against Bernard's shoulder. Bernard floating in the water laughing.

Max caught Fang smiling out of the corner of her eye and she wished she could bottle that smile up ... Fang's smiles came too few and far between lately... Even if he was a jerk who ignored her...

Aaron slowed the truck, turning left off the interstate following Allan, who parked by the road and stuck his head out to speak with Aaron.

"We'll reach the farm at about six this evening if we stay on this road ... But do you guys WANT to go back there?"

Aaron turned to Fang, Max and Nudge.

"Ariel and Zephyr aren't so sure they want to go back."

"Where else could we go?" Fang called out the window.

Allan chewed his lip a moment before he answered. "If we turn south we'll end up at your Evil-Doctor's HQ in about three hours ... And my guess is you guys don't want to go there until you've made a plan. Rushing into a place like that without one will get you killed."

Max nodded, "We'll need time to prepare ... An idea of the building's layout would be great."

Allan nodded, "I think we should head north ... But it is up to you, I'm just the driver."

Max wanted to say that they didn't need a driver, that all of them had a perfectly good set of wings, but then she remembered that half the reason they hadn't yet been found was because they hadn't flown anywhere.

Wizards could track them easier in the air than on the ground. And as much as she hated being in a truck with three other people, driving was their only option for the moment.

"What's north from here?" Besides the cabin... She thought

"A few Indian Reservations and some National Parks ... Then of course, a lot of nothing."

"Max, can we go to Roswell?" The Gasman poked his head out of the jeep and grinned widely.

"No."

He scowled but didn't argue.

"How long would it take to get back to Colorado?" Fang held up his hand, shielding his eyes from the sun.

"Two, three hours tops. As long as we're going about eighty..."

"Who said anything about going back to Colorado?" Max interjected.

"Well Colorado is north from here, I was assuming you wanted to head north. But I guess I was wrong!" He narrowed his eyes, his lips coming tightly together.

The air practically crackled with tension

"Listen, I just want to get someplace safer than here. Someplace we can defend if need be. The virus is moving a LOT faster than I thought it would and there is no way we can fight it until we figure out what it does and how its spread. Until we find out HOW to stop the Director."

"Then let's do it," And Fang stowed the photo album in his backpack and climbed from the truck.

"Lets go kill the bitch."

"How?" Max wanted to leap from the truck and choke him. She didn't want to become a murderer... She was sick and tired of death. She just wanted to ... Wanted to...

Fang pointed at David, who was asleep in the back of the jeep with Angel, clutching the stuffed puppy he called 'Frank'.

"David can use his ability ... He can do that thing and we'll be able to do everything in real life that we can in our dreams. And we'll finish it!"

"Uh, Fang?"

Fang turned to Iggy, at first surprised the boy had spoken, then annoyed that he had. He gave the redhead a, 'what are you bothering me for?' look even though Iggy couldn't see it.

"David can't do that."

"What are you talking about? I've seen him do it, he conjured a castle out of thin air when Gazzy thought of it! He turned Angel green-"

Iggy shook his head, "It was all in your head ... David's ability doesn't make it possible for you to do things in real life that you can in your dreams ... All it does is put anyone within a five-hundred foot radius of him into a kind of dream ... A hallucination."

All the color drained from Fang's face. "A hallucination?"

"It's linked into the same ability that allows him to put people to sleep just by thinking it. Only with this you're wide-awake ... Its complicated I think..."

"How do you know it isn't real?"

Iggy sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, "Because last-night when David let me out of it I couldn't see anymore and you guys thought Aaron had shot me. Don't you remember?"

Fang raked a hand through his hair, effectively pulling half of it out of the band he'd drawn it back with. "I thought you'd come back from the dead to tell you the truth..."

Iggy scowled at him and turned away, resting his chin on the heel of his hand.

Great, now I feel like an ass ... A big winged ass. Fang thought to himself and flattened his hand against his forehead.

"Iggy, what did you do with that bottle of vaccine Ter Borcht gave you?" Max said, trying to alleviate some of the tension building in the air between the two young men.

Iggy turned to her slowly. "It probably doesn't work."

"Where is it?"

"I put it in the truck," He climbed out of the jeep and walked toward the sound of Max's voice. "Pop the hood, Aaron."

Aaron gave Iggy a sideways glance and did as he was told.

"I rigged up a containment unit which is fed through the air-conditioning system ... It creates a kind of refrigerator that keeps the vials cool twenty-four-seven."

"How did you do that?" The Gasman said wrinkling his nose, "How did you do it without being able to see?"

Iggy shrugged, "I just did it."

"And you didn't get wires crossed?" Gasman climbed out of the jeep and jogged to his friend, peering under the hood at what looked like a water bottle attached to the air-conditioning... "That is so cool!"

Iggy smiled, "Literally."

"You wired all that up by yourself?" Fang said peeking over Gazzy's head. "With no help?"

Iggy nodded, "It was a spur of the moment thing a few days ago. I was worried ... You know, that we may have to leave on short notice, and I know how much Aaron hates flying so I knew Aaron would take the truck. It seemed logical so I came out before breakfast the other day and just ... Did it."

"That's creepy," Nudge whispered half to herself.

"Well, the vaccine is right there when you want it," Iggy said and turned back to the jeep.

"How did you build that without help?" Max wouldn't relent.

"I just did it," He said and rested the heels of his hands against the hood of the jeep.

"Did you like SEE it, or FEEL it or something?"

He sighed, "I can't have abilities anymore, I can't SEE anything, or FEEL anything like that. I can't even tell who people are by feeling their fingers or feathers anymore. I can't do anything!"

"How do you know?"

Iggy growled and turned on Max feeling an odd heat building in his chest alongside the terrible burning sensations he'd been feeling, "Because I expired, OK? My date showed up, Ter Borcht injected me with that black stuff and it wiped out all my developed abilities. I can't do ANYTHING anymore, I'm a useless-"

He fell silent his mind turning over everything he'd just said and everything Ter Borcht had said the night before ... Especially that fearful hint to his last laugh...

His fingers went to his lips, slightly amused but hesitant... The man hadn't said ALL his abilities ... He'd said all the DEVELOPED abilities, meaning Ter Borcht believed he was going to get another...

"Oh, my God..." He whispered to himself. Could it... Was it possible?

That terrible burning sensation washed over him again and he had to bite his tongue to keep from making any noise. At least that urge to move was fading... That was a plus. He guessed his brain had forgotten which direction home was because of all the turns they'd made. Perhaps it was for the best...

"Iggy?" Max called softly. "Are you OK?"

"Yeah ... Its just ... You could be right ... I could be getting an ability of some kind ... He said all my DEVELOPED abilities would be wiped out, not ALL of them."

Maybe that urge to move was part of this theoretical new ability. Perhaps it was pointing him toward safety ... Or greatest danger ... Maybe the burning sensation was also ... Hadn't Max felt like she was burning up when she was developing her abilities?

Maybe that was what was wrong with Fang, why he kept keeling over from that mysterious fever?

Iggy leaned back against the jeep his hand still over his mouth. What kind of ability would he get? Would he be able to see again? Would he get to look into Ella's face...

Ella...

MOVE...

"Iggy, are you sure you're OK?"

"I'm fine!" He snapped and turned around, intent on climbing back into the jeep, but he walked right into the front fender, banging his thighs.

He cursed bitterly, and in a fit of anger he raised both fists and brought them down on the hood of the jeep. He wanted to run, to throw things, scream and blow something up... He wanted to FEEL something burn...

How could he be so stupid as to think Ella was still alive? She was dead DEAD.

He was too horrible and ugly to have something as beautiful and pure as Ella ... The world would make sure of that... The world would take everything away from him one day, and then he wouldn't have anything of himself left but hate...

He shoved off from the hood, making a deliberately large circle around it then finding his way back to his seat. He guessed it wouldn't be so bad if that stupid need to move wasn't there. If he could get rid of that then maybe Ella's death wouldn't be so hard... Maybe then he could forget everything ... Forget the feel of her lips, her hands... The sound of her voice...

Her body fitted tightly against his...

He knew what he had to do, he knew he had to somehow change his feelings from sadness to anger. Anger could be your ally, especially when you're fighting, and Iggy knew he was in for the fight of his life against these Wizards, against the Director.

They'd taken so much from him ... But, now, he was going to take something BACK... He'd make them pay ... Somehow...

Angel laid a hand on his arm but he shoved it away and thought at her; 'If you want to keep that hand you'll put it back on your lap.'

Angel jerked her hand away and pursed her lips. She had to get to the bottom of this. She had to find out what was wrong, she had to find a way to fix it, and if she couldn't, she had to find a way for Max to fix it.

Max could fix anything...

She peered into his mind...

Darkness ... No direction ... MOVE ... Ella ... Gone ... Pain ... Anger ... HATRED ... Burning ... MOVE-MOVE-MOVE!

Angel shook her head and turned to the little plastic window beside her. Gazzy was walking toward her, ready to climb back into his seat. Fang was dropping the Truck's hood back into place still looking embarrassed and pale. He wiped his wrist over his forehead clearing away a sheen of sweat as he scrambled into the truck.

Just as Allan pulled back onto the road Angel saw something different about Fang. Something fleeting, something she would have missed had she not been looking at him when it happened.

For half a second, long enough for her to see it as it faded away, Fang's eyes turned red.

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42. Chapters 68 and 69

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Chapter 68; The Z Virus

Colorado was a beautiful state. Forests, jagged mountains rocky ravines... Long twisting roads. Just like Max remembered it.

It was nearing dinner time when Allan pulled off into a gas station. They'd been sucking fumes for quite a while and Allan himself was getting pretty hungry. He couldn't imagine how hungry the kids were, since they had to eat much more and more often than he did.

"You guys have a choice, we can get stuff here or we can wait until we find a restaurant and get burgers or something."

Allan could almost see the gears in their heads turning things over, weighing their options. Gas station junk food or nice juicy hamburgers?

"Burgers," they nearly said in unison.

Allan smiled inwardly and went toward the door to pay for the gas. The doors were locked and the man behind the counter raised a ball bat at him.

"You stay out there, I don't want no sickness from you, man!"

Allan was taken aback, "Sickness?"

The man pointed to the TV screen perched on the counter. Allan froze and listened intently to what the news caster was saying but the red Emergency Alert banner flashing at the bottom of the screen was enough tell him want he needed to know.

"Massive Nation Wide Quarantine; All roads crossing the Mississippi closed, no traffic is being allowed to cross. Western and Central States locked off from rest of the Country."

"Mysterious illness sweeps the South West. The Centers for Disease Control have labeled this event a pandemic. Sources say that the illness causes those infected to act like rabid animals. The disease is said to be spread by bite or blood to blood contact. The President has declared a state of emergency and urges all citizens to stay in doors and avoid contact with infected persons. Church leaders are calling this a 'Sign from God'. And one church leader from New York had this to say about the disease."

As Allan watched a very familiar man appeared on the screen, via taped recording from earlier that day.

"This illness is a sign ... Honestly, unless whatever is spreading it is stopped I don't believe we will survive," Clark Donovan looked particularly worn, green about the gills, so to speak.

Allan ran a hand over his mouth, feeling for a moment as if it were hanging open to his knees.

"Just go, dude!" The man with the ball bat said loudly. "I don't want to be zombiefied ...Yeah, the news can word it however they want, but this isn't some rabies virus ... This is ZOMBIES man, frick'in ZOMBIES! Dawn of the Dead shit, man!"

Allan nodded, turned and ran back to the jeep. He climbed inside and turned to Aaron and Fang, who were standing at the front of their truck stretching.

"You guys better get back in the truck, I just figured out what your Wizard Virus does and it isn't pretty."

Fang and Aaron looked around shocked for a second then climbed back into the truck.

"What does it do?" Max called out the window.

Allan looked at her for a second, wanting to see her expression change when he told her, because he knew it would, drastically. "Zephyr was right ... It turns people into zombies."

It was like watching a building fall in on itself. Max's face first went pale then slack as her mouth opened a little.

"Zombies? Like, rise from the dead ZOMBIES!" Gasman screamed from the backseat.

David's head snapped up and he rubbed a bit of drool from the corner of his mouth. "Zombies, where are the zombies ... I don't like zombies," He shivered and clung to Angel.

Angel rolled her eyes and patted the top of his head.

Allan glanced into the back of the jeep. "They're not going to get us. We're too fast for them ... And zombies are stupid, remember?"

"Well, where do we go, where will we be safe?" Nudge said loudly, hoping that Allan heard her.

Allan sighed and leaned back in his seat, gripping the steering wheel. "I don't know," He turned to Max, "Where do we go?"

Max was quiet for a moment then she nodded, "First we need to find like a hospital or something. We need to use that vaccine ... Iggy do you remember how much he gave you?"

Iggy didn't answer at first but then he realized he had to. Even if it did scratch open a still fresh wound.

"Ella said that it was one of those tiny syringes, and it was only half full."

Max nodded, "Okay, we need to find some of those tiny syringes and get each other vaccinated. If that stuff works then we won't have to worry weather or not we get bitten. And since the Wizards are spreading this virus it will keep us protected from their bite as well."

"As well as mine," Aaron said. He hadn't thought about it before, but he was infected with the Wizard's Curse ... But ... If he was, how come he wasn't a zombie?

Max seemed to have had this same thought because she turned to him, her eyebrows drew down. And then realization melted her features into a lax, shocked mask.

"The Wizards aren't spreading the virus..."

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Chapter 69; Darwin's Law

And suddenly, they had a new enemy. A faceless, virus spreading enemy that was bringing about the end of the world.

"Give me the computer," Max said without even looking at Fang.

He was already pulling it out of his seemingly bottomless bag even before she finished speaking.

Max stared down at Jeb's computer in a mixture of shock and nausea. Please, please let there be something ... We have to know how this virus is being spread.

She pulled up a search page and typed in the word 'Virus' then hit Initiate.

The little hourglass icon turned over, and over and over and over.

Search Results for 'Virus' 2 Files Found;ImmaculaePhoenotexicon Aves

Max opened the file marked 'Immaculae' not entirely surprised to recognize the name. The Immaculae were the Director's new favorite experiments. The memo they had found in the 'Under Our Hats' Safe had said the Immaculae were perfect. Their only flaws were their extremely short temper and tendency to be violent, and the 'creepy factor'.

She hadn't thought to look up the Immaculae on Jeb's computer simply because she didn't think Jeb still had contact with the Director.

As soon as the file sprang open she realized what they were dealing with.

The list of abilities seemed to go on forever. Every Immaculae could read and control minds, they could run at super speed, they could lift up to seven-hundred pounds, all of their senses were so far in advance of the Flock's it was said they could hear a human heartbeat through three feet of solid lead.

And Max didn't doubt it for a second. The picture that came along with the file was of two children. One male, one female ... They had curling black hair, dark brown eyes, pale ivory skin, straight thin noses ... They looked like something out of a child models' portfolio.

But their eyes... They had dead eyes, soulless, deathly intelligent eyes. Like an animal...

And they were immune to the virus...

"Oh, my God ... They're just kids ... Evil little children!" Aaron mumbled.

Max glanced up at Aaron then back down at the computer, "It's spread through touch... It's like the flu. It gets on your hands and you touch something, put something in your mouth ... Jesus, how do you stop something that's spread like the flu?"

She clicked on the other link 'Phoenotexicon Aves' and noticed the first words were; 'PROJECT DISBANDED AS OF DECEMBER 17, 1994'

Below this there was a short paragraph.

'Regretably, through the loss of the entire Phoenotexicon Genetic Team, the Ave Series will be disbanded henceforth and surviving viable subjects auctioned. Surviving Viable Subjects include, two females, two males and one male infant...'

But the list of subject names was missing... As if it had been deleated.

Max shook her head to clear it. There was no mention of the virus in this file at all...

Why had it shown up in the search? Why was almost all of the file itself missing?

"We have to figure out how the Director and the Immaculae became immune to the virus. Then we have to somehow get it into the populous. That should take care of that ... Then we only have to worry about the Immaculae-"

"How do you stop something that's bigger and more powerful than you?" Nudge said pointing.

Max hesitated, pretending she had a plan. "They have to have a weakness ... You can't just NOT have a weakness."

"Maybe they're allergic to birds," The Gasman said. "If they are, all we'd have to do is have Fang and Aaron call a bunch of pigeons on them. We'd be safe cause we're two percent bird."

Max nodded, although she didn't like it when anyone said they were part 'bird'. Bird was such an undignified word. She preferred 'avian' it sounded better.

"I doubt they'd be that easy to deal with, I mean there are birds all over the place, I'm sure they would have thought of that."

Gasman fell silent for a ten count, "I could gas them to death."

Surprisingly Max nodded, "We may need that. They have advance senses of smell, that could really help."

Nudge's ears perked up, "Max, my new ability ... I can scream like a banshee, that would REALLY hurt their ears if they can hear a heart beating through lead."

And a plan started to form in Max's head. A team, they'd work as a team...

Gasman could handle their smell ... Nudge their hearing ... David could confuse them with that waking nightmare thing ... Or even knock them out...

But all that was only temporary. They had to STOP these things ... Whatever they did would have to be permanent, but what...

Unless they're being controlled like puppets we'll have to kill them. That's the only way they'll stop. We're going to end up being murderers no matter what... Max hated it. She hated that to save the world she would have to kill or be killed. It was survival of the fittest, and so far the Immaculae were in the lead...

What could be wrong with the Immaculae that they could use against them? What was their weakness?

Max gnawed her lip a m oment, thinking. Hating the fact that the things running through her head were sounding very Whitecoatish...

Find the Immaculae, find their weakness ... And exploit it...

"Well, we can't sit around here all day conspiring, we have to get someplace safe," Allan said under his breath.

Max nodded feeling sickened, "Get us someplace safe then."

Allan nodded and started up the jeep, pulling quickly onto the deserted road and heading farther north. Aaron followed him silently, lips between his teeth.

There's no dishonor in living to fight another day. Yeah, that's what Jeb would say ... Either that or he'd give me a riddle like Fang's photo album...

Max glanced to her right and saw Fang had the big book out again, staring at the photos his whole face appearing slightly gray/green.

"Idiot ... You're going to get car-sick," She put a hand to the side of his face and he looked up at her, though she wondered if he was really seeing her his eyes looked so glazed over.

"You feeling okay?"

He nodded and turned back to the book, flipping the page so he could stare at these photos as well. He was quiet for nearly thirty seconds and then, without looking up he spoke in a whisper;

"I think I'm dying."

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43. Chapters 70 and 71

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Chapter 70; Coming of Age

Max blinked stupidly for a moment. "What?"

He looked over at her and smiled sadly, "I think I'm dying ... Iggy's date showed up and he's younger than either of us ... What if that's all that's wrong with me, I'm just expiring."

Max felt the almost overwhelming need to punch him ... And draw him into her arms, but she didn't. She was NOT going to freak out over this... "You're not expiring, I checked last night, you're fine."

Please, don't let him be expiring... I don't think I'd be able to take it if he died too...

He scratched his chin, "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure," She took his head and turned it, grabbing the mangled ponytail he'd tried unsuccessfully to reconstruct and lifting it, her heart in her throat. She let out a sigh, running her fingers over the back of his neck.

"No date, just hair and some dirt ... You should really wash more thoroughly, Fang, or you'll leave a ring around your collar," She hoped the joke disguised the relief and fear in her voice.

He shoved her away gently and chanced a small smile. It had been a while since he'd felt this uncomfortable. His face felt overly hot, his eyes super sensitive to the light, his finger tips numb and tingly... And the fact Aaron and Nudge were right beside them did little to alleviate his growing claustrophobia.

He hated small spaces, it reminded him of being in a dog crate. Locked away like he had been for most of his childhood. He knew the cages were gone, and that he was free, even if just for a little while longer. But the bars in his mind were harder to tear down than the ones that had been trapping him so long ago.

"Are you sure that you're okay?" Max said again, giving him the Max version of a sympathetic smile.

He didn't feel OK. Since he'd woken up that morning his back had been cramping. As if someone had kicked him. Of course, he and Max had gotten into a rather intense kick-boxing match when they'd been hallucinating the night before. But the pain was torture ... And so was the pounding headache building behind his eyes as well as his ribs...

"Fang?"

He turned to her, opening his mouth to speak but her hands came to his face, one on each cheek. "You look terrible."

He pushed her hands away irritated by her closeness. By her 'friendly' attitude... He wished she'd stop sending him mixed messages. If she liked him then that was cool... If not, then why wouldn't she just stop making him feel like she did?

He was getting sick of it. It was too hard to tell truth from reality at the moment, and he didn't need THAT screwing with his head too. He turned back to the window, rolling it part of the way down so the breeze hit his face. He closed his eyes against the brightness of the sun and propped his chin on his hand. "I'm just tired is all..."

He knew she didn't believe him and he fully expected her to argue with him because Max liked arguing with him, liked to agitate him... Turn him on then throw him down... But this time she sighed and left him alone, pulling the photo album off his lap and taking up where he had left off, staring at those seemingly random photos.

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Allan pulled off at what looked like a clinic turning to David and Angel with a smile. "You two up for some fun?"

Angel looked skeptical but David grinned and nodded his head vigorously.

Aaron pulled up beside them and Allan turned, at first seeing Fang's pale face leaned against the window. The boy had the hood of his sweatshirt up and his right arm folded under his head. Poor kid, Allan thought. He looks exhausted ... Exhausted and sick.

"What are we doing?" Nudge called and Max gave her a scathing look.

"Well, I was going to send David and Ariel in to get some of those tiny syringes we'd need to use that vaccine."

"So you've got a plan for that?" Max said, challenging him.

She knew she shouldn't have used such a hateful tone, but she'd been sitting wedged between Nudge, who wouldn't shut-up and Fang, who was just plain irritating at the moment, for almost five hours.

"Well, I was going to have David knock everyone out and Ariel will go and get the things."

After a few seconds Max nodded, "Okay ... But have them look around in there for something for Fang, he isn't doing too good."

"'m fine," He mumbled under his breath.

"You're not fine, and don't argue with me, everyone can see you're not fine."

He cracked his eyes open and peered out at them. The Gasman was nodding, "You really do look like crap."

"I'm just tired," And he closed his eyes, pulling the cords on his hood to close it, leaving only his mouth and nose exposed.

Angel worked quickly. Seeming to pounce on him while he was unaware, probing his mind before he had time to close it off again with pictures of things she thought disgusting. Like worms and giant rats roasting on a spit.

Pain ... Cold ... Worry ... Anger ... Sadness-

And then he shut her out, as if he knew she was looking in. He conjured up a mental picture of a snake eating a rabbit and Angel pulled away. She would have to talk to Max, soon. But right now she had to go in and get the syringes. She had to get the things Max needed to help save the world.

"Come on, David," She climbed out of the jeep and straightened her jacket so her wings weren't sticking out.

Angel liked being in charge. It was a welcome change. "Don't knock anyone out unless I tell you. I might be able to get what we need without having to put anyone asleep.

David nodded, "Okay."

He followed her closely. Watching her beautiful blonde curls bounce as she walked. He loved her hair. He wished he had hair like hers.

But he hated being in that clinic ... It smelled too much like that horrible room, what Nick called, 'Whitecoats' had kept him in in Mississippi. And he didn't like the woman sitting behind the desk when they entered. She was wearing an all blue outfit AND, a white lab coat.

"Hi," Angel said sweetly.

The woman raised her head and smiled, "If you have any questions about the sickness you'll have to go to the emergency room, we're not prepared to treat victims here."

Angel shook her head, "No, we just need some things."

The woman's face seemed to grow slack for half a second and her eyes fluttered. "What do you need?"

"Syringes ... Good ones, Max needs to give us a shot."

The woman nodded and climbed to her feet, disappearing for a few minutes.

David felt uneasy. He hated this place, he wanted to run away ... He wanted to fly away and never come back. It smelled too much like Mississippi here.

"Its OK, David," Angel took his hand and he pressed himself close to her, as if being in physical contact with her would protect him.

The woman came back carrying little packages. She dropped them into a little drawer at the bottom of the window and Angel collected them. Holding them away from her body as if they were poisonous.

"Are you a doctor?"

The woman nodded, that dazed expression coming over her face again.

"What's right here?" Angel slashed her hand across the middle of her back.

"Your back."

"No, I mean inside."

"Lungs, spleen, kidneys, spine, ribs..." Her voice trailed off. "Why?"

Angel smiled sweetly, "No reason," She turned to David, "Your turn."

The woman's head lolled back and her mouth fell open. After a few seconds she was snoring.

Angel and David left the clinic proud that they'd fulfilled their mission without a hitch. Angel really did like being the leader...

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Chapter 71; You Know, the Other White Meat?

They camped out at first that night. Not because they wanted to, but because every hotel they passed was either packed or closed. So, they found a secluded part of the woods and bedded down. Agreeing to sleep in the cars incase something happened and they had to make quick on the ground, get away.

Allan drove to the nearest grocery store and picked up a few pork chops and some cans of fruit cocktail, hoping to retain his position on Nudge's 'Five Favorite Adults Who Bring Me Food' list.

When he got back Fang was still asleep, as he had been since the stop at the clinic. He hadn't even bothered to remove his safety belt.

"Shouldn't we wake him up for dinner?" Allan said, fixing a pork chop on the end of David's roasting stick.

"He'll wake up when he smells this cooking," Nudge said turning her own stick. She had apparently 'forgotten' about being a vegetarian because she had two 'chops' on her stick. Both of which were looking a lovely shade of nearly cooked.

Max decided roasted pork chop wasn't such a bad thing. It was pretty good. Once you got over the scorched meat smell there in the beginning.

She glanced to her right at the truck, taking in Fang's dark form slouched in the seat. He looked small sitting there. Small and helpless...

Worry churned up the contents of Max's stomach and she stopped herself from going to him. She would NOT let him win. He hadn't wanted to talk to her for WEEKS, then FINE! She was going to give him a taste of his own medicine! The pig deserved it!

Iggy had taken up the vegetarian challenge and had devoured four cans of fruit cocktail and a granola bar and was, at that moment, sitting off by himself his arms wrapped around his middle, head bowed, trying to force himself to stay put, even though he wanted nothing more than to leap into the air and fly back to Arizona...

That burning feeling had changed somewhat ... He wasn't sure it was pointing him to Arizona anymore... It felt like it was ... Moving...

The Gasman and Angel were seated side by side Gasman roasting two chops on his stick, Angel munching on a can of mandarin orange slices. Every so often she'd sigh and poke one into her brother's mouth and he'd blink for a moment startled, then chew and swallow.

Aaron was seated on the hood of the jeep a few yards away smoking a cigarette, even though Allan had scolded him, saying that he wasn't really old enough to legally do it. And Total was sitting by Allan looking into the flames bored out of his little doggie skull.

"This is nowhere near as entertaining as our previous camping trips. And I've even taken into account the whole 'end of the world' thing too..."

"Nudge, would you go check on Fang?" Max said around her food, trying to drown out Total's comment.

Nudge sighed, irritated, and climbed to her feet pulling one of her finished chops from the stick and gnawing on it. She walked slowly around the bed of the truck kicking a few stones and knocked on the window until Fang raised his head and blinked at her hatefully.

"Hey, Lorcan, you still with us?"

"Don't call me 'Lorcan'," He grumbled and begrudgingly forced himself to climb out of the truck, since Nudge had woken him up and he doubted very seriously he was going to be able to go back to sleep. His whole body hurt, his head felt light, his eyes swollen... He slid out of the truck and stood there, holding onto the door because his legs felt as if they were merely two sticks protruding from his hips. He looked up, wincing as he did, leaning heavily on the door.

"What is that?" He motioned to the chop Nudge was chewing wrinkling his nose.

She smiled and held out her stick, her eyes sparkling, memories from years ago flooding back like a tidal wave. "It's pretty good surprisingly... Want one?"

He stood there for a few seconds, staring blearily at the hunk of meat on the end of her stick, his stomach doing a weird kind of dance... Up and down ... Up and down...

Nudge was amused that he looked so childish standing there clinging to the door, eyes half closed lower lip out, nose wrinkled up like a cat.

Up and down ... Up and down...

"What is it, Nudge?"

She grinned broadly narrowing her eyes and gave the stick a little shake, hoping to entice him into taking it. "Sewer Rat."

He blinked, for a moment his face registering no emotion. Then he simply batted the stick away with an open hand, turned his head and was sick.

Nudge jumped back startled, eyes wide, and she heard Aaron scrambling off the jeep hood cursing.

"Jeez, Fang, I was kidding, it's just a pork chop!"

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44. Chapters 72

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(BIG NOTE!!This is the last chapter in Part 3, I thought I posted it last time, but I guess I didn't... SORRY. And BRAVO to those of you who figured out part of the puzzle!! Fang is NOT an Immaculae, but he IS connected to them in a way that could not only kill him, but his whole family. insert foreshadowing here. I've given the answer away to this near the beginning of Part 3, if you go back and make sure to follow every single word Ter Borcht says while he's talking to Iggy in the 'Castle Von Gasman' sequence, you'll figure it out, and trust me, it's a shocker. Paul almost threw up on me when I gave up and told him.)

(Oh, and WARNING... You will be shocked, rocked and angered by the end of this chapter. But, you might get a few more chapters out of me in a few days. I've got a sunburn so bad I'm going to lounge around and skip work until I can put on more than my bikini top. Just thought I'd warn you... SHOCKED, ROCKED and ANGERED!)

Chapter 72; A New Development

Iggy had done a lot of things, meaning he'd picked quite a few locks in his lifetime. He'd even managed to pick the lock on Max's closet years before, though she had caught him in the act. But picking the lock on a hotel was a completely different matter.

"Are you sure there aren't any security alarms?" He mumbled around the little utensils he'd stuck between his lips.

"Yes, I'm sure," Nudge growled. "The lady that worked here last left before she turned them on. She was too afraid of the virus."

Iggy was glad for the distraction. He didn't have to think about the burning sensations, or that weird vortex thing in his head when he was doing something... It was all easier to bear if he was just ... DOING something...

He wondered absently if there was anything in the hotel he could use to build a bomb...

"How's it coming guys?" Max called from the truck, "Can't we move a little faster, I thought your record was under a minute now."

Iggy wanted to flip her the bird but didn't. He needed to concentrate, he may not have abilities any longer but he could sure pick a lock. Especially when he didn't have to think about other things while he was doing it...

Fang moaned again and Iggy nearly bit one of his little picks in half. He had to hurry, he had to hurry...

Click...

"I got it!" He shoved the door open and ran in on his hands and knees to get out of the way.

Nudge ran in, vaulted over the counter and started looking for keys. "Here, room one-thirteen," She leapt back over the counter clutching that little key card in her fist. Angel and David were already inside, flipping on light switches and moving furniture out of the way.

Despite all the apprehension and downright fear everyone was working as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"No, Fang, don't move... Just calm down!" Iggy heard Max say loudly and boot shod feet walked dangerously close to his hand.

"What room?" Allan's voice.

Nudge's feet ran past him and Iggy crawled a few more feet away to stand glad he didn't hit his head on anything when he did. He leaned his hip against the wall and waited. His part of this was over for the time being, so he wanted to stay out of the way and let everyone else do their job. Even if that meant he was alone with his thoughts...

Aaron was the last one to come in. He shut the doors and patted Iggy on the shoulder then walked down the hall somewhere off to Iggy's left.

"Don't, just don't ... Leave me alone, please leave me alone."

Iggy walked toward the sound of Fang's voice, his hand grazing the wall, following it until he found an open door and Gazzy pushed past him, rushing back toward the lobby.

"Stop moving ... Now where does it hurt?" Max was using her 'motherly dictator' voice.

"It doesn't. Now please just leave me alone."

"Don't lie to me ... It hurts right he-"

"OW! STOP! Get off me, your hands are cold."

Iggy wondered what Max had been prodding but he didn't say anything.

"Nicky, we're just trying to help, but if you don't cooperate how are we going to be able to?" Aaron was doing a pretty good job at hiding the fear in his voice. "Now, we've established you've got a stomach ache-"

"Stomach ache? It felt like someone stabbed me you jackass, and-"

"Yeah, jackass!" David said, trying to help.

"Iggy, why don't you keep David out of here," Gasman said passing him again as he reentered the room. "Unless you want to be the fetcher of ice."

"I don't NEED ice and it isn't a stomach ache."

"Not a stomach ache? Then what is pain that makes you grab your stomach and scream?" Aaron said.

"David, why don't you and Iggy go find the pool," Angel said and as she pushed David's little hand into Iggy's.

Iggy was about to protest that EVERYONE wanted him to stay out of the important things when David jerked his arm forward and they were jogging down the hall.

Allan ran a hand through his hair, "Alright then, what hurts? Is it your side?"

"No," Fang grumbled and buried his face in the crook of his arm. It was bad enough he'd thrown up after Nudge's little 'sewer rat' joke. But the grabbing his stomach and screaming thing ... That was downright embarrassing. And curling up in the fetal position on the bed was just as bad, although it did feel pretty good...

Max bit her lip and put her left hand on his cheek again but he shoved her away. "Why do you keep doing that, Fang? It's annoying."

"Doing what? You're the one who's annoying, you obviously can't keep your hands off me."

She balled up her fists to punch him but chose to wait until she was sure he wasn't going to die.

All the muscles in her stomach and lower back were tense, aching. It was happening again, that weird sense of Fang's pain. She kneaded her back with rigid fingertips hoping to make the pain stop, but she knew even while she was doing it that the only way to make it stop was to help Fang.

How was she going to give him a taste of his own medicine when he needed her help?

He ALWAYS found a way to draw her in, didn't he... The manipulative shit...

"Max?" Angel said tentatively.

"Yeah, sweetie?"

"The doctor we got the shot things from ... I asked her what was in here," She put her hands on her back, "And she said that it was your spleen, spine, ribs and kidneys."

"Kidneys..." Allan said and after a moment he said it again, "Kidneys ... Nick?"

He grunted to let Allan know he was listening.

"Have you been drinking a lot of soda or coffee lately?"

"'Couple pots of coffee in the mornings..."

"Why that much?"

Fang cracked an eye open, "'cause I stay up late, then I gotta go to school in the morning ... You try going on two-hours of sleep in such a boring situation and see how easy it is to stay awake."

Allan nodded, "How long has it been since you've gone to the bathroom?"

Fang groaned, "I'm not hearing this..."

"How long?"

"Yesterday morning," He growled.

Allan sighed and walked quickly toward the door.

"Where are you going?" Max said near frantically. She may be the leader but Allan was an adult, and he was the only one of them who could drive legally.

Even though they didn't really NEED someone to drive...

Allan was just the only one who was semi-level headed at the moment...

"I think I know what's wrong with Nick."

"What's that?"

Allan stopped in the door looking back with a pained grin on his face, "Do you trust me?"

"Not as far as I can throw you," Max said, meaning it to be more hurtful than it sounded.

Allan smiled yet wider, "I knew you'd say that ... Just trust me this once. If I'm right, he'll be okay by morning. If not and I let you down you can kick my butt, deal?"

Max hesitated. "You'd better not let me down, because I can kick VERY hard, ask Aaron."

Allan was gone a grand total of ten minutes. He came back carrying a single brown-glass bottle and about four LARGE bottles of water. "You guys might want to leave ... David and Jeff are down at the pool. I should have him fixed up in a little while and I'll come down to join ya'."

Max glanced at Angel who nodded her assent and they left.

"What's he doing, Angel?" Gazzy said, falling into step beside his sister.

"He said that he had something that would make it easier on Fang, whatever that meant. But he knew what he was doing."

"He isn't going to hurt him?" Max said.

Angel shook her head, "Not intentionally."

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"YAHOO!" David screamed shrilly and leapt off the diving board, curling himself up and landing with a gigantic 'SPLASH!' for such a small boy.

Max pushed open the door to the 'POOL HALL' and looked around.

Iggy was sitting by the edge of the pool the legs of his jeans rolled up past his knees, feet in the water. And David was swimming toward them grinning widely. He'd stripped down to his Green Lantern Boxers and tank top, and he looked like he was having the time of his life doggy paddling around.

"Can I swim too?" Total said looking up at Max expectantly.

Max looked around for cameras, ensuring herself that there wasn't a security risk if she were to allow her talking dog to swim around. That and she was afraid that someone had caught David's wings on tape.

There was one camera but Iggy's sweatshirt had been draped over it. So it was about as useful as an unlit candle.

She realized that since the virus was going around and the hotel had been abandoned it didn't matter if a dog went swimming in the pool because by the time people got back here the water would need changed and the pool cleaned anyway.

"Yeah, go ahead have fun, all of you. Just please, keep it quiet, we don't know who or what could hear us."

Gasman whooped and started shucking his clothing as if no one were standing there to see.

Max started to protest after he'd gotten his shirt off, about to say that it was OK for David to run around in his boxers because he was only seven, but the Gasman must have been thinking the same thing because he jumped in still wearing his jeans.

Angel pulled off her jacket, socks and shoes then with a jubilant little squeak jumped into the pool and sank from sight.

Max doubted she would see the girl again until 'Swim time' was over.

Nudge and Aaron looked at each other then glanced to their left in near unison at a particularly inviting looking hot tub.

"Mind giving me a hand with these ruddy bandages?" Aaron said and slowly pulled of his sling.

"Come on in, Max, this is fantastic!" Gazzy said loudly, then splashed David by swooping his wings forward.

David spluttered and splashed him back indignantly.

Max shook her head and walked around the pool to Iggy. "Mind if I join you?"

Iggy shook his head.

Max kicked off her shoes and rolled up her pants legs then sat gingerly beside Iggy and stuck her feet into the water. She felt an odd sense of awkwardness stealing over her. As if she'd overstayed her welcome simply by sitting down... Yet she stayed put, simply because she felt she needed to somehow comfort Iggy... Somehow she needed comfort herself and right now Iggy was the only one who understood even half of what she was experiencing.

"You want to talk?"

He shook his head and Max noticed he had a far off look on his face. She wondered what he was doing locked in his head. Then decided she probably didn't want to know, lest it depress her further.

Max sat there for a few minutes watching everyone swim around laughing and splashing each other, feeling oddly detatched and numb to the joy of it. Jealous of it even... While keeping an eye on Nudge and Aaron, who were getting a little too close for Max's liking in the hot tub.

Nudge's right hand was slipping under the water and Aaron had a bewildered, enraptured look on his face...

"I'll be back in a minute," She said to Iggy and climbed quickly to her feet. She extended her wings and flew across the gymnasium sized room. It felt so good to fly again. Even for just a short distance. She landed beside the hot tub and crossed her arms over her chest. "Do you two need a chaperone?"

Nudge and Aaron disentangled themselves from each other and Aaron looked up at her kind of dazed. "Uh ... Possibly..."

Max didn't turn from them, afraid if she did Nudge might pounce on Aaron again. "Hey, Total, they've got a hot tub over here!"

"Hot tub? HOT TUUUUUB!" Total practically howled. He lunged out of the pool and ran toward the hot tub, his black fur slicked and dripping. He dove in and started paddling around tongue lolling from his mouth. "This is awesome!"

"Just keep an eye on these two for me, make sure they don't get too close. And hands stay above the water," She pointed at Nudge, who seemed to darken with blush...

"Gotcha!" Total continued to paddle around happily amongst the Jacuzzi bubbles.

As Max walked back to the pool two things happened. One, she staggered, and two, she laughed out loud. Quite suddenly, she felt a great penitrating sensation of relief, her muscles relaxed, the headache that had been plagueing her suddenly evaporated, the pain in her back was melting down and away... It felt absolutely fantastic. So good in fact...

"CANNON BAAAAAALL!" Max screamed loudly and she jumped into the pool, pulling her knees to her chest and hugging them.

David laughed loudly, in his shrill seven-year-old voice. "I give it a nine!"

Max resurfaced, "A nine? A NINE, are you kidding me, that was a ten if I ever shaw one!"

And then the moment was over and Max wondered what on earth had made her feel all of the sudden giddy. Was the lack of sleep finally getting to her? Was everything getting to her?

Had she finally gone off her rocker?

She wiped water from her face and smiled at David, "Ask Gazzy to teach you to do a flying dive."

David's face lit up and he turned in the water, doggie paddling to the Gasman, "Hey, HEY! What's a flying dive?"

Max calmly swam to the edge of the pool and climbed out wringing her hair out as she did.

Allan slipped into the room and when Max cocked a questioning eyebrow at him he held up both fists, his thumbs raised and grinned, his hair standing proudly up from his forehead in a dark blonde tuft.

For half a second Max thought he looked startlingly familiar, and a sick sense of déjà vu slipped through her head, wafting away almost as quickly as it had appeared.

"You guys don't hang around in here too long, okay?" She called over her shoulder to her extended flock.

"Got it!" "Okay!" "AWW!" Were her answers.

Max sloughed back down the hall and climbed over the desk searching out another key card. She found quite a few and chose one near Fang's room for herself.

She chanced a quick journey outside to gather everyone's bags then lined them up outside rooms and laid key cards on top. Once she was sure everyone's sleeping arrangements were taken care of and she had developed a chill in the air-conditioned hallway, she opened the door to her room and slipped inside, locking the door and heading directly to the shower.

That ache in her back was gone now, which mean Fang either wasn't in pain any longer or was asleep, so she took a long shower, testing all nine of the showerhead's massage settings on her wings and back.

When this is over I want a shower like this ... This is fabulous.

Max had never been one to take long showers. But this time she did, and she was glad she had a room to herself because she didn't want anyone to hear her crying. It had been bad enough when she'd been able to hear Iggy crying. But to be the one being heard... She supposed that was why Iggy didn't want to talk. Because he knew they'd heard him.

She heard the others coming back. Laughing and whispering as they walked to their rooms. She heard Nudge and Aaron take about ten minutes to say good night to each other before Allan separated them. And she heard showers turn on and off.

She dried her hair. Brushed and braided it then dug in her bag for something to sleep in. Her stomach growled petulantly as she pulled on a pair of lounge pants and a sleeveless shirt cut to accommodate unfolded wings.

She didn't bother putting on socks as she crept out of her room and down the hall, Glad the kitchen was on the first floor. She just numbly enjoyed the feeling of carpet between her toes.

She didn't want anything fancy. Just some toast would be wonderful. A couple pieces of toast... Maybe a chocolate bar or something sweet...

She wanted chocolate chip cookies... She wanted her mother's chocolate chip cookies...

Max stopped in the door and covered her face. Willing herself not to cry, pleading with anyone who would listen to not let her cry. Why had this happened? Why had ANY of this happened?

It didn't make sense. It wasn't fair... Life was taking everything from her piece by piece... It was stealing everything she loved...

Max leaned back against the wall and sank down, holding her knees.

It wasn't fair... It was WRONG...

She didn't want to be a hero... She just wanted to be alive... Alive, unhunted ... Free...

Did she not have a choice in her own life? Did she not have a say in the making of her own destiny? If this was it, why had she been so worried about having to 'make the choice' ... It was obviously being made for her...

Why was life so cruel? Why couldn't it just leave her alone... She was tired of fighting it. She just wanted to be left alone...

For once in her life, she just wanted to be left alone... Somebody else could make the decisions, because she was done... DONE!

She climbed to her feet and rushed back down the hall toward her room before someone walked in and found her sitting there in a useless-girly-blubbering heap!

"Damn it..."

Max froze and pressed her back against the wall peering around the corner. Her heart hammered behind her ribs, her breath hissed in and out of her throat.

Fang was standing in the hall before her room door, his arms braced against the wall above his low hung head. His face was screwed up... His lips compressed into a nonexistant pale slash.

A feeling of agonized, heartbreaking need swept over Max and her breath caught in her throat as she looked at him.

What was going on?

Why did he look so miserable? He wasn't in pain... HE had nothing to be upset over...

He shifted uncomfortably on his feet and rocked back into an upright position. One of his long, thin hands raked through his hair and he growled in frustration when it mussed the ponytail he'd pulled it back into. He jerked the band free and shook his head then politely flipped the band down the hall at his room door where it disappeared against the carpet.

For half a second Max felt overwhelmingly apprehensive, as if she were being watched and she slipped back around the corner for fear that he'd seen her and knew she'd been spying on him.

At the same moment Fang turned his head and glanced at the corner she was concealed behind, his eyebrows drawn down wearily.

Max wiped angerily at her eyes and waited, listening with bated breath as his feet made soft scuffing sounds on the carpet.

She'd never known him to make sounds when he walked before and she hesitantly peeked around the corner again, lip between her teeth- And saw him standing there, a hand over his mouth, the other outstretched, as if reaching for something dangling in the air in his peripheral vision. His feet braced shoulder width apart. He seemed to be looking for something because he started walking like this down the hall away from her.

He giggled.

Max cocked an eyebrow. Fang giggling? What was going on? One minute he'd been standing there outside her room looking ... Miserable... The next he was giggling?

She summoned courage she didn't know she possessed and called to him in a hushed whisper; "Fang!"

He span around as if she'd screamed at him, arms flailing in wide pinwheeling archs and he stumbled backward in an overexadurated fashion. Though he managed to keep his feet gracefully connected with the floor and he giggled again. As if amused by his own antics.

"Fang, are you okay?"

He grinned, that same Aaron like grin that he'd introduced her to the night before.

She'd never seen him like this, staggering around all awkward and ... Giggly.

"Are ... You ... Oh ... Kay?" She walked toward him, not entirely sure that it was the smart thing to do.

He nodded vigorously and gave her the "OK" sign by pressing the tips of his thumb and index finger together his other fingers splayed behind the circle they created.

"Are you sure?"

He giggled yet again, this time louder and Max felt aprehension bubbling in her stomach. What was going on? This all felt like a bad vaudville act... Then saw that look in his eyes. A glassy, keen kind of awareness... Like he'd been crying... Or was on the verge of it...

She was about to shove all her emotions down and call him a pig and tell him not to hang around outside her door because it was creepy and stalkerish but he spoke first.

"Guess what," He said under his breath.

"What?" Max said, playing along for the moment.

"I-I'm drunk."

Max felt like her eyebrows had just shot through the roof. "How did you get drunk and WHY?" She walked to him, because it looked like at any second he might fall over. And she didn't want the others to hear their conversation.

She'd never seen him act so strangely. Did someone have a camera on her? Was this just a practical joke? She wasn't sure what was happening. But she didn't like how he was acting ... She perferred him acting sick.

"G-guess what..."

"What?" She hissed.

"Allan says I gots kidney stones."

"Allan says you 'gots' kidney stones..." Okay, she thought to herself. He's out of his cotton-pickin-mind...

He tittered to himself and slowly straightened, his eyes clearing somewhat now that he had her attention and that unconscious action told her that he'd been acting all along... Though she didn't know how... Nor did she let him know that she knew.

"Don't tell anyone?" He said in a semi-normal whisper.

"Don't tell anyone that you might have kidney stones?" She said, hoping she'd put enough 'I am SOOO onto you' in her voice without actually saying it.

He shook his head, "No ... Don't tell anyone about this," And he kissed her.

Max shoved him violently away, so violently he bounced into the wall behind him, punching a hole in it with his elbow. And she wished desperately for a toothbrush, "What have you been drinking?"

He let out a sigh and leaned casually against the wall, giving up the act... After a moment he spoke in what she considered a snide tone, but was actually him trying to be funny. "I really had you going there, didn't I."

Max growled and punched him in the shoulder.

He put his hand to it, mouth coming open, nose wrinkling, but he didn't punch her back. As she expected him to do... As she wished he would do so she could kick his butt for sure.

"Are you really drunk?" She glared at him.

He shook his head, "No, after I drank enough water to fill a pool Allan gave me one beer and said to drink it. I thought it tasted intolerable so I poured it out ... Like rotten apples," He licked his teeth and shivered. "Almost made me puke again."

"You're a jerk, you know that, a real jerk. I thought you'd gone crazy ... No, you ARE crazy."

He crossed his arms defensively. "I just wanted to make you laugh, OK? I'm tired of everyone being so depressed-"

Max scoffed, "Need I remind you of what happened last night? Have you really forgotten?"

He shook his head. "No ... But," He shifted uncomfortably and scratched at the back of his neck. "I don't like it when you're upset, alright?"

"And what do you care if I'm upset, huh? My whole family is dead. DEAD. I saw my own sister get blown up, do you understand that? I saw my mother lying dead with her throat ripped out. I think I deserve to be a little upset!" Max had discovered she had perfected the art of whisper-screaming. It was something she prided herself in, but she wanted nothing more than to really scream at him. Beat him to a pulp for having the audacity to say she needed to laugh, needed to stop being so depressed when the world was taking everything she cared about away.

Who did he think he was! Acting all stupid and drunk, trying to make her laugh! Didn't he care? Didn't he have a soul? Did he not feel ANYTHING!

She was trembling and she wanted to go back to her room and hide under the blankets until morning. Until forever... So she wouldn't have to see anymore pain or death...

"Max?"

"What?" She glared at him, putting as much anger and hate into it as she could...

A soft voice echoed from the other end of the hall and Max instantly identified it as the Gasman watching TV.

Fang rubbed his neck again nervously and with a frustrated sigh took her hand and walked right to her room, opening the door and pulling her inside so they didn't run the risk of being discovered.

His heart was pounding against his ribs and he shut the door. Locking it behind him then lowered his voice to barely a breath.

"Don't look at me."

She gave her head a shake, taken aback, her stomach churning into knots. "What?"

He growled and took a step closer to her so she was practically pinned against the door and would have to push him away to see anything more than his chin and throat... And the hectic thrum of his pulse in the side of his neck...

He swallowed and she watched his Adam's apple bob.

For half a second he felt more real to her than he ever had before... Simply because she could see his heart beating as fast, if not faster than her own... Because he'd swallowed to steady himself before he spoke...

He didn't seem so mysterious now. So forboding, dark and emotionless...

At that second, he seemed like a scared teenager, running the last legs of the race between child and man. About to leap over a frighteningly high hurdle that could either face plant him in the dirt, or liberate him from the chaos... A gigantic risk he'd jumped at fearlessly, only to realize he was scared shitless and there was no way to stop now. Inertia had him in her icy grasp...

Events were unfolding and he couldn't stop them until they'd played out, to his defense, or his defeat... Only time would tell.

But Max shoved the emotion and thought away, to angry and hurt to think about or experience it... To angry to believe in anything but pain.

"I can't do it if you're looking at me with your eyes, Max, I can't stand it."

"What am I supposed to look at then?" She stared into the corner by the bathroom door and crossed her arms over her chest in a last attempt to put some kind of barrier between her and Fang. Trying to protect herself from his emotionlessness. "You're acting weird."

He breathed heavily for a moment, bracing his hands flat against the door above her. He leaned forward, as if he might collapse and spoke, his breath, hot on her shoulder. "I can't stand it when you're upset, Max ... And don't say you're not, I KNOW you are, OK? And it does something to me. It ... Hurts me..."

"It hurts you?"

She wanted to shove him. To kick, and punch and beat his head in. How could he do this? He couldn't stand to see her upset... He'd upset her more than once himself!

That redheded girl in Virginia ... Lissa had been one such upset. So had Faith, Hannah, Debbie and Laura, the four girls he'd 'gone out with' in the three years since the 'Germany Affair'. Had it 'hurt' him then? Or did he do it just so it would hurt her... Was he doing this now, saying these things to hurt her? So he'd know how upset it made her?

Was he purposefully trying to make her cry?

"Let me go, Fang... Just get out... Leave me alone," She pressed against him, trying to make him leave and guilt stabbed through her stomach.

"Why won't you ever listen, huh?" He lifted his head and glared at her, bending a little at the waist so he looked her eye to eye. "Why do you ALWAYS run away! Am I that disgusting? Am I really that terrible!"

His eyes shone like cut obsidian and for half a second Max was too angry to look at him.

She turned her head, staring at the floor and something bubbled in her stomach... Shame and a longing to call him crazy and pull him into her arms... Make him understand that she didn't think he was disgusting, or terrible. That she was still overwraught with guilt over her family's death and ashamed of how she felt about him when he so obviously would flirt at and chase any girl who batted an eye at him!

What made her think that he would change for her? Who was she to him?

Just another girl...

And she refused to be 'just another girl' to anyone. She wasn't 'just another girl' she was Maximum Ride! She deserved respect, she deserved someone who wouldn't treat her like 'just another girl'...

And, as much as she wanted it to be, if that person wasn't Fang then she'd just have to suck it up and live with it... Even if it hurt... Even if she regreted letting him go...

Max snuffed back tears, refusing to wipe her face when they fell anyway.

"Just go, Fang ... Please, just go away..."

But he didn't...

He stood there, a puzzled look on his face... As if he'd just heard everything she'd thought.

"No."

She rolled her eyes, but refused to look at him. Refused to play along with his sick, tortourous game. Refused to give him the satisfaction.

"I'm gonna say this... And you're either going to listen to me, or ignore me. But, either way, Max, I'm saying it, understand? This is my choice. My life. My ... My feelings, OK? And I don't care what you think or do right now. I'm saying it because I can't take looking at you, and feeling this way anymore without saying SOMETHING!"

Her stomach churned unpleasantly. "You're an asshole..."

"And you've treated me like crap... Every time I want to talk to you, you've got more important things to do."

"I've got to save the world, Fang. That's pretty freaking important!"

"Yeah, but unless you live a little, Max, you won't have a REASON to save it," He pressed the tip of a trembling finger to the center of her chest, where her heart continued its frantic pounding. Almost like Iggy playing the drums in the school marching band... But without the talent the redhead had.

She did look at him then. Staring hatefully into his face. "You ARE drunk, aren't you? I can't believe this... I should kick your ass into next year!"

He hit the door with an open palm right by her head but Max didn't flinch even though the sound was sudden and hurt her ears. She heard the Gasman calling softly from his room down the hall. 'Max, is everything OK?'

"I'm NOT drunk..." Fang growled through his teeth. Barely a sound leaving him...

"You smell drunk," She growled back. Equally as quiet...

His lips came together tightly, his eyes blazing a reddish color around the edges.

Max stared at him, her anger growing twice as fast as it should have. But she recognized something odd about it... Only because she was trying to stuff it down and she needed to categorize it first. It felt weirdly like she was angry with two people...

She was angry because one wouldn't listen and was avoiding the subject and the other because he was drunk and trying to hurt her for his own amusement...

But who was avoiding the subject? The only one who was avoiding the subject was her! Rage bubbled in her chest... Along with something else... Fear?

Why was she afraid? Why did she suddenly feel like she'd said the wrong thing? Why were strange conflicting emotions rapidly sweeping over her?

More anger, fear, betrayal... Sadness, and pain...

"Fang, I want you to leave, now, or I'll MAKE you leave, do you understand THAT!"

He bared his teeth his eyes more hurt than angry and the hurt made him dangerous. Max knew this only because she'd seen what he could do when he was hurt... "Try it. Go on, TRY IT... I promised you a long time ago I wasn't ever gonna leave you again, and I'm NOT going to break that promise now... Not now, not EVER..."

He said this with a kind of finality that made Max shudder, but she continued staring at him. Unwilling to admit that he had frightened her.

Fang leaned close to her again, his forehead barely inches from her own his dark eyes boring into her face and Max saw deep within them, a wounded, bloody flicker of sadness ... and pain...

Her breath stilled in her throat. She couldn't breath! She couldn't move-

His fingernails scratched against the door and he spoke through his teeth, glaring at her, daring her to try and throw him out. Try and make him leave before he'd said what he'd come to say.

"I've tried to ignore it, I've tried like hell to ignore it, Max. I've gone with other girls, I've tried to ignore it, but I can't. It ALWAYS comes back to YOU! And it's killing me..."

Max felt bile rise in her throat and she wanted to look away... She wanted to tell him that his 'other girls' could have him! She didn't want him because he was a jerk. A mean, hurtful jerk... But she remained silent. She'd let him finish... Simply because it hurt too much to drag it out any longer...

It would end tonight... She knew that now. Everything would end tonight...

"You can call me a sexist pig all you want, you can laugh at me and tell me that I'm crazy, I don't care anymore... I really don't..." The hurt in his eyes said otherwise, but she didn't speak. "You act like I'm your toy or something. Someone who is there when you need them and gone when you don't. Well, did it ever occur to you that I've got feelings too? That I might need someone sometimes too? Or did you ever pull your head far enough out of your butt to even notice me?"

She stiffened, wanting to pummle him, but she stood her ground. He wanted to talk, she'd let him talk ... Then she'd beat his no good bastard-pig-jerk head in and spit in his face!

"You might be Maximum Ride, bird-girl hero, but I am FANG, and I'm NOT just some emotionless THING you can play around with whenever you feel the notion. I have feelings, I have my own thoughts, my own desires... And I can't take feeling THIS from YOU and hearing something else come out of your mouth, so please," He took a shuddering breath, blinking and almost turned away from her but he ground his teeth and made himself continue to stare straight into her eyes... Because to do anything else would cow him... "Please, Max, just tell me the truth. Tell me the fucking truth so I can stop FEELING... like I'm being used. I'm tired of feeling like a lab-rat... I may not know everything but I know I'm NOT a lab-rat... You taught me that... You helped me realize I'm a good person, despite the wings on my back, BECAUSE of them..." He swallowed again, his mouth dry. "I know who I am now, and I know that when you hurt I hurt and I can't stand it anymore I can't take it... I can't handle knowing you're in pain and there's shit I can do about it ... So just..." He tightened his hand into a fist and let it fall against the door. "Just make it stop ... Or tell me how to do it because I-I just don't know how anymore ... It keeps me up at night. Max ... I can't sleep because of how afraid I am. I'm afraid something will happen and I'll feel you die like Iggy did Ella ... I don't know if I could live through something like that!"

They stared at each other for the longest time in silence, both shaking as if it were freezing in the room.

Max was silent for a few more seconds before she cleared her throat. "Y-you can feel ... Me," It was not a question. But almost a declaration...

He nodded, and turned away from her, ashamed, wanting nothing more at that moment, than to run away. To be able to stop Inertia in her frigid, arctic steps.

"I feel like I'm talkin' to two different Maxes sometimes..." He chuckled humorlessly, almost as if the confession pained him. "One second its normal and I get ... good feelings from you. I think it's safe enough to ... Feel, I guess... And the next second you act like I've got the plague or something... Am I really so crazy that I've got all this mixed up and you do like me? I've just got like ... something between my teeth or ... Or..." He stumbled over the words, and it came out more as a hapless titter, "Morning breath or something at the time?"

He sighed then and spoke, almost to himself, "Or am I in love with a ghost?"

She took a shuddering breath and his stomach tightened up painfully when he realized he hadn't spoken to just himself...

What had he just done?

He'd crossed that line between frendship and relationship and now it was over. It was all over... There was no going back. This was it. Inertia was having her way with him, his feet were touching the ground...

Everything he'd ever wanted now ballanced on a threadlike line that was slowly being sheered away like a glob of mud in a rainstorm.

Oh, God, he was going to be sick again ... Right here, right now ... all over the floor...

Her voice was cracked, as if it took a great effort to force it out; "W-What do you feel now?"

He shook his head, unwilling to look at her. She didn't care. She was making fun of him, teasing him as usual. She was being Max. Picking on him because they were friends and nothing more. Putting him in his place ... Friends, nothing more.

"Afraid ... Kind of sick to my stomach," He chuckled dispondantly, "Kind of like the world's about to end, but that might just be me..." He sighed all his courage, for the first time in his life, abandoning him. Snatched away like an umberella in a storm. "You know what? Forget I said anything ... I am drunk. Drunk and stupid... Very stupid," And he shoved back from the door, turning his head away and reaching for the knob, intent on leaving as quickly as possible, praying that Max had ignored him and would forget everything or chock it all up to him being 'drunk' even though he wasn't.

Max put all her weight and strength against the door, keeping it shut tightly, staring up at him wide eyed. The feminine half of her raising the warrior's club to knock him on his butt if she had to.

As long as she kept him in this room she didn't care if she had to break his bones.

He leaned forward again, hands braced on the door, shaking, eyes averted. "I'll leave if you move, Max."

She spoke very quickly, now, more than anything wanting him to stay. Because she knew, if she let him walk out that door, he wouldn't be there in the morning.

She'd let him say what he'd come to say ... Now it was her turn.

"You ... You... YOU..." She swallowed, forcing herself to speak, even though she wasn't sure she even spoke English anymore. 'You' seemed to be the extent of her vocabulary.

"You ... MAKE me hurt."

He didn't look up, but seemed to shrink in on himself.

"Every time you shrug something off ... Or-or laugh at some other girl's joke... Or smile at them... Or talk about them..." She swallowed again, her throat feeling like it was swelling shut, strangling her, turning her voice into a choked high rasp, betraying her, announcing that she'd lost control over the situation long ago... Even though she wouldn't EVER let her body show it. "The fact you can look at me and try something like ... Like THAT, then go off and look at some other girl without even batting an eye HURTS me more than anything... The fact that you don't see any difference between me and THEM ... HURTS... THAT'S why I run away, THAT'S why I can't even look at you sometimes... Because you don't respect me at ALL!"

He was silent a moment, then, without moving, he let out a little sigh, his lips forming words, although almost no sound came out save the hiss of his breath.

"You don't respect me enough to listen when I try to talk to you."

She ground her teeth. "Well, maybe if you TALKED to me sometime instead of ignoring me for a MONTH I'd listen!"

He gave his head a little shake and that was the only movement he made save a slight parting of his lips.

"I do respect you, Max ... I just don't know how to ignore what I feel anymore... I'm sorry..."

She paused. Blinking at him, wondering exactly what had just happened. Had he just apologized to her? Apologized for ignoring her?

No...

He was apologizing for loving her when she 'so obviously didn't love him'...

She'd lost him...

It was over...

Max felt sick and she wanted to fall apart. The world had done it. It had taken away everything she cared about. Her parents, her home, her sister, her life ... And now Fang.

Why was this happening?

Why was everything going so wrong?

A chill rushed up Max's spine and she felt her eyes start to over flow. The chill of lonliness was eating away at her and anger built within it... Surrounding it... Crushing that shard of ice in her chest with its fire...

She would NOT let this happen. She would NOT let someone else decide her fate. It was HER life, HER choice. HER destiny and she was NOT going to be cold and alone... It was unacceptable! She would NOT allow it!

NO!

"When you went flying that night and hurt yourself ... I woke up because I ... I felt you get hurt."

That nauseous feeling swimming around his stomach turned to lead and a jolt went through him. He wanted to start laughing because he knew she was doing it again. Teasing him... She had to be! Life was too cruel to allow him to be right about her. To allow what he'd felt from her to be true. But he remained emotionless... On the outside at least...

"You did..."

She nodded, and slowly, still afraid that he'd leave and she'd never see him again, she put a hand on the back of his neck, holding him in place, pressing her forehead against his, praying that he was able to feel what she was at that moment. To feel the panic and joy and nausea melting that lonely chill, and forcing her anger and resentment out through her toes...

"It was like I had a compass in my head, kind of pointing ... And there was this feeling. I had to go ... I NEEDED to go in that direction. Then I realized you were gone and I knew something had happened. So I followed this feeling and I found you ... Fang, I was so afraid you were dead and that I'd lost you," She hesitated, swallowing the urge to raise her voice from the whisper screaming tone she'd been using. And shout the next few words for everyone to hear. Her other hand went to the side of his face, feeling the tense muscles of his jaw and the roughness of those springy little dark hairs...

Feeling his flesh, his bones... His weakness and his strength...

"I don't want you to go... You are more than just Fang, I know that ... And I don't know what I'd do without you... You big... dumb sexist-pig-"

It happened very quickly. One moment he was just standing there, arms propped against the door to either side of her, head bowed into her embrace, the next his hands were in her hair and he was kissing her. And to Max it was as if she didn't know where the pleasure she felt ended and what she felt that belonged to Fang began ... It was a never ending circle that spiraled higher and higher... Flying higher and faster than she'd ever done alone...

There was no stopping it, she wouldn't have even if she had wanted to ... But she doubted she could ever want this ride to stop...

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45. PART FOUR Chapters 73 and 74

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PART FOUR SUMMARY; Cruel Decisions

History can and will repeat itself, those you thought you knew, in whom you placed your undying trust, are found to be liars.

The responsibility of growing up, of adulthood, comes with a hefty price, and sacrifices are expected and demanded, to pay for childish sins.

What chance do you have of cheating destiny? What chance do you have of saving the world?

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The Wings of Wrath; Part FourPurgatory Station

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(FYI!! Because this comes up later... At this point in the story everyone's ages stand thus...David 7, Angel 8, The Gasman, 10 soon to be 11, Nudge 15, Iggy 16 will be 17 in February, Max 17, Fang 17, Aaron 17, Allan 27, Bernard 33, Clark Donovan 35... Just thought this was a semi-useless bit of information you'd like to know, if not, ignore it.)

Chapter 73; Breaking and Entering

(Two Weeks Later)

"Iggy, help me..."MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE!

Iggy sat up in bed, tearing at the blankets. He let out a small cry and Gasman was suddenly there, shoving him down against the mattress.

Voices hovered over him, familiar voices. Aaron, Nudge, Angel and Allan. But HER voice over powered them all; "HELP ME!"

"What happened?" Allan sat on the edge of the bed and flattened a hand on Iggy's forehead. Pinning the boy's flailing arms so he wouldn't get punched.

"I don't know. I woke up to go get something to eat, and when I came back past the door I heard him shouting, so I opened the door and he was tossing and turning. So I tried to wake him up and noticed he was fevered," Gasman said stepping away from the bed nervously. "He's doing the same thing Fang is isn't he!"

"What's going on?" Max's groggy voice came from the direction of the door.

"How's Nick?" Allan turned to her.

"I got him back to bed. He's resting now."

"What ever this is it must be contagious..."

"Do you think it's the Z-Virus?" Gasman said under his breath. "Oh, jeez ... Do they have the Z-Virus?"

Iggy tried to fight them off, he wanted to be left alone. He felt fine, but that horrible burning sensation was killing him. Eating away at him from the inside out. He'd been able to ignore it mostly for the past two weeks, but now... Now he was at his wit's end. It had to STOP and STOP NOW!

Allan tried to cover him up but Iggy managed to push the blankets away.

"I gotta get out ... I gotta go!" He fought against the hands holding him to the bed and managed to get one foot from beneath the blankets before David came into the room and pressed two cool little hands to his cheeks.

After that Iggy didn't remember much but that haunting voice, begging him, pleading with him to help ... Save her, Iggy...

Save her...

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Chapter 74; Memories

Max sat gingerly down at a table in the dining room. She covered her face and bowed her head, pressing her brow against the table.

Her mind wondered, replaying the events of the last two weeks. More specifically, things that had happened two weeks ago...

Exactly thirteen days, seven-hours and fifteen minutes before Fang had tried to make her laugh in the hall, to distract her from the pain of having lost her family... He'd ended up distracting her alright ... Distracting her in a way she never thought she'd EVER be distracted ... And it had been good. Not perfect, but good. It was rarely perfect the first time ... She knew...

But she didn't regret it ... How could she regret something that had felt so right...

But, things had gotten ... Weird... Even more so than usual...

Neither of them had spoken about what had transpired, or even been together long enough for the conversation to become awkward.

After it had happened, they'd lain there in utter silence. Staring up at the ceiling through the darkness of the room. Then they'd merely ... Dressed in silence and separated. Not a single word spoken... The tension had been too thick to allow even a single syllable to slip.

Fang had gone back to his room and she'd gone into the kitchen, scoured for baking supplies and made six dozen chocolate-chip cookies the size of soft-balls... Then proceeded to sit up the rest of the night eating them and staring at her bed. Everything replaying in her head like a movie...

He'd started kissing her, and she'd kissed back, a tight spiraling sense of pleasure starting in the base of her mind and seeming to ignite whereever Fang touched her.

She'd supposed then that she understood what Fang had been thinking about back at her house... While he... breathed on the otherside of her wall...

She didn't need to say it, or even admit it to herself that she'd been thinking basically the same thing...

But this...

His hands had slid down her back and she'd simply wanted to grab his shirt and rip it open, like something out of those movies she, her mom and Ella had watched one weekend. Scattering buttons like raindrops... Only he'd been wearing a T-shirt... And his chest wasn't bronzed, bulging and glistening like in those movies...

He was thin... His chest paler than the rest of him, his muscles there, but not bulging... He had the chest of a seventeen-year-old bird kid... Not Fabio the bleach-blonde-beach-god... And that's just the way she wanted it... She wanted Fang's chest, not Fabio's...

She wanted Fang's mouth, his chin, neck, shoulders... His hands, fumbling and awkward in their innocence... His movements nearly frantic with inexperience...

She wanted this... She wanted HIM...

She'd been intoxicated by the smell of him... A new smell, something thick that made her toes curl and a whirring start in her stomach. And a needy kind of aggression overwhelmed her.

Pheromones... She'd thought... Holy GOD!

And she'd pulled him tight against her, wishing she was only a few inches taller so he wouldn't have to bend over so...

He'd made a startled sound. She'd never forget it... Almost like a whimper and for a few minutes he'd been all thumbs... As if his hands had gotten crosswired or something equally annoying... But he'd yanked his shirt off, shaken his wings free and...

And after that... After that it had been quick... Quick, wild... Good...

She'd promised herself that she'd talk to him about it the next morning, but the next morning came and went and now... Two weeks had passed and they had yet to speak to each other about what had happened. What they'd done...

Every time she'd gathered up the courage to go near him he'd been asleep... He seemed to do nothing BUT sleep...

And the odd terrible pain had returned... Nagging at him and Max had been able to feel it when it got particularly strong but there was nothing she could do about it... Not without revealing to everyone that she could FEEL him in her heart... And, as far as everyone else was concerned, Max simply didn't feel those kinds of things... Ever... She was Max!

A state of Mind not just a name.

Then, early that morning she'd knocked on the door to his room again cracked it open... And found him huddled in his bed shivering, barely conscious. His face as white as alabaster with hectic red smears high on his cheeks.

After the initial shock of finding him in such a way had been crammed down by her commonsense she'd gone for Allan. Waking the man up where he'd fallen asleep in the TV lounge watching a DVD of 'Foamy the Squirrel' he'd found in the hotel Lost and Found, and telling him that she'd gone to check on Fang and found him in a bad way... With their combined strength they had managed drag him into the bathroom and forced him to lie in a tub of cool water.

And that had started this morning's scream-fest...

No sooner had they gotten Fang's temperature down than Gasman had rushed out of Iggy's room saying that the latter was having a fit.

Max raised her head slowly and peered out at the dining room.

Angel and David were sitting off by themselves whispering, David on the verge of tears.

Max wondered if maybe Angel didn't know what had happened. If the girl knew what had transpired between the two eldest members of the flock. If maybe Angel didn't know that when Max had found him so sick, her fear had taken over and all she could think about was the fact she would never feel him against her again... Never hear the rasp of his breath in her ear or feel the pressure of his hands again...

Her fear nagged at her still, but she tried with all her strength to fight it. To convince herself that there was nothing to be scared of... Fang still didn't have a date on his neck, he wasn't expiring ... He was just sick.

Very sick...

But why? Why was he sick? What had happened?

But before she could wonder about it too long Angel turned and called for her.

"Max, can you come here?"

Max nodded and climbed to her feet, crossing her arms over her chest as if fending off a chill.

"What is it sweetie?" And then she noticed the book lying open on the table between the two children before her.

"Is David helping you pick your name, Angel?"

Angel hesitated, glancing over at David her lip between her teeth.

And then Max noticed what was wrong with the picture before her... Or, what was finally right, if you thought of it that way...

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Max slowly opened the door to Fang's room and looked in.

Fang was lying on his side, right arm up under his head, left holding the blankets to his bare chest.

Max could tell he wasn't asleep, he didn't smell asleep, but he wasn't awake either. He was hovering someplace in between ... Dozing. She stared at him for a minute, fear tugging at her stomach, afraid that when his fever had broken earlier that the reprieve had been only temporary and he was only going to heat back up again.

And at the same time, watching him sleep, she remembered his face hovering over her as they moved... His eyes had never left hers until the very last when he'd squeezed them closed and bitten back a choked cry... And she'd held him for a few seconds afterward, petting his hair and wings as he'd lain there gasping for breath... Kissing little beads of sweat from his forehead that had dripped to his eyelids...

He'd been so still, and it had felt so right...

She didn't even care that he'd dozed off for a few minutes. She'd just relished in the feel of him.

But, now, his eyes were closed again, underlined with a bruise shade of purple, his face was waxy. His lips were pale and the talon shaped scars Pale Male had left on his arm stood out bright pink on his skin.

She didn't want to wake him, because he did look like he was resting peacefully. Just like she hadn't wanted to move or disturb him then, but she had a pressing matter now that needed tending, and seeing as how Aaron, Total, Nudge and Gasman were swimming again she had little choice but to wake him. Even though her stomach was turning cart-wheels and her heart was fluttering in her throat.

"Fang?" She whispered loud enough for him to hear.

His eyes came open to slits and he stared up at her blankly for three seconds before he came fully to his senses. "Max? What's wrong?"

His voice sounded so alien, and yet as familiar as her own and Max licked her lips self-consciously because her eyes automatically slid down the length of his body.

She opened the door wider. Angel and David slipped in, David holding the dictionary of names to his chest.

"We have to talk."

She could tell by the horrified look on his face that the first thing that came to his mind was that Angel knew what they'd done, but Max shook her head at him and that terrified look faded back into his mind.

Fang shifted, rolling stiffly onto his back and forcing himself to sit up.

Max was glad Allan had put some pants on him at least. She didn't know what she would have done if he'd still been naked from his dousing earlier that day. She probably would have made Angel and David leave for a few minutes...

Wow, she thought to herself. I am such a sexist-pig! What a first!

"What's going on?" He rubbed sleepily at his face and pulled the blankets around his shoulders, covering his bare chest, as if somehow, her gaze bothered him.

David whimpered and climbed up onto the bed, curling up on Fang's lap.

Fang glanced up at Max, giving her a 'what's wrong with him?' look but before Max could say anything Angel cleared her throat;

"Go on and tell him ... Just like you told Max."

David pursed his lips, wrapping his thin little arms around Fang's neck. And Fang hugged him, trying to comfort the boy, thinking that his brother was just afraid because he was so sick but something stopped him before he could speak. Like a tickling in the back of his mind.

"Y-you won't hate me?" David whispered.

"I could never hate you, there is NOTHING you could do to make me hate you."

"You p-promise?"

"I promise."

David unwound his arms from Fang's neck and opened the book of names, pointing. "That's what I want my name to be."

Fang took the book and Max watched as his dark eyebrows shot up and he flicked his eyes at her and Angel, giving them both an 'is this some kind of joke?' look.

"You want this to be your name?"

"Y-you h-hate me, d-don't you..." David covered his little face and sobbed into his hands. "Y-you ha-hate me just l-like B-Bobby when-when I t-told him!"

Fang practically threw the book and wrapped both arms tightly around David, tucking the little light brown head under his chin, "I do NOT hate you. There is nothing in you to hate."

David continued to sob and Fang gave Angel a pleading look. The girl nodded and quickly left the room shutting the door behind her.

Max turned to leave, but something stopped her and she glanced over her shoulder.

Fang was looking at her, asking her to stay with his eyes.

She approached the bed slowly. Sitting on the edge of the mattress and putting a hand on David's head, petting his hair, then, because Fang hadn't said anything, she spoke.

"David, would you tell us what happened when you and Bobby got in the fight?"

David snuffed back tears and looked up at Fang mournfully. "I-I w-wanted to p-play house ... A-and I told Bobby h-he could be the daddy, and I could be the mummy-"

Fang's head shot up and he gave Max a wide-eyed look, "The mommy..."

David nodded, "That's what I said ... The mummy! And B-Bobby s-said I c-couldn't be the m-mummy a'cause I'm a boy ... But I'm not ... I'm NOT!" He hid his face in Fang's chest again.

"I'm a girl ... I know it... B-but every-everyone treats me l-like a b-boy 'cause I look like one. But its wrong... My body is WRONG!" And he disolved into tears...

Fang opened his mouth to speak but closed it again and turned helpless eyes to Max.

I know ... Max thought, wishing he could hear her. What the hell do you say to something like that?

"I j-just w-want every one to treat me how I am! D-Daddy kn-knew. He bought me my pretty shoes a-a-and pretty t-things for my hair!" He fumbled at his shirt collar and pulled a thin chain on which was a small gold cross Max hadn't noticed before, from under his shirt, "He even gived me this ... He s-said it was Mummy's... B-but he told me that it would be better to wear b-boys clothes so the bad guys wouldn't f-find me. He said it was a disguise...

"Please... I-I don wanna be disguised no more... PLEASE!"

Thin little arms went around Fang's neck and he sat there holding the child to his chest, making quiet breathy 'shhh' sounds until the sobbing subsided. Then, after a moment of silence, and a deep breath Fang nodded and cleared his throat. "Okay..." He swallowed hard, obviously uncomfortable with the situation, but at the same time more than happy to do anything David wanted him to, as long as the child stopped crying. And looking up at him with that horribly pathetic expression. "If you're sure this is what you want."

David pulled away and stared up at Fang. "You mean it?"

Fang nodded and swallowed hard. "If its what you want then its OK with me..."

David hugged Fang tightly, a big dimpled smile brightening his face, fat wet tears rolling from his eyes. "THANK YOU!" And he jumped off the bed, running outside to Angel.

Max could hear them talking excitedly.

"Am I dreaming?" Fang said looking up at her. "Hallucinating maybe?"

Max shook her head a slight smile coming over her face. Her stomach tightening. The first time they've spoken in two weeks and she's not mad... In fact, she was relieved... "No, you're not dreaming."

Fang pointed to the closed door, "So my baby brother just became my baby ... sister?"

"In a way, yes ... I remember reading about this in a magazine ... David's body may be a boy, but his mind and how he feels is a girl... It's really complicated."

Fang gave his head a shake, "As if we weren't weird enough already."

Max smacked him on the side of the head so hard for a moment some of his hair stood on end, "Not weird. David is not weird ... He ... She's different."

"She..." Fang sat there for a moment, staring off into space his lips pressed tightly together. "Same person ... Just different..."

"Yeah."

He sighed and raked a hand through his hair, "It is definitely going to take some getting used to."

"Yeah it is."

Fang shook his head and glanced up at her, gnawing on his lip and feeling like a complete and utter fool. His mind turned abruptly from his brother/sister to Max and he ground his teeth, cursing himself... He really was an idiot wasn't he... Thinking that what had happened not even fourteen days before had been real. That it had been genuine... She'd only done it to shut him up, hadn't she... She'd only done it to keep him around. Keep him from running off...

He pulled the blankets back around his chest and looked at the floor, unwilling to look at Max and remember what they'd done. He wished he could just fly away forever now... Things had been awkward before... Well, now it was just plain unbearable... Cruel... He'd tried to face it, but... It was just too embarrassing...

Which angered him because he couldn't remember ever being so embarrassed... Couldn't ever remember caring...

"Fang, are you OK?"

He didn't look at her when he raised his head, but chose a spot just between her eyebrows. "I'm fine."

"I believe that for half a second..." She cocked her head to the side and gave him a 'concerned Max' face. "Do you feel OK?"

He nodded, unnerved by the feelings he was getting from her, and his own pessimistic doubt.

The feelings were all there, were all right. But still he held back...

"I'm fine."

"Liar... What's wrong?"

He did look at her then, right in the eyes. He didn't like being called a liar. It was just like saying that everything he felt was stupid and wrong. And he'd spent his whole life secretly feeling stupid and wrong... He wasn't going to let it continue any longer.

"What are we going to do about it?"

Max bit her lip and tilted her head back upright. "What do you mean?"

"About what happened."

"About David? Or ... what we did?"

He looked away and ground his teeth but didn't say anything. He'd been called a sexist pig one too many times, he didn't need it again, especially when he was starting to feel better. He wasn't going to say anything until he knew how she felt about what had they'd done. His embarrassment could only be hidden by anger for so long... That and he was tired of feeling used, and if Max didn't think what had happened was important ... Then ... Neither did he...

She hesitated, biting her lip and shifting against the bed. Her eyes drooped to her knees and she crossed her arms. "Do ... Do you regret it or something?"

He didn't speak.

Her stomach churned and she looked up at him. He was tense again. More than tense... His teeth were ground together, his lips compressed. His expression completely blank... Save his eyes...

His eyes were dark, as if someone had pulled a shade behind them to block out the sun... Or to veil what was really going on inside...

Max opened her mouth. Prepared to say, 'I regret it, it was stupid and just our hormones, it meant absolutely NOTHING to me...' but she couldn't bring herself to lie to him like that... Because she didn't regret it. It had been far from perfect, but it had felt right... She had no nagging regret or qualms... She felt almost the same as she had before.

This moment was a little awkward, and Max wasn't sure if she'd be able to bear the rest of her life with this feeling streatched between them...

She still felt incredibly sad for her family, for the loss of her mother and sister... Worried about Iggy's mental wellbeing ... And, oddly at peace because Fang's steady, constant emotions were there.

HE was there...

And now ... He was here... Beside her...

And he regreted it...

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(NOTE! I can't believe nobody figured that out about David! And if you did, why didn't you say something! I was so worried that I was playing it up too much! This is half of what Ter Borcht was talking about in the Castle Von Gasman scene. HALF of it... Can you figure out the rest?)

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46. Chapters 75

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Chapter 75; Wake Me Up Inside

(WARNING!... This chapter isn't happy. It explains the reason Iggy was paranoid, and there's also hints and foreshadowing.. Say what you must You've been warned... For those of you who figured THIS puzzle out, I applaud you.)

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"Help me..."

Iggy dug his fingertips into his scalp and gritted his teeth against the burning pain that kept sizzling his nerve endings. Why wouldn't it just stop! What the hell was wrong with him?

He felt hot ... His face, his chest ... His whole body was just hot...

"Help me ... Please, Iggy, save her."

And that voice in his head wouldn't stop ... He'd tried everything. Including putting the I-Pod's earbuds in his ears and listening to that screeching, lemon-juice-in-a-paper-cut kind of music Fang had put on it to annoy Max, but the Gasman had taken a liking to, full blast.

But that hadn't drowned out the voice ... It had only given him a headache.

He climbed slowly to his feet, hands out, and felt his way to the bathroom. Locking himself inside and stripping all of his clothes off. Kicking them into a pile in the corner.

The tile floor felt cold beneath his feet but Iggy didn't care. He just wanted it to end ... Just make it stop...

He turned on the shower, and stepped into it. Trying not to scream when the icy water hit him full in the chest. He bowed his head into it, wishing for anything but this horrible burning pain and that voice.

That voice that sounded so much like Ella's it was frightening.

A shrill ringing started in his ears. Building like a flood, the voice started again. "Iggy, help me ... Please, please help me!"

And that ringing sound enveloped him...

It was the same sensation he'd gotten the first time Aaron had touched him. That vacuum. Being tumbled backward down a twisting, spiraling tunnel in his head. He heard voices from memories. Saw flashes in his head of that brief time he was able to see.

That day in New York when Ella and Angel had dragged him off into that store ... It was so real it was like he was reliving it...

Angel and Ella had grabbed him and pulled him across the street into that store and Angel had instantly disappeared into the dresses...

Ella had taken his hand and ...

"Stay quiet, stay low."

He bent at the waist, following her on a zigzagging path through the store and into a kind of antechamber marked 'Lavatories'.

She giggled and shoved him into the girls' room then locked the door.

"What are we doing? I'm not supposed to be in here!" He hissed

"Just don't scream," She shoved him backward into a stall and locked that too, pushing him down until he sat on the toilet. Then she straddled him, tangling her fingers in his hair.

And he'd been powerless to stop her. It was like an electric shock, and a pounding inside his skull. Nothing had ever felt this good and he didn't want her to stop. Whatever she was doing, however she was doing it, he didn't want her to stop.

He wondered absently what it was with her and wanting to make-out in bathrooms, but then he realized ... He didn't care!

His hands tightened on her hips, holding her against him and her hands trailed down the front of his shirt, over his stomach and to the fly of his jeans.

He'd envisioned this ... He'd wanted this for so long...

"I know you two are in there, I can read minds remember?" Angel's disgusted voice came from just outside the bathroom door. "And ... I can hear you."

Ella growled in her throat and Iggy's stomach clenched painfully. He loved it when she growled ... He wished that he could make her growl...

And then he was tumbling again. Falling through time and it was that night Ter Borcht had found them in the hotel...

The old man had just injected him and he had been in so much pain lying there...

"What did you do to him!" Ella screamed climbing onto the bed, trying to hold him still. But she couldn't. His muscles just wouldn't listen and kept trying to bend him backward. Like a magnet, drawing his heels to the back of his head...

"Yez, vell ... Zee ozers ver already dead by zee time I got zem so zis didn't happen ... But zis iz a rezurection drug. He vill be dead in a few minutes from zee shock..."

He opened his mouth to scream at the man, to lunge across the room and kill him. But Ter Borcht was gone. Leaving only his suitcase.

"El ... Ella," He put his hands out, taking hers in the darkness. She lie down behind him, holding him around the chest, trying to keep him still, keep him from breaking his own back in the throes of these convulsions.

"You're going to be OK ... It's all going to be OK."

And then he felt himself go limp in her arms, felt the breath leave him in an elongated sigh. And he was paralyzed. He couldn't move, couldn't breathe ... Everything was fading and he could feel his heart beating ... Feel the palpitations slowing as the world melted.

His outside consciousness gave him a fresh perspective and he felt his own heart stop and Ella gave him a gentle shake, "Iggy? Iggy, are you OK?"

Could she not tell? Couldn't she tell he was dead?

Hadn't Nudge been able to tell when Aaron's heart stopped? What was going on?

Nudge and Aaron could feel each other and Aaron had said something to him, when he mentioned that he could feel Ella's pain, he'd discovered this when Ella had gotten her 'Monthly' the week after Max had caught them 'sucking face' in the bathroom. He'd been able to feet those terrible cramps she experienced. And Aaron had laughed then told him about how Kitty and Bernard had been able to feel each other's pain and pleasure...

But why couldn't Ella feel his?

She didn't love me...

And Iggy felt himself come to the end of this tunnel and he was looking into Ella's face ... He could see it so plainly in his head despite the fact it was covered with bandages. She was on an operating table, there were burns on her face, and a tube going down her throat, breathing for her.

Whitecoats were all around her. He recognized Ter Borcht's voice, and the face of the director as the woman bent by Ella's head.

What was happening?

And then he was being spun again, but part of him could still see what was going on in this operating room.

For some reason Ella was showing him another memory...

The same night Ter Borcht had been in the hotel room and he'd expired ... After his heart had started beating again and he'd regained consciousness.

Ella had ordered the soup for him ... And they'd been lying on the bed talking...

"But, I can't see, El, I don't know where we are..."

"I do..."

"You'd be my eyes?"

She kissed the tip of his nose, "Of course.

"I love you, Iggy ... I'd do anything for you, all you have to do is ask."

He hesitated, thinking ... Afraid...

"Will you ... W-would you..." He shifted uncomfortably against the bed and wished he could see, so he could see the look in her eyes. He'd give just about anything to be able to see that look in her eyes right now.

"Iggy ... Are you trying to ask me to marry you?"

He bit his lip but after a few excruciatingly long seconds he nodded. "Yeah..."

She leaned in and kissed him, "Of course..."

He kissed her back, cupping the back of her head. He'd never been so happy... Never...

"Iggy ... I need to tell you something ... It's important..."

He pulled away from her and the memory seemed to fade out ... He could feel her pressed tightly against him. Feel her breath on his neck. But, he wasn't remembering it anymore. He was back in that operating room, hovering over Ella as the Whitecoats performed some kind of surgery on her.

And yet, she was holding him, her arms wrapped around him, their bodies pressed tightly together, her face hidden, her breath hot on his ear... As if somehow there were two of her, a tangible, yet invisible version, clinging to him, and the visible, tangible version on the table.

"Iggy, you have to get out of that hotel ... You have to get to a place called Laurel Ridge Colorado. There's someone there who can help keep her alive..."

"Her? Who is 'her?' Why are you doing this? You didn't love me at all did you! You were using me!"

He felt Ella smile sadly and the memory started playing again, like a movie he could feel. And he hated every moment of it... Had it really been a movie he would have got up and left... But he couldn't... He was as powerless to stop the flood of his own memories, as he was powerless in Ella's ethereal arms.

She breathed his name against his lips and they were up on their knees in the bed, hands tearing at clothing, still kissing, still trying to be as close as possible. Fingers fumbling at buttons and zippers...

She'd found the waistband of his boxers and shoved them down-

Iggy wanted to be able to close his mind, wanted to be able to shut it off, make it stop because he knew what was going to happen next. He remembered it. It was all he had now ... A memory... Now that he knew what was real. Now that he knew Ella had never really loved him, not as he'd loved her. Not with all her body, mind and soul. Now it was as painful as having his sight taken again... More so because this was part of his soul...

Part of her had loved him for who he was. For his personality, his determination ... Another part had only loved that he was so much like the others, and that he fulfilled the fantasies she had about another ... A dark haired bird-boy who had ignored Ella's advances ... Who hadn't shown the interest she had...

Iggy felt sick, knowing that the whole time Ella had been with him she'd been thinking about Fang. He felt betrayed, dirty, defiled ... But he held on. He allowed the memory of the one night they'd spent together to play in his head as punishment for how stupid he'd been.

Who could ever love him? He was a useless, blind bird-boy who was reliving memories like an old pervert sitting at home watching dirty movies in his basement.

And then the 'movie' was over, and he remembered ...

He lie there in her arms, his heart hammering against his ribs, panting ... Letting sensation slowly start tickling back into his arms ... Feeling Ella pet the back of his head, running her fingers through his sweat damp hair...Making gentle shushing noises when he tried to speak.

Her fingers were soft, hesitant, as they stroked over his wings, down his back. Hesitant and sweet... "I love you..."

He shivered and stared down at Ella on the operating table in contempt. Wondering if humans were even capable of 'love' or if to them it was just some twisted word, which meant to betray and hurt.

Every human he'd ever known had betrayed him in some way. Had hurt him somehow...

At that moment he cursed himself. Cursed the ninety-eight percent of his DNA that bound him to the human race. He hated it with every fiber of his being. He wished to tear the very veins from his arms so his vilely tainted blood would run freely out so he wouldn't feel so... So raped and dirty.

They wanted an animal... Well, then he'd be an animal... A soulless, angry animal...

She'd lied. She'd taken how he felt about her and used it. She'd hurt him... She'd used him, just like the Whitecoats had, but in a way that was much worse... Much more hurtful...

She'd said that he'd taken everything from her ... But in all actuality, she'd stolen everything from him... Including his humanity... She'd taken his heart and given him nothing but lies in return... He had nothing left... It was all gone...

Gone...

He heard a dull pounding somewhere in the distance and it reminded him of a big bass drum, like a girl he couldn't remember the name of, played in the school marching band, like the drum he himself had played. But that boy, that human, was dead now... He was no longer that person... He was no longer that foolish.

"Iggy, I'm so sorry ... I'm so sorry..."

He didn't say anything, he just hung there and stared down at her, listened to Ter Borcht and the other Whitecoats talk behind him because it hurt too much to listen to her...

"How's it looking?"

"We've got her stabilized, but we don't know for how long. We need to take into account the fact that she won't survive long enough for the-"

Ter Borcht's voice rose above the young man who'd been speaking, "Zat iz not an option! I vill not looze zis girl OR her child!"

BOOM!

He was sure he'd been shot. The words hit him that hard ... Realization tasted like bile and Iggy could only stare down at Ella and let it all sink in, like a boat slowly being devoured by the ocean. His body ached... His throat constricted and his heart twisted into a fist sized knot in his chest.

Ella was pregnant ... And it was his baby...

"IGGY!"

A voice pounded his head like someone was trying to drive nails through his skull. A voice he dimly recognized as Allan's but Iggy held on. Willing himself to stay ... It couldn't be real. He had to stay with Ella. She might not love him as he did her, but she was carrying his child... He had to save her... He had to save her!

Falcons mate for life... Even if their mates do not...

"Ella, where are you? WHERE ARE YOU! I'LL SAVE YOU! I PROMISE! I PROMISE!"

Something that felt like a little explosion wracked his brain and Iggy sat bolt upright, feeling something thick dragging him back into its arctic, deathly embrace. His eyes came open and it was like he was reborn. He saw a flash of light. Actually saw it in his head as it washed over him...

And within it he saw a flickering golden flame set into a rainbow shot circle... He heard a roaring in his ears and water splashed everywhere as he sat up in the tub, gripping the rim as if his life depended on in. He coughed and water gurgled up from his throat. All the sounds of the hotel hit him like a punch to the face.

The shower was running, water was spilling over the rim of the tub and into the floor. Allan was cursing. And the others were in his room, all of them making some kind of noise. Colors danced in his head, like fireworks ... Like video of the Northern Lights he'd seen on the internet when his eyes still worked...

The colors lunged in and hands grabbed him, pulling him out of the water.

Someone else turned off the shower and Iggy heard someone crying, he thought it was Angel, but it wasn't her voice ... David maybe?

"Get a blanket, he's freezing!" Allan shouted. "What the hell is the matter with you boy? Are you trying to kill yourself?"

The colors blurred into one dark, pulsing shade of gray in his head and seemed to dissolve into nothingness.

Allan picked him up and Aaron's voice was by his ear, "Jesus, he's blue!"

A warm, dry blanket came around him and Iggy felt like screaming what he'd just learned.

Ella was alive ... She was alive and she was pregnant...

But nothing came out, it all seemed to go into his head in a small, weak version of his own voice, as the world faded;

Ella's alive and she's having my baby...

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47. Chapters 76 and 77

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Chapter 76; Daisy-David

Excitement wasn't the word for it. Angel was ecstatic.

It had been a long day and Iggy was still asleep. Resting after his near death experience earlier that morning. Aaron and Nudge had been formally separated in the 'Pool Hall' and were not allowed to sit next to each other without Total between them. And hands were to remain above waist level at all times.

Fang had gotten out of bed and silently helped Max make more cookies in the kitchen. Which brought more than one person to tears.

And then, of course ... Josephine David was making her appearance.

Gasman had laughed when Fang, Max and Aaron gathered the flock together, minus of course Iggy, who was sleeping soundly, and told them what was happening ... What had happened to David.

Needless to say, when Gazzy realized that Fang was serious he stopped laughing and admitted he thought it was a little odd. But if it was what David wanted then they would all have to live with it.

So now here it was. A quarter after three and they were lingering in the hallway waiting. All feeling varying degrees of apprehension and doubt.

Thinking that Angel was going to come out with David and the poor child was going to be wearing layers of badly applied makeup, a stuffed bra and a nightgown.

But when Angel opened the door and led David out nobody said anything.

Angel had combed David's hair and pinned it back to the right with one of her little pink flat clips. That and the light blue Care Bear T-shirt David now wore were the only differences. Other than the proud smile, of course.

"So ... What do we call you now?" Gasman said crossing his arms uncomfortably over his chest.

"I don't know ... Can I have a nickname? Like you guys?"

Fang glanced over at Aaron, "What kind of nickname?"

"Well ... You're name is 'Nick', but everyone calls you 'Fang' ... Can I have a nickname too? Me and Aaron?"

Fang's jaw worked up and down and he turned to Max eyebrows raised.

Max hesitated, "I ... I don't see why not ... Uh..."

Her mind drew a blank. Everybody else's 'nickname' was their NAME. What they'd always been called. 'Nick' was the name Max had just blurted out when Fang had been injured and rushed to the hospital.

"We'll have to wait until Iggy wakes up ... Everyone has to help pick it, Okay?" Fang said, pulling Max out of a hole of 'uh's.

But that tactic of diversion didn't work very well, because, at that minute Allan peeked into Iggy's room and noticed the boy was sitting up in bed.

"I think he's awake actually..."

Everyone seemed to move at once, swarming the door to Iggy's room and trying to squeeze through as one giant entity.

"OUCH!" Nudge said as she was smashed against the doorframe.

Iggy was awake, and when he heard what had happened a small joyless smiled came over his face. "You guys are much bigger than the door you know."

But they squeezed through anyway and landed in a heap in the floor.

"Can you help pick my nickname?" David said bouncing up and down.

Everyone took places sitting around the room and soon everyone was talking at once. Throwing around names and laughing at silly ideas. Everyone except Iggy, who seemed to be in some kind of trance, his jaws clenched arms crossed.

Angel had tried to read his mind, but all she'd gotten was that strange black-hole sensation again, so she'd left him alone...

"Alba Tross!" Gasman shouted pointing at Aaron. "Your name should be Alba Tross!"

"No-no NO!" Max said laughing. "That's just too funny, no one would be able to say it with a straight face."

"How about Truck?" David said grinning.

"OI!" Aaron said, "I've got the perfect one for you!" He pointed to David, "Now that we've gotten the real story behind the whole mummy costume, this would be PERFECT."

"What? What is it?"

"Wendy."

"Wendy?" Fang wrinkled his nose. "What does it mean? Where's the book?" He started looking around for it.

"I know it!" Nudge said with a grin. "Wendy means 'little mother'."

David cocked an eyebrow, "Maybe ... But I got a good one for you?"

"Well, bring it on then!" Aaron smiled and inched closer to Nudge.

"Poopie Head!"

Angel cackled.

Max rolled her eyes. "That's silly ... Aaron's abilities ... What's something that encompasses his abilities?"

Fang groaned and rolled his head on his shoulders grinning widely, "Casanova!"

"What? No, you can't be serious!" Aaron's face was turning a little red.

Nudge leaned over and kissed his cheek, "I like Mr. Albatross myself. Its cute..."

Angel sighed. "We could just call him Aaron, you know... He doesn't even want a nickname, am I right?"

Aaron shook his head, "Not really."

Iggy raised his head, seeming to come out of the trance long enough to throw out a suggestion, "I think Daisy's a good nickname for David."

Angel smiled and turned to David. "What do you think?"

"Yeah!"

"Anybody else have a comment?" Max rubbed her hands on her jeans.

"No." "Nope" "Huh-uh."

"Good ... Then we've settled," Max stood, and started to leave but Angel stopped her by throwing a thought at her.

Say something all ceremonial and stuff! Make it official...

"Uh..." Max turned around and looked down at the two little faces standing before her. "Okay," She hesitated, then squared her shoulders and put her right hand over her heart. Thinking Cerimonial thoughts...

David did the same, face alight with pride.

Max licked her lips nervously, "'I hereby declare that your nickname is 'Daisy' because you liked it ... And everyone else liked it ... And it suits you...' Yeah."

Iggy had to poke his fingers in his ears to block out the sound of Angel and Daisy-David screaming in joy. He was glad when everyone left ... After of course they'd checked on him. Put a hand on his face to make sure he wasn't fevered and told him to get some rest.

Allan was the only one who stayed and that was because he wanted to make sure Iggy wasn't trying to hurt himself. Which he thoroughly believed the near drowning had been an attempt of.

So he sat there by Iggy's bed for close to thirty minutes and watched the red-headed boy doze.

"Allan?" He said under his breath.

"Yeah?"

"Would you get me a pop? I'm really thirsty."

Allan nodded, "Stay in bed, hear me? You need rest."

Iggy nodded. He had every intention of getting some rest ... As soon as he found this person in Laurel Ridge ... Wherever that was...

He heard Allan leave the room and he jumped out of bed, throwing back the blankets and pulling on his clothes and shoes. Not even taking time to notice he'd picked up one of the Gasman's shoes instead of his own until he had it halfway on his foot. He growled, threw the shoe across the room and found the other one of his own. He grabbed his pack and was at the window, forcing it open. Banging his shoulder against the metal frame until he could slip out.

"Iggy?" Angel's voice came from right beside him.

He fell back through the window lunging at the sound and his hands found her face, covering her mouth and holding her by the throat, squeezing just hard enough to make her tense. He didn't want to hurt her. But he had to go, she had to understand that ... So he showed her. He pressed his forehead against hers and ground his teeth.

"READ IT!"He hissed.

He felt her shaking in fear but then she relaxed and nodded her head.

He released her and started through the window again.

"You can't go on your own, you don't know how to get there!" She hissed.

"I'll figure it out!" His foot caught on the sill and he nearly fell but caught himself by grabbing an evergreen bush by the window. "I have to find her ... Angel ... Ella's pregnant with MY baby! I have to save her!"

Angel was silent but Iggy could feel that she was struggling with herself. With her loyalty to Max and her need to stay close to Daisy ... And the need to keep Iggy from hurting himself... "Iggy, just wait here a second."

He heard her dash out of the room and a few seconds later he heard another voice.

"WHAT!" Daisy hissed.

"Listen, I know its weird, but I need you to do it so we can leave and won't be noticed ... Please."

"They'll get mad at me! I can't!"

Iggy stuck his head back in the window, "Then come with us."

After a moment Daisy growled and stamped a foot.

"Okay..." She was quiet and Iggy heard the distant thumps of people dropping in the halls.

Angel's feet ran out the door and a few seconds later Iggy heard her return and he helped the two of them climb out the window.

They took a running start and leapt into the air behind the hotel and Iggy found himself in that direction-less void again. Only this time he heard Angel's voice to his left and Daisy-David's to his right.

"What do we do when they wake up?" Daisy.

"Don't worry about it," Angel said. "Just keep on the look out for Wizards and those Immaculae."

"I'm scared..." Daisy again.

"Me too," Iggy said just loud enough for them to hear. He tried to ignore that homing beacon type sensation that told him where Ella was, and instead tried to follow Angel's voice.

"There's a town down there, about ten miles to the north-east. We can start there..."

Iggy nodded, "Angel?"

"Yeah?"

"You're the leader."

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Chapter 77; Hysterics

Max woke sprawled on her face in the hallway Fang lying on her right arm. Which had long since grown quite numb. As she opened her eyes she noticed everyone else was stirring as well.

"Dasiy!" Nudge was calling as she climbed unsteadily to her feet, "Angel, where are you two?"

Allan clambered to his feet and ran down the hall jumping over people when he had to. "DAMN IT! They're gone!"

Total darted down the hall tears welling in his eyes, "No ... She couldn't just be gone ... They wouldn't leave me!"

"They're gone and so is Iggy!"

Max and Fang looked at each other and darted into their rooms, gathering their packs. "Come on!" Max yelled, slinging her pack on over her jacket. "We have to find them ... We should split up into groups and we'll all meet back here, okay?"

Everyone nodded. "How long did Dav-Daisy knock us out for?"

Fang looked at his watch. "It's almost eight ... We've been out for three and a half hours."

Max nodded her mind immediately shifting into 'leader mode'. "Gazzy, you and Allan head south. Nudge, you Total and Aaron head East, Fang and I will head North."

"Got it."

Max ran into Iggy's room followed closely by Fang and they slipped out the window and within seven steps were air born.

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48. Chapters 78 and 79

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Chapter 78; Good Vibrations

The Gasman didn't know which was worse. The fact that it was dark and Iggy was out there with his sister and Daisy-David, flying God knew where for some unknown reason. Or the fact that it was DARK and his sister was out there with Daisy-David and Iggy flying around where there could be Wizards!

Gasman had never been trusted to do something like this 'alone' before. When Angel had been taken years before he and Iggy had been left behind. He'd always resented Max for that. Because she hadn't thought him strong enough to take part in the mission...

But through the years he'd realized something. The day Angel had been taken he hadn't been strong enough to handle something like what Max had had planned. He would have let his emotions get the best of him and he would have ended up getting himself or Angel killed.

The experience he and Iggy had building the bombs and protecting their home had made them stronger. And everything he'd been through since that day had made him a better person. Yes, he still had moments of childish emotions. He'd get jealous, and spiteful ... But now, now that he realized Max DID trust him ... It scared him.

What if he did something wrong? What if he missed something? What if he got sick like Iggy and Fang or got captured?

What if he messed something up and caused someone to be hurt?

"It looks like its going to start raining soon," Allan motioned to the sky.

Gazzy nodded but didn't speak. He was trying to concentrate, looking for anything that would tell him where his sister, Iggy and David were. Daisy, he told himself, he ... SHE wants to be called Daisy!

"Allan?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you as confused by Dav ... Daisy as I am?"

Allan chuckled, "Yeah, I am ... I'm not sure what to think. Is it a phase or is it for real ... I guess Ariel and Daisy are the only ones who know for sure," He turned the truck onto a side street. "My advice is to indulge the kid ... If it's a phase sooner or later it will wear off. If not, then it doesn't."

"Yeah ... Well, I always though David was a little ... feminine ... You know, just his body language. And when Angel brought him out made up like a girl it was fitting ... He became Daisy, and I looked at him with his hair pulled back like that and all I saw was a little girl."

"So I wasn't the only one..."

Gazzy smiled and scratched his head. "Can I tell you something ... And you swear never to tell anyone?"

"Of course."

"I've thought about it before..."

"About what?"

Gazzy shrugged, "What it would have been like if I'd been born a girl. I mean, I'm glad I wasn't ... Girls have all these problems. They have to worry about how their hair looks, how their clothes look, and then they have to worry about those gross things that happen every month," He shivered. "But sometimes ... I wonder if I'd be different if I were a girl ... Is that normal?"

Allan shrugged, "I suppose, I mean, I wondered that once or twice when I was younger."

The Gasman nodded and glanced up at the sky. He'd never be able to see them with all those clouds rolling in.

"Allan?"

"Yeah?"

"Why can't you have kids?"

Allan faltered, licking his lips nervously then turning to the boy beside him. "Well, uh ... You see..." He sighed, "I had an accident when I was about seven working with Bernie's dad and the doctors said I'd never be able to have kids."

"Have you ever tried?"

Allan laughed nervously, "Uh, no, I've never been married."

Gazzy shrugged. "That's sad ... I think you'd make a great dad."

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Chapter 79; Wedding Bells

"No touching!" Total barked and growled at Aaron, showing his teeth.

"Well, how the hell else am I supposed to hold her hand?"

Nudge giggled, "Total, there isn't any harm in holding hands.

Total growled again and pinned his ears back, "Hands only, got it?"

Aaron saluted and turned his eyes back to the road, watching the windshield wipers splash water to both sides.

Nudge ran her fingers over his palm in slow little circles and watched out the window. "Okay ... it is really storming now, there is no way Daisy is letting anyone in the air. With as much fear as you put into that kid about being hit by lightning I'm surprised she hasn't flipped her lid."

Aaron nodded. Still not comfortable with the thought of calling David 'Daisy' or 'she' even though it was obviously what the child wanted.

"Nudgie?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you love me?"

"Of course."

"Do you love me enough to say ... I don't know ... Say yes?"

"Say yes to what?"

He hesitated, "To giving me a big wet snog?"

Nudge wrinkled her nose, "What's a snog?"

Total burst out laughing. "He means a kiss."

"Oh ... Not while you're driving."

Total shook his head, "You two are worse than rabbits!"

Aaron scowled down at the little dog, "Oi, how 'bout you poochie? Worse than rabbits my arse!"

Total lowered his head and rolled back his lip, growling deep in his throat, "Don't call me 'poochie', bub. Or I'll have your 'arse' on a platter."

Aaron cocked an eyebrow, "I didn't mean it ... I was just playing..."

"Sure you were, Brit Com, sure you were."

"There is no way they're still in the air, maybe we should scope out a hotel. They've probably stopped for the night."

Aaron cast Nudge a sideways glance, "Are you thinking that THEY'VE gotten a hotel room, or are you hinting at something?"

Nudge rolled her eyes, "I told you already, separate rooms unless you're willing to put a rock on this finger!" She held up her left hand and pointed at her ring finger.

"And I've already said that I would if you would let me just pro-"

Nudge covered her ears and started making repetitive, "LALALALALALALALA!" sounds. "I just turned fifteen not four months ago, Aaron, I am NOT ready to get married or to even THINK about GETTING married. And you might feel grown up being seventeen and all, but you aren't ready to get married either."

Aaron sighed. "Why not?"

Nudge grinned, "Because I want to be an actress, and I want to be an actress before I get married. I want to be able to have a BIG wedding. Like a Fifth Avenue dress and a choir and a chocolate fountain right beside the cakes."

Aaron grinned at her. "A wedding fit for a queen?"

"Exactly!"

"In a castle I suppose?"

"YEAH! That would be SO awesome!"

"With a horse drawn carriage and footmen in white satin suits-"

"YEAH!"

"You want a Cinderella wedding?"

"No, I'm not Cinderella. I want a NUDGE wedding, thank you."

"And who is the groom?"

Nudge pursed her lips and pretended to think about it for a moment.

"Is that why you won't let me prop-"

"LALALALALALALALALALA!"

"Oh, Hell! Why won't you even let me say the word?" He smiled.

"Because!" Nudge reclined in the seat stroking Total's furry head.

"You two already act married," Total grumbled. "But, if you do get married can I help you plan it?" He lifted his head and stared at Nudge his mouth hanging open tongue poking out the side of his mouth.

Nudge giggled, "Sure, Total, you can be my wedding planner."

"Seriously?"

"Sure, why not."

"SWEET! I was thinking Paris! I absolutely LOVE Paris!"

Aaron shook his head, "I hope you've booked a bloody boat, because I am NOT flying across the ocean!" He turned back to the road and for a moment he could do nothing but sit there clutching the wheel. Then his mouth came open and he sucked in an involuntary lungful of air.

Nudge glanced at the road and her arms tightened around Total. Clutching the little dog tightly to her chest.

A large dear was coming across the road. It paused right in front of them, turning its beady black eyes to them, its antlers seeming to wreathe its head in a crown of spikes.

"AARON!"

Both feet came down on the brake and Aaron twisted the wheel to the left, trying to avoid the deer, but the wet pavement was too much for the old tires still on the truck and he lost control.

Nudge saw the trees and the ground tilt up to a near right angle to the hood as they came unhinged from the ground, but all she could do was squeeze Total and scream.

She saw the forest turn upside down and the truck hit on its top. The windshield shattered then her window and Aaron's. She heard the dull thuds of the truck as it rolled ... Once ... Twice ... Three times. Before coming to rest some sixty feet away on its top.

And after that she only heard a low, animalistic wail, fear lanced across her chest, tearing her heart in two, and everything went black.

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49. Chapters 80 and 81

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Chapter 80; Close Call

They flew for about forty-five minutes before it started raining. Big drops hitting them at such great speeds Max was sure her face would be black and blue before she would be able to land.

Fang wobbled in the air next to her and she chanced a glance at him. He had a very angry look on his face. And she recognized it. It was the 'I am not actually angry, I'm just worried' look. She had her own version of it.

"We should land, they wouldn't be able to fly in this weather, especially with Daisy so afraid of being hit by lightning."

Fang nodded once and they started down, heading for a particularly dense area of forest.

"Look for a cave or a cabin or something dry. We don't need you getting a chill such a short time after-"

"I'm OK, we don't need to make any special arrangements."

"We are going to stay in a dry place. I REALLY don't want you to get sick again."

He opened his mouth to speak, to argue with her, thought better of it and pressed his lips together.

"Thank you."

He rolled his eyes and they swooped low over the trees. "I'm not seeing any caves or cabins or anything but trees."

"Me neither," Max sighed and turned her eyes a little farther on the horizon.

"There's a clearing about fivemiles or so north-west."

"Where, I don't see it?"

She cocked an eyebrow at him, "You can't see that?"

He rubbed his sleeve across his eyes and shook his head, "I've got water in my eyes, I can't see much," He lifted both hands to his face and scooped water away from his eyes. "Okay, yeah, let's go."

And he angled himself North East in front of her, heading away from the clearing...

Max shook her head and gave three hard flaps, getting ahead of him by about a foot and leading him in the correct direction.

The air changed ... The barometric pressure suddenly dropping and Max picked up a thick, familiar scent just seconds before Fang grabbed her.

"GET DOWN!" They dove strait down into the trees.

Max saw a bright flash and a sharp crackling sound, like static on the radio and then they hit the ground, rolling, limbs tangled skidding through the mud. She heard Fang grunt in her ear and he went one way, she the other.

Max rolled to a stop. After a few seconds of panting up into the rain she started laughing. "HOLY CRAP! AARON WAS RIGHT!"

She heard Fang start laughing from a few feet away and she raised her head.

He seemed to be rolling back and forth in the mud and after a few minutes he gave an exasperated little cry, "BAH!" And flopped his arms and legs down in the mud. Splashing it everywhere.

"Are you okay?" She called.

He chuckled, "Yeah... I'm soaked ... And now my wings are filled with mud ... I feel like a frickin' turtle..."

Max laughed and rocked herself back and forth pulling in her wings inch by inch. She could feel the mud between her feathers, and although it did alleviate the normal itching she felt from her wings the squishy mud felt a little too cold and gross for comfort. She managed to roll to her stomach and force herself to her feet. Feeling top heavy from all the added mud-weight. She shuffled over to Fang and bent, extending her hand to help him up.

"On three ... One-two-three!"

Her feet slipped when he started pulling on her arm and she fell right on top of him.

The air woofed from his lungs and he started laughing again, "Get off me! Get off me!"

She rolled off him and wedged her hands under his back, prying him up. "Okay, now what?"

He shook his head and then shook his wings, loosing some of the mud. Enough so that he could climb to his feet. "I need a bath or I'm going to really be miserable later."

"Me too," She said and gave her own wings a shake, trying to get as much mud from between her feathers as possible. But she couldn't get enough out to completely fold in her wings.

Fang gave up trying and put his out, letting the rain run over his feathers. "Okay, now we've got to get out of this storm before we really DO get hit by lightning."

Max nodded and strode forward, bumping playfully into him as she passed glad that most of the awkwardness of earlier that day was gone. "Try to keep up."

"Like you could loose me."

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Chapter 81; Accident

Total was whining, licking her cheeks.

Nudge groaned and pried her eyes open. She saw the rain splattering upward against a black asphalt ceiling. The windshield was shattered. Making the surface look like hundreds of little individual cubes of glass, all glued together.

Total was soaking wet and standing in front of her his eyes mournful, afraid. He was shivering and his eyes were large, sorrowful in his dark furry face... "Nudge, are you okay?"

She grunted to let him know she was alive and realized that her seatbelt was crushing her right shoulder and that side of her chest. She felt tied down, restrained, captured.

Pain tore across her stomach every time she breathed, but, somehow, she knew the pain wasn't hers...

Aaron groaned beside her and she glanced at him, noticing a thick dark line running upward from the corner of his mouth. His eyes fluttered and he groaned again, arms twitching where they hung above his head.

Nudge struggled for a moment wedging her arm to her side and clicking the seatbelt release, then flopping heavily to the roof on her shoulders. Total limped away as she wiggled around and managed to right herself, her breath coming fast fear curdling her insides.

"Aaron, hold still. I'm gonna get you out."

He didn't answer her, he didn't seem to have heard her either. But as she came to her knees, ignoring the bite of broken glass she noticed something awful... The stearing wheel was pressing sharply into Aaron's stomach and lower chest. He was being crushed! And if she were to unbuckle him he would fall with all of his weight against it.

"Everything's gonna be fine," She took his hand, holding it between her own, petting his head. "I'm gonna get you out, just don't move."

He nodded weakly and Nudge flattened herself, squeezing out through the shattered windhsield, ignoring the glas as it scratched her palms.

The rain was still falling, quite hard and Nudge felt a fleeting moment of panic as she dropped into a crouch and yanked Aaron's upside down door open, her hands going to him again. Cupping his face, rubbing at the blood running upward from the corner of his mouth.

His breath was shallow and with each one he took it felt to Nudge as if her chest were about to rip open... Her fingers fumbled, one arm slipping around his shoulders to catch him when she released the belt and in the instant her fingers found the latch she heard a soft, yet harsh clicking sound and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end... Soft russet feathers sprouted on her shoulders and she slowly turned her head.

Tears blinded her and rage started to build with that thumping in her chest. She was shivering and her teeth were chattering. And then she heard it again ... Clicking ... Wizards clicking...

And then they seemed to be everywhere. Screeching, clicking and swooping at her out of the darkness.

Nudge screamed and her arms went around Aaron, shielding him with her body.

The sound of the Wizards was like a train, a screeching death train from hell. They swarmed around her like angry bees, spinning and clicking...

And then she felt horribly cold, clawed hands grab her by the hips and yank her backward, throwing her through the air.

She screamed again, this time in rage as another Wizard grabbed her by the leg, dangling her over the ground as it flew higher and higher away from the truck, away from Aaron. Rage blinded her and she kicked, shrieked and fought with all her might, snapping out her wings and catching air as the Wizard tossed her across the swirling cone of Wizards to another.

She managed to dodge this one and as she streaked down toward the truck she saw a horrible sight...

Three Wizards were dragging Aaron from the truck, by his left arm, his wing and his hair. He was screaming, throwing punches and blood was foaming in his mouth as he cursed them, tears rolling down his face with the rain.

Nudge tucked in her wings and shot downward with a roar, knocking two Wizards sprawling but another seemed to matarilize before her and the next thing she knew, despite her desperate thrashing, kicking, punching and screaming. The Wizard had her in a tight embrace, pinning her wings closed between them...

The other Wizards continued to swarm around them, the flames from their brooms casting an eerie light on everything.

The rain spattered down, sizzling in the heat of the flames and Nudge saw something small and pale standing not fifteen feet from her, long dark hair blowing around like the tenticals of a flailing squid.

For half a second she could only stare, the fight for freedom forgotten.

It was a little girl, no more than four years old. She had long, curling black hair and big deathly intelligent black eyes. Her face was dirty and scratched. And the only clothes she wore were a little white T-shirt and drawstring pants.

"Why are you crying?" The little girl said in a gentle, curious voice.

Nudge let her breath hiss between her teeth in anger. She was staring into the eyes of an Immaculae. One of those evil little children Max had told her about.

"I'm not evil," The little girl said and shook her head, then wiped her nose on her wrist. "Why are you crying," She shivered and wrapped her arms around her chest, her little teeth chattering.

Aaron shouted in a choked, wet voice and Nudge turned to see him hanging between two Wizards to her right, his knees had buckled and they'd grabbed him by the wings, holding him up... And he didn't look to have the strength to fight them...

"Let him go!" Nudge cried and twisted in the Wizard's grip, trying to get to him. "Let him GO!"

From the corner of her eye Nudge saw the Immaculae girl before her give a slight nod and the Wizards simply dropped Aaron, letting him fall to his knees...

He crumpled and knelt there panting, blood coming back up with every breath...

Nudge couldn't help but stare at him as she fought to get away. He was hurt... He needed help...

"I know you," The girl said in a soft, curious voice. "You're the one they were talking about..."

He shivered and Nudge saw his face go slack, just like anyone who was getting their mind probed by Angel usually did...

And then, quite suddenly, the girl let out a little shocked gasp and her face twisted in anger...

And Aaron gave a little shudder and slumped forward into the road without a sound...

A cold, hollow chill seeped into Nudge's chest and her mouth came open in a scream.

No...

It wasn't possible...

"AARON!"

But he wouldn't answer... And he wouldn't move...

"What's the matter?" The little girl said in a curious, yet emotionless voice.

Nudge felt herself shaking, felt a cold shard of ice forming in her chest... She couldn't say those words and make them real. She couldn't admit that she no longer felt Aaron.

A deep penetrating chill came over her and Nudge became aware of a thumping in her head.

"Aaron, damn you, answer me! WAKE UP!"

The Wizard's skin felt cold against her arms where they held her, their claws biting into her flesh but she wouldn't relent. She kept screaming, kept fighting, thrashing and stomping.

"WAKE UP!"

The little girl glanced over at Aaron blankly. She turned her head from side to side like a cat, "You liked him?"

Nudge fell silent, her voice choked off as she stared at Aaron, lying there lifeless in the road... Crumpled on his side, his face slack, wings limp, feathers bent... His lips were parted and blood continued to run from between them, just as his eyes seemed to still see everything despite the fact there was no light behind them...

Nudge breathed through gritted teeth, tempted to let herself become 'Ferocious Nudge' and rip this little girl to bits. Rip everyone to bits...

She felt mad... No fancy words... No eloquent phrases... Nudge was, hurt and she was mad... A bad combination...

The girl looked back over at her, emotionlessly shrugging off Aaron as he laid there as if he were no more important than a pile of garbage. "Are you my mommy?"

Nudge gave her head a shake, her throat too tight to allow her to speak. Mommy?

The girl closed her eyes tightly and Nudge felt something like a fist lodge itself in her brain. Her memories seemed to play behind her eyes like a slideshow. Everything so fast she barely had time to register what she was seeing before it moved on.

She knew what was happening. That Immaculae was reading her mind, and Nudge ground her teeth against it. Throwing out one single thought toward the girl with enough force that the child-horror stumbled backward clutching her head.

"I am the darkness behind all things. I am the eye glowing in the shadows. I am the creature screaming in the night... I am pain. I am sickness. I am insanity. I am deliverence and I am damnation ... Look at me, remember this face, because next time, it will be the last thing you ever see!"

And then there was nothing...

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(NOTE!! That quote there at the end of this chapter is from a short story Paul wrote and he let me borrow it, so, I don't own that line but it worked SOOO well I had to use it. So, THANK YOU PAUL!!)

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50. Chapters 82

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Chapter 82; Awkward

They'd been walking through the rain for close to an hour and a half. And for the first hour Fang had been OK. He hadn't felt that cold, and he was able to keep up with Max as she walked, despite that horrible pain in his back, taking long strides and searching for a cave or a cabin, or just someplace dry to spend the night.

But within the last half an hour something had happened. He'd done just what Max feared he would do and caught a chill. And now here he was huddled under an outcropping of rock, Max's wing draped over him shivering like a palsied old man.

"When you're warmer we'll go a little farther North. Does that sound good?"

He didn't answer. Max was making the decisions and as long as they meant he could stay still right now and get warm that's all he cared about. He didn't care about appearing weak, or frail, or not in control of his body and emotions. The only thing he cared about was getting warm.

Max dug in his bag and pulled out a flashlight. "I'm going to go look around, you stay here and keep this on, okay? So I'll know where you are."

He nodded and took the flashlight, trying to work the switch with numb fingers. He hadn't been this cold in a while. Not since he'd injured his wing. And realizing that brought back all the fear he'd felt that night. Fear that he'd never be warm again, fear that he'd die, and fear that he would never see Max again.

"Don't..." Was all he got out, but Max didn't hear him and she disappeared into the darkness of the forest.

He sat there. Clutching that flashlight and trying not to shiver so hard that he actually moved. His teeth made a near buzzing noise and he pressed his lips together to deaden the sound.

Fang wasn't entirely sure how long Max was gone, but he must have dozed because when he opened his eyes again she was shaking him, "Hey ... Wake up, no sleeping."

He tried to answer her but the sound didn't come out right.

"I found some place dry a ways to the West. Are you ready to walk?"

He shook his head. If he held still the cold wasn't so bad, but every time he moved the cold bit back into him and he could only take being bitten so many times before he learned not to anger this icy dog.

"Come on, you have to get up, you've got to move around."

"Fi' morminiss..."

A blatant worried expression settled over Max's face and she gave him a rather vicious shake, "No, we have to go now, so suck it up and stand!" She grabbed him by the shoulders and practically dragged him out from under his protective rock and back into the arctic rain. "I know it's cold, I'm cold too, but we have to move or we'll die of exposure, got it? Can you spell hypothermia?"

He tried to flip her the bird, but his fingers were imoble and instead she draped his arm over her shoulder. His mind had abandoned him, and the cold had leeched away not only his bodyheat, but all other thought, all previous notion of desire, or personality as well. And he was left alone in his head with nothing but the need to stay put, to stop moving and lie down left to him.

Why couldn't Max see that if he were only to lie down he would get warm? He didn't care if he was dry as long as he was warm!

"Fang, NO!" She growled and wedged her shoulder under him, trying to keep him upright when his knees decided to give out. "I swear I will never let you touch me again if you don't stop this and WALK!"

He straightened his legs and managed to stand on his own while Max rubbed his cheeks and asked him repeatedly if he was 'OK'. He nodded and she hooked her arm around his waist and let him drape his left arm around her shoulders again.

After the first five steps he fell into a kind of trance. Placing all his effort and strength into moving first his left leg and then his right watching the toes of his shoes drag through the mud. If he kept doing that Max wouldn't yell at him and she might even let him touch her again ...

Although at the moment he wasn't entirely sure what she meant by that.

"Okay, we've got some steps here, come on!" She gave him another little shake and he pried his eyes open staring up at the looming building before him.

"Wha..."

"For God's sake, Fang, don't argue now."

It was a small cabin. Not quite a house, but not a shack. It reminded him of the old mining cabin that had been close to their first home. THEIR cabin ... Only this one seemed to be a summer home because there was a small fishing boat under a tarp near the steps.

"I found some blankets and things inside."

His feet felt like chunks of ice in his shoes but he managed to get up the steps and inside. Feeling that it was a very large accomplishment, seeing as how bad he felt.

"Okay," Max stepped away from him to stack wood in the little potbellied stove in the corner. "Get your clothes off."

He let his pack fall to the floor and he shed his jacket watching the water drip from it as he held it at arms length. By the time he'd worked his shirt over his wings and thrown it down with his jacket Max had a fire going and had dragged a mattress out of the small adjoining bedroom and dropped it beside the stove.

"Come on! What's the matter with you! Get undressed, do you need my help or something?"

"No," He grumbled. "Don't look."

Max shook her head, "What is with this modesty? You sure weren't very modest last time," She came at him with a towel and started rubbing his back with it.

He scowled over his shoulder at her and finished undressing, feeling quite absurd standing there wearing nothing, letting Max rub him with a towel. It was very uncomfortable and brought back too many memories of the night they'd spent together.

Too many memories he'd been fighting to forget...

"Okay, lie down before you fall flat on your face!"

He took the towel from her and wrapped it tightly around his waist then sat gingerly on the sheet she'd spread over the mattress. He positioned himself as close to the fire as he dared and extended his wings to dry.

He heard Max undressing and sat stone still until she joined him, wearing a pair of silk boxers with little puffs of flames on them and a floppy T-shirt that had two slits in the back for her wings.

"When you're warmer you can get dressed too," She threw another blanket around his shoulders and he had to rearrange it so his wings stuck out into the air.

"You're going to get frost bite and all your feathers will fall out!" She scolded and scooted close to him.

He couldn't help but smile. "You're really funny, you know that?"

She grinned, "I try."

They were quiet for a few minutes and Fang sat there trying not to tremble.

"Max?"

"What?"

"Can we talk?"

She turned back to him, aprehension tying her stomach up, "About what?"

He hesitated, a pale, uneasy expression placing a wrinkle on the bridge of his nose. He swallowed hard and shook his head.

"Nevermind..."

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51. Chapters 83 and 84

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Chapter 83; The Exiles of Laurel Ridge

Surprisingly Laurel Ridge was only eighty-four miles North-North-East from the hotel and they made it there in a little less than an hour. Just as a storm front was moving in from Canada.

Angel and Daisy landed first and Angel took control of Iggy's mind, landing him simply because he was hanging there looking completely miserable.

"Angel, that was creepy, don't do it again!" He said once she'd given him back control over her body.

"How do we find this person, Iggy, how will we know them?"

"I don't know."

"I can see that ... But ... What if there isn't anyone here ... What if-" Angel bit her lip and gave her head a shake. There was no use arguing with him. His mind was set. He'd sooner listen to a tree than to her right now.

"Why are we here? What's going on?" Daisy-David said under her breath.

Angel turned, "I can't tell you right now, but I will soon, I promise."

Daisy nodded and scuffed the toe of one dirty pink sneaker against the ground.

Iggy pressed a hand to his forehead his lip between his teeth, mind racing. He had to find this person ... He had to find this person so he could save Ella ... So he could save the child they'd created.

I'm going to be a dad...

Iggy felt the thought as a physical force. A shock running through his body and settling in his stomach, seeming to boil its contents. He felt sick and the saliva in his mouth became bitterly hot.

Ella may not have loved him in the same way that he loved her, but they'd created a little life between them ... And he would do anything he could to save that life and to save Ella.

That black hole like drawing sensation was still there in the back of Iggy's mind, but it was fading. Ella was dying ... He was loosing his family...

Iggy cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, as loudly as he possibly could, "We're here! I'm here!"

Angel grabbed his arm and yanked it down, hissing at him, "What is your problem!"

Iggy shrugged her off, "I'm here!"

Angel grabbed his arm and pulled it away from his face again, "You're going to get us killed!"

Iggy growled in his throat and started walking forward, heedless of anything that he might run into.

"What's around us?"

"Not much, the whole town is deserted, and I don't say that lightly ... I can like ... Sense people's minds if I look for them, and I'm not getting anything in our immediate vicinity."

Iggy nodded and kept walking. "Tell me if I'm about to run into anything."

"Okay."

They walked for a long while in the rain, Angel telling Iggy to step to the left or right to avoid running into things. It really was hard work, being the leader. You had to have a plan ... Of, which Angel did not. She wasn't even sure who they were looking for. They were just walking around in the rain waiting for something to happen. Meanwhile Iggy's mind was doing that odd thing again. That whirling, black hole thing. Where he seemed to be sucked off into oblivion and not hear anything that was going on...

Angel knew what this black-hole thing was now. It was that connection he had with Ella. And it was through this connection that Iggy had gotten the directions to Laurel Ridge and the knowledge of Ella's true intentions ... And the truth about why Ella had been so frightened the week before...

It all made sense to Angel now, now that she was looking into people's minds again.

She wondered why she had stopped looking for a month ... Why did she stop reading people's minds all of the sudden? And why did she suddenly start again?

Iggy's mind started wandering ... At first hovering over the memories of when he could see then slowly turning to the night Ter Borcht had taken his sight again.

Angel pulled back her powers. Deciding she should leave Iggy alone for a while and let him remember in private. She glanced down at her feet, at Daisy's feet and noticed they were walking in the same pace, left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot.

Angel felt herself smile and she sent Daisy-David a thought, 'You know ... I'm glad you told everyone ... Now we really can be sisters.'

Daisy smiled and took Angel's hand and started humming and dodging mud puddles so her pink shoes wouldn't get any dirtier.

Angel did like being the leader ... But she still had a lot to learn about leading...

Like, 'Never let your guard down in a strange place'...

One minute Angel was walking along, watching her and Daisy-David's feet as they made synchronized left-right-left-right-left-right steps ... The next she was aware of two minds. Two terribly frightened minds right ahead of her.

Angel's hand tightened on Daisy's and she threw her arm out to stop Iggy but the boy didn't stop, he just plowed past her and kept walking, his arms crossed head down, water running off the shaggy tendrils of his red hair, his chin and the tip of his nose.

Angel's eyes went wide when she looked up at the second story window of a building dead ahead.

There was a boy leaning out the window, aiming right down the long barrel of a rifle.

Angel opened her mouth and screamed...

"IGGY!"

She saw his feet give an almost hiccup and is steps faltered his head turning toward her, his body slowing...

And the boy with the gun pulled the trigger.

Angel saw Iggy turn, half of a degree back toward the sound of the shot his blind eyes going wide and his right arm jerked back, spinning him as he fell.

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Chapter 84; Evolved

Angel screamed and suddenly she found herself unable to move. Her knees were shaking and Daisy was stone still by her side one hand over her mouth the other tight in Angel's.

Iggy hit hard on his side, hand going to his upper right arm and he expelled a pathetic wailing sound, curling his body in on itself until his knees practically touched his chin.

The boy with the gun cocked it again and shouted out the window, "Nobody move or you're next!"

Angel just stood there trembling, forgetting that she could control minds and that Daisy-David could knock people out just by thinking it. The only thing she knew at that moment was, 'I was the leader ... I was supposed to be able to keep him safe!'

Another boy ran out of the building holding a handgun in his left hand, the hood of his dark red sweatshirt pulled up over his head... Something long and gray protruded from the seat of his pants...

Angel's eyes went wide when she realized what this long gray thing was...

The boy had a tail! And not just any kind of tail ... He had a wolf's tail!

This tailed boy ran up to Iggy, the gun shaking in his hands. His lip between his pointed teeth.

"Kill it, KIX! Kill it!" The boy with the rifle screamed.

Angel stared at him, noticing how young these two new people were. The boy in the window couldn't have been any older than her!

But the boy with the tail ... He looked to be about four or five.

Iggy lie there on his side quivering, his right hand clamped tightly over his arm, blood running from between his fingers.

Then the boy with the tail lowered the gun and stripped the hood backward off his head and Angel felt as if she might throw up.

His hair was grayish blonde and he his ears were not human ears, but were those of a wolf ... But there was no mistaking his face ... Angel would never forget Ari's face as long as she lived.

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52. Chapters 85

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Chapter 85; Threat

Max shook her wings, almost sneezing when a cloud of dust came from them... Fang was still asleep, lying curled on the couch under a pile of blankets. He'd refused to sleep on the mattress with her, and she'd almost punched him for it, but restrained herself... Barely...

The near purple blackness of his wings was dull with clumps of dried mud and as Max watched he twitched his left as if it itched.

She strode forward and flattened her hand on his forehead, checking his temperature, gauging it to be slightly elevated ... Warm enough to keep him in bed, but not so bad that she was thinking about stripping him naked and dousing him in cold water.

There was no way they were going to be able to continue the search for Angel, Iggy and Daisy-David now. She only hoped that either Nudge and Aaron, or Allan and Gasman found them because Fang wasn't in the shape to go anywhere but to sleep.

He twitched his wing again and shifted uncomfortably against the couch.

The dried mud was itching him too?

Max wasn't one to deny herself the odd dust bath when her wings got particularly itchy but all this dried mud was driving her crazy. It had dried around and in her feathers and every time she moved her wings it felt like her feathers were being pulled. And that made them itch even more.

"Fang," She put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a little shake, "Come on, step outside and let's shake some of this dirt out, you'll sleep better then."

He made an 'I'm still sleepy' noise and cracked his eyes open, staring up at her for a moment before he begrudgingly climbed to his feet.

"When are we leaving?" His hand went toward his bag but Max spoke before he could grab it.

"We're going to stay here for now. You went and got sick again so we're stuck here," That and she was absolutly SICK of the stupid hotel... Talk about cabin fever...

He winced, "I feel OK ... Just achy, I've flown when I've felt worse."

Max shook her head, "I don't want to risk it ... I'll call Allan's cell phone and tell him what happened."

"How are you going to do that?"

Max shrugged, "I'm going to fly into town and get some food, this place is empty, except for a jar of Pickled Pig's Feet and some bay leaves."

"Pickled Pig's Feet?"

Max wrinkled her nose, "It is an actual pig's feet, I've eaten my share of weird stuff, but that? I honestly thought I was going to blow chunks when I realized it was actually a pig's feet."

Fang gave a visible shiver, "Kind of makes Nudge's sewer rat joke tame, doesn't it?"

Max couldn't help but smile, "Come shake some of that dirt out of your wings, you'll feel better."

Fang stood and stared down at his bare feet a moment, swaying a little. Then he walked stiffly toward the door, all of his usual grace gone.

Max glanced at him from the corner of her eye, her heart aching...

Why hadn't he said anything? Didn't he care? Had it not meant anything to him?

She looked at the ground and let out a sigh, deciding she wasn't going to think about it. If she thought about it she would get sick... She was feeling sick to her stomach anyway... But that could just have been the residual shock from finding the pickled Pig's feet...

The silence was thick, just like the low hanging cloudcover. Thick and ominous...

Max thought she was going to go crazy from the quiet... It was terrible...

Her feelings for Fang had come to a head and now he was ignoring her again... Pretending that nothing had happened...

And it hurt...

Was she nothing more than another girl to him after all? Had she allowed herself to be used?

"Fang?"

He grunted and turned to her, his eyes distant...

She opened her mouth to speak, to ask him why... But nothing would come out... Her heart raced as she looked at him... Remembering the feel of his skin, the heat of him... The sound of his breath in he ear ... The taste of his mouth against hers...

Words failed her in the worst possible way. They had proven inadiquate ... There were were no words to describe what she felt... And no matter how she searched for them anyway, or begged them to come out, the silence remained. So she closed her mouth and looked away, shaking her head. Hoping he would draw whatever conclusion he desired from the sound of her brain rattling in her skull.

He stared at her ear for a moment, his lip between his teeth then he crossed his arms over his chest and looked away...

After a moment, in which the awkwardness solidified, Max cleared her throat and said the first thing that popped into her head.

"You should go back inside and get some sleep, I'm going to go get food."

He nodded, not really hearing or understanding what he'd just agreed to until Max had leap into the air and was flying away.

He stared after her for a second, feeling fear tearing at his insides. Fear and an overwhelming sense of sadness and betrayal...

Why hadn't he said anything? Why was he allowing it to happen like this?

There's a time for every purpose... And this isn't it... You know that...

He shuffled absently back into the cabin and sat heavily on the couch, his head between his hands, alien, uncontrollable emotions rushing and spinning thruogh him...

Everything he'd ever wanted was falling away through his fingers and he was standing there watching it blow away like dust in the wind...

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Max came back about an hour later, her eyes bloodshot and red rimmed, lip between her teeth. She tried to put on a brave smile when she came inside, but Fang could see right through it...

He wanted to go to her... To pull her into his arms, but he didn't... If he did, everything would go up in flames... He had to curl his fingers around his arms to keep from reaching for her.

He hated it... He hated everything he was feeling because he knew it could never happen again...

She made sandwiches and he ate, just so there'd be a reason not to talk and when she started packing he did too... Pulling on his jacket and shoes... Not even bothering to speak or even look at her...

If he did he'd end up doing something stupid...

But he didn't know how long he could keep himself from touching her... Or saying her name... Saying anything so this horrible feeling between them would go away...

He wanted everything to go back to the way it was... But he knew it never could... Not now, not ever...

"Come on, we'll make it back to the hotel by six if we leave now..."

He nodded and followed her in silence. Her emotionless right hand man...

"You're awful quiet," She said as they left the cabin.

He shrugged.

"Not this again..." She looked up at him mournfully. "Fang, please, don't hide from me..."

"I'm not hiding."

"Bull crap... Please, please, just tell me what's wrong..."

"Nothing's wrong," He licked his lips and motioned toward the clouds. "I thought you wanted to leave?"

She stared at him for a minute, tears forming in her eyes. Then she turned and took a running leap, shooting directly into super speed and zooming off into the clouds. Fang followed her, cursing himself, scanning the sky for her, but his eyes felt gritty, not wanting to focus on anything farther than thirty feet away.

It was frightening, suddenly not being able to see anything past thirty feet. The trees looked like a dull gray-brown smear below him. The sky naught but a cold gun metal blue smudge. Something was wrong...

Why couldn't he see right?

"M-MAX!" He hovered, for the first time in his life afraid of the world above the ground... She'd left him, and he didn't know where to go... He couldn't remember any of this landscape. Nothing was familiar. His internal sense of direction was spinning... Making him unbelieveably dizzy...

"MAX!"

He frantically swiped at his eyes, hoping to clear them, but it didn't work.

His heart hammered in his chest. Had she left him? Had she really, honestly left him?

What was he supposed to do now? There was something wrong with his eyes, there was something wrong with him and he was alone.

Why hadn't he just told her why he was staying away? That every time he looked at her he felt the smoothness of her skin, smelled her hair. And thinking of it hurt... Knowing hurt...

He couldn't get her out of his head, she took away all his control. Every time he closed his eyes he saw her face... Heard the sound of her wings-

He wiped at his eyes again, hoping this time that they would work and he realized he really could hear her wings...

"Max?"

He turned around, looking for her and saw her shape materialize out of the fog off to his left...

"What's wrong? I was halfway to the hotel!"

He scrubbed his face again, too frustrated to speak.

"What is it?"

She inched closer and he was able to locate her face.

"There ... There's something in my eyes..."

She squinted at his face, staring at his eyes, but the only thing unusual she could see about them was that the color looked blurred and it was almost as if he couldn't focus on anything...

"It's probably just dust from your wings, ignore it..." She turned to leave again but he called out.

"Don't go..."

"What?" Her nose wrinkled.

What was he playing at. One minute nothing was wrong, the next he was all 'oh, don't leave me, oh!'

She wanted to punch him...

"Please, Max..."

"If there's something you want to say, Fang, then say it. I'm tired of all this. I thought that you actually meant what you said the other night, but I guess I was wrong."

"What?" His eyebrows rose in shock.

She shook her head, "Let's just go, alright?" She wiped at her face, smearing tears that were threatening to fall. She flew away, just fast enough that Fang couldn't get any closer than sixty or so feet and she ground her teeth, wishing she'd just kept flying and left him there... Although she would have regretted it afterward...

It really didn't mean anything to him, did it? It had just been a game...

"Max... Max, stop..."

His voice came to her above the wind and she turned her head, seeing him decending quite fast toward a parking lot, the same parking lot where hours ago she'd stollen food and supplies from a pharmacy.

She watched him land and he stumbled, almost pitching forward onto his face. She landed beside him, considerably more graceful... and put a hand on his arm. "Are you OK?"

He shook his head and plopped down heavly on the curb his head in his hands.

"I meant every word I said the other night, Max. You know that."

She stared at him for a moment before she spoke, "Then why have you been ignoring me again, huh? If you love me so much then why have you been ignoring me?"

And when he looked up at her Max felt her anger beginning to fade, but she crossed her arms over her chest, trying to hold it in. She should be mad at him... Not wanting to pull him into her arms.

"Because it just happened so fast, okay? I mean, we went from friends to ... to THAT in one night!" He rubbed his eyes again, grinding his teeth.

"You didn't seem to care then... And it was considerably shorter than one night, Fang... If I remember correctly IT was only about thiry seconds!"

He scowled up at her, visibly hurt. "Fine... All hail Fang and his ability to last thirty seconds!" He threw up his hands and pursed his lips tightly together, a bright reddish color rising to his cheeks. "But, my God, Max, don't you understand what we did?"

"More so than you apparently!"

He didn't seem to be angry, in fact, to Max, he seemed to be more... hurt and sad than anything else, as if she'd broken his heart...

"Fang, do YOU understand what we did? Do you understand that WE made a decision? WE chose ... Do you understand that there is actually a WE now?"

"Yes!" He hissed between his teeth, a forlorn expression coming over his face. "Yes, I understand that... And I understand that WE didn't use any protection, Max, okay? I understand that the world is ending and I could have just knocked up its only chance of surviving!"

And his words hit her like a blow to the stomach... Along with a distant roll of thunder...

"How the hell are you supposed to save the world if you're pregnant, Max? I can't live with the idea that not only could I have cost you your life but the life of a baby, okay? Now do you understand? I can't think of 'US' because when I do ... Jesus, Max ... 'WE' could have condemned the world to oblivion!" He raked a hand through his hair and continued speaking, his voice shaking, his eyes telling her that he hated saying the words.

"Max, I love you, alright? I love you, but there can't BE a 'WE' right now... 'WE' need to save the world... 'WE' can't be worrying about things like this, okay?" He paused taking a deep breath, and spoke as if he were trying to convince himself of it also. "Sometimes... Sometimes there are more important things than love..."

She stared at him... Hurt. But at the same time knowing that he was right.

The idea of fighting for the world's survival with a huge pregnant belly made her sick. She couldn't bear the thought of possibly harming an innocent baby. She couldn't handle it...

But, how could there be anything more important than love? Love was the only thing she could think of that was important enough to fight for...

She wiped her eyes and after forcing herself to choke down her tears and protests, she nodded. "You're right..."

And he flinched...

A cold shard of ice started to build in Max's chest and she wished it would hurry up and stab her heart so it wouldn't hurt so much...

Fang let out a sigh and laid his hand on her leg, looking up at her apologetically. "Max-"

She shrugged him off. "There's a sporting goods store two doors down."

He stared after her... Feeling a cold hollow sensation enveloping him, and slowly, he climbed to his feet, dusting off his behind. Knowing that he'd done it... He'd told her why he was worried... And now he wished he'd just kept his stupid mouth shut...

"What do you need with 'sporting goods', Max?"

Max turned and looked at him solemnly "I need you to teach me to use a gun."

Fang stopped beside her, itching to take her hand... "You want to use a gun? Since when do you allow guns?"

"Since I saw how a Wizard catches its prey. You can't kick a Wizard to death when it's thirty feet from you. But it can grab you with that tongue, and by the time you're close enough to kick it, it's already bitten you."

Fang nodded, "You still don't like guns, do you."

"No, I don't. You don't have to be brave to use a gun, you just have to be able to lift it."

Fang stopped her before they got to the sporting goods store, still feeling cold and hollow, and pointed into the seemingly untouched store between it and the pharmacy. "That right there seems more 'Maxish' than any gun."

Max didn't even look, "Fang, I need a gun," She walked to the sporting goods store and peered inside, realizing too late that the store had already been emptied, leaving only a few stray shells and nothing else. "Well, this SUCKS!" She kicked the door and crossed her arms over her chest, feeling rage bubble in her chest... Nothing was ever easy, was it...

She heard glass shatter and her head whipped to the right staring at Fang. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING!"

He had picked up a sand filled ashtray and thrown it through the front door of the untouched store. "Just trust me," Was all he said before he disappeared inside.

Max couldn't believe it. What was he expecting to find in there? It was a junk store! A flea market! They sold secondhand clothing and badly made tablecloths!

After a few seconds Fang stuck his head out the door, "Come on, you'll like it, I promise."

Max rolled her eyes. The only thing she would like at this moment was to cry and tell Fang that right now she didn't want to save the world. All she wanted was him... And possibly some chocolate, but that was beside the point.

She heard the glass crunching beneath her shoes and she walked to him her arms crossed over her chest so she wasn't tempted to touch him. "What am I going to like?"

Fang was standing over a glass case. He pressed the tip of one finger against the glass and looked over his shoulder grinning. "This is definitely your style."

Max stared down into the case with a sigh. "It isn't very practical ... I mean, a gun is going to do more damage at a greater distance than that."

"Yeah, but you have to have guts to use this ... And you've got guts, I know that for a fact. Any teenaged girl who can take on the responsibility of saving the world has either got guts or the crazies ... With you, it's both, but, yeah."

Max wiped at her eyes, "You're crazy, you pig ... Finding weapons in flea markets..."

He shrugged and tried not to look at her. Forcing himself to focus on the task at hand and forget his feelings. Forget they even existed... Which was harder than anything he'd ever done...

"Were there any guns in the other store?"

Max shook her head.

"Then this is the best option we've got for the moment."

Max shook her head and walked around the counter, sliding open the little door on the back and taking out the sword. She stared at it for a minute. Feeling absurd. "What kind of sword is it, Oh, Great Fang?"

Fang took hold of the tag and stared at it, "Well ... It says that it's full tang."

Max giggled.

"Shut up," He felt himself grin, "Tang means-"

Max giggled again.

"Shut up or you'll make me laugh!" He glared at her and cleared his throat, "It means the metal the blade is made of goes all the way to the end of the hilt."

Max pulled the sword out of its sheathe, "It isn't even sharp."

"Well, we'll find a way to sharpen it then ... There, hand me that one," He pointed to another sword at the very front of the case. "They may turn out to be junk, but I'd rather be armed with junk than nothing," He wiped his sleeve across his forehead, for the first time noticing the sweat dripping into his face.

Max pulled this sword out also and handed it over. "You feeling OK?"

He nodded, "I'll be alright," He took the sword from her and gave his head a shake. "I'm just tired... Are you ready?"

Max shook her head and quickly turned, jerking a blanket off a nearby shelf and spreading it out on the counter. "I'm taking a few more of these, so we'll all have one," And she started going through the swords. Testing their weight and inspecting them before making a decision on weather or not she liked it. "You ... You lay down somewhere and rest, OK? I'll wake you up when I'm ready to go."

Fang, sighed and planted himself in the corner on top of a stack of 'hand made' quilts his head on the pillow of his right arm. Feeling the beginnings of another headache building behind his eyes.

For a few moments a harsh ringing invaded his senses and he felt crazy because of the shrill sound of it and then-

"Fang? Fang, put this on, you're shivering."

He opened his eyes just in time to see Max kneel before him holding something black with a hole in it. She shoved it over his head and helped him get his arms into the sleeves.

"I already cut slits in the back, so don't worry."

He glanced down beside him, squinting because the ringing sound made his eyes water, and noticed a large bundle of what he guessed to be swords and knives. "Jeez, you're done quick."

"Quick? We've been here for two-and-a-half hours! No, don't look at me like that, just lay back down and get some rest. Do you feel OK?"

He nodded, "Yeah, it just got cold all the sudden, didn't it..." He wrapped his arms around his middle, feeling the bite of the cold for the first time.

Max hesitated then sighed and leaned her back against the wall beside him. "Just rest for now. I want to leave soon."

He nodded and rested his head on his arm again.

"Max?"

She turned and looked up at him again, "Yeah?"

He still looked exhausted but his color was returning, "Are you OK?"

She nodded, "Just worried about you..."

He smiled, "Worried about me?"

"You over did yourself, you need to rest, go back to sleep."

He shifted his head against his arm and was quiet for a few minutes, just looking up at her mournfully.

"Max?"

"Fang."

He hesitated, wanting to tell her that as soon as the world was safe he'd be happy with the 'we' arangement, but thunder rolled from outside and he glanced toward the entrance. Trying to block out that intolerable ringing noise, and noticed that it had started raining quite heavily again. He thought he saw something move, like a shadow, but before he could say anything, his eyes closed, his body went limp, and for a while he had only dreams to talk to...

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53. Chapters 86

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(NOTE! Okay, I'm posting the rest of PART 4 today because I feel like it. AND, it makes more sense if I just get it out there because there a LOT of answers in these few chapters... I hope you enjoy it! READ AND REVIEW OR ELSE!)

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Chapter 86; Resurrections and Insurrections

Angel couldn't stop staring at him. It was Ari ... It was his face ... But he was so different ... He had a TAIL and EARS!

He cocked his head to the side and turned toward her a rather curious expression on his face. Then slowly ... Ever so slowly, he extended his wings ... His gray, white and dark blonde wings.

Angel moved just as slow, scanning his mind but finding nothing that she'd found in the real Ari's mind... No unhealthy desire for Max ... No jealousy...

This Ari was different in more ways that just his appearance. This Ari didn't know who she was ... Didn't really know who he was, except for the fact the boy called him 'KIX' and that this boy had saved his life...

Angel put out her own wings and gave them a little shake.

The new Ari smiled and flipped the little switch on the side of his gun, turning the little arrow to the 'locked' position. He waved a hand over his head at the boy in the window and the rifle was removed.

The boy in the window shouted down, "Is he gonna hurt us? Is he sick?"

This new, younger Ari dropped to his knees beside Iggy, "Are you OK?" He had a sweet voice ... But not sickly sweet as an Eraser ... It was just ... Sweet.

Iggy recognized the boy's voice and tried to draw away from him, tried to shove the boy away but he couldn't move his right arm, and the pain was so intense, stabbing up into his jaw and down to his thumb, he didn't want to move period.

"Where'd you come from? I thought you were dead!"

Those small, furry hands tangled in his shirt, "Wait ... You know who I am?" Fear and joy bubbled in his voice, making it tremble.

Angel watched his ears perk up, just like Total's.

Iggy ground his teeth, "Yes, I know who you are ... You tried to kill me a hundred different times ... But you're dead ... You died in Max's arms..." He felt the boy's hands tremble.

"What? Who is Max? What do you mean I DIED! Who am I?"

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Pain ... Cold ... Bright lights hovering overhead...

An ache in her chest and stomach, growing stronger with every beat of her heart...

I'm alive ... Don't leave me ... Please, don't leave me...

Machines beeped and spluttered, faces loomed out of the brightness above her, eyes hidden deep in blue masks...

Gloved hands poked and prodded her stomach, her arms and legs, her neck...

"We've got a pulse!" A woman's voice...

More faces ... Machines screaming...

"Hey, we've got a pulse over here!" A man's voice... Shocked.

"This is incredible ... I've never seen anything like it!" A familiar woman's voice. "Are we stable? Are they stable?"

It was quiet for a few seconds, only the whirring machines.

"Stable..." The first woman again.

"We're stable!" The man's voice, shocked, jubilant...

"Okay ... I want this documented, I want everything that just happened to be documented, alright? NOBODY leaves until we figure out what just happened!"

"What about Subject Seven B? He's just received a Purge, they don't know if he's going to make it."

"I don't care about him right now... I want THIS figured out... I want to know WHY HE came back, he was NOT given a Rez-15. Figure this OUT!"

The Director's face swam into view above her and then there was only a smothering blackness.

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Max opened her eyes slowly, taking in each sense as it came to her.

She could smell the slight mustiness of the blankets that Fang was lying on ... She could feel the chill from the outside air... And she could hear something... But what was it?

Fang pried his eyes open, noting that it took considerable effort and he blinked around, gazing into Max's face helplessly. Feeling like his eyes were trying to pop from his head. He opened his mouth to speak but something stopped him. The look in her eyes...

She could smell something.

And so could he...

It was odd, he thought, that suddenly he could smell something that shouldn't be there. Something wet, like a dog, and yet slimy smelling, like stagnant water... or frogs.

He felt overwhelmingly tired... The ache in his back from his kidneys had reached an unbearable appex and he wanted to roll over and scream about it but was able to restrain himself, simply because that's what he'd been taught to do. Even if he was in pain, when he sensed someone that shouldn't be there, he went still and quiet.

He wanted to move, wanted to U and A, but he stayed still, partially because of the pain, and partially because he didn't think he had the strength to move. Everything felt so terribly... Odd. Like a mild version of sleep apnia... Where it felt like he wasn't breathing and he couldn't move at all... Only, this just felt like he was sinking deeper into himself... It was a relief, but somehow he knew it wasn't the good kind of relief... Something was telling him it was bad...

He supposed it was Max... Her feelings were being superimposed over his own since at the moment all he felt was sick... Very sick.

He was useless if he was in a lot of pain. He wouldn't scream and shout like other people when he was hurting... He usually got very quiet and tried to hide it... Tried to get away so he could be alone and lick his wounds so to speak... So nobody else would have to worry about him. But this was different. He didn't want to be alone this time... Something about this feeling made him want to pull Max close, even as it drained all his strength... and because of it he wasn't sure if he could get away if Max suddenly told him to run.

He stared up at her pleadingly, wishing he could speak... He wished he could talk, wished he could project his thoughts into her mind like Jeb had ... Wishing he could move or do something without that THING knowing. He wished he knew what the hell was so close to them so he could figure out how to kill it!

Then he heard a small sound, like a cloth something falling to the floor and his eyes flicked toward the opposite corner, near the door. And the hackles on his neck stood on end.

He saw a thin, long black thing protruding into the room through the broken door and his arms went up, grabbing Max and there was a sharp sound. A little 'POP' and something slammed into his forearm. Stinging him.

Max made a surprised, terrified sound and threw herself over him, barely half a second before there was another 'POP'and Fang saw a little red flower blossom on Max's left shoulder.

She stared at it shocked, her eyebrows up.

Fang wanted to scream, to throw himself over her and protect her, but he just couldn't move... All his strength was fading faster now and he noticed a similar red flower protruding from his own arm...

Darts... Tranquilizer darts...That's funny...

Max reached up and plucked the flower from her shoulder, staring at it slightly bemused.

Her fingers slipped on the dart and she dropped it, sinking onto her stomach staring Fang in the face still quite surprised.

Fang wondered if maybe, just maybe it was a good thing that he couldn't move... Because if he had been able to move, when Ter Borcht crunched over the broken glass and walked into his line of sight he would have literally torn the man to shreds with his bare hands.

"Vhy are you just lying zair? Zat dart did not hev enouv trankvillizer in it to e-feckt you ... Get up ... I vant to see how vell you are doing."

I can't get up you screwy old man... You tranked me...

"Number Seven, I vas speaking to you..."

You ken speak all you vant! No amount of talking is going to make me un-paralyzed!

Ter Borcht strode forward and bent over him, grasping him by the arm and giving him a shake.

"Vat is wrong vis you?" He put a hand to Fang's face and lowered him back to the stack of quilts turned mattress. His glassy eyes widening.

"What's going on? I thought there was only enough juice in those things to knock her out?" Max Two bent down staring, "He stinks ... What's going on?" She nudged Fang with her foot surprised when he didn't react. "What's up with him? Is he dead?"

Get away from him! Max snarled in her head, you get away from him!

She wanted to hurt something. Wanted to kick ass...

She was mad... More than just angry mad, she was crazy mad too. These Whitecoat freaks wouldn't leave her alone would they! Would she actually have to demean herself and kill one of them to make them stop?

And as she thought this she felt a horrible, chilling fear rush over her... And she realized it wasn't her own fear...

It was Fang's...

He was absolutely petrified...

Max raised her eyes, staring at him and her stomach bubbled. She recognized that fear... That was the kind of fear she saw in the eyes of wild animals caught in hunters' traps... It was the kind of fear that made rabbits run into traffic, and birds to fly into windows when they were trapped in houses...

It was the kind of fear that got you killed...

Concentrate... She told herself, concentrate ... Focus...

She had to let him know she was OK. She had to let him know something ... She had to do SOMETHING. Freaking out would do them absolutely no good. And considering Fang's curent condition, it could hurt him dearly...

She focused all her strength into isolating that connection ... That little part of herself that would forever be in tune with Fang. She had to somehow communicate with him...

But ... She didn't actually believe that she'd be able to do it...

It felt like she was squeezing through a little door in her head. Like searching frantically for a single tidbit of information and then suddenly, inexplicably finding it amid the clutter.

And then a whole other world was opened to her ... A world that was, at the moment, over run with fear, anger and a screaming voice

GET AWAY FROM HER! DON'T TOUCH HER YOU SICK FREAK! GET AWAY!!

Fang?

His eyes squeezed closed tightly and all thought abruptly stopped. Cut off by an explosive stab of pain that shot through their heads, seeming to blow each cell apart in fiery agony. But Max went on anyway, forced herself to do it, knowing all the while what she was doing to him because years ago Jeb had done it to her...

But this time it was worse because Fang couldn't do what she'd done... He couldn't grab his head and hold the two pieces of his brain together ... He couldn't scream, or curl into a ball and cry ... All he could do was lie there and take it and pray it didn't kill him... Or did, and just did it quickly so the pain would stop.

Max closed her eyes wishing she could somehow make it end, but she had to do it ... She had to let him know...

Fang, we're going to get through this ...I promise.

His eyes came open and he stared at her and Max felt something new ... Something hot building in her chest, a pressure, fighting to get out but being smashed behind his ribs... Choking her...

And as she watched Fang's eyes seemed to swirl, the dark blue turning for a moment black ... spinning, as if his pupil had just swallowed all the color and then his eyes fluttered closed and his mind went terribly, terribly blank...

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54. Chapters 87

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Chapter 87; Solidarity

Max screamed for him in her head, using this new connection, using her Voice, the Voice she'd put in his head, trying to rouse him but he wouldn't wake up... The stubbon jackass... He always had to make things diffucult didn't he...

Ter Borcht pressed two fingers to the side of Fang's neck then quickly bundled one of the quilts around him and scooped him effortlessly, almost tenderly, into his hairy arms.

Max looked up at her clone, at Max Two in disgust, wishing she could move so she could kill ... herself ... Max Two ... But she couldn't. Part of her was glad because she didn't want to sully her soul with Max Two's death...

The girl knelt down, glancing over her shoulder to make sure Ter Borcht wasn't within hearing range, then she did something unforgivable.

"Listen very closely ... I know you can hear me ... I know how to stop them."

Max's throat tightened and for a moment she couldn't breathe.

"I know how to stop the Immaculae and if you can help me, I'll help you."

Max stared up at this version of herself. Max Two had changed a little. Her hair was much longer than Max's, her ears were pierced, eyebrows perfectly plucked, makeup flawless... And she was wearing a necklace ... What looked like a remote control for a garage door.

"Look, blink once for yes, twice for no, got it?"

Max blinked once.

Max Two glanced back over her shoulder then turned to Max. "All they want is their mommy ... If you win the fight and become their mommy they're harmless. Right now, their mommy is named Belladonna... She's crazy weird, but she can't stay in the air for very long... She has to breath water every so often or she dries out..."

Max cocked a mental eyebrow. How could someone dry out?

"They'll do anything for mommy. Even kill themselves, but you have to have the right voice codes to turn off their programing or they'll keep hunting their quarry until they kill them and-"

Ter Borcht walked back into the room and bent, scooping Max up and carrying her out the door, lying her in a hammock like net stretched between two Wizard's brooms.

It was a very uncomfortable ride. The wind was cold, biting through her sweatshirt and she was practically on top of Fang, who was still limp and dead looking as ever.

Max didn't know how long they flew. She just kept her ear to Fang's chest, listening to his heart beating and his labored breath.

She was getting a terrible ache in her leg and she tentatively tried to move it, surprised when she found, with some effort, that she could.

The tranquilizer was wearing off. But she didn't let on, instead, she elected to remain limp, lying there, her head on Fang's chest listening to his heart and breathing, assuring herself he was alive.

She realized, not long after, that they were starting to descend, and Max saw a dark building looming up at her over Fang's shoulder.

It was, what looked like an old factory, with two large smokestacks issuing foul smelling smoke into the air and a building the size of an airport hangar. There were numerous little buildings surrounding this bigger one and Max saw an area of green under a glass dome ... And inside she saw little figures moving ... New experiments.

Ter Borcht and Max Two landed them inside the airport hangar building and Ter Borcht started barking orders to two younger looking doctors that came rushing up.

"Get him up to Exam, I vunt a full battery of blood tests ... I vunt to know vat is wrong vis him, und vhy he haz not yet developed."

Fang ... If you can hear me, don't fight them until I tell you to, please, please don't fight them until I tell you to.

She wasn't sure if he could hear her or not but blinding pain lanced through her head telling her she'd just given him another brain explosion, even if he couldn't hear her.

The two young doctors rushed over and one rolled her away from Fang while the other dragged over a gurney and lifted him onto it, but she couldn't see where they took him...

Max felt the new doctor, a female give her a little shake, "Hey, can you hear me? Borcht, I think something's wrong with the female, her heart rate is elevated and she's in respiratory distress."

"No, zat iz normal for zem. But zee trankvillizer is vearing off ... If you do not inject her vis more she vill attack you."

The young doctor rocked back on her heels and stood, staring down at Max in horror. She fished a vial and syringe from her pocket and filled it her hands shaking.

"I'll do it," Max Two said in a rather annoyed voice, "I'm not scared of her."

The young doctor handed over the syringe, "I'm just an intern, I didn't think we would actually be handling experiments solo, this early in the program."

Max two shrugged and bent making sure to catch Max's attention when she squirted all of the tranquilizer out onto the ground then pricked her arm with the empty needle.

"There, just be sure to get her in her cage before they bring the other one in, if she sees him in distress she'll go really crazy."

The young female doctor nodded and with Max Two's help they got Max onto a gurney.

Max lie there wondering why Max Two was helping her, and trying to be 'unconscious' which wasn't that hard considering she'd stopped her own heart once to get out of an isolation tank.

"So you're the director's daughter?" The young doctor said.

Max Two smiled, "Yeah ... I wouldn't be around without this place."

"So that's why..." The young doctor glanced down at Max with raised eyebrows.

"Yeah, you know how clones are."

Yeah, I do... Max thought, they're very unpredictable. One minute they're trying to kill you, the next they're helping you. Who knew?

"So you're part avian?" The woman smiled.

"No," Max Two lied, "I'm all human."

"Do you work with your mother?"

Max Two shook her head, "Not usually, Mom just needed my help for a few days, while her secretary is off with the flu."

Max mentally rolled her eyes. She wanted to lunge off the gurney, crack these two numbskulls heads together and go save Fang... But just as she was thinking it the female doctor's beeper started screaming. "They're starting the reanimation already? Jeez, I didn't think they were going to do that until tomorrow..." She shook her head, pushed the gurney onto an elevator and walked away.

"Don't move..." Max Two whispered from the corner of her mouth. She played with the little remote around her neck. "You have to remember this, OK? The parking garage is level two ... The red button sets off the alarm, the green one unlocks the doors the blue one locks the doors, got it? Keys are in the ignition."

Max blinked once.

Max Two moved to the left, bending and fiddling with something on the underside of the gurney, and when she raised up she slipped an identical remote right into Max's hand.

"Why are you doing this?" Max breathed, barely loud enough to be heard, even with super sensitive ears.

"Because despite what you may think, we're on the same side... I don't want the world to end any more than you do... Just promise me one thing, when you get out of here ... You'll let me kill 'Mom'."

Max tightened her hand on the little remote.

"You might not be able to kill, Max, but I can ... And I want to see the look in her eyes when I choke the life out of her."

"Why?"

"For killing my best friend ... For letting Ari expire."

Max's throat tightened but she didn't nod. Didn't agree to anything simply because she wouldn't be able to live with herself if she did. Even for the likes of the Director.

The Elevator stopped and Max Two wheeled the gurney down a long hallway, "You'll have to get in the cage, I'm sorry, but I can't get you out of that."

Max slipped off the edge of the gurney and stared into the dog crate sickened. Then she sat her jaw and climbed inside. Wishing she were anywhere but here ... Back in a dog crate.

"Where's Fang?"

Max Two bent and looked into the cage, "I'll find him, I'm really sorry about all of this. I tried to delay it as long as possible but when you beat Omega up Mom got so pissed ... And when you let her live ... I mean, I thought she'd be glad, but she wanted you to kill her ... She wanted to know she'd created something that could kill. Something that was greater than humans."

Max didn't blink, "That's why I had to let her live. To show her that she may have created me, but she didn't own me."

Max Two nodded, "Well, that's where we're different ... I know she owns me," And she stood, pushing the gurney out of the room.

Max heard the door shut and for a long time she was completely alone, feeling that odd thrumming that was Fang's mind behind her eyes. She closed her eyes and focused on this sensation...

He was lying on his side ... It was like she could see out of his head...

He was lying on his side and a Whitecoat was putting an IV in his right arm.

Max could hear voices, as if they were under water.

"What did the tests say?"

"It isn't good ... His organs are shutting down... He's in renal failure, but we're trying to get his kidneys working on full capacity again, major infusions of fluids... He's severely dehydrated and his body seems to be generating three different kinds of G-inhibitors."

Ter Borcht came into Fang's line of sight and jerked the papers from the seemingly faceless doctor. "Zees should not be here, vair did zay come from?"

"Doctor we've identified one of the undocumented G-inhibitors ... You're never going to believe where it came from," Another female Whitecoat appeared this one carrying two different files.

Ter Borcht took the files and stared at them a moment his eyes bulging out of their sockets. "How did Number Six's G-inhibitor get into him?"

Number six? Wait ... I'm number six... Max thought. How did her G-inhibitor ... Whatever that was ... Get into Fang's body?

The blood transfusion ... Iggy and I gave him blood, that's how it happened ... I saved his life only to kill him!

"Zay must have had blood to blood contact ... Didn't zee Director say zat he had a transfusion, three years ago?"

The female doctor flipped through his file, "Yes ... Apparently Number Six AND Number Eight took part in that ... What do we do? How do we proceed?"

Ter Borcht looked solemn for a moment and Max feared he would say to 'expire' him or something.

"We can't start over, he's unique, and the fact his DNA has been compromised-"

Ter Borcht turned to her and growled, baring his pointed teeth, "His DNA vus compromised from zee day he vus born! Don't you see zat? He iz unstable, und has been from day vun! I told her, I told her to let me get rid of him before his abilities developed, but she vouldn't listen to me, und now look vat has happened!"

Abilities?

Max felt herself trembling as she listened through Fang's head...

"Hiz mozer vas bad enough on her own, but HIM! He vill be tvice as bad! HIS MOZER killed forty people, my brozer included und SHE let her live, she let her ESCAPE!" Ter Borcht's face was darkening, like a rain cloud And Max wondered if Fang was even conscious to hear it.

"I say let him die like zee ozer vun, und be done vis it!"

A door slammed and Max jerked her head, opening her eyes but the room she was in was still empty. She shut her eyes tightly again and found Fang's mind.

The director was kneeling before him, looking tenderly into his eyes, stroking the side of his face. Ter Borcht was gone. "You're going to be OK ... I'm going to make everything OK again ... Just lie very still ... This might hurt a little bit."

Max watched in shocked silence as the director stood and backed up a few paces, still smiling. More Whitecoats came into view and Max felt Fang's anger building like a hot pressure in her chest ... She felt her own anger feeding it...

Something stabbed into his back ... Something hot, digging deeper and deeper, but Fang couldn't move, couldn't even scream ... All he could do was lie there and let it happen.

Somewhere, near the very back of his mind he thought he heard someone screaming ... Someone that sounded so much like Max it scared him...

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(HINT!! Why was Ter Borcht saying that Fang's DNA had been compromised? If Fang's so special why does he want Fang dead? Or was he talking about Fang at all?)

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55. Chapters 88

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Chapter 88; Not Alone in My Head

Max woke up sometime later to voices. She pried her eyes open and saw feet standing very close to her cage. And a dangling sheet turned hammock, which looked to have a body in it.

A million things assaulted her senses. The smell of antiseptic, sweat and sickness. Lingering tendrils of fear wrapped around her heart ... And an excruciating pain in Fang's head ... In his whole body...

Fang?

The person in the sheet jerked and made a short pathetic sound, somewhere between a gasp and a scream.

Max grabbed her own head and she realized the person in the sheet just outside her cage was Fang. Her stomach bubbled.

"How is he?" The Director's voice.

"We can't get his temperature down ... It just skyrocketed after we injected him with the Purge ... He's already had two seizures from it ... If we don't get him cooled down soon there will be irreversible brain damage."

"Pack him in ice," The director again.

"We've done that three times and there's no effect, he just melts the ice. His body is still treating the serums like a virus. If this fever doesn't break his new abilities won't be able to develop and he'll ... He'll end up being cooked from the inside out by the heat."

Max hooked her fingers through the bars of her cage and noticed a bandage on the inside of her arm. Someone had drawn blood from her. She ground her teeth and peered out, trying to get a look at Fang, trying somehow to comfort him, but all she could see was that sheet.

The Director sighed, "If he dies we can always clone him..."

"But cloning of males has been unsuccessful."

Another Whitecoat chimed in; "Actually, they say they've worked out the kinks... Something about a-"

"I don't care!" The director rubbed her forehead, "Move him to an isolation tank, we don't-"

Max glared up at the woman and before she could stop herself she'd spoken, "NO!"

Everything was quiet, except for the noises faint Fang was making.

The Director crouched down and glared in at Max, "Excuse me?"

"Don't move him ... He did this before, please, I can help him, just don't move him!" Why in the name of all that was winged was she doing this? She hadn't done something this spur of the moment, this radical since she'd ... Since she had done what she did at the hotel...

The Director's eyebrows drew down, "He's done this before?"

Max nodded, feeling ashamed, "He did something like it a few nights ago, let me help him."

The woman seemed to have a brief, internal struggle, but she relented, pulled a key from her pocket and unlocked the door to Max's cage. "If you can help him then do it, because we've tried everything."

Max crawled out slowly ... Unsure if it was some kind of trap or if it was real... She could bolt... She could run and escape right now and there would be nothing the Whitecoats could do about it... But, then again, if she DID... She would have to leave Fang... And from what she guessed, based on the noises he was making, he was in no condition to do ANYTHING.

She stood, stretching sore, cramped muscles and peered over the edge of the sheet, fearful of what she might see, but knowing that if she didn't look she would somehow be betraying herself and him.

She HAD to, because sometimes fear was worse than the truth.

His hair was plastered to his flushed face and every inch of his skin, save the two bright red places on his cheeks was a gray waxy color and shimmering with sweat. Max could tell he was naked, but they'd covered him in a sheet and he'd managed to tangle himself in it.

One wing was out, lying limply behind him, some of the gloriously long black feathers crimped and broken from his thrashing. His left wing was trapped beneath him and Max knew that it couldn't be good for it. He may be healed but that wing would never truly be the same.

She stood there trembling and staring down at him, thinking that he looked like some poor dying little bird and she cursed herself, biting her tongue for thinking such a thing.

Dropping to her knees beside him she put one hand on his bare chest, the other on the side of his face, wiping away sweat from around his eyes with her thumb.

The heat from him was exquisite. Max nearly jerked her hand away because of it, but forced herself to remain in contact with him. Hoping her cooler hands would bring him some sort of relief.

"Fang..." She whispered, "Fang, you need to wake up, understand? You've gotta wake up now!"

But he wouldn't.

Not because he didn't want to, but simply because he couldn't...

The sickness that had infected him, that had plagued him for the past two months in growing intensity had reached its crisis and now... Now, there was no going back... He was no longer sick...

Fang was dying...

The smell of it clung to him like a cologne and Max almost gagged.

"Is there a bathtub around here ... Or a shower?" Her voice sounded strained, near hysterics, but she forced herself to remain calm... She had to be calm... She just HAD to. She couldn't comprehend anything else...

"There's a shower in Seven-G..." One of the Intern Whitecoats said from behind her and Max looked up.

"Okay ... Can you get him to that shower?"

The Whitecoats seemed to move as one, catching the edges of the sheet and picking him up, carrying him in a sort of sick procession down the hall, the Director trailing behind carrying the two IV bags above her head.

Max didn't have time to think how funny it was that the Whitecoats were taking orders from an experiment. At the moment she couldn't even consider breaking out one of the windows she passed and escaping. The only thing she could think of was getting to that shower. Getting Fang's temperature down so they could escape TOGETHER.

She wouldn't leave him when he was so sick... When he had no way of defending himself.

A shower wasn't exactly what Max found in Seven-G. What was actually there was a wall of showers spaced about four feet apart down the length of about twenty feet.

"Anything that can be ripped out needs to either be taken out or taped down," Max walked forward and angled one showerhead to point straight down, glad that it didn't break off in her hand when she forced the rust flaked pipe to bend.

The Intern-Whitecoats nodded and lowered him to the ground. Then started wrapping tape up his arms in bands spaced about three inches apart, all the way to his shoulders, so he wouldn't be able to jerk the IV wires out of place.

Max ground her teeth and yanked off her jacket and jeans, balling them together and throwing them out of the way so they wouldn't get wet ... And the little remote Max Two had given her wouldn't get soaked.

She slid down the wall, trying not to make a big deal out of the fact she was standing there in a T-shirt and panties. At the moment it mattered very little. She positioned herself, sitting under the showerhead and made 'come here' motions with both hands, "Bring him to me."

She was terrified. Staring, feeling her stomach tighten when she realized how limp he was as the Intern Whitecoats carried him toward her. Like a doll... All his joints unhinged... His head flopped back on his neck, his lips parted. There was no strength in his body now... Just pain and terrible, murdering illness... It was sick... Utterly and completely sick to look at, but she couldn't turn away. She wouldn't let herself.

This was Fang! Even though it hurt and scared her to see him so dead looking, she had to help him, had to protect him when he couldn't do it himself because she knew he would do the same for her... No matter what...

When she and Allan had forced Fang into a cool bath at the hotel he'd gone into hysterics, splashing about and cursing ... They'd had to hold still until he calmed down enough to realize it was only to help him...

But this time ... This time was worse, at least before he'd responded to her ... He'd been somewhat aware, forcing himself to sit still when she told him to. Trusting HER above his own instincts... But now? Right now Fang wasn't there... His mind and spirit were somewhere else. Everything she loved about him was somewhere else, hovering between life and death. And to bring it back ... To bring HIM back, she had to bring that fever DOWN.

Max felt like she'd just wrapped her arms around a furnace and the smell of sickness was almost overwhelming. But she couldn't let him go. She couldn't let the last good thing she had, Fang's love, be stripped from her. She would NOT allow it...

She readied herself, throwing her right leg over both of his own so he wouldn't be able to kick and hurt himself, then locked her arms around his shoulders, holding his wings closed and supporting his head.

She braced herself and nodded to the man standing by the door her heart pounding in fear.

The man flipped a switch and the shower gurgled ominously and spat cold water down on them.

Fang's whole body arched upward, his mouth coming open in a wide 'O', breath hissing as it was sucked in... and he wailed...

A soul tearing, haunting sound that made everyone in the room step backward in fear. The director included...

Max ground her teeth against the pain, both hers and Fang's. All she could do was squeeze him while he thrashed and listen to him scream, or make shushing sounds into his ear and hope he heard her. Hoped he believed her when she said it was going to be OK, even though she wasn't sure if she believed it herself.

The water coursed over them, running down his chest like a little river, over the scars on his stomach and under the sheet tangled around his waist.

Max invisioned all the sickness, all the pain and fear being washed away with that water, washed away down the drain. Cleansing him... Cleansing them both...

She pled with him, begging him to fight. To stay with her because she loved him... Because she'd found a reason to save the world... And he was it. Every part of him...

His silence ... His arrogance ... His stubborn nature... Even the things that drove her crazy because they were all parts of him. All parts of what made him Fang.

She opened her eyes and for a moment she was not sitting there in Seven-G under a cold shower fighting for Fang's life... The world flashed before her as it had not so long ago when she'd been flying away from the Wizards, the night Jeb died...

She heard her own breath, her own heartbeat, and Fang's... But there was something else... There was something in the whiteness this time... She could see figures moving along within it... Throughout it... Part of it...

Who these figures were was a mystery, but their meaning was the same... To her anyway... They all seemed to be moving toward the same spot... The same point on the horizon and as the whiteness faded the first thing Max saw was that odd round silver medalion Father Donovan had given Fang, lying within the stream of water flowing over his chest...

Come back, Fang... Come back...

Time lost all meaning, her world narrowed down to him ... To simply keeping him alive and ignoring everything she was feeling. Ignroing his screams and how he fought... She had to stay put, no matter how hard it was, she had to stay put, she had to keep him still ... She had to protect him... Even when his body suddenly gave a series of violent bone breaking jerks and his howling was reduced to gasps.

She was vaguely aware of one of the Whitecoats shouting, 'He's seizing!' but she didn't pay any attention to it. She couldn't let him go for anything...

And then he went still. His head falling back against her arm his lips parted...

For a moment the pain ended and all Max could feel was his breathing ... Those shallow wrenching breaths he took between weak shudders. She tucked his head under her chin, petting his cheek and whispering into the wet hair on his head. She wasn't really sure what she was whispering but she was saying it just the same.

Time passed, it moved on even though they stayed in the same place. The Whitecoats slowly filtered out of the room, going about their business, going to check on other experiments, other projects ... Or possibly going home for the day...

The only thing Max knew was when the Director shut the water off she couldn't feel her arms. All she could feel was Fang's pulse against the side of his neck and the labored sounds of his breathing.

The Director knelt beside her and pressed something just inside Fang's ear, taking his temperature. She looked utterly astonished when she read the numbers.

"I don't know how you did it ... They had packed him in ice three times and it had no effect. Then YOU sit here with him in a shower for a few hours and his temperature is below normal!" The Director shook her head, "Too bad his reproductive system's shot now... I would have liked to see some Gen Threes out of you two..."

Max stared at her, "What?"

"Anyone whose temperature was as hot as his for as long as his was suffers damage to their reproductive system..." She stared at the shocked, horrified expression on Max's face then shook her head;

"He's sterile."

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56. Chapters 89 and 90

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Chapter 89; Return

Two days ... Two days and no one had yet to come back.

Gasman sat there at one of the tables in the dining room stabbing the soggy cereal left in his bowl with his spoon. Where were Angel, Iggy and Daisy? Where were Nudge, Aaron and Total? Where were Max and Fang?

Allan walked down the hall slinging on his jacket. "I'm going back out to look some more, you can come if you want."

Gasman nodded, "I don't like staying here, its creepy ... Like something out of an old movie..."

Allan motioned back down the hallway, "Go get your jacket, it's chilly."

Gasman jumped out of his chair and ran to his room, he pulled on his jacket and took a moment to search out his picture ... That picture he'd stolen from Fang so long ago now it seemed stupid.

He hated the picture, he hated everything about it. But it was the only picture he would ever have of his mother, the closest thing to knowing his family that he would ever have ... He shoved the picture into his pocket and jogged down the hall to Allan.

"Which direction are we going?"

"I was thinking I'd drive and you could fly around up top and tell me which way to go. He handed the Gasman a walkie-talkie. "You can fly around and see if there's anything we should look into and if you need backup you just call."

Gazzy nodded and gave his shoulders a shake, forcing his wings out through the slits in his jacket. He started to go, to turn when he looked out the window and noticed a forlorn little black shape huddled under Allan's jeep.

It took him a moment to realize what he was seeing and then fear bubbled up in his throat with a short cry, "TOTAL!" He flung open the door and ran out, falling to his knees before the jeep, staring under it at the little dog.

"Total, what happened? Where are Nudge and Aaron?"

Total didn't answer, but turned his head toward Gazzy and whined, his whole little furry body shivering with cold and fear.

"Total, Total come to me, what is it?"

The little dog crept forward and when the Gasman opened his coat Total climbed into his lap, snuggling against his heart.

"What happened?"

Gasman looked down into the little furry face and his whole body went cold, "Where are Nudge and Aaron?"

Allan was over his shoulder, bending down a hand to his mouth.

Total lifted a paw and rubbed it over his eyes, "The t-truck ... It was rolling ... Over and over and over..." He hesitated giving a shake of his head, "Aaron was hurt ... He couldn't breathe ... He was choking..."

"Are they hurt? Where are they?" Allan said, wanting to grab the little dog up and shake him.

Tears welled in Total's little eyes, "I couldn't help him ... I tried, I really tried..."

Allan was on his feet, grasping Gazzy by the back of his jacket and hauling him into the jeep. "Where are they?" He turned the key in the ignition and slammed the jeep into gear, heading west, crashing through a fence and down over a muddy slope then back on the road.

The tires made whirring sounds on the wet pavement and Gasman wondered if he'd ever gone this fast. He'd never seen anyone drive so fast.

Total stifled a sob and continued, "He was in pain ... And then he was all still ... And he wouldn't wake up..."

Gasman felt as if someone had punched him in the stomach and when he looked over at Allan he saw the man's face had gone ash gray.

Total shook his head and turned to Allan, "They're dead..."

Allan took his foot off the gas and the jeep rolled to a stop he turned the key in the ignition and sat there, his arms hanging limply at his sides his eyes distant tears rolling down his pale face.

Everything was quiet and Gasman could hear Allan breathing. Could hear the sounds of the air as it shuddered from the man's throat.

Nudge and Aaron were dead?

Gasman felt sick to his stomach and he couldn't stop his mouth from opening and closing like some kind of fish out of water.

Nudge and Aaron couldn't be dead ... What if Fang and Max were dead too? What if ... What if he was alone?

What if he was the only one left?

Allan licked his lips and opened his mouth to speak. Feeling as if somehow he had to explain himself. Somehow he had to redefine the moment by saying that it was all going to be OK ... But he couldn't do that ... He physically couldn't say that it was going to be OK, because he knew it was a lie.

Things were not going to be OK ... There was no such thing as OK anymore. The white area was gone ... And all that was left was gray and black...

How could he recolor the world when those were the only two crayons he'd been given?

Allan licked his lips, tasting salt and he felt himself speak. "I had a sister..."

Gazzy stared up at him in awe.

"She was six years older than me ... She ran away and-"

Gasman shook his head, "Stop."

Allan looked away, ashamed.

"Allan ... Allan, Iwannagohome," Gazzy couldn't breath and the words came out all slurred together.

Allan nodded and started the jeep again, letting it idle, "I didn't mean to upset you, Zephyr ... I ... I'm just not good at handling death..."

Gazzy shook his head and wiped his eyes. "And I don't want to think about my sister being hurt or maybe even dead..."

Allan nodded, "We're both carrying around hurt ... Like a badge or something ... Maybe we ought to let go, huh?"

Gasman nodded, "I have to find my sister, she has to be alive..."

Allan stared at the boy before him for a moment, then nodded and raked a hand through his hair, making it stand up in the front, then he started the jeep.

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It was raining again and Gasman was sitting in the jeep while Allan ran to peer into a gas station, just to see if anyone was in there. He growled in his throat and turned to Gazzy in the rain, "This is the problem with the world today, people encounter one apocalyptic virus and everyone decides it's a holiday..."

Gasman cocked an eyebrow at Allan and shouted to be heard above the rain. "Was that supposed to be a joke?"

Allan gave his head a shake and chuckled. He couldn't get anything past this kid. He ran back to the jeep, pulling his jacket over his head.

They had been driving for three hours now and he had managed only to lighten the mood fractionally. Convincing the boy to search through the book of names and consider what he would want put on his Social Security card.

That and he'd found those cheap looking 'rag' covered doors he'd stashed away under the back seat and put them on the jeep to keep the rain from blowing in. The heater kept it nice and warm inside and Allan was starting to see the bright side to things again.

At least his jeep was warm and dry. At least he was still alive ... At least Zephyr and Total were still alive. Now all they had to do was find Ariel ... IF the girl was still alive...

Allan climbed back into the jeep and shook his head like a dog, splattering water everywhere.

Zephyr made 'EEWWW!' sounds and Total sighed from the backseat, where he'd curled himself into a ball on the boy's coat. He raised his head, resting his furry chin on his outstretched paws.

Gasman turned back to The Big Book of Names and continued to scour the pages since it was getting dark and there was no way to see whether or not anyone was flying above them.

"So you really named yourself 'Captain Terror'?" Allan said, trying to lighten the mood yet again, though he didn't think he could lighten such darkness without poking fun at sensitive subjects and possibly bringing down another black cloud.

Gasman nodded, "Yeah ... I was little and stuff."

Allan nodded, glad he hadn't brought back too many memories. "Bernie, Clark and I had nicknames for each other ... We always called Clark 'Batman' Bernie was 'Robin' and they called me 'Alfred' a lot, though I preferred 'Spider Man'."

Gasman grinned, "That's silly..."

"Even more so than I care to admit ... But we were kids, you know," He glanced down at the book in Gazzy's hands, "Have you picked anything?"

"I don't know ... It all seems wrong..."

Allan nodded, "Well ... I like 'Zephyr' it fits with your personality."

Gasman snorted, "What, that I'm full of hot air?"

Allan laughed.

"Well, what's your name, we'll find out what IT means!"

Allan shook his head, "Allan Stuart Martin."

"' Noble' ... 'Keeper of a household' ... And the book doesn't have a meaning for 'Martin' but I know A martin is a kind of bird ... An English sparrow ... They're kind of vicious when attacked."

Allan shrugged his shoulders, "Bernie's mom always said 'Allan' meant 'rock' but ... Well, there it is."

Gazzy smiled, "You know ... You really are what your name is ... You're taking care of Fang's mom and dad's business and all, that's kind of like a house."

Allan shook his head. He hadn't thought of that...

"Hey! Look up my name!" Total said, for the first time in a while seeming to act normally.

Gasman knew 'Total' wasn't in the book but he turned to the T section anyway. "Well ... Total isn't in here, but it means 'all ... complete'."

The little dog sighed in frustration and settled back down on the coat. "You know, you two act enough alike to be father and son. Why don't you just adopt him and Angel? That would make choosing a name a lot easier."

Gasman turned his head and stared at Total his mouth dropping open.

"Well it would..."

Allan glanced over at the boy in the seat beside him then back at the road, he slowed the jeep to a stop, sitting there staring his heart thumping his ribs. Everything was silent for almost a full minute then he turned to look at the boy in the jeep beside him.

Total rolled his eyes and poked his snout into the boy's coat pocket, pulling out the picture hidden there. He turned and jumped into Allan's lap.

"Look ... That's their mom, she sold them, so if you wanted to adopt them-"

Gasman reached for the picture but Allan snatched it up staring at it wide eyed.

"Where did you get this..."

Gazzy's heart leapt into his throat.

"Zephyr, where did you get this photo?" Allan turned to him, his eyes wild, angry.

If Total had had eyebrows they would have shot up through the roof. "That's him, when he was a baby," He backed slowly off Allan's lap and eased himself under Gazzy's arm.

Allan ground his teeth and turned the picture, pointing to the woman sitting there, holding the baby Gasman. "And that's MY sister."

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Chapter 90; Walk Like an Egyptian

When she opened her eyes she knew something was different. This wasn't the same choking blackness as before ... She was in a crate ... A dog crate...

She was in hell...

The Director was kneeling in front of her smiling brightly, showing her perfectly straight teeth. "There you are! I was wondering when you would wake up! Do you remember anything? Do you know who you are?"

Her tongue felt thick in her mouth ... Thick and covered in glue. Her right shoulder and the right side of her chest hurt most viciously but for some reason THAT pain didn't matter as much as the OTHER pain she felt in her chest and stomach ... That deep ache...

She tried to open her mouth to speak but she couldn't ... That stuff on her tongue made it impossible.

"I've got a surprise for you," The Director said unlocking the dog crate and opening the door. "Just follow me."

She didn't trust her ... She wasn't sure why at first, but then things started filtering back...

This woman was evil ... This woman had hurt her, and couldn't be trusted...

The Director's eyebrows drew down and she pursed her lips after a moment she tried again, "Do you know who you are? Do you remember anything?"

She did remember something, but it was fuzzy ... Fuzzy and black ... Like a little dog clinging to the ceiling, staring down at her with that sad, sad look in his eyes...

"Give her some water," The director said and a few seconds later handed her a small cup filled with cool, clean liquid.

She gulped it down and slowly, slowly started to climb out of the cage ... She crept forward, her hands against the tile fearful of this bright white place ... She looked down at her hands ... Her dark hands against the pale floor and she remembered her hand in the wet rain ... Her fingers tightening around another hand ... A pale hand ... A boy's hand...

And then she felt very cold ... She remembered Second Period History class, sitting behind a boy who had seriously bad dandruff and smelled like cheap after-shave.

She remembered reading Romeo and Juliet in English, and reading about a queen in History who had killed herself because her true love had been murdered ... She remembered HIM...

She stared down at her hands and her fingers tightened against the tile, scratching ten long grooves in them as she slowly rose to her feet, staring this woman in the face her eyes fading from deep russet to bright green.

She held her head high, for the first time KNOWING who she was. KNOWING her name.

"Where is he..." It wasn't a question, it was a demand.

The Director's face went pale and she blinked rapidly for a moment before she gave herself a shake and led the girl down the hall. "He's not in very good condition, he just got out of surgery but he's doing much better considering all that he's been through."

The Director tried not to look over her shoulder at the girl following her. Knowing that if she did, if she looked into Number Nine's face again she would shrink back on herself in fear.

There were only two experiments that scared her ... One of which was dead ... But this one ... This one made a third, and she was possibly just as terrifying as the one The Director personally had killed seven years before.

It wasn't Nine's abilities that frightened her ... It was her attitude, her determination ... And sometimes those two things were more powerful than any genetically enhanced ability could ever be.

She had hoped that by regenerating these two that some of that determination and attitude would be gone, but she'd been wrong, it had doubled...

The Director couldn't help herself and she glanced back at the experiment behind her.

She walked with a cat-like grace, a grace and superiority that hadn't been there before and was compliments of the new 'additions' as Ter Borcht had called them. Which basically meant Borcht had been tinkering with her DNA before he reanimated her.

What had he done? What had he changed? Why did it bother her?

The experiment was different ... The way she walked, carried herself ... The way her burnished wings stood out proudly from her back ... She was menacing, and beautiful ... A fifteen year old Nubian Goddess on the prowl for her lost love...

What had Ter Borcht done?

"He's in there," She pointed and stepped out of the way as Number Nine walked past her and into the room.

SHE stepped into the room, expecting to see him on a hospital bed ... Not in a cage like she had been. She dropped to her knees and poked her fingers through the bars, reaching for him. Cooing softly.

He pried his blue eyes open and a crooked smile came over his gray face ... He was on his back in the bottom of the cage, his legs bent as if someone had shoved him roughly inside and forgotten about him.

They'd cut his hair, shortened it to barely two inches long all over and he had small little electrodes stuck to his scalp, measuring his brainwaves. A tube disappeared into his left nostril and dried blood marred that side of his face.

Bandages were wrapped thickly around his chest and stomach and she saw a few places where they were stained with blood.

He raised a shaking hand and hooked two fingers on hers, as if even this minimal contact brought him some kind of relief. Then he relaxed his head against the floor with a sigh and closed his eyes. His strength gone.

"Nudgie..."

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57. Chapters 91 and 92

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Chapter 91; Awakening

Max gathered up her clothes and wrapped the blanket she'd been offered around her shoulders. She followed the new procession of Fang bearers down the hall silently. Her mind clinging to those two words The Director had said, obsessing.

"He's sterile..."

Fang sterile? Unable to have children? EVER?

It couldn't be true.

Max had been terrified when Fang mentioned pregnancy. She'd been petrified of trying to save the world with a huge pregnant belly ... Of possibly hurting a baby. She wouldn't admit it to anyone, but she liked babies... They were better than cute shoes... And the fear of causing one harm was the only reason she'd agreed that the 'WE' had to wait...

Yes, Max wanted kids ... SOMEDAY ... Now that she and Fang had 'confessed their true feelings' toward one another. If you called what had happened that ... Max thought it was more of an explosion...

One minute she'd been telling herself she was full of it for having feelings for someone who obviously didn't like her. The next he'd told her that he loved her and after that ... After that the part of herself she'd always tried to deny, tried to hide came out and she found herself ... INVOLVED ... Hot, wild INVOLVMENT...

But the more Max had thought about having children, the more she hoped that maybe, if everything worked out alright, and the world was saved... Maybe the 'WE' factor could come back into play and Fang would have kids with her...

But now ... If he was sterile, that meant she and Fang wouldn't be able to have kids together ... No little blonde haired sassy kids with black wings ... No little baby Fangs running around causing mischief ... The secret hopes and dreams she had were gone...

She stared down at him, how pale and dead he looked hanging there suspended in that sheet. She felt sick to her stomach. What would she tell him? How could she tell him?

Max stepped into the room her cage was in and found another had been placed right beside hers and the Whitecoats were getting ready to put Fang in it.

"You can't put him in there ... What if he gets sick?"

The director, who had been following them, back from a brief mission two 'levels' down, waved her hand, "They go in the same cage ... She seemed to know what she was doing back there so she's in charge of him ... If he dies, so does she."

Max turned on the woman her mouth flying open. Both of them in the same cage? She could barely fit in one by herself! If he dies so does she? "Are you insane!"

The Director only smiled, "You're in charge of him ... He's your patient, how are you supposed to take care of him if you're in separate cages?"

The other Whitecoats seemed to be siding with Max, which was a first...

"Ma'am, there is no way two specimen of this size could fit in one cage-"

"Are you questioning my competence?"

The man who'd spoken shrunk back but didn't relent, "I'm only saying that if we put them in a larger cage there would be a better chance of him surviving."

"Put them in the same crate or I'll put you in one with a Type Five!" And she turned and left.

Max had a feeling, from the look on the young Whitecoat's face, that a Type Five, was a Wizard.

One of the female Whitecoats in the room shook her head and stormed out, coming back a few moments later dragging a much larger dog crate. Though it too was not quite big enough to house two 'specimen' of their size.

"This is the biggest one I could find," She sat it down and motioned for Max to crawl in it. "If you don't mind, I really don't want to be put into a crate with a Type Five."

Max stood there, her arms crossed over her chest. "You can't be serious."

"Jesus," The man from earlier said, "Just get in the crate!"

Max sat her jaw and ducked into the box, a plan forming in her mind, one that, had he been awake, Fang might not have approved of. She concentrated all her energy into putting her Voice back into Fang's head, knowing what would happen when she used it.

Fang, you better start fighting now!

He cried out weakly, the sound broken, and the Whitecoats dropped him all of them running from the room and shutting the door, terrified that he was waking up and would kill them.

Pain seared its way through Max's head and she gripped her skull between her hands horrified that she had caused him to feel THAT! She heard Fang being sick and she crawled out of the crate making sure he was turned on his side so he wouldn't drown. Petting his head, trying to comfort him in any way.

She hated the fact she was hurting him, especially when he was ill, but with him unconscious it was all she could do to get him to react when she needed him to. She wondered if Jeb had had the same problem with her...

Max managed to get back into the crate before the Intern Whitecoats came back. She waited while the two remaining Intern Whitecoats maneuvered Fang inside with her. It was terribly uncomfortable and cramped and no matter how she moved her wings were crushed against the hard, unforgiving metal bars behind her.

"Can I get a pillow or something please? Doesn't this place have Room Service?"

The Two Intern Whitecoats who had returned whispered fervently back and forth and in the end the woman with short hair ran off and came back a few seconds later with a pillow and an extra blanket.

"How is he doing?" She bent and peered inside.

Max gave her a scathing look, "He's sick, he's in pain and he's stuck in a dog crate with me, how would you feel?"

The woman bit her lip and Max saw her reconsidering her career choices in the pained look that settled over her face.

"I'm sorry..." And she stood and left, followed by the male Intern Whitecoat.

Max took a moment to curse herself, to curse the Whitecoats and to curse the cage kicking the door a few times. Glad that Fang was still unconscious and couldn't hear her shouting such vulgar words at the walls. She wriggled around and managed to get into a semi comfortable position sitting up with that pillow between her wings and the bars of the cage, Fang sitting between her outstretched legs his head against her chest.

She checked him over, taking a few minutes to carefully straighten the bent feathers on his wings and smooth them, rubbing them lovingly between her fingers. She stared at the IVs in his arms then read the labels on the two bags hanging outside the cage.

Fluids ... Just plain fluids, no pain medication or antibiotics ... Just saline...

She found a small place on his back, on his spine actually. And she noticed a terrible bruise was forming there. What had they given him, a spinal tap?

"We can't get his temperature down ... It just skyrocketed after we injected him with the Purge..."

What had those Whitecoats injected him with? What was the 'Purge'?

She must have dozed because her eyes flew open when someone opened the door to the room and stepped inside.

It was a young man with short blonde hair carrying what looked like a bag from MacDonalds...

He looked around then dropped to his knees in front of the cage and smiled, "Hi ... I'm Jamie, listen ... I brought you a hamburger ... That and I need to get a few vials of blood from him ... To run some tests."

Max wondered why there were all these young Whitecoats running around ... All these Interns. Had The Director fired her usual staff? Or had she put them in cages with Type Fives? Or were they the Type Fives?

Max felt her arms tighten protectively around Fang's shoulders. As if to complement the situation his eyes came open to slits and he blinked about stupidly for a moment before his eyes drifted shut.

"All I want to do is see if the medication we gave him is working or not..."

Max still didn't answer him. She was just waiting for something to happen, sizing up this Intern Whitecoat ... Waiting for him to make just ONE mistake.

He seemed to take her silence as compliance because he unlocked the cage and slowly opened the door, pulling on a pair of rubber gloves. He held out the hamburger but Max didn't take it so he sat it aside, "Listen, I need to get these vials ... If the medicine we gave him is working then he'll be fine, if not ... If not then we're going to have to take him away."

"And that's supposed to be incentive for me to let you take his blood?"

Jamie hesitated but then spoke, "If the medicine is working then I'm authorized to move you both. No more cages."

Fang pried his eyes open again and blinked at Jamie. He tried to sit up but Max's arms tightened around him, holding him in place. But he did manage to flip the young man the bird before he was out again.

Jamie shook his head and gently took Fang's closest arm, swabbing a silver dollar sized area of skin then jabbing the needle into a vein. "I'll bring some water on my way back through ... Have you noticed if he's ... Has he asked to go to the bathroom yet?"

Max shook her head, "He hasn't asked anything, he's unconscious, you idiot."

Jamie nodded, unruffled, "He'll need a catheter then..." Then he looked around the room. He ground his teeth then turned back to the cage, "I didn't want this you know? I was supposed to be working for a research lab ... Not this ... I was thinking monkeys and rats ... Not kids..." He shut the door and locked it then stood there scratching his head for a minute before he left.

Max sat there for the longest time thinking. Thinking about what Jamie The Intern Whitecoat had said ...

They'd tricked him?

And then, again thinking about what The Director had said.

Fang couldn't be sterile ... Could he? He had to be able to have kids.

Yeah, he was only seventeen but ... This was forever ... If he was sterile that meant he would NEVER be able to have kids...

Jamie came back about an hour later a smile on his face. The other Whitecoat he was with lingered in the doorway with a cart. Jamie unlocked the cage door and held out a bottle of water. "I've got good news ... The medicine's working, he's going to wake up soon."

Max scowled at him and braced herself when the other Whitecoat entered the room and between the two of them, hefted the cage onto the cart then threw a sheet over them.

Max wondered why they'd been covered up, she could practically see through it so what was the point?

Fang made a soft grunting sound and raised his hand, as if batting at some kind of curtain before his eyes. After a few seconds of swishing his fingers through space his hand fell back to his lap and he was still.

Max watched illuminated rooms pass by as the two Whitecoats pushed them along. She thought that this place looked more like a hospital than a lab. Like an old hospital with white antiseptic walls and big white marble tiles.

She saw empty rooms, and rooms with curtains pulled inside, hiding the implied occupant from view ... She saw rooms filled with empty cages and one room in particular with four Whitecoats in surgical gear standing around a bed on which there was an oxygen tent.

Max wondered who would need an oxygen tent, but before she could get a second look into the room they were passed it. She saw one room in particular that tickled her fancy. What looked like a Dojo ... And some plain clothes Whitecoat was teaching Karate to fifteen or so three-year-olds, who seemed more interested in playing with each others hair or sucking their thumbs than learning karate.

Max thought it was funny as hell...

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Chapter 92; Fighting for Air

(NOTE: JFYI; See the note on everyone's ages at the beginning of Part 4 and this will make more sense.)

"What?" Gazzy's voice trembled, shaking somewhere between panic and hysteria. His fingers closed on the corner of the picture and he gave it a little tug, hoping to pull it from Allan's grasp before the man wrinkled it.

Allan didn't let go. "I don't know where you got this ... Or if this is some kind of joke but that is my sister ... She ran off when she was thirteen with some guy named Claud. She's the reason my folks left me with Bernie's mom and dad when I was seven. My parents got drunk and beat the crap out of us. She ran off and they left me at Bernie's so they could find her but they never did. And they didn't care enough about me to come back..."

The Gasman stared up at Allan in a kind of reverent fear. And he heard the rain splattering down on the jeep's hood and rag-top. Thunder rolled somewhere in the distance and a chill ran up his spine.

"T-that's my mom," Gasman tried to pull the picture away from Allan but the man held on tightly with three fingers. Tears burned his eyes and he shook his head biting back the frightened little sounds he knew he would make if he opened his mouth.

"If this is your mother, Zephyr then I have some very bad news for you."

He shivered.

"About five years ago she was killed. And I'd be willing to bet it was Claud who did it."

He couldn't keep his mouth closed and when it came open he sobbed. It couldn't be true ... She had to be alive. If she was dead then what hope did he have left? What could he tell Angel? That the woman they'd spent so long looking for was gone? That the person they'd directed all their anger to was actually a victim?

"The police identified her by her dental records because her face was all cut up..."

Gazzy gave the picture one more little tug, and Allan released it curling his hand around his eyes and gritting his teeth.

"Her name was Melody," Allan looked out at the rain his eyes seeming to burn and shine at the same moment.

Gazzy bit his lip and held his breath. Staring at Allan.

Allan closed his eyes tightly, so tight a wrinkle formed between his eyebrows and his face turned red.

Could it be true? Could this man, Fang's Uncle be his uncle too? His REAL ... BIOLOGICAL UNCLE?

Allan shook his head and turned to the pale, shaking little boy and the little talking dog beside him. He felt as if he were dreaming. His heart was pounding, his throat burned and all he could do was sit there and stare at the boy ... And wonder how on earth he hadn't seen it before... The kid had his sister's eyes. And Ariel did that same thing Melody had done ... That little pout where she tapped her foot and cocked a hand on her hip...

"I-I didn't even know she had kids ... Jesus, Zephyr I didn't know ... She took off and the next time I saw her-" He took a shuddering breath, "The next time I saw her she was dead."

"It doesn't matter if she was your sister ... Me and Angel are still alone-" His voice was strained and he could barely understand himself. "We're s-still alone," He looked down at the picture, feeling that childish spite bubbling in his stomach again, he wanted to tear the picture up, wanted to shred it so it couldn't possibly hurt him again.

But at the same time, he touched the picture lightly. Part of him thinking that if he could only touch it gently enough he'd be able to make it come to life. Maybe his mother would look at him and smile. Maybe the world would be merciful and give him and Angel a second chance to be with their mom.

His lungs burned, begged for air, but still he held his breath so he wouldn't make any sounds, so he wouldn't look weak and childish ... The time had come for him to stop dreaming. To stop imagining. Stop living a lie...

It was time to grow up...

"You're not alone anymore."

BREATHE!

He sucked in a jerking breath and coughed it back out, wrapping both arms around Allan's neck and hugging him. Sobbing and bawling like a little baby. But he didn't care.

His mother may be gone ... The search for his parents may be over ... But somehow, for some inexplicable reason, a letter that hadn't even been addressed to him and lead him right to his family.

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58. Chapters 93

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Chapter 93; Dominion

Max knew there had to have been a loophole. No cages? Okay, they hadn't lied there, she wasn't in a dog cage any longer ... But they hadn't said anything about a prison cell.

There were two separate cells right across from each other. There was a locked door to her right and one to her left that stood propped open with a chair. She could see windows in a long hallway, the hallway leading to the elevator she and Fang had been brought up to 'level nine' on.

Max raked a hand through her hair and looked into the other cell. The cell they'd put Fang in.

He had woken up, they hadn't lied about that ... He'd woken up, looked around and torn both IVs out of his arms, then realizing he was naked, discretely pulled on his clothes. Which had been conveniently stacked by the door of the cell along with his shoes...

He still looked like hell, he was pale and had dark circles under his eyes, but he was awake. Awake and sitting there on the bed with that hopelessly blank expression on his face. The face he normally wore when he was in a crate, or knew he was at the hands of Whitecoats.

Max stopped directly in front of him and hung her arms through the bars leaning forward, resting her back. "Fang?"

His head snapped up and he looked at her his eyebrows up, surprised, the smallest hint of a smile in his eyes.

Max licked her lips, wanting to fall apart. She'd been so afraid that he was going to die and the 'WE' factor lost forever. But he was alive, sitting there... And he was trying his hardest not to look at her...

"Are you feeling better?" Not what she'd wanted to ask, but it was something...

He rolled his eyes and cleared his throat, he wanted to say 'I've got a hell of a headache and I feel kind of tired' but he didn't. All that came out was. "I'm fine."

Max nodded and let out a sigh. She wished things could go back to the way they were... Like they'd been the night of the 'incident'... She wished he'd talk to her... Say that he loved her... Touch her... But she knew why she couldn't. They were saving the world. There wasn't time for love... so, she decided she'd better spill the beans about what she'd done to him, because it was his right to know she could hear his thoughts. She would pay him the respect Jeb had denied her years ago. "Do you remember anything?"

He nodded, "I remember everything up until we went into that flea market ... Then after that," He pressed his fist to his temple, "After that there's not much until I woke up here."

"Okay ... Well, uh ... You have a Voice now."

His eyebrows shot up again, even farther than before. "Really?"

"Yeah."

He was silent.

Okay, who decided it would be funny to get in my head, huh? Who thought it would be cool to spy on the bird-kid? Come on, I'm not putting up with this shit like Max, did. Who are you and what do you want?

Max felt the corner of her mouth twitch upward.

Oh, come on, do you really have to ask?

PAIN!

He jerked upward, pressing down with his feet and standing up on the cot, smacking the back of his head against the wall. He tangled his fists in his hair, rolling in on himself and grinding his teeth so hard he felt his jaws pop.

Max grabbed her head. Even though the pain she felt from him was muted, it still hurt like crazy... She'd forgotten that it hurt at first, though she didn't know how she'd forgotten. "Fang, I'm sorry! I forgot!"

His eyes flew open and he stared at her, "YOU! Its YOU!"

Max nodded, realizing she'd added another to a short list of apologies she'd made in her lifetime.

Fang groaned and righted himself, still holding his head, his face a little green. "Don't do it again!"

Max shook her head, "It'll stop hurting in a few days, I promise."

He looked at her untrustingly, "How did you live through that?"

"I don't know, I guess I'm tougher than you are."

He shot her the bird.

"Don't tease me like that!"

And he choked, staring at her wide-eyed. Shocked.

Max felt her cheeks go bright red and she scowled at him, "See what you made me do? You've turned me into a pig!"

He sighed and slowly released his head, "So, how did we get caught?"

"Ter Borcht got us with Tranquilizer darts."

Fang nodded, "Tranks... That's perfect..." He pictured himself in the near future, while he was ecaping, catching Ter Borcht unaware and shoving a whole fistful of those tranquilizer darts into Ter Borct's ass, then performing a number of hideous tortures on the man while he was paralized... Then he noticed the 'you can't be serious' disgusted look on Max's face and he felt sick to his stomach remembering that Max could now hear his thoughts. So he shifted against the wall, rubbing his temples and changed the subject, "How are we going to get out of here?"

"I've got a plan, but I can't tell you what it is right now ... Just trust me ... And if you get the chance to get us out of these cells then do it, because I've got us covered once we're OUT of them."

Fang nodded. "How did you get your Voice in my head?"

Max shrugged, "I was tranquilized, I couldn't move, I couldn't speak ... All I could do was blink ... So I kind of like, concentrated on you, and then POW!" She smacked her fist against her palm, "I gave you a Voice."

He flinched. Still not liking the idea that Max could hear his thoughts. He had quite a few thoughts that could get him slapped or kicked, and negate the entire conversation they'd had about the 'we' factor... And he'd had enough pain in the past few weeks to last a lifetime.

"Fang?"

He grunted to let her know he was listening.

"I think you have abilities now."

He stared up at her wrinkling his brow, "What?"

She hesitated, "I heard Ter Borcht talking through your head ... And he said something about your mom ... And how she'd ... She'd killed a bunch of Whitecoats and escaped ... He said that she killed his brother..."

Fang sat there staring at her, his fingers digging into his knees, his lips disappearing into the pallor of his face.

"And he said that you were going to be twice as bad ... Twice as powerful..."

Fang's head jerked to the left half a second before the soundproof door to Max's right opened and a woman stepped in. A blonde, slender woman with a smug, victorious expression on her face.

"She's right you know," The Director said, walking forward her arms crossed over her chest. A rather emotionless, snide grin on her face."Then again, to be twice as powerful as Project Edge, Alpha would indeed have to be something truly special..."

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59. Chapters 94

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Chapter 94; Rage of The Son

Fang just sat there staring, his exterior calm, emotionless ... But Max knew better now. The Voice she'd put in his head and the connection she had to his emotions gave her a front row seat to the fury that was Fang.

It felt like a fire burning in his chest, building, but unlike before when Max had felt it, it didn't stay in his chest. It expanded and enveloped him.

Max saw him shiver and for a moment fear swam into his eyes ... But then the fear was gone sinking back into his mind and all that was left on his face was an emotionless stare.

He started shaking and Max could feel somewhere in the back of his mind that blind fear that had swam into his eyes and she heard his thoughts.

What the hell is going on ... Oh, Jesus, what's wrong with me? It's so HOT!

But he remained still, sitting there casually on the cot, one arm propped up on his knee.

The Director just smiled and stopped right in front of his cell her arms crossed over her chest.

"But you already knew that didn't you ... That you're special..." She turned her head and shouted, "Bring him in!"

The sound proof door flew open again and two Wizards dragged in a body. A mangled body. Torn open and trailing blood.

Max felt her stomach rise into her throat. It was Ter Borcht ... Or what was left of him...

"He gave quite a confession before the Type Fives killed him."

"How he'd kept your true identity a secret... How he'd secretly hidden your bloodtraits."

Fang's eyes flicked down to the body then up to the Director and Max saw his eyes started fading back and forth from blue to red.

Its so hot ... Max, it's so hot!

"It seems that Borcht had quite a few side experiments that he never told anyone about. He would manipulate the projects that we were closing down and hide his results ... And since he was in charge of the regeneration department he would resurrect Expired specimens and hide them from us. Perform his own alterations right under our noses... Project Edge was one such series that we were supposed to eliminate. But he decided to continue it ... Alter it."

Max, help me!

"But his alterations went a little too far ... The first hybrid Subjects of Edge died from it ... But then he found HER ... The clone, Kitty... Sphinx, the original had been implanted with the Alpha Gene before birth but for some reason it hadn't taken, and it had dwarfed her wings. Which left her useless. Just a girl with miniscule wings ... No abilities whatsoever... But, because, at the time, it was hard to get fresh genetic material, we cloned her, twice... The first was a failure and had to be exterminated, but the second ... The second was exactly what we wanted... Kitty was exactly what we wanted, but, we got more than we barganed for. She was too emotional, wouldn't attack or kill... She was useless... So, we decided to scrap the project, and Borcht got her..."

Max's stomach tightened.

"He injected her with the Edge serum ... It was supposed to be like the Alpha Gene, but we'd only known it to work on animal subjects, wolves, dogs, and cats, if you will. It killed hybrid subjects rather quickly ... But it had a completely ... Unexpected, effect on Kitty. She took on characteristics we'd never seen before. She was aggressive, she was cold ... She was soulless! Without her we never would have perfected the Erasers, her uniquely altered genetic makeup made it all possible," The Director laughed in her throat. "She killed thirty of my greatest geneticists. Including Helmut Ter Borcht. And I took great pleasure in retiring her myself."

"BITCH!" Max felt herself scream Fang's thought.

And Fang snapped. He was off the bed, running at the bars. He collided with them so hard Max was surprised he didn't break every bone in his body. But his arms went through the gaps, straining at the Director, and he started screaming, trying to somehow break the wall down so he could get to her. So he could kill her.

Max felt only rage coming from him, blind unabashed rage. And that heat she felt kept building, seeming to control him ... Her hand went to her mouth and she backed up against the wall her wings trembling. She'd never seen him like this ... Never seen him so out of control...

Fang continued to ram himself against the bars of his cell screaming profanities and clawing at the air trying to get to The Director, trying to grab her so he could literally tear her apart.

"There is no use trying to fight it ... Your mother opitomized Project Edge. She escaped and killed thirty people ... When Borcht got you he found the same genes in you that we'd implanted in her. As well as an Active Alpha Gene, but he told no one. He told no one WHO this new project was ... Who this Alpha was. But I've seen your DNA, I've SEEN what he had hidden from me for seventeen years and now I know ... YOU are Project Alpha ... You are our greatest achievement and our most terrible. You are the weapon of distruction!"

Fang stumbled backward and lunged at the bars again, and to Max's horror the metal screamed and started to bend. A steady stream of blood began to run from his nose, dripping onto the floor and the front of his shirt, staining his face a ghastly shade of red...

The Director smiled, "You are my pride and joy and my nightmare..." She paused and motioned to Max, "We created Max to withstand anything, but when we found you ... She became our backup plan. She is nowhere near as important as you. That's why, we never really tried hard enough to catch her...But, you ... You are the greatest genetic accomplishment anyone has ever made ... You ARE the future ... Why else would I have let you live, knowing how destructive your powers are? You were made to destroy the world, Alpha... You were made to set it all right!"

Max watched his eyes, knowing that everything The Director had just said was meant only to make Fang angry ... To bring out his 'inner-self' that part of him he'd managed to keep hidden his whole life, and force his abilities to develop... The Purge had knocked out the reason he was sick... It had knocked out the G-inhibitors. And now there was nothing between Fang and all the power of his Alpha DNA...

Everything the Director was saying was all a mean, terrible plan to bring out that dark part of him that swam into his eyes sometimes. The part of him that her blood and Iggy's had somehow managed to overpower ... but in the process of restraining it nearly ended up killing him...

Fang stepped back from the bars again and Max feared he was going to bash his brains out against them, but he stood there for a moment, blood dripping from his hands and nose.

His eyes seemed to swirl red then black, red then black, as if someone were stirring different colors of paint together...

It was hypnotizing and Max was afraid to look away afraid that the little bit of sanity Fang still held would be lost if she turned from him. He was so angry ... So hurt ... So far gone...

Please ... Please, Fang don't listen to her ... You're your own person, you're not a lab-rat ... You're NOT what they said you are. You chose a LONG time ago who you were, and this isn't him ... Please, come back ... Please don't go ... I need you...

His head jerked and Max knew she'd just given him another brain explosion, she felt a weaker version of it in her own head. His fists started flexing open and closed ... Open and closed, and his breathing became shallower, his nostrils flared. Fang shuddered and his arms went limp at his sides, his eyes closed tightly.

Was he going to pass out? Had she knocked him out? Max started to step forward but then it happened. That heat she'd sensed building inside him erupted and Max felt something like an egg squeezed in a tight fist burst in his head and she went cold.

She could feel his heart beating, feel his jaws creek as he clenched his teeth, feel his bloody hands clenching into fists ... So much power ... So much hate... All of it fading back into a feeling of need...

The need to kill.

He breathed spasmodically for a moment then his eyes snapped open and he glared at the Director murderously his eyes as red as the bloodlust in them.

"Alpha, do you hear me?"

Fang shuddered and nodded and Max's throat tightened.

No ... NONONONONONO, FANG, NO!

She felt no pain from him this time ... Only hatred.

The Director smiled and stepped forward pulling a key from her pocket. She unlocked Fang's cage and then Max's, leaving both doors open.

"I want you to kill her ... She's of no use to anyone now, especially you."

Max's eyes widened in rage and horror. This is NOT good ... Jeez, Max, that's the understatement of the millennia!

Fang took a shuddering breath and walked slowly forward his red eyes locked on Max.

So ... This is how it's going to end ... This is how the great Maximum Ride is going to die ... At the hands of her best friend ... Her boyfriend... Max thought to herself, biting back tears.

Fang, please ... Please, come back ... I love you...

Max stifled a sob but stood her ground. She'd never backed down from a fight ... Especially one that Fang started. She didn't accept defeat. Yes, she'd live with it if it happened, but she'd never accept it... She was stubborn that way...

It happened in a matter of a second. The red in Fang's eyes turned dark blue and he whirled around, grabbed the door to his cell and shoved it backward on its hinges, pinning the director against the wall with its solid steal bars.

Max heard bones crunch and break and The Director screamed, anger twisting her agonized face into contradicting lines.

Fang turned his head and shouted, "RUN MAX!"

She didn't hesitate, she dashed past him and slammed the door to her cell, running into the hall. She picked up a near by chair and threw it through a window, shattering the glass in a spray of heavily tinted prisms.

Just as she leapt through the window she heard the soundproof door blow open and the sharp report of a gun...

And Fang screamed...

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60. PART FIVE Chapters 95 and 96

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PART FIVE SUMMARY; No Home for the Damned

What is life without hope? What is faith without a little doubt?

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The Wings of Wrath; Part 5What I've Been Calling Hope

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(WARNING!!You guys are most likely going to hate me before the end of this Part... Paul actually called me a 'bitch' when he read it. So, if you have choice words to relay, please use a PM.)

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(NOTE! Most of Part Five is going up today, simply because it takes place over only a span of about two days and each Chapter is contingent on the next. So ... Get ready, because the 'end' is coming...)

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Chapter 95; Citizen of Hell

It was spitting snow into her face... Practically blinding her as the sharp little crystals tried to stab her eyes out.

Max gave a cry of frustration, swatting at the snow and rubbing tears from her eyes at the same instant. The world was silent but somewhere in the back of her mind she heard Fang breathing, and she felt a terrible pain growing in her right hip. It took her nearly two full seconds to realize this pain wasn't hers ... And neither was the overwhelming anger that seemed to drown out her fear. The anger that continued to grow, numbing her from what Fang was feeling. It was like he was fading away... And she wondered if maybe he wasn't... Maybe he was leaving her...

Maybe what she loved about him was dying, replaced by that horrible emptiness that was Alpha.

She didn't dare turn around ... She didn't want to see what he was doing, feeling it in her head was bad enough. All the anger, and the hate... So much hate.

She ground her teeth and shouted at him with her Voice.

FANG, STOP IT! GET OUT OF THERE!

But he didn't listen ... Had he ever really listened to her?

There was another loud pop, another gun shot and more pain took her breath ... More of Fang's pain.

STOP IT! GET OUT! YOU'RE GOING TO GET KILLED! GET THE HELL OUT!

Max kept flying away, heading deeper into the jagged mountains that loomed up at her like sharp snow capped teeth. It reminded her of an Eraser's teeth ... Only if they had had good oral hygiene.

Max saw something black shooting up from the ground at her and she nearly screamed in fury, knowing it was a Wizard even before she saw it's flat ugly face. She waited until the very last second then banked sharply to the left. As she turned she saw it...

A lone, winged black figure leapt through the pinprick of a broken window, flying straight for her at an alarming speed. Max felt a small laugh building in her chest.

Fang could fly at super speed! And OH were his wings moving FAST!

He seemed to cut through time and space, coming at her his eyes locked on the Wizard, teeth bared and as Max watched he threw his legs up as if he were going to kick the Wizard. But his arms were still out in front of him, his fingers curled like claws his hair flying around his head like something out of a movie...

And the Wizard turned, lifting one claw tipped hand and everything seemed to slow to a crawl.

A million things screamed through Max's mind.

This shouldn't be happening ... This shouldn't be happening. We should be getting home from school ... We should be eating my mom's cookies or left over Halloween candy ... We shouldn't be here...

She thought that the scene before her was very familiar, and she remembered fighting a similar battle over a stretch of beach in Deleware and Max could only watch... that sick sense of déjà vu curdling her empty stomach.

The Wizard's clawed fist rocketed forward in a slashing motion and Fang's mouth came open in a vengeful cry just as he kicked forward.

They collided with such force the broom the Wizard was on cart wheeled through the air straight at Max's head. She barrel rolled backward and felt the heat of it singe the hairs on her arms. She saw the world arch above her, and the Wizard as it tumbled, screeching and clicking to the ground.

Max's head snapped up and she saw Fang hovering there, his long sleeved black shirt torn, blood running from his nose and the little puncture wounds on his hands from the IVs. The right hip of his jeans was soaked with blood and his leg seemed to dangle a little looser than his left...

But what Max saw, what frightened her most, were the five long gashes slanting up his right arm from his wrist to his chin, marking his cheek and below his right eye.

He gave a shudder and turned to her. He tried to move his right arm but the appendage seemed to be entirely useless.

Max glanced down at a swirling mass of darkness boiling below them and realized there were about a thousand Wizards on brooms seething in a disgusting, distorted knot on the ground infront of the building. She saw a little car moving on the road off to her right and she heard some kind of super loud music wafting up from it through the falling snow.

"Fang?"

He grunted to let her know he was listening and raised his left hand to his throat, pressing the flat of his palm over the wound on his neck.

"Why aren't they attacking us?"

They eat their wounded... Fang's voice rang in her head. They'll come after us once they've ... Cleaned up...

Max shuddered and turned to him, taking in those horrible tears in the right side of his face. They would scar ... He would have three, thick scars across his cheek in a few days... If he lived a few days, his eyelids were starting to droop and his lips looked so terribly pale...

"Fang, stay awake!"

His eyes snapped open and he looked over at her mournfully, "We g-gotta go back ... I gotta finish it ... They didn't deserve this-"

Max's mouth dropped open and she shook her head, "No! Bad idea! You... You just killed like ten people in there! We are getting OUT of here."

His eyes fluttered and he started to descend, wings beating weakly.

Max followed him, flying below him incase he did faint.

They made a not so soft landing in a forest bordering the fenced off area of this new "Institute" and Fang's right leg gave out, sending him skidding on his shoulders on the ground.

Max hooked her arms beneath his left and yanked him up, forcing him to run, or hop as fast as he could TOWARD the Institute.

What are you doing? You're taking us BACK! I thought you said we were leaving!

I told you I had a plan to get us out of here if you just got us out of our cells, so STOP talking and let me find this thing!

She leaned him against a tree at the end of the fence then pulled off her jacket, draping it over his shoulders. "Stay here, stay awake, I'll be right back."

What if the Wizards come?

Max hesitated, "If they come back kill them," She took off running, and within seven steps was air born, flying right over the fence and at the building. Though she wasn't entirely sure why... It would be smarter to just fly off wouldn't it?

Then again... Wizards tracked things easier in the air than on the ground... They couldn't see well in the light, but they could smell you like bloodhounds.

Max flew right up a spiraling ramp and onto 'Level Two Parking' she fumbled for a moment, digging in the pocket of her jeans for the remote and started flying up the rows, pressing the "Unlock" button, at every car she could see. And finally, three cars down on the second row lights flashed and a double beep echoed through the garage.

Max landed in a run, dashing to the bright yellow car and yanking the driver's door open. She jumped inside and turned the key in the ignition.

"Come ON!"

The car sprang into life and Max threw it into reverse, backing out of the spot, trying to remember how her mother had said to back a car onto the road. She turned, barely missing a large SUV and she sped out of the garage, down the ramp and to the place she'd left Fang.

The Wizards were in the air, searching for them, having 'cleaned up' their mess and Max climbed out of the car motioning to Fang. "HURRY UP!"

Why didn't you tell me you had a car?

Fang's voice sounded weak even in her head. Max shouted in his head, MOVE IT!

He winced and had to take his hand away from his neck to force himself to his feet. He cursed bitterly and started limping toward her, his right leg dragging, leaving a trough in the silver sheen of snow collecting on the grass.

He stepped off the curb and fell to his knees on the asphalt. He nearly flopped over but Max rushed to him and jerked him forward mercilessly by the back of his shirt an the seat of his pants. She pulled open the passenger door of this ridiculously bright yellow car and shoved Fang inside. Stay quiet! She slammed the door and ran to her own. She climbed back behind the wheel and sped out of the parking lot, following the twin trails of the other car's tires on the slush covered road.

Fang ground his teeth. His hip was hurting so bad he was beginning to see stars ... Or maybe that was from the blood loss... Max ... I can't sit like this!

Max tried to ignore him as she drove, but she glanced back over her shoulder at the back seat, wondering why she didn't put him back there so he could lie down. She spied a duffel bag in the floor and she leaned back, grabbing it and hefting it over the seat. She growled as she plopped it down on the seat between herself and Fang then glanced back up at the road. She unzipped the bag, peering inside, half expecting to find a bomb or something, but instead she found a First Aid kit and two changes of clothes, one men's one women's.

Howzuhbout givin me some of that gauze to stick in my neck so I'll stop bleedin' to death?

"You're not bleeding to death," Though she didn't deny him the gauze, in fact she was glad to be able to cover those gaping rips in his skin. Looking at them made her nauseous... "You're one lucky Pig, you know that? It missed your carotid artery by like this much," She held up two bloody fingers pinched together. "Hold that there and don't let up the pressure."

He stared at her, his teeth ground together. The intimacy was unnerving... He couldn't allow this to happen... He couldn't... They had to save the world. They didn't have time for this... Even though it was all he wanted...

His right arm was pressed up against the window and he was sickened by the redness of the glass with light playing behind it. He looked down at his right leg, noticing how limp it was and trying to ignore the burning, throbbing, pain shooting between his knee and his ribs.

We gotta pull over, Max, I'm bleeding really bad. And I can't sit like this.

Max bit her lip and pulled the car over, turning in the seat to get to him. Her hands went to the fly of his jeans, "Jeez, you'll do anything to get me to take your clothes off, including getting shot."

He rolled his eyes at her and waited until she'd exposed his hip, grinding his teeth from the pain. "Well?"

She raised her eyebrows and gave her head a little shake, "It went right through ... I'm guessing it's only muscle damage ... Can you move your foot?"

He thumped the toe of his boot against the door.

"Did you get hit anywhere else?"

He hesitated then nodded.

"Where?"

He shook his head.

"I can hear your thoughts now, so you'd better just tell me."

Fang sighed, "You'll laugh," His voice sounded odd coming from between gritted teeth.

Max concentrated, focusing on Fang's pain and her cheeks went very red half a second before he told her.

"I think I got shot in the ass."

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Chapter 96; Brand New Day

He woke to the sound of something growling. Something growling like a wild animal...

Aaron cracked his eyes open and blinked about, not quite sure if he should be seeing or hearing anything since he was dead ... Or had been earlier... Hadn't he?

Nudge threw her arms over the top of the cage and glared out of the corner of her eye at the Whitecoats standing not ten feet from her. One had a tranquilizer gun in one hand and was staring at her wide-eyed.

These Whitecoats were going to hurt Aaron, they were going to hurt the man she loved.

But she wasn't going to let that happen.

"Shoot it. We need to get it back in the cage ... The Director wants the male's brain dissected by five."

The Whitecoat with the gun nodded and raised it, aiming for Nudge's right thigh. But, at the same second he pulled the trigger Nudge moved, slashing her right hand through the air and grabbing the dart before it hit her.

She held it in her fist staring at it, just as shocked as the Whitecoats that she'd actually caught it ... But then again, Nudge did feel different. She felt ... So very different.

The Whitecoat with the tranquilizer gun stared, his mouth dropping open and another Whitecoat, this one holding a clipboard, scribbled notes

"Its reflexes are through the roof..."

Nudge threw the dart at the little plastic garbage can in the corner and impaled it.

"Incredible," Notetaker Whitecoat said and scribbled some more.

"What are Seven-A's stats?"

"He's stable, which is amazing seeing as how he has a collapsed lung ... They had to remove its spleen and the left peripheral air sac because the internal damage was so extensive."

Nudge tightened her grip on the cage, digging her claws into the plastic. So that was why his breathing sounded funny...

"They didn't put in a chest tube?" A male Whitecoat said from the rear of the little group.

"They couldn't do much of anything because he kept pulling out the tubes ... He had an arterial feed in his neck and he pulled it out ... Stupid freak nearly bled to death."

Nudge sank her claws into the top of the cage, cutting ten long grooves in the gray plastic. "Don't you DARE call him a freak again..." She bared her pointed teeth at them and a chill ran up her spine. "You puny, pansy-assed fuckers..."

All the Whitecoats shrank back from her and Nudge caught the pungent smell of urine as a woman in the back crept from the room.

"They had to sedate him to put in the feeding tube," Notetaker continued, "He has three pints of supplement blood in his system. A donation from Six, Number Seven-B and Nine herself."

"Seven-B? I thought Seven-B was compromised!"

"They gave him a Purge, it wiped out all the genetic-inhibitors, AND his expiration date."

"Aren't Purges dangerous?"

"More so than even I care to admit," Notetaker chuckled. "That's why they Purged these two before reanimation. There's less chance of a Whiteout. Luckily Six wasn't programed with an expiration date or we would have been in REAL trouble, let me tell you!"

"What's a Whiteout?"

Notetaker sighed, "Didn't you pay any attention to the Phoenotexicon Memorial Lecture?"

"Unless you forgot, Simmons, I don't speak German."

"Well, then, there you go."

The others laughed nervously.

The doors opened and Nudge whirled around her mouth dropping open.

Max stood there holding the door open blood marring the front of her shirt, a bandage wrapped around her left hand.

It took Nudge only three seconds to realize this was NOT the REAL Max, but was the evil little clone called Max Two ... And the smell coming from the girl's hand said not only had she been bitten by a Wizard, but her body was not 'adapting' to the new genes being introduced to her system.

Max Two was dying...

"What are you doing here? You're supposed to be in quarantine!" Notetaker shouted.

Max Two gave them a smile, "Quarantine? Why would they quarantine me? I'm the Director's daughter!" She lifted her hand, "Or was until she figured out what Borcht and I were doing..."

Nudge tightened her grip on the cage, contemplating jumping up and tearing Max Two a new belly button.

"I am happy to report that Ter Borcht is no longer with us ... If you want to see his body you can go up to level nine ... Mom's giving a mission to Project Alpha and I have a sneaking suspicion that you won't want to miss his reaction."

The Whitecoats stood their ground for all of five seconds, then they all ran out the door.

Max Two stood there for a moment, watching them go then strode calmly forward and unlocked Aaron' cage. "I'm only helping you because I've got no other way to screw up Mom's plans now."

Nudge growled at her untrustingly, feeling very Eraserish as she did.

Max Two rolled her eyes, "Save it, I've heard enough growling and hissing to last a lifetime..." She stood and pulled hastily folded papers from her rear pocket holding them out with her uninjured hand. "You'll need these, it's a list of places we've sent the Immaculae and Type Fives. There is also a keycard to get into The School. Find the redheaded guy ... Uh, Iggy, I think his name is, you'll need to take him where that map leads. It's important... Like SERIOUSLY important, if he gets too hot he could ignite, that's what happened to the others... Just get him there and-"

Nudge wrenched her claws from the top of the cage and took the papers roughly from Max two. "What about Aaron? He can't go anywhere like this!"

Max Two nodded and stepped out into the hall, motioning for someone.

Nudge heard footsteps and the squeaky wheel on a gurney and she felt herself growl.

A young man with a long light brown ponytail shuffled into the room pulling a gurney along behind him. He had wide eyes and a dusting of stubble on his cheeks ... And a gun sticking out of the waistband of his jeans.

"Who the hell is this?" Nudge said, louder than she meant to.

The young man rubbed his hands on the thighs of his pants and set about taking the top off the cage Aaron was in. "Don't mind me ... I'm just the repair man..."

Nudge hit his hand, knocking his arm out of the way, she growled deep in her throat and she felt those reddish brown feathers start sprouting on her shoulders and arms... "Who are you..."

He cradled his arm a moment then shook his head, "This is rich. I save your lives and you can't even remember who I am."

Nudge bared her teeth, feeling them slide from her gums like knives.

The young man shook his head. "Its Sam!"

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(HINT!! Anybody have any idea what Max Two was talking about?)

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61. Chapters 97

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(NOTE; Just as a refresher, you might want to go back and reread 'Chapters 8...' and 'Chapters 12...' before you read this chapter. Just a suggestion because this takes place just hours after Jeb leaves the Martinez house in 'Chapters 8...'.)

(SPECIAL NOTE TO READER SANDY; My name is NOT James Patterson. It is Honora Crane... I am 24 and live in Virginia... Also, I am a GIRL, so, please understand why I was worried about your review and why I had to leave this note for you... If you're even going to bother reading... If not, my conscience is clear because I tried to straighten it all out... As for everyone else.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR READING AND I HOPE YOU CONTINUE READING!)

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Chapter 97; K-IX

Two Months Before... (September)

He was flying ... Or trying to, flapping his wings frantically, trying to remember to push the air DOWN, with his wings. Trying to remember to flap...

It was dark, clouds hung low above him and the night was still. But his sensitive ears could pick up the few sounds that were there. The sounds of his sobbing ... The sounds of the monsters flying behind him clicking and laughing in sickeningly sweet voices ... Their cloaks flapping and clapping like thunder ... and the sound of his wings.

Where was his daddy? Why wasn't his daddy there to save him?

One of the monsters dove at him clicking angrily and as he glanced over his shoulder he saw it raise its claw tipped hand, slashing at him, tearing through his jeans and deep into his right leg...

He screamed, his wings loosing the air and he started falling, still trying to catch the wind again, trying to push the air down.

The monsters followed him, spinning around him. Catching him by the front of his shirt and holding him out like a prize...

He screamed again, trying to pull away from them, trying to kick them, flapping his wings...

But the monsters only laughed and showed him their ugly teeth, their tiny little eyes shining in the darkness. The monster holding him threw him through the air to another monster, who caught him by the wing, tearing out a few of his, nice new primary feathers before lobbing him through the air to the next wizard like some kind of grotesque living doll.

He tried to fight back, clawing and kicking, punching and screaming ... But they wouldn't stop ... The world started fading away, as if he were being pulled deep within himself and he felt so tired...

He knew he was dying, he wasn't sure how he knew, but he could feel it, and it felt so familiar...

He heard a voice, two octaves too low and much slower than normal and light flashed to his left...

Thunder roared and the monster let him go. And he was falling. It was such a good feeling ... Watching the world shrink into nothing above him. Then he felt someone catch him, and the impact of his little body landing in this person's arms jarred him as if he'd hit a brick wall.

For a while after that everything was dark, and numb...

Then sound started filtering back in ... Someone was crying, holding him, rocking him back and forth, one hand on the back of his head, tangled in his hair, the other on his back, holding him tightly to the person's chest...

"I'm sorry ... This wasn't supposed to happen ... This wasn't supposed to happen, They weren't supposed to find you ... I'm so sorry."

It was his daddy's voice and he felt safe. His daddy was there, his daddy was going to take care of him ... Was going to make everything better.

He wanted to move, wanted to hug his daddy and let him know that everything was OK. But, for the moment he could only hang there and breathe and hope that his daddy knew how much he loved him...

Jeb shifted against the tree he was leaned up against and he peered down into the little face ... The little face almost completely hidden by scratches and bruises and strands of shoulder length gray-blonde hair that fell across it...

He gently, almost fearfully touched the ridge of one wolfish ear that was still turned away from him ... That was still turned away from the sound of his voice. They looked to be pinned back as though the boy might snarl at him, just as he had the first time Jeb had laid eyes on him...

Jeb knew that cloning the boy had been wrong ... Ari was dead and there was no changing that ... But part of him had been crazy when he'd taken the sample. When he'd cloned his only son. Especially since Ari's DNA had been so badly degraded when he'd done it ... Two percent avian and more than twenty-five percent lupine DNA had gone into this boy, which was a frightening thought, seeing as how only two percent had turned the real Ari into a monster...

But he'd wanted his son back more than anything ... More than life itself ... So he'd done it ... And he'd ended up with a little boy that looked more bizarre than anything he'd ever created, and that included quite a few Croc-a-doggies...

But it was his son ... This boy, this wolf tailed, wolf eared little boy was his son ... And Jeb couldn't bear the thought of loosing him a third time...

He bit back another sob and ran a hand over the little head, pressing down the springy ears he'd come to think of as cute ... How they would perk up at the sound of his voice ... How they would droop when the boy felt sad, or ill. How they would pin themselves back when he was angry, annoyed or heard a loud noise.

Jeb petted the boy's head again, feeling a hollow sadness tearing away at his insides. But when he lifted his hand this time the little ears quivered, and slowly swiveled toward him ... Two clouded, ice blue eyes cracked open and a small, animalistic whimper trembled on pale lips.

"D-don't move, you're okay, daddy's here!" Jeb drew the boy close, holding him, trying to comfort him and inspect his injuries at the same time. "You were so brave, flying away from them ... You flew really good..."

The boy's tail thumped weakly against his leg and his ears drooped eyes shining. Really? I did good?

Jeb shucked off his jacket, wrapping it around the boy and slowly climbing to his feet. "Everything is going to be okay, daddy's going to take you someplace safe," He dug frantically in his pocket for his cell phone, holding it up and pacing around trying to find a signal. Feeling the weight of that shotgun against his back, the strap of its sling around his shoulder.

About three-hundred feet to his right he found a semi-good signal and dialed the phone number of one of the two women he hadn't seen in three years. One of the two women who had helped him clone his son.

The phone rang six times and Jeb started shifting his weight nervously from one foot to the other, trying not to listen to the pitiful whimpering sounds the boy was making...

"This is Margo and Thomas Reed, we're not able to come to the phone right now so, please leave a message after the beep!"

Jeb growled and in a fit of desperation threw his cell phone against a tree and turned three complete circles trying to get his bearings. "Which way is north?" He stroked the boy's face with the backs of his knuckles, hoping to get some kind of reaction from him other than whimpering.

His left hand twitched, pointing and his eyes closed, his little ears drooping backward...

Time passed, how much he didn't know ... He was aware of wind blowing past him, rushing in his ears, and he pinned them down, tucking his head into the jacket his daddy had covered him with.

And the next time he opened his eyes he was alone, and a thin beam of sunlight was shining through a tiny opening above him, right into his face. It took him a few long, aching, muzzy moments to realize he was in a box. A cardboard box siting on the ground ... He could feel the moistness of the earth seeping upward through the jacket, wetting his shirt and his jeans...

It felt cool and he felt so hot...

Where was his daddy? Why wasn't his daddy there making him feel better? Why wasn't his daddy petting his head, telling him that he was a brave boy, a good boy?

"D-daddy?"

His voice seemed so loud inside this box and he pinned his ears back, afraid of the sound ... Why was this box holding him and not his daddy? He scratched at the cardboard in front of him with his sharp dark fingernails, too tired to sit up, or to even move his leg, which hurt more than anything he'd ever felt...

"Daddy?" He whined, scratching furiously, trying to dig through it, trying to get out ... And then he heard a noise ... Socked feet moving cautiously, but quickly across a hardwood floor. The grate of a lock as someone drew it back ... The swoosh of a door opening and the sharp intake of breath.

He held absolutely still, feeling very afraid of the person these noises belonged to.

"MOM!" A young boy's voice called from not very far away. "MOM!"

More footsteps, these louder, larger. "Tommy, what is it?"

After a moment he heard the sound of paper rustling.

"Oh, my God..."

And the lid of the box flew open, brightness stabbing into his sensitive eyes, two faces loomed out of this brightness at him. A woman's and a young boy with brown hair.

"Tommy, go inside and get a blanket."

The boy named Tommy ran off and the woman bent forward, cooing softly, holding out her hand, flat, unthreatening.

"Its OK, I'm not going to hurt you..."

He shrank back, baring his teeth and growling deep in his throat.

The woman withdrew her hand slowly. "I'm not going to hurt you ... My name is Margo. Your daddy wants me to take care of you."

"Daddy?"

Margo's eyes went wide and she nodded.

Tommy came back with a blanket then stared down into the box, "What is it?"

Margo put a hand on her son's chest, pushing him back, "Stand back," She unfolded the blanket and bent forward again, reaching for the child in the box. "I won't hurt you."

He was small, and when she scooped him up he howled weakly in pain and bit into the blanket as if he believed it was harming him. Twisting his head as if trying to tear a chunk from the fabric. He turned to her glaring angrily with his bright blue clouded eyes.

"Mom, what IS it?"

"Tommy, don't argue with me just get rid of the box, go drop it in the river by the park ... DON'T let anyone see you!"

Tommy nodded and ducked past her, snatching up the box and running with it.

Margo carried the boy inside, trying to keep him from biting her, or squirming out of her grasp. She was a fertility doctor, not a veterinarian! How was she supposed to know that this poor misshapen boy was the child she'd managed to give to a couple two and a half years before? How could she trust this man after what he'd done? How could she believe this little boy had a dog's ears and a tail! It wasn't possible! But then again...

Here he was, in her arms, growling like a wild animal and bleeding...

She should call the police, she should call the hospital! But where would she be with out the man whose little boy this was supposed to be? If it hadn't been for that man her son Tommy would be dead. The car crash that had killed her husband two and a half years ago would also have claimed the life of her son.

The crash had left Tommy clinging to life, his spine broken in four different places ... But that man had shown up out of nowhere, and made an offer she couldn't refuse ... "You make this woman pregnant with these embryos and I'll give you your son back exactly as he was"...

So she'd done it, she'd given the woman a shot, artificially inseminated her. And a week later Tommy was sitting up in bed laughing ... It was a miracle...

And now, she was paying for that 'miracle'. She was looking at the child that she'd given the man and she felt sick ... She should have known that his offer was too good to be true. She hadn't asked what kind of side effects her then six-year-old son would have to endure. She'd only wanted her little boy back. And that's what she got ... Her son, and a big secret...

The back door opened and Tommy ran inside, shutting it and standing there with his arms braced against it his eyes wide.

"What happened? Were you seen?"

Tommy shook his head, "No one saw me ... But there are ... THINGS in the park ... Big things ... Like those Ringwraiths in The Lord of The Rings..."

Margo felt herself choke, "What?"

Tommy turned to her and pointed, "I saw them with my own eyes, mom ... There are monsters in the woods."

The boy in her arms moved restlessly and Margo turned, lying him on the kitchen counter, cooing softly, trying to calm him, "I'm sorry, just lie still, you're going to be OK."

She worked quickly, pulling a pair of scissors from a nearby drawer and cutting off the boy's jeans, inspecting the slashes in his thin little leg. "Did those monsters have claws perhaps?"

Tommy nodded and walked forward, staring, his nose wrinkled, "They're after him, aren't they..." He paused, his face slackening and he stepped around his mother, catching the hem of the boy's shirt and lifting it.

Margo's blood ran cold and her eyes flicked from the little boy lying on her kitchen counter to her son. Well, this certainly makes things interesting! She thought.

"Mom ... Mom, he has wings!" Tommy's voice was thin, barely above a whisper. "He has wings, just like me!"

Margo swallowed hard, cursing that man. Until two and a half years ago her life had been normal, her son had been normal ... But now she knew. Some offers were too good to be true...

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(REGULAR STORY TIME)

Angel opened her eyes, her whole body tense, and then she heard it again.

THRUMP!

Laughing, "Oh, my GOD! THAT IS SO COOL!"

Angel leapt out of the bed and ran at the window staring out into the street her mouth open wide.

Iggy was standing there holding a bow and arrow, his right hand still poised at the corner of his mouth, fingers splayed.

Angel followed the direction his left arm was pointing and saw what looked like a mattress with a large target spray painted on it, leaned up against the side of a building. And there were quite a few arrows sticking out of the bull's eye.

Iggy lowered the bow and flexed his right arm a few times before he turned around. "Angel? Are you Okay?"

Angel ground her teeth, "Can you SEE!"

Iggy hesitated, "It depends on what you classify as 'seeing'."

KIX ran across the street, jumping up and pulling arrows from the mattress. He looked quite droopy this morning. Of course having two people who knew who you were keep everything from you was indeed quite depressing...

But Angel had her reasons for not telling KIX who he was. When she'd read his mind two days before she'd seen only what he remembered.

He'd been living in a basement, locked in a little room with a bathroom, a bed and a few toys ... And every few days Daddy would come to see him. Daddy would bring him up out of the basement and they would watch movies ... The Flintstones, The Fox and The Hound, Mickey Mouse ... And Daddy would hold him while they lay on the couch and he'd curl up and fall asleep listening to Daddy's heartbeat.

Then after a nap they'd eat lunch ... Hotdogs, hamburgers, sandwiches or they would microwave a freezer pizza. Then they would play hide and seek, or color and Daddy would teach him his letters and numbers ... Then he would go back to his room and Daddy would go to work... And a few days later Daddy would come back and the whole thing would start all over again...

It was odd... KIX's memories didn't recall Jeb ... 'Daddy' ever calling him anything other that 'Good Boy' 'My Special Boy' or 'Silly Boy' ... And when ever Angel saw Jeb/Daddy's face in KIX's memories the man always looked sad, as if he were regretting what he'd done. As if when he looked at the boy he only saw the ears and tail, he didn't see the human beneath...

Jeb had treated him more like a pet than a son ... And it made Angel sick ... So she hadn't told him ... And she'd made Iggy promise not to tell the boy either ... He just wasn't capable of understanding. He may have looked five, he may have acted five ... But he was barely two years old ... And on some level his brain was more animal than human ... He just wouldn't understand...

Angel shifted on her feet, staring down at Iggy and the furry version of Ari.

She'd also figured out why Tommy, the boy who'd shot Iggy, called him KIX. It seemed as though KIX had a tattoo on his inner left arm that read 'K-IX' Angel, who knew some Roman Numerals, knew that the 'IX' meant 'nine' so out of the ten embryos Jeb had had Tommy's mother implant in this mystery woman, only number nine had survived. The genetically implanted ID mark was proof of that.

KIX's real name was K-9, which Angel found kind of sadly ironic, seeing as how he looked to be part dog...

Angel ducked out the window and extended her wings, fluttering down to land behind Iggy. "Okay, explain to me how you can 'see'.

Iggy nodded, "Okay ... Well, it's happened before, but it went a way ... But, I woke up this morning and kind of rolled over, you know? Well I knocked something off the foot of the bed ... I think it was my shoe because last night I tried to kick them off but I think I only got one-"

"Can we get back to the point?" Angel pursed her lips and tapped her foot.

Iggy shook his head, "Sorry ... I don't know how it's working exactly but ... When something makes a noise, like my shoe did this morning when it fell off the bed. I can like SEE it in my head ... See where it is, and what it is ... Like ... Well, I can hear you breathing, I can see a colorful blob in my head-"

"Really nice, calling me a 'blob', thank you."

"You're welcome, but I can see a blob of you, and when you talk the blob lights up, like with different colors..."

"So its in your head?"

Iggy nodded. "I can see things that make or reflect sound ... I think its kind of like echo-location, but I can actually SEE an outline of it in my head. It's not detailed or anything. Its kind of like a silhouette, but with like ripples of color coming from it ... SO when you talk, I can see the colors coming from about where your mouth is.

"And when KIX throws a rock at that mattress," He pointed over his shoulder. "I can see it when it hits, and all I have to do it shoot where the sound comes from."

Angel nodded, it sounded logical. "Okay, then what's with the bow and arrow?"

"The arrow makes noise ... They've got whistling tips on them," He held one up and blew against the sharp point. Sure enough there was a high whistling noise.

"You just like making noise so you can see, don't you?" Angel crossed her arms over her chest.

Iggy nodded, "Kind of, yeah ... I mean, it's really pretty ... Being able to see sound, I mean."

"Does it work with all sound? Like, could I walk three blocks away and whisper and you'd be able to see me?"

Iggy shrugged, "I can see your heart beating."

Angel's mouth flew open and she covered her chest, feeling quite violated, "STOP LOOKING INTO MY BODY!"

He turned his head away his face pale, "Its not like X-ray vision or anything, I just see a fluttering reddish light from your chest..."

"PIG!" Angel shrieked and leapt into the air flying back up to the window and ducking inside.

Iggy shrugged and turned to KIX, who was holding out the arrows. "When is Tommy's mom coming back?"

KIX shrugged and stepped behind Iggy, scooping up a rock and throwing it at the mattress. It hit and half a second later Iggy hit the same spot with an arrow.

"She should be back really soon, Tommy said that she went to find my Daddy ... But he won't answer his phone."

Iggy nodded and bit into his lip. He'd promised not to tell the boy anything because of what it might do to him. The kid was only two. He wouldn't understand it. He wouldn't be able to understand that his daddy was dead ... That HE was dead, or should have been. KIX wouldn't understand that he was a clone ... All he knew was that he was a special little boy who missed his daddy, the only other person he'd ever known...

"GUYS!" Tommy's voice exploded in the upper right hand corner of Iggy's mind in a bright flash of greens and blues. "MY MOM'S COMING!"

Iggy glanced up at the source of the colors and saw the blobby outline of a winged boy perched in the very top of a near by tree.

"HAS SHE GOT MY DAD!" KIX screamed and bluish purples burst to Iggy's left.

"She's alone," Tommy said and dropped out of the tree, tucking in his dappled brown and white wings.

Angel had said that Tommy's wings were still not fully grown, that he still had quite a bit of light brown and white down near his back and the top ridge of his wings. Which meant that Tommy shouldn't be flying around on his own, he was still in what Max had said was 'Fledgling stage' which meant he could fly, but shouldn't do it unsupervised, his wings were still growing...

And Iggy had laid a hand on KIX's wings, the boy was in the same boat as Tommy. Fledges who shouldn't be flying but were because they were alone...

Iggy heard a car rounding a corner three blocks away and browns sizzled upward from the source in his mind.

The car stopped about fifteen feet from him and a woman climbed out, "Who are you? Tommy, who is this?"

"This is Iggy ... Angel and Daisy are inside. They're just like me mom, they're like us!"

Iggy hesitated then stuck out his wings to prove it to the woman. "Are you Margo Reed?"

The woman hesitated, "Yes."

Iggy hesitated licking his lips before he spoke, despite the fact he wanted to just jump at her and say, 'Come on, Lady, you've got to help me save my girl!' but he couldn't do that... Angel already thought he was crazy... In fact, he was starting to believe that himself... He didn't need anybody else thinking he'd lost it.

"I was told you could help me."

"With what?"

He took a deep breath, watching the sound of it and he wondered what was the best way to say it. Should he just ... SAY it, or should he ease in to it?

"I need your help saving my girlfriend's life," He paused, simply because his heart hurt that he could still call Ella his 'girlfriend', especially since he knew the truth of their relationship now. "And our baby's life..."

He could hear Margo inhale sharply, "What's wrong with them?"

He was tempted to start screaming at her that there wasn't time to answer so many stupid questions. They had to get moving NOW... That terrible pain was fading off, he hadn't even heard Ella's voice in his head begging him to save her in two days... If he didn't get there soon there wouldn't be a point to go...

Iggy would, at that moment, gladly have kidnapped Margo and flown her off against her will, as long as it meant he could save 'Her'...

"I can explain on the way, just please... Please, help me save them..."

Margo hesitated, biting her lip. "How do I know I can trust you? How do I know you're not just some agent after my boys?"

"The only thing that I'm an agent of is justice."

Margo didn't reply.

"It's not fair what happened to us, it's not fair what I did to her... It's not fair what she did to me... But our baby shouldn't have to suffer because of our mistakes... It should grow up loved, and out of danger. It should have everything that I didn't because something so innocent and small does not deserve the hell I feel right now..."

Angel fluttered back down from the window and approached the woman, "He really loves her, and she needs your help ... We all need your help."

Margo hesitated, staring down at this blonde winged girl and the little child in the window she wasn't entirely convinced was a girl. "What if those things come back, what if they come back looking for my boys?"

Angel smiled, "I know how to scare them off, they're afraid of light."

Daisy-David stuck her head out the window, "They really hate big fires!"

Margo chewed her lip then nodded, "Okay."

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62. Chapters 98 and 99

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Chapter 98; When the World Turns to Gray; Part One

Iggy was flying as fast as he could, which remarkably was pretty darn fast. He had Margo clutched to his chest, just as he'd done Ella not so very long ago. He could hear Angel, Tommy, Daisy and KIX flying behind him, and he could hear Tommy and KIX panting ... They'd never flown for this long before and they were getting tired ... But Iggy couldn't stop ... He just couldn't stop. If he did he knew he would never get Margo back into the air. The woman was terrified of heights, and the fact she was flying with a blind pilot was almost more than she could bear.

"How much farther?" She said in a small voice.

Iggy tried to ignore the swirling colors he saw in his head as the air rushed past his ears, "It's not that much farther, they're really close..." He turned his head and shouted back at Angel, "Take them to the hotel, they'll be safe there."

"What, no!" Margo screamed.

"Lady, they'll be safer there, we're going to a really really dangerous place, they'll be safer at the hotel with the others."

"Others?"

"The other members of our flock ... Max, G-Zephyr, Aaron, Nudge, and F-Nick," He shook his head wondering why he was having so much trouble speaking...

"Do you swear that it will be safe there?"

Iggy nodded, "I swear on my left ... Leg."

"Tommy, go with them, if anything happens you and KIX go home, understand?"

"Okay, mom," And he followed Angel and Daisy motioning to KIX.

Iggy gritted his teeth, flapping his wings as hard as he could, flying as fast as he could. I'm coming, El ... I'm coming!

Margo tucked her head into the hood of her jacket so she could breathe, "We've been flying for an hour, how much longer?"

Iggy didn't really know, "It's a while..."

Margo gave her head a shake, "You'll kill yourself flying like this, your body isn't made for it!"

Iggy ground his teeth, "Lady, if your son was in danger would you do it?"

Margo didn't hesitate, "Yes, I've done worse ... I let a man inject him with god knows what kind of stuff to bring him back to me and now he has wings!"

Iggy wasn't listening, he was concentrating on flying, getting as high as possible then diving at such an angle that he propelled himself forward at a frightening speed. Such a speed that Margo thew her arms up over her face so she could breathe. "YOU'RE INSANE! YOU'RE GOING TO GET YOURSELF KILLED FLYING LIKE THIS!"

Iggy ignored her completely, swooping back up into the air and rocketing forward like the hawks Fang had talked about seeing on a National Geographic TV special...

He knew he was being reckless, but the knowledge that he was going to be able to save Ella, save his baby made it all worth while, made the danger seem less some how.

And that beacon in his heart grew closer, so close he thought that, had his eyes worked, he might be able to see it.

"Is there a building in the distance?"

Margo shifted, "I don't see anything."

"Well, as soon as you do, tell me."

"Okay."

And they kept flying. Making scalloped swooping patterns in the air, shooting downward at one-hundred and thirty miles an hour or greater then zooming straight out and up, repeating this pattern, flying faster than Iggy had ever flown in his life ... For the longest period of time he'd ever flown at one time...

Margo hung there in his arms, scanning the horizon, then ducking behind her arms to breathe...

His wings burned and ached, but he pushed on, forcing them to move, refusing to let himself slow...

Twelve and a half-hours...

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Chapter 99; Here We Go Again

Nudge stared at the boy her mouth dropping open in shock. Sam? The boy Max had gone on a date with in Virginia? The boy who had shouted 'You can trust me' as they ran from the Head Hunters?

It couldn't be possible that they could ACTUALLY trust him, could it?

Sam rolled his eyes, "Don't let the hair fool you, I'm not shady or anything," He leaned forward again and finished taking the top off Aaron's cage, then started removing the little electrodes stuck to Aaron's scalp. "I've got an ambulance waiting outside that's going to take you to where ever you want to go."

Nudge found her voice, "What the hell are you doing here?"

Sam shrugged, "My parents work for the government, it's not like they don't know about you, they just didn't know WHERE you were."

"WHY are YOU HERE!" Nudge said, grabbing his arm and squeezing.

Sam stared up at her shocked, "I came to help, Max told me you two were here, so I came to help ... I do have my driver's license you know. I'm not a little kid."

Nudge glanced up at Max Two, wondering if Sam didn't know that this wasn't really Max.

Max Two gave her head a little shake and tapped her thigh twice with two fingers.

Nudge recognized the sign and a cold stillness settled in her stomach.

'Listen'

Nudge went over what Sam had said, picking each word apart. 'My parents work for the government' Weren't there reps from the government there when the Director was auctioning them off in Germany?

'It's not like they didn't know about you, they just didn't know WHERE you were.'

BINGO! We have a wiener! Nudge thought. Your parents DIDN'T know where we were ... But they do now!

Nudge had a pretty good idea where that ambulance was going to take them, and why Sam needed a gun...

Sam turned and lowered the gurney then carefully, though Nudge still thought he was rather rough, he slipped one arm beneath Aaron's shoulders and lifted him.

Aaron grunted in complaint and blinked around, staring up at Nudge pleadingly as Sam positioned him on the gurney, pulling blankets up under his chin. "We have to move quickly, we've only got one window of opportunity."

Nudge nodded, playing stupid. And she climbed to her feet following Sam as he lifted the gurney and started pushing it down the hall toward an elevator.

Nudge knew better. They had all the time in the world ... She jogged along behind Sam, acting complacent and when Max Two tried to push past her Nudge put out a hand and tapped the girl twice on the back of her uninjured hand.

'He's mine'...

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(NOTE!! Okay, I wrote this originally with some random Whitecoat as the government snitch, but I REALLY didn't like the character of 'Sam' in MR2. Simply because he gave me the literary creeps and I personally just didn't trust him, so I changed it and made it 'Sam' because I wanted to put in a Sam/Max Two sub-plot just for fun. As if this story didn't have enough sub-plots on its own... (Enter Sarcasm Here)...

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63. Chapters 100

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Chapter 100; The Ashes of a Memory

Angel found a note taped securely to the door of the hotel that read, "To; FLOCK ... From; GASMAN AND ALLAN ... We're out looking. Call Allan's cell when you get back so we'll know you're OK."

Angel pulled down the letter and flew up to the top story of the hotel where she'd left a window open a crack, "Come on!" She called and pulled the window open, scanning the inside of the hotel for Wizards or anyone else. There was no one save a few mice in the laundry room.

KIX, Tommy and Daisy flew up and Angel helped them through the window then lead them down stairs to the pool to rest.

Angel used the Pool Hall phone to call Allan's phone, which miraculously still worked.

"Hello?" Gazzy's voice sounded strained.

"Hey, you left a note?" Angel tried to sound casual.

"ANGEL!"

She jerked the phone away from her ear and held it at arms length.

"ANGEL, OH MY GOD! ARE YOU ALRIGHT?"

"I'm fine, Gazzy, and Daisy's OK, we're at the hotel and we've got a few more of us too."

"What, a few- What are you talking about?"

"Well, I can't explain over the phone ... Gazzy, are you crying?"

"Angel, I'm so glad you're okay ... But you have to listen, its really important..."

Angel turned from the people in the pool and pressed her shoulder against the wall, "What, Gazzy, what's wrong?" She wished she could read his mind over the phone.

He snuffed back a sob, "N-Nudge and Aaron are dead."

Angel felt like she'd been punched in the chest. Aaron and Nudge dead? No ... It wasn't possible ... She didn't believe it.

"T-Total s-saw them..."

Angel heard the little dog's voice over the phone, "Angel, I'm so sorry, I tried everything, I really did..."

"It's okay, Total..."

Angel glanced over her shoulder at Daisy, Tommy and KIX, who was doggie paddling around the pool, ears pinned back tail floating on top of the water along with his wings...

"How did it happen?"

Gasman snuffed back more tears, "The truck flipped ... Angel, I can't talk about it right now ... Allan and I are coming back, we'll be there in the morning.

"Gazzy," She sounded so afraid even to her own ears, "Please, please be careful..."

"I love you, Angel ... And I do have good news, but I can't tell you over the phone."

Angel nodded, even though her brother couldn't see it. She was still in shock. Nudge and Aaron dead? Dead? She wanted to scream, to throw her wings out and stomp, kick things, scream and throw pool chairs across the room ... but she forced herself to stay calm, she couldn't cry in front of Daisy, or Tommy and KIX. No matter how unjust it was she had to stay strong until she was alone ... She had to tell Daisy ... Oh, God, she had to tell Daisy that one of her brothers was dead...

"I love you too, Gazzy ... Please be careful..."

"We will ... Don't leave the hotel," And he hung up the phone.

Angel knew her brother was never good at goodbyes, for that matter, neither was she ... But she wished he'd stayed on the phone longer ... So she didn't have to tell Daisy, so she didn't have to pull her out of the pool and say that Aaron was dead...

Angel felt cold and she slid down the wall, holding her knees the phone still in her hand.

The room was quiet and Angel looked up, seeing three wet heads peeking out of the water at her.

"Angel, what's wrong?" Daisy-David said, wiping water from her face.

Angel opened her mouth but closed it again and rethought her words. Let them have fun for a little while ... Then you can tell them ... Give them one more night of joy...

"Nothing, sweetie, nothing at all."

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64. Chapters 101

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Chapter 101; And Just When it Hit Me

Nudge followed Sam as the boy pushed the gurney out the front door, toward a waiting ambulance.

Max Two glanced around nodding in the direction of an out building a few yards away.

Nudge took a deep breath and found she could smell the Wizards waiting there ... And she could also smell the near one-hundred Wizards waiting on the roof of the very building she'd just walked out of. She smiled and turned an ear to Max Two ... She could hear the girl's heart thumping in anticipation...

So ... We've got double-double crossing, huh? Nudge thought.

Sam smiled back at her as he opened the back doors of the ambulance. Two men jumped out dressed in EMT uniforms, though Nudge could almost smell the apprehension coming off of them. They moved too uniformly to be EMTs. It was too well rehearsed, but not natural enough to be real...

Nudge bared her teeth and stepped forward, lifting one clawed hand to knock some sense into these Faux-EMTs.

And then Sam drew his gun, aiming directly between Nudge's eyes. "You've got a choice to make, Tiffany, you can come with us quietly, and help save the world, or you can stay here. Either way, we're taking him."

Nudge didn't lower her arm. "Do it ... Do it and see what happens," She smiled, fear bubbling her stomach. She knew she was bluffing. She didn't know if she could actually catch a bullet as she'd caught the tranquilizer dart earlier. For all she knew it would burst through her hand and lodge itself in her brain ... But Sam didn't know that. So she used his ignorance to her advantage.

And at that moment the Wizards in the out building pounced, rushing out on their brooms.

Sam turned to them his eyes wide in horror and he rotated a fraction of an inch to the left, his hands tightening on the trigger of the gun.

Nudge didn't move, and the bullet whizzed past her, barely missing her hair. She heard a grunt and turned, her green eyes bulging.

Max Two was standing there a knife raised, poised to strike Nudge in the back. Her brown eyes were wide, her mouth hanging open in shock ... And a little black hole marked the place over her heart.

As Nudge watched the hole seemed to grow, turning bright red and the girl dropped the knife, took two shuffling steps forward and crumpled onto her face on the sidewalk.

Sam screamed and dropped the gun, lunging at Max Two, still thinking the girl was Max.

Nudge heard glass shattering and her head jerked to the right in time to see the real Max lunge out of the ninth story window she'd just thrown a chair though.

Nudge wondered absently how Max could have ended up here, but at that moment the one-hundred Wizards from the roof swooped down, smelling blood ... Both Max Two's ... And Aaron's.

Nudge screamed in furry when she saw the Wizards going for Aaron, trying to drag him off.

The two Faux-EMTs jumped back into the ambulance and screeched off, Wizards chasing them and Nudge did the only thing she could think of...

She scooped up Sam's gun, jumped onto the gurney with Aaron and started flapping her wings, propelling the gurney across the parking lot like some kind of demented go-cart. They crashed into a little blue car and Nudge jumped off the gurney, yanking on the door handle, nearly laughing when it came open.

She grabbed Aaron by the shoulders, ignoring his cries, and shoved him inside, slamming the door behind them.

The Wizards scratched at the windows and started flying around in circles over them, clicking like mad.

Nudge clambered over the front seat and plopped herself down behind the steering wheel. She fumbled around in the glove box, searching for a spare key, growling when she couldn't find one. "Aaron, baby, how do you hot wire a car?"

Aaron groaned, clutching his middle. "How the hell should I know? I'm not Iggy!"

Nudge continued to scour the front seat, then rolled her eyes and honed in on the man who owned the car's feelings by closing her hands around the steering wheel.

She opened the door a crack and felt beneath the car, just under it ... A little box, magnetized to the frame. She jerked the little box out and slammed the door, locking all four with the little switch on her door.

A loud thump echoed through out the car and Nudge knew a Wizard had just landed on the roof.

She stabbed the key into the ignition and twisted it. The car roared into life and the radio started playing some old Funk song Nudge had never heard, but a smile crept over her face and she turned in her seat glancing at Aaron who'd curled in on himself in the back.

"Are you in too much pain to help me?"

He growled, "I've been cut open, I've had organs removed ... I was DEAD for two days ... No, Nudgie, I'm not in too much pain to help you ... So long as I don't need to move or breathe deeply to do it."

"Good, cause if they start trying to get in, I want you to shoot the fuckers," She handed him the gun and smiled at his shocked expression.

Aaron took the gun staring at it then glancing back up at her, eyes blazing, "I love it when you talk dirty," He pulled back on the sliding mechanism on the gun, cocking it.

Nudge jerked the shifter into reverse and slammed both bare feet onto the gas ... And the Wizards went crazy. Slamming themselves into the car, screeching. Denting the doors inward and smashing in the fenders.

Nudge turned the radio up simply because she wasn't in the mood to listen to the Wizards shrieking. She heard a window break and she flinched, turning the radio up full blast.

"COME ON YOU BLOODY SAVAGES-" And Aaron started firing the gun out the window at the Wizards. His hands bleeding from coming into contact with the broken glass.

Nudge steered the car out of the parking lot laughing in her throat, and she found herself singing along with the song that was blasting from the car's speakers;

"Play that funky music, Whiteboy!"

The back glass and another window shattered and two Wizards landed on the trunk and pried the roof up like some kind of sardine can lid.

Aaron twisted himself and screamed, out of pain and rage, firing the gun and wedging his shoulders between the driver's and passenger seat, his feet braced against the back of the rear seat as if he were in labor.

The Wizards jerked and toppled backward off the car their claws making loud screeching noises against the painted metal, and Nudge pulled the car on to the road, the tires screaming, some old Funk song playing loudly on the radio like an anthem to the gory scene they created.

"Lay down the boogie and play that funky music till you die!"

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HINT!! Why did the government want Aaron?

(NOTE; Okay, I think this chapter is influenced a LITTLE by Quentin Tarrentino / Robert Rodreguez, but I LOVED writing it, so I make no apologies..)

(Paul's voice in Nora's head; "Can you say 'Pulp Fiction'?")

(Erin's voice in Nora's head; laughs "Pulp Fan-Fiction!")

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65. Chapters 102

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Chapter 102; Break Away

"You think you got shot in the ass..."

Fang's face went redder than the blood staining it and he nodded, "I gotta move, it hurts, and I don't like hurting there."

Max leaned over him, trying not to look at his arm, she pulled the little lever on the side of the seat, reclining it.

He growled and forced himself onto his left side his hand still cupped over his neck. "I don't wanna die, don't let me die."

Max's eyebrows shot up, "Since when is Mr. Fearless afraid of dying?"

He stared up at her all the blue leaving his eyes, replaced by near black. He stifled a sob, "The director was screaming at me after you left ... She said they'd found two experiments dead-"

"Fang, that wasn't us ... We're not dead-"

He did sob this time, squeezing his eyes closed tightly, "No ... Max, it was Aaron ... Nudge and Aaron..."

Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, slowly sliding back down her throat, choking her.

"What?"

"Ter Borcht was going to res-resurrect them b-but he's dead ... M-Max their dead I didn't want to believe it but it's true. I saw them i-in her mind ... They're gone..."

She sat there staring, feeling sick to her stomach and choked by that hunk of useless muscle and taste buds in her mouth. She shook her head and climbed out of the car, leaving her door open.

Fang heard her walking around the car and after a few seconds he heard her being sick, and when the sound of that had faded he heard her kicking the back tires of the little yellow car. Cursing vilely and promising pain to anyone who had anything to do with it.

For a few moments Fang wondered if she hadn't flown off back to the Institute to murder everyone and he called softly to her through his head.

Max? Max, come back, please...

How many people did you kill?

He took a shuddering breath, "I didn't ... I wanted to, oh, GOD, Max I wanted to ... But I didn't. You-you were there, in my head ... And you were so afraid, and I couldn't, cause I knew you were afraid of me and I don't want you to have a reason to be a-afraid of me."

Max reappeared standing there outside the car, "You didn't kill anyone?"

He shook his head, "I broke a few legs and I think I cracked one guy's skull, but that's it."

Max sighed, "What about the Director?" She spat the last word.

"I-I s-so crushed her legs ... She won't b-be giving anyone orders for a while, unless she in-intends to do it while in traction, the evil bitch..."

Max nodded, part of her wishing that he had killed them all so they could be done with it, another part of her glad he hadn't tainted his soul just for the likes of a few Whitecoats.

"Max, please shut the door, it's cold."

She glanced mournfully back over her shoulder at the Institute, and the looming cloud of Wizards searching for them. She shook her head in disgust and climbed back in the car, shutting the door and pulling out onto the road. Following the fading tire tracks of the other car, the one with the super loud music.

She turned on the heater and pushed the first-aid kit toward Fang, "Get your arm covered, you're bleeding all over the seat."

He nodded weakly, and started tearing open packages of Gauze, pressing the patches over the cuts, "Max?"

She glanced over at him. "Yeah?"

"D-do you believe in God?"

She hesitated, her stomach doing flip-flops, "Do you?"

He licked his lips, "I think so ... I mean, there's gotta be something better than all this shit. 'Cause if there isn't and this is all we're gonna get I'm gonna be really fucking pissed."

Max smiled and shook her head, "Since when do we curse like this, huh? Two years ago 'Crap' was a dirty word."

Fang ground his teeth, trying to shift to a less painful position, "Since I realized I can say it and my tongue won't fall off."

"You do it because you can?"

"Yeah."

"The Whitecoats did what they did to us because they could..."

He went quiet for a few seconds, "I won't do it again..."

"Thank you."

After that it was nearly silent and Fang discovered he was either falling asleep or passing out because his head kept falling to the side uncontrollably, and his eyes wouldn't stay open. He wasn't sure how long he kept this up, but the pain was eating away at him, seeming to grow higher and higher like a wall every time he jerked his head back up and pried his eyes open.

"Max..."

She pulled over again, digging around in the duffel bag and producing a prescription bottle filled with pills marked 'Percocet'...

"Take one of these..." She shook three out into his palm and before she could stop him he'd popped them into his mouth and swallowed them without water.

"I said one, that was three, dummy," Max continued to rummage in the bag, this time pulling out a few little packs of saltine crackers. "Eat these, you're supposed to take them with food."

He flipped her the bird and ground his teeth.

"Eat 'em or I'll shove 'em down your throat."

He grumbled but chewed two up and swallowed, hating the dry sensation they created in his mouth and throat.

A little while later, time had lost all meaning, so he wasn't sure how long it was, he was fighting to stay awake and he became aware of a small, faint little sound building in the back of his mind. A soft sound that, without thinking hard about it, he could only describe as 'funny'. He thought this sound really was funny and he felt himself smile.

"Fang? Are you okay? What's so funny? Why are you laughing?"

His voice came out higher than he meant to, in a dreamy kind of far off slur, "Kun-ya hear it?"

"CAN, I hear what? What do you hear?"

He thought about it for a moment, his brow wrinkled. "Is swashing muhsheens," He giggled, "Is srilly funny," Another giggle.

"Washing machines?"

He glanced up at her lazily, feeling the world had a very funny shine to it now, "Yeah, you know," He imitated the sound, "'shwoosh-shwoosh-shwoosh' ... Washing musheens..." He twirled a finger in the air a rather drunken smile settling over his pale face. "Is srilly funny..."

Max took one hand off the wheel and flattened it against his forehead. "Are you in a lot of pain?"

He sighed, "Yeah ... My butt hurts a little."

Max glanced down at him, fear beginning to build in her chest along with some badly timed humor. Those pills must be working...

"We're just about three miles away from the place where Ter Borcht got us ... If you can hang on we'll get our stuff then head to the hotel with the others..."

"Hokay ... How long we been drivin?"

"About three and a half hours ... You passed out on me there for a while, are you okay?"

"Yeah," He smiled up at her weakly, his eyes drooping. "I feel kinda good ... Light..."

Max nodded. "That's those pills you took."

"Max?"

"What?"

"Yer so pretty..."

"Oh, God..." She cupped her left hand over her forehead her face turning a miraculous shade of red. And prayed that he would just go to sleep already.

"I mean it... Yer rilly perddy."

"Thank you, Fang."

"I love you..."

"I love you too, Fang. Now go to sleep."

"D'ya rilly love me?"

Max sighed and turned to him, promising never to let him live this down. He'd teased her over the Valium thing years ago, well, now she was going to tease him about the Percocet thing. "Yes, I really love you, now, please go to sleep?"

He smiled and laughed dryly, then cocked his head to the side and made a soft twittering sound in his throat.

Max stared at him. She'd never heard him make a sound like that before, was he choking? "Are you OK?"

He grinned, "I'm Fangshastic," He giggled and shifted against the seat. He tilted his head back and made another soft chirping sound much like the one Pale Male had made not that long ago but this was a deeper, happier, relaxed sound...

Max felt a soft excited fluttering in her stomach and she turned to stare open mouthed at him. She pulled to a stop in the parking lot of the pharmacy she had 'rummaged' through a few days before. "Oh, my God, you're stoned, aren't you..."

"I'm happy!" He laughed and reached for her, curling his stained and bloody fingers gently around her right wrist then pressing his cheek to it.

"You're HIGH!" Max couldn't help but laugh. "Note to self, if you give Fang Percocet he does tricks!"

He gave her a lopsided grin and tittered to himself, blissfully unaware that he was what Max was laughing at.

"How do you do that?" She motioned to his throat, "Do it again?"

He chirruped again, "Pull your tongue back and up ... Then kind of tighten your neck and do it."

Max felt really stupid sitting there straining her throat and when she did it, it came out more like a melodic cough than what Fang was doing.

He laughed drunkenly, "Pertend yer glarglulling."

"Gargling? Oh, really nice mental picture, thanks," She cleared her throat, and tried again. Pleased when a very soft 'chee' came out instead of what had earlier.

Her stomach fluttered excitedly again and Max shifted uncomfortably.

Fang smiled and his eyelids started drooping as he fought to stay awake.

"Go ahead and sleep ... I'm going to run into the pharmacy for a minute and get some more gauze if I can find any, please stay put."

He gave a weak nod and was still, his mouth coming partially open, breathy near snoring sounds coming from his throat.

Max climbed out of the car, running into the pharmacy searching out anything she could use as bandages. As she was searching she tried chirping again, and by the time she'd collected what she needed she had a pretty good melody going on that eased the funny buzzing of her stomach. The sound was something close to a sparrow but slower, softer, like a dove.

She chanced a trip back into the flea-market to collect the things they'd been forced to leave and snatch a few more blankets and a pair of black cargo pants in Fang's size. He may not like them, but they'd cover his butt at least.

She made it out to the car and found Fang still asleep and decided it would be better to leave him alone for a few more minutes before she attempted to make him fly. She checked him over, dribbling some water on a piece of gauze to wash the blood from his face.

There wasn't that much blood, which surprised her, because when she'd seen it happen it had looked like gallons.

She cleaned him up as best as she could, amazed that he didn't wake up as she was bandaging his arm, washing out the gashes with antiseptic. She even climbed out and opened his door, trying not to think too hard as she did a brief visual inspection of the little hole in the right rear pocket of his jeans.

"Yup, you got shot in the butt..." She couldn't help but giggle at that. Then she climbed back into the car and spread a blanket over him then sat there, letting the heater run to keep him warm.

She sat there for close to a full hour just watching him sleep and wondering how he could look so peaceful with all that blood caked on his clothes.

He mumbled something about the washing machines again and the sound of his own voice woke him. His eyes came open and he looked around blearily. "What happened?"

Max grinned, "Well, you confessed your undying love to me and told me how 'perddy' I was."

His face went slightly pink, "No I didn't."

Max rolled her eyes, "Oh, yeah, you did ... Or do you not think I'm 'perddy'."

He shifted hesitantly against the seat, wincing as the motion caused dimmed pain to brighten. Then pushed the tip of his nose up with the end of his finger, imitating a pig's snout.

Max laughed under her breath and rolled her eyes. "Yeah, you are..."

He shifted again, grinding his teeth, "Where are we?"

"About an hour from the hotel."

He nodded stiffly, "Okay, now what?"

"Now, we get moving. I checked you out and made sure you're OK ... You did get shot in the butt, so we're going to have to take care of that when we get back. I can't do it here or I would have while you were asleep. Then we go back to the hotel and get some real sleep ... Then, after we've had some sleep, we go save the world ... Again."

He nodded, "Only one problem with that plan."

"What?"

"I gotta pee REALLY bad..."

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(NOTE; FIND THE HIDDEN CLUES IN THIS CHAPTER! HELP SOLVE THE PUZZLE!)

HINT!! Fang; "Ter Borcht was going to res-resurrect them b-but he's dead ... M-Max their dead I didn't want to believe it but it's true. I saw them i-in her mind ... They're gone..."

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66. Chapters 103

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Chapter 103; Choosing a Name

Aaron groaned loudly, both arms wrapped tightly around his stomach. The world seemed to shimmer in a kind of haze around him and he called out weakly, hoping for someone to help him, to make that horrible, gnawing pain in his stomach and side stop...

Nudge's face swam into view above him and he thought for a moment he was looking into the face of an angel ... And then he realized he was, his own personal angel, sent by God to ease his suffering.

"Nudgie," He put out his hand, trying to capture her fingers but she was gone again, lost in the mist that seemed to envelop him.

He felt like he was drowning, like he couldn't get enough air ... And every time he took a breath every muscle in his stomach would spasm. As if there were microscopic little Whitecoats under his skin, trying to pull him open again. He heard an awful groaning sound and he called for Nudge again, hoping she would make that sound stop, hoping she would make him feel better.

"Hush ... Aaron, hush!" Nudge tried to quiet him. She bent over him, pressed kisses to his face, held his hand and even talked to him about weddings ... But he didn't seem to understand anything happening around him. He would be fine for a few seconds, then he would dissolve into tears, practically screaming, calling for his mother, his father ... He'd even called for her a few times, begging her to make it stop.

But Nudge had done all she could. She didn't have anything to take his pain away, she didn't have anything to cover him with ... She had nothing, they were stuck in the middle of nowhere and the car was out of gas.

He cried out again, calling for her, begging and Nudge nearly screamed herself because she could feel exactly what was happening to him. She felt those horrible muscle spasms in his stomach and the penetrating cold that had gone so deep into his bones it felt like he had ice for marrow.

"Aaron, please, you're OK. I'm here, I'm not going anywhere."

His eyes came open and he stared up at her, his breath becoming increasingly shallow by the second. He was so tired and so cold. He just wanted it to end. "Nudgie ... I think I'm dy-"

She silenced him by pressing the tip of one finger against his lips. "You're not dying ... I am NOT going to let you die."

He looked up at her mournfully but she spoke again, not letting him say what he wanted so desperately to say.

"I picked my name ... And if you turn all Roman on me I'm gonna kick your butt!"

He cocked an eyebrow at her and ground his teeth when he had another spasm.

She petted his face, making soft calming noises. "The first thing I remembered when I woke up was this History class I have ... Had. I remembered our teacher talking about Egypt, and the pyramids and the sphinx..."

Aaron nodded, still not understanding exactly where it was all going.

"And I realized that when the truck crashed ... When I realized you were dead I did the same thing that she did..." Nudge smiled softly and lay her wing over Aaron to keep him warm. "I wanted you to be the first person I told my new name to ... Because one day I want to share yours..."

He didn't look like he understood he just licked his lips hoping to draw some kind of moisture from the air. His thirst has gone from annoying to excrutiating but there was nothing. And even though no sound came out he mouthed words anyway, just as a distraction. "Are you going to tell me, or are you going to keep the suspense going indefinitely?"

"Cleopatra Nudge."

Aaron grinned still wider and cleared his throat, "So, I suppose that makes me Mark Antony?"

"Yeah, only you're not going to die, you're going to get better, and we're gonna help Max save the world and then, once I'm a successful actress we'll get married, OK? But you can't die, alright?"

After a moment he nodded and cupped a hand to her face relaxing into unconsciousness.

Nudge gathered him into her arms and turned the knob on the car's heater up full blast, refusing to allow the cold to come in through the broken windows. It was not going to end like this, she was not going to let him go just when she'd gotten him back. She refused.

She turned on the radio, looking for a station that was still on the air so she could hear SOMETHING. Anything ... So she would have some kind of distraction, so she would know how far the virus had spread, how much of the world now lie in ruin...

She turned the volume down low and listened intently to one broadcast station that was still up and running. The only one she could find.

"This is VirusWatch on K. N. O. B. FM ... I'm Kenneth Williams here at the K. N. O. B. Station in Brighton Colorado. Anyone who's got a CB radio can reach us. We've got our radios on and we're waiting to hear anything from anyone at all who's still alive out there," Kenneth licked his lips and after a moment spoke again, "Okay, it's nine PM now, so we're going to read the survivor's list that we've gotten so far. So listen up people for anyone you know ... Maggie Arnold and her three kids are alive and safe here at K. N. O. B. Studios ... Josh, Michael and Evan Greenleaf are alive and are at the Red Bear Radio Station on the Rez. They wanted me to send out a message to anyone who's near by that they've got food, clean water and Evan is a doctor, so if you're nearby and need some help there's where to go. We've also gotten word from the Norwick High School JROTC who are holed up in the old high school gym there in Norwick. They wanted to give a shout out to their parents so if anyone's listening the Norwick High School JROTC is OK everyone is alive ... That's all we've gotten so far, so ... If you're alive get word to us, and we'll let everyone within broadcast range know."

Kenneth took a deep breath and let it out slowly, "We got word from the East earlier today ... The Virus has reached Chicago and is spreading from there. We've also gotten reports of 'Things' flying around the night sky over Washington DC, though we don't know much more than that ... As you know, last week we lost contact with our friends out in Little Rock on the Ham radio. If anyone can get reception or has heard from them let us know... Again, this is VirusWatch on K. N. O. B. FM and I'm Kenneth Williams. If you're just tuning in we'll be connecting with our friends out in Red Bear in a few minutes for the latest news from that way. And we'll be reading the survivor's list again at ten, so keep your radios on and we'll keep broad casting..."

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67. Chapters 104

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Chapter 104; Paradise in a Nutshell

After about ten minutes of arguing, she managed to get him into the air, which in and of itself was an accomplishment seeing as how he couldn't put weight on his right leg... She'd found this out earlier as she had to help him into the pharmacy to find a bathroom... Then stand there, with her back against his to keep him upright until he was finished... That's what the argument had been about.

Max flew under him, incase something happened and he started to fall. The cold wind bit into her neck as it seeped under her collar but she turned her head anyway, glancing up at him.

He was pale and the cuts on his face stood out dark against this pallor. He looked down at her and drew his eyebrows down.

What is it? Why are you looking at me like that?

Max wondered if she would hurt him trying to use the Voice now, or if she should wait until they were on the ground. She angled herself upward until they were flying only about a foot apart wings beating in sync. "You sang the prettiest song back there in the car."

She could feel him tense.

"I sang?"

She glanced over her shoulder and chirped at him, a wide grin coming over her face when he rolled his eyes.

"Oh, THAT ... Yeah, uh ... Don't pay attention to that."

Max hesitated, "Why? And when did you figure out that you could do it?"

He shrugged and quirked his mouth to one side before he answered. "I figured out I could do it a few months ago ... The day Iggy got his bandages taken off ... I was at school in gym of all the places," He shook his head embarrassed. "Well, I coughed a couple of times and then..." He chirped and shrugged his shoulders.

Max rolled her eyes, "So your voice REALLY changed then, huh?"

He nodded and chewed his lips a moment. "I was surprised no one heard me ... It was kind of loud."

Max laughed, "You? Loud? Give me a break..."

He gave his right arm a little squeeze and inspected his fingers. Fully expecting to draw them back bloody but thankfully he didn't. "Max?"

She grunted to let him know she was listening, but he didn't say anything.

He was overwhelmingly sad, she could feel it hidden deep in him.

His brother ... His TWIN brother DIED, of course he's sad... Max thought to herself. She was sad too but she just wasn't sure how to deal with it. She and Ari had been civil for less that a month and she was still mourning him. And Ella? Max couldn't even think about her mother or Ella ... But Nudge?

She had known Nudge all her life. Nudge was practically a sister...

Why is everyone I care about dying? She didn't mean to think this to Fang but it happened anyway.

He inhaled sharply, his teeth grinding together. It didn't hurt as badly this time ... Just a little stab of pain behind his eyes. He wished she hadn't said anything. He could tell that Max was sad. He could feel that ... But he didn't want to feel her fear as well. He had enough of his own to deal with.

Everybody dies, Max ... Sooner or later, every one will die. It's part of life, if you can believe the irony in that ... All we can do is hope that there's something else left to do when THAT happens. Otherwise, what's the point? And, personally ... I'd rather keep hoping...

She grew still, her wings beating softly along with his.

Hope... That's what she was living for ... The Hope that one day the world would go back to the way it was. Children could go to school, parents could go to work ... And she could live with her flock without fearing for their lives.

Life was Hope ... Blind, fearless hope...

Hope that tomorrow the sun would shine and the darkness would be driven back into the deepest pits of the earth. Hope that life would spring anew, hope that the world would be saved and she could have children with Fang...

But...

That hope was gone...

And before she knew what she was doing she was crying her eyes out.

"Max? Max, what's wrong? What is it?" He laid a hand between her wings, feeling the strong muscles working beneath his fingers.

She shook her head and angled herself downward at the cabin, which had seemingly appeared three hundred yards ahead of them.

Fang followed her warily, not quite sure what to think of these conflicting emotions coming off of her. Sadness, fear and joy all rolled into one.

Max landed on the porch collapsing onto her knees hands over her face and Fang landed beside her, grasping the railing to keep from putting weight on his leg. He sank down beside her. Ignoring the pain erupting from his hip and behind as he did.

For the longest time they sat there, arms wrapped about the other barely a word passing between them. Then slowly, the fear, sadness and joy gave way to an enveloping sense of calm.

Max sat there for a moment, feeling Fang's strength, and feeling her own strength reflected in him. But this time there was something more ... Some small little something there hadn't been before. She wasn't quite sure WHAT this something was, but she could feel it in her mind ... A new kind of connection ... Something fragile but unbreakable at the same time ... Like a little spider web made of steel...

She nodded and leaned out of his grasp, wiping her face on the sleeve of her shirt. She looked at him, trying to see past his skin, trying to figure out if he felt this new thing as well.

His eyebrows drew down and he raised a finger to his lips, I think there's someone in the house...

Max felt fear rise in her stomach but it didn't show on her face.

I can hear the washing machine running...

Max cocked an eyebrow and strained her ears but couldn't hear anything, then she realized what he'd said and she shook her head, "Fang, there isn't any electricity ... And you said you heard washing machines earlier while you were all loopy on the Percocet."

He gave his head a little shake, "But I can hear it ... C-can you hear things I do?"

Max nodded, not quite sure where he was going with this.

He pointed to his head, "Well ... Listen."

Max focused, closing her eyes ... She saw herself through Fang's eyes, blurry and dream like and she noticed she had mud smeared across her forehead.

She wiped at it self consciously and continued to 'listen' trying to figure out what on earth-

Her eyes came open. It did sound like washing machines ... Underwater washing machines...

"This is creepy..." She said, a smile coming over her lips. "You get God knows how many abilities and instead of being able to like, hear a Wizard's thoughts, you get stuck listening to their laundry."

He flipped her the bird and forced himself to his feet, ignoring the pain. "I'm being haunted by phantom spin cycles."

Max climbed to her feet and helped him inside, "I need to get a look at your ... Yeah, so you'd better get undressed."

"Now, who's being the pig?"

"Yeah, and look! There's my feet in that jar!"

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68. Chapters 105

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Chapter 105; Fangshastic!

"It's not funny..."

He watched her closely as she walked around the edge of the mattress and crouched at his hip.

"I know its not, now lie still." Max knelt beside him, antiseptic in hand.

"Then why are you laughing?" He glared at her over his shoulder, grating his teeth.

"Because you got shot in the butt ... I'm not laughing because you got SHOT, I'm laughing because you got shot in the BUTT."

"It's still shot..." Fang grumbled and buried his face in a pillow trying not to think about what she was doing ... Or where she was doing it.

"Hey, if you'd been about three inches farther to the right we wouldn't be having this problem!" She said, trying to lighten the mood.

He growled and decided he'd live with having a stupid bullet in his behind. He wasn't letting Max continue with this 'operation'. "Stop it, just leave me alone..." He swatted at her hand, trying to force her away and pulling the quilt back up to his waist.

Max rocked back on her heels and stared down at him, "Do you want the bullet out or not?"

"Not if you're going to be hovering around my butt like that..."

"I haven't even started yet!"

Fang raised his head and glared at her, "Then what was with all the touching, huh? If I didn't know better I would swear you were trying to feel me up!"

Max scowled at him her mouth falling open in anger and shock, and she pulled the quilt back down roughly, "Did you even pay attention when we were learning first aid? I'm disinfecting ... It."

He grabbed the edge of the quilt and pulled it back to his waist, his eyes never leaving hers. Defying her to try it again.

She threw the gauze into the fire ignoring the momentary blaze of it, "Jesus, Fang, just lay back down and let me do this, OK? Unless you want to go in the bathroom and do it yourself!"

She could hear the faint murmuring of his thoughts as he actually considered it. But he pursed his lips, looking quite comical and childish, turned and shoved his face back into the pillow hard enough to make a 'thump' sound, when he realized he'd have to somehow suspend himself over a mirror and practice a little contortionism to be able to even reach the wound.

I am never getting shot someplace I can't reach again... He vowed to himself.

"I'd appreciate it if you never got SHOT again," She whispered, hoping he didn't know she'd listened to his thoughts, and stood, wrapping a towel around her hand so she could pick up the little kettle of water she'd sat on top of the pot bellied stove.

She sat the pot down and went to the fire, holding the 'tools' she'd need into the flames with a pair of kitchen tongs she'd found. Fang raised his head fractionally watched her from the corner of one eye. She could feel the unpleasant churning sensations he was experiencing in his stomach.

He was nervous.

Jeez, pliers? What does she think I am, mechanical? She can't honestly be thinking of using pliers on me...

Max knew she shouldn't be listening to his thoughts. There had been times when she'd feared Jeb listened in on hers. She didn't want Fang to think the same thing so she turned her mind back to what she was doing.

"Max?"

She grunted.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

"Yeah ... Would you give me your knife?"

She heard him move, riffling through the pockets of his discarded jeans. He held it out to her.

"How's your hip?" She sneaked a glance at him.

"If I weren't lying on my stomach it'd be fine, but in this position ... Not so good," He hid his face again and his voice was muffled.

God, I can't believe she's doing this ... Get me out of this, please ...I'm not sure I can handle her poking around in me with a pair of old pliers... This sucks... Like REALLY sucks... Sucks-sucks-sucks... Ruined my good pants too... Crap... That's the forth pair of jeans I've gone through this year... Is she gonna hurry up or not? I'm getting tired of waiting... If she's gonna do this she'd better hurry up or I'm gonna go find a mirror.

Max rocked back on her heels and turned to him, trying to ignore the thoughts she wasn't supposed to hear. She'd never realized how much he thought. He had always seemed so emotionless on the outside, yet, on the inside it was a different story. "Its gonna hurt, so if you gotta scream just do it. Nobody's going to hear you but me."

He nodded, his face still pressed tightly into that pillow his left hand tangling in the sheet.

Fang thanked God she at least hadn't stripped him naked. Cutting up the side of his boxers was bad enough ... But at least he wasn't naked. He'd feel a hell of a lot worse if he was naked.

He ground his teeth and concentrated on that faint, 'underwater washing machine' like sound. Using it as a distraction from the the thoughts of Max getting ready to dig around in him with pliers and his pocketknife.

It took him a few minutes of lying there trying desperately not to move, but then he noticed something about this 'funny' sound. It was actually multiple sounds. He still thought it was a funny noise, whatever was making it. It made him feel lightheaded ... giddy.

He must have made a noise because Max called to him, her voice sounding very far away behind a ringing that had claimed his ears.

"Hang in there, Fang! I know it hurts, but it's almost out, I've almost got it..."

He thought it was sadly funny that Max had developed that calm, reassuring confident tone her mother had used when the woman had treated his wing.

He had liked Max's mom. She was one of the nicest, coolest adults he knew. She'd been strict though. And Fang supposed that's why he'd liked her ... He guessed that was where Max got her strength to lead. It was inherited...

Maybe when they were older and the world had been saved he and Max would have a child that had the same stubborn determination. The same willingness and strength...

If they were still around... The world did have a way of taking the things they held most dear...

Max was beside him petting his head, making shushing noises. "Its over, I got it."

He pried his eyes open, his face feeling hot and wet, wondering why Max was treating him as if he'd been screaming his head off ... Had he screamed his head off? He couldn't remember... He couldn't even remember her starting!

"Wha..." Done already?

She sighed in relief. "Jeez ... Don't scare me like that ... I thought you were going to like keel over on me. I'm sorry it took so long," She gently repositioned his right arm and shifted the blankets and pillows he'd been lying on so that he could roll onto his side. "How do you feel?"

He shrugged and let her inspect his arm and the side of his face where the Wizard had clawed him. "My arm itches."

"That's good, it means you're healing ... Do you want something for the pain?"

He knew he was in pain, on some level he could feel it, but at the moment he wasn't paying attention to it. His mind was somewhere else, conjuring up a fantasy of himself and Max teaching a little dark haired kid with hawkish wings to fly.

"I'll be OK," He let out a sigh, glancing around, and since his mind was preoccupied with visions of himself and Max with children he wasn't entirely aware he was speaking. "Max ... What are we gonna do after we're done saving the world?"

Max shrugged, "I don't know ... Probably go into hiding I guess ... Either that or call that woman... Maria. And get ourselves some real identities..."

Fang nodded and watched Max as she moved about the room. She cleaned up the mess she'd made 'operating' on him. Tossing bloody pieces of gauze into the fire, washing off the 'instruments' and putting them away. Stepping outside briefly to empty the pot of hot water she'd used. Then she sat gingerly on the mattress beside him, pinching his wrist to take his pulse.

He watched a little wrinkle of concentration form between her eyebrows as she counted the almost vibrating beats and he shifted his head against the pillow watching her.

"I want to go to college and maybe have kids..."

Max stiffened fractionally. She opened her mouth to speak but shut it again, staring down at him her beautiful brown eyes clouded.

He looked up at her. Not really noticing the look of fear in her eyes because he was too preoccupied with his fantasies, which at the moment, felt more real than anything. Those fantasies were his only reason for allowing things to happen. They were his only reason for justifying having told Max the 'WE' factor had to be put on hold. "I mean, if you'll have 'em with me when the world's saved and all... I do like kids ... so long as they aren't mean ... and I don't think our kids would be mean. Not with you as a mom..." He smiled drunkenly, "You'd make a great mom. I mean ... You practically raised Angel and Gazzy and look at them. They're really strong and they can kick ass-"

"Fang?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.

He blinked up at her silently, for the first time seeing that mournful look on her face. "What is it?"

She hesitated, maneuvering herself so that she lay in front of him, their faces close together even though it hurt and she knew that she shouldn't do it because he'd made clear two or three days earlier that they couldn't be together. "You know I love you, right?"

He smiled and brushed the backs of his knuckles against her cheek, catching a tear as it overflowed her eyes. Her fingers found his arm, holding it, wishing that he would hold her... That they could say to hell with the world and be together...

"What's the matter, Max?"

Max closed her eyes tightly. Not wanting to say anything. Not wanting to ruin it ... But he had to know.

Maybe it would have been more humane to not tell him, or to wait until a better moment. But Max knew that sometimes it was better to do it quick, like a band-aid...

"You can't have kids..."

He stared at her blankly for nearly six whole seconds, his smile slowly fading, the dull black color swirling from his eyes, replaced by the normal bottomless azure...

He shuddered and when he spoke this time his voice was low, rough and angered. "What?"

Max spoke in a low tone, knowing that if he really wanted to know what had happened he would have to calm down and listen, and if he simply wanted to freak out he could do so and not have to endure her shouting things he didn't want to hear.

"When we were captured you got really sick and you had a very, very high fever. The Whitecoats thought you were going to die from it ... You started having seizures and they just couldn't get your temperature to come down," She paused, taking a deep breath, "It was too high for too long and it just..."

He closed his eyes and shifted against the mattress, trying to hide his face, but he couldn't, "Like hardboiled eggs?"

Max gave her head a little shake, "Not how I was going to put it, but in essence ... Yeah..."

He lie there for a few seconds, breathing heavily and Max could feel the anger and hurt building in him like a brick wall, but before she could knock it down he was moving. Throwing back the blankets and forcing himself up. Limping pathetically across the room and outside.

She called to him pleadingly but the only reply she got was the sharp sound of the door slamming and the sound of his wings in the night...

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69. Chapters 106 and 107

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Chapter 106; Yes, I'm Still Running

Nudge opened her eyes and found she was alone in the car. Her body jerked and she threw open the door, lunging out screaming, "AARON!"

"Don't shout!" He called somewhere off to her left.

Nudge turned and started walking toward the sound, "What are you doing?"

"DON'T COME OVER HERE!"

Nudge stopped dead in her tracks, "What's going on?"

"J-just stay there ... Give me a minute ... I-I've got it under control..."

Nudge was surprised that he was even able to talk after last night. He'd been delirious with pain, "Are you OK?"

"Yeah," After a few more seconds he appeared from a clump of bushes, one hand pressed firmly on his side.

"What were you doing out here alone? You could have passed out and then where would you be?"

He shrugged and ran his free hand over his drastically shortened hair, "I'd be passed out I suppose ... I was just ... Watering the trees, nothing too hideous. Though I'd watch out, I nearly tripped over this ... Root thing back there, it was really-" He held up his hand in a bent, twisted position and wrinkled his nose at it, "Gnarly..."

Nudge gave her head a shake and looked him over. She noticed the tube was missing from his nose ... He'd probably pulled it out himself ... The stupid ass. "Are you feeling better?"

He nodded, "Still hurts like a bastard but, I'll live..."

That was the first time Nudge noticed he was loosing his accent. So long of listening to the rest of the flock speak was wearing away at his lovely British accent. She stared at him. Taking in the stained bandages on his stomach, the thick patch on his neck and the patches on the inner portions of both arms.

He rubbed his hair again, obviously missing its length, "I feel naked up here."

Nudge shook her head, "You look good with short hair. You'd look even better with some like, blonde or black highlights..." She paused, running her hands over the white sleeveless smock the Whitecoats had put on her. She ran her hands up and down the back to make sure her rear wasn't hanging out before she turned her back on Aaron and bent into the car. "We should be moving ... As long as you're up to it. We need to find the truck and get Iggy's vials."

Aaron nodded with a slight groan. "I wrecked my truck, didn't I?"

Nudge nodded.

"Was it bad, you think?"

Nudge nodded again, making her eyes wide.

"Nicky and I were born in that truck..."

Nudge didn't add that he'd also died in it ... He was probably thinking the same thing. She had a feeling they thought the same thing a lot...

"I saw Max at that Knockoff School."

Aaron's eyebrows shot up, "Max was captured as well? Jesus, you don't think Nick was..."

"I don't know, I didn't see him," Nudge pulled the keys out of the ignition and turned to the trunk, unlocking it just to see what was inside. "But if Max was captured that means the hotel isn't safe anymore ... I suggest we head east."

Aaron leaned heavily against a tree. "Now I'm bloody well worried to death," He ground his teeth against another muscle spasm in his stomach and pressed both hands on it.

Nudge found quite a few things in the trunk, very few, of which could help them. But of the things that could, there was a small emergency kit of flares and a few granola bars. A pair of men's boots, a blaze orange hooded sweatshirt and a gym bag ... And a hunting rifle.

Aaron limped over slowly and peered into the trunk. He leaned his hip against the bumper and watched the sky as Nudge unzipped the gym bag and pulled out the clothes, tentatively sniffing them to make sure they didn't smell like sweaty Whitecoat. Thankfully they didn't and Nudge hastily pulled on the sweats so she didn't have to worry about showing off her 'girly bits' as Aaron had called them jokingly.

The sneakers were two sizes too big but Nudge didn't care. As long as they kept her feet warm. "Okay, your turn," she shoved the T-shirt over Aaron's head, helping him get his arms into the sleeves then made him put on the boots, which were also too big for him.

"Who gets the jacket?" He held it up. "Wow, what a fantastic color!" He rolled his eyes.

"You get it."

"Why?" He stared at her, "You've only got on that dress thing."

"And you had MAJOR surgery. You get the jacket," She held it as he put it on, "I get the gun," She started stuffing the pockets of his jacket with shells.

"Oh, very fair trade, well done," He said playfully then scratched at his back, "This stupid bandage is over my wings ... Bugging me to death."

Nudge poked her tongue out at him and tucked her wings in as far as they would go. "We have to look normal incase we meet anyone."

He looked down at himself, then scanned Nudge, "Yeah, we look REALLY normal..."

Nudge slung the rifle over her shoulder and took his hand, "We're about three or four miles from the truck, do you think you can make it?"

He nodded, "I hope so, because I don't want you to leave me here."

They started walking and after a few hundred paces fell into a kind of rhythm. Their too big shoes making clomping sounds on the asphalt.

"Where ... Where are we going ... After we get the vials?" He said between breaths.

Nudge eyed him, noticing how his mouth came open when he would inhale. "Are you OK?"

He nodded, "Just hard to breathe is all..."

"You had to have your spleen and one of your air sacs removed, of course it's hard to breathe!" She stepped a little closer to him just incase he fell. "Do you want to stop and rest?"

He shook his head, "We've barely gone fifteen meters, I'll feel quite stupid if I have to rest after only fifteen meters."

"Well, I'll feel really stupid if you pass out trying to make it past fifteen meters."

He stiffened, his teeth gnashing together. "Someone's coming," He pointed in the direction they were walking.

Nudge swung the rifle into her hands and flicked off the safety. She felt her teeth sharpen in her mouth and she wanted to throw out her wings and look big ... Big and scary.

She growled and was surprised when the sound was more feline that pissed off bird-girl.

"Bloody hell, Nudge!" He said from the corner of his mouth.

The noise ahead of them changed and Nudge heard the distinct sound of a school bus, seconds before it rounded the corner ahead of them.

Jesus, if that thing decides to run us over we're dead meat! Nudge thought to herself. There was steep hill to either side of them and Aaron was in no condition to be running, and the fact the bandage tied around him was holding his wings closed made worry bubble in Nudge's stomach.

If that bus came at them Aaron would get hit ... And Nudge was not going to leave him, so she'd get hit too.

But the bus slowed to a stop and a teenaged boy leaned out the driver's window. "Are you infected?" He shouted.

Nudge hesitated. Aaron was infected with 'WC' but neither of them had 'Z-Virus' as Gasman had called it... Not that they knew of anyway...

"No ... Are you?" She pointed the rifle at him, ready to pull the trigger if she had to. And that scared her. She'd kill this boy? She had the ability to kill a person?

The boy shook his head and turned off the bus. "Where you two from?"

Nudge swallowed, "Arizona ... You passed our truck on the way up the road there."

The boy's eyes bugged, "Damn, you two survived THAT!"

Nudge was tempted to tell the boy the truth. No, they hadn't survived it, "Yeah ... We broke out of the hospital when the doctors started going crazy," It wasn't a complete lie.

The boy whistled low in his throat. "Well, come on, I'm gathering up survivors."

Nudge shook her head, "How do I know I can trust you?"

The boy nodded, "Well, you can choose, I can either take you back to Red Bear or you can keep on walking, your choice ... But the nearest town back there is deserted. There were a few folks in the hotel, a man and his kids but I don't know if they're still there or not, they looked like they were packing."

Nudge's heart leapt and Aaron stepped around her holding his stomach tightly as he shouted, "Was there a little b-girl," He held out his hand, "Short brown hair, blue eyes ... Looks a bit like me?"

The boy nodded, "Maybe."

Aaron took three shuddering breaths before he continued. "There should have been a blonde man, a boy with a cow lick, a girl with long curly blonde hair and-" He paused a moment, his breath coming quickly, his legs shaking from the effort of shouting.

"Yeah, and there were two more boys ... One kept his hat on, and then there was a boy with brown hair and a loud mouth ... And they had this weird little dog. They were raiding a grocery store when I stopped," He seemed to relax a little and a smile crept over his face.

Aaron had no idea who these two other boys were, and that fact bothered him, he put out his arm and Nudge was beside him the rifle slung back over her shoulder.

"Take it easy, breathe."

"Is he OK?" The boy called, his smile fading.

"Does he look OK?"

The boy cursed and Nudge heard him throw open the door. She glared at him threateningly as he ran up.

"My older brother is a doctor, he can help, we just need to get him back to Red Bear."

Nudge remembered hearing that name before. "Red Bear? Who are you?"

He was a tall boy of about eighteen and Nudge could see in his face that he was at least fifty percent Native American. In the strong line of his jaw and the angle of his nose...

"Josh Greenleaf," He started to lift Aaron's arm around his neck but stopped when he hissed in pain. "How badly was he injured?"

"He had to have his spleen and ... Part of a lung removed."

Josh's eyes went wide, "And he's up walking? Jesus, how long ago did this happen?"

"Three days ago."

Josh's jaw dropped, "You should still be in bed! Hell, you should probably still be under anesthetic!" He watched in awe as Nudge and Aaron limped to the bus and paused at the door.

"I've got a wheelchair lift, just hold on and you won't have to climb the steps," Josh jumped up the steps and disappeared down the aisle. "Jesus, up walking around three days after that!"

"Can we trust him?" Nudge whispered.

Aaron nodded, "I don't smell Wizards on him ... He just smells scared."

"Okay then," Nudge breathed, "I've got a plan."

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Chapter 107; Break Down

Fang woke to the sound of washing machines. He didn't open his eyes, he simply lay there listening to them and thinking that, despite the oddity of the sound, he liked it. It really did calm him in some way.

He could hear Max's breath from a few feet away and he raised his head, seeing her curled into a tight ball on the mattress in the floor. His heart ached but he ground his teeth against it and forced himself up.

By the time he'd gotten back from his 'flight' the night before Max was asleep, and from how tearstained the pillow had been she'd been doing the same thing he had. Though he wouldn't tell anyone, ever.

He forced himself to look away from her as he climbed unsteadily to his feet and limped toward the potbellied stove, poking at the fire for a few seconds, rekindling it before he went outside.

He circled the house a few times. Verbally cursing himself in two languages other than English.

That had been one of the things he was proud of... Being able to curse in multiple languages... When he got bored he'd sometimes try and see how many words he actually knew in Japanese and Spanish...

He wasn't entirely surprised to notice almost all of them were curse words or other words for parts of the female anatomy...

Boobs mostly... In the three years since they'd saved the world the first time he'd become almost obsessed with boobs... Iggy too...

So much, that Iggy had outdone Fang's two languages and learned the word for 'breasts' in fifteen different languages aside from English...

"Piss load of good that does you now, dumbass..." He said aloud to himself and covered his face with his hands executing a dive toward the forest below him. Exercising his wings because in the time he'd been sick it felt as if he'd lost half his stamina.

He wondered if Max wasn't listening to his thoughts and quickly changed them to something else... Basketball...

He and Iggy had liked to sneak off from the Martinez house at night, fly to the elementary school and play basketball... And Fang didn't know how, but Iggy most usually won... All he'd have to do was hear Fang make one basket and the rest of the game was his...

It was scary sometimes...

Occasionally they'd catch the Gasman spying on them from the trees and ask the kid to join them and he would, grinning like an opossum... And then he'd kick both their rear-ends, because, somehow the kid was even better than both the older boys combined.

Fang wondered absently if they would ever be able to do that again... Just go shoot hoops at night without having to worry about Wizards, or the end of the world...

Or being sterile...

He supposed not...

The world found a way to crush everything innocent, everything that they enjoyed or loved...

Fang pried his eyes open and snapped out his wings, pulling out of the dive barely fast enough to keep from crashing into the treetops...

He'd never gotten to play basketball with Aaron... He'd never gotten the chance... Now he never would...

Just like he'd never have the chance to hear a little kid call him dad...

Everything he'd ever hoped for was gone...

And he could feel in his heart that Max felt that her hopes had been crushed also...

But...

Maybe there was still something...

Max could still have kids someday... Her future was still whole, untainted... She could still have kids...

Just not with him...

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HINT! CAN WE SPELL "FORESHADOWING"?

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70. Chapters 108 and 109

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Chapter 108; Queen of Denial

Angel was sitting curled up in a chair in the hotel lobby when Allan and The Gasman came back. She ran at her brother, wrapping both arms around his neck and hugging him, all the while trying not to cry over Nudge and Aaron.

"I couldn't do it ... I couldn't tell her..."

Gasman put a hand on top of Angel's head, "I think it would be best if Allan told him-her ... But, Angel I've got some good news too."

Angel shook her head, "I don't want to hear it ... All the good news turns bad around here, I can't handle it anymore..." She bit back a sob, "First it was Jeb, then Dr. Martinez, now Aaron and Nudge... I'm so tired of everyone dying..."

Gazzy shook his head, determined to tell Angel the good news, because he could only keep it to himself for so long. "I found our parents."

Angel's head shot up and she stared into Gazzy's eyes both jubilantly and horrified. "You ... You found our parents? What are they like? What's mom like?" She grabbed two handfuls of Gazzy's jacket and pulled her brother down so their noses were practically touching.

"Well ...Mom and Dad aren't ... Around ... Uh ... But, we have an uncle who wants to adopt us," He smiled, trying to pry Angel's attention away from the fact that their mother and father weren't alive.

Angel didn't relent, "If you don't tell me I'm gonna read your mind!"

Gazzy pointed to Allan, "Our mom was Allan's sister."

Angel's face went slack and she stared up at Allan blankly for nearly six seconds, "You ... You're our uncle? Our REAL UNCLE? Not like you're Fang and Daisy's